About this page:

In future months I will post pages relating to questions and topics such as: How long does it take for herbs to work? What is the best form in which to take herbs? How do we know herbs work? How to choose an herbalist of natural health practitioner, when to consult a medical doctor, beware the "wannabe herbalist," contraindications, dealing with the "herbal street drug" debacle, herbs safety and drug safety, tonic herbs, the benefits of herbs, and myths about specific herbs as well as uses for specific herbs--for example, herbs for PMS, ADHS, menopause, ulcers, asthma and so on. Send me suggestions, too!

I hope you'll check back to get a taste and see what HERBAL DEFENSE has to offer!

Check out the
Herbal Defense
Table of Contents

Go to the newest EXCERPT:

Healthy Intake of FATS


"Squelch it" Anti-Flu and Cold routine

How to choose an Herbalist or other practitioner

Antioxidant Stew (recipe)

The Ephedra Chronicles

Commercial Herbal Formulas

Herbs & Depression

REQUEST an excerpt topic

 Important: The information in this book and on this website is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you need medical attention, please seek the advice of your own health practitioner. You should have a health professional check your condition before making any changes in an existing treatment program.

Table of Contents




1. Herbs: The Original Medicine

2. History of Ayurveda, Ancient Healing Wisdom

3. Perspectives on Research

4. Immune System 101

5. Prevention 101: Immune Boosting Basics



6. Health-Building Herbs, Foods and Nutrients

7. Colds and Flu: Dodging the Immune Breakdown Epidemic

8. Especially for Women: Natural Healing for a Woman's Lifetime

9. Especially for Men: Natural Healing for a Man's Lifetime

10. Herbs for Babies and Children

11. Energizing Herbs

12. Herbs for Depression, Addictions, Anxiety, and Insomnia

13. Keeping Your Head (And Your Body): Herbs For Longevity

14. Herbal Renewal: Cleanse, Detox, Rebuild

15. Herbs for Skin


16. Herbs for Allergies

17. Herbs for Arthritis

18. Herbs for Yeast (Candida)

19. Herbs for Diabetes

20. Herbs for the Heart

21. Herbs for Headaches and other Aches

22. Herbs for Digestion



23. Living It: Herbs In Practice

24. Urban Myths and Sidewalk Talk

25. Healing Recipes




Recommended Reading





For the rest of the book, order Herbal Defense or visit your local bookstore!

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~ Questions & Answers ~ Send a Question ~ Read an excerpt ~ Top of page

 Important: The information in this book and on this website is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you need medical attention, please seek the advice of your own health practitioner. You should have a health professional check your condition before making any changes in an existing treatment program.

Healthy Intake of FAT/Fatty Acids

NOTE ABOUT THIS EXCERPT: I receive so many questions about dietary fat--is it "good?" Is it "bad?"
What is too much? What is enough?--that this excerpt has been much in demand. (See the current
Q&A for
my answer to one recent question.) The subject of dietary fat and healthy eating is a complex one, and in no
way can be completely covered here, but this explains some important basics.Please refer ro Herbal Defense
and to BodyFueling® for for more information on healthy eating and the medicinal value of foods.
Go to the
bookstore, or explore the BodyFueling or Herbal Defense page.


In BodyFueling® I offered a basic overview of how, when, and why fat is-and is not-made, stored, conserved, or used as fuel. This is important for understanding how to eat to stay lean. I also tried to present a big picture view so that you would understand that all fats are not inherently evil-it's their misuse and abuse that leads to disease. I have tried to curb the tide of fat phobia that has many people thinking a low-fat diet is the single magic bullet to heal all ills; that low-fat means no-fat; that cutting fat, by itself, leads to instant leanness; and that fat-free products are always better. (None of that is true.) Now it's time to learn a few new things about fats.

All fats are not created equal. Saturated fats, primarily animals fats consumed in excess, have been implicated to the cause and progression of countless diseases. They should be minimized in the diet.

Among unsaturated fats-plant or vegetable fats-there are a number of further distinctions. Some plant fats are better for us than others. Some can be almost as harmful as animals fats, or more so, though in different ways and for different reasons. Others have proven not only to be harmless, but are actually helpful in preventing or treating disease. The source and form of a fat determines its ability to heal or hurt us.

What this means is that a diet moderately low in fat (not compulsively, retentively approaching fat-free) is healthiest, and that the fats we do eat should be chosen carefully, to provide optimum healing power and to avoid harm. By no means is it ever helpful to be overfat or obese, or to get half of all your calories (fuel from food) from fat. This is not a suggestion to gulp massive amounts of fat. It is a suggestion, based on research to date, that neither a 5 percent fat diet nor a 55 percent fat diet is healthiest and that there's more to it than fat grams

The new distinction here is that a diet whose calories are comprised of 20 percent harmful fats is less healthy than one comprised of 30 percent "helpful fats." The total percentage of fat calories counts for leanness (which is also important to health), but the type of fat can make the difference between health and disease, too.

In addition to providing fuel (either burned immediately for energy or stored, depending on circumstances) for the body to run, fats are also involved in the synthesis of hormone-like messenger substances that include prostaglandins and leukotrienes. The manufacture of these messenger molecules requires fatty acids. Fatty acids are the major building blocks of fats, similar to the way amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.

At one time there was believed to be only a single prostaglandin. In the 1930s, a Swedish scientist discovered a substance in the prostate gland not identified before, and named it "prostaglandin." Now about 40 such prostaglandins have been discovered to play a role in every body cell, dictating a whole range of system responses. There may be hundreds more as yet undiscovered. These substances regulate virtually all body processes, both harmful and necessary ones.

Leukotrienes have a purpose, too-they signal white blood cells to accumulate in an infected area. But protracted oversecretion of them spells inflammation, immune suppression and oversensitivity.

Herein lies some of the power of "good" and "bad" fats. Certain types of fatty acids create prostaglandins and leukotrienes that do good things for us (or at least are benign), and other types of fatty acids go to build prostaglandins and leukotrienes that signal for inflammation, cell damage, or other destructive processes.The ratio of helpful prostoglandins to destructive ones at a given time has a great bearing on your overall health.


Essential fatty acids

Essential fatty acids (EFAs)-linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linoleic acid (ALA)-are used to synthesize cells membranes and make prostaglandins, the hormone-like messenger substances that regulate body functions.

We need to consume LA and ALA, in food or supplements, because our body cannot manufacture them. When you consume LA, the body converts it to gamma linoleic acid (GLA), the form it takes before conversion to prostaglandins. GLA is found in human milk and nowhere else in food. Without it, we can't make prostaglandins. These are also involed in many other importantbody functions.

Various factors such as too much alcohol, saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar or processed oils may block the LA-to-GLA pathways. So can diabetes, cancer, infections, and deficiencies of zinc, magnesium, niacin, B6 or Vitamin C. In such cases, supplements containing already formed GLA such as borage oil, evening primrose oil and black currant oil may be used. (Borage oil contains three times as much GLA as evening primrose oil. Evening primrose oil has been studied extensively, however.) GLA oils have been shown to give PMS, arthritis and eczema relief as well as lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Flax seed oil contains LA and is also nature's richest source of ALA. Hemp oil contains both LA and ALA, and is considered to have the most balanced proportion of the two.

LA is an omega-6 fatty acid and ALA is an omega-3 fatty acid. Our bodies need both of these types of fatty acids-but from healthy sources and in the right proportions. Lets look at what that means.


Omega-6 fatty acids

Fatty acids in meat, polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as corn, safflower and sunflower oil, and hydrogenated or partially saturated fats like margarine-generally, the cheapest and most commonly used oils-are called Omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are precursors for arachidonic acid, an inflammatory substance that has been blamed for a wide range of sickness-producing reactions. These fatty acids end up as damaging prostaglandins and leukotrienes that give cells instructions that lead to damage and disease. The more of these overactive messengers you have running around giving orders, the more breakdown and illness you are likely to have.


"Trans" fats

Hydrogenated cooking oils and margarines (which are ingredients of many packaged foods as well as sold by themselves; check labels!) are purified with strong chemical processing that not only taints the product but removes all nutrients. Even more important, they are exposed to extremely high temperatures that twist the fatty acid molecules. This processing changes their shape from a cis configuration to what's called a trans form. That's why you may see these fats being called trans fats in the press.

Many researchers attribute the rise in cancers and other illnesses to the corresponding increased use of these unnatural fats in the American diet. This is logical because fats are used in the synthesis of cell membranes, as already discussed. "Good" fats have the correct structure to fit into the membranes properly. The theory is that the misshapen fatty acid molecules create badly-made cells. Like a broken key, they lock into the cell membrane but disrupt its functioning, and compete with the natural (cis) fatty acids that are actually needed there.


Omega-3 fatty acids

Fatty acids in fish and monounsaturated oils such as olive, almond, canola (rapeseed) and flaxseed oil are called Omega-3 fatty acids. These are the "good" fats that should make up what fat is in your diet, if you're interested in prevention and excellent health.

Research is piling up with accolades for these fats-not only because they don't actively harm, but because they actually have healing properties that can block or reverse the damage done by their troublemaking cousins. They go into the synthesis of prostaglandins that give orders for repair and regeneration instead of destruction. Enough Omega-3 prevents arachidonic acid from being released from cells, and blocks their conversion to unfriendly prostaglandins and leukotrienes. (This is the antiinflammatory mechanism for some herbs and nutrients, too.)

One reason Omega-3 fats may be used for the body's good while Omega-6 fats wreak havoc on normal processes is that our bodies know what to do with the Omega-3s, while the Omega 6s are relatively foreign. This is very similar to the reason why our bodies accepts herbs, for the most part, without negative responses, while drugs-totally unfamiliar substances our bodies did not evolve with the capability to process-cause adverse reactions.

When we consume something that the human body has been seeing for millions of years, our bodies know what to do. When we consume something that our ancestors didn't, we're on our own-because they never needed to develop, and thus didn't pass on, any apparatus for dealing with the newcomer substance. In the big picture of history, foods with Omega-3 fats have been consumed since the times of our earliest ancestors, while the processed oils used excessively in in our culture today are relatively new. It's no wonder our bodies protest.

For the healthiest diet, make fat from fish and olives the lion's share of your total fat intake. Fish fats are best obtained from eating fish itself, rather than fish oil capsules, because you can't control the source of the fish when you take capsules, and unfortunately there is a significant risk of hazardous toxic contaminants in much of the fish available today. Some general rules of thumb: saltwater fish is less likely to be contaminated by pollutants than freshwater fish (and saltwater fish, from the coldest waters, also tend to be the richest in Omega-3 fats). Salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel are good sources. Younger (generally smaller) fish have had less years of exposure, suggests Jean Carper in Food: Your Miracle Medicine, and eating a variety of fish lets you rotate sources just in case one is contaminated.

Fish fats appear to raise levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, lowers triglyceride levels, and thin the blood to reduce clotting-all factors that lower risk of heart disease. They also may prevent and even help treat a wide variety of autoimmune, inflammatory skin and other disorders.

If you don't want to consume fish (because you don't like it, are vegetarian, or worry about contaminants), flaxseed oil is consistently proving to be a worthy omega-3 alternative with many of the same benefits. It's generally a cheaper way to get omega-3 fatty acids, too. It can be purchased in capsules or the seeds themselves can be ground into cereal or salads. If you buy the oil, it must be refrigerated.

Olive oil is also a winning fat. Again, we don't need 150 grams of it in our diets every day (we can survive on a minimum of three grams of fat and thrive on somewhere between 35 and 70 grams, depending on the individual-but many Americans eat much more fat than that, and from terrible sources). Get your 35 to 70 grams a day from olive oil, and you're doing more than simply avoiding damage-you're lowering LDL (bad cholesterol), boosting HDL cholesterol, and interfering with the deadly oxidation of LDL cholesterol. (Oils from almonds, sesame, walnuts and avocados are also in the same family.)

Don't strive for getting less than 10 percent of calories from fat. This can lower levels of HDL cholesterol, cause menstrual irregularities and other health problems. Extremely low total cholesterol (below 140) may eliminate any risk of heart disease (no known person with a cholesterol level of 150 or below has ever had a heart attack) but causes other problems. Cholesterol does have a purpose-such as cushioning cell membranes. Without that cushion, cell walls may be weakened and can burst, causing cerebral hemorrhaging. (However, cholesterol levels that low are extremely uncommon in the U.S.)

Besides, such extremes are not necessary for leanness and health. Think moderation! BodyFueling® was so much more than a "low-fat diet" because elimination of fat is not the key to everything. Lowering excessive fat consumption is one small part of a larger strategy of understanding and working with your body on many levels. I personally am not fanatical about fat. I get an average of 20 percent of my calories from fat (about 40-45 grams a day), probably on some days dipping a little lower and on many days somewhat higher. Most of my added fat is from olive oil and a little sesame oil; most of the source fat is from plant products and fish.

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For more Herbal Defense excerpts, go here or scroll down. For recipes, go to the Recipes page of this site.

Bookstore ~ BodyFueling.com Home ~ About Herbal Defense ~ About The Authors ~ Praise ~ Links
Why Try Herbs ~ Workshops ~ Questions & Answers ~ Send a Question ~ Read another excerpt ~ Top of page

 Important: The information in this book and on this website is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you need medical attention, please seek the advice of your own health practitioner. You should have a health professional check your condition before making any changes in an existing treatment program.

"SQUELCH-IT" Early Anti-Flu Routine

NOTE ABOUT THIS EXCERPT: This is taken out of Herbal Defense from the Cold and Flu chapter,
which also discusses prevention, as well as how to deal with colds and flu once you actually have full-blown
symptoms for faster healing and greater comfort. Therefore, while the below can be very valuable for quick
action when you feel something coming on, please refer ro Herbal Defense for much greater detail on the
immune system, herbs/nutrients/diet for long-term general immune-system-building, and many natural remedies
for cold, flu, and other viral infection. Go to the
bookstore, or explore the Herbal Defense page.

...You can knock the flu! If you act fast, when you feel the first stirrings of symptoms--muscle ache, fever, headache--and hit it hard with this kind of program, you can be done in 24 hours, stop the otherwise inevitable progress into full-blown disease, and skip the 10 days of bed rest.

Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa devised this shotgun, surefire, four-step anti-flu routine--which is not strictly herbal--to include something for everyone. It is not individualized, and you may not need all four steps. But it is a general program that people have found beneficial for early counteraction.

1. Herbal antiviral combo. This would be any combination of herbs specifically designed to support immune system activity. Some examples are isatidis and astragalus; a capsule with boldo leaf, jalapeno, cayenne, cubeb berry, rose hips and garlic; or a capsule with jalapeno/echinacea/cubeb berry. (Specific herbal antivirals are listed later in this chapter.) Some hot or spicy ingredient should be included, if you can tolerate it. Take as many as possible--10 to 15 a day, maybe even 20. Just get down as many as you can, as fast as you can. The effect is cumulative, so the faster you take them, the better you'll feel. One or two every hour with water may be the best method. For many people, this step alone does the job.

2. Zinc lozenges. These allow zinc to absorbed directly into mouth rather than go through digestive tract (zinc is poorly absorbed through the gut so it essentially gets wasted, and it also produces queasiness). It also bathes and saturates the whole respiratory area with this antiviral mineral. Studies show that zinc shortens colds and reduces symptoms, theoretically by preventing viral replication, stimulating immune activity, and/or stabilizing cellmembranes. Use up to 10 per day.

3. Vitamin C. We generally do not find much use for Vitamin C as an antiviral, because although it is a good safe general substance to use, there is frequently an herb that does a better job at everything Vitamin C does, for less money. Still, for a shotgun approach that's directed at everyone, it's not a bad thing to include. It needs to be used in very large doses to be effective. In these situations, you take vitamin C to what's called bowel tolerance. When it starts to give you the runs, cut the dose back.

Most people have a bowel tolerance of 10 to 15 grams a day, but it goes up proportionally with the severity of a viral infection. People with very serious infections like AIDS can have bowel tolerance of 50 to 60 grams. Dr. Andrew Weil notes that he takes 4-5 grams of vitamin C a day, and had a patient with no bowel problems up to 54 grams a day. (March/April 1996 Natural Health). Bascially, the bigger the infection your body is fighting the more vitamin C is depleted and the more you can tolerate--because it's being used.

Even though research shows that vitamin C may inhibit zinc absorption, they are recommended here because they are both useful for colds, they can be taken separately, and one is taken orally while the other is used to saturate the site of infection.

4. Cinchona bark. This anti-viral herb is especially potent against colds and flu. It's also useful after you have full blown symptoms (discussed coming up, on pages 176-177), especially in synergy with willow bark for pain. Take it in capsules as it is too bitter for use as a tea.

I too have a personal favorite anti-infection routine. It has worked for me every time but once--when I had a two-day cold that marred my seven-year "record." (NOTE: I've now gone over 10 years with only 2 minor colds, neither of which stopped me from doing ANYTHING.) It's more extensive than K.P.'s knock-it-back strategy because it's based on not being certain whether I'm dealing with a virus or bacteria-even though most of the infections we experience as being cold- and flu-like are, in fact, viral.

Try it-or your own personalized variation-next time you feel "under the weather." But remember, don't expect this to work in a general environment of abuse. Depleted bodies need this sort of nourishment all the time.

1. Antiviral soup. This has a base of the immunostimulant adaptogen astragalus, discussed at length in Chapter 6. Simmered in this broth is one garlic bulb, peeled and sliced; one large chopped onion; and about 1/4 cup sliced ginger or several tablespoons of ground ginger. Then add as much black pepper and cayenne as you can stand. Watch out--this is pungent stuff! (As a fire type--pitta--I definitely this only on a special-occasion basis.)

2. Antioxidant vegetables. To the soup I also add vegetables rich in vitamins A and C and those known to have powerful healing phytochemical compounds or immunostimulant properties. For example, I might include broccoli, carrots, cabbage and shiitake mushrooms. I generally try to include vegetables with carotenoids, root vegetables, and some from the cruciferous group. This soup then becomes my food for the day.

3. Herbal immune-boosters and blood cleansers. My favorites are the Chinese herbs astragalus and isatidis (the two are synergistic). Licorice root has a wide range of soothing and immunostimulant properties. Ginger root, boldo leaf,and echinacea might round out the routine. Cinchona bark (from Karta Purkh Singh's routine) is excellent for me, as a fire type, because it is cooling and muscle-relaxant as well as antiviral. It is harder to find a cooling antiviral, as many work by heating up the body. Isatidis, mentioned above, is cool as well.

4. Grapefruit seed extract. This is a powerful, unique antimicrobial. It is lethal for bacteria, but also works for yeast, fungus and anything else that's killable. Some herbalists and naturopaths have also found clinically that it's an effective antiviral, although the mechanism is still a mystery--whether it is immune-stimulating or actually offsets viral replication, no one knows.

Nutribiotic® is a common brand of the liquid extract. Any health food store should have it. I squeeze it into capsules (I find it irritating to mucous membranes and think the recommendation on the bottle to mix it in water is misguided--I can barely swallow for an hour after I do that). GSE is also commercially available powdered and in capsules.

5. Vitamin C. In a "raid" such as this I will take six to eight grams--one gram every two to three hours.

This may seem like a lot, but you must compare this effort to the lost time and productivity that comes if you actually succumb to your infectious adversary. Most of this stuff isn't even bad tasting, and if you make the soup your meals, you've eliminated one other task for the day.

Whether you use K.P.'s routine or my "raid," please remember too that it helps immensely to do other common-sense things like rest and lay off any immune-suppressive habits. These tactics are not designed to sustain you despite a sixteen-hour workday, four-hour commute, a pack of cigarettes, an evening on the Stairmaster, dinner at Burger Bob's and a fight with your roommate. The results will be much better in a total healing environment.

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For more Herbal Defense excerpts, go here or scroll down. For recipes, go to the Recipes page of this site.

Bookstore ~ BodyFueling.com Home ~ About Herbal Defense ~ About The Authors ~ Praise ~ Links
Why Try Herbs ~ Workshops ~ Questions & Answers ~ Send a Question ~ Read another excerpt ~ Top of page


 Important: The information in this book and on this website is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you need medical attention, please seek the advice of your own health practitioner. You should have a health professional check your condition before making any changes in an existing treatment program.

From Herbal Defense, pages 504-505:

Or Other Natural Healing Practitioner

Throughout this book, we have presented many reasons for this field's undeserved status as a target of skepticism and persecution, and offered many reasons why these attitudes are unwarranted and you should let down your guard. Now we must suggest something that seems to run counter to that bid: that you must be cautious about choosing an herbalist. This can be difficult, because currently there is no such thing (in the U.S.) as an "herbalist credential." There are naturopaths, medical doctors, osteopaths and chiropractors who are herbalists, and those who are not. Then there are simply people who are herbalists, who have apprenticed with a master in the field, and who may have more knowledge of these healing methods than many people with "credentials."

Indeed, some of the most proficient people in the field may have no credentials whatsoever, and that makes it all the more confusing. People from other cultures, or who have apprenticed with masters of other cultures, have sophisticated instincts borne of contact with people for whom herbal medicine is truly second nature.

Karta Purkh notes, "In other cultures, the spectrum of folk knowledge goes from the lay person right up to the highest medical professional. In other cultures, lay people might have a long animated conversation about whether turmeric is warm or cool; they talk about such things the way we talk about sports scores."

Unfortunately, Karta Purkh estimates that 90 percent people who call themselves "herbalists" are multilevel marketers who have taken a one-day workshop on their company's one-size-fits-all herbal blend product(s).

Also, herbalists who are not licensed health professionals technically are not allowed to diagnose health problems. That means that if you want to see an herbalist for a problem, you may need to see a medical doctor first for a diagnosis, then consult the herbalist. This can be difficult because medical doctors often do not want to merely diagnose you and then have you run off to someone else.

Another strategy is to find a naturopathic physician or other licensed health professional who also happens to specialize in herbal medicine. There is often confusion about the difference between a naturopath and an herbalist. They are not synonymous. An herbalist is not a licensed physician; a naturopath is. A naturopath may or may not be an herbalist. Naturopathic medicine is a wide field, and there are many different philosophies that may comprise a naturopath's specialty.

Some herbalists are trained in specific systems of herbal medicine, such as Ayurveda or traditional Chinese medicine, for which there is no school or "accreditation" in the U.S. Again, such practitioners might be considered masters in other countries for all the knowledge and experience they have, but in our country they are not legally empowered to "treat" you. However, they may educate you so that you can make informed choices about using herbal medicine on your own.

In such an ambiguous and complicated environment, choosing a qualified herbalist to work with requires care and deliberation. Unlike naturopaths or homeopaths, herbalists are not licensed by states. There are various colleges, programs and certification courses for the study of botanical medicine and herbalism, but standards vary, certifications are not consistent and there is no central governing body for all herbalists. Anyone can hang out a shingle as an herbalist-even without certification or experience of any kind-so it's important to know what you're looking for.

Here are some tips for finding a qualified herbalist in the current environment:

While there is currently no accreditation for herbal healing, the American Herbalist Guild is an association to which any herbalist you consult should be a professional member. Professional members are admitted by peer review and must pass an exam and meet a minimum of clinical practice hours.

Get recommendations from friends and family whose opinions on these kinds of matters you trust. Interview several to see who is the best fit for you.

Go to classes given by herbalists to get a sense of whether their approach and special areas of knowledge suit your needs.

Avoid "herbalists" who pitch one specific brand of product. A good herbalist will have a broad base of knowledge about many different kinds of herbs, and will be interested in teaching you how to find the best herbs in the best form or preparation at the best price, for your purposes--not selling you only one specific brand.

Here are good questions to ask herbalists--or, for that matter, any other health practitioners--when interviewing them. Remember that you are the consumer and you may choose the person you work with. You are not obligated to work with anyone you do not trust, like, understand or feel comfortable with. Your health professionals should be knowledgeable and experienced, but in addition, you may want them to be open-minded, friendly, compassionate and optimistic (i.e., believe healing is possible).

1. What is your philosophy?

2 Where were you trained?

3. How long have you been practicing?

5. What are your professional affiliations?

6. What other healing arts do you embrace or recommend?

7. What is your attitude toward or philosophy about orthodox or allopathic medicine?

8. What is your experience with chronic (long-term) or serious conditions?

9. What is your diagnostic or evaluation system?

10. With what natural healing system do you most strongly identify yourself?

11. If I don't find relief or consider myself healed following your treatment, what will you recommend as "next steps?"

12. How do you feel about the role of the patient in the healing process?

A qualified herbal practitioner or educator can help you learn to identify strengths and weaknesses using the body typing systems of natural healing, and to determine the best herbs for your health or conditions, based on lifestyle, health history, special sensitivies and other considerations.

That doesn't mean that you can't take herbs without a practitioner's advice. Because of the mild and dilute nature of most herbs, you absolutely can do this safely and effectively. In some instances, however--if you want very specific or progressive results with particular issues--it is often helpful to have some education and assistance to refine and streamline your use of herbs. A professional herbalist (American Herbalist Guild professional member) or other practitioner such as naturopath or holistic medical doctor may be able to support you further.

Get the book now
Back to Top

For more Herbal Defense excerpts, go here or scroll down. For recipes, go to the Recipes page of this site.

Bookstore ~ BodyFueling.com Home ~ About Herbal Defense ~ About The Authors ~ Praise ~ Links
Why Try Herbs ~ Workshops ~ Questions & Answers ~ Send a Question ~ Read another excerpt ~ Top of page

 Important: The information in this book and on this website is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you need medical attention, please seek the advice of your own health practitioner. You should have a health professional check your condition before making any changes in an existing treatment program.

From Herbal Defense, pages 504-505:

A n t i o x i d a n t V e g e t a b l e S t e w

b y R o b y n L a n d i s

This chunky, hearty soup is a pleasant way to get your servings of healthful antioxidant vegetables along with other healing foods. It's a tasty meal any time, but I like it especially when I'm feeling drained or depleted, or want extra insurance against infection. This soup is loaded with carotenes, indoles, sulforafanes, and antioxidant vitamins A and C, among other phytochemicals known for their healing, antimicrobial, and cancer-preventive properties.

One large onion, chopped

One bulb garlic, sliced

6-8 carrots, sliced

1/4-1/2 red cabbage, chopped

1/4-1/2 green cabbage, chopped

One red pepper, diced

8-10 small red potatoes, cut in chunks

One 28-ounce can organic stewed tomatoes (diced, crushed or whole)

Black pepper to taste

VERSION 1: ITALIAN STYLE (my fave!)-2 parmesan rinds; white beans; basil, rosemary, thyme and oregano to taste.

VERSION 2: EASTERN STYLE-Black beans; coriander, nutmeg, allspice and clove to taste.

VERSION 3: MEXICAN STYLE-Chili beans; cumin, cayenne, chili powder to taste; top with fresh cilantro.

1. Sauté onion and garlic in spices of choice with olive oil over medium heat in the bottom of 8-quart soup pot until soft.

2. Add vegetables one group at a time and cook until slightly soft.

3. Add canned tomatoes, cooked or canned beans, and/or parmesan rinds. Heat through.

4. Add water (or astragalus broth--recipe in book) to almost fill the pot. Bring to a boil.

5. Turn down to simmer until all vegetables are cooked, about an hour and a half.

6. Add black pepper and more spices to taste.

Serve soup with bread and cheese or cooked rice, couscous or orzo. Grated cheese or soycheese can be lightly sprinkled over the top.

For more recipes, go to the Recipes page of this site. For more Herbal Defense excerpts, go here or scroll down.

COMING NEXT: The "Squelch-It" Anti-Flu Routine! Fight colds and flu before they take hold!

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 A note on the excerpt below:

This excerpt was posted in answer to the the most recently-posted question from a consumer.
See the Q&A page for the original question as well as archives of other questions and answers.
 Important: The information in this book and on this website is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you need medical attention, please seek the advice of your own health practitioner. You should have a health professional check your condition before making any changes in an existing treatment program.

From Herbal Defense, pages 483-487:

The Ephedra Chronicles

Ephedra is the oldest known Chinese herbal remedy. Also called ma huang, it contains the natural stimulant compounds ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, from which the active ingredients in OTC asthma drugs and in decongestants were synthesized. The Chinese used it for a variety of purposes, and it is an excellent natural sinus decongestant and asthma remedy.

Ephedra has been used safely as a medicine for thousands of years. More recently (much to the chagrin of many herbalists and other natural health practitioners) ephedra has been promoted for "weight control" and in irresponsible "herbal high" street drug knockoffs (more on this later in the chapter), sometimes in combination with other stimulants, which can augment potential side effects such as high blood pressure and heart palpitations.

Ephedra has made the news several times recently because investigators linked it to several deaths. The links have not been proven, and other possible co-factors have yet to be explored, but regulatory authorities are reacting. Local and state governments are proposing, and sometimes passing, bans or limits on ephedra-containing products. In August of 1995, a coalition of state drug regulators wrote to the FDA asking the agency to limit ma huang to prescription use only.

The Texas Department of Health proposed (though later withdrew) a potentially precedent-settingattempt at regulation that's a textbook example of the double standard described earlier: It would have banned the sale of ephedra (ma huang) and ephedrine-containing dietary supplements, while preserving the sale of pharmaceutical products containing the same extracts, including Primatene®, Breathe-Aid®, Bronkaid®, epherine-based nose drops, and "generic equivalents."

But if the FDA considers ephedrine-containing products to be safe, then they are equally safe whether sold by a drug company or a natural products company, and all should be available. Why take only the natural versions of a substance off the market? Where is the logic in making pharmaceutical medicines out of ephedra's compounds, then banning the natural, original source while keeping the chemically based copies?

In a paper clearly stating the inconsistencies and biases of the Texas proposal (and, by extension, of similar proposals that have followed from other states since then), Herb Research Foundation president Rob McCaleb pointed out that tea and coffee have an ancient history of use as stimulant beverages. Ephedra too is a long-used stimulant beverage. All three have been brewed to make a stimulant beverage for thousands of years. Except for ephedra, we legally classify these stimulant beverages as foods.

Why is this? If it's because the ephedra is concentrated in supplements, McCaleb makes another argument: when we concentrate a food, is it still a food? Instant coffee, for example, is a concentrated form of coffee, with over three times as much caffeine by weight as coffee. Same with instant tea. Ma huang extract is made by the same process as instant coffee, and is similarly concentrated, with about three times as much alkaloid as the whole herb.

There are other examples of food substances that are highly concentrated, yet which are nevertheless not being targeted. McCaleb rattles off a list of other concentrated food extracts which could be toxic in high enough doses: wintergreen extract, cinnamon oil, almond extract and horseradish. All of these concentrated foods can be, and are, used safely every day by millions of people. To single out ephedra is very odd, unless one wishes to acknowledge that the only reason to regulate it out of existence while letting the others stand is because ephedra is used as a natural health supplement.

Other dietary supplements, such as vitamins and minerals, are concentrated forms as well. These are regulated in the U.S. as foods, under laws established by the United States Congress. McCaleb emphasizes that the fact that such nutritional supplements are concentrated is the whole point, the very nature of dietary supplements: "They are concentrated ways to supplement the diet with something in a convenient form." Thus, some herbal supplements are concentrated as well.

The TDH proposal exempted over-the counter (OTC) drugs Vivarin® and NoDoze®, which contain pure caffeine. No one would call them food. Primatene® is an OTC drug which contains ephedrine, the major active chemical from ma huang. Millions of Americans use this drug every day to treat asthma. Sudafed® contains another stimulant alkaloid from ma huang, pseudoephedrine. It too is used by millions of Americans. Pseudoephedrine has a less potent action on the heart than ephedrine, but is still contraindicated in those with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, thyroid disease or prostate enlargement. Some supermarkets are taking ma huang off their shelves, yet those supermarkets still sell coffee, Primatene®, and Sudafed®.

Interestingly, the TDH proposal made a specific point of forbidding sale of supplements that combine ephedrine and caffeine--as many "weight loss" preparations do, for example--implying that ephedrine and caffeine are dangerous together. Yet despite such a ban, ephedrine and caffeine would continue to be consumed together by asthmatics who use Primatene® and drink coffee, or people taking Sudafed and drinking cola. Obviously, there were no plans to regulate this--no warnings on OTC bronchdilator, decongestant, and stimulant drugs to warn people against drinking coffee, and no caution on caffeine-containing foods to warn people not to take those medications.

McCaleb points out that that quantity consumed is often the only real issue with regard to safety. "The best we can say about the safety of any food or drug is that it is safe 'when used in reasonable amounts by normal consumers'...nearly anything can be abused: coffee, Primatene®, butter, ma huang...[and] there are people who may be especially sensitive to certain things. For example, many people can't drink milk, eat peanuts, or use caffeinated beverages. Some cannot safely use Primatene®, as the warning label states." I must also ask how substances like tobacco and alcohol can escape bans while an herbal product such as ephedra is marked. The outrage is disproportionate to a highly questionable degree.

NOTE: While the specific Texas proposal analyzed above was withdrawn, another very much lke it has actually become reality in Nebraska. In July 1996, the Nebraska State Legislature passed a law prohibiting the over-the-counter sale of any ephedra- or ephedra-containing supplement products. These products are now controlled substances that can only be dispensed by written prescription. As described above, FDA-approved OTC drug products are exempted. Only dietary supplements containing ephedra or ephedrine are restricted. Meanwhile, the state of Ohio has amended its total ban on the sale of all ma huang products.

Herbal supplements should be regulated in a way that is consistent with the way foods, OTC drugs, and most vitamin products are labeled and sold. That means determining at what levels the substance is safe for "average" consumers, making recommendations for dosages, and requiring cautionary labels warning those with certain health conditions to avoid the products or seek medical advice before using. Scientific experts have testified to the FDA that ephedra should not be banned, but rather sold with label warnings and dose limits.

Consumers share the responsibility with the herb industry and health professions to act sensibly with regard to herb use. It may be that dieters ruined ma huang for the rest of us--taking too much and for the wrong reasons, in the wrong context. Herbal "high" products are another misguided use (see later in the chapter for more on this). Good things can always be used for bad purposes. To blame the results of this kind of usage on the herb itself is illogical.

When I belonged to a health club a few years ago, I heard more about ephedra from people trying to lose "weight" than I ever heard about it anywhere else. When ephedra is plucked out of the context of its use in Chinese medicine, that phenomenon is not ephedra's problem. It's people, their thinking, and what they are trying to do to their bodies that creates trouble. These problems come from our culture.

In addition, to use the dieter as an example of the average medicinal herb consumer is extremely misleading. It is predictable, and should be taken into account, that people in our "weight"-obsessed, dieting-happy culture will over-interpret the potential benefit of an herbal stimulant. They will assume "more is better" if it is suggested that a substance will make them thin. Historically, dieting consumers are more likely to take any strategy (whether diet or pill) to extremes. And the lack of overal good health among many dieters makes them poor subjects for determining how an herb or any other substance might affect people in general.

It is also unfortunate that companies will package herbal stimulants accordingly to appeal to this huge market segment. I don't agree with this because I think "weight" loss in general is misguided, and I think the idea that any one pill of any kind can "handle" a lifestyle issue that has many different factors needs to be put to rest.

Herbal medicine is not about "herbal stimulants." I personally had great results with ma huang for energy and warming early in my herbal treatment--but I was using it medicinally, I discussed it with an herbalist, and I discontinued its use when I didn't need it any more. I also used the whole herb as a tea, not pills. Many of the herb users I interviewed have used ma huang short-term with absolutely no problems.

Finally, if ephedra was so dangerous, the Chinese would not have prized it so highly for more than 5,000 years. It's certainly an insult to Chinese medicine to suggest that Chinese practitioners wouldn't know if one of their most valued botanicals was picking people off left and right.

The whole ephedra scene is a great example of why the problem is lack of education and cultural thinking patterns, not the substance itself. This is why we have worked so hard to evoke a larger, integrative context to surround your use of herbal medicine. Information on specific remedies and their uses, by itself, in a void is too easily misused

The Herb Research Foundation has an "Herbal Stimulant Factsheet" which compares caffeine and ephedrine content of various foods and drugs. It also discusses the relative safety of such products, and provides contraindication information about persons who should avoid either substance.

For more info on ephedra, other herbs, and other myths, you can purchase the book Herbal Defense. Check out the Table of Contents here.

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Herbs and Depression

 A note on the excerpt below:

Herbs can enhance mental as well as physical health. Some herbs and foods have properties that help calm anxiety, promote clearheadedness, assist with depression, relieve tension and insomnia, and improve sleep.

With so much attention being focused on St. John's Wort (SJW) currently, I thought this excerpt from the Depression chapter of Herbal Defense would be useful, not only to background the condition and the herb, but also to emphasize--as we do throughout the book that for any condition--there is no ONE herb (or one ANYTHING) that is "the answer." SJW is not a standalone panacea, nor is any other herb. Healing usually requires a multifaceted approach involving foods, nutrients, several herbs, and often other interventions or lifestyle factors as well.
 Important: The information in this book and on this website is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you need medical attention, please seek the advice of your own health practitioner. You should have a health professional check your condition before making any changes in an existing treatment program.

From Herbal Defense, pages 289-299:

Most everyone has the occasional attack of "the blues" or a "down in the dumps" funk-short periods when things don't seem to go well and life isn't looking too rosy. Clinical depression is different. It is a medical disorder characterized by persistent and sometimes severe feelings of worthlessness, guilt, sadness, helplessness, and hopelessness.

Some 25 percent of the population may suffer from a depression over the course of a lifetime. Depression strikes men and women of all ages, across all socioeconomic lines, but most studies indicate that women are more often afflicted. Women are also more likely to seek help, however, which may mean that depression in men is merely underreported.

Karta Purkh's observations suggest that depression is on the rise. Many of his colleagues corroborate this alarming rise in the proportion of clients with diagnoses of depression, and the observation bears out national statistics (more than 15 million Americans diagnosed with depression annually). Karta Purkh notes, "I have met more people with depression in the last two years than in the entire 20 years prior."

There are probably numerous reasons for this increase, from people reaching their limit in an increasingly complicated and stressful world to the physical imbalances caused by daily lifestyle abuses, including poor diet and lack of exercise. Another reason is improved detection and diagnosis by skilled clinicians, and a further reason is the push by pharmaceutical companes to market prescription antidepressants.

The specifics of depression can be as unique as the person experiencing it, but generally it seems to be triggered by one of two types of catalysts: a tragic or traumatic event, or a neurochemical imbalance of brain messenger hormones. Both catalysts may also be present in a patient. Depression resulting from circumstances, such as death of a loved one, are typically shorter and can often be helped by counseling or psychotherapy. Those with a biochemical basis for the condition, on the other hand, feel depressed regardless of circumstances. These sufferers are often prescribed drugs to balance the neurotransmitters in the brain.

It's important for anyone with serious symptoms of depression to be evaluated medically. In addition, we do NOT recommend that anyone stop taking medication prescribed for them. But many people with long-term chronic depression have been able to reduce or eliminate antidepressant medication and begin to function well and feel good using natural remedies. Herbs and nutrients can also provide transitional support when it's time is to "wean off" medication.

People suffering from depression often have sleep disruption and a complicating lack of energy. With fatigue during the day and insomnia at night, it becomes impossible to ever feel comfortable and relaxed. Therefore, part of the long-term strategy also includes rebuilding the endocrine and nervous systems. Energizing tonics are taken earlier in the day, so that the adrenal glands can be nourished during waking hours, and to avoid further sleep disruption. Natural remedies to support sleep are taken late in the day, so that the natural hormonal rhythm can be reestablished.

Depression is a very complicated issue. With insight and careful application, many people have success with self-treatment. Most cases, however, are multifaceted, and do better with the assistance of an experienced practitioner. Herbs and nutrients are extremely important in a natural healing program for depression, but professional counseling, exercise, diet and stress management can be equally important. Patients should ask their medical professionals how much experience they have in treating depression. A practitioner who simply prescribes Prozac (fluoxetine) and does not consider the wide range of other alternatives may not be your best choice. There are definitely safe and effective natural alternatives to these drugs.

Herbal depression treatment
The standout remedy for depression in the herb world is St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum). This herb is used as an antiviral (particularly with AIDS), antibacterial and possible anticancer agent, but it's been in the spotlight for its antidepressant properities. Particularly for depression that is mild to moderate, St. John's wort has proven extremely effective.

The compound in St. John's wort that has been isolated and was believed to be the main active ingredient is hypericin. However, hypericin is no longer believed to act alone. As is the case with most herbs, the complex interplay of many compounds is believed to be responsible for the beneficial effects.

St. John's wort inhibits the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MOA), just as Prozac and other serotonin-selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) do, but it does so more weakly. It also modulates and balances the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine, much as tricyclic and tetracyclic drugs (used for the most common form of serious depression) do. It may also increase endorphin levels.

According to Dr. Michael Murray, N.D., St. John's wort consistently achieves a great than 50 percent reduction in the Hamilton Depression Scale (a series of measurements used to quantify depression) in a large percentage of patients, and does better than tricyclic antidepressants, without the side effects.

Reseach studies tyically use standardized extracts containing .125% hypericin. Capsules of this extract can be found in most health food stores. The recommended dose is 300 mg., three times a day. St. John's wort can also be taken as a tea (one-half ounce of dried herb per day) or tincture. Capsules of the whole herb can also be taken, about 10 to 12 capsules daily. It is widely available at herb stores in many forms.

It can take a month or more for the effects of hypericum to kick in. However, the same is true for the prescription drugs used to treat depression. And at the recommended dosage, St. John's wort doesn't cause the mouth dryness, anxiety, oversedation, headaches, nausea, insomnia, digestive problems, heart problems or other side effects of many common antidepressants. Presecription MAO inhibitors also interact with tryamine, an amino acid found in cheeses, beer, wine, and other foods, and can cause severe hypertension in patients who eat these foods.

In the U.S. many health practitioners are advising that you do not take this herb with Prozac or other antidepressants, theorizing that the herb will be "additive"-that is, intensify the effects of the drug and/or the herb. However, this is purely supposition. In Germany (where half of all prescriptions for depression are for St. John's wort), the herb is specifically used concurrently or transitionally with antidepressant drugs to help patients taper off the drug, according to David Overton, R.N., a physician's assistant and expert in brain biochemistry (on the clinical faculty of the University of Washington and Pacific Lutheran University). Overton, who practices in the area of mood disorders, suggests that the two can be used safely together in this manner if your practitioner has experience handling both prescriptions and herbal medicine.

There are some considerations and contraindications for the use of St. John's wort. This herb should be taken with food to avoid stomach upset. Also, a small number of people experience extreme photosensitivity and must avoid prolonged sun exposure at very high doses of St. John's wort (such doses should, in any case, only be taken under the close supervision of a health practitioner).

(Actually, until recently this reaction had only been observed in pasture cows who grazed on enormous amounts of the plant; there were no documented cases of photosensitivity in humans before practitioners began recommending it in high doses to AIDS patients. In fact, research shows that sunlight exposure may expedite the effects of St. John's wort. People using high doses of St. John's wort long-term are advised to avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight, but to consistently maintain shorter exposures to indirect, low-level sunlight.)

Another herbal remedy showing some promise with depression is ginkgo biloba. This circulatory tonic is used widely in Europe to prevent and treat disorders involving decreased blood supply to the brain (cerebrovascular inefficiency), and numerous double-blind, controlled studies have shown it to be effective in this regard. Most studies have initially dealt specifically with effects on the elderly and potential improvements in common cerebrovascular conditions of the elderly, such as senility and Alzheimer's. Ginkgo apprently can retard the progress of, or even reverse, these conditions.

However, ginkgo is also believed to increase the rate at which information is transmitted at the nerve cell level. This could affect depression, which is influenced by these neuro-transmissions. Indeed, research on depression and Ginkgo biloba extract has been a secondary offshoot of research on its effects on cerebrovascular efficiency. Subjects in double-blind studies noticed mood improvements along with improvements in areas being studied, such as memory and other markers of mental performance. Still, ginkgo may be most useful for older patients.

The effective daily antidepressant dose in one of the studies was 240 mg. daily-twice the 120 mg daily dose most usually recommend for GBE. This dose may cause headaches or dizziness initially, especially in elderly people. Starting at the lower dose of 120 mg. daily and then increasing to the 240 mg. level over a period of six to eight weeks will usually handle this problem.

The Ayurvedic herb coleus (or an extract of its chief active ingredient, forskolin) shows antidepressant activity in animal studies. Typical dose is 50 mg. of the extract two to three times per day, or four to eight capsules of the whole herb.


vitamins are also extremely important for normal formation and function of brain neurotransmitters, which are the chemical messengers of the nervous system. The B vitamins are sometimes thought of as brain nutrients. Again, we must distinguish between acute deficiencies (the kind that caused pellagra and beriberi in the 1920s) and the levels of B vitamin deficiencies commonly found today. Almost no one is so acutely deficient any more as to be at risk for these diseases, but recent research has spawned newer thinking about the significance of more marginal deficiencies that create neurological changes. These subtle shifts in brain chemistry can cause behavioral and emotional changes that are definitely noticeable.

Some of the B vitamins are synergistic, and deficiencies in one can drag down the others. That's why B vitamins are most often sold as "B-complex" so that you get a balanced quantity of all of them at once. However, sometimes supplementation in one-B6 or B12, for example-is indicated for a particular condition. A health practitioner can test B vitamin levels to detect deficiencies.

B-complex has been a popular part of nutritional treatment for the emotional symptoms of PMS for many years. Vitamin B6 in particular has been effective for this purpose and is probably the most effective principle in B-complex for depression. Natural medicine author/researcher and professor of botanical medicine (at Bastyr College of Natural Health Sciences) Michael T. Murray, N.D., thinks that there may be millions of people on Prozac who merely have a B6 deficiency. Other research has shown deficiencies of B12 and folic acid consistently in depressed people.

An increase in serotonin, one of the key mood-regulating neurotransmitters, has been observed in subjects of various studies who are given B-complex.

The processing of food destroys B vitamins, so the typical highly processed diet may well be a factor in the ever increasing spiral of depression in our culture. Some drugs decrease B absorption-antihistamines, tranquilizers and sleeping pills, not to mention many recreational drugs. Another cultural/lifestyle factor may be the use of coffee, alcohol and cigarettes, all of which deplete the B vitamins, and C as well. (Vitamin C deficiencies can cause depression, according to Dr. Murray.) Cigarette smoking especially causes vitamin C to be used more heavily and rapidly, probably for detoxification.

Inositol, considered by some nutritionists to be part of the B-vitamin group, can be helpful in treating depression, especially when tricyclic antidepressants have been prescribed. Low levels of this nutrient have been found in patients with depression. One double-blind placebo-controlled study found therapeutic results from inositol similar to that provided by tricyclic antidepressants, but without side effects.

Amino acids are believed to play an important role in moderating the activity of nerve cells and the transmission of their impulses. Certain essential amino acids are precursors for brain chemicals that are calming and mood-boosting. L-phenylalanine (best if a tricyclic has been prescribed) and L-tyrosine (best if Prozac or other SSRI has been prescribed) are two amino acids that are recommended as supplements for depression and lethargy. Use one or the other. They can be purchased at most health food stores. (NOTE: Obtain the L-forms, not the DL-forms, which are part-synthetic and not useful for depression-although DL-phenylalanine is useful for pain.)

These amino acids may raise blood pressure (one of the neurotransmitters they help synthesize is epinephrine, or adrenaline) so increase the dose slowly if you have high blood pressure. They also should not be used by pregnant or nursing women. Check the label for drug contraindications.

Calcium and magnesium are muscle relaxants and play a role in proper nerve and muscle function. They modulate brain chemicals that stabilize nerve cell membranes and assist in proper neurotransmission. They can be taken separately or in a 2:1 ratio of calcium:magnesium.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a neurotransmitter and amino acid in the glutamine family. It is the most widely distributed neurotransmitter in the brain and plays a specific role in regulating anxiety. It inhibits excitation of brain cells receiving anxiety messages. If GABA stores are depleted (such as from long-term stress or anxiety), the flood of anxiety messages are no longer buffered. It is available as a supplement.


Special foods
for depression originated in Ayurveda, and Karta Purkh originally learned about them from his mentor and teacher Yogi Bhajan. The "chile eater's high" may come when the ingestion of hot food boosts brain levels of endorphins, the mood-modulating chemical that also regulates sleep, appetite, cognition and some aspects of the immune system. The capsaicin in chiles are also known to deaden or deplete substance P, a neuropeptide that transmits pain signals.

Celery, especially the juice, is relaxing (studies also show it lowers blood pressure)-more useful for anxiety than depression, though it can help with sleep. High in vitamin A and vitamin B1, celery also contains potassium, sodium and magnesium.

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) from evening primrose, borage or black currant oils (or flaxseed taken as oil by the tablespoon, in capsules, or as ground seeds), are important to the synthesis of noninflammatory prostaglandins (hormone-like messengers that give cells instructions). Low levels of essential fatty acids have been linked to depression (as well as child hyperactivity, alcohol abuse and premenstrual syndrome). Anti-stress hormones are made out of EFAs.

In addition, EFAs go into the manufacture of cell membranes, and cells need these and other healthy fats (discussed earlier in the book) to maintain optimal function. If these "good fats" are deficient in the diet, the body has to make cell membranes out of "bad fats" (saturated, trans-fats, animal fatty acids and cholesterol) which can lead to "faulty," makeshift cell membranes. This can affect the brain because membrane fluidity is crucial to nerve cell function. Less-fluid membanes made out of poor-choice fats may intefere with neurotransmitter synthesis, transmission, uptake, and binding, among other factors.

Interestingly, heart disease and depression share some of the same links to nutritional deficiencies as well as to lifestyle and dietary habits. Heart disease and depression seem to occur together frequently (one reason Dr. Dean Ornish's program has yoga, meditation and support group elements). Low levels of folic acid are linked to both conditions; low levels of EFAs in the diet, along with high intake of omega-6 and animal fats, are also associated with both conditions.


Diet, exercise and lifestyle for depression
In addition to supplementation, healthy diet and exercise habits should be cultivated, both because they are therapeutic by themselves and because they provide a foundation for the effectivness of supplements.For general health, energy and particularly adrenal rebuilding, the foods and tonics outlined earlier in the book for that purpose should be used on a long-term basis. These might include astragalus, schizandra, licorice root, polygonum (fo-ti), saw palmetto berry, eleuthero root, triphala and cubeb berry; as well as garlic, onion and ginger.

Metabolic processes in the brain depend on a steady supply of glucose and oxygen carried by the blood. Therefore, it makes sense that diet and exercise which help stabilize blood sugar and maintain cardiovascular fitness could prevent or improve conditions of depression.

An anti-depressive diet, not surprisingly, doesn't look that much different from the diet presented as generally healthy and immune-supportive on pages 107-117. Again and again the same dietary recommendations come up no matter what condition or disease we are discussing, and whether we are looking at mind or body, prevention or treatment.

In particular, alcohol (which is a nervous system depressant and can interefere with B vitamin absorption and the neurotransmitter GABA) should be avoided. So should simple sugars, which cause blood sugar irregularities that create mood problems of their own and can aggravate existing ones. There seems to be a definite relationship between sugar abuse/cravings, mood and a brain chemical called serotinin, which among many other tasks is involved in the regulation of insulin.

Deficiency of complex carbohydrates has been linked to low levels of serotonin. This calming "feel-good" neurohormone appears to be connected in numerous ways to how well we sleep, eat, relax and handle stress. Low serotonin levels are associated with depression. They are also associated with cravings for carbohydrate (which, as I explain at length in Bodyfueling®, are quite normal and predictable if you are consistently deprived of carbohydrate through either dieting or "hapless eating"). Carbohydrate foods trigger the release of serotonin, so starving the body of carbohydrates could certainly reduce levels of serotonin. This can contribute to depression directly, and also can set up a cycle of sugar craving that aggravates the condition and causes a vicious cycle.

For people who are depressed, this is just one more good reason to emphasize whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes.

Regular aerobic exercise has been recommended for many years as part of prevention and treatment for depression. Some researchers and health practitioners have observed that it's simply very difficult to find a clinically depressed person who is a regular exerciser.

Exercise has also proven useful in treating mood disorders specifically associated wth PMS, and it's interesting to note that many of the basic lifestyle factors that seem to improve premenstrual depression and irritability-a higher-complex-carbohydrate diet, reduction in simple sugars and dietary fats, and regular aerobic exercise-are indicated for clinical depression as well.

One of the chief reasons that may make exercise beneficial for treating depression is its ability to regulation norepinephrine, or "brain adrenaline," and increase endorphin levels. Endorphins are brain chemicals sometimes likened to "natural heroin." They are associated with a "high" that many people experience with regular, moderately strenuous aerobic exercise; it has been called "runner's high" but you don't have to run to get the benefit. Any regular aerobic activity that raises the heart rate and makes you sweat and breathe faster than normal should do the job. (Bodyfueling® has a chapter on exercise that discusses these and other benefits of various types of exercise.)

Again, chiles and some herbs (such as St. John's wort, kava kava root, nutmeg, and borage leaf) also boost endorphins.

Exercise may also be useful for many other reasons: it improves overall health and well-being; often results in a body that feels and looks more culturally acceptable; may involve social activity or contact; and provides a feeling of doing something-taking action and taking control. These factors may also play a role in the anti-depressive effects of exercise.

Cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine, and refined sugar shopud be eliminated as discussed above. The connections of addictions to these substances is convoluted-depression may cause people to begin using them, or using them may cause depression (or both). Trying to stop using them may also create mood imbalances; dealing with those is the subject of the following section. ...

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Also See: What one reader has to say about fueling (healthy eating) and depression

Commercial Herbal Formulas

A note on the excerpt below:
Do you ever wonder about those bulk spam e-mails you get marketing "Fred's Herbal Wonder Formula" or "Herbal-EZ N-R-G Formula" or "Sta-Trim All Natural Weight Loss Tea?" (I made those up, but you get the idea.) These kinds of multi-level marketed (MLM)--and even some drugstore/herb-store herbs in this "mass-appeal" category--fit perfectly into that aging paradigm of "a pill for an ill." They carry on the standard take-a-tablet mentality, hiding under the umbrella of "naatural medicine." They encourage you to continue in that model--making no global changes, learning nothing about the big picture, simply seeking disjointed panaceas.

The vagueness of these formulas' promises, the shotgun mentality, and most of all the unlikely, exorbitant promises are giveaways. Only one capsule will help you lose "weight." Only one capsule will help you get more energy. Or just make you "healthy." These have nothing to do with going to an herb pharmacy and getting specific herbs to nourish and support your immune system, desensitize allergies, heal arthritis or an ulcer, clear up a sinus infection, prevent migraines, lower blood cholesterol, treat PMS, or soothe indigestion. All of those things--and of course, much more--can be done using specific herbs known and documented to produce specific healing results for specific conditions. And they are effective in the total context of a healing/healthy lifestyle (not taking one pill and ignoring the problem's sources).

Anyone seeking The Pill To Just Handle It--no matter what IT is, and whether the pill is natural or artificial--is in for disappointment. This is not what herbal medicine is about. For more on this, read on.

From Herbal Defense, pages 456-461:


There is a huge distinction between the kind of herbal healing we are writing about and that qualified herbalists practice, and the one-size-fits-all, often multilevel-marketed herbal "blends" that are unfortunately the only way much of the public sees herbs. Let's look at some of the problems with these types of supplements (which are often mistaken for representing "herbal medicine") and the approaches to marketing and using them.

Lack of specificity and personalization

For example, we would rather see you look at the myriad specific issues (preferably with the help of an experienced and qualified practitioner) that may be factors in a health condition, and target those factors with the appropriate herbs, than take a one-size-fits-all "Herbal Cleanse and Detox" formula or "Herbal Yeast Syndrome" remedy. These won't hurt you, but why spend the money if you don't know it's exactly what you need and will give you exactly what you want? Better to know what (or if!) you need to cleanse and why, what mitigating or secondary factors may exist, and what herbs that meet those needs are also best for your body type and lifestyle.

When you choose single herbs for specific conditions, you can control not only which herbs you take but how much of each , in what form and what concentrations, and in what ratios (if you take more than one). You can also control the source and the quality to a much greater degree.

One-size-fits-all formulas may contain herbs you don't need, and exclude the ones you do. You can buy a formula with eight or ten herbs in it that are not related to anything you are necesarily trying to accomplish. At worst, you can waste a lot of money and get discouraged. This is especially true if you are trying to address a specific health issue rather than simply seeking to optimize health.

There's nothing wrong with formulas per se. Formulas, in fact, are how the majority of herbs are used in traditional medicine of other cultures. But the formulas used in these cultures are either classical formulas that have a long history of use for specific purposes, or they were developed just for the individual by the herbal practitioner. Most formulas sold in the U.S. are simply the 10 or 12 "hottest" herbs with which American consumers are familiar, stuffed into one capsule. One product with the word "herb" in the name contains no herbs at all!

You should choose a formula based on a specific issue or desired outcome, not for some general, undefined "health benefits." Our bodies' organs and systems work together, and disease issues are often interrelated, so it is certainly useful in many cases to use a combination of herbs that work synergistically, and/or on different levels or aspects of the problem. But in that case you're still working on something specific; all of the herbs in the formula have a purpose. And you're better off choosing each of those herbs yourself, or with the guidance of a practitioner that knows how to tailor a program to your needs.


Wasteful usage

Another problem with the mass-marketed or multilevel-marketed (MLM)-type herb formulas is their use of popular and overharvested herbs because they are trendy rather than because they are the most effective herb for a formula. This is truly a waste for herbs like goldenseal and echinacea, which are so popular that every company feels it must have its own combo formula with those herbs in it. If we use these herbs for everything whether we need them or not--especially if companies throw them into everything just to sell more product--there is a very real danger that we won't have them when they really would be most appropriate.


Lack of information

Mass-marketed, generic supplements are typically not presented by people who are deeply knowledgeable about herbs in general. In some cases they are relatively clueless even about the specific product they sell. The herbs are being marketed solely as a way to capitalize on consumer interest in herbs, with little or no regard for how effective the herb is, let alone how educated the consumer is.

The MLM rep is rarely a great resource for learning impartial information about herbal medicine as a whole. He or she may even have limited information about the formulas being sold. (I remember one rep for a diet product trying desperately to explain to me the supposed difference between losing "fat" and "bodyfat.") Often the materials, if there are any, don't say anything substantive; they may go on endlessly in marketing-speak that never really amounts to much.

All kinds of companies are trying to take advantage of the blossoming interest in herbs by manufacturing and marketing their brands of newly popular supplements. For example, one catalog sells a supplement for the eyes which it says contains "Ginkgo balboa"! (The herb is called Ginkgo biloba.) Elsewhere in the catalog, a different product manufactured by a different company, called Herbal Sensations, claims to contain "Ginkgo bilboa"!



The unfocused, generic formulas usually cost a lot more than single herbs which you might target to specific conditions. With these types of commercial products you can spend a lot of money and get very little in return.


Tips for avoiding the "generic" traps

Seek specialists. Get herbs from a qualified herb pharmacy or trusted mail-order company that specializes only in herbs. See Resources, p. 511.

Stay away from herb formulas sold by network marketed (multilevel marketing) companies.

Stick to single-herb products as much as possible.

Avoid herbs with cheesy ads. This may sound subjective, but the more tacky the packaging and promo, the more less trustworthy the product. Liberal use of "all caps" and exclamation points can be used to communicate something that isn't really there, often in lieu of facts and information. Do you trust products that scream, in big block type, "WOW!!!!! YOHIMBE INCREASES SUPER SEXUAL PERFORMANCE!!!!!!!!" (I don't.)

Don't buy herbs from anyone that promises instant results. These are the herbal world's "quick-weight-loss" counterparts. In individual cases, obesity treatment may warrant the use of herbs or sensibly prepared herbal formulas in conjunction with other interventions, including dietary and lifestyle changes. But in the vast majority of cases, that's not the context in which consumers purchase these supplements. Most often they are expected to work in lieu of any lifestyle or habit changes--and they are promoted that way.

Don't buy the cheapest herb on the market. This is not to say that you can't find economical herbs and supplements, but use common sense. If 400 capsules of a relatively trendy and popular herb costs $3.99 when it costs $25 everywhere else, you're probably not getting a quality product.

Know what you are trying to accomplish. Learn about herbs overall and the best herbs for your goals or condition. Know the basics of the energetics and tastes of herbs as defined by Eastern herbal medicine, and what results they generally produce, as outlined in Chapter 2, "History of Ayurveda: Ancient Healing Wisdom." Chances are great that once you do this, few if any generically-marketed herb formulas will appear to be a better choice for you than fresh single herbs or single-herb preparations ("simples") from a reputable herb pharmacy.

Seek professional support. Sometimes the best way to get results from herbs is to have them tailor-matched to your body type and condition by someone who is experienced with one of the traditional Asian healing systems, and uses kinesiology, accupressure or pulse reading along with medical tests where appropriate to assess which herbs are most appropriate for you at the time.

© 1997 Robyn Landis/Warner Books ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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 Important: The information in this book and on this website is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you need medical attention, please seek the advice of your own health practitioner. You should have a health professional check your condition before making any changes in an existing treatment program.