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Is Kava Right for You?

If you are experiencing anxiety or panic attacks, the best course of action is to learn how to manage them without the use of pharmaceutical drugs. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, breath work, meditation, regular aerobic exercise, journal writing and eliminating caffeine and other stimulants that can trigger or worsen anxiety can all help; for some people, so can the herb kava.

Kava (Piper methysticum, also called kava kava) can be effective for alleviating the symptoms of anxiety without the overly sedating or habit-forming side effects of potentially addictive benzodiazepine drugs. However, not everyone is a candidate for kava - reports from Europe of cases of liver damage related to kava use have raised concerns about safety. Because of the reported liver dangers, I've recommended following these precautions on kava use from the American Botanical Council:

  • Don't use kava if you have liver problems (such as hepatitis), drink alcohol regularly or take any drug with known adverse effects on the liver, including acetaminophen (Tylenol), statin drugs and niacin.
  • Don't use kava on a daily basis for more than four weeks.
  • Discontinue kava if you develop jaundice (yellowing of the skin or the whites of the eyes) or symptoms of hepatitis (nausea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, dark urine and clay-colored stools).
  • Check with your doctor if you have a prior history of liver problems or suspected liver problems before using or continuing to use kava.

If you want to try kava, take one or two 460 mg capsules of a high-quality brand as needed, two to three times per day for up to four weeks.

Check out yesterday's post on another potentially dangerous supplement, lobelia.


Is Lobelia Safe?

Lobelia (Lobelia inflata) is also called Indian tobacco or “puke weed” (in the 19th century, American physicians used lobelia to provoke vomiting as a means of removing toxins from the body). It is an herbal remedy that, in appropriate dosages, can be helpful for addressing acute asthma symptoms.

Lobelia is sometimes referred to as a toxic herb, because high doses cause serious effects: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, profuse sweating, tremors, rapid heartbeat, mental confusion, convulsions, hypothermia, coma and possibly even death.

However, as a home remedy for a mild asthma attack, lobelia can be safe and effective when used appropriately - do the following:

  1. Mix three parts tincture of lobelia with one part tincture of capsicum (red pepper, cayenne pepper).
  2. Take 20 drops of the mixture in water at the start of an asthmatic attack.
  3. Repeat every 30 minutes for a total of three or four doses.

Remember that asthma can be a serious health condition and that herbal remedies like lobelia are not substitutes for standard medical treatments. I strongly recommend that people with asthma work closely with an integrative medicine practitioner for optimal care and advice about effective alternative and conventional medical therapies.

Tomorrow's post will feature another potentially dangerous supplement: kava.


Post-Exercise Drink? (Poll)

Here's a recent Q&A from my site on the recent trend of coconut water. I recommend drinking plenty of pure water after exercising. What's your preference?


Why You Should Check Your Blood Pressure at Home

Monitoring blood pressure at home can help keep it from rising and may help reduce the need for medication. A recently published analysis of 37 international clinical trials, compiling data on more than 9,400 men and women with high blood pressure, showed that patients asked by their physicians to track their blood pressure with home monitors were more successful in reducing their pressure than patients who had readings done only in the doctor's office. The researchers who performed the analysis noted that home monitoring appeared to work better as part of a general plan that included adjusting medications in response to the home readings. Interestingly, what worked best was telemonitoring - the use of wired or wireless technology to send blood pressure readings directly to the doctor's office. One possible explanation for the lower readings seen at home is elimination of the "white coat" effect - the increase in pressure triggered by the stress of being in the doctor's office. The study was published online Nov. 29, 2010 in the journal Hypertension.

More on high blood pressure treatment.


A Year’s Worth of Health Information at Your Fingertips?

Want to learn how to promote energy naturally? Achieve better rest and sleep? Encourage a healthy heart and brain, optimal vision and a digestive system that runs smoothly? Have you wondered what small, preventive steps you can take to encourage better health, no matter what your age or state of health? Then don’t miss our newest addition to The Balanced Living 2010 Annual Flipbook!

This free, online magazine-style tool allows you to browse through all 12 issues of 2010’s Andrew Weil’s Balanced Living: Your Guide to Living Life Fully. From information on the anti-inflammatory diet to preventing Alzheimer’s disease, each month focuses on a specific topic and includes in-depth articles, checklists, quick tips and more - including a recipe!

See Dr. Weil’s 2010 Balanced Living Annual!


Fruits and Vegetables for a Healthy Tan

New research from England suggests that the safest route to a golden glow is eating lots of fruits and vegetables. What's more, the tan you get from healthy eating looks better than the one you could get from baking on a beach. That’s the word from the Perception Lab at the University of Nottingham published online in December, 2010, from Evolution and Human Behavior. The investigators said that the carotenoids in fruits and vegetables are the driving force for the change in skin color. Carotenoids are antioxidants that are responsible for the red, orange and yellow colors of fruits and vegetables. The researchers reported that given the choice between skin color caused by suntan and skin color due to carotenoids, people in their studies preferred the carotenoid skin color. The lead investigator said that the findings are important because evolution would favor individuals who mate with healthier men or women. It also would seem to suggest that healthy eating is better for the appearance of your skin than tanning.


What Makes a Nutritious Lunch?

Ever wonder what nutrition researchers eat? See what was presented to the world's leading nutrition scientists and educators, who gathered in Chicago, Illinois in May of 2009 for the Nutrition and Health Conference developed by Dr. Weil. The annual conference is co-sponsored by the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and Columbia University.

What makes a nutritious diet overall? I explain how to eat the Anti-Inflammatory Diet.


Race, Location, Gender Boost High Blood Pressure Risks

Because high blood pressure increases the risks of heart disease, new data about the factors that influence blood pressure could help explain why deaths from heart attack and stroke vary by geography. A study from the University of Michigan Medical School published in the Dec. 6, 2010 online issue of Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association reveals that race, gender and even where you live play a role in whether or not you develop high blood pressure. The study found that high blood pressure in middle age is most common in African American women, followed by African American men, Caucasian men and Caucasian women. These findings came from a 20 year study in four cities: Birmingham, AL, Chicago, Minneapolis and Oakland, CA.  The risks of heart disease and stroke were highest in Birmingham, followed by Oakland, Chicago and Minneapolis. Although overall deaths from heart disease and stroked dropped by 65 percent between 1968 and 2006, the researchers noted that cardiovascular deaths remain higher in the southeastern United States, in African Americans compared with Caucasians and in men compared with women.

My take? You can't do much about your gender or your race, and most people are unlikely to make a move to a different section of the U.S. to lower their risks of high blood pressure, but you can do a lot to lower or eliminate other risks. You may be able to optimize your blood pressure with healthy lifestyle measures - losing weight if necessary (even a 10 percent weight loss might do the trick), quitting smoking if that's an issue, limiting intake of caffeine (in coffee, tea and sodas) and alcohol, all of which can contribute to the problem, as well as cutting back on salt (processed foods are the biggest sources of sodium in today's Western diet) and practicing relaxation methods. If you have a family history of hypertension, lifestyle measures may not be enough to keep your blood pressure under control - you may need medication. But no one should depend on drugs alone. A healthy lifestyle, including relaxation practice, is also key to keeping blood pressure in the safe range.