Restorative Medicine Conversations

Herbal Medicines for Neurological Health with Dr. Mary Bove

March 31, 2021 Restorative Medicine Season 1 Episode 3
Restorative Medicine Conversations
Herbal Medicines for Neurological Health with Dr. Mary Bove
Restorative Medicine Conversations
Herbal Medicines for Neurological Health with Dr. Mary Bove
Mar 31, 2021 Season 1 Episode 3
Restorative Medicine

Dr. Mary Bove herbal advocate, educator, and innovator holds a Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine, Midwifery Certification and Diploma of Phytotherapy/Herbal Medicine. She practiced Naturopathic Family Medicine, herbal Medicine, and Midwifery for over 30 years, specializing in naturopathic pediatrics, botanical medicine, natural prenatal care and homebirth. Dr Bove is the author of the Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants and co-authored Herbs for Women’s Health. She has been published in many magazines, journals and collaborative books on botanical and natural medicine. Dr Bove currently consults, lectures, writes, and teaches internationally on the topics of naturopathic medicine, botanical medicine, pediatrics, natural pregnancy and childbirth, traditional food medicine, and mind-body healing. 

Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Mary Bove herbal advocate, educator, and innovator holds a Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine, Midwifery Certification and Diploma of Phytotherapy/Herbal Medicine. She practiced Naturopathic Family Medicine, herbal Medicine, and Midwifery for over 30 years, specializing in naturopathic pediatrics, botanical medicine, natural prenatal care and homebirth. Dr Bove is the author of the Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants and co-authored Herbs for Women’s Health. She has been published in many magazines, journals and collaborative books on botanical and natural medicine. Dr Bove currently consults, lectures, writes, and teaches internationally on the topics of naturopathic medicine, botanical medicine, pediatrics, natural pregnancy and childbirth, traditional food medicine, and mind-body healing. 

Dr. Liz Sutherland: Today, my guest is Dr. Mary Bove. Dr. Bove is a long time naturopathic physician and educator. She's the author of the Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants and co-author of Herbs for Women's Health. She's also collaborated on numerous books and articles and is considered a leading expert in botanical medicine. Today she joins me to discuss botanical medicines for neurological health and support. Dr. Bove, thank you so much for being here.

Dr. Mary Bove: It's a pleasure to be here.

Dr. Liz Sutherland: Dr. Bove, what kinds of neurological conditions or concerns over the years have patients come to see you about?

Dr. Mary Bove: I think there are a wide variety, everywhere from sleep issues, mood issues, cognitive issues, and even memory or degenerative types of challenges that we find. And I think as time moved along over the last 20, 25 years, we've certainly understood more about brain health and neurological health and degenerative types of challenges that happen with aging or with trauma.

Dr. Liz Sutherland: So, in your experience, obviously this would depend on the type of neurological condition, did you find that botanical medicines could halt the progression of neurodegenerative disorders, improve symptoms, lower risk, for example, for Alzheimer's or vascular dementia or a combination of all three?

Dr. Mary Bove: That's a great question. I would certainly say yes, a combination of all three and that the use of botanicals in the application of a variety of conditions that you mentioned really has transitioned and matured, as has our understanding of botanical medicine and brain health. So, understanding that neuroplasticity can occur, working with things that help with protecting the brain, and helping to slow the decline, whether that's vascular dementia or Alzheimer's. With employing botanicals, it's not like one herb will fix it all, but I think that what we see is that they can assist in a variety of different aspects, whether that's quenching neuroinflammation or acting as a neuro-protector or helping to heighten circulation and oxygen uptake by the brain. What I've seen in my practice and my love of herbs and study of herbs, we used to call plants nervines and they basically impacted the nervous system and, of course, the brain was part of that.

And now we understand that nervines come in many different ways. Now we talk about them as neuro anti-inflammatories or nootropic plants, and how we apply them as far as whether we take them on a daily basis or in a food substance, like a medicinal mushroom, such as lion's mane, which we know can help to protect and slow the degenerative types of processes that can happen in the brain if it's taken on a regular basis. So it's one of the things that I really love about many years of working with these plants and applying them within nervous system challenges, whether that's mood or anxiety or cognition or performance, or helping somebody who has a neurodegenerative disease. I feel like there's a place for botanicals and that might actually help more on a symptomatic level as to assist with sleep or more on, as we've been talking about, the neuroprotective level of lion's mane.

Dr. Liz Sutherland: Let’s say you have a patient with a family history of dementia, who's concerned about their own risk. Can you talk us through your process of assessment to determine what botanical medicines you would use?

Dr. Mary Bove: The assessments might fall into different aspects in the sense that there may be cognitive performance testing. There may be neurotransmitter testing. We may look at nutritional deficiencies as far as brain health or B12, that type of thing. So, a functional workup as far as the gut, given the fact that the gut and brain function are so closely linked. There are a number of ways depending on the individual presentation of the patient in which I might work them up, but how I look at it often is to think, how do herbs impact the brain? So how might I use a plant to impact maybe something like neurotransmitters? Maybe I can impact by giving precursors that stimulate serotonin release or production, or maybe a plant will influence the receptor of the neurotransmitter improving receptor function and thus improving overall function. I know that's one way plants affect the brain and the central nervous system.

  Also, oxygen providers, given the fact that the brain needs so much oxygen and uses a good percentage of our overall oxygen intake. Many times oxygen deprivation, one as we age and two because of trauma or breathing techniques and so forth, stress, one may not be perfusing and getting as much oxygen as needed to their brain. So we may use something like ginkgo, which helps to improve cerebral vascular flow. It improves circulation, which is another thing. The brain uses a lot of blood flow and needs a lot of blood flow so maybe there's that way that the brain is being impacted. And oxidation, we know that oxidation and neuro-oxidation contribute to neurodegenerative issues and contribute to performance, toxins, cell growth, and cell death, and even just the active aging for a human being.

If we can improve our diet or our botanical intake with botanicals that help as antioxidants, particularly neuro-antioxidants, such as something as simple as rosemary and spearmint and lemon balm, which make a really nice tea. And that tea actually helps provide water-soluble compounds that act to work as neuro-antioxidants. And that's a pleasurable thing to have a tea like that, easy to implement into many people’s lifestyles. And then, looking at the metabolic piece in the sense of what's glucose metabolism doing, and if that's compromised the brain is starving. Many times we see that with brain and behavior and learning challenges that might happen with children. And, of course stress, adrenal function and how that adrenal gland health is. And then the neuroendocrine connection that fits in there. So when I think about that, I think, wow, I have many, many tools and maybe somebody does have low or compromised cerebrovascular circulation and some oxidation.

Well, there gives me a chance to use a botanical or two or a formula to address several of these aspects that lead towards good brain function and brain health. And so I often will immediately approach it from that place. Also, asking myself, is there a neuroinflammation? Does inflammation overall need to be addressed and modulated? And then neurodegeneration. And I think there are some very specific herbs that I turn to for neurodegeneration. And I look at those plants as plants that need to be taken on a regular basis and long-term because neurodegeneration is an ongoing process, and these plants need to be woven into the fabric of the current physiology of that patient.

Dr. Liz Sutherland: Certainly, the health of the brain is affected by so many factors, including stress and cardiovascular health. And it's really evident that, natural medicine, which has such a broad spectrum of effects, botanical medicines in particular, are ideal allies for supporting brain health. So, I'm wondering if perhaps you could tell us four or five of your favorite herbs to address the resilience of the brain and support brain health, and to highlight whether the herbs have primarily an effect on neurodegeneration or are neuro-antioxidants and so on?

Dr. Mary Bove: I think the list of those plants has grown over the years and as I said, I mostly met those plants originally as nervines. And now many times we refer to them as nootropic plants. And we know that nootropic herbs have very specific outlined effects within brain function and cognition, such as improving memory, both long-term and spatial memory, and speed, speed of learning processes, and that nootropic plants may impact focus and concentration. So a plant like lemon balm, which is a top favorite of mine, which originally, some of the more modern research on lemon balm back in the late '80s and the '90s, started to look at its effects on concentration and focus. And I think that led to them re-evaluating nervines to think about oh, well, look at this nervine it’s calming. It calms a nervous stomach, it helps with sleep, and yes, it does help with concentration and focus. And maybe that will then improve learning, maybe that will help with cognitive performance overall. And so, the lemon balm just expands in our understanding and it expands the way we might use it. 

And currently in the last maybe five or 10 years, we recognize that lemon balm being a part of the mint family, shares a constituent, rosmarinic acid, that is extremely important in the effects of the plant on cognition and brain function and learning and concentration and focus. And so suddenly it opens up like oh, wow, spearmint does this, the Lamiaceae family does that. That's rosemary, that's sage. And it goes back to that I think about that traditional old saying, "Rosemary for remembrance. Rosemary for the memory." Well, now we have science that shows that there are active compounds that do indeed affect these aspects of our physiology.

So, when I think about plants that have always been in my arsenal, those would be plants like rosemary, like lavender, like lemon balm. And then I think about plants we talk about with circulation, and now we know that rosemary helps with neurocirculation, as does ginkgo. And so, we begin to look at those two plants as extremely important plants for brain circulation. More traditional and Ayurveda [approaches], looking at gotu kola and bacopa, are plants that typically have been used as brain tonics. Now we know through science and research that many of those brain tonics are now what we would call neuroprotectant, or help with slowing the process of neurodegeneration. And lion's mane, the mushroom super food, has really shown with its science that terpenoids in that plant are extremely useful for neuroprotecting. And what's really interesting about lion's mane is when you start to look into the research it's delivered in a variety of different ways.

It's not that it has to be made into a fancy complex medicinal preparation, that you can take the powder and put it into a cookie. And that given the milligram doses of that cookie on a regular basis, you'll see changes within parameters of mood and or anxiety, or again, with protective effects. And so I think science and modern perspective and observation about plants is really helping me to improve my materia medica. When we look at Ayurveda, and we look at the Ayurveda plants that traditionally have been used for brain health, ashwagandha, bacopa, gotu kola, holy basil, saffron. These have traditionally been looked at and employed in that piece of mind wellness and brain health and brain function and protection. And now when we look at the science of those plants, we see through clinical research and looking at the pharmacological aspects of these herbs and botanicals that they do indeed impact our physiology at that level. That's very exciting to me. And it's exciting that in my lifetime, 40 years of dealing with and loving to study plants, that I've watched this category of nervines really burst out into very specific understandings of how it's impacting our nervous system.

Dr. Liz Sutherland: Thank you. That's a lovely blending of the traditional wisdom with scientific endorsement of the effect of these botanical medicines. I actually never learned, as far as I remember, about saffron in school. I was wondering if you could say more about its neuroprotective effects?

Dr. Mary Bove: I did learn about it in school, but just in a very slim way. And that was when I was in Great Britain doing my schooling there, but I didn't necessarily learn or get much about it in naturopathic school. But certainly my love of traditional herbals and you came across it more recently, maybe 2017, 2018, I started seeing some interesting studies on using saffron. And there were a couple of things that really caught my attention. And one was that it was very small doses, 14 milligrams, twice a day or 30 milligrams per day. And that the studies were done in some interesting populations. So I was a midwife for years, did home birthing and so I did a lot of postpartum care.

And in that, of course, you come across postpartum depression. And I found a study that was done in 2017, double-blind random placebo controlled trial on saffron and postpartum depression in nursing mothers. And it blew me away because I was just like, "Wait a minute. We hardly ever see studies in this population." They were using a 20 milligram dose per day. And it had really good outcomes with helping to modulate mild to moderate postpartum depression. And that just got my attention right away. And I had a client I was working with and struggling with her postpartum depression. We had tried bio-identical hormones. We had tried homeopathy. We had tried a number of things, and I started her on the 20 milligrams of saffron per day. Within seven days she had a major shift in her symptoms. And that just made me want to know more.

And then I found a study that looked at mood, anxiety, depression, social phobia, in teens and that's another population we don't see clinical trials in. And they were using a 14 milligram dose twice a day for helping to diminish those types of symptoms. And they also found that the participants also all reported that they had much less headaches during that eight week trials. And these were short periods of time where we were seeing these types of shifts in a period of eight weeks or 12 weeks. And then that led me to start to see that for mild to moderate severity in our neurodegenerative disorders, a 30 milligram per day had good safety and showed that it needed about four to six months to start to really show some of the effects of it. And it was best taken in divided dose, which those types of pieces of information coming out studies really helps me as a clinician to be able to say, "Oh, here's a place to start. Here's a dose to start. Here's a timeline that I need to give it," and then I can start to assess it.

Then it helps me get on board with trying a new plant in my practice. I've also seen saffron as a plant used in metabolic syndrome. And lately I saw a study on ADHD. The outcomes on that didn't show that promising for saffron but, again, that helps us to hone our clinical focus as to where to use that. And 30 milligrams is not a lot of saffron. And when you start to look at saffron in a traditional use, whether it's put in rice or infused in honey or used as a tea, we're talking about a small amount.

So, it's something that I think people can put into their program, whether that is in a tea or in a more concentrated form. There's three bioactive compounds that tend to be looked at as the main driving force behind the use of saffron, crocin, crocetin, and safranal. And then the last thing I'll say is that they have looked at short-term effects of saffron, which seemed to help to improve cognition, but over longer use of the plant, there wasn't necessarily continued improvement, but that over longer use of the plant, more long term, you saw more of an inhibition of the amyloid fibril formation, and you saw improvement in memory and learning skills. So sometimes we actually see plants have a short-term or long-term effect.

Dr. Liz Sutherland: Thank you for that very comprehensive answer. That struck me, that there are some plants that will cause immediate improvement. For example, I think spearmint and peppermint can improve cognition within a very short time after drinking tea, and others, you have to incorporate into your lifestyle changes to get the most benefit from them.

Dr. Mary Bove: Yes, I think that's a really good point that you're making about the spearmint and the peppermint, that those plants in the mint family, their effects on cognition are really quite rapid. So you could use those plants, apply them in a way where maybe I'm a student and I'm going to go take three tests this afternoon and I really want to be able to utilize and stay focused on that. I could use rosemary or spearmint, rosemary, peppermint tea. And most of the time you'll see that will kick in at about 45 minutes, last for about four hours, maybe six hours. So if you're drinking that throughout the day, in the afternoon when you're taking your tests and sipping on your tea, that can really keep you alert. Or maybe you're working on a paper that you have to write into the wee hours of the night and you want to be able to stay more alert. You could use that nootropic for short-term rapid effects, whereas you use something like bacopa or lion's mane, those plants, gotu kola, are more for long-term effects, and that tonifying neuroregenerative type effect and neuroprotective effects.

Dr. Liz Sutherland: Thank you. I've always assumed that botanicals, which modern research is finding to have beneficial effects on the nervous system, were traditionally used over the millennia for what we would now call neurological health but are there any botanicals that research is showing to be beneficial to the central nervous system that surprised you?

Dr. Mary Bove: Yes. First of all, I would say spearmint surprised me when I started. And I'm such a spearmint fan. I've always been in my pediatric materia medica used spearmint many, many times with acute challenges for children, but I had never really looked at it from the aspect of nootropic effects. And so spearmint would be one that I would say. And then also I think ginkgo falls in that for me, because when I first met ginkgo, it was really all about cerebrovascular and tinnitus and over a period of time understanding the vast variety of impact that ginkgo has on physiology. I understand very clearly why it impacts our nervous system the way that it does.

Dr. Liz Sutherland: I was surprised by spearmint and saffron myself.

Dr. Mary Bove: And I love that. I think it's really a wonderful thing to come across a little trick that a plant plays on you or a new piece of information about it because, to me that just reminds me of just how many mysteries there are about plants and that we can always find something that gives us that moment of awe.

Dr. Liz Sutherland: Right. It's like the mystery of plants can match and meet the mystery of the human being. Are there any neurological healings stories that you'd like to share where you were particularly pleasantly surprised by the outcome?

Dr. Mary Bove: Yeah. I will share two stories. A real quick one in the sense that I have had an elderly senior relative who was also a physician and so was very traditional in his beliefs. And he started to experience more and more dementia, but didn't necessarily want to take plants. And so finally, after a period of time, he asked was there anything else? And I suggested using aromatherapy of lemon balm and spearmint and lavender, and just spray it on his sheets and on his pajamas to see if that would help with his nighttime agitation, his sleep issues that would culminate into paranoia. And he poo-pooed it. And then about a week later, I get a little note and he says that some nurse has come to the senior home and given this lecture all about the use of these aromas for brain health. And he brought the little pump spray I had made him down to show her and she was very impressed. And so all of a sudden he started to use it. And the reports were wonderful from the resident home and the staff there because they noticed right away that he wasn't night wandering, that he was sleeping through the night, even though he insisted that it was just a nice smell.

So, it really helps you to see that you can impact through a variety of our senses or our channels in that way. The second one I would say is about brain trauma and the trauma was fairly severe to the brain and the use of bacopa and lion's mane and gotu kola and hawthorn was a 10, 12 month remedy that we used and watched the young man go from barely being able to talk on the phone or find words to being able to get back onto the computer, to going all the way back to full recovery and memory games and so forth. And many of the people who witnessed that also commented what was it. And again, I put a certain amount of that positive progression down to the use of these plants at the same time.

Dr. Liz Sutherland: Those are both really wonderful and beautiful stories. Thank you. Before we end, Dr. Bove, is there anything else you would like to add or a question you would like to respond to that I haven't asked you?

Dr. Mary Bove: I would add that nootropic plants, brain food plants, can end up in our diet. So, something like saffron, using that in saffron rice, or infusing it in honey. Using turmeric. And so what I really want to put out there is that these plants can find their way into our daily routines. And it's not about waiting until we get dementia or waiting until we feel brain fog to use them. It's about every day, nourishing that brain because we use it, we get up and we use it in our sleep, we use it in our daytime. And so it's one way in which we can feed our brain. So do find ways to get lion's mane. You can go into many medicinal mushroom recipes. As I said, the powder can go into cookies. They did a great study for menopausal women using the powder in cookies. And so there are ways for everybody to be able to partake in brain botanicals.

Dr. Liz Sutherland: Thank you so much, Dr. Bove. It's been a pleasure talking with you today and thank you for your treasure trove of knowledge.

Dr. Mary Bove: And thank you very much for having me on. It was delightful.

Dr. Liz Sutherland: You're very welcome.