Natural health with Megan Sheppard

Are there proven benefits to taking a sauna? I find it good for arthritis, but I have been told that it can be bad for your health if you have heart troubles.

Natural health with Megan Sheppard

Steam rooms and saunas should be avoided if you have any heart problems, and the same advice goes for pregnant women, people with kidney disease, multiple sclerosis, or diabetes.

For everybody else, steam rooms can have health benefits, including for arthritis. Saunas and steaming eliminate toxins, plus they may strengthen resistance to illness by raising the body temperature.

This increases the white-blood-cell count and stimulates the immune system, while slowing the growth rate of bacteria and viruses.

Native Americans have long used sweat lodges to cleanse the skin and purge the body.

Along with the physical benefits, the sweat lodge has an old spiritual significance; in Sioux culture, the lodge represents the womb of Mother Earth and the steam is the creative life force. Essential oils, and fresh or dried herbs, can add to your sauna treatment to promote healing.

Cypress has powerful cleansing and detoxifying benefits, lemongrass is uplifting and clarifying, while eucalyptus, pine, and lavender prevent or treat common flu symptoms.

Personal steaming (using a bowl of hot water and creating a small, tent-like space with a towel over your head) can clear sinus passages, reduce bronchial congestion, and speed recovery from the common cold.

People who have an infectious condition or contagious disease should not be using a shared public steam room or sauna, unless it is offered by a health professional who sterilises the space between uses.

A friend has developed Bell’s Palsy. Her doctor has said there is nothing she can do, and there is no way of knowing how long it will last. She is 32 years old, and has two young children. What natural treatments can she follow?

Bell’s Palsy doesn’t discriminate based on age. Named after Charles Bell, a Scottish surgeon, this condition occurs when the muscles controlling one side of the face are (usually temporarily) paralysed.

Typical causes are nerve trauma, infection, or even a tumour pressing on the facial nerve.

Aspirin is to be avoided, since this creates by-products that are corrosive to the outer, protective layer of nerves (myelin sheath) and will make matters worse. Bell’s Palsy usually passes of its own accord, but your friend can take steps to support nerve repair and health.

Bell’s Palsy symptoms often appear unexpectedly, although a complete recovery within two months is common.

If your friend is still experiencing symptoms a year from now, the surgical graft of a healthy nerve (usually taken from the tongue) into the paralysed muscle will likely be suggested.

A diet high in acid-forming foods is thought to trigger inflammation and cause damage to the myelin sheath. Avoiding highly processed foods, and opting, instead, for whole foods and a simple, ‘cleaner’ diet will help.

Healthy fats are essential to brain and nerve functioning, so getting plenty of these via cold-water fish, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, or an essential fatty acid supplement is a good idea.

A number of herbs can assist in the healing, including lavender, valerian, catnip, skullcap, passionflower, vervain, and chamomile.

The B vitamins, best taken together as a B-complex supplement, are worth considering, since they play a significant role in the health and function of the nervous system.

Magnesium is involved in muscle-impulse transmission and the activity of nerve cells — your friend should take 250mg daily. Calcium (500mg a day) is also key to healthy nerve action and muscle contraction.

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