What could a herbalist do for you?

A top-to-toe MOT and a natural prescription could be the answer to all your health and wellbeing concerns. Ellie Moss kickstarts a new healthy regime with the help of medical herbalist Lucy Stephens

The January guilt trip hit hard after my Christmas indulgence. Mince pies, mulled wine, boxes of chocolate: I’d consumed them all by the bucket load! My skin looked tired and dehydrated and I felt bloated and sluggish at best. So, I jumped at the chance to see medical herbalist Lucy Stephens for some much-needed advice on how to get the new year off to a healthier start.

What is a medical herbalist?

It sounds intriguing, but what does a medical herbalist actually do? ‘A medical herbalist uses the active compounds present in plants to exert a physiological effect on the body,’ says Lucy. ‘Herbal medicine is particularly good for skin conditions, female and reproductive health, gut problems, anxiety and mood changes.’

The consultation

Lucy kicked off the session by asking me if there were any particular areas of concern I had in terms of my health. My major issues were dry skin and hair, bloating and a few too many Christmas pounds! She went through each system of the body individually and asked if I had any issues in these areas as well as taking a closer look at my diet.

Time for change

To improve the condition of my skin and hair, Lucy recommended upping my intake of omega-3, taking my daily dose from 80mg to 2000mg. She also suggested I eat more oily fish such as salmon.

After looking at my diet (which I thought had been quite healthy that week!) she explained that I’m eating too much sugar in the mornings, particularly for someone who sits at a desk all day. Lucy recommended dropping my usual cereal and mid-morning banana and replacing them with eggs for breakfast and nuts as a snack. She also suggested that I might be /craving/ the sugary foods (including fruit) that I eat as snacks and that I should try to cut back on these – or even cut them out altogether.

My diet is also lacking in protein (a surprise to me, as I really love meat and fish) and leafy green vegetables such as kale, according to Lucy. Lucy is an advocate of the paleo diet, which mimics the eating habits of our ancestors. It’s about focusing on protein and vegetables and avoiding grains and dairy, and Lucy thought it would be a good option for me. This approach, Lucy said, would help me to lose some weight, get me eating the kinds of foods my diet is lacking and potentially help with bloating issues. She also said that if the paleo diet didn’t help with bloating, there were other avenues we could explore to alleviate the problem, and recommended taking a probiotic supplement.

Finally, she recommended going to the gym in the morning rather than the evening and working out on an empty stomach, since I’m looking to lose a few pounds, rather than loading up beforehand.

My verdict

I was surprised at Lucy’s comments on my sugar intake and my lack of protein and green vegetables – and I’m keen to make big improvements in these areas.

Lucy helpfully suggested embracing elements of the paleo diet rather than prescribing it as a strict regime, which was a relief to me as I wondered whether I’d be able to stick to such a huge change to my eating habits. It was great to be given suggested improvements to my nutrition rather being prescribed a strict diet.

The recommendation to take a good-quality omega-3 supplement for my skin and hair was interesting; I have recently been taking silica supplements with little to no effect, so I’m eager to see what omega-3 can do for me.

Overall, I was impressed with Lucy’s clear and practical advice. Sitting down and talking to a qualified professional face-to-face gives you a great opportunity to take a step back from your usual routine and look at every element of your health. It’s like a total-body MOT, with natural solutions. I’ll be giving her suggestions a go for the next week or so and will report back on my progress.