Herbal remedies come from plants. If possible, choose a remedy which has been standardised, i.e. the contents are approximately the same in each bottle or tablet you buy. Plant remedies are not always safer than ordinary medicines. All of them can have side-effects and interact with other medicines. Supplements include vitamins, minerals and animal and plant products, such as cod liver oil. They can also have side-effects and interact with other medicines. Some people take supplements, like vitamin C in high doses, but this can damage the liver or kidneys. Many supplements have a recommended daily intake (RDI), or allowance (RDA). Do not go beyond this dose without talking to an experienced health professional.
Anxiety and Sleep Problems
Most of these treatments seem to work on gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA), a chemical in the brain linked to anxiety. We do not know if these drugs cause addiction. They are less powerful than conventional sedatives or sleeping tablets. Note - Kava (piper methysticum) has been withdrawn in the UK due to concerns that it might cause liver damage. It should not be used. Combinations of extracts may be less safe. There have been concerns about liver damage from combinations of valerian and other herbs. Remedies include:
Depression and Bipolar Disorder
In bipolar disorder (manic depression), adding omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the chance of becoming ill again. Some people buy natural lithium, but we do not recommend this because the doses offered in the tablets are much lower than in prescription preparations. Also, lithium at any dose should be closely monitored. Most treatments for depression are supplements, which are building blocks in the production of serotonin. This is a chemical in the brain that seems to be involved in depression. L-tryptophan and 5 hydroxytryptophan (5-HT), are such building blocks, but they have not as yet been cleared as safe.
Choices are limited. Rauwolfia, a plant originating from India, has been used, but is not as good as antipsychotic medicines. Reserpine, a drug developed from Rauwolfia, can cause depression and is no longer used in the UK. Omega-3s may be tried with antipsychotic treatment, but there is no good evidence that they help. Many antipsychotics can cause weight gain and lead to a higher risk of heart and blood pressure problems. Omega-3s may reduce these changes, but success is not guaranteed.
Many older antipsychotics could cause abnormal movements, known as tardive dyskinesia. If this occurs, the dose of the antipsychotic can be lowered, or an alternative antipsychotic given. Two complementary remedies may help - vitamin E, melatonin and ginkgo biloba. Vitamin E, may prevent the movements getting worse. However, the potential benefits need to be offset against long-term use, particularly if high doses of vitamin E are considered. Melatonin has also been tried, but the research is inconclusive. One study found that Gingko biloba can reduce tardive dyskinesia and that the effect may last for some time, even after Ginkgo biloba has been stopped. As mentioned above, there may be health risks because of a potentially increased bleeding risk.
The choice is limited. Valerian has been suggested to improve sleep in people withdrawing from drugs like Valium. But no good research has been done. Passion flower was effective when combined with clonidine in one small study, and St John’s wort may reduce alcohol craving. Other Remedies include Kudzu and Iboga.
Finding a well-trained practitioner can be difficult. You can also always ask your general practitioner (GP) or mental health professional. It may be useful to consult with your local drug information service, and to find a health professional with special expertise in this area, or use services recommended by your GP or hospital. There are professional herbalists who belong to the National Institute of Medical Herbalists. They are trained and often work in a private setting. Most are not medically qualified.
They are ways of treating illness that have developed outside the mainstream of modern medicine. Many are traditional remedies that have developed in different cultures over the centuries. They include herbal medicines, foods, and nutritional supplements, such as vitamins and minerals. All these treatments can be used on their own, or with conventional medicine. Many CAMs have been used for mental health problems, but there is little good evidence to support their use. Some of these treatments may work, but most have not been thoroughly tested. The studies have often been too small to give a clear answer. We know most about the treatments for depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Despite the lack of evidence, people all over the world take CAMs, and many report that they find them helpful. Ultimately, whether taking CAMs is a good idea depends on individual circumstances. We recommend that you talk to your GP or mental health team first.
If you are considering taking CAMs, you should seek specialist advice if:
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