All of your health questions answered here!
I have suffered from acne since my early twenties. I also have eczema, which is now more under control than ever since I began following a strict cleansing diet and received a diagnosis of candidiasis (excess yeast in the intestines). I have been taking undecylenic acid for the excess yeast. However, nothing has really seemed to have any effect on the acne. I have some on my scalp and hairline, my face, my upper back, and some that forms a circle around my chin and mouth. My dermatologist gave me a prescription for tetracycline, but my naturopath is adamant that I don’t take it. Help!
Stansbury responds: Because you have eczema, and your acne occurs around the mouth and hairline, the acne too could be a type of allergic hyper-reactivity. Acne around the hairline could be due to a reactivity to hair products and/or a type of seborrhea associated with eczema. Furthermore, acne around the mouth could be an allergic response to something ingested. Allergy testing, or simply experimenting, may help you determine if seemingly healthy foods could be contributing to breakouts.
If you have rough-textured, flaking, and inflamed patches of skin, your acne could be a type of eczema-like dermatitis. Tetracycline doesn’t usually help this type of acne much, and I agree with your naturopath that antibiotics will further impair intestinal health. Essential fatty acids such as flaxseed oil, a tablespoon or more per day, may improve both eczema and acne. Beta-carotene is often helpful, as are B vitamins and zinc.
Because dermatitis may result from digestive disorders, and you mention having difficulty with intestinal yeast, this is also an obvious place to start. Avoid yeasted foods and excessive sugar. Consider taking acidophilus for three or four months, and treat any indigestion, constipation, or bloating accordingly. Some cases of chronic eczema and acne improve dramatically with the use of fiber, herbs such as yellow dock (Rumex crispus), burdock (Arctium lappa), and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), digestive enzymes, and HCL preparations as appropriate.
Willard responds: This is a common problem in the clinic—acne related to candidiasis. While undecylenic acid is quite exciting in its use as an antifungal agent against candida, like other fatty acids it needs to come in contact with the yeast to be effective. Many times the candida will just move to another location, often going deeper into the body where the undecylenic acid will not be able to come in contact with it. For this reason, I find limited use for this supplement in internal candidiasis. I am very supportive of your naturopath’s recommendation to not use the tetracycline. This usually only makes the problem substantially worse in the long run. It produces nice short-term relief but a stronger colony of yeast.
One of the problems with a candida yeast infection is that it often disrupts the fatty-acid metabolism in the liver. One of the most common symptoms of this is an acne-type dermatitis or eczema. The solution is quite simple, but somewhat demanding. The most important thing is to follow a strict candida diet for three to nine months, take suitable supplements to deal with the yeast (this could include the undecylenic acid), and take probiotics to create the proper ecological balance. In addition, you will need to consume essential fatty acids. This can come from your diet in the form of omega-3 and omega-6 oils, or in the form of a supplement. Most of my clients with this problem take a mixed omega fatty-acid capsule (2,000 mg twice daily). I usually add zinc (15 to 30 mg), beta-carotene (20,000 IU twice daily), vitamin B6 (100 mg twice daily), and vitamin C (1 g twice daily).
My teenage daughter got mononucleosis last spring. Since then she hasn’t had the energy she used to. Are there any herbs she could take to build up her energy level?
Stansbury responds: Mono often leaves people in a weakened state and has been implicated in contributing to chronic fatigue for some. Due to my concern about the tenacity of the Epstein-Barr virus, a herpes family member and the cause of mono, I treat all of my patients aggressively upon diagnosis and then follow up with a “convalescing” therapy to help the immune system make a full recovery. At this point, I would recommend some immune and energy-tonifying herbs such as astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), or ashwaganda (Withania somnifera). These should be taken for at least three months to rebuild the immune system, along with a general multivitamin and mineral supplement. There are many popular immune and adrenal formulas available at health-food stores that combine some of these herbs with immune-stimulating vitamins.
It is also important that your daughter pampers herself somewhat and is careful not to push herself in the least, because energy is difficult to rebuild. For the fullest and fastest recovery, it’s important to eat very well, avoid sugar and junk foods, and get a minimum of eight hours of sleep per night—with naps in addition, whenever possible. Avoid exertion, vigorous exercise, stress, and physically taxing situations for at least six months, if not a year. Use stretching, Tai chi, yoga, and gentle walking to maintain fitness during the interim.
Willard responds: Yes, mononucleosis can be quite debilitating for anyone. The most important cure for this—plenty of rest—is a hard pill to swallow for a teen. I have a standard tincture mixture for rebuilding strength that I call Ener-Jazz. It’s made up of 40 percent Siberian ginseng, 20 percent astragalus, 10 percent American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), 10 percent reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), 10 percent licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), 5 percent codonopsis (Codonopsis pilosula), and 5 percent fo-ti (Polygonum multiflorum). I usually get my patients to take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of this mixture twice daily for about six months. As you can see from the formula, the most important herbs are Siberian ginseng and astragalus. These are excellent tonic herbs that build a person’s health while convalescing after an illness. This means they’re used for the recovery stages of many health problems, including times of high stress. If you can’t make up the above blend, Siberian ginseng and astragalus can be used alone. Take 2 capsules of Siberian ginseng and 1 capsule of astragalus, 500 mg per capsule, twice daily. However, I have found the tincture to work better.
I’ve been losing hair since about the end of May 2000. In April I started taking testosterone and progesterone, as well as a multivitamin, Ostivone [a product for building bone strength], St. John’s wort, and ginkgo. I have heard the Chinese herb Shou Wu Pian is good for hair. Is there anything I am taking that would cause hair loss? What else might help?
Stansbury responds: Your report of the hair loss starting in May is noteworthy to me. Hair loss due to changes in testosterone typically doesn’t start all of a sudden. Because you began many different things the month prior to the onset of hair loss, there’s reason to wonder if one of the supplements could be contributing to the complaint. I’d question your hormone supplements before the vitamins and herbs listed. Nutrients taken at normal dosages don’t promote hair loss, so unless you’re megadosing or taking many other things, hair loss due to a multivitamin or herb is unlikely. I’m curious about what form of hormones you’re using and why these were initiated. Were you having other health difficulties prior to the loss of hair? Could the hair loss have been gradual but become really noticeable in May? Is there a family tendency to lose hair at a similar age? If so, the hair loss is probably best treated with hormonal agents, either pharmaceutical or herbal. A visit with a physician could be helpful here. If not, and if the hair loss was so rapid as to occur over a single month, perhaps it is related to adrenal weakness.
The adrenal gland produces cortisol in response to stress; it also produces DHEA, a hormone used to form testosterone and progesterone. Abnormalities in both cortisol and DHEA levels in the blood may contribute to hair loss. You might consider an adrenal-gland product for one to three months. Adrenal-support herbs such as Panax ginseng, ashwaganda, licorice, or oats (Avena sativa) may also help. Adrenal glandulars and herbs may be safer than hormones in the long run. If your brain no longer properly signals the adrenal glands to make more DHEA, nor signals the ovaries/testes to produce progesterone and testosterone, then taking those hormones rarely fixes hormonal imbalances. If the testosterone and progesterone weren’t prescribed for some very appropriate reason, I’d discontinue using them to see if they might be contributory.
Willard responds: Your hair loss might be due to the hormones you’re taking. Testosterone often has male-pattern baldness associated with it. There should be no problems associated with the multivitamin, Ostivone, St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), or ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba). Yes, Shou Wu Pian has often been used to rejuvenate hair. One of the Chinese names for the herb is he shou wu, which translates to “black-haired Mr. He.” It’s often given to reduce graying of the hair and to stop hair from falling out. It’s said to do this by nourishing the liver, kidneys, and blood in cases of yin or blood deficiencies.
In these cases, I often recommend dong quai (Angelica sinensis), as it helps to regulate the hormones and reduce hair loss. I usually combine dong quai with black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) and blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus) and recommend that the person take three 500-mg capsules, twice daily. To this, I usually add a multimineral (2 tablets, twice daily).
Stress could also be a factor. The herb I use in this case is Siberian ginseng. If taken in tincture form, I would suggest you take 20 to 40 drops twice daily or 1 capsule twice daily.
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, Terry Willard and Jill Stansbury answer your questions on treating adult acne, recovering from mononucleosis, and helping prevent hair loss.
Terry Willard is a clinical herbalist, president of the Canadian Association of Herbal Practitioners, and founder of the Wild Rose College of Natural Healing in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is the author of eight books and a CD-ROM, Interactive Herbal.
Jill Stansbury has been a naturopathic physician for more than ten years, with a private practice in Battle-ground, Washington. She is the chair of the Botanical Medicine Department at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, and the author of many books including Herbs for Health and Healing (Publication International, 1997).
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@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.
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