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Neuroinflammation: An emerging role for herbs and spices?

Written by Simon Mills

Inflammation in the nervous system can lead to a plethora of problems. However, herbal medicines have a variety of actions that can help, this article explains how.

Introduction

It was once thought that the brain and central nervous system (CNS) were largely protected by the ‘blood-brain barrier’ from immunological, inflammatory and infective processes in the wider body, and indeed from many medicines and plant constituents. This view now needs to be amended. Systemic inflammation or immune disease can disrupt this barrier, to provoke inflammatory processes within the CNS, with secondary complications there including protein aggregations, oxidative stress and disturbed mitochondrial function. This ‘neuroinflammation’ is now understood as the major factor in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS and multiple sclerosis (1,2). It is also seen as contributing to mental diseases such as schizophrenia, clinical depression and bipolar disorder, (3) and increasingly to so far unexplained conditions like post-viral syndromes (including long Covid [4,5]) ME and other chronic fatigue syndromes (6) and fibromyalgia (7).

The prospect of finding remedies that could modulate such inflammatory processes is only just emerging from the laboratory, with all the attendant caveats, and there are few human studies yet published. However the weight of evidence for plant interventions has been building, (8,9,10) to such an extent now that there is a huge incentive for herbal practitioners and nutritional therapists to develop new approaches to the management of some of the most pressing problems of modern times (11).

Before we look at some of these prospects, it will be important to explore some of the mechanisms that are emerging as central to these conditions. They are changing much of what we learnt in school! There is a wide range of accessible scientific papers cited for further reading.

I am a Cambridge medical sciences graduate and have been a herbal practitioner in Exeter since 1977. In that time I have led the main professional and trade organizations for herbal medicine in the UK and served on Government and House of Lords committees. I have written standard textbooks used by herbal practitioners around the world, including with Professor Kerry Bone from Australia.

I was involved in academic work for many years, co-founding the University of Exeter pioneering Centre for Complementary Health Studies in 1987 (where we built a complementary research and postgraduate teaching programme from scratch), then at Peninsula the first integrated health course at a UK medical school, and the first Masters degree in herbal medicine in the USA, at the Maryland University of Integrative Health.

I am particularly fascinated by the insights we can distill from the millions of intelligent people who over many centuries needed plants to survive. Mostly I want to learn and share the old skills, to experience healing plants as characters, that can help us fend off ill health. My passion for offering people tools to look after themselves and their families has led me to work with the founders of the College of Medicine on pioneering national self care and social prescribing projects. I am now the College Self Care Lead and also Herbal Strategist at Pukka Herbs

Simon Mills

I am a Cambridge medical sciences graduate and have been a herbal practitioner in Exeter since 1977. In that time I have led the main professional and trade organizations for herbal medicine in the UK and served on Government and House of Lords committees. I have written standard textbooks used by herbal practitioners around the world, including with Professor Kerry Bone from Australia.

I was involved in academic work for many years, co-founding the University of Exeter pioneering Centre for Complementary Health Studies in 1987 (where we built a complementary research and postgraduate teaching programme from scratch), then at Peninsula the first integrated health course at a UK medical school, and the first Masters degree in herbal medicine in the USA, at the Maryland University of Integrative Health.

I am particularly fascinated by the insights we can distill from the millions of intelligent people who over many centuries needed plants to survive. Mostly I want to learn and share the old skills, to experience healing plants as characters, that can help us fend off ill health. My passion for offering people tools to look after themselves and their families has led me to work with the founders of the College of Medicine on pioneering national self care and social prescribing projects. I am now the College Self Care Lead and also Herbal Strategist at Pukka Herbs

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