You’re feeling a bit under the weather or in need of a bit of extra energy. You go into the health food shop and look around at all the shelves full of bottles – and feel overwhelmed and faint. You look around for assistance, but it’s lunchtime and everybody is busy serving healthy looking punters with bags full of organic food. You think “sod it” and go down to the chemist and get some aspirin, which you wash down with some coffee or a Red Bull, and that keeps you going till it’s time to go home. You know there must be good stuff in all those bottles, but how do you find the right one.
Eating the right foods for your body’s requirements, combined with appropriate exercise and relaxation, is the best way to optimum health. But the right supplements, carefully chosen, can assist. Here is an introduction to some useful herbs and supplements, based on their historical uses. This is for informational purposes only. In the case of any illness, you should consult a natural health professional to find the right remedy for your individual needs. Not all remedies suit everybody.
This section isn’t quite finished, but you can start checking out what’s here so far…
Covering the basics
Multi Vitamins & Minerals – Unless you’re on a strictly organic, whole foods diet, eating foods suitable for your metabolic type, it’s unlikely that you are getting all the nutrients you need from food. The soil has been depleted, and food is usually contaminated with chemicals and not fresh.
Trace Minerals – Modern farming methods have depleted the soil of many essential trace elements. Colloidal minerals are one way to ensure you get minute traces every day of more than 50 trace minerals. But make sure the source is a plant one, not a soil one. And remember that minerals are synergistic and too much of one can upset the balance of another. For that reason, it is usually better to take minerals only as part of a balanced multi-mineral supplement. Individual minerals should be taken very cautiously, for limited periods of time. The only exception to this would be selenium, which is not present in NZ soil.
Essential Fats – All of these types of essential oils are available in capsules – Marine Oils, Flaxseed Oil, Evening Primrose Oil, Blackcurrant Oil, Borage Oil. My current favourites are GNLD’s Salmon oil & Country Life Ultra Oils – a blend of flaxseed, pumpkin seed, borage and blackcurrant seed oils. See the “Good Fats vs Bad Fats” page to see which supplement would best balance up your fat intake.
Antioxidants (especially important for athletes)
Vitamin A is an important fat soluble anti-oxidant. This is best obtained through foods like liver, eggs and cod liver oil. Supplemental Vit A can be overdosed on, and not everybody can convert beta-carotene to Vit A.
Vitamin C has so many health benefits I don’t know where to start. It is an antioxidant, it boosts the immune system & it stops cholesterol from building up in your veins. It doesn’t get stored in your body, so must be taken every day. The amount we get in food is just enough to get by on, but won’t promote superior health. Don’t take ascorbic acid, as large amounts cause the dreaded “runs”, mineral ascorbates are better. Mixed ascorbates are the best, but are expensive, so most people take calcium ascorbate. My suggested dose is 1-4 grams a day (more if ill). But your body does get used to having that amount each day, so if you want to reduce the amount you’re taking, do so gradually.
Selenium is a mineral that is lacking in NZ soil, so it is very hard to get enough in food & extra needs to be taken. Although it usually not a good idea to supplement with individual minerals, if you’re not taking a good multi vit/min, you should consider taking selenium as an antioxidant. Make sure you take it in the selenomethionine form, as that is better absorbed than some other forms, and can be taken with Vit C. Some forms cannot be absorbed with Vit C. Michael Colgan uses 200-400mcg per day for athletes, but be careful not to take too much as it can be toxic in high doses.
Grape seed extract
Fighting the winter woes & keeping your immune system strong
Vitamin C – See under Antioxidants
Garlic is the herbalists’ and naturopaths’ favourite remedy – and has been used medically for something like 5000 years. It is regarded – with some scientific and medical approval – as one of the most versatile and effective plants in the entire herbal cornucopia. Among the many beneficial effects claimed for garlic are: its ability to destroy harmful bacteria (pathogens) in the intestines, without any effect on the natural, beneficial organisms; its power to break down cholesterol; its effectiveness against bacteria which may be unaffected by other antibiotics; its capability for improving resistance to viral infections; and its use as a general preventive against many illness, especially those that people suffer in winter, such as colds, chills and influenza, sinus problems and bronchial complaints. Purists will tell you that to get the full benefits of garlic you must eat it fresh, organic & raw. They’re probably right. But I find it a bit hard to take like that and prefer capsules or tablets.
Echinacea is one of nature’s most effective blood and lymphatic cleansers, acting as a natural antibiotic to clean toxins from the gland and lymphatic system – a non toxic way of cleansing the system – and considered a substitute for penicillin. The lymphatic circulation is the centre of the immune system. It is considered the second circulation in the body, which picks up excess waste material from the cells and brings them back into circulation, either neutralising them or destroying them. As an antiseptic, it is healing for skin conditions such as boils, burns, bed sores, ulcers or wounds. The root is the active part of the plant and contains ammonia which could explain the plants ability to clean internally and detoxify and blood in cases of blood poisoning, thyroid fever, gangrene, leukaemia, venereal disease, rabies and all abscesses as in boils, tumours, and infected sores. It works best if taken for a couple of weeks at a time, and doesn;t agree with everybody.
Astragalus – If your immune system gets very low, sometimes even Echinacea won’t lift it. That’s when you need Astragalus. It is a good tonic for recovering from illness. It helps to build stamina & is beneficial in times of stress. It is a warming herb that helps with peripheral circulation, so is a good winter herb.
Ginger – You know how sometimes in the winter you can feel cold on the outside from the weather, but feel OK in yourself. And sometimes you feel cold all the way through, as if you’re cold on the inside. That’s when you need ginger. It’s a herb that improves circulation, thus warming you up from the inside. (If you don’t know that “cold from the inside” feeling, you’re probably a Yang person – see the Chinese Nutrition page – and don’t need ginger.) Ginger is also good for digestion and seasickness.
General Tonics, Boosting your Energy & Fighting Depression and Stress
Ginkgo Biloba – The list of ailments that can be helped by Ginkgo is long and impressive, mostly due to the increase in peripheral circulation that you get from Ginkgo. It improves cerebral circulation, at the same time increasing the brain’s intake of carbohydrate. Ginkgo has proven to be of particular value for the treatment of short-term memory loss. A number of trials have shown that supplementation which includes Ginkgo may be beneficial in retarding Alzheimer’s disease. Many medical trials have been carried out into Ginkgo’s uses for cerebral vascular disorders and tinnitus (ringing or noises in the ears) and for vertigo (a disturbance of the sense of balance) and these types of disorders can be treated with the use of Ginkgo. The bitter compounds increase peripheral blood flow and reduce inflammation. Ginkgo has also been reported to cleanse radiation from the system. Ginkgo is an excellent herbal source of iron, calcium and vitamin C, and a good all round tonic herb. It usually takes 3 – 6 months for a course of Ginkgo biloba therapy to achieve the desired effects.
Spirulina – A micro-algae, rather than a plant. It is highly nutritious and an excellent source of protein, chlorophyll, vitamins and minerals, essential fatty acids and amino acids. It has 26 times the calcium of milk, contains phosphorus, B12, RNA and DNA, and is easily digested. It is safe food with no side effects. It would be good for survival purposes as it is easy to store. It has been tested in Japan and Europe and found to benefit people who suffer from many ailments including; anaemia, cataracts, diabetes, gastro-intestinal disorders, glaucoma, hepatitis, physical imbalances, aids weight loss. Spirulina is used for fatigue and as an aid during fasting. Also available are combinations of algae which include spirulina, chlorella and other algae.
Bee Pollen contains many essential nutrients. Pollen is the male germ of flowering plants. As bees forage, the pollen mixes with nectar and accumulates in yellow granules on the bee’s legs. It is an excellent nutritional supplement for enhancing immunity and, with its strong nutritional profile, for providing energy. It contains up to 35% complete protein, as well as 22 amino acids, an especially rich storehouse of B vitamins, 27 mineral salts, trace elements and several enzymes. Greeks called it the “nectar of the gods.” Many performance and endurance athletes use it before workouts and competition. Precaution : Open capsule & take minute amount to check for allergic reaction. Don’t take in cases of high blood pressure.
Siberian Ginseng : Used by the Chinese for 5000 years to help mental & physical endurance & as a male tonic, Ginseng supports the body during stress and fatigue (including surgery and disease) and increases the appetite. It alleviates stomach and digestive disorders resulting from mental and nervous exhaustion & benefits the pituitary and adrenal glands. It is considered a cure-all in China. It is a hormonal herb that is good for both men and woman since it regulates both male and female hormones. It is especially good for men because it helps alleviate and prevent impotency. This is the type of Ginseng most likely to be found in an energy or fitness formula (eg. Nature’s Sunshine formulas Energ-V and Fitness Plus both contain Siberian Ginseng)
Korean (Panax) Ginseng : Known as an “adaptogen”, thus similar in effect to Siberian Ginseng, Korean ginseng is reputed to have a normalising effect on whatever ails the body. Strengthens immune system and decreases fatigue. Has been used for tumours, diabetes, mental disorders, radiation sickness, neurosis, heart disease, hypotension, hypertension, depression, joint swelling and pain, asthma, anaemia, atherosclerosis, fatigue, exhaustion, stress, headaches, indigestion, impotence, cardiac arrhythmia & nervous/anxiety. Precautions: Avoid during pregnancy. Avoid high doses & other stimulants while taking it.
Guarana is a stimulant, not a herbal remedy, so see the Sports Nutrition page.
Morinda contains powerful phytonutrients – powerful substances that nourish the body’s cells, tissues and organs. They fight damage caused by ageing, pollution and harmful chemicals. Morinda has been traditionally used as nutritional support for each of these body systems: Digestive, Immune, Intestinal, Nervous, Respiratory, Skeletal and Structural. The various parts of the plant have been used for circulatory problems, blood sugar imbalances, joint pain and swelling, muscle injuries, skeletal injuries, digestion, respiratory afflictions, infections of all types, colds, viruses, female health problems and as a general anti-aging tonic. It has a wide range of uses as it is understood to work at a cellular level. People who take it report a general feeling of wellbeing.
Vitamin B complex – The B vitamins are water soluble. This means any excess gets excreted, so they need to be replaced on a daily basis. Times of stress increase the need for B vitamins. If you are feeling stressed out, you might not be getting enough from your multi vit/min and might need extra.
St Johns Wort – Many people with mild to moderate depression have reported benefits from taking St John’s Wort. It can also help with anxiety, irritability, nerve pain, nervous tension, insomnia and general nervous system debility or inability to cope. It can take up to three months continuous use for it’s full benefits to kick in. It is not suitable for severe depression. Some people (usually blood type O) report that it “makes them feel funny”, in which case it is probably not the right herb for you. Important note : Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should not take St John’s Wort. Anyone who is on antidepressants, or on the progesterone only pill, or is taking medicines, or has medical problems should seek further advice before taking it. It is not recommended for children. Those with fair skin should avoid exposure to strong sunlight due to the photosensitising effects of this herb. This herb should generally not be taken for long periods without professional advice.
Injuries & Muscular Aches and Pains
Arnica – Often heard at our house : “Can you rub some purple cream on my back (or knee or leg) please?”. The cream is actually white, but it comes in a purple container, to match our shop. It’s Nature’s Kiss “Anti-flamme”, it’s main active ingredients are arnica, hypericum, calendula & peppermint oil, and it’s good for temporary relief of muscular aches & pains. (But remember that doesn’t mean the injury is miraculously cured.) Nature’s Sunshine also do an arnica & calendula cream for those who don’t like the smell of Anti-flamme. Warning : Arnica cream should NEVER be put on broken skin. Arnica can also be taken internally, in homeopathic form, for shock & trauma.
Morinda – As well as being a good overall tonic, Morinda seems to be particularly good at dealing with all sorts of general aches and pains, especially lower back ache.
NSP “Eight” – A combination of eight herbs (White Willow bark, Black Cohosh root, Capsicum fruit, Valerian root, Ginger root, Hops flowers, Wood Betony, Devil’s Claw herb) used to relieve pain and inflammation in muscles and joints. This combination of herbs is particularly directed to the connective tissues of the structural system. It contains some of the most efficient herbs for stress. The formula helps to strengthen nerves and provides relief from nervous tension and nervous indigestion. It also helps with insomnia and hysteria. The formula also works to calm the mind, relieve muscle cramps and shrink inflamed tissues in the digestive and reproductive systems. Precautions: Do not take if pregnant. Use caution in cases of inflammatory conditions of the gastrointestinal tract, especially ulcers and gastritis.
Injuries & Joint Pain
Glucosamine – According to two recent books by medical doctors, ‘The Arthritis Cure’ and ‘Glucosamine – Nature’s Arthritis Remedy’, glucosamine, in conjuction with chondroitin, can help alleviate pain from osteo-arthritis. Studies have found that it also useful for sports injuries as it helps to repair the connective tissue that makes up ligaments, cartilages, tendons and spinal discs. We know a few people who have reduced knee and back pain by taking glucosamine. The books talk about glucosamine sulfate, but glucosamine hydrochloride seems to be just as effective (and cheaper).
Feverfew for migraines – Feverfew has often been used to treat the same problems one would use aspirin for, particularly arthritis, fever and migraine headaches. It is also being used for asthma, dysmenorrhea and inflammatory skin problems. Feverfew helps migraine headaches by reducing two chemicals in the body which, in excess, are believed to be responsible for the intense head pain, nausea and light sensitivity associated with migraines – prostaglandin and serotonin. Recent research has identified the primary active ingredient in Feverfew to be a substance called parthenolide – a sesquiterpene lactone. The most current scientific studies show that maximum benefits and pain relief are achieved by a daily intake of 600 mcg of parthenolides.
Wood Betony for nervous & tension headaches – Wood Betony has a reputation for being a herbal aspirin & has been used to help relieve nervous stress and tension, and improve cerebral circulation. It has been used to strengthen the nerves, calm over activity, relieve premenstrual complaints and improve poor memory. It has also been known to stimulate the digestive and liver function and increase urine flow. Scientists have found that Wood Betony has the ability to dilate blood vessels and promote relaxation & its vascular effect has been linked to its ability to relieve headache pain, hence causing muscles to relax. A 1962 European study claimed that Wood Betony reduces high blood pressure, and another study claims that it kills the tuberculosis bacteria. Wood Betony has been used for both adults and children. Precautions: Wood Betony is considered safe when taken in appropriate doses. However, because it has the ability to mildly stimulate the uterus, it should be avoided in pregnancy. It is also noted that overuse could cause irritation of the digestive tract due to the tannins present.
Valerian root for nervous & tension headaches – Valerian root is a powerful anti-spasmodic & has sedative properties which have a calming effect on the central nervous system. It is mostly used for relieving emotional tension & insomnia. It relieves pain & normalises heart palpitations by slowing the action of the heart while strengthening it.
NSP Combination Four – A combination of four herbs (Catnip, Blessed Thistle, Pleurisy Root & Yerba santa) that support the respiratory system. Many people have found that taking Four alleviates their hayfever symptoms &, if taken over a number of seasons, the amount needed decreases.
Bee Pollen – As well as being good for energy, bee pollen can be used to overcome pollen allergies. A small twist and pull will open a capsule. Start with just a few grains a day, increasing the dose over several weeks until taking one capsule a day. Anemophiles are the light pollen that float in the air and cause the allergy symptoms. Entomophiles are the heavier pollen that the bees collect, mix with their stomach acids and nectar, then store in sacs on the backs of their legs. The stomach acid neutralises any allergy causing substance – that’s why Bee Pollen can be used this way. So people who get thesummer sniffles and itches, start building resistance in Spring. (NB. People allergic to bee stings are not advised to desensitise this way.)
Weight Loss Aids
Milk (St Mary’s) Thistle
HELPFUL HINTS ON TAKING HERBS :
- Start slowly – historically, many herbs have been used as cleansers with an action on the bowel. If too many are taken too soon, you may experience diarrhoea or nausea.
- Some herbs have been known to increase the body’s natural process of elimination, so expect to visit the bathroom a little more often than you are accustomed. This means that the large intestine is being cleaned out. Watery diarrhoea means you are taking too many at once – cut back and slowly build up to the amount you can handle. If you are taking laxative herbs you should lower the dosage to establish comfortable, regular bowel movements. Vomiting should never occur through the use of laxative herbs. If this occurs, cease taking the preparation and consult your health or medical practitioner.
- A runny nose is naturopathically interpreted as throwing off excess mucous. Sometimes this is desirable and should cease in a short time. You may also notice a sense of well being in the head and lung area.
- Nature cleanses, repairs, and builds slowly, so allow time for the herbs to do their work! Take them every day until the bottle is empty before you make a judgement.
- Avoid mucous forming foods such as milk, milk products, sugar and white flour. These foods are only slowing down the cleansing process and are defeating the purpose of the herbs. If you insist on milk products, a good choice would be yoghurt, raw milk, raw cheese or cream.
- Some people experience hunger during the first couple of weeks, but this will tend to subside as the impurities and congestion leave the body.
- How many to take? Unless otherwise stated, start with two capsules a day and then increase the daily dose by one each week. Most people slowly build up to between four and six capsules a day.
- Remember to drink a full glass of water with the herbs. Use mineral water, purified water or rain water if possible. Juices are acceptable alternatives and can reduce the likelihood of burping or repeating. It is unwise to take herbs with milk.
- Remember, these are herb plants, which have been picked, cleaned, freeze-ground, and put into capsules. Nothing is added, so they are a totally natural supplement.
This is only a smattering of the more common supplements around and is nowhere near comprehensive.
In some cases, I have mentioned particular brands or products that we have found to be effective. There are many other reputable brands available. Look for established companies who use organic sources. And remember, you usually get what you pay for. Within reason, a dearer product usually means better quality.