July 8th, 2014

Thyme

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Thyme is a small evergreen shrub and member of the mint family. Native to the western Mediterranean, thyme has been utilized since ancient times for its culinary, aromatic, and medicinal properties. In ancient Greece, thyme was burned as incense during sacred ceremonies and was considered to be a symbol of courage and admiration. Ancient Egyptians valued thyme as an embalming agent used during the mummification process. During the Middle Ages, women presented knights a scarf with a sprig of thyme tied to it over an embroidered bee. In the 16th century, thyme oil was used for cleansing and as a mouthwash due to its antibacterial properties. Today, thyme is a staple in many cuisines around the world.

Health Benefits:

  • Thyme has similar benefits as mint because of its volatile oil content.
  • Volatile oil found in thyme contains caravacol, borneol, geraniol, and thymol.
  • Thyme has shown to possess antispasmodic, antibacterial, carminative, and fungicidal properties.
  • Thyme also contains a variety of flavanoids including apigenin, naringenin, luteolin, and thrymonin, which increase thyme’s antioxidant capacity.
  • Its high flavanoid and manganese concentration give thyme a high standing on the list of antioxidant-rich foods.
  • Research has shown that thyme may help improve brain function, by increasing the percent of healthy fats found in cell membranes and other cell structures.
  • Studies have also shown that thyme can help raise DHA levels in children with attention deficit disorder, and possibly help improve the condition.

Thyme’s flavor compliments hearty legumes such as kidney beans, pinto beans, and black beans. Another excellent pairing with thyme is fish. Try topping grilled or baked fish with a thyme and rosemary pesto, with the option to add pine nuts or walnuts. Also, try placing a minimum of five sprigs of thyme on poached fish to add flavor. Infuse your favorite olive oil with a few sprigs of thyme and use it as a dipping oil or even in cooking. Want to know the health benefits of other herbs and spices? My book, “The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods” is a fantastic resource.

July 7th, 2014

How to Boost Energy Naturally

The “up” side of caffeine

Vibrant natural energy is truly a wonderful feeling that too few people experience on a consistent basis. The number of Americans suffering from fatigue is staggering. Fatigue is by far the most common medical complaint in medical practice, yet it remains one that is dealt with inadequately.

Fatigue can be caused by factors including depression, diabetes, poor sleep quality, hypothyroidism, and certain medications. Nutritional factors are important as well, including nutrient deficiencies and blood sugar instability or hypoglycemia. Simple iron deficiency (anemia) alone is a major cause of fatigue, particularly in women.

3 essential supplements

The best approach to boosting energy levels naturally is to address any underlying factors as effectively as possible. Beyond that, there are three supplements that are essential in any health promotion plan: a high-potency multiple vitamin and mineral, a high-quality “greens” drink, and a pharmaceutical-grade fish oil supplement. Once this strong nutritional foundation has been established, many people with low energy levels can benefit from dietary supplements containing caffeine-based natural energy formulas.

Is caffeine safe?

There is no question that caffeine is a stimulant that can increase physical and mental energy levels. Caffeinated beverages like green tea, yerba maté, guarana, cola nut, and cocoa are used by cultures around the world. In its natural form, the caffeine is provided along with plant compounds that tend to lessen some of caffeine’s negative effects, such as anxiety and nervousness. For example, in addition to caffeine, green tea contains L-theanine, a natural compound that counteracts some of the effects of caffeine on the brain that can lead to nervousness and interference with sleep.

The effects of a moderate dosage of caffeine (e.g., 10—125 mg) is influenced by consumption pattern; if you regularly ingest caffeine, you develop a tolerance to it. If you don’t, or are a “slow metabolizer” of caffeine, the effects are more pronounced.

Controlled studies of the effects of caffeine on performance have a long history, dating to the late nineteenth century. Early studies showed caffeine intake improved performance in many repetitive tasks. For example, in typists, caffeine consumption increased both speed and accuracy.

Caffeine has been shown to improve attention and reaction time. However, it does not appear to improve performance in complex mental processes.

Caffeine + GABA

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is one of the brain’s most important compounds. PharmaGABA is a special natural form of GABA that has yielded interesting results in clinical studies. In particular, PharmaGABA has shown impressive results in combating stress, including showing an ability to lower cortisol levels and other markers of acute stress during exposure to stressful situations.

When a caffeine source is combined with PharmaGABA, there is a synergistic effect in improving mental function. And as a benefit, the PharmaGABA reduces the stress-producing effects of caffeine.

In a study conducted at University of Shizuoka in Japan, PharmaGABA was shown to do just that, promoting feelings of calmness despite a boost in energy levels from caffeine. Subjects consumed either a cup of regular coffee or the same cup of coffee plus 28 mg of PharmaGABA. Stress markers were significantly lower in the group getting the PharmaGABA.

Is caffeine for everyone?

There are a few situations in which consuming any significant amount of caffeine (e.g., daily intakes in excess of 30—50 mg) is not suggested. This includes people very sensitive to caffeine or those with insomnia, depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, fibrocystic breast disease, or high blood pressure. It is particularly important to avoid caffeine if you suffer from poor sleep quality. If you suffer from any of these conditions and want to boost your energy, try herbs that enhance energy levels by supporting adrenal function, such as ashwagandha (e.g., Sensoril), rhodiola, or Siberian ginseng. Often extracts of these plants are combined in “adrenal health” formulas.

July 1st, 2014

Prunes – Healing Food Facts

dried-prunePrunes, or dried plums, originated near the Caspian Sea – the same area where European plums originated. As people migrated, so did prunes throughout Europe and eventually to the New World. Today, California is the world’s leading producer of prunes. To produce prunes, plums are dehydrated for approximately eight hours in hot air between 85-90°C.

Nutritional Highlights:

  • Prunes are a great source of provitamin A and phenolic compounds.
  • They are also a source of potassium, thiamine, riboflavin, vitamins B6, boron, and dietary fiber.
  • A 3½-ounce serving of prunes contains 240 calories.

Health Benefits:

  • The combination of antioxidants, fiber, iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and vitamin A make prunes effective at combating a variety of chronic diseases.
  • Insoluble fiber found in prunes provide ‘good’ bacteria for the large intestine, helping to maintain a healthy colon and relieve and prevent constipation.
  • Prunes contain a large amount of phenolic compounds which act as antioxidants, preventing ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, thereby protecting against heart disease.
  • Studies are showing prunes to help increase bone formation and prevent osteoporosis.

As a high-energy food, prunes are an ideal snack to have on hand throughout the day. Prunes also compliment poultry and lamb, and are great used as stuffing or served on the side of either. Stew prunes with cinnamon, coriander, and honey and serve on top of pancakes, waffles or yogurt. Anyway you serve them, prunes are a great addition to your diet.

July 1st, 2014

Mulberry Leaf Extract Promotes Weight Control

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Introduction:

There are lots of herbal weight loss products on the market with most offering little hope, but a lot of hype. However, there are also several with confirmed benefits from detailed well-done clinical trials. Rather than getting seduced by the latest “miracle” product for weight loss that has little (if any) scientific basis, consumers should focus on those natural products with a stronger portfolio of research showing safety and efficacy.

A new study has shown that an extract from the leaves of the mulberry plant (Morus indica) – best known as food for silkworms – provides a range of benefits for those who are overweight. Previous studies have shown that it possesses significant blood sugar lowering effects, as it contains a “sugar blocker” (specifically an alpha-glucosidase inhibitor), along with other compounds that appear to improve blood glucose control as well as blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides).

Background Data:

Highly regarded in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine, previous research centered on its considerable benefits in improving blood sugar control and blood lipids. When patients with type 2 diabetes were given either mulberry dried leaves at a dose of 3 g/day or one tablet of the drug glyburide (5 mg/day) for 4 weeks the following was shown:

  • Mulberry therapy significantly improved diabetic control in Type 2 diabetic patients.
  • Fasting blood glucose concentrations and A1C levels were significantly lowered with mulberry therapy compared to glyburide treatment.
  • Mulberry therapy also lowered total and LDL cholesterol while raising HDL cholesterol.

In another clinical trial, subjects were given three tablets of 280 mg mulberry leaf three times a day before meals for a period of 12 weeks. At the end of the study, total cholesterol, triglyceride and LDL were significantly decreased by 4.9%, 14.1%, and 5.6%, respectively, from baseline, whereas HDL was significantly increased by 19.7%.

These results and others indicate that mulberry leaf may be of benefit in people who have the metabolic syndrome characterized by glucose intolerance, as well as alterations in cholesterol and/or triglyceride levels.

New Data:

Given the benefits of mulberry leaves in improving blood glucose control, researchers in Italy conducted a clinical trial to evaluate the effects on weight loss with an extract of white Japanese mulberry (Morus alba) in 46 overweight people who were enrolled and divided into two groups. The subjects were given an identical balanced diet of 1300 kcal then one group (A) received 2400 mg of mulberry extract while the other group (B) received a placebo. Each group was followed-up every 30 days at 30, 60 and 90 days of treatment for measurements of blood chemistry, body weight and waist circumference in all the subjects and thigh circumference in women only were repeated.

In group A weight loss was about 20 pounds in 3 months, equal to approximately 10 percent of the initial weight, significantly higher than the placebo group B. In addition, the plasma insulin and glucose curves in the group getting the mulberry extract were significantly improved.

In the 20 women treated with only low-calorie diet and with placebo, weight reduction was globally of 6.5 pounds, approximately equal to 3 percent of the initial weight; moreover, the blood glucose curves and the insulin curves showed a slight decline compared to baseline, but not so significantly as was the case for group A.

Waist circumference and thigh circumference (in women) decreased in all participants, obviously more evidently in subjects who lost the most weight.

These results show quite clearly that the use of mulberry extract can dramatically accelerate weight loss in dieting subjects and presumably does so by improving blood sugar control.

Commentary:

Mulberry leaf extract is available in a 30:1 concentrate standardized to contain 2% moranoline content from Natural Factors. The recommended dosage is 100 mg two to three times daily. Mulberry leaf extract has no known toxicity, but as the effects during pregnancy and lactation have not been sufficiently evaluated, it is not recommended for use during these times unless directed to do so by a physician. Since mulberry leaf extract improves blood sugar control, individuals on oral hypoglycemic drugs for type 2 diabetes will need to monitor blood sugar levels and work with their physician to adjust drug dosage as needed.

Though mulberry extract is clearly beneficial on its own, I prefer to recommend it in combination with PGX® – the revolutionary fiber matrix. It is available in this combination as WellBetX PGX® Plus Mulberry from Natural Factors. Detailed scientific investigations have shown PGX :

  • Reduces postprandial (after-meal) blood glucose levels
  • Reduces appetite and help to promote effective weight loss
  • Increases insulin sensitivity
  • Improves blood sugar control
  • Lowers blood cholesterol

PGX® Plus Mulberry Extract is available through retailers selling Natural Factors products.

 

Reference:

Da Villa G, Ianiro G, Mangiola F, et al. White mulberry supplementation as adjuvant treatment of obesity. J Biol Regul Homeost Agents. 2014 Jan-Mar;28(1):141-5.

June 30th, 2014

Breathe

Remedies for sinus congestion, bronchitis, asthma, and COPD

Virtually all of us take the ability to get a good breath of air for granted. For people suffering from chronic sinusitis, asthma, bronchitis, chronic obstructive lung disease, and other diseases of the respiratory tract, however, an effortless breath of air is greatly appreciated.

These conditions are often more problematic during the winter months. Sure, we are exposed to more viruses at this time, but one of the key reasons sinus and airway congestion occurs more frequently during winter months is dry, warm indoor air. This dries out the airway membranes. As a result, mucus isn’t cleared as effectively, which can increase your risk of sinus, bronchial, or lung congestion and/or infection.

Fortunately, there are safe and effective natural products that can improve the moisture content of the airway passages as well as the mucus secretions, and as a result, lead to easier breathing. Three of the most useful are N-acetylcysteine, ivy extract, and bromelain. These ingredients can be used individually or combined for even greater effectiveness.

N-acetylcysteine

N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a derivative of the naturally occurring amino acid, cysteine. NAC has an extensive history of use in the treatment of acute and chronic lung conditions, including emphysema, bronchitis, asthma, and cystic fibrosis. It directly splits the sulfur linkages of mucoproteins, thereby reducing viscosity of bronchial and lung secretions. As a result, it improves bronchial and lung function, reduces cough, and improves oxygen saturation in the blood.

NAC is helpful in all lung and respiratory tract disorders, especially chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In detailed analysis of 39 trials, it has been concluded that oral NAC reduces the risk of exacerbations (severe worsening) and improves symptoms in patients with chronic bronchitis compared with a placebo.

In addition to its effects as a mucolytic, NAC can increase the manufacture of glutathione—a major antioxidant for the entire respiratory tract and lungs. The typical dosage for NAC is 200 mg three times daily.

Ivy extract

Ivy leaf has a long history of use in asthma and COPD. Recent clinical research has validated its ability to reduce bronchial spasm and improve respiratory secretions. Several double-blind studies have shown that ivy extract improves lung function and reduces asthma attacks. For example, in one double-blind study, 25 children ages 10 to 15 years with asthma demonstrated improvements in lung capacity after 10 days of treatment with ivy extract. Improvements were shown to be clinically relevant and statistically significant three hours after administration of ivy extract by day 10 of treatment. The typical dosage is 100 mg once or twice daily.

Bromelain

Bromelain refers to a group of sulfur-containing enzymes that digest protein (proteolytic enzymes or proteases) obtained from the pineapple plant (Ananas comusus). Bromelain has been shown to exert several effects of benefit in clearing the airways, suppressing coughs, and reducing the viscosity of respiratory tract secretions. Bromelain is also helpful in acute sinusitis. The typical dosage for bromelain for respiratory indications is 250 to 750 mg three times per day between meals.

Additional Therapies That Can Help

For sinus congestion, try nasal irrigation with salt water using a Neti pot—a ceramic pot that looks like a cross between a small teapot and Aladdin’s magic lamp. Used properly, the salt water will flow through the nasal cavity and relieve symptoms of congestion. Daily use is recommended during acute episodes, every other day for chronic conditions.

Nasal sprays featuring natural ingredients, such as xylitol or homeopathic remedies, can also be helpful at keeping membranes moist.

For bronchial and lung congestion, as well as for deeper sinus infections, try postural drainage. It is a simple, old-time therapy that works wonders. Apply a heating pad or hot water bottle to the chest for up to 20 minutes. Then perform postural drainage by lying face down with the top half of the body off of a bed, using the forearms as support. Maintain the position for five to 15 minutes, while you cough and expectorate into a basin or newspaper on the floor. Do this twice daily whenever there is significant airway congestion.

June 25th, 2014

Chocolate

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At the center of chocolate’s health benefits are flavonoids. These plant pigments are responsible for many of the health benefits of many fruits and medicinal plants, but chocolate may be a much more sensually pleasing vehicle. In addition, there is evidence that not only is chocolate rich in flavonoids, but that factors in chocolate somehow dramatically increase absorption of these compounds. The key flavonoids are proanthocyanidins (also called procyanidins) similar to those found in grape seed extract, apples, berries, and pine bark extract. Chocolate is very well endowed with these compounds. In fact, procyanidins constitute from 12 percent to as much as 48 percent of the dry weight of the cocoa bean. Cocoa powder can contain as much as 10 percent flavonoids on a dry-weight basis.

One of the key areas of research into the benefits of chocolate consumption is its effect on cardiovascular disease.

Nutritional Highlights:

  • Unlike the saturated fats found in meat and dairy products, the saturated fats found in chocolate do not elevate cholesterol levels.
  • Chocolate – specifically dark chocolate – contains up to four times the antioxidants found in tea.
  • A 1.5 ounce piece of chocolate contains nearly the same amount of  phenols as a 5 oz. glass of red wine, with an antioxidant effect equal to or greater than that of the wine.

Health Benefits:

  • Chocolate can be a rich source of flavonoid antioxidants, which are especially important in protecting against damage to cholesterol and the lining of the arteries
  • Chocolate flavonoids prevent the excessive clumping together of blood platelets that can cause blood clots
  • Chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA), a neurotransmitter that is released by neurons at moments of emotional euphoria, including feelings of love.

In order to provide the most healthful choices of chocolate products, avoid chocolate candies and treats made with hydrogenated fats or refined flour, neither of which promotes health. For the biggest flavonoid bang for your caloric buck, choose high-quality semisweet, dark chocolate with the highest cocoa content that suites your palate. Also, pass on products labeled “artificial chocolate” or “chocolate-flavored”. These imitations are not even close to the real thing in flavor, texture or health benefits.