It’s shocking what a banana can do for you

Bananas are a popular fruit

Bananas are a popular fruit

I promise you’ll be shocked when you find out what a banana can do for you, but first some background information you might not know.

Although most people believe that bananas grow on trees, in fact the plant which produces this fruit is a (large) perennial herb. Bananas themselves are classified as berries!

There at least 50 different species of banana, but only one variety (the Cavendish) is usually sold commercially in the West. You might see other fruit that looks like bananas in ethnic markets, but these are almost all what we call “plantains”, not sweet and intended for cooking.

A boost for the ‘active man’

Bananas are a great energy boost often eaten by top athletes, as for example tennis players, which have been shown to improve mood, increase oxygen flow and improve performance. They also contain bromelain, particularly important for male sexual function, increasing both libido and stamina.

The reason athletes eat them is because they provide a consistent energy release before, during and after exercise. Two bananas have been shown to provide enough energy for a 90 minute workout – of whatever type you have in mind!

Bananas are also a source of fibre, high in magnesium and manganese (both minerals which many men are deficient in, but which are important for prostate function) as well as potassium, vitamin B6 and C. They are very low in sodium and saturated fat (less than 0.5g per banana!) and contain no trans fats or cholesterol.

The nutrients in bananas help regulate blood flow, resulting in a better and longer lasting erection.

Please note that excessive levels of potassium can be dangerous, so it’s best to obtain it from natural sources, rather than supplements. You should only consume bananas or other high potassium foods in moderation if you are taking beta blockers, as these medicines can cause potassium levels to rise.

Bananas in the garden

Bananas are a popular house plant in cool areas, and in tropical places make a wonderful garden plant. Banana skins are very useful as a compost material, and can be added directly around the base of flowering or fruiting plants or included in the compost heap. If you’re going to eat the fruit, it’s important to use organic growing methods because they soak up whatever is sprayed on them. It goes right through the skin and into the fruit. This includes fertiliser, weed killer and any other chemicals used on them.  For the same reason, when you’re buying bananas, look out for organic ones.

Bananas and physical health

Nutritional profile
A ripe medium banana (about 118g) contains 105 calories and an estimated glycemic load of 10 (about 10% of the daily target), 0.29g/3% DV* protein, 27g/12% DV carbs, 0.39g fat, no trans fat, no cholesterol, 3g/12% DV fibre, 10g/17% DV vitamin C, 0.4mcg/22% DV vitamin B6, 3mcg/10% DV biotin, 0.3mg/16% manganese, less than 1% sodium, 422mg/12% DV potassium, 0.09mg/10% DV copper. Also contains useful amounts of riboflavin, folate and magnesium.
*DV = daily value. Source

There are many reasons bananas should be included as a regular part of your diet:

  1. The vitamin content makes bananas helpful for avoiding macular degeneration.
  2. They are rich in potassium, which is important for regulating blood pressure and healthy kidney and heart function. Bananas are well known for their high potassium content, which combined with negligible levels of sodium makes them ideal as part of a low sodium (low salt) diet.Sodium and potassium are held in balance within the body, so if you have high levels of sodium, you need to increase potassium intake to offset this. The best way to do this is by eating bananas or other natural sources.As well as offsetting sodium, potassium is also a vasodilator, which makes it useful for lowering blood pressure. High potassium intake protects against kidney stones, preserves bones and muscles and reduces calcium loss through urination. This means that eating bananas as a regular part of your diet can protect you from the risk of developing osteoporosis.

    The US FDA recognises bananas for their ability to lower blood pressure and protect against heart attack and stroke.Studies have found that a high potassium intake reduces the risk of dying (from all causes) by 20%.

  3. Vitamins B6 and C, magnesium and fibre are also beneficial for the health of your heart.
    • The vitamin B6 content combined with a low GI helps protect against type II diabetes and aid weight loss.Vitamin B6 strengthens the nervous system and is helpful for anyone suffering from anemia. It’s vital for the production of red blood cells (hemoglobin) and important to the immune system.
    • Vitamin C is an antioxidant, helping fight free radicals which are known to cause cancer.
    • Magnesium is very important for the regulation of blood sugar levels and blood pressure, maintenance of muscles and nerves, helps regulate the heart, keeps bones strong and maintains a healthy immune system.
    • Fibre is an important part of the diet which reduces the risk of colorectal cancer. There are two types of fibre in a banana, the ratios varying according to how ripe the banana is. The water soluble fibre increases as the fruit ripens, and the insoluble fibre reduces. Because of the fibre content, bananas are easily digested and do not impact greatly on blood sugar levels.
    • Part of the fibre in bananas is pectin, which is also known for its ability to remove contaminants from the body including heavy metals, and as a drug detox.
    • Fibre is a natural way to avoid or treat constipation.
  4. Bananas are rich in fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which help maintain the balance of friendly bacteria in the gut, supporting digestive health and improving absorption of calcium.
  5. A banana will help to protect against muscle cramps from working out and night time leg cramps.
  6. Bananas are a good source of electrolytes after a bout of diarrhea, and also soothe the digestive tract, acting as a natural antacid and helping to prevent acid reflux (heartburn or GERD). They are one of the few fruits that can be eaten without distress by people who are suffering from stomach ulcers.
  7. For those trying to lose weight, bananas are a great low calorie snack to satisfy sweet cravings. If you replace candy or other snack foods with a banana, you’ll be getting lots of nutrition and fibre, a delicious and satisfying sweet treat, and all this for only 105 calories!
  8. Irritated skin, insect bites, psoriasis, acne and similar problems can be relieved by rubbing with the inside of a banana peel. You can also use it on warts: rub the inner skin onto the wart, then use a bandage or sticking plaster to hold it in place; replace daily until the wart has gone (about a week).
  9. Bananas are safe for pregnant women and help avoid morning sickness by keeping blood sugar levels steady.

Bananas and mental health

  1. A recent survey by the charity MIND found that many people suffering from depression felt better after eating a banana. This is thought to be because of the tryptophan content. Tryptophan is converted into serotonin by the body, increasing relaxation and improving both mood and memory. It also helps to relieve Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and PMS.
  2. Bananas also contain dopamine, but this does not cross the blood/brain barrier, acting instead as an antioxidant. Although the dopamine in bananas does not work directly to improve mood, recent research has shown a link between inflammation and depression, so the antioxidant action of dopamine and other constituents which act to reduce inflammation may indirectly help to improve mood.
  3. A banana and berry smoothie is apparently great as a hangover cure (if you can stand the noise of the blender while hung over).

I told you you’d be shocked!


Essential Oils Safety Quick Reference

Essential Oil Safety Quick Reference

This is just a quick post to announce my new Essential Oils Safety Quick Reference, which you can download for free!

This is essential information for anyone considering using essential oils for whatever purpose you have in mind.

Eighteen pages of safety information about essential oils. Don’t start using essential oils without referring to this safety reference first.

Download it here.


Baked Apples (Gluten Free Recipe)

Baked apple and custard

Baked apple and custard – though personally I prefer cream.

If you’re newly diagnosed as gluten intolerant/celiac, it’s difficult at first to find solutions to the question, “What can I eat?” I’ve come across several people who are finding it difficult to eat enough calories, and because of this, they are losing weight not so much because they want to, but more because of the perennial problem of finding enough gluten free calories!

It’s true that most processed food is off limits if you can’t stomach gluten, but that doesn’t mean you have to go without all the good things in life – and desserts are definitely one of the best!

Well, that’s my opinion, anyway, and I kinda think you wouldn’t be reading this page at all if you weren’t at least partly of the same opinion. Don’t worry I won’t tell anyone about your little secret – let’s just keep it between you and me.

It’s funny, but I have been surfing around looking for desserts, and is it just me, or are they ALL cold? Ok, that’s fine in the summertime, but what about the cold winter months when there’s snow piling up outside and you just don’t seem to be able to get completely warm through, even with the central heating on full blast? That’s the time when you might really miss old fashioned puddings.

Well, although traditional sponge and suet puddings are too complicated to go into details about here, there are some hot puds that are naturally gluten free. Rice pudding, baked custard (not the sort in pastry cases), sweet souffles, stewed fruits and best of all in my humble opinion, baked apples.

Baked apples

Baked apples used to be my absolute favorite dessert when I was a child, and I would make sure I ate every scrap of my main course, to be sure of my entitlement to one of these afterwards. They are so simple to make, and not expensive – especially if you’re using the oven to cook the main course.

You need Bramleys or similar cooking apples. Choose one for each person, and use a corer to remove the core. If you haven’t got a corer, an old fashioned v-shaped potato peeler is another way, you have to go round the core with it, or at the last resort a thin bladed kitchen knife (as you don’t want to cut the apple in half by accident). Make sure there are no little bits of core left inside, as these are not nice to find in your wonderful fluffy cooked apple.

Cut four or five cuts into the skin around the top of the hole outwards like spokes in a wheel, to about halfway down the apple. The apple will expand a little bit when it cooks, and this will stop it exploding! Now put the apples in an oven proof dish and fill the centers up with brown sugar (demerara is ok, but molasses sugar is amazing) almost right to the top. Add a knob of butter on top of the sugar in each apple. The butter will melt and combine with the sugar to make a sort of toffee filling which is gorgeous. But without the butter (or you could use margarine I guess), this doesn’t happen.

You can also fill the apples with dried fruit, such as raisins, instead of the sugar, but you don’t get the toffee filling which I loved so much as a kid. In fact, if it hadn’t been for that, I probably wouldn’t have liked baked apples at all, as I’ve never been keen on cooked apples any other way even in pies.

The prepared apples can just go in the oven towards the bottom along with whatever else you are cooking for the last 20-30 minutes at 180º C (350º F, gas mark 6). When you serve the main course, you can take the apples out and let them cool because they will be very hot, and will stay that way for quite a while.

These are just great with some cream or your preferred topping. If they haven’t had them before, it’s best to warn your family and guests that they are hot, and to eat them carefully so as not to burn their tongues.


Diabetic, Gluten and Dairy Intolerant on a Budget!

The Harvard Food Pyramid

The Harvard Food Pyramid

Q. How can I follow a balanced diet as inexpensively as possible, when I seem to be intolerant/sensitive to gluten, wheat and lactose and prone to diabetic hypos too ?

[Gluten is the protein part of wheat, and is also found in some other grains, including rye, barley, spelt and a few other closely related cereals. Lactose is the sugar found in milk and most other dairy products.]

A. A difficult diet, but not impossible. It’s not too surprising that you have both diabetes and multiple food intolerances, because all of these seem to have strong links to an auto-immune condition. However, I understand your confusion as to what to eat. A balanced diet is important for everyone, but even more so for diabetics.

A properly balanced diet has to contain some of each of the 3 main food groups: carbohydrate, protein and fat. There are important nutrients that cannot be obtained if you omit fats from your diet, many of them actually called “essential fatty acids”, but there are also fat-soluble vitamins. So it’s probably easiest first to just look at possible sources of each of these groups, and then see where we can go from there.

Carbohydrate

Although the Western diet tends to include mainly wheat-based carbs, there are other sources which aren’t that foreign to our palates. These include sugar and molasses (these are probably off-limits to you, except in very small quantities), fruit of all kinds (which contain sugar in combination with fiber, though some are not usually recommended for diabetics, eg. bananas), potatoes, rice, corn and legumes (vegetables that grow in pods, like peas, beans and lentils). You can also eat gluten free flour, pasta and breads. Carbohydrate is a fast energy source, which is why athletes generally eat a lot of it.

Protein

Protein is mainly for building and maintaining muscles. This means that a protein-rich diet is most important for children, people who work in occupations that involve a lot of exertion or possible injury, and those recovering from serious illness. However, we all need some protein every day to cope with general wear and tear. It’s said that for an average adult in a sedentary job, the minimum requirement of protein is only 25g – less than an ounce, but in my opinion, around 4-6 ounces a day is a reasonable amount. You can obtain protein from meat and fish of all kinds, legumes, nuts, grains and other seeds and products made from these, like tofu. However, don’t overdo soy products as large quantities can have estrogenic effects which are injurious to health in the long term.

Fat

If you can’t use dairy products, most of the fat in your diet is likely to come along with whatever meat you eat. Regular butter contains only trace amounts of lactose, so can be included in your diet in small quantities, if you don’t like the substitute spreads. Clarified butter (ghee) contains no lactose at all, so makes a good cooking fat – and unlike most other options it does not turn into trans fats when heated.

Supplements

As many of the dairy and wheat-based products in our diet are fortified with vitamins and minerals for historic reasons, it’s quite likely that by cutting these out you will experience a loss of essential nutrients in your diet. To avoid bad effects, I advise everybody to take a good one-a-day multivitamin and mineral tablet (look for one that contains selenium, as this is an indication that it is fairly complete) and a high dose fish oil capsule every day. This is especially important for anyone on a restricted diet.

The fish oils will provide omega 3. Don’t be tempted to substitute vegetable-based omega 3 capsules, as recent research has shown that this is not easily absorbed by the body, in contrast with the fish-derived omega 3. However, if you are vegetarian, I’ve heard good reports about algae-derived supplements.

Putting it all together

If you cook for yourself, you will find that by some judicious substitution, you can eat pretty much what you’ve always eaten, apart from pies (as gluten free pastry doesn’t hold together very well and is best avoided). Traditional meals from the past – when most people ate meat or fish, potatoes and a couple of veg. at every meal – are easy enough, though gravy has to be thickened with a gluten free product such as cornstarch (UK: cornflour).

Singapore rice noodles are one of my favourite foods.

Singapore rice noodles are one of my favourite foods. Photo by AlekhyaDas.

Meals with rice, like Chinese, Indian and other Asian cuisines are usually almost the same, though you need to ensure that if you use soy sauce you make sure it’s a gluten free type (most is made with wheat). Many Far East cultures also make noodles from gluten free grains like rice, buckwheat and so on, which is helpful. Singapore-style rice noodles are absolutely yummy if you like spicy food.

The breads served with Indian food are rarely available gluten free, but poppadoms should be fine – they are made from lentil flour. Pakora is made with gram flour (besan/chickpea flour), but check with the restaurant, as some low quality pakoras may be made with wheat flour.

There are some very good gluten free pastas and noodles, in particular I recommend Orgran, but there are others which are ok – and some which are not nice at all!

You can also get gluten free pizza bases and tortillas. Tortillas? Yes, because although these were originally always made from pure corn, most of the ones you find on sale nowadays also contain at least some wheat flour (some contain no corn at all), so look out for genuine, pure corn tortillas if you like them, or buy from gluten free producers.

I offer a wide range of gluten and dairy free food products in my online store. Although not all will be suitable for diabetics, I’m sure a good proportion of them will be.


Introduction to Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is an art as well as a science

Aromatherapy is an art as well as a science

“A sound mind in a sound body” (Latin: Mens sana in corpore sano) is a quotation from the writings of Juvenal dating back to the first century AD and speaks of the harmony and relationship of mind to body and vice versa.

A person’s state of mind isn’t only about thoughts and emotions but affects physical condition and function. This concept forms the whole basis of alternative medicine, (often called “holistic medicine” because it relates to the whole person, not just the physical) including aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine that makes use of fragrant plant materials called essential oils, along with other aromatic compounds. The purpose of this therapy is to positively affect a person’s mind, mood, cognitive function or physical health leading to an improved level of wellness. This occurs partly due to the influence of aroma on the brain, particularly in the limbic system via the olfactory system, and partly through direct pharmacological effects by absorption. To benefit from this, a simple guide to aromatherapy should be followed.

Essential oils are used in aromatherapy for their therapeutic effects in many conditions such as for fungal skin irritations, lowering of cholesterol and blood sugar level, thinning the blood and so much more.

Although some medical authorities doubt the effectiveness of essential oils in alleviating medical conditions, the effects of aromatherapy are well known to be beneficial by many others. This is the reason why more and more people are gaining an interest in aromatherapy.

Learning aromatherapy starts with how it’s done

There are many methods including aerial diffusion, direct inhalation, and topical applications by various means.

  • Aerial diffusion can be used for environmental fragrancing, aerial disinfection, to aid respiratory disorders and as a mood changer.
  • Direct inhalation is mainly used to promote respiratory relief via respiratory disinfection, decongestion and expectoration.
  • Topical application methods include general massage, baths, compresses and poultices, and the preparation of blends, creams and ointments for therapeutic skin care.

Aromatherapy materials

You’ve probably heard of essential oils, but there are other materials which can be employed in aromatherapy. The essential oil is just the most well known, though other substances known as absolutes and concretes as well as some gums and resins are also used. All these are extracted from plants via steam distillation, expression or solvent extraction.

It’s important when buying essential oil to use a reputable supplier and to check that what you are buying is 100% pure essential oil (or whatever type of product you are purchasing).

Carrier oils are used to dilute neat essential oils for topical use, and there are quite a number to choose from, though the most popular, probably, are sweet almond oil, light olive oil (particularly for skin and hair care blends), grapeseed oil (cheap and cheerful, but short-lived) and sunflower seed oil (better for aromatherapy than for frying, as you don’t get trans fats with aromatherapy). There are also carrier additives for various purposes.

Undiluted oils are sometimes used for direct inhalation or added to bath water, while blended ones are for topical purposes.

Things to be aware of

Although it’s not something everyone is aware of, essential oils are “not just a pretty smell”, but are medicinally active, and so you need to follow a few basic precaustions:

  1. Most importantly, essential oils should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.
  2. Bear in mind that the term “essential oil” has been misappropriated by certain suppliers (dating back to the old hippy era, when the term was synonymous with “perfume oil” in many people’s minds). So take care to look for a reputable supplier such as my shop which sells only 100% pure essential oils and blends, unadulterated with chemicals and other things. Blends are sold for your convenience, and in the case of the most expensive oils make them more affordable.
  3. Remember that most essential oils should not be used on the skin without diluting them first with a suitable carrier oil. You need a mixing bottle, to which you add the carrier oil first, and then the correct number of drops of essential oil to make a safe and useful blend of the oil/s you are using. There are a few oils that can be used neat, but even in these cases, it’s best to do a patch test first, to check that you don’t get a bad reaction.
  4. Check out the properties, recommendations and contra-indications before using any essential oil. Some are safe for pregnant women to use, but most are not. Some should not be used on children below a certain age or by people suffering from certain conditions or using certain medication. And St John’s Wort and most citrus oils are phototoxic, so should not be used on skin which will be exposed to the sun or tanning equipment in the following 48 hours. You need to know these things before you use it.
  5. Don’t buy more of any particular oil than you can use within a year (for some oils, only 6 months), either of essential oils or carrier oils. You may well find that a good sniff of your purchase more than a year later is less pleasant than you expected. The only solution at this point is to throw them away, so it’s best to buy what you need and no more.

Finally, be aware that essential oils may need particular precautions . For example, Find out the precautions for the oil/s you are considering and take these into account before you use them.


Sweet Basil essential oil, benefits and uses

Description

Sweet basil essential oil is extracted from the same herb used in Italian cooking

Sweet basil essential oil is extracted from the same herb used in Italian cooking


Sweet basil essential oil has a refreshing aroma similar to the herb used in Italian cooking – as it is, in fact, extracted from the same herb, when it is in flower. The botanical name is Ocimum basilicum. Be careful not to mix it up with Holy basil, Ocimum sanctum aka Tulsi.

Sweet basil is available in several chemotypes, the primary one may have the label Ocimum basilicum ct. linalool, whereas so-called exotic basil, which should be handled with caution, has the botanic name O. basilicum ct. methyl chavicol.

I offer sweet basil essential oil in my online shop.

Contra-indications and warnings

As with all essential oils, sweet basil essential oil should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.

Blending: Undiluted basil oil is likely to cause irritation if applied directly to skin. It’s important to dilute basil oil for use in massage or other topical applications with an appropriate carrier oil or other base at a rate of no more than 1 drop to each 2ml carrier before use. Bear in mind that this amount refers to the total eg. if you’re making an equal blend of basil, rosemary and peppermint, you would use a maximum of 1 drop of each to 6ml base.

May cause sensitisation. Do not use on sensitive skin. Not suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding women or children under 13 years of age. Consult your doctor before using basil essential oil if you are currently being treated for a chronic condition.

Therapeutic uses

Basil is a good expectorant. Use it in an oil burner or electric oil warmer for breathing disorders including COPD, bronchitis and other coughs, sinusitis, catarrh, colds and flu. Diffused basil oil is also helpful as an aid to concentration and mental clarity and for nervous conditions including anxiety, depression, insomnia and fatigue.

Use in a massage blend for rheumatism, cramps, muscle pain, gout, indigestion, flatulence (“wind” or “gas”), abdominal cramp and for migraine. It is also helpful used in this way for infections and to lower high temperatures. You can also use blended oil to treat earache.

Other Notes

Basil blends well with bergamot, clary sage, geranium, lavender, peppermint and rosemary. See note above as to proportions.


Remedy for aches and pains

Aches and pains can take away the enjoyment of life

Aches and pains can take away the enjoyment of life

Whatever the time of year, aches and pains can plague us from time to time, and this only gets worse as the weather turns from the cool days of autumn to the frost and snow of winter.

Of course, aching joints and muscles aren’t all created equal but although they can often be quelled by taking over-the-counter painkillers, many people prefer to use more natural methods.

When looking for a remedy for aches and pains,, the first step is to try and work out the cause, as it’s helpful in working out the best treatment to use and where to apply it (if it’s topical). So if you don’t already know what’s going on, take a bit of time to visually check out the area affected to see if there’s anything obvious.

Severe unexplained pain in the leg, foot or ankle, accompanied by one sided swelling, areas that are higher in temperature to the touch and/or a change in skin colour is a possible sign of DVT which is a medical emergency requiring Urgent Medical Care. If this is you, take immediate steps to get treatment.

Possible causes of aches and pains

Pain in the legs, joints or muscles can be caused by arthritis, varicose veins, sciatica, injury, a sprain or other muscular strain. All pain in bones and muscles may also be associated with a zinc deficiency.

  • Arthritis occurs mainly around the joints, which are often swollen, though there may be some transference. There are several types of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and psoriatic arthritis seem to be auto-immune disorders, sometimes triggered by gluten.
  • Varicose veins are usually visible as blue lines under the skin. They can make your legs feel uncomfortable, heavy and aching, possibly accompanied by a burning or throbbing sensation. They are a result of failure of the valves which normally prevent blood flowing in the wrong direction.
  • Sciatica is caused by a compressed or irritated sciatic nerve (in the lower back), but the pain generally travels down from there and can reach as far as the toes, though usually only affecting one leg.
  • Sprains and other injuries such as torn ligaments are generally caused by an accident of some kind, though some injuries may be the result of over-enthusiastic exercise.
  • Muscular strain is caused by exercise which is heavier than you’re used to – especially at the start of a new exercise regimen.
Pains in any part of the body can be a symptom of serious disease, so if they are severe and longstanding, or if they don’t improve with the use of the remedies suggested here within a few days, please consult your doctor to ensure that you aren’t ignoring a potentially life threatening condition.

Remedies for aches and pains

Remedy for aching joints

If you suffer from aching joints, this is generally caused by some form of arthritis. The most common type of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis, which as mentioned above may be related to gluten or other foods in the diet. To test this, take your medical practitioner’s advice or you could try eliminating gluten from your diet for 3 weeks (it takes this long for gluten to leave your system) and keep an eye on your symptoms. An improvement is an indication of a possible link, but you can check this by going on a gluten-rich binge the day after the three weeks is up, and see what happens.

If you’re coping with any joint pain (even osteoarthritis, which is caused by wear and tear) you can obtain some pain relief and reduction of inflammation using topical remedies either alone or in conjunction with prescribed medication.

A zinc supplement may also be helpful, particularly if you’re suffering from RA. You can talk to your doctor about this or read my article about zinc for information on other symptoms that may indicate you’re deficient in zinc.

Another well known supplement used by many people with RA is evening primrose oil (EPO). This contains high levels of gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and trials indicate that a dose of 6g (6000mg) EPO a day is helpful in relieving both pain and morning stiffness in the vast majority of users.

If you have holly or even nettles in the garden you can make a home remedy:

Holly home remedy

Make a holly leaf decoction using 2-4 tablespoonfuls of leaves. Put them into 1 UK pint (2½ US cups, 570ml) cold water in a small pan, bring to a boil then simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.

Nettles home remedy

Make a nettle infusion using 3 handfuls of fresh nettles. Put them in a teapot or other container, add 1 UK pint (2½ US cups, 570ml) boiling water, cover and leave to brew for at least 10 minutes (up to 4 hours) before use.

The dosage in each case is up to 1 cup a day.

Although the other remedies recommended for general aches and pains below can also be used (in particular helichrysum), lavender essential oil blended with your favourite carrier oil is specifically recommended for massaging into painful and swollen joints.

Psoriatic arthritis may benefit from adding avocado carrier oil additive to the lavender oil blend. Eating avocadoes or using avocado oil in salad dressings etc. may also be helpful.

There is also a wide range of specific remedies for arthritis, many of which I offer in my online shop.

Remedy for aching legs

Varicose veins may benefit from a home remedy made from alkanet: put 15g (half an ounce) of dried root in a small saucepan with 1 UK pint (2½ US cups, 570ml) of cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half, strain and allow to cool before use. Apply to the area affected and allow to dry.

If your legs ache due to muscular pain read the next section.

Remedy for aching muscles and sciatica

There are several essential oils which are good for massage blends for muscle pain, including all varieties of eucalyptus oil, lemongrass oil and rosemary oil, but the real star for this purpose is helichrysum which is perfect for any type of musculo-skeletal pain, including sciatica.

Helichrysum is very expensive to produce and therefore usually sold in a ready diluted form, but the others need to be diluted with a carrier oil before use. Add 1 drop to each 2ml of carrier oil and shake well before use.

Note that rosemary oil is not suitable for use by pregnant women, children under 6 years, or anyone suffering from hypertension (high blood pressure) or epilepsy.

I hope that this post has given you some insight into natural ways of dealing with general aches and pains to help you avoid just reaching for the pain killers.


Zinc, The Sex Mineral

foods_high_in_zincZinc is a dull grey metallic mineral which nobody would consider attractive, but despite its drab appearance, zinc is actually the sexiest mineral ever.

It is intimately involved in every aspect of reproduction including the production of testosterone. Low levels of this most important hormone are usually associated with zinc deficiency; remove the deficiency, and testosterone levels go back up to normal.

Just one ejaculation can contain up to 5mg of zinc, which shows you how important it is.

Zinc is also vital for fertility in both sexes, is involved in the production of DNA and cell division, and promotes normal development of the fetus. A zinc deficiency during pregnancy can cause congenital abnormalities at birth.

Zinc overview

Zinc is an essential trace mineral that acts as a catalyst in over 100 enzyme reactions in the body and is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and involved in:

  • cell division
  • building and strengthening bones
  • production of DNA
  • production of hemoglobin
  • production of testosterone
  • correcting hormonal imbalance
  • as a catalyst in hundreds of enzymatic processes
  • insulin activity
  • function of adrenals, pituitary, ovaries and testes
  • maintaining healthy liver function
  • mental alertness
  • activation of T-cells (immune system)
  • healing wounds
  • attacking infected cells
  • attacking cancerous cells
  • decreasing risk of age-related chronic disease including AMD/ARMD
  • fertility in both sexes
  • preventing pneumonia

Zinc is vital for the function of many hormones, including insulin. It is also important for the promotion of normal growth in children, both mentally and physically (in the womb as well as after birth).

Zinc uses

Zinc is used for:

  • fighting free radical damage
  • improving athletic performance
  • slowing the ageing process
  • cold remedies
  • high blood pressure
  • depression
  • tinnitis
  • head injuries
  • diarrhea (but see note on dosage)
  • Crohn’s disease
  • ulcerative colitis
  • peptic ulcers
  • reduction or loss of taste
  • anorexia nervosa
  • reducing damage to the heart
  • AMD/ARMD
  • night blindness
  • asthma
  • pneumonia
  • type 2 diabetes
  • AIDS
  • psoriasis, eczema and acne
  • erectile dysfunction
  • osteoporosis
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • Hansen’s disease
  • ADHD
  • Down’s syndrome
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • sickle cell anemia and many other inherited disorders

Zinc requirement

You need to get enough zinc every day, because although the body contains 2-3g at any one time, this is mostly bound up in the liver, kidneys, skin, muscles and bones. The available zinc is therefore insufficient to last for more than a few hours.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for zinc is 11mg for men, 8mg for women, 2mg for babies up to 6 months, 3mg for infants up to 3 years, 5mg up to age 8 and 8mg to age 13. During pregnancy and lactation, the requirement increases to 12mg a day. Some conditions may indicate a requirement for a higher dosage than listed here.

Note on dosage: The maximum adult dose is 40mg a day. Taking more than this can cause lowered availability of copper and iron and may lead to diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps.

Phytate/phytic acid (found in vegetables and many vegetarian protein sources) can reduce zinc absorption, but can be partially removed by soaking and/or sprouting beans, grains and seeds, or eating grain products which rise during preparation (eg. wholemeal bread).

Zinc sources

foods_high_in_zinc2

Zinc sources for meat eaters

Zinc sources for vegetarians

Zinc sources for vegetarians

Only about 20 percent of the zinc in food can be absorbed on average, although zinc in animal/fish sources is more easily absorbed because of high cysteine levels, which are not found in vegetables and fruit. Zinc is often removed unintentionally during the course of processing and refining. eg. 83% of zinc in brown rice is lost in the process of being polished and turned into white rice.

The highest sources of zinc are usually claimed to be animal/fish based, but in fact cashews and pumpkin seeds are also pretty good sources.

The richest source is oysters, which have almost 5 times the content of the next highest, dried brewers yeast (this is undoubtedly the reason for oysters’ reputation as an aphrodisiac in men). As it’s easier to eat 20-25g of oysters than 100g brewer’s yeast, this makes oysters a particularly valuable source, but it’s unlikely you can eat them every day – you’d get heartily sick of them after a while, for a start.

Please refer to the chart below for more information on sources. It includes both vegetarian/vegan sources and others suitable for meat-eaters.

zinc-content2

Click for larger image

There’s a wide range of products rich in zinc in my online store.

Zinc supplements

Available zinc from supplements varies. 100mg of each of the following yields the amount of zinc shown:

  • zinc amino acid chelate – 19mg
  • zinc gluconate – 13mg
  • zinc orotate – 17mg
  • zinc sulphate – 22.7mg

Some cold remedies which are sold contain zinc, in particular lozenges.

I offer a choice of zinc supplements in my online store.

Zinc deficiency

Deficiency can be caused by phytic acid in grains, legumes (beas, peas and lentils) and vegetables, a high fibre diet, EDTA (used in food processing), large quantities of TVP in the diet, and breastfeeding in infants over 6 months (there is sufficient zinc in breast milk for the first 6 months of life).

Possible symptoms of deficiency include: slow growth and development in children, eczema, frequent colds and other infections, regular stomach problems, slow recovery from exercise, obesity, leaky gut, slow mental processes, post-natal depression, white spots on the nails, consistent diarrhea, chronic fatigue, poor vision esp. slow dark adaptation, lack of concentration, slow healing wounds/bruises, infertility in both sexes, thinning hair, lack of sexual drive or erectile dysfunction in men, lost sense of taste and/or smell, and poor appetite. You don’t need to have all the symptoms to suspect zinc deficiency.

There is also evidence linking zinc deficiency to various types of cancer, including leukemia, prostate cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer and skin cancer.

Possible causes of deficiency are a vegan or vegetarian diet, a low protein diet, pregnancy, endurance sport, alcoholism, sickle cell disease, gastrointestinal disease, over-consumption of iron supplements, some diuretics, and eating disorders.

Research into the effects of zinc

1. Studies have shown that men who are deficient in zinc have lower testosterone levels and that supplementation restores testosterone levels to normal.

2. There have been several studies on the effect of zinc supplementation on Age-related macular degeneration (AMD/ARMD).

A study in the Netherlands found a reduced risk of AMD when the diet contained high levels of zinc with beta carotene (vitamin A), vitamin C and vitamin E.

A study in 2007 found no effect on AMD from supplementation with zinc on its own, but the AREDS study found that supplementation with 500mg vitamin C, 400 IU vitamin E, 15mg beta carotene, 2mg copper and 80mg zinc significantly reduced serious deterioration in existing AMD patients. Without the zinc, there was no effect found. They also found that zinc without the antioxidant vitamins reduced deterioration in “subjects at higher risk, but not in the total population”.

A follow-up to AREDS found that 25mg zinc worked just as well as the 80mg administered in the original study. As excess intake is associated with genito-urinary problems, it is helpful that the reduced dose has been shown to be effective.

3. Research has found that children with ADHD tend to have lower levels of zinc than other children. A study of 400 children with ADHD found that they showed improved behaviour and were less impulsive and hyperactive when they were given 150mg a day of zinc sulphate (which would yield about 34mg zinc).

Zinc and medication

Taking zinc at the same time as antibiotics or penicillamine (a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis) reduces the effect of both the medication and the zinc. Leave at least 2 hours between taking zinc and either of these medications.

Some prescribed diuretics may cause zinc deficiency. Talk to your doctor about monitoring your zinc status whilst taking these.


Gluten and Depression – How does that work?

photo by senapa

photo by senapa

If you visit online forums about depression or celiac disease, you will probably notice quite a few people saying that depression symptoms improve when they stop eating gluten, and come back with a vengeance when they “get glutened”. Is there an explanation for this?

For a lot of years, there has been anecdotal evidence linking depression with gluten (along with more serious mental disorders, up to and including schizophrenia). The problem is, scientists in general, and doctors in particular pay little or no attention to evidence of this type. However, new discoveries have begun to throw light on what is going on.

Clinical depression appears to be linked with serotonin levels in the brain. This has led to the development of new types of anti-depressants, including SSRIs (Prozac is the most well known brand). These new drugs are not without their problems, however. Although initially hailed as dependency-free and safe, there has been a worrying rise in suicide amongst people taking these drugs, and certain patients have apparently had great difficulty in coming off them.

Serotonin is a natural substance which is produced in the body. This natural production appears to be impaired or reduced in various groups of people, including depressives.

The reasons for this impairment are not yet completely clear. However, 90% of the production of serotonin occurs in the digestive tract. So it begins to make sense that the food eaten might have an effect, either positive or negative, on serotonin production.

A report by Ron Hoggan M.A. & James Braly M.D. examines the relationship between depression and diet. They cite various studies carried out by Christine Zioudrou and later followed up by Fukudome and Yoshikawa. They point to morphine-like substances caused by incomplete digestion of proteins in cereal grains and dairy products (called “exorphins”). It is thought that these exorphins can be absorbed through the intestine, offering a possible explanation for the psychiatric effects experienced by otherwise healthy individuals.

Another report by Alessio Fasano and Carlo Catassi states that there is an “Asymptomatic Silent Form” of celiac disease. The term asymptomatic is a bit of a misnomer, as it refers only to the lack of positive test results. Symptoms of this form of gluten intolerance (which may not all be present) are: iron deficiency, a tendency to depression, irritability, or impaired school performance in children “feeling always tired,” and easy fatigue during exercise, and reduced bone mineral density.

In a lecture he gave in 2002, James V. Croxton, M.A. talked about new discoveries relating to previously ignored cells in the brain called glial cells. These appear to be closely involved in the immune system, and directly affected by gliadin, part of the gluten found in wheat and other cereals.

Gluten-free diets (sometimes combined with dairy-free) have been used for autism, depression and schizophrenia, with some success. Even though the mechanism is still not fully clear, it does appear that there is a scientific basis for a connection between gluten and depression in susceptible individuals.

Further research may bring a cure. For the time being, though the only safe approach is to exclude gluten from the diet entirely.

I offer a wide range of food for special diets in my online shop.