Tag Archives: sleep

Brighten Your Day with Lemonbalm!

Meet lemonbalm. She could be your new best friend especially if you are dealing with a lot of stress. Many of us push ourselves so hard everyday, and this can contribute to mood issues. So we need an herbal best friend to bring a little sunshine to our days.

Lemonbalm

Lemonbalm is just such a friend. Her bright lemon taste sums up her personality. Lemonbalm can work to both lift low spirits and help calm us when the stress just gets to be too much. And then when you hear her scientific name, Melissa officinalis, you will definitely want to invite her over for a cup of tea (a cup of lemonbalm tea that is). Her name Melissa means honeybee because bees love lemonbalm so much, and I hope you will too.

Lemonbalm can help calm the nerves and is used for anxiety, nervousness, and irritability. Lemonbalm is wonderful for digestive problems and headaches, especially when they are caused by nervousness. Lemonbalm also mildly reduces blood pressure that is elevated due to stress. Some cases of mild insomnia respond well to lemonbalm. Lemonbalm is also a mild anti-depressive, making it a good choice for people who have a mixture of anxiety and depression. Lemonbalm is a nootropic herb meaning it can enhance memory and cognitive functioning. So, lemonbalm is for both brighter mind and brighter mood.

I feel that we can get more out of our herbs when we taste them. We learn more about their nature than if we are taking capsules of herbs. Try lemonbalm and you will see how the flavor really matches her uplifting nature. You can also taste and smell the essential oil in lemonbalm that help ease an upset stomach.

You can make a tea out of the dried or fresh leaves. I also like to add a few dropperfuls of lemonbalm tincture to a whole glass of water when I don’t have time to make tea. I prefer the brands like Herb Pharm that use both alcohol and glycerin to make their tinctures because this improves the taste significantly or you can add a few drops of stevia to sweeten it a little. Lemonbalm has such a delicious taste that is often used to improve the flavor of herbal blends.

Lemonbalm is a gentle herb that requires either large doses for acute issues or long-term use for optimal results. You can use it either way but since you have just found a new herbal best friend, I bet you are going to want to hang out everyday. Lemonbalm has no side effects except for possibly very rare cases of allergic reaction. Theoretically, lemonbalm could suppress the thyroid, but no cases have been reported of worsening symptoms with hypothyroidism.

So try a little lemonbalm, and make your brain and taste buds happy.

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Sleep Tight, Think Right: The link between insomnia and Alzheimer’s disease

I love to sleep and will sleep nine hours a night if I can. Maybe to justify this indulgence, I pay attention to research on the benefits of sleep and recent studies are showing that sleep deprivation likely contributes to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. So maybe my eight to nine hours of sleep is more like a necessity than an indulgence.

It turns out that sleep is the brain’s cleaning cycle, according to these recent studies. We have long known that sleep helps us form new memories and that lack of sleep can decrease our ability to concentrate and learn new things. But these new studies have demonstrated that if we are chronically sleep deprived, our brains build up junk that it is correlated with dementia and some other age related memory issues. Evidently, part of the reason we sleep is so the brain can divert its energy to cleaning up the debris that results for our day of mental aerobics. In a study using mice, the sleep-deprived mice has impaired memory compared to the normal mice and their brains showed accumulation of proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease. So if we don’t get enough sleep we are aging our brains faster and putting ourselves at risk for neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. If you want to read more details on this new insight, check out this recent New York Times article.

With 80% Americans getting an insufficient amount of sleep, this increased risk for dementia has to potential to be to a serious health crisis. Some people are choosing to sleep less because they are trying to fit more into their busy lives. I have told hundreds of my patients that they need to set themselves an earlier bedtime so they can make sleep a bigger priority. I will even have them set an alarm to help them remember to start their before bed rituals so they will get to bed early enough.

Passionflower

Passionflower

Others want to get their health restoring sleep but are suffering from insomnia. For this group, there are many natural strategies that may help. Often I have patients start by taking some magnesium at bedtime. Magnesium deficiency can contribute to sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, irritability, and muscle cramps. If this isn’t enough, I might add a calming herb like passionflower or California poppy. Others might benefit from taking the amino acid tryptophan shortly before bed to help them make more melatonin, the sleep hormone. Finally, consider a bedtime snack to keep your blood sugar steady through the night and make sure you have a very dark bedroom.

There are many other health benefits to getting a good night’s sleep. If you need more reasons, read my blogs on the connection between insomnia and blood sugar and the link between stress and sleep deprivation.

Natural Flu Prevention

This seems to be shaping up to be a particularly bad flu season. So far, nearly forty people have died of influenza here in Arkansas. My husband recently had a mild case himself, and it made me think I should share what I did to prevent myself from getting it. These interventions can also help prevent colds and other upper respiratory infections and reduce the severity of a cold or flu if you come down with one.

Astragalus

Astragalus

When the cold and flu season starts, I begin taking astragalus, which has been shown to boost the immune system especially when taken long term. That is why I start it at the beginning of flu season, so I get the full immune benefits. But it is worth starting at anytime since astragalus also has a mild antiviral activity. Astragalus also helps with the body compensate for stress and reduces cortisol, which has been shown to suppress immune function. In addition, astragalus can help increase stamina. Because of this combination of immune and energy benefits, I choose astragalus over Echinacea for the flu season. I still use Echinacea sometimes, especially if my preventative strategies haven’t been enough and I start to feel a cold or flu coming on.

Another lesser-known immune booster is larch arabinogalactan. These are polysaccharides derived from the larch tree. Polysaccharides are the immune stimulating compounds in many of the best-known immune herbs like Echinacea and aloe. In addition to supporting the immune system, larch arabinogalactan can help with inflammation and joint pain. I also like larch arabinogalactan because it is a mild tasting powder that is safe to for children.

In addition to an immune booster, I take my daily fish oil and vitamin D. Fish oil and vitamin D are again obvious choices because of their multiple health benefits. The polyunsaturated fatty acids in fish oil help with optimal immune function, while also supporting mood, fighting inflammation and helping prevent heart disease. Vitamin D has been shown in numerous studies to help reduce rates of influenza. People who are deficient in vitamin D are much more likely to get the flu. In fact, lack of vitamin D production from sunlight is possibly one of the reasons the flu season is at this time of the year. If you already have adequate vitamin D levels, taking more vitamin D isn’t necessarily helpful. In fact, excess vitamin D might slightly increase the rate of influenza.

Elderberry

Elderberry

I always keep elderberry syrup in my house, and when my husband or I start feeling sick, this what we reach for. Elderberries have been shown in test tube studies to reduce the rate of influenza virus replication. Studies have also shown it to reduce the severity and duration of flu symptoms. In one study, 87% of the people taking elderberry had nearly complete resolution of symptoms in 3 days, while only 33% of those given the placebo felt as good at that point.

There are many other herbs and supplements that I could write about to help fight the flu, but lifestyle considerations are even more important. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to reduce stress, get adequate sleep, and allow yourself extra rest when you feel like you need it. When our stress goes up, so does our cortisol, which as I mentioned suppresses the immune system. Additionally, inadequate sleep hampers our immune system partially through causing elevated cortisol output. So get 8-9 hours of sleep a night and establish stress management techniques like deep breathing, exercise, yoga or meditation so that every day stress won’t leave you more susceptible to the flu.

Give Yourself the Gift of Time

I am not going to lie to you. Being healthy takes time. It takes time to cook healthy food for yourself. I always make sure I have at least 30 minutes in the morning to make a nutrition breakfast. It takes time to exercise, but every hour you exercise is essentially an hour you are adding to your life. Adequate sleep is vital because between the seventh and eighth hour of sleep, we get almost an hour of REM sleep, the time when the mind repairs itself. So if you don’t allow yourself a full night’s rest, you are missing this important opportunity to repair and prepare for the next day.

But I didn’t follow my own advice recently. I was working extra long hours and started to feel run down. I took some of my favorite immune supporting herbs like elderberry, Echinacea, and garlic and spent part of a day resting, but the very next day I was busy from 7 am to 11 pm. I had just harvested the last of the garden produce and was determined to get it in the freezer right away so I worked the extra hours. But the cold that I had nearly nipped in the bud became a terrible case of bronchitis. I had to take days off and cancel appointments with patients so I wouldn’t get them sick. In retrospect, I needed to change my priorities. Those veggies could have waited a few more days before I took care of them.

I know that for most people the demands on their time aren’t related to getting this year’s harvest stored, it most likely is the demands of work and family life. For many Americans, time is even becoming a more precious commodity than money, in that they don’t have enough of it for themselves. But we can always consider making different decisions to put ourselves first. When it comes to health, it is okay to be selfish. Our health is a very valuable commodity. In my case, a few hours early on could have saved me days of misery later. And this same equation can hold true when we take little steps to be healthier now. Every extra minute we give ourselves to sleeping enough or eating well may help extend our years of healthy life long term.

Give yourself the gift of time to be healthy. You deserve it.

Cats sleeping

Catnip: This Nerve Soothing Herb Is Not Just for Cats

My cats love it, but there are many great reasons for people to choose this nerve-toning herb too. While catnip is stimulating to cats, it is relaxing to us. Because of these benefits, catnip can be a good option for restlessness, insomnia, and nervous headaches. It also helps relax tense muscles and ease muscle spasms. For this reason, some women use catnip for menstrual cramps. Like its close cousin lemonbalm, catnip has a pleasant lemony taste that can make it a great choice for a soothing tea. It is also a popular addition to make herbal blends taste better.

Catnip

 

Catnip is a great herb for children too because of the good taste and gentle effect on the body. It can be used for insomnia or excitability in children. It is good for upset stomachs and other digestive complaints. Catnip has some antiviral activities and can help break a fever. It also helps ease coughs. These actions make it a good herb for children during cold and flu season.

I find catnip very easy to grow as long as my cats don’t destroy it when it is small. I bring the fresh leaves inside for my cats, but also see them in the garden eating it and rolling around in it. Catnip is reputed to be a nerve tonic for cats, so their brains actually benefit from the “buzz” they get. I also love catnip for its scientific name: Nepeta cataria. If fact, I used to have a cat by this name. Her nickname was Nip.

Nepeta hunting goldfish

Nepeta hunting goldfish

Lavender for Sleep and Anxiety

Nearly all of us suffer from occasional sleeplessness. For those who experience it more often, insomnia may be taking a serious toll on their health. In the short term, lack of sleep causes fatigue, irritability, and reduced ability to concentrate the next day. Long-term insomnia can also contribute to serious health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, depression and weight gain. Because of these serious health risks, it is important to figure out what is causing the inability to sleep, whether it is a medical condition, worry, or low blood sugar, just to name a few.

Now there is a new twist on an old favorite: lavender essential oil has long been used topically for calming and as a sleep aid. Since it can work through inhalation or absorption, many people unwind at bedtime by rubbing it on their temples or putting a few drops on their pillow. Recently, lavender essential oil became available in softgels for internal use to help with anxiety and insomnia. In a study involving over 200 participants, 77% of the people taking this new lavender product saw a reduction in anxiety or insomnia. It took up to 2 weeks for some to see the benefits for anxiety, while it was up to 4-6 weeks for consistent sleep improvements. So, this new form of lavender might be worth considering for those who find anxiety interfering with a good night’s sleep.

I swear that I feel a little more relaxed just enjoying this picture of lavender.

lavender

 

Fight Stress with Magnolia and Relora

Because of the serious impact stress can have on our health, stress-reducing herbs are becoming nearly as important as a multivitamin. An example that might be right for some people is Magnolia, a relaxing herb that has been shown in studies to be effective at reducing nervousness and anxiety in 78% of participants. Magnolia was also shown to improve sleep and without side effects like withdrawal symptoms or sleepiness the next day. In fact, magnolia can help enhance cognitive function and memory, partially by helping protect the brain from inflammation and oxidative damage. Magnolia contains powerful antioxidant compounds that are being studied for possibly enhancing other anti-cancer treatments. Magnolia is also a mild anti-nauseous herb. Traditionally, magnolia has been used for low energy and emotionally related digestive problems.

Even more interesting is the research done on the combination of Magnolia and Phellodendron, sold under the name Relora. In addition to reducing anxiety and perceived stress, Relora was also shown to reduce cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol can become increased in some people when they are exposed to chronic stress. Elevated cortisol levels contribute to many serious health conditions like osteoporosis, diabetes, depression, low immune function, and weight gain. Though lower cortisol may not be enough to lead to weight loss by itself, higher levels of cortisol can make weight loss harder to achieve. Also, there is some evidence that lowering cortisol might reduce stress related eating. So for the appropriate person, Relora could be a boon for both weight loss and overall health.

d08_2871_magnolia-x-wieseneri

Keep Calm with Skullcap

Skullcap is one of the relaxing herbs that are native to the Southeastern United States. These herbs are known as nervines, and they both calm and tone the nervous system. Because of this calming effect, skullcap is used for mild cases of anxiety. Its active components have also been shown to bind serotonin receptors in the brain, so skullcap might be a good addition for other mood issues, such as nervousness with fatigue or depression. Skullcap can also help restless sleep and improve how deeply one sleeps. For sleep, it sometimes works better to take this type of herb a few times throughout the day as well as before bed.

scutellaria-lateriflora

Skullcap can also plays a role in herbal pain formulas. It has mild analgesic and inflammation modulating properties. Because it can also dilate cerebral blood vessels, it is indicated for headaches, especially those located at the base of the brain or forehead. It is also chosen for nerve related pain, like neuralgias. Skullcap may help reduce spasms and is used for some types of tremors. Because of its anti-inflammatory benefits, skullcap is combined with astringent and antiseptic herbs for use with periodontal disease. Finally, skullcap is a digestive stimulant that is particularly chosen for nervous stomachs.

Please note that our recent dry summers have affected the availability and price of some herbs like skullcap that are mostly harvested from the wild in this part of the country.

And for those of you who are trying to figure out the secret theme of my last 15 blogs (except the one on Medicinal Kitchen Spices), here is a hint: Where do I live?

The Connection Between Sleep and Blood Sugar

I am a huge fan of sleep and find it to be key to my feeling of overall vitality. While it is commonly known that inadequate sleep can contribute to fatigue, few people realize it can contribute to heart disease, diabetes, and weight gain. Specifically, reductions in sleep duration or quality can contribute to insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar.

  • More than 30% of middle-aged Americans sleep less than 6 hours a night.
  • Shorter sleep duration is independently associated with abdominal obesity and elevated glucose and triglycerides.
  • People who sleep less than six hours per night are nearly twice as likely to have metabolic syndrome and/or elevated glucose.
  • Shorter sleep or interrupted sleep causes elevated sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) activity with increased adrenaline.
    • This can decrease the function of insulin receptors.
  • Inadequate sleep can also increase the stress hormone cortisol, which contributes to decreased insulin sensitivity and insulin secretion.
  • Sleep deprivation changes leptin and ghrelin (hunger hormones) so that people are more hungry and hungry for high carbohydrate and high fat foods.

So enjoy your sleep and its contributions to your health.