Vanilla Essential Oil

Vanilla essential oil benefits and uses

Vanilla Essential Oil

Vanilla essential oil is extracted from fermented pods of the vanilla orchid vine

There are three types of vanilla essential oil*, which are:

  • extracted from Vanilla planifolia, sometimes labelled Bourbon vanilla,
  • extracted from V. pompona, sometimes labelled West Indies vanilla, and
  • extracted from V. tahitensis (which is not often used, due to the low vanillin content), sometimes called Tahitian vanilla.

You may also come across an oil called Mexican vanilla, which is also extracted from V. planifolia like Bourbon vanilla, but unfortunately is often adulterated with oil from the tonka bean (which contains coumarin, a dangerous substance which can cause damage to the liver amongst other things), so anything with the label Mexican vanilla is best avoided.

Vanilla is a vine in the Orchid family. All three types of vanilla plant are closely related, and production of the vanilla pods from which the oil is derived requires careful attention, involving fermentation for 6 months in order to develop the actual vanilla flavour/fragrance.

How vanilla essential oil is produced

Though you may see pages which purport to tell you how to make your own vanilla essential oil, what you actually get by following the instructions is not essential oil but more like some of the cheap (fake) vanilla essential oils on the market. Technically it is an infusion or maceration, not an essential oil.

*In fact, although there is a vanilla resinoid (produced by solvent extraction from cured vanilla beans), what is sold by reputable aromatherapy suppliers as “essential oil” is either the absolute (which requires further extraction from the resinoid) or a diluted absolute. Given that vanilla itself is the second most expensive spice (after saffron), the absolute is far too expensive for most of us to consider, which is why it’s normally sold diluted. However, although not technically an essential oil, that’s what most people call it so from here on that is how I will be referring to it in this post.

Due to its high price and the length and complexity of its production, vanilla essential oil is one of those oils that are often counterfeit. This sham vanilla oil might be an oil infusion, or some vanilla extract diluted in a carrier oil, or even a completely synthetic oil – which may smell ok, but will not have any of the healing properties of the genuine article and might be actively dangerous. So if you see vanilla oil that seems inexpensive – or you find it on the shelves of a pound shop or grocery store, you can pretty much assume that it’s fake.

Properties of Vanilla Essential Oil

Vanilla oil is antibiotic, anticarcinogenic (particularly for prostate and colon cancers), antidepressant, antifungal (active against Candida albicans and Cryptococcus neoformans), anti-nausea, antioxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, balsamic, emmenagogue, febrifuge, mood enhancing, mosquito repellent, relaxant, a sedative and tranquiliser.

Uses of Vanilla Essential Oil

Because of its property as an emmenagogue, vanilla oil is not suitable for use during pregnancy in the first trimester, and therefore cannot be used for morning sickness.

If using the absolute for massage etc., dilute in a suitable carrier oil at a rate of 5 drops to each 10ml of carrier. You may prefer to use this dilution for oil burners as well.

For use in the bath, mix 3-4 drops of the oil with a little milk to form an emulsion and stir in to the water once the bath is ready. Please be careful when using essential oils in the bath, and bear in mind when getting in and out that it will make the area more slippery than usual.

Vanilla can be used for massage to fight depression, ease stress, calm the mind and increase libido. It’s also helpful for relieving muscle and joint pain, cramped muscles or cramps associated with menstruation, to reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune system. It can be used direct on acne, eczema, itching, burns, cuts and inflamed skin to soothe, promote healthy skin, to reduce cellulite and also on the scalp to encourage hair growth. It’s also beneficial for regulating menstruation.

It can be used in a burner, electric diffuser or in the bath for stress, nervous tension, insomnia, coughs and other respiratory problems. It is said to encourage sweet dreams if used in the bedroom, as well as having a reputation as an aphrodisiac. Diffused vanilla oil is a mosquito repellent, which makes it very helpful in bedrooms in countries where mosquitoes are a problem. To avoid the danger of fire while you sleep, you could use an electric diffuser or put the oils onto a cloth which is laid over a radiator instead of using a candle-based oil burner.

I offer Vanilla Essential Oil in my online shop.


Bananas are a popular fruit

It’s amazing 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 fiber, 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 fiber, 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 fiber are beneficial for the health of your heart, and
    • The vitamin B6 content combined with a low GI helps protect against type II diabetes and aid weight loss.
    • Vitamin B6 also 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.
    • Fiber is an important part of the diet which reduces the risk of colo-rectal cancer. There are two types of fiber in a banana, the ratios varying according to how ripe the banana is. The water soluble fiber increases as the fruit ripens, and the insoluble fiber reduces. Because of the fiber content, bananas are easily digested and do not impact greatly on blood sugar levels.
    • Part of the fiber 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.
    • Fiber 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 fiber, 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 during pregnancy 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 truly think it’s amazing what a banana can do for you. Didn’t I tell you you’d be shocked?


Zinc health benefits: The Sex Mineral

foods_high_in_zinc

Some zinc-rich foods

Zinc 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.


5 Herbal Remedies that work really well

Nature has bestowed humans with unlimited treasures, including traditional herbs. Herbs offer effective solutions to common ailments. They are also generally safer as compared to conventional medicines.

From Aloe vera to peppermint, here are 5 herbal wonders that really work:

Aloe vera

Cross section of Aloe vera leaf

Cross section of Aloe vera leaf

Aloe vera contains more than 75 active healing ingredients, including enzymes, salicylic acid, lignin, saponins, and amino acids. It also has essential antioxidant vitamins A, C, and beta-carotene (Vitamin A) as well as folic acid.

Most people use Aloe vera gel for cosmetic use. It may be used to treat sunburn, acne marks and restore lost skin elasticity.

It is a natural moisturiser for dry and damaged hair. Packed full of vitamins and minerals, it helps keep your hair smooth and healthy. Due to Aloe vera’s antiseptic and antibacterial properties, it also helps rid the scalp of dandruff.

Check out the range of Aloe vera products in my online shop.

Aside from the plant’s cosmetic and beauty applications, aloe vera contains strong anti-inflammatory components. Some people recommend its juice as a digestive aid, but I advise caution: it’s a very strong purgative, which is fine, so long as you stay near a bathroom for the next few hours.

Turmeric

Turmeric

Turmeric is a well known spice

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a well-known spice that improves the flavour of dishes. It’s also an antioxidant and has proven medicinal value.

Turmeric contains antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory molecules called curcumin, which makes it particularly useful to arthritis patients.

If you have a cold, you can eat a teaspoon of honey mixed with turmeric powder to help drive it away.

Be careful to buy good quality turmeric, as some of the cheaper types are bulked out with other ingredients that at best aren’t medicinally active and at worst may be actively dangerous in medicinal quantities.

There is also a turmeric essential oil which is mainly used tor skin conditions, stress and fatigue.

I offer a range of turmeric products including supplements in my online shop.

Fenugreek seeds

Fenugreek seeds

Fenugreek (methi) seeds

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is an Asian herb. It has been used for decades to address blood pressure and appetite issues.

Studies have found that consuming 2 ounces of fenugreek seed each day can reduce cholesterol levels.

It contains high antioxidant levels, but is mainly used for period pains, indigestion, for bronchitis and as a gargle for sore throat. Make a decoction using 4 teaspoonfuls seeds soaked overnight in 2 cups of cold water, then boil for one minute and strain off the seeds. You can take up to 2 cups a day of this.

I offer fenugreek, loose and in capsules in my online shop.

 Peppermint

Peppermint

Peppermint is a useful herb

Peppermint (Mentha x piperita officinalis) contains phyto-nutrients that fight diseases. This herb has strong anti-oxidant properties. It also contains important oils such as menthone, menthol and menthol acetate.

Peppermint helps alleviate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and heartburn/acid reflux. For indigestion, griping pains or symptoms of IBS, have a cup of peppermint infusion (use 1-2 teaspoons dried herb to a cup of water, brew for at least 10 minutes, then strain off the herb and drink hot or cold).

In aromatherapy, the oil is sometimes used to relieve tension headaches.

As with all essential oils, peppermint 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.

I offer a range of peppermint herb products in my online shop.

Lavender

Lavender

There’s much more to lavender than just scent

Aside from its enchanting aroma, lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) also offers optimal health benefits. A lavender infusion made in the same way as described under peppermint is helpful for anxiety and depression. You can drink up to 1 cup a day, usually split into 3 doses.

Lavender exudes a soothing smell that calms down an anxious mind and helps you sleep. Add a few drops of lavender essential oil or some lavender flowers in a cotton bag to your bath to de-stress after a long day. Lavender is also used in creams to treat skin conditions like acne.

You’ll find a wide range of lavender-based products in my online shop.

These five herbs offer optimal health benefits. You may find some of them in your garden. But, if you are looking for something extra, make sure to check out Frann’s Alt.Health Shop.


Lemon and Orange Peels: Don’t throw them away

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Orange peel has many amazing health benefits

Orange peel has many amazing health benefits

If you’ve bought a lemon or two to make your own lemon meringue pie filling, or to use the juice some other way, don’t throw away the peel – it’s full of nutrition. The same goes for oranges, both the sweet ones we eat from the fruit bowl and the bitter ones used for marmalade.

OK. I understand that you might already use orange peel in your marmalade, if that’s why you bought the oranges. Personally I prefer mine shredless, but we’re all different. It may be, also, that you buy your lemons to slice up and put in drinks. Or you may just never buy either of these fruits, so you don’t have any peel that you can put to good use. No problem! You can buy dried lemon and orange peels in some health stores and herbalists.

Description

I hope that you are careful about the oranges and lemons that you buy, particularly if you’re using the peel in cooking or adding it to drinks, because commercial citrus growers aren’t picky about using chemicals, many of which are extremely bad for you. Obviously, a lot of these end up on the skin. So as you are probably accustomed to me saying in every post, it’s important that the peel you use comes from organically grown oranges or lemons (or other citrus fruit).

So why should you go to the trouble of rescuing your citrus peels, or even buying them in? You’ll be amazed just how good for you these little bits of detritus actually are!

Nutrients

First off, there’s a lot more nutrition in lemon and orange peel than you might expect from something you would normally throw away. Here’s a breakdown:

Nutrition per 100g    
Nutrient Lemon Peel Orange Peel
Vitamins  
Vitamin C 129mg 136mg
Thiamin 0.06mg 0.12mg
Riboflavin 0.08mg 0.09mg
Niacin 0.4mg 0.9mg
Vitamin B6 0.172mg 0.176mg
Folate 13µg 30µg
Vitamin B12 0µg 0µg
Vitamin A 50IU 420IU
Vitamin E 0.25mg 0.25mg
Minerals  
Calcium 134mg 161mg
Iron 0.8mg 0.8mg
Magnesium 15mg 22mg
Phosphorus 12mg 21mg
Potassium 160mg 212mg
Sodium 6mg 3mg
Zinc 0.25mg 0.25mg
Other  
saturated fat 0.039g 0.024g
monounsaturated fat 0.011g 0.036g
polyunsaturated fat 0.089g 0.04g
trans fat 0g 0g
Cholesterol 0mg 0mg

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting you start eating orange peel by the bowlful. This is just to illustrate that it’s not rubbish, by any means.

Medicinal uses

But the nutrients are only half the story. There’s also evidence that components not listed in this table, for example bioflavonoids, have health benefits that have little to do with vitamin and mineral content (so far as we know). One of these interesting substances is d-limonene, found in all citrus peel, which is used to treat GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). It also dissolves cholesterol – even when it’s formed into gallstones. Another property of limonene is as a preventive against colorectal, breast and some other cancers. Useful indeed!

Lemon peel also contains a flavonoid called naringin, a powerful antioxidant. Another flavonoid called hesperidin is found in the white pith of lemons, and this may be helpful for menopausal women by inhibiting bone loss (osteoporosis).

Recent research indicates that citrus peel may also help to prevent diabetes, obesity and heart disease by reducing TG and cholesterol.

Great! I hear you saying. But if I don’t have to eat it, how do I get these amazing benefits? Easy. Either stick it through a blender or juicer to get it really fine so you can add it to food, smoothies and so on or make an infusion, or both. You can also use it in larger size pieces (remove the pith to reduce bitterness) in recipes using grains and rice.

To make a standard infusion you would use about 15-30g fresh peel or a teaspoon or two of dried peel to each cup of boiling water. Leave it to brew for 5-15 minutes (the longer you leave it, the more beneficial the resulting tea). Sweeten to taste, and enjoy.

Aromatherapy

Lemon, sweet and bitter orange are all used to make essential oil, extracted from the peel. Like all citrus oils, they are photo-sensitising, so you should avoid tanning beds and sunshine for 48 hours after use.

As with all essential oils, none of the oils mentioned in this post should 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.

Final Notes

If you are lucky enough to live in an appropriate climate and have a large enough garden to grow your own lemons and oranges, please bear in mind that organic is best, because that way you know what you’re getting is pure and unadulterated with chemicals.


How Antioxidants Affect Your Health

antioxidant-rich

A selection of antioxidant-rich foods. Add some fish and/or shellfish to obtain the extremely important mineral, selenium.

The main antioxidant nutrients are Vitamins A, C and E and selenium. Antioxidants have been shown to have a protective effect against cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

Taming the free radicals

As you go about your daily life, your body produces free radicals from the oxygen in your bloodstream, and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol causes a build up of fat in the arteries (this process is called atherosclerosis). Antioxidants deactivate these free radicals and thus help protect against heart disease as well as some cancers.

beta-carotene on its own has been shown to increase the likelihood of death by lung cancer in smokers.However, the most recent research shows that taking beta-carotene in combination with the other antioxidants is helpful, reducing lung cancer risk by 16% (Wright ME, Mayne ST, et al. Am J Epidemiol 2004 Jul 1;160(1):68-76.)>

Fighting the Big C

Studies have shown that diets high in antioxidants (eg. the Mediterranean diet with its high proportion of fruit and vegetables) have a protective effect against many forms of cancer, as well as heart disease. However, in spite of extensive studies, there is some dispute whether antioxidant supplements have the same results.

It’s possible that to work effectively, antioxidants require other co-factors, present naturally in the foods that contain them, and that this is why antioxidant-rich diets may work better in some cases than supplements. In any event, it seems that the standard advice about eating a balanced diet that contains a high proportion of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and nuts holds true here as well.

Rare exception

The one exception (about which there is little dispute concerning supplementation) is Selenium, an essential trace mineral which is an important part of the antioxidant enzymes that protect cells from the harmful effects of free radicals. Several studies show that people with low intake levels of selenium have an increased risk of heart complaints and cancer.

Unfortunately, Selenium is quite difficult to get from most food, certainly in the UK, as this is mostly produced in areas with very low soil concentrations. You can obtain useful quantities from fish, shellfish and some brazil nuts, but if you don’t eat these foods very often, a supplement may be a good idea, especially if you are in one of the groups at risk.

I offer Selenium ACE tablets in my online shop.


Vitamin E Health Benefits: The Youth Vitamin

sunflower

Sunflower seeds are rich in vitamin E

Vitamin E has many health benefits. Men wishing to regain their lost youth may look to Vitamin E, which has been shown to increase sperm count and libido and delay ageing.

Vitamin E may be shown on labels as tocopherol. It is a fat-soluble vitamin, which is stored in body fat.

Because Vitamin E is only found in oils and fats, dieters on low-fat diets are often taking in less than 10% of the RDA, itself on the low side. To avoid long term health problems, a supplement of at least 400mg per day is highly recommended. This should always be taken with food, as absorption of Vitamin E from supplements taken without food is poor.

One of the four main antioxidant nutrients, Vitamin E has the following known effects:

  • reduces the oxygen requirement of muscles
  • anti-blood clotting agent
  • dilates and maintains healthy blood vessels
  • protects polyunsaturated oils, amino acids and vitamin A
  • prevents thrombosis
  • prevents atherosclerosis
  • prevents thrombophlebitis
  • increases sperm count and libido
  • delays ageing
  • assists white blood cells to resist infection
  • increases HDL (“good”) cholesterol
  • reduces LDL (“bad”) cholesterol – at minimum dose of 1000mg per day

A deficiency of Vitamin E causes irritability, lethargy, apathy, lack of concentration, decreased libido and muscle weakness.Some interesting studies into Vitamin E include:

  • In the late ’40s, Drs W and E Shute studied 30,000 patients taking 800IU of Vitamin E per day, and found a significant reduction in their risk of heart attack. The medical establishment buried these findings for over 40 years until, in 1992, two further studies were made by Harvard School of Public Health. The first, on 87,245 women, found a reduction in risk of heart attack of 46%, the second, on 51,529 men, a reduction of 37%. In both these studies, the subjects took a minimum of 100IU of Vitamin E over a period of 2 years (Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine,V7no4.92).
  • Several studies show that high doses (400mg or above) can delay the onset of type 2 diabetes in individuals at risk.
  • A Finnish trial found that men taking Vitamin E had 31% less prostate cancer after 4 years, 41% less at 6 years.
  • The Linus Pauling Institute, at Oregon State University, found in January 2004 that in cereals fortified with Vitamin E, the vitamin is absorbed very efficiently. Vitamin E tablets taken with cereal are very much less effective, and when taken without food the vitamin is often not absorbed at all. The report recommends that other foods be fortified with Vitamin E, since the average intake is much lower than the RDA.

Medically, Vitamin E is used to treat intermittent claudication, thrombosis, atherosclerosis, arteriosclerosis, varicose veins, thrombophlebitis, menstrual problems, low fertility, skin ulcers, gangrene in diabetics, nerve, joint and muscular complaints, haemolytic anaemia (in newborns), thalassaemia, sickle cell anaemia and cystic breast disease. It is recommended in cases of mitochondrial disorder at a rate of 200-400IU, 1-3 times a day. It is also applied directly to treat scar tissue, stretch marks, sunburn and other burns and scalds.

Vitamin E is more effective in combination with Selenium.

Best food sources in order of importance: wheat germ oil, soy bean oil, maize (corn) oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, cod liver oil, roasted peanuts, crisps (potato chips)

There is no known case of toxicity due to an excess of Vitamin E.

I offer various vitamin E products in my online shop.


Vitamin C Health Benefits: The Cold Buster

citrus

Citrus fruits are a great source of vitamin C

As well as being an antioxidant, Vitamin C is also well known for its action against colds and similar viruses.

Vitamin C may be shown on labels as L-ascorbic acid. It is water-soluble, and not stored by the body, so you need to eat or drink some every day, preferably two or three times a day.

Although the RDA for both adults and children is very low, many people have been taking up to 3g (3,000mg) a day since the 70s, with no ill effect.

Vitamin C is one of the four main antioxidant nutrients. Its known effects include:

  • promotion of iron absorption
  • providing resistance to infection
  • maintaining healthy collagen
  • activating folic acid
  • production of anti-stress hormones
  • production of substances used in the brain and nervous system
  • maintaining healthy bones, teeth, blood and sex organs
  • with beta-carotene, lowers risks of cancer
  • anti-histamine

A deficiency of this important vitamin causes weakness, general tiredness, muscle and joint pains, irritability, bleeding gums and loose teeth. The deficiency disease is scurvy, which has been virtually eliminated in the West.

This vitamin has been the subject of numerous studies over the years since its discovery. Some of the most interesting include:

  • In June 1999, the Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University showed that Vitamin C in the body does not interact with metals to become a pre-oxidant, as had been previously thought. On the contrary, Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, with beneficial effects on health.
  • A study of 85,000 nurses who took a daily supplement of at least 360mg of Vitamin C for 16 years found a 30% reduction in their risk of heart disease (Cardiology, July 16, 2003).
  • A 5 year study by John Hopkins University of 4,740 people over 65 found that subjects taking both 400IU of Vitamin E and at least 500mcg (a miniscule dose) of Vitamin C reduced their risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by 64%. No effect occurred if only Vitamin C or only Vitamin E was taken, only when both vitamins were taken in combination.
  • In September 2003, Professor Tim Chambers and his team at St George’s Medical School, University of London found that osteoporosis can be prevented by taking large doses of Vitamin C.
  • In April 2004, a University of California research team showed that taking 500mg of Vitamin C a day for 2 months results in a 24% drop in CRP levels (CRP may be a better predictor of heart disease than cholesterol levels).
  • In May 2004, Nobel prize winner Louis J. Ignaro and his team at UCLA found that the beneficial results of moderate exercise in heart patients were increased when they took a supplement containing Vitamin C, Vitamin E and the amino acid L-arginine.
  • A study by the Linus Pauling Institute at the Oregon State University, published in June 2004, found a reduction in LDL oxidation by users of 1000mg Vitamin C and 400IU of Vitamin E in combination. Vitamin E alone had no effect. The findings may indicate that this combination will be helpful to people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, stroke and heart disease, as well as to smokers and the obese.

Medically, Vitamin C is used in the treatment of scurvy, anaemia, respiratory diseases, bleeding gums, psychiatric disorders, colds and flu, various forms of cancer, high levels of cholesterol in the blood, alcoholism, arthritis, leg cramps, and as an antihistamine.

Food sources Losses in processing
Best food sources are acerola cherry juice and camu pulp.

Both contain 10 times more than rosehip syrup, the next best source.

Other sources, in order of importance: blackcurrants and guavas, parsley and kale, horseradish, broccoli tops, green peppers, Brussels sprouts, citrus fruits, watercress and cabbage, mustard tops.

Processing and storage of soft fruit up to 60%
Refrigerated fruit juices up to 50%*
Potatoes stored for 1-3 months 33%
Potatoes stored for 4-5 months 50%
Potatoes stored for 6-7 months 67%
Potatoes stored for 8-9 months 89%
Potatoes, peeled, boiled and mashed 30-50%
Potatoes, boiled in skins, steamed, baked or roast 20-40%
Chips (french fried potatoes) 25-35%
* Further loss occurs whenever the container is shaken.

The maximum recommended intake is 3g (3,000mg) per day.

I offer a broad selection of vitamin C supplements in my online shop. The buffered products are easier on the stomach.


Vitamin A Health Benefits: The Night Sight Vitamin

Carrots contain beta-carotene, the precursor of Vitamin A, and are well known for helping you see in the dark.

Carrots contain beta-carotene, the precursor of Vitamin A, and are well known for helping you see in the dark. Photo by Thamizhpparithi Maari

Vitamin A may be shown on labels as Retinol. It is often also found in supplements in the form of beta-carotene, its precursor.

1 unit of Retinol is equivalent to 6 units of beta-carotene – ie. a tablet containing 100mcg of Retinol is equivalent to another tablet containing 600mcg of beta-carotene. To avoid confusion, some authorities use RE (Retinol Equivalents) as the unit of measurement. 1RE is equal to 1mcg of Retinol (6mcg of beta-carotene). You may also find labels quoting IU (International Units); 3RE=10IU, so 3mcg Retinol (or 18mcg beta-carotene) is the same as 10IU.

Vitamin A is stored in the liver and kidneys, and is fat-soluble. It is only found in animal products and fish. Beta-carotene, which is converted into Vitamin A in the body, is found in fruit and vegetables, and needs both protein and fat in the diet before it can be used.

Beta-carotene is one of the four main antioxidant nutrients.

Vitamin A is involved in:

  • sight, night vision
  • maintaining health of skin (prevents acne and dermatitis)
  • maintaining health of mucous membranes
  • fighting infection
  • bones
  • helping to prevent anemia
  • growth
  • reproduction
  • may also reduce breast cancer

A deficiency of Vitamin A results in dry or rough skin, poor hair quality, red itchy eyes, night blindness, problems in bone growth, weak tooth enamel, low resistance to infection, kidney stones, diarrhoea and loss of appetite.

Some studies of Vitamin A have concluded:

  • Vitamin A causes significant changes in the skin when applied directly. Increases in collagen, DNA, thickness and elasticity were all seen, resulting in a reduction in the signs of ageing (Retinyl palmitate is preferred to Retinol for this purpose, as it is more stable and is absorbed easily by the skin).
  • A study by the American Heart Association published on 21 June 2004 showed that higher levels of carotenoids (such as beta-carotene) reduce the risk of ischaemic stroke.

Medically, Vitamin A is used in the treatment of skin cancer, acne, eczema, psoriasis, gastric ulcers and night blindness. Many studies show that Vitamin A is also an effective treatment for hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

Best food sources in order of importance:
Vitamin A Beta-carotene
Halibut liver oil, Liver, Butter, Cheese, Eggs Carrots, Dried apricots, Pumpkin, Broccoli, Sweet potatoes, Tomatoes, Kale, Collards, Melon, Peaches and Apricots, Red peppers, Mango and Dark green leafy vegetables

Minimum Recommended intake:

Child 0-1 year 350RE
Child 1-3 years 400RE
Child 4-6 years 450IU
Child 7-9 years 500IU 1RE = 1mcg Retinol
Child 10-12 years 550IU 1RE = 6mcg beta-carotene
Male 13-15 years 700IU
Male 20+ 800IU 3RE = 10IU
Female 13+ 600IU
During pregnancy 700IU
Nursing mother 950IU

I offer a range of vitamin A supplements in my online shop.

The maximum recommended intake is 2,250RE (7,500IU) per day. Exceeding this level may cause loss of appetite, dry itchy skin, hair loss, headaches, vomiting, a change in skin colour of the face and palms of the hands to orange. In extreme cases, death can occur (but only after a very long period on a massive overdose).


Selenium Health Benefits: The Anti-cancer Mineral

selenium

Unfortunately, most soil (and the crops grown in it) is deficient in selenium

Studies indicate that people who live in areas with low levels of selenium in the soil have more cancer and heart complaints than those living on high-selenium soils.

The only area in the UK with high levels in the soil (and therefore the crops) is Norfolk. In the USA, Wyoming and Dakota have high levels. It is stored in the organs and muscles.

Selenium is one of the four main antioxidant nutrients. Its known effects include:

  • preserves liver
  • maintains disease resistance
  • essential for normal functioning of the immune system
  • protects against toxic minerals and toxins produced by the body
  • promotes male sexual reproductive function
  • maintains healthy eyesight, hair and skin
  • anti-inflammatory
  • maintains healthy heart
  • antioxidant – prevents cell damage from free radicals
  • with Vitamins C and E, protects against cancer
  • lowers risk of joint inflammation
  • regulates thyroid system

Sufferers from Crohn’s Disease or with part of their stomach removed and anyone with an acute severe illness or gastro-intestinal disorder may benefit from a supplement.

Long term Selenium deficiency causes Keshan Disease in children, leading to poor heart function; Kashin-Beck Disease, which leads to osteo-arthropy; and Myxedematous Endemic Cretinism, a cause of mental retardation. These illnesses are mainly restricted to China and other parts of the Far East where soil levels are minimal.

There have been a number of studies involving Selenium. A total of six studies between 1997 and 1999 showed that a supplement of 200mcg per day lowers the risk of prostate, lung and colorectal cancers. This includes a study by Clarke showing a 70% lower risk of prostate cancer.

Medically, Selenium is used to treat arthritis, high blood pressure, angina (with Vitamin E), Keshan disease, cataracts, problems with hair, nails and skin and as a detox for arsenic, cadmium and mercury.

Selenium is more effective in combination with Vitamin E.

Best food sources*, in order of importance: Brazil nuts, barley, calves liver, halibut and tuna, snapper (fish), organ meats, garlic, cod, shrimp and shiitake mushrooms. Other sources: beef, turkey, enriched noodles and macaroni, eggs, cottage cheese, oatmeal, rice, wholemeal bread, walnuts, white bread, cheddar.* Selenium content in food varies, depending on the selenium content in the area the food was produced.

Foods on this list which were produced in certain parts of the world will have virtually zero Selenium content.

Organic selenium is absorbed more efficiently than the inorganic variety, so if buying supplements, try and get selenium yeast (unless you are allergic to yeast, of course).

Minimum Recommended intake:

Children 0-6 months 15mcg
Children 7 months-3 years 20mcg
Children 4-8 years 30mcg
Children 9-13 years 40mcg
Adults and Children 14+ 55mcg
During pregnancy 60mcg
Nursing mothers 70mcg

I offer Selenium capsules in my online shop.

The maximum recommended intake is 400mcg per day. Exceeding this level may cause hair loss, gastrointestinal upset, nerve damage, garlic odour on the breath and malfunctioning of the immune system.