Yoga is hot. With styles ranging from the gentle Iyengar yoga to Bikram’s therapeutic yoga done in intense 90 to 100 degree heat, yoga is attracting a following in Western culture. Yoga participants are not just svelte young students in complicated poses. Today’s yoga classes are filled with people of all ages and abilities, and health-care practitioners are now prescribing yoga to patients for conditions from heart disease to arthritis.
As we get older, we happen to need yoga more, says Leah Uhlenhopp, a certified Bikram’s yoga instructor at the Yoga College of India in Aspen, Colorado. Years of stress, poor nutrition, and lack of exercise have a cumulative effect. People over fifty generally come to yoga with physical problems such as a bad back or knee pain, too, says Suza Francina, author of The New Yoga for People Over 50 (Health Communications, 1997) and an Iyengar yoga instructor in Ojai, California.
Today, yoga classes are filled with people of all ages and abilities.
Because yoga includes psychological and spiritual awareness, practicing yoga may be easier for an older person, says Uhlenhopp. With maturity comes an improved internal focus and a better attention span, as well as a greater capacity for further mental and spiritual growth through yoga, she says.
Discipline is necessary for success, and it takes a lot of work to see the benefits. “As with any alternative medicine, it takes time,” says Chris Bunting, another Bikram’s instructor in Aspen. “But the long-term benefits are great.” The instructors say the benefits run the gamut, from relieving the symptoms of menopause and diabetes to reducing the risk of osteoporosis, arthritis, and heart disease.
Yoga for disease prevention and general health
Bill Mitchell, M.D., a general practitioner, yoga instructor, and adjunct faculty member at Bastyr University in Seattle, recommends yoga to his patients for general vitality, or to “tonify the vital force,” he says.
Mitchell prescribes yoga to patients who suffer from degenerative conditions and chronic diseases such as arthritis, cancer, and heart disease.
“I use yoga carefully,” he says. “I don’t want to flare the condition.” For example, Mitchell’s arthritic patients, who range in age from forty-five to seventy-five years old, may begin with a simple yoga sequence of ten moves. Eventually patients may work up through twenty different sequences that become increasingly more difficult. Even for patients who can’t sit on the floor, yoga has a place, he says. Some of his older patients will begin with neck circles and simple stretches in a chair. Yoga’s stretching and strengthening movements tone muscles and remove the joint stiffness that accompanies arthritis.
Aside from the many physical benefits, yoga gives patients suffering from degenerative and chronic diseases a renewed sense of vigor and purpose in their lives, says Mitchell. “Yoga is very personally empowering. Their life takes on more meaning by being proactive in their program. They have more control,” he says.
Yoga for older students
Francina works specifically with older beginning students. These students have the best attendance record and the highest motivation level, she says. Students come to her classes for many conditions, including menopause and osteoporosis. Yoga is a superior form of weight-bearing exercise, distributing weight equally throughout the body, she says. By supporting their own body weight, yoga students are building strength and reducing their risk of osteoporosis.
The poses and breathing exercises of yoga restore health and vitality to all levels of the body, mind, and soul, says Francina. “Yoga addresses all of the common health concerns of those of us at midlife and older,” she says. “Without proper exercise, the body contracts and we lose height, strength, and flexibility. Yoga exercises reverse the aging process by moving each joint in the body through its full range of motion–stretching, strengthening, and balancing each part.”
Help for heart disease
Yoga may also play a role in preventing heart disease. Noel Bairey Merz, M.D., a cardiologist at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, considers yoga a therapy and recommends it wholeheartedly to her coronary heart disease patients, who range in age from twenty to ninety years old. In addition to yoga, Bairey Merz suggests a vegetarian diet, moderate aerobic exercise, and group support classes to her patients, who she says are satisfied with the results. Yoga benefits the autonomic nervous system (the nerves to the heart and blood vessels), thereby reducing the risk of heart disease, she says.
Find the best herbal research
If you do your own research on herbs, where should you start? How do you sort through the plethora of sources to determine which are reputable and most useful to you? Herbs for Health asked experts in the field for tips.
Many people don’t realize that they can begin to gather basic information from books at the local library, says Mindy Green, director of educational resources at the Herb Research Foundation in Boulder, Colorado. Another place to begin research is at a health-food store, where you can find various publications. Quite often, clerks’ basic training will cover herbal medicine and they’ll be able to answer some questions about herbs, magazines, and books, says Green. The source many people turn to is the Internet, but websites “more often than not contain marketing information” that may not be reliable, says Green.
How then do you know which Internet information to trust? Herbs for Health lead editorial adviser Steven Foster recommends using sites from the Herb Research Foundation, the American Botanical Council, and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (see “Recommended websites” at right). Most of these sites provide information that is useful and easily understandable. If you have a strong interest in scientific literature and the clinical aspects of herbal medicine, you can obtain studies from the sites of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and the American Botanical Council, or Jim Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. For a fee, you can also order information packets or scientific articles from several sites listed.
There are hundreds of websites with poor information, says Foster. “In doing general searches on herbs on the World Wide Web, be careful of advocacy literature produced by somebody who has a consumer interest in the product,” he says. Many sites may be dominated by such marketing information. Some sites provide useful information as well as marketing literature, Foster adds, but readers should be cautious and aware of the section of the site they are in and whether it is basic information or an advertisement.
In evaluating research, determine whether it is generated by a company or done independently, says Roy Upton, executive director of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia. “It’s okay if a company funds the research, but it should be done in an independent university for it to have a higher level of credibility,” he says. Research can be hard for the average consumer to understand if it has been done on animals and then applied to humans, or if the route of administration in the research is different from that used by people, or if readers are not familiar with the scientific concepts and language involved.
When deciding which herbal products to use, be aware that quality varies greatly. Seek advice from herbalists or check with the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), the leading organization establishing quality-control standards for herbal medicine. “A lot of the products showing up in the mass market are made by companies that haven’t been in the business long, and they many not know how to meet quality standards,” says Upton. He suggests calling AHPA at (301) 588-1171 to find out if a particular company is a member.
Above all, say the experts, be wary of extravagant claims and accounts of miraculous healing. And if you seek advice from a practitioner, stay engaged in the process of learning, questioning, and observing.
Help for rheuma-toid arthritis
Researchers from Greece- and Boston-based medical centers have found that a high intake of olive oil and cooked vegetables in the diet may help protect against rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In the studies, patients with lower intake levels of olive oil were 2.5 times more likely to develop RA than those who consumed higher amounts nearing 43 grams per day. Those who ate 2.9 servings a day of cooked vegetables were 75 percent less likely to develop the disease than those who consumed less than one daily serving.
Cinnamon kills bacteria
New research has shown that cinnamon is a powerful protector against E. coli, the bacteria that causes 10,000 to 20,000 cases of food-borne illness each year in the United States. Microbiologists at Kansas State University contaminated samples of apple juice with 1 million E. coli bacteria (about 100 times the number of bacteria usually found in con-taminated food). They discovered that 1 teaspoon of cinnamon powder killed 99.5 percent of the bacteria in the juice in three days. Researchers deducted that cinnamon would also have anti-microbial effects on other food-borne illnesses.
Pomegranate for heart health
Tired of hearing everyone sing the praises of red wine for heart health? Israeli researchers have found that pomegranates may have even more heart-protective potential than grapes. A recent study showed that pomegranate wine and oil contain a higher level of flavonoids (antioxidant plant compounds) than red wine–and pomegranate products have nearly the flavonoid level of green tea. Also, unfermented pomegranate juice was found more effective than grape juice for disease-fighting benefits.
Echinacea for athletes
Athletes may want to think about adding echinacea to their training regimen to boost immune function. Triathletes participated in a recent study in which they took 8 ml of the pressed juice of Echinacea purpurea, 43 mg of magnesium, or a placebo for twenty-eight days prior to a race day. No participant taking echinacea developed a cold or missed a training day due to infection. In the magnesium group, the participants missed a total of thirteen days. With the placebo, the group as a whole missed twenty-four days.
Soymilk gets credit for calcium content
Soymilk is comparable to cow’s milk as a source of calcium, according to a new recommendation by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. The panel, which provides the main nutritional guidelines for most Americans, historically has favored dairy over other calcium-rich foods. But be sure to read your product’s label: the amount of calcium per cup of soymilk varies widely, from 80 to 500 mg. For a comparison of the calcium content in various brands of soymilk, visit the Indiana Soybean Board’s website: www.soyfoods.com.
Yogurt helps prevent diarrhea
A recent study indicates that yogurt may help reduce or prevent the most common side effect of antibiotic use: antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD). The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, found that only 9 percent of patients who received yogurt experienced AAD, and their diarrhea lasted only 18 days. On the other hand, 19 percent of patients who didn’t receive yogurt had diarrhea, and it lasted an average of 46 days. The study was conducted on 202 patients, 101 of whom ate 16 oz. of commercial, vanilla-flavored yogurt daily.
Herbs for Health welcomes Constance Grauds, registered pharmacist, to our editorial advisory board.
Name: Constance Grauds
Hometown: San Rafael, California
Occupation: President, Association of Natural Medicine Pharmacists; Assistant Professor of Clinical Pharmacy, University of California at San Francisco; Director, La Selva Conservancy
What is your background?
After about five years as a conventional pharmacist, I began to study nutrition and reacquainted myself with herbs (I had taken a pharmacognosy class in pharmacy school). In 1990, I moved to California and intensified my studies by attending classes and workshops on alternative medicine. Today, the Association of Natural Medicine Pharmacists (www.anmp.org) provides continuing education credits for practicing pharmacists and offers the only professionally recognized certificate program in natural medicines.
How did you become interested in alternative medicine?
When I was working as a pharmacist, I began to notice that many people were not getting better with the prescriptions I was providing them. I remember refilling Mrs. Anderson’s prescription for blood pressure medication. Her doctor had increased her dosage and prescribed an additional medication. If I was supposed to be curing these people, why were they coming back? I began my search for what is healing. Once you open the door beyond surgery and drugs, it doesn’t take long to understand there are holistic principles going on.
Advice to those considering alternative therapies:
If you’re not getting the desired results from your therapy as it stands now, consider taking the journey into other alternative modalities. Not every therapy works for every person all the time, including pharmaceuticals. What have you got to lose? It’s a grand adventure!
Constance Grauds in an herbal market in Iquitos, Peru.
Elder flower champagne
This light, nonalcoholic beverage is perfect to make in the late spring or early summer, when the elder flowers are blooming. The flowers have a delicate, sweet scent and taste.
5 elder flower heads
2 lemons, sliced
4 quarts water
11/2 pounds granulated sugar
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Place the flowers and lemons in a clean bucket, and cover with water. Soak overnight. Add the sugar and vinegar, and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let the mixture sit for four days, then strain and pour into clean screw-top bottles. Let the bottles sit in a cool place for one week. When the champagne is ready, it should be clear and sparkling. Serve cool. The champagne keeps for two to three months.
New project hopes to boost African herbal economy
Agribusiness in Sustainable Natural African Plant Products
(A-SNAPP), a three-year collaborative project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, brings together the Herb Research Foundation (HRF), Purdue University of West Lafayette, Indiana, and the Agricultural Research Council. Dedicated to fostering economic growth for African farmers through the production of high-quality natural products, A-SNAPP is well on its way to metamorphosing Africa into a viable botanical force.
“We want to put Africa on the map as a botanicals supplier. With rain forests, mountaintops, and deserts, they can grow just about anything,” says Rob McCaleb, president of the HRF.
According to McCaleb, the HRF assesses what these African farmers can grow by evaluating factors such as climate and access to seaports, electricity, and fuel. Then they compare this information with the needs of herb manufacturers–everything from medicinal herbs to aromatics to food ingredients. In addition to boosting local economies, increasing the job market, and providing better access to herbal remedies for those living in Africa, this program also benefits the world market by making high-quality, pesticide-free plants plentiful and available.
In Madagascar, cinnamon collectors are learning alternatives to the traditional method of collection–cutting down mature trees and stripping the bark. Instead, they’re being taught to clear competing underbrush from previously deforested areas to encourage growth of young trees. In South Africa, some former sugarcane farmers are now growing hibiscus flowers (Hibiscus sabdariffa), a crop they’ve never harvested before. In just one year, they are reporting a higher income than from any other crop they’ve ever grown. A-SNAPP is also encouraging farmers to grow and market rooibos (Aspalathus linearis), buchu (Agathosma betulina), and devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens), among others.
So what happens at the end of the three years? “We’re setting up a sustainable finance program to keep this going. . . I like to think big,” says McCaleb. “My long-term goal is to have Africa producing 20 percent of the world’s supply of botanicals.”
For more information, contact the Herb Research Foundation, 1007 Pearl St., Ste. 200, Boulder, CO 80302; (303) 449-2265; www.herbs.org.
Revive yourself from mental fatigue
Mental fatigue is a common problem for many people. Too much work, a stressful lifestyle, or the rigors of an ongoing mundane drill can all cause our minds to lose focus. A brief period of relaxing meditation, combined with aromatherapy, is one of the best ways to refresh your mind.
Try to create a time every day just for you. Even if only for five or ten minutes, dedicate a slot of time during the day or evening for recharging your mind. Eventually, you will begin to crave this time of day to be refueled. Try the following tips to quiet your mind and revitalize your senses.
Find a quiet, comfortable area. This could be your bedroom, a sunroom, or a corner of your living room.
Make the space unique to your tastes. Fill it with fresh flowers and giant, inviting pillows. Use dim lighting.
Fill the space with live plants. Try fresh pine, rosemary, basil, or any plants with an aroma you find uplifting.
Prepare your body for rejuvenation. Dilute one to two drops of peppermint oil in a teaspoon of vegetable oil. Place a dab of the oil on your temples, being careful to not get the oil too close to your eyes. Other good essential oils for mental clarity are bergamot, eucalyptus, cypress, coriander, lemon, and rose. Choose the one, or a combination, you like best.
Assume a comfortable position. Settle into your meditative space. Feel the warmth of the sun in your breath as you deeply inhale and then exhale. Steal the energy from the sunlight, and feel it invigorate your being with every breath.
No time for meditation? Try bringing the essential oils and live plants into your office, and take a few minutes to inhale their fragrance when your mind begins to feel tired.
Alternative cancer study
Pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive forms of cancer, with most of its victims dying from the disease just five to eight months after diagnosis. So, when the results of an alternative therapy pilot study by Nicholas J. Gonzalez, M.D., became known to the medical profession, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) paid attention.
After learning that nine out of eleven patients survived one year and four of them survived three years on Gonzalez’s pilot program, the NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine decided to fund $1.4 million for his research project. The project is sponsored by the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at Columbia University and backed by the National Cancer Institute.
Gonzalez’s alternative method of treatment includes specialized organic diets, an extensive supplement regimen, and detoxification procedures catered specifically to each individual. Patients may be asked to take up to 150 pills daily including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Up to seventy of those pills are pancreatic enzymes (from pigs) that are imported from New Zealand. To rid the body of toxins, Gonzalez’s patients use coffee enemas and liver flushes (juice fasts).
Patients do best when they are passionate about the therapy.
The NIH had originally hoped that Gonzalez could conduct a randomized study in which interested participants would be randomly assigned to receive either the alternative therapy or chemotherapy; however, out of 200 people interested in participating, 197 of them refused any chemotherapy. Therefore, the NIH has decided to de-randomize the study so that people who want the alternative therapy will receive it. Gonzalez says that this reclassification will not lessen the value of his results.
“Patients do the best when they are passionate about the therapy they are receiving,” says Gonzalez. “Their beliefs are important and should not be eliminated.”
For more information on the program, visit Gonzalez’s website at www.dr-gonzalez.com.
The latest news on heart health
Several studies concerning heart health have been published in recent months. Here’s a roundup of the information found in the research.
• Red clover. A small study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism suggests that isoflavones (a group of phytoestrogens) from red clover may improve elasticity of the arteries in menopausal women, thus lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.
• Beans. A four-year study involving more than 1,000 women cites a “very significant relationship” between increased phytoestrogen levels in the blood and lower total cholesterol. The study, conducted by researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, also found a relationship between the compounds and the ability of arteries to dilate. Phytoestrogens are found in beans such as soybeans and chickpeas, as well as red clover.
• Vitamin E. Many studies suggest that vitamin E may reduce oxidation in blood vessels, but a large clinical trial called the Heart Outcomes Prevention Evaluation Study was unable to reproduce the effect in 9,500 men and women at risk for cardiac problems. Whether vitamin E prevents heart disease in healthy people or may need to be combined with other antioxidants for the protective effect remains to be proven. Talk to your health-care provider about whether vitamin E is appropriate for you.
• Balding. Results from the Physician’s Health Study, conducted over an eleven-year period on more than 22,000 male doctors, found a correlation between hair loss and heart disease, perhaps because of the impact of higher levels of androgens in the bloodstream. Baldness at the top of the head was most strongly associated with coronary heart disease in men with high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. The findings support those of earlier studies.
By The Herb Companion staff