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Herbal Medicine For Mental Health

By Lucy Rose Clinic

August 30, 2021

Stress impacts everyone differently. Manifestations range from;

  • Low mood
  • Mild anxiety
  • Poor sleep
  • Depression

But often a combination will be present.

Treatment and dosing strategies will vary depending on if the condition is acute or chronic. Chronic cases would expect herbal medicine for at least 3 months.

Stress and Brain Function

Brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), a nerve growth factor which may be reduced when experiencing depression, plays a role in supporting neuroplasticity.

In adulthood, BDNF is responsible for neurotransmitter release, modulation of the growth and remodeling of axonal and dendritic cells, and the formation and function of synapses.

Chronic stress has been proven to reduce BDNF. Luckily, there are BDNF modulating herbs that may help.

These include: Panax ginseng, Dan Shen, Bacopa, Ginkgo, Grapeseed, St Johns Wort, Saffron, Rhodiola, Withania and Siberian ginseng.

The Power Of Adaptogens

A major neural pathway implicated in stress is the autonomic nervous system. Chronic stress can lead to continual activation of the sympathetic nervous system, consequently activating your immune system which results in increased pro-inflammatory cytokine production.

Additionally, stress can suppress the immune function due to increased levels of catecholamines and glucocorticoids.

Herbal medicine can help modulate the stress response to assist immune function.

Adaptogen (in herbal medicine) a natural substance considered to help the body adapt to stress and to exert a normalizing effect upon bodily processes.

Immunomodulation refers to any process in which an immune response is altered to a desired level.

Herbs with these actions include: Withania, Astragalus, Korean Ginseng, Siberian Ginseng.

What about the Endocannabinoid System?

With the huge awareness and popularity of CDB many people have forgotten that there are other herbs that affect the Endocannabinoid System.

Herbs such as echinacea, cloves, cinnamon and oregano have been used to stimulate the endocannabinoid system. These herbs contain high amounts of a terpene called beta-caryophyllene. This acts directly on the endocannabinoid system, so some researchers argue that it should be classified as a dietary cannabinoid instead of a terpen.

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Herbal medicine is just that – medicine. Even weaker versions such as teas can interact negatively with medication, so always check with your referring practitioner, and if you have a chronic health issue, work with a naturopath as well.

St Johns Wort has many contraindications with a variety of medications: warfarin, digoxin, immunosuppressive drugs such as cyclosporin, indinavir (HIV protease inhibitor), nevirapine (HIV nonnucleoside transcriptase inhibitor), docetaxel by injection, clozapine, phenprocoumon, nifedipine, methadone, finasteride, cancer chemotherapeutic drugs such as irinotecan and calcium channel antagonists such as verapamil.

Herbs should also be monitored by a practitioner in any stage of pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Many need to be stopped 7 days prior to general anesthesia.

A gentle start at home:

Here are some lovely herbal teas that help you feel more mentally balanced by supporting your nervous system, immune function, and brain health.

  • Lemon Verbena: The essential oil of lemon verbena leaf contains linalool and caryophyllene, which have demonstrated sedative effects in laboratory research, and limonene, which has demonstrated activity at serotonin receptors. There is interest in using lemon verbena for insomnia. Proposed mechanisms of action include activity at GABA-A receptors and inhibition of histamine stimulation. When making a tea, use a glass lid on the cup to catch the precious essential oils and injest them with your tea.
  • Withania: so many benefits! But it ticks the BDNF box, is a powerful adaptogen, and great for thyroid health too.
  • St John’s Wort: one of my favourites as it so obviously lifts serotonin, but it does not play well with many medications listed above.
  • Chamomile: such a classic tea, but underestimate it’s effectiveness. It is carminative and a mild sedative – a great before bed time tea.
  • Ginger: another all rounder with so many benefits, ginger tea relieves stress and tension and strengthens immunity.
  • Tulsi tea:  also known as Holy Basil. Tulsi is known to contain anti-stress compounds and it acts as adaptogen to reduce stress. It soothes nervous system and regulates the circulation of blood. A cup of tulsi and chamomile tea helps to reduce the stress levels in your body.
  • Passionflower: Orally, passion flower is used for insomnia, anxiety, preoperative anxiety and sedation, adjustment disorders, pain including neuralgia, seizures, alcoholism, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Passion flower is also used for asthma, menopausal symptoms, dysmenorrhea, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), muscle cramps, diarrhea, dyspepsia, stress, palpitations, arrhythmia, congestive heart failure (CHF), and fibromyalgia. I LOVE this herb for situational anxiety.  Data suggest that passion flower inhibits uptake of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) into neuronal synapses, and has affinity for GABA(A) and GABA(B) receptors. Some studies report that the anxiolytic and anticonvulsant activity of passion flower is similar to that of benzodiazepines.

Teas are wonderful, no doubt about it. But herbal tinctures are way more powerful and therapeutic. These need to be prescribed by a trained herbalist or naturopath, and treatment monitored. So if you are needing more support here, book in your first appointment, and let’s start your journey to better resilience!

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