Chinese Herbs for the Elderly, Part 2

A  good overview of different Chinese medicines beneficial for elderly ills is “Systematic review of traditional Chinese medicine for geriatrics,” Geriatrics & Gerontology International, 2017, 17: 679-688. Accessed April 25, 2018.

This lengthy article reports in depth on a review of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in connection with revised criteria of the Japan Geriatrics Society for medical treatment and safety of the elderly.

The authors used a literature search with multiple search terms for various synonyms for the elderly and specific therapeutics including “East Asian Traditional Medicine, Kampo Medicine,
Chinese Traditional Medicine, Chinese herbal drugs, herb–drug interaction, herbal medicine, medicinal plant, plant components, plant extracts, phytotherapy, phytomedicine, Kampo, Oriental medicine, Japanese traditional medicine, Korean medicine, acupuncture and moxibustion.”

Treatments identified in this review that may improve symptoms of the following diseases in older adults are: “dementia and mild cognitive impairment (cognitive function, behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia), post-stroke symptoms (activities of daily living, depression, aspiration pneumonia and constipation), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hyperlipidemia, foot ulcer as a result of diabetes mellitus, osteoporosis, post-abdominal surgery complications, chronic constipation, the prevention and treatment of influenza, angina pectoris, and hypertension.”

Tables report on the medicines, ingredients, effects, attention (concerns/adverse effects) and the Quality of Evidence rating. Additional medicines not available in Japan are listed in a separate table. A third table lists a screening tool for herbs that should be used with the elderly with cautions on dosages or specific associated effects from other drugs.

Another report talks about a drug useful in preventing nosocomial infections in the elderly. Given the prevalence of these infections in U.S. hospitals, this might be especially useful since the results found a significant decrease among susceptible individuals. See “Prevention of traditional Chinese medicine Gubiao Pixie prescription for nosocomial infection in elderly population,” Zhonghua Wei Zhong Bing Ji Jiu Yi Xue. 2017 May; 29(5):469-472. Accessed April 25, 2018. A lengthy abstract in English is available at the link.

This article in the Journal of Ethnopharmacololgy. 2012 Mar 27;140(2):345-67, “Emerging approaches of traditional Chinese medicine formulas for the treatment of hyperlipidemia,” may be useful. It reports on multiple TCM formulas. Listed in the abstract are Fructus Crataegi, Radix Polygoni Multiflori. Semen Cassiae, and Radix et Rhizoma Rhei, Rhizoma alismatis  and Herba Artemisiae Scopariae, Radix Salviae Miltiorrhizae, Radix Puerariae, Rhizoma Chuanxiong, Flos Carthami), and Folium Nelumbinis, Fructus Lycii, Radix Ginseng, and Radix Astragali. Also noted at the very end is this comment: ”However, solid evidence of the efficacy of these treatments is required.”

The Quest for Herbal Aphrodisiacs

Mankind’s search for ways to improve sexual capabilities or “fix” the problem of erectile dysfunction has been a preoccupation for at least as long as recorded history.  There probably is a high likelihood that primitive man, when oral tradition was the only way to maintain a history, found and passed on knowledge about natural substances that seemed to offer help in this area. The word aphrodisiac itself is more recent, coming from the Greek Goddess of Love, Aphrodite. It did not matter whether the location was in the East, West, North or South, the goal has been around for a very long time.

It is quite easy now for anyone with access to the Web to search for and find supposed cures or aids for sexual issues. Here are a few examples: Horny Goat Weed, Korean Ginseng, Rhodiola Rosea, Yohimbe. How useful and safe the herbs located this way may be, particularly when they have a combination of ingredients, is not so easy to determine.

Some basic searching in medical databases such as the National Library of Medicine’s, pubmed.gov reveals an astonishing and truly overwhelming amount of research on the topic involving both human and rats/mice subjects. One review alone has 64 reference citations. In slightly more than 20 years, the weight of published research has shot up remarkably, particularly since the release of the prescription drug Viagra (sildenafile citrate).

An obvious driving impetus for research on herbal sources came from presumed fewer side effects and lower costs given the generally wide available nature of many herbs. Facilitating the search was a long tradition of folk remedies. The weakness of this approach so far is the lack of sufficient reliable, clinical evidence of the exact mechanism of herbal treatments as well as sufficient safety data in humans. Hopefully, with more attention and studies, some true improvements in caring for these seemingly endemic conditions in Man may someday make real, verifiable treatments available for those in need.

To go into detail about each plant described and tested in a simple blog post is impossible. The most this article can do is provide links to medical articles for the reader to pursue if desired. A helpful feature about searches on pubmed.gov is that frequently related articles will be listed on the right of the screen for more information. Several extensive reviews are listed below with brief comments from the body of the articles. Some of these report positive results, often in animal studies but some in human. There are still a number of doubts in the medical field about the efficacy of herbal supplements on human sexual problems. The third report below is one example of this kind of negative finding.

The best approach for laymen interested in this subject is to conduct further research on http://pubmed.gov with the following search strategy and the herbs listed in these reviews or found  through checking the full Web. Use as many herbs in the sample as you desire without the quotation marks or brackets but with the parentheses, i.e., “[panax ginseng] AND (aphrodisiac OR erectile).” Substitute each succeeding herb for panax ginseng in this example.

If you want to try any of the advertised commercial products, at least attempt to identify the contents and check them out using  pubmed.gov and other reliable sources such as http://consumerlab.com or go directly to a subset of pubmed, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at  https://nccih.nih.gov/research/camonpubmed. Check this last source particularly for recalls on supplements like the ones you find.

Pharmacognosy Reviews . ”Exploring scientifically proven herbal aphrodisiacs,” Sabna Kotta, Shahid H. Ansari and Javed Ali, 2013 Jan-Jun; 7(13): 1–10.

               “The hunt for natural supplement from medicinal plants is being intensified mainly because of its fewer side effects. In this review, we have mentioned the pharmacologically tested (either in man or animal or in both) aphrodisiac plants, which have claimed for its uses.” (This review contains two very useful tables. One lists herbs with the parts used, chemical constituents and probable mechanism of action. The second gives the constituents of various herbal compendiums available commercially.

 Acta Poloniae Pharmaceutica—Drug Research. “Recent studies on aphrodisiac herbs for the management of male sexual dysfunction: a review,” Neelesh Malviya, et al., 2011, Vol. 68 No. 1 pp. 3-8.

               “Aphrodisiacs can be categorized according to their mode of action into three groups: substances that increase libido (i.e., sexual desire, arousal), substances that increase sexual potency (i.e., effectiveness of erection) and substances that increase sexual pleasure.”

  The Journal of Sexual Medicine. “Natural aphrodisiacs,” Shamloul R , 2010 Jan;7(1 Pt 1):39-49.

“There is little evidence from literature to recommend the usage of natural aphrodisiacs for the enhancement of sexual desire and/or performance.” “The current body of objective evidence does not support the use of any natural aphrodisiac as an effective treatment for male or female sexual dysfunctions. Potent men and men with ED will continue the search for natural aphrodisiacs despite the current disappointing data on their effectiveness. Care should be taken regarding the fraud addition of sildenafil analogues to natural aphrodisiacs.”

 

 

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Chinese Herbs for the Elderly, Part 1

After thousands of years using traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for many conditions in the East, the potential benefits of these treatments gradually are being accepted in some areas of Western Medicine.  The West has a general bias towards evidence-based, clinical studies documenting efficacy, making this acceptance a slow haul. Articles in respected Western-published medical journal finally are becoming more prevalent, although treatments such as Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM) are still considered complementary or adjunctive. 

Acupuncture acceptance has spread in the West faster than another important feature in TCM, Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM). With the focus of allopathic medicine on specific drugs for specific conditions as opposed to CHM’s emphasis on treating the whole body it will take some time for this methodology to gain more acknowledgement.

In dealing with seniors, treatments such as CHM may have potential benefits by being able to mitigate some of the side effects inherent in prescription drugs that can be more dangerous in aging patients.  These dangers arise primarily from several natural causes: 1) because of the concomitant decline of renal and hepatic functionality as people age; 2) common comorbid diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and elevated hyperlipidemia; and 3) frequently reduced immune systems. Given these factors, it is natural that adverse effects of drugs might have more dangers in the elderly than in younger patients.

This and the next blog post will examine some important research in how CHM is being used along with Western medicine.

Writing in the Journal of Geriatric Cardiology in 2013, three Chinese doctors described a study on the potential benefits of CHM for elderly patients with cardiovascular diseases [i] . The article first calls attention to typical adverse effects after traditional antithrombotic treatments as well as operations like coronary bypass surgery—”bleeding, orthostatic hypotension, bradycardia, or congestive heart failure . . .,” plus “an unfavorable quality of life resulting from drug-related gastrointestinal reactions, depression, dizziness, and cognitive impairment.”

The article cites experimental studies of Cardiovascular (CVD) treatment with some Chinese herbs, Ren Shen (Radix Ginseng), Chuan Xion (Rhizoma Canxiong) and Dan Shen (Radix Salviae Miltiorrhizae). There are additional references to clinical trials of CHM combinations,  Xiongshao capsule, Tong Xin Luo capsule and Danshen dripping pill, that led to multiple beneficial effects after traditional Western treatment for CVD. Results confirmed that these herbs:

Can improve the health-related quality of life, lower the restenosis rate after Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI), reduce cardiovascular events, improve electrocardiogram (ECG) and serum myocardial injury biomarkers, decrease consumption of some chemicals, etc. Furthermore, only few mild side effects with spontaneous remission, such as abdominal distention from common CHM in elderly patients with CVDs can be found clinically.

The authors concluded by saying that while CHM benefits were not as strong as specific prescription drug treatments on the process of CVD, “CHM is indeed an alternative and complementary choice for elderly patients with CVDs due to its holistic regulation, individualized and complex intervention, as well as fewer side effects.”

Additional applications of CHM for the elderly will be covered in Part 2.
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[i] Jing Luo, Hao Xu, and Ke-Ji Chen, “Potential benefits of Chinese Herbal Medicine for elderly patients with cardiovascular diseases,” Journal of Geriatric Cardiology, 2013 Dec; 10(4); 305-309. Accessed April 6, 2018.  

Can Some Supplements Stop or Reverse Hearing Loss?

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Many elderly folks with hearing issues assume it is a normal part of aging; this type of loss is even termed “age-related hearing loss. According to a National Institute on Deafness estimate, 33% of those over 65 have significant hearing impairment. There are two types of hearing loss, conductive and sensorineural.  Conductive loss results from eardrum defects or problems with the tiny bones between the ear drum and the cochlea, often coming from injury of some sort. Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) is the most common type. Traditionally it is ascribed to nerve damage to the tiny hair cells in the cochlea followed eventually by loss in the auditory nerves leading from the ear to the brain. Recently, studies suggest there may be a more complicated explanation.

Research published in 2017[1] by M. Charles Liberman at the Department of Otolaryngology, Harvard Medical School, looking at noise-induced and age-related hearing loss called attention to the way that temporary noise exposure could lead to “reversible threshold shifts (and no hair cell loss) nevertheless cause permanent loss of >50% of the synaptic connections between hair cells and the auditory nerve.” This can result in a “hidden hearing loss.” Similarly, with age-related hearing loss, it appears that the connections between cochlear nerves (synapses) and the brain come before loss of hair cells and elevations in hearing thresholds. These losses, because of where they occurred were noted only in environments with a lot of noise, not in quiet situations. The actual neurons involved between the ear and brain could take years for complete degeneration even though the synaptic link between neurons and hair cells were damaged.

Liberman identifies a specific problem with this finding and hearing tests, writing:

This neural damage is likely to be a handicap in difficult listening situations, especially as overt hearing loss (i.e. threshold elevation and hair cell damage) is added to the mix. Since existing federal guidelines on workplace noise exposure were derived based on the assumption that exposures producing no PTSs [permanent threshold shifts) are benign, a careful re-evaluation of these guidelines is warranted if hidden hearing loss is to be prevented as well.

However, based on current research, according to this author, “An exciting aspect of this work is the notion that some of the hearing handicap in sensorineural hearing loss might be treatable or preventable.”

Building on this idea is an article by a group of researchers published in Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience.[2] Looking at new studies of the relationship between SNHL in aging and nutritional status it appears with possible dietary supplementation to prevent and possibly repair damage before it becomes irreversible. This article discusses up epidemiological studies that demonstrate “correlations among the nutritional condition, increased total plasma homocysteine (tHcy) and SNHL.” According to the authors, it seems that “Several human genetic rare diseases are also associated with homocysteine (Hcy) metabolism and SNHL confirming this potential link.”

In simpler terms, it appears from genetic examples, preliminary research and experimental data that homocysteine metabolism, in particular elevated homocysteine level is one of the keys to understanding hearing damage. As a corollary, it seems at least possible that when homocysteine levels are high and there are signs of beginning SNHL especially in the area of difficulties understanding spoken words in noisy environments, trying to lower elevated homocysteine with nutritional supplements might help. In addition, as people age, it becomes more difficult to convert folate from food sources to the necessary type used by the body to clear out homocysteine.  This is borne out by several studies.

In one report looking at people over 60 years old, individuals with “normal hearing had normal folate levels, while those with hearing loss had low folate levels.[3] In the Blue Mountains Hearing Study, a survey which checked nearly 3,000 people who were 50 years or older, “Participants with elevated tHcy (>20 micromol/L) concentrations had a 64% increased likelihood of prevalent hearing loss (>25 dB HL).” Furthermore, “Low serum folate levels (<11 nmol/L) increased the odds of prevalent mild hearing loss (>25-40 dB HL).” [4]

Findings such as these and others may suggest that as individuals age, checking homocysteine and folate levels, which also are related to other health considerations, might be worth doing occasionally, most especially in those experiencing hearing loss.

[1]Liberman, M.C. “Noise-induced and age-related hearing loss:  new perspectives and potential therapies,” [version 1; referees: 4 approved] F1000Research 2017, 6 (F1000 Faculty Rev):927 (doi: 10. 12688/f1000research, 11310.1). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5482333/pdf/f1000research-6-12205.pdf  accessed March 24, 2018.

[2]Parearroyo T., et al. “Cochlear Homocysteine Metabolism at the Crossroad of Nutrition andSensorineural Hearing Loss,” Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience, 25 April 2017, 10: 107. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5403919/ accessed 3/24/2018.

[3]Lasisi  A.O., Fehintola, F.A., and Yusuf ,O.B. “Age-related hearing loss, vitamin B12, and folate in the elderly,” Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, 2010 Dec;143(6):826-30. doi: 10.1016/j.otohns.2010.08.031. Epub 2010 Oct 25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21109085, accessed March 24, 2018.

[4]Gopinath, B., et al. “Serum homocysteine and folate concentrations are associated with prevalent age-related hearing loss,” The Journal of Nutrition, 2010 Aug;140(8):1469-74. doi: 10.3945/jn.110.122010. Epub 2010 Jun 23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20573942 March 24, 2018.

Herbal Remedies for Hives

Prescription anti-histamines or even corticosteroids in severe attacks of hives sometimes may be prescribed. The steroids particularly can have serious side effects. Often a simple home hives treatment using herbs may relieve the symptoms.

Hives, technically called urticaria, are slightly elevated pale skin swellings surrounded by areas of redness. They are often referred to as wheals or welts. There are a number of common triggers including drug reactions, insect bites, or food allergies, especially shellfish, eggs, nuts and fruits. Hives usually begin with itching followed by wheals. Sometimes they recede quickly, but at other times may last for days. There are some herbal remedies that  because of their anti-inflammatory or anti-histiaminic activities may help with mild cases. Severe hives, particularly those that extend over the whole body can be a medical emergency.

External Treatments

Various herbalist sites suggest a number of topical applications that may have anti-inflammatory effects on skin conditions. Apply aloe gel to the area of inflammation and cover with a loose clean cloth. This may stop the inflammation and prevent infection.

German Chamomile, Creative Commons By Rilke

Soaking two ounces of dried whole German Chamomile .” (Matricaria recutita) in 2-1/2 gallons of warm water and applying this as a bath to the wheals may help.  Chamomile “is commonly used for its antioxidant, antimicrobial, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, …” effects. (“A systematic review study of therapeutic effects of Matricaria recuitta chamomile (chamomile),” Electronic Physician 2016 Sep 20;8(9):3024-3031

Black Nightshade Creative Commons. By John Tann from Sydney, Australia

European Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum l.) berries have been found in studies to have anti-inflammatory effects. Herbalists suggest boiling the leave leaves in water, soaking a cloth in this and applying it to the hives. See for example:

Anti-inflammatory steroidal glycosides from the berries of Solanum nigrum L. (European black nightshade),” Phytochemistry, 2018 Apr;148:87-96.

Potential Anti-inflammatory Steroidal Saponins from the Berries of Solanum nigrum L. (European Black Nightshade),” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2017 May 31;65(21):4262-4272.

Internal Remedy

 

Stinging Nettle Leaf Creative Commons. By John Tann from Sidney, Australia

Another plant suggested on herbal remedy sites because of its anti-inflammatory properties is Stinging Nettle Leaf (Urtica dioica). (“Anti-Inflammatory Drugs and Herbs with Special Emphasis on Herbal Medicines for Countering Inflammatory Diseases and Disorders – A Review,” (Recent Patents on Inflammation & Allergy Drug Discovery, 2018 Jan 15. Typical use is either as a tea or by simply drinking a tablespoon of stinging nettle leaf juice three times a day. It has been said this may speed up the rash healing, particularly when due to a shellfish allergy.

 

Other Possible Remedies

Avoid aspirin or NSAIDs or foods with sulfites. At the first sign of hives, take a cool shower. It may prevent hives from spreading. Vitamin C tablets at 1,000 mg strength taken three times a day can act as a potent anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory. One teaspoon of Lactobacillus acidophilus taken three times a day may reduce an allergic reaction.

 

Do the Benefits of Genetically Modified Products Outweigh the Risks?

 

Foods either already genetically altered  or being developed (Agriculture Research Service, USDA, photo by Stephen Ausmus

Since Genetically Modified Products were introduced in Europe 21 years ago, both authorities and the popular press have debated the safety and benefits of these products. Much later the debate spread to the U.S. when labeling issues first arose in California and Washington State between 2012 and 2013. In the literature, Genetically Modified Products also may be referred to as Genetically Engineered Organisms or Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). For simplicity, the most common term, GMOs, is used in this post.

The debates, both scientific and popular, about GMO benefits and risks relate to the attempts to introduce through genetic engineering certain genes (or suppress certain genes) in a way that some improvement can be made. For example, by introducing a specific gene to soy beans, the hope was to make them more resistant to deleterious effects of herbicides. Although the same engineering experiments are taking place in hopes of improving drugs for health, most of the disagreements focus on genetically engineered crops. In earlier days, these tended to be commodity crops such as soybeans, maize, canola and sugar beets. Now, as Consumer Reports points out, GMOs “were present in many packaged foods, such as breakfast cereals ,  chips , baking mixes, and protein bars.” In the same article, Dr. Robert Gold, president of the board of Physicians for Social Responsibility is quoted as saying, “The contention that GMOs pose no risks to human health can’t be supported by studies that have measured a time frame that is too short to determine the effects of exposure over a lifetime.”

All of the crops subject to GMO manipulation as well as practically everything we eat were genetically modified either by humans by selective breeding in the interests of improving them are just through natural selection well before the knowledge of genes arrived. Directly manipulating genomes and DNA through biotechnology introduced the reality of changes that began to worry people and led to the still ongoing discussions of risk/benefit.

It is difficult to argue against the benefits of GMOs. GMO producers and agencies such as the Office of Science at the U.S. Department of Energy and the Food and Drug Administration point out that GMOs can create crops that taste better, have more bioavailable nutrients, decrease pesticide use and bring crops to maturity faster and allow production of more food on less acreage. With so much hunger in the world, just the increased production and supposed health benefits of GMOs would seem to make the process does give some weight to the arguments of the supporters of GMOs.

However, while insecticide use has declined, the use of herbicides like glyphosate, a weed killer (Roundup) dramatically increased. Then, genetic modification was used to create seeds that would enable crops to survive the herbicide. This was followed by “an epidemic of super-weeds, which have quickly evolved to become immune to glyphosate (Consumer Reports, above). The biotech firms came to the rescue again, creating new crops that would still be immune to glyphosate but also kill the super weeds with the herbicide 2,4-D (Enlist). In turn, as the growth of 2,4-D increases, expected to increase seven times over the next five years (from 2015), it seems very likely new forms of super-weeds will be created immune to both herbicides. In that same Consumer Reports article, Charles Benbrook, Ph. D., a research professor at Washington State University, says, “. . . this ‘solution’ to the super-weed problem makes about as much sense as pouring gasoline on a fire to put it out.” On the other hand, it does enrich the coffers of some herbicide manufacturers.

Still, with all these benefits, what are the risks? According to producers like Monsanto, involved in both genetic engineering of plants manufacturing the Roundup weed killer, as well as multiple scientific studies, the risks are minimal or non-existent. One scientist, Daniel A. Goldstein (who happens to have been employed by Monsanto) published a 2014 article in the Journal of Medical Toxicology titled “Tempest in a Teapot : How did the Public Conversation on Genetically Modified Crops Drift So Far from the Facts?” Those on the other side of the argument raise concerns like these:

The agri-food industry claims GE foods are rigorously tested and represent no risks to human health. However, since GE foods are tested for safety only by the agri-food companies themselves and effectively fall outside of FDA regulation, such claims are highly dubious. In fact, the FDA never examines the original studies conducted by companies, but rather only the company’s summary assessment of its own research (Phil Damery).

Two of the big worries with GMO foods are allergies and antibiotic markers. Allergies can arise from injecting genes from one food into another. While the food to be modified may not have caused allergies in susceptible persons, an allergy in the gene source could be transferred to the destination. There are some possible indications that antibiotic markers in GMO foods may be contributing to the decreasing effects of antibiotics.

Therefore, an answer to the title question means balancing the known benefits of GMOs against what we know of risks at this time. Given the number of times FDA-approved medicines have turned out to be harmful years after being approved, there exists the possibility of future unrecognized risks with GMOs. It seems that caution (as in the maxim First Do No Harm) might raise enough concerns to outweigh the benefits at this point.

 

Will Adaptogen Herbs Help You?

Adaptogen herbs, which promise to reduce stress, may sound almost too good to be true. They are claimed to normalize body systems, reducing overly high values or raising abnormally low ones. Blood pressure too high? An adaptogen may bring it down. Too low? The same adaptogen may raise it. The principle behind adaptogen use is that the herbs can help in restoring and maintaining homeostasis, stabilizing bodily processes.

Adaptogen herbs have a long and valued history in treating human ailments. Their main use has been in reducing stress by acting on the adrenal glands. There are a number of scientific studies that at least seem to back up claims that in addition to stress reduction, adaptogens can relieve insomnia, decrease depression, improve brain function, enhance energy, and even may have anti-cancer properties. These supplements may sound almost like a sort of one supplement cure-all for many conditions. Some of them may actually accomplish this.

On the other hand, according to Wikipedia, most of the research was conducted in the Soviet Union, Korea and China before the 1980s and have serious methodological flaws. The European Medicines Agency said in 2008 that the idea needs more clinical and preclinical research and is not accepted in pharmacological and clinical practice.

Conversely, Rodale’s Organic Life Web site in a posting dated July 13, 2017 and titled “6 Things You Need to Know About Adaptogens—Nature’s Answer to Valium,” goes into great detail about the benefits of adaptogens.  The author, Emily Monaco claims that “adaptogens’ power doesn’t lie in reducing feelings of anxiety, but rather in decreasing the effects of hormones and other compounds that are released into the body in times of stress, such as kinase, nitric oxide, and cortisol.” She refers to two scientific reports, one in Drug Target Insights, 2007: 2: 39054 (a study of Rhodiola and Schizandra in rabbits). The second reference is to a report in Pharmaceuticals. This one describes how various stimulants were tried during World War II for pilots and submarine crew members and included Schisandra chinensis. This research came out of the finding that berries and seeds used by Far East hunters reduced “thirst, hunger and exhaustion” and increased “stamina and survival. From this work came the concept of adaptogens. A number of clinical studies are cited in this long article.

Rhodiola

Two of the better known adaptogen herbs are Rhodiola and Ashwagandha. Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) grows in higher elevations in Asia, Europe and the Arctic. There is some evidence that it was used by ancient Greek physicians and later in Scandinavian countries, where the Vikings were regular users to overcome fatigue, presumably while plundering other countries. The extract is said to be most useful in mood enhancement including mental acuteness by restoring optimum levels of serotonin and dopamine. Studies in students have shown increased performance on tests after taking Rhodiola. “A double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of the stimulating and apoptogenic effect of Rhodiola rosea SHR-5 extract on the fatigue of students caused by stress during an examination period with a repeated low-dose regimen,” Phytomedicine 7:2 (April 2000), 85-9.

A systematic review of six electronic databases looked for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and controlled clinical trials (CCTs) that evaluated the safety and efficacy of Rhodiola as related to mental and physical fatigue. Because of possible bias or flaws in the reports the results were contradictory, not definite enough to come to a firm conclusion. However, some evidence did suggest that Rhodiola might be of use in improving physical performance and reducing mental fatigue.

Another article, “Rosenroot (Rhodiola rosea): traditional use, chemical composition, pharmacology and clinical efficacy,” in Phytomedicine 2010: Jun 17(7) 481-93, noted that “A number of clinical trials demonstrate that repeated administration of R. rosea extract SHR-5 exerts an anti-fatigue effect that increases mental performance (particularly the ability to concentrate in healthy subjects), and reduces burnout in patients with fatigue syndrome. Encouraging results exist for the use of Rhodiola in mild to moderate depression, and generalized anxiety.” This article concluded, “Lack of interaction with other drugs and adverse effects in the course of clinical trials make it potentially attractive for use as a safe medication. In conclusion, Rhodiola rosea has robust traditional and pharmacological evidence of use in fatigue, and emerging evidence supporting cognition and mood.”

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root, also known as the Indian ginseng, has been a useful herb for 2,500 years in the Ayurvedic healing arts. Adherents to its use believe it may act as a diuretic, an anti-inflammatory and for relief from stress or depression. Besides these uses, animal studies and some human studies indicate the root may boost sexual performance, help in arthritis, act as an antioxidant, boost thyroid function and treat dementias. For example, “Pharmacologic overview of Withania somnifera, the Indian Ginseng,” Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 2015:Dec. 72(23): 4445-60,  said this, “Withania somnifera contains a spectrum of diverse phytochemicals enabling it to have a broad range of biological implications. In preclinical studies, it has shown anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-stress, neuroprotective, cardioprotective, and anti-diabetic properties.”

Other studies investigated Ashwagandha in connection with cancer therapy. “Medicinal plants from Near East for cancer therapy,” in Frontiers in Pharmacology, 2018: 9:56, “analyzed the huge amount of data available on anticancer ethnopharmacological sources used in the Near East. Medicinal herbs are the most dominant ethnopharmacological formula used among cancer’s patients in the Near East.”  The conclusion suggested, “The ethnopharmacology of the Near East was influenced by Arabic and Islamic medicine and might be promising for developing new natural and safe anticancer agents.” A study of an extract from the leaves of Ashwagandha reported on reduced tumor cell growth, “Growth inhibition of human tumor cell lines by withanolides from Withania somnifera leaves,” Life Sciences 74:1 (Nov 21 2003), 125-32.

Extra Cautions

Dosages for these herbs and others in the adaptogen family can vary significantly depending on the individual’s health and specific ailment. Anyone considering use of these herbs should consult with a doctor before beginning treatment.

For more information see “Everything you need to know about adaptogens, explained,” and 12 Adaptogens You Should Know and Why You Need Them

 

Hoarseness and Difficulty Talking? Perhaps One of These Herbs Might Help Laryngitis

Laryngitis can come from many sources, some serious. Usually the cause is obvious, related to allergies, colds or flu, polluted or just very dry air, mouth-breathing during the night or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). If hoarseness persists, consult a doctor. Otherwise, home treatment for laryngitis with herbal remedies may help.

Couch Grass

Photo by John Tann from Sydney, Australia  (Creative Commons License)

While couch grass (Agropyron repens  ofrCynodont dactylon) often is recommended for bladder or prostate infections, a tea made from this can loosen phlegm and make it easier to talk. The herb has demulcent properties, that is, it will create a soothing surface. According to some sites, it has been used in herbal treatments since Greek classical times. Brew a tea by steeping 1 to 3 teaspoons in a cup of water and drink a cup three times a day. NOTE: Check the Side Effects listed on webmd.com regarding possible effects on water elimination. Review the extensive Community Herbal Monograph by the European Medicines Agency, 22 November 2011, particularly the Contraindications and Special Warnings section.

Fritillaria

Photo by Nianahswigoa (Creative Commons License)

Another herb suggested for getting rid of laryngitis is fritillaria. According to the Chinese journal of natural medicines., “The genus Fritillaria is a botanical source for various pharmaceutically active components, which have been commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.” It is available as syrup made from the processed bulbs of a flowering plant called Fritillaria cirrhosa. In pharmacopeias Fritillaria is referred to as Bulbus Fritillaria Cirrhosae, a Chinese medical drug. Take this as directed on the label. However, do not use this if pregnant, nursing, or you have high blood pressure. It is intended to clear phlegm, reduce snoring and improve a sore throat.

Marshmallow Root

Wikipedia.com

This herb is suggested as a staple in the herbal medicine cabinet for home treatment of laryngitis. It is an expectorant and also soothes hoarseness and soreness associated with laryngitis. webmd.com considers it “Likely Safe” for most if taken by mouth. See the possible side effects and interactions if you have diabetes, are pregnant and/or breastfeeding or planning surgery. Talk to your health care provider if using Lithium. The typical use is one teaspoon in one-fourth cup of water three times a day. A children’s dose is one-fourth teaspoon in the same amount of water.

St. John’s Wort

Photo by xlibber (St. John’s Wort) (Creative Commons)

While normally suggested for depression, the analgesic qualities of St. John’s wort capsules are believed to ease the pain associated with laryngitis. Suggested dosages are capsules containing 900 mg of the herb, which can be taken once a day for several weeks. Warning: St. John’s wort can interact with many prescription drugs. Persons taking any prescription drug should consult with a doctor before using this herb. Pregnant or nursing women should not take it at all.

 

Resources

Balch, Phyllis A., CNC. Prescription for Herbal Healing (2010).

James F. Balch M.D.Prescription for Natural Cures (Third Edition): A Self-Care Guide for Treating Health Problems with Natural Remedies Including Diet, Nutrition, Supplements, and Other Holistic Methods (2016)

 

 

 

 

Herbs to Protect the Immune System in Elderly Individuals

In the midst of the worst flu season since 2009, anything that can be done to boost the immune system, particularly for seniors, who often are the hardest hit with respiratory diseases, is worth considering.

 According to Christopher Hobbs, a medical herbalist with a doctorate in phylogenetics, evolutionary biology and phytochemistry, there are three levels of herbal immune activities. These are: “deep immune activation, surface immune activation, and ‘adoptogenic’ or hormonal modulation.”

 While many of the herbals listed below have been used in traditional remedies for many years, some may interact with specific medicines or conditions. Always consult with a health care professional, licensed naturopath or M.D. before trying these.

Deep Immune Activation

 These include herbal immunomodulators such as Astralagus (avoid with auto-immune diseases), Schizandra chinensis, Ganoderma lucidum (from Reishi mushrooms). See especially side effects and interactions on linked articles with these herbs.

Bitter tonics may have a role in preventive medicine as well. Bitters seem to function by triggering a response in the mouth that signals the central nervous system to stimulate appetite, increase digestive fluid flow and regulate the production of glucose, glucagon and insulin. Bitters like mugworth and gentian can provide antidepressive actions.

A definite area that can affect senior’s health as they get into the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s is a loss of appetite and thereby increasing digestive problems. Bitters, by stimulating appetite can help in this department as well.

Alternatives to bitters are cleansing herbs that are a bit gentler such as cleavers, nettles, sarsaparilla, and yellow dock.

 Surface Immune Activation

 Herbs that help in this area act by increasing immune reaction to infections by microbes. Generally, they are classed as antimicrobials and include the following:

  • Calendula (Avoid with sedative drugs.)
  • Echinacea (Note: Read the full discussion including side effects, interactions and clinical references on this herb in the linked site.)
  • Garlic
  • Myrrh
  • Old man’s beard
  • Onion

 Hormonal Modulation

 As hormones are involved in the immune response, herbs in this category, known as adaptogens, modulate body systems that are stressed, re-setting the system to a normal state. Some typical adaptogens are Siberian Ginseng and Rhodiola.

 Detoxification

 Herbs can help detoxify the body, removing waste and poisons. For example, dandelion leaf works as a diuretic, helping remove wastes from the kidneys and urinary system. Mullein or coltsfoot acts as an expectorant or anticatarrhal, helping clear the respiratory system. Dandelion root and milk thistle will aid in eliminating toxins from the liver and blood.

 Zinc

 While a mineral, not an herb, Zinc deserves mention in any article on immune function, particularly in seniors. The article linked above is titled “The Dynamic Link between the Integrity of the Immune System,” and was published in the Journal of Nutrition of the American Society for Nutritional Sciences, Issue #5, May 2000, pp. 1399Si1406S and is part of a series on zinc.

Numerous peer-reviewed articles have established zinc deficiency in many adults and specifically declining levels as we age. They also show a clear link between immune levels and zinc deficiency. Even the popular Cold-EZE for shortening colds contains zinc and other similar studies cover other forms of zinc particularly for colds.  

  Recommended Sources

 Hoffman, David. An Elders’ Herbal: Natural Techniques for Promoting Health & Vitality. (Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1993).

 For a good overview on the immune system, see Dr. Hobbs class handout, Immune System: An Overview.