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Pharmaceuticals not the only treatment for ailments

Due to various discomforts, aches and illnesses, growing older often means starting a regimen of doctor-prescribed medicines.

But there may be natural alternatives for common complaints.

Kris Kayser, who owns Stone Woman Herbals in Pine River, teaches classes on complementary medicines, many of them herbal in nature, through Pine River-Backus Community Education. One of those classes, “Top 5 Picks for Seniors,” focuses on common illnesses and discomforts for seniors, who make up their biggest customer base.

“Complementary means working with your doctor or naturopath in trying to find the root of the disease. Complementary kind of says it all. It might be a ‘booster shot’ or an option if you are having side effects from your pharmaceuticals,” Kayser said.

Kayser said only 5 percent of her customers report any side effects from her supplements, and those are usually limited to upset stomach. Compared to pharmaceuticals, Kayser said supplements can be affordable.

Issues that can be aided with natural medicines include blood sugar issues, circulation and high blood pressure, achy joints and sleeplessness, she said.

“They do come in all kinds of forms, from tea to liquid tinctures. Some people take a spice or herb straight up. They’ll take a spoonful of it. They can come in salves and creams, especially for arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. You can get it in topical form,” Kayser said.

Kayser said remedies for these and other issues are ancient. Though some treatments are controversial, she said modern western medicine has validated claims surrounding a number of supplements or herbal remedies.

Some local doctors and nurses are willing to make recommendations for their patients.

“I’m a little more open minded towards herbal and vitamin supplements,” said Mary Lee Kreger, certified nurse practitioner at Essentia Health’s Pequot Lakes Clinic.

Kreger and Kayser both recommended similar supplements.

“As far as people who need some help sleeping, I really like melatonin. I think if you take three to six milligrams of melatonin at night, I really think it helps you get a good, restful sleep. I think it works, and studies have supported that,” Kreger said. “The other vitamin I encourage people to take is 500 milligrams of Vitamin C. It’s still a little bit controversial.”

“Melatonin is a huge seller. It’s one of our top sellers. It’s a chemical we generate in our own body. As we age it decreases. Melatonin is what puts us to sleep. Seratonin is what wakes us up,” said Kayser.

Other remedies Kayser and Kreger support include omega 3 fatty acids for blood pressure and cholesterol and cinnamon to regulate blood sugar.

“It doesn’t have to be fish oil, but an omega 3 can be anything from flax to primrose to borage. That’s what an omega 3 is. Because it’s so huge with cardiovascular health, with muscle, with high blood pressure, it is kind of a one size fits all,” Kayser said.

“I do recommend fish oil,” Kreger said. “It does help to raise the HDL, which is the good cholesterol, so I do like fish oil and the other omega 3 fatty acids. Fish oil, flaxseed oil. Do you need to buy the really expensive Krill Oil? Probably not.”

In some cases, their opinions differ in dosage methods. Kayser recommends cinnamon capsules, while Kreger recommends getting cinnamon through your diet.

“I think it (herbal medicine) is probably a multi-million dollar business,” Kreger said. “I have some seniors that take cinnamon capsules. Cinnamon does lower your blood sugar, but, quite frankly, you don’t need to take cinnamon capsules. You just need to put a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon in your coffee in the morning. That’s all you need to do.”

“I think the difference is the milligrams you would get in a teaspoon versus the milligrams you would get in a capsule,” Kayser said. “You better drink a lot of cups of coffee with cinnamon in them, is my thought. This is just a more intense delivery.”

Kayser’s remedy for stiff joints also differs from Kreger’s.

“Most people will buy a glucosamine. It’s an anti-inflammatory, a joint relief. It builds cartilage. It just does a whole plethora of things with one supplement,” Kayser said.

“For people who have arthritis or who have other inflammatory type diseases, eating tart cherries,” Kreger said. “You can drink tart cherry juice, too, but that’s just awful. Eating tart cherries, just plain dry tart cherries, studies have shown that really works good.”

Some discomforts and ailments require doctor attention before trying herbal remedies. This includes depression and other life-threatening illnesses. On this, Kayser and Kreger agree, though they may have different advice on the specifics.

“I would definitely steer anybody away from anything for depression. Any kind of mood elevation, like St. John’s Wort, that’s bad news,” Kreger said.

“Depression is one where I would rather that people make this an option after they work with their doctor and make it a complementary option along with whatever else they are doing, whether it is therapy or if you change your job or whatever you did,” Kayser said. “Stress is another one that is hard to get yourself wrapped around. What is your stress? Get back to the root cause. That’s one thing I don’t like to do, is to Band-Aid just to sell something.”

Kayser said diet is often a contributing factor in illness. When possible, she recommends her customers fix dietary deficiencies and imbalances before using multivitamins or supplements to treat symptoms that those imbalances may cause.

Kayser was not always as active in promoting or using herbal remedies, until she was diagnosed with melanoma. Her doctor suggested amputation of her leg as a treatment, but Kayser decided to seek an alternative solution. She began using alternative treatments.

“I’ve never been back to a cancer doctor again. That was 20 years ago,” Kayser said.

Though she didn’t return to a doctor for treatment of her symptoms, Kayser does recommend that patients consult with their doctors about their illnesses before starting herbal supplements. She suggested that those patients should also educate themselves on their illnesses and treatments to make an educated decision.

“It’s amazing what the computer and media have done to help educate people to make their own stuff,” Kayser said.

Kreger recommends that supplements not be taken lightly, as many herbal supplements have little or no regulation and oversight. She recommends getting supplements from reputable sources who participate in voluntary regulation and oversight. In this way, Kreger also recommends education in the matter.

Kayser includes a disclaimer with her advice. It is framed in her shop and reads, “We will help you find information on accepted supplements and herbal remedies. However, you must make your own decisions concerning your health. Our input must not be regarded as medical advice. Only the medical community can prescribe and treat.”

Travis Grimler can be reached at Follow him at and on Twitter @PEJ_Travis.