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A Look at South American Medicinal Herbs and Hormonal Health
An Interview with Dr. Viana Muller, Talking about Thyroid Disease and Symptoms, and Effects of Breakstone, Cat's Claw/Una de Gato, Camu-Camu, and Maca

by Mary Shomon

Viana Muller, PhD, is co-founder and President of Whole World Botanicals, a company that is involved in research, growing, harvesting, propagation and distribution of certified organic and wildcrafted South American medicinal herbs. As an anthropologist, Dr. Muller has been making rainforest herb collecting/study trips to the Amazon River Basin since 1989.

Since 1994, she has been making visits to the ancient native landholding communities in the high Andes of Peru who grow the maca root to find out how best to support their growing organic maca for export. I had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Muller about the use of South American medicinal herbs for thyroid disease, hormonal balance, and for various symptoms that frequently are not resolved in people who are hypothyroid.

Viana Muller (left),
with maca grower
(Photo © WholeWorldBotanicals)

Mary Shomon: First, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to talk with me about the work that you are doing. You have a fascinating history -- can you share a bit about your background in anthropology and how you ended up interested in medicinal herbs?

Dr. Viana Muller: Well, I was born in Chile and made frequent visits to South America to visit my extended family as a child before the age of jet airplanes. I made my first trip to Peru when I was ten years old and I visited Macchu Picchu when I was 17 before there was a hotel there. We stayed three days there and enjoyed that sacred site virtually by ourselves, staying at the caretaker's house. My mother did extensive research on the Incas and our dining room table in Indiana was filled with books she got by interlibrary loan. Growing up bi-cultural and bi-lingual (my Dad was Chilean) made me interested in cross cultural studies so I guess it was natural that I ended up studying cultural anthropology. Although at one point like many children I wanted to be a doctor, I later realized that I was much more interested in herbs and natural healing than the way medicine is practiced today. Although I'm grateful modern medicine exists when I might need it in an emergency.

My doctoral studies had Meso-America as an area focus but my theoretical focus was gender studies and I wrote my dissertation on the gender and kinship structures of northern European tribal cultures. So my involvement with herbs was not just a natural seguey from my anthropological studies, although I became aware of the different healing traditions of the different peoples I studied.

What drew me really close to herbs was a health crisis I suffered in 1990, from which it took me several years to recover. During that recovery period I began an intense study of alternative medicine and I became passionate about healing herbs. At this point I had already made a couple of trips to study the herbs, had met people who were incredibly helpful to me in learning about South American herbs, and it just felt like the Universe was supporting my becoming professionally involved in this area.

Mary Shomon: How is the use of medicinal plants different from the current vitamin, supplement and herb craze in the United States?

Dr. Viana Muller: Wow, that's a really good question. First of all, I want to say that I am glad that there is a vitamin, supplement and herb craze in the U.S. It shows that the American people are searching for alternatives to antibiotics and powerful prescription drugs with debilitating side effects as a way of dealing with their health issues. It also shows an interest in prevention and optimizing wellness and also the beginning of an attitude of taking responsibility for the state of their own health. But as you imply, in this "craze" there may often exist a somewhat superficial attitude --kind of like--instead of popping an aspirin for whatever ails me, I'll just "pop an echinacea capsule, because since it's good for the immune system its got to be good for me and can't do any harm" type of attitude.

Well, that way of taking herbs is usually ineffective and can even be harmful to the body. Herbs are powerful substances and many at the wrong dose or taken for too long a time without a break can be harmful. The effects of medicinal plants have to be studied, any possible side effects have to be studied, and dosage range and the best way to take the herb (morning or evening, empty stomach or with food, etc.) have to be looked into. Then discipline must be followed in the way the herb is taken in order to get results. For example, if you start taking an herb at a certain dosage level and you have been told not to expect any significant results for a week, then you wouldn't start changing the dosage level after two days because you don't feel a difference. You'd follow through with the same dosage for a week and then evaluate. If you change your dosage, you'd again keep to the same level for a week and then evaluate again.

People often discard an herb because they think it's "not working" when really they are at the wrong dosage level for them. And that's another understanding that needs to change: there is no "standard dose." That is a myth. The right dose differs according to individual sensitivity, gender, age, weight, and individual biochemical differences. Too high a dose may produce side effects that wouldn't exist if you'd drop the dosage down. So rather than abandon the herb if you get a side effect, you could try cutting way back on the dosage.

In other words, since herbs do have great healing properties they must be treated with great respect and caution. But fortunately, they are much safer than most prescription drugs because their effects work in days not in minutes or hours usually and the multitudinous chemical compounds contained in a single herb are all beautifully synergistically balanced, whereas pharmaceutical drugs are made by isolating quite often a single compound and multiplying its effects many times over, in the process often creating toxicity as a side effect.

So far in the vitamin-herbal craze most people only know a couple of herbs--Echinacea, St. John's Wort and Ginko Biloba--the three herbs which have received major attention from the main stream press. The beginning of our recovering of the lost herbal heritage of our paleolithic and neolithic ancestors is just beginning. It will be a marvelous journey.

Mary Shomon: One of the herbs that you have devoted a great deal of study to is maca. Can you tell us more about maca, and what in particular made you so interested in researching maca?

Dr. Viana Muller: Maca is a cruciferous root (same botanical family as the turnip and broccoli) which grows at 12,500 - 14,500 feet above sea level--the highest growing food plant in the world--in the high Andean plateaus of central Peru. It is believed to be one of the earliest domesticated food plants of Peru, right along with the potato. It almost became extinct because first the Incas restricted its use to the royal court, including their warriors. Then the Spanish who conquered Peru eventually forbid anyone to plant it, along with several other Andean food plants such as quinoa, since these plants were used in native religious ceremonies, and the Spanish were trying to stamp out native religion. When I heard about maca on one of my trips to Peru and that it could help the body's hormonal balance, I was determined to get some, because I was having a very difficult time with my menopause.

Maca and the Thyroid

Mary Shomon: Can you talk a bit about the effect of maca on thyroid function?

Dr. Viana Muller: Of course, since the maca root has so recently been rediscovered, there has been almost no research in terms of medical studies. And quite honestly I never considered that it might have beneficial effects on the thyroid gland, even though I knew based on some rat studies done by Dr. Chacon, that the alkaloids of maca were believed to stimulate the hypothalamus and pituitary gland to better balance the entire endocrine system.

But when I began to study the impact of taking maca on several women who were having moderate to severe menopausal symptoms they began--without my asking them--to report that they had been able to reduce their thyroid medication or in a few cases even to stop it entirely after using maca for two or three months. And they all reported feeling so much better, much more energetic. In all these cases, the thyroid was underactive. On the other hand, my thyroid is overactive--I have Grave's Disease. I wish I could report that it cleared up my problem, but it has made no difference for me. I do not have any information one way or the other of its effect on Hashimoto's syndrome.

Some of the women who had hypothyroidism were taking Armour thyroid, others were taking Synthroid. What they noticed after a month or two was that they were beginning to feel some of the symptoms of an overactive thyroid, and so they cut back their thyroid medication and the symptoms went away. Some got stabilized at 50% of their former dosage of thyroid medication and some were able to stop all thyroid medication. They did this however, little by little, with frequent testing of thyroid function in order not to shock the thyroid and make their condition worse. I can't say that this was the effect with all women on thyroid medication, because in most cases I don't even know that the women have this problem, nor do most of them call me and report these changes. So its not possible for me to give you an accurate percentage of women who had significant thyroid function improvement as a result of taking maca. The results for some, however, were so exciting and dramatic that they called me and told me. This is how I found out that taking maca could positively affect thyroid function.

Maca as an Alternative to Hormone Replacement Therapy

Mary Shomon: Some doctors feel that maca may be able to serve as an alternative to hormone replacement therapy [HRT]. Can you explain how it works in that way?

Dr. Viana Muller: Perhaps it is best understood put in the context of other "natural" alternatives to the pharmaceutical hormone replacement therapy, such as Premarin. Premarin and Provera, the two most widely prescribed hormone replacement therapies in America are respectively synthetic estrogen, made from pregnant horses' urine and synthetic progesterone, manufactured in the factory and called 'progestin.' Both of these synthetic substances will partially "hook up" like a key in a lock with the estrogen and progesterone receptors in a woman's body but they are actually a very poor fit.

The human body can only use two out of the eight horse estrogens in Premarin and the other six estrogens just circulate in her blood stream. The progestin is such a poor fit it actually greatly increases a woman's chance of getting breast cancer, and the longer she uses it, the higher her risk of breast cancer. The estrogen receptors, by the way, are found all over the body, not just in the ovary, the uterus, and the breasts, and the vagina, but also in the brain, the heart, the bladder, in fact, in every organ, and in fact, in all human tissue both in men as well as women. Progesterone receptors and testosterone receptors are found in fewer tissues, both in women and men. The ratios of all of these hormones are different in women and men.

"Natural" pharmaceutical hormone replacement therapy is also manufactured in the pharmaceutical laboratory but in a different way. The 'natural' estradiol is synthetically produced Estradiol Beta 17. It does not start out as horse urine but is manufactured from scratch with the molecules produced synthetically being a much better match for the real thing than the horse estrogen. The 'natural' progesterone is derived from a plant, the wild Mexican yam, which in its natural state does not have any progesterone in it.

Once it is processed in a laboratory and one of its chemical compounds extracted and transformed by laboratory processes, it ends up with a chemical structure very similar to human progesterone. This type of 'natural progesterone' is not harmful and in fact has been shown to have beneficial effects. But of course, taking natural HRT still involves taking hormones, and it has been shown that once you begin to regularly take a certain hormone your body will stop producing that hormone since it is already provided from the outside. The human ovaries, if HRT is not given, will produce some estrogen (in the forms of both estradiol and estriol) and progesterone throughout a woman's life, although in reduced quantities after menopause.

The adrenal glands, which in part function as a back-up system for the ovaries, also produce estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, the same hormones produced by the ovaries, as well as DHEA and cortisol. So, once a woman has taken HRT for several years, if she annouces to her gynecologist--as many women do--that she wants to stop taking HRT, the doctor panics and tells her that she MUST take the hormones for the rest of her life, because he knows that her ovaries will be atrophied and unable to produce its own estrogen--a situation which really puts her bones at greater risk for osteoporosis. Most women are unaware of this when they begin to take HRT or they would never have agreed to go on it.

A more 'natural' way of dealing with menopausal symptoms such as hot fl ashes is using phytoestrogenic herbs (phyto means plant) such as black cohosh, licorice root, and soy products which contain genistein, a type of phytoestrogen. Although they may help somewhat with hot flashes and mood swings, they have absolutely no effect on vaginal dryness or rate of bone resorption (loss of calcium from the bones), bladder function, heart function, etc. And many women find these types of menopause formulas too weak to have much effect even on hot flashes or depression. (Note from Mary Shomon: A reason to be careful with soy products: overconsumption of soy products may also trigger or worsen autoimmune thyroid problems for thyroid patients.)

The most natural way of dealing with menopausal symptoms is the use of organic maca root. (The maca produced with the help of chemical fertilizers is far inferior to the maca grown on soil which has rested for five years.) The pioneering work done by Dr. Chacon suggests that the alkaloids in the maca root stimulate the hypothalamus and pituitary to produce more precursor hormones which then impact all of the endocrine glands--the pineal, the adrenals, ovaries, testes, pancreas, and the thyroid gland. So maca appears to be stimulating the body to produce its own hormones more adequately rather than supplying hormones from an outside source.

Maca's Effects on Menstrual Periods

Mary Shomon: One of the symptoms that women with hypothyroidism suffer from is more frequent menstrual periods, and typically, they are heavier, and more painful. Since becoming hypothyroid, I typically get my period anywhere from every 21-25 days, and it's extremely heavy and painful. I've tried maca, and was actually very surprised when after taking maca for a month, my period came after 28 days, and was normal and lighter. Can you explain a bit more about maca's role in menstrual function.

Dr. Viana Muller: These same effects which you describe for the impact of hypothyroidism on the menstrual cycle are also found in women who have fibroid tumors. In both cases, in most women, maca helps to normalize the menstrual cycle, both in terms of number of days in a cycle, the amount of blood flow, and the great reduction of pain and PMS. I do not understand the intricacies of how this happens, nor do I think that researchers fully understand even to this day exactly what all of the very complex hormonal interactions are involving the ovaries, the pancreas, the adrenals, and the thyroid. It appears, however, that each of these glands has a major impact on the functioning of the other. And so any kind of intervention, such as taking hormones, will always leave a lot to be desired because it will not positively impact the functioning of all of the endocrine glands which do a very delicate dance together.

What we have found is that when women start taking maca for their PMS or their hot flashes, vaginal dryness or mood swings, they begin to report very positive collateral effects on their energy levels (adrenal function and thyroid function), a cessation of sugar cravings and reduced fluctuation in blood sugar levels (they don't get light headed or irritable so easily), an improvement in their sleep pattern (perhaps pineal gland function), as well as cessation of heart palpitations (estrogen receptors in heart are filled) and improvement in bladder function (estrogen receptors in bladder are filled). These effects have not been replicated when women were taking 'natural hormone replacement therapy' with 'natural estrogen' and 'natural progesterone.' I spoke with one woman and one man who had been taking DHEA for years because of her very poor adrenal function, yet the effects of their taking maca were far more powerful than taking DHEA. I have spoken with a number of women who have suffered from uterine fibroids for years who have taken progesterone cream or oral micronized progesterone for this condition which they believed had helped some but they still had the fibroids. Once they started on organic maca root powder or capsules the fibroids dissolved in two or three months.

So although we may not understand exactly how all of these effects take place, clearly there is an interaction among the different endocrine glands which produce the positive and in many cases dramatic effects.

Maca's Effects on Men

Mary Shomon: Can maca be helpful to men, and in particular, their hormonal/endocrine function?

Dr. Viana Muller: As men age, like women, their output of precursor hormones from the hypothalamus and pituitary slows down, and they go through something which has been called 'andropause.' This process is considered more gradual than is menopause in women, taking about ten years of gradually declining hormone levels and will eventually leave a man unable to function sexually or with greatly impaired sexual functioning (i.e. premature ejaculation, infrequent and weak erections, loss of sexual desire). Some men start to experience these changes in the mid to late 40's and some men don't experience this type of change until they are 70. [However the more we know about women, the more we are learning that the hormonal changes in women are also very gradual and should not be measured primarily by the cessation of menses (menopause), which in any case is frequently an on again off again process. ] In a recent study published in the professional journal, Urology, a series of rat studies involving feeding some groups of rats maca and others a normal diet (the control groups), the groups of rats getting the maca had many more 'penile intromissions' (erections) than the control groups and in the groups of rats suffering from erectile dysfunction who were fed maca, a much quicker erection response was noticed as compared with the control groups. This experiment confirmed what most men taking maca have noticed, more frequent erections, stronger erections which lasted longer, and more sexual desire.

Men need to be taking a daily zinc supplement since the prostate needs a lot of zinc to function adequately. And maca will work better for them if they have enough zinc. If they don't the man's body will tend to convert the progesterone it makes into estrogen. Then even though a man's body is making adequate testosterone, since so much is being converted by his body into estrogen, he will put on weight, tend to develop breasts, and will have low erectile function. A word of caution, about the dosage of maca. In men it is easy to 'overdo' it--to take too much maca for too long, and then the opposite effect will set in--a loss of libido with increased fatigue.

South American Herbs to Combat Viral Syndromes

Mary Shomon: There's some new research that is focusing on the possibility that thyroid disease may be stemming from viral syndromes. At the same time, other research is also discussing how the cold-like virus -- known as an adenovirus -- may play a role in obesity and difficulty losing weight. How do South American medicinal herbs play a role in combating persistent viruses?

Dr. Viana Muller: It is interesting to hear you say this, because it is now believed that in some cases diabetes may also be the result of a viral syndrome. And of course, it has recently been demonstrated that about 50% of all heart disease is caused by clamydia bacterial infection--or at least there is a correlation with the presence of large clusters of chlamydia bacteria in the arterial walls.

Of course, we know that antibiotics only kill bacteria; they have no effect whatsoever on viruses, and one of the great 'holes' in Western medicine has been the lack of good anti-viral medications--whether the virus be of the common cold, the 'flu,' the hepatitis virus, or the polio virus -- to name just a few. Practically, the only effective response has been the development of vaccines--which have proved to be dangerous in some cases. The only absolutely safe vaccines involve the use of dead viruses given homeopathically over a period of several weeks, but that's another topic.

So you can imagine my surprise when I came across two different South American herbs in my investigation which have highly effective anti-viral properties. One is the 'break-stone' herb (in Spanish, chanca piedra) whose botanical name is Phyllanthus niruri. This is a rainforest plant whose leaves, stems and roots, are made into a tea by native people to combat Hepatitis B. It is highly effective in getting rid of jaundice and normalizing liver enzyme levels and has been shown experimentally in published research to have anti-viral properties. Japanese researchers have also demonstrated that it has some effectiveness against the HIV virus. Chanca piedra also helps detoxify the liver, as well as eliminate gall stones and kidney stones. It is an alternative to the olive oil-lemon juice flush which is rather a drastic measure which can be incapacitating to some people. Others never work up the courage to do it. Three cups a day of chanca piedra (break-stone) tea on an empty stomach for three weeks is usually very effective as a liver flush and will take out any gall stones or kidney gravel (smaller than stones) as well. At the same time, it will clean up the intestines. It truly is one of the most restorative herbs to come out of the rainforest.

Since it is improving lipid (fat) metabolism, it is not surprising to learn that in some cases it has been shown to be helpful in losing weight. Whether this improvement in lipid digestion involves reducing the adenoviral load is not known at this time.

Another rainforest herb, actually a fruit, which has powerful anti-viral properties is camu-camu. Camu-camu's main 'claim to fame' is its high vitamin C content, 8-10% by weight once it has been spray dried. Yet although there is no published research demonstrating its anti-viral effects, it has proven time and again to be very effective in getting rid of herpes outbreaks faster than the pharmaceutical drug Acyclovir or the use of L lysine. This goes for cold sores (herpes simplex), as well as genital herpes, herpes zoster (shingles) and even the Epstein-Barr virus, which is a type of herpes virus. It can be taken either as prevention against future outbreaks (a very small daily dose) or in frequent small doses over one to three days for most other types of herpes. Blisters usually disappear in a day or two. In the case of the Epstein-Barr virus, noticeable improvement might come in a couple of weeks.

Mary Shomon: The main concern of people with hypothyroidism seems to be problems losing weight. Some of the research suggests that this difficulty is due to fluctuating blood sugar and insulin levels. In some people, it may also be due to intestinal absorption problems and inability to get proper nourishment - and thyroid medicine absorption - due to what's known as "leaky gut" syndrome. In other cases, it's a slowdown of the overall metabolism that reduces caloric requirements, and makes it more difficult to lose and easier to gain weight. Whatever the mechanism, the problems with weight very commonly persist after what's considered sufficient treatment by conventional medicine. Are there ways that South American herbs address these concerns?

Dr. Viana Muller: Maca can be very helpful in reducing the fluctuations of insulin levels and therefore help reduce eating binges and overindulgence in sweets. It actually helps reduce the desire for sweets, which is the most important thing. That's because maca helps to balance all of the endocrine glands, including the pancreas. With improved pancreatic function, hypoglycemia is reduced or virtually eliminated, enabling people who have suffered from this condition to go for much longer time between meals without feeling hungry, much less than "starving" feeling. People with fluctuating insulin levels are tend to feel faint more easily and highly emotional as well as fatigued when their blood sugar level drops. All of these problems vanish for many people taking maca. I've had women call me to report that they had lost weight without particularly trying to after taking organic maca root capsules for a couple of months.

There are two herbs when alternated on a weekly basis over a period of several months that can be helpful with weight loss. One is chanca piedra and the other is cat's claw tea. Chanca piedra, as we have seen, helps with lipid digestion, makes that more efficient, which means that the gall bladder and the liver are better able to process the fats taken in to the body and more of the calories in these fats will be available for energy. It is probably increasing bile flow, although I don't know of any specific studies that confirm this. A sluggish thyroid and a sluggish liver are both conditions that would tend to make the body store food more as fat rather than use it for energy. But in addition, chanca piedra is reputed to help normalize blood sugar levels. So in some way it appears to be helping the pancreas function better. Cat's Claw tea helps clean out pathogens from the intestines and therefore helps to clean the blood. It aids with digestion, including of dairy products, is useful in dealing with diverticulitis, will clear up nausea, helps to kill candida in the gut, and helps with establishing the goal of multiple bowel movements every day.

This regimen--alternating chanca piedra tea with cat's claw tea on a weekly basis, was successful in helping a 300 pound wheelchair bound man lose 30 pounds in three months, where all else had failed.

South American Herbs for Depression

Mary Shomon: Another problem that many people seem to have, despite treatment, is continued depression and mood swings. Some research suggests that the South American herb camu-camu (myrciaria dubia) can have a positive effect on depression. Can you tell us more about camu-camu?

Dr. Viana Muller: (talk about camu and depression, other herbs that can help) Camu-camu (not to be confused with kava-kava which comes from Polynesia and Hawaii) is a rainforest fruit that is quite sour because it is loaded with Vitamin C. But in addition to being a high quality non-corn source of Vitamin C and bioflavanoids, and a strong anti-viral herb against all types of herpes infections as we discussed a few minutes ago, it has phytochemicals which clinically have been shown to change mood within a few hours. It can help lift depression and greatly reduce anxiety even the same day it is started. Only a tiny amount is needed--two capsules taken with water on an empty stomach twice daily or 1/4 tsp. taken in water twice daily.

Of course, since there is no standard dose, sometimes even less will be effective and sometimes a little more is needed. Unlike St. John's Wort, it does not cause photosensitivity of the skin and eyes, presenting a danger of developing cataracts. And it works much much more quickly than St. John's Wort for most people. Also, it is not a MAO inhibitor as is both St. John's Wort and the standard pharmaceutical anti-depressants, such as Prozac, Paxil, etc. So it is safe to take camu-camu while you wean off of the pharmaceutical anti-depressant--but of course, under your psychiatrist's supervision. To the extent that people eat more to relieve anxiety, this herb may also help people lose weight.

Medicinal Herbs for Fatigue

Mary Shomon: The third symptom that most people continue to suffer from is fatigue and exhaustion. Are there any South American herbs that are known to help with fatigue?

Dr. Viana Muller: The more I learn about how people are functioning before they start taking maca and after they take maca, I realize the huge difference there is between taking a particular hormone for a particular condition and taking maca whose alkaloids work at the level of the hypothalamus and the pituitary, causing a profound shift in the entire endocrine system. To give you a fatigue-related example: a woman who started ordering maca for us had had chronic fatigue for about 15 years. It took quite a while to get diagnosed because 15 years ago chronic fatigue was thought to be "all psychological" and they sent you to a psychiatrist. There are still plenty of doctors who think this way today! When this young woman was finally correctly diagnosed, she was given DHEA, which had no effect on how she felt. So her doctor increased the dosage. Then she felt minimally better, so he increased the dosage again. In the end, he gave her huge amounts of DHEA and she began to be able to function, to go to work, etc. but she still didn't feel GOOD. When she read about maca (Dr. Morton Walker's Medical Report in the Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, November, 1998), she decided to try it and within a few weeks she had a tremendous feeling of energy and wellness that she hadn't experienced in about 20 years. She then gradually went off of her DHEA supplement and still felt great. Now obviously maca was increasing her DHEA level--enabling her adrenal glands to make her own DHEA--but why should this make such a difference in how she felt. Perhaps there was more to her fatigue than her DHEA level and maca helped her body manufacture other hormones she needed. Or perhaps taking DHEA by mouth just won;t have all the benefits of having your own glands make your own hormones. It's really a mystery.

Mary Shomon: What will your focus be in the coming months? Are you planning any more trips to South America, or are there new herbs you plan to research further?

Dr. Viana Muller: Well, we go to South America on a regular basis, every few months, both to keep a close eye on the sourcing of our herbs and to investigate new herbs and to build relationships with the people who grow the herbs or collect them directly from the rainforest. With the help of nongovernmental organizations in Peru, for example, we have been able to help the peasant producers of maca working the land owned collectively by their communities to set up local organic maca growers associations. We also provide seed money individual maca cultivators who are just getting started in growing maca commercially and to their organic maca growers organizations--money needed to travel to meet together and to provide food for their two day meetings. It is such a privilege to have this kind of respectful partnership relationship with the growers of this wonderful herb. All of these efforts have also paid off in terms of the quality of the maca we import to the U.S. as we have just received confirmation that out maca has been certified as organic by one of the leading European organic certification agencies and the ECO-CERT logo used all over Europe will be on our future labels! We are the only company to offer certified organic maca products in the U.S.

Developments in the rainforest are very exciting also. We work whenever possible with local collectors of rainforest herbs to bring in the herbs we need directly from the forest. This way we can guarantee the freshness of our herbs and provide employment to local folks knowledgeable about herbs. Our own co-founder of our company, Dr. Sidney McDaniel, a botanist who is considered one of the top three experts in the world on plants from the Upper Amazon, positively identifies for correct species each of lots of herbs collected. We are scrupulous about sowing seeds from the same species we collect in order to replenish the supply. In other words, what we are collecting is sustainable in terms of its effect on the forest.

We are also working with a group of local people in a jungle town to set up a rainforest herb processing center--to clean and dry the herbs. We have loaned them funds to build an herb drying facility. This is part of our philosophy--to decentralize our operations as much as possible and to provide local employment through face to face relationships which we establish and maintain with the people. Of course, this is more costly than the alternatives, but it allows more money to reach the people who need it the most. It helps to empower local people both financially and in terms of building something that didn't exist before right in their own communities. It gives us a very good feeling.

At the same time that we are dedicated to making powerful healing South American herbs available to the folks in this country whose health will be greatly benefited by the use of the herbs, we are also trying to make a difference on the sourcing end in terms of the quality of life of the people growing or collecting the herbs and those who process them.

Mary Shomon: How can people find out more about your work and about South American herbs?

Dr. Viana Muller: People can go to our website at www.wholeworldbotanicals.com. They can check the herbal library for articles on the herbs we carry. They can also check the photograph album for photos of both the herbs and the habitats where they grow, as well as seeing photos of the people who grow or collect the herbs. We are continually adding new information and we add several new products a year. So people can keep checking.

My book called Maca: The Secret Royal Herb of the Incas; Anti-Aging Hormone Regulator will be published in November and can be ordered by contacting me at 1-888-757-6026. We also have available a wonderful hard-to-find book called Witch Doctor's Apprentice by Nicole Maxwell which is a true pioneering tale of an American woman who set off by herself with only a boatman/guide in the Peruvian rainforest Amazon tributaries back in the 1950's looking for medicinal plants. I knew Nicole, who was an extraordinary and delightful woman and her book is absolutely fascinating. Proceeds from the sale of this book (which is $20, we only have 30 available) are being donated to the non-profit Institute for Botanical Exploration, founded by Dr. Sidney McDaniel, one of the world's pre-eminent botanists specializing in the Upper Amazon region, where the Amazon River originates in Peru.

Free information on the herbs is also available by calling the toll free number mentioned above.

I also give public lectures in different parts of the U.S. and we will start listing my lectures on the website as well. If any organization would be interested in sponsoring a lecture or workshop on South American herbs, natural hormone balancing, holistic breakthroughs in women's health, the latest in herbal approaches to maintaining health and fitness, natural approaches to maintaining mental and emotional balance--they can contact me through the wholeworldbotanicals.com website or by calling me at 1-888-757-6026. In September, I gave a four hour workshop in South American herbs to a nutritional counseling school in Sonoma, California. I will be giving a lecture at the New Life Expo on October 25, 2000 in New York City on "Natural Approaches to Menopause."

I am also eager for feedback from anyone trying any of these South American medicinal herbs, because this is how I become knowledgeable about them. I collect data from hundreds of herb users and share it with others. I am as interested in hearing the "negative" cases as the "positive" ones, because there is so much to be learned both ways.

To Buy South American herbs

Visit Whole World Botanicals.

For more information on South American, Amazonian and Andean medicinal plants, read:

For more information on Maca / Lepidium Meyenii: For more information on Chanca Piedra / Quebra Piedra / Breakstone / Phyllanthus Niruri: For more information on Camu-Camu / Myrciaria dubia

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All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult your physician or health practitioner before starting a new treatment program. Please see our full disclaimer.