Q and A: Herbs that Improve Health and Help Quit Smoking.

Expert answers to your health questions on smoking

| March/April 2004

  • Lobelia may help reduce nicotine cravings.
  • Lobelia may help reduce nicotine cravings.
  • Lobelia may help reduce nicotine cravings.

Q: My husband wants to quit smoking. Do you have any input on what herbs we should look into?

                             - R.S., Chico, California

A: Stansbury responds: Hooray for quitting smoking! While no one can say herbs make it easy, some wonderful herbs can help the lungs recover. Consider teas of mullein (Verbascum spp.), oats (Avena sativa), calendula (Calendula officinalis), licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) and elecampane (Inula helenium). Any favorite flavors can be added; try spearmint (Mentha spicata), chamomile (Matricaria recutita) or hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa). I suggest teas because it will be helpful to have some sort of oral distraction other than cigarettes. Create a pleasant ritual of tea drinking — drink a delicious tea blend from a favorite cup, and light a candle instead of lighting up. Because it’s easier to adopt new habits than quit old ones, consider other new activities, in addition to the teas. Perhaps exercise or practice deep-breathing exercises instead of a cigarette break, or learn to play a musical instrument. Because many people gain weight after giving up tobacco, having tea and exercise practices will reduce the temptation to eat more and will support a healthy metabolism.

Some practitioners suggest taking the bronchodilating herb lobelia (Lobelia inflata) because it binds nicotinic receptors in the lungs in a manner similar to nicotine and is said to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Lobelia can be helpful, particularly when combined with the relaxing herbs mentioned below, but don’t expect it to make withdrawal simple. Also, too much lobelia is harsh on the stomach and can produce nausea.

Relaxing herbs (sometimes called nervines) are a useful complement to the lung herbs. Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) and valerian (Valeriana officinalis) can help reduce the tension and anxiety some people experience as they reduce nicotine use.

Willard responds: To quit smoking, you’ll need to address both the emotional and physical addiction. The most important herb to use is lobelia. One of the major constituents of lobelia is lobeline, which binds up nicotinic receptor sites in the body. This reduces the craving for nicotine, as the physical desire for nicotine is blocked. By reducing the chemical craving you are halfway toward stopping smoking.



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