Staying Healthy Naturally for those in the Armed Forces and Veterans

Herbal and plant remedies can provide alternative treatments to help you control your own health under pressure - both in active service and when you return home.

Those of you who serve in the military, or who are veterans, know you have different health concerns to civilians. The main health concerns during active service will be life-threatening injuries. You might also have health problems caused by environmental hazards, different climates and restricted diet. But so commonly, mental health problems take their toll as well. These include anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and substance abuse.

Returning from active service in Iraq and Afghanistan, some people come home with complex health conditions and find it a struggle to readjust to life at home, reconnect with family, find work or go back to education.

A lot of prescribed drugs can be addictive or have unpleasant side effects affecting mood, your libido, your stomach or even causing muscle pain. Some soldiers prefer to avoid these and stay healthy through diet, supplements and plant remedies.

I've outlined some of the most common conditions that our patients tell us about or ask for advice on, and some practical steps for you to take to stay in control of your own health when under pressure.

Anxiety

Symptoms of anxiety include panic attacks, feeling shaky, suddenly overemotional, stomach churning, etc. Our licensed Valerian Tincture is the same high strength preparation that used to be given out in air raid shelters in World War 2. Anxious civilians who had experienced bombings, would sometimes freak out with panic, when they heard the drone of aircraft overhead, and so they would be given valerian to keep them calm. These days it is mainly used before exams, speeches, weddings and other situations where it is needed to act quickly! 

Valerian can also be taken 3 times a day as a tincture when you are going through a stressful time. It is non-addictive and, as it helps to stop your mind whirring, and calm any twitchiness, it is also helpful if you're having problems sleeping. Valerian won't make you feel drowsy during the day unless you are one of 1 in 1000 people who are sensitive to it. (And don't take it when on a pub crawl as valerian accentuates the effects of alcohol.)

If you are sensitive to Valerian, you can use Passiflora tablets. Passiflora has also been used to help people coming off drugs and alcohol, so is good for anxiety if you are also an addictive type.

Insomnia

Our Napiers Sweet Dreams sleep remedy combines both Valerian and Passiflora mentioned along with Hops to make you drowsy and muscle relaxants Scullcap and Jamaican Dogwood. This helps to relax not just your mind but your body as well, especially if you have been very restless at night or prone to waking at 3 am and unable to get back to sleep until dawn. 

Because of its high strength, we have also had pharmacists using it to help combat the insomnia and agitation that comes with methadone withdrawal - the mix of herbs being coincidentally appropriate.

For sleep you can also take a double dose of Valerian in the evenings to wind you down or take a Valerian tablet.

Stress with Fatigue

Sometime anxiety comes in the form of stress, when you are so physically exhausted and fatigued that it takes its toll on your mind too. You may become snappy, touchy and irritable or feel that sometimes you go blank and stupidly forgetful about things that you know. In this case a plant called Rhodiola in tablet form can help. Rhodiola is an adaptogen or 'pick-me-up' licensed by the DoH for these situations.

If your immune system has become weak and you start to catch every virus going around, or seem plagued by recurrent infections, then our high strength Elixir of Echinacea is really helpful. It combines a root extract with an antimicrobial herb called Wild Indigo. Like all our herbal medicines, it is licensed and each one comes with a proper information leaflet.

Low Mood

SSRI antidepressants (e.g. Prozac, Citalopram) are quite controversial. They are related to drugs like ecstasy and cocaine and literally change your brain chemistry. Some of the side effects are mild and just make you feel disconnected or surreal, but some can even make you feel more psychotic or even suicidal. And they are addictive. So when you do come off them, you need to be weaned off them slowly over a period of time. As well as being non-addictive it doesn't make you feel as spaced out and disengaged as some benzodiazepines..

If you want a non-addictive alternative to Prozac to help you through times when you are really down and not coping, you should try St John's Wort. It works for most people, unless you have very severe depression, and you can stop any time, unlike SSRI antidepressants. It takes around 3 weeks to start working at its best but some people notice a lift in mood after just a few days. They are licensed and come in St John's Wort Regular Strength and St John's Wort Max Strength. I generally recommend that you take Max Strength for 3 months, then Regular Strength. And look into other coping mechanisms like tai chi, meditation, autogenic therapy or join a group of like-minded people. 

If you want to talk to a qualified herbal medicine practitioner - whether in person, by phone, Skype or Google Hangout - drop us a line at advice@napiers.net

If you are taking other medication you need to check the leaflet carefully. St John's Wort competes with other drugs for absorption by the body, so it can affect other drugs being properly absorbed - even the contraceptive pill for female soldiers. The only other thing to watch out for is that in a few people (1 in 1000) taking St John's Wort can make their skin light sensitive to sunlight, some get prickly heat bumps. But this goes away as soon as you stop taking it. But it is worth trying St John's Wort if your low mood is not too severe. 

Heartburn

A research report published by the Journal of General Internal Medicine (16 Feb 2012), followed 1,600 veterans who had been diagnosed with chronic heartburn. (AKA: GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease.) They had all been prescribed drugs called PPIs, from a drug class called "proton pump inhibitors." This includes drugs like Prilosec (omeprazole), Prevacid (lansoprazole), Aciphex (rabeprazole) and Nexium (esomeprazole). These drugs are only designed for short-term use and after 2 or 3 months other solutions need to be found. However, in this report it was found that most veterans are still taking these drugs two years on.

Because these weren't designed for long term use, they can cause problems long-term. For example, some prevent calcium absorption which can lead to osteopenia or your bones breaking, some have side effects like headaches, diarrhoea, trouble sleeping, high blood pressure and low libido - as if you needed more things to be stressed about! And when you come off them you will often experience 'rebound'. This is a short period when the original symptoms feel worse than ever as your body struggles to readjust again. 

Instead of popping antacid chews or staying too long on PPIs you need to look at your diet - get off junk food, caffeine drinks and eat properly - reduce your stress levels and learn to love chamomile! Try  Organic Chamomile Tea.

Click here to read more about heartburn and GERD.

Foot Locker

On a lighter note - army boots are great - but if your feet are in poor shape it can really affect your performance. I use mine over climbing boots or waterproof boots pretty much every weekend but I wouldn't want to live in them. We have a couple of creams that seem particularly popular with forces serving overseas. In the winters, we send a lot of Capsicum and Ginger Cream over to Afghanistan. It is a warming skin cream and helps to stimulate the skin, bringing blood (and oxygen) to the area. Don't expect it to be hot and strong-smelling - this is not medicated Deep Heat or a Tiger Balm type embrocation. But if you're the type of person prone to cold feet, numbness or chilblains you'll like this cream. I use it rubbed into the back of my neck on days I'm feeling stressed as it really helps to ease any stiffness there.

In the summer, you can use Foot Recovery Cream. This is fantastic if you have been on your feet walking all day. It is cooling and soothing. Lots of chickweed and peppermint in it. You'll know how cooling peppermint is if you know the old trick of putting toothpaste on a mosquito bite. It's the peppermint oil that cools the sting!

Tea Tree and Goldenseal Cream is useful if your feet tend to get a bit funky inside your boots. You can also use it on your face it you have oily or problem skin on your face, neck and shoulders.

And More

Have a look round our website for more natural health products. Such as our Bugbuster Cream if you think your mosquitos have become immune! it's travelled all over the world although it was first created to beat the infamous Scottish midge.

We also have a wide range of high quality vitamins and supplements as well as some great Belif skincare for men and women.

Your Family Back Home

We can also send herbal medicines, natural skincare and natural gifts back home to your family on your behalf. And if you're not sure what to send we can advise and help you chose if we know your budget. 

For new babies and new mums we do great mother and baby baskets which we can fill up with useful, practical treats. We also have various gift boxes but don't forget, for elderly relatives on a budget, there are vitamins and supplements that help to keep them healthy and show you care.

To get in touch just email us at advice@napiers.net or call us on 0845 002 1860

© Napiers Herbals Ltd 2014 • Edinburgh and Glasgow • Herbalists and Medical Botanists since 1860
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