All about herbs for weight loss and stress management
If you’ve tried diets, weight loss shakes, medicated candies, pills, and contraptions that jiggle, squeeze, or shock the fat away, and are constantly starving yet still gaining weight, you’re one of the many millions of people around the world who encounter the “battle of the bulge” every morning. Sometimes even a healthy diet and exercise can’t keep those extra pounds off. Using the correct supplements from herbs and remedies in conjunction with diet and exercise can boost your metabolism and keep you feeling and looking your best.
Medicinal herbs have been used in cultures all over the world for thousands of years. In some cultures, the use of herbs extended into spiritual practice, food, cosmetics, clothing, and personal care. This is not surprising when we consider that medicinal plants are used in many of the health and beauty products on the market today. Our History of Medicinal Herbs article provides an overview of the ways herbs have benefited us in the past and how they continue to help us in the present.
Maintaining a healthy weight is a vital part of our overall well-being. Physicians and scientists are finding that obesity and obesity-related illnesses are on the rise in many developed countries. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, approximately 55 percent of adults in the United States are overweight or obese. That means that over half of us have an increased susceptibility to diseases such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, osteoarthritis, gall bladder disease, respiratory problems, and certain types of cancer.
If you’re trying to lose weight for health reasons, it is likely that you’re already on other medications or supplements and should be aware of possible interactions or reactions that can occur with herbal remedies and supplements. Refer to our Safety and Side Effects section and your healthcare provider for more information on the side effects of herbs and herbal-pharmaceutical reactions.
It is important that you do your research before you start any weight loss program. Know your herbs! Our Common Herbs section will help you learn about some of the most common herbs on the market. To find an herbal treatment that works well with your lifestyle, current health status, age, and other medications that you are currently using, our Herbal Uses section is replete with ways in which herbal weight loss products can be administered and will help you find a method that is right for you.
If you prefer taking pills to drink tea, you will probably find that herbal supplements in a pill or capsule form will help you lose weight. Remember, remedies and supplements won’t work if you don’t take them.
The main reason most of us try to lose weight is to feel better about ourselves. Emotional distress and stress, in particular, are major contributors to weight gain and can result in “yo-yo dieting.” When we are stressed, anxious, or depressed, we tend to take comfort in food.
Stress is something that you can control, and our section on Stress Management will help you take the necessary steps to reduce the stress in your life. Whether your focus is on looking thin and fit, training for a 10K, or staving off a host of health problems associated with obesity, the end result is that you will feel better about yourself for reaching your goals. So start now!
Common Herbs for Weight Loss
Have you been dieting and found that you’ve reached the dreaded plateau? Many people find the initial weight loss to be rather easy, but then further weight loss becomes difficult. The reason behind this is that your metabolism slows down with restricted food intake. Weight control problems can also be related to sluggish circulation, which is a common problem with high blood sugar and high blood pressure.
By incorporating herbal supplements into your diet, along with exercise, your metabolism can be raised helping to convert stored fat to energy. This in turn will energize circulation to help dieters get over this plateau. Listed below are specific herbs that can be advantageous in the quest for weight loss. It is important to remember that certain herbal supplements should not be used during pregnancy or while nursing.
In addition to herbs, Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) play a vital role in maintaining the integrity of body tissues. Like vitamins and minerals, EFAs cannot be made by the body and must be supplemented by the diet. Because dietary sources of EFAs are rarely available in quantities to compensate for a deficiency, it is often necessary to supplement sources like fish oils.
It is recommended that a simple hawthorn berry, leaf, and flower extract be taken as needed for circulation activation. Other energy and circulation supplements include CoQ10 for antioxidant enzyme activity, the amino acids L-Glutamine and L-Carnitine for energy and body flow, bee pollen, and royal jelly for B complex vitamins. Enzymes are proteins that are found in our own bodies and food.
They facilitate normal digestion by breaking food down into simpler compounds so that our bodies can use the food’s nutrients. Some have found that bodywork techniques, including alternating hot and cool showers, provide noticeable benefits. And of course, regular exercise is a definite when trying to lose or maintain weight.
Agathosma Betulina – Diuretic, urinary antiseptic
Acidophilus – Help maintain a healthy digestive tract, as well as influence the balance of the body’s natural flora.
Bdellium Gum – Lowering cholesterol levels, reducing tissue inflammation, promoting balance in the thyroid gland, and lowering body weight.
Centaury (Centaurium erythraea) – Stimulates a sluggish digestive and gastric system.
Chromium Picolinate – Reduces sugar cravings and stabilizes the metabolism of simple carbohydrates.
Dandelion – Natural diuretic and laxative. Also aids in the treatment of gallstones, jaundice, gall bladder inflammation, and discomfort, as well as relieving premenstrual bloating.
Ephedra (Ma Huang) – Natural ephedrine. An aid for increasing vitality and a sense of well being. Curbs the appetite and increases your metabolism causing you to expend energy.
Guarana – Caffeine content.
Garcinia Cambogia – Suppresses the appetite.
Ginseng – Stimulates metabolism and energy.
Gymnema Sylvestre – Treatment for diabetes, chewing the leaves, or drinking the herbal tea will suppress the ability to taste sugar for several hours.
Hawthorn Fruit – Reduces cholesterol and blood lipids.
Hoelen or Fu Ling (Poria Cocos) – Used as Natural diuretic.
Kelp – Helps maintain Iodine levels.
Lecithin – Breaks down body fat.
Lemon – Natural diuretic. Drinking lemon water before meals helps digestion and utilization of fats.
Plantain Leaf (Plantago Major) – Limits calorie intake, due to its appetite-satiating effect, and by reduces intestinal absorption of lipids.
Primrose (Evening Primrose) – Oil from seeds is recommended for alcoholism, arthritis, hot flashes, menstrual problems (cramps, heavy bleeding), multiple sclerosis, weight loss, skin disorders, high blood pressure. Promotes estrogen. Evening primrose is said to help reduce cholesterol and excess weight for people who do not process fats effectively.
Psyllium (Plantago Ovata) – Consumed with water prior to a meal can cause a spontaneous reduction in the consumption of fat and calories and a significant increase in the feeling of satisfaction, measured as “fullness,” up to three hours after the meal.
Seaweeds (Laminaria and Sargassum) – Helps reduce cellulite by stimulating the thyroid gland.
Spirulina – An excellent source of protein and contains the needed nutrients to stabilize blood sugar levels.
Yerba Mate – A natural appetite suppressant and energy booster is considered to be “the ideal slimming remedy” that suppresses the feeling of hunger and thirst.
How to Use Herbs
Herbalists use the leaves, flowers, stems, bark, berries, seeds, and roots of plants to prevent, relieve, and treat illness. Since most of us do not cultivate and harvest our own herbs, we prefer to purchase herbs and prepared herbal compounds available in different forms, each of which has its own particular characteristics.
Your health food store will have individual herbs as well as complex herbal formulations, including raw herbs, tinctures, extracts, capsules, tablets, lozenges, and ointments.
When administering herbal treatment, you can follow the same basic suggestions that you would for administering conventional medications. If the taste of an herb is too strong, try diluting the appropriate dosage with juice or water.
For children, try mixing tablets or capsules with a spoonful of cream-style cereal or applesauce, or dissolved in sweet fruit juice. For older children, herbal teas can be sweetened with honey. It is important to note that a child under eighteen months old should never be allowed to take honey because there is a risk of infant botulism, which can be fatal.
For an infant, the herbal tea can be mixed with expressed breast milk or formula and put into a bottle, an eyedropper, or feeding syringe, and gently squirted inside the child’s mouth. A nursing mother can also take an adult dose of an herbal remedy, and the effect will be transmitted by her breast milk.
Take precautions when giving herbal supplements to children or infants and always consult your healthcare provider if you have concerns.
Capsules and Tablets: Preferred method for people that have trouble tolerating bitter herbs. Herb capsules and tablets contain a ground or powdered form of the raw herb. Always read labels to make sure fresh herbs were been used in the product.
Compress: Prepare a hot decoction (defined below). Soak a small washcloth in the decoction, squeezing out most of the liquid before applying it to the affected area. Repeat the process once the cloth has cooled. Tinctures of other herbs and essential oils can be added to the liquid.
Cream: A cream is a blend of oil, beeswax, and water. After adding the desired herb to the unscented, water-based cream, simmer in the top of a double boiler for 30 minutes. Strain before it cools. Melt 2 oz. beeswax in a double boiler, add 1 cup olive or other vegetable oil and blend. Add an additional 2 oz. herb. Simmer 20 minutes, mixing well. Add a drop of tincture of benzoin as a preservative. Strain through cheesecloth and store in sterilized jars.
Decoctions: Method of choice for bark and seeds. Use 1 to 2 tsp. of herb per cup of cold water. Bring the covered mixture to a gentle boil, and simmer for about 10 minutes. The usual dosage is 1 cup 3 times a day. If the herb is very bitter or strong, you may use 4 tsp. 3 times a day. Use decoction within 24 hours.
Extracts: Extracts, like tinctures, can be made with alcohol. The essence of the herb can also be leached out with water.
Herbal Wine: Using a sweet red wine with an alcohol content of at least 12%, cover 4 oz. of herb with 3 cups of wine. Set aside for a week before straining. Take 4 tsp. of the herbal wine 1 or 2 times daily. Best used within a month.
Infusions: Add 1 to 2 tsp. of dried herb (or 2 to 4 tsp. of fresh herb) to 1 cup of boiling water in a ceramic pot with a lid. Infuse for no longer than 10 minutes, strain. 1 cup 3 times a day is the standard dosage in most cases. It May be taken hot or cold; however, infusions prepared for colds and flu should be taken hot. Never prepare the infusion for more than 24 hours in advance.
Lozenges: Herbal-based lozenges can be readily found at most health food shops. Cold-fighting formulas and natural cough suppressants, some with decongestant properties, are among the most common. It is best to choose lozenges made without refined sugar.
Ointments, Salves, and Rubs: There is an abundance of topical herbal-based products on the market for broken skin, wounds, infections, rashes, skin irritations, and minor burns, including sunburn. Ointments do not penetrate the skin like cream, but cover and protects it. A good base is petroleum jelly, and the method for preparation is the same as for a cream.
Melt petroleum jelly in a double boiler and add plenty of herbs, making sure that the melted petroleum jelly covers the herb. Simmer until the herbs are crisp. More herbs may be added to make a stronger ointment. Strain into jars while hot.
Oil Infusion: Oil infusions are for external use only and can be prepared either hot or cold. For the hot method, fill a medium jar with fresh herbs and cover it with olive, sunflower, or almond oil. Place the jar up to the neck in a saucepan of water and bring it to a medium temperature. Simmer for up to 3 hours. Strain through filter paper or cloth into a brown glass bottle. Follow the same instructions for the cold method, except that the oil should be placed on a sunny windowsill rather than being heated on the stove.
Poultice: Effective for boils, abscesses, chest infections, and sprains. Mix the chopped herb or powdered seeds with boiling water to make a pulp. Place the pulp in a piece of cloth and apply it to the affected area while hot. It should be replaced when cool. Applying a thin layer of calendula cream prior to using the poultice will protect the skin and prevent sticking.
Steam and Inhalant: Steam can be used for skin problems like acne or as an inhalant for bronchial problems like sinusitis and laryngitis. After adding a strong decoction, include 1 or 2 drops of essential oils, or 2 tsp. of tincture to boiling water.
Syrup: Prepare 2 cups of an infusion or decoction of the needed herb. Strain and then add 1 3/4 cup brown sugar or a honey and sugar mixture as a preservative. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Pour into a clean glass bottle, seal and refrigerate. Take 1 tsp. 3 times a day.
Suppositories: Blend equal quantities of powdered herbs with cocoa butter. After placing the mixture into bullet-shaped molds made of foil, refrigerate until needed. Remember to remove the foil before use. These are best made in advance so they will be ready when needed.
Teas: Loose herbs ready for steeping, herbal combinations aimed at specific conditions, and convenient pre-bagged herbal teas can be found at most health food shops.
Tinctures: In a tincture, alcohol is employed to extract and concentrate the active properties of the herb. Alcohol acts as a preservative by dissolving the active constituents out of the plant matter. Tinctures are an effective way to administer herbal compounds.
Any part of the plant may be used. Place 4 oz. of dried herb in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and add 2 cups vodka. Set aside for 2 weeks with only occasional shaking. Strain through a cloth into a brown glass bottle and keep tightly closed. The standard dosage is 15 drops 3 times daily.
Herbs for Stress Management
Weight loss can be very difficult in this fast-paced society with incredibly busy schedules and often little time to take steps toward healthier lifestyles. Although herbal supplements can be used to lose weight, certain herbs can also be used in stress management to maintain long-term weight loss.
How many of us have lost weight, only to find that we gain it all back when we change jobs, go on vacation, or prepare for the holidays? When you incorporate stress management into any long-term weight loss program, the gradual shedding of those unwanted pounds can be a positive, even enlightening, experience.
For centuries, herbal supplements have been used to assist in physical and mental healing, body cleansing, and mood enhancement. You can also use herbs such as chamomile, kava, and St. John’s Wort to enhance your everyday life, which can greatly assist in managing daily stress.
Herbal supplements can help you obtain your maximum health potential and prevent deficiencies that may occur as a result of changes in your diet
Catnip – A carminative for the digestive system and is mildly sedative.
Chamomile – An antispasmodic that helps to alleviate the symptoms of cramps and indigestion.
Hops – Depresses the central nervous system and is a sedative.
Kava – A depressant, sedative, muscle relaxant, narcotic, diuretic, and anti-inflammatory. Relieves insomnia and pain, and has been used as a local anesthetic and aphrodisiac.
Passionflower – Slightly narcotic, used for tension, fatigue, sleeplessness, and muscle spasms.
Scullcap – Sedative, nerve tonic and antispasmodic.
St. John’s Wort – Anti-depression.
Valerian – A strong antispasmodic and sedative that affects the central nervous system. Valerian can be addictive, so use with caution.
Brewers Yeast – A superb source of phosphor, thiamin, riboflavin, and iron and is a traditional vitamin and mineral supplement. High in the B vitamins, brewers yeast is commonly used as an anti-stress, anti-anxiety, anti-depression treatment. It helps to relieve stress, tension, and nerves
Just as there are herbal remedies to help combat stress, non-herbal remedies must also be used to receive full effects. Things like exercise, meditation, listening to music, and participating in relaxing activities can be helpful. Do what you enjoy! Watch a movie, talk with a friend, or maybe clean out your closet and pick up that project you started two years ago.
Stress is the “wear and tear” our bodies experience as we adjust to our continually changing environment. It has physical and emotional effects on us and can create positive or negative feelings. As a positive influence, stress can help compel us to action; it can result in a new awareness and an exciting new perspective.
As a negative influence, it can result in feelings of distrust, rejection, anger, and depression, which in turn can lead to health problems such as headaches, upset stomach, rashes, insomnia, ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Time management can also be beneficial in reducing stress. Remember to leave space in your schedule for the unexpected. The unexpected always happens, and if you’re flexible, it won’t be so devastating. Make a “to-do” list. Once you’ve made your list, separate the tasks by importance labeling them A, B, C, and so forth.
Try to set reachable goals by working on your “A list” and then move on to less important tasks. As you complete each task, don’t forget to check it off your list. Nothing feels better than to see on paper all that you’ve accomplished.
Most importantly, spend time with friends and family. Take time out to laugh! Try a new hobby; it’s always great to have something new and enjoyable to spend time thinking about. Even if you think you can’t fit anything more into your hectic schedule, you’ll find the benefits outweigh the costs. Doing something you enjoy always helps you to relax.
Below, discover a few simple techniques helping you to a more relaxed YOU.
- Stop and take a few slow, deep breaths. This will bring your heart rate and respiration back to normal.
- Relax in a warm bath. Be sure the water is not too hot as hot water tends to stimulate. Try adding herbs such as chamomile or lavender to create a calming bath experience.
- Visualization is used a lot to calm nerves. Get comfortable and try to relax your body. At first, you’ll find it difficult to clear your mind but keep trying. Once you start to relax, visualize anything that makes you feel relaxed. A cup of green tea on a mountain cabin porch. A stroll on the beach at sunset. Whatever works for you.
- Meditation is another helpful tool. Get comfortable and try to stay away from distractions. Clear your mind. While you’re meditating, try listening to some relaxing music such as Classical or New Age. Try to do this for at least fifteen minutes a day.
- Exercise can ease nervousness when you’re feeling stressed out. Even a short walk can do wonders to alleviate stress. Fresh air and open spaces can elevate your mood and give you a brighter perspective on life.