Self-Help Supplements A-Z
Acidophilus is a germ. Not your everyday, toilet-seat kind of germ, this little bacteria has an important part to play in the theatre of bowel politics.
We have more bacteria in our bowels than there are cells in the body. Acidophilus helps keeps over 600 species of these bowl bacteria (microflora)
happy and harmonious. Talk about multi-culturalism.
Acidophilus helps quell the crowd when things get ugly such as giardia, flatulence, bloating, thrush, diarrhoea and constipation. Take acidophilus
to replace the good bugs after any course of antibiotics. If you are travelling to places where Montezuma’s revenge is likely to strike, take acidophilus
each morning before and during the trip to prevent unpleasant holiday memories.
Some people might swear expletives when slamming their thumb in the car door. Not so for the person who reads the naturopathic column in Tempo. They
reach calmly for the bottle of Arnica cleverly secreted in the glove-box. Arnica is an herb, but it is the homeopathic derivative (tiny, tiny dose)
which is most frequently used. Arnica is terrific for bruises. Healing them, not making them. It is also good for any shock to the body such as
sprains, fractures, stubbing your toe or slamming your thumb in a car door. Take a few drops of Arnica 6X under the tongue as soon as you’ve done
the deed. Arnica helps a speedy recovery after surgery.
Astragalus has become the grooviest herb on the block. Like a Chinese version of the beloved Echinacea, Astragalus also has immune supporting and stimulating
properties. It is a good pre-winter tonic.
Bioflavonoids used to be considered the poor cousins of vitamin C, as they are commonly found in vitamin C containing fruits. As time and research
has gone on bioflavonoids are now out-shining their ascorbic relative. Bioflavonoids are a plant pigment, responsible for the blue, red and yellow
colours found in fruits and vegetables. Many bioflavonoids have excellent antioxidant properties including anthocyanidin, the bioflavonoid responsible
for the intense bluey purple colour of blueberries, grapes and cornflowers. Other bioflavonoids include; hesperidin (in citrus fruits), rutin (in
buckwheat), catechin (in tea, grapeseeds), coumarin (in soy, sprouts), quercetin (in citrus, onions), tannins (in tea, red wine) and genestein
Dong quai (also known as Dang guei)
This mellow tasting herb (trust me I’m a naturopath) is one of the best and oldest ‘female tonic’ herbs. Beginning life as a traditional Chinese medicine,
but appropriated by Western herbalists because it works a treat. Containing phytoestrogens, Dong quai is a herb to throw it at any ‘female’ problem
from PMS, to heavy and painful periods, and even menopause. Dong quai has soothing and calming properties, just the thing for maelstrom hormones.
The ‘E’ herb that nobody can pronounce, Echinacea, king of the cold, is used by thousands to help ward off winter infections. I could not practice
without it. Echinacea works especially well when combined with garlic and vitamin C, TLC and keeping warm. A native to the prairies of America,
Echinacea was widely used by American Indians including the Sioux, Comanche and Cheyenne for snake bites, sore throats and wounds. By the way,
it’s pronounced Ek-in-a-sha.
A teaspoonful of fish oil sounds like some horror story your grandmother told you about. Apart from psychological scars, cod (and halibut) liver oil
provides vitamins A and D. A daily dose helps build resistance to colds and ‘flus, and the vitamin A is good for the eyes.
There is another version of fish oil on the market, called EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). This oil helps reduce inflammation, making it good for eczema
and arthritis. It helps reduce the risk of heart disease including atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and stroke.
There are a few varieties of Ginseng, the best known is Korean or Panax Ginseng. Ginseng is the classic stress tonic, excellent for pulling you through
times of emotional or physical duress. Ginseng has the reputation of being an aphrodisiac. Anything that helps you cope with stress sounds sexy
to me. The real thing is wildly expensive, but you only need a little for results, and the best time to take it is at the crack of dawn. Anxious
types should give it a miss, and try the less stimulating Siberian Ginseng. Although a ‘male’ tonic, Korean ginseng contains phytoestrogens, making
it a tremendous herb for menopausal women.
Taking Guarana for your health is the similar to the excuse that you only drink beer for it’s B vitamins. Guarana is procured from the seed a climbing
vine (Paullinia cupana), which is only found in the rainforests of Brazil and Uruguay. It’s chemical composition is identical to caffeine, and
not surprisingly it acts as a stimulant. During Mardi Gras season Oxford St. is littered with empty guarana packets. Taking a stimulant is fine
if you want to squeeze extra hours into a party or study session. However, if you are already worn out, taking any stimulant is like flogging a
dead horse, and may cause what us naturopaths call ‘adrenal exhaustion’. Excess guarana may cause anxiety and insomnia.
Herbal bitters are a group of bitter tasting herbs, including gentian, dandelion root and St. Mary’s thistle. Of all the taste buds littering our tongue;
sweet, salty, sour and bitter; bitter is most often neglected. Which is a great shame as the bitter taste buds, located mostly at the back of the
tongue, stimulate(via the vagus nerve) the organs of digestion including the stomach and liver. On the Continent, bitter aperitifs (like Campari
and Angustura) and post-prandial digestives have always been part of the dining experience.
A teaspoon of bitters in a wineglass of water sipped before dinner helps problems with digestion including flatulence, bloating, constipation, heartburn
and food allergies.
Hypericum (St. John’s Wort)
Touted as natures Prozac, St. John’s wort exerts a clinically proven anti-depressant effect. Like many of the herbs named after saints, St. John’s
wort is said to have spiritual as well as physical benefits. I always put it in the herbal mixtures of anyone slightly anxious, depressed or stressed.
St. John’s wort also has anti-viral properties which in combination with it’s nervous system benefits, makes it an ideal supplement for anyone
with herpes, genital or cold sores. Herpes, a virus that lives in the roots of nerves, usually rears its ugly head(s) when you are stressed.
Samoans don’t do stress. Perhaps it’s due to the Polynesian traditional beverage, Kava. Made from the root of a small shrub, fermented Kava has narcotic
properties. When Kava is used therapeutically, (rather than recreationally) it is a wonderful anti-anxiety herb, without the narcotic aspect. If
you suffer from nerves, or know you are about to enter a high-stress time, taking a course of kava can smooth out the edges.
Looking like a slimy brown turd, kombucha is generally not sold, but given by friends. The Kombucha ‘mushroom’ is a symbiotic combination of certain
species of yeast and bacteria. The kombucha uses sugar as fuel to grow, usually in a medium of black tea. Kombucha has led a furtive existence
for decades, originating possibly in China, turning up in Germany, Japan, America and suburban Sydney. Imagine the scene at customs as you say:
‘Oh that brown thing!’
Claims for the health benefits of kombucha range from curing cancer and chronic fatigue to removing warts and wrinkles. There are few studies on kombucha,
however, there is some positive anecdotal evidence that drinking kombucha tea helps general wellbeing. Possibly this is due to an effect the ferment
has on our bowel bacteria. (see acidophilus)
A couple of years ago, two people died, apparently from drinking kombucha tea. The evidence suggests it was not the Kombucha per se, but the unhygienic
method in which the mixture was made. As long as the Kombucha is made in a sterile environment, you should not experience any ill effects.
Research has shown that men who eat a lot of tomatoes and tomato products have less incidence of prostate cancer due to the presence of an antioxidant
pigment called lycopene. It seems a little unfair that while women, in a bid to obtain phytoestrogens, (see phytoestrogens) struggle to find interesting
ways with tofu, men can simply order spaghetti Napolitana or smugly sip a bloody Mary to get their phytonutrient of choice. Lycopene is a carotene
pigment responsible for the redness of tomatoes, guavas, watermelons and pink grapefruit. A mere four servings of tomatoes (including tomato sauce
and paste) weekly is enough to help prevent prostate cancer.
A literal translation of mucopolysaccharide, would be ‘mucus with many sugars’, not an attractive proposition. One type of mucopolysaccharide is glucosamine,
which makes up the slippery fluid between the joints. It is thought that by providing the body with more of the joint fluid, this might alleviate
some of the pain associated with arthritis, both osteo and rheumatoid. Another mucopolysaccaride, chondroitin sulphate is also important in the
healthy functioning of joints, and as such is often combined with glucosamine in ‘joint food’ supplements. I have seen some nice results, but it
does take time – roughly one month of every year of the condition. Foods containing mucopolysaccharides tend to be slippery, and include; okra,
slippery elm, pigs trotters, tripe, oysters and shark cartilage (as found in shark fin soup).
Oligomeric procyanidin (OPC)
Thank God for acronyms, eh? OPC’s are pigments found in red, blue and black fruits including the berries. OPC’s are a type of bioflavonoid antioxidant
also found in the bark of the maritime pine tree and in the seeds of red grapes.
OPC’s are responible for the ‘French Paradox’ – The discrepancy in France where they have a high-fat, high-alcohol (red wine) diet and very low incidence
of heart disease; hence the ‘paradox’. There’s nothing wrong with a glass or two of wine with dinner, but the truth is, you can obtain the same
antioxidants from eating red grapes, and chewing the pips, but it’s not as fun.
Psyllium is a fibre made from the seeds and husks of Plantago ovata. Psyllium has an extraordinary ability to soak up fluid, which makes it an excellent
party trick. Try stirring a spoonful of psyllium into some water, next thing you know, your spoon is stuck solid, suspended mid-glass.
If you don’t go to parties, and are constipated or suffer from diverticulitis, psyllium has a lot to offer. Psyllium allows the stool to become bulkier
and softer. A larger mass in the lower bowel and rectum triggers a nerve reflex that allows a smoother, more regular passage of feces. Regular
use of psyllium will not cause a dependency as other laxatives can do. It is also recommended for people with chronic diarrhoea, as the bulkier
stool takes longer to travel the colon. Due to psylliums awe-inspiring absorptive powers, it is vital you drink at least 2 litres of water daily.
Dr. Bach, an English 19th century physician, believed that most physical ailments have an emotional element or basis. The Bach Flower remedies, distilled
from various flowers and bits and pieces, were created to ease emotional disharmony.
Rescue remedy is the best known of the Bachs, and is used in emergencies or whenever you might feel shock, fear or panic. A few drops of Rescue remedy
calms the nerves before and during exams or if you have been in, or witnessed an accident. Rescue remedy is also good for small children after
a fall, to settle plants after re-potting or cat poo incident, as well as for traumatised cats.
Soy beans are, or rather were, a bland little legume. Talk about a make-over. There was a time when eating TVP (Textured vegetable protein) frankfurters
used to be the daggiest thing you could do sitting down. Now it’s positively hip and healthy to be seen tucking into a tofu burger with Tamari
sauce. Who does that bean’s PR?
Soy has been the basis of various Asian diets for centuries. It is an excellent source of protein, complex carbohydrates, fibre and essential fatty
acids. The beans have a low glycaemic index, which means blood sugars rise slowly and maintain a steady energy level. Recently, research on soy
has found they are a rich source of phytoestrogens, especially the isoflavones, two in particular called genistein and daidzein.
The health benefits of the isoflavones include reducing the risk of breast and prostate cancer, helping to manage the symptoms of menopause including
hot flushes and possible osteoporosis, and protecting against heart disease by decreasing cholesterol levels, in particular LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol.
Spirulina is a blue-green algae. Not the blue-green algae choking our river systems, but a benign cousin. Spirulina is jam packed full of micronutrients
such as magnesium, zinc, B vitamins as well as the harder to come-by selenium and iodine. It is also high in amino acids, although to obtain decent
protein levels you need to eat a truckload. A less than pleasant prospect. Many people find spirulina increases their energy levels, and for weight
loss, it can suppress appetite when taken before meals. Yes, it tastes gross.
St. Mary’s Thistle
St. Mary’s Thistle (Silybum marianum) is the ultimate herb for the liver. Research has shown that it can help to regenerate damaged liver tissue. St.
Mary’s Thistle also aids in the detoxification of alcohol, drugs and food especially fats. The active constituent, silymarin, has been found to
have potent antioxidant properties. St. Mary’s Thistle is a bitter herb, which means that it helps all digestive processes. Recommended for many
conditions including hepatitis (all forms), gallstones, high cholesterol, psoriasis, and a ‘sluggish’ liver. St. Mary’s Thistle tablets would be
good herbal insurance for anyone who hits the grog.
Tea tree oil
Distilled from the leaves of the New South Wales native Melaleuca alternifolia, tea tree oil has a sharp almost eucalyptussy smell. It is an important
member of the eclectic first aid cabinet and travel kit. Tea tree oil is an extremely effective antiseptic, able to wipe out most stray bacteria
and fungi. Try it neat on tinea, mossie bites and pimples. Add couple of drops in the bath if you suffer thrush or jock itch. Essential oils, including
tea tree oil, are toxic if swallowed. So don’t.
Vitex agnus castus
One of my all-time favourite herbs, Vitex agnus castus also known as chaste tree, planted around the medieval monasteries, is a beautiful ‘hormonal
balancer’. It is interesting that so many of the traditional ‘women’s problems’ herbs, including Vitex, are only now found to contain phytoestrogens.
15 drops of the extract of Vitex taken two or three times a day will help with symptoms of PMS and menopause. I use Vitex to treat boys and men
who suffer from hormonal acne. These huge painful pimples tend to congregate on the back, shoulders and chest, making social intercourse a trial
for the shy.
Withania, an Indian herb and part of the Ayuvedic materia medica, has a similar reputation to Panax Ginseng. A tonic for stress with reputed aphrodisiac
properties, Withania is believed to give men the stamina and sexual tenacity of a stallion. Oy vey!! No one has reported back with this side-effect,
but I do find it effective in relieving that washed out feeling endured during stressful times.
Brewers and Torula yeast are an excellent and inexpensive source of the B group vitamins as well as the mineral chromium, which is good for stabilising
blood sugar levels. It is one of a group of old-fashioned but effective remedies that have been tossed aside in recent years, mainly due to the
spectre of Candida albicans. Candida is a that lives in all of us, an overgrowth can cause the appearance of symptoms including thrush and bloating.
If you do not have a problem with Candida, then you won’t have a problem taking Brewer’s or Torula yeast.
The devil to absorb at the best of times, zinc is a mineral often found to be deficient in the average Australian body. Zinc is important in the utilisation
of the hormone insulin (important in sugar stabilising), as well as for boosting the immune system, stabilising the sex hormones, and necessary
for the production of sperm. The liver enzyme, alcohol dehydrogenase, which as the name suggests, breaks down alcohol, is dependent on zinc. Those
white spots that appear on fingernails may be signs of zinc deficiency. Oysters contain the highest amounts of zinc, which may explain why they
have the reputation of being aphrodisiacs. Meat, fish and seeds also contain zinc.
Mim Beim’s latest books are The Commonsense Guide to Eating Well for the Nutritionally Bewildered (ABC Books) and Natural Remedies – An A-Z of cures for Health and Wellbeing