Psychiatric labels:Herbal help: a natural approach to mental illness

Herbal remedies are enjoying an increasing popularity as alternatives to conventional drugs for psychiatric conditions. Nevertheless, most of the studies involved adults so their impact on children is not clear. Always seek the advice of a qualified health practitioner. [A note of caution: If your child is already taking psychiatric drugs, do not stop the treatment without first consulting your doctor or an experienced practitioner.]

* St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum). There is substantial evidence of the antidepressant effects of this herb. When children aged under 12 years with mild-to-moderate depression were treated for four to six weeks with 300-1800 mg/day, St John’s wort was effective and well-tolerated – with no adverse effects (Phytother Res, 2001; 15: 367-70).

* Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra). The components in liquorice inhibit the reuptake of serotonin in much the same way as do SSRI antidepressants such as Prozac, making it of potential benefit in mild-to-moderate depression (J Mol Neurosci, 2003; 20: 135-40).

* Griffonia simplicifolia. The seeds of this African plant contain 5-hydrotryptophan (5-HTP), the intermediate form of tryptophan during its conversion to serotonin that has antidepressant effects that appear to be more consistent than those of tryptophan (Biol Psychiatry, 1981; 16: 291-310; J Clin Psychopharmacol, 1987; 7: 127-37).

* Rhodiola rosea. Its active ingredients rosavin and salidroside alleviate depression by enhancing the transport of tryptophan and 5-HTP, and diminishing the action of catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT), an enzyme that breaks down serotonin (Saratikov AS, Krasnov EA. Rhodiola rosea is a Valuable Medicinal Plant (Golden Root). Tomsk, Russia: Tomsk State University Press, 1987).

* Valerian (Valeriana officinalis). A well-known sleeping aid, Germany’s Commission E recommends 2-3 g of the dried root at least once a day for restlessness and nervous disturbance of sleep (Blumenthal M. The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council, 1998)

* Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata). A preparation of six herbal extracts (Passiflora, Crataegus, Ballota, Valeriana, Cola and Paullinia) eased anxiety symptoms in 182 patients with adjustment disorder compared with a placebo (Fundamental Clin Pharmacol, 1997; 11: 127-32)

* Ginkgo biloba. This herb increases blood flow in the brain, boosting the delivery of oxygen and nutrients, and the clearing of cellular waste products. Ginkgo is traditionally used in combination with St John’s wort for treating more severe cases of depression (LaValle JB et al. Natural Therapeutics Pocket Guide. Hudson, OH: LexiComp; 2000: 441-2).

* Water hyssop (Bacopa monnieri). This Ayurvedic herb (brahmi) increased learning ability in rats (J Ethnopharmacol, 1982; 5: 205-14). Although this result may not necessarily apply to humans, there are anecdotal reports of mentally retarded children showing significant improvements in short- and long-term memory when treated with Bacopa.

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