Monday, 16 January 2012

Caring For Your Feet With Herbs

Publication: The Star

In the human body, the feet are the most strained parts, yet the feet are often not considered as important as other parts of the body. And so while many of us care for the health and vitality of our other organs, often our feet tend to be neglected. However, foot problems are myriad, and when neglected, can be troublesome. Foot problems include smelly feet, athlete’s foot, verrucae, corns and infected toenails.

Smelly feet are usually caused by excessive perspiration and an over-growth of fungi and/or bacteria. Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection. It is contagious via direct contact, wet floors and shared footwear.

Verrucae are flat warts in the sole of the foot. They are forced under the skin and may occur in clusters. The surface is greyish and crumbly, and they may contain small black points (due to swollen blood vessels). Corns are hard skin that build up on areas of the feet that are subject to pressure or friction, such as the little toe.

Traditional sciences like Ayurveda mention the use of many natural ingredients that can care for your feet. Infected toenails are commonly the result of a fungal infection, a condition known as onychomycosis. Toenails affected by onychomycosis are often brittle, discoloured or yellowish. Walking barefoot on rough surfaces or excessive exposure of bare feet to the sun, wind or water causes cracks on the heels and soles, which cause dryness and roughness of the feet.

Although not classified as a foot disease, many people experience dry soles and heels, and this is common amongst women who expose their feet to the environment. Atmospheric exposure removes moisture from the skin and make the feet and soles dry and hard. Dry soles and heels later end up in cracked feet.

Antimicrobial agents in the form of creams are a common treatment in infectious foot problems, while moisturisers and keratolytic (an agent that removes dead and toughened skin cells) agents assist in making dry soles and heels return to normal. The use of chemical keratolytic agents at times lead to local irritation and contact dermatitis.

Ayurveda mentions the use of many natural ingredients that can care for your feet. These ingredients, by virtue of their keratolytic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and soothing properties, improve blood circulation in the feet, relieve pain and tiredness, smoothen the skin and help heal wounds, corns and bunions.

Ardaka; Ginger (Zingiber officinale) has been used in traditional medicine in the management of painful, arthritic, inflammatory conditions. Ginger is also a rich source of antimicrobials and antioxidants, which renders it invaluable in the treatment of infections and wounds.

Methi; Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum graecum) is well known for its anti-diabetic actions and it is also credited with skin care properties. The seeds are used externally in poultices for boils, abscesses and ulcers, and internally as an emollient for inflammation. Fenugreek is also well known for its antioxidants properties. For cosmetic purposes, fenugreek has a reputation as a skin softener and in Western herbalist teaching, it is often recommended as a component in skin soothing preparations.

Haridra; Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a skin-friendly herb and is valued for its antimicrobial activity. Its major component, curcumin, has antiseptic and antioxidant properties. These properties provide relief in cases of fungal and bacterial infections of the feet. Turmeric also has wound healing properties. A combination of these herbs and natural agents, which provide antimicrobial, keratolyitic and moisturising actions, mixed in the right proportions serve as an effective treatment for problems of the foot.

Sal tree (Shorea robusta) is a large sub-deciduous tree, which on tapping yields an oleoresin which contains triterpenoids. The resin is used in indigenous systems of medicine as an astringent and detergent. It is also used as an ingredient in ointments for skin diseases. Sal butter, which is expressed from the seed of the Sal tree, prevents drying of the skin, prevents development of wrinkles, and lends some protection against the sun and the environment.

Madhu; Honey (Meldespumatum) has many virtues that is useful in foot care. It is a rich source of sugars, vitamins and minerals and helps nourish the skin. Its ability to attract water helps it keep the skin soft and supple. Honey is also a natural cleanser and is used in many skin-cleansing formulations. Honey’s prospects in skincare are looking even sweeter; research is currently underway to develop a process using honey to create alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). AHAs are an important ingredient in many skin creams and moisturisers because they help exfoliate the skin. Increased exfoliation, or renewal of the skin cells, can give skin a younger, more vibrant look. Honey contains antimicrobial agents which prevent infections by killing the bacteria in and around wounds. Honey is in fact popular as a wound dressing material and has been rediscovered by the medical profession for the treatment of burns, infected wounds, and skin ulcers. As a dressing on wounds, honey provides a moist healing environment, rapidly clears infection, deodorises, and reduces inflammation, oedema and exudation. Also, it increases the rate of healing by stimulation of angiogenesis (blood vessel formation) and granulation, making skin grafting unnecessary and giving excellent cosmetic results.
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2. Molan PC. Potential of honey in the treatment of wounds and burns. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2001;2(1):13-9
3. Mascolo N, Jain R, Jain SC, Capasso F. Ethnopharmacologic investigation of ginger (Zingiber officinale). J Ethnopharmacol. 1989 Nov;27(1-2):129-40.
4. Dixit P, Ghaskadbi S, Mohan H, Devasagayam TP. Antioxidant properties of germinated fenugreek seeds. Phytother Res. 2005 Nov;19(11):977-83.

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