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

Your health: Herbal solutions for heartburn and migraines

9 comments
Stress is a common trigger for both headaches and migraines.. Photo / iStock
Stress is a common trigger for both headaches and migraines.. Photo / iStock

Hi, I suffer from migraines. Do you know of anything herbal I could take or any natural suggestions? M. Byron, Taranaki

Migraines can be very hard to deal with as they are debilitating intense attacks of pain often accompanied with sensitivity to light and sounds.

There are many different triggers for migraines; some are caused by hormones and others from food. They can also be related to musculo-skeletal problems, especially in the neck area.

Plant medicine can be effective in helping with migraines, in particular with the use of feverfew, ginger, and Kawakawa.

Ginger has been used to help nausea, motion sickness, and it can also work as an anti-inflammatory. A 2014 study showed that the efficacy of ginger powder and sumatriptan in a migraine attack (migraine medication) were similar, and the ginger had less side effects than the sumatriptan.

Feverfew can be taken by migraine sufferers as a prophylactic treatment, a 2005 study highlighted a reduction in migraine attacks from 4.76 to 1.9 attacks per month in the group taking the feverfew extract.

NZ native herb Kawakawa is one of the most important healing herbs in Rongoa Maori (traditional Maori medicine). Kawakawa leaves are anti-inflammatory and they were used traditionally to help with toothache as chewing the leaves would release the volatile oil constituent present. Local application of Kawakawa leaves can provide a rubifacient effect (produce a dilatation of the capillaries and increase the blood circulation to the area), which in turn helps to reduce pain (PhytoNews, 2000). An application of peppermint essential oil applied directly onto the temples works similarly.

Topically, Cayenne has analgesic properties and acts as a circulatory stimulant and counter irritant, making it helpful in pain linked to vascular spasms. It is best used as a cream applied to the cervical spine and shoulder area or onto the whole spine. A formula containing both arnica and cayenne may be helpful in the management of migraines and tension headaches.

Physical therapies including osteopathy, acupuncture, physiotherapy or massage can help correct the postural problems that can trigger migraines.

Stress is a common trigger for both headaches and migraines. Stress management as well as using herbs to support the nervous system like Californian poppy, Skullcap, Lavender, Lemon balm as well as herbs that are antispasmodics like Chamomile, Passionflower, Linden blossom, Valerian and Cramp bark can help.

Remember to always consult with your medical practitioner if your condition worsens.

Hello Sandra, For as long as I can remember I have experienced heartburn. I am sick of buying antacids all the time, so what can I try that's natural? K. Peterson, South Auckland

Chamomile, which can be taken as a tea, can help due to its anti-inflammatory actions. Photo / iStock
Chamomile, which can be taken as a tea, can help due to its anti-inflammatory actions. Photo / iStock

For anyone who has had heartburn they know the annoying and painful sensation it can give you. Heartburn is very common with one in three adults suffering heartburn every two to three days and one in 10 adults have heartburn daily.

Food and lifestyle choices can have a dramatic effect on the incidence of heartburn. Overindulging in coffee, fatty foods or alcohol can increase your likelihood of getting heartburn. The consumption of these foods can reduce the lower oesophagus sphincter (LOS) resting pressure which in turn then impairs the oesophageal motility and gastric emptying (Braun, 2014). With heartburn the LOS has lost tone and does not close properly allowing the gastric contents to 'move' back up - this is why people get that burning feeling in their chest or throat.

People eating too quickly and drinking fluids with their meals add to the incidence of heartburn as both increase the size of the stomach dramatically adding more pressure, moving stomach contents which then results in the feeling of heartburn.

Slippery elm is a great product that can help to reduce the reliance in over the counter medication for heartburn. Slippery elm acts as a soother for the gastro intestinal tract, so it helps combat the burning feeling. It is best to have it at least twice daily, preferably before meals to coat the GI tract.

Chamomile can help due its anti-inflammatory actions (Fisher, 2009). In Germany, the Commission E supports the internal use of chamomile for inflammatory diseases of the GI tract - like with heartburn and reflux. Chamomile can be taken as a tea, herbal tincture or in a capsule.

Licorice also has an anti-inflammatory action and can reduce heartburn symptoms. In a double blind, placebo controlled study it was found to reduce abdomen fullness and heartburn relief was notably reduced by 80 per cent.

Often chamomile and licorice are taken after meals as they can sit on top of the consumed food and act as protection to prevent reflux. If reflux was to occur, the herbs will be the first thing that becomes into contact with the oesophagus and not the stomach contents therefore decreasing the heartburn sensation.

Taking liver herbs like St Mary's thistle, globe artichoke and Dandelion (traditional bitters) before foods or in-between meals can help to regulate stomach acid content and improve oesophageal tone.

Preventatively eat small, frequent meals, and allow two hours between the last meal and lying down for sleep. Try to avoid food triggers like fatty or spicy foods, coffee (both decaffeinated and caffeinated), chocolate, and alcohol.

A medical herbalist can help you with a set protocol for heartburn.

- nzherald.co.nz

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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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