The famour defy the skeptics and believe in the cosmic powers of natural remedies. Herbal Treatment

February 22, 1994|By Paddy Calistro | Paddy Calistro,New York Times Special Features

These days, if Susan Sarandon's children got an infection, she'd be more likely to take them to an herbalist, a purveyor of ancient Chinese remedies, than to a conventional medical doctor.

Tennis legend John McEnroe is more likely to rub on creams containing arnica, an herbal analgesic, than to pop aspirins when he's bruised and sore.

A few stars -- Sylvester Stallone, Dolly Parton, Cher -- and even Ronald Reagan were reportedly taking curative herbs long before the trend emerged.

But these days, Hollywood headliners exchange names of herbalists the way they used to trade personal trainers' business cards.

Many, guided by these gurus, use the botanical treatments to combat everything from anxiety attacks and arthritis to cystitis and even cancer.

Janet Zand, a doctor of Oriental medicine, is probably one of Hollywood's most sought-after herbalists. Her herbal remedies are sold in health-food stores all over the United States.

With names such as Sylvester Stallone, Tina Turner and Connie Chung in her files, booking a visit with Dr. Zand in her Santa Monica office is nothing short of an herbal coup.

Soram Khalsa, a medical doctor at the respected Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles who also prescribes herbs for celebrities such as Victoria Principal and Vidal Sassoon, is equally swamped, as legions of the health-conscious turn to alternative medicine.

Herbal medicine was once an "end of the line" treatment for when traditional Western medicine wasn't working," says Mark Holmes, a doctor of Oriental medicine and the head of the Center for Regeneration in Beverly Hills, who has treated Mariel Hemingway, Morgan Fairchild and Bianca Jagger, among others.

"Now patients are asking for herbal remedies first to treat everything from arthritis and digestive disorders to chronic fatigue syndrome."

One of the most compelling reasons for such a dramatic surge of interest in Eastern healing is an increasing disenchantment with traditional pharmaceuticals, says Mark Blumenthal, the executive director of the nonprofit American Botanical Council in Austin, Texas.

Bianca Jagger says she became a fan of herbal formulas 21 years ago when she was married to Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones and was pregnant with their daughter Jade. "It was a natural outgrowth of my interest in a healthier lifestyle."

Ms. Jagger is typical of those who are accepting a more active responsibility for their own health, Dr. Holmes says. "If you aren't ready to put the effort into eating sensibly, exercising and taking care of yourself, then you'd better stick to Western medicine," he says.

"But if you believe in doing all you can to protect and strengthen your body and your health, then you might find herbal medicines are worth looking into."

Like other herbalists, Dr. Holmes looks first at a patient's diet, exercise regimen and lifestyle.

After correcting deficiencies in those areas, he'll begin treatment with herbal remedies because they present the least drastic approach.

If they aren't effective, he moves on to acupressure treatments and then to acupuncture, the most invasive of the alternative procedures.

If the patient still hasn't gotten relief, he recommends traditional Western medicine. Dr. Francis also will recommend Western medicine for those who aren't helped by herbs, acupressure or acupuncture.

Dr. Francis says he works in close cooperation with an endocrinologist, orthopedist, obstetrician/gynecologist and neurologist to ensure that his patients receive the referrals they need to get well.

Herbalists agree that stress is the most common Hollywood -- and non-Hollywood -- malady.

From burnout to bad hair

When actress Courtney Cox complained that she had "an active mind and a tired body," Dr. Holmes immediately prescribed Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tan ("Tonify the Middle Energy"), a blend of 10 herbs that help the digestive organs and immune system.

"After the treatments, I felt stable and energetic both emotionally and physically," Ms. Cox says.

Actors and actresses are constantly confronted with issues of dTC appearance, and the herb doctors claim they make a difference there, too.

Dr. Francis' female clients get Royal Lady formula, a blend of nearly a dozen ingredients including royal jelly (secreted by honeybees) and crushed pearls, "to improve the skin texture, elasticity and moisture retention."

A blend of horsetail, oat straw and nettle will make hair fuller and shinier while also improving the strength and flexibility of nails, says Eve Campanelli, a Beverly Hills-based herbalist and holistic health-care practitioner.

Astragalus enhances muscle tone to prevent sagging, Dr. Francis tells his image-conscious patients, while Yunnan Bai Yao, also called "Hit Medicine," taken before and after cosmetic surgery, will reduce bruising and swelling and cut healing time.

While most herbalists don't speak in terms of "miracles" and stress that herbal remedies are often slow to effect change, Dr. Campanelli claims she sees miracles happen every day.

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