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Herb may help tame friend's libido

Question: I have a friend who has become religious. She's not married and she would like to stay celibate, but she does have an active libido. She's wondering if there is anything that could help her keep it under control. She's not interested in medication, but has no objection to herbs.

Answer: We consulted herbal expert Dr. James Duke, author of The Green Pharmacy (Rodale, 1997). He suggested your friend consider an extract of chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus). Although there doesn't seem to be a lot of scientific research on the topic, folklore maintains that this plant can suppress the libido. The spicy berries were once known in Europe as "monks' pepper" and were used in monastery cooking in the belief that they would diminish sex drive.

Help for insomniacs

Question: I have had trouble sleeping for a few years, but I have just realized that my insomnia may be endangering my children. They were in the car with me when I had a close call because I got drowsy, and I am afraid that this could happen again.

When I asked my doctor about sleeping problems he prescribed Ambien, which made me dizzy. Last year I took lorazepam, but it too made me feel funny. When I stopped, I had even more difficulty sleeping.

Is there an herbal medicine that could help me get a decent night's sleep? I can't take anything that would interact with Prozac or Prempro.

Answer: You have good reason to be concerned about your lack of sleep. Studies have shown that going without sleep for 24 hours can impair driving as much as being legally drunk. Even 17 hours without sleep has a measurable impact on driving alertness and reaction time.

In addition, researchers have found that sleepless nights depress the body's immune response, leaving the insomniac more susceptible to viral infections.

Before considering sleeping pills or herbal remedies, ask your doctor if your medications are contributing to the problem. Both Prozac and progesterone (the "pro" in Prempro) can lead to sleeping difficulties in some people. Your physician may be able to prescribe alternatives that are less likely to affect sleep.

Herbs that may be helpful include valerian, hops and catnip. St. John's wort is sometimes beneficial, but we don't know whether it interacts with Prozac.

We are sending you our Guide to Getting a Good Night's Sleep, in which we describe other non-drug approaches and list some medications that can cause insomnia. Anyone else who would like a copy, please send $2 with a long (No. 10) stamped, self-addressed envelope to Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. I-201, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.

Flax seed a regular miracle

Question: Constipation has been my problem for more years than I want to count. Psyllium seed is yucky and just barely works.

My solution is flax seeds ground in my coffee grinder. I keep it in small batches in the refrigerator and take one-half teaspoon with a glass of juice or water daily. Sometimes I sprinkle it on my cereal or put it in a fruit smoothie. I like the nutty taste, and it has been a miracle for me.

Answer: Flax seed oil has a long history as a laxative for animals. It is interesting that you have discovered this pharmacological effect.

There is renewed interest in the use of flax seed. It used to be popular in home remedies for coughs and colds. Now researchers are looking into the potential of other possible benefits such as cholesterol control and menstrual regularity.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert. They can be reached by e-mail at or in care of the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.