Q and A: Improve Your General Well-Being

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By Steven Foster
Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum) have been shown to reduce the effects of autoimmune conditions.

I am a 50-year-old female, about 5′ 3″ and 120 pounds. My general well-being has been greatly diminished in the last couple of years; I feel very sluggish, very tired, not motivated and have many aches and pains. My lymph glands often swell. My diet is terrible and I often don’t eat very much. I also drink no more than 16 ounces of liquid a day. I don’t see a doctor very often; the most they’ve ever said is that I possibly have an autoimmune disorder, arthritis, etc. The only thing that ever showed up in my blood work was a low white and red blood cell count.
Via e-mail

Khalsa Responds: Your situation is so typical of the state of modern living. The symptoms you describe might or might not turn out to be related, but I’m betting that they are. These problems are just the extreme versions of today’s human condition–stressed, anxious, sleep-deprived and undernourished. Some people are using the apt term “chronic subclinical everything syndrome”–a reflection of the American lifestyle.

You’re not yet quite sick enough to get an official diagnosis of a “disease,” but you clearly are not well. You might eventually get a diagnosis like fibromyalgia syndrome, but that refers to a collection of symptoms, much like what you are describing now, and there is no medical cure, anyway. These complex syndromes resist simple classification and must be treated holistically, with an eye toward restoring the balance of the entire body.

I know you are frustrated by your experiences with conventional physicians, but please do not ignore your situation. Without help, it will only get worse. Consider seeking out a practitioner of alternative medicine in your area. She can help you methodically untangle this conundrum.

You should certainly eat a good diet and drink more clean water. Confusing situations like yours is where Asian herbal concepts can also help. Asian systems of herbalism have a category called tonics, which are broad-acting, nutritive and balancing herbs that are quite safe and usually produce some benefit for nearly everyone who takes them. One such herb is ashwaganda root (Withania somnifera), which is tailor-made for cases like yours.

Sometimes named “winter cherry,” ashwaganda is the main tonic herb in Ayurveda. It is a “grounding” herb–one that nourishes and regulates metabolic processes and stabilizes mood.

Tonic herbs are broad-acting, nutritive, balancing and very safe.

Ayurvedic herbalism applies ashwaganda for general debility and exhaustion, emaciation, memory loss, nerve diseases, cough, anemia and insomnia. Modern clinicians employ it for chronic fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, and chronic heart and vascular disorders, where it often is combined with arjuna bark (Terminalia arjuna).

In a double-blind clinical trial, ashwaganda (3 grams daily for one year) was tested on the aging process of 101 healthy adults (ages 50 to 59). Significant improvements in hemoglobin and red blood cells were observed, which is relevant for you. Ashwaganda also is one of the most promising herbs for building overall health. A scientific article from 2000 by Los Angeles researchers lists a host of confirmed benefits, including anti-inflammatory, antitumor, antistress, antioxidant, immunomodulatory and rejuvenating properties. Many studies confirm the stress tolerance-, performance- and endurance-enhancing benefits of this herb.

Ashwaganda doses are about 1 gram a day, taken over many years, but because it is so safe, larger quantities often are used short-term in Ayurveda. In your case, an effective dose is 10 grams a day. Ashwaganda often is given with pungent, heating herbs (ginger, pepper, etc.) to increase its tonic effects.

Chinese dong quai root (Angelica sinensis) is another blood- and energy-building herb, especially for women who are fatigued, pale, anemic and in poor overall health. In fact, the Chinese name means “return to proper order.” In Chinese herbalism, you are the typical patient who would benefit from dong quai.

Dong quai is classified as being sweet, pungent and mildly warming, with specific strengthening benefits for the heart and liver–a blood tonic and blood mover. Therapeutically, its main function is to build and regulate the blood throughout the body. It is used to treat anemia and has a high iron and vitamin B12 content. Use dong quai in capsules or tea at 10 grams daily to bring things back to balance.

Willard Responds: Unfortunately, this is the health condition of far too many Americans today. You have undoubtedly heard that old saying from the ’70s, “You are what you eat.” Well, it still applies decades later–maybe even more so. Of course you will feel sluggish if you don’t feed your body good nutritious food and plenty of clean water. Although there are several botanicals that will help you feel better, a magic pill–herbal or pharmaceutical–will not help you in the long run. To feel full of life, you need a lifestyle change, and that starts with your diet.

For your type of condition, it is best to start with a detoxification cleanse and then adapt a suitable long-term diet. There are many types of detoxification programs on the market. I have witnessed thousands of people at the first stage of the aches and pains of arthritis, or autoimmune disorders, being relieved by a simple cleanse. This cleanse should be done for at least 10 days. Along with the cleanse, drink at least eight to 10 glasses of pure water daily to aid in flushing out the toxins. After you finish the detoxification program, stay on a simple diet of fresh vegetables, grains, eggs and a small amount of fish or meat, if desired. Your long-term diet should be similar to the diet you used during the cleansing period.

A detoxification cleanse followed by a long-term healthier diet will help stabilize the body. For added benefit, incorporate moderate exercise into your routine. Simply walking one or two miles, three times a week, really can invigorate the body.

After beginning your more nutritious diet, take one to three digestive enzymes (available at health-food stores) with each meal, depending on the size and density of the meal, to help you digest your food properly.

Both reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) and cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis) mushrooms have been shown to reduce the effects of autoimmune conditions. Reishi also helps regulate mood, allowing a person to feel more stable. Cordyceps increases energy and endurance. You should take two capsules of each, twice daily.

Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) has been used as an adaptogen and energy producer with solid scientific backing for more than 40 years. It helps one deal with stress, while giving a person deeper levels of endurance. Rhodiola has been used by athletes to give them a competitive advantage. In your case, it will aid in reducing the sluggishness and help your blood chemistry stabilize. The dosage is two capsules, twice daily.

The botanicals mentioned will help you have a more vigorous life, but don’t forget that lifestyle changes, diet and exercise are equally important.

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