Tag: research

What is Polymyalgia rheumatica? Can herbs help?

pmrgcaWhat is Polymyalgia rheumatica?

Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is an inflammatory condition, often linked to Giant Cell Arteritis (GCA). The condition occurs mainly in women over 60, and the cause is not known.

Symptoms include muscle aches, stiffness in hips, shoulders, neck and mid body, weakness, general tiredness, and weight loss. Some people get swelling in their feet, ankles, wrists and hands. (Vasculitis UK)

PMR is becoming increasingly common, with an estimated 1 in 1,200 people developing the condition each year.

How is it treated?

The standard medical treatment for PMR is steroids, usually prednisolone, to relieve the symptoms. The NHS state that high dose steroids are used to start with and then the dose is decreased, and treatments can last for two years or more to prevent symptoms reoccurring. (NHS website)

Are there alternative treatments?

There are three main aims to alternative treatments.

  1. Reduce the side effects of the drugs

The following are the main side effects that patients of mine have experiences from taking prednisolone.

  • Higher blood sugar
  • Weight gain
  • Sleeplessness
  • Osteoporosis
  • Cataracts
  • Thinning of skin
  • Bruising

While these things can be addressed individually through a 1 to 1 consultation with a medical herbalist, here are some ideas for home treatment.

Herbs for side effects

Digestion

Meadowsweet
Meadowsweet

There are many very safe herbs to aid digestion and protect from damage the delicate tissues that are prone to ulcers. Examples are peppermint, chamomile, meadowsweet and marshmallow leaf.

Balancing blood sugar

There are several safe herbs that can be used to naturally bring blood sugar into balance. Examples are cinnamon and dandelion leaf.

Aiding sleep

There are several safe herbs that can be used to aid a good night’s sleep. Examples are chamomile, lime flower, passion flower and valerian.

Improving circulation

There are many herbs that can improve circulation. Examples include ginger, chilli, hawthorn and lime flower. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables can also help to improve the functioning of arteries and veins.

Increasing cortisol

Often when taking steroid drugs for long periods of time the adrenal glands can stop producing cortisol. Cortisol is needed to fight infection and allow the body to cope with stress.

When you stop taking steroid drugs your adrenal glands can begin making cortisol again but it can often take time. There are a couple of things you can do to help, cortisol needs cholesterol so eating fats in your diet will help, cod liver oil and vitamin A is also important. It’s also important to reduce sugar, caffeine and alcohol.

 

  1. Reduce general inflammation to reduce pain

rose hipsThis is something that you can address yourself if you have PMR, there are some very useful studies on the use of herbs to reduce inflammation.

Arthritis Research UK lists the three main herbs for reducing inflammation as Devil’s claw, Frankincense, and Rosehip.

I agree with them, and these herbs are available as over the counter products, it is important to follow the directions for each individual product as directed on the bottle.

I would also add turmeric to the list, it is a very useful anti-inflammatory and is also available as an over the counter product.

 

  1. Get to the root cause of the problem

The key to a holistic treatment is treating the cause of the problem rather than just the symptoms; this is something you can work towards with a medical herbalist.

 

Remember to check with your doctor and/or medical herbalist before taking supplements or herbs, and it is important to source good quality ingredients.

To find a qualified, registered, medical herbalist near you they can be found on the following lists:

 


As an update to this blog, I actually gave a talk for a local branch of Polymyalgia Rheumatica & Giant Cell Arteritis UK and that really gave me a much greater understanding of the condition and the problems patients were facing.

The main thing I really took away from that was that people wanted help to reduce their medications, and almost every person in the room was already taking turmeric. I explained about how it is often not bioavailable in the body and ways to increase that (adding black pepper and or ginger).

 

Chaga – remember to be sustainable

It’s interesting to revisit this blog from a couple of years ago as I think things are starting to change. There does seem to be more awareness of sustainability, how to source herbs (and mushrooms safely).

If you’re in the UK I highly recommend checking out the work done by the UK Herb grower network and if you’re in the US the Sustainable Herbs Project.

————————————————

If you’ve ever read any of my blogs you will know I have a real passion for medicinal mushrooms, especially British ones.

Just as we need to protect our medicinal plants from over harvesting, the same goes for our medicinal mushrooms. Chaga has become a ‘wonder treatment’ for just about everything and it’s being added to smoothies left right and centre. This is extremely wrong and irresponsible.

1. Chaga needs to be extracted in hot water for it to extract it’s medicinal properties, so unless your smoothie is heated to over boiling point for at least 15 minutes you aren’t getting any benefit from it.

2. Chaga is black and course mushroom when ground and powdered, so if your chaga isn’t either a dark brown to black and course, it’s highly likely it’s not chaga!

3. Chaga is rare (growing on birch trees usually in Scotland or further north), it takes skill to harvest it sustainably.

Here’s a picture of real chaga powder on the left (dark and course), and on the right is a sample of chaga powder from a well known high street health food shop. I will allow you to draw your own conclusions about that!

Chaga is becoming endangered and imported specimens from the USA, Canada and Eastern Europe are often contaminated. Chaga a fantastic restorative medicine and is a great treatment for things like chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and people recovering from chemotherapy. That said, it should be harvested correctly and from a sustainable source.

There is growing research for the use of chaga which is only exacerbating the problems with supply. In laboratory studies recently, an extract of the medicinal mushroom Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) was found to protect liver cells.

If you have chaga powder in your kitchen or medicine cupboard, check the quality of it, it should be a black and course powder. If it’s not, it’s not chaga!

As of yet I have not found a sustainable source of chaga, but my hunt continues.

Herb and health research – October and November 2016

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

1. In laboratory studies, an extract of the medicinal mushroom Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) was found to protect liver cells.

50030752 - single lion's mane mushroom
50030752 – single lion’s mane mushroom

2. In another medicinal mushroom study this month Lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) was found to not only protect against dementia but also gastric ulcers.

3. In a new study of a very ‘old’ herb, ginseng was found to have antimicrobial effects against infections.

4. Turmeric is a fantastic herb and one that’s been researched many times for different reasons. However, one of the problems with turmeric is that is can be tricky for the body to absorb when taken as a capsule, unless combined with black pepper. A new study has just confirmed the traditional way of preparing turmeric (usually in a milk product), makes the turmeric more bioavailable.

5. In laboratory studies, an extract of Andrographis paniculata was shown to reduce breast cancer tumours.

ginkgo leaves6. In another laboratory study, ginkgo has been found to be a treatment for spinocerebellar ataxia.

Herbal Medicine Research blog – September 2016

It’s been a little while since I’ve written a research blog but here are some research articles that have interested me recently.

1. A new trial is currently taking place in Australia, where young adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are being given water hyssop (Bacopa monnieri) instead of pharmaceutical drugs.

2. A follow up study in Brazil has confirmed that using Calendula can both prevent and treat radio dermatitis for patients undergoing radiotherapy.

mistletoe3. A new analysis of mistletoe has shown that it could be used to treat arthritis and liver disease as well as to reduce blood pressure and reduce tumour growth.

4. Ginger and artichoke have been found recently to increase gastric motility, in the treatment of functional dyspepsia.

5. New research has confirmed the link between exercise and improved cognition and mood.

6. Onion juice has been found to lower cholesterol in a new study.

7. A new study in China has shown that medicinal mushrooms have a direct action on reducing cancer cells, rather than simply boosting the immune system to fight cancer.

8. Seaweed could be the answer to reducing obesity, a new study has shown as seaweeds change processes in the gastrointestinal tract.

Frequently asked questions – what to herbalists get asked?

Here are some of the most common questions I get asked and the answers I give.

1. Can herbs be used to treat children?

The simple answer is yes but with everything that depends on what the situation is, is the child taking medication? For more information on herbs and children take a look at my recent blog.

nettle_flower_full2. Can herbs be used to help eczema?

The answer is yes in most cases but dietary and lifestyle changes also need to be taken into account. The treatment will be taking herbs both internally and externally, while treating the whole person and the cause. I have written three blogs on eczema, “Eczema – what is it, What role does diet play in eczema, and Can herbs help to alleviate the symptoms of eczema?

3. Can helps be used by people taking medication?

That depends on the type of medication they are taking, the dosage and the reason they are taking it. There are many medications that are sensitive to not just herbs but foods too. It is important to always consult a medical herbalist if you are taking medication and want to take herbs too. They are trained to understand the interactions between herbs and drugs and they will be able to offer alternative herbs that do not interact with your medication.

I will be writing more about how herbs interact with drugs and safe herbs to use at home in a new blog.

ollie4. Can I give herbs to my dog?

Lots of people want to look after the health of their pets in a more natural way and it’s understandable that they would want to look at using herbs for that. However, it is important to remember that only a veterinarian can prescribe medicines of any kind, whether herbal or not to any animal.

The rules around herbal medicines for animals are quite similar to people in that you can buy some herbal products over the counter from your vet. They are approved herbal medicines and include things like anti-anxiety drops for dogs which contain valerian.

There is a bit of a crossover however with herbs that are more foods than medicines. There are lots of recipes where culinary herbs are given in homemade dog food to improve nutrition. If you are wanting to do this make sure the information is from a reputable source (i.e. approved by a vet).

5. Can I make my own herbal medicines?

Yes, and I encourage you do to so. I have some tips and easy to follow recipes for using simple herbal medicines at home. Take a look at my free downloads here.

6. Can herbs be used in pregnancy?

There are some herbs that can be used in pregnancy, for example raspberry leaf tea, but I always recommend anyone who is pregnant and wanting to take herbs to speak to a medical herbalist before taking herbs.

DSC_25947. Can herbs cure cancer?

This is a very important point. There is no ‘cure’ for cancer whether herbal or pharmaceutical. Chemotherapy for example is a treatment of cancer, not a cure.

The law states very clearly that no-one must claim to cure cancer. So if you see an advert for a new Amazonian herb that can ‘cure’ cancer please don’t go out and buy it.

Herbalists can support people with cancer and who are undergoing cancer therapies, for example, herbs can be used to reduce the side effects from chemotherapy.

 

Please remember if you are unsure or have any questions about herbs and whether they are right for you, it is important to get the advice of a medical herbalist.

You can find a qualified medical herbalist using any of these lists, or you can get in touch with me.

 

Herbal Medicine research blog – Nov – Dec 15

In November and December the following health research has caught my eye.

1. A new study showed that Andrographis reduced triglyceride levels in patients with raised celerytriglyceride levels (one of the measurements of high cholesterol).
2. A new study of celery seed has shown that when given to patients with arthritis, it reduced pain and inflammation to a greater extent than aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen.

3. A new study has shown that Ginkgo improved attention spans of children with ADHD and hyperactivity.

4. Turmeric has been shown to be effective at treating premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

hypericum_perforatum

5.Holy basil has been found to improve cognitive function and reduce stress in healthy people.

6. A new study has shown that patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy for head and neck cancer with radiation dermatitis, were treated effectively with a combination of St John’s wort and neem oil.

Eczema blog part 3 – Can herbs help to alleviate the symptoms of eczema?

Traditional herbs for eczema

Traditionally herbal treatment of eczema would be two fold an external preparation to alleviate symptoms and an internal medicine to ‘cleanse the blood’.

Traditional blood cleansers would have been dandelion, burdock, yellow dock and nettle.

Modern herbal medicine treatment is very similar, although we now know that the blood cleansers are allowing the liver to detoxify, reducing circulating metabolites, decreasing inflammation and inflammatory markers.

nettle_flower_fullAn easy and safe remedy to try at home

An easy and safe remedy to try at home is nettle leaf tea. You can either gather your own (in the spring or summer) or buy the tea bags at a health food shop or supermarket.

I recommend drinking three cups a day.

External treatments for eczema

External treatments for eczema are many and varied but they usually consist of herbs that are antimicrobial (to stop infection within the eczema site), anti-inflammatory herbs (to alleviate the redness and swelling at the eczema site), and often an anti-pruritic (or anti-itch).

Clinical research

A study of 72 patients with moderate eczema showed that when half of the patients were given a chamomile cream, and half were given a hydrocortisone cream, they were equally effective.

herbal medicine 3 picChamomile is one of the key herbs that I use in my practice for eczema. A cold, used, chamomile tea bag can be effective and relieving the itch and inflammation on very irritated eczema where the skin is completely broken.

Another study showed that St John’s wort when used topically on eczema can reduce inflammation and the condition of skin in the area. A study of 28 patients with moderate eczema used the St John’s wort cream in comparison to a plain cream. The St John’s wort cream was more effective and decreased the eczema symptoms.

Other herbs that have been studied clinically and found to be effective at reducing eczema symptoms are: gotu kola, Oregon grape, liquorice and pansy.

Could herbal medicine help you?

If you or a someone you know suffers from eczema, I recommend they go and see a medical herbalist. A medical herbalist can make an individual prescription, for both the external and internal symptoms.

Find a qualified herbalist through any of these lists.

 

Eczema blog part 2 – What role does diet play in eczema?

Herbalists have made the link between diet and skin health for some time but it’s taking modern research a little while to catch up.

Glass of milk
Glass of milk

Dairy products, are they bad for eczema?

As far as I am aware (please send me the link if I’m incorrect), there isn’t currently a published study can shows the link between dairy products and an increase in eczema symptoms. However, some doctors think there is a link and some are recommending that it is removed from the diet.

I always recommend that people with eczema may find that switching to a nut, oat or goat milk may find a reduction in their skin inflammation. It’s important not to use soya milk however, as that can have the same inflammatory action as cow’s milk.

Are pro inflammatory foods a problem in eczema?

The simple answer is yes. While each person is different, eczema is an inflammatory condition and therefore foods that increase an inflammatory state in the body may well increase the symptoms of eczema.

Foods to reduce
  • Soya
  • Alcohol
  • Refined sugars
  • Preservatives
Foods to add in

Just as there are inflammatory foods, there are also anti-inflammatory foods. I recommend my patients increase these in their diet if at all possible.

  • broccoliOily fish
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fruits and vegetables (as many different colours as you can)
  • Wholegrains
  • Beans and pulses

Don’t forget external irritants for eczema, as the skin is the body’s barrier it has to be strong to avoid infection. In the case of eczema that barrier is damaged and broken.

Where possible try to get the most natural form of the following products to avoid reactions:

  • Washing powder/liquid
  • Soaps and shower gels
  • Shampoos and conditioners
  • Any beauty products that may come in contact with the area affected e.g. make up or perfume
Laura Carpenter
Laura Carpenter

If you or a member of your family suffers from eczema and you are interested in finding out if herbs could help, give your local herbalist a call.

If you’re in the Wellington area (in Somerset) feel free to give me a call or email to find out how herbal medicine could help.

Herbs and Health Research blog – October 15

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

Rhodiola_ishidae_(200607)
1. A study comparing the effectiveness of the herb rhodiola with the antidepressant sertraline (also known as Zoloft), found that while rhodiola had a slightly less anti-depressant effect, it didn’t have any side effects. The conclusion of the study was that rhodiola could be an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression.

 
2. A systemic Cochrane review was conducted looking at 49 trials (with a total of 5980 people) looking at osteoarthritis and the effectiveness of frankincense taken internally. The review found that frankincense was effective in the treatment of osteoarthritis but that further study was needed. (49 trials and 5980 people showing a positive effect was obviously not enough to draw a positive conclusion).

3. A small study in Brazil has found that applying an alcoholic extract of arnica to tendon injuries twice a day reduced pain and inflammation.

olive4. A new study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging has shown that patients with osteoporosis showed a significant improvement when taking a medicinal extract of olive for 12 months.

 

I also wanted to take a moment to talk about the ‘scare mongering’ regarding health topics in the news.

Firstly it’s important to remember that these stories are often written by people who do not have any medical knowledge at all. A set of statistics are looked at by a researcher and they are written into a story.

Secondly, stories that have headlines like “bacon gives you cancer”, is trying to make money. It is not trying to provide any useful information about the science behind that claim.

There are doctors, medical researcher’s and other health professionals working on research studies of their own and looking an analysing other studies for merit and ways to understand more about health. For that to work that science has to be conducted without the input of someone trying to make money (i.e. drug companies). Unfortunately studies require a lot of money and the only people with the money are the drug companies. This means that the majority of medical research is biased.

My advice would be to take your medical advice from your doctor or health care professional and not the news or internet.

 

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.