In the first three parts of this series I talked about how nutrition, mindset, behavior modification and lifestyle can all help to improve our overall health, mentally and physically. However, we also have some very effective medicinal herbs and plants which have been used for thousands of years, a long time before modern medicine.
Alternative therapies generally combine a range of therapies that the medical profession does not regard as conventional or orthodox. Examples can include herbalism, homeopathy, and acupuncture. I think though that labeling medical herbalism a form of “alternative medicine” is a mistake, as the potential benefits make it so much more than just an alternative to try out.
Orthodox medicines are substances which, when administered into the body, produce pharmacological effects which may then lead to an alleviation of the disease or the symptoms and/or help in its diagnosis or prevention. Many orthodox drugs that are widely used have their origin from herbal medicines. The main difference between the two is that the herbal drugs contain a large number of compounds, while the orthodox drugs contain a single pharmacologically active substance. Therefore components of both herbal and orthodox medicines may act on one another and change the effectiveness — either increasing and enhancing or reducing and opposing it.
Did you know that many pharmaceutical drugs are actually made from plants? And in the same way that different people may react very differently to a dose of a drug, we can also react very differently to herbal therapies.
Adaptogens are natural substances, for example rhodiola, kava kava, ashwagandha, holy basil, reishi, licorice, lemon balm, lavender and morinda. The word “adaptogen” is derived from the latin “adaptare” which means to adjust. They help the body adjust to handle stress, both emotional and biological, more efficiently and thus find balance and normalize metabolic function.
Here are some of my favorites:
Rhodiola is a stimulating adaptogen that is also known as “golden root”. It can help with depression and anxiety, strengthen the immune system, improve chronic fatigue, help regulate blood sugar, and it is a powerful antioxidant. It also has neuro-protective properties.
Rhodiola is a well researched adaptogen, you can find it as a tincture, a tea and in capsule form. Mostly it’s the root of the plant that is used as a medicine. It is generally considered to be very safe, however it can increase the effect of caffeine and some anti-depressant drugs. It might also interfere with birth control pills as well as diabetic and thyroid medication.
There are over 100 varieties of Kava (Hawaiian: Awa), its plant and root have strong medicinal properties. Kava Kava is well known as a relaxant, it helps to reduce anxiety, improve sleep, and reduce stress and tension. Kava does not really work like am adaptogen, but it is a very effective medicinal plant.
You can find kava in tablet form, as a tea, and as kava root powder. It can interact with anti-depressants, the sleep medication acetaminophen (such as Tylenol), and muscle relaxants. It’s also not advisable to use it together with other stimulants, such as caffeine and alcohol.
I really like the taste of kava tea, and even though luckily I don’t have any problem with sleeping I still do feel that I have much better quality sleep when I drink a cup before bed.
Ashwagandha is a well researched adaptogen that’s also known by the name “winter cherry.” It helps relaxing the body, works as an antioxidant, helps with chronic fatigue, helps improve sleep, and is also a mild diuretic. In addition, it could help reduce hunger and cravings while decreasing cortisol levels. It is used mostly in Ayurvedic medicine.
You can find ashwagandha as a capsule and also in powder form. It might interact with thyroid medication.
I absolutely love to use plants and herbs as a medication substitute. I think we should be thinking of natural therapy as our first choice for healing as much as we possibly can, before looking towards conventional medicines. Or at the very least we should use natural therapies more to support our health problems. We shouldn’t forget how we used to heal ourselves before modern medicine.
For safety, please of course make sure that if you are taking medication you ask your physician before trying any of these herbs.
They can be very effective, however they could interact with your own medication as well. Also, when you purchase them the quality of the ingredients can make a big difference, so do ask an expert before you buy.
If you try any of these, I suggest to start by first using just a small amount and monitor how you feel and how your body responds.
w David Winston, “Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief”
Ayda Ersoy is a nutritionist (Dip.C.N., Dip.S.N.), master trainer (CPT ACE, NCSF, CanfitPro), registered yoga teacher, founder, Health Angel Nutrition, Fitness and Wellness, and founder, SMS (Stability, Mobility Strength) Intuitive Training System.