St Johns Wort- safe use

St John’s Wort is probably one of the most researched and self-prescribed herbs around, so I thought I’d let people know some info for safe usage. These are some of the things I have to think about, as a professional, before prescribing:

Pregnancy and breastfeeding: while this herb appears to be safe so far given studies on both pregnancy and breastfeeding, I tend to err on the side of caution in pregnancy and use less or no herbs (or only miscarriage-prevention herbs), especially if there is any history of miscarriage.

There is a wonderful word we use in herbal medicine called ‘contraindicated’, which is the opposite to ‘indicated’. When someone says “St John’s Wort is indicated in ___”, this means “use this herb for this condition”. If a herb is contraindicated for a particular condition, it means DONT use it.

For example, St Johns Wort is contraindicated for people who have skin photosensitivity, and people taking high doses should be careful if they get a lot of sun exposure or artificial UVA irradiation.

St Johns Wort has been listed as contraindicated with the following drugs: warfarin, digoxin, cyclosporin, indinavir and related anti-HIV drugs, the contraceptive pill… and many others! This is because doctors are worried that something in SJWort may make the body metabolise prescribed drugs faster and thus reduce their effectiveness. It looks like the cause for this might be a specific phytochemical called hyperforin that is present in some subspecies of STWort and not others. Low SJW doses of no more than 2g per day, and/or a form containing less hyperforin (e.g. liquid herbal extract like the ones us herbalists use!) can make SJW safe to use with prescribed drugs, but it should still be done with professional supervision. I’ve certainly seen people get pregnant while on the pill due to taking SJW concurrently (at the same time). So basically, if you are on prescribed medication, don’t self-prescribe SJW- get professional guidance. Continue reading

Diarrhoea

I’m writing this blog to answer a question in the Ask the Vegan Naturopath Facebook group. The question is about chronic diarrhoea, with a known gluten sensitivity. While the person I’m answering has had medical testing done and was able to provide a fair bit of information, I’m answering this in a more general manner for the benefit of others who may be suffering from diarrhoea without the benefit of having done this investigation:

First, make sure you have fully researched all gluten sources. Make sure you haven’t missed anything. And double check the ingredients labels on everything he is eating. Has this been medically diagnosed? I’ve seen children who appear to have diarrhea but it’s actually constipation with loose stool running out around this blockage.

If it is diarrhea, ask yourself if there is too much raw food or fruit in his diet. These can lead to diarrhea in some people. Loose stool in Chinese medicine is often thought to be due to weak or deficient spleen-pancreas qi, or if it gets really bad, deficient digestive fire. These people can have a pale tongue with a thin white coating, tend to be tired, have food sensitivities and other digestive troubles. They advise reducing excessive raw vegetables, fruit (esp citrus), sprouts, cereal grasses, tomato, spinach, tofu, wild blue-green microalgae, seaweeds, salt, dairy, sweets and vinegar (eg fermented foods). Helpful foods to add or increase are: sweet potato, pumpkin, carrot, parsnip, turnip, garbanzo and black beans, onions, leek, ginger, cinnamon, fennel, garlic, nutmeg, and fruits cooked rather than raw. Food needs to be chewed well! Continue reading

Neuralgia

I was recently asked to talk about neuralgia by one of the members in our group “Ask the Vegan Naturopath”. Whenever my replies are longer than a few paragraphs, I prefer to turn them into blogs. 

Neuralgia is nerve pain, tingling and/or pins and needles from inflamed or damaged nerves.

Each client is treated as an individual and remedies are chosen that suit each unique case. The first thing to consider is the underlying cause, if it can be identified. Is the problem being caused by something structural in the musculoskeletal system tied in with injury or bad habits like poor posture and sitting too much? Is it damage caused by too much alcohol or drugs, or by too much glucose in the blood? Other causes might be too much artificial supplemented vitamin B6 or some kind of environment poisoning eg arsenic, mercury, lead, organo-phosphate residues from weed-killers and so on. An example of a nutrient deficiency that might cause nerve pain is vitamin B12 deficiency. Nerve pain can also be caused by infections like shingles. And the list goes on! Continue reading

Oats

Don’t you just love the look of this breakfast?! I’m not much of a cereal-for-breakfast person myself, but if I do have cereal, porridge is it! This is whole-oats porridge with rice milk, coconut yogurt, banana, apple, strawberry, mandarine, chai seeds, LSA (ground up linseed, sunflower and almonds).

I love food-herbs like oats. Food herbs are often also nutritive herbs, herbs that are packed full of nutrients; a whole-food multi-mineral/vitamin source. Oats is extremely rich in silicon, iron, chromium, sodium and magnesium. It also contains high levels of phosphorus and calcium, reasonable amounts of iron and selenium, and smaller quantities of iron, zinc, manganese and potassium. The magnesium-calcium-potassium team is a classic nervous system team and in herbs like this it’s present in beautifully synergistic or perfectly balanced ratio’s that the body loves. Continue reading

Contentedly losing weight

2015-08-05 21.27.05I was fortunate to be raised in a family who was more interested in creativity, nature and science than in appearances, which is perhaps part of the reason why I’ve never have struggled with an eating disorder. The closest I ever came was when my weight crept up to a size 16 after a physical injury reduced my physical activity. It wasn’t so much how I looked that bothered me. After all, I didn’t grow up surrounded by fashion magazines, mirrors or women concerned about the way they looked. My magazines were national geographic, my TV was David Attenborough, and we were too busy creating art and exploring nature to bother with mirrors!

What bothered me was the way I felt. I didn’t feel as comfortable in my own skin. I felt heavy and I had lost some freedom of movement. As soon as this realisation kicked in, I did something about it. I booked into a gym and found exercises that worked around my injury. The first month was great. The weight dropped off beautifully. Unfortunately, the environment was a bit toxic for me because there was a crazy over-emphasis on weight loss that messed with my head. For the first time in my life, I gained an insight into what it might feel like to become obsessed with food. For a few weeks I found myself constantly hungry simply because eating less for weight loss had become the mantra. I wasn’t hungry because I was hungry, I was hungry because food had suddenly become a black-market no-go zone. What a horrible way to live! Continue reading

Saponins

Paleo proponents list ‘saponins’ in legumes as one of the reasons why we shouldn’t eat them. Wow! As a herbalist, saponins are one of my favourite herbal constituents. You can’t select one single action a plant-chemical possesses and then conclude that this one action sums up the entire purpose and existence of this plant chemical as a whole. Crazy stuff!

Saponins are part of many plant’s immune systems, protecting them from insects, predictors and fungal infections. I love the fact that the presence of saponins can often be identified without any lab equipment, simply by adding water and agitating: if soapy bubbles appear, you have saponins! We used to have a wattle tree outside containing saponins and in the wet season our pavers would get a fantastic wash-down from the combination of rain with fallen saponin-containing leaves. Continue reading

Agar Agar

IMG_0468Agar Agar (also known as agar, or kanten) is the mucilage content drawn from several seaweeds. As a herbalist, I’ve always been fascinated with mucilaginous herbs and foods. The action associated with mucilage content in an ingested herb or food is referred to as ‘demulcent’. If used topically on the skin, the action of mucilaginous herbs is referred to as ’emollient’. Emollients and demulcents are soothing, cooling, moistening and calming for body tissues they come in contact with.

This is a mechanical more so than a chemical action; mucilages are sticky, gooey, and almost mucous-like… hence the name! This consistency is what provides soothing to irritated tissues. The bit that always intrigued me during my naturopathic training was the idea that these mucilage-soothed tissues could send a kind of ‘calm and happy’ message to other mucous membranes in the body. Realistically, ingested demulcent herbs only come into contact with the digestive lining, and yet, their soothing effect can be felt in the lungs and the urinary system. No one knows for sure exactly how or why this is so, but it is possible that calmed nerve endings in in the gut-lining send a nerve-reflex ‘message’ to mucous membranes elsewhere. Continue reading

Vit B12 – Cyanocobalamin or Methylcobalamin?

There seems to be an awful lot of carry on about methylcobalamin vs cynanocobalamin, but lots of mixed opinions. If someone is trying to sell you methylcobalamin, you can be certain they will demonise cyanocobalamin and scare you by using the word “Cyanide!!”, but is it really that simple? Continue reading

Split, peeling and cracked nails

Someone special was asking me recently about split and peeling nails, so this post is especially for her:

One of the possible causes for nails like this is hypochlorhydria, a deficiency of stomach acid. Our stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) helps us digest our food, especially protein and minerals, and a deficiency in either can affect nail health. Healthy stomach acid is also an important part of our body’s immune system, effectively destroying ingested bacteria and yeasts that might otherwise disturb bowel flora and affect the production of another important nutrient for nail health, biotin.  Continue reading

The 4 N’s

I’ve just added the following to my page “Childhood Psychology”, because I feel it provides an insight into the psychological attitudes our society has towards meat-eating, and these beliefs are being blindly conditioned into our children who accept them as facts. I would love to see more discussion and questioning occurring in our society about these beliefs. Are they helpful or healthy to have? How do they affect children and their growing minds? How might they damage our social capacity for empathy, compassion and reasoning?

Using the “4 N’s” to Justify Meat Eating

According to a report published in the behaviour nutrition journal, Appetite, around 90% of meat-eaters use the “four Ns” to justify their diets:

It’s NATURAL i.e. “People have always eaten meat. Why stop now?”
It’s NECESSARY i.e. “Without meat, it’s impossible to get enough protein and other nutrients.”
It’s NORMAL i.e. “Everyone eats meat. I don’t want to be different. I want to fit in and be accepted.”
It’s NICE i.e. “It tastes good!”

‘Necessary’ and ‘Nice’ were the reasons given most often. The researchers conducted six separate studies to find out more about how meat-eaters use the 4 N’s to rationalise their diet, and how their beliefs shape their behaviours. Those who endorsed the four Ns the most strongly showed the following characteristics:

*They tended to objectify (dementalise) animals.

*They included fewer species of animals in their circle of concern or care.

*They were less likely to consider the moral implications of their food choices.

*They showed less concern for moral issues not related to diet, like social inequality.

*They experienced less guilt than people in the study who were felt ambivalent about meat-eating.

*They were less willing to contemplate cutting back on meat consumption in the future.