Tag Archives: health

Enhance Digestion and Absorption with Black Pepper

This ubiquitous spice on nearly every table in America is for more than just flavoring. Black pepper actually increases your ability to absorb nutrient. Black pepper stimulates the activity of the digestive tract by increasing the production of digestive enzymes and supporting normal gut motility. Black pepper also is a circulatory stimulant so it increases blood flow to the gut, which helps the digestive tract to work more efficiently and carries the nutrient to the rest of the body. Black pepper as a medicinal herb was traditionally used for sluggish digest and low stomach acid, but it can help nearly anyone get more out of their food and supplements. Its effects are intensified by heating so adding black pepper to your food as it cooks makes it a better digestive enhancer, but watch out too much black pepper cooked into a dish can get very spicy.

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Because of these digestive benefits, black pepper extracts are used in some supplements to enhance their absorption. Piperine, an active component of black pepper sold under the name BioPerine, has been shown to increase the absorption of various vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. This is especially important with harder to absorb supplements like curcumin from turmeric, a popular inflammation-modulating herb. Supplement companies choose many different strategies to help get curcumin into the bloodstream, but BioPerine is one of the most popular approaches. I also mix a little bit of ground black pepper into my jar of turmeric so I know I am getting more out of my turmeric every time I cook with it.

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Vitamin C: Powerful Protector

For colds, most people reach for vitamin C to help them get back on their feet sooner. They might chose it because they can tell it helps them feel better, or they might have heard about one of the numerous studies supporting its use. Most studies show that vitamin C reduces the severity of cold symptoms. Even one famous “negative “ study showed that vitamin C reduced the severity of cold symptoms by 20%. This was only considered a negative outcome because these results were not deemed significant. Other studies show that vitamin C accelerates recovery, especially if taken early in the illness. One study using 3000-6000 mg daily showed an 85% reduction in cold and flu symptoms compared to the control. I notice that especially toward the end of a cold, taking vitamin C has a marked effect on my energy levels, helping me get back to work.

Vitamin C can be beneficial for other respiratory issues. In epidemiological studies, increased vitamin C intake is correlated to lower rates of asthma. Supplementation with vitamin C also has been shown to reduce exercise-induced airway reactions such as narrowing of the airways. Additionally, vitamin C may be helpful for asthma that is related to pollution. These benefits are partially due to vitamin C’s anti-histamine effects, which are augmented by the presence of bioflavonoids, compounds that occur in foods alongside vitamin C that potentiate its activity.

Vitamin C’s well-known antioxidant capabilities provide part of its protect of the respiratory tract. When we are exposed to pollutants and toxins, free radicals cause cellular damage, which in turn contributes to inflammation that can exacerbate conditions like allergies and asthma. It is probably these antioxidant actions that help me feel more energetic at the end of a cold. When the immune system is working hard it creates free radicals as part of the process, and these free radicals can contribute to fatigue. By helping remove these free radicals, vitamin C can help you feel normal again. Likewise, vitamin C can protect vital molecules in the body, such as proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, and DNA from damage by free radicals that can be generated during normal metabolism as well as through exposure to toxins. This preserves crucial cellular functions and can help prevent cancer. Finally, vitamin C can regenerate the antioxidant capacity of vitamin E, which is in turn one of the most important fat soluble antioxidant that supports heart health by preventing the oxidation of cholesterol. Again, bioflavonoids also can work as powerful antioxidants supporting the activity of vitamin C so I always look for these when I buy vitamin C.

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Omega-3s for Mood

Fish oil has numerous well-documented benefits for our health. It is probably best known for its cardiovascular advantages of decreasing cholesterol and clotting. Here I am going to focus on its mood supporting qualities, because there have been a number of exciting recent studies. In one study following patients with major depression, the likelihood of also having anxiety was much higher in those with the lowest blood levels of EPA and DHA, the major omega-3 components of fish oil. A second study found that in women a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids reduced the incidence of elevated depressive symptoms by 49%. This study also pointed out the ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids was important. This means you can support your mood by both taking fish oil and reducing intake of omega-6 fats like those found in meat and most oils including corn, soy, and vegetable oils.

Fish oil may even be able to reduce suicidal tendencies. It has long been noted in epidemiological studies that low omega-3 levels are correlated with increased rates of suicide. Researchers have also found higher levels of a marker called SAT1 in people with strong suicidal ideation. This marker and related ones were also associated with stress, mood disorders, anxiety, and hallucinations. In mice that were genetically altered to have abnormal expression of these biomarkers, treatment with omega-3 fatty acids brought their levels of the troublesome markers back to normal. All of this very promising research reinforces the use of fish oil as part of the plan to support mental health for even very serious mood disorders.

salmon

Essential Oils for Cold and Flu Season

It is that time of year again. The cool weather is hitting us and I have been seeing more people with colds and other contagious illnesses. One of my strategies to stay well when interacting with sick patients is to use antimicrobial essential oils like peppermint and eucalyptus. While many essential oils have antimicrobial benefits, I particularly choose these two for their additional decongestant nature.

Peppermint essential oil is a very versatile and inexpensive remedy to have around for cold season as well as other times of the year. Inhaling peppermint oil can help relieve sinus pressure because of its high concentrations of menthol, which helps open up congested nasal passages. Peppermint also has analgesic and anti-inflammatory benefits so it helps ease the discomfort that comes along with sinus issues. Peppermint also helps reduce coughing so you nearly always see menthol added to cough drops. Due to its cooling action, adding 10 drops of peppermint oil to a tepid bath can also be useful for fevers or sunburns. For all times of the year, peppermint oil can be a wonderful digestive soother. Add 2-3 drops to 1-2 teaspoons of a carrier oil like almond or coconut oil and massage some of that blend on the back or tummy to reduce indigestion or nausea. Peppermint oil also works well for headaches that are related to digestive or sinus issues. Finally, inhaling peppermint oil has been shown to increase alertness as well as memory and concentration.

Eucalyptus Leaves

Eucalyptus Leaves

A great essential oil to combine with peppermint during cold season is eucalyptus. Eucalyptus is a relative of tea tree and has nearly as potent antimicrobial action as its well-known cousin. It also helps reduce inflammation in the respiratory tract. It is a popular choice for sinus congestion and bronchitis because it helps to break up mucus. Eucalyptus oil can also be a very useful headache remedy. Combined with peppermint it can be used topically for numerous issues from joint pain to repelling mosquitoes. Always dilute them with water or oil before applying to the skin.

For colds, I add 5 drops of an essential oil to a boiling hot cup of water and inhale the steam for several minutes. In addition to easing respiratory symptoms, these oils can also help prevent upper respiratory tract infections. Inhale these essential oils when you have been around sick people or are travelling by plane to create your own essential oil vapor shield.

Catnip: This Nerve Soothing Herb Is Not Just for Cats

My cats love it, but there are many great reasons for people to choose this nerve-toning herb too. While catnip is stimulating to cats, it is relaxing to us. Because of these benefits, catnip can be a good option for restlessness, insomnia, and nervous headaches. It also helps relax tense muscles and ease muscle spasms. For this reason, some women use catnip for menstrual cramps. Like its close cousin lemonbalm, catnip has a pleasant lemony taste that can make it a great choice for a soothing tea. It is also a popular addition to make herbal blends taste better.

Catnip

 

Catnip is a great herb for children too because of the good taste and gentle effect on the body. It can be used for insomnia or excitability in children. It is good for upset stomachs and other digestive complaints. Catnip has some antiviral activities and can help break a fever. It also helps ease coughs. These actions make it a good herb for children during cold and flu season.

I find catnip very easy to grow as long as my cats don’t destroy it when it is small. I bring the fresh leaves inside for my cats, but also see them in the garden eating it and rolling around in it. Catnip is reputed to be a nerve tonic for cats, so their brains actually benefit from the “buzz” they get. I also love catnip for its scientific name: Nepeta cataria. If fact, I used to have a cat by this name. Her nickname was Nip.

Nepeta hunting goldfish

Nepeta hunting goldfish

Spice Things Up: Warming Spices for Digestion

Now that we are getting some true fall weather, it is a good time of year to enjoy some of my favorite warming spices. I love hot beverages spiced with cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger just to name a few. I usually choose a tea that has some of these spices, but for special occasions it is fun to make a mulled cider or wine for your guests.

For instance, here is a delicious mulled cider recipe.

2 quarts unfiltered apple juice (or 1 quart of apple juice and 1 bottle of red wine)

4 cinnamon sticks

1 orange, zested and juiced

8 whole cloves

15 whole allspice berries

½ teaspoon nutmeg, grated

7 cardamom pods

½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns (optional)

1 inch slice of ginger root (optional)

¼ cup honey (optional)

Combine all of the ingredients including the orange zest and juice, bring to a boil and simmer over low heat for 10-20 minutes. Strain and pour into mugs garnished with a cinnamon stick or strip of orange peel and serve.

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The spices used in these seasonal beverages tend to be called warming spices because they stimulate blood flow and help us feel cozy on cool fall days. They also increase blood flow to the digestive tract, helping it to work more efficiently. All of the spices in my mulled cider recipe are also medicinal herbs known as carminatives. These are herbs and spices that are rich in volatile oils that help ease digestive discomfort and reduce gas pain. Other examples of carminative herbs are anise, fennel, chamomile, peppermint and turmeric. Many of these spices also have antimicrobial properties so they may help prevent colds. Additionally, cinnamon is well known for helping improve blood sugar. Your guests can just enjoy themselves without even knowing how much you are benefiting their health.

Let me know if you have a favorite way of enjoying these spices.

Immune Boost!

The first cold of the season has been working its way through my patients, so this is the perfect time to talk about boosting the immune system. A strong immune system can help us avoid colds and flu during the winter months to come. The first step is to avoid the things that suppress the immune system like improper nutrition, lack of sleep, and stress. Okay, I admit we can’t avoid all stress, but we can do things to reduce the impact stress has on the body. As I have mentioned in many of my blogs, stress suppresses the immune system. The purpose of this mechanism is to prioritize our body’s use of energy: for instance, when it is time to run from the bear, our bodies divert energy away from our immune system, because who cares about that virus that might kill us in a week if we don’t survive the bear in the next hour! But now in our society, we often have continual low-grade stress that can still suppress our immune system even if we are not facing a bear.

To reduce the impact of stress, we can use medicinal herbs known as adaptogens to balance out our response to stress and strengthen our adrenal glands. Examples of adaptogens include holy basil, astragalus, ashwagandha, and cordyceps. If I could only take one supplement, it would be one of these herbs or a blend of them. I find them to be extremely useful for supporting my energy and stamina as well as keeping my immune system healthy.

Many mushrooms like reishi are well known for helping enhancing the immune system as well as acting as adaptogens. Their immune enhancing capacity is due to the special polysaccharides found in their cell walls, such as beta glucan. Most mushrooms have these polysaccharides, but the type and amount varies between the different varieties. Reishi has been shown to activate several types of human immune cells such as macrophages and natural killer cells.

Another medicinal mushroom to use during cold and flu season is agarikon. One study showed it to have exceptionally strong antiviral activity against a range of viruses including the bird flu H5N1. It even out performed an antiviral drug for fighting the flu virus. For more information on agarikon, check out what mushroom expert Paul Stamets had to say about it on the Huffington Post.

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.

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.

Wristful Thinking: Natural care for aches and sprains

Those of you who regularly read my blog might have noticed that I didn’t have one last week. That is because I sprained my wrist last Wednesday and it was still too painful and inflamed last week to type. I seem to be recovering quite well and wanted to share with you some of things I am doing to speed my healing. I am lucky because I have access to so many health resources, so I have probably done more than most people can, but others could use even a portion of my treatment. And in addition to my natural treatments, I did get x-rays of my wrist to rule out a fracture.

Arnica flower

Arnica flower

The very first thing I did after being injured was take homeopathic arnica and apply an arnica gel topically.  Arnica is useful for pain, swelling and bruising, and it is my first step for any type of injury like this. I continued to take the arnica several times a day for a few days afterwards. I also took nutrients that the body can use in the formation of connective issues such vitamin C, manganese, zinc and silica. I am also using inflammation-modulating herbs with Boswellia being the lead herb. Boswellia is actually frankincense and it inhibits inflammatory mediators in the body, while not irritating to the stomach like some over the counter pain relievers do. It is also mildly pain relieving while being thought to help preserve the cartilage in our joints. The pain was so bad the first two days I did take two of the pain pills I was prescribed, but after that I could manage the pain with herbs, appropriate activity and the following physical therapies.

In addition to supplements, I employed several different types of physical medicine. I used Enertropic Therapy  to open up the energy pathways in my body and help speed up healing. Enertropic Therapy is one of the healing modalities offered at Harrison Optimal Health in Harrison, Arkansas where I work once a week. Dr. Ali Racheotes, DC of Sports Chiropractic Acupuncture did very gentle adjustments of my wrist and the rest of me. She also used cold laser therapy on my wrist to help reduce pain. I am doing contrast hydrotherapy on my wrist since the first 24 hours. This involves soaking my hand in hot water for 3 minutes followed by a minute in cold water. This is repeated two more times ending on cold and is done once or ideally twice a day. The alternating hot and cold water pushes stagnant fluids out of the affected area and can help reduce pain and inflammation. Finally, I am doing passive range of motion exercises where I am gently moving my wrist using my other hand, but it is best to discuss with your doctor or physical therapist how and when to do these.

It has only been a little more than a week, but so far I am healing well. I can’t wait to be back to back to normal so I can do all of my regular activities like blogging, gardening, cooking and canning.