Warning, Those Sleeping Pills May Be Causing Other Health Hazards

  1-Pharmacies-thumb-300x354-103Friends just returned from their traditional summer camping trip.   This years’ trip was more exhausting for one particular husband, he was tired all day long.  He wasn’t getting a restful nights sleep even though he loves to camp, was out in the fresh air and ON vacation.  The problem stems from his addiction to his sleeping pills, which he needs even on a camping trip.  Although the nightly pill provided him some sleep it made him extremely drowsy during the day, especially since he's increased the dosage to get the desired effect.  He often wanted to just sit at the camp site and take a nap. If this you or someone you know, it’s time to kick the sleeping pill habit.  

Sleeping pills are an expensive habit both monetarily and physically because of the lingering side effects. Use of sleeping pills is becoming a growing problem.  If your taking them for any length of time,  you will notice the need to increase your dosage as your body's tolerance grows. At a  certain point they become completely ineffective.  The most popular "A" sleep pills and other sleep medications were designed to be taken for only a week or two at most. If you continue on this  medication  longer than two weeks the greatest concern is the side effects, which according to the label “cannot be anticipated”.

Side effects may include: allergies, daytime drowsiness, dizziness, drugged feeling, headache, indigestion and nausea.  If you experience any of these side effects, the price you pay for a good nights sleep just went up ten fold. For some, using "A", along with taking a SSRI or serotonin boosting antidepressant, will produce unusual changes in their thinking and/or behavior, according to  the insert information. Most definitely alert your doctor if this happens to you.  

Side effects of sleeping pills can also develop or change in intensity, so keep this in mind if you suddenly develop indigestion it may be caused by the sleeping pill, not necessarily related to an otherwise digestive/gut  problem.  Other warning from the manufacturers of this medicine can cause a special type of memory loss. It should not be taken on an overnight airplane flight of less than 7 to 8 hours, since "traveler's amnesia" may occur. Yikes, what’s travelers amnesia? Do you completely forget where you are and where your going.  (Apparently this has happened or it would not be a written warning).

The most common risk with prescription sleep aids used long term, is the risk of increasing the dosage in an attempt to keep the effectiveness as your bodies tolerance level increases. The same problem my friends husband was experiencing.   The overdose warning alone scares me from going near this drug. “People who take too much may become excessively sleepy or even go into a light coma. The symptoms of overdose are more severe if the person is also taking other drugs that depress the central nervous system. Some cases of multiple overdose have been fatal.”

All we want is a good nights sleep, this is just getting to complicated. I don’t  want to die.   I’m baffled that a drug with this many warnings can sell as much as it does. There’s more on the label, lets not miss this part of the warning:  “Until you know whether the medication will have any "carry over" effect the next day, use extreme care while driving, and you should be aware that they may be more apt to fall.”   Hope your  taking mass transit if your using a lot of this drug.  Older adults, in particular need to be careful. All I can figure is most people don’t read this stuff, they do print it in extra small writing.   More from the label, “use "A" cautiously if you have liver problems. It will take longer for its effects to wear off.” “If you take this sleep aid for more than 1 or 2 weeks, consult your doctor before stopping."

Sudden discontinuation of a sleep medicine can bring on withdrawal symptoms ranging from unpleasant feelings to vomiting and cramps.” "When taking "A", do not drink alcohol. It can increase the drug's side effects. If you have breathing problems, they may become worse. "If "A" is used with certain other drugs, the effects of either drug could be increased, decreased, or altered. It is especially important to check with your doctor ." 

These are direct quotes from the Ambien official website.  Maybe it's time for a natural sleep aid for that restful night of sleep you so desire.

 


Ginger to Maintain Your Health

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Ginger is a common recommendation in my clinic. Ginger is wonderful for digestive disorders and it is anti-inflammatory. Drink Ginger tea” is one of the most common suggestions I make.

Don’t underestimate ginger just because it isn’t the fancy favorite of TV Chefs. Ginger root is a common herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (the Chinese name is Sheng Jiang). Ginger is also used as a spice for cooking, particularly in Asian food.

Here are some great ideas from an article by Jennifer Dubowsky, L.Ac. originally posted Dec. 2008 about the benefits of ginger.

Ginger’s rhizome (the underground stem) is highly spicy and widely touted to aid digestion. That is why ginger tea is very popular. In addition to a lovely flavor, it is anti inflammatory and eases digestion. Consider drinking ginger tea after meals. Another benefit from ginger is its ability to combat nausea from various causes including morning sickness, motion sickness, chemotherapy,and food contamination. Many people use ginger to treat coughs, influenza, and colds. I also recommend it to my patients to improve fertility and ease PMS symptoms.

It is interesting to note, too, that ginger has been employed in Chinese herbal medicine for thousands of years due to its numerous beneficial properties. Called Sheng-jiang in the Chinese pharmacopoeia, ginger used alone as a single herb is considered to alleviate nausea, dispel pathogens by inducing sweating, expel cold, as well as stop coughing and reduce excess phlegm in the lungs. In Chinese herbal medicine, Sheng-jiang, or fresh ginger, is considered to have very different properties than Gan-jiang, or dried ginger. Gan-jiang is useful for “cold” pain of the stomach and abdomen, diarrhea due to “cold” in the abdomen, cough, and rheumatism, among other uses. Dried ginger has also been shown to inhibit vomiting.

A Japanese study brought ginger into the experimental lab. The study, led by Dr. Hiroshi Ochiai at the Department of Human Science, Faculty of Medicine, Toyama Medical and Pharmaceutical University, Japan, was published in The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 2006:34(1):157-69, and reported in the Chinese Medical Times, concludes that they were able to inhibit the growth of influenza virus using ginger extract.
For more articles by  Jennifer Dubowsky, a licensed acupuncturist in downtown Chicago, check out:  http://acupuncturechicago.blogspot.com/

Video Introduction to Chinese Herbal Medicine

Plant medicine is still the primary medicine for more than half the worlds population.  The other half of the globe is realizing it’s time to return to our roots and re-visit herbal medicine.  Plant medicine’s safety record is untouched by modern pharmaceuticals. 

thumbnailTraditional Chinese  herbal medicine  has a rich history of  cooking raw herbs and drinking the decoction as a tea.  Today with our modern processing plants we have more options to take herbs in pills form, tablets and now packets.   Watch this short video if your new to Chinese herbs .   It’s a good introduction to the basics  of Chinese herbal formulas.

Traditional Chinese Medicine – around the world in 60 seconds

I  like tChinese_Herbs1he CNN news piece called around the world in 60 seconds.  It gives you a quick blurb of  whats happening around the world.   Here’s my take on that theme.  The spread of Traditional Chinese Medicine  (TCM ) around the world in 60 seconds. 

Hope you like numbers,  in regards to TCM here’s some interesting ones.  In the past 10 years, TCM has spread to over 160 countries and regions around the world with total exports of TCM products exceeding $1 billion. The treatment, education and scientific and technological communities of  TCM have continuously expanded.  70 countries have signed 94 governmental agreements on TCM content. There are currently 47 TCM institutions of higher learning in China and over 600,000 qualified TCM medical practitioners over 370,000 of which are certified TCM physicians.  

In America alone, 30 million people have tried acupuncture. The FDA  estimates that Americans are spending approximately $500 million per year on acupuncture services.  There are about 18,000 acupuncturists in the U.S. and  that  number increases about 10% each year.  Presently there are approximately 50 accredited schools in the U.S. to study acupuncture and TCM.  Britain, Israel and Australia all top the list with the highest number of acupuncturists per country outside of  the US. Canada and Asian countries.

In the U.S., besides pain management, one of the most studied benefits of acupuncture is IVF procedures. Acupuncture concurrent with IVF treatments  increases  the chance of becoming pregnant by as much as 65% and  provides as much as 91% increased chance  in a live birth.   Those are some impressive statistics. This is of course only one example of how acupuncture and TCM can improve people’s lives.

A fun fact: cruise ships now regularly have acupuncturists aboard. Public demand is obviously driving that business.  On a more academic note,  The National Institute for Health (NIH) operates the  Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine with a 121 million dollar budget,  much of which support acupuncture research studies. Currently our congressmen are discussing a bill which for the first time would  include Acupuncture into medicare reimbursement.  That’s impressive by itself.  The American government is actually considering a form of health care which relies on prevention and wellness.

Things are changing rapidly in the TCM world, stay tuned, we are growing exponentially everyday and that’s my 60 second update.

Another rising star in the Chinese herb medicine cabinet – This time for swine flu

Star Anise fresh and driedThe Star Anise, Illicium verum  or Ba Jiao Hui Xiang has been used as a spice and medicine since antiquity.  Star Anise is used dried and the seeds have a licorice-like flavor. It’s commonly  sold in supermarkets and often used in Chinese cuisine to flavor duck dishes. ( I used it once in my Thanksgiving turkey, it was a hit)   It’s also  contains the active chemical component in the drug Tamiflu, which is now being stockpiled as a defense against the Swine flu.

Star anise was originally in the spotlight  because it’s core ingredient  was discovered effective as a flu fighter for the Avian flu. Now it’s being touted for the swine flu.  In an  announcement in Feb 2006 from  the University of Tokyo’s Graduate school of Pharmaceutical sciences,  they “ found a way to make Tamiflu without using shikimic acid, which is produced from a spice called star anise”  The acid is extracted from the pods which wraps the seeds by using a petrochemical ingredient instead of the plant based ingredient.  The group, headed by Prof. Masakatsu Shibasaki said the new method would ensure the stable supply of the antiviral drug in the face of surging demand worldwide prompted by fears of a bird flu (AVAIN) outbreak.  Although many believe the best  way to produce shikimic acid is extracting it directly from the fruit.

“It (Tamiflu) doesn’t prevent the infection,  but may decrease its’ severity,” (although there is no scientific data it will prevent H1N1) according to the Tamiflu website.  Tamiflu has been on the market since Oct. 1999 and Roche probably never dreamed that this years orders would top 220 million.  In the first  three years Tamiflu was on the market only 5.5 million doses sold.

Other  information from the Tamiflu website said this:  “Influenza viruses change over time. Emergence of resistance mutations could decrease drug effectiveness.  Other factors (for example changes in viral virulence) might also diminish clinical benefit of antiviral drugs. Prescribers should consider available information on influenza drug susceptibility patterns and treatment effects when deciding whether to use Tamiflu.” (line 155),   It continues elsewhere on the site with this,  “Efficacy of  Tamiflu in patients who begin treatment after 40 hours of symptoms has not been established” and “ Safety & efficacy of Tamiflu in pediatric patients younger than 1 year has not been studied.”

Star anise sells for aprox. $5.00  or less for a few ounces.  The best source I found said a dose of Tamiflu contains the equivalent of approximately 13 grams of star anise. That’s a few cents per dose.  Studies on guinea pigs yielded evidence that star anise essential oil had a relaxant effect, antispasmodic  and bronchodilatory effect on muscarinic receptors. People have  traditionally used star anise to reduces gas, relieve minor digestive problems, for headaches  and even to promote vitality.

If your interested in drinking star anise as a tea, a typical dose is .5-1 gram of  coarsely ground seeds. Cooked at a slow boil (covered) in 2 ½ cups water for a aprox. 30 minutes  and then strained. Ground star anise has been traditionally taken in a dose of 3 grams daily. The essential oil of star anise in a dose of 300 milligrams daily has also been reported.  The Food and Drug Administration lists star anise as “generally safe for otherwise healthy adults who are not pregnant, nursing or have a preexisting allergy to the herb.”  I hope the swine flu fades quietly into oblivion like the Avain flu.  Who knows  what will happen once weather changes in the fall and winter when flu season is upon us.  In any case, if your considering a dose of Tamiflu your armed with some knowledge.  Most importantly keep your immune system as strong as possible to avoid any future viruses that abound and remember  grocery store shelves can be very beneficial when you know how to shop.

Stop Painful Menstrual Cramps with Chinese Herbs

herbs for pmsLately this is my favorite topic and formula to make in my herb granule pharmacy .. because  the calls I receive go something like this.  “I took it once & I’m off the couch and back to normal”,  “I can’t believe those herbs work”,  “Why didn’t you tell me before”, “I didn’t take a single motrin this month”,  I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  So here’s some information about the herbs in the Pacific Herbs PMS Relief Herb Pack & some interesting information on well conducted research on menstrual pain. 

Don’t mask the pain with NSAID’s  try an approach that’s worked for centuries, Chinese Herbal Medicine.  An international nonprofit organization, known as the Cochrane Collaboration, studied the effectiveness of Chinese herbal medicine in relieving menstrual pain compared to western drugs.  Their conclusion:  “Chinese herbal medicine for primary dysmenorrhea roughly doubled pain relief and improvement in overall symptoms compared with conventional Western pharmaceuticals.”

Here are a few common Chinese herbs used for painful menstrual cramps, ( All our in our formula plus more)

1. Dong Gui (Chinese Angelica  or Angelica Sinensis) Also known as the “female ginseng,” it is commonly used to regulate the menstrual cycle and relieve menstrual cramps.  It also helps to relieve menopausal symptoms, reduce PMS and anemia and to re-establish a menstrual cycle after cessation of birth control pills.  It is commonly sold as a single herb tea, bagged or loose.  It is considered a king herb or premier herb in Chinese gynecological disease because of its ability to harmonize the blood in Chinese medicine.  Dong Gui is also considered antispasmodic.  The coumarin chemicals present in this herb may help dilate blood vessels and relax the smooth muscles of the uterus, thus relieving menstrual cramping.

2. Chuan Xiong (Chuanxiong  Rhizoma) This herb is also a key medicinal herb for treating pain.  It improves blood circulation and promotes the flow of “qi” or vital energy.  Chinese women, dating back to the Song Dynasty, used to take this Chinese herb in the form of soup.  The soup is called a Four Substance Decoction and includes three other herbs:  angelica, red peony and Chinese foxglove.  The soup and tea are still used today as a blood tonic to relieve PMS, stop menstrual pain and improve overall health, especially after giving birth.

3. Bai Shao (White Peony Root) White Peony Root nourishes the blood and improves circulation.  It is also used for a wide variety of gynecological problems.  The peony root is considered a   liver tonic in Chinese medicine.  By strengthening the liver, it helps to increase the efficiency of protein and fat metabolism, thus inhibiting the excessive synthesis of prostaglandins that may cause an over-active uterus and endometrial pain.

4. Yi Mu Cao (Chinese Motherwort) Leaves from this herb are used to treat menstrual problems.  They have been shown to improve blood circulation and clear blood clots that occur in menstrual disorders and after childbirth.  The leaves also promote diuresis and relieve edema.  Studies on the alkaloid leonurine showed that this substance stimulates the uterus of rabbits, cats, dogs and guinea pigs.2

5. Yan Hu Suo (Corydalis Rhizome) There are two main functions of this Chinese herb:  to strengthen blood circulation and to relieve pain.  In conjunction with chuan xiong it is known to help both body aches and headaches.  Corydalis is related to the opium poppy.  Although only 1% in strength compared to opium, it is a very effective pain reliever.  The active chemical constituent di- tetrahydropalmatine (THP) is a neuroactive alkaloid with analgesic action that relieves cramping pain. Formulas or groups of Chinese herbs are more beneficial than single herb remedies because the herbs work synergistically for conditions such as menstrual cramps.  The Cochran study also stated that:  “The herbal remedies were also significantly better at relieving painful cramps and other symptoms than acupuncture or a hot water bottle, with overall promising finding.  Chinese herbs overall, whether standardized or tailored, yielded better pain relief than conventional pharmaceutical therapies.” Chinese herbal medicine can be a bit intimidating when you don’t know anything about these herbs, and the five herbs above are only a few of the herbs beneficial for menstrual cramps in the Chinese herbal encyclopedias.  Asian pharmacies sell prescriptions of herbal teas and pills daily, and Asian cultures have used herbs successfully for hundreds of years. 

By replacing NSAIDs with Chinese herbs, women receive an additional benefit of avoiding the nasty NSAID3 side effects such as upset stomach, heartburn, ulcers and rashes, and liver damage, to name a few.  Women don’t need to suffer month after month.  You can use Chinese herb supplements to be pain free and PMS symptom free all month long.

Check the research for yourself: Primary source: Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews Source; Zhu X, et al “Chinese herbal medicine for primary dysmenorrhoea” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007;3: CD005288.

  1. Chinese Medicine Program at the University of Western Sydney.1 (fourth issue for 2007 of The Cochrane Library)

2.  Yin, J. Modern Research and Clinical Application of Chinese  Materia Medica (2) pp 218-219 Beijing: Chinese  Medical Classic Press.

NSAID are Non-Sterodial Anti-Inflammatory Drugs.  Generics and name brands include:  ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin, naproxen sodium, Aleve, aspirin, Bayer, Bufferin, acetaminophen, and Tylenol.

Malaria and how Chinese Medicine is Advancing Science

microscope for malariaIn case you haven’t already heard, today is World Malaria Day,
April 25th, 2009.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate World Malaria Day than to write  on a Traditional Chinese Medicinal herb and it’s benefits for  malaria. Ok, I know most of us in the west don’t know much or maybe anything about this disease. Some may even be thinking… isn’t malaria one of those plagues from the middle age

Malaria is the number one killer in underdeveloped countries, especially prevalent in Africa where it’s an epidemic. As many as 5 million people each year contract malaria, many recover, many do not. Malaria kills nearly one million people worldwide each year. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given millions of dollars for malaria research with the goal of eliminating malaria in our lifetime and by the looks of recent developments, well… read on.

So what does this have to do with Chinese herbal medicine and why did I choose this topic? Malaria has been successfully treated with Chinese herbal medicine for centuries. This is not news, well not to Acupuncturists or Chinese Medical Doctors nor to the scientists and drug companies searching out a cure or a vaccine for malaria. What is news is what Reuters published in an article (yesterday) which I’ve cited below and am quoting here, “elimination (of malaria) in a number of countries is certainly in sight.” Fantastic, right?!

Here’s what really exciting! “New medical treatments such as a drug developed by a Swiss pharmaceuticals company  Novartis using artemisinin, a compound derived from a herb used in Chinese traditional medicine, are driving down deaths and infections, said “Chris Hentschel”  of the Medicines for Malaria Venture.” The FDA has also recently approved the drug Coartem, an artemisinin-based combination treatment (ACT) for malaria, which is said to have a 96% cure rate  Can you imagine: A pharmaceutical company using an herb-derived compound? Should we be shocked?

We in the Chinese Medical community are not shocked. We know the use of Chinese Medicinal herbs have been used for centuries with g areat success and we’ve all known that Artemisinin, Qing Hao, has been successfully used in the treatment of malaria. But doesn’t it feels great to be vindicated through “Big Pharma” ? When any big pharmaceutical company decides to study the compounds in “our” (Chinese) medicine cabinet we can all stand proud and say, look big pharma, our herbs have proven compounds that even your labs haven’t been able to invent and there’s more in the medicine cabinet than just Artemisinin.

The credibility of Chinese herbal medicine is coming full circle in the scientific age. We can only hope this is just the tip of the iceberg. The efficacy of Chinese herbal medicine has a 2000 plus year history. Reuter’s goes on to report, “The treatment, administered to 57 million people last year, saved half a million lives last year.” That’s big news! If there was a drug that saved 500,00 people in the US, last year alone, we would be hearing about it. Because it’s in underdeveloped nations, this news doesn’t make the nightly 5 o’clock. But I can think of no better way than to start my blog page with what should be the Biggest News in the world today, especially on World Malaria Day.

Post Script:

A prominent physician and alchemist named Ge Hong (284-364CE) wrote a formulary called Zhou Hou Bei Zhi Fang (Prescriptions within Arm”s Reach for Use in Emergencies) Many of the formulas in this book are still in use today. He was the first to mention qing hao, (Artemisia Annua) as a treatment for malaria.