Natural Ebola Prevention Strategies

So far there are no new confirmed cases of Ebola in the United States, but there have been 5000 false alarms since Thomas Duncan’s diagnosis in Dallas. This tells you how worried people are. On one hand, the Ebola virus has a particularly high mortality rate. On the other hand, Ebola is not as easy to spread as other viruses. The chance that we really need to worry about this is the United States is low, but this seems like a good time to review immune support and antiviral basics since we will have our normal viral infections to cope with as the cold weather hits.

First practice basic hygiene. This is washing your hands before you touch your face, especially your eyes, nose, mouth, or open wounds. Ebola is spread through bodily fluids and it not spread through the air, though scientists are worried about Ebola mutating to this type of dispersal.

The key to preventing colds and flu and possibly to surviving an Ebola epidemic is having a strong immune system. Ebola weakens the immune system. Survivors of past Ebola outbreaks seemed to have stronger and faster immune responses compared to those who didn’t survive. As my Ayurvedic colleagues point out, “For an infection like Ebola, which has no apparent clinical cure, natural reinforcement of the immune system may represent an oasis of hope in the desert of fear and panic.” So start with the lifestyle basics: healthy diet, moderate exercise, proper hydration, and adequate sleep.

For basic wintertime immune support, I also add probiotics, vitamin D, and vitamin C to my daily routine. When it comes to fighting viruses, some of my favorite supplements are colloidal silver, oregano oil, elderberry, and medicinal mushrooms.

None of these have really been studied with Ebola so we have to extrapolate from what we know about other viruses and remember that not all viruses are the same. For instance, elderberries have been shown to slow the replication of influenza viruses, but this does not mean that it is going to work with all viruses. On the other hand, colloidal silver has shown benefit from a wide array of viruses.

Agarikon

Agarikon

Other agents that might be theoretically useful are turmeric and agarikon. Turmeric could be useful in two ways. As an inflammation modulator, it could calm excessive inflammation that contributes to tissue damage and depletes the immune system. Turmeric also activates an enzyme called heme oxygenase-1, which in test tubes has been shown to reduce Ebola replication. Agarikon is a medical mushroom available in some of my favorite immune supporting blends like MyCommunity and MycoShield from Host Defense. Agarikon, like colloidal silver, has the potential to be active against a wide array of viruses and the other mushrooms in the blends are great immune supporters.

Please remember that all of this information is speculative since this virus it too new for us to have the studies that we would want to make confident claims. But strengthen your body and immune system to help prevent the more likely threats of colds and flu and donate to some of the many funds providing aid to those suffering in Africa.

Stevia Beats Artificial Sweeteners For Blood Sugar

When I learned that artificial sweeteners are contributing to blood sugar problems, I decided that I needed to review the research on stevia to see how it compared. It turns out the news is good on stevia.

A recent and very thorough study on artificial sweeteners demonstrated that they are contributing to higher blood sugar levels after meals. The study showed that people consuming artificial sweeteners have different bacteria living in their gut. Then, healthy people who didn’t use artificial sweeteners were given saccharin for 6 days. Four out of the seven developed high blood sugar. The researchers used mice to determine that changes in gut bacteria were the cause. These new bacteria contributed to the absorption of some of the carbohydrates we don’t normally absorb. These new bacteria seem to make it as if we had eaten a higher carbohydrate meal. In studies on rats, saccharin, sucralose (Splenda), and aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet) were all shown to have equal negative effects on gut bacteria and blood sugar. The researchers are suggesting that these artificial sweeteners are contributing to both diabetes and obesity.

Stevia

Stevia

So this left me with the question of whether stevia might do the same thing. Stevia is a plant from South America that is now popular as a natural non-caloric sugar alternative. But unlike the artificial sweeteners, stevia holds promise of helping people with blood sugar problems. Participants eating stevia-sweetened foods before a meal showed lower blood sugar and insulin levels after the meal compared to participants given aspartame or sugar-sweetened foods. The study also showed that eating stevia before a meal didn’t lead to increased calorie consumption during the meal. Many other studies are pointing to stevia as an agent that may help with insulin resistance, the issue responsible for most cases of diabetes.

Stevia is very sweet and can have an aftertaste somewhat similar to artificial sweeteners. I find it helpful to use a little bit less than I think I need so that my food is not overly sweet. This cuts down on the aftertaste too. I am also a big fan of the flavored stevia liquids, such as the cinnamon flavored on I like to put in my tea. To read more about stevia and xylitol, the other sugar alternative I use sometimes, here is a great article from LifeExtension.

Grain-free Nachos: A delicious way to eat your veggies

I created this recipe less because I wanted to avoid grains and more because I wanted to find another delicious way of eating more vegetables. When it comes to health, we seem to get more benefit from adding healthy foods to our diet as opposed to cutting out the bad ones. Increased vegetable consumption is one of the more important things we can do for our health, along with eating fruit, nuts, legumes, reduced-fat dairy, whole grains, and fish.
A recent Swedish study found that men who ate healthier diets reduced their risk of heart attack by 18%. When combined with 4 other healthy habits, they reduced their risk by 80% compared to men who did none of these things. These healthy habits were drinking alcohol in moderation, not smoking, exercising, and avoiding excess belly fat.
This study only included Swedish men, but clearly we can guess that these healthy choices could make a huge difference for anyone.

This recipe uses several of the foods on the list of healthful foods used in this study. Eating peppers in particular has been linked to lower rates of Parkinson’s disease.

Grainless nachos #1

Grain-free Nachos

3-4 peppers (I used poblanos, but bell peppers are fine)
1 cup cooked beans
1-2 cups reduced fat Monterey Jack or other cheese
½ – 1 cup onions, chopped
½ cup sliced black olives
1-4 jalapenos, sliced (I use Jalapenos En Excabeche that I make from this recipe)
1 cup tomato, chopped
1 avocado, chopped

Optional additinal toppings: sour cream, guacamole, seasoned meat, chopped green onions, cilantro, shredded lettuce or other greens, salsa or pico de gallo, or whatever else sounds good

Cut peppers in half and remove the cores.
Flatten with your hand onto a baking sheet.
Toss on the beans, cheese, onions, black olives, and jalapenos.
Bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes until the cheese starts to brown and peppers get a little bit soft.
Sprinkle tomatoes and avocado and anything that you like on top and serve.
Note: In these pictures, I was making a double batch because they make awesome leftovers when reheated.

Grainfree nachos finished

Longer Telomeres for Longer Lives

How do we live longer healthier lives? Is it inevitable that our cells will stop functioning properly and we will get chronic degenerative diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and dementia? My goal is to support my body now so that I can delay the “inevitable” for as long as possible.

We can keep our DNA and therefore our bodies functioning optimally by emphasizing healthy diet and exercise. A recent small study by Dr. Dean Ornish demonstrated that following a healthy lifestyle plan could actually lengthen our telomeres. Telomeres are the genetic caps on the end of each DNA strand. I think of them like these plastic protectors on the ends of shoelaces.

shoelaces
As our cells divide, our DNA is copied. With each copy, the telomeres get a little shorter. Eventually, we can lose so much of our telomeres that our DNA is not longer protected. The cells produced at this point don’t have all the tools they need to be fully functioning cells and our health can suffer.

The shortening of telomeres has been linked to many chronic diseases including some forms of cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosis and diabetes. Because of this, some people regard telomere length to be the best marker of our true biological age.
In Dr. Ornish’s study, participants followed a plant-based diet, exercised regularly, and participated in stress reduction activities like gentle yoga-based stretching, breathing exercises, and meditation. The 10 men doing these lifestyle interventions had a 10% increase in the length of their telomeres over 5 years. The control group showed a 3% decrease in their telomere length during that time.

Life Style Changes_graphic_v2

This was just a small study using participants who had prostate cancer, so we cannot definitely say that everyone making similar healthy changes will see the same results. We also need more studies that confirm that longer telomeres contribute to longer healthier lives, but we know that these types of beneficial changes make sense anyways. Additionally, another study showed that women who took multivitamins had longer telomeres that their peers the same age who didn’t.
I consider studies like these to be further motivation for us to make these types of healthy changes to our lives. They give us hope that we can even undo some of the damage we might have already done by making better choices today.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

I started making my own vanilla extract a few years ago, and I am hooked. I even did a taste comparison between my vanilla and a store bought one. As you can probably guess, mine won. My recipe is a tiny bit more complex than some, but it is worth the extra effort. If you start your vanilla in the next month or two, you can give it as gifts during the holiday season.

Vanilla

Homemade Vanilla Extract

2-4 vanilla beans

3 ounces of vodka

1 ounce of bourbon or dark rum

1 Tablespoon glycerin

Cut vanilla beans into about ½ inch pieces. Combine all ingredients in a jar. Let sit in a dark place for 2-4 weeks. Strain and enjoy in your favorite recipes.

I get my vanilla beans from Frontier, which is a cooperative distributor of bulk herbs, spices, and more. I spent the last few days visiting their operations in Iowa and was very impressed by their emphasis on quality and their dedication to improving the lives of the farmers who supply their products.

For instance, vanilla is one of their biggest sellers, especially their Bourbon vanilla beans grown in Madagascar. In general, Frontier makes efforts to ensure fair treatment of farmers and workers, sustainable production, and adherence to food quality and safety standards. Additionally, they really care about the communities where their farmers live. Whenever they visit, they take soccer balls for the local children’s groups. This is hugely popular, but even more important they help provide schools, meals for school children, and more. In a recent initiative, they dug wells in 38 villages in Madagascar that supply their vanilla beans. This provided clean drinking water to over 25,000 people.

Additionally, the farmers use this clean water to wash the vanilla beans. This helps ensure that the vanilla beans and other spices are safe for us to consume. On top of this, Frontier has multiple layers of quality control at their facility to guarantee that all herbs and spices are correctly identified, have the best flavor or medicinal constituent profile, are free of contaminates, and safe for our consumption.

It feels good to support businesses like Frontier who care so much about the herbs that I get and the people who grow them. So enjoy some delicious vanilla and some of the good that is done in the world by companies that care.

Potassium Powerhouse Foods for Stroke Prevention and More

I frequently recommend foods high in potassium to my patients with high blood pressure. A recent study has me thinking I need to recommend these foods to more patients. This new study revealed that postmenopausal women who consumed the most potassium reduced their chance of stroke by 12% compared to those who ate the least. Women who didn’t have high blood pressure noticed an even better outcome from eating more potassium with a 27% reduction in strokes. Potassium is thought to improve the functioning of small blood vessels in the brain and throughout the body, partially by improving nitric oxide formation which can help open up blood vessels.

Rainbow Chard

Rainbow Chard

In truth, I recommend high potassium diets to most of my patients by encouraging them to eat a lot of vegetables. I believe that one of the reasons we need to get our 5-7 servings of veggies and fruit every day is to make sure we get adequate potassium. The average adult needs about 4700 mg of potassium a day. Many of the best potassium-rich foods are vegetables. For instance, a cup of cooked Swiss chard offers around 900 mg of potassium. Other high potassium foods include spinach, bok choy, beets, nuts, and dried beans. For a great list of potassium-rich foods, I like the chart available from World’s Healthiest Foods. My husband and I additionally take an electrolyte mixture that includes potassium when we work on the farm during these hot summers. Another good choice might be coconut water to help replace some of the potassium lost through sweating.

By emphasizing potassium intake, we get all of the benefits offered by this crucial mineral. Potassium is essential for nerve function throughout the body and especially in the heart. Getting adequate potassium can help preserve bone density and prevent the formation of kidney stones. Potassium deficiency might contribute to premenstrual issues and possibly the development of diabetes. As I mentioned above, eating high potassium foods can be one of the steps to help people reach a healthy blood pressure goal. And when we eat high potassium foods, we also get the full range of powerhouse nutrients that these foods provide. It is likely that these additional minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants from fruits and veggies contribute to some of the cardiovascular protection seen in these studies.

So figure out what high potassium foods you love to eat, and if you want some tips on getting more vegetables in your family’s life, check out my blog on getting kids to eat veggies.

Working in the Garden to Save the Bees

I have been really enjoying watching all the varieties of bees and butterflies in our garden this year. When our catnip was blooming, I swear the entire hive that lives in one of our trees was collecting nectar from it. I feel a pure delight just from knowing that we are creating a happy home for them on our farm. And we know that we have all of the pollinators we need to keep our crops producing.

This bumblebee is enjoying my basil flowers

This bumblebee is enjoying my basil flowers

As I plant my fall garden, I am going to continue to keep the bees in mind. There are many plants that I love that also feed the bees. Some bee friendly plants are dill, maple, yarrow, cosmos, Echinacea, sunflower, comfrey, elderberry, black-eyed Susan, squash, and basil. And it is important to make sure that in every season the garden offers something for our helpful insect friends. Especially, the bumblebees need continuous blooms throughout the warm seasons since they don’t store honey like the honeybees. We are talking about doing a late planting of summer squash and dill for us and the bees.

Our farm is also an organic farm, which means that we don’t use any of the pesticides that may bee threatening bee populations. It is estimated that one third of the honeybee population has been wiped out since 2006 due to colony collapse disorder. No one is sure what exactly is causing the colony collapse, but many scientists now believe that some pesticides are a significant factor. So by not using insecticides in your yard and garden and buying organic foods, you can reduce that amount of pesticides that both you and the bees are exposed to.

To learn about more things you can do to support bees, check out bumblebee.org.

How to Make New Herbal Friends

Herbal medicine is just one attribute of naturopathic medicine, but it is one of my favorites. In my mind, herbs are like friends with individual personalities. While two herbs might share some of the same activities, they can vary in their strength and their affinity for different areas of the body. I am a huge fan of both marshmallow root and slippery elm bark. Both are soothing herbs that can be used for irritated mucous membranes. Marshmallow would be the best choice for urinary irritation, while slippery elm support the digestive tract, partially because it helps feed our good bacteria. Of course, if I only had one of these two herbs, I would use the one that was handy for either issue.

Photo copyright Henriette Kress, http://www.henriettesherbal.com

Marshmallow; Photo copyright Henriette Kress, http://www.henriettesherbal.com

Herbs are also usually very gentle friends that help me keep to the naturopathic principle  First Do No Harm. In fact herbs are so gentle, it can often be challenging to draw the line between medicinal herbs and food. Which of these is a medicinal herb and which a food: cinnamon, turmeric, myrrh?

Most of you realized that is a trick question. Depending on the culture and the use, all three could be either. In some cultures, myrrh is added to foods as a spice despite its strong flavor. It happens to also serve the medicinal benefit of lower cholesterol while being part of those dishes. (We would use its relative Guggul in a capsule instead to reduce cholesterol.). If you asked someone in that society why it is added to the dish, they would probably say that is the way they like it. This is probably how many of our culinary spices came into common use. They are all medicinal spices that we have grown to love and expect in our everyday cooking. We often start to love foods and herbs that are good for us.

When I learn a new herb, I like to understand its personality to help me remember it better. I do this by both studying and experiencing it.

Start with a few herbs or even just one. Experience it in as many ways as you can, with as many senses as you can. If you can find a living plant, spend a little time observing it. This might not tell you anything about the herb, but it gives you an image and the beginnings of a personality to connect with the other things you learn about the plant. If the plant doesn’t grow nearby, find a picture of it. Smell a crushed leaf from the plant. Taste a tea or tincture make from that medicinal herb. By engaging more of your senses, you are stimulating your memory on deeper levels. Sometimes the taste or smell or even appearance can help you make educated guesses about the activity of its medicinal components.

I also like the scientific side of things. I review studies when available to learn what conditions my herb treats. I will review the herbal medicine books to see what medicinal actions the plant has. Ideally, my herb has more than one of the activities I am looking. For instance, Echinacea stimulates the immune system while also having some antimicrobial benefits to help fight a particular illness on two fronts. The combination of these two activities can give you a much more rounded view of your chosen herb than if you just did an Internet search for “medicinal benefits of plantain” (hopefully my last blog will show up though). Take all that you have learned to create an idea of its personality. Is it a fierce herbal warrior like the antimicrobial yarrow or is it a calming nourisher like the heart-protecting hawthorn. These stories can help you remember when to choose a particular herbal ally.

I would love to hear about your experiences making new herbal friends.

 

You Can Heal Nearly Anything with Plantain

No, not this plantain.

plantains

I am talking about this common weed that grows in nearly every yard and roadside in the United States.

plantain

Plantain weed is a first aid miracle that is usually close at hand for summertime boo-boos. And if you want it even handier, local midwife Maria Chowdhury uses it as a key ingredient in her Birth Song Botanicals Healing Salve, where she combines it with other great skin healing herbs like comfrey, calendula, pau de arco, and Oregon grape root. She made it as a nipple salve for nursing mothers or a diaper rash ointment for uncomfortable babies, but it is has such versatile herbs it can be used for nearly any skin complaint.

Plantain is a common choice for insect bites and cuts and scrapes. It is well known for its ability to soothe itchy and irritated skin through its high mucilage content, which moistens and protects inflamed tissues. Plantain can also reduce inflammation and calm itchy rashes such contact dermatitis and hives. Plantain speeds the healing of skin as well as having antimicrobial properties, making it a very useful herb for cuts and minor wounds.

Internally, plantain can be used as a soothing herb in similar ways. It is helpful for inflamed and sore mucous membranes such as sore throats and irritated stomachs. Its other internal uses range from coughs to constipation, hence my statement that this handy herb can heal nearly anything.

The dried herb is not commonly available because a lot of these medicinal benefits are lost when it is dried. In the summertime, it can be used straight from the yard. A common application is a spit poultice where a few leaves are chewed up and then put directly on a bug bite or sting. In the wintertime when plantain is not so plentiful, reach for Birth Song Botanicals Healing Salve.

Birthsong

Granny’s Pickled Okra Recipe

This unusual cool spell has made me start thinking it is already fall. Like women and grannies of the past, I spend considerable effort in the summer and fall getting ready for winter. While my husband gathers firewood for us, my job is to preserve the summer’s harvest so we have an abundance of our own food through out the winter.

I particularly love making pickles. I give them as gifts as well as enjoy different pickled vegetables throughout the winter. When it comes to okra, this is a great way to preserve it without adding a bunch of calories like frying okra does. Okra is a good source of several vitamins and minerals as well as fiber, which is important for colon health and blood sugar. Finally, there are other health benefits from that okra mucilage, which is responsible for its slimy texture. This mucilage can soothe the gut and help absorb toxins in the digestive tract. It may even promote healthy cholesterol levels.

My friends tell me I make the best-pickled okra. I use the red okra we grow on our farm and sell at Ozark Natural Foods. It gives it a pretty pink tint.

Pickled okra

This recipe is one I got from husband’s granny who got it from her mom. I am proud to continue this Arkansas tradition by making it for my friends.

Granny’s Pickled Okra

20 ounces of small okra

2 pods hot red or green pepper

2 cloves garlic peeled

2 cups vinegar

¼ cup water

3 Tablespoons salt

¼ tsp celery seed or mustard seed (optional)

Pack okra into 2 hot sterilized pint jars. Put 1 pepper pod and 1 garlic clove in each jar. Bring remaining ingredients to a boil and pour over the okra leaving a ½ inch head room.

Process for 10 minutes in a hot water bath following professional instructions like these from Ball. http://www.freshpreserving.com/tools/waterbath-canning

Let stand for 4 weeks before using.

 

I have to admit I usually quadruple the recipe and use this ratio of water and vinegar for the brine:

1 scant cup salt

2 quarts apple cider vinegar

1 quart water

1-2 tsp celery or mustard seeds (or combination of both)

I sometimes additionally put in 1 tsp of dill seeds to the brine and/or 2 whole black peppercorns per jar. I also bring the brine to a boil while I am sterilizing the jars, but I wanted to give you granny’s original recipe the way she wrote it.

Here is an interesting recipe for bread and butter okra pickles I’ll have to try next.

And finally, here are some pictures of my husband from today doing his winter preparations. One of our shade trees died of Dutch elm disease, but at least we know where our firewood is coming from this year.

Tree cutting

Tree down

Winter is coming!