Archive for the ‘Herbs’ Category

Ask Marilyn: Are there any herbs that can help to lower high blood pressure?

Monday, June 1st, 2009

Q: I’ve recently been diagnosed with higher than normal blood pressure. My doctor has asked me to come back in a couple of months to see if it adjusts with diet and exercise changes before subscribing medication. Could you tell me if there are also some herbs that can help lower high blood pressure?


A: First of all, I’m delighted to hear that your doctor has suggested the natural approach to lowering your blood pressure before jumping into medication and I strongly urge you to follow his or her advice. Studies have shown that in many cases you can reduce blood pressure – without the need for medication – through regular exercise, weight loss and a healthy low-salt diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes, and low in refined processed foods. Give yourself two to three months at least to see if this approach works, but if it doesn’t you will need to discuss medical options with your doctor, because high blood pressure should always be taken seriously as it carries with it an increased risk of heart disease.

Blood pressure is the pressure exerted by the blood on the walls of blood vessels as it is pumped through them. Numerous factors contribute to blood pressure levels – the most important thing for you to know is how to maintain a healthy blood pressure so that blood flows efficiently throughout the body. You’re more prone to high blood pressure if you have problems with your kidneys, adrenal glands or blood vessels, eat lots of salt, are overweight or do not exercise regularly. The jury is still out on the long-term effects of caffeine on high blood pressure, but it is well documented that nicotine contributes to it. Stress also plays a big role – have you ever heard that just being nervous about a visit to the doctor can make your blood pressure jump? Actually, stress and nicotine work in a similar fashion. They both increase the release of adrenaline, which in turn raises blood pressure.

As well as addressing the diet and lifestyle issues that can lower blood pressure (losing weight, cutting down on salt, exercising regularly and reducing stress), if your blood pressure is only borderline high you might want to try the following herbs to see if they work for you. Before taking any of these herbs, though, be sure to inform your doctor. This is especially important if you have a medical condition, are taking any medication, or are pregnant or trying for a baby.


·         Hawthorn is the herb of choice for high blood pressure. In a controlled trial (conducted by researchers in Reading, UK) 79 patients with type 2 diabetes were randomly selected to receive either hawthorn or a placebo for 16 weeks. Medication for high blood pressure was used by 71% of the patients. At the end of the 16 weeks, patients taking the hawthorn supplement had a significant reduction in blood pressure. No herb-drug interactions were reported.

·         Garlic is perhaps the easiest and the most flavoursome herbal remedy you can turn to. Garlic has been used medicinally since at least the days of the Pharaohs. Taking garlic can lower cholesterol, reduce blood-clotting, and lower high blood pressure. The only negative side effect is garlic-breath. A solution is to take garlic supplements or chew sprigs of fresh parsley. Since parsley is also a diuretic, this combination not only lowers blood pressure, it can also help with the swollen ankles that sometimes accompany high blood pressure. When choosing a garlic supplement go for aged garlic (see the Resources Page) as this is more powerful than just regular garlic capsules.


Garlic and hawthorn are the most well known and commonly prescribed herbs to help lower blood pressure but the following may also have benefits:

·         Animal studies have shown the powerful blood pressure- and cholesterol-lowering actions of maitake mushrooms. A research conducted by the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New-York, concluded that maitake mushrooms can help lower cholesterol and have anti-tumour effects. You can get maitake mushrooms from most supermarkets. You can also take them in supplement form, either as tablets or powder (see the Resources Page for details).

·         Olive leaf extract is derived from the leaves of the olive tree. It contains a complex structure of substances which act as vasodilators, lowering blood pressure. The blood pressure lowering action of olive leaf has been studied for two decades and researchers noted a statistically significant decrease of blood pressure for all patients, without side effects.

·         Yarrow contains substances which have been found effective in lowering blood pressure and lipids. Research has shown a significant decrease in blood pressure after just two months of treatment with yarrow extract drops.

·         If you drink coffee or black tea you may want to consider switching to green tea to lower high blood pressure. Green tea, along with seaweed, has been shown to be therapeutic according to research from Japan.

·         And lastly, although co-enzyme Q10 is not a herb, it should be included in a blood pressure lowering programme. It can also help with balancing blood sugar and lowers triglycerides (blood fats) and raises HDL (‘good’ cholesterol). Take 60mg per day. 

Discovering herbs: Agnus Castus

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

The common name of this pretty herb is Chaste Tree, harking back to the Crusaders’ belief that it would crush their wives’ libidos whilst they were off crusading. Whether it actually achieved this effect is doubtful as it is now recognised as boosting female fertility and easing menstrual symptoms.


Agnus castus, the ‘Chaste Tree’ is actually not a tree at all but a shrub with violet flowers and fruit, containing volatile oils that create a peppermint-like scent. In modern times, Agnus castus has increasingly become recognised for its beneficial effect on female hormones, boosting the levels of luteinising hormone and therefore the production of progesterone. It may not seem important to have enough progesterone – oestrogen is the hormone most people are aware of and many women worry that lower oestrogen levels experienced in the menopause will bring them uncomfortable symptoms. It is, however, high oestrogen levels in the menstruating woman that we associate with symptoms such as Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), breast tenderness, fluid retention, heavy, painful periods and many other miseries that women think are an inevitable part of their lot. Increasing progesterone levels can alleviate many of these symptoms, and there is research to prove this!


A trial published in the British Medical Journal in 2001 showed agnus castus to have a beneficial effect on PMS symptoms, ranging from anger and irritability to bloating and breast fullness. The herb was well tolerated and did not cause unwanted side effects. Another trial published in 2000, showed 42% of the 1,634 women involved reporting that they no longer suffered from PMS! Overall, 93% of the women on the trial reported that their PMS symptoms either disappeared or decreased. Interestingly, 23 of the women on the trial fell pregnant whilst taking Agnus castus, and 19 of them had previously had fertility problems. Seemingly, not only does agnus castus increase progesterone but it inhibits prolactin, high levels of which have been connected to infertility as this hormone stops ovulation. (See the Resources Page for a good herbal combination containing agnus castus called Agnus Castus Plus.)


Other uses of this interesting shrub are for teenage acne, for both boys and girls, and for the symptoms of PCOS or polycystic ovary syndrome, a common hormone imbalance which can cause irregular periods, acne and facial hair. In fact it may be one of the most powerful herbs for PCOS because it works as an adaptogen, helping to balance hormones – lowering them when they are raised and decreasing them when they are low – which in turn can ease symptoms of PCOS.


And last, but by no means least, the hormone balancing properties of Agnus castus may also prove useful for easing symptoms of the menopause, such as hot flushes.

(Do not take agnus castus if you are any medication that has an effect on the female hormones e.g. the Pill or HRT.)

Discovering herbs: Dong Quai

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

Dong quai, also called Chinese Angelica, is a common remedy in both China and the United States. Chinese herbalists often call Dong quai women’s ginseng. It has been used for thousands of years for many medicinal purposes, especially as a tonic for a variety of female problems, and is second only to ginseng in popularity.


The nutritional and healing constituents of Dong quai include; Vitamins A, B3, B12, B-complex, C, E, calcium, iron, zinc, sodium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, silicon, tannins, resin, and volatile oil and the phytoestrogens of Dong quai can help to supply the needed balance to minimise the oestrogen loss in women that occurs around menopause.


Dong quai is also a traditional remedy for disorders of the menstrual cycle, like cessation of menstruation, pain that accompanies menstruation and heavy bleeding. This versatile herb has several other health benefits besides relieving period problems and menopause symptoms and can be used for effectively treating PMS, arthritis, and lowering blood pressure. Chinese herbalists recommend it for both males and females to treat cardiovascular disorders like high blood pressure or circulatory problems and studies show that it can help regulate the production of unhealthy prostaglandins which are responsible for increased blood flow. In addition, Dong quai is very rich in iron and so it is used to treat or prevent anaemia and because Dong quai carries nutrients including magnesium, B12 and vitamin E, which all regulate the nervous system and ease pressure placed upon it, it can also help ease stress and headaches.


Dong quai is a root that is usually crushed into a powder and then taken as a pill.  (Dong quai is contained in the combination herbal supplement Black Cohosh Plus, see the Resources Page).