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Beating The Holiday Blues

Depression strikes about one in 15 people each year. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of depression may include a persistent sad or empty feeling; a loss of energy and appetite; and a lack of interest in socializing, work, or hobbies.

Antidepressant medications include manoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI). However, patients have reported unpleasant drug side effects leading many to turn to natural treatments such as amino acid supplementation and herbs as an aid to treating mild depression.

These include 5-hydro-xytrypt-ophan (5-HTP), L-tyrosine, SAM-e, St. John's wort, kava kava, and Ginkgo biloba. Researchers continue to study the benefits of these products and suggest that natural alternatives may provide fewer or less severe side effects than most conventional antidepressant drugs.

Numerous clinical trials have examined the efficacy of 5-HTP for treating depression. The most convincing evidence comes from scientists who reviewed research from around the world on the use of 5-HTP in treating depression. One such researcher summarized, "Of the 17 reviewed studies, 13 confirmed that 5-HTP has true antidepressant properties."

SAM-e is found in all living cells. Supplementing the diet with SAM-e in depressed patients can result in increased levels of serotonin, and dopamine activity. There have been several large, long-term, randomized clinical trials conducted. One, in which 195 patients in Italy were given SAM-e for 15 days, found that depression was significantly reduced in more than half of the patients after seven days.

The most noteworthy herb in its ability to aid in depression is St. John's wort. A major study confirmed St. John's wort as an effective antidepressant. The researchers combined 23 methodologically sound studies of St. John's wort that had a total of 1,751 participants. Among those who took the placebo, 22% reported mood elevation. Among those who used St. John's wort, the figure was 55%. Researchers also reported that the relief obtained was similar to that of pharmaceutical antidepressants.

Like St. John's wort, kava is gaining popularity in Europe for the treatment of anxiety and depression. A 1997 randomized placebo-controlled study reported in Pharmacopsychiatry found that over half of the kava group was rated as very improved and anxiety, fear, tension, and insomnia decreased steadily with treatment.

While depression requires professional advice first, the possibilities remain impressive in treating depression naturally.

Reference: Psychiatry Research 53(3):295-7, 1995.

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Arginine, Exercise, And Your Heart

The first prospective, randomized clinical trial of its kind, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found that arginine, when combined with exercise, had an additional effect on vasodilation, or dilation of blood vessels, allowing for better blood flow in patients with chronic heart failure.

In the study, 40 patients with severe chronic heart failure were divided into four groups and studied for four weeks. One group was given 8 grams of L-arginine per day, a training group performed daily handgrip training, and a third group did neither.

The arginine group and the training group had similar, significant improvements in vasodilation, but people who trained and took arginine had the most significant improve-ments, leading researchers to believe that arginine and exercise have an additive effect.

Numerous other studies have shown that arginine has a vaso-dila-tory effect on people with high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and compromised circulation associated with heart disease.

Chris Meletis, N.D., author of Better Sex Naturally cites other potential uses for arginine. These include impotence, because arginine helps relax arteries in the penis, allowing for better blood flow; wound healing, because it increases protein synthesis; and endurance, because to some degree good circulation is necessary to carry oxygen to muscles.

According to Meletis, those who should avoid taking L-arginine supplements include people prone to herpes outbreaks, cancer patients, people with low blood pressure, and those with liver and kidney problems.

Reference: Hambrecht, R., Hilbrich, L., et al. "Correction of Endothelial Dysfunction in Chronic Heart Failure: Additional Effects of Exercise Training and Oral L-Arginine Supplementation," Journal of the American College of Cardiology 35(3):706-13, 2000.

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Herbal Support For Varicose Veins

More than half of the middle-age population has enlarged, twisted, or bluish varicose veins. For reasons not entirely known, the condition occurs about four times more frequently in women than in men. The causes of varicose veins can include pregnancy, chronic constipation, overweight, hereditary predisposition, a lack of exercise, and age.

Spider-web veins are tiny blood vessels just under the skin that don't bulge like varicose veins and are harmless. Deeper varicose veins can lead to stroke, heart problems, or thrombophlebitis.

A number of healing herbs can be effective when integrated with appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes. These include increasing dietary fiber, raising the legs for 10-minute intervals throughout the day, and raising the foot of the bed one to three inches to relieve pressure at night.

There are several natural options to consider that may prove to be helpful with this condition. Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) strengthens blood vessels and is an effective astringent that tones and tightens tissues. The herb reduces capillary fragility and swelling by regulating capillary permeability, and it helps strengthen and repair blood vessels that have lost their elasticity.

Butcher's broom (Ruscus aculeatus) has been used historically to treat varicose veins. Research shows that both internal and topical applications may improve symptoms of poor circulation such as blood pooling in the legs, swelling, and constricted blood vessels. In a double-blind clinical trial of 20 healthy people, a combination of butcher's broom and the flavonoid hesperidine improved the tone of varicose vein walls and reduced foot swelling.

The healing and anti-inflammatory actions of Calendula (Calendula officinalis) are also well suited for treating varicose veins. Liver tonic and cleansing herbs such as Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium), milk thistle (Silybum marianum), dandelion and burdock (Arctium lappa) may also be important for varicose vein treatment.

Reference: Pittler, M.H., et al. Horse chestnut seed extract for chronic venous insufficiency. Arch Dermatol 134:1356-60, November 1998.

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Soy, Heart Health, And Menopause

According to a recent study published in Metabolism, adding soy foods to a healthy diet may reduce the risk of heart disease without stimulating unwanted hormonal activity. In this study, two groups of people were put on a low-fat diet for two one-month periods. One diet included soy products and the other did not.

The study revealed that soy reduced levels of oxidized cholesterol, a precursor to arterial plaque, which is linked to heart disease.

Researchers also compared estrogen levels from all participants, as it had been theorized that soy increases unwanted estrogenic activity. However it was found that total estrogenic activity of the women on soy was slightly less than before they had started the diet, suggesting that soy does not have the same effect as estrogen on meno-pausal symptoms.

Reference: Metabolism, April 2000.

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Natural Support For Diabetes

Diagnoses of Type 2 diabetes, also known as non-insulin dependent or adult-onset diabetes, have soared at the alarming rate of 600% in the last 40 years. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas which helps the cells utilize glucose.

Experts estimate that between 30% and 50% of all new Type 2 diabetes cases are due to a sedentary lifestyle. Research has consistently shown that physical activity makes a great deal of difference in preventing or reducing the effects of Type 2 diabetes, as well as insulin resistance. Physicians at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston recently found that a brisk daily walk for 1 hour every day was just as effective as jogging or running and cut women's risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 50%.

While keeping intake of sweets and foods with high sugar content to a minimum, other proactive approach-es to glucose management include natural supplements. If you currently have diabetes, are in a high-risk group, or have any symptoms, consult your physician before taking any supplements or herbs or attempting to treat yourself.

Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is a powerhouse antioxidant that is also involved in energy production and cellular metabolism. A recent placebo-controlled study in Germany found that after four weeks of taking oral doses of ALA, "significantly more subjects" in the ALA group had an increase in insulin sensitivity than in the group receiving a placebo. A dosage frequently used in clinical trials is 600 mg of ALA daily.

Vitamin E has also been shown to have a notable effect on blood glucose levels. One study determined that people with low levels of vitamin E in their blood were at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.

Chromium is an essential mineral for glucose management because it plays an active role in producing insulin. Research suggests that a form of the mineral known as chromium picolinate can help control blood sugar levels.

The herb Gymnema sylvestre has a 2,000-year history in India as a diabetic medication. Recent studies have shown that 400 mg doses of Gymnema sylvestre can raise insulin levels in patients with Type 2 diabetes.

Reference: New England Journal of Medicine 342(13): 905-12, 969-70, March 30, 2000.

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Make Sure Your Vitamin E Is Natural

Unlike some vitamins, which consist of a single com-pound, natural vitamin E consists of eight different com-pounds, four tocopherols, and four tocotrienols. The tocopherols are designated as alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. Our food contains all eight compounds.

Alpha-tocopherol is produced commercially both in natural and synthetic forms. The other three tocopherols are available only in their natural form as mixtures. All molecules in d-alpha-tocopherol, the naturally occurring form, are identical. In contrast, the synthetic dl-alpha-tocopherol is a mixture of eight different molecular entities known as stereoisomers. Of these eight, only one is identical to the natural form. The other seven do not exist in nature.

The natural d-alpha-tocopherol, gram for gram, is more potent than synthetic dl-alpha-tocopherol. The natural form is officially recognized by the World Health Organization as 36% more potent than the synthetic.

According to a number of studies in humans using powerful new techniques developed by researchers at the National Research Council of Canada, the natural d-alpha-tocopherol is twice as bioavailable as the synthetic.

Gamma-tocopherol appears to be more potent than alpha-tocopherol in increasing superoxide dismutase (SOD), a major antioxidant enzyme. Gamma-tocopherol has been reported to be more effective than alpha in quenching nitrogen radicals which are major culprits in arthritis, multiple sclerosis (MS), and diseases of the brain such as Alzheimer's.

The strongest evidence yet for tocotrienol benefit on cardiovascular health comes from a clinical study conducted by the Kenneth Jordan Heart Research Foundation in New Jersey. This recent research suggests that supplements should contain the complete vitamin E family of tocopherols plus tocotrienols.

Reference: Papas, A.M. The Vitamin E Factor, 1999.

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Research suggests that diets containing high levels of lycopene may reduce the risk of certain cancers and heart disease. An unpublished study by the University of Toronto found women with breast cancer have low levels of lycopene and high levels of oxidation. Higher levels of lycopene may have an effect on "oxidative stress," a factor for cancer, heart disease and aging, the study suggests.

Reference: King's College, London.

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Written by: EcoMall

Disclaimer: These statements on this site have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, and is for educational purposes only. For any serious illness or health related disorders please consult your physician.


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