The Real Benefits of Coconut Oil

Enjoy all the benefits for coconut oil, but don’t assume all the claims about it are true. I love coconut oil, and there is a huge list of the possible benefits to be gained from adding coconut oil to the diet. Some of these are supported by studies and others are just theoretical. Many of the studies only look at the short-term benefits, and one on palm oil (similar fat composition to coconut oil) showed excess consumption contributed to fatty liver while sunflower oil didn’t.

Most oils contain long chain fatty acids, while the ones in coconut oil are known as medium chain, hence the term medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). The shorter size of these fats in coconut oil does have several implications for our health. Coconut oil can be absorbed easier by the digestive tract, making it beneficial for many people with poor absorption of fats. These medium chain fats can also rapidly burn for energy in the body.


Let’s look at the better-supported benefits of coconut oil:

Antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal benefits- Yes, the high lauric acid content of coconut oil can be useful internally or topically to help us fight certain infections.

Brain benefits- Loved ones of people suffering from dementia have told me about impressive improvements in symptoms from adding coconut oil. On small study from 2004 also showed cognitive improvement when Alzheimer’s disease patients were given MCT oils, but the amount of improvement was affected by certain genetic markers. For a great way to support brain health with coconut oil, try my bulletproof turmeric tea.

Weight loss- Studies have shown both reduction in calorie consumption and a mild increase in calorie burning. I have gotten reports from friends that eating coconut oil about a half hour before meals does reduce their appetite.

Energy- MCT oil is a preferred calorie source for some athletes, and several studies have shown that MCTs can enhance athletic performance. Some people notice coconut oil can reduce their sugar cravings possibly because their bodies are happy to use another quick energy source.

Unanswered questions about coconut oil:

Oil pulling– This process where coconut or sesame oil is swished in the mouth like a mouthwash has been show to improve oral health in several ways. Most of the studies have used sesame oil, so we are not sure if coconut oil is equally beneficial other than from anecdotal report. I like the taste of coconut oil over sesame.

Heart health- A 2009 study showed a reduction in total cholesterol and an increase in good HDL cholesterol in obese women given coconut oil along with overall calorie restriction and exercise advice. The control group was given soybean oil and didn’t see the cholesterol changes. This was only a 12-week study so we don’t know what the longer-term effects will be or if these cholesterol changes will affect heart health in any real way.

Diabetes- Some coconut oil proponents say it can improve blood sugar related issues. In a study using rats, coconut oil led to decreased insulin resistance compared to the control group that was given lard. But the rats fed coconut oil also developed fatty liver. So…humans aren’t rats, but the tendency toward fatty liver reflects the palm oil study showing the same issue in humans.

In the study I mentioned where the palm oil contributed to fatty liver, the subjects were eating too many calories as well as too much fat. Let’s not make that mistake. Remember there are individual variations in what foods “agree” with us. And as with nearly every dietary consideration, we need moderation and diversity in our choice of fats.

Uplifting Bug Spray

Make an insect repellant you actually want to use.

I live in the country and a lot of bugs have been biting me recently. I have a natural insect repellant, but I only use it if I know I am going into the backwoods. I don’t like how it smells so I don’t use it most days and find myself swatting mosquitoes and worrying about ticks.

Most natural insect repellants use citronella or lemon eucalyptus as their main ingredients, but these scents don’t appeal to me. Fortunately, there are a number of other essential oils that can help repel insects. They might not be quite as strong as citronella, but I figured that if I actually used my new bug spray because I liked it, I would still be ahead.

I looked at the list of essential oils commonly used to repel insects (basil, citronella, geranium, grapefruit, lavender, lemongrass, lemon eucalyptus, and peppermint) and picked out the ones that I would want to smell all day. I particularly love the smell of grapefruit essential oil and it contains a compound that ticks and mosquitoes hate.


Here is the recipe I came up with:

Uplifting Bug Spray

16 drops Peppermint essential oil
16 drops Lavender essential oil
16 drops Grapefruit essential oil
16 drops Lemongrass essential oil

Mix into 4 ounces of water in a spray mister.
Shake well before each time you use it. Reapply frequently.

You can modify this recipe based on what essential oils you like. I chose mostly energizing and uplifting essential oils for my blend, but you can go another direction too as far as the additional benefits of the essential oils. Also consider adding aloe or witch hazel to replace some of the water.

Have fun, smell good, and tell the insects to buzz off.

Cure Heartburn Naturally

A new study gives us another reason to pause before we take some of the common drugs for heartburn. The use of these drugs known as proton pump inhibitors correlates with a 20% higher risk of heart attack. These drugs were intended to be used for 6 months or less while many Americans are using them for much longer periods of time. This longer use is possibly part of the problem.

This study doesn’t necessarily show that proton pump inhibitors are to blame for the increased heart attack risk. We only know heart attacks happen more often in people taking these medications. The good news is there are other ways to deal with heartburn.

As one researcher commented, some of the same lifestyle choices that contribute to heart disease can also cause acid reflux. He mentions bad diet, excessive alcohol consumption, and smoking. So yes, it makes absolute sense to improve our diet and lifestyle instead of using a drug to mask the symptoms of heartburn.


When I am discussing acid reflux with my patients, I generally start with diet and stress as the two most common factors contributing to heartburn. Sometimes people know the foods that trigger their heartburn, such as fried or spicy foods. Other times there can be a hidden culprit like gluten or dairy.


While my patients are working on appropriate diet changes, I might treat the symptom temporarily to help them feel more comfortable while the body heals. On popular product is DGL, a chewable licorice tablet that soothes as well as promotes healing. Blends containing zinc carnosine like Endozin may also help protect and heal the lining of our digestive tracts. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, I might also employ some of the other steps of my gut healing protocol.

Fix the underlying problem driving heartburn and you often can prevent other health complications later in life. If you have been using medication for heartburn, discuss your heart disease risks with your doctor and see what steps you can take to improve both your acid reflux and your long-term health.

Stay Hydrated and Enjoy Water

Warmer days are here so it is an important time to make sure we are drinking enough water. It is extremely important that we stay hydrated all year round. Adequate water helps flush toxins out of our body and keeps our skin and joints healthy. During the summer, dehydration can contribute to heat exhaustion and other serious issues.


Getting adequate electrolytes can be just as important as drinking water. Electrolytes are the minerals that our bodies need for proper nerve and muscle function. My husband works a lot outside, and in the past, he would start feeling nauseous on very hot days. Now he adds ElectroMix, an electrolyte blend without sugar, to his water and hasn’t had a problem since.

I started using the ElectroMix too on the days I work in the garden and find it feels more refreshing than regular water. I have found this to be true with some other enhanced waters too. I don’t drink very much coconut water because I don’t want to add the extra sugar to my diet, but I do feel better hydrated when I drink it.

Electrolytes and minerals are what these two beverages have in common. So I started experimenting with other minerals in my water. I found I like adding ¼ of a serving of Pure Essence’s Magnesium Plus powder to my water in the evening. This diluted mixture is still flavorful enough and sweet from stevia, lo han fruit, and FOS, a prebiotic. I don’t know if it is the sweet flavor or the extra minerals and nutrients, but this drink is reducing my evening sugar cravings.

Don’t get me wrong. I love plain water and drink lots of it, always purified. Sometimes I just want something else. A sparkling mineral water might help satisfy the desire for a soda. I just tried a new blackberry pomegranate flavored one from Mountain Valley out of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Other great ideas are iced herbal teas, adding lemon to your water or even trying a diluted version of my 2 Minute Detox Drink .

So stay hydrated, and tell me which other healthy beverages your body says YES to.

2-Minute Detox Drink

Let’s face it: we live in a toxic world. We take in toxins every day, even with a clean diet and natural home and bodycare products. So, let’s do something everyday to help our bodies deal with these toxins.

This is my version of Daily Health Post’s quick detox drink. I dropped the cinnamon powder, which is hard to mix in, and replaced it with cinnamon tincture. Now you don’t need to use a blender, and it is even easier to start your day in a healthy way.


2-Minute Detox Drink
• 2 tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
• 2 tablespoons Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
• 1 tablespoon Honey
• 1-3 dropperfuls Cinnamon tincture
• Pinch of cayenne (optional)
• 1 dropperful of Turmeric tincture (optional)
• 12 to 16 ounces of water

Stir together all ingredients except the water until the honey is dissolved.
Add the water and stir.
Drink every morning before breakfast to support detoxification and metabolism.

Benefits of these Power Ingredients

Apple Cider Vinegar– may help blood pressure, blood sugar, body aches and more

Lemon Juice– great liver activator and source of antioxidants

Honey– provides a little bit of sweet and some antimicrobial benefits

Cinnamon– supports healthy blood sugar and fights troublesome bacteria and yeast

Cayenne– stimulates metabolism

Turmeric– popular inflammation fighter that also supports liver health

Try this simple recipe to see the dramatic results that can come from fighting toxins. Some people notice improved digestion, clearer skin, weight loss, lower blood pressure, and more.

Steps to Heal the Gut from Food Sensitivities

Since I help a lot of people with their gastrointestinal issues, I frequently get the question “Can we recover from our food sensitivities?”

The answer is yes and no. I often see people who are reacting to multiple foods. I explain that there is usually one major food like gluten that is creating inflammation in the gut. Because of this inflammation or leaky gut or some other factor we don’t understand yet, we can develop secondary sensitivities to other foods that we eat frequently like blueberries, coconut, or avocado. I have seen these food reactions decrease by avoiding these problem foods and using a gut healing protocol. Often, the original culprit like gluten or dairy still needs to be avoided, but the other secondary reaction foods can be added back after an appropriate time.


Here are the basic steps of my gut healing protocol:

Step 1: Reduce Inflammation

In addition to cutting problem foods out of our diet, we sometimes need to examine the balance of organisms growing in the gut. Inappropriate bacteria and fungi growing in the GI tract can cause conditions such as dysbiosis or SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). These issues are often intertwined with food sensitivities and contribute to the inflammation that is fueling our discomfort. Depending on the case, I might use an anti-microbial herbal blend or encourage increased consumption of inflammation fighters like fish oil and turmeric.

Step 2: Replace Good Bacteria

Inadequate beneficial gut bacteria are often associated with food reactions. Rebuild these populations by taking probiotic supplements or emphasizing fermented foods in the diet. Also include foods that are rich in prebiotics, nutrients that help probiotic organisms thrive. Finally, cut sugar out of the diet. Not only does it increase inflammation, but it can also feed troublesome organisms in the gut.

Step 3: Strengthen Digestion

There are numerous ways to improve our digestion. Depending on the person, I might recommend digestive enzymes or bitters. Stress can also wreak havoc on our ability to digest our food, so choose appropriate stress reduction activities unless you are one of those few people who aren’t stressed out.

Step 4: Repair the Gut Lining

Feed the cells that line the gastrointestinal tract with glutamine powder. As their preferred energy source, glutamine can help these cells replicate and repair themselves. N-acetylglucosamine is also used to rebuild the protective mucus layer of the GI tract. Some probiotics like Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG actually encourage replication of intestinal cells and stimulates the production of this protective mucus layer.

I am not saying that this type of plan is either fast or easy, but with some diligence, we can turn around many of our health issues by taking care of our gut.

N-acetylglucosamine for Rebuilding the Gut

When food reactions, medication, or other gut irritants damage the gastrointestinal tract, we need rebuild the gut as well as get rid of these offending agents. Along with improving the diet, replacing good bacteria, and reducing inflammation, I frequently recommend N-acetylglucosamine to aid in gut repair.


N-acetylglucosamine (also known as NAG) is similar to the glucosamine we take for arthritis and joint pain. While NAG might have some of those benefits, it is best know for supporting the body’s creation of a healthy mucus layer in the gut. This normal mucus layer protects our cells from damage by enzymes, acids, bacterial toxins, and more. Additionally, NAG might support the growth of beneficial gut bacterial like Bifidobacterium bifidum. Some interesting studies on multiple sclerosis demonstrate that it may improve immune function as well.

While N-acetylgluosamine might benefit anyone who has substantial digestive issues, it looks particularly promising for people suffering from inflammatory bowel disease. People with conditions like Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis tend to have much thinner mucus barriers in the gastrointestinal tract. In a recent study, patients with inflammatory bowel disease taking NAG for 1 month had substantial improvement in their symptoms. Specifically, they had less abdominal pain, diarrhea, and mucus passed in the stool. Even though this wasn’t a placebo-controlled study, the results were impressive enough to make NAG an important consideration for these and related disorders.

Since your digestion is the root of your health, make sure you have a happy GI tract. And stay tuned for more tips on healthier digestion.

P.S. My cat is getting NAG too along with his probiotics.


Sharing Probiotics with my Cats

I am not saying that you need to share your probiotics with your cats. But Moonpie, Bois D’arc, and I have been enjoying this morning ritual, and it had me thinking again about the nature of different probiotics.

Moonpie and Bois D'arc

Moonpie and Bois D’arc

Here is what I have been doing. When I am feeding the cats in the morning, I sprinkle about ¼ of a capsule of my probiotic on each serving of cat food. Then I dump the rest of the contents of the capsule into my mouth. Most probiotics are very mild tasting so the cats and I don’t mind the flavor at all. A few probiotic brands add fruit, vegetable, or herbal extracts, which can make the taste sour or bitter, so I can’t say the same about every brand.

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help with gastrointestinal symptoms, immune function, detoxification, and maybe even healthy weight loss. Moonpie had to take a round of antibiotics recently, and I always follow antibiotics with at least 2 weeks of probiotics to help restore the normal balance of gut bacteria.

The particular brand I am using right now is Culturelle. It contains a single strain of probiotic known as Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG. There are a few unique things about this strain.

It is resistant to stomach acid. That is why I am not worried about dumping the contents of the capsule straight in my mouth. For conditions like sinus issues or heartburn, you might get more benefit from the probiotics by putting the powder in your mouth. For instance with heartburn, some studies show that the wrong organisms are living in the esophagus. We are not sure if this is a cause of the problem or a consequence of the symptoms, but probiotics seems to be a helpful part of the solution for many. I have my patients with heartburn take their probiotics this way so the organisms are getting to the esophagus and stomach.

At other times when I am taking strains that are not resistant to stomach acid, I look for products that are enteric coated. This means the capsules are designed to release only after they past the stomach. With this type of capsules, our stomach acid doesn’t destroy other important organisms, like Bifidobacteria for the large intestines.

Another unique thing about Lactobacillus GG is that organism grows particularly robustly in our upper GI tract when we are taking it regularly. This gives it the potential to outcompete harmful microorganisms, particularly in the small intestines and stomach. Because of this, I would particularly choose a product like this for travelling abroad.

When we stop taking Lactobacillus GG, this protective barrier might start to disappear. This is a good time to make sure you are replacing them with other healthy bacteria so the bad guys don’t have a chance. Choose probiotic rich foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, and kim chi. Add to this some prebiotic foods to help feed the beneficial organisms. Prebiotics are found in foods like garlic, beans, carrots, onions, honey, rye, asparagus, banana, maple syrup, oats, and Jerusalem artichoke.

We don’t have to take probiotics all the time, nor do our cats. But since these beneficial organisms boost our health in so many different ways, it is important to make sure we are maintaining a helpful population of gut bacteria. Once the body is in balance, you can emphasize the probiotic and prebiotic rich foods in your diet.

P.S. No, I am not just writing about my cats because cats rule the Internet.

Ashwagandha for Stress and Brain Health

If stress is at all a significant issue in your life, ashwagandha is an herb you should consider trying. We all know the negative effects stress can have on our lives. Not only do we feel stressed and tense, but long-term stress also contributes to the development of many common chronic diseases, such as depression, high blood pressure, cardiac diseases and metabolic disorders.

There are many herbs that help combat the negative consequences of stress, but ashwagandha stands out from the crowd because of its mood and memory benefits.


By helping us combat stress, ashwagandha may:
• Reduce fatigue
• Improves learning, memory, and reaction time
• Reduces anxiety and depression
• Rejuvenate the brain
• Improve immune function
• Help prevent cancer
• Stabilizes blood sugar
• Protect the heart
• Improve thyroid function
• Reduce inflammation in the body

I have been taking ashwagandha for less than a month now and am already noticing its benefits. I still have a ton of work on my plate, especially since in the garden at this time of year, but I feel a little calmer and less overwhelmed by it all. Many people note a greater sense of well-being from taking ashwagandha.

Ashwagandha also stands out as a memory herb. Some people even categorize it as a nootropic herb, meaning it improves cognitive performance and memory. Part of this benefit is from stress reduction. Long-term stress actually causes shrinking of some of the memory centers of the brain, like the hippocampus. But clearly, ashwagandha is doing more that just preventing this damage because cognitive improvements were seen in as little as 2 weeks in one study. In a comparison study between ginseng and ashwagandha, the participants taking ashwagandha showed improvements in mental abilities while the ginseng group didn’t. So though ginseng might be another great herb for stress, it lacks ashwagandha’s full brain benefits.

Ashwagandha might also be one of our key herbs for preventing dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. In studies done with mice, ashwagandha contributed to improvements in cognitive abilities and cellular markers in the brain. Ashwagandha is loaded with brain protecting antioxidants and may even help with the regeneration of nerve networks in the brain.

So try ashwagandha, and see if you feel it deserves its ancient reputation as a rejuvenating herb.

Spring is in the Air!

Go outside and see if you can feel spring in the air. I was outside the other evening shortly before dark and was amazed at the subtle changes I could notice that helped let me know it was really spring. And along with this, I felt a sense of hope and renewal.

I believe that engaging our senses and connecting with nature can have profound benefits for our wellbeing. With all of the stress and toxins in our lives, a good breath of fresh spring air can be the little thing that helps keep us going.
So step out into the spring air and see how many changes you can notice.

I tried to notice what all of my senses were telling me. I noticed the light, brighter than it has been, and the color of the clouds in the distance. I saw the bright emerald green color of the grass starting to grow after winter’s cold.

I smelled the air. It had rained recently, and there was slight sharp smell in the air that I associate with damp earth and leaves. I could also feel a hint of the moisture in the air from the recent rain. There was a light breeze mixing a little cool air with the warmth left from the sun that day.

My ears were delighted to hear the song of spring peepers, a small frog that starts calling at this time of year. It seemed like the birdsong was also different. Maybe the birds are changing their tune to attract mates. Speaking of birds, I was amazed to see a male cardinal trying to impress a female by hopping back and forth over her three times where she was perched on my garden fence.

Spring Peeper

Spring Peeper

I got to taste spring also. To honor the first day of spring, we harvested some of our first crops from our garden.

All of these spring sensations lifted up my mood. And I felt calm from taking a minute to enjoy the season and pay attention to the world around me. I have often noticed that spring has this effect on me. I have even lived in places like New Orleans and Seattle that don’t really have four seasons. I missed the transition from winter to spring and the positive effect it can have on my mood.

So step outside and see what spring has to say to you. It will likely be different sensations and emotions that I felt, but hopefully it will remind you that you are alive and connected to so much more around you.

P.S. I know for some of us spring in the air also means troublesome pollen. To help you enjoy springtime more, try some of my favorite herbs for allergy season like nettles. Butterbur is another great choice for allergy season that performed as well as one popular allergy medication in a comparison study.