Ask the experts: answers to your questions from the leaders in natural medicine - Relieve Poison Ivy Itching - Habits for a Healthy Heart - Hiding Anorexia - Dry Your Own Herbs - Is Calcium Bad for My Prostate Health? - Yoga for Weight Loss? - Ayurvedic Herbs for Lupus - Conception Help - Quick Tips
Natural Health, Sept, 2001
RELIEVE POISON IVY ITCHING
I often get a poison ivy rash. I've used hydrocortisone creams and calamine lotion, but they only relieve my symptoms minimally. What can I do?
LAUREL VUKOVIC REPLIES: I consider myself lucky to have never had a poison ivy or poison oak reaction, but I have had plenty of opportunities to test various remedies on friends who have. My first choice for treating either rash is the herb grindelia (Grindelia camporum), also known as gumweed. The liquid extract contains resins and tannins that help to relieve pain and itching. Dab the extract on the affected area at least four times a day.
If you can't find gumweed in your local store, instead apply a poultice of cosmetic clay, aloe vera juice (Aloe vera), and peppermint essential oil (Mentha piperita) to the rash. Clay helps dry the rash to promote faster healing, aloe vera heals skin, and peppermint oil is cooling and temporarily relieves itching. Mix together 2 tablespoons of cosmetic clay with enough aloe vera juice to make a thin, spreadable paste, and blend in 2 drops of peppermint essential oil. Spread this mixture onto the rash and let it dry. Leave it on for several hours and let it flake off or wash it off. Reapply as needed.
Habits for a Healthy Heart
I have suffered a stroke and have an irregular heartbeat. My doctor put me on medication, so I stopped taking vitamins and herbs to avoid interactions. Can diet help keep my heart strong?
CAROLYN DEAN, M.D., N.D., REPLIES:
You don't always have to avoid herbs and other supplements when taking medication. Supplements can improve your condition so you can cut back on the amount of medication you're using. However, you need to work with both a naturopath and a conventional physician to develop a safe plan for tapering your drug doses safely.
As far as your diet is concemed, the most common nutritional reason for atrial fibrillation (or irregular heartbeat) is a magnesium deficiency; to find out if you're deficient, ask your doctor to perform a red blood cell magnesium test. Magnesium regulates your heart beat and relaxes your heart muscle. If your levels are low, not only might you experience side effects like fatigue and twitching, but the medication you're taking might not work as well. Ironically, your heart medications may be contributing to your magnesium deficiency by flushing the mineral from your body. White sugar, white flour, coffee, and alcohol may also contribute to magnesium depletion.
Yet the biggest reason magnesium levels are often low in the body is that fruits and vegetables our main sources of magnesium--are typically grown in mineral-depleted soil. Avoid this problem by buying organic produce (organic farmers tend to use mineral fertilizers).
Certain foods can strengthen your heart and help prevent another stroke; they include almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds and other seeds, legumes, alfalfa sprouts, onions, oat bran, wheat germ, herring, mackerel, salmon, and sardines. Eat at least one serving of several of these foods daily. In addition, use heart-healthy cooking oils like olive oil and flaxseed oil, and get plenty of bioflavonoids (found in bell peppers and oranges, for example), which help heal blood vessels. Also, avoid trans fatty acids found in hydrogenated oils (like stick margarine and vegetable shortening), which clog arteries, thereby weakening your heart and increasing your risk of stroke.
My teenager just became vegan. She's now very thin, and I'm concerned she has an eating disorder. What can I do?
ADRIANE FUGH-BERMAN, M.D., REPLIES:
There's nothing unhealthy about veganism (eliminating all animal products from the diet), as long as anyone following this diet consumes the recommended daily amounts of calories, protein, and vitamin [B.sub.12]. You are quite right, however, that some people use veganism to hide anorexia nervosa (popularly known as anorexia).
I assume your daughter is underweight, not just thin. The hallmarks of anorexia are a bodyweight less than 85 percent of the recommended level, a disturbed body image, a fear of becoming fat, and an absence of menstrual periods for at least three months. Have a health care practitioner help determine if your daughter is actually anorexic. If she is diagnosed with an eating disorder, communication will be key. Eating disorders are psychological disorders, and she will need support. Individual or group psychotherapy as well as family therapy can help. Depression and eating disorders overlap, so doctors often prescribe antidepressant drugs. (I don't recommend natural antidepressants in this case. They have not been studied for treating anorexia. Conventional antidepressants have.) Hospitalization may be necessary. For more information, call Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders at 541-344-1144 or visit www.anred.com.
Dry Your Own Herbs
Once I've gathered herbs from my garden, what's the best way to dry them for use in teas?
LAUREL VUKOVIC REPLIES: When drying herbs you want to retain the flavor and medicinal properties of the fresh plant, so harvest them at their peak. Pick flowers like chamomile (Matricaria recutita) when they just open, gather fruits such as elderberry (Sambucus nigra) when they're ripe but not soft, and harvest leaves like peppermint (Mentha piperita) anytime they look vigorous. Dig roots such as burdock (Arctium lappa) in the fall after the plant has died back, and pick seed heads like fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) when the seeds are barely ripe, leaving at least one foot of stem for hanging the plant to dry. Harvest on a dry day, and gather plants early in the morning.
Wash dirty plants and gently dry them. Bundle leafy or small flowering herbs together in small bunches and secure them with a rubber band; hang them upside down in a warm, dry place out of direct sunlight. Place seed heads in a paper bag and hang them upside down by the stems; the seeds will fall out as they ripen and dry. Scrub roots and then slice them into thin pieces. Spread root slices, flowers, or berries in a single layer on a flat basket, screen, or tray lined with paper. Set them in a warm, dry, well-ventilated area, and turn them over daily. Air-drying takes at least one week.
If you live in a humid climate, dry your herbs in an oven on the lowest temperature. You should leave the oven door slightly open to allow moisture to escape, and check them every 30 minutes; drying can take several hours.
Once dried, herbs should be stored in tightly lidded glass jars in a dark, cool place.
Is Calcium Bad for My Prostate Health?
I just heard of a study linking calcium, especially from nonfat milk, and prostate cancer. Should I lower my intake of this mineral ?
ROBERT ANDERSON, M.D., REPLIES: The theory that milk may increase your risk of prostate cancer has been around for 20 years. Early research pointed to its fat content as the culprit, but this has been largely disproved, since lowfat milks seem to carry risk as well, as you mention.
Research in the last four years has shown that the problem may be a high calcium intake, from milk, foods, and supplements. The study you cite, which was published in the Alternative Medicine Review in 1999, concluded that calcium and nonfat milk appear to be the highest dietary risk factors for prostate cancer. Though experts aren't sure what's causing the association, calcium in any form may suppress your body's ability to make a form of vitamin D that is linked with lower rates of prostate cancer. It's not clear, however, just what level of calcium consumption increases the risk of prostate cancer, although a study published in Cancer Research in 1998 found that consuming more than 2,000 mg a day significantly increased rates of advanced prostate cancer.
My best advice is to get the amount of calcium appropriate for your age. Men age 35 to 65 should consume 1,000 mg daily. Men older than 65 should get about 1,500 mg daily. Consider meeting your target with nondairy sources, given this latest study as well as the widespread incidence of allergies to cow's milk and lactose intolerance. Calcium-rich foods include turnip greens, collards, parsley, kale, Brazil nuts, and almonds. About four to five servings of them will provide 1,000 mg of calcium.
I would also urge you not to panic over these types of studies. Other research shows that calcium only marginally increases the risk of prostate cancer. And a number of foods appear to reduce prostate cancer risk, including green and cruciferous vegetables, beans, nuts, fish, and tomatoes. Eating lots of these foods will help to balance out the risk of calcium, if further studies confirm it to be a problem.
Yoga for Weight Loss?
I'm looking to lose weight. Which form of yoga would be best for me?