Although your digestive system may seem to be simply a tube, with the mouth as its entrance the anus as its exit, the wide variety of jobs that it has says more about how complex it really is and why the good bacteria that live there are so important. The main tasks of the digestive system, of course, are to break down bulk food, absorb nutrients, and eliminate waste. It also plays a major role in the immune system. The lining of the small intestine, in fact, houses an astonishing 70% of the immune-producing cells in your body. Furthermore, scientists have found that, when digestion is working well and the immune system is strong, the intestines host more than 400 kinds of bacteria, amounting to several billion cells whose combined weight can reach about 3-4 pounds! Read more… »
The search for natural anxiety relief is a worldwide phenomenon. Fortunately, natural remedies for anxiety that have been in use for centuries are now backed by solid scientific research. Prescription drugs and expensive psychotherapies become unnecessary when you know which natural anxiety remedies work best.
Finding Herbs for Anxiety
Internet searches are simply going to be overwhelming. Dozens of herbs are available in hundreds of supplements that are marketed by thousands of websites and in countless retail nutrition stores. Sorting through all that information can be worthwhile only if you have the time and inclination to do so.
A better strategy is to check out the scientific research behind some of the already well-known herbs. This at least gives you an indication of how good they are beyond their use as traditional medicines.
Looking up original research is rewarding if you know how to use PubMed and can follow the scientific jargon in the abstracts that are free there. The nice thing about research on natural remedies for anxiety, though, is that it is often summarized in monographs by herb groups and companies that are serious about creating supplements based on medical evidence.
The following are examples of four of the top herbs for treating anxiety, stress, depression, and insomnia. I give you an overview of what to expect by searching the medical database (PubMed), plus a downloads of monographs that have been prepared for the educated public. Dig into them for much more detail when you have some time. They are fascinating guides to what you can expect from these herbs.
This is absolutely one of my favorites. I use it myself, with great results, and I enjoyed lecturing about it in my college classes. There is so much information on this herb that it could fill a book.
A cursory PubMed search on just the scientific name (Piper methysticum) yields a list of 197 research articles. The most pertinent references for its medicinal use are summarized in a monograph on kava that is available to the public. This herb has an extensive history in traditional medicine, which is reflected in this detailed monograph.
Kava (or ‘kava kava’) is so popular worldwide that you will easily find it in capsules, tinctures, and even as whole roots. In fact, on a vacation to Fiji a few years ago, I found that about half the stalls at the daily farmer’s market in the city of Suva were selling kava roots.
You can bet that I spent a few relaxing afternoons with some of the natives who invited me to their daily kava rituals!
St. John’s Wort
This herb is famous among those in the know as a wonderful treatment for mild anxiety. In fact, it has attracted a huge amount of attention from the research community. A PubMed search on the scientific name (Hypericum perforatum) shows 984 published articles on this herb.
Here is a silly note. A few years ago some dufus in mainstream medicine conducted a study where the final result showed St. John’s wort to be useless against severe depression. All he had to do was consult any herbal medicine book to see that the study was doomed at the outset. The key is using St. John’s wort for mild depression, where it has been used successfully for generations.
This herb seems to be what the medicos call an SSRI (i.e., ‘selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor’), which is how some prescription antidepressants work. More recently studies have documented its use in treating anxiety.
Of course, the herb folks have put together a nice monograph on St. John’s wort for the public. Again, it is fascinating and worthwhile reading for you when you get a chance.
This herb also has a long history in traditional medicine. However, it has only relatively recently attracted attention from research science. PubMed lists 89 references in a search on its scientific name (Passiflora incarnata). Fortunately, herbalists have taken the best of these and put together a monograph on passion flower for public use.
Even a quick glance at that monograph shows how important passion flower is as one of the top herbs for anxiety. Fortunately, it is also easy to find. It is no wonder that this herb is a popular ingredient in the best natural anxiety remedies.
Albizia julibrissin (sometimes spelled ‘Albizzia’), or silk tree, is one of the most beautiful trees that I enjoyed as I was growing up in northern California. When I started studying plant biochemistry I found out that this native of southeastern Asia has a rich history in eastern herbal medicine. Modern research on this herb has not yet caught up with its importance for treating stress and depression. However, early indications are that certain of its phytochemicals have effects on GABA receptors, which influence areas in brains that regulate excitability. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?
I have dug into the research on albizia to see how it matches up with its traditional medicinal use. Since no monograph is available on it yet, I simply put the list of pertinent articles into a file that you can examine for yourself. Be forewarned that this is super geeky, since it lists primary scientific references and abstracts.
Nevertheless, this file on albizia research gives you at least a preliminary idea of what researchers have been finding out about this herb. My comment is: so far, so good.
By the way, the first time I became aware of this herb is when I bought a retail nutrition store and found it on the shelf. I had to scurry to educate myself on it because so many of my customers wanted to know about herbs for anxiety. Those who used it were quite pleased with how well it worked.
All the best in natural health,
Veggies are more important than ever. Mom was right. Eat your veggies. Now we know that the right ones can boost a crucial molecule that impacts everything that has to do with cardiovascular health and circulation. This little baby is nitric oxide. Life is no good without it. Read more… »
The internet is full of good information that is sometimes hard to find. This is especially true on the topic of breast cancer. For that reason I have started a special page linking articles that I have found over time that might be helpful for women and their families. Read more… »
Is a daily green smoothie all that good for you? Maybe. It depends on the recipe, of course, plus several other factors. Books such as ‘The Simple Green Smoothie Solution’ provide wonderful food for thought. Such books are way overpriced, though. Some recommendations from free sources of information across the Web are pretty good and some are not. Here is what you should know to get the most out of your green smoothies.
I advocate the consumption of green smoothies. The main purpose of this article is just to help you think more critically about them, especially when different sources offer contradictory recommendations.
The Simple Green Smoothie Solution
Jadah Sellner and Jen Howard, authors of ‘The Simple Green Smoothie Solution’, are to be commended for creating a huge stir around green smoothies. Everyone has probably heard about green smoothies by now, and many folks have made a regular habit of making their own. Green smoothies are nothing new.
The main reason for this post is to direct you to good information that doesn’t cost anything. At the very least, certainly don’t fall for the ads that I’ve seen for the Sellner-Howard book, asking for only $39.95. You can get this same book, like I did, on Amazon, new for $9.98. It really isn’t even worth that much, though.
By the way, if you search at Amazon for books on ‘green smoothies’, you will get a list of more than 1200 results. This just goes to show you how popular this topic is. Fortunately for you, plenty of blogs and other websites provide lots of advice for free.
The key, as always, is to figure out which advice is the best, especially when different sources contradict one another.
General health advice is hard to argue, and most of what you will find seems rational. Of course, green smoothies are a way to get more fruits and vegetables into your diet. In fact, drinking finely blended plant material is an improvement over eating it whole and raw. The main reason is that blending effectively destroys more cell walls than you can by chewing. The result is that you actually get more out of the plant cells from smoothies than you can by eating raw plant material.
Of course, cooking can do the same. The issue with cooking is whether it destroys any beneficial ingredients. Broccoli is a good example of a veggie that is almost useless raw or overcooked. It has to be cooked just right to get the optimum amount of glucosinolates (e.g., sulphorophane) out of the cells without destroying their biological activity.
How About Smoothie Research?
Ideally, we would like to see some research in support of the green smoothie revolution, right? The nearly breathless subtitles in Chapter 3 of the Sellner-Howard book, for example, cry out for scientific support, regardless of how good or how rational they sound. First, let’s take a look a few of the more exciting health benefits in these subtitles:
- Reverse Aging – Look And Feel Young Again! And Stay That Way!
- Decrease Or Eliminate Your Risk Of Cancer!
- Protect Your Heart!
- Turbo-Charge Your Immune System*
- Boost Your Energy And Improve Your Mental Alertness
- Easily Increase Your Fiber Intake
- Prevent, Manage, Or Even Reverse High Blood Sugar And Diabetes!
- Shed Unwanted Pounds And Lose Weight Naturally*
*Curiously, these subtitles were the only ones without exclamation points.
Now let’s see what PubMed, our national medical research database has to offer on smoothies for health.
In a search on ‘smoothie’ as the keyword, PubMed lists 31 articles at this time. Several have to do with tooth enamel erosion, since this is a big worry with commercial products that are called smoothies. Several other articles entail research on similar commercial smoothies. These articles are irrelevant to those of us who want to make our own smoothies.
The only three articles that come close to evaluating the health benefits of homemade smoothies, as follows:
1) Colonic availability of polyphenols and D-(-)-quinic acid after apple smoothie consumption. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2011 Mar;55(3):368-77.
The main conclusion of this article, as stated in the abstract is: These results suggest that the food matrix might affect the colonic availability of polyphenols, and apple smoothies could be more effective in the prevention of chronic colon diseases than both cloudy apple juice and apple cider.
2) Effect of New Zealand blueberry consumption on recovery from eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012 Jul 11;9(1):19.
Now we are getting somewhere. The article concludes: This study demonstrates that the ingestion of a blueberry smoothie prior to and after EIMD [exercise-induced muscle damage] accelerates recovery of muscle peak isometric strength. This effect, although independent of the beverage’s inherent antioxidant capacity, appears to involve an up-regulation of adaptive processes, i.e. endogenous antioxidant processes, activated by the combined actions of the eccentric exercise and blueberry consumption. These findings may benefit the sporting community who should consider dietary interventions that specifically target health and performance adaptation.
3) Bioactives in blueberries improve insulin sensitivity in obese, insulin-resistant men and women. J Nutr. 2010 Oct;140(10):1764-8.
Aha! Now we are getting somewhere! This study provided daily smoothies to two groups of people for 6 weeks. One group got smoothies that included ‘bioactives’ from the equivalent of about 2 cups of blueberries and the other group got smoothies without blueberries. Here is what they found: Insulin sensitivity was enhanced in the blueberry group at the end of the study without significant changes in adiposity, energy intake, and inflammatory biomarkers. In conclusion, daily dietary supplementation with bioactives from whole blueberries improved insulin sensitivity in obese, nondiabetic, and insulin-resistant participants.
This is outstanding! If a picture is worth a thousand words, this is the graph that highlights the most important result of this study:
That’s pretty good, isn’t it?
If that is all we knew for sure, it would certainly be good enough incentive to consume smoothies that contain blueberries. Unfortunately, that is just about all that we know for sure.
Yes, I agree that many other health benefits probably accrue from consuming green smoothies. If anything, daily smoothies at least boost your consumption of fruits and vegetables.
You will find that two main issues often crop up when you bounce around different websites that recommend green smoothies. These are:
1) How Much Fruit?
Fruit smoothies contain too much sugar, that’s for sure. That junk that you get at smoothie shops is typical. What is best for making your own smoothies? Different advocates recommend various proportions of greens to fruits, anywhere from all greens to half greens/half fruits.
How about the research on this issue? Completely lacking.
It all depends on the type of fruit. Blueberries are great, as we can see from the research cited above. The combination of ingredients in fruits is a good indicator of which fruits to include, beginning with sugar content. Here is a brief guide from one source:
The ideal fruit should offer low sugar content, high nutrient content (antioxidants, etc.), and some fiber. It sure isn’t simple, is it? All things considered, blueberries and watermelon are at the top of my list.
The main point is: Above all else, keep the sugar content down.
2) Adding Oil
The logic behind the advice to add oil to your smoothies is that it will enhance the bioavailability of oil-soluble/fat-soluble nutrients from the plant material. This is, again, a reasonable suggestion.
How about the research on this issue? Almost completely lacking.
On the scale of solubility, beta-carotene and vitamin E are examples of nutrients that are known to be more bioavailable when consumed with fats and oils. This observation would probably extend to many other oil-soluble/fat-soluble nutrients, too. They include vitamins A, D, and K. Many antioxidant phytonutrients are also more oil-soluble than they are water-soluble.
The benefit of adding oils to smoothies is that certain oils have health benefits of their own. Fish oils, flax oil, and coconut oil are the best and most cost-effective. You can get a wonderful dose of omega-3 oils from just a couple of teaspoons of the right fish oil. This is the simplest way to reap the benefits of DHA without having to take any large fish oil capsules.
My choice is to alternate days with fish oil vs. days with coconut oil in my smoothies. The health benefits of coconut oil are becoming more well-known, in spite of fear-mongering by thoughtless medical folks about this excellent mixture.
If you are adding oil to your smoothie, which seems to be the best way to boost its value, be absolutely sure to avoid any of the common vegetable oils on the market. They are bad in so many ways that it is best to just avoid them.
Making Smoothies Easily – A Hint
Frozen ingredients are the easiest to blend into a fine consistency. Frozen foods in general are easier for blending because they are so brittle.
My two favorite greens are spinach and kale. Frozen chopped spinach, with no additive of any kind, is easy to find in the frozen food section of your supermarket. As for kale, buy fresh baby kale and stick it in the freezer.
I have successfully frozen beets that I cut up fresh.
Freeze fresh blueberries when they are in season. Otherwise just get frozen blueberries. They are always easy easy to find.
What about the best combinations?
Once I got past the notion that I had to measure everything precisely, I simply grabbed ingredients in what looked to be the right amounts. This means about 1-2 cups of spinach, 1-2 cups of kale, a cup of blueberries, 2 tablespoons of oil, and 16 ounces of water. I may also substitute a cup of frozen beets, which I cut up fresh and stash in the freezer, for a portion of either the spinach or the kale.
None of these are what you would call gourmet flavors. They all taste like extract of lawn, with a hint of blueberries or beets or maybe a banana now and again. Sometimes I add sea salt, which provides a small improvement. Sometimes I add a few drops of flavored Stevia.
Generally I like these things, although my wife mostly does not. I encourage you to simply experiment a bit until you hit on a few combinations that tickle your fancy…and that are probably very good for your health, too!
There, now that was a simple set of recommendations, with a little dose of science. And it didn’t cost you anything except your time to read this post. What a deal!
A new green smoothie aficionado,
Some more shameless marketing appeared in my USA Weekend magazine this morning. An ad over two full pages on a product called SeroVital-hGH promises to turn back your aging clock by boosting your growth hormone levels to what they were when you were much younger. This ad even invokes the great and powerful Dr. Oz, albeit in a very shady way. Here is why this is just more junk medicine to not waste your money on. Read more… »
Astragalus membranaceus has been researched intensively as a medicinal herb at least since 1965. As of December 2, 2013, 638 journal articles were listed on PubMed from a search on the species name alone. It is an extensive list that is available to the public at no charge. For your convenience, here is the complete list, in reverse chronological order, starting with the most recently published article in November, 2013. Read more… »
Vegetable oils have become a major negative impact on human health in modern times because so many of them are inflammatory. They are simply toxic and must be avoided for achieving optimal health. Here is why. Read more… »
Eat more fat (and fewer carbs) or get sick and die young. Let’s not mince words. Your health status depends more on what you eat than almost anything else you do on a daily basis. Do it right and be healthy for a long lifetime. Do it wrong and become another medical casualty of poor eating. Eating more fat is the key to good health, including saturated fat. Here is why. Read more… »
Dr. Oz continues to parrot the dietary recommendations of the American Heart Association in spite of contradictory research showing that it is lousy advice. Eating less meat cuts down on saturated fat consumption, which is supposedly harmful to your health. It isn’t. Here are some details that you should know before taking this advice from Dr. Oz or from the AHA. Read more… »