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erbal Medicine
 
Herbal Therapy & Elder Health

© David L. Hoffmann BSc (Hons), MNIMH

It is quite different in activity to the cardiac glycoside containing remedies. They impact the contractile fibres, whilst Crataegus is involved in the availability and utilization of energy. This facilitates a gentle but long term, sustained effect on degenerative, age-related changes in the myocardium. It does not produce rapid results but they are persistent once achieved. Any degenerative condition of the cardio-vascular system will benefit from its use. Some specific examples are myocardial problems, coronary artery disease and its associated conditions. Angina pectoris and similar symptoms will be eased and prevented. Where no disease state exists but a gradual loss of function is happening because of old age, Crataegus is a specific. Because of its lack of toxicity, accumulation or habituation, it may be used long term, attaining the therapeutic goals safely, especially in the elderly. It speeds recovery from heart attacks and lowers essential hypertension. Used in conjunction with other hypotensives, Crataegus will help keep the heart healthy, preventing the development of coronary disease. It will guard against heart weakness following infectious disease such as pneumonia or diphtheria.


Respiratory System

A life-time of exposure to air pollution and cigarette smoke (whether their own or others) will damage even the strongest lungs. A range of remedies appropriate for respiratory problems in Elders, each having its distinct area of application. Please review these remedies and ensure their various actions are familiar to you :

Allium sativum (Garlic)
Asclepias tuberosa (Pleurisy Root)
Chondrus crispus (Irish Moss)
Hyssopus officinalis (Hyssop)
Inula helenium (Elecampane)
Leonurus cardiaca (Motherwort)
Marrubium vulgare (Horehound)
Prunus serotina (Wild Cherry Bark)
Pulmonaria officinalis (Lungwort)
Thymus vulgaris (Thyme)
Tussilago farfara (Coltsfoot)
Verbascum thapsus (Mullein)
A number of stronger effectors may be found useful in more intransigent conditions, but these should be reserved for the cases where the gentler herbs have not produced the results desired. Thus:
Sanguinaria canadensis (Blood Root)
Lobelia inflata (Lobelia)
Grindelia camporum (Gumweed)
Treatments outlined in the chapter on respiratory problems are relevant here. Please refer to the following sections :


Nervous System

A range of remedies appropriate for neurological problems in Elders, each having its distinct area of application. Please review these remedies and ensure their various actions are familiar to you : Nervine Tonics

Avena sativa (Oats)
Hypericum perfoliatum (St. John's Wort)
Scutellaria spp. (Skullcap)
Verbena officinalis(Vervain)
Relaxant
Cimicifuga racemosa (Black Cohosh)
Hyssopus officinalis (Hyssop)
Lavandula spp. (Lavender)
Leonurus cardiaca (Motherwort)
Matricaria recutita (Chamomile)
Melissa officinalis (Balm)
Tilia spp. (Linden)
Hypnotic
Eschscholzia californica (Californian Poppy)
Matricaria recutita (Chamomile)
Passiflora incarnata (Passion Flower)
Valeriana officinalis(Valerian)
Antidepressant
Avena sativa (Oats)
Artemisia vulgaris (Mugwort )
Hypericum perfoliatum (St. John's Wort)
Lavandula spp. (Lavender)
Verbena officinalis (Vervain )
Treatments outlined in the chapter on nervous system problems are relevant here. Please refer to the following sections : Ginkgo and Alzheimer's Disease The herb industry and the supplement manufacturers are making some dramatic claims for Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) in the treatment of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. It is worth reviewing some of the research that has been done. What follows is taken papers in the book : Fünfgeld, E.W. (Ed.). Rökan, Ginkgo biloba. Recent Results in Pharmacology and Clinic. Springer-Verlag, Berlin 1988 Alzheimer's disease is a neurological disorder of the brain which, whilst once thought rare, is now considered the largest single cause of senile dementia. Senile dementia, a condition of irreversible mental deterioration, always involves memory loss and is almost always accompanied by numerous other difficulties in mental function. Current studies suggest that 1% of the population in developed countries with a large proportion of elderly people is affected. The brain develops `neuritic plaques', which consist of degenerating nerve terminals and other materials associated with the appearance of fibrous structures, called the neurofibrillary tangle, within nerve cells. One proposed cause of the growths has been the decline observed in the brain's production of acetyl-choline. Recent studies show that the diseased brain also metabolizes glucose at diminished levels and that abnormally high levels of aluminum and silicon occur. No allopathic cure exists for the disease. Attention is being given to Ginkgo leaf (Ginkgo biloba) in the treatment of such problems, with much of the clinical and pharmacological research coming from France. The herb has a classical reputation as an anti-microbial and anti-tubercular agent.1 However new research has shown a profound activity on brain function and cerebral circulation. Clinically it seems to be effective in patients with vascular disorders, in all types of dementia and even in patients suffering from cognitive disorders secondary to depression, because of its beneficial effects on mood. Of special concern are people who are just beginning to experience deterioration in their cognitive function.

Gingko might delay deterioration and enable such people to maintain a normal life. The earlier treatment begins, the better the prognosis, especially in Alzheimer's. Even in advanced cases, however, improvement may begin almost immediately and continues over many months. This property is important because every cell of the body will suffer when there is an inadequate supply of blood, leading to lack of energy, susceptibility to infection, decreased mental and physical function etc.. Dementia in the elderly usually related to inadequate circulation. Laboratory studies of Gingko show it to reduce vascular, tissue and metabolic disturbances as well as their neurological and behavioral consequences. Several membrane mechanisms seem to be involved including protection of the membrane ultra structure against free radicals. This activity has exciting implications with the new insights about aging and free radicals. The uniqueness of the pharmacological properties of Gingko lies in its focusing its effects on tissue that is experiencing oxygen lack, by increasing the flow of blood into is chaemic tissue.2

It may help by:

  • raising levels of glucose and ATP in the cell, thus maintain energy levels.
  • stabilizing cellular membranes including the blood brain barrier, thus reducing any cerebral edema and hypertension.
  • slowing the onset of dementia resulting from sclerosis of cerebral arteries
  • ameliorating the effects of progressive cerebral circulatory insufficiency due to age
  • decreasing the consumption of insulin, thus of potential use in diabetic angiopathy, especially as it has minimal impact on glucose metabolism, making it appropriate for diabetics, who generally suffer from insufficient circulation.
  • being hypotensive and peripherally vaso-dilating, offering a treatment for hypertension, as an aid in recovery from coronary thrombosis, and intermittent claudication.
Ginkgo has marked effects on neurophysiology, but it also seems to concentrate in the vascular and endocrine systems that strongly affect the function of the nervous system. This especially so in the adrenal gland, responsible for producing dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine as well as intermediary products required in the formation, activity and metabolism of other neurotransmitters. Ginkgo is also, through its affects on blood flow, able to improve the availability of acetylcholine, another important neurotransmitter. These effects include:
  • stimulation of the synthesis of important neurotransmitters, thus increasing the capacity for physical activity, both voluntary and involuntary functioning (e.g. digestion, blood pressure regulation, hormone secretion, blood sugar regulation).
  • increasing the flow of blood to the brain & stimulating the growth of receptor sites, leading to increased cerebral capacity, manifested by improved memory and reasoning power, improved mood, improved reaction time, alertness and speech.
  • inhibiting the synaptic breakdown of neurotransmitters and so increasing their availability during neural stimulation. This will increase the efficiency of the nervous system, and thus improve mood, memory and self- mastery.
It is prescribed in orthodox medicine for a number of neurological and behavioral disorders of the elderly, in peripheral vascular deficiency and in some functional disorders of the ear, nose, throat and eye. Numerous controlled clinical trials have been conducted to justify this use and these excellent clinical findings are in agreement with pharmacological data currently available. Experimentally, Gingko extract is active on cerebral circulation, on neuronal metabolism threatened by oxygen lack, on neurotransmission and on neurone membrane lesions caused by free oxygenated radicals.3 Improvement of the functioning of the auditory nerve of the ear is discussed further in the section on Tinnitus.4 The herb offers much hope as a treatment in all types of dementia, and even in patients suffering from cognitive disorders secondary to depression, because of its beneficial effects on mood. Of special concern are people who are just beginning to experience deterioration in their cognitive function. Ginkgo might delay deterioration and enable these subjects to maintain a normal life.

Anyone can benefit from the use of Ginkgo, whether they are already experiencing the effects of aging on mental function, or just approaching that point. In addition, the herb is quite safe even in doses many times higher than those usually recommended.5 From the experimental and clinical findings it appears that the herb may act on a number of major elements in the causation of both Alzheimer's and dementia. Current ideas about causes of Alzheimer's include (amongst other things) free radical damage, vascular insufficiency, ischemia, cholinergic and noradrenergic dysfunction. Clinically Ginkgo is active on circulatory functions, on neuronal and metabolic consequences of ischemia and hypoxia, on neurotransmission, and on membrane resistance to free radical damage. All of clinical studies so far confirm that the diverse physiological effects of Ginkgo lead to positive effects on behavior, sense of well-being, decreased hospitalization and capacity for self-sufficiency. Free radicals have been implicated in the aging process and degenerative disease. The flavonoids of ginkgo, including quercetin, are extremely potent oxygen scavengers. Possessing a particular affinity for the central nervous system as well as the adrenal and thyroid glands, the herb is ideal for protecting the heart, blood vessels, and brain against the destructive impact of free radicals.

  • In one in vitro study it destroyed free radicals, blocking their formation and inhibiting membrane lipid peroxidation, a destructive effect for which free radicals are partly responsible. The herb also stimulates the biosynthesis of prostanoids, vaso-dilators having a hypotensive effect.
  • One of the side-effects of diabetes in rats is the gradual impairment of eye sight, thought to be due to free oxygenated radicals damaging the retina. Ginkgo significantly prevented the onset and severity of this damage.
  • Ginkgo improved visual acuity in patients suffering from senile macular degeneration, a condition that involves free radicals damage.
  • A protective effect against argon laser induced damage of retinal cells was found. Pretreatment with Ginkgo, by capturing free radicals, prevented significant tissue damage.
Clearly Ginkgo could be important herbal contribution to the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's disease. The French workers suggest that this herb fulfills the conditions laid down by the W.H.O. concerning the development of drugs that are both effective and safe against cerebral aging.6It would seem that yet again the plant kingdom is truly supplying our needs.
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About The Author
Whilst working in conservation and lecturing in ecology and the eco-crisis for the University of Wales, David Hoffman became convinced that to heal the world, to embrace planetary wholeness and responsibility for it with hope, he as an individual had to be whole within himself....more
 
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