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Life and Religion

The herbal remedy
Natural approach to wellness takes root
 
Published Thursday, September 27, 2012 10:27 am
by Michaela L. Duckett

It's said that for every medicine on the market, there is a natural alternative. You just have to find it.


Dr. Kenneth Haas, D.C., C.C.S.P. of Haas Wellness Center, believes the key to wellness lies in preventing sickness before it starts. The way to do that, he says, is by avoiding exposure to toxins as much as possible and providing the body with the nutrients it needs to stay healthy and function properly.


 “Rather than trying to destroy the cold virus,” he says, “you can use herbs like Echinacea to strengthen your immune system. Vitamin C can also be helpful.”

Haas says many of the health issues we face today are a direct result of toxins in our body. He says these toxins, which are are absorbed through the skin or from pollution through the lungs, disrupt biological chemical processes.

Toxins can also come from the consumption of processed foods and other substances.


Haas says when minor dysfunctions are identified and corrected, the body will return to functioning properly.


“When the body is working right, the disease process just tends to dematerialize,” he says.


He says simple habits like drinking more water and eating a healthy diet are also powerful in preventing sickness.


“When you eliminate all the chemicals in the soft drinks and the junk that people eat and drink that nature did not intend to be food, people tend to do better, and they look better.”


Centuries of wisdom
Herbal medicine has been practiced in civilizations all over the world for hundreds of years. While the practice has not always been mainstream in the United States, it is becoming a way of life for many Americans.


Haas says most of the patients that walk through his door come because they have had a bad experience with traditional medicine and are seeking an alternative. He says some patients have complained that traditional doctors ignore their concerns or did not like the way they were treated.  Others, he says, seek an alternative because nothing else has worked.


An online search will turn up hundreds of herbal concoctions and natural remedies to support everything from weight loss to digestive health and fertility.


“Herbs themselves are medicine,” says Dr. Bridget Bongaard, M.D., an integrated physician who practices at NorthEast Internal and Integrative Medicine, a Carolinas HealthCare-owned practice.


“In most cases, they are just very mild drugs,” she says. “In fact, most of the drugs we have now in our pharmacopeia are actually derived from herbs.”


For example, Valium, a drug used to treat anxiety disorders, was derived from valerian root, an herb that has historically been used to treat insomnia by enhancing deep sleep.


Benefits with risks
Bongaard says the compendium of herbs on the market today can be problematic for consumers who may not know what to do with all the information.


For starters, many people believe that anything that is labeled as “natural” is safe, but that is not the case.


“(Herbs) are not just innocuous,” Bongaard says. “Herbs can be a double-edged sword. While they provide benefits, but they can also have contrary implications.”


Some herbs can interfere and interact with other medications, making them less effective or causing adverse reactions. Other herbs inhibit platelet functioning and impede clotting. This is an issue for patients preparing to undergo surgery because it can increase bleeding.


Some herbs can exacerbate certain medical conditions. For example, people with breast cancer are advised to avoid herbs like phyto-estrogen, which can cause complications in breast tumors due to its estrogenic qualities.


Red Raspberry leaf also has estrogenic side effects, which Bongaard says can exacerbate fibroids, which occur more frequently in African American women.


Because herbs come in a variety of forms – including oil extracts, capsules, pills, seeds, leaves, etc. – Bongaard said it is important for consumers to know which part of the plant they are dealing with and ensure they are taking the recommended dosage.


The roots of some herbs will cause a very different reaction than the leaves of the same herb. Certain forms can also be more potent than others. For example, Ginkgo can be taken relatively safely in leaf form but if a person ingests too many Ginkgo seeds, it can cause seizures.


“You just have to have the right knowledge,” Bongaard says. “These gifts from nature can be used properly and in a healthy fashion, but they need to have a balanced function. That’s why we recommend that people talk with a pharmacist.”

A little change goes a long way
As an integrated physician, Bongaard is trained to take a three-dimensional approach to wellness. She focuses on maximizing the physical, emotional and spiritual health of her patients.


“A lot of times, just simply making diet changes and changing some unhealthy habits can really get rid of the need for many medications and also reduce the need for herbal medications,” she said.


Bongaard contends dietary supplements are also good for general health.  She suggests Vitamin D, probiotics, fish oil or flaxseed oil and a multi-vitamin.


She says Vitamin D is particularly important for African-Americans, who are more prone to being deficient.


“Vitamin D is actually not a vitamin,” she says. “It is a prohormone. It works all over the body. It works with the bones and calcium. It works with metabolism. It works with the immune system. It actually improves depression and anxiety. It works in multiple places.”


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