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You want to know what I love and find unique about herbs and herbal medicine?

What I find unique about herbal medicine is that herbs can be used for both symptom management and for helping to restore the health of an organ or system. For example, milk thistle can be protective to liver cells and help restore and promote regeneration of healthy cells. Hawthorn can be strengthening to the heart and circulatory system and help prevent heart-related issues. Marshmallow root is healing and soothing to the mucosal lining of the gastrointestinal tract and can help with recovery after an inflammatory issue, such as heartburn, gastritis, or leaky gut. Ashwaganda can help us feel more calm and get more restful sleep. Cherry bark can calm a cough and thin mucus.

Within this topic, I also find it important for people to understand the difference between taking an herb for a certain symptom (or symptoms) and taking an herb to support the underlying system. For example, when someone is dealing with a viral infection, such as the flu, there are certainly herbs that might be able to make you more comfortable. Where herbs really stand out, however, is how they can help support your immune system in combating the virus. I think of it as the herbs mobilizing the immune system to keep fighting the invaders or infection. Many of the herbs commonly used to stimulate the immune system have been shown to help shorten the duration and severity of a cold or flu virus. Think: elderberry, olive leaf, oregano. This means you have to keep taking them, even once the symptoms are in full force, and they can really shorten how long you are sick.

Another thing people may not understand, is that you need to take these herbs in copious amounts, frequently, to really have a notable effect for an acute situation such as this. These same herbs are often very effective at keeping you from getting sick in the first place, if you take them frequently when you first feel any sign you might be getting something.

Then there are other immune support herbs that can help you from getting sick in the first place, by taking them on a daily basis or taking them several times a day when around people who are sick. Think: astragalus root, certain medicinal mushrooms such as reishi and shiitake, olive leaf, elderberry. These are used more as preventive medicine (notice there is some overlap) and can help someone get sick less frequently and recover more quickly when they do.

I view herbal medicine as a “tool in the toolkit” of health, and it exists best in a holistic lifestyle of health. This holistic lifestyle includes the things most of us know we “should” be doing, including beneficial nutrition/diet, pure water, sufficient sleep, and exercise, which are essential for care of the body. And yet, there is much more that contributes to a healthy life, including our mental and emotional health, our stress management techniques, the health and quality of our relationships, time in nature, and our general sense of our purpose and place in our communities and in the world. Then there are the various healing modalities we can choose from to help support our health, including massage, acupuncture, naturopathic medicine, nutrition consults, life coaching, therapy, energy work, chiropractic, etc.

Taking herbs alone is not going to solve all of our health problems. But, let me tell you, I am grateful for their many benefits and the healing they have supported in my body and in countless others I have had the pleasure of guiding in their selection and use of herbs for their own healing.

This has been a thought on many health-conscious people’s minds: how do I protect myself from this invisible, potentially toxic, radiation that is drifting our way via air and water from Japan as I write.  I think it is a question worth asking, even though there are those who scoff.  I especially think it’s important when prevention and acting “as if” in sensible ways could only provide health benefits. From what I can find, iodine-131 has a half-life of 8 days, the radioactive element that can most effect/damage the thyroid gland, but cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years!  It also mixes easily with water and acts similarly to potassium in the body, and so is taken up and processed by the body similarly.  Cesium and uranium both have the most potential to negatively effect the kidneys.  Therefore, it appears that the thyroid gland and the kidneys are the most susceptible to nuclear radiation.
The problem with radiation  in general is that we don’t really know what damaging levels are, and our exposure has gone up as more radiation is continually being emitted around us, from electronics, cell phones, etc.  With the exposure to nuclear radiation through this current crisis,  we may not notice immediate health problems but could experience higher cancer rates years down the road.
How do we protect ourselves?  The reading that I’ve done now points to several things you can do right now, that are generally really good things for the body all the time.  Some of this is based on scientific studies that looked at mainly animals, but people as well, during and after radiation exposure, to nuclear radiation as well as radiation from cancer treatment, x-rays, etc.,  and some is based on information we know about how radiation is processed in the body.
Antioxidants:
Makes sense, right?  Radiation causes free radical damage and antioxidants can help reduce that damage.  Some antioxidants to consider: turmeric (or curcumin at 2-4 g/day, a compound extracted from turmeric, which has been shown to protect the body from breast cancer after radiation exposure), Ginkgo biloba (protective after radiation exposure), rosemary, beta carotene (from carrots, kale, tomatoes, blue-green algae, etc.), vitamin E, glutathione (a powerful antioxidant made up of the amino acids cysteine, glycine, and glutamine;  found in high amounts in barley and watercress, but otherwise is synthesized by taking the amino acids in supplement form or applying a glutathione cream), superoxide dismutase (SOD) (another powerful antioxidant that you can take in supplement form and is found in horseradish), selenium cysteine (found in high amounts in broccoli and garlic), and the brassica family plants (broccoli, kale, cabbage, brussel sprouts, etc.).
Mushrooms:
These wonderful fungi can help protect the body from radiation, probably partly because of a compound called beta-glucan, which is particularly protective to the bone marrow after radiation.  Mushrooms such as reishi, shiitake, and cordyceps are also immune supportive and have many anticancer/tumor properties.  How much do you need to take to be effective?  A typical dose would be 1-2 g twice/day of the powder, capsules, or tincture.  You can also incorporate some mushrooms (shiitake, maitake)  into your food.
Sodium bicarbonate (aka baking soda):
This substance appears to bind to both uranium and cesium and minimize their damaging effects on the kidneys, which have to excrete them.  One source I found suggested 1/2 tsp, twice/day away from food.
Adaptogens:
This powerful category of plants is protective and supportive to the body in general.  Particularly of note are Panax ginseng (Asian ginseng), Panax quinquefolius (American ginseng), RhodiolaEleutherococcus (Eleuthero), and Holy basil (Tulsi).

A therapeutic dose of these would be 2 dropperfuls (about 60 drops or 2 millileters) 2-3 times/day of the tincture (1:2 extract would provide 1 gram of herb per 2 ml of liquid ingested), 2-3 cups of tea at 1 Tbsp/cup simmered for 20-30 minutes for the roots and steeped 20 minutes for the leaves (holy basil), or 2 grams of the powder/capsules, twice/day.
Algae & Other Chlorophyll-rich greens:

Chlorella & Spirulina in particular are detoxifying to the body and known to carry radiation out the body, partly due to the chlorophyll content and due to carotenes and minerals in these superfoods.  Wheatgrass is also very high in chlorophyll and shown to help with radiation.
Iodine & Seaweed:
Iodine can compete with iodine-131 for use by the thyroid gland, therefore limiting radioactive exposure.  Although potassium iodide is recommended for high levels of radioactive iodine exposure, it is not recommended for long-term use.  Seaweed and other iodine-containing substances (fish, iodized salt) are better long-term sources.  Kelp, kombu, bladderwrack, and other “brown seaweeds” are considered the best for protecting the body.  They also are a source of trace minerals that are helpful for metabolic processes in the body and have antioxidant effects.  3-5 g/day is recommended, with 3 g amounting to about 1 tsp of kelp powder.
Vitamins & Minerals:
Vitamins E, D3, C, and A are all antioxidants and vitamin D3 has been shown to support immune function, so all of these are potentially helpful.  The minerals selenium, iodine, & magnesium are most cited for their potentially beneficial effects during this time.
What would a good approach be?
I’ll tell you what I’m doing.  I take a tincture (a liquid extract) combining several herbs, including Adaptogens & Antioxidants.  Mine includes adaptogens (American ginseng & Schisandra berry, which protects the liver) and antioxidants/liver support (Turmeric, Rosemary, & Ginkgo).  I take 60 drops (2 dropperfuls) twice/day.  I take 2 – 500 mg kelp capsules twice/day, so 2 grams/day.  I also take 1 Tablespoon of a green powder blend once/day that contains chlorella, spirulina, kelp, alfalfa, and nettle.  I take about 5000 IU vitamin D3 once/day.
It may sound like a lot, but it takes me 5 minutes out of my day to do.  I put 2 squirts of my herbal tinctures in a little water, 1 squirt of my liquid vitamin D3, &  toss it back with my kelp capsules with breakfast.  At some point during the day I shake up my green powder in about 4 oz of water in a jar and get it down as quickly as possible (you could alternatively take this in a smoothie or with juice).  I then take 2 more squirts of my tincture and 2 more kelp capsules with dinner.  And I’ve done my best at getting in some good nutrients for the day, including broccoli and kale.  I was, by the way, doing all of this except for the faithful taking of my kelp capsules, before I found out about the nuclear radiation from Japan.
My hope in sharing this information is to empower you with tools you can incorporate into your life to help protect you from the radiation we are going to be exposed to in some degree over the weeks/months to come.   It is better to act than to ignore this potential danger or to freeze in fear.  Please give feedback/insights and feel free to ask questions.