Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Your health: Managing teenage stress

2 comments
High achieving teenage girls of today are often the burned-out women of tomorrow. Photo / iStock
High achieving teenage girls of today are often the burned-out women of tomorrow. Photo / iStock

Hi Sandra, our daughter is going into her last year at school, she has always got quite stressed about exams and achieving high marks. She's been named head girl of her school and I am concerned about the extra workload and stress on her - what can you recommend for her? Claire - Wellington

Hi Claire, its great that you've recognised in advance that your daughter may need extra support this year. The high achieving teenage girls of today are often the burned-out women of tomorrow, appearing in my clinic in their 30s and 40s. Bringing awareness to this pattern early in life and teaching your daughter ways to mitigate it is one of the best things that you can do for her long-term health.

The nervous system and the adrenal glands are the main bodily systems that can become taxed during times of stress. I find medicinal plants that nourish and stabilise the nervous system very helpful, especially when they are taken as part of a daily ritual of self-care. Passionflower, Chamomile, Lemon Balm and St John's Wort are well known for their clinical usefulness to help to cope with stress, whilst Licorice is a useful addition as it strengthens the adrenal glands.

Plant chemistry has revealed the secret to this gem of traditional medicine as we now know that the key constituent glycyrrhizin has a similar structure to the hormones produced by the adrenal glands and thus helps to mitigate adrenal exhaustion. A combination of these plants as an enjoyable health drink would be perfect for your daughter in the lead up to exams.

A heavy workload weakens the body's defences against illness so be sure to support her immune system prior to and throughout the winter. This should be done once a day for preventative purposes and three times a day if under attack, for example in the form of an oral liquid that can be easily taken by the teaspoonful. The wonderful herb Echinacea has been shown to reduce the likelihood of a cold by 58 per cent and to reduce the duration of an illness if something is caught. Other herbs I find particularly great to support respiratory defences in winter include Thyme, Angelica, Elderflower and Sage.

If your daughter needs extra support during exam time and is studying long hours, encourage the use of a good quality organic green tea instead of the traditional caffeinated drinks that are often used. I like to combine green tea with Rosemary for enhanced alertness and cognitive function; St John's Wort and Licorice to support the nervous system; and Spearmint, which cuts the bitterness of green tea beautifully. This will help her stay alert whilst avoiding the inevitable energy crash that comes with too much caffeine consumption.

You may also want to invest in healthy snacks, or even better make some for the whole family as an alternative to unhealthy and energy thieving sugar and fat loaded conventional treats. Regular walks in nature will help to oxygenate her brain and release stress whilst wholesome, organic foods will support mental clarity and good energy levels.

Hopefully, these strategies will ensure a healthy and successful final year for your daughter.

Hi Sandra, I've just been diagnosed with gout, is there anything you can recommend and do I really have to give up wine? John - Wanaka

Gout is one of the most painful arthritic diseases, caused by an accumulation of urate crystals in the joints. Photo / iStock
Gout is one of the most painful arthritic diseases, caused by an accumulation of urate crystals in the joints. Photo / iStock

Hi John, I'm sorry to hear of your recent diagnosis. Gout is one of the most painful arthritic diseases, caused by an accumulation of urate crystals in the joints. Urate crystals form when there are high levels of uric acid in the blood, which can be the result of high-purine diet, amongst other things. Purines are substances found naturally in the body but are also concentrated in red meat, seafood and wine. Your doctor has likely recommended reducing wine consumption because studies show that a high intake of purine-rich food comes with a five-fold increased risk of recurrent gout.

I would agree with your doctor that changing your diet and lifestyle is one of the best defences against gout. It doesn't have to be an "all or nothing" approach though. Often chronic and preventable health conditions arise after decades of multiple stressors - an imbalanced diet; lack of exercise; overuse of alcohol; and inadequate relief from work and personal stress. The health condition seems to arise out of the blue, but in reality it's been years in the making.

Small changes in each of these areas, made gradually, will begin to reduce the total load on the body and allow for improved biological functioning. For example, you might begin by reducing your wine intake - if you're currently at four units per night, stick to one or two units with a glass of water between them. Start walking a few times per week or taking the stairs at work. Even a reduction in stress will support the healing process. Making small changes over time can be easier to get your head around than thinking you have to stop everything you love all at once. You'll need to be mindful to commit to a programme of change over the long term though, so you can build on the benefits. For others, a more radical approach is preferred given the pain and inconvenience of the condition, but you must find what works for you.

Plant medicine can be hugely supportive whilst you get your head around the idea of lifestyle change. The medicinal herbs Birch leaves, Dandelion and Nettle are particularly beneficial in increasing the elimination of urates from the body via the kidneys due to their gentle diuretic action. Their mineral content makes them alkalising, which helps to balance out the excess acidity characteristic of gout. These can be taken as an oral liquid or as a medicinal tea. In an acute attack take four to five times daily to help manage the pain and inflammation, and continue to use twice daily as maintenance to prevent recurrence.

Remember to always seek advice from your health practitioner or call 111 in health emergencies.

- NZ Herald

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Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Sandra Clair is the founder of Artemis (artemis.co.nz) offering New Zealanders a premium range of traditional plant medicine products. She is one of New Zealand’s most highly qualified health professionals in her field, as a Swiss trained medical herbalist and a medical anthropologist (M.A.). Sandra is currently completing a PhD in health science at the University of Canterbury in collaboration with the Chair for Natural Medicine of the University of Zürich, Switzerland.

Read more by Sandra Clair

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