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Make the Grade - Back to School Herbs
Posted by on 21 August, 2010

Dr. Terry WillardThere are several supplements that can be used to give a student an herbal advantage when going back to school or college this fall.



Ah, it’s that time of year again. Buy the new school clothes, books, pens and rulers, but don’t forget the supplements. There are several supplements that can be used to give a student an herbal advantage when going back to school or college this fall. In this article, I’m going to talk about increasing mental clarity, decreasing stress, anxiety, attention deficit disorders, food sensitivities and their effect on academic performance and, of course, preventing the common colds and flu that can interrupt the school year.

The first, and most important, rule for good academic work is commonly overlooked: have a good, nutritious breakfast. The best food before school is either hot, cooked cereal or soft-boiled eggs. Both of these foods are a good foundation on which to build the day. The worse breakfast is no breakfast, followed by one high in sugar. This will often make a person tired and spacey, with mental fog or hypoglycemic low by the afternoon.

For mental clarity, ginkgo takes a well-deserved first place. This herb has been shown in many studies to increase memory and speed of thought. It should be of a standardized process quality with 24 percent ginkgo flavoglycosides and six percent terpene lactones. Ginkgo can help both short-term and long-term memory. It increases blood supply to the capillary beds in the brain and aids both neural transmitters and receptor sites. Usually, 60–120 mg a day will help considerably, but I often double this dosage. There are other great herbs for mental clarity: gotu kola, reishi mushroom and Siberian ginseng, all of which give great mental support. You can find formulas made up of a combination of these herbs. Botanical medicines are most often given in formulas because herbs work better in formulas than as single-ingredient products.

Concentration is one of the most important aspects of academic work. If concentration is poor, it might be due to three factors: systemic yeast (Candida albicans), low essential fatty acid levels, or possibly, ADD. To find out if you or your child has a yeast or sugar problem, you might need to go to a health practitioner. You can also fill out some simple symptom questionnaires at http://www.wrc.net/questionsheets/. If there is a sugar or yeast problem, a strict diet must be followed. Check to find if enough essential fatty acids (EFAs) are included in the diet. Most are low in EFAs (found in fish, spinach, flaxseeds and other sources). Taking a mixed EFA product that includes fish, black currant and borage oils has really helped some of our clients perform intellectually. This is especially true of the older students and adolescent students with lots of acne.

If a sugar or yeast imbalance is not the problem, the student may have some form of attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD). The syndrome includes the inability to pay attention, concentrate, remember, think clearly, and is often associated with emotional instability and learning problems. Most of the patients I’ve seen with this problem have above-average intelligence but just can’t stay focussed on organized tasks. We can divide this area into three groups:

•Attention deficit disorder without hyperactivity
(ADD, more common in female children)

•Attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity
(ADHD, more common in male children)

•Adult attention deficit disorder, residual type
(AADD, most common as an extension of earlier problems after the age of 18).

The causes of these disorders are not completely understood, but some of the factors that contribute are heredity, smoking or alcohol consumption during pregnancy, oxygen deprivation or trauma at birth, artificial food additives, sugar, dairy, environmental pollutants, lead poisoning, and food sensitivities. Foods containing synthetic dyes (especially red dye), preservatives, added sugar and salicylates seem to be the biggest causes.

The most important thing to do is to concentrate on diet. We remove all sugars, dairy and additives. This is a little bit of a problem, not only in the convenience for the person preparing the meals, but because the child (or adult) is often addicted to these foods. We have found if a patient doesn’t want to be on the program, it is next to impossible to administer. Sometimes, it is hard to remember that underneath a “little monster,” there is an intelligent child who also needs self-respect.

It appears that those suffering from ADD feel confused and uncomfortable inside. They either create a scene outside themselves, often as a mechanism to distract themselves from their inner confusion, or space out into their own world. After consuming the wrong foods, they will usually get confused and feel unwell. Point out that the foods they just ate are probably responsible. In fact, you might say that they seem to be allergic to those foods. I have seen athletic children lose all coordination after consuming red dye or sugar. ADD sufferers are usually intelligent enough that they will try to experiment on their own with the foods pointed out to them, just to be sure. Unfortunately, with ADD, it is almost always a battle between addiction and food sensitivity. If strong compliance to this program is achieved, good results are possible.

Often, after being off a food group for two to four months, the child can consume it once or twice a week, or on special occasions.

Reishi Mushroom
Besides diet, we have found the most important herb is reishi mushroom. We often mix reishi with other medicinal mushrooms like shiitake, maitake, cordyseps and porio cocos. The dosage is usually one to three capsules, twice daily, depending on the size and age of the individual. The reishi mushroom is said “to protect an academic from his own brain.” Some people tend to internalize emotions, creating circular arguments in their mind. This creates mental background noise that almost seems like static, reducing clarity and concentration. Reishi mushroom helps to center the mind. As one patient of mine stated, it is like an extra half hour of meditation. Reishi is considered to calm down what in Chinese medicine is called disturbed shen qi (spiritual mind). By calming down shen qi, one can, of course, think more clearly. Reishi will also help to regulate blood pressure and blood cholesterol, and reduce symptoms of allergies and asthma.

Many other food sensitivities can effect academic work. Probably the two most common problem foods are dairy and sugar. Both sugar and dairy can reduce mental activity in people who are not ADD. Any other food can also contribute to this problem. A simple way to tell what food(s) a person is sensitive to is by the thirst test. A person is often thirsty 30–90 minutes after they have consumed a problematic food. Even though coffee or other caffeine drinks can help mental alertness, they unfortunately often fall into this food sensitivity category. Supplements that can help you resist food allergies are flavonols, freeze-dried nettles and reishi mushroom.

Kava Kava
Another herb which helps in the area of stress and anxiety is kava kava. It has been useful in calming and centering. Studies have shown that kava kava can help in all areas of stress and anxiety—all too common at the beginning of the semester when meeting new friends, beginning new courses and being thrown into completely new situations.

St. John’s Wort
Later in the year, especially in the dark days of winter, depression can overtake a student. I usually suggest a formula based on St. John’s wort.

Cold and Flu Prevention
Of course, anyone’s grades will suffer if they are off with a cold or flu. Prevention is by far the best cure here. I still find echinacea is the best herbal prevention. I like to use echinacea in a capsulated form to help prevent colds and flu. Contrary to popular opinion, echinacea can be used long term without losing its potency. I suggest two to three capsules, two to three times daily, depending on the level of exposure. Other supplements used for flu and cold prevention are vitamin C, beta carotene, zinc and vitamin B6, as they build up and keep the immune system on alert. If a person starts to come down with a cold or flu, I use the tincture of Echinacea (usually with goldenseal) in one half to one teaspoon doses, every two hours. I often use a formula with both reishi and echinacea for students, as one formula can do many things

In summary, ginkgo supplemented with gotu kola and Siberian ginseng are good herbs for an academic advantage and mental support. Essential fatty acids aid in intellectual work and have other benefits. Reishi mushroom and kava kava calm and center the mind. For immune support, and to prevent flu and cold, use echinacea, ester C, beta carotene, zinc and B6.

About Terry Willard

Dr. Terry Willard will be one of our featured presenters at this years Body Soul & Spirit Expo! He has studied the medicinal properties of plants for over 25 years. He is recognized as one of North America’s leading clinical herbalists, and authored over 10 books, Terry lives on an organic herb farm on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains outside Calgary, Alberta.

This article was originally printed in Vista Magazine! http://www.vistamagonline.com/


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