Digestion

Medical herbalists are often called upon to help in many conditions where assessment reveals that digestive function is below par or that there is a clear pathology within the digestive tract.

Poor digestive function is almost endemic in modern life. In addition to well known syndromes such as irritable bowel and conditions such as Crohn’s Disease, poor digestive function can contribute to many apparently unrelated issues. Inflammatory joint and skin conditions can often find their root cause in poor digestive function.

Many herbs are known to act directly on the digestive tract – bitters for example may stimulate acid and enzyme production, fennel and other aromatic herbs prevent bloating, but this is only part of the story.

The Role of Inflammation

Inflammation also plays a major role in many conditions affecting the digestive tract, and medical herbalists have a synergistic approach to decreasing inflammation. For example there are herbs which act in a similar way to aspirin, herbs that will allow your own body’s cortisol to remain active for longer and therefore ‘spare’ or rest your adrenal glands, and herbs which soothe inflammation by direct contact. Thus when inflammation is part of the problem medical herbalists have many diverse herbs in their dispensaries that they can choose for each individual and unique situation.  These different herbs work together in synergy to support the body.

To give an analogy, if you are out in the cold, you could keep warm by wearing an ever thicker coat. This would be the pharmaceutical approach, the thicker coat being more aspirin, or a higher dose of steroids. We all know, however, that the better approach is layering; a base layer to move moisture away from the body, a thermal layer to trap warmth, and an outer layer to protect from the elements. This is analogous to the herbal approach to healthcare.

If you would like to find out more contact your local herbalist.

Joints and Bone

Herbs have been long used to relieve aching backs, muscle spasm and tightness, damaged tendons and tight or lax ligaments. Often herbs are applied externally to bring relief from pain and inflammation.

In medicine the term for movement of the body is articulation.  This is what happens when the various connective tissues of the musculoskeletal system (our bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments) cooperate to give motion to the body.  This is what enables us to enjoy freedom of movement through which we express ourselves by running, dancing, giving birth, reaching out a hand –  all beautifully orchestrated by our brain.

It’s not just about wear and tear

It is not surprising that at certain points in our lives this complex system can have problems and we begin to feel symptoms like sore muscles, pain and inflammation in our joints, tight  tendons and ligaments and more serious conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Medical herbalists are trained to work safely alongside any pharmaceutical medicines that their patients may already be taking.  This can help the body to deal with side effects or indeed help avoid higher doses of pharmaceutical medicines.  

For inflammatory conditions which affect the musculoskeletal system such as rheumatoid arthritis the herbalists approach is often quite complex and multi-faceted.  Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune condition and you can find out more information here.

Click on Find a Medical Herbalist to find your local Medical Herbalist.

Heart and Circulation

A medical herbalist’s training allows them to assess when the heart needs direct assistance, when there is a situation that requires orthodox medical intervention or where working with overall health and wellbeing is the best strategy.  This flexible approach helps to ensure that the heart is not ignored until the point that it is diseased, but understood and nurtured. This is preventative healthcare.

More than just a pump

The heart and circulatory system is so much more than a pump and series of tubes to push blood around the body and provide oxygen to cells. While it is still impressive to quote the statistics, beating 100,000 times per day and moving almost 7,500 litres of blood, the heart is far more than that.

The seat of our emotional being

The heart is without doubt the seat of our emotional being. This is mirrored in many of the sayings used to convey depth of emotion.  We give heartfelt thanks, we say that our heart goes out to someone or that a person is broken-hearted. References to the heart are scattered throughout our language from a hearty meal to the heart of the matter and they all reflect the ancient recognition of the true nature of the heart.

Although this may sound a little unscientific and conjectural, the science of neuro-cardiology is discovering the direct links between emotion and heart health, and is unravelling the complex neurological systems within the heart, which are sufficient enough to classify as a small brain in their own right. This means that the heart can have influence over the brain as well as vice versa. This is fundamentally important to a herbalist’s approach to the heart.

Always consider the heart

Naturally there are also approaches to specific syndromes affecting the heart and circulation as a whole. We have in our possession many herbs that will lower cholesterol and homocysteine levels for example. There is also a significant body of research demonstrating the effects of Ginkgo for those with vascular conditions and Hawthorn is well known as a heart tonic. Such tools are all incredibly useful and will likely be used by a medical herbalist, as will other less known herbs that are not available to buy over the counter.

If you want to find out more speak to your local Medical Herbalist.

Skin

The symptoms of a skin complaint manifest externally and yet the causes of those symptoms are most often internal and may be the result of imbalance between a number of organs or systems.

Detoxification Explained

The term detoxification is much overused and misunderstood, yet it can be an appropriate strategy when working with skin complaints. The liver is often a key as it is the main detoxification organ in the body and supporting it to do its job properly can help to eliminate skin problems.  Often over-simplified, detoxification is a complex three stage process.

The Three Stages

Phase 1 comprises a complex series of enzyme systems in the liver, the P450 series being the most well known. These enzyme systems are responsible for the breakdown of many substances, including toxic metabolites and drugs.

Phase 2 involves the binding of these breakdown products, rendering them less toxic, and suitable for transport and removal.

Phase 3 works at the cellular level through a substance called P Glycoprotein. This is in effect a pump that removes unwanted substances from a cell.

From this simplified description, it is easy to see that there needs to be a flow of activity between these three phases.

It is no good stimulating the enzyme systems to break down more chemicals if phase 2 is not working well enough to bind them as this may simply lead to a further build up of toxic metabolites. And yet, if phase 1 is not working optimally, then unwanted substances may continue to have detrimental effect upon the body, often shown as a reaction in the skin.

A medical herbalist will evaluate each of the phases and has knowledge of herbs which affect each phase, either increasing or decreasing each activity. They may then stimulate bile production and flow, as this is often the route the body uses to finally remove waste products, and assist bowel function in their final removal, thus creating a complete circuit of waste removal.

Too Complex for any Single over-the-counter product

This is true detoxification and too complex for any single over the counter product to achieve, simply because of the number of variables within each individual. If one were to compare the body to the environment, and assume that one cares for the environment as a whole, a good analogy would be to say that there is no point in putting your rubbish out in front of your door if the rubbish is not due to be collected for a week. You simply end up with smelly trash at your front door. The truck needs to pick up the rubbish, pack it and transport it away.

Not the Only Approach

Detoxification via the liver is only one potential approach to working with skin problems, as this is not the cause for all skin conditions. For example, allergic eczema will require a totally different approach as this is caused by an immune system reaction.  Hormone imbalances may lead to oily skin and spots. In each case a medical herbalist will assess each case thoroughly in order to create a bespoke herbal prescription.

If you want to find out more contact your local Medical Herbalist.

Nutrition and Nourishment

A medical herbalist will usually talk about nutrition as part of your consultation. If your diet needs attention they will aim to help you to adapt your eating habits so that your diet shifts to one that supplies you with the nutrition that you need. This ensures that your mind and body are nourished, and your energy and stamina levels are maintained at optimal levels.

Herbalists often say that rather than just “you are what you eat” it’s more a case of “you are what you can digest and absorb”. Without good absorption it is still possible to be undernourished – even if you eat a well balanced, healthy diet. Herbs are excellent for improving the absorption of nutrients from the food by toning and strengthening the digestive tract. Sometimes dramatic improvements can be seen in a person’s energy and vitality from improved digestion and absorption.

Let Food Be Our Medicine

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, advised us to let food be our medicine and medicine be our food. He also distinguished between herbs as medicine and herbs as food on the basis of taste; herbs as food would be bland and herbs as medicine would often have strong specific tastes in order to be effective as a medicine. And that is pretty much what herbalists several thousand years later still understand as a truth.

Some herbs are used as healthy foods and work well to maintain health, while others have no food use but act as powerful medicines. A medical herbalist will know when your body is in need of nutritive support and when a more powerful medicine is needed.

If you want to find out more contact your local Medical Herbalist.

Fertility, Pregnancy and Childbirth

Throughout history herbs have been safely used to support fertility, pregnancy and childbirth. Today we have a range of herbs and strategies to assist with conception working with both men and women, help to maintain a healthy pregnancy for mother and baby, and give support through childbirth.

Herbs for Fertility

Having difficulty conceiving can be a very distressing experience for many couples. Sometimes the problems can be mechanical – such as low sperm count, poor sperm  mobility or related to hormone imbalances and specific syndromes like polycystic ovarian syndrome or endometriosis. Diet and lifestyle play a huge part in the ability to conceive and stress is a major factor too.

A herbalist looks at your whole health and may work with you on any of these areas to increase your chances of conception.

Pregnancy and Childbirth

Pregnancy is a wonderful time for most women but it can come with its health challenges too.  It is common for nausea, constipation and backache to accompany it and women are limited in the choices of medicines they can take. Fortunately there are many herbs that can be safely taken throughout pregnancy to ease the journey and many herbs can be used during childbirth too.

After giving birth herbs provide a safe way to help the body to heal and return to normal and herbs can assist in milk production too. Breast-feeding mums can also pass on some safe herbal remedies through their breast milk so that baby can benefit too.

It is extremely important to work with a qualified medical herbalist when taking any herbal remedies during pregnancy and while breast feeding.  If you would like to know more, contact your local medical herbalist.

Hormone Health

Hormones are the messenger chemicals of the body and they control almost every bodily function. Even small changes in the levels of hormones can have dramatic effects on the body and the mind. Herbalists recognise this and consider the effect of relevant hormones in each given situation.

Truly Incredible Proteins

Hormones are truly incredible proteins, binding in precise lock and key systems to cleverly direct thousands of interdependent functions. They maintain sugar levels in our blood, regulate mineral content by directing activities within the kidneys, and perhaps most astonishingly direct and control many of the functions allowing for reproduction. Without hormones, animal life would simply not be possible.

Imagine a Body Without Management

So it is essential to make sure that our hormones are working seamlessly and harmoniously. Imagine a situation where none of the managers in a major factory knew what each other was doing – the result would be total chaos.

A tiny amount of extra progesterone in a pill can prevent ovulation, a slight decrease at too fast a rate can lead to severe pre-menstrual tension. Almost wherever we look within the body, hormones are playing their managerial role. The use of adaptogenic herbs such as ginseng and rhodiola, which are active on the link between the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenal glands are a good example of this.

Hormonal health is also dependant on many apparently unrelated factors; the health of bowel flora, good liver function, elimination, and the efficient absorption of food. It is easy to see how the complex interrelationships between hormones in every system of the body needs the services of a trained professional to unravel.

Medical herbalists work with hormonal imbalances almost daily in their clinics. Through a thorough case history and testing they are able to put together a prescription especially designed for you.

If you want to find out more, contact your local medical herbalist.

Emotional Health

Individuals are just that, individual, and our emotions are as unique to us as our fingerprints. Our overall constitution, the health of our hormonal systems, our neurotransmitters, our hearts, may all reflect in our emotional health. Our emotional health is a direct reflection of internal conditions, which are in turn affected by our external environment and our responses and interactions with it.

In a world where our senses are continually over-stimulated, bombarded with images, many of which are uninvited, in a world of stress and strain, unwelcome food additives, pesticides and toxic chemicals, it is unsurprising that our emotional health is challenged on a regular basis. It is estimated that up to 10% of women use anti-depressants, and indeed one of the largest selling drugs in Germany is based on St John’s Wort. This is a massive call for help.

Solutions for the Individual

The solutions are as individual as the patient. Yes there are herbs, such as St John’s Wort, well known and well researched, which are as effective as any anti-depressant drug, and sometimes this is enough. However, often simply replacing one drug with another plant drug, albeit safer, is only part of the answer.

Your herbalist will share with you the time to talk, the time to express yourself, and the time to share your problems. Talking and communication are as important a part of the healing process as the medicines.

The herbal prescription written for you will consider not just your serotonin levels, but also your adrenal glands, the state of your digestion, circulation and stress responses. Time and a multi-system approach to emotional health is required for true healing to occur.

If you would like to find out  more, contact your local medical herbalist.

Fatigue Syndrome

Some health conditions, like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or ME  will give individuals very different, complex symptom patterns. A qualified medical herbalist, possessing a thorough knowledge of the potential of herbs, can choose just the right treatment to restore health gently and effectively.

Very often herbalists see the damage of multiple, repeated and chronic infections that have been treated with antibiotics. Infection often manifests in its persistent state as chronic fatigue syndrome and its most debilitating symptom of extreme exhaustion.

Exhaustion is also often the result of continuous low grade infection so that the body’s immune and stress adaptive systems continue to be on red alert thus depleting nutrients, adrenal and coping capacities.

Herbs Can Help

Herbs are used both as medicines and food to nourish, restore and replenish our vital reserves, to support adrenal and other hormonal function, to sharpen appetite and digestion, and most importantly to enhance the body’s capacity to absorb nutrients from its food and in doing so boost energy levels and the stress adaptive responses.

If you are interested in finding our more, contact your local medical herbalist.

Energy Stamina

We get up in the morning, rush to get ready for work, rush to get the kids ready for school, endure a stressful school-run and commute to work. We are pressured at work; productivity, politics, conditions. Lunch is a quick, unhealthy sandwich eaten at the desk while continuing to work. We rush to pick up the kids, endure the supermarket and the home run. We finally get home to receive the electricity bills, council tax increases and daily ration of junk mail. And then we have to do it all over again, and again and again.

Is it any wonder that the population as a whole is exhausted, that many of us need that extra energy to deal with the day to day stresses of every day life, let alone those occasional major stressors that can affect us all?

Is it any wonder that having spent the day running at 100mph that while we are exhausted, we cannot sleep? Without a restful night, how can we expect to have energy to face the demands of the following days?

Herbs Can Help Us Cope

It is fortunate that correctly prescribed herbs can help the body to cope with these stresses by assisting our own coping mechanisms, gently nourishing the adrenal glands, supporting their function, gently calming the nervous system throughout the day, giving us the chance of a restful sleep and strengthening the blood.  Each herb has its own subtle effect on increasing our energy and stamina; making sure that we do not become so depleted or that we burn out.

Many busy patients around the country have found that working with their local herbalist enables them to cope better with the strains of modern life, and supports them to make changes to their lifestyle for the better.

If you think herbal medicine could help you, contact your local herbalist to find out more.

Autoimmune Conditions

Some of the most exciting uses of herbal medicine lie in treating autoimmune disruptions of the immune system. It is not clear why the body turns on its own tissue, not recognising it and attacking it as if it were a threat. It is thought that autoimmune disease is triggered by an infection, insect bite, or extremes of environmental toxins. The immune system’s specific and non-specific defences having been stimulated by the initial assault, seem to continue in a state of chaos creating a cycle of chronic inflammation followed by tissue damage and increasing loss of function at various sites in the body. This is often because the infection or the effects of the triggering factor have not fully cleared from the body.

Examples of autoimmune conditions include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

Herbal Medicine and Autoimmune Problems

Clinical studies have shown that herbal products are effective in treating allergies, asthma, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. The herbal approach is broad based and multi-factorial to match the many layers and wide distribution that is characteristic of autoimmune conditions. Herbal medicines are effective in relieving symptoms, reducing inflammation, repairing tissue damage, improving our ability to adapt to stress, improving mood, and at the same time encouraging the body to overthrow the initial cause of the condition.

As with the immune system, herbs are used to strengthen the affected tissues and provide the conditions to neutralise an infection. This serves to halt the cycle of inflammation and tissue damage triggered by the original causative factor(s).

Herbs with their innately complex yet sensitive intelligence intervene in the inflammatory cascades reducing heat and therefore pain, balancing fluid metabolism, and helping restore function.

If you would like to find out more contact your local medical herbalist.

Allergy

An allergy is an exaggerated reaction of the immune system in response to bodily contact with certain substances which the body recognises as foreign. Known as allergens, these substances may be anything that provokes an allergic reaction in a susceptible person and the most common are respiratory (pollens, dust mite, moulds, animal and bird dander) and food allergies. The well-known symptoms of allergy such as runny nose, red itchy eyes, itchiness, sneezing, and congestion are familiar to us in conditions such as hayfever, asthma and allergic eczema.

Allergic responses are very complex and involve many inflammatory substances such as histamine, mast cells (basophils), eosinophils, cytokines, and IgE antibodies amongst others. Some people are born with high levels of IgE antibodies and mast cells making them more susceptible but we can acquire allergies at any stage of life. Conventional treatment of allergies either blocks the immune response (anti-histamines), or in more severe cases, seeks to suppress immune function with steroids, applied internally and externally. Herbs can be used to treat chronic allergies; giving relief from symptoms, sparing the adrenal lands (often exhausted in long-term allergy sufferers) and balancing the immune system.

A Herbal Approach

Allergies can be greatly reduced and over time may even be eliminated by herbal support. For example, herbs are very effective in the treatment of children with asthma and as always the medical herbalist’s approach is multi-faceted; bacterial and catarrhal infections which are common in asthma are reduced in their frequency and strength; the child’s emotional self is gently supported, reducing anxiety; digestion is strengthened (up to 80% of asthma sufferers have low levels of stomach acid) and coughs and wheezing are soothed. There are excellent herbal broncho-dilators which can be prescribed by a medical herbalist but which are not available over the counter.

It is important to know that asthma is potentially a life threatening condition both in its juvenile and adult forms and that you should never stop using asthma medications without consultation with your healthcare providers.  It is also important to get immediate medical attention in the event of exposure to allergen(s) known or suspected to precipitate an anaphylactic reaction in a susceptible individual.

If you would like to find out more contact your local medical herbalist.

The Immune System

Our approach to your immunity is all about understanding the fundamentals of disease and ill health. In relation to immunity the skin is considered the first line of defence, the integrity of which must remain strong and unbroken.

Traditionally herbalists gauge the temperature, colour, texture and condition of the skin in order to determine the progress of a condition or disease. In addition to its own nerve and blood supply, the skin contains temperature regulators, sweat and oil glands, and provides us with good markers of disease processes and progression – at the surface, deeper in the tissues or penetrating and affecting the vital organs.

The Main Focus of a Herbalist’s Approach

Often we lack the necessary components to rebuild and replenish our immune systems, and this is when disease-bearing micro-organisms may take the opportunity to strike. The main focus of a medical herbalist’s approach to infection is the judicious use of herbs which engage and strengthen the body’s own natural defences – cooling the body by precipitating a sweat achieved by opening the sweat pores in the skin, increasing blood and lymph circulation, and toning and supporting the skin’ s nerve and blood supply. This herbal approach has been used effectively for centuries for acute infections.

A Centuries Old Approach Borne Out by Modern Medicine.

We know that the hypothalamus gland, nestling in the brain, with its dual control of both the nervous and the hormone (endocrine) systems does indeed control the skin indicators that are markers of health. It regulates the skin to protect the inner organs from sudden environmental change, opening and closing the pores, increasing and decreasing blood volume and perspiration to induce shivering. This master gland also regulates the workings of the vital organs.

Herbalists Work on Multiple Levels

Herbalists work on multiple levels by encouraging the breakdown and removal of the by-products of infection through the lymph and spleen, the liver, kidneys, and the digestion. This approach works not only at the level of the skin. Herbalists also consider the importance of the mucosal linings of our digestive tracts, our mouths, ears, nose, and lungs and our genito-urinary tracts – all of which are a continuation of the skin.

Herbal medicine is also uniquely useful in balancing the immune system during chronic infection, preventing it from causing autoimmune damage.

If you would like to find out more contact your local medical herbalist.