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Stop the Stress-Pain Connection : Calming Herbal Therapies

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If you try the relaxation therapies yet still need help calming down, talk to your doctor about medications that may help to boost your mood or ease your anxiety. If you are opposed to taking medications to ease stress, then ask your doctor about the following herbal therapies.

St John’s Wort

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is used by millions to ease mild to moderate depression. In Germany, more than 20 million individuals use St. John’s wort.

Recently, German researchers have found that St. John’s wort was as effective as such SSRIs as Prozac (fluoxetine) but without any serious side effects. In one study published in the journal International Clinical Psychopharmacology, volunteers who took either St. John’s wort or the antidepressant fluoxetine were evaluated by psychiatrists for symptoms of depression. After 6 weeks of treatment, researchers concluded that those individuals who took St. John’s wort reported fewer and less serious side effects. For instance, just a few participants in the St. John’s wort group reported mild gastrointestinal complaints. Yet those volunteers who took fluoxetine reported far more serious symptoms, such as dizziness, tiredness, anxiety, and erectile dysfunction. The researchers concluded that St. John’s wort clearly is superior as the medication of choice for mild to moderate depression in both effectiveness and safety, when compared to fluoxetine.

St. John’s wort is available as capsules, tincture, extract, oil, and dried leaves and flowers. St. John’s wort can cause sensitive skin in sunlight. (Caution: Since the mechanism of action of St. John’s wort is uncertain, do not use it with antidepressants such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors and SSRIs. Pregnant women are also not advised to take St. John’s wort.)

Chamomile

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) depresses the central nervous system and may also aid in boosting immune power. This healing herb is said to increase relaxation, promote quality sleep, and can be used to relieve nervousness, upset stomach, and menstrual cramps.

Chamomile is available as dried herb, supplements, and herbal tea. This herb may cause problems for those allergic to ragweed, although there are no reports of toxicity.

Passion Flower

Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) provides a mild tranquilizer effect and helps to ease insomnia, stress, and anxiety.

This herb is available as tincture, fruit, dried or fresh leaves, or capsules. Avoid combining passionflower with prescription sedatives, and do not take if pregnant or nursing.

Valerian

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) has a sedative effect and has been shown to help in treating insomnia. It is also used to relieve high anxiety, stress, and nervousness.

Valerian is available in capsules, tincture, and dried flowers. Avoid taking valerian if you already take prescription antidepressants; it may cause stomach upset.

Selecting Quality Supplements

Plants can vary greatly in their potency, and there is no government regulation for ingredients in herbal remedies. How do you know which supplements are effective? When choosing herbs, look for the ones labeled “standardized.” This means the manufacturer measured the amount of key ingredients in the herbal batch, so the chances are greater that you will get what you pay for in a “standardized brand.” Also, buy herbs from a reputable manufacturer instead of an off-brand that may be cheaper. Some of the known brands include General Nutrition, Natrol, Sundown, and Nature’s Bounty, among others. You might ask your pharmacist to recommend a reputable brand.

If you decide to take herbal supplements, be sure to talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or a certified nutritionist about side effects. Herbal therapies are not recommended for pregnant women, children, the elderly, or those with compromised immune systems. In addition, some herbs have sedative or blood-thinning qualities, which may dangerously interact with NSAIDs or other pain medications. Others may cause gastrointestinal upset if taken in large doses. For example, ginkgo biloba may cause nausea, diarrhea, stomach upset, and vomiting if taken in larger doses, and may reduce clotting time. Anyone taking Coumadin should not take this herb. If you are taking drugs with a narrow therapeutic index such as cyclosporine, digoxin, hypoglycemic agents, lithium, phenytoin, procainamide, theophylline, tricyclic antidepressants, and warfarin, you should avoid herbal products altogether. In addition, St. John’s wort, which is taken by many for the treatment of depression, may cause serious herb-drug reactions, particularly if taken with SSRI agents.

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