Lactobacillus acidophilus, probiotic for a healthy gut

Lactobacillus acidophilus. Photo bPhoto by Doc. RNDr. Josef Reischig, CSc.

Photo by Doc. RNDr. Josef Reischig, CSc.

Probiotics are “good bacteria” which inhabit healthy humans in a similar way to humans inhabiting the Earth. On our skin, in all our orifices (mouth, nose etc) and especially in our gut there are hundreds of probiotics living out their lives and helping us to stay healthy. Without them our health starts to break down, so it’s true to say that we have a symbiotic relationship.

Antibiotics are indiscriminate. They kill all bacteria (except resistant strains) including probiotics, so after finishing a course of antibiotics it’s wise to replenish the ones in your gut, which are essential for digestion and many other functions we’re only just beginning to understand. For example, it’s recently been discovered that mental health is linked to the flora in the gut – including probiotics.

Probiotics are often recommended for improving digestion and normalising bowel health, reducing intestinal irritation, improving lactose tolerance and for the treatment of halitosis and bacterial vaginosis.

They can be obtained from foods such as kefir, kimchi, kombucha, miso, sauerkraut, tempeh and yogurt. There are also various supplements available.

Although often present in commercial yogurt, the quantities found are generally very low unless it’s labelled specifically as “live acidophilus yogurt”. Another good way to get sufficient acidophilus for positive health benefits is to add lots of fermented vegetables to your diet or you may prefer to take an over the counter supplement.

Many practitioners recommend taking “prebiotics” along with probiotics. Some probiotic supplements include prebiotics in their formulation. Prebiotics is the medical name for soluble fibre. The most well known of these are fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and inulin. They are found in asparagus, bananas, barley, beans, garlic, honey, onions, tomatoes, wheat and many other foods, also in breast milk.

There are many different probiotics which are helpful specifically for the gut, but the majority are Lactobacillus species. The most well known is Lactobacillus acidophilus, considered by many to be the best probiotic for human health, and in fact many of the others are now regarded as varieties of L. acidophilus (sometimes called just acidophilus), even though they are called by different names.

Lactobacillus acidophilus was discovered in the early years of the 20th century by a pediatrician called Dr Ernst Moro, who also discovered the pathogen E. coli (Escherichia coli).

Acidophilus is naturally found in the intestines, mouth and the female genitals. In the gut it produces lactase (the enzyme required for the digestion of lactose in milk products) and vitamin K. It also produces hydrogen peroxide, lactic acid and the natural antibiotics acidophilin, acidolin and lactocidin, so it is helpful for suppressing pathogens, and it also aids absorption of vitamins and minerals. It’s been found to boost the immune system, in particular against E. coli.

The strength of probiotic supplements is usually expressed in colony forming units (CFUs). Adults should take 1-2 billion CFUs a day unless advised to take more (up to 15 billion CFUs) by their doctor. Do not use oral supplements for vaginal use; there are vaginal probiotic suppositories designed for this purpose.

Use specific childrens’ probiotic products for kids, and follow the dosage instructions on the label.


Research has shown that L. acidophilus is beneficial for:

  • preventing candidiasis (Candida, yeast infection, thrush)
  • as a daily dose to reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • to suppress growth of Helicobacter pylori (formerly called Campylobacter pylori) – gastroduodenal disease, peptic ulcers
  • to reduce fecal enzymes in the colon which could otherwise convert procarcinogens to carcinogens
  • to reduce symptoms of antibiotic-induced diarrhea and diarrhea caused by rotavirus
  • to help prevent leaky gut syndrome
  • may lower blood cholesterol
  • as a topical treatment for vaginal thrush (yeast infection)
  • as a topical treatment for bacterial vaginosis (BV) (some doctors may prescribe oral probiotics for this purpose)

Contra-indications and warnings

Lactobacillus acidophilus is generally regarded as safe. However, it should be avoided for children with short-bowel syndrome.

Some people should take medical advice before supplementing with acidophilus, including:

  • Patients with abnormal heart valves
  • Newborns and infants (0 to 1 year)
  • People with weakened immune systems (including those on chemotherapy or taking immunosuppressants)
  • Patients taking sulfasalazine, azathioprine (Imuran), basiliximab (Simulect), cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune), daclizumab (Zenapax), muromonab-CD3 (OKT3, Orthoclone OKT3), mycophenolate (CellCept), tacrolimus (FK506, Prograf), sirolimus (Rapamune), prednisone (Deltasone, Orasone) and corticosteroids (glucocorticoids)

If you take more than 1 to 2 billion CFUs of L. acidophilus daily you may suffer from wind/gas, upset stomach and/or diarrhea. Reduce the dosage if affected.

If you decide to take L. acidophilus in the form of supplements you should store them in the refrigerator unless the label says there’s no need.

 


Tea Tree Oil, benefits and uses

The tea tree is a small Australian tree

The tea tree is a small Australian tree

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

History of tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is the essential oil extracted from the Australian tea tree (or ti tree), Melaleuca alternifolia. Don’t confuse this with manuka, sometimes called the New Zealand tea tree (Leptospermum scoparium), nor with the tea bush from which we get our daily cuppa (Camellia sinensis). Manuka is a member of the same family as the tea tree, but the tea bush is not.

Tea tree leaves were actually being used as a healing tea by native Australians (as well as for other remedies) even before the continent was first colonized by Europeans. With typical arrogance, this knowledge was ignored until the early 1920s, when an Australian chemist called Arthur Penfold first extracted the essential oil and discovered that it was not only a very effective way to disinfect wounds, but that it stopped fungal infections in their tracks.

Tea tree oil became a worldwide success until the start of the Second World War, when supplies were diverted for use by field hospitals and civilian use virtually ceased. By the time the war was over tea tree oil had been forgotten, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that it was rediscovered and again started to be used around the world.

More recent studies have shown that tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic, anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal, that works even at fairly low dilution levels (5%). It’s even been shown to work against MRSA. Partly because of its strong fragrance, which is similar to eucalyptus, it has also become popular as a treatment for respiratory problems.

As with all essential oils, tea tree 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.

 

Tea tree oil uses

teatree-infographic-sm

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As you might expect, tea tree is often used on skin infections and pimples, but it is much more useful than that. Acne, which is caused by a bacteria which is resistant to many other treatments, responds well to tea tree oil ointment. Burns are another application, and because of its anti-viral properties, tea tree oil is often used undiluted for herpes/cold sores, warts and plantar warts (verrucas), all of which are caused by viruses.

Fungal infections such as ringworm (tinea), nail fungus, athlete’s foot, foot rot in animals and candida (thrush) can also be treated with tea tree oil or products based on it.

One of the most important uses from a parent’s point of view is to treat and prevent diaper rash (nappy rash). Many moms swear by it and say that it works much better than any conventional remedy they’ve tried, and carries on working, unlike some treatments.

In an emergency, tea tree oil can be used neat, but otherwise for these purposes you can use the oil diluted at 1 drop of tea tree to every 2 ml of your preferred base oil. This will avoid any problems with sensitivity to the neat oil, which is in any case quite unusual so long as you make sure to buy tea tree oil of good quality.

As a hair treatment, tea tree oil not only helps prevent dandruff but also kills cooties (head lice). For the former, tea tree oil shampoo used regularly is probably all you need, while to treat the cooties, just mix a teaspoon of tea tree oil with one of the heavier carrier oils like grape seed (cheapest) or olive oil, warm it up (I stand it on the radiator for 20 minutes or so) and then apply carefully, making sure that the entire scalp and every hair is coated. Wrap the treated head up in a towel and leave it for a couple of hours, then wash it out. You will probably need to wash it at least twice to get all the oil out, but you shouldn’t find any live critters after you’re done.

You can also use tea tree oil to treat canker sores (mouth ulcers), if you can stand the taste. Just dab the sore with a little tea tree oil on a cotton tip swab, but try not to swallow too much oil as it isn’t good for you. Alternatively, try using a mouthwash that contains tea tree oil, which is likely to be a lot less overpowering.

To treat bacterial vaginosis (BV), use a douche made from 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of tea tree oil to 2 cups (475 ml/16 fl oz) of water daily for 6 weeks.

Use tea tree oil in a diffuser, in the bath, or a few drops on the pillow or a tissue to treat colds, flu and respiratory infections.

I offer many tea tree products, from oils to ointments and more in my online shop.


Marsh Mallow health benefits: for open sores and external ulcers

Marsh mallow, ancient medicine and sweetmeat

Marsh mallow, ancient medicine and sweetmeat

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The marsh mallow or marshmallow, Althaea officinalis, is also called althea, common marshmallow, mortification root, sweet weed and wymote. It is in the same family (Malvaceae) as musk mallow and hollyhock.

The name “mortification root” refers to the use of the root as a poultice for infected wounds; it is said to heal the most stubborn infections, and thus prevent gangrene. I have not been able to find any explanation for the name wymote.

Marshmallow the herb is the origin of the sweet of the same name, although the stuff you buy in sweet shops nowadays never gets a sniff of the plant. Marshmallow the sweet was once made by drying and powdering the roots, then making the powder into a paste and roasting it.

Marsh mallow is a hardy perennial reaching about 4 feet (1.2m) in height by 2’6″ (75cm) across, a native of Europe, North Africa and Western Asia. It is not fussy as to soil, and can even grow in saline conditions, but prefers a moist situation. It will not grow in shade. It’s an attractive plant, worthy of a place in any ornamental or herb garden and could also be used in a sensory garden because of its downy leaves..

In many parts of the world, marshmallow roots are used as food, particularly during food shortages. All parts of the plant are edible, though all are also mucilaginous (you might say slimy) when cooked, and although the leaves can be used in salads, because they are fibrous and downy, they need to be finely chopped to be palatable. The water used for cooking marsh mallow can be reduced (by boiling) until it has a similar consistency to egg whites, and used as a substitute after cooling – even for things like meringues. This is obviously of most interest to people who are allergic to eggs, and to vegans. The flowers can also be used for tea.

Marshmallow has been used medicinally for centuries. All parts of the plant are active, in particular the roots.

A standard infusion of leaves uses 30g (1 ounce) of dried leaves or 3 handfuls of fresh to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water. Allow to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours (the longer it infuses, the longer it can be kept in a refrigerator), strain and take up to 3 cups a day, sweetened with honey if liked. It can also be used externally when cool.

The least slimy of the medicinal preparations is the cold extract, which is made by steeping 1-2 tbsp chopped root or whole plant in 240ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of cold water for 8 hours, after which it is strained. The dosage is 1 cup a day (which can be split into 3 doses).

A decoction is made by adding 1 tsp of chopped root to 1 cup cold water, bring to a boil and simmer for 15-30 minutes, then strain. Use the same dosage as for cold extract.

A poultice is made by mixing chopped root with honey and wrapping in a closely woven bandage. Apply to the area to be treated for 2-3 hours, then replace with a new one as required.

Internally, use the cold extract or decoction to treat chest infections, pleurisy, tickly coughs and catarrh, cystitis or urinary tract infections. Use externally to treat gum disease, as an eye bath for sore and infected eyes, and as a vaginal douche for bacterial vaginitis (bv). Use a poultice to treat boils and similar skin eruptions, splinters, open sores and ulcers, insect bites and gangrene. Give a piece of peeled root to teething infants to chew on.

As I always recommend with plants destined for the medicine chest, marsh mallow should be grown organically to avoid corruption or elimination of the active constituents by the presence of foreign chemicals.

To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Bethroot health benefits: for hemorrhage, ulcers and gangrene

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The bethroot flower consists of 3 petals and 3 sepals

The bethroot flower consists of 3 petals and 3 sepals

Bethroot, Trillium erectum, is also known as beth root, birthroot, birth root, purple trillium, red trillium, stinking Benjamin and wake robin. It is sometimes incorrectly given as a synonym of T. pendulum, a close relative from Central and Western USA with white pendulous (drooping) flowers which is much less useful. As you may guess from the name, T. erectum has erect flowers; it is also taller than T. pendulum. The confusion may arise from the existence of a white flowered form, T. erectum f. albiflorum, which was preferred by native Americans for medicinal use.

Be careful to buy seeds or plants labeled with the latin name, Trillium erectum, as many other trilliums share common names with this one, but they don’t have the same properties.

Bethroot is a hardy perennial which reaches a height of around 16″ (40cm), a native of the Eastern United States, and can be found growing in areas where the soil is reliably moist. It’s a very adaptable plant, able to cope with soil of any type (though it prefers soil on the acid side), and isn’t put out by sun or shade. The soil needs to be moist throughout the summer, but well drained and not boggy. Don’t grow it too near to the house or seating areas in the garden as unfortunately the flowers smell like rotting meat, attracting flies to act as pollinators, although the white flowered form apparently is virtually scentless.

If growing from seed, you need to be aware that germination can take anything up to 3 years! and this is only the beginning, as seedlings may suffer from damping off (a fungus which kills almost instantly). Sow in a shaded cold frame or shaded area in a cold greenhouse as soon as the seed ripens, or in late winter/early spring if you buy the seeds in. It’s important that you water with great care and ensure they get plenty of air until they are big enough to plant out in their permanent positions, although they must be kept in shade. Established plants can be divided and if small grown on in pots. If transplanting bethroot it is best to do so when the plant is in flower. The rhizomes are harvested by digging them up in late summer after the leaves have died away (mark plants with a stick before this happens, so you can find them) and dried for later use.

Bethroot was sought out by native Americans and used for many female difficulties ranging from sore nipples to heavy periods. Herbalists today use it for many of the same purposes, and others. As you would expect from the name, the main part used for medicine is the root (actually a rhizome, which is technically an underground stem), but the whole plant is used for poultices. Bethroot should not be used during pregnancy except under medical supervision, though it can be used in labor as a birthing aid.

Make a decoction using 1 teaspoon of dried rhizome to every 240ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of cold water in a small pan. Bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, then strain out and discard the herb. The dosage is 120-240ml (half to 1 US cup, 4-8 fl oz) a day, split into 3 doses. You can also boil the rhizome in milk (using the same amounts), without reduction, to treat diarrhea; the dosage in this case is 240-480ml (1-2 US cups, 8-16 fl oz) a day.

To make a poultice, chop the leaves, stem and flowers, add to a pan of boiling water in which the rhizome has been heated until softened. Wrap the mxture in a closely woven cloth and wring out excess liquid, then apply to the area to be treated. Leave the liquid over a low flame to keep hot so that the poultice can be refreshed as it goes cold.

Use a decoction internally to treat hemorrhage, especially from the genito-urinary system and lungs, heavy periods and post partum hemorrhage. Externally it is used to treat sore nipples, skin infections, insect bites and stings, gangrene and vaginal discharge (bv). A decoction made with milk is used to treat diarrhea. A poultice is used for ulcers, tumors, insect bites and stings.

As with all plants grown for medicinal use, it’s important that bethroot is grown organically so as to avoid adulteration of its active constituents with foreign chemicals which might prevent them being effective. To find out more about growing organic herbs, visit the Gardenzone.


Goldenseal health benefits: for peptic ulcer

Goldenseal is found in moist shady places

Goldenseal is found in moist shady places

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis, is also called eye balm, eye root, ground raspberry, Indian plant, jaundice root, orange root, turmeric root, yellow puccoon and yellow root. It is not related to turmeric or to bloodroot (also called Indian paint). Due to excessive collection during the twentieth century, it has become scarce in parts of its natural range, and is now a protected species, which may not be collected from the wild.

Goldenseal is a hardy perennial about a foot high. It does not like alkaline soil, but is otherwise unfussy about soil, so long as it is moist. It grows best in shade, like American ginseng, and was often found growing in the same areas as that plant, and harvested by the same collectors, leading to the scarcity which now exists. If you have a nice moist shady area in the garden, you may wish to grow goldenseal there (as well as American ginseng). It can be grown from seed (which is slow to germinate), and also propagated by division, or by root cuttings. Probably the best way to start would be to obtain 2 or 3 plants from a specialist nursery and plant them out in a moist shady area – as long as you do not garden on chalk or lime, in which case you may need to create a pocket of acid soil by sinking a container of ericaceous compost into the ground and planting it into that.

One of the references I’ve consulted says that goldenseal is poisonous, but none of the other authorities (including RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs) makes any mention of this, so I’m not sure whether to accept this. However, goldenseal should only be used internally for short periods (no more than 3 months), as it will destroy friendly bacteria along with the rest. This herb should not be used at all during pregnancy, nor by anyone with high blood pressure.

The part used is the rhizome (an underground stem, though some call it a root), harvested in fall once the top part of the plant has died away (Tip: Mark the position of the plants with canes in late summer/early fall, so that you can find them). Cut it into slices and dry in a single layer in an airy place with low humidity, turning the slices every day or two until they are ready to store in a labeled, airtight container kept in a cool dark place.

A standard infusion is made with a teaspoon of dried rhizome to 480ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) of boiling water, which is left to go cold before straining. The dose is 1-2 tsp 3-6 times a day.

You can also make a soothing eyebath by adding a teaspoon of boric acid (as a preservative) to the standard infusion, again allowed to go cold before straining. Use 1 teaspoon of this mixture to 120ml (a half US cup, 4 fl oz). Store the unused portion in the fridge in a labeled, sealed, dark-colored container.

Goldenseal was used by native Americans to treat sore eyes and digestive problems. Modern herbalists prescribe it for peptic ulcers and other digestive problems, nasal congestion and sinusitis, heavy and painful periods and excessive bleeding after childbirth. John Lust recommends powdering the root and using like snuff to treat nasal congestion and catarrh. The standard infusion can also be used externally to treat skin infections, sore and infected gums, and as a douche for BV.

As with all plants grown for medicinal use, goldenseal should be grown organically to avoid corrupting or evcn eliminating its active constituents. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Common Myrtle health benefits: for UTIs, BV and internal ulcers

Many different myrtle cultivars are available

Many different myrtle cultivars are available

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

The common myrtle, Myrtus communis, is also called true myrtle or just myrtle. Despite the similar name, it’s not related to the bog myrtle – they’re not even in the same botanical family – and not closely related to the lemon myrtle.

Myrtle is an evergreen shrub which reaches a height of around 14 feet (4.5m) after some years and is happy pretty much anywhere well drained and not in the shade, even on sites exposed to sea winds. It is native to Southern Europe and Western Asia. As myrtle is self-fertile you only need one, even if you intend to use the fruit, which is helpful if you only have a small garden! If you do want fruit, be careful to pick a single-flowered cultivar, as the doubles may not produce as much (or any) fruit.

Leaves and fruit are used in different ways. The leaves can be picked for use as required, or dried for later use. The fruits are available in Fall, and can be gathered for immediate use – or again, dried. Leaves and fruits should be dried separately. To dry leaves or fruits, lay them out in a single layer somewhere out of the sun and with a free flow of air. Check then every day or so, turning them over regularly until they are completely dry, then store in an airtight container, in a colored jar and/or in a dark place. Leaves can be crumbled before storage.

To make a standard infusion of leaves, use 30g (1 ounce) of dried or 3 handfuls of fresh leaves to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water and allow to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours, then strain before use. A standard infusion of fruit is made in the same way but using 3 tsp fruit, fresh or dried. The dose in either case is 80ml (1/3 US cup) up to 3 times a day.

The infusion of leaves can be used internally to treat urinary tract infections, indigestion, bacterial vaginosis, coughs and sinusitis, as a mouthwash for gum disease and a wash for skin infections. The fruit infusion is used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, internal ulcers and externally for hemorrhoids.

As with all plants grown for medicinal use, Myrtle should be grown organically so as to ensure that its active constituents are not masked or corrupted by the presence of non-native substances. To find out more about growing organic myrtle visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

The essential oil can be used as a topical treatment for acne, as a rub for rheumatic pain and as a general antiseptic.

As with all essential oils, myrtle 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.