Tag Archives: antioxidant

Refresh and Fight Stress with Holy Basil Tea

People sometimes ask me if I could grow only one medicinal herb what would it be. My answer is Holy Basil, because it has so many useful medicinal actions and it is very easy to grow. Holy Basil is one of the many herbs that help us cope with stress, but it is easier to work with than many of the others in this category like ginseng because we use its leaves instead of the root. And it makes a pleasant tea. Some of you might have already tried the popular teas made from Holy Basil, where it is often sold under its other name Tulsi.

My Holy Basil, just from one plant

My Holy Basil, just from one plant

Holy Basil has been demonstrated to reduce the impact of stress on the body and brain. Stress can have a serious impact on our health and contribute to diabetes, high blood pressure, immune dysfunction, and memory issues. Holy Basil has been shown to counter act some of the negative changes that happen in the brain when we are exposure to prolonged stress. Holy Basil may reduce insulin resistance and thereby help lower elevated blood sugar. It can also help decrease elevated cholesterol. Holy Basil helps fight inflammation in the body and therefore pain, partially by being a COX-2 inhibitor. Holy Basil modulates immune system activity and can be a good choice for people who get frequent infections. I like to use it during cold and flu season because it has some antiviral properties too. Finally, Holy Basil is rich in antioxidants and can help protect us from cellular damage, even from radiation.

To make Holy Basil tea from the loose leaves, put 1-2 teaspoons in a cup of water that just came off a boil. Steep for 5-10 minutes, preferably with a lid over the tea. Strain (if you didn’t use a tea ball), sweeten if desired, and enjoy this awesome wellness boosting, stress-fighting tea. Or try it iced.

And if you want to grow your own Holy Basil plant next year, I got my seeds from High Mowing Seeds sold at Ozark Natural Foods and online. I may also be selling the plant starts next spring when I do the annual plant sale for our farm.

Advertisements

Rainbow of Antioxidants

I often come up with the ideas for my blogs while working in my garden. This one started with a very simple thought: I love purple. I was admiring the purple cayenne we are growing this year. They have that lovely deep purple like eggplant.

Purple cayenne

Purple cayenne

We are growing several other purple varieties in our garden this year like carrots, tomatillos, and okra. The presence of this purple color indicates that these vegetables provide a specific type of antioxidant known as anthocyanins. Other sources of anthocyanins are purple cabbage, purple potatoes, blue corn, black beans, plums, dark grapes, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and black berries, as well as herbs like elderberry, hawthorn, and acai. Anthocyanins are considered to be one of the best antioxidants for protecting our brains, hearts, and blood vessels.

Our Purple Crops

Our Purple Crops

Even though purple is so enthralling, we need other colors to round out our intake of antioxidants. Leafy green veggies are a great source of chlorophyll, which can help protect our DNA from damage and aid the detoxification process. Leafy greens also hide a bunch of beta-carotene under that green. So along with carrots and other orange foods, we can eat our greens to help maintain our vision and enhance the ability of white blood cells to neutralize carcinogens. Lycopene is one of the most potent antioxidants for cancer prevention, especially prostate cancer. It is found in the pink foods: tomatoes, watermelon, and pink grapefruit.

Overall the goal is to eat a rainbow of foods so we are getting a diversity of antioxidants to protect our cells from damage and help prevent cancer.

If you want to try some of my purple okra, we are now selling it in the produce department of Ozark Natural Foods.

Cooking Like a Farm Wife

Recently my husband asked me why I hadn’t made a certain dish in a while. My answer was that I was trying to cook like a farm wife by focusing on the ingredients from our farm, whereas the dish he wanted featured spinach, which I don’t have great luck growing. My husband and I run a small organic farm, Downstream Farm Organic Produce, about 8 miles west of Fayetteville on Clear Creek. We mostly grow food for ourselves and sell the extra produce to friends, restaurants, and Ozark Natural Foods.  We raise chickens and grow vegetables like okra, tomatoes, tomatillos, bell peppers, and too many others to name.

Oyster Mushrooms, Wood Ears, Coral Fungus, and Boletes. FYI, I didn't eat all of these mushroom varietes

Oyster Mushrooms, Wood Ears, Coral Fungus, and Boletes. FYI, I didn’t eat all of these mushroom varieties.

Recently, my husband found a bounty of wild mushrooms, including oyster mushrooms and wood ear mushrooms, so I made a special dish to feature them. My venison and wild mushroom stew also included our venison, radish greens, fresh herbs, and tomatoes. Not all ingredients have to be from the farm. For instance, this farm wife happened to have some red wine around. The carrots and potatoes were also from the store since we had run out of our own a few months ago.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

I know that everyone can’t grow as much of their food as we do, but you can still incorporate some of my thinking into your own cooking by focusing on local and seasonal ingredients. Local foods can be fresher and therefore higher in nutrients. Seasonal ingredients tend to be more affordable and often shipped shorter distances so fewer resources are used to get them to us. I try to avoid buying certain summer foods, like melons, in the middle of winter when the only ones available have been shipped from South America or even further away. And these foods aren’t necessarily appropriate for our bodies during the winter. It makes sense that we need cooling foods like melons and cucumbers in the summer and warmer, higher calorie foods in the winter. Part of my process is to be creative with substitutions. For instance, I still look at recipes to get a basic framework for a dish, but readily add or subtract vegetables and other ingredients based on what is available at that time of the year.

I also focus my cooking on nutrient dense foods, as in foods that provide a lot of our necessary vitamins and minerals per calorie. Or in the case of the wild mushrooms, add medicinal benefits to the dish. Nearly all culinary mushrooms strengthen the immune system and help reduce inflammation. Oyster mushrooms may also help lower cholesterol. Consumption of mushrooms like these may help prevent cancer, partially because of the beta-glucans they provide. Oyster mushrooms are fairly commonly available in stores, so you don’t have to find them on a log after the rain like my husband did. And you can grow your own using a mushroom kit or mushroom logs. Since some mushrooms are poisonous don’t eat wild ones unless you know them well like my husband does.

The Power of Green Tea

As well as being a wonderfully tasty beverage, green tea contains fantastic compounds that can help prevent many common health conditions. Green tea comes from the same plant as black tea, Camellia sinensis. The difference, however, is that green tea is camellia-sinensisblanched before drying, while black tea is allowed to oxidize, effectively converting many of the beneficial catechins into astringent tannins. In part because of these catechins, like EGCG, green tea is antimicrobial, astringent, antioxidant, cancer fighting, and inflammation modulating. Not only does it contain less caffeine than black tea, green tea also has theanine, a relaxation-inducing compound that can help reduce anxiety.

Just three cups a day may be helpful for the prevention of cancer and atherosclerosis. Numerous studies have shown green tea to be useful for lowering cholesterol, especially LDL cholesterol. Additionally, when combined with sensible diet and exercise, green tea may help with weight loss, especially in people with increased belly fat. Green tea’s ability to help reduce glucose and insulin could explain why it helps induce belly fat loss, as insulin resistance and elevated glucose tend to encourage weight gain in that region of the body. Regular consumption of green tea is also thought to be one of the reasons why Asian women have a consistently lower rate of breast cancer. Furthermore, if you swish it around your mouth before swallowing, green tea can help stop gingivitis.

To prepare, you need only to steep your green tea for one minute to extract these incredible compounds, but feel free to steep it longer if you prefer a stronger, more bitter flavor.  During these hot Arkansas summers, green tea also makes a refreshing iced tea that can help beat the heat. To give you another way to enjoy green tea this summer, our bulk herbs department has added a delicious raspberry flavored green tea.

If you wish to read Dr. Michael Greger’s other ideas on why there are lower rates of breast cancer in Asian demographics, check out his recent post.

Benefits of Whey Protein

I occasionally use a protein powder as a snack or part of a meal replacement. While I don’t believe we can truly replace a meal with supplements, sometimes protein powders can be a handy way to boost our protein intake. For people that tolerate dairy well, whey protein can be a good choice because it mixes easily and tends to be very palatable. Because of its particular amino acid compositions, whey protein also offers some benefits that other protein powders don’t. For instance, in a small study participants given whey protein, who otherwise ate as they wished, experienced a slight weight loss compared to those given soy protein who had no change in weight. This group also saw a reduction in ghrelin, a hunger hormone that makes us crave high calorie foods. Whey protein is also commonly used by athletes and has been shown to reduce post-workout muscle damage. Whey protein is high in branched-chain amino acids like leucine that have been shown to improve upper body strength and lean body mass. Whey protein can also help seniors shape up by helping improve muscle mass and function. In fact, whey protein led to skeletal muscle improvements that were superior to those from control groups of participants taking an equivalent amount of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins like our muscles.

In addition to helping body composition, whey protein can improve our well being in several key ways. One study demonstrated significant decreases in cholesterol, triglycerides and fasting insulin levels when participants consumed whey protein, but not when they received casein protein. Whey protein may also help with detoxification and cancer prevention since it is a source of cysteine, which our bodies need to make glutathione, a critical antioxidant for protecting our bodies from toxins. There are also immune benefits from whey protein as demonstrated in a study where elderly subjects receiving pneumonia vaccines produced more of the protective antibodies against the pneumonia-causing organisms. Whey protein is also a good choice as part of a protocol to speed healing from surgery.

Prevent Parkinson’s Disease with Peppers

It is sad to see someone who used to be full of vitality now walking with slow shuffling steps or dealing with the uncontrollable tremors of Parkinson’s disease. While there are natural treatments that can slow and/or improve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, we are much better off focusing on prevention. A few new studies are pointing to some easy steps to help reduce your chance of getting this illness. It has long been observed that people who use tobacco have lower risk of Parkinson’s disease, but who wants to adopt all of the other health concerns that come with smoking. Fortunately, a small amount of nicotine is found in the nightshade vegetables, which include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, hot peppers, and bell peppers and are in the same plant family as tobacco. It has been399270_3114 shown that the neuroprotective effects of nicotine occur with very low doses and these vegetables seem to have enough to provide that protection. A recent study demonstrated that people who regularly consumed these vegetables, particularly peppers, reduced their risk of Parkinson’s disease by 19%. The effect was the greatest in people who had never smoked with a risk reduction of 31%. Of course, a diet high in diverse amounts of veggies and fruits is generally recommended for the prevention of many diseases, but don’t forget the humble bell pepper.

A review of other studies on Parkinson’s disease prevention gives us still more reason to make sure we are getting the optimal level of nutrients and working to reduce our exposure to toxins. Optimal vitamin D levels have been linked to the prevention of many diseases including breast cancer as I discussed in last week’s blog. Again in the case of Parkinson’s, there is an inverse relationship between vitamin D levels and the risk of this illness. Also, a small study confirmed that vitamin D supplementation helped slow the deterioration of symptoms in Parkinson’s patients with specific genetic markers. It is also important to consider antioxidant intake. Some studies have shown that patients with Parkinson’s disease have reduced antioxidant capacity as demonstrated by lower vitamin E and glutathione peroxidase levels. Glutathione peroxidase is one of the most important detoxification enzymes in the body, which uses glutathione to neutralize toxins. This study also revealed that the severity of the Parkinson’s disease correlated to the degree of oxidative stress. This supports many observational studies showing higher rates of Parkinson’s disease among people exposed to different chemicals in paper mills, orchards, and even from well water. Toxins are not the only contributing factor to Parkinson’s disease, but it appears that we can help prevent this and many other diseases by reducing our exposure to toxins and increasing our antioxidants.

Ubiquinol: A better form of Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10 is an important supplement that can benefit numerous conditions, especially heart disease. CoQ10, as it is often called, supports energy production in our cells and works as an antioxidant to protect our cells from damage. These roles are important for heart health because the heart needs a lot of energy. In addition, the ability of CoQ10 to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol may help protect us from atherosclerosis. CoQ10 is also used to reduce fatigue in patients with fibromyalgia. It can help protect the kidneys and liver. One month of CoQ10 supplementation was even shown to reduce symptoms of dry mouth, probably by improving the functioning of the salivary glands. CoQ10 is even thought to reduce some of the symptoms of old age. In a study with middle-aged mice, those who had received regular CoQ10 showed reduced signs of aging and improved activity levels.

So where does ubiquinol fit into this picture? There are actually two forms of CoQ10, known as ubiquinone and ubiquinol. Most CoQ10 is ubiquinone, the oxidized form of the molecule, while ubiquinol is the reduced form. This means that ubiquinol is the form of CoQ10 that is ready to neutralize antioxidants. Even more important is that ubiquinol can be up to 3 times more absorbable than the standard ubiquinone form. This varies because our body seem to change how much it absorbs based on how much CoQ10 we need. For instance, people with congestive heart failure usually need more CoQ10. In a recent study among this patient group, taking an average of 450 mg of ubiquinone resulted in blood levels of CoQ10 around 1.6 micrograms per milliliter, but when they switched to an average of 580 mg of ubiquinol, their blood levels jumped to 6.5 micrograms per milliliter. Even more importantly, the switch to ubiquinol resulted in improvements in their symptoms. So even though ubiquinol is more expensive than the standard forms of CoQ10, you can get more for your money by buying this more absorbable form.

Invigorate and Protect with Cordyceps

When I added cordyceps to my morning supplements, I noticed a substantial increase in my energy levels. Other people have shared with me that taking cordyceps improved their endurance while exercising.  These experiences made me curious to investigate this medicinal mushroom further. Cordyceps falls in the category of traditional herbs known as adaptogens that increase stamina and help the body compensate for excess stress. While the only study showing it to reduce the stress response was done in rats, several human studies support the claims about endurance. During periods of exertion, cordyceps has been shown to increase the dilation of the aorta, the largest artery in the body, thereby providing improved blood flow to active muscles. In one study, 72% of long distance runners observed improved performance when using cordyceps. Another study demonstrated that older participants could work out longer before starting to build up lactic acid, a compound that contributes to muscle soreness.

Cordyceps is traditionally known as an anti-aging and rejuvenating herb. I think this claim is well supported by a multitude of research showing how it can protect our bodies from many different types of damage. Cordyceps contains antioxidant compounds that protect our cells from damaging free radicals. Several different compounds in cordyceps also show potential anti-tumor properties. Cordyceps even helps defend us against some viruses while simultaneously stimulating the immune system. Cordyceps benefits the heart by helping to reduce cholesterol and the oxidation of cholesterol, in turn reducing the deposition of cholesterol onto artery walls, which is what happens in atherosclerosis. Cordyceps was also shown to prevent damage to the kidneys from certain toxic substances. Finally, cordyceps has been traditionally regarded as a sexual tonic and libido enhancer. This claim is supported by research that shows that cordyceps can help modulate hormone production as well as improve blood flow and energy.

Cordyceps

Wild Cherry for Gout and Coughs

I remember spending hours during the summer as a child eating black cherries off a tree in our yard. It wasn’t until years later that I learned of the medicinal and nutritive benefits of this plant that is also known as wild cherry. The juice from the berries is a popular folk remedy for gout pain. Studies done on tart cherries confirm that they do help reduce the inflammation and pain associated with gout. Black cherries haven’t had similar studies yet, but there is enough anecdotal evidence for us to assume they have the same benefits. The black cherries are also very rich in antioxidants, especially those known as proanthocyanidins that are found in many purple foods and are gently tone to the lining of our blood vessels.

d06_1796_prunus-serotinaThe bark of wild cherry trees is a popular addition to herbal cough formulas. It is used for all types of coughs particularly those that have been going on for a while. Wild cherry bark is an anti-tussive, meaning that it reduces coughing. It may also be useful for an allergic coughs since it has been shown to mildly reduce histamine reactions in the lungs. Wild cherry bark is astringent so it tones mucus membranes such as the linings of the respiratory, digestive, and urinary tracts. Wild cherry bark is a gentle herb that is most commonly used in conjunction with other herbs to enhance it effects. It is also very safe so it is frequently seen in children’s formulas. Occasionally, the fruit is also added to the formulas to improve the taste.

Antiviral Elderberry for Colds and Flus

Whenever I have a cold or feel like one might be coming one, I reach for elderberry. Mostly, I use a syrup made from the berries, because it is a pleasant herbal remedy that always seems to revive me a little. The berries of the elderberry plant are well known for their moderately strong antiviral benefits that may work by reducing the ability of viruses to invade our cells. Though I use it for colds, elderberry has also been shown in two small studies to help relieve some of the symptoms of influenza compared to placebo. The doses used in these studies were between two to three teaspoons of the syrup multiple times a day. This matches my experience. I feel a greater boost from a larger dose of elderberry as opposed to the teaspoon many products recommend. Also, elderberry needs to be consumed often. Peak levels in the body are reached an hour after consumption and drop off quickly after that. Since elderberry is a very safe herb these fairly high frequent doses are usually not an issue.

Though my main reason to use elderberry is to help fight colds and sore throats, this isn’t the only benefit of elderberry. Elderberry has some immune stimulating attributes, but may also be an immune modulator. This means it may balance out either an overactive or underactive immune system. The berries are also very rich in antioxidants, particularly catechins similar to those in green tea. The flowers of elderberry are occasionally used in cold and flu blends since they can induce sweating and thereby help break a fever. Similarly, they can act as a diuretic and increase urinary output. A less common use of elderberry is to help with symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, maybe mostly because of this diuretic action. Elderberry is also thought to help the nerves and has been used for neuralgia and sciatica.