Tag Archives: inflammation

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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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.

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.

Basic Herbal First Aid

During the summer, we tend to be more active, but as my legs can attest, we are also more prone to injuries like burns, cuts, bites, and poison ivy. So, here are some of the natural first aid remedies that I always keep around my house.

Arnica montana, both oral and topical, is the first thing I grab for any injury that involves bruising or swelling. When used right away it can reduce the severity of pain from sprain and bruises as well as seeming to shorten the healing time. I have also found arnica to be helpful for pain from overdoing it.

If I have a cut or scrape, I apply a salve that contains herbs like calendula and comfrey to help speed the healing of the skin. Calendula helps reduce inflammation and stimulates tissue healing while also being mildly antimicrobial. Comfrey shares most of these traits while also being soothing to the skin in a similar way to aloe. Comfrey has such a reputation for speeding up healing that it is not recommended for use on deep wounds, because it can cause the skin to heal before the underlying tissues do. Comfrey is also applied topically to relieve pain and speed healing of sprains and broken bones. If you want to learn how to make a comfrey poultice, check out these instructions from learningherbs.com.

symphytum-officinale

Comfrey

 

In addition to the common favorite aloe for minor burns, I usually either add a few drops of lavender essential oil to the aloe I am applying. It is correct that you are not supposed to put oil on a burn, but essential oils are not actually oils. While it has an oily texture, lavender oil evaporates quickly and therefore helps to rapidly cool the burned skin, while regular oil would trap the heat.

For insect bites and poison ivy, early application of clay can be very useful. I have been using bentonite clay but any kind will do. For the summer, you can mix up a small batch of clay using just enough water to make a thick paste and store it in the refrigerator well covered for handy access. Clay works by absorbing toxins from the skin, and I have found it to relieve the itch of poison ivy fairly quickly if I apply it for one to two hours every day for a few days. Activated charcoal can be used in a similar fashion for bites and wounds. I always have activated charcoal capsules on hand to help with issues like food poisoning too. Activated charcoal can help by absorbing some of the toxins that harmful bacteria release into our digestive tract, thereby helping to reduce the severity of symptoms.

So stocks up on some of these basic items and have fun staying well this summer.

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.

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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.

Yes, Fish Oil May Help You Live Longer

Back in the 1980, all fats were considered to be unhealthy.  Then, we started distinguishing between good fats and bad fats. Healthy fats include certain unsaturated fats like the monounsaturated fats in olive oil and Omega-3 fatty acids. Sources of Omega-3s fats includes fish, fish oil, canola oil, flaxseeds, and a few other seeds and nuts. Omega-3 fatty acids are widely used to help reduce inflammation and blood clotting. They are also important for skin health and mood. Omega-3 oils support the brain and are associated with healthier brains as we age.

It has long been argued that consuming fish or other Omega-3 sources is good for the heart. Some studies have confirmed this, but others showed no results. A recent well-conducted study seems to have solidly demonstrated the benefits of Omega-3 for the heart and overall longevity. Of over 2000 participants over 65 years old, those with the highest blood levels of Omega-3s had a 27% lower risk of death compared to those with the lowest levels during the 15 years they were tracked. This corresponded to the people with the higher levels of Omega-3s living 2 years longer on average. The largest effect was a 50% reduction in deaths due to cardiac arrhythmias, which are irregular heartbeats that can be live threatening. The difference between this and previous studies is this study measured the amount of Omega-3 fatty acids in the blood of the participants, while other studies had relied on dietary recall of what participants were eating or used questionable quality fish oil supplements. Many prescription and supplemental fish oils are modified from their natural form and may not be absorbed well. It is argued that fish oils that occur in their natural form, know as triglycerides, will be much better absorbed. This is one of the reasons I recommend brand that make sure their oils are in the natural triglyceride form like Nordic Naturals.

Natural Support for Seasonal Allergies

The other day I walked outside to find my car covered in pollen, so clearly we are entering the peak season for seasonal allergies. The question I always address at this time of year is how to reduce allergy symptoms naturally. First, start with overall health and diet. For instance, people who consume diets higher in carotenoids, nutrients found in many vegetables, had lower incidences of seasonal allergy symptoms. I have also had numerous patients whose allergy symptoms became more manageable when they eliminated a troublesome food from their diets, such as dairy. A couple of studies have also shown that the use of products containing beneficial bacteria, such as probiotics, can reduce allergy symptoms in children and adults with moderate to severe nasal symptoms. These probiotics may be helping by reducing inflammation in the body or reducing the body’s tendency to react to some of the common problem foods.

Butterbur

Butterbur

After the diet is improved, we can tackle the remaining symptoms with natural supplements. For years, I have been touting the use of zinc for allergy sufferers. Zinc helps to balance out the immune system, which can reduce the body’s overreaction to allergens like pollen. In addition, a study has shown that people with seasonal allergies tend to have lower levels of serum zinc compared to non-allergic people. Another fabulous allergy supplement is the herb butterbur. Butterbur is an inflammation-modulating herb that has been used for coughs, allergies, and migraines. A recent study comparing butterbur to an allergy medication and a placebo showed that butterbur and the medication were both equally superior to the placebo in reducing allergy symptoms. But always make sure the butterbur you purchase has had its unsaturated pyrrolizidine alkaloids removed, since long-term consumption of herbs that still contain these compounds can damage the liver.

This is just a few of the supplements worth considering for allergy support. For few other ideas, check out this recent article on allergies that quotes me along with other local practitioners.