September is the beginning of American ginseng season here in Arkansas, or as the old-timers call it ‘sang. We are lucky to have such an amazingly beneficial plant growing nearby, but we need to make sure that we protect it. If you are lucky enough to know a ‘sang hunter or are one yourself, make sure the rules are followed about planting the red berries 1-2 inches deep when the root is harvested. American ginseng grows throughout the Eastern United States, but it tends to grow in small clusters and has a lot of harvesting pressure on it. Since it is monetarily valuable, unscrupulous hunters will over harvest an area. For instance, trespassers stole my friend’s ginseng patch that he had been cultivating for over 20 years. Efforts need to be made to insure that we will continue to have this jewel of a plant in our region, by buying American ginseng from organically grown or ethically wild harvested sources.
American ginseng is so invaluable because it helps relieve stress and soothes the digestion. Its actions on the digestive tract are partially through direct action, but many of ginseng’s effects are due to the stress reduction. When we are stressed out, our ability to digest food is diminished. By calming the impact of stress on the body, American ginseng may help many cases of indigestion. Use of American ginseng has also been shown to reduce the incidence of colds. Again, the immune system is suppressed by stress through excess production of cortisol, the stress hormone. American ginseng can also be useful for diabetes, because, you guessed it, stress contributes to insulin resistance. It is also a good herb for fatigue, especially tiredness due to over work. American ginseng probably also shares the ability of its close cousin Asian ginseng to help prevent cancer. In the regions where the most Asian ginseng is consumed, cancer rates are significantly lower.
Don’t expect these fabulous benefits overnight. American ginseng is used long term since it may take weeks or months for the full effect to be noticed. This is a very safe herb that most people can use, but it is a little bit stimulating and, in some people, could contribute to insomnia. Taken early in the day, most people have no issue with American ginseng, and it may even improve their sleep.
Posted in Health
Tagged adaptogens, American ginseng, colds, diabetes, digestive health, flu, GI Health, immune support, indigestion, insulin resistance, stress, upper respiratory infections
Recently I attended the local American Diabetes Association Expo and spoke with a lot of people about blood sugar issues. But sugar is not just an issue for people who already have diabetes; it is a troublesome issue for a lot of people. Americans consume over 50 pounds of sugar a year, and this level of sugar can wreak havoc on our health from cavities to weight gain. My grandmother had diabetes, so like many Americans I may have a genetic predisposition that would make me more likely to get diabetes if I did eat sugar at anything close to the average American intake. In addition to the diabetes risk, sugar adds calories to the diet without nutrients, which can contribute to weight gain. Also, there is evidence that sugar may suppress the immune system.
Many people know sugar isn’t a healthy choice but are having trouble cutting it out of their lives. For some, this is just because sugar is addictive. For others, the issue may be that their blood sugar is dropping and they are choosing the quick, unhealthy solution of sugary foods. Instead, it is better to pick foods that will sustain you longer like those high in protein and complex carbohydrate. The mineral chromium can also be helpful for balancing blood sugar for some types of hypoglycemia as well as in prediabetes. Other sugar cravings are related to mood and stress. When stressed out, some people consume sugar to temporarily increase the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of well-being. Of course, there are healthier ways of supporting serotonin such as eating a high-protein food with all three meals. If none of these approaches is helpful, the health of the digestive tract needs to be considered.
If you need further motivation to drop some of your favorite sweet treats, check out this visual representation of the sugar content of some common junk foods compared to fruit.
And for more nutrition tips, I have posted my most recent PowerPoint presentation on Whole Nutrition for anyone who couldn’t make it to my talk.
Among antioxidants, alpha lipoic acid is unique because it is both fat and water soluble. This means it can work in more areas of the body than other antioxidants that either dissolve in water like Vitamin C or are absorbed into fat like Vitamin E. Alpha lipoic acid has another important role through increasing the recycling of other antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, glutathione, and coenzyme Q10. We need antioxidants to protect our cells from damaging molecules known as free radicals. When antioxidants neutralize free radicals, they have to be recharged before they can act again. By acting as an antioxidant and recycling other antioxidants, alpha lipoic acid can help keep our bodies functioning properly and help prevent degenerative diseases, especially those affecting the nerves.
Alpha lipoic acid has gained a reputation for protecting the nervous system by preventing damage to the nerves from free radicals and other reactive oxygen molecules. It also seems to support healthy microcirculation around the nerves so that nerves, including those in the brain, can be properly nourished. There is some evidence that alpha lipoic acid may even help with regeneration of nervous tissues in certain cases by supporting sufficient energy production in the cells. Alpha lipoic acid has been studied most extensively for peripheral neuropathy due to diabetes, where the elevated blood sugar and reduced circulation causes nerve damage with diminished or abnormal sensation in the hands and feet. Diabetics may also benefit from alpha lipoic acid because it appears to help increase the body’s response to insulin. Alpha lipoic acid is also used to help protect the optic nerve in glaucoma. Alpha lipoic acid was also been shown to reduce migraine frequency and severity in a small study. This benefit may be due to alpha lipoic acid’s ability to improve blood vessel function rather than its neuroprotective actions.