Thursday, December 31, 2009

Medicinal Herbs: Wild Yam

Wild yam


In the 18th and 19th centuries, herbalists used wild yam (Dioscorea villosa ) to treat menstrual cramps and problems related to childbirth, as well as for stomach upset and coughs. In the 1950s, scientists discovered that the roots of wild yam (not to be confused with the sweet potato yam) contain diosgenin, a phytoestrogen (derived from plants) that can be chemically converted into a hormone called progesterone. Diosgenin was used to make the first birth control pills in the 1960s.

Although herbalists continue to use wild yam to treat menstrual cramps, nausea, and morning sickness associated with pregnancy, inflammation, osteoporosis, menopausal symptoms, and other health conditions, there is no evidence that it works. Indeed, several studies have found that it has no effect at all. That is because the body cannot change diosgenin into progesterone; it has to be done in a lab. Wild yam, by itself, does not contain progesterone.


Early Americans used wild yam to treat colic; another name for the plant is colic root. Traditionally, it has been used to treat inflammation, muscle spasms, and a range of disorders, including asthma. However, there is no scientific evidence that it works.

Menopause and Osteoporosis

Although wild yam is often touted as a natural source of estrogen, there is essentially no scientific evidence of wild yam's effectiveness in treating menopausal symptoms or osteoporosis. In fact, several studies have found that wild yam does not reduce the symptoms of menopause (such as hot flashes) or increase levels of estrogen or progesterone in the body. Some preparations of wild yam may contain progesterone, but only because a synthetic version of progesterone (medroxyprogesterone acetate or MPA) has been added to the herb.

High Cholesterol

Researchers have theorized that taking wild yam may help reduce levels of cholesterol in the blood, although studies have shown mixed results. Diosgenin seems to block the body from absorbing cholesterol, at least in animal studies. But in studies of people, cholesterol levels have not gone down (although fats -- triglycerides -- in the blood have decreased). More research is needed to say whether wild yam is beneficial for people with high cholesterol.

Plant Description

Also known as colic root, wild yam is a twining, tuberous vine. One species is native to North America; another is native to China. Both contain diosgenin and have similar medicinal properties. There are an estimated 600 species of yam in the genus Dioscorea, many of them wild species that flourish in damp woodlands and thickets, and not all contain diosgenin. Wild yam is a perennial vine with pale brown, knotty, woody cylindrical rootstocks, or tubers. Unlike sweet potato yams, the roots are not fleshy. Instead they are dry, narrow, and crooked, and bear horizontal branches of long creeping runners. The thin reddish-brown stems grow to a length of over 30 feet. The roots initially taste starchy, but soon after taste bitter and acrid.

The wild yam plant has clusters of small, greenish-white and greenish-yellow flowers. The heart-shaped leaves are long and broad and long-stemmed. The upper surface of the leaves is smooth while the underside is downy.

What's it Made of?

The dried root, or rhizome, is used in commercial preparations. It contains diosgenin, a phytoestrogen that can be chemically converted to the hormone progesterone; however, diosgenin on its own does not seem to act like estrogen in the body.

Available Forms

Wild yam is available as liquid extract and as a powder. The powdered form may be purchased in capsules or compressed tablets. The fluid extract can be made into tea. Creams containing wild yam are also available.

How to Take It


It is not known whether wild yam is safe for pediatric use, so do not give it to children.


The following are recommended adult doses for wild yam:

  • Dried herb to make tea: 1 - 2 tsp dried root to 1 cup water. Pour boiling water over dried root, steep 3 - 5 minutes. Drink 3 times a day
  • Tincture: 40 - 120 drops, 3 times a day
  • Fluid extract: 10 - 40 drops, 3 - 4 times per day
  • Creams: Contain 12% of wild yam extract; use as directed

Note: Wild yam is often combined with other herbs said to have estrogen-like effects, such as black cohosh. Creams containing wild yam, as well as tablets and powders, may contain synthetic hormones. Check the ingredients carefully.


The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.

Although it does not appear to have hormone-like effects in the body, there is a slight risk that wild yam could produce effects similar to estrogen. Because of that risk, anyone with a personal or family history of hormone-related cancer should check with their doctor before using any form of "natural" hormone replacement, including wild yam.

Pregnant women and nursing mothers should avoid wild yam.

Possible Interactions

If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use wild yam without first talking to your health care provider.

Hormone Replacement Therapy or Birth Control Pills -- An animal study indicated that the active component of wild yam, diosgenin, may interact with estradiol, a hormone that occurs naturally in the body and also is used in some birth control medications and certain hormone replacement therapies.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Medicinal Herbs: Valerian



Valerian has been used to ease insomnia, anxiety, and nervous restlessness since the second century A.D., and grew especially popular in Europe in the 17th century. It is also used to treat stomach cramps and as a diuretic. Now research has begun to confirm the scientific validity of these historic uses. Germany's Commission E approved valerian as an effective mild sedative and the United States Food and Drug Administration listed valerian as "Generally Recognized As Safe" (GRAS). Scientists aren't sure how valerian works, but they believe it increases the amount of a chemical called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA helps regulate nerve cells and has a calming effect on anxiety. A class of drugs called benzodiazepines, which includes alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium), also work by increasing the amount of GABA in the brain. Researchers think valerian may have a similar, but weaker effect.


Valerian is a popular alternative to commonly prescribed medications for sleep problems because it is considered to be both safe and gentle. Some studies bear this out, although not all have found valerian to be effective. One of the best designed studies found that valerian was no more effective than placebo for the first 28 days, but after that valerian greatly improved sleep for those who were taking it. That has led researchers to speculate that you may need to take valerian for a few weeks before it begins to work. Other studies show that valerian reduces the time it takes to fall asleep and improves the quality of sleep itself. Plus, unlike many prescription sleep aids, valerian may have fewer side effects such as morning drowsiness.

Plant Description

Valerian is a perennial plant that is native to Europe and grows up to 2 feet tall. It is cultivated to decorate gardens but also grows wild in damp grasslands. Straight, hollow stems are topped by umbrella-like heads. Its dark green leaves are pointed at the tip and hairy underneath. Small, sweet-smelling white, light purple or pink flowers bloom in June. The root is light grayish brown and has little odor when fresh.

What's It Made Of?

The root of the plant is used medicinally and is pressed into fresh juice or freeze-dried to form powder.

Available Forms

Valerian fluid extracts and tinctures are sold in alcohol or alcohol-free (glycerite) bases. Powdered valerian is available in capsule or tablet form, and also as a tea.

Valerian root has a sharp odor. It iis often combined with other calming herbs, including passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), hops (Humulus lupulus), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), and kava (Piper methysticum) to mask the scent. Kava, however, has been associated with liver damage, so it is best to avoid it.

How to Take It

Valerian is often standardized to contain 0.3 - 0.8% valerenic or valeric acid, although researchers aren't sure that those are the active ingredients.


Although one pilot study found no side effects using valerian in children, you should talk to your doctor before giving valerian to a child.


For insomnia, valerian may be taken 1 - 2 hours before bedtime, or up to 3 times in the course of the day, with the last dose near bedtime. It may take a few weeks before the effects are felt.

  • Tea: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 teaspoonful (2 - 3 g) of dried root, steep 5 - 10 minutes.
  • Tincture (1:5): 1 - 1 1/2 tsp (4 - 6 mL)
  • Fluid extract (1:1): 1/2 - 1 tsp (1 - 2 mL)
  • Dry powdered extract (4:1): 250 - 600 mg
  • For anxiety, 200 mg 3 - 4 times per day

Once sleep improves, valerian should be continued for 2 - 6 weeks.


The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.

Valerian is generally regarded as safe.

Even though most studies show no adverse effects on fertility or fetal development, more research is needed in humans. Experts advise pregnant and nursing women to avoid taking valerian.

Some people may have a "paradoxical reaction" to valerian, feeling anxious and restless after taking the herb instead of calm and sleepy.

Valerian does not appear to cause dependency or result in withdrawal symptoms for most people when they stop taking it. But there are a few reports of withdrawal symptoms when valerian has been used over very long periods of time. If you want to stop taking valerian, taper your dose gradually rather than stopping all at once.

Valerian should not be used while driving, operating heavy machinery, or during other activities that require you to be alert. It is best not to use valerian for longer than 1 month without your health care provider's approval.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Medicinal Herbs: Uva Ursi

Uva ursi


Uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva ursi), also known as bearberry because bears like eating the fruit, has been used medicinally since the 2nd century. Native Americans used it as a remedy for urinary tract infections. In fact, until the discovery of sulfa drugs and antibiotics, uva ursi was a common treatment for such bladder and related infections. Through modern-day scientific research in test tubes and animals, researchers have discovered that uva ursi's antibacterial properties, which can fight infection, are due to several chemicals, including arbutin and hydroquinone. The herb also contains tannins that have astringent effects, helping to shrink and tighten mucous membranes in the body. That, in turn, helps reduce inflammation and fight infection.

Today, uva ursi is sometimes used to treat urinary tract infections and cystitis (bladder inflammation). Researchers believe the herb is most effective when a person's urine is alkaline since acid destroys its antibacterial effect. However, more research is needed to determine if uva ursi is effective in humans.

In addition, uva ursi can be toxic: Hydroquinone can cause serious liver damage. Conventional medications that have fewer risks are available to treat urinary tract infections.

Plant Description

Uva ursi is a trailing evergreen shrub that produces red berries and flourishes in alpine forests in many regions, including North America, Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, Siberia, and the Himalayas. It grows slowly but succeeds in places where other plants cannot, such as the walls of canyons. It has short, creeping, red-brown branches and pink or white bell-shaped flowers that bloom in the summer, followed by clusters of berries. Bears are said to be fond of the shiny, bright red or pink fruit, which is edible but sour tasting.

Parts Used

Only the leaves -- not the berries -- are used in medicinal preparations.

Available Forms

Uva ursi is commercially available as crushed leaf or powder preparations.

How to Take It


Do not give uva ursi to children.


Because uva ursi can be toxic, talk to your doctor before taking it. Recommended adult doses are:

  • Dried herb (available in capsules): 2 - 4 g per day, standardized to 400 - 800 mg of arbutin
  • Tea: Soak 3 g of dried leaves in 5 oz. of water for 12 hours. Strain and drink hot or cold 3 - 4 times per day.

Uva ursi should not be taken for more than 5 days at a time. (See "Precautions" section.) Do not take with vitamin C or orange juice.


The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.

Because uva ursi requires an alkaline urine to work as an antibiotic, you should avoid eating foods that contribute to forming acidic urine.

One of the chemicals in uva ursi, hydroquinone, can be very toxic to the liver. Uva ursi should be taken only for short periods (no longer than 5 days) under a doctor's supervision, and should not be repeated more than 5 times in 1 year. Do not exceed recommended doses.

Reported side effects are generally mild and include nausea and vomiting, irritability, and insomnia.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or people with high blood pressure, should not take uva ursi.

Possible Interactions

If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use uva ursi without first talking to your health care provider.

Drugs and supplements that make urine more acidic -- These include vitamin C, cranberry juice, orange juice, and other citrus fruits and juices.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids -- Animal studies conducted in Japan suggest uva ursi may increase the anti-inflammatory effects of these drugs, although it isn't known whether the herb would have that effect in people.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Eat Breatfast!

By Elizabeth Ward, Men's Health

In the time you spend each morning calibrating your hair gel, you could be doing something more important, with a much better payoff: eating breakfast. Mom was right (and it's okay to admit it): Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

It keeps you slim: Breakfast eaters are less likely to be overweight than breakfast skippers, and successful dieters are also more likely to be breakfast eaters.

It keeps you healthy: Eating breakfast may reduce your risk of serious illnesses like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer, and it strengthens your immune system so you're more resistant to common ailments like colds and the flu.

It keeps you sharp: Memory and concentration get a boost from breakfast. A study on children found that kids who eat breakfast score higher on tests and are less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and hyperactivity. It should help you at the office, too.

The Perfect Meal
You say you eat breakfast? Good boy. Even so, it's likely you're doing it wrong. "Most men make the mistake of eating too little in the morning, and then get so hungry they go overboard and eat a giant meal later in the day," says Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D., a nutritionist in Irvine, California, and author of Stealth Health.

A typical breakfast is just a couple of hundred calories, mostly in the form of simple carbohydrates that spike blood-sugar levels and leave the body starving for energy a couple of hours later.

Even a classic fiber-rich breakfast — say a cup of raisin bran with blueberries and skim milk — provides less than 300 calories and only about 10 grams of protein. An ideal breakfast needs to be much larger — between 500 and 600 calories. And it needs to be packed with vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, including at least 20 grams of protein and at least 5 grams of fiber. That will give your body a high-quality, long-lasting, steady supply of energy to help you through the morning.

Here's how to hit those numbers. Each of the following meals tastes great and can be made in minutes.

Blueberry Smoothie With Toasted-Cheese Sandwich
Prep time: 4 minutes
2 slices whole-wheat bread 1/2 c Kashi Go Lean Crunch! cereal 1 c fat-free milk 1 c frozen blueberries 1 1-oz slice Cheddar cheese Pop the bread into the toaster. Dump the cereal, milk, and berries into a blender and liquefy. Stick a slice of Cheddar between the warm slices of toast and nuke the sandwich in a microwave for 15 seconds. It tastes grilled—but isn't.

Benefits: "The cheese and milk in this meal are essential for building and maintaining new muscle," says Christine Rosenbloom, Ph.D., R.D., a professor of nutrition at Georgia State University. "The whole grains in the bread and cereal will help lower cholesterol, and the minerals in the milk and cheese will help keep blood-pressure levels down." Per meal: 509 calories, 26 grams (g) protein, 75 g carbohydrates, 14 g total fat, 12 g fiber

Grab-and-Go Breakfast
Prep time: 1 minute 1 medium apple 1/2 pint fat-free milk 1 bran Vita muffin 1 pack Skippy Squeeze Stix peanut butter Slice the apple, grab the milk, muffin, and peanut butter, and go. Squeeze the peanut butter out of its pack onto your apple slices as you eat.

Benefits: Vita muffins (vitalicious. com) contain 100 percent of your recommended intake of several important nutrients, including vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, and E. Foods high in monounsaturated fats — like peanut butter — may boost testosterone levels. This meal should help you burn energy more efficiently and lift more weight at the gym.
Per meal: 506 calories, 20 g protein, 87 g carbohydrates, 12 g total fat, 15 g fiber

Minute Omelette with Toast
Prep time: 2 minutes
1 egg 3/4 c frozen spinach, thawed 1 slice Canadian bacon, diced 2 slices whole-wheat bread 1 Tbsp almond butter 1 c Welch's grape juice Stir together the egg, spinach, and Canadian bacon and pour onto a plate coated with nonstick spray. Microwave for 1 minute or until the egg is fully cooked. Toast the bread and eat it with the almond butter. Chase everything with grape juice.

Benefits: Monounsaturated fat in the almond spread will help prevent spikes and drops in blood sugar, which can leave you feeling tired or crabby. Grape juice gives you an antioxidant, called resveratrol, that not only helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels but also helps improve bloodflow to the heart.
Per meal: 540 calories, 25 g protein, 73 g carbohydrates, 19 g total fat, 8 g fiber

Two PB-and-Banana Wraps With Milk
Prep time: 2 minutes 2 Tbsp peanut butter 2 Eggo Special K waffles 1 medium banana 1/2 pint fat-free chocolate milk Spread a tablespoon of peanut butter over each (briefly microwaved) waffle. Divide the banana between them and roll each to make wraps. Wash down with chocolate milk.

Benefits: Eggo's Special K waffles supply complex carbohydrates, which break down slowly in the body and stimulate the production of serotonin, a calming brain chemical. The banana is packed with potassium — a heart protector.

Per meal: 570 calories, 23 g protein, 90 g carbohydrates, 16 g total fat, 7 g fiber

The Santa Fe Burrito
Prep time: 4 minutes
2 eggs 1 c Santa Fe frozen mixed vegetables (black beans, peppers, and corn) 1 flour tortilla 1/2 c low-fat shredded Cheddar cheese 1/4 c salsa Mix the eggs and vegetables and spread the mixture on a plate coated with nonstick spray. Cook in the microwave for 1 minute, stir with a fork, and microwave again until the eggs are cooked and the vegetables warm. Pile onto a flour tortilla, top with shredded Cheddar cheese and salsa, fold, and eat.

Benefits: "Without protein, guys can lose muscle mass quickly," says William J. Evans, Ph.D., a professor of geriatrics, physiology, and nutrition at the University of Arkansas. This meal is packed with it.
Per meal: 530 calories, 36 g protein, 53 g carbohydrates, 18 g total fat, 6 g fiber

Black-Cherry Smoothie and Peanut-Butter Oatmeal
Prep time: 4 minutes 1 c R.W. Knudsen black-cherry juice 1 c frozen strawberries 1 c frozen unsweetened cherries 2 Tbsp protein powder 2/3 c oatmeal 1 Tbsp peanut butter 1/2 c fat-free milk Blend the cherry juice, frozen fruit, and protein powder until smooth. Microwave the oatmeal according to the directions on the package. Stir in the peanut butter and milk.

Benefits: Men who ate at least one serving of whole-grain cereal (like oatmeal) a day had the lowest risk of dying of any cause, including heart disease, according to a 5-year study of 86,000 doctors. Cherries and strawberries are natural sources of salicylates — the active ingredient in aspirin — making them ideal for relieving stress-induced morning headaches.

Per meal: 600 calories, 27 g protein, 100 g carbohydrates, 11 g total fat, 10 g fiber

Almond-Butter-and-Raisin Sandwich With Smoothie
Prep time: 1 minute
2 Tbsp almond butter 2 Eggo Special K waffles 1 Tbsp raisins 1 Stonyfield Farm smoothie Spread the almond butter on the waffles. Sprinkle the raisins over one waffle and top with the other. Wash down with the smoothie.

Benefits: Whole-grain waffles help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and improve your body's processing of insulin and glucose, a benefit that can reduce your risk of becoming diabetic.

Per meal: 600 calories, 21 g protein, 86 g carbohydrates, 22 g total fat, 7 g fiber

Giving Thanks Year-Round

While many of us take time on Thanksgiving day to reflect on what we are thankful/grateful for, I choose to reflect year-round. There are many things, not possessions to be thankful for, such as health and life itself. It doesn't matter if you don't drive a nice car or have a big house. The most important things in life don't cost a thing!

Lately I have left the tv or the computer off and taken time to walk at the beach or read a good book.

No matter how healthy you are, everyday is a gift. Take time to appreciate life!