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   Nov 07

Healing power of herbs

“Herbs are accepted by the body readily as we accept vegetables, fruits and any food,” says Prevention advisor Dr Issac Mathai, Medical Director, SOUKYA International Holistic Health Centre, Bengaluru. “As there are no synthetic chemicals, their value is above other kinds of medicines and treatments.” However, just because they are natural it is not alright to self-medicate.

“Today herbal medicines have the backing of decades of scientific research,” says Rama Ranjit Mehra, nutraceutical and functional medicine practitioner, and chairperson, SVAASA Dietary Supplements. “As treatment you need the correct dosage and potency.” Yes, herbs can be potent. “It is important to seek professional advice,” says Charmaine D’Souza, consultant nutritionist and author of Kitchen Clinic. “Your healthcare provider must be aware of your allopathic or other forms of therapy before making herbal recommendations. Herbs can enhance the effects of other therapy and support it.”

Sugar Balancer- Bougainvillea

Best benefits: Traditionally used to relieve upper respiratory tract problems, a tea of bougainvillea flowers (the flowers are the tiny white centre, but the colourful bracts are added) has been used in Mexican folk medicine to treat a cough.

Leaves of the species Bougainvillea spectabilis are a source of a newly discovered compound, pinitol, used to treat metabolic diseases such as insulin-resistant diabetes. “Bougainvillea’s strength and uniqueness lies in the presence of pinitol, a substance that has an insulin-type effect, and is especially useful for those resistant to insulin and left with no options,” says Dr UK Tiwari, herbal scientist.

Studies have shown that the leaf extracts of this hardy and ubiquitous plant helped enhance glucose tolerance and significantly reduced intestinal glucosidase activity, along with regeneration of insulin-producing cells and increase in plasma insulin.

Bougainvillea has also been shown to maintain HDL-LDL balance and help with age-related blood pressure problems. If that’s not amazing enough, extracts of both its leaves and flowers has been shown to be anti-ulcerative, anti-diarrhoeal and anti-microbial. Available as: An extract or in combination with other herbs.

Safety: Some research says that inappropriate consumption of bougainvillea leaves may lead to infertility problems.

Hormone Helper- Red Clover

Best benefits: It’s the flower tops of the Trifolium pratense that are used to make medicine. Red clover contains isoflavones, which are changed in the body to ‘phyto-oestrogens’ that are similar to the hormone oestrogen.

“Red clover is used to combat hot flushes and PMS, lower cholesterol, improve urine production and blood circulation,” says D’Souza. “It also helps prevent osteoporosis, reduce the possibility of blood clots and arterial plaque, and block enzymes responsible for prostate cancer.”

Red clover is used for cancer prevention, indigestion, high cholesterol, whooping cough, asthma, bronchitis and sexually transmitted diseases. Besides menopausal symptoms, red clover is used for breast pain or tenderness. Red clover is applied for skin cancer, sores, burns and chronic skin diseases including eczema and psoriasis.

Available as: A liquid extract, capsules and powder.

Safety: Red clover seems to be safe for most adults for short periods. In large amounts, it has been seen to cause reproductive problems and sterility in animal experiments. Safety for pregnant or breastfeeding women or those who have breast cancer or other hormone-sensitive cancers is not established.

Ready Rejuvenator- Shatavari

Best benefits: Not to be confused with the common asparagus used in food, Asparagus racemosus is a plant whose root is used to make medicine for hormonal balance. It is mainly known for its phyto-oestrogenic properties and is said to have a rejuvenating effect on female reproductive organs. It is useful for infertility, decreased libido, post-hysterectomy problems, menopause, leucorrhea, and has the ability to balance pH in the cervical area. Its demulcent qualities also work on dry membranes, like those of the vaginal wall.

In addition, Shatavari is also thought to be effective for stomach ulcers, hyperacidity and diarrhoea. Dry, irritated membranes in the upper respiratory tract are thought to be soothed by it, making it useful in bronchitis and chronic fevers. It is said to bring into balance all of the body’s fluids. Scientific research also points to its anti-oxidant and antibacterial effects.

It is also used as an aphrodisiac, in the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders and in alcohol abstinence-induced withdrawal symptoms.

Available as: As a powder, liquid or capsules, or in combination with other herbs

Safety: Asparagus racemosus might have a diuretic effect and may reduce how well the body gets rid of the metal lithium.

Natural Energiser- Maca

Best benefits: Maca is a Peruvian root vegetable grown in the high plateaus of the Andes mountains, and used both as food and medicine. It is often called the Peruvian ginseng, because its effects are similar to those of ginseng. Traditionally, maca has been cultivated for more than 2,000 years and is said to increase energy and stamina, and enhance both fertility and sex drive.

It is a natural energizer, and may assist in reproductive functions by balancing hormones and increasing fertility. It is also known to improve memory and fight anaemia and chronic fatigue. The maca root helps balance the body’s delicate endocrine system and also enables a person to cope with stress.

“One very interesting quality of maca is that it is an adaptogen herb,” says D’Souza. This means that the herb works according to the needs, age and gender of the person using it!

Available as: Tincture, powder and capsules. In foods, maca is eaten baked or roasted, prepared as a soup, and used for making a fermented drink called maca chicha.

Safety: Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or people with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.

Age Fighter- Goji Berries

Best benefits: These berries, also called wolfberries, belong to the Lycium barbarum plant native to China. Goji berries have compounds rich in Vitamin A, which may have anti-ageing benefits.

Some researchers suggest that goji berry extracts may boost brain health and may protect against diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Over time, people have also used these to treat many common health problems like diabetes, high BP, fever and age-related eye problems.

In the book Discovery of the Ultimate Superfood, the authors document the science behind goji berries and list 67 medical studies showing how they support healthy heart function. Like other berries, they are high on antioxidants and other compounds that are thought to affect cancer-causing agents. Research has shown that the beta-sitosterols in goji berries also reduce ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol absorption in humans.

Available as: The bright-red berries contain 20-40 tiny seeds, and can be eaten raw, dried or made into a juice or wine and brewed for tea. The extracted phytochemicals used in nutritional supplements provide the most potent health benefits.

Safety: Be aware of herb-drug incompatibilities, such as with blood thinners, diabetes and blood pressure medicines, and avoid it if you have pollen allergies.

Nutri Power Giver- Moringa

Best Benefits: Scientists researching moringa agree that Moringa oleifera, the common drumstick, is the most nutrient-dense plant on earth, with 46 antioxidants, 36 anti-inflammatories, vitamins, minerals, omega oils and 18 amino acids (vital proteins that govern body functions), including nine rarely found intact in our food chain.

They say that one serving of Moringa provides seven times the amount of Vitamin C in oranges, four times the calcium in milk, four times the Vitamin A in carrots, twice the protein in milk and thrice the potassium in bananas. According to the USA’s National Institutes of Health (NIH), which named it the ‘botanical of the year’ in 2008, Moringa assists in the treatment and prevention of more than 300 medical conditions including weight management, blood sugar regulation, circulatory system support, immunity enhancement, blood pressure regulation, inflammation management, cuts and rashes, anaemia and more.

Available as: Young pods can be used in food (like traditionally in sambar), and the flowers are eaten as a vegetable. It is available as a nutritional supplement (made from its leaves).

Safety: Overdosing may cause nausea. Inappropriate intake may cause heartburn and diarrhoea.

Immunity Booster- Bee Pollen

Best benefits: Bee pollen collected by bees is considered one of nature’s most completely nourishing foods as it contains nearly all nutrients needed by us: proteins (approximately 40% ), free amino acids that can be used directly by the body, vitamins (including B-complex) and folic acid. It contains more amino acids than eggs or cheese of equal weight. No wonder it’s a great energiser.

“It is a very effective immune stimulant,” says Mathai. “Small quantities on a daily basis are good for boosting our defence mechanism.” It also helps in treating skin inflammations or conditions such as psoriasis or eczema. Its high quantity of antioxidants may have an anti-inflammatory effect on lung tissues, preventing asthma and treating allergies.

“It’s good for seasonal colds and coughs and for healthy lungs,” confirms Mehra.

Available as: Tincture, powder and capsules. Natural honey, honeycomb, bee venom, or royal jelly don’t contain bee pollen.

Safety: Start with recommended small dosages. Avoid it if you have pollen allergies. It is not safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and may cause increased bleeding if taken with certain blood thinners. Initially, it may cause irritation of the gastro-intestinal tract and have a laxative effect.

Menopause Mentor- Black Cohosh

Best benefits: Black cohosh is the perennial plant, Actaea racemosa or Cimicifuga racemosa.

It is used for menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, migraines, mood swings, heart palpitations and vaginal dryness. A compound recently identified in it (fukinolic acid) was shown to have oestrogenic activity. In 2001, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists stated that black cohosh may be helpful in the short term (6 months or less) for women with symptoms of menopause. Traditionally, it has been used for gynaecological disorders, kidney disorders, malaria, rheumatism, sore throat, colds, cough, constipation, hives, backache and to induce lactation. It is a home remedy used as a diuretic, and for menstrual cramps and bloating.

Available as: Root extracts are available as supplements in capsule, powder and tincture forms.

Safety: Should be avoided by pregnant women, breast cancer patients, those taking birth-control pills, HRT or tamoxifen, those with liver disorders, or if symptoms of liver damage appear. It may cause stomach discomfort, headaches, gastric complaints and heaviness in legs.

The power of combination
Herbs work better in twos or more.

“I recommend a combination of at least 8-10 herbs in my mixes,” says D’Souza. “Naturopathy is holistic and factors in the physical, mental and emotional state.”

There are many combinations. “It’s called synergistic action,” says Tiwari. “Two herbs with similar properties used together may work better than one of them taken alone.” Here are examples:

For respiratory problems

Pushkarmool (anti-histaminic and anti-allergic agent, expectorant, bronchiodilator) + Krishna Tulsi (anti-oxidant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory) + Bibhitaki (antipyretic, expectorant, relaxes respiratory tract muscles) + Pippali (cough relief, reduces bronchospasm)

For sugar balance

Bimbi (retards absorption of dietary sugar) + Bougainvillea (helps insulin receptors’ function) + Sadabahar (lowers blood glucose).

For women’s reproductive well being

Shatavari (improves and balances female hormones) The Power Of Combination + Guruchi (reduces uterine contraction, anti-inflammatory) + Vana Tulsi (anti-oxidant, prevents premature ageing) + Lodhra (rejuvenating tonic)

For lipid care

Arjun (lowers LDL, increases bile secretion, inhibits cholesterol synthesis) + Harjor (lowers serum lipid level, improves HDL, lowers blood glucose) + Amalaki (lowers blood cholesterol, triglycerides) + Vana Tulisi (reduces lipid levels, cholesterol, triglycerides, blood glucose, and phospholipids).

For immune support

Katuki (adaptogenic, antiviral, anti-stress, liver and kidney protective, helps immune function) + Krishna Tulsi & Vana Tulsi (anti-inflammatory, immune-modulators, helps absorb nutrients).

Source: India Today Group

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