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by Elora Gabriel

The subject matter of this article will be a Peruvian herb which has become an essential part of my "medicine chest"--Camu Camu.  Camu, as I'll call it for short, is actually a small fruit which grows in the Peruvian rainforests.  It is somewhat similar to acerola in the fact that it is a small fruit with a very high Vitamin C content, and in its tart, citrus-like flavor. The fruit is dried and powdered, and can be used as a powder which is mixed with fruit or juice, or taken in capsule form.  

Rather than being a specific for one basic condition or body system, like maca and chanca piedra, [other Peruvian herbs discussed elsewhere], camu has a surprisingly wide range of benefits.  The most interesting property of camu, to my mind, is its effectiveness as a natural, drug-free, non-toxic anti-depressant.  Depression is currently epidemic in our society, particularly among women.  Fortunately, many of us who were ashamed to admit to this condition now realize that chronic depression is a matter of brain chemistry, not of being an inferior person.  Depression is truly not "our fault".  But what can be done to lift this intolerable burden?  

Prescription anti-depressants such as Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Luvox, etc.; are now among the most prescribed drugs in America.  Tremendous controversy exists around the safety v.s. the benefits of these drugs.  I know many people whose lives have been changed for the better by anti-depressants.  And my own doctor, a respected holistic physician, told me that he considers them to be the least harmful class of drugs for the good that they do.   

On the other hand, doctors like Julian Whitaker of the well known "Health and Healing" newsletter have come out strongly against anti-depressants due to their association with episodes of sudden, extreme violence either against others or oneself.  Dr. Ann Blake Tracy, who has studied adverse reactions to serotonergic medications for the past 10 years, has written a book called "Prozac:  Panacea or Pandora?"  Dr. Tracy states that:  

"The latest figures show Prozac has about 44,000 adverse reports filed with the FDA.  Out of those reports there are about 2500 deaths with the large majority of them linked to suicide or violence.  The suicide statistics relating to women are shocking . . ."  Dr. Tracy notes that the more recently developed SSRI's are basically "Prozac clones" and that these figures with Prozac "give us a vision of what is to come with other serotonergic antidepressants" especially as newer and more powerful drugs continue to be developed. A review of Dr. Tracy's book can be accessed at 

No doubt the controversy around SSRI's will continue, and it seems to be one of those situations in which there is no one easy answer.  If there is a natural alternative, however, we would do well to consider it.  Many depressed people seeking such an alternative have turned to St. John's Wort, an herb with definite anti-depressant qualities.  However, those who use St. John's Wort should be careful to stay out of bright light of any kind, according to The People's Pharmacy Guide to Home and Herbal Remedies by Joe Graedon & Teresa Graedon, Ph.D.  This well-researched, non-biased text states that:  

"We are very concerned about another interaction with St. John's Wort, with light rather than medication.  Joan Roberts, Ph.D., of Fordham University, has been studying the effects of light and drugs on the eye for decades.  She has discovered that hypericin, an ingredient in St. John's Wort, reacts to ultraviolet and visible light.  When activated, hypericin becomes toxic to the lens and retina of the eye, increasing the risk of cataracts or macular degeneration over time.  Because sunglasses don't screen out visible light, they can't protect people from this danger.  We suggest that people taking St. John's Wort stay out of bright light completely."  

Into this confusing picture, camu enters like a veritable ray of clarity.  To date, we know of absolutely no side effects or contra-indications for this herb, and it is considerably more effective for many depressed people than is St. John's Wort.  In addition, unlike St. John's Wort, it is not an MAO inhibitor.  Most of the pharmaceutical antidepressants are MAO inhibitors, and therefore St. John's Wort cannot be taken along with them while weaning oneself off the prescription drugs.  This prohibition does not apply to camu.  

In addition, not only does camu pose no increased danger of developing cataracts and glaucoma, but it is actually an excellent preventative against these conditions, according to nationally known researcher Gary Null.  Null places camu as number one in effectiveness on a list of botanicals which are helpful for these two conditions.  [Note:  I've recently received some fascinating information on a natural and effective sublingual spray specifically formulated for eye disorders such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, and cataracts.  See contact info at the end of this article if interested.]  

How effective is camu at relieving depression?  Like everything else, there is always individual variation.  Dr. Muller has interviewed a practitioner in New York City who was able to wean ten patients off of Zoloft and Prozac in a year's time.  These patients were able to remain depression-free even without their prescriptions, as long as they continued to take the camu.  This full time, extremely busy medical kinesiologist states that an "overwhelming majority" of her patients who have tried camu have found it to be "very helpful" for depression.   

The best testimonial I've heard so far is that of a 42 year old psychologist who says that she was "born depressed".  She tried Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin, Serzone, and Luvox in addition to St. John's Wort, 5-HTP, and a host of other natural treatments.  Paxil was the only thing that helped her, but it caused terrible side effects.  Camu worked for her "pretty much right away" and three weeks later, she is taking 2-3 capsules twice daily and feels "as if I've gone to heaven--it's changed my life." We're seeking more information from doctors and practitioners who use camu for depression, so stay tuned. 

Camu, unlike the drugs, feels very "clean" and has a complete absence of side effects.  No headaches, nausea, weight gain, liver toxicity, or loss of libido.  In fact, camu has powerful detoxifying effects and helps to cleanse the body.   

Making a choice to transition from anti-depressant drugs onto a natural alternative such as camu is, of course, an entirely personal decision, and is best done under the care of an informed practitioner.  However, for those who wish to go this route, I would like to insert a word of caution:  Go slowly.  Dr. Tracy says that  "Unless patients are warned to come very slowly off these drugs by shaving minuscule amounts off their pills each day, as opposed to cutting them in half or taking a pill every other day, they can go into terrible withdrawal which is generally delayed several months."  Not everyone has these withdrawal effects by any means, but it's best to be cautious.

ANTI-HERPES PROPERTIES.  Dr. Gary Null, mentioned above, places camu as #1 in effectiveness out of a list of 18 herbs for its anti-herpetic properties.  Herpes can take many forms, from the common cold sores to genital herpes and shingles, and in total affects about 80% of the US population.  Among practitioners who recommend it, camu is reputed to be faster and more effective against herpes than any other natural substance.  Some people who are very prone to outbreaks take a small amount daily as a preventative.  Others take an extra dose if they feel the tingling pain which precedes the formation of herpes blisters.  Loading up on camu can often ward off colds and flus as well.

HEADACHES.  Another medicinal property of camu is its ability to relieve headaches, even migraines.  Camu is also good for headaches caused by toxicity (such as from eating allergenic foods, breathing chemical or paint fumes, or from caffeine withdrawal, etc.).  It may be helpful for hormonal headaches which tend to occur at a certain point in the menstrual cycle. 

Dosage for camu depends on the condition for which it is being used.  For depression, an average starting dose is 2 capsules twice daily.  Camu works very fast, so if improvement is not noted within a couple of days, the dosage is increased, up to as many as 5 capsules twice daily if necessary.   People suffering from an acute outbreak of herpes can take 2-4 capsules every 2 hours for one day, up to 8 per day, and repeat until cleared.  This procedure usually takes no more than 1-2 days to fully clear a herpes attack.  For migraines or toxic headaches, 2-3 capsules should be taken every half hour until the headache is gone.  Relieving headaches can take anywhere from half an hour to 8 hours depending on severity.

Camu Camu is a gift to humanity from a very special part of the world.  I hope that this introduction will enable readers to avail themselves of its many healing properties.

 This article is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice.