6 Must Try Ancient Herbs & Medicinal Plants

For thousands of years health and wellness treatments were collected, curated and shared from generation to generation until families began to breakup and drift apart while at the same time breaking their sacred relationship with the earth.  Instead of living together with nature mankind felt a need to tame and conquer her.  Over time ancient medicines were lost, hidden, or destroyed.

Here are six of my favorite medicinal herbs and foods.

1) Korean Ginseng

Korean Ginseng (Panax ginseng) has been used in the Far East as a medicinal herb for over 2000 years. While American Ginseng is in the same family they are distinctly different.  Korean Ginseng is very slow growing and is harvested traditionally at 6 years for the greatest health benefits. Ginseng that grows naturally in the wild is thought to provide further health benefits and can fetch a great value to the person who finds it.  This has lead to modern treasure hunters who comb the mountainside for naturally growing Ginseng that can fetch over $50,000 for a decades old plant.  Ginseng is widely used as an adaptogen thought to strengthen the body against environmental assaults and emotional stress. The active ingredients are part of the plants own immune system that the body absorbs and uses to to strengthen or normalize its immunity.  Ginseng is further used to recover vital energy, improve blood flow, assist with mental function, help with fertility and erectile dysfunction, and lessen the effects suffered by menopausal women.

2) Eleuthero

Commonly called “Siberian Ginseng” is not in fact ginseng. However, it does carry many of the same great medicinal benefits as true ginseng and it is highly sought after for that reason. Eleuthero root is believed to enhance energy, mental function, stamina, normalizes physiological processes, improves stress response, exerts protective qualities onto the heart, and promotes antioxidant activity. Eleuthero root is also known as Wucha in China.  An ancient herbalist once said, “I would rather have a handful of Wucha than a cart of gold and jewels.”

3) Elderberry

The use of elderberry is traced back to the stone age in Europe, to recipes in ancient Egypt, and Hippocrates called it the “Medicine Chest.”  Not only does elderberry effectively treat colds and flu but it tastes very good.  Elderberry tinctures, syrups, juices and wines are a delight to have in your house.  They also help with blood sugar levels, sinus infections, relieving arthritis, and improving antioxidant activity.

4) Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is sometimes called “Indian Ginseng” or more dramatically referred to as “Strength of the Stallion.”  Ashwagandha is not a true ginseng.  However, it’s many potent medicinal benefits and powerful adaptogenic qualities let it stand on its own as a top contender for traditional herbal medicines.  It is very capable at helping your body respond to stress. It supports the thyroid and adrenal glands which is probably why it is taken for energy and mood.  Ashwagandha is also believed to protect neurological health from decline, boost immunity, and help with glucose metabolism.  This all explains the recent popularity of Ashwagandha in supplements and natural health food stores.

5) Astragalus

Likely the most widely used herbal medicine within traditional oriental medicine.  The root of this perennial plant is used to support the immune system for immune deficiency as well as autoimmune disease.  Astragalus is used for cold, flu, and respiratory infections.  It is used along with modern cancer treatments to support white blood cell counts.  The root is rich in flavonoids and polysaccharides which significantly contributes to the medicinal qualities of the plant.  It is common to find Astragalus as a tea, capsule, or powder.

6) Ginger

Ginger is from the same plant family as turmeric. It is an oft used ingredient in asian cuisine that is both aromatic and spicy do to the presence of ketones.  It is a commonly used medicine for everything from colds to cancer.  It was known to the Middle East, China, and India for 5000 years. Ginger can be powdered, eaten fresh or cooked, sometimes fermented as when served with sushi, candied, or made into a tea. Ginger appears to have antioxidant properties, have radio-protective effects, anti-inflammatory effects, helps with nausea (superior to dramamine with motion sickness), have anti-cancer effects, and possess cardiovascular protective qualities.

Antibiotic Alternatives

A friend shared her story about her most recent visit to a pediatrician.  She was the last patient of the day in a typical 5000 patient practice. She said she spent about 45 seconds with the doctor.  In those brief moments, the doctor explained that her child had an ear infection and prescribed an antibiotic. Thanks and goodbye.  She felt frustrated and let down.  She could not get more information from the doctor, had no time to ask questions, wasn’t able to voice her concerns about antibiotics, and couldn’t discuss alternatives with the doctor.

 

1 in 5 pediatric sick visits result in a prescription antibiotic.  It is an open secret that we as the medical community can do better when it comes to antibiotic usage.  30 percent of antibiotics are medically unnecessary.  Healthcare providers commonly prescribe antibiotics for upper respiratory infections like common cold and flu, sore throats, bronchitis, asthma, allergies, and sinus and ear infections– caused by viruses and not responsive to antibiotics.

 

By the age of 20, the average American child will have had 17 courses of antibiotics contributing to physician-caused problems and bacterial resistance to antibiotics, as well as leaving lasting effects on our children’s immune system, gut microbiome, and metabolism. A well-cited and recognized study shows that a single antibiotic administered to a baby before a year old significantly increases that child’s risk of developing asthma.

 

What are your options?  While it is torture to see your child suffering in sickness, sometimes a wait and see approach is best. Instead of practicing the popular mantra, “Don’t just sit there, do something,” we should consider the opposite as more powerful, “Don’t just do something, sit there!” A host of natural approaches that may be applicable for a first-line treatment are available. We also recognize antibiotics are vital life-saving drugs serving a critical need, however, their overuse will render them ineffective when they are most needed.

 

If you have visited my office with a sick child the odds are you have left here at some point with a bottle of Biocidin. What is biocidin and why do we use it? Biocidin is a well researched, well tolerated, and effective botanical blend with proven antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. It’s ingredients include:

 

Bilberry extract (25% anthocyanosides), Noni, Milk Thistle, Echinacea (purpurea & angustifolia), Goldenseal, Shiitake, White Willow (bark), Garlic, Grapeseed extract (min. 90% polyphenols), Black Walnut (hull and leaf), Raspberry, Fumitory, Gentian, Tea Tree oil, Galbanum oil, Lavender oil (plant & flower), Oregano oil (plant & flower).

 

We use Biocidin before turning to antibiotics for mild to moderate broad spectrum infections. While this works for my practice where we have more time to educate patients and patients have greater accessibility to allow for follow up visits, it may not be right for everyone and you should talk to your healthcare provider.

 

Here are a few more common visits and possible alternatives to consider. It is important to keep in mind that about half of all children’s ear infections will resolve without use of antibiotics.  Dr. Rusty who has been practicing medicine with a natural approach for over 40 years says that 80% of ear infections will be self-limiting and subside within about 72 hours. His first line treatment for ear infections is a mix of garlic and mullein oil with 1-2 drops in the ear followed by applying warmth.  Depending on the patient he may recommend Motrin for pain relief. Sore throats are another common culprit of childhood sickness and pediatric visits.  80% of sore throats are caused by viruses. Elderberry syrup is an effective treatment with broad-ranging health benefits and immune support for sore throats. Dr. Thornburg will use high dose vitamin D3 once a day for three days along with symptom relief strategies.

 

Share with us which homeopathic and natural treatments work for you and your family because we are a connected network of families committed to health and wellness.

Indelible Scar of Stress

“Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older.” – Hans Selye, MD, PhD

 

There it is in a nutshell.  Stress is essential to our survival and takes a little bit of our life force from us at the same time.  Dr. Selye is credited with the discovery of stress and giving it its name in the 1930’s.  Stress like many great scientific discoveries was an accidental discovery.

 

Dr. Selye was a young promising endocrinologist in search of a new hormone. He began injecting an ovarian extract into lab rats when he thought he hit the jackpot.  He was 28 years old and already discovered a new hormone!

 

This hormone, so he thought, was causing swollen adrenal glands.  These are the glands that produce cortisol, adrenaline, and aldosterone.  We knew then that these chemicals increase your heart rate, increase blood pressure, increase blood sugar levels, decrease immune system, enhance your brain’s use of glucose, and couches nonessential activities like digestion, reproductive systems, and growth processes.  

 

Next Dr. Selye observed that the test subjects developed atrophy of the thymus glands which play a critical role in a healthy immune system.  The thymus gland trains T-cells which defends against pathogens, bacteria, viruses, and fungi.  The Thymus gland also neutralizes T-cells that have gone rogue attacking our own body as if it were a foreign object.  This new discovery might mean a great deal to immunocompromised patients.

 

To great disappointment, he repeated the experiment over and over with other extracts.  He discovered that no matter what he injected into the rats they developed the same symptoms.  Therefore, he could not say exactly what was eliciting this response of swollen adrenal glands, bleeding stomach ulcers, and shrunken thymus glands.  He followed the breadcrumbs to a certain commonality in his experiments. It was not what was in the injection, it was the process of injecting the lab subjects!

 

As a pediatrician, I can tell you that our young patients often develop a common response to seeing our nurse, Ms. Denise.  It begins with a tenseness in the muscles, a dilation of the eyes, and a more emotional state than normal.  Typically followed by a preventative plea, “No, I don’t want a shot today!”  

 

Dr. Seyle must have had a heavier hand than our Ms. Denise.  The lab rats were developing what Dr. Seyle originally called ‘non-specific unpleasantness.” Cornered, caught, stuck, injected, and dropped the lab rats developed swollen adrenal glands, shrunken thymus glands, and bleeding stomach ulcers– some of the hallmarks of stress.

 

The Stress Response

 

In its simplest form stress is your body’s response to a demand.  The demand may be physical, mental, or emotional.  Whether or not the stressor is real or imagined is of no consequence as the results are very real.

 

3 Stages of Stress Response

 

Dr. Sayle created a useful three-stage model identifying what we now refer to as the Hypothalamus, Pituitary, Adrenal (HPA) Axis.  

 

Stage 1: Alarm

Our first reaction, alarm, is triggered by being upset by physical, emotional, or mental stimuli. The hypothalamus raises our biological alarm system by identifying threats. The hypothalamus bypasses our logic and reason which is necessary for life or death situations.  This is why we literally sense threats before we can process or conceptualize what is happening.  If a threat is determined we get flooded with chemical messengers and hormones that prepare us for fight or flight.  Adrenaline begins coursing through our veins and our metabolism changes.  Our lungs open up to allow for more oxygen to our muscles and our brain.  Our blood pressure and heart rate rise to the occasion.  Our memory gets enhanced to record these experiences for future reference or reference past encounters.  Though, resources are finite and costly when stepping on our biological gas pedal.  Energy is redirected from less immediate tasks.  We stop growing, stop repairing, stop healing, stop digesting, and stop reproducing.

 

Stage 2: Resistance

If we do not remove ourselves from the perceived threat then we begin to fatigue.  We enter into Stage 2 of stress response which is appropriately called resistance.  We resist our perceived aggressor, we resist surrender, we resist rest and relaxation.  Glucose is removed from stores and finds its way back into the bloodstream.  Adrenaline gives way to cortisol for longer-term energy.  It becomes increasingly more difficult to maintain our alertness, strength and stamina.  Frustration and anxiety are commonly experienced. Homeostatic pressures build for us to return to a neutral state. We require relief from our stressor stimuli less we progress into the third stage of Stress Response.

 

Stage 3: Exhaustion

If we do not find refuge from chronic stress, or repeatedly bounce between alarm and resistance, we become physically, emotionally, and mentally depleted.  Our glands and organs are already depleted.  Our immune system is all but shut down.  We are literally sick and tired.  Our spirits become defeated and we can succumb easily to depression.  Nobody wants to be here.

 

Mind Body Spirit

 

Stress response and HPA axis are the perfect embodiment of mind body and spirit.  Here we see how our thoughts have a bearing on our bodies and our spirits.  There was a study done in Germany that looked at two headmasters from 2 different group homes.  While not the most academically rigorous it did have its merits.  One of the headmasters was thought to have been a bit more caring while the other was noticeably more stern.  It was observed that the children of the first group home with the more caring headmaster grew faster and taller than the children of the other environment.  After a period of time the headmasters switched homes and again the children with the more caring headmaster posted more positive physical growth versus the other group home.  One might expect that a certain amount of growth was expected from the late bloomers, but the caring headmaster had brought with him some of his favorite children whom also continued to grow at accelerated rates.  The thought is that the children lived under stress with the stern headmaster which put the breaks on growth.  

There is another story of the effects of stress on growth which is somewhat more well known.  When a mother lost her eldest child she was overcome with depression and treated her living son with disregard.  “Is that… oh it’s just you.”  It may have been the trauma of his childhood that lead to his psychogenic dwarfism and having never conceived a child in marriage later in life.  This is the true story of J.M. Barrie who created none other than the Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up.

 

 

Neutrality of Stress

Our core values and beliefs will exert the greatest influence over our reaction to stress.  Dr. Selye noted, “It is not stress that kills us. It is our reaction to stress.”

 

Most stimuli are neutral, but through our personal filters, we allow them to become stressors that elicit our stress response. Not every stimulus is a hungry lion trying to make a meal out of us, not every stimulus requires the race or fight of our lives. The magnitude of our stress response is mediated by our mental attitudes towards the stimuli.  Traffic is an excellent example.  Traffic is really a neutral event that poses no threat to ourselves.  Two people sitting in the same traffic, having the same stressor, may have very different stress responses to this scenario.  My friend’s wife never seems to be bothered by traffic, partly because she is from Manila and very little compares to it, partly because she didn’t have a car in Manila so having A/C is a luxury, and partly because she views car time as family time.  Meanwhile, others suffer road rage with the harshest of consequences.

 

Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers

 

In his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers Stanford University biologist Robert M. Sapolsky brilliantly explains why Zebras aren’t suffering from stress like humans do.  After the Zebra launches into flight from a lion on the savannah he quickly puts the whole thing behind him and goes back to enjoying the grass.  For all that humans are, we are a thoughtful bunch of mammals.  We tend to spend too much of our faculties thinking about our past pains and future pains that have yet exist.  We live in a state of chronic stress thinking of stressful situations raising the alarm and putting our foot back on the biological gas pedal until we are running on empty.

 

Sapolsky goes on to explain, “Chronic stress has the ability to suppress our immunity below baseline. Aids has taught us that if you suppress the immune system sufficiently, a thirty-year-old will fester with cancers and pneumonias that doctors used to see once in an elderly patient during a fifty-year career.”

 

Dr. Selye put it this way, “Stress in addition to being itself, was also the cause of itself, and the result of itself.”

 

5 Ways to Relieve Stress

  1. Counting and breathing.  There is a reason this is still part of our culture because it is effective.  We become more aware of the present moment while letting go of our thoughts and feelings.
  2. Cultivating the attitude of gratitude. We can’t be upset if we are grateful.
  3. Healthy stress relievers.  Sure eating ice cream or having a glass of wine helps dull the pain.  So does a swim, a run, a bicycle trip, or a yoga class.
  4. Write. Letting go of your feelings and putting your thoughts on paper will help free your mind and lighten your heart.
  5. Service. Consider some casual volunteering to connect with others emotionally and spiritually.  

Seeking O’Silent Night

Imagine your whole world coming to a standstill and the only sound you hear is the gentle inhale and exhale of your own breath.  How does that feel?

Within the dashing excitement and twinkling lights of this holiday season try to make time for silence and stillness to recharge your soul.  Sit down on the floor with your kids and introduce the practice with your kids. You have to start somewhere and the earlier your children see you slowing down to be present the better.

 

Virtually every moment of the day our consciousness is penetrated and interrupted by noise.  Reflecting the noise of the world is the noise of the mind with our varied thoughts be they loving, anxiety inducing, angry, happy, or exciting. Searching for silence is a reprieve from the excitement, distraction, and stimuli swirling around us like a whirlwind.  

 

When we set aside time for silence we cast an emptiness upon our minds which gives way to awareness.  We start being and stop doing.  Stillness gives way to peace and we start to cultivate an inner serenity that we bring with us into the world.  If you would like to experience a more joyful and peaceful holiday this year share the gift of silence and stillness with your family.

Backseat Mishaps

 

Have you ever seen the sharp line between fresh and salt water when a river and the ocean meet? You can see the clear blue of the sea and the muddy brown of the river pressed up against each other, both inherently refusing to commingle with the other. Each has their differing chemistries and clear differences. The same is true for the front seat of a car and the backseat when you have a toddler.

The front seat is understandable and logical; the rules are certain. You feel peace and clarity sitting in the front. The toddler’s backseat is quite different with its illogical and impulsive murky rules of decorum. You can poop in your pants, vomit, smash food into the seat fabric, scribble on everything, feed your rear-facing 2-month-old sibling M&Ms, punch your sister several times and act innocent when mom turns around at the crying, and make deals with each other with the same ethics as a Chicago gangster. Anything goes.

But sometimes the backseat is dangerous. In the past month, two children in my practice found drugs in their mother’s purse and consumed them. A 4-year old injected his mother’s EpiPen into his thigh and had to go to the hospital for monitoring for several hours. A 15-year old found her mother’s homemade brownies, ate some and learned they weren’t just brownies. And earlier this year a 5-year old opened the door of a moving car and fell out. Fortunately, all three (and the parents) are fine and wiser for the time.

Here is some genuine Wise Guy advice to help forego the firsthand experiential OMG abyss.

1) Fundamentals. Rear-facing car seats until age 2 or outgrow seat, forward-facing car seat from age 2 to 5, booster seat from age 5 up until seat belts fit properly, and seat belts when lap belts lay across the upper thighs (not stomach) and the shoulder belt lays across the chest (not the neck). Parents and caregivers lead by example.

2) Simple living. All manner of things make their way into our purses and man bags over time. The bigger the bag the more we stuff into them. It’s time for an honest and fearless bag inventory.

3) Frisking. Your inquisitive little one has the swift hands of a magician. Give your kids a maximum-security prison level pat down before putting them in the car. My mom used to sneak in a breath check and pat down with her hugs before my friends and I would leave the house on weekends during high school.

4) Shakedowns. A child can choke on something inside a vehicle and children put everything in their mouth. Check the nooks and crannies of your backseat for

potentially dangerous objects, old goldfish crackers, and old french-fries that can be repurposed as a shank.

5) Diversions. Car safety also means being able to drive free of distractions from the back seat. You can repurpose a shoe organizer stocked with activities and safe toys to put distractions at your child’s fingertips.

6) Lockdowns. There is a stage when children are too young to open a door then one day out of the blue they do it. Engage the child locks early, like at conception, because the first few days months years are a blur.

7) Heat stroke. A child can begin to suffer life-threatening symptoms of heatstroke within minutes. A child’s body temperature rises 3-5 times faster than an adult.

8) Car Theft. Vehicles are stolen with children alone inside quite frequently, even in safe neighborhoods. Most of the time the thief doesn’t realize there is a child in the back seat until they are already gone in the vehicle.

9) Power Windows. Power windows have killed or injured thousands of children. It takes 22 pounds of force to suffocate or injure an infant while power windows can exert an upward force of 30-80 pounds of force.

10) Into Gear. Every year hundreds of children are hospitalized or even killed after accidentally setting a car into motion. It can be done without the car on and without a foot on the break.

 

Sources:

http://www.kidsandcars.org/files/2013/07/Other-Dangers-fact-sheet.pdf http://lifehacker.com/9-tricks-to-protect-your-car-from-your-kids-while-kee-1685400638 https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/child_passenger_safety/cps-factsheet.html