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Herbal Remedies for Depression, Sleeping, and Aging

Are you feeling restless, tense, depressed, or having trouble sleeping at night? Or, maybe you simply want to defy some of the signs of aging. Read on—this section examines some herbs that may be worth a try.

Food for Thought

A few drops of lavender oil in the bath can help you relax. In fact, some say that after massaging your body with the lavender bath you are more apt to have a sound sleep.

Valerian

Use: Valerian is used to treat insomnia, mild anxiety, restlessness, high blood pressure, and symptoms of menstruation and menopause. It does not appear to be habit-forming, and its horrible odor would probably prevent anyone from becoming dependent even if it were addictive. (You can get around this unpleasant feature by taking valerian in capsule form).

Side Effects and Drug Interactions: Do not combine valerian with alcohol, and be aware that it may intensify the effect of certain sedatives.

Gingko Biloba

Use: Derived from the gingko tree and originating in China 200 million years ago, it has been used for centuries as a digestive aid. Tests have shown that it thins the blood and therefore increases circulation in the brain and extremities, making it good for enhancing memory and easing symptoms of age-related cognitive decline and early-stage dementia.

Safety and Side Effects: Large doses may cause restlessness, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Gingko biloba should not be used if you are taking blood thinners, such as aspirin or Coumadin, or thiazides.

DHEA

Use: DHEA is not an herb, but a hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands and converted to testosterone and estrogen in the body. Hormone production declines with age in both men and women (10 percent every 10 years after your mid20s), so this supplement supports normal sex hormone levels.

Safety and Side Effects: Do not take DHEA unless blood tests indicate your levels are decreased, and then, take only under a doctor’s supervision. You should also avoid DHEA if you have had ovarian, adrenal, or thyroid tumors. Side effects that can occur with doses over 50 mg per day include acne, irritability, fatigue, and hirsutism in women (abnormal coarse hair growth, usually on the facial area).

St. John’s Wort

Use: This herb is used to treat mild to moderate depression and seasonal affective disorder. Hypericin and pseudohypericin are the active ingredients, which aid in serotonin re-uptake inhibition in the brain. Although this might be one of the most popular and widely used herbs, its action as an antidepressant is not yet fully understood. Therefore, it is not a miracle drug or something that should be used lightly.

Safety and Side Effects: May cause photosensitivity in individuals with fair skin. This herb also interacts with various antidepressants and stimulant medications, anesthetics, MAO inhibitors, and the food substance tyramine (found in aged cheese, wine, fermented soy products, cured meats, and beer). It may also reduce the bioavailability of the drugs Digoxin, Cyclosporine, Theophylline, and Indinavir. Furthermore, a recent small study indicates that it may amplify the effect of the blood-thinner Plavix.

Use: >Ginseng helps alleviate fatigue and stress, enhances cognitive function and physical endurance, and aids in resistance to disease. It is widely used by athletes because of its ability to improve aerobic capacity and recovery time following exertion, but it does contain panaxosides, which have been shown to exert a hypoglycemic effect.

Safety and Side Effects: In rare cases, it can cause over-stimulation, hence insomnia, and it is not recommended for those with high blood pressure. Long-term use might cause menstrual abnormalities and breast tenderness in women. Ginseng may also decrease the effectiveness of the blood-thinning medication Coumadin.

Chamomile

Use: This is known as a “cure-all,” like Grandma’s chicken soup. It’s a cornerstone of European and American herbal medicine that has been used to treat irritable bowel syndrome, infant colic, mouth sores, anxiety, insomnia, menstrual cramps, and digestive problems.

Safety and Side Effects: None reported.

SAM-e

Use: SAM-e (pronounced “Sammy”) is the commonly used name for S-Adenosyl-Methionine. SAM-e naturally occurs in every living cell and takes part in several biological reactions in the human body. It is used to help alleviate depression, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and liver disease.

Safety and Side Effects: May occasionally cause nausea and stomach upset (entericcoated products may reduce these side effects). Do not use SAM-e if you are taking antidepressants such as MAO inhibitors, SSRIs, and tricyclics. Use of SAM-e may also result in a deep hole in your pocket because it is a very expensive product!

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Total Nutrition © 2005 by Joy Bauer. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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