Herbal Healthwatch, September 2018

Rhodiola Relieves Stress

Rhodiola {Rhodiola rosea} is a perennial groundcover that grows in some of the harshest conditions on Earth; the Arctic regions, from Scandinavia to Siberia. For centuries in Russia, Rhodiola enjoyed a folk reputation as a while-body strengthener or tonic. After World War II, Russian researchers added it to the short list of “adaptogens,” plants such as ginseng that strengthen the entire body. But during the Cold War, the Russian military seized Rhodiola supplies and suppressed information about the herb, convinced that it could give Soviet troops an edge in potential battle. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian Rhodiola research was published in the West and the herb became available in the U.S. and Europe.

More recent research shows it has several health benefits, particularly in the realm of coping with physical and emotional stress, and a new study shows that it helps prevent and treat the severe stress of job burnout.

Austrian scientists surveyed the emotional health of 117 people, ages 30 to 60, who lived with the tremendous stress of being full-time caregivers for chronically ill or disabled relatives. Caregivers face a substantial risk of burnout, with symptoms that can include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, inability to concentrate, and a variety of physical complaints. The researchers examined these participants and surveyed their burnout symptoms. Then, they asked them to take Rhodiola {200 mg twice daily before breakfast and lunch}.

After three months, the participants were evaluated again. Based on both physician assessments and their own reports, almost half {42 percent} showed significant relief from burnout, with greater physical and emotional resilience. The study was published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice.

Meanwhile, in men, emotional stress can play a major role in premature ejaculation during sex. In a study published in Experimental Therapies in Medicine, Italian researchers focused on 95 men, ages 18 to 45, who had visited physicians complaining of this issue. They were given a daily combination of Rhodiola {200 mg}, along with one mineral and two vitamins: zinc {10 mg}, folic acid {200 micrograms}, and biotin {50 micrograms}.

After three months, their ejaculatory control was reassessed, and researchers determined that participants were able to engage 25 percent longer. Now, this is not a huge improvement, and there was no control group. A placebo effect cannot be ruled out. Nonetheless, to the extent that chronic stress plays a role in premature ejaculation, Rhodiola appears to help and causes no side effects.

Often called the “poor person’s ginseng,” Rhodiola costs considerably less than the fabled Asian adaptogen. It’s available at health food stores and from herb shops and catalogs. follow package directions, or take 200 mg once or twice a day.

Stinging Nettle for Prostate Enlargement

Benign {non-cancerous} prostate enlargement {BPH} is the urinary bane of older men. As men age, their prostate glands grow larger and pinch the urethra, the tube that carries urine out of the body. BPH causes weak stream {less forceful flow}, hesitancy {trouble getting started}, urgency {the need to urinate immediately}, and nocturia {having to get up at night to pee}. BPH can be treated surgically, but many men would rather avoid it.

During the 1950s, a German researcher showed that stinging nettle {Urtica dioica} helps relieve BPH symptoms, but his studies were largely ignored until the 1970s when the herb became a popular treatment in Europe. Americans did not begin using it until the 1990s, but stinging nettle never caught on here quite like saw palmetto {Serenoa repens}, the main American herbal BPH treatment, did.

Now, that’s slowly changing. A meta-analysis of five trails recently confirmed stinging nettle’s effectiveness for BPH. Meta-analysis starts with several small studies and then statistically combines them as though they were all part of one much larger effort. The larger the study, the more scientifically reliable the results, so treatments judged effective in meta-analysis gain credibility.

Chinese researchers identified rigorous placebo-controlled studies – one from Germany, one from Italy, and three from Iran – involving a total of 573 men who received stinging nettle and 555 who took a placebo. The trials used different dose regimens – 360 to 600 mg per day – but the meta-analysis took this into account and showed stinging nettle significantly effective.

The main problem is the plant’s sting, caused by the irritant compound in its many hairs. But processing the plant removes its sting. Follow package directions, or take 360 to 600 mg a day.

Eat Avocados, Get Smarter, See Better

As people age, most become apprehensive about Alzheimer’s disease. Many also grow concerned about macular degeneration, which causes loss of vision. Both conditions are associated with low blood levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, members of the vitamin A family of nutrients. Avocado {Persea americana} is high in both, and a new study from Tufts University shows that eating one a day reduces the risk of these conditions.

The researchers assessed lutein and zeaxanthin blood levels in 40 volunteers and then instructed them to add one of three items to their daily diets; one fresh avocado, one potato, or one cup of chickpeas {garbanzo beans}. All three foods contain lutein and zeaxanthin, but avocados are particularly rich in them.

After six months, zeaxanthin blood levels remained largely unchanged. But lutein levels increased in all three groups, with avocado-eaters showing the greatest improvement at 25 percent. In the avocado group, the macular pigments in the eye, which deteriorate in macular degeneration, became significantly more robust, suggesting a reduced risk of macular degeneration. The avocado group also showed improved memory.

All fruits and vegetables contain lutein and zeaxanthin, but avocados pack more punch. This study doesn’t prove that the creamy fruit will protect you from vision loss and dementia, but if you enjoy avocados, why not eat one?

Ginger Helps Yeast Infection

Yeast fungi, Candida albicans, inhabit the healthy vagina. But sometimes they overgrow, with symptoms that include discharge, redness, and mild to severe itching, but no urinary symptoms {that might lead women to think they have bladder infections}. The standard treatment is a cream containing the antifungal drug clotrimazole, but some strains of Candida are resistant. Iranian researchers wondered if combining clotrimazole and ginger {Zingiber officinale} might help. Since ancient times, ginger has been used to treat fungal infection.

Researchers recruited 67 women, ages 25 to 35, just diagnosed with vaginal yeast infections. They all received standard therapy; a cream containing 1 percent clotrimazole. But half were given a cream that also contained 1 percent powdered ginger extract. Participants used their assigned cream nightly for a week.

Compared with the women who used just clotrimazole, those who used the drug-ginger combination showed significantly milder symptoms, notably less discharge and burning, and briefer infections. The study was published in the Journal of Advances in Pharmacy Technology and Research.

If you suffer recurrent vaginal yeast infections, avoid bubble baths, chlorinated swimming pools, synthetic-fabric underwear, and a high-sugar diet. You might also take echinacea {Echinacea spp.} and eat more garlic, both of which have antifungal action. And if you use an antifungal cream, mix in a bit of powdered ginger before applying it.

Drink Coffee, Live Longer

Coffee {Coffea spp.} is the third most popular beverage on Earth {after water and teas}. As a plant product, it’s rich in antioxidants, which reduce the risk of all major conditions that kill contemporary Americans; heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and several others. Health authorities urge Americans to eat at least five daily servings of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables {preferably eight to nine}, but the typical American consumes only around three. So, coffee is an important source of antioxidants for many Americans.

Previous studies have demonstrated that drinking coffee helps reduce the risk of heart disease. Research from the United States and Japan has shown that coffee is associated with lower risk of mortality from all causes. Now a European study corroborates those findings.

Started in 1992, the investigators followed 451,743 Europeans, ages 35 and older, from 10 countries on the continent tracking coffee consumption and the risk of death from all causes. After 16 years, compared with Europeans who drank no coffee, those in the highest quartile of coffee drinkers showed 12 percent lower mortality – despite the fact that they were more likely to smoke and less likely to eat recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. The study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Of course, coffee causes jitters, irritability, and insomnia. But in this study, compared with regular coffee drinkers, those who drank decaf had a lower death rate.

Health authorities continue to urge everyone to eat a plant-based diet; lots of fruits and vegetables with minimal meats, dairy foods, fast food, and junk foods. But in addition, if you like coffee, it just might help prolong your life.

P.S. Compared with coffee, tea is higher in antioxidants and has also been linked to lower all-cause mortality.