Tag Archives: cancer prevention

Is Coffee Good for You?

I remember when I was growing up many people who were trying to live a “healthy” lifestyle avoid all caffeine, even that in chocolate. Of course, our idea of what is healthy changes over the years. It used to be that fat was the culprit to avoid. Now, it is carbohydrates. Next it will be….your guess is as good as mine.

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With coffee, there is actually some strong evidence that it is a healthy choice for most people. Many studies have shown coffee to be a brain protector that could help prevent Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. There are also studies indicating that coffee might decrease the risk of diabetes. And there are compounds in coffee besides caffeine that could be beneficial. For instance, chlorogenic acid is the active ingredient in the popular weight loss supplement Green Coffee Bean Extract.

For a small percentage of the population, these benefits might be outweighed by some potential health concerns. About 12% of us have a genetic variation in a caffeine-detoxifying enzyme, known as cytochrome p450 1A2, which leads to slower breakdown of caffeine. One study indicated an increased risk of heart attack among individuals with these genes who drank coffee. The risk increased with higher coffee intake. Likewise, coffee drinkers with these variations had higher risk of breast cancer in another study. The study seemed to indicate that if they didn’t drink coffee they had a slightly lower risk of breast cancer than the rest of the population.

So how do you know if you are in this 12%? Genetic testing is now a viable option since it has become inexpensive. Many people with this genetic variation can tell because caffeine will affect them longer or even cause strange symptoms. They might notice that a cup of coffee with supper or even lunch or breakfast keeps them awake at night.

For everyone else, some caffeine seems like a safe and possible protective part of the diet, but to quote one of my herbal medicine instructors, “the proper dose for this herbal medicine is 1-2 cups per day.” Over reliance on coffee to keep us energized might be masking underlying health issues to need to be addressed.

Drink Your Turmeric for Better Health: Bulletproof turmeric part 2

My bulletproof turmeric recipe has been very popular, partially because it is delicious and an excellent way to consume a more absorbable form of turmeric. I chose the ingredients for the recipe because I wanted to encourage people to consume whole turmeric instead of just the isolated “main” component, curcumin. The other constituents of turmeric have medicinal attributes of their own and can actually help increase the absorption of curcumin. If you do need that additional boost from the isolated curcumin, open up a capsule and add it to this blend.

Turmeric is such a tremendously useful medicinal herb and has been consumed as part of foods and teas for centuries. In additional to its inflammation modulating benefits, turmeric is high in antioxidants that might help prevent cancer and dementia. Among its gastrointestinal benefits, turmeric can help protect the liver and stimulate the gall bladder thereby improving digestion. It has also been shown to reduce the incidences of gastrointestinal infection. Finally, turmeric can improve cholesterol and reduce blood clotting making it a great cardiovascular ally.

By drinking your medicinal herbs as teas, you can sometimes get a better feel for what is working for your body. You can start craving something more or you may decide that you like it less. This can be a reflection of what is going to work well for your unique self. I have found that I love my bulletproof turmeric tea more with coconut oil instead of the MCT oil. MCTs (medium chain triglycerides) are isolated from coconut oil, but again the more whole version of coconut oil is agreeing more with my body. It could just be the delicious coconut taste, but I think that the greater complexity of the coconut oil might provide some other components that I need.

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A quick note on MCT oil and coconut oil: There is a lot of hype of how these might help with weight loss. There could really be something to this. A colleague of mine has been working on his own substantial weight loss goal and has made some huge strides by taking the MCT oil shortly before meals. He has noticed it reducing his appetite as the literature claims. So, here we have yet another wonderful use for coconut oil along with the brain boost some people notice from it.

Here is my original recipe for bulletproof turmeric tea:

1 cup water

1 tsp turmeric (optionally add one capsule of curcumin 95% extract)

¼ tsp garam masala

1 tsp maca (optional, but delicious)

1 Tbs grass fed butter

1 Tbs coconut oil or MCT oil

1 tsp honey

Simmer water with turmeric and garam masala for 10 minutes.

Strain through a fine mesh strainer.

Add remaining ingredients and whirl in blender or with immersion blender until foamy.

Before-and-After-Blending

Bulletproof Turmeric Before and After Blending

This week I am trying a different variation. I am making a turmeric paste that I can store for future use. Most turmeric pastes are turmeric and water, but mine is turmeric and coconut oil.

Bulletproof turmeric #2

4 tsp turmeric

1-2 tsp garam masala

½ cup coconut oil

Melt the coconut oil and mix in the spices. Cook on low for 10 minutes. Stain immediately and store for later use. (If you have time let the mixture cool before straining, then remelt and strain)

When ready to use, mix 2 Tbs of this mixture with:

1 cup boiling water

1 tsp honey

And optionally, 1 tsp maca and/or contents of 1 curcumin capsule

Whirl in blender or with immersion blender until foamy.

This paste can also be used to season many savory dishes like stir-fry and curries.

Bulletproof Turmeric: An Herbal Alternative to Bulletproof Coffee

Bulletproof coffee isn’t the only way to have a delicious brain-boosting beverage. You can boost your cognitive function with curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric. Curcumin protects the brain from cognitive deterioration caused by stress. But I don’t know anyone who is dealing with stress! Especially not the law students who are popularizing the bulletproof coffee recipe in this area.

For my bulletproof turmeric, I have used coconut oil, butter, honey, and spices to optimize digest and the absorption of curcumin. Curcumin is notoriously difficult to absorb, but fats and spices, particularly the black pepper in the garam masala, greatly increase our absorption of curcumin into the blood stream.

Turmeric and Garam Masala

Bulletproof Turmeric

1 cup water

1 tsp turmeric powder or 1 Tablespoon fresh turmeric root, grated
(optionally add one capsule of turmeric extract that is 95% curcumin)

¼ tsp garam masala

1 tsp maca (optional, but delicious)

1 Tbs grass fed butter

1 Tbs coconut oil or MCT oil

1 tsp honey

Simmer water with turmeric, garam masala, coconut oil, and butter for 10 minutes.
Strain through a fine mesh strainer.
Add remaining ingredients and whirl in blender or with immersion blender until foamy.

Bulletproof turmeric

Bulletproof turmeric before and after blending

There are many possible variations to this recipe. Add coffee if you like that boost or cinnamon if you are working on blood sugar issues. Since this recipe doesn’t have caffeine, it can be drunk later in the day than bulletproof coffee.

This turmeric drink is also an excellent choice for people dealing with inflammation, pain, or elevated cholesterol. A recent study has confirmed that curcumin reduces knee pain associated with osteoarthritis. Curcumin is helping others achieve healthier cholesterol levels. In addition to having some nootropic benefits, turmeric might also help clear Alzheimer’s plaques from the brain.

The benefits of turmeric are numerous, and while you might not feel the same jolt you would from a cup of coffee, turmeric provides long-term protection to the mind and body on multiple levels.

P.S. For those of you who follow my blog, my bulletproof turmeric tea recipe originated from my healthy food experiment . Turmeric is the second food I chose. I wanted to try it in tea form and came up with this recipe. For a simpler tea recipe, try this one from Dr. Weil.

Epigenetics, Pesticides, and Your Health

We have made amazing strides in recent years in understanding the human genome. Many researchers have been surprised to discover that the DNA sequence doesn’t adequately explain why some of us are more susceptible to diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Instead they have found that the nutrition available to our grandparents can have a profound affect on our health and longevity via what are known as epigenetic changes.

Epigenetics translates literally to “upon the genes.” For example, a common epigenetic change is where a chemical compound known to us nerds as a methyl group is added to the DNA. It doesn’t change the basic code but it changes whether that particularly gene is expressed. Many studies have shown that cancer patients have much lower amounts of these methyl groups on their DNA than the average population.

Besides the availability of food, environmental exposures also lead to epigenetic changes. Higher exposure to pesticides and other chemicals is associated with fewer methyl groups on the DNA. This is leading some scientists to propose that epigenetic changes is one way that pesticides and pollutants contribute to cancer, diabetes, autism, and even attention deficit disorder.

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To avoid these negative epigenetic changes that may affect not only your health but also that of your children and grandchildren, it is important to make lifestyle changes to reduce your chemical exposure. Eat organic foods as much as possible. I especially make sure that meat and other foods containing fat are organic because pesticides can be stored in fats. Other chemicals that can influence our epigenetics are the phthalates found in many personal care products and BPA in many plastic food containers, so it is important to use clean body care products and safe food packaging.

Because pesticides can persist in the environment for decades, it is important to consider detoxification even with a clean diet. It is particularly beneficial to support our glutathione pathway, the enzyme system that neutralizes many toxins including some common pesticides. N-acetyl cysteine is an amino acid that helps us make glutathione and is one of my favorite supplements for detoxification. Finally, exercise both helps us detoxify and has been shown to improve our epigenetic markers.

What is the Difference Between Probiotics and Prebiotics?

We have billions of microorganisms living in our guts, and having the right organisms in our bodies can have a powerful effect on our overall health. Imbalanced gut flora is common due to antibiotics, disease, stress, or diets high in meat and saturated fats. The wrong population of bacteria in our guts can contribute to digestive distress, but they can also contribute to less obvious issues. An imbalance of gut bacteria can deactivate digestive enzymes, stimulate dysfunctional immune responses, activate carcinogens, and contribute to migraines. On the other hand, beneficial bacteria help optimize digestion, stimulate immune function, improve the intestinal barrier, and prevent colonization of the gut by pathogens. In addition, they can break down certain toxins and synthesize some of our vitamins like vitamin K. Beneficial bacteria may also help prevent colon cancer by lowering intestinal pH.

Probiotics are normal, healthy bacteria that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract. These are the organisms like the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species you see in most probiotic supplements used to restore and repopulate normal intestinal flora. Some of my favorite probiotic supplements also include prebiotics. These are medium length carbohydrates that feed our good bacteria. The most common prebiotic in supplements is fructooligosaccharide, also know as FOS. Food sources of prebiotics like FOS include garlic, beans, carrots, onions, honey, beer, rye, asparagus, banana, maple sugar, oats, and my favorite Jerusalem artichoke. Eating high fiber foods is another way to support proper gut bacteria. So feed your good bacteria so they can in turn support your health.

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Save American Ginseng: Save Yourself

A new show on the History channel, Appalachian Outlaws, highlights the politics of one of this region’s most valuable herbs, American ginseng. Many of us here in the Ozarks also have a personal attachment to this medicinal plant. A good friend of mine had the ginseng patch he had nurtured for over 20 years decimated by poachers looking to make quick cash by illegally harvesting his ginseng out of season. On top of trespassing and stealing, poachers like these are endangering future ginseng harvests. There is a ginseng season, legally mandated by the state, to ensure the ginseng plants have mature seeds that can be planted in place of the roots that are harvested. My husband’s great uncle, Lloyd Brisco, taught my husband how to ethically hunt ginseng or as he called it “sang.” Since we use the roots of ginseng, the plant is killed during harvest so either the smaller roots need to be replanted or the seeds placed in the hole left by pulling the roots. Ethical wildcrafters also don’t take every single plant. Ideally, you only harvest 1 out of every 20 plants.

Lloyd Brisco geared up to hunt "sang"

Lloyd Brisco geared up to hunt “sang”

American ginseng is in such demand because it is one of the true longevity herbs. American and Korean ginseng are both known to compensate for the impact of stress on the body. They do this by modulating our cortisol levels. Ginseng can reduce elevated cortisol, which is implicated in many chronic health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. By reducing the impact of stress, American ginseng can improve digestion and immune function. American ginseng can also help symptoms related to insufficient cortisol due to prolonged stress like fatigue and some types of depression. I find that it gives me more stamina and helps me work long days in the office and on the farm.  American ginseng is also a nootropic herb that helps enhances cognitive function and memory.

American ginseng is so monetarily valuable because it has these amazing medicinal benefits but takes a long time to grow and grows best in the wild. A lot of our American ginseng is exported to China and wholesale prices are on the rise, but people looking to make quick cash off the high demand for ginseng are putting this native treasure at risk. Local herb enthusiast, Madison Woods, has published a short book on Sustainable Ginseng available online as a paperback or ebook that can help people who want to grow wild-simulated ginseng on their own property. She also offers ginseng habit consultations where she personally helps you find the right wooded areas to plant ginseng for future harvest or preservation purposes. So let’s do what we can to protect this local jewel so we can continue to benefit from it for generations.

American Ginseng

American Ginseng

Detoxification Support Part 4: Love Your Liver

Since everything works together in our bodies, it is hard to say which organs are the most important for detoxification. However, the liver is clearly one of the most crucial players in clearing harmful substances from the body, because it has the highest concentration of detoxification enzymes. People like me who tend to have skin issues often have livers that don’t work optimally. I probably inherited some genetic variations that make my liver not quite as effective at neutralizing toxins. I often see this in my patients with multiple chemical sensitivities or just higher toxic burdens that makes sense from their known exposures. Sometimes medications can inhibit liver activity. Other people have increased exposure to harmful chemicals whether through their homes or jobs. I particularly worry about people in occupations like hairdresser, carpenter, and welder, just to name a few. My last blog emphasized the importance of making sure the bowels and kidneys are working optimally, which is a crucial step before you activate the liver’s detox abilities.

Once the kidneys and bowels are efficiently carrying toxins and waste out of the body, stimulate the livers capacity to neutralize toxins using herbs and nutrients. The liver detoxifies harmful compounds in a two-phase process, which is enhanced by supplements such as high quality multivitamins, whey protein, milk thistle, and N-acetyl cysteine. Phosphatidylcholine is another supplement with this effect while additionally helping to dislodge toxins from our cell membranes. Phosphatidylcholine also encourages the flow of bile in the liver to help move toxins from the liver to the bowels for final elimination. Other herbs that stimulate the production and flow of bile in the liver are milk thistle, alfalfa, and Oregon grape root.

Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle

As I mentioned in my first blog in this series on diet to aid detoxification, certain foods give the liver an additional boost. Seasonings such as caraway, dill seeds, and lemon and lime peel are some of the most amazing liver activators since they turn on both phases of liver detoxification. Artichokes and turmeric are both liver protectors that also increase bile flow. Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts activate the phase I of liver detox while also helping us neutralize our hormones more effectively. Raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, walnuts and pecans stimulate the second phase of liver detoxification, which is often the most important phase to activate.

As all naturopathic doctors are taught, if normal interventions aren’t working adequately to restore health, treat the liver. When we remove toxins from the body, our natural healing mechanisms can start to work more effectively. So love you liver and live healthier.

Detoxification Support Part 3: Kidneys and Bowels

I work hard at reducing my exposure to toxic substances. I eat clean organic food, drink filtered water, and use all natural body care products and household cleaners. But I know that despite my efforts, toxins are so prevalent in the modern world that my body still has a toxin burden. This is why we need a plan to get toxins out of the body on a regular basis to keep them from interfering with our health. Many chronic conditions can be caused or made worse by toxic exposures. Even weight gain has been associated with certain toxins that are being categorized as obesogens, chemicals in the environment that are altering our metabolism. This doesn’t mean that detoxification by itself can cause weight loss of more than a few pounds, but it can remove a potential obstacle so that proper diet and exercise are more likely to work.

When beginning a detoxification plan, the most important step is to make sure the kidneys are bowels are working optimally. Adequate fiber is crucial for both bowel health and for binding toxins. Eating high fiber foods and taking additional supplemental fiber can reduce the absorption of both ingested toxins and those recently neutralized by the liver. Additionally, take probiotics because these friendly bacteria out compete bad bacteria, which are known to reactivate already neutralized toxins. Additionally, bowel-cleansing herbs are sometimes added to speed up elimination. These range from mildly laxative herbs like burdock to stronger laxatives like cascara sagrada.

To support kidney function, emphasizetaraxacum-officinale-14 water intake and use nourishing diuretic herbs like nettles and/or dandelion leaves. These are known as nourishing diuretics because they provide valuable minerals like potassium while gently stimulating increased urinary flow. In the past, a urinary cleanse was done by gradually eating more juniper berries over the course of the detoxification. Juniper berries are known as a stimulating diuretic because they cause the kidneys to produce more urine by irritating them. Because of this irritation, most people find that they cannot tolerate this type of kidney cleanse. Our kidneys are probably overtaxed by toxins and food additives and might be more easily irritated. So while I do sometimes include a stimulating diuretic like parsley or juniper, I will only eat one or two juniper berries instead of the 30 that were worked up to in the past.

Stayed tuned for next week’s blog where I will discuss liver support for detoxification.

Detoxification Support Part 2: Sweating

After the holiday festivities, doing a full body cleanse can be a great way to get a new start on your health. Detoxification can also help with weight loss, thyroid issues, fatigue, joint pain, skin problems and many other chronic conditions especially if they aren’t improving with the normal interventions. Last week, I introduced this topic by discussing dietary ideas to help with detoxification.

Another essential aspect of a detoxification plan is sweating. Nearly every known toxin, including toxic metals, can be eliminated in our sweat without normally harming the skin. At this time of the year, many of us are sweating less and this can allow more toxins to build up. During the end of my time in Seattle, I was too busy to have time to exercise and the climate was too cool to cause me to sweat. When I moved to Arkansas in the middle of the summer, my sweat stank for several weeks like it never had before. These were toxins that my body hadn’t eliminated while in Seattle.

One of the best ways to detoxify by sweating is exercise. Exercise heats the body up and increases the burning of fat where many toxins are stored. Exercise also improves circulation so that the blood brings mobilized toxins closer to the skin to be excreted in the sweat.

Additionally, we can use saunas, hot baths, or in the summertime, spending time outdoors to trigger sweating. Aerobic exercise is recommended before sweating in a sauna or hot bath for all of the benefits I listed above. The heat from the sauna can then increase the normal metabolic breakdown of fat started by exercise. Always shower after sweating to wash excreted toxins off the skin since they can be reabsorbed. Another way to enhance your ability to sweat is to enjoy a diaphoretic herb that can help stimulate sweating. Hot ginger or chamomile teas are pleasant ways to do this. Also make sure you are getting adequate water and fiber to keep toxins moving out of the body afterwards.

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Though sweating is usually safe for nearly anyone, there are a few cautions. It is very important to stay hydrated and maintain proper electrolytes just like we do during the heat of summer. Coconut water is a great option for both of these. Don’t become overheated or dehydrated. Finally, occasionally sweating can irritate rashes even though they may benefit long term from the detoxification process.

Detoxification Support Part 1: Dietary guide to aid detox

Many popular New Year’s resolutions involve being healthier, and lots of people kick this off by doing a whole body cleanse. Because we live in such a toxic world, I want to encourage these efforts by writing a series of blogs this month about detoxification support. This week I am starting with the basics: dietary changes to assist with detoxification.

While there are many different dietary approaches to detoxification, I am going to emphasize the essentials that apply to nearly everyone. Of course, some people with specific health conditions will need to modify these suggestions for themselves. The following diet promotes detoxification by minimizing toxins in, keeping the pathways of elimination free to deal with toxins leaving the body.

  • Eat regularly, three times daily with snacks as desired, so your blood sugar doesn’t drop.
  • Eat organic foods, if possible. Do not eat products that are canned, packaged or contain artificial colorings, preservatives, additives, or other chemicals.
  • Eat lots of vegetables and some fruits; try for 4-5 packed cups each day.  Veggies and fruits are full of antioxidants and fiber that are helpful in detoxification. Eat a variety of different types of veggies to get the full range of antioxidants, but especially emphasize the cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and arugula.
  • Eat less meat and dairy and more vegan proteins, such as beans, tofu, tempeh, nuts, nut butters, and seed butters.  If you eat fish (small salmon, cod, herring, sardines only) take 1000mg Chlorella with the meal; this will along with fiber reduces mercury absorption.  If you eat meat, try to eat low-fat cuts from free range grass-fed, hormone and antibiotic free animals or wild game.
  • Eat lots of fiber. It is a great detoxifier as it binds fats, hormones, chemicals, metals and other undesirables in the intestines.  Fiber is found in beans/legumes (the best!), apples, peaches, pears, berries, crunchy vegetables, and whole grains.  Eat two to three of these fiber sources at every meal.
  • Have good quality oils like extra virgin olive oil, flax, fish, walnut, or Omega 3-6-9 blends. Have at least 1 Tablespoon 1-3 times per day.
  • Support friendly bowel bacteria by eating cultured foods: miso, kim chi, real sauerkraut, kvass, and kombucha.
  • At least once daily, eat foods stimulating to liver function and bile flow such as lemon, 1360960_21026592lime, beet, carrot, parsnips, chlorophyll, artichoke, fresh rosemary, caraway, dill seeds, burdock and dandelion roots.
  • Have no refined or concentrated sugar, sweets, caffeine, alcohol, fried or deep-fried food.
  • Drink lots of filtered water – 2-4 quarts per day or more if you are exercising or sweating.

And remember because toxins are such a challenge for us these days, try to apply principles like these to your diet all year round.