What is Herbal Medicine
Herbal medicine has been part of our ancient and more modern history for thousands of years. Unfortunately there is no money to be made by the pharmaceutical companies when only a plant is processed. Therefore in the last twenty years particularly there has been a focused effort, at a very high level, to downgrade all alternative therapies including herbal remedies to quackery. We can only now suggest that an alternative therapy MAY help you.
A commonsense warning about herbal medicines.
Herbal medicines should be treated with respect and should only be used if you have read all the contraindications, possible side effects and never with any prescribed medication unless you have cleared with your doctor first.
This is particularly important if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant as taking specific herbal medicines can cause harm.
Go to a qualified herbalist or if you buy over the counter on online read all the instructions beforehand or enclosed in the packet. I always buy the more expensive and professionally prepared tinctures and have stayed with that brand for the last twenty years.
Having established that; I want to introduce you to herbs that can be taken as a prepared tincture but also those that you can include in your diet which may improve and maintain your health. Today a look at another common herb that has been used for thousands of years by many cultures.
In recent years Saw Palmetto has been primarily recommended to men but it is an herb that can also be used by women especially if they are suffering from oestrogen dominance throughout their reproductive years.
Saw palmetto is a small palm tree with large leaves and deep red/black berries. The berries contain an oil comprising a variety of fatty acids and phytosterols (plant cholesterol that blocks our body’s production of cholesterol).
Like many of our herbal remedies, Saw Palmetto has been used for thousands of years by Native American Indians as a remedy for urinary tract problems, impotence, testicular and prostate disease and reduced sex drive. They also used the berries as a general tonic and to stimulate appetite after illness. Women were also treated with Saw Palmetto for painful periods and to increase levels of breast milk.
As with all supposed folk remedies this herb has come under increasing scrutiny and in some cases poorly conducted research products that tend to confuse the public as to its medicinal benefits.
There is growing evidence however that Saw Palmetto may have very definite benefits for a condition that affects many men over the age of 40 and at least half the men over the age of 60 years old.
Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)
BPH is an overgrowth of the cells in the prostate gland probably due to hormonal changes that begin to occur in men over the age of 40. It is not cancerous but it causes the prostate to enlarge and press onto the urethra, the tube carrying urine from the bladder. This causes frequent urination and the feeling that the bladder is never quite empty. In most cases doctors prescribe alpha blockers such as Tamsulosin, but there is increasing evidence that Saw Palmetto can also relieve the symptoms but without the side effects of the drug. These might include loss of sex drive, semen production, dizziness due to a drop in blood pressure and a runny nose.
It is not fully understood how the herb works but it is thought that the fat-soluble extract of the berries may block the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT) which can stimulate the growth of prostate cells. The herb also exhibits an anti-inflammatory effect, which will also help relieve the swelling and urinary tract discomfort.
Obviously if you are currently taking prescribed medication for this condition you cannot simply stop taking it or start taking Saw Palmetto in tandem. Do consult your doctor beforehand.
Oestrogen Dominance in women
Though we think of declining oestrogen as the hallmark of menopause, it’s actually common for women to experience surges of abnormally high oestrogen levels during the menopausal and pre-menopausal periods, as well as earlier in life. It is believed that an excess of oestrogen, coupled with a deficiency of progesterone (the counter hormone to oestrogen), is the common denominator for a lot of female reproductive problems as well as other apparently unrelated conditions.
Because of our modern diet we are exposed to a huge amount of additives in our food chain and these include hormones which are given to livestock to promote heavier meat yield. This is supposed to be regulated but it was particularly prevalent in the 70’s and 80’s and affected teenage girls who reached puberty during that period.
Even today there is still a lack of regulation about what is put into the feed for animals we are eating and certainly it is my theory that it is not only affecting young women but increasing the menopause symptoms for older women. What is not considered is the effect on men who also experience a reduction in testosterone in middle age and are exposed to oestrogen.
Oestrogen dominance can build up before puberty leading to periods beginning later at 14 and 15 years old. Typically these will be painful when they do start and it is common for doctors to simply prescribe the birth control pill which can lead to more problems than it solves as it further destabilizes the hormone balance.
Symptoms that are associated with excess oestrogen and deficient progesterone are as follows:-
- breast tenderness,
- cold hands and feet,
- decreased sex drive,
- dry eyes,
- fat gain in abdomen,
- hips and thighs,
- poor hair quality,
- irregular, heavy and prolonged bleeding,
- foggy thinking and memory loss,
- sluggish metabolism,
- water retention and bloating.
Other health benefits of Saw Palmetto
Saw palmetto has also been used in the past to heal chest infections as it acts like an expectorant helping the body eliminate mucous from the lungs and bronchial tubes. Native athletes would have taken the herb to increase stamina, muscle and strength as well as an anti-inflammatory for injuries. Allegedly it is a mild aphrodisiac, probably because of its hormone balancing properties, and may also help treat urinary tract infections.
Add its mild sedative effect and its alleged ability to stimulate the thyroid and you have a versatile and useful herb to keep in the medicine cupboard.
The herb is available in tincture and capsule form and you should always follow the directions for use. If in any doubt do consult a qualified herbalist to ensure that you are taking the correct remedy.
The usual dosage for the tincture is 10 – 20 drops; two or three times per day in a little water and if in capsule form take once a day after meals.
Contraindications for the use of Saw Palmetto
- The herb is a medicine and should therefore be used with caution when taking any prescribed medication.
- In particular any medication that contains oestrogen such as the birth control pill, as the Saw Palmetto may decrease the effectiveness.
- Also should not be taken with anticoagulants and the herb may slow blood clotting.
- This includes aspirin widely taken as a preventative to thin the blood.
- ©Sally Cronin – Just Food for Health – 1998 – 2020
I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-two years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.
If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here: My books and reviews 2020
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