Our herbal experts answer your questions on sarcoidosis and migraines
Q: My husband has sarcoidosis. He has had it for several years. The drug of choice is Prednisone. He is pre-diabetic and, of course, his blood sugar has gone up with this drug. We would like to try a holistic plan but have not had any luck finding much information. Can you help us?
Kansas City, Missouri
A: Stansbury responds: This is a tough one. Although the underlying cause remains elusive, sarcoidosis typically involves granuloma (a lesion caused by chronic inflammation) formation throughout the body. The granulomas might disappear or become fibrotic, leading to extensive scarring of vital organs that can reduce respiratory capacity, impair liver function and cause other problems. Ideally, practitioners aim to treat the cause, not the symptoms, but since we don’t know what causes the condition, we are forced to treat the symptoms and guess about the underlying cause.
In cases such as this, it is best for an experienced clinician to get a very detailed health history that might provide clues to make a more educated guess. Is there a history of allergies or immune difficulties? Is your husband experiencing joint pain and fevers? Are there problems with kidney function, elevated calcium or uric acid, or a tendency toward kidney stones? I would aim to fine-tune any treatment to be as specific as possible. Following are some general ideas that might be a place to start.
Consider herbs thought to reduce scarring and promote wound healing. There is some research on gotu kola (Centella asiatica) for reducing fibrosis, helping to reduce scarring and organ damage. As this plant is very nutritious and nontoxic, it can be used safely long term.
Because so many people with sarcoidosis experience joint pain, fever and lymph node enlargement — suggesting immune-driven inflammatory responses — immune modulators might be helpful. Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a liver protectant and an anti-inflammatory. Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is anti-inflammatory, immune-modulating and helps the adrenal glands recover from long-term use of steroids (such as Prednisone).
Because your husband has elevated blood sugar, it would be wise for him to avoid grains and favor a diet consisting of mostly fresh fruits and vegetables and high-quality proteins, such as legumes and raw nuts and seeds. Furthermore, as research on many autoimmune diseases is revealing, some cases of misdirected inflammatory and immune responses may be triggered as the body reacts to toxins, such as heavy metals in the tissues. Your husband should eat a clean, pesticide- and chemical-free organic diet.
He also should aim to drink several quarts of pure water each day and consider gentle cleansing programs such as saunas, fasting or an elimination diet where all the common food allergens (wheat, milk, peanuts, citrus, tomatoes, potatoes, coffee, sugar, soy and corn) are avoided for three months or more.
Willard responds: Although inflammation is a basic response of the body, inflammation from sarcoidosis differs in that it produces small lumps (also called nodules or granulomas) in the tissues. The disease can attack any organ of the body, and the lumps can be found inside the body or on the body’s exterior, appearing as sores on the face or shins. But sarcoidosis most frequently is found in the lungs.
No one knows the true cause of sarcoidosis, but most researchers think it is a malfunction of the immune system. This disease has become more common in my clinic in the last three years. I have found several of the medicinal mushrooms beneficial for sarcoidosis, and they also can aid in blood sugar issues.
I use reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) and cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis) mushrooms as my main tools, especially when the sarcoidosis is in the lungs. Both mushrooms (particularly reishi) help regulate the immune system, while having a great affinity for the respiratory system. Cordyceps has a strong tonic effect, increasing oxygen uptake in the lungs, while reducing bronchial inflammation and working as an expectorant. It has been shown to work well as a bronchial dilator, opening up the entire respiratory system.
I use concentrated extracts (15:1) of these mushrooms and suggest 400 mg of extract of both mushrooms, twice daily. Other helpful supplements I recommend are essential fatty acids (borage or black currant oil, 3,000 mg twice daily), garlic (2 capsules twice daily), beta-carotene (30,000 IU twice daily), vitamin C (1,000 mg twice daily) and zinc (15 mg daily).
Q: I have been suffering for years from terrible migraines. I’ve heard that certain foods can be the cause, or that stress may be a factor. Are there any herbs that help?
Editor’s note: Some migraine symptoms can indicate serious health problems. It’s important to visit your health-care provider for a diagnosis before attempting to self-treat.
A: Stansbury responds: Most cases of migraines will respond very well to natural therapies. A few cases do indeed have food triggers, but the majority of cases involve no obvious provoking foods. Certainly stress can be a trigger, as it can aggravate almost any condition. If your migraines seem to occur more with stress, then calming, relaxing and adrenal-support herbs can reduce your stress level and your headaches. Consider ashwa-ganda (Withania somnifera), eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), skullcap (Scutellaria canadensis) or passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) combined with the herbs mentioned below. Many women note a cyclical pattern to migraines with the headaches tending to occur at a certain phase of the menstrual cycle, usually premenstrually. If this is the case, vitex (Vitex agnus-castus) and angelica (Angelica arch- angelica) often help.
True migraines are known to be a vascular phenomenon, where a blood vessel in the head constricts, often causing visual disturbances, and then dilates, often causing vascular congestion with a sense of pounding or intense pressure. Some research has suggested that platelets are involved in this process; herbs that are “platelet stabilizers” may help. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is a classic herb for migraines and is known to reduce inflammation. Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is also beneficial for many migraine sufferers. Similarly, herbs known to reduce vasospasm may reduce the tendency for the blood vessel to constrict and become inflamed in the first place. Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) and linden (Tilia europea) may be of use here.
Willard responds: Migraines often start with some form of nausea and a painful, throbbing headache, usually focused behind the eye. There may be warning signs, such as auras or blurring of vision with bright spots in the vision. Migraines affect 15 to 20 percent of men and 25 to 30 percent of women in the United States. Digestive problems are related, as migraines can affect the gallbladder acupuncture areas. Food or environmental sensitivities, stress and hormonal problems often cause migraines. Toxins, candida, a sluggish liver and constipation also should be considered as possible causes.
I like to start migraine programs with a 12-day cleansing diet. During this time, I try to find out if there are any food sensitivities, candida or digestive problems. I suggest the avoidance of acid-forming foods, dairy, flour, sweets, MSG, nitrites, chocolate, shellfish and citrus. I also suggest reducing red meat consumption. Red wine sometimes can cause migraines. Cold-water fish, high in essential fatty acids, can be quite beneficial. Other essential fatty acids, such as black currant, evening primrose or borage oils, are helpful.
By far the best herb for migraines is feverfew. It has been shown to be an effective prophylactic agent for migraines and common headaches. Feverfew reduces inflammation in the body. It usually takes three to 21 (with an average of six) days to build up in the body. So, you take it today for a migraine next week. I usually recommend 2 capsules of feverfew twice daily and 1,000 to 2,000 mg twice daily of essential fatty acids.
Herbs for Health and Healing (Publication International, 1997).
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.
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