The healing power of herbal medicine and naturopathy

Natural health treatments offer powerful solutions to many of the problems that confront us as we age. They can help women through the menopause, replenish your increasingly dehydrated skin, soothe the negative effects of stress or anger and help to prevent osteoporosis by regulating the minerals and vitamins in your body.

Treatments can vary from herbal medicine to nutrition, but, common to them all, is the revelation that there is much that nature can teach us about the natural process of aging.

Find out just how nutrition, herbal medicines and other natural health treatments can help treat and prevent the effects of aging.

Herbal medicine

There are many ways that herbal medicine can help women through the menopause and beyond.

The unique way that herbs can moderate hormones by creating balance sets them apart from the more disruptive way that conventional pharmaceutical drugs work when used to in HRT.  For example, some herbs work intelligently to block oestrogen receptors when there is excess oestrogen but stimulate these receptors when there is not enough. These herbs can therefore prove just as useful before, during and after the menopause.

There are also some excellent herbs to help with our control of our emotions. Some work in a similar way to anti-depressants, but are much less harsh in the way they react with our body. Others have a calming effect and are particularly suited to treating stress and anxiety.

Often it is advisable to complement these herbs with others which can treat the side-effects of experiencing these strong emotions. These include a loss of energy or the need to have more energy and strength to be better able to cope with your severe mood swings.

Keeping mind and body well as you get older can be a real challenge. In particular there is a very real need to preserve the skin, repair blood vessels and help maintain good brain function.

The herbs that help here work by boosting antioxidants which increases the blood supply to certain parts of the body’s tissue and helps to strengthen it.

Choosing the right herbs is a particular skill that has been developed over many years. Most herbs used for treatment are only available from professional, fully-trained herbalists. Why not find out just how natural herbs could help you lead a healthier and happier life today?

Dehydration

Dryness within the body is a feature of aging. Its tell-tale signs are wrinkly skin, creaking joints, reduced body fluids, heat and flushes, constipation or tension. These effects can be addressed naturally by correct hydration and nutrition.

Drinking more water is a simple solution, but I find that, for some of my clients, plain water tends to go straight through them.

A more effective solution is to add something to the water that they drink: namely, minerals that will balance electrolytes. Getting this right can take some trial and error but here are some tips to get you started:

  • Coconut water has a perfect balance of minerals so it will suit most people.
  • Try adding some lemon juice or other diluted fruit juice to water.
  • If you have a very low salt intake in foods, you could add a pinch of good quality sea or Himalayan salt to water, especially after sweating heavily.
  • Most herbal teas will help hydrate, but some like black tea and coffee are diuretics, that is they actually make you pee out fluids which just causes more dryness. Alcohol is also diuretic so its intake needs to be limited.
  • Vegetables and vegetable juices are mostly hydrating but fruits juices are best drunk diluted.
  • Don’t drink too much with meals as this will dilute digestive enzymes.
  • Avoid chilled drinks.

Nutrition

One of the main concerns for women as they get older is the loss of bone density that can lead to osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis increases the risk of fractures and is one of the main reasons for the reduction of height, as vertebrates weaken and the backbone shortens.

Calcium is often considered the key mineral, but simply taking calcium is not enough. It needs vitamins A, C and D, Boron and Magnesium to enable its absorption and utilisation.

You could just take supplements, but natural food sources would offer a much more effective preventative measure. Excessive intake of calcium is a real danger with supplements and it can be very damaging to soft tissues. Many calcium supplements also contain calcium carbonate (chalk) which is not well absorbed, unlike calcium citrate.

For natural sources of calcium, contrary to popular opinion, dairy is not your best source. Green leafy vegetables are packed with calcium and they are also full of other important nutrients. Other good sources are watercress, sesame seeds, nuts, figs, sea vegetables like kelp and bone broth. The last two may sound a little strange, but you can check out my delicious recipe for using calcium rich food sources for some delectable inspiration.

Efficient digestion is also needed for the absorption of nutrients and, as you get older, your stomach acid tends to become weaker. Calcium needs good levels of acid to ensure absorption. Herbal medicines are very good for improving digestion.

More focussed, personal naturopathic advice is always available at Shine, but some general advice would include:

  • Eat a good wholefood diet with a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Avoid excess meat.
  • Coffee, tea, soft drinks and some drugs can inhibit calcium.
  • Optimise your digestion.
  • Avoid refined sugar and excess salt.
  • The Solanum (nightshade) family of foods inhibit calcium so avoid too many tomatoes, potatoes, aubergines or red/green peppers.
  • Do regular moderate weight-bearing exercise, but take note that both too little and too much exercise can lead to bone density loss.

By Lloyd Gee, Naturopath at Shine, Church Street.

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