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Herbal Help (How herbs can help medical problems)

Memory

Ayurveda explains that memory retention is governed by kapha, information assimilation is ruled by pitta, and memory retrieval is connected with vata. Vata body-types grasp concepts quickly and forget them just as rapidly; pittas are quick to comprehend and remember well; kaphas are slow to understand but retain knowledge a long time.

Ayurveda uses herbs, diet, meditation, and body therapies to nourish and stabilize brain activity. Brain boosters include ashwagandha, ginseng, cayenne, brahmi, calamus, shankapuspi, gingko biloba, holy basil, bhringaraja, gotu cola, gooseberry, milk and ghee, nasya, brahmi oil applied to the head, and saraswatam powder (with ten memory-enhancing herbs).

Lifestyle changes

A serene mind is like a still lake: drop something in it and it creates a rippling impression. However, a stressed mind is like a choppy ocean: too distracted to register extra activity. This is why, being overloaded and preoccupied, we often forget information while under stress. Ayurveda recommends meditation or guided relaxation to still the hyperactive mind.

Brain function is also impaired by poor cerebro-vascular circulation. This can be improved with aerobic exercise and daily cranial massage with coconut or brahmi oil.

Brain foods include tapioca, spinach, almonds, pure ghee, and cow's milk. Toxic

and oxidizing substances such as aluminum, mercury, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, rancid fats, and environmental pollutants decrease brain functions and destroy brain cells. Nutrients shown to aid the memory are coenzyme Q10, essential fatty acids, vitamin B12, and iron.

Case study

A 58-year-old vata-pitta constitution, Al, started to forget things like the names of friends and where he left his car keys. He simultaneously experienced stress because he was (reluctantly) due to retire soon. Al was given brahmi and bhringaraja oil to apply to his head daily. He also took brahmi, gotu cola, and gingko biloba, with warm ghee and cow's milk to aid its absorption. Counseling helped Al to see the positive side to retirement. He wrote down aspirations, including places to see, hobbies to pursue, and writing projects to work on. Daily Qi-gong helped Al relax and cleared his mind of stressful self-talk. He also reduced his excessive alcohol intake. By these adjustments, Al s memory gradually improved.

Menopause

With a positive perspective, menopause can be welcomed as a natural metamorphosis rather than a disease or a dreaded ending. Ayurveda sees it as a "meaningful pause" before the beginning of a liberating new phase — a time when women's wisdom comes to fruition so that they can share their wealth of experience. Many women make a smooth transition into menopause, happy to say goodbye to the cramps, bleeding, and mood fluctuations associated with the hormonal cycle.

This is especially the case with healthy, fit women, and those from cultures where age is valued. Menopause can also cause fibroids to shrink and thus relieve endo-metriosis.

For others, challenges arise at this time because the doshic imbalances bring hot flashes, tiredness, moodiness, dryness, and weight gain. The risks of osteoporosis, heart disease, and high cholesterol also increase after menopause. If this were solely due to low estrogen, all women would get these symptoms, but they don't. Women with pre-existing doshic imbalances and an accumulation of metabolic toxins (ama) are the ones who experience menopausal difficulties.

Ayurveda takes an individualized approach to menopause according to the elemental imbalance responsible. Regular purification regimes (panchakarma), exercise, and a whole-food diet before menopause are the best safeguard against later menopausal discomfort. Herbs to balance hormones include rose flowers, shatavari, fennel, licorice, lotus seeds, cumin, wild yam, red clover, punarnava, alfalfa, flaxseed oil, dong quai, Siberian ginseng, sage, and castor root. Supervised vaginal douches (uttara vasti) with oil or infusions of neem, triphala, or aloe vera can help cleanse the uterus.

Lifestyle changes

Effective menopause strategies depend on whether there is a vata, pitta, or kapha imbalance. Vata menopausal symptoms include dryness, insomnia, osteoporosis, and anxiety. Pitta problems are heavy bleeding, impatience, hot flashes, and acne rosacea. Kapha symptoms may involve weight gain, water retention, depression, raised cholesterol, and fatigue. These can all be addressed by following the appropriate diet for the affected dosha. Following Ayurvedic daily regimes such as self-massage, yoga, and meditation can help the body maintain a natural homeostasis.

Hormone replacement therapy is an option for women who are in a high-risk category for osteoporosis, heart disease, and high cholesterol. It should be an educated choice made with an awareness of possible side effects, such as breast cancer, gall bladder disease, weight gain, and higher blood pressure. But natural plant hormones combined with purification therapies are often sufficient to support the body in making a smooth and healthy transition. Foods and supplements that can assist the process include vitamins А, В, С, Е; and calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Boron, a mineral that boosts estrogen levels, is present in almonds, hazelnuts, grapes, dates, peaches, honey, apples, pears, and soybeans. Greens such as cabbage, brus-sel-sprouts, and broccoli are also estro-genic and antioxidant.

Case study

Bernadette started to skip periods at age 53. She was a vata-pitta constitution with high blood pressure. After one year her periods stopped completely, and she started to experience hot flashes, dry skin and hair, and irritable feelings. Her following a vata-and-pitta-pacifying diet helped stabilize the symptoms. She also practiced self-massage, meditation, and yoga or swimming daily. Bernadette thrived on a combination of licorice, shatavari, dong quai, and castor roots in a ghee medium. Sage tea helped to soothe the hot flashes. She was advised to check her bone density and triglycerides annually.

Menstrual problems

Ayurveda offers practical tips on handling the monthly menses. The (average) 450 periods a woman experiences in a lifetime are a valuable purification of the blood and the uterus. A healthy menstrual cycle depends on the proper functioning of the endocrine glands in stimulating hormone secretions and of the liver and gastro-intestinal tract in breaking down and eliminating them. Effective herbs for cramps include cramp bark, asafetida, wild yam, kava kava, valerian, raspberry leaf, aloe vera gel, and ginger. Castor oil taken before periods can help to ease congestive pain. Heavy periods are reduced with anti-pitta liver and uterine tonics like shatavari, licorice, coriander, punarnava, musta, and ashwagandha.

Lifestyle changes

Cultivating healthy habits throughout the month makes the monthly period easier to deal with. Regulated sleep, daily self-massage, regular exercise, and a positive attitude all help. Avoid animal fats, alcohol, eggs, sugar, salt, yellow cheese, tea, coffee, soft drinks, fried foods, chocolate, cold foods and drinks, and recreational drugs. Helpful foods include mono-un-saturated cold pressed oils, seeds, fresh fruit, vegetables, split mung dal, and whole grains. Try to reduce activity and stress for the first three days, enjoy a light and liquid diet, avoid strenuous exercise, abstain from sex, and prefer sanitary pads to tampons as this facilitates a more complete flow. Baths in soothing essential oils such as chamomile, geranium, rosemary, fennel, and sweet marjoram can reduce cramps. Abdominal castor oil packs on the stomach can also relieve pain. Helpful supplementation for some includes vitamins A, C, E, and В complex; and bioflavonoids, iron, and zinc.

Case study

26-year-old Natalie experienced painful periods and constipation for a year. Natalies doctor had advised her to start taking contraceptive pills, but she was afraid of the increased long-term risk of side effects such as breast cancer, liver tumors, skin pigmentation, and weight gain. Instead, she adjusted her diet and took a tea of cramp bark, castor roots, fennel, and shatavari one week before periods. Magnesium, calcium, B6, and zinc were also taken to help normalize muscle contractions.

Migraine

People predisposed to migraine attacks tend to be sensitive to particular stimuli. As with headaches, the key is to identify the trigger and avoid it whenever possible. Bright light, sun, smells, suppressed emotions, food allergens, and chemical sensitivity are just some of the possible exacerbating factors. Premenstrual migraines are possibly due to an increased fluid retention in the brain. To increase ones resistance to triggers, and to subdue the vata and pitta root of many migraines, internal medicines are prescribed. Common ones include milk, ghee, saffron, sandalwood, valerian, urad dal, feverfew, wood betony, white willow bark, and crataeva religiosa.

Lifestyle changes

Allergy testing can help to isolate the cause of migraines. Common allergens include chocolate, citrus, caffeine, cheese, wine, food preservatives, monosodium glutamate, peanuts, wheat, smoked meats, yeast, food colorings, benzoic acid, and the contraceptive pill. Since heat can often aggravate a migraine, it is best to wear sunglasses and a hat if exposed to the sun, but it is better to avoid the midday sunlight if possible. At the initial sign of a migraine, massage the head with sesame oil, retire to a quiet and dark room, and pull the earlobes down whilst yawning to release blood vessel pressure. Inducing vomiting with warm salty water can give instant relief in some cases. A few drops of warm ghee up the nostrils may help with vata-predominant migraines.

Case study

Rob experienced feverish migraines for three continuous days every month for six years. Pulse diagnosis identified the liver as the root cause. He was given the liver herbs: dandelion root, punarnava and chitraka, along with panchakarma purification therapies to cleanse toxins from the liver.

Overweight

Ayurveda believes that a healthy weight is achieved when a person is healthy. There are no artificial standards for an ideal weight. People with a kapha constitution will naturally be a little heavier as a result of their slower metabolism, which makes them gain weight easily and loose it slowly. Weight gain is not always healthy, however, as it may indicate water retention, hypothyroidism, or ama accumulation. Whatever the cause, the focus should be on losing waste rather than weight. An ideal weight is when a person can access optimal stamina, fitness, and health. The weight of a waif-like model may be perfectly natural and effortless for a vata-type constitution, but is dangerously depleting for a kapha or pitta constitution. Carrying a bit of extra weight can promote greater longevity, providing a reserve to help counter the vata years of old age. Along with diet, exercise, and mental attitude, Ayurveda has some powerful fat- and toxin-reducing herbs to facilitate weight loss. These include triphala (amalaki, bhibitaki, and haritaki), Indian myrrh, vidanga, turmeric, fenugreek, ginger, asana, and acacia catechu.

Lifestyle changes

Overeating and under-exercising are the simple reasons behind most weight gain. Food can be abused as a tool to repress uncomfortable emotions. Pitta body-types tend to overeat to suppress feelings of stress or frustration. Vata constitutions use food as a diversion from anxiety and fear. Kapha types commonly eat for comfort, or as a love substitute when lonely, depressed, or bored. The best way to overcome this automatic behavior is to be conscious of the underlying emotional hunger masked as physical hunger. Awareness before and during eating by chewing well, breathing, remaining silent, and eating away from diversions such as television, help one focus on the body's and mind's responses to the process. Avoiding snacking, eating a regular light breakfast, a substantial lunch, and an early dinner all assist the body in digesting food. Try to get a variety of food, including all six tastes — sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, salty, and astringent. Seeking alternative sources of energy and pleasure helps one cultivate a taste for life rather than trying to get it solely from food. Walking on the earth, soaking up some sun, breathing in ocean air, and pursuing an engrossing hobby can all help one to reduce dependence on food for vitality and stimulation.

A liquid juice or vegetable fast one day a week can aid the liquefaction and elimination of toxins from the system. It can also help normalize metabolism and the appetite. A kapha diet is suitable for simple cases of weight gain. This means avoidance of animal fat, fried foods, sugar, dairy, alcohol, nuts, and eating out. Items that support weight loss include light, warm, bitter, pungent, and astringent foods. Some examples of these are apples, pears, pomegranates, cranberries, honey, beans, barley, corn, millet, buckwheat, rye, spices (except salt), asparagus, eggplant, green leafy vegetables, celery, and sprouts. Drinking warm herbal teas with honey can help to cleanse the channels and allay hunger. Pranayama breathing also stimulates proper digestion, assimilation, and elimination of meals.

Case study

Dawn was a kapha body-type and felt comfortable with her larger athletic build. Over the past year, however, she had gained weight and felt sluggish and bloated. Dawn followed a kapha-reduc-ing diet and took triphala guggulu before bed (a combination of ginger, gooseberry, haritaki, bhibitaki, and Indian myrrh.) She also overcame long-term depression by joining the local water polo team and creating closer friendships. Within two months Dawn was happy to reach her target weight and felt more energetic.

 

Raga Manjari Devi Dasi and Rama Prasad "Herbal Help"//

Hope This Meets You — in Good Health, №10. 2004. Pp. 14-16

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