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Posts Tagged ‘depression’

Insomnia is the inability to obtain an adequate amount or quality of sleep. The difficulty can be in falling asleep, remaining asleep, or both. People with insomnia do not feel refreshed when they wake up. Insomnia is a common symptom affecting millions of people that may be caused by many conditions, diseases, or circumstances.”   ~ medical dictionary ~ thefreedictionary.com

That definition was for those of you who don’t suffer from insomnia.  Those of us who do already know what it means, and we know that the definition, no matter the source, can never actually explain the entire scope of this affliction.  Let me give it a shot, though.

Insomnia is an affliction that, when you lay down and close your eyes because you are so exhausted you can’t possibly do anything else, your mind springs to life and causes your eyelids to fly open and stick that way, despite all of your best attempts at closing them.  It makes your legs twitch and your brain spasm with a million thoughts.  It inspires you to create great and fantastic things-just as soon as your exhausted body can move again.  It precipitates deep and poetic thoughts that should be preserved in leather-covered tomes – if only you weren’t too tired to write them down.  It tickles the imagination into seeing shapes in the dark, like pictures in the clouds, that you know are really only figments of your sleep-deprived brain.  It makes you count sheep, cattle, chickens, ducks, and every other animal in a vain attempt to bore yourself into a sleep-induced coma.

Then, when you have finally attained that much-longed-for state of unconsciousness you are suddenly jolted from sleep after an hour -or maybe two or three- to find that you are still hours away from the break of day and everyone for miles around is still sleeping soundly.  It is lying there staring at the clock, counting away the minutes and knowing that the exhaustion is still there, just waiting to overtake you as soon as you have reached the point in your day that is the busiest/most important. By lunchtime, you aren’t quite sure if you want to jump in front oncoming traffic or choke the nearest passerby. Not because they have done anything wrong, but simply because you know that they got a good night’s sleep that was denied you.  For that, they deserve a good beating.

And that’s only one night’s worth of missed sleep.  The second night gets a little hairier.  By the third or fourth night you begin to see the logic behind men like Dexter and Dahmer. Rational thinking is only a dim memory ~ an elusive dream (pun intended).

Do I sound like a commercial for the latest sleeping pill?  I should totally get paid for writing this stuff, right?  Still, anyone suffering from insomnia knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as popping a pill and drifting off to Dreamland. Besides the obvious side-effects of sleeping pills  ~ liver damage, heart damage, kidney failure, ulcers ~ there is the small matter of being able to function the day after.  Sleeping pills, if they even work, make you so frackin’ tired the next day that you might as well have just stuck with your original state of sleep-deprived exhaustion.

So, what is the alternative?  Duh! It’s herbs, of course.  You had to have seen that one coming…

Quit snickering.  Have you tried them?  I don’t mean have you tried a single cup of chamomile tea before bed.  While chamomile has its benefits, to the hard-core insomniac it is like drinking a cup of water.  No, what I’m talking about are the other herbs.

You thought I was talking about marijuana, didn’t you?  While I will admit that I would recommend that particular herb if I lived in the appropriate state, that’s not what I meant.  I’m talking about herbs like valerian and skullcap.  St. John’s wort.  Peppermint.  Vervain.  Mullein. These, my friend, are the magic pill for the true Insomniac.

I’ll be honest.  It took me a while to figure this one out. I did try sleeping pills over the years.  Prescription.  Over the counter.  Under the counter.  Beside the counter.  I didn’t care if there was a chance that I might get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.  Not one of them was worth it.  It was out of sheer desperation that I put my insomnia to use and spent a few nights coming up with a more natural formula that I prayed would work.  Now, I keep a jar in my pantry and refill it regularly.

Bonus…it works as a pain-killer, muscle relaxant, tummy-soother and mood-stabilizer, also.  Let me explain the how’s and why’s.

Valerian

Valerian is the bad-boy of sleep aids.  I still maintain that herbs work best when combined with other herbs, but if I were ever to use one by itself, this would probably be it.  It is in the top 5, anyway.  Valerian is actually classified as a nerve tonic because it has the ability to both sooth and heal the nerves.  By soothing the nerves, you allow your body to fall into sleep naturally, stay asleep longer and wake up feeling great.  Valerian goes a step farther, though.  It will actually help rebuild nerve sheaths that have been damaged, making it a great herb for long-term use in diseases that affect the central nervous system and the nerves.  Don’t think valerian is going to suddenly make you fall asleep, though. It doesn’t work that way.  It works by relaxing the entire body and making it possible to sleep.  That means that after you take it, you need to go lay down and close your eyes.  Let your body do it’s thing!

Skullcap, like valerian, is a potent nervine that has been used for centuries with fantastic results.  It is so soothing to the nerves that it has even been used to successfully alleviate the symptoms of drug withdrawal, as well as epilepsy, hysteria, anxiety, nervous headaches and insomnia. Naturopathic doctors often recommend using skullcap as an alternative to conventional ADD medications, also.  Skullcap should not be taken if you are pregnant, as it is capable of inducing a miscarriage.

Mullein is one of those herbs that should be in every medicine cabinet.  It is good for coughs, for pain, for soothing the nerves…the list is long!  Mullein has been described as being ‘hypnotic’ and ‘highly narcotic without being toxic’. That means that, even if your sleeplessness is due to pain, mullein is capable of handling it.  Cough keeping you awake?  Mullein will take care of that, too.

Mullein flower

St. John’s wort is a well-known anti-depressant.  In the herbal world, that means it is soothing to the brain.  It relaxes you by relieving tension, stress and other factors that contribute to restlessness and fatigue.  It is best to take this one over a period of time, and in conjunction with other herbs.  It is also a highly effective pain-reliever and immune-system stimulator.

Vervain is not just for warding oneself against vampires. It has aspirin-like effects that help relieve pain and reduce inflammation. It is a muscle relaxant and mild anti-depressant that helps improve the general action of nerves and enhances the entire system, especially when taken over a period of time.  It is a mild sedative.  Here’s the catch with this herb, though…you don’t want to just grab a bottle of this herb and start eating it.  Vervain works best when it is combined with other herbs that strengthen and relax the nerves, and if you take too much you’ll soon be heaving your guts up instead of sleeping.  Used in the proper manner it is a valuable addition to the insomniac’s medicine chest, but used wrong and it is worse than useless.

So, really….put away the Ambien and the Tylenol PM.  You don’t need them anymore!  You just need a good, trained herbalist (like me) to whip you up a batch that contains these herbs.  Of course, I have a batch already made and waiting called ‘Sweet Dreams’…I’m just sayin’….

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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:
*Antidepressants
*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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