Q & A: Cycling Herb Dosages

| March/April 2000

I’ve been told that an herbal remedy should not be taken over long periods because it reduces its effectiveness and that it should be taken for several weeks, then not taken for a week or two. Does this apply to all herbs? In particular, I’m wondering about wild yam, vitex and black cohosh for easing PMS and menopausal problems.
—T. B. Littleton, CO 

Gladstar responds: If one observes nature, our greatest teacher, one sees that everything is cyclic. In accordance with this cyclic pattern, herbs, even those that have no harmful side effects, are best taken in cycles. Tonic herbs are generally taken in a rotational cycle; these herbs are classified as “superior medicine” by the Chinese because they are safe, gentle and meant to be used over a prolonged period. The cycle often suggested for tonics is five days on and two days off. This cycle can be repeated as long as necessary because there are no side effects or contraindications for long-term use.

Some herbs, especially those with specific medicinal actions or herbs rich in alkaloids, do have contraindications and may have side effects if used for prolonged periods of time. One should definitely observe a rotating cycle followed by a rest period to avoid any harmful side effects.

Other herbs such as echinacea (Echinacea spp.) seem to lose their effectiveness if used for prolonged periods. Echinacea may still stimulate the immune system, but will do so with less pizzazz. Studies show that it maximizes after roughly five days, so the suggested cycle with echinacea is five days on, two days off, repeating the cycle as needed. With the use of the herbs you mentioned, a five-day-on, two-day-off cycle for four to six months would be appropriate.

Stansbury responds: Herbs generally do not lose their effectiveness over time. It’s more likely that they will become irritating or simply unnecessary when taken too frequently, for too long a duration, and at too high a dosage. Extensive herbal knowledge and refined prescribing are the keys to success.

When well indicated and selected, many herbs should be taken daily for many months for best effects. Examples of this are Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng)­­ to improve vitality, ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) to improve memory, and milk thistle (Silybum marianum) to support liver function.

7/29/2016 3:45:54 AM

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