Alison Cullen is a Nutritional Therapist with a special interest in Phytotherapy.
Ali will endeavour to give the best advice based on the information provided. However, it is always advisable to have a face-to-face consultation with a doctor or health care practitioner to obtain a diagnosis of any health matter which is concerning you.
Q I want to give up smoking with the smoking ban, but I am dubious about my ability to succeed. Are there any natural remedies to help? I don't want to end up putting on lots of weight.
A Increased appetite, cravings, irritation and anxiety are problems that people may find they face when coming off cigarettes. There are natural remedies to help with all of them though, and the benefits are really worth it, as I'm sure you appreciate!
The key to success (apart from genuinely wanting to quit) is keeping your blood sugar stable. This means making sure you eat regularly (every four hours is ideal to start with), to prevent your blood sugar falling and your body craving nicotine to push blood sugar levels back up. Try to eat healthy snacks such as fresh fruit or nuts, dried fruit and seeds, rather than sweeties, as the healthy foods are better at keeping your blood sugar stable. Use an extract of Jerusalem Artichoke if you find you're craving sugar, as it improves metabolism of sugars and starches and reduces hunger pangs. The mineral chromium is also useful for helping keep blood sugar on an even keel.
Taking Avena sativa (a tincture made from oat seeds) will reduce nervous tension and cravings. It's great for chronic anxiety, which makes it perfect for the state of nervous tension experienced when coming off an addictive substance such as nicotine.
If you are finding it hard to deal with the emotional factors that sometimes act as smoking triggers (stress, insecurity, boredom, etc.), Craving Essence often helps by supporting emotional balance.
Q I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and I wondered if Agnus castus would help? I have problems with hair growth and my weight.
A Although PCOS has traditionally been treated with hormone medication to balance out the androgens (hormones that encourage male characteristics), it is now recognised to be associated with insulin resistance and a resulting over-production of insulin, which in turn causes overproduction of androgens.
When you are unable to metabolise carbohydrates properly due to the insulin resistance, your body stores more and more calories as fat instead and weight increases. The insulin also acts on the ovaries, causing them to make androgens such as testosterone, which can cause hirsuitism, adult acne and infertility in women.
It is useful to treat this condition by improving the way your body responds to insulin than by dealing with the end results such as excess hair growth. An extract of Jerusalem Artichoke could help to improve the way the body handles sugars and starches, and chromium will also improve carbohydrate metabolism. It's important to cut sugar and other refined carbohydrates (e.g. white flour and white rice) out of your diet too, to reduce the demand for insulin.
Add Essential Fatty Acids to your supplement programme, as they help keep cell membranes flexible: flexible cell membranes have more and better insulin receptors, which improves carbohydrate metabolism.
Q My 3-year old grandson has patches of eczema on several parts of his body, including patches on his face. It is very hard to stop him from scratching them and the creams his mother's been given don't seem to help very much. Is there anything natural that we can use?
A Eczema can be connected to weakened digestive function as well as allergies. People with eczema often have low levels of stomach acid and this makes it difficult for them to break down certain foodstuffs, particularly dairy products. They frequently have low levels of Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), making the skin dry and therefore easier to damage.
Avoiding dairy products usually improves things. Contact the Vegetarian and Vegan Foundation (www.vegetarian.org.uk or 0117 9705190) for their booklet on bringing up children without dairy products.
Use Centaurium tincture before each meal to promote better digestion, and add EFAs such as Evening Primrose Oil or Flaxseed Oil to the diet. Use Viola tricolor tincture internally to strengthen the skin - this is a lovely, gentle herb that works really well for children with eczema.
Topical applications won't get to the root of the problem, but a cream containing Neem leaf extract could be worth a try.
We regret that it is not possible for us to print answers to all the letters Ali receives. Remember that back issues of Healthy Way articles and Ask Ali are available on this site.