Thursday, April 12, 2007

Allergies and Herbal Medicine

Allergies and Western Herbal Medicine

It is that time of the year again – allergy season! For many people living and working in Victoria this time of the year can be a nightmare trying to balance their daily routine with the unpleasant symptoms of allergies. Allergies are caused by allergens which are a variety of tiny things such as pollen, dust, dander and others. Our body flags these allergens as invaders and therefore triggers a defensive response which brings about a large and varied amount of symptoms. Symptoms range from itchy and watery eyes, runny nose, general fatigue, sneezing and sensitive skin. So what herbal medicines can you use to help alleviate your symptoms, and at the same time reduce your susceptibility to allergens in the first place?

Herbs to Use:
Herbal Medicine provides us with herbs with various actions that are beneficial in the treatment of allergies. Herbalists use plants with anti-allergic, relaxant, bronchodilating and immune boosting actions. Anti-allergic herbs include Gingko biloba (Gingko Tree) and Urtica dioica (Stinging Nettle) which both effectively reduce the body’s reaction to the presence of allergens. Relaxing herbs are important as research has shown that anxiety and stress can increase the symptoms of allergic responses. Some great herbs for relaxation include Chamomilla recutita (Chamomile) and Scutalleria lateriflora (Skullcap). As allergies can sometimes lead to a constriction in the airways, known as allergic asthma, herbs such as Lobelia inflata (Lobelia) and Ephedra sinica (Ephedra) are very beneficial, although these herbs should only be used under the direct supervision of a Professional Herbalist. Immune boosting herbs are very beneficial and one of the very best I can recommend is Echinacea angustifolia or Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower). It may seems strange to give immune boosting herbs during a time where it seems that our body is already defending itself, but herbs such as Echinacea help restore the healthy functioning of the immune system and might help to reset the allergic response to allergens.

Lifestyle and Supplements:
Studies have shown that removing pets, including birds, from the home have reduced the frequency of allergic reactions. Dust mites that live in our pillows and mattresses can also increase allergic responses. One way to alleviate this problem is to use bed products resistant to dust mite infestation, and to place your pillows in the freezer overnight to kill off the dust mites living in them. Try to increase relaxation techniques to reduce stress levels and ensure a good night’s sleep to give your body the energy to fight off the allergens. Good supplements to use during allergy season include Vitamin A, B-Complex, Vitamin C, Bromelain, Selenium and Zinc.

There are certain foods that increase the allergic response and these foods should be avoided during peak times of allergies. Foods such as dairy, fatty and greasy foods and sugar should be avoided along with refined foods including white flour. Fresh and raw vegetables are great in assisting the nutrition levels of the body without causing a spike in the reactions. Rice is not known to cause any allergic reaction so you are free to eat rice, but you should choose brown rice over white rice. Be sure to drink plenty of water to help flush out any toxins within the body. Soups are great as they are easily digested and require less energy to assimilate the nutrients.

Every individual is different and different herbs may be required. For a more customized approach to your allergies, consult your local Medical Herbalist.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Western Herbal Medicine

What is Herbal Medicine?

Herbal Medicine is the use of plant remedies in the treatment of disease and is the oldest form of medicine known. Our ancestors, by trial and error, found the most effective local plants to heal their illnesses. Now, with the advancement of science enabling us to identify the chemical constituents within these plants, we can better understand their healing powers. Herbalism, while classified as complementary here in western countries, is still the most widely practiced form of medicine worldwide with over 80% of the world’s population relying on herbs for health.

How do Herbs Work?

People have always relied on plants for food to nourish and sustain the body. Herbal medicine can be seen in the same way. Plants with a particular affinity for certain organs or systems of the body are used to feed and restore health to those parts which have become weakened. As the body is strengthened so is it’s power and ability to fight off disease and when balance and harmony are restored, health will be regained.

What are the Differences between Pharmaceutical and Herbal Medicines?

Many of the pharmaceutical drugs used today are based on plant constituents and when scientists seek new cures for disease they first look to the plant world. They find, extract and then synthesize in the laboratory a single active constituent from the plant (the active constituent is the part of the plant that has a therapeutic value). This can then be manufactured on a large scale.
Herbal medicines, however, are extracts from a part of the whole plant (eg. leaves, roots, flowers, berries, etc.) and contain hundreds, perhaps thousands of plant constituents.
Herbalists believe that the active constituents are synergistically balanced within the plant and are made more or less powerful by the numerous other substances present. For example, synthetic diuretics (drugs that increase the flow of urine) seriously reduce the potassium level in the body, this has to be restored using potassium supplements. The Herbalist uses Dandelion leaves which are a potent diuretic but contain potassium to naturally replace that which is lost.

What can Herbal Medicine Treat?

Herbal Medicine can treat almost any condition that patients, from the very young to the very old, might take to their doctor. Common complaints seen by herbalists include:

* Skin problems such as psoriasis, acne and eczema.
* Digestive disorders such as peptic ulcers, colitis, IBS, heartburn and indigestion.
* Cardiovascular problems like angina, high blood pressure, varicose veins and varicose ulcers.
* Gynaecological disorders like premenstrual syndrome and menopausal problems.
* Joint conditions such as arthritis, gout and inflammation.
* Sleep disorders such as insomnia.
* Mood disorders including anxiety, panic attacks, stress and depression.
* Allergic conditions including seasonal allergies, asthma, wheezing and shortness of breath.
* Migraines and headaches.
* Colds and Flus and general immune boosting, including acute infections such as Urinary Tract Infections.

Custom Approach to Treatment

Because no two individuals are the same and the same disease can present differently in different people, it only makes sense that the herbal medicine given to each client is custom formulated solely for them. The Herbalist will determine the best herbs to use for the holistic approach of the illness and then determine the best method of administering the herbs, either through tinctures, teas, creams, etc. Each client that comes to see a Medical Herbalist will be given their very own customized herbal formulation to ensure that they get the best results. This is what sets us apart from buying herbal medicines off the shelf.

If you have any specific questions about using Herbs to restore health, please send them to