Woodland Herbs September 2011
 

In this issue
Welcome to your regular newsletter from Woodland Herbs. We hope you will find it interesting, entertaining and useful. If you do not wish to continue to receive this newsletter please use the link at the bottom of this email.
Child in fieldCredit: Juhan Sonin http://www.flickr.com/photos/juhansonin/3584496703/sizes/z/in/photostream/ Headaches

There's  a chill in the air. The schools and colleges are long back, the nights are darker and thoughts of summer holidays are fading. To many, it can all be something of a headache.  Almost all of us are familiar with the pain characteristic of headaches, but they don't have to be an inevitable part of life.
In the majority of cases, headache is due to muscular tension, but there are other possible causes, such as infected sinuses, nasal congestion, dental problems, kidney disorders, eye strain, hormonal imbalance and blood pressure problems.
 
'Tension headache' is the most common kind of head pain, with about half the population having a significant episode at least every month.  As the name suggests, tension headaches are more likely to manifest in periods of stress, and pain can also radiate from the neck, shoulders and eyes.
When a person has a headache most days, this is referred to as 'chronic headache' and accounts for the majority of hospital referrals due to headache.  The pain experienced can vary from mild discomfort to harsh, migraine-like debilitation and the condition is often accompanied by emotional problems and sleep disturbances.
 
A leading cause of chronic headache is overdependence on painkillers. These 'rebound' headaches are associated with many different types of medications such as analgesics and opiates which are often taken to relieve headaches and migraines.  It's recommended you seek the advice and support of a medical professional when withdrawing from any form of medication you have become dependent on.

Thankfully, 'cluster headaches' are relatively rare, affecting just about 0.1% of the population.  Though usually benign, the pain of cluster headaches is markedly greater than other headache conditions, including severe migraines.

Migraines are more severe and specific than the typical headache, and may incapacitate the person throughout its duration (typically between 4 and 72 hours).  Around 15%* of the population suffers them monthly, with three times as many females as males being sufferers.  In addition to throbbing head pain, there may also be nausea,vomiting, visual and auditory disturbances.  Migraines are usually caused when certain prostaglandins (hormone like messengers which control certain body functions) constrict blood vessels in the brain. Triggers vary, and often include allergies, stress and exhaustion, alcohol and stimulants, menstruation and exhaustion.

Become your own private investigator
Once other issues such as sinusitis or dental infection have been ruled out or addressed, there are ways to manage headaches that don't begin and end with yet another blister pack of pain killers.  The other good news is that the most common form, the tension headache, is caused by something we can take steps to mitigate and control: stress. Still, as there are often no easily identifiable causes, regular headache suffers need to conduct some detective work on themselves!  See below for a link to a useful headache diary, a good way of beginning your investigations.

Self help for head pain

Taking a good multivitamin/mineral is a good place to begin as deficiencies of many nutrients, particularly B-vitamins, are often implicated in headache.  A Medical Herbalist would prescribe herbs according to the individual's overall constitution, the headache's particular manifestation and underlying cause.  They may typically use relaxant and antispasmodic herbs such as Skullcap ( Scutellaria lateriflora ), Chamomile ( Matricaria recutita ), Wood Betony ( Stachys betonica ) and Passionflower ( Passiflora incarnata ).   Feverfew ( Tanacetum parthenium ) has long been used in medical herbalism to prevent migraine and a recent scientific study confirmed the herb as a viable preventative and treatment. 

There are many homeopathic remedies  indicated for headaches, and choosing the appropriate one is dependent on how the headache manifests itself and what other symptoms are present, eg Pulsatilla for menstrual headaches, Nat Mur for throbbing headaches and flashing lights and Kali Bich for migraine like headaches with blurred vision.  Weleda make a mineral-based remedy specific to migraine called Bidor, with the 1% version for prevention and the 5% version for relief during an attack. 

Essential oils can be helpful in managing headache, whether taken via a bath, massage, or inhalation.  Balancing oils such as Lavender and Geranium (a particular choice for premenstrual women) can help ease general tension, while inhaled Eucalyptus oil can help ease respiratory congestion. As well as relieving muscle cramps and stiffness when used in massage, a couple of drops of Peppermint oil in a little base oil or cream can help cool a painful forehead or back of the neck.  If the headache is associated with mental overstimulation, a simple head massage using Frankincense in a base oil can soothe and quieten overactive minds.
 
Other top tips

Drink your 8 glasses of water, eat your 5 a day and get your 6 to 8 hours kip.
  These common mantras are worth repeating  and following! Dehydration, lack of sleep and lack of regular, nutritious meals are very common causes of headaches.
 
Keep on moving. If you work at a desk all day, it's essential that you take a break at least every hour to stretch, even if its simply a walk to the printer, some shoulder rotations or a trip to the loo. Resist the pressure to take lunch at your desk and seek out a relaxing environment.
 
The eyes have it.   Don't stare fixedly at that glowing rectangle in front of you (your computer screen), your eyes need to keep moving and need regular breaks too.  Get your eyes checked regularly and investigate wearing tinted glasses at work if you're light sensitive and have to work under fluorescent lights.  Better still, talk to your manager about adapting your workspace so it's more amenable to your health and wellbeing. 
 
Avoid caffeine overdose.   That strong brew may help us get going in the dark mornings, but don't overdo it.  As well as being associated with B-vitamin depletion in the body and nervous agitation, an excess of caffeine can impair blood flow to the brain, causing headaches.

Rest, relax and repair. Our busy lifestyles may leave us feeling that there are never enough hours in the day to do everything we're expected to, but make a commitment to at least 20 minutes of conscious relaxation (eg meditation, gentle yoga, breathing exercises) every day.  A small investment like that will soon make a good return in terms of increased wellbeing and mental focus.  


Write it down.   Keeping a simple symptom diary can be a helpful tool for regular headache sufferers and invaluable in helping identify migraine triggers.  Note how you were feeling emotionally, what you'd been doing and consuming around the attack.  Other factors, such as exercise and weather conditions, are useful to note too. The Migraine Trust has free online tool to help you keep your diary.

Find what works for you.   There are many methods and therapies to soothe headaches and address underlying issues such as tension and hormonal imbalance.  Many find relief from Medical Herbalism, Shiatsu and Aromatherapy massage, Acupuncture and Ear Candling.  Such methods as Clinical Hypnosis and the Alexander Technique work to address the unconscious patterns of thinking and posture associated with chronic tension.  Have a look at our therapies section to find out more.

*Stovner LJ, Zwart JA, Hagen K, Terwindt GM, Pascual J (April 2006). Epidemiology of headache in Europe. European Journal of Neurology 13 (4) 333 to 345.

IMPORTANT: If your headache is persistent, unusually severe or unfamiliar, promptly seek advice from your health practitioner.
 

magnesiumSupplement of the Month: Magnesium

Magnesium is essential to all living cells.  The 11th most abundant element in the human body, it is involved in over 300 chemical processes, more than any other mineral.  In recent years the EU Recommended Daily Amount (RDA, defined as the minimum daily amount of nutrient required to avoid a deficiency) has been increased from 300mg to 375mg, reflecting the importance of magnesium to general health.  However, many authors claim that about half the population of men and seven in 10 women are magnesium deficient, with the blame put on processed food, high levels of stress, and the overuse of alcohol and caffeine.  Hormonal contraceptives can also deplete levels of magnesium.

Because of its wide application, magnesium levels affect many bodily systems and health conditions.  Some view magnesium as being at least as critical to the health of our bones as calcium. Bones contain around 60% of the magnesium found in the human body as a whole. In conjunction with calcium and potassium, magnesium regulates heart rhythm, helps clot blood and ensures the proper transmission of nerve impulses.  Critically important to the production of energy in cells, muscle function and nerve relaxation, magnesium can also be helpful in easing the pain and fatigue of conditions such as ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia. 

It's of particular concern that the majority of British women are thought to be magnesium deficient.  As well as being useful to postmenopausal females worried about osteoporosis, studies have long associated low levels with PMS symptoms such as tension, breast tenderness, cramps and mood swings. 

Magnesium is found in many wholefoods such as wild rice, millet, rye and buckwheat, dried fruits such as dates and figs, and is often also found in seafood (both plant and animal sources), nuts and seeds.  It's also present in common herbs such as Dandelion ( Taraxacum officinalis ), Meadowsweet ( Filipendula ulmaria ) and Peppermint ( Mentha piperita ).  Because magnesium and calcium compete for chemical pathways in the body, the two minerals are often combined in supplements at the optimal ratio (around 2:1 of calcium to magnesium) to prevent imbalance.  If you choose to supplement , take them at a proper mealtime, not with that coffee you snatch on your way to work, as caffeine inhibits absorption.

IMPORTANT: If you are taking any form of medication especially heart medication, herbal or otherwise, please consult your health professional before supplementing with magnesium.

passionflowerHerb of the Month: Passionflower

Contrary to popular associations, none of the 500 odd species of the genus Passionflower, or Passiflora, have aphrodisiac qualities. Rather than lust, the Passion here refers to the suffering and death of Jesus in Christian theology. Members of the Passifloraceae family are found throughout the world, and even include a semicarniverous species called the Stinking Passion Flower (Passifora foetida) which traps and digests tiny insects.

The Passion flower which most interests herbalists however, is Passiflora incarnata , a hardy species which has a long history of medicinal use among Native Americans for sleeping and nervous disorders.  The popularity of the herb burgeoned in Europe after being adopted by colonists who valued its sedative, calming effects.  Since those times, many species have been confirmed as having certain alkaloids with antidepressant qualities and flavonoids (special active compounds found in plants) with antianxiety and antiinflammatory actions.   An analgesic with antispasmodic and vasodilatatory (blood vessel widening) qualities, the herb may be useful for symptoms of an irritable bowel, anxiety disorders and tension headaches. 

Passionflower can be drunk occasionally as a relaxing tea in times of stress, worry or irritation. Potters who have been making herbal medicines for nearly 200 years also make Passionflower tablets called Nodoff , developed as a natural aid to sleep.

Always consult your medical professional before taking any remedy if you're pregnant.

Legislation on the sale of herbs has changed

Due to the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (2004/24/EC) we are no longer able to dispense herbal tinctures for internal use over the counter or on our website.  This means that most of the tinctures we currently sell will not be available, unless it is recommended by a medical herbalist after a private consultation.  Medical herbalists still have access to the full range of medicinal herbs. Dried herbs are also affected, though we are trying to keep as many available as possible.  You can find out more information at the website of the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioner Association (EHTPA) and at the National Institute of Medical Herbalists .

The National Institute of Medical Herbalists' site has a facility allowing you to find a herbalist in your area   

Cautions and Contraindications: This newsletter does not substitute the advice of a healthcare professional.  Always consult your GP or Medical Herbalist before self-treating with herbs and/or supplements.

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