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Herbal helpers for women over 50

MagazineDecember 2010 (Vol. 21 Issue 9)Herbal helpers for women over 50

Never use Arnica internally unless it's dispensed in a homeopathic potency, as it has toxic effects on the liver and kidneys

Arnica montana
(wolfsbane)

Never use Arnica internally unless it's dispensed in a homeopathic potency, as it has toxic effects on the liver and kidneys. It can also cause gastrointestinal irritation if taken undiluted (Brinker F. Herb Contraindications & Drug Interactions, 3rd edn. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications, 2001: 31-2; see also www.eclecticherb. com/emp). The Arnica tablets sold over-the-counter (OTC) at many pharmacies come from manufacturing pharmacies such as Nelsons or Weleda, and have undergone processes to have such toxicity removed, so they can safely be taken as advised by the packaging, without the guidance of a homeopath. There should be no side-effects or contraindications.

Arnica tablets can reduce bruises and contusions, as can suitably diluted Arnica creams [Schilcher H, Kammerer S. Leitfaden Phytother-apie, 3 aufl (Guide to Phytotherapy, 3rd edn). Munich, Jena: Urban & Fischer Verlag, 2010: 30-2]. Indeed, virtually every cosmetic and plastic surgeon in London's Harley Street recommends taking Arnica before and after surgery by their middle-aged patients to minimize the severe bruising that is inevitable after such surgery.

Hawthorn
(Crataegus oxyacantha)

With the reduced oestrogen in postmenopausal women comes an increased risk of heart problems. Women aged over 50 then suddenly run the same risks of atherosclerosis, hyper-tension and congestive heart failure as do men.

However, hawthorn has proved to have numerous beneficial actions on the heart and cardiovascular system. It can regulate heart rhythm through its anti-arrhythmia actions, and dilate the coronary arteries, thereby reducing the chances of heart attack. It can also increase the blood supply to the heart. Furthermore, hawthorn can lower systolic pressure (the first number in a blood pressure reading), which is especially beneficial in people over 50, who have the highest risk of isolated systolic hypertension (ISH). If left untreated, ISH can lead to heart disease, stroke and dementia. The herb also improves low blood pressure, which can lead to dangerous sudden fainting episodes (McKenna DJ et al. Botanical Medicines: The Desk Reference for Major Herbal Supplements, 2nd edn. London, Oxford & NY: The Haworth Press, 2002: 659-70). However, those taking beta-blockers for blood pressure should know that hawthorn may cause a slight rise in diastolic blood pressure (the second number in a blood pressure reading).

Hawthorn used with garlic powder protects the heart, liver and pancreas against damage from isoprenaline, a bronchodilator known to have a powerful stimulant effect on the heart and cardiovascular system. Taken with adenylic acid, the herb enhances the action of digoxin, prescribed for cardiac and coronary insuffic-iencies. When used as an alcoholic extract (4:1 ratio), it inhibits the arterial contractions induced by phenylephrine (Brinker, op. cit., pp 118).

St John's wort

(Hypericum perforatum)

This herb has been in continuous recorded use as a natural medicine since the days before Hippocrates (ca. 460-ca. 370 BC).
Although best known nowadays for its anti-depressant effects, it's also known to promote wound-healing, and can inhibit protein kinase C, which has the beneficial effect of preventing the usual diabetic vascular complications of nephropathy, retinopathy and neuropathy. In addition, St John's wort has antiviral activity, coronary vasodilatory effects, painkilling (analgesic) and liver-protective effects, and can help against sleep disturbances by boosting melatonin synthesis (McKenna, op. cit., pp 923-71).

However, this herb should not be used in pregnancy, prior to sun exposure or solarium therapy, or ultraviolet light therapy, or in those with endogenous (genetic) depression-especially in those cases with psychotic symp-toms or high suicidal risk.
St John's wort can have interactions with nefazodone, sertraline, trazodone, fluoxetine, paroxetine, indinavir, warfarin, phenopro-coumon, reserpine, protease inhibitors, theophylline (requires a 250-per-cent increase in the daily dose of St John's wort to maintain effectiveness), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), midazolam and naloxone, as well as with photosensitizers (causing light sensitivity) such as piroxicam and tetracycline. Prior to surgery, it may interact adversely with anaes-thetics (so the anaesthetist should always be informed when St John's wort has been taken) (Brinker, op. cit., pp 178-84).

For mild-to-moderate depression, thera-peutic doses of the herb extract are 300-900 mg/day, and up to 1800 mg/day for more severely depressed patients. The extract should be standardized at 0.3-per-cent hypericin.

Harald Gaier

WDDTY VOL. 21 ISSUE 7


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