Archive for December, 2008

An interesting comment posted to my blog in response to my post “Feeling the Blues?” and it got me to thinkin’.  Sometimes that’s a dangerous thing, but I think this thought might be a good one!

I often forget when I’m writing these posts that you all haven’t done the same research as I have.  I forget that it has taken me over a decade of frequent and intense studying to come to the conclusions that I have about herbs and their benefits.  In my attempt to share my information with you all in a limited amount of time and space, I’m afraid I’m guilty of skimming over many things because I accept them as fact and I fail to keep in mind that they are really only opinions.

So, in an attempt to remedy this oversight, I’m writing this post.

Once more, for the record, here is the warning that is posted in various forms on my website, my Etsy profile and in several of my blog posts:

Warning:  Please consult a physician before consuming any type of herb or flower, as many of them will interfere with medications.  While we at Tamara’s are careful to use only those herbs considered safe, it is always possible that someone will have a negative reaction.  Please be advised that I am not a medical doctor and am not licensed to give medical advice.  None of the products suggested have been approved by the FDA and none of the information contained in any of these posts is meant to diagnose or treat any type of illness. Always consult your healthcare advisor before taking any herbs in any form for any reason.

Okay, now that we have that out of the way…

Here is the comment (in its entirety) that got me to thinking about all of this:

“St. John’s wort has only been proven slightly more effective at treating mild to moderate depression than placebo. It had no effect on severe depression.
The following is taken from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s website. http://nccam.nih.gov/

*St. John’s wort may cause increased sensitivity to sunlight. Other side effects can include anxiety, dry mouth, dizziness, gastrointestinal symptoms, fatigue, headache, or sexual dysfunction.
*Research shows that St. John’s wort interacts with some drugs. The herb affects the way the body processes or breaks down many drugs; in some cases, it may speed or slow a drug’s breakdown. Drugs that can be affected include:
*Birth control pills
*Cyclosporine, which prevents the body from rejecting transplanted organs
*Digoxin, which strengthens heart muscle contractions
*Indinavir and possibly other drugs used to control HIV infection
*Irinotecan and possibly other drugs used to treat cancer
*Warfarin and related anticoagulants
*When combined with certain antidepressants, St. John’s wort may increase side effects such as nausea, anxiety, headache, and confusion.

There you go. Only one of the herbs you use to treat depression and it’s just as dangerous as the two medications you showed.
While I’m all for alternative medicine, it’s important for people to know all the facts. The herbs you use may be effective for treating mild to moderate depression in patients taking no other medications, but there still possible dangerous side effects. The key is Talk to your Doctor! Before starting any treatment, natural or not, Talk to your Doctor.”

Now, I have to be honest.  When I first read this comment, my initial reaction was aggravation.  I can’t help it.  Who  likes to be called onto the carpet, after all?  Then, it occurred to me that being called onto the carpet would give me a chance to further my point and perhaps clarify this issue a bit more.

Jozie, the poster of the comment makes several good points.  The website she mentions is one I often use myself.  It has a wealth of information for anyone interested in learning more about alternative health options.

She also points out, as I did in my original post, that St. John’s wort is well known for its ability to interfere with a variety of medications.  It decreases the effectiveness of some drugs and increases the effectiveness of others.  This is true of many other herbs, also.

However, as to the effectiveness of St. John’s wort I can only say, the results vary from study to study.  There are many reasons for this.  With any herb, it is especially difficult to test the effectiveness because each plant will produce a different level of medicinal characteristics.  The strength of the herb used will vary according to growing conditions, harvesting conditions, drying conditions, age of the plant, length of time it has been stored, how it was stored…the list is long.  The truth is, it is darn near impossible to get the exact same level of effectiveness consistently.  So, it’s easy to see why the results of any herbal testing is difficult.

Another thing to consider when testing the effectiveness of herbs is, who is doing the study.  As a general rule, I’ve found that testing by those agencies associated with the government and medical establishment (doctors, hospitals, pharmecuetical companies, etc.) show that most herbs are ineffective.  If the agency doing the testing is funded by those in the natural/alternative establishments, most herbs are shown to be highly effective.

The truth lies right there in the middle.  Herbs and other forms of alternative medicine are exactly like prescription medicines in their effectiveness.  What works a miracle for me may not help you a whit.  The beauty of herbs is, unless you have an allergic reaction, trying new herbs and herbal formulas will yield few, if any, negative short-term effects and even less long-term effects.  In most cases, if the herb doesn’t heal you, it won’t hurt you either.

Just for giggles, here is a link to the results of one study concerning the effectiveness of St. John’s wort against a placebo and a standard treatment drug.  Their results?

Hypericum extracts were significantly superior to placebo (ratio = 2.67; 95% confidence interval 1.78 to 4.01) and similarly effective as standard antidepressants (single preparations 1.10; 0.93 to 1.31, combinations 1.52; 0.78 to 2.94). There were two (0.8%) drop outs for side effects with hypericum and seven (3.0%) with standard antidepressant drugs. Side effects occurred in 50 (19.8%) patients on hypericum and 84 (52.8%) patients on standard antidepressants.”

‘Similarly effective as standard antidepressants’ means it works as well as the common prescriptions for depression.  To further toot the horn of St. John’s wort, only 19.8% of the people studied had adverse side effects vs 52.8% who took the standard antidepressant.  I like those odds much better!

But, we aren’t done, yet.  Let’s take a peek at those side effects.   “…anxiety, dry mouth, dizziness, gastrointestinal symptoms, fatigue, headache, or sexual dysfunction.” Sounds unpleasant.  This is where an experienced herbalist is needed and a perfect example of why you should never take herbs without consulting an experienced practitioner.  A good herbalist knows that St. John’s wort presents these risks.  They will also know that St. John’s wort can be combined with other herbs to counterbalance these adverse effects.  For instance, peppermint will help calm naseau and any gastrointestinal symptoms, as well as headaches, fatigue and sexual dysfunction, as it is a system stimulant.  Ginger, too, will help with gastrointestinal problems.

A good herbalist will also understand that, in a blend of herbs, the dosage of St. John’s wort can be reduced because the other herbs will work in conjuction with it, thereby increasing the anti-depressant/anxiety characteristics while decreasing the risk of negative side effects.  This is not an option with chemically produced prescription medicines.

While it is true that herbs are serious medicine and can produce side effects, the risk is much lower and much easier to manage and counterbalance.  I am still searching for any bit of proof that herbs, when used properly, have caused long-term side effects.  To date, all I’ve come across are short-term side effects that disappear within days of stopping usage.  This is not the case with prescription medicines.

Another point to consider is that, as with all herbs, you have positive side effects, also.  St. John’s wort doesn’t just lend itself to relieving depression and anxiety.  Check out this list of other uses for St. John’s wort:

Psychovegitative disorders, sciatica, viral infections (including Herpes simplex 1 and 2), hepatitis C, influenza, murine cytomegalovirus, poliovirus, bronchitis, asthma, gallbladder disease, nocturnal enuresis, gout, rheumatism, contusions, inflammation, myalgia, burns, hemorrhoids, vitiligo, tonsilitis and dermatoses.

Pretty impressive, huh?

It should also be pointed out that St. John’s wort is the exception in herbal medicine rather than the rule.  It has more adverse effects than most other herbs and a greater effect on prescription medicines than most other herbs.  Perhaps that is simply because it has been studied more than most other herbs…who knows for sure.

When it comes right down to it, though, Jozie is right.  Always consult your healthcare professional before taking any herbs.  Alway consult an herbalist before taking any herbs, also, as they will likely know more about them than your doctor.  Then, go and do a little research on your own.  It is your health…your body.  Know what is going into it.  Don’t take your doctors word or your herbalists word.  Don’t even take my word for it.  There are numerous books, website articles, journals and periodicals that contain a wealth of information on herbs and their benefits and risks.  Read up and decide what is best for you!

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Everyone does at some point.   Let’s face it ~  there are a million things that can trigger it.  Money, marital problems, kid problems, life…

Don’t be in a hurry to trot off to the doctor for a prescription, though.  There are safer methods that are just as effective!  I’m going to tell you about them, of course, but first I’d like to take a look at a couple of the most commonly prescribed medicines for depression.

Let’s start with the most popular of all of them ~ Xanax.  I think I can safely say that everyone has at least heard of this one, if not experienced it for themselves.  It is considered one of the ‘safest’ anti-anxiety meds on the market.  Right.

I wanted to make sure I got the most accurate info about this drug before sharing it with you, so I headed straight to the Pfizer website first, which clearly states that Xanax is “the most prescribed medicine of its kind”.  This is what the company that makes it has to say about it:

“Important Safety Information: XANAX XR should not be used if you are allergic to benzodiazepines, have a condition called acute narrow angle glaucoma, or are taking the anti-fungal medications ketoconazole or itraconazole. XANAX XR is not recommended for use in pregnancy. Therefore, let your doctor know if you are pregnant, if you are planning to become pregnant, or if you become pregnant while you are taking this medication. Let your doctor know if you are nursing.

The most common side effect is sedation, but this often decreases or goes away in most people after their bodies get used to the drug. Until you experience how XANAX XR affects you, do not drive a car or operate potentially dangerous machinery, etc. Other common side effects, which occur in fewer patients, include sleepiness, memory impairment, impaired speech, abnormal coordination and/or muscle action, and reduced sexual drive. Some patients may experience side effects associated with psychological and/or physical dependence on XANAX XR. Medications like XANAX XR, even when used as recommended, may produce psychological and/or physical dependence. This may make it very difficult to discontinue treatment with XANAX XR. Discontinuation symptoms, including the possibility of seizures, may occur following abrupt discontinuation from any dose, but the risk may be increased with extended use at doses greater than 4 mg/day. It is important that you get your doctor’s advice on how to discontinue treatment safely and carefully. Gradually tapering your XANAX XR dose will help to decrease the possibility of discontinuation symptoms.”

The bold text is my doing, but the words are copied and pasted from their website.  Let’s walk through this one together…

First of all, if you are now pregnant or nursing, stay away from this one.  If you are planning to become pregnant, you want to stay away, also.  Becoming pregnant shouldn’t really be a problem if you are taking Xanax, though, as you probably won’t want to have sex while you are on it because it decreases you sex drive.  That’s one problem solved, right?

You might want to avoid driving a car or operating heavy machinery on Xanax, also.  Why?  Well, it could make you a little sleepy.  Okay, a lot sleepy, but that might not be your biggest problem while driving.  The loss of muscle coordination and the inability to remember where you were going should probably be your biggest concerns.  Either way, you might oughtta avoid commandeering a vehicle while taking this med.

Then, we move on to the less dangerous side effect of impaired speech.  Embarrassing…maybe, but not dangerous.  Certainly not as dangerous as the fact that many people become both physically and psychologically addicted to Xanax.

And, did you notice the sentence about discontinuing use?  Seizures.  Hmm.  Intersting.

So, the bottom line is that if you choose to take Xanax, you might not be able to talk properly, control your body, drive a vehicle, get pregnant, desire sex or stay awake, but you won’t be depressed!

Okay, so maybe Xanax isn’t for you.  Maybe something different…

Let’s try Effexor. Again, in an effort to get the most accurate info, I went to the Wyeth website.  I was going to copy and paste their safety info, too, but there was way too much!  Instead, I’ll give you the highlights and you can visit their site on your own for the full message.

“All patients taking antidepressants should be watched closely for signs that their condition is getting worse or that they are becoming suicidal, especially when they first start therapy, or when their dose is increased or decreased. Patients should also be watched for becoming agitated, irritable, hostile, aggressive, impulsive, or restless. Such symptoms should be reported to the patient’s doctor right away.”

So…when you first start out on this one, you might consider hiring someone to come and hang out with you for a week or two in case you start feeling suicidal from the medicine.  Just warn them before hand that you might feel the inexplicable need to beat them senseless…

“Before starting EFFEXOR XR, tell your doctor if you’re taking or plan to take any prescription or over-the-counter drugs, including migraine headache medication, herbal preparations, and nutritional supplements, to avoid a potentially life-threatening condition.”

“Taking EFFEXOR XR with aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, warfarin, or other drugs that affect coagulation may increase the risk of bleeding events.”

Skip the vitamins and avoid the aspirin while taking Effexor, kids.  You just might end up dead.

“EFFEXOR XR may raise blood pressure in some patients.”

“…prolonged dilation of the pupil of the eye) has been reported with EFFEXOR XR”

“In clinical studies, the most common side effects with EFFEXOR XR (reported in at least 10% of patients and at least twice as often as with placebo) were constipation, dizziness, dry mouth, insomnia, loss of appetite, nausea, nervousness, sexual side effects, sleepiness, sweating, and weakness”

Again, you have a choice.  Which do you prefer?  Depression or constipation, dizziness, dry mouth, insomnia, loss of appetite, nausea, nervousness, sexual side effects, sleepiness, sweating, and weakness.  I’m thinking we’ve stumbled upon a no-brainer!

The truth is, I could list another 5 or 10 prescription anti-anxiety/depression drugs, each with a long list like the ones above.  There is nothing safe about any of them.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  And these are just the side effects.  Nothing was said about the extra load it puts on your liver and kidneys, your digestive system, the naturally-occurring chemicals in your brain.  All of this has been conveniently glossed over.

But, if you listen to most doctors you don’t have a safer option.  After all, herbs don’t REALLY work…

Or, they do work but they are so dangerous…

Which is it, do you think?  My answer is neither.  Herbs do work, and when prepared by a knowlegeable herbalist, are extremely safe and effective.

Now, we can take a look at exactly which herbs might be best to treat anxiety and depression.  I have my own formula, of course.  It contains lemon balm, st. john’s wort, ginger, peppermint, white tangerine tea, gingko, vervain and chamomile.  Why did I choose these particular herbs?  Obviously, because they all contain some sedative/anti-anxiety properties.  Some of them are probably familiar to you.  St. Johns wort, gingko, chamomile…these are all common herbs that most of us have tried on at least one occassion.   Their ability to help relieve depression and anxiety are well-discussed and often debated.

Unfortunately, most of them are tested individually.  While I understand the reasoning behind this practice, I don’t agree with it.  Herbs, as I’ve stated many times, are far more effective when used in conjunction with other herbs that enhance each others’ benefits and counteract any negative side effects.  However, even this method of testing herbs has yielded impressive results from St. John’s wort, gingko and chamomile in both the medical and homeopathic realms.   A quick Google search will turn up many studies and their results, so there is no need for me to regurgitate them for you.

Still, you ask, what about side effects?  Well, as with anything, you can be allergic to herbs.  It’s  an unusual occurrence, but it is possible.  Chamomile, for instance, is a member of the ragweed family.  If ragweed sends your allergies skyrocketing, you should probably avoid chamomile.  And, as with all herbs, these are capable of interfering with any medications you might be taking and if you have any current health conditions you should delve more deeply into side effects.  If you are a normal, healthy person, there is little chance of any negative side effects from any of these herbs.

Not all side effects are negative, though, and this herbal blend has plenty of positives!  An enhanced immune system, a better-functioning digestive system, a clearer mind,  better skin and fewer headaches, just to name a few.  No sleepiness.  No loss of muscle control.  No unexplainable rage.  No loss of memory.  Just a little relief from your depression.

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