Sunday, September 30, 2012

Natural Remedies For Food Poisoning

If you have ever experienced food poisoning, you know how horrific it can be. If you are lucky enough to only get a mild case you might only have a few stomach cramps. But a sever case could result in diarrhea, severe stomach pain and cramping, nausea and vomiting.
My real inspiration for doing this piece is that a friend of mine had a really bad case of food poisoning not too long ago. She got so sick and couldn’t stop throwing up. Eventually she became so dehydrated that she had to go to the emergency room and for someone without health insurance, one trip to the ER can be detrimental to their bank account. So I really wanted to provide some information so that if you find yourself in the same situation as my friend you have some alternatives to try before you have to check into the ER.
What is Food Poisoning?
Food poison is also known as foodborne illness or foodborne disease. These later terms are perhaps more accurate terminology because food poisoning is caused by pathogens that contaminate food, not by chemicals and toxins that we commonly view as poisons (although chemicals and toxins can also contaminate food and cause illness). Food poisoning is caused by improper handling, preparing and storing of food. The CDC estimates that every year there are 76 million cases of foodborne diseases, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. These numbers may be higher than stated because milder cases are often not detected or reported and many pathogens that are transmitted through food can also be transmitted through water or from person to person, making it more difficult to track.
Ways to Prevent Food Poisoning
Many cases of food poisoning happen when you are out to eat which is frustrating and scary because as a customer you really have no control over the condition of the food you are eating. However, most cases of food poisoning happen at home. Perhaps it’s because we are less diligent about cleaning or just more accepting about pushing the envelope of eating spoiled food. Whatever the reason, here are ways to help prevent getting sick from foodborne illnesses.
  • Keep dairy products and foods that are perishable refrigerated.
  • Thaw meat in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.
  • Be sure to cook chicken and pork thoroughly.
  • Wash your hands, utensils and cutting boards with hot water and soap after handling meat and eggs.
  • Make sure you have good bacteria in your belly by supplementing with probiotics.
  • Avoid canned foods that bulge at the top or bottom.
  • Reheating deli foods is safer, just in case they stayed out a little too long.

Cooking With Herbs
Cooking with herbs and using them in any sort of food preparation can help to deter the growth of bacteria and other pathogens that can be the cause of food poisoning. Most of the cooking herbs contain essential oils that have antimicrobial properties. Here are a few examples of some helpful herbs.
Cayenne pepper is able to significantly decrease a bacterium’s harmful production by modulating the expression of certain genes. As an internal disinfectant, the Mexican Indians used cayenne liberally to tolerate food pathogens. Juliette de Bairacli Levy would soak half of a cayenne pod in raw milk to kill off any bacteria that the milk might contain.
(E)-anethole, a constituent of fennel essential oil is a significant antimicrobial agent, protecting against most foodborne pathogenic, saprophytic, probiotic and mycotoxigenic microorganisms; furthermore, fennel and fennel essential oil can be used as food preservatives
Sage was shown to have some antimicrobial activity against 13 bacterial strains and 6 fungi and can protect against food borne pathogens such as Salmonella making it a valuable preservative.
Other herbs that are also helpful to combat against foodborne illnesses include garlic (best if it is raw), oregano, basil, parsley, thyme, cinnamon, horseradish and mustard to name a few.
Natural Ways to Provide Relief for Food Poisoning
If you suspect that you have been the victim of eating contaminated food, approximately 4 to 48 after eating you will see symptoms of food poisoning such as nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever, chills, headache and vomiting. All individuals who ate the contaminated food should also be showing signs of food poisoning.
  • If you got food poisoning from a restaurant, be sure to contact the restaurant. Alerting them as to what you ate, could prevent others from also falling victim to contaminated food. You may also wish to contact the health department. If you got the food poisoning from home, clean your cutting boards and counters and wash your sponges. Tea Tree Oil can be added to your soapy water to further kill off any microbes.
  • Dehydration becomes the enemy when you are constantly loosing fluids through diarrhea and vomiting.  Replacing lost fluids is so important that a failure to do so can be fatal. Here is a recipe for a Homemade Electrolyte Drink but also consume clear liquids and broths. It is important to keep pushing clear liquids until you’re urinating normally again.
  • The acupuncture point for nausea is located on your hand in between your thumb and forefinger. Pinch this area to help ease the nausea.
  • Slowly sip peppermint or ginger tea. Both herbs are wonderful carminatives to ease the belly and ginger is an excellent remedy for nausea and vomiting.
  • Supplementing with echinacea can increase levels of properdine by 21% which is important in helping the body to resist infection.
  • Increase your intake of probiotics.   
  • Eat small and easy to digest foods like miso broth, applesauce toast, mashed potatoes, bananas, rice, yogurt and other bland foods. Avoid foods that are smoked, fried, oily, spicy, rich and sweet. Bland is the way to go.  
  • Taking over the counter pain medications, like aspirin and ibuprofen, for stomach cramps should be avoided because they can further upset the GI tract.
  • Abdominal massage can help to calm the belly and ease the tension of the cramps. If you are vomiting rub your belly in a clockwise motion. If you have diarrhea massage your belly counterclockwise. If you are doing both, good luck and try and get it all in the toilet. Lavender and chamomile can further enhance the benefits of abdominal massage.
  • Wait it out by getting lots of rest.
I hope these tips will be helpful if you ever find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having food poisoning. But remember that prevention is the key to dealing with foodborne illnesses and herbs are an amazing and tasty tool to ensuring that you and your family stays food poisoning free J
Bairacli-Levy, Juliette de. (1996). Common herbs for natural health. Woodstock, NY: Ash Tree Publishing.
Mars, B., & Fiedler, C. (2011). The country almanac of home remedies: time-tested &
almost-forgotten wisdom for treating hundreds of common ailments, aches & pains
quickly and naturally. Beverly, Mass.: Fair Winds Press.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Let's GO! Natural Ways to Relieve Constipation

Continuing on with issues regarding the GI tract, I would like to address constipation. Overall, we are quite the constipated society. Not only in the literal sense but also figuratively regarding emotions and bodily functions and the shelves at the drug store reflect our inability to let go. There are over 700 different forms of colon cleansers and although commercial laxatives get the job done but they don’t address the underlying issue causing constipation, they only remedy the symptom. Not only can they be habit forming but they can also be very damaging our intestinal flora. Here are some other ways to combat constipation.

What is Constipation and Why is it so Bad?

Constipation is the infrequent passing of stool. Sometimes the stool may be hard and difficult to pass. I feel like there is a misconception about how many bowel movements constitutes “being regular”. If you are going once a day, that’s great (especially for the American standard); however, this is still considered constipated. Technically you should be having a bowel movement after every meal – 3 times a day. When you eat a meal, this stimulates peristalsis in the colon and you should go. When you don’t go, toxins and hormones that are supposed to be excreted in your poop sit in your colon and become reabsorbed into the blood stream. This can cause a whole list of issues including endocrine problems and toxicosis.

It is important to realize that being constipated is a symptom, not an illness. It is the symptom of an improperly functioning digestive system that may be caused by other issues including those of the digestive tract, endocrine system or nervous system. Sometimes the cause is as simple as not enough dietary fiber in your diet or dehydration and other times the cause is more difficult to diagnosis and requires professional assistance in doing so. If you do not address the cause of your constipation and only treat the symptom, you will continue to suffer with chronic constipation. There are many safe ways to enhance your bowel function and herbs to assist; however, if doing all this doesn’t remedy your constipation, it is time to seek outside assistance from your herbalist or MD.

Ways to Get the Bowels Moving

First and foremost, to be regular, it is important to be regular. Eating and sleeping on a regular schedule is necessary to keeping the bowels consistent. Here is a list of other ways to keep the bowels regular:

  • Hydrate yourself: Dehydration can be the cause of constipation or if constipation is already an issue, it can make the problem worse. Be sure you are drinking at least 6-8 cups of water a day. Living in Denver, I find that the dry air and high altitude requires me to drink more than 8 cups a day to stay hydrated and regular.
  • Exercise: I feel like no matter what I am talking about, exercise always makes the list of things that can help and constipation is no different. A stagnant person is bound to have stagnant bowels, so get up and move!
  • Address Emotional Issues: Emotional issues and habits may be contributing to an inability to go potty. Having “no time to go”, being stressed (Natural Ways to Cope with Stress) or being uncomfortable with bodily functions can all be reasons you can’t go and these emotional issues need to be addressed.
  • Lemon Water: Drinking lemon water in the morning helps to stimulate the liver, increase bile production and increases peristalsis. For more information read In Love with Lemon Water.
  • Pass on the Ice: Avoid cold beverages because they constrict blood vessels in the gut.
  • Colonize your Gut with Good Bacteria: Probiotics are necessary for a proper functioning GI tract so be sure to eat plenty of yogurt, kefir, miso soup and unpasteurized sauerkraut.  
  • Avoid Constipating Foods: Things like milk, cheese, ice cream, white flour products, gluten, meat, black berries, processed and refined foods and alcohol can all stop you up and increase incidences of constipation.
  • Whole Foods: Increase your consumption of fruits, veggies and whole grains.
  • Massage your belly: Rubbing your belly in a clockwise direction helps to stimulate movement of food and can help to bring on a bowel movement. Adding chamomile, lavender and rose essential oils all magnify the benefits of abdominal massage.
  • A Stool Can Help Move Stool: Putting a stool under feet and lifting your knees closer to your chest while sitting on the toilet, helps to put you in more of a natural position for pooping. I find that if I am having trouble going, squatting on the floor for a few minutes before heading to the bathroom really helps to get me ready to go.
  • Go When you Gotta Go: When you feel the urge to go coming on, it is important to go. I know that it is more comfortable and often more sanitary to go in the privacy of your own home, but it is very important to relieve yourself when the urge is there.
  • Address Any Possible Food Allergies
Dietary Fiber

The lack of dietary fiber in the modern American diet is one of the main causes of constipation. Dietary fiber, located in different foods, contains constituents that do not break down in the digestive tract. This acts as a laxative by providing bulk that pushes food through the GI tract, binding to water in the colon and softening the poop and supporting the growth of good bacteria in the gut resulting in healthy stool. Foods that are high in fiber include apples, bananas, beets, cabbage, carrots, figs, grapes, parsley, pears, peaches, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, spinach and sweet potatoes.

Herbs to Help you Go

Bulk Laxatives are safe and fiber rich herbs that help to speed the transit time of food through the GI tract. Because they are helping to enhance the digestive system and not compensate for poor functioning, bulk laxatives are safe to take for extended periods of time. Psyllium and flax seeds can be ground up and added to your cereal or salads. One thing I do want to add is that bulk laxatives require water to bulk up so be sure you are drinking plenty of water.

Bitter Herbs are another thing that I feel is helpful for just about everything J They help with constipation by stimulating the liver and increasing bile production. Bile helps to make stool soft and stimulates peristalsis. For more information read Feel Better with Bitters

One recipe that is great for constipation is:
  • 2 parts yellow dock root (Rumex crispus)
  • 2 parts dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale)
  • 1 parts licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
  • 1 part anise seed (Pimpinella anisum)
I suggest making this into a decoction and drinking 3 cups daily. It is a great formula for chronic constipation because it doesn’t create dependency. The yellow dock and dandelion help to encourage bowel movements, stimulate the liver and nourish the blood.

Stimulant laxatives work by damaging and irritating the lining of the GI tract causing an excessive laxative effect. Herbs like Senna, Cascara sagrada, rhubarb and aloe all belong in this category. These herbs may be acceptable for a short use but definitely should not be used for long periods of time because they can cause dependency and pain and griping during bowel movements. Stimulant laxatives are compensating for an improperly functioning system and I prefer to avoid them all together if possible.

Kids and Constipation

Constipation can be an issue in children as well as adults and it is important to address the issue quickly rather than letting it develop into a greater problem. Stress, a lack of sleep, environmental changes, travel, illness and an imbalanced diet can all contribute to a child’s regularity or irregularity. All of the “Ways to Get the Bowels Moving” listed above can be applied to children but here is some added tips:

  • Nursing Mothers: If you are breast feeding and your child is constipated, you should avoid the constipating foods that are listed above.
  • Switch to Goat’s Milk: If you are bottle feeding your child with cow’s milk or cow’s milk formula, switch to goats milk.
  • Make Time for the Potty: Setting specific times aside for your child to go to the bathroom is important to keeping your child regular.
  • “More Bulk Please”: Herbs that provide bulk can be powdered and added to other food. Such herbs include carob powder, slippery elm, flax seed, licorice root, Irish moss and psyllium seed can all be used. 1-4 tsp can be used 3 times a day. For children under 10 a smaller dose should be taken.
  • Romm’s Recommendation: Aviva Romm suggests making the following infusion for children when they are constipated
    • 2 tsp slippery elm powder
    • 1 tsp fennel seeds
    • 1 tsp licorice root
    • ¼ tsp powdered ginger root
    • 1 pint of boiling water
    • Combine all herbs in a jar and cover with boiling water. Steep for 20 minutes and then strain the tea. Dosing is as follows:
      • 2 tsp for kids under 2 years old
      • 1-4 tsp for kids 2-7 years old
      • ¼ to ½ cup for kids over 7 years old
      • Repeat dosing 2-4 times until the child has a bowel movement.

I hope this can help you to be more regular, but if you are trying home remedies and your symptoms persist for more than 3 weeks it is time to see the doctor. Also if you have blood in your stool, if your poop is black or if it looks like coffee grounds it is important to seek medical attention immediately. Well it’s time to go…


Gladstar, R. (2001). Rosemary Gladstar's family herbal: a guide to living life with
energy, health, and vitality. North Adams, Mass.: Storey Books.

Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: the science and practice of herbal medicine.
Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press.

Mars, B., & Fiedler, C. (2011). The country almanac of home remedies: time-tested &
almost-forgotten wisdom for treating hundreds of common ailments, aches & pains
quickly and naturally. Beverly, Mass.: Fair Winds Press.

Romm, A. J. (2003). Naturally healthy babies and children: a commonsense guide to herbal remedies, nutrition, and health. Berkeley, Calif.: Celestial Arts.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Natural Relief from GERD and Heartburn

Stomach issues are a huge problem among today’s American culture. So many people suffer from GERD, irritable bowel syndrome and constipation and so many of these gut problems can be attributed to a poor diet, the overuse of antibiotics and food allergies. With little relief, many people have learned to live with the stomach discomfort, saying “that’s just the way my body is.” But The Verbal Herbal is here to shine a light on gastroesophageal reflux and heartburn.
What is GERD?
Normally, the lower esophageal sphincter valve opens to allow food to pass from the esophagus into the stomach and closes to prevent stomach juices from flowing from the stomach up into the esophagus. When this valve is weak or not functioning properly, those juices from the stomach bubble up into the esophagus causing a burning sensation that starts behind the breast bone and radiates up into the throat. The Merck Manual describes gastroesophageal reflux, better known as GERD, as “reflux of the gastric contents into the esophagus leading to localized infection.” The heartburn and indigestion that results from GERD can sometimes be so bad and uncomfortable that some people mistakenly think they are having a heart attack.
What Causes GERD?
Although it may seem like an abundance of stomach acid is what causes GERD, it is actually just to opposite. GERD is often the result of not enough digestive juices and a decreased amount of stomach acid. 90% of people who experience heartburn don’t have enough stomach acid.
Even though GERD is most commonly caused by not enough stomach acid, most people think that antacids help to relieve the problem. Although antacids do help to neturalize the acid in the esophagus, they also worsen the problem by decreasing the amount of acid in the stomach as well.  Antacids also interfere with digestion and absorption and have many other unappealing side effects and long term use can be dangerous.
Natural Ways to Relieve GERD
So often we turn to pharmaceuticals that alter the chemical balance of our bodies. The body is a well-oiled machine and if we change the way something is supposed to operate we affect the entire body. For wellness purposes it is better to find natural alternatives that encourage proper functioning of the system. Listed below are some things you can do to help prevent and relieve the occurrence of GERD.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: Take a shot of apple cider vinegar before meals for prevention or 1 Tbs of apple cider vinegar in a cup of warm water for relief.
  • Avoid Certain Foods and Drinks: Certain foods can be irritating and cause cases of GERD. Avoid foods such as coffee, alcohol, chocolate, and fried or fatty foods. You may also wish to avoid citrus fruits and juices, tomato products, peppers and spicy foods because they may further damage the esophageal lining. It is also very important to determine if you have any food allergies or sensitivities by doing an elimination diet. I experienced heartburn after every meal before I realized I had a gluten sensitivity. Since I stopped eating wheat and gluten products, I don't remember the last time I had heartburn. Also, gulping cold drinks my further aggravate the condition.
  • Small meals: Eat smaller meals and do not eat less than 2 hours before bed to allow time for your food to exit the stomach and move into the intestines.
  • Sit up: Do not lie down. If it is bed time, try and sleep in more of a seated position. If you must lie down, lay on your left side. Laying on your right side can make the condition worse.
  • Pass on the beverages during meal time: Don’t drink water 30 minutes before a meal and wait to drink until 30 minutes after. Drinking excessive amounts during a meal can diluting down your stomach acid, interfere with proper digestion and can overfilling the stomach.
  • Papaya Enzymes: For on the spot relief, I swear by papaya enzymes. Papaya contains papain which helps to digest proteins. I have turned on so many people to this remedy because it works so well.
  • Colonize your Gut: For a healthy gut, make sure you are getting adequate amounts of probiotics.
  • Massage your Belly Clockwise: to help move your food down into the stomach and intestines, massage your stomach in a clockwise direction. Adding essential oils like chamomile, ginger and peppermint can add to the relief.
  • Stress-Free Eating Habits: Stress causes so many issues and GERD is one of them. To help soothe your nerves and your gut, create a stress free eating environment. Turn off the TV, focus on your meal and chew slowly. For other ways to decrease stress go to Natural Ways to Cope with Stress.
  • Chew on This: Chewing cardamom or fennel seeds after meals is a tasty way to promote healthy digestion.
  • BITTERS: I always rant and rave about how I think everyone should use bitters and this time is no different. Here is the link to a previous blog post: Feel Better with Bitters.
Herbs to Combat GERD
There are many herbal actions that are helpful in addressing GERD.
  • Demulcent and mucilaginous herbs: help to coat and soothe the irritated tissue of the esophagus and provide a barrier from the stomach acid doing more damage. Herbs such as licorice and marshmallow and Slippery Elm can be useful.
  • Digestive nervines: help to soothe issues of digestion while addressing the stress associated with reoccurring conditions. Some helpful digestive nerviness include: chamomile, hops and lemon balm.
  • Vulnerary: these herbs help to heal the irritated tissue of the esophagus. Calendula is a wonderful vulnerary that can be used for GERD.
  • Anti-inflammatory: help decrease inflammation and irritation with calendula, chamomile, licorice, slippery elm and ginger.
  • Carminatives: help with overall digestion issues by soothing the gut wall. Herbs that may be helpful include: cardamom, fennel, chamomile, hops and ginger.
  • Hoffmann suggests a formula of:
    • 2 parts Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis)
    • 1 part Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
    • 1 part Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
With so many people needing relief from heartburn, I hope todays post can be helpful for you or for someone you love.


Gladstar, R. (2001). Rosemary Gladstar's family herbal: a guide to living life with energy, health, and vitality. North Adams, Mass.: Storey Books.

Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: the science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press.

Mars, B., & Fiedler, C. (2011). The country almanac of home remedies: time-tested & almost-forgotten wisdom for treating hundreds of common ailments, aches & pains quickly and naturally. Beverly, Mass.: Fair Winds Press.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Alternatives to High Blood Pressure Medication

So it has been awhile since I was able to post last. I’m so sorry to all my readers for not being more on top of things. Life has a way of taking over. My posts last week were about common pharmaceuticals and I would like to continue with blood pressure drugs. As Americans gain weight and become less active, high blood pressure becomes more and more of an issue. Young kids are being diagnosed with high blood pressure and instead of making lifestyle changes, these kids are becoming doomed to take prescriptions for the rest of their lives.

So let’s talk about alternatives, but before I do, I must remind you that below are suggestions to do before you start taking medication. Although many of these alternatives are safe to do in conjunction with prescription drugs, it is important to consult your health care professional prior to doing so because your blood pressure will need to be monitored as you progress. Plus, if you are attempting to come off of blood pressure medication, it is important to do it under the supervision of your doctor.

What is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is defined as the force of blood pushing against the walls of the blood vessels. Systolic pressure is when the heart is contracting and when pressure is at its highest. Diastolic pressure is when the heart relaxes and blood pressure is at its lowest. Blood pressure is expressed as: systolic / diastolic mmHg (millimeters of mercury). Below is a chart that defines the parameters for blood pressure.

Normal blood pressure
Less than 120
Less than 80
140 or higher
90 or higher

High Blood Pressure and Hypertension

Blood pressure naturally fluctuates based on your current activity level. If you are sleeping it remains low, but if you are running it will increase to accommodate the current stress on the body and heart. When your blood pressure stays high for extended periods of time, including when you are resting, then there is grounds for diagnosis of high blood pressure or hypertension. Currently, 1 in 3 adults in the US has high blood pressure and African Americans are twice as likely to have elevated blood pressure in comparison to Caucasians. If there is no other health issue present to be causing the high blood pressure, this is called primary hypertension. If your high blood pressure is being cause by another medical problem then you are said to have secondary hypertension.  

Long term high blood pressure can be damaging to many parts of the body, but the cardiovascular system takes brunt of the force, leading to arteriosclerosis, myocardial infarction, an enlarged heart, kidney damage or stroke. But the worst part about hypertension is that for many people they don’t know that they have high blood pressure because it often presents itself with no symptoms. For this reason it is referred to as the “Silent Killer” because you won’t know about it until it is too late.  

Common Blood Pressure Prescriptions

Two blood pressure medications made the top 10 most prescribed drugs in the US, Lisinopril and hydrochlorothiazide, so I thought I would provide a little information about them.

Lisinopril (brand name Prinivil) was the third most prescribed drug in 2010. It works by blocking angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE). This relaxes the arterial walls and decreases blood pressure, allowing the heart to work less. It does come with some side effects, including dizziness, headaches and fainting. The side effect that is usually makes the most impact is lisinopril’s ability to decrease sexual function and libido. His would definitely discourage me from taking it.

Hydrochlorothiazide (brand name HydroDIURIL) was the tenth most prescribed drug in 2010. As a diuretic, it works by decreasing the fluid load in the body and therefore decreasing blood pressure. Side effects include lightheadedness, increased blood sugar, increased uric acid and decreased potassium, magnesium and zinc. A long term disruption in electrolyte balance is a recipe for disaster. Decreased blood magnesium and potassium increases the risk of sudden cardiac death.

Alternatives to Blood Pressure Medication

There is a reason the pharmaceuticals are so popular among the American culture: because Americans like a quick fix. We are so busy that taking the time to fix ourselves is out of the question. I’m here to encourage you to take back your health. If you do some of the alternatives provided, you will not only help your blood pressure, but you will also be affecting your entire body including your emotional state. The time you take for you is an investment in your health. Specific alternatives to blood pressure medication include:
  • De-Stress: here is a blog post about getting your stress under control
  • Get moving and drop some pounds: exercise can decrease your blood pressure even without losing weight, but dropping some pounds and getting to a healthy body weight can lower your risk of heart disease by 2/3’s!
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices: decrease your consumption of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine
  • Increase Fruits and Veggies: so many different studies state that different fruits and vegetables can decrease blood pressure, so I interpret it as eat a lot of them and eat a variety
  • Decrease your intake of Salt
  • Hoffmann suggests the following supplements
    • Mg 800-1200 mg/day
    • Vitamin C 500-1000 mg/3x a day (in one study, low levels of vitamin C accounted for 1 in 4 cases of high blood pressure)
    • Vitamin E 400-800 IU/day
    • Coenzyme Q10 50 mg/2-3x a day
    • Fresh Garlic 4000 mg/day

The Herbal Approach to High Blood Pressure

When it comes to herbs, it is easy to take a multifaceted approach to blood pressure. So many herbs have many different valuable heart healthy actions. With pharmaceutical if you want an ACE blocker and a diuretic you would have to take two different drugs. When it comes to herbs, one herb can do both of the actions.  Here are some of the herbal actions that you may wish to incorporate into your treatment plan:
  • Cardiac tonics: help to strengthen and tone the cardiac system (hawthorn, linden)
  • Hypotensives: lower blood pressure (hawthorn, linden, yarrow, cramp bark, valerian)
  • Vasodilators: open the blood vessels to help relieve some of the pressure
  • Diuretics: decreases the build up of excess fluid in the body (hawthorn, yarrow, linden)
  • Vascular tonics: nourish the tissue of the veins and arteries (hawthorn, linden, yarrow
  • Circulatory stimulants: increase peripheral circulation  

A Few Herbs in Detail

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp): Hawthorn is the most well known and effective cardiac tonic around. Its proanthocyanidins and several falvonoids help to increase the hearts metabolism allowing for better nutrition and more rhythmic contractions. It also decreases the release of ACE which is linked to high blood pressure and it protects the heart tissue from oxidative damage. In the early stages of heart disease, hawthorn can be more effective than drugs with fewer side effects. It can be taken with blood pressure medications; however, you need to do this under a doctors supervision because it can increase the effectiveness of the drugs resulting in the need for less.

Garlic (Allium sativum): Garlic is such a wonderful herb and it is so easy to incorporate into daily life, just by adding it to food. Allicin is its major active constituent and, crazy as it sounds, it is not found in garlic. Instead, garlic contains allinase and alliin in isolated little blocks within the garlic clove and when they mix together via chewing or crushing the clove it creates allicin, which based on studies, can lower systolic pressure by 20-30 mmHg and diastolic by 10-20 mmHg.

Linden (Tilia platyphyllos): Linden is another valuable cardiac tonic that is also very relaxing. It helps to prevent the development of arteriosclerosis and hypertension.

If you have been diagnosed with prehypertension or hypertension it is important to take action immediately. Above, I have provided numerous ways to get your heart healthy and avoid the silent killer.


Duke, J. A. (2000). The green pharmacy herbal handbook: your comprehensive reference to the best herbs for healing. Emmaus, Pa: Rodale Reach.

Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: the science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press.

Rybacki, J. J. (2004). The Essential guide to prescription drugs 2004 (Pbk. ed.). New York, NY: HarperResource.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Natural Alternatives to Blood Thinners

As my post stated on Monday, I want to speak about some of the common pharmaceutical that are taken today and provide alternative things you can do to avoid having to take them for the rest of your life. I wanted to start with blood thinners. A friend of mine asked about natural alternatives to warfarin. His dad takes it and does not like the side effects. This is the information I have on the subject.
 Before I go any further, I would like to stress that the suggestions listed below are steps that can be taken prior to going on pharmaceutical. Many of these drugs can have dangerous interactions if you combine natural alternatives with the pharmaceuticals. Also, if you are currently on blood thinners and wish to come off of them you should contact your doctor. Coming off of long term pharmaceuticals is not something that you should do on your own. It requires a doctor’s supervision and often blood tests to monitor your levels.
What’s the Purpose of Blood Thinners?
The term “blood thinners” is a little misleading. They don’t technically thin the blood. Instead, they decrease the blood ability to clot which, theoretically, allows the blood to flow more freely leaving the blood vessels unblocked. A more accurate term is “anticoagulants”. They are given to people at risk for heart attacks, strokes and aneurisms and, as the population ages, more and more people will be advised to take blood thinners.
Commonly Used Blood Thinners
Warfarin (brand name Coumadin) was originally developed as a rat poison and, disturbingly, it is still used this way. It works by blocking the action of vitamin K which interferes with the production of 4 essential blood clotting factors. This causes the blood not to clot properly. What makes it so dangerous is that it has a very small therapeutic window, which means that if you take a little more than the suggested dose there can be serious consequences. This can be fatal when prescribed to older individuals, which it often is, who have problems remembering. Take your pills, forget you took them and take them again, spells disaster and can lead to serious internal bleeding and even death. Warfarin is so effective at preventing clots that any minor fall needs attention because of the risk of bleeding. Even if you don’t fall, one of the main side effects is severe bleeding, internal and external. It also has a whole list of other side effects, along with a long list of drug, herb and food interactions.
My friend asked specifically about warfarin, so I wanted to focus on that, but I did want to give a little information about other blood thinners that are used. Aspirin is the most commonly prescribed blood thinner. It works by decreasing prostaglandin G/H synthase which suppresses platelets ability to make thromboxanes therefore inhibiting blood clots. Long term use of aspirin can cause stomach irritation, stomach bleeding, ulcers and liver toxicity. Plavix (brand name clopidogrel) is another common blood thinner, last year bringing in 9.2 billion dollars in sales. It works by inhibiting ADP-induced platelet aggregation and has similar side effects as other prescription blood thinners.
Alternatives to Blood Thinners
Rather than addressing the symptom of an unhealthy lifestyle (blood clots), we should be striving to address the problem. A healthy diet, exercise, maintaining a healthy body weight, getting adequate sleep and making healthy lifestyle choices are all necessary to maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system and keeping our blood vessels clot-free. If we do this then we won’t need to worry about blood thinners. For added insurance, below is a list of other ways to make sure your blood remains a safe and healthy viscosity.
Eat foods high in salicylates: Salicylates block vitamin K, which helps to coagulate the blood. Prunes, cherries, cranberries, blueberries, grapes and strawberries are all foods that are high in salicylates.
Increase your intake of Omega-3s:  Omega-3 fatty acids help to thin the blood by decreasing cholesterol, making it less likely to clot. Foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, lake trout, mackerel, flax seeds, avocados and sesame seeds. Supplements are also available.
Drink more water: 55% of blood is made of plasma and 90% of plasma is water. Dehydration effects all areas of the body, including your blood, so to keep your blood flowing smoothly, make sure to drink plenty of water.
Exercise: Exercise helps to increase blood flow and decrease clotting, so get up and get moving.
More B6: Vitamin B6 has been shown to decrease excessive clotting. You can take a supplement or just increase your intake of food containing B6 such as whole grains, sweet potatoes and legumes.
Supplement with Vitamin E: Vitamin E has been shown to be as effective at thinning the blood as prescription medications.
Hawthorn: Hawthorn is an amazing tonic that helps to normalize the function of the cardiovascular system. It decreases the risk of developing coronary disease by dilating the coronary arteries so that blood can flow more freely and it protects the blood vessels from oxidative damage.
Ginkgo: Ginkgo helps to improve blood flow in many ways. First, ginkgolides, especially ginkgolide B, decreases platelet activating factor (PAF) and therefore reduces blood viscosity allowing blood to flow smoothly. It also acts as a vasodilator, improving circulation.  
Garlic: Garlic helps to decrease serum cholesterol and prevent peroxidation of fats which, in turn, decreases the buildup of arterial plaque. 9 different substance in garlic effectively inhibits platelet activating factor and thin the blood.
Ginger: Ginger decreases platelet aggregation and its antioxidants keep cholesterol and blood fats from forming plaque in the blood vessels.
Turmeric: Turmeric can decrease the buildup of arterial plaque that can cause stroke and heart attacks.
Overall, there are many ways to thin the blood; however if the main goal is to prevent a heart attack or a stroke, the best way is by strengthening and tonifying the entire cardiovascular system, not just by thinning the blood. I hope you have found this helpful and my next post will be about blood pressure medications.

Duke, J. A. (2000). The green pharmacy herbal handbook: your comprehensive reference to the best herbs for healing. Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale Reach.

Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: the science and practice of herbal medicine.
Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press.
Rybacki, J. J. (2004). The Essential guide to prescription drugs 2004 (Pbk. ed.). New
York, NY: HarperResource.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Commonly Used Pharmaceuticals and Top Money Makers

The Verbal Herbal is back and this week I would like to discuss pharmaceuticals. I feel like they have such a huge impact on our health and wellbeing, both in a positive and a negative way. Today I would like to give an overview of the top 10 most common pharmaceuticals used today and the top 10 pharmaceuticals that bring in the most money. It’s interesting to think that the drugs that are most commonly prescribed are not the ones that are bringing in the most money. This difference is due to name brand drugs vs. generic drugs. This, I feel, is a topic that deserves some discussion.
The Patent Act of 1952
The Patent Act of 1952 allows inventors to purchase a patent on new inventions, including machines, processes and pharmaceuticals. This means that other individuals cannot make, sell or import said patented invention until the patent expires which is 20 years from the filing date.
The Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act of 1984
The Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act of 1984 also known as the “Hatch-Waxman Act” was set in motion to urge new development of new drugs while also speeding up the introduction of generic drugs. Once a drug has been approved for a patent, it must go through research and development to prove that it is safe and effective for public consumption and, therefore, become FDA certified. This can take years to do and millions of dollars in research. So to benefit the companies, this act extends the patent time between the original patent date and the date of FDA approval, up to 5 years can be restored and the remaining term of the restored patent cannot exceed 14 years. This gives the company monopoly over that drug until the patent expires, allowing them to charge as much as they want for that drug in order to cover the cost of research and make a profit.

Once the patent expires, other companies can produce that drug at a fraction of the cost hence generic brands of drugs. But because there is a different manufacturer, the drug still needs to be FDA approved. Previously, companies were forced to provide their own research proving safety and efficacy to the FDA. The Hatch-Waxman Act allowed FDA approval of generic drugs based on previous research done by the original company. With no new research needed to prove safety, generic forms of name brand drugs quickly hit the market once patents expire. Overall this Act tries to balance out the wellbeing of the public by providing low cost generic drugs while still providing proper compensation to companies.
Top 10 Money Makers in 2011
Now that we have established the difference between name brand and generic drugs, let’s look at the list the top 10 leading brands of pharmaceuticals worldwide and how much money was made in sales in 2011. These are name brand drugs that cost a lot of money to the patient and insurance companies and make the pharmaceutical companies billions. Data was taken from an IMS Health study.
Brand Name
Generic Name
$ in Billions
1.       Lipitor
helps to decrease cholesterol
2.       Plavix
a blood thinner
3.       Seretide
asthma inhaler
4.       Crestor
helps to decrease cholesterol
5.       Nexium
for gastroesophageal reflux
6.       Seroquel
for issues relating to mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar

7.       Humira
an injection for auto-immune disorders
8.       Enbrel
an injection for auto-immune disorders
9.       Remicade
an injection for auto-immune disorders
10.   Ambilify
for issues relating to mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar

Top 10 Most Prescribed Drugs in America
Next, I would like to talk about the top 10 most prescribed drugs in America. It represents common issues among Americans. The “number of prescriptions” that is listed, is taken from an IMS Health study of 2010.
Generic name
Brand Name of patent that expired
Number of prescriptions in millions
1.       Hydrocodone with acetaminophen
An opioid for pain
2.       Simvastatin
A statin for high cholesterol
3.       Lisinopril
ACE inhibitor for high blood pressure
4.       Levothyroxine sodium
A thyroid hormone for low-functioning thyroid
5.       Amlodipine besylate
Calcium channel blocker for high blood pressure
6.       Omeprazole
Proton pump inhibitor for acid reflux
7.       Azithromycin
8.       Amoxicillin
9.       Metformin HCL
For diabetes
10.   Hydrochlorothiazide
Diuretic for high blood pressure

The Problem with Pharmaceuticals
Pharmaceuticals are used as a first line of defense: you go to the doctor, you have high blood pressure, and the doctor puts you on pharmaceuticals for the rest of your life. While I am not saying that they are completely unneeded, I feel that other step should be taken first before you are doomed to take prescriptions for the rest of your life. First, make lifestyle changes. Diet and exercise are the most common ways to solve the problem, but sometimes it’s as easy as getting more sleep, drinking more water or getting a massage every once and a while.  Next, try supplements. Herbs, vitamins and minerals can all be used to help alleviate or correct the problem. If you try everything and still nothing works, then it’s time to go on pharmaceuticals. If you are already on long term pharmaceuticals and would like to try other alternatives, you need to consult your doctor. This is not something you should do on your own because many drugs require weaning off of them while monitoring your blood levels.
After taking a look at the data provided today, this week I would like to address some of the trends in data, providing natural alternatives to some of the more commonly used pharmaceuticals.