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, Rosemary Gladstar and Robert Rountree answer your questions on treatments for low blood pressure, rosacea, and boils.
Rosemary Gladstar, author of Herbal Healing for Women (Simon & Schuster, 1993) and several other books on herbalism, runs Sage Moun-tain Retreat Center and Native Plant Preserve in East Barre, Vermont. Her experience includes more than twenty years in the herbal community as a healer, teacher, visionary, and organizer of herbal events.
Robert Rountree, M.D., is a physician at the Helios Health Center in Boulder, Colorado, where he practices integrative medicine. He is coauthor of Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child (Avery, 1994) and an Herb Research Foundation advisory board member.
Please send your questions to Herbs for Health “Q & A,” Herb Companion Press, 201 E. Fourth St., Loveland, CO 80537-5655; fax (970) 669-6117; or e-mail us at HerbsForHealth @HCPress.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.
I’m fifty-three years old and I’m taking medicine for hypothyroidism. My blood pressure has always been low, but for the past few years it’s been very low (80/50). Please help me with this problem.
Also, can I eat yogurt when I take my vitamins and herbs?
Gladstar responds: Recently both the medical and herbal communities are waking up to the fact that there is an epidemic of thyroid disorders in this country. It is estimated that between 1 and 4 percent of the adult U.S. population have moderate to severe hypothyroidism and another 10 to 12 percent have mild hypothyroidism.
For your low blood pressure, I would suggest herbs that are adrenal tonics and gentle stimulants such as hawthorn (Crat-aegus spp.), garlic (Allium sativum), peppermint (Mentha ¥ piperita), gotu kola (Centella asiatica), and rosemary (Rosmar-inus officinalis). These herbs are not generally known to interfere with thyroid medication. Hawthorn can be used in rather large amounts—three to four cups of tea a day or 1 teaspoon of the tincture three times daily. Garlic is a blood pressure regulator and is effective for low blood pressure. It is best to eat it raw, added to salad dressings and other food. Rosemary, peppermint, and gotu kola can be combined as a tea or powdered and encapsulated. Try these herbs/herbal combinations for six to eight weeks before expecting results.
Yogurt is used to assist digestion and is helpful in assimilation of other nutrients. I often use it when I have to take strong herbs and/or vitamins. It serves as a buffer and aids in digestion of the nutrients.
Soy products can aggravate hypothyroidism. —Robert Rountree
Rountree responds: The best herb I know of for raising blood pressure is licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra). I would start with 2 g daily of the powdered root and monitor your blood pressure on a regular basis to be certain that it doesn’t get too high. It will not interfere with your thyroid medication. For an added energy boost, you may want to combine the licorice with Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) in a dose of 1,000 mg daily.
There should be no problem taking herbs and vitamins at the same time as yogurt. (I do it all the time!) As for foods that do interfere with thyroid hormone production, the most significant are soy products. As little as 40 mg of isoflavones a day—the amount found in a couple of scoops of soy protein powder—are enough to aggravate hypothyroidism. (This is only true for susceptible individuals whose low thyroid function is not adequately controlled with hormone replacement.)
Certain members of the brassica family, especially rutabagas, cabbage, and turnips, are high in compounds called goitrogens, which are well known for their ability to block thyroid hormone production. However, cooking these vegetables eliminates this effect, as does taking a supplement of iodine.
I suffer from rosacea. Standard medical treatment calls for oral and topical anti-biotics, which I am unwilling to try. I know the standard triggers for me (excessive heat, cold, and wind, spicy foods, alcohol, and stress) and try to stay away from these, but I still suffer from bouts of this condition.
Gladstar responds: According to the Rosacea Review, a newsletter for rosacea sufferers, an estimated thirteen million Americans are afflicted with varying degrees of rosacea. It can manifest as a mild case of redness spread across the chin, cheeks, and forehead or in severe cases the skin may become bumpy, red, and enlarged from excess tissue.
There is no known cause for rosacea—though most attribute the skin disorder to stress factors and/or a vascular disorder—nor is there one specific “cure.” But many people have successfully managed it by eliminating the stress factors and including dietary and herbal aids.
It sounds like you have identified and eliminated your stress factors. In addition to those you mentioned, other agitating factors include birth control pills, intense exercise, acne medication, overzealous facial care, and food allergies.
Try tepid water for washing and add a drop or two of the anti-inflammatory oils of German chamomile (Matricaria recutita), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), and/or calendula (Calendula officinalis) to your wash water and your skin-care products. I also recommend a tea made of 11/2 parts dried nettle (Urtica dioica), 1 part dried calendula, 1 part dried red clover blossoms (Trifolium pratense), and 1/2 part dried lavender. Drink three to four cups daily.
I have also found that evening primrose, borage, and/or black currant seed oil massaged gently onto the problem areas are helpful. These oils, either alone or in combination, should also be taken internally, 500 mg three times daily.
Rountree responds: Acne rosacea is a mysterious condition that causes red bumps and blotches on the nose, cheeks, and around the eyes. In severe cases it can be disfiguring. Research suggests that it may be a consequence of an intestinal infection with Helicobacter pylori, the same bacteria responsible for stomach ulcers. This may explain why treatment with the antibiotic metronidazole—which kills H. pylori—can be highly effective for acne rosacea.
I understand your objections to using antibiotics, as they can cause side effects such as allergic reactions and overgrowth of yeast. As an alternative, you may want to try freeze-dried bovine colostrum in a dose of six to nine capsules daily. Colostrum has been shown in laboratory studies to kill H. pylori in the stomach and restore normal bacterial balance in the intestines.
Some practitioners recommend a supplement of hydrochloric acid (sold as betaine HCL) based on studies that this may be deficient in people with rosacea.
You might also consider a topical medication called azelaic acid, which is very safe and has been found to be helpful against rosacea. It is a naturally occurring compound found in whole-grain cereals that’s similar to the fruit acids used in cosmetics. It is available as a 20 percent prescription-strength cream and is also sold in some health-food stores. It must be used twice daily for several weeks before it starts to work.
I have struggled with boils for thirty-eight years. I know that they’re hereditary and that antibiotics don’t work. So what does work? I’m desperate for relief.
West Palm Beach, Florida
Gladstar responds: My heart goes out to you. Boils are painful inflammatory swellings centered on hair follicles and are usually found in more hairy parts of the body (i.e., around the pubic area and under the arms). They are infectious and can spread easily, thus clusters of them (called carbuncles) are often found at the site of infection. The exact cause is debated, but they’re often due to a combination of factors including a suppressed immune system, stressed nervous system, poor nutrition or hygiene, infectious bacteria (staph), allergies, and/or exposure to chemicals.
Topically, I recommend using a mixture of propolis—a waxy, sticky resin made by bees—and powdered goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis). It’s crucial to use only organically cultivated goldenseal. Mix the two ingredients together—the mixture will be thick and sticky. You may wish to dilute it with echinacea (Echinacea spp.) tincture. Apply this directly on any infected spots, then sprinkle goldenseal powder over the area. You will find this paste somewhat difficult to remove. Clean it daily with a cotton ball soaked in echinacea tincture or witch hazel extract.
Internally, I recommend a high dose (1 teaspoon of tincture four to five times daily) of echinacea for several weeks—it’s extremely effective for boils and bacterial infections. Also, drink a mixture of equal parts dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale), burdock root (Arctium lappa), usnea (Usnea spp.), and echinacea root tea. Along with the echinacea tincture, take 1/2 teaspoon of St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) tincture three to four times daily.
Rountree responds: Boils are usually caused by an infection with staph bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus). It’s normal to have a small amount of staph present on the skin, but it can overgrow in warm, sweaty areas and take up residence in the hair follicles, resulting in boils and carbuncles. While part of the problem is environmental (recurrent boils occur much more frequently in humid regions), there also may be a defect in the immune system, which makes it harder to eliminate the infection.
I have several suggestions for you. Start by cleansing the affected areas of your skin every day with a 10 to 20 percent solution of tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia), which has anti-staph activity. Watch out for allergic reactions (irritation with redness and/or swelling) that can occur in susceptible individuals.
I would also take a 500 mg capsule of olive leaf extract (Olea europea) three or four times daily. Olive leaf extract contains a terrific natural antibiotic called oleuropein, which has been shown in laboratory studies to kill off staph. It is nontoxic and can be used indefinitely. Some people may experience upset stomach with olive leaf; if you do, take it with food.
To round out the program, I recommend a supplement of powdered Lactobacillus acidophilus. Use a high-potency product that’s guaranteed to deliver a minimum of ten billion organisms daily (typically the amount found in 2 teaspoons of powder). L. acidophilus helps prevent overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria in the colon; it also boosts the immune system.
By Rosemary Gladstar and Robert Rountree
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