HELP FOR PSORIASIS
Are there any known herbal cures for psoriasis? Are there herbs used for helping to clear up the lesions that appear on the skin? Any information would be deeply appreciated.
Keville responds: In many cases, herbal treatments can greatly improve psoriasis and sometimes make it disappear altogether. This skin condition causes cells to grow too quickly, producing reddish lesions and silvery scales that pile up and flake off. Itching and bleeding are common. Psoriasis can come and go, and just when you think you have it under control, there it is again! The longer you’ve had it, the longer it may take to clear up, so have patience.
For an external treatment, use a salve or cream that contains skin-healing herbs such as calendula (Calendula officinalis) and St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) with essential oils of tea tree and lavender. Apply the salve twice daily directly on the psoriasis. Another good idea is to wash with herbal cleansers designed for dry skin instead of soap, which can irritate and dry the skin more. In addition, exposing the area to direct sunlight (or a long-wave ultraviolet light lamp) is very effective in treating psoriasis.
Correcting abnormal liver function is important in the treatment of psoriasis. One of the liver’s many jobs is to filter and detoxify the blood, and when that’s not happening efficiently, the result can manifest itself on the skin. Even if you’re not sure you need to treat your liver, you might as well—it will only make you healthier. Some liver herbs favored by herbalists to treat psoriasis include burdock (Arctium lappa) and milk thistle (Silybum marianum). There may also be a connection with your immune system and especially to food allergies. You can treat both your liver and immune system with bupleurum root (Bupleurum chinensis) and pau d’arco bark (Tabebuia spp.).
Stress usually worsens psoriasis, but taking relaxing herbs such as valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and kava (Piper methysticum) will help increase overall relaxation. Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) and evening primrose oil (Oenothera biennis), taken internally, help reduce skin inflammation. Of particular benefit are the omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish and flaxseed oil. Maintaining optimal bowel health by consuming a high-fiber diet rich in fruits and vegetables is also very important in persons with psoriasis.
Khalsa responds: As common as this disease is, most patients are not very satisfied with the medical management of their disease. But the good news is that natural methods can be quite successful.
Psoriasis episodes can be triggered by, among other things, emotional stress, trauma, dry skin, and bacterial infection. Emotional traumas, such as a new job or the death of a loved one, precede as many as 80 percent of flare-ups. An immune system abnormality likely plays a role. Psoriasis is not contagious, but it tends to run in families. Health practitioners use many terms to describe various assortments of these symptoms. From the botanical medicine point of view, psoriasis is a type of inflammatory skin disease. It is akin to dermatitis (inflammation of the skin), a general term for a wide selection of skin disorders.
A standard medical treatment is to soak in a warm bath for ten to fifteen minutes, then apply a topical ointment. Petroleum jelly helps the skin retain moisture. Other treatments include salicylic acid ointment, steroid-based creams or ointments, calcipotriene, which is related to vitamin D, and coal-tar ointments and shampoos.
Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), a distilled bark extract, is widely known as an astringent and anti-inflammatory. It is a mainstream psoriasis treatment in Germany. Research shows significant vasoconstriction from witch hazel, and indicates that it benefits dermatitis. For psoriasis, it was similar to cortisone. The most successful natural ointment I have used is a combination of aloe (Aloe vera) gel, witch hazel, vitamin E oil, menthol, tea tree oil, pine tar, cedar leaf oil, and clove oil.
Treating the surface helps symptoms, but to treat the full disease, herbalists use a multi-pronged attack to slowly balance the body systems involved in psoriasis.
Herbal medicine centers on reducing inflammation in the skin, healing the tissue of the skin if necessary, and eliminating the source of the irritating contaminants through the liver, kidneys, and large intestine. Anti-inflammatory botanicals reduce skin symptoms. The best skin anti-inflammatory I know is green vegetables. Use as large a percentage of green vegetables in the diet as possible. Because it is easy to fill up quickly on fibrous raw green vegetables, juicing might be a better choice for putting away large amounts of the active ingredients. Try a couple of tall glasses of mixed green juice per day. Once the skin inflammation begins to quiet down, it’s time to heal the underlying structure of the tissue. Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is a celebrated Asian remedy that is just beginning to get attention here. Gotu kola is the most impressive herb I have ever seen in treating all types of connective tissue damage.
Tissue detoxifiers (herbalists call them “alteratives”) are next. A favorite of European skin specialists is Oregon grape root (Mahonia aquifolium). A 1995 study showed that berberine, which Oregon grape contains, was able to reduce skin cell growth in psoriasis.
HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
My husband is thirty-eight years old and has been told he has high blood pressure. Is there something that he can take and/or foods he should eat in order to control the blood pressure? Thank you.
Keville responds: I’m glad you asked about foods specifically because there are some great dietary ways to lower blood pressure. How nice to be able to eat your way to good health so simply and safely. First and foremost is garlic (Allium sativum). Just adding it to a meal can keep blood pressure lower for an entire day. Another food that helps keep blood pressure down is ginger (Zingiber officinale). Amazing as it may seem, the complex chemistry of both ginger and hawthorn berry (Crataegus spp.) corrects either low and high blood pressure, according to what your body needs. Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) seem to also help normalize blood pressure. Another excellent herbal food is flaxseed oil (Linum usitatissimum). A couple of teaspoons a day will go a long way to getting blood pressure down, due to the omega-3 oils it contains. An alternative is to take it (or fish oil) in capsules. If your husband happens to get his morning buzz from drinking coffee or black tea, he could consider switching to green tea (Camellia sinensis), which helps lower blood pressure.
Because tension can go hand-in-hand with high blood pressure, herbal sedatives are good additions to any blood-pressure-lowering formula. His best bets are ones that lower blood pressure as well as reducing stress and muscle tension. My favorites for this are valerian, skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), lime flower (Tilia ¥europaea), and motherwort leaves (Leonurus cardiaca). These herbs can be taken as teas, tinctures, or capsules. There are also aromatherapy techniques for relaxation. Simply sniffing orange or orange blossom (also called neroli) is not only sedative, it will slightly drop blood pressure. Aromatherapists use rose geranium to keep blood pressure steady and regulated. Any of these essential oils can be to a bath (use 3 to 8 drops of essential oil in your bath). Look for massage oils that with these or other relaxing oils such as lavender. Plus, the massage itself is a wonderful way to relax. Along with these herbal suggestions, it’s important to keep weight down, avoid alcohol and cigarettes, and take heart-healthy vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E and magnesium
Khalsa responds: High blood pressure (hypertension) is called the “silent killer.” Elevated blood pressure can lead to a seriously increased risk of heart attack and stroke, the nation’s top killers. When blood vessels are exposed to chronically high pressure, damage begins to occur. Blood pressures as high as 220/170, quite ordinary during behaviors such as weightlifting, are not harmful. Only when extreme pressure is sustained day after day do blood vessel linings begin to be injured.
Overall, according to published research, garlic appears to reduce blood pressure levels by about 5 to 10 percent. This may not seem like much, but every bit counts when you are reducing the total chronic damage from hypertension. Clinical herbalists using garlic usually claim to see larger reductions with higher doses. At least twelve studies have researched the effects of garlic on blood pressure. Perhaps the best of these trials looked at forty-seven subjects with mild hypertension. For twelve weeks, half were given a placebo and the other half received a daily dose of 600 mg of garlic powder, standardized to 1.3 percent alliin. Garlic reduced systolic blood pressure by 6 percent and diastolic pressure by 9 percent. Garlic is typically given in a dosage of 900 mg daily of a garlic powder extract standardized to contain 1.3 percent alliin. Larger doses should not hurt, and you might experience better results if you are willing to include more in your diet or use a higher dose of regular garlic powder as a supplement. Garlic is generally regarded as safe; however, because it appears to thin the blood it should be used with caution with prescription anticoagulants.
The Brazilian herb stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) is mainly known as a sweetener, but it may also help reduce blood pressure. In 2000, a one-year double-blind study of 106 patients taking stevia extract found evidence of a significant reduction in blood pressure beginning at three months. In the treated group, the average blood pressure at the beginning of the study was about 166/102. By the end of the study, this had fallen to 153/90.
Although it’s rather new to us here, arjuna bark (Terminalia arjuna) is one of my favorite herbs used to lower blood pressure. A typical dose of dried arjuna bark is 1 to 3 g per day, in capsules. You may also brew the bulk shredded bark into a tea.
In every issue of Herbs for Health, professionals from a variety of health-care fields answer your questions about using medicinal herbs. In this issue, Kathi Keville and Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa answer your questions on psoriasis and high blood pressure.
Kathi Keville is director of the American Herb Association (www.aha herb.com) and the author of eleven herb and aromatherapy books including Herbs for Health and Healing (Rodale, 1996). She teaches seminars throughout the United States.
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa has more than twenty-five years of experience with medicinal herbs and specializes in Ayurvedic, Chinese, and North American healing traditions. He is a licensed dietitian/nutritionist, a massage therapist, and a board member of the American Herbalists Guild.
Please send your questions to Herbs for Health “Q & A,” Herb Companion Press, 243 E. Fourth St., Loveland, CO 80537; fax (970) 663-0909; or e-mail us at HerbsforHealth@RealHealthMedia.com. Provide your name and full address for verification, although both will be kept confidential.
The information offered in “Q & A” is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your health-care provider.
Garlic appears to reduce blood pressure levels.
—Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa