Nervous System

All mental and physical activities are controlled or mediated by the brain and the nervous system. Voluntary actions originate in the brain and the nerves carry the information to other parts of our body. The nervous system relies upon a correct chemical balance in the body. The chemical balance of our bodies can also have a major influence on our mental and emotional state.

The most commonly used herbs for the nervous system are the relaxants. In cases of stress and tension the relaxants are able to help a great deal. A list of herbal relaxants includes: black cohosh, black haw, Californian poppy, chamomile, cramp bark, hops, hyssop, Jamaican dogwood, lady's slipper, lime blossom, mistletoe, motherwort, pasque flower, rosemary, St John's wort, skullcap and valerian. Many of the relaxants have other properties as well and can be selected to aid in related problems.

Anxiety

Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety at some points in their lives, but sometimes these feelings get out of control. This can lead to a range of physical and emotional signs and symptoms including:

  • high blood pressure,
  • irritability,
  • insomnia, and
  • panic attacks.

Some of the common causes associated with anxiety are:

  • nutritional deficiencies including:
    • vitamin B complex,
    • selenium, and
    • magnesium, and
  • sensitivity to sugar and caffeine.

What you can do to help

Calcium at 400mg per day can be very relaxing. It has a role in the transmission of nerve messages.

Increase your intake of the B group vitamins to 50 mg each.

Take 200 mg magnesium per day to ensure that the hormonal activity is normal and the chemistry of the nervous system is working efficiently.

Eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables but avoid high sugar intake and caffeinated drinks.

Try to deal with any worries that might be underlying the anxiety. Joining a group may be of assistance with this.

Herbal remedies for anxiety

All of the nervine relaxants that were listed in the introduction will assist in anxiety. The ones to be used will vary from individual to individual. The most effective ones are:

  • lady's slipper,
  • lime (linden) blossom,
  • mistletoe,
  • skullcap and
  • valerian.

In addition to these nervines an antispasmodic herb that can help to relieve tension can be useful.

The following mixture will be of assistance:

  • 1 part skullcap
  • 1 part valerian

Combine the ingredients. Take 1 teaspoon of the herb blend and place into a suitable sized saucepan and pour on one cup of boiling water. Allow this to stand for 10-15 minutes. Strain out the herbs. Drink 1 cup three times per day when needed. It is considered safe in higher doses for most people so you can take it in a dose that is effective for you. This is an effective remedy but its one drawback is that it is not very pleasant to taste.

You may want to try this stress reducing tea.

  • 1 teaspoonful chamomile flowers
  • 1 teaspoonful lavender spikes
  • 1 teaspoonful kava leaves
  • 1 teaspoonful lemon balm leaves
  • 1 teaspoonful marjoram
  • spray valerian flowers
  • 1 quart water

Place the water into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Place the herbs into this boiling water and allow to stand for 5 minute. Strain out the herbs. Drink the tea hot or cold three times per day or as often as is necessary. Refrigerate any that is left over for later use.

It you are feeling uptight or tense try this tea.

  • 2 teaspoonsful powdered kava
  • 1 quart water
  • generous pinch lemon balm
  • generous pinch of clove
  • generous pinch basil
  • pinch valerian
  • pinch hops
  • a few St John's wort flowers
  • lemon juice and peel
  • stevia (to sweeten if desired)

In a suitable sized container place the kava leaves and add the freshly boiled water. Add to this the lemon balm, clove, basil, valerian, hops and St John's wort. Allow this to stand for 15-20 minutes Add the lemon juice and peel and sweeten if desired.

Drink the mixture three times per day. Refrigerate the left over so that it can be used later.

The following is a soothing sleep time tea that you may also find useful if you have a problem with getting to sleep.

  • Use any combination of the following herbs:
    • catnip
    • chamomile
    • evening primrose
    • kava
    • lavender
    • lemon balm
    • lemon eucalyptus, lemon grass
    • passionflower
  • 1 cup water

Combine the herbs of your choice and place 1-3 teaspoonsful of your blend into the freshly boiled water. Allow this to stand for 10 minutes and then remove the herbs. Drink this tea cool before retiring for the night.

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Depression

Depression may arise as the result of a traumatic event or everyday worries. Its symptoms include listlessness, insomnia, feelings of intense despair and lack of self confidence.

While mild and transient depression need cause no major concern, it is important to seek professional help if it is deeper, long lasting or frequent. It is also important to seek help when depression is identified in children and adolescents.

What you can do to help

Depression that occurs just before your menstrual period (PMS) may be caused by a vitamin B6 deficiency and post natal depression may be caused by a deficiency of vitamin B12 and folic acid. Ensure you have plenty of these in your diet or supplement with Vitamin B complex.

Vitamin C helps to ease the symptoms of depression. Take 1g daily.

The amino acid tryptophan can be of assistance. It is found in these foods:

  • eggs,
  • turkey,
  • avocado,
  • bananas, and
  • peanut butter.

Chronic depression has been linked to deficiencies of:

  • vitamin B complex,
  • calcium,
  • magnesium,
  • copper,
  • iron,
  • potassium,
  • folic acid, and/or
  • essential fatty acids.

Studies have shown that patients with depression almost always have a deficiency of one or more of these nutrients. A good multivitamin and mineral supplement will assist in restoring the balance.

Herbal remedies for depression

The best anti-depressive herbs include:

  • damiana,
  • ginseng,
  • kola,
  • lady's slipper,
  • lavender,
  • lime (linden) blossom,
  • oats,
  • rosemary,
  • skullcap,
  • valerian and
  • vervain.

When the depression is connected with general debility of the whole body, affecting the nervous system, the following mixture is indicated:

  • 2 parts kola
  • 1 part damiana
  • 1 part lavender
  • 1 part oats
  • 1 part rosemary

Combine the ingredients. Take 1 teaspoon of the herb blend and place into a suitable sized saucepan and pour on one cup of boiling water. Allow this to stand for 10-15 minutes. Strain out the herbs. Drink 1 cup three times per day.

Where there is not so much debility involved use the following mixture:

  • 1 part kola
  • 1 part lime (linden) blossom
  • 1 part skullcap

Combine the ingredients. Take 1 teaspoon of the herb blend and place into a suitable sized saucepan and pour on one cup of boiling water. Allow this to stand for 10-15 minutes. Strain out the herbs. Drink 1 cup three times per day. If a more powerful approach is needed then valerian may be added to the mixture.

You need to use the teas over 2 - 3 days to give then a chance to work.

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Headaches

Headaches can be caused by many physical and psychological factors. Three common factors are stress and tension, digestive problems and postural problems. Herbs that can be used are therefore varied and can have more than analgesic properties.

Researchers have found that the blood cells (platelets) of migraine patients stick together more than normal between migraine attacks. Headaches are an extremely common complaint and vary in intensity from mild to severe pain.

They can have many causes including:

  • stress,
  • tiredness,
  • sinusitis,
  • food allergies,
  • eyestrain,
  • physical injury,
  • too much alcohol, and so forth.

Headaches and migraines are often accompanied by nausea and disturbed vision. They are often triggered by eating foods containing tyramine, such as:

  • bananas,
  • chocolate,
  • cheese,
  • wine, and
  • citrus fruits.

What you can do to help

Frequent headaches could be the signal that you are low on some important vitamins and minerals. Low levels of vitamin B3 (niacin) and B6 can cause headaches.

All vitamins of the vitamin B complex are needed to help combat stress and to avoid tension headaches. Protein rich foods such as chicken, fish, beans, and nuts are good sources of vitamins B3 and B6.

Calcium and magnesium work together to prevent headaches, especially those related to a woman's menstrual cycle. Additional supplies of these can be obtained in a good multivitamin and mineral supplement.

The herbs ginger and feverfew have been used to help prevent and treat migraines.

Eliminate sugar, coffee, tea, and any other caffeine containing foods, smoking and alcohol (especially red wine). Eliminating these foods should be sufficient for most but if they are not, then the following should also be avoided:

  • Foods containing tyramine, such as chocolate, yeast extract and yeast products (eg. marmite), liver, sausages, broad beans, pickled herring and cheese.
  • Foods containing histamine such as cheese, sauerkraut, salami and sausage meat.
  • Food additives - tartrazine (E102), benzoate (E210-219), butylated hydroxytoluene (E321), monosodium glutamate (E621).
  • Wheat and milk.

Herbal remedies for headaches

The general advice is to take a relaxing bath with any of the following herbs and if possible, include lavender:

  • balm
  • cayenne
  • chamomile
  • elder flower
  • Jamaican dogwood
  • lady's slipper
  • lavender
  • marjoram
  • peppermint
  • valerian
  • rosemary
  • skullcap
  • tansy
  • thyme
  • wormwood

Or use one of the herbs that are rich in volatile oils such as lavender, rosemary, marjoram or peppermint and massage their essential oils into the head at the site of the pain.

Or take the following herbs as a tincture or tea:

  • chamomile
  • wood betony
  • peppermint
  • rosemary
  • linden blossom
  • feverfew
  • hops
  • skullcap
  • lavender
  • vervain

Headaches - digestive problems

The most common physical cause of headaches is digestive problems. For stomach related headaches the use of calmative and bitters is indicated. The following mixture should be of assistance.

  • 1 part balm
  • 1 part lavender
  • 1 part meadowsweet

Combine all the ingredients. Take 1 teaspoon of the herb blend and place into a suitable sized saucepan and pour on one cup of boiling water. Allow this to stand for 10-15 minutes. Strain out the herbs. Drink 1 cup whenever it is needed.

If this is needed often then the diet and digestion will need attention.

Headaches - tension in neck or shoulders

Tension in the neck or shoulders caused by either psychological stress or postural problems (usually both) will bring on a headache. The use of a nervine such as valerian will often be the most effective.

Headaches - menstrual problems

Menstrual problems can also cause headaches and these are best treated by correcting the hormonal imbalance. However, for the short term the following tea will be useful.

  • 1 part skullcap
  • 1 part valerian

Combine all the ingredients. Take 1 teaspoon of the herb blend and place into a suitable sized saucepan and pour on one cup of boiling water. Allow this to stand for 10-15 minutes. Strain out the herbs. Drink 1 cup of this tea when it is needed.

Headaches - migraines

Migraines are a distressing and intense headache often accompanied by nausea and vomiting and visual disturbances and photophobia. Like the other headaches migraines can be triggered by a range of factors. The treatment is individual and will often require the assistance of an expert as self diagnosis of the underlying problem/s is difficult.

Feverfew is a herb if used fresh or as a tea for a month or so will often clear the migraines. If you have migraines plant feverfew in your garden.

A number of herbs will ease the pain of an attack if they are taken at the first sign. These herbs include:

  • black willow
  • Jamaican dogwood
  • passion flower
  • valerian
  • wood betony

If there are symptoms such as nausea and vomiting or acid indigestion then the following herbs can be useful:

  • black horehound
  • chamomile
  • golden seal
  • meadowsweet
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Hyperactivity

Hyperactivity is more common in children than adults. The child:

  • is excessively energetic,
  • sleeps very little,
  • finds it difficult to concentrate for very long,
  • is easily distracted,
  • exhibits behavior that may be impulsive and aggressive, and
  • commonly performs tantrums.

Some of the common causes of hyperactivity include:

  • chemical sensitivities;
  • candidiasis;
  • deficiencies of:
    • zinc,
    • vitamin B group,
    • magnesium,
    • chromium, and
    • essential fatty acids;
  • food intolerances or allergies, and
  • sensitivity to sugar.

What you can do to help

Because many cases of hyperactivity are associated with food sensitivity and nutritional deficiencies it is necessary to monitor the child's diet carefully.

Use a good multivitamin and mineral supplement to assist in addressing the imbalances. Additional supplementation may be necessary depending of the deficiencies that are present. In particular they may need additional zinc.

Try to encourage the child to eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and to drink plenty of filtered water.

Avoid sweet foods and drinks and anything that has artificial coloring and flavorings. Try to stick to whole foods that have not been processed and try to avoid convenience foods.

Herbal remedies for hyperactivity

In order to rid the body of any chemicals that have built up and are causing problems the herb red clover should be used over a long period of time. Red clover is also a relaxant.

For the short term alleviation of the problem other strong relaxants might be added and the person also treated for stress. The herb oats and vervain would be useful with this. Two tonics that will assist in returning the system to normal quickly are dandelion and centaury.

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Multiple Sclerosis

In multiple sclerosis, the immune system actively damages myelin, the protective covering of nerves in the brain and spinal cord in the central nervous system. Most treatments for multiple sclerosis involve the attempt to regulate and to stop the immune system from damaging itself.

You need to consider the effects of the supplements on the immune system. You do not want them to stimulate the immune system to do what it is currently doing, that is, working against itself.

The aim of any vitamin, mineral and herb supplementation is to balance and regulate the immune system so that no further damage is done and so that the process of repair can commence.

From the viewpoint of holistic healing, multiple sclerosis is a disease which arises when the inner harmony is out of balance, causing degenerative changes. As such the holistic approach will aim at restoring a balance. It is possible to improve multiple sclerosis considerably with the aid of appropriate herbs and carefully balanced nutrients and other dietary measures.

What you can do to help

You need to have a tight control of your diet. This includes:

  • the total elimination of all dairy products and possibly the elimination of gluten.
  • saturated fats need to be kept to a minimum.
  • you need to eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Vitamins that are of particular relevance to people with multiple sclerosis are vitamin D, the antioxidant vitamins, and vitamin B12.

Vitamin D - the recommended intake of vitamin D is 200 to 600 IU daily. Doses greater than 2,000 IU daily may cause toxic effects, and should not be used unless prescribed by a physician.

The safety of taking antioxidants for people with MS has not been established. Antioxidant vitamins stimulate the immune system in laboratory experiments and in some groups of people. In MS, where an overactive immune system appears to be part of the disease process, stimulation may be dangerous. The following low to moderate doses are suggested:

  • Vitamin A should be take at 2,300 (for women) and 3,000 (for men) IU per day.
  • Vitamin C - the RDA for this vitamin is 90 milligrams for men and 75 milligrams for women under normal circumstances. The RDA for smokers is an additional 35 milligrams.
  • Vitamin E - the RDA for this vitamin is 22.5 IU for both men and women.
  • Vitamin B 12 - the RDA for this vitamin is 2.4 micrograms/day for both men and women. It is recommended that this be taken as a part of a vitamin B complex - so that the balance of the B group vitamins is maintained.

The minerals selenium, calcium, zinc and magnesium are generally considered important. Selenium seems to be generally lower in people who have multiple sclerosis. It is considered an anti-oxidant and it does seem to increase the immune response which may be undesirable in people with multiple sclerosis. For adults over the age of 19 the RDA of selenium is 55 micrograms. Toxic effects may occur with daily doses greater than 200 micrograms.

Calcium in conjunction with magnesium, zinc and vitamin D are important for maintaining healthy bones. People between the ages of 19 and 50 should consume 1,000 mg of calcium. Daily doses greater than 2,500 milligrams should be avoided

The RDA for zinc is 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women.

Magnesium - It is recommended that you take 10-15 mg daily.

Herbal remedies for multiple sclerosis

In conditions such as multiple sclerosis the symptoms are a manifestation of a long process of degeneration and a holistic herbal approach has to aim at strengthening and rebuilding the system. Thus the treatment will vary from one individual to another and should be centred around the use of:

  • nervine tonics and stimulants,
  • digestive tonics.

The only herbal remedy that can be recommended in all cases is the oil of evening primrose, which is rich in poly-unsaturated fats and should be taken, as a capsule, over a long period to enable the nerve sheaths to be rebuilt.

Nervine tonics strengthen and feed the nerve tissues directly. Surprising as it may seem, one of the best and certainly the most widely applicable remedy to feed nervous tissue is oats. It can be taken in the form of a tincture, combined as needed with stimulants or any other indicated remedy or it can simply be eaten, in the form of old fashioned porridge (not instant oatmeal).

Direct stimulation of the nervous tissue is not often indicated. Some herbs that are rich in volatile oils are valuable stimulants, the best being peppermint.

Like the nervine tonics herbs for the digestive stimulation need to be geared around the individual person with multiple sclerosis. It is probable that the person with multiple sclerosis will need digestive stimulants. These could include: golden seal, gentian root, wormwood, vervain, yellow dock or dandelion root.

It is generally considered that direct stimulation of the immune system is not the path to take for someone with multiple sclerosis - so it would be best to avoid using popular herbs such as echinacea, St. John's wort or ginseng unless these have been prescribed by your herbalist and they are actually indicated in your particular situation.

Multiple sclerosis is a complicated condition and needs professional herbalist consultation to ensure that the most appropriate herbs for your particular situation are taken.

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References

Duke, J. A. 2000, Anti-aging Prescriptions. Rodale.

Hoffmann, D. 2000, The New Holistic Herbal. Element Pub.

McIntyre, A. 1995, The Complete Women's Herbal. Henry Holt Reference Books

Mills, S. Y. 1989, The A-Z of Modern Herbalism: A Comprehensive Guide to Practical Herbal Therapy. Thorson.

Shaw, N. 2002, Herbalism. Element

Tyler, Y. E. 1993, The Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs and Related Remedies. Haworth.

Woodward, P. 2003, Grow Your Own Herbal Remedies. Hyland House.

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