Q&A: How natural ingredients aid your wellbeing
In this conversation, complementary medicine and nutraceutical research specialist Dr Beth Steels explains how ingredients such as lavender and kava provide health benefits to support issues such as poor sleep or nervous tension.
What are the natural ingredients that will help, and why?
When it comes to managing stress and poor sleep quality, there are some herbs that can help. Five of these herbs include:
• Kava – It helps calm the nervous system. It is the kavalactones present in the root of kava that are responsible for its relaxing and calming effects.
• Valerian – Believed to work like a sedative on the nervous system and brain. One way it is thought to cause sedation is by increasing the amount of GABA in the brain – a neurotransmitter that has a calming effect.
• Lavender – Like valerian, lavender oil has been shown to calm the nervous system by modulating GABA, thereby having a calming effect.
• Ashwagandha – This herb is known as an “adaptogen”, meaning that it can help your body manage stress. It may do this by reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and by helping to stabilise mood. It is known to enhance the function of the brain and nervous system and improve memory.
• Chamomile – widely regarded as a mild tranquiliser and a herb that induces sleep. This may be due to an antioxidant it contains called apigenin that promotes sleepiness.
What advice would you offer to someone who is sceptical about such ingredients?
With the increasing use of herbal medicines in the Western world, more and more scientific research is being conducted. Now, many herbal medicines have scientific evidence about their safety and effectiveness, in addition to their history of traditional use.
For example, two of the most popular herbal medicines – ginkgo biloba and kava – have been shown to be potentially effective in helping improve cognitive function, memory and anxiety, respectively.
Consulting with your healthcare practitioner can help you better understand which herbal/alternative ingredients have the greatest evidence base, and which, if any, are suitable for you.
How can one integrate such ingredients into their day-to-day?
Depending on the ingredient, most herbs are either ingested or applied topically. It is best to consult with your healthcare practitioner about whether these ingredients are suitable for you, and if so, how they should be used as part of your diet or healthcare routine. Herbs are still medicines and can act on some of the same internal pathways as pharmaceutical medicines, therefore they should be taken with care.
Should such ingredients be supplemented by anything, or replace anything?
Herbal supplements should never replace a balanced diet or healthy lifestyle. However, some individuals may have vitamin or mineral deficiencies, so supplements may be advised by your healthcare professional to help fill in this gap.
Your healthcare professional may advise that herbal ingredients could be of benefit to you if, for example, you experience stress and sleeplessness. You should seek the advice of your healthcare professional before introducing supplements to your diet or healthcare routine.
Complementary medicine and nutraceutical research specialist Dr Beth Steels has over 20 years of pharmaceutical drug and nutraceutical research.
“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain