Friday, December 1, 2006

Herbs that may be used for mental health

Although there have been tests on many herbs, there is often no conclusive information about what side effects may occur and how likely they are. However, in comparison to the majority of pharmaceuticals, herbs are well tolerated.

It’s worth remembering that herbal remedies have been used safely for a very long time.


Damiana

A herb, Damiana Turnera diffusa. ( Plant family: Turneraceae.) Comes as a leaf, powder, capsule, tincture or fluid extract.

What's it for?

A tonic herb to strengthen the reproductive and nervous systems. For mild to moderate depression and anxiety associated with fatigue. Also for lack of sexual desire.

Possible side effects

No reported side effects.

Caution

Turnera can be very stimulating, so, if you are self-prescribing, use the minimum dosage.

Gingko biloba

Extract from a Chinese tree. (Plant family: Gingkoaceae.) Comes as tablets, liquid or tea.

What's it for?

Memory and other age-related mental effects. Can be helpful for depression, and when an antidepressant reduces interest in sex. Gingko has a powerful influence on the circulatory system, and research has been undertaken into how it affects Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Possible side effects

Rare. Stomach upset, headache, allergic skin reactions, or slight dizziness, on occasion.

Kava kava

A shrub, Piper methysticum, a member of the pepper family. (Plant family: Piperaceae.) Comes as pills, capsules, liquids, tea, tincture or spray. Currently unavailable in the UK.

What's it for?

Anxiety and stress. May also be helpful for sleep, pain and depression. Used for chronic irritation of the urinary tract and for some arthritis.

Possible side effects

Generally well tolerated. Exceptionally, people have experienced stomach discomfort, headache, tiredness and wobbliness.

Caution

Consult your doctor if you are already taking sedatives.

Lavender

A herb, Lavendula officinalis. (Plant family: Labiatae.) Available as a tea, essential oil and in some over-the-counter preparations.

What’s it for?

A safe herb, generally used to influence the nervous system, digestive system, circulation and skin. Aids sluggish digestion and sleep, and relieves tension headaches. Also used by herbalists to help people with mild to moderate depression, and to ease pain.

Possible side effects

No reported side effects.

Lemon balm

A herb, Melissa officinalis. (Plant family: Labiatae.) Available as a tea and essential oil.

What’s it for?

Anxiety, irritability, insomnia, headaches and period pains.

Possible side effects

No reported side effects.

Peppermint

Mentha piperita. (Plant family: Labiatae.) Comes as herb, powder, capsule, essential oil, tincture and fluid extract.

What's it for?

Commonly used by sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome. Useful for those who experience nausea due to emotional disruption, for digestive spasm and pain, mild diarrhoea, headaches and migraine.

Caution

Do not use medicinally in children under five. Do not use during pregnancy or when breastfeeding.

St John's wort

A herb, Hypericum perforatum. (Plant family: Guttiferae.) Comes as tablets, capsules, liquid, tea, tincture, ointment and oil.

What's it for?

Depression. Clinical trials confirm its benefits for treating mild depression. May also be helpful for anxiety, sleep problems and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It can influence the nervous system, the body's defences (the immune system) and the glands, and can be used, internally and externally, for a wide range of symptoms. Herbalists may use St John’s wort to influence a number of health problems, including nerve damage, menopausal symptoms and viral infections.

Possible side effects

Mild nausea, headaches, sleepiness, dry mouth, constipation, itchiness, restlessness, dizziness, mania (in manic depression) and sunburn. Has been shown in scientific trials to have fewer side effects than older antidepressants.

Caution

Do not use it if you are taking medication (including the contraceptive pill) without seeking professional advice. May thin the blood. The Medicines Control Agency suggests it should not be used with drugs such as Warfarin, anticonvulsants and certain antidepressants. Increases the skin's sensitivity to sun.

Valerian

A common plant, Valeriana officinalis. (Plant family: Valerianaceae.) Comes in capsules, pills, liquid extracts, tinctures, infusions, and tea.

What's it for?

Anxiety and stress. It may be helpful for depression and for sleep problems. Herbalists may use valerian in combination with other herbs for pain management and to influence a whole range of health problems that may be exacerbated by disruption of the nervous system.

Possible side effects

Mild headaches, feeling sick, nervousness, palpitations, grogginess on waking. Long-term use at large doses may increase the range and severity of side effects.

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