Category: Blog

Herbs and hormones – menopause

Hormone related problems are a common sight for many herbalists, and the most common symptom seen is menopausal hot flushes.

Herbs have been used for hundreds of years to help women through all stages of life, but in the 21st Century more and more women are looking to alternatives to help relieve their menopausal symptoms.

Most women will experience the menopause between the ages of 40 and 52 years. During the menopause, ovarian hormone levels decline, leading not just hot flushes but also loss of confidence, nervousness and mood swings. Symptoms can begin before the loss of a regular period, often presenting as an increase in pre-menstrual symptoms.

Following an article in the Lancet in February this year stating the link between Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) use and ovarian cancer, more and more women are looking to herbs.

A research study published in the Oxford Journal for Family Practice in 2007 found that herbal medicine could significantly reduce the menopausal symptoms.

Herbs are often chosen because they can support the hormonal and nervous systems, reducing symptoms and helping to balance fluctuating hormone levels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARed clover
Trifolium pratense (red clover) is another common herb used in the menopause. The flower and leaves of red clover contain phyto oestrogens, which can be used to improve the hormonal status within the body, by providing the starting point for manufacturing its own hormones.

 

SageSage
Salvia officinalis (common garden sage), has been found to be effective in reducing excess sweating, hot flushes and night sweats in menopausal women. Using sage tea to this effect is a traditional remedy but a study in 2011 confirmed its efficacy. If you would like to try this remedy for yourself at home, you can use either dried or fresh leaves of common sage. Take a small handful of fresh leaves or 1-2 tsp of dried leaves, add to a cup of hot water, allow to steep for 10 – 15 minutes. Leave to go completely cold, strain and drink.

Black cohosh
Cimicifuga racemosa (black cohosh) is another herb often associated with reducing menopausal symptoms. The roots of black cohosh have been used for many years traditionally, but the research on its effectiveness for menopausal symptoms is mixed. It appears that it works for some women but not always for all women.

Soy
Soy is often mentioned as a way of improving the hormone balance within the body during menopause because it contains phyto oestrogens. This is confirmed when looking at the health statistics across the world. Countries that consumed a high amount of natural phyto oestrogens in their diet had not only lower rates of cancer but also a very low incidence of menopausal symptoms.

If you are taking any medication or have other health problems it is important to seek professional advice from a medical herbalist before taking herbal medicine. To find your nearest medical herbalist visit www.nimh.org.

 

Blog published in Thrive Magazine.

What is medical herbalism?

After reading an excellent blog by Lynda Jones, a fellow medical herbalist, she gave me kind permission to make some changes to it. Click here to see the original blog.

 

Herb robert
Herb robert

“If I wasn’t a Medical Herbalist I’d be really confused about the difference between a Medical Herbalist and someone who knows lots about herbs.  Many people know about the healing properties of herbs and how to use them for simple, self limiting complaints.  Some GPs, pharmacists, health food shop assistants, gardeners, amateur experts, avid readers and those who have undertaken short term study all might have a sound understanding of herbs and their individual actions in the body.  Most people with a knowledge of herbs can tell you that Echinacea is good for helping the immune system deal with colds, that Elderflowers are anti-catarrhal and therefore help with hayfever and the sniffles, and that Garlic has a reputation for helping just about everything ;o) ! It’s pretty common knowledge among many that Sage is used to rub on stings, that Thyme tea might help coughs and Chamomile is calming and restoring to the digestive system.”

I hold workshops, distance learning courses, and herb walks to make sure we all know what herbs to pick from the wild, our gardens and the kitchen to use for simple, self limiting complaints. I also have some free downloads that cover simple remedies, herbal cosmetics, and much more.

Why the need for a Medical Herbalist?

“I’m all for people using ‘herbal first aid’ and trying simple remedies to see if that might help.  In fact, if I think that’s all that’s necessary I’m likely to suggest you try it before booking an appointment.  However, herbal medicine really comes into its own for more complex, long standing and difficult conditions.”

What makes a qualified Medical Herbalist different?

“We study for 4 years, and have a Bachelor of Science degree.  It is compulsory to undertake 500 hours supervised clinical training and be able to assess the patient medically as well as holistically. It’s vital to have medical as well as traditional knowledge, as primary health care professionals we need to be able to spot any danger signs of serious undiagnosed conditions and refer on where necessary.”

Meadowsweet
Meadowsweet

What happens in a consultation?

Initial consultations last approximately an hour and will cover not only the problem that you have come with, but also your past medical history, diet and general health. I will carry out a physical examination if appropriate (blood pressure and pulse will always be taken) and formulate individual herbal medicines for your needs. I may also refer you to other practitioners, including your GP, if appropriate.

The key difference when you go to see a medical herbalist instead of buying herbs from a health food shop is the individual prescription that is tailored to you. As each person is different, so too is every medicine made. A medical herbalist may have a dispensary of hundreds of herbs to choose from and combine together, whereas a health food shop only has a handful.

 

If you’re unsure about a herb or something you have read or heard about herbal medicine, please get in touch.

Herbal Medicine and Health Research Blog – May 15

The following research on herbs and health has caught my eye.

1. New research shows that mindfulness may be an alternative to antidepressant use.

  • health-benefits-of-pomegranate2. Clostridium difficile is a bacterial infection that is often present in hospitals and health care environments and can cause diarrhoea and fever. A new study has found that pomegranate reduced the C. difficile bacteria and could be used as a preventative.

 

3. A new study has found that garlic, aloe vera and gotu kola are effective to treat burn wounds and are being considered for future drug production.

4. A new laboratory study has found that lemon balm reduces colon cancer cells.

5. Panax ginseng has been found to be a possible treatment for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

6. A new study in the USA has found a link between statin use and an increase in diabetes and diabetes complications.

7. Baical skullcap is currently being researched for its use a treatment and preventative for stroke.

Lavender8. A new study in the USA has found that using lavender essential oil either in a foot bath or as a cream can reduce anxiety and stress in pregnant women.

9. Frankincense has been found to improve blood sugar levels in diabetic patients.

10. A new study has found that women taking fennel capsules over three months, had reduced period pain, reduced nausea and reduced length of menstruation.

Improving your health on a budget

There are many ways that you can make changes to your health and they need not be expensive, in fact, many of them are free. The only costs are time and commitment.

dark-red-cherriesDiet

You’re already spending on average £227 a month on food (see previous blog), and there’s no need to add to that amount, all you need to do is make a few changes and you may find that you can even reduce the amount you spend on food.

Increasing your fresh fruit and veg

This doesn’t need to be expensive, you don’t need to buy fresh blueberries and expensive goji berries (unless you really want to). Frozen fruit can just as easily be made into smoothies, added to cereal or yoghurt, and it’s a fraction of the price.

Increasing oily fish, nuts and seeds

This is really easy to do and also not that expensive, if you buy your nuts and seeds in bulk you can often save quite a lot compared with the little packets you get in supermarkets. Find some you like; try new ones, flavoured ones. Be careful not to have too many nuts though as they are very high fat and while those are good fats, they will make you put on weight if you eat too many of them.

 

Exercise

PrintWalking is free!

You can even get a free pedometer from Diabetes UK http://www.diabetes.org.uk/mobile-ad-faqs

If you can increase the amount you’re walking in your week that goes a long way to improving your health. Can you take the stairs instead of the lift?

There are also lots of free walking clubs you can join and meet up with other people.

There are also outdoor gyms that are free too. http://www.tgogc.com/Gyms/United-Kingdom/South-Glamorgan/Howard-Gardens-Cardiff.html?cPath=19_20_57

The key to any exercise is if you enjoy it, it makes you laugh and you feel great afterwards, the likelihood is you’ll want to do it again.

 

Herbs

elderberries

 

If you want to try herbs but don’t want to go and see a medical herbalist, the following books are ones I recommend as a starting point. Please note I am not affiliated with these authors, they are reputable and highly respected medical herbalists.

 

Holistic Herbal by David Hoffmann

The Complete Woman’s Herbal by Anne McIntyre

Herbal Remedies by Andrew Chevallier

 

Please be careful if you are buying herbs from the internet, I recommend the following reputable suppliers. (Again, I am not affiliated with these suppliers, but have used them myself for many years)

http://www.baldwins.co.uk/

http://www.pukkaherbs.com/

http://www.organicherbtrading.com/

 

You could also go along to a free herb walk (find a herbalist in your area) and get tips on herbs you can gather yourself and make into your own remedies. My herb walks are free but most herbalists charge a small fee to cover their time (and/or materials).

 

I have some websites that I recommend on my ‘where can I find out more information?’ page  http://www.lauracarpenter.co.uk/where-can-i-find-out-more-information/.

What is the cost of health?

I’m often asked why herbal medicine is ‘so expensive’ and it got me thinking about the cost of health in general, whether you want to use herbs or not. As I got to writing it I realised I’d written rather a lot so I’m going to split it into two, the first part on how much does health cost us, and the second on how you can improve your health on a budget.

Firstly, what is the cost if you are unwell?

If it’s a cold or flu it might mean a few days off of work, you may lose a small amount of money, you may not be well enough to look after family members.

If you’re unlucky enough to have a chronic long term condition the cost of your condition is often much greater than lost work hours and NHS prescription fees, it’s the loss of ‘quality of life’ and that really can’t be put into monetary terms. If you were to suffer from a condition where you experience chronic pain and your mobility is greatly reduced, how much would you pay to be pain free for a day, and able to play games with your children?

 

What do we spend keeping well and healthy?

 

Shelter and Water

The first thing we need is shelter and water, without that we certainly wouldn’t have good health, so mortgage/rent, council tax and household bills for heating etc all go towards health.

So as an example let’s put that figure at £700 per month (mortgage/rent + heating + council tax+water).

Food

One of the most if not the most important factor in health is food.

According to an article in the Guardian in 2013 (http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/dec/11/families-spend-489-each-week-on-what) an average household spends £227 a month on food.

Exercise

The second most important factor in health is exercise, so while walking the dog doesn’t cost anything, sports clubs, gym memberships, sporting equipment etc does. So for the sake of argument let’s estimate that at £30 per month per person.

Vitamins and supplements are often seen as a quick and easy way to improve your health (this is not always the case – more on this on a later blog). A survey in 2009 showed that the average person in the UK spends £12 a year on vitamins and supplements.

aspirin-for-primary-prevention-clopidogrel-meta-analysisOver the counter medicines

From aspirin and neurofen to cough syrup and indigestion tablets, the Proprietary Association of Great Britain estimates that we spend £35.80 a year per person on OTC medicines.

NHS prescriptions

If you happen to live in an area where you have to pay for NHS prescriptions, which also adds to your bill of health, at £8.20 a prescription. An article on the NHS website in December 14 stated that 50% of women and 43% of men in England were taking prescription drugs at least every week.

NHS

While many people consider the NHS to be ‘free’ it is actually paid for by anyone who pays tax. If for example you earn £20,000 a year, you will pay on average £80.00 a month (via tax) to the NHS.

Mental health

Mental health and having joy for life are often over looked but they actually contribute to a large part of our health. Therefore the cost of anything that you enjoy and is contributing to your good health should also be included, e.g. hobbies, religious activities etc.

So let’s recap that into a month bill for a family of 4 (2 adults and 2 children).

Shelter and water £700
Food £227
Exercise £80
Vitamins and supplements £2
Over the counter medicines £8.95
NHS prescriptions £8.20
NHS (through tax) £160.00
Mental health £100

Total

£1286.15

 

1That’s a lot of money we’re spending already on health a month, no wonder anything additional to that is seen as ‘an expense’ or even ‘a luxury’.

So like anything in life you get what you pay for and herbal medicine is no different.

I am always willing to help people on a budget find a way of using herbs that is the most cost effective for them. For some people they don’t have the time or energy to go out and gather herbs themselves, or grow them themselves. Therefore they are paying for someone else to do that for them. If the herbs are then processed and made into medicines by someone else then that is going to have an added cost.

 

In the next part to this blog I will be talking about ways to improve your health on a budget.

 

Herbs and Health Research blog – April 15

This month the following research on herbs and health has caught my eye.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

1. A new research study has confirmed that the traditional use of using feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) to treat migraines works when applied in a modern clinical setting.

2. A recent study regarding the treatment androgenetic alopecia (often know as male-pattern baldness) found that rosemary oil worked as well as the drug minoxidil.

3. A new set of studies in the USA has found that an extract of Ginkgo reduced anxiety and depression in patients.

4. A cream containing lavender, peppermint, black pepper and marjoram essential oils was found to relieve neck pain in patients in a study in Taiwan.

hypericum_perforatum

5. The medicinal mushroom Ganoderma lucidum has been studied recently for its powerful anti-inflammatory actions and if those effects could be isolated and made into a new drug.

6. A new research study in Switzerland has linked anti-depressant use to seizures.

7. A new study in China has found that St John’s wort is effective at reducing menopausal symptoms.

 

Herbal medicine research – March 2015

This month the following research on herbs and health has caught my eye.

1. A Cochrane review of 14 studies including 2050 people found that the following herbs were effective at reducing lower back pain. Devil’s claw, lavender, comfrey root, chilli, and white willow bark.

Wildflower Leptospermum grandifolium Bairne Track2. A study of 60 people with acne found that the use of tea tree essential oil in gel significantly reduced their acne.

3. A study of 278 participants with osteoarthritis showed that taking frankincense reduced pain, inflammation and improved function.

4. Preliminary research has shown that ginkgo may be beneficial in reducing macular degeneration.

5. A small study found that passion flower was more effective at reducing anxiety in children with ADHD in comparison with a common ADHD drug.

6. A small study found that valerian was effective at reducing obsessive compulsive symptoms in patients with OCD.

7. A study found that reishi mushroom taken alongside chemo and radio therapies increased their effectiveness.

elderberries8. A study of 147 people with the common cold found that a combination of elderflower, vervain, gentian and evening primrose reduced the length of the cold by 3.8 days.

9. A study found that taking 15ml of elderberry syrup four times a day for four days during flu reduced symptoms and the length of flu by four days or more.

 

Why use a natural cream?

1386177522745_resized

 

What is a natural cream?

A natural cream is one that does not use chemical based ingredients as fillers or preservatives.

 

Why use a natural cream?

Some people with sensitive skin are allergic to the chemical ingredients within creams. Or you may want to reduce the chemicals that you are coming into contact with as part of a healthy lifestyle.

 

What is the difference between a cream and an ointment?

The short answer to that is water. There are no water based ingredients within an ointment, only oil and beeswax.

 

When would you use an ointment?

An ointment is a much heavier application, it sits on the surface of the skin for much longer and does penetrate very far into the layers of skin. This can be really useful for slow release actions such as pain relieving. A chilli ointment for example, could be applied at before bed to provide pain relief throughout the night.

 

When would you use a cream?

Creams vary depending on their ingredients but in general they are much lighter than ointments and penetrate further into the layers of skin. They tend to soak in and don’t leave a film on the skin. They can have many uses from moisturising face creams to anti-inflammatory creams for sore joints and muscles.

 

Workshop2-lowHow can I make a natural cream?

There are lots of herbal cream recipes around, but this is one that is a classic traditional herbal cream. Change the water component and the type of infused oil in the recipe below to change the type of cream. E.g. chamomile infused oil with a chickweed infusion for eczema. Change the infusion and oil to plantain for an easy and safe nappy rash cream (remove the benzoin essential oil).

 

Traditional herbal cream recipe 

12g beeswax

50ml herbal infused oil

Benzoin essential oil (2 drops) (to act as a natural preservative)

Rosewater, distilled witchazel or warm herbal infusion (5 – 7ml) (water component)

Clean glass pots (mixture makes approx 60ml)

 

Melt the beeswax and herbal infused oil together in a double boiler over a low heat, once fully dissolved, remove from the heat, add the rosewater/distilled witchazel or warm infusion and essential oil and beat well until the mixture begins to thicken.

Spoon the mixture into the pots and allow to cool (with the lids off), and then label and apply the lids.

This cream will last up to 3 months in the fridge, remember to check for spoiling.

 

If you would like to learn more about natural creams and how you can make your own, take a look at my new natural cream making module.

 

 

Homemade Winter Remedies

forage1 - Green city

Homemade Winter Remedies blog featured on Green City Events.

“Here are Laura’s top tips (and two recipes) to beat those winter sniffles…

Garlic

Garlic is well studied for its antibacterial, antiviral and antibiotic properties. It has been my experience when taking garlic that it has shortened the length of the duration of the cold. You can of course add more garlic to your food to get those effects but it is better as raw as you can stand it.

Garlic and onion syrup recipe

1 bulb of garlic (peeled and thinly sliced)
1 large white onion (peeled and thinly sliced)
Sugar or honey to cover
A jam jar or sealable container

Take onion and garlic, peel them and slice them thinly. Place a layer of the slice onion and garlic in the jam jar and then cover with sugar or honey. Add another layer of sliced onion and garlic and continue until you have used all of the onion and garlic. Seal the jar and leave in the fridge overnight. The next day you will have an onion and garlic syrup. You can use that as a cold and flu treatment, it is especially good for coughs. The syrup will last for three days in the fridge. Take 4-5 tsp per day until you feel better (I recommend holding your nose while you drink it!).”

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