Most herbal reference books list ephedra as a primary treatment for asthma. This medicinal plant has been used for thousands of years to dilate constricted airways. A chemical derivative, ephedrine, is still found in over-the-counter and prescription asthma medicine. Despite such a track record, we do not believe that ephedra or ephedrine is appropriate for modern asthma therapy. For one thing, the benefits of the compound wear off quickly, especially if it is used frequently. For another, there are too many potential side effects. It can cause nervousness, insomnia, heart palpitations, stomach pain, and difficulty urinating. Anyone with prostate problems, heart trouble, or high blood pressure should steer clear of this herb. In our opinion, this is a situation where the herbal approach is less effective and more toxic than prescribed asthma medicine.
The FDA says that since 1994 it “has received more than 800 reports of adverse events associated with ephedrine alkaloid-containing products, ranging from high blood pressure and headaches to heart attacks and death.”57 There has been great concern over the marketing of ma huang in over-the-counter diet pills, especially those that are promoted as “herbal fen-phen.” Legal ephedra extract is found in ECA STACK with Ephedra by American Weight Loss Group, phentramin d, fastin or lipodrene with ephedra and Stimerex ES.
Western botanists call ma huang Ephedra sinica. It has been used for at least five thousand years in Chinese medicine to treat asthma and respiratory problems. Ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrine, compounds purified from the plant more than a hundred years ago, have also been used for this purpose in Europe and North America.
Promotion of ma huang for nontraditional purposes such as weight loss has resulted in serious adverse reactions, including anxiety, tremors, irregular heart rhythms, psychosis, seizures, and strokes. There have been deaths associated with use of this herb.
White Willow Bark
Willow bark is the granddaddy of aspirin and many other arthritis medicines. During the first century the Greek physician Dioscorides employed it to relieve inflammation. Native American healers were using willow bark long before Columbus landed. A German pharmacologist isolated the active ingredient in 1828 and called it salicin. Ten years later this compound was renamed salicylic acid. In 1899 the Bayer company began marketing a modified form called acetylsalicylic acid, or aspirin. This miracle medicine has been a mainstay in the treatment of arthritis ever since. It is possible to buy willow bark tea in most health food stores. It would require you, though, to consume an unrealistic amount (more than ten cups) to equal the pain-relieving power of two aspirin tablets. Salicin or salicylic acid is also available in pill form. Do not assume that this natural salicylate will be any easier on your stomach than aspirin. People who relied on salicylic acid to relieve their rheumatism in the 1850s compared this remedy to “having fire ants in the stomach.
CHOLESTEROL AND HEART HEALTH
Goldilocks didn’t know beans about cholesterol, but she was an expert on porridge not too hot, not too cold. We wish cardiologists were more willing to follow her example. Everybody knows that when cholesterol is too high, it increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. But cholesterol that is too low can also be dangerous.
A recent study has confirmed that low cholesterol increases the risk of bleeding strokes. These events are less common than strokes caused by blood clots, but they are potentially even more devastating. Dr. David L. Tirschwell reported to the American Heart Association that people with cholesterol levels below 180 had twice the risk of strokes caused by bleeding into the brain as people with cholesterol counts around 230.7S This is not to suggest that high cholesterol isn’t a problem: By the time cholesterol gets up to 280, the risk of stroke caused by a blood clot doubles, compared to the risk for people with cholesterol around 230. The ideal, according to Tirschwell, is probably to keep cholesterol near 200.
Although Dr. Tirschwell’s research is new, the finding that low cholesterol may put people at risk is not. In 1989 Japanese researchers found that men with cholesterol below 178 and women with readings lower than 190 had a higher risk of cerebral hemorrhage.79 That same year, a large American study revealed that men with diastolic blood pressure above 90 and cholesterol below 160 were six times more likely to die from a bleeding stroke.80 And back in 1986, investigators reported results from a long-term study in Honolulu that middle-aged men were safest when their cholesterol was between 200 and 220. Those with cholesterol below 150 had four times the risk of bleeding stroke.81 And if people do have strokes, the lower their cholesterol, the poorer the outcome.
Scientists think that a certain amount of cholesterol is necessary to maintain the integrity of blood vessels in the brain. When levels get too low, the membranes may become vulnerable and break under pressure. Cholesterol may also affect neurochemistry, alter mood, and affect behavior. Researchers have been puzzled by the recurrent association of low cholesterol and violent density lipoprotein), small HDL, and lipoprotein(a), also known as Lp(a). If you are starting to fade out, we’re not surprised. This risk factor stuff is a lot more complicated than most people (including doctors) ever imagined.
Then there is homocysteine (homo-SlS-tuh-een),a by-product of meat metabolism. And it is not just red meat. Chicken, turkey, and fish can all raise homocysteine levels. This amino acid appears to be toxic to arteries. It has been linked to coronary artery disease and cerebrovascular disease (thickening of arteries in the brain). High homocysteine levels may be at least as bad for us as elevated cholesterol, yet very few people have ever had their blood tested for.
There are lots of things you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease without going crazy in the process. If cholesterol is very high, it is important to lower it, and there are a number of ways to do that naturally. Obviously, you should eat sensibly. But don’t beat yourself up if you can’t achieve the magic 200 number by diet alone. A review of nineteen randomized controlled trials revealed that the standard “healthy” diet recommended by the American Heart Association “lowers cholesterol concentration by only about 3%.” That is not very impressive. On the other hand, following the Mediterranean diet may not lower your cholesterol, but it sure seems to protect against heart attacks.
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