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My Apologies…

Hello my friends and welcome back.

Unfortunately I haven’t had time to put this week’s blog together in time. I made the unGodly mistake of buying a new laptop Friday and it came equipped with Windows (should be called widows) 8.1. I work with computers and software for a living and this beast still has me stymied. It’s Sunday morning, I haven’t been to bed since yesterday and I’m still in the cursing process with this entirely alien new 8.1 interface. May the fleas of a thousand camels infest Bill Gates nether regions.

Anyway, I’d like to apologize and make a promise that I will make up for this week’s lack of a blog in spades next week so stop back by. Worst case, I’ll go back to the old laptop and practice my quick draw on the new one at the pistol range.

Until next week, and as always, I wish you peace, happiness and good health.

Be well, my friends.

Brian

authorphotoHello, my friends.  Welcome back.  I’m glad you’re here, and I hope you find this week’s blog interesting and helpful-albeit a little long due to the vastness of the subject.  Hang with me.  It’s worth the read.

We’re going to start this one off with a disclaimer because this is a very serious subject that needs to be studied, in-depth, before you decide to jump on the herbal relaxant/sleep aid bandwagon.

For starters, always remember that just because they’re natural and unregulated, that doesn’t automatically make them safe.  While side effects and overdose possibilities are generally far less with herbals, many do have them, including allergic reaction possibilities for those with sensitivities to certain compounds.  Always, always, always discuss any herbal regimen choices with your healthcare provider before starting one.

If you’re pregnant, thinking of becoming pregnant or breast feeding, do not, under any circumstances, take anything without first consulting your healthcare provider.  Most, if not all of the herbal relaxants and sleep aids are contraindicated, (or should at least be carefully controlled and supervised by a medical doctor) during pregnancy or while breast feeding.

More to the point, while everyone occasionally has problems sleeping, or gets anxious or depressed from time to time, if you’ve ever felt like hurting yourself of others, become disoriented or lose memories or parts of the day, hear voices or anything beyond common life anxiety or transient insomnia, see your doctor immediately.  Herbal supplementation will not help you.  As strongly as I support and believe in herbal remedies, there are many times when professional medical intervention and prescription medications are the only option.  Only a trained medical professional can diagnose the difference.

I, for one, am always thinking.  My mind never stops plotting, scheming and fantasizing about the latest book I’m working on, life…especially about what we’re going to do when we win the lottery.  While I know that I’m probably not going to see my face on a Publisher’s Clearinghouse commercial, or have to dodge paparazzi as I sneak into lottery headquarters to collect my winnings, thinking about the possibilities of life without financial worries is my happy place.  Unfortunately, my happy place becomes less appealing as I lay there awake some nights trying unsuccessfully to shut down my thought processes and get some much needed sleep.  On those occasions which, thankfully are fairly rare, I reach for an herbal tea or a capsule.

And on those occasions when the annual house or truck tax bill comes, or it’s time for my annual review at work, or the dreaded annual trip to the doctor and I start biting my nails and cursing our state and local government, the establishment as a whole or my sawbones, a herbal remedy is usually the order of the day.

But which one you ask?  Ah, that’s the purpose of today’s blog because, believe it or not, the choices are many and many of the choices may be the wrong one for you.

Believe it or not, one of the first questions I ask those who inquire about herbal relaxants or sleep aids is what they know about them.  Almost everyone, and those are the ones who have even heard anything about them at all, say Valerian and Melatonin.  While both are good options in many situations, they are far from the only choice and, in some cases, the absolute worst choice.

Let’s take a look at a few pros and cons.

Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis):  Chamomile, especially chamomile tea,(derived from the plant’s flowers) has been used for centuries to bring on sleep, ease an upset stomach and even treat diaper rash.  It is a herb derived from a flowering plant in the daisy family and a close relative to ragweed.  While its’ natural calming effects are widely known, it has also been used to treat skin irritations, inflammations and even diaper rash.  There are scads of lotions and creams on the market to ease those conditions.  I can’t vouch for their efficacy because I’ve personally never tried them.

Lately, a lot of study has been done on the benefit of chamomile for IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), migraine headaches, PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome) and a whole host of other maladies including skin conditions.  However, we’re concentrating on sleep and relaxation this week so here goes.

Of all the available herbal sleep aids, for those with mild sleep issues, chamomile tea is probably what you’re looking for.  With few exceptions, it’s probably the most mild of all sleep inducers and probably has the least potential for side effects.  A cup of chamomile tea about an hour before bedtime will help all but those with the most serious sleep issues (or way too much on their minds) slip off into a natural, peaceful sleep.

However, for those with allergies to ragweed or pollen, chamomile is not recommended as some mixtures may contain pollen and/or ragweed.  It is derived from a flowering plant in the ragweed family, remember.

Chamomile is also contraindicated in those taking blood thinners because chamomile contains a natural substance called coumarin (which is synthesized and used in the prescription medication Coumadin), a blood thinner.

Pregnant women should not use chamomile as it is considered an abortifacient (a substance that induces abortion).

Many people drink a cup every night before bedtime and claim that there’s nothing like it for bringing on sleep.

If you have no allergies to pollen or ragweed, are on no blood thinners and aren’t pregnant, try brewing a cup before bedtime.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised that something so simple could do so much good.

Valerian (valeriana officinalis):  Most of you, I’m sure, have heard of Valerian and have probably tried it or know someone who has.  I’ve even spoken with doctors who recommend it to their patients whose condition may be mild enough that they would benefit more from Valerian than from taking one of the prescription drugs with their associated side effects and, in many cases, chances for addiction.  Many use Valerian for different situations from insomnia to anxiety to menstrual cramps.  Many swear by it, some swear at it.

The sedative properties of Valerian are found in the root.  While it can be taken as a tea or a tincture, Valerian smells really, really bad.  Think of an un-air conditioned, long untended, boys locker room loaded up with basket after basket of dirty BVD’s and gym socks…at high noon…in the desert.  Multiply that by ten and you have the general idea.  Even the capsules, when purchased fresh, will cause you to pause, (and to hold your nose) before taking it.  However, this is one instance when, if Valerian is the right choice for you, the end justifies the means.  If you wanna play, you’ve got to pay, and for most, it’s a small price to pay for the benefits that can be had from its’ use.  Generally, taking the proper dosage about an hour before bedtime will, for most, insure a peaceful, restful night’s sleep.

However, it is not without its’ downside.  Many people who use Valerian wake up feeling drunk/hung over, or remain drowsy for a time after awakening.  Many have said that, along with the lethargy when awakening, they also get a headache.

For those with common, garden variety anxiety brought about by an abundance of life’s every day troubles, Valerian is known to relax, calm and render a feeling of overall peace and tranquility.  Some claim to get relief within an hour, for some it may need to build up over a few doses before the calming effects are realized.  However, Valerian is not a cure-all.  It is intended for temporary use.  If those anxieties persist, see your doctor immediately.

Valerian should not be used for extended periods.  When it is, you may may not be able to just stop taking it without revisiting the initial problem you were trying to solve in spades.  Anxiety, nervousness, shakiness and insomnia have been experienced by those going cold turkey after a long stint on Valerian.  Often you’ll have to taper your dose over two or three weeks when you feel you no longer need it.

Always insure that you buy the freshest capsules available and that there are no inert or inactive ingredients mixed in that you may be allergic to.  Valerian allergies are rare, but some are allergic to it.  More people, however, are allergic to some of the additives in cheap, bargain basement supplements.  I know, you’ve heard me say this time after time, but it bears repeating: always buy your supplements from reliable, American manufacturers and, whenever possible, buy those certified for vegetarians and vegans.  By doing this, you’ll insure you’re getting a consistent, pure and measured dosage with no harmful additives.

Some of the more rare side effects of Valerian are are persistent nausea and/or vomiting, stomach/abdominal pain, yellowing of the eyes or skin, dark urine and extreme lethargy to name a few.  These are generally reversible when the valerian is stopped.

Dosages vary from person to person.  Valerian is not a “one size fits all” supplement.  The recommended dose on the label may be too little or too much for you.  Caution must be used when determining your proper dosage.

For those taking prescription medications, especially statin medications, erectile dysfunction medications, other relaxants/tranquilizers or cough and cold remedies containing diphenhydramine, you should not use Valerian as it may lessen the efficacy of those medications or multiply the drowsiness already associated with them.

Before we move on to the next option, I just want to mention that none of the above is meant to scare you.  Valerian, for most, is a natural Godsend.  My only intention in mentioning all of the above is to insure that you’re well informed before you pop that first capsule.  Valerian is definitely not for everyone and the information above is certainly not the all inclusive definition.  Research all medications and supplements fully, and discuss them with your healthcare provider before you decide to take it.  It could save your life.

Melatonin:   Is actually a natural hormone that is produced by the pineal gland in the brain.  Its main purpose is to  regulate sleep and waking cycles and contributes to maintaining the body’s circadian rhythms.  Unfortunately, as we age, our body’s ability to produce melatonin decreases.  This explains why grandma and grandpa were always up at the crack of dawn.

Supplements, of course, are synthesized in a laboratory because, well, who’s going to volunteer to have their pineal gland tapped?  If that were even possible, I’m sure it would not be a pleasant experience so, technically, melatonin can’t be considered a natural remedy-but for many, it’s a sanity saver.

I’m a child of the night.  I work nights, as does my fiance’, so our sleep cycle definitely conflicts with the natural circadian rhythm of our bodies.  Being over fifty with decreased natural melatonin production abilities is also a major contributor to my occasional insomnia.  Luckily, Brenda is a sleep-a-haulic so sleeping is rarely an issue for her.  I, on the other hand, often have problems going to sleep for the reasons mentioned earlier.  On those nights when my ten-hour shift hasn’t totally exhausted me, mentally and physically (rarely), I reach for a sleep aid.  Sleep is a must whether your body wishes to cooperate or not.  For those of you who can drop off without a second thought, (narcoleptics excluded, of course) my hat’s off to you.  For those of you who cant, melatonin supplements might be the answer.

Surprisingly, some studies indicate that melatonin is ineffective for what is called “shiftwork disorder.”  Either I have some other sleep issue or, at least in my case and those of many I work with and have suggested melatonin to, I beg to differ.  Melatonin is usually my first choice, after a chamomile tea, when I can’t sleep and, for myself and many others that I know of first hand, it works.

The effects of melatonin and generally mild in those who tolerate it well and will usually just help ease you into sleep without your even realizing the effects (unlike most prescription sleep medications).  Side effects are generally mild or non-existent, but can include dizziness, daytime lethargy and headaches.   Other rare but documented side effects can include abdominal discomfort, mild anxiety, irritability, confusion and transient depression-especially in the elderly.

Additionally, if you take birth control pills, blood thinners, diabetic medications or immunosupressants, do not take melatonin without first consulting your healthcare provider.  Melatonin is released into the bloodstream so it may adversely effect other medications in your system.

Kava (kava kava):  I mention kava here with caution. Kava is a root found on islands in the South Pacific. Islanders have used kava for its’ medicinal qualities and in ceremonies for centuries.While a great many people do use kava for everything from sleep disorders and anxiety relief to a treatment for gonorrhea and as an analgesic (pain reliever), the possible associated side effects are many.  It is also used to treat asthma, urinary tract infections, depression and menopausal symptoms.

Research has shown that kava’s calming effects do relieve anxiety, restlessness, sleeplessness, and stress-related symptoms like tense muscles and muscle spasms.  It is probably one of the strongest of the readily available herbal supplements.

But!  Of all the herbal supplements I’ve studied, kava ranks right up there when it comes to possible serious side effects.  While certainly not one of the worst, and not a reason to totally disqualify kava as a possible, temporary supplement for sleep and/or anxiety, extreme caution and heavy research, including a discussion with your doctor, need to be done before you take it.

If you are currently taking antidepressants or other mood stabilizing medications, you shouldn’t be taking any herbal anxiety/sleep supplements unless they were recommended by your doctor.  However, kava is definitely not for you.  Kava will multiply the sedating effects of mood altering ( psychotropic drugs), as will alcohol.  Do not drink alcohol while taking kava.

Kava has caused liver failure in people without any history of liver ailments.  Anyone with any liver ailments should steer clear of kava.  While liver failure is a rare side effect generally seen after long term, extensive use of kava,  it needs to be considered when contemplating a supplement.

Allergic reactions are not common with kava, but they are a possibility.

I have tried kava and had no issues with it, but after researching all the side effects, decided to opt for Valerian when the need strikes.  Again, that’s just my personal opinion relating to a personal experience.  Valerian works just as well for me, personally, so that is generally my choice.  Your choice, of course, is dependent on your individual needs and tolerances.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera-Winter Cherry): Originating in India, and used for centuries in ayurvedic medicine as an adaptogenic (promotes homeostasis), the root and berries of the plant are used for various remedies including everything from control of thyroid and adrenal gland disorders to mental agility to osteoarthritis  to an anti-inflammatory to claimed reports of tumor reducing capabilities and increased white cell production in cancer patients and, of course, for sleep disorders and nervous conditions.

In an animal-based study published in 2000, researchers found that ashwagandha root had an anti-anxiety effect similar to that of Ativan (Lorazepam-a drug used to treat anxiety disorders).

Surprisingly enough, and as a lessening of the pain from the constant thorn in my side regarding many allopathic doctors and their “pooh pooh” attitude regarding herbal remedies, ashwagandha has actually made print in none other than Psychology Today, a well respected magazine on mental health-Follow the link for the whole article.  Here’s an excerpt:

“One 2012 study of 64 volunteers randomized asked subjects to take either ashwaganda or a placebo twice a day for 60 days. The ashwaganda group’s capsule contained 300 mg of a concentrated extract made from the root. During the treatment period, regular telephone call check-ins assured volunteers were consistently taking the herbs or placebo, and were used to note any adverse reactions. The treatment group given the ashwaganda root extract exhibited a significant reduction in anxiety scores after two months relative to the placebo group, without side effects. Most notably, serum cortisol levels were substantially reduced in the herbal group (Chandrasekhar et al., 2012). Cortisol is the stress hormone that goes up when we are stressed out.  Cortisol also creates longer term fatigue and mental fogginess, and brain structures for emotion and memory are damaged when cortisol is too high.” 

Ashwagandha is another herb that I have personally tried.  I loved it.  While it’s effects are more cumulative than immediate, the resultant overall relaxant qualities after a couple of weeks were impressive.  I stopped taking it when things in my world balanced out enough and I was trying to reduce my daily supplement intake down to the bare essentials.

Of all the relaxants, ashwagandha is generally considered one of the safest when used short term.  However, there are some cautions:

As I stated earlier, if you are pregnant, considering becoming pregnant or breast feeding, do not take ashwagandha or any of the other supplements mentioned without consulting your healthcare provider.  Ashwagandha is considered to be an abortifacient (a substance that induces abortion).

If you have high or low blood pressure, ashwagandha is contraindicated as it may lower blood pressure in those with low blood pressure, or reduce the efficacy of hypertensive drugs in those with high blood pressure on hypertensive medications.

Those with stomach ulcers should not take ashwagandha as it may irritate the GI tract.

Diabetics should not use ashwagandha due to its’ potential to lower blood sugar and may cause blood sugar to go to low.

People with autoimmune disorders should not take ashwagandha due to its’ penchant for increasing the immune system’s activity.

People with thyroid disorders should not take ashwagandha as it is known to increase thyroid hormone levels.

Hops ( Humulus lupulus):  I know the eyes of a lot of beer drinkers just sprung open.  For those who doubt the medicinal qualities of beer, read on.

The female part of the hop plant is used for the supplement as well as for making beer and numerous other uses.  Hops in herbal medicine are used to treat conditions from anxiety, inability to sleep (insomnia) and other sleep disorders, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), nervousness, and irritability, to increase urine flow and even bring on breast milk.

Hops does work.  However, even more so than ashwagandha, the effects are cumulative and may take as long as a month for the benefits to be realized.  Generally, hops are taken in combination with valerian or lemon balm and is more often used for the treatment of anxiety over a longer term.  I have mentioned it here only because it is considered one of the safer herbs for sleep and anxiety and it does work when taken consistently for a month or more.

Pregnancy and breast feeding are about the only known concerns regarding side effects although in some, it has been reported to cause depression.  Those results are questionable regarding any direct correlation to the hops itself.

St. John’ s Wort (Hypericum perforatum):  The St. John’s wort plant has yellow flowers and is considered to be a weed throughout most of the United States. It has been used for medical purposes in other parts of the world for thousands of years.

St. John’s Wort got a really bad rap in the press a few years back.  I attribute that more to the fact that people were taking it willy-nilly without doing their research after a few careless ads were placed in the media regarding the numerous benefits of this herb-but those ads failed to list the side effects and contraindications associated with this now much maligned herb.

With that being said, and given the numerous side effects and contraindications associated with the use of St. John’s Wort, it is definitely not something that should be taken for the relief of transient insomnia or occasional anxiety which is the focus of this week’s blog.

St. John’s Wort has been researched extensively and is being used successfully to treat various anxiety and depression disorders, but it is my belief that diagnosis of those conditions and which ones will benefit from supplementation with this herb should be determined only by a trained medical professional.

St. John’s Wort is known to interact unfavorably with numerous prescription medications including, but not limited to, antidepressants, anti-rejection medications, blood thinners, anti-HIV medications and birth control pills.

Psychosis is a rare, but a possible side effect of taking St. John’s Wort, particularly in people who have, or are at risk for, mental health disorders-including bipolar disorder.

To summarize St. John’s Wort- while I do believe in its’ healing properties, I do not consider it a safe option for common use.  Should you decide to try this herb, speak with your doctor before starting and do your homework.

The herbs we’ve discussed today are far from a comprehensive list.  The number of herbs, minerals and supplements out there used for sleep and anxiety are legion.  I’ve just covered a few of the more common, heavily researched ones for this blog because when all the contraindications are considered and disqualified as not pertaining to you individually, all of these are believed to be safe and effective.

One further note on these and all other herbal supplements: Insure that your doctor is fully aware of all your entire  supplementation regimen so he or she  has a complete picture when prescribing.  Also, stop any and all supplements at least two weeks before scheduled surgical procedures, including dental surgery, to insure there are no interactions between the anesthetics and drugs used during surgery and your supplements.

If you’re still awake,  I guess that’s about all I have to say about sleep aids and relaxants…and in just over thirty-eight-hundred words!   Sorry!

In conclusion, work, your spouse,  finances?  At some point one of these and a whole host of other life challenges cause us to stress.  Stress causes problems with sleep and anxiety.  In those instances, one of the above will probably help you through it…short term.  If those feelings persist, see your doctor immediately.

The next time you’re in a crowd, look to your right and left.  One or both of the people you see are probably taking a prescription antidepressant or mood altering medication of some sort.  The stigma that was once attached to them has long since been forgotten.  What was once considered a life with a scarlet letter on your chest is now accepted as a serious medical condition and is treated accordingly with a myriad of new and safer drugs coming out constantly.  Never take depression or severe anxiety lightly.  There is help…and it’s just a phone call to your doctor away.

As always, if you have any comments regarding this blog or herbal remedies in general, good or bad, please feel free to leave them below.  If you have a comment or question that you’d rather not have seen on an open forum, please feel free to send me an email.  I always strive to answer all emails within twenty-four hours.

Until next week, I wish you peace, happiness and good health.  Be well, my friends.

Brian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

authorphotoHi everyone.  Welcome back.

I’d apologize for the lack of a blog post last week…but I can’t.  I was spending a little vacation time with my children and grandchildren in Florida.  With a lap full of grandsons, typing our a blog is a little difficult…and definitely not the preferred activity when you’re surrounded by three squirming little monkeys who hold the key to your heart.

Hopefully this week’s blog will more than make up for last week’s lack thereof.

This week I’d like to address migraine headaches-the scourge of many as well as a debilitating nightmare for those who suffer them.

Before I get into the crux of this weeks’ discussion, I’d like to share an experience I had yesterday that both elated and appalled me at the same time.

After much nagging and prodding on my part, my fiance’ finally broke down and made an appointment with a local Internist.  Since moving here from Tennessee, she’s been “forgetful” when it comes to establishing herself with a local sawbones.  She’s an extremely competent and intelligent nurse, yet sometimes puts a little too much faith in her ability to finagle around the system.  She moved here well over a year ago, so it was high time for her to pay a visit to, and become established with, a doctor instead of quick trips to the walk-in clinics for prescription refills.

Yesterday was appointment day and I went along because she had just gotten home after a string of night shifts and needed someone to keep her awake during the long drive to the doctor’s office (you have to keep in-network with most insurances so we had to travel quite a way to get to an in-network doctor who was actually accepting new patients after a month’s wait for the appointment).  I went into the exam room with her to insure her accelerated level of tired after three twelve hour night shifts in a row didn’t cause her exhaustion addled brain to miss any of the details the doctor related to her, and so I could keep her from nodding off during the ordeal.

Her new MD, a younger guy, reviewed her list of meds and supplements and seemed impressed with her supplementation regimen and even discussed a few other supplemental options that, at the risk of sounding pretentious, I’d already considered and discussed with her, or dismissed for other options.  What elated me was his openness to herbal supplementation and his knowledge of the subject.  It appears that there may be hope yet for the newer generation of allopathic medicos who appear to believe that there are options other than those synthesized in a laboratory and given to them, along with pens, pencils, pads, free lunches and other “gifts,” by the drug reps.

The appalling part was his exam.  I’d call that cursory at best and thoroughly perfunctory at worst…and that’s being kind.

I was actually wondering whether he knew where the T1 and M2 sounds of the heart were located, and whether his stethoscope was actually even touching her back as he listened, briefly, to her lungs through her shirt in only two places (she wondered the same thing and later shared that thought, along with a few laughs about it, with me).  The purpose of an exam, at least in all the classes I’ve taken, is to detect potential problems and deal with them before they become serious problems.  You can hardly do that when the exam takes two minutes and is so superficial that even known problem areas aren’t examined.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m no medical doctor and wouldn’t, for a minute, tell one how to do his or her job, but common sense would seem to dictate that if you’re going to be tending to the medical needs of a patient, prescribing for that patient’s continued good health, you’d want a clear, concise and thorough picture of who and what you were dealing with. In these days of fast food medicine and insurance companies limiting the amount of time a doctor can spend with a patient, I personally believe that allopathic healthcare is lacking woefully in the patient care and doctor/patient relationship arenas.  Clearly stated-you can’t fix it if you don’t know it’s broke!  Preventative medicine seems to have become a thing of the past.  Whatever happened to an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?

*stepping off the soap box* But I digress, and that’s an entirely different subject that I’ll probably address in a blog at some later date when my indignation level finally reaches a point where I can’t help but vent.

Let’s discuss migraines.

I had done a little research into herbal supplements for migraines, and even studied them in one class or another some years back, but put it on the back burner while doing a paper on herbal supplements for hypertension (a future blog).  I believe I did that at the time for somewhat selfish reasons: I have been dealing with hypertension myself since the seventh grade while, thankfully, I have only suffered through one migraine in my life-and that was brought on by an irresponsible change in prescription blood pressure medications.  Go figure?

And that one migraine was more than enough, believe me!  If you’re a migraine sufferer, you have my deepest, most sincere sympathies.

It wasn’t until I saw, first hand, my fiance’ dealing with a nasty migraine that I decided to re-investigate herbal supplementation options for migraines.  The lovely lady is now the subject (translation: guinea pig) of a study I’m conducting on preventatives for migraines based on the ongoing, exhaustive research I’m doing on the subject.

There are as many prescription remedies on the market for migraines as there are reasons why so many people suffer them, but the vast majority of those are to lessen the unspeakable pain suffered during a migraine, or limit its’ duration after it’s begun-not to prevent them or lessen the loss of quality of life they bring with them.

It is estimated that more than thirty-six million men, women and children in America suffer from migraines. Eighteen percent of American women and six percent of American men suffer through this pestilent pain on an all too frequent basis.  It is further estimated that there are eight-hundred-thousand ER visits each year in the US for migraine headaches.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Very few people who suffer migraines regularly are treated in the ER.   Staggering, isn’t it?

Migraines are much more than just a bad headache.   Migraines are defined as an extremely debilitating collection of neurological symptoms consisting of excruciating. throbbing pain on one side of the head, (although in about a third of attacks, both sides are affected) and are often accompanied by visual disturbances (auras that may include flashing lights or bright spots, zigzag lines, changes in vision), nausea, vomiting, dizziness, extreme sensitivity to touch, smell, noise and/or light and are often accompanied by tingling or numbness in the hands, feet and face.

Research continues into the causes of migraine headaches, but a lot still remains unknown about their exact cause.  It is known that genetics and environment do play a key role for those who suffer them.  It is also believed that migraines may be caused by changes in the brain stem and its interactions with the Trigeminal nerve (the fifth cranial nerve)- a major pain pathway.  It has also been found that chemical imbalances such as serotonin levels (a neurotransmitter and pain regulator) vary appreciably during migraine attacks.  This may cause your Trigeminal system to release substances called neuropeptides (the nervous system’s messenger boys) which can send the wrong signal and irritate the meninges covering the brain and bring on a migraine attack.

The first and most important step for those with suspected migraine headaches is to be seen by a physician to insure that there isn’t some other underlying cause for your pain.  Head trauma, stroke, hypertension, tumors, homeostatic or hormonal imbalances and a myriad of other conditions can cause migraine symptoms.  Your doctor will need to run some tests to insure that what you’re dealing with is indeed idiopathic migraine headaches.

There are many known, and unknown, triggers for migraines.  The actual trigger, or triggers, specific to an individual may differ greatly from another individual.

Known triggers range from hormonal imbalances, (estrogen in women during pregnancy, menstruation and menopause) processed foods, MSG (a preservative/flavor enhancer) aspartame (a common artificial sweetener found in, among other things, diet soft drinks) coffee, red wine, caffeine, too little or too much sleep, flashing lights, certain smells, stress…the list goes on and on.  This makes pinning down the particular cause of an individual’s migraines difficult at best.  Often your doctor will ask you to keep a log relating to your migraine headaches including everything you’d eaten, drank, done, products you’ve used, etc, leading up to the onset of migraine symptoms to help him or her determine the trigger.

In most cases, chronic migraine sufferers are prescribed various drugs from NSAID’s to barbituates to antihistamines to antihypertensive drugs to ergotamines and triptans like Imitrex® which are more migraine specific.  These come in pills, nasal sprays, injections, liquids, etc.  Unfortunately, there are currently no available drugs that specifically prevent migraines; only those that alleviate the symptoms.

Of course, finding your personal trigger and avoiding it, if possible, is probably the best way to cut down on migraine headaches. Unfortunately for many, that isn’t possible.  Eliminating stress in your life would be a definite step in the right direction…yeah, like that’s going to happen in this day and age.

What’s left?

Like the pain relieving drugs used for the treatment and reduction of migraine headaches, there is no silver bullet to be found in the vast realm of herbal supplementation.  For most, the use and associated serious side effects of most of the prescription medications are pretty scary.  Many prefer the natural route if relief or avoidance of symptoms can be found without the potential side effects and hazards associated with prescription medicines.

These alternatives may be some possible options worth your consideration.

Another lowered level found in those suffering from migraine headaches is a mineral called magnesium. Magnesium is usually found in abundance in the body and is known to be responsible for more than three-hundred chemical reactions from blood to bones that keep the body functioning properly.  Magnesium is usually supplied to the body through high fiber foods such as spices (corriander, dill, sage, basil), nuts (especially almonds), cereals (whole wheat, oats), coffee, cocoa, tea, and green, leafy vegetables and is absorbed into the body through the gastrointestinal tract.  While magnesium deficiency is uncommon in industrialized countries, those with diseases that limit or prohibit vitamin absorption (malabsorption) in the intestinal tract such as Crohn’s Disease, Celiac Disease, Cystic Fibrosis, certain cancers (Pancreatic in particular), etc., or a diet low in high fiber foods can cause lowered levels of magnesium (as well as many other vitamins and minerals) in the body.

Magnesium supplementation, unlike many other supplement claims, has been studied for the prevention of migraine headaches many times with varying results.  However, the more controlled studies such as this one are fairly indicative that lowered magnesium levels are a major factor in the onset of migraine headaches.  More importantly, the body naturally eliminates excess levels of magnesium through the kidneys so overdosing is extremely unlikely unless the supplement is used irresponsibly.

Magnesium is known to bind with some medications and decrease their efficacy.  It is recommended that if you are taking a tetracycline type antibiotic, thyroid medications or many other prescription medications you space your dose of that medication and your magnesium supplement to avoid the interaction.  In the rare instance of excessive magnesium intake, diarrhea is usually the only side effect: and that goes away when the supplementation regimen is reduced or discontinued.  To avoid stomach upset, take the supplement with food.

Compare that to the side effects of the prescription and even the non-prescription, OTC, migraine relief options available and I think you’ll agree that if magnesium works for you, it’s a far more appealing, (and far less expensive) option.

If you’d like to try magnesium supplementation for migraine prophylaxis, the recommended dosage is 400mg of magnesium oxide twice a day.  Generally it takes two to three months before any appreciable effects are realized. Choose your supplier wisely and insure you buy only high quality, made in the USA, supplements.

Another natural preventative for migraine headaches is called Feverfew.

Feverfew, a bush, has been used as far back as ancient Greece to treat menstrual cramps and inflammation.  Feverfew has also been used in folk medicine throughout history as a fever reducer; which is where the plant got its name.  While the name might suggest feverfew’s ability to reduce fever, those claims don’t seem to have withstood the test of time.  However, other more relevant uses for this herb have been discovered.

As for feverfew’s migraine relieving properties, the following is from the University of Maryland Medical Center:

Migraine Headaches
Feverfew was popular in Great Britain in the 1980s as a treatment for migraines. A survey of 270 people with migraines in Great Britain found that more than 70% of them felt much better after taking an average of 2 – 3 fresh feverfew leaves daily. Several human studies have used feverfew to prevent and treat migraines. Overall, these studies suggest that taking dried leaf capsules of feverfew every day may reduce the number of migraines in people who have chronic migraines.
One study used a combination of feverfew and white willow (Salix alba), which has chemicals like aspirin. People who took the combination twice a day for 12 weeks had fewer migraines and they didn’t last as long or hurt as much.
Another study found that people who took a special extract of feverfew had fewer average number of migraine attacks per month compared to people who took placebo. A 3-month study with 49 people found that a combination of feverfew, magnesium, and vitamin B2 led to a 50% decrease in migraines. ***author’s note: B2 is often referred to in herbal supplements as Riboflavin***
Not all studies have found that feverfew worked for migraines, however. Whether it reduces migraine pain and frequency may depend on which supplement you take. Ask your doctor to help you find out more.

Unlike magnesium, feverfew does have some known side effects.  Some of the more common ones, but certainly not all, include abdominal pain, indigestion, gas, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and nervousness.  People with allergies to chamomile, ragweed, or yarrow may be allergic to feverfew and should not take it.  Ask your doctor before taking feverfew if you take blood thinners as feverfew may increase your risk of bleeding.  Pregnant and nursing women, as well as children under the age of two, should not take feverfew.

If you’re considering trying feverfew for migraine relief, 50-100mg daily of the crushed leaf capsules are the suggested dosage.  Like magnesium, it takes a while for feverfew to build up in your system and start bringing about results.  Again, and as always, be certain you’re buying the best and freshest supplements available from a reliable US manufacturer.

There are a few other supplements that are believed to relieve or alleviate migraine headaches, some in combination with magnesium and/or feverfew, such as Riboflavin (vitamin B2 quoted in the study listed above).

COQ10 and Butterbur have also been studied in the quest for a migraine reliever, but these appear to be less effective in most people, and in the case of Butterbur, seem to have a higher incidence of side effects.  While these may be possible avenues to relief, they should first be discussed with your healthcare provider so any drug interactions or condition-specific contraindications can be considered.

Should you decide to try the herbal approach and give magnesium, feverfew or one of the other supplements for migraines a try, do not be fooled into buying those so called “Migraine Complexes” or “Migraine Cocktails.”  Those are almost always a concoction containing lesser amounts of the supplement you need, and a whole bunch of others that may or may not even have any migraine relieving properties; much like many of the Male Enhancement Supplements advertised on TV.  One of the ingredients may possibly be beneficial to the condition, but it’s usually added in lowered amounts so cheaper, inactive fillers can be mixed in.  There are some containing magnesium, feverfew and Riboflavin that I’ve seen, and those may be an option when purchased from a reliable manufacturer if the dosages for each are correct, but if you should have an allergic reaction to one or the other ingredients, you won’t know which one it was.  It’s better to start with one or the other by itself.  If the outcome is good, but not great, add one of the others and see if things don’t improve even more.  Like everything else, no two people are alike, no two migraines are alike and treatments must be tweaked to suit the individual.

As always, consult your healthcare provider before starting any supplementation regimen.  The information shared here is for educational purposes only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure any medical conditions.  I am not a medical doctor and make no claims to that effect.

I’ve mentioned this many times in the past, but it bears repeating:  before there were pharmaceutical companies, Mother Nature supplied the therapeutic needs of her children through her flora and fauna.  While I’d never claim that pharmaceuticals are inferior, let us not forget that most of them are enhanced or synthesized versions of a natural genus.  Many prescription medications may seem to work better or faster at alleviating their intended ailment, but along with that speed usually comes side effects-some far worse than others-that should definitely cause both prescriber and patient to pause and consider benefits versus consequences.  Why drive a finish nail with a sledge hammer when a tack hammer will do the job very nicely?

For many people the herbal route may not work.  That doesn’t make herbals any less viable an option on the whole.  Every migraine is as different as the person suffering it.  This is also true for prescribed medications.  What works for one may not work for another.  Such is the diversity of life.  Vitamins, minerals and herbs are alternatives and supplements that may work on their own to alleviate one individual’s migraines, or may work hand in hand to enhance the performance of a pharmaceutical in another. For me anyway, if an herbal remedy will work, it’ll always be my first choice.  Not that there aren’t side effects associated with many herbal supplements.  There are.  However, when compared side by side to their pharmaceutical counterpart, the associated risks and harmful potential side effects of most herbals generally pale by comparison.

In the words of the immortal Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

I hope this week’s post has been helpful and educational.  As always, if you have any comments, good or bad, please feel free to leave them below.  If you have any comments or questions you’d prefer not to have posted on a public forum, feel free to send an email.  I try my hardest to answer all of your emails within twenty-four hours.

That’s it for this week.  Until next week, I wish you peace, love, happiness and good health.

Brian

 

 

 

authorphotoHi and welcome back.

This week I have some information that may be shocking to a great many of you: and may even save your life.

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,  and many other reputable publications, Vitamin D deficiency is now recognized as a worldwide pandemic.  It is estimated that the number of vitamin D deficient people in the world is over one-billion!  Why this hasn’t been splashed all over the mainstream media is beyond me.

Not surprisingly, I learned this first hand when, after some routine annual blood work, my doctor prescribed an expensive vitamin D tablet that, in my usual, anal fashion, I researched and found to be inferior to the vitamin D supplements I could get much cheaper and without a prescription from any reputable supplement supplier.

As early as 1950, German scientists realized that vitamin D2, (Ergocalciferol- which is synthetically made from radiating a mold that forms on cereal plants) used in most prescription vitamin D, was inferior and far less potent than vitamin D3, (Cholecalciferol-which is a cholesterol that is extracted from wool grease and wool wax alcohols obtained from the cleaning of wool after shearing. The cholesterol undergoes a four step process to make 7-dehydrocholesterol, the same compound that is stored in the skin of animals. The 7-dehydrocholesterol is then irradiated with ultra violet light.   Cholecalciferol is produced intrinsically in human and animal skin when exposed to UVB light, and Cholecalciferol is what’s contained in most quality vitamin D supplements.  German doctors changed their prescribing methods and started prescribing D3 as far back as the mid-nineteen-fifties. A great many American doctors, to this day, are still prescribing D2 in higher dosages to compensate for the deficiency between D2 and D3.

Vitamin D is a gift from the sun.  It is absorbed through the skin.  Given the current scare of skin cancer melanomas believed to be due in large part to the deteriorating solar UV filter, sunblocks, long sleeves and avoidance of the sun have become the norm.  That leaves oily fish, (which we discussed last week in our omega-3 discussion) fortified milk and a few bread and yogurt products as our only source of dietary vitamin D. Unfortunately, as we age, our skin becomes less able to absorb sufficient vitamin D from the sun.  So if you’re over forty, have milk allergies or just don’t drink milk, follow a vegan diet or have health issues such as Crohn’s Disease or other issues that prohibit or limit the intestines from absorbing vitamins into the system, chances are you may be a member of the vitamin D deficiency club.

In the words of the infamous Groucho Marx, “I refuse to belong to any club that would have me as a member!”

The list of possible diseases that a chronic vitamin D deficiency has been associated with is massive.  These are some of the known consequences of vitamin D deficiency.   Many others are still being studied:

  • Osteoporosis and Osteopenia
  • Weak Bone Syndrome
  • Obesity
  • Rickets in children
  • Metabolic Syndrome and Type-2 Diabetes
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • 17 varieties of Cancer
  • Heart Disease
  • Gout
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Bursitis
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Infertility
  • Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS)
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Depression
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Psoriasis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic Pain Syndrome
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome

And the studies continue into even more conditions and diseases linked to vitamin D deficiency.  If this hasn’t scared you into insuring that your next blood test includes a 25-hydroxy vitamin D test (25-OH-D test), you may want to go back and re-read the above list.  The normal range is 30.0 to 74.0 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). Not that I’d recommend skipping routine annual blood work, but if you’re needle shy or insurance deficient (as many are these days) there are kits available where you just prick your finger with a lancet, smear the blood drip on a chemically treated blotter and send the sample off to the lab you bought the kit from.  There are also kits where the results can be seen immediately, but I don’t know enough about them to list their pros and cons.  Once again, never self diagnose.  See your doctor and request that the 25-OH-D analysis be added to your annual blood work-up if at all possible.  Chances are it will already be included anyway.  Some members of the medical community do keep up on the latest in vitamin and mineral deficiencies and ways to detect them early.

According to Medicinenet.com, the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for those between one-year-old and seventy-years-old is 600IU’s of vitamin D a day.  For those over seventy, the RDA rises to 800IU’s a day.  Unless you’re following a diet high in oily fish and vitamin D fortified milk and cereals, or if you have a condition that limits your absorption of vitamins and nutrients, it may be time to consider a vitamin D3 supplement.

As for the osteo (bone) issues linked to a vitamin D deficiency is impaired intestinal absorption of calcium, which results in decreased levels of serum total and ionized calcium levels. This hypocalcemia gives rise to secondary hyperparathyroidism, which is a homeostatic response aimed at maintaining, initially, serum calcium levels at the expense of the skeleton. Following this PTH-induced increase in bone turnover, alkaline phosphatase levels are often increased. PTH not only increases bone resorption, but it also leads to decreased urinary calcium excretion while promoting phosphaturia, (Phosphaturia is a urinary tract condition where there is too much phosphorus in urine and it causes the urine to appear cloudy or murky color.  This is just a symptom of possible underlying renal issues).  This results in hypophosphatemia, (an electrolyte disturbance in which there is an abnormally low level of phosphate in the blood which exacerbates the mineralization defect in the skeleton.[1}

Read and heed, my friends.  For a few dollars a month spent with a reputable vitamin/mineral/supplement supplier you can take one of the risk factors for all of the above out of the equation. Obviously there’s no such thing as a magic bullet guaranteed to cure any and all ailments, especially for those in the over forty club, but as our elders always said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  Words to live by.

That’s about all I have to say about vitamin D, except to remind you to have your vitamin D levels tested during your annual check-up.

As always, if you have any comments, good or bad, please feel free to leave them below.  If you have questions or comments that you’d rather not post on an open forum, feel free to send me an email.

Until next week, I wish you peace, happiness and great health.

See you in the funny papers!

Brian

1. Dan L. Longo, Anthony Fauci, Dennis Kasper, Stephen Hauser, J.Jerry Jameson and Joseph Loscalzo, Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, 18th edition, p.3094

authorphotoHello and welcome.  I’m glad you’re here.  Thank you for stopping by.

This week we’re discussing omega-3 fatty acid supplements.

I consider these a must for myself because I hate seafood in any form or fashion.  I can’t even get it past my nose.  Being from Massachusetts originally, my family consider me the family embarrassment due to my loathing of all things seafood.  What’s worse, my girlfriend considers lobster to be a major food group so I frequently find myself having to order one of the two non-fish items on the menu at Red Lobster-and eat it while breathing through my mouth! Thankfully, they have Sam Adam’s Boston Lager on tap…in the 20 oz, mug! Considering that fatty fish such as salmon, trout and tuna, and shellfish like crab, mussels and oysters are the most common source of (EPA) Eicosapentaenoic Acid, and (DHA) Docosahexaenoic Acid, (two of the three omega-3 fatty acids) I definitely need to supplement.  Throw in the third ringer, that I rarely eat fried foods-canola and soybean oils being the main sources for the third of the three fatty acids, (ALA) Alpha-Linolenic Acid, and I’d be out of luck without a supplement.

Before even considering an omega-3 fatty acid supplement, (commonly known as fish oil) there’s a few things you need to know.

1) If you’re taking any medications that effect blood clotting such as blood thinners or NSAIDS,  do not start an omega-3 supplement without first speaking with your healthcare provider.  Omega-3 supplements are contraindicated for people taking any medications that affect blood clotting due to their penchant for extending bleeding times.

2) If you have a seafood allergy, omega-3 supplements can possibly cause you to have an allergic reaction.

3) If you are pregnant, planning on becoming pregnant or breastfeeding, speak with your healthcare provider before starting an omega-3 regimen (or any supplemental regimen for that matter).  Seafood is recommended only in small amounts during pregnancy, and supplementing may provide too much EPA and DHA.

4) If you’re a Vegetarian or Vegan, there are algae and krill oil supplements that can be taken in place of fish oils.

I’m a firm believer in the health benefits of omega-3 supplementation, but a lot of the studies I’ve read lately are inconclusive regarding the cardiovascular benefits of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation-my main reason for taking it.  There seems to be more positive results regarding the effect of omega-3’s for the relief of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and for lowering triglyceride levels.  It would seem to me that if it’s capable of lowering triglyceride levels and slowing down clotting times, it must have some cardiovascular benefit, but I’m no doctor. For me personally, I opt to believe (and I have done extensive research) there is cardiovascular benefit from omega-3 fatty acids and I’ll continue to supplement.  And I’m a little fish in the fish oil believer pond.  Read on.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends everyone eat fish (particularly fatty fish) at least twice a week. While foods are your best bet for getting omega-3’s in your diet, fish oil supplements are available for those who do not eat fish.  Further, the AHA states that taking up to 3 grams (3000 milligrams) of fish oil supplements daily is considered safe (most of the available supplements contain between 1000-1400 milligrams with a recommended dosage of between two to three capsules per day). They strongly recommend that you don’t take more than 3 grams daily unless you discuss it with your doctor first. If you have heart disease, you may need even higher doses of omega-3 fatty acids. Ask your doctor if you should take higher doses of fish oil supplements to get the omega-3’s you need. (source webmed.com)

Obviously the AHA believes there’s some cardiovascular benefits from omega-3 supplements-and their business is all about hearts!

Dr. Oz had this to say about omega-3 fatty acids: “Omega-3 fatty acids are the brain-boosting, cholesterol-clearing good fats.” Dr. Oz lists omega-3’s as 1 of the 5 critical supplements every woman should take (along with a multivitamin and additional vitamin D supplements), 1 of 5 daily nutrition needs and as one of the most important steps expecting mother’s can take to promote their baby’s healthy development. (source: Dr Oz.com)

Obviously Dr. Oz believes in the cardiovascular benefits of omega-3 supplements.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating.  While I am in no way one of those conspiracy theorists who believe the AMA rejects any claims about the beneficial properties of vitamin and herbal supplementation due to their inability to control them, I do believe that anything that doesn’t have to be prescribed by a physician is poo-poo’ed by a great many mainstream practitioners and considered notions, potions and snake oil.  This certainly isn’t meant to include all mainstream doctors.  Mine seems to be very open to supplementation and the benefits they offer; but we haven’t discussed it any more in-depth than to weigh my own supplementation choices.  There just isn’t time.  “Take off your clothes, say ah, bend over, thank you, that’ll be $125.00,” is what most of us experience during an office visit.  Rarely do we have time for chit-chat in these times where the insurance companies have doctors offices turned into mass production assembly lines.  It just seems to me that many doctors prefer to be reactive instead of proactive and would prefer to deal with the end result rather than being more open to alternative means to prolong or prevent that end result.  Again, that’s just my opinion.

But I digress.  Let’s get back to omega-3’s.

Omega-3 fatty acids are are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are considered essential nutrients,  They can’t be synthesized by the body.  This means that it must be added either through diet or supplementation.  Studies are inconsistent for many of the beneficial claims of fish oils, but there haven’t really been enough controlled studies to state conclusive evidence pro or con. Unfortunately, that’s the case with most herbal supplements.

However, studies have proven that omega-3 fatty acids may lower triglyceride levels in the blood, lower blood pressure, increase circulation, increase the breakdown of clot and scar forming fibrin, (again, seems like cardiovascular benefit to me) reduce inflammation such as that seen in Rheumatiod Arthritis as well as NSAID’s do, and reduce the risk of the onset of dementia among other, yet unstudied, conditions.

Sound like it might be worth a few dollars a month?

Unfortunately, alternative medicine is woefully short on conclusive studies, mainly due to the fact that they are considered by all too many mainstream medicos to not be worth the effort.  I believe that’s due in large part to the fact that the vast majority of supplements aren’t controlled, aren’t ridiculously expensive and don’t require a prescription.  That’s incredibly evident now that it was found that millions of Americans are vitamin D deficient, a deficiency that can lead to weakened bones, cancer, asthma, cardiovascular disease, MS and other autoimmune diseases.  Once conclusive studies were out proving this, many doctors immediately started testing their patients for vitamin D deficiency and started writing scripts for prescription vitamin D which, believe it or not, has been proven to be inferior in quality to over the counter vitamin D supplements…and a whole lot more expensive. The prescription formulation vitamin D is generally a D2 (Ergocalciferol) compound which is the same D vitamin used to fortify milk and cereals.  Most of the better supplements contain D3 (Cholecalciferol) which has been proven to be at least 50% more effective than D2.  We’ll discuss vitamin D3 supplements next week.

Now the hard part: finding a good quality supplement.

There are literally thousands of them out there of varying degrees of quality.  It has been my experience that dollar store vitamins are definitely out.  I rarely go into the dollar stores, but had the “opportunity” to venture in to one a few weeks ago.  While I was in there, probably out of boredom while my girlfriend shopped, I wandered into their vitamin section and started reading labels.  When the fillers and additives consist of names you can’t pronounce, they’re definitely something you want to stay away from.

GMO’s are also something to avoid.  In my humble opinion, anything genetically modified scares me and I don’t care to knowingly ingest anything that has been genetically altered.  Many of the garden variety vitamins contain GMO’s.

As for content, I prefer to take a supplement that contains omega-3’s from different sources.  The one I’m currently taking contains Borage Seed Oil, Fish Oil and Flax Seed oil, all natural sources.  All the omega-3 bases are covered, no GMO’s and all contained in vegetable capsule.  Always read the label thoroughly.  All of the better supplement manufacturers show the full label on their website or in their catalog.  Last week we discussed some of the scary additives used in the bargain supplements and the lower quality sources they extract the actual vitamin, mineral or herb from.

Well, I believe that about sums up my soap box sermon on the benefits of Omega-3 supplements.  I hope this information has been useful and that this blog has been enlightening on some level.

Next week we’ll discuss vitamin D3.  I hope you’ll stop back by.

As always, feel free to leave comments below, (good or bad) or send an email if you have a comment or question you’d rather not post on a public forum.

Until next week, I wish you good health, much happiness and a whole lot of smiles.

Brian

Disclaimer:  This blog is intended for informational purposes only and is in no way meant to diagnose, treat or cure any medical conditions and should not be construed as such.  Always discuss any ailments or supplement regimen with your healthcare provider

 

 

authorphotoIt’s funny how things kind of flow together when you get on a subject that’s near and dear to your heart.  I am probably one of the world’s biggest advocates for herbal supplementation and alternative therapies.  There’s just something about natural healing that sparks a happy place in my brain.  That thirst for knowledge keeps me digging and searching for any and all the information I can find to keep learning and sharing new and exciting developments in the alternative medicine world.

As we were discussing last week, the American diet frankly leaves a lot to be desired.  Most of us just don’t eat enough of the right foods every day to maintain our bodies in the style preordained in the master plan.  And what happens when we aren’t nice to our bodies?

Mayhem!

Oh, I’m not pointing fingers.  Nor am I pontificating or pretending to be the paragon of good health.  Far from it.  Truth be told, I love red meat entirely too much, love my beer even more and definitely don’t get enough exercise.  What’s more, I can lay claim to at least two cigars every weekend.  I cook big, well balanced meals on the weekend, but after Wednesday when the last of the leftovers have left the microwave, it’s catch what catch can until Saturday.  And, *head bowed in shame* that often includes Big Mac’s (another of my guilty pleasures) and a large order of fries…but in my defense, I wash it down with a Diet Pepsi!

The sad part is that I’ll probably be accused of being an accessory after the fact because sharing those leftovers with me is the love of my life.  When I hit McDonald‘s for a Big Mac on the way to work, she’s hitting some fast food place for her dinner, too (she hates to cook).  Thankfully she, too, has been brought into the light and is swallowing her vitamins every day right beside me.

And I’m definitely not saying that you can eat whatever you want, drink whenever you want, get no exercise and then take a hand full of vitamins and supplements to cancel out the evils of all your excesses.

But wouldn’t it be great if you could?!

Meanwhile, back in the real world, it’s time to face a few realities.  In sad summary, we have terrible eating habits, we’re getting older and most of us gave up the three minute mile a few years back.  It only makes sense that we have to replenish and nourish ourselves and offer up our best defense against the offense we, and the aging processes, are inflicting on our bodies on a daily basis.

One of the first weapons in your arsenal should probably be a multivitamin.

But which one?  The supermarket, drug store and vitamin shops are loaded with them, right?

For starters, those $300 a month “Super-Duper-Mega-Multivitamins” you see flashing across your TV screen on a daily basis aren’t really necessary, nor are they all they’re cracked up to be.  I’ve built up a chart with vitamin and mineral descriptions and their “DRI’s,” (Dietary Reference Intake-the revised measurement for the long outdated vitamin and mineral RDA’s, (Recommended Daily Allowances) that were originally put into place in 1968 and had remained unchanged ever since.  The DRI was introduced in 1997 in order to broaden the existing Recommended Dietary Allowances guideline to better reflect our changing lifestyles through newer science. The DRI values are not currently used in nutrition labeling.  The older Reference Daily Intakes (RDI’s) are still used.  Given that even the “fast food” diet includes some nutrients, most high quality daily multivitamins will meet these requirements.

Please keep in mind that these DRI’s are intended for healthy individuals.  For those with medical conditions, these requirements may vary and should be discussed with a medical professional.  Conditions such as anemia, Crohn’s Disease, intestinal absorption deficiencies, liver and kidney disorders, cancer and a myriad of other blood or digestive diseases bring some very specific supplementation issues to the table and should be maintained and monitored by a healthcare professional.

The most important thing to consider when choosing a multivitamin is the quality of the ingredients.  Always look for a supplement manufactured by a company that meets or exceeds the GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) requirements and who use only high quality, natural ingredients with no GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms).  There are a lot of red flags concerning GMO’s.  I personally steer clear of them.  Buying from an established American GMP approved company definitely improves your chances of getting a supplement that was manufactured in a sterile environment with the correct amount/measurement of the vitamin or mineral you’re buying in it: and without dangerous, unregulated fillers or binders.

Some of the more reputable vitamin, mineral and herbal manufacturers that come to mind are Swanson’s, Nature Made, Puritan’s Pride and Nature’s Sunshine.  I personally order through Swanson’s and have had nothing but good results, but that’s my experience.  Do some research before deciding on a supplement and choose the one that best suits your needs: and make sure they’re manufactured entirely in the United States.  Many vitamin/supplement companies claim to sell all American products, but get their ingredients from overseas.

If you are a Vegan, your need to supplement is ten-fold.  The lack of meats and dairy in your diet and the nutrients they contain has to be replaced by supplementation.  All of the good quality supplement manufacturers offer Vegan specific and Vegan compounded supplements made without animal byproducts and containing the vitamins and minerals lacking in your diet.

When you’re doing your research, make sure to read  all the way to the bottom of the component list.  Find out what the manufacturer is using for fillers and binders, what their capsules are made of, etc.  These fillers and binders can effect the absorption rate and health benefits of the vitamin or mineral by as much as 65%.  Many of the less reputable manufacturers use anything and everything for binders, or to add filler to their vitamins-much of which is not compatible with a healthy supplement.   Magnesium stearate, for instance, is a widely used filler. Studies have shown that it suppresses immune function. Titanium dioxide is a whitening agent that is often used in some supplements and has been shown to be a potential carcinogen.  Parabens are a group of widely used preservative and anti-microbial agents used in many supplements. There is concern that parabens can cause hormone disturbances and have been found in high concentrations in breast cancer tumors.  MSG, (monosodium glutamate) is a very common flavoring agent in supplements and is widely used in processed foods.  Many individuals have had adverse reactions to MSG, not the least if which is migraine headaches.  It is a known neuro-toxic agent and should be strictly avoided when choosing supplements.  These are but a few things to look out for and avoid.  There are many other potential toxins/allergens used as fillers, binders and capsule material.  I find it best to always look for all natural Vegan/Vegetarian compounds.

For those of us over fifty, some additional supplements to consider in a multivitamin might be Lutein (6mg a day) for eye health, calcium for the prevention of osteoporosis, Vitamin D because as we age, we lose a great deal of our ability to absorb vitamin D from the sun through our skin, the B vitamins, (B12 and B6 especially) for healthy red blood cells, and a high quality fish oil (usually a separate supplement and not often supplied in a multi in sufficient quantity) to help keep your arteries clean.  Most manufacturers carry age-specific compounds tailored to the needs of those of us in our “prime.”

Below is a link to my list of the DRI for the most common vitamins and minerals your body requires on a daily basis with a short explanation of each further down the list.  This list is by no means all inclusive.  It is intended purely as a guideline.

Most Common Vitamins and Minerals and their DRI’s

Everyone’s personal needs differ, so no one vitamin supplement is perfect for everyone.  However, starting with a high quality multivitamin is a good place to get your feet wet.  I, myself, take an over-fifty multivitamin, 1000mg of vitamin C, 1200mg of fish oil for cardiovascular health, 400IU’s of vitamin D-3 because I eat very little dairy and work indoors, a herbal prostate combo that contains saw palmetto, pygeum and stinging nettle (nettle is also believed to lower blood pressure), and a flax seed capsule for roughage.  While some may say that sounds excessive, my annual blood work would disagree.  I am on no cholesterol lowering statins, I rarely get sick, and I have never had any prostate issues (thank God): a common infirmity in those of us fellas over fifty.  I also occasionally self-administer a 1200mcg shot of B-12 because I work nights and, try as we may, the body just isn’t made to be up all night and sleep during the day.  We’re not bats. On those mornings when I’m having a hard time falling asleep, I often take a Valerian capsule which usually eases me into a peaceful sleep.  As you can see, I practice what I preach and keep a wide variety of herbal remedies on hand at all times.

As I’ve stated before, this blog is posted for information purposes only and is in no way, shape or form intended to diagnose any medical conditions or be construed as medical advice.  I am not a medical doctor, nor do I claim to be.  Always consult a health care professional before beginning any diet, supplement or exercise regimen.

To boil it all down:  Unless you’re someone dedicated to eating a perfectly balanced diet every day, exercising regularly and sleeping eight or more hours a night, chances are you’re lacking in one nutrient or another.  That, unfortunately, is life and the older we get, the more common these deficiencies become and the more severe the consequences.

If you live a Vegetarian or Vegan lifestyle, you will definitely need to look into supplementation in one form or another.  If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or have plans of becoming pregnant, discuss a vitamin regimen with your doctor.  Pregnancy and breastfeeding bring with them their own special set of nutritional needs, warnings and contraindications.  It is extremely important for you to discuss your personal nutritional needs with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Well, I guess I’ve spouted enough for one day.  I hope this week’s blog has given you some food for thought.

As always, I welcome your comments, good or bad, and I can always be reached via email if you should have any comments or questions you don’t want posted on a public forum.

And, as always, I wish you peace, happiness, good health and a long and happy retirement.

See you next week,

Brian

 

 

me_grass_skirt_avitar I know.  Some of you are shaking your heads and saying,   “Hey!  Isn’t this that goofy guy in the grass skirt and coconut bra with the lower half of a woman in rather racy attire as his side kick?  The one who built that Tiny Travel Trailer?  What does he know about herbalism?”

Fear not, my friends.  Tis I.  When you get to be as old as I am, you do manage to pick up a few various and sundry other tidbits of information along the way.

Truth be told, aside from being that clown in the grass skirt, I have been a practicing, mainstream medic for many, many years, a certified massage therapist (please don’t call us masseuses!)and have, for most of my life, been an avid believer and student of herbal remedies, supplements and alternative medicine.  My herbal library would rival some of the most coveted herbal and homeopathic libraries out there.   I have both participated in and conducted many herbal studies over many years and I love to spread that acquired knowledge (those few tidbits that my age addled gray matter has managed to retain, anyway) whenever and wherever it’s requested.

The main reason for the change in the blog’s subject, aside from the fact that the Tiny Travel Trailer (Nosty’s Nook) has long since been finished and has traveled many a mile and seen quite a few camp fires, is two fold. One, because I honestly believe I may have some valuable information to share and, two, because I’m aghast over some of the television commercials and magazine ads I’ve seen lately regarding the “Latest and Greatest Herbal Sensation, guaranteed to cure whatever ails you.”  The level of hogwash allowed to be perpetuated to the public is scandalous at best…and deadly at worst.  It’s high time someone came out and brought some unbiased facts to life in a no-nonsense, understandable format.

“Quick!  Into a nearby vitamin shop!  It’s a bird…it’s a plane…It’s Herbal Man!!”

Let’s face it.  There are a few, unfortunate,  human weaknesses that advertisers prey heavily on:  Promise an aging man an instant solution to his male pattern baldness or erectile dysfunction, or a “gracefully aging” woman a miracle salve or pill that’ll eliminate wrinkles or reduce her dress size without diet or exercise, and many will be calling that one-eight-hundred number, stuttering out their credit card number to cover the requested, exorbitant fee, plus processing and handling, before you can say quinquagenarian!

Unlike mainstream pharmaceuticals, the majority of herbal supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA.  They’re actually classified as dietary supplements and cosmetics.  Unfortunately, this leaves the field wide open for scam artists and Quick Buck Charlie’s” to mass produce and distribute, (usually in China) for no small fee, useless and often harmful snake oils under the guise of miracle cures.  Not that I favor FDA/AMA intervention in herbal matters, but I’d love to see the formation of a quorum of responsible herbal manufacturers, those who have gained the GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices)  seal of approval for tight standards and sanitary production conditions, mass together to squeeze these charlatans out of the market permanently.

I do not, in any way, intend to imply that those who fall into the trap of sugar coated promises spewed by these purveyors of useless miracle cures are, in any way, fools.  Misguided, perhaps.  Reaching for a star?  Possibly.  It’s hard not to try something that claims to have sold, “Over Six Million Bottles and Counting.”  And then there’s that clincher:  “Call now before it’s all gone and, with it, your chance to live a longer life!  Call in the next thirty seconds and we’ll double your chance for a longer life!  Just pay separate processing and handling.”

Before I go any further, let me place a disclaimer here.  This blog is not intended to, in any way, shape or form, diagnose or cure any diseases, or make any implications to that effect.  I am not a medical doctor and do not claim to be.  Common sense dictates that you should never stop taking prescription medications prescribed by a medical doctor for an herbal alternative without consulting your physician first.  Always consult a medical professional before beginning any exercise or herbal regimen.  Always, always, always research any supplement or holistic remedy you wish to try before taking it.  Check for contraindications and possible side effects.  Oh, and let me further add that I’m not selling anything here.  Relax.  This isn’t a sales blog.  I do not necessarily endorse any brand’s products, nor have I been offered any compensation for endorsements.  I write this for no other reason than to, hopefully, enlighten and share my experiences, including personal experiences from the results of my years long, now tweaked, daily regimen, as well as the results of the many studies I have participated in and conducted.

Did I mention that I’m a voracious researcher of all things medical/herbal?

More to the point, let me state emphatically that herbal remedies are not going to cure the clogged arteries that your doctor says you need to have stented.  Nor can they be even remotely considered to be the magical route to take instead of doctor recommended chemotherapy if you’re diagnosed with cancer, (Heaven forbid).   If you’ve reached that point, allopathic (traditional) medicine is your only responsible choice, and quite possibly your only chance for continued breath on this side of the sod.  By this point, your condition has advanced to a level where your only alternative is advanced, competent, medical intervention.  If anyone tries to sell you a bill of goods to convince you otherwise, make sure you have all your affairs in order.  In such case, both practitioner and patient, (you) are fools flying down the fast lane to the long dirt nap.  Following such advice will never end well.

Herbal supplements are just that: supplements.  Their purpose is to enhance your overall wellbeing and, when used responsibly, very possibly help make that transition into your twilight years that much more pleasant and painless.  Simply stated, they can, in many cases, help you avoid some future condition by, for instance, strengthening your immune system.  This is just one example.

Something that I’m often asked, and that always makes me cringe is this: “But they’re all natural so they can’t hurt me, right?” 

Wrong!

For starters, numerous herbal and homeopathic remedies have been proven to interact unfavorably with many prescription medications.  This includes, but is not limited to, decreasing the efficacy of the prescription medication.  Many others can cause severe allergic reactions in some people.  This is just touching the surface of the downsides of uninformed self-medicating.  Choosing the wrong combination could be fatal.  Keep in mind that almost all prescription medications are a synthesis of herbal remedies.  Aspirin, Digitalis, and Opium (to name but a few) were all derived from herbal remedies before they were synthesized.  Would you just decide to eat some Foxglove bulbs (known to most as an ornamental plant) from your neighbor’s garden because your heart skipped a beat and your Aunt Gladys said Foxglove was good for that?  Another case of your having an idiot for a doctor.  Digoxin, an extremely potent drug used to treat cardiac conditions such as atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure, is derived from an extract (digitalis) of the Foxglove plant.  The entire plant is toxic.  Ingesting it would probably punch your ticket on the Hallelujah Express; yet I have seen Foxglove extract for sale on one of the shadier sites under a different name.

Is any of this making sense?

On the other side of the coin, a responsible herbal regimen, comprised of quality supplements can, without question, help relieve joint aches, add vigor and vitality to your gait, help with memory and depleted vitamin and mineral levels in the aging body, be an excellent sleep aid and many, many other wonderful things.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, as of 2006 over half of the population of the United States were taking vitamin/mineral/herbal supplements in one form or another.  Fifty percent of the people can’t all be wrong.  Those fifty percent must be getting some favorable results from supplementation or we wouldn’t be wasting the approximately $4.4 billion dollars per year the National Institutes of Health claims was spent on “dietary supplements” in 2005 alone.  I’m sure that amount has increased exponentially in the nine years since these results were compiled.

Let’s face it.  We American’s live life in the fast lane.  The old days of getting up to a balanced breakfast, stopping for a leisurely, nutritional lunch and sitting with the family for a nice, balanced dinner every night seem to have gone by the wayside.  Moms and dads are both out in the work place these days to keep the lights on and food on the table.  There just isn’t time!  All too many of us are opting for packaged foods, microwave dinners and the everpresent allure of fast foods.  Somewhat tasty, but most of it definitely lacking the recommended daily nutritional requirements and filled with fats and fillers that we don’t need.  Supplementation has become more of a necessity than a whim.

Want a laugh?   I can assure you that if any, older,  allopathic doctors are reading this, they’re shaking their heads and tisk-tisking, waving the naughty finger at me as they read.  Not because I’ve donned the grass skirt and coconut bra again, but because a great many old-school, mainstream doctors have had the bogus idea that OTC vitamins and minerals are useless and dangerous pounded into their heads from their first day of medical school.  Fortunately, modern medical schools now require their students to take classes in herbal medicine, and to become somewhat familiar with the Materia Medica-the bible of herbal and homeopathic medicine.  If your doctor is one of those stodgy, old school sawbones, it may be time to find a more enlightened practitioner.  The old ways have been proven wrong time and time again.  Doubt me?  Have you ever seen a Cancer Treatment Center’s of America commercial?  Traditional, cutting edge medicine combined with alternative medicine, commonly referred to as CAM (Complimentary and Alternative Medicine).  In other words, the whole person, mind, body and spirit, is treated as one.  That means the inclusion of all modalities-herbal, homeopathic, spiritual, massage/body work and all other complimentary therapies.  I’ve visited their website and was rather impressed with what I read:  although I pray none of us ever require their services.

There.  I’ve stated my case for this week.  I hope that I’ve planted a fertilized seed in your mind regarding herbal supplementation substantial enough to bring you back next week, and for many weeks to follow, as we delve deeper into some of the many viable herbal supplements, vitamins and minerals as well as some suggestions-and some not-so-suggested-thoughts for safe, responsible, herbal supplementation.  All in my humble, yet studied, opinion, that is.

In the meantime, if you haven’t been to the see your doctor in a while, make an appointment soon.  We no longer have the invincibility we had in our twenties.  We’ve reached an age where we should be looking forward to spoiling our grandchildren, contemplating retirement and all the things we want to do when we don’t have to get up every morning and drag ourselves into the office to toil for the man.  Medical emergencies can happen in the blink of an eye.  “Help!  I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”  Having a solid baseline and a thorough assessment now can possibly save you that early heart attack or stroke we all feel gnawing at the fringes of our nightmares as we squeal our slightly worn tires and burn rubber, smoking tail pipes and all, into our twilight years.  While you’re there, discuss a responsible supplementation regimen with your doctor.  It’s costing you a fortune to be there.  Why not get your money’s worth?

Next week we’ll delve into some basic supplementation and a few simple ways to get started.  Later on we’ll discuss more specialized supplements you might consider for specific ailments. As is always the case with my blog, the comments section will always be available for you to leave thoughts or opinions, good or bad, or share an opinion.  You can also reach me via email should you have a question or comment you’d like to make on a less public forum: doc@bgreenleaf.com  (the “doc” does not imply medical doctor.  It’s a nickname).

Until next week, here’s wishing you good health and a very long lifetime filled with laughter.  May all your retirement dreams come true.

Smile, life is grand!

See you next week!

Brian

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