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.


Uva ursi health benefits: for UTIs and E.coli

Uva ursi or bearberry is attractive to bees as well as bears

Uva ursi or bearberry is attractive to bees as well as bears

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Uva ursi, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (syn. Arctostaphylos officinalis, Arbutus uva-ursi, Uva-ursi procumbens and Uva-ursi uva-ursi), is also known as arberry, bearberry, bear grape, hogberry, hog cranberry, kinnikinnick, manzanita, mealberry, mountain box, mountain cranberry, pinemat manzanita, red bearberry, rockberry, sagackhomi, sandberry and upland cranberry. It is distantly related to the cranberry and Guelder rose (also called the European cranberry). Manzanita is a generic name for the whole of Arctostaphylos.

Bees are attracted to the flowers, and bears to the fruit in those countries where bears roam free. It is often used as an ornamental, sometimes also to combat soil erosion.

It’s known as a “pioneer plant”, because it’s often among the first to colonize an area which has been burnt to the ground, even on poor soils. It is an evergreen, only about 4 inches tall but spreading over an area of around 3 feet across and has pretty flowers which can range in color from white to pink. It bears quantities of mealy fruit, which while not very tasty (better if cooked), is high in carbs and makes this a good plant to have around in areas where food shortages might be a problem – so long as you don’t mind the odd bear popping in for a snack.

It’s native to Europe, the Russian Federation, Guatemala, the US and Canada and is naturalized in many other places. The further south it is found, the higher the altitude.

Uva ursi is a member of the family Ericaceae, which includes heather and various other fairly tough plants, but almost all are lime-hating and like acid soil best. This plant is exceptional, because it is not infrequently found growing in limestone areas, where calcifuges (lime haters) generally don’t survive for very long.

Uva ursi requires moist, well drained, light to medium soil, and although it prefers an acid soil, it can cope if this is impossible. It will grow in full sun, semi shade or even full shade. This makes it especially useful in gardens and reclamation areas where there are low light levels.

It will succeed best in relatively acidic but poor soil. If you buy plants in, try to disturb the roots as little as possible when planting out, and do not attempt to move them once established. Though it will succeed in shade, there will be more fruit on plants in sunnier areas. The main supply of leaves for medicinal use should be collected in the fall, picking only leaves which are green, and dried in a warm place.

As mentioned already, the fruit may be eaten and can also be added to stews. In the past, the leaves have been used for tea, but I advise against this, in the light of the toxicity problem discussed later on.

Native Americans used uva ursi extensively to treat various problems, and it has been used in herbalism for centuries. However, the leaves (which are the part used for most purposes) contain hydroquinone, which is toxic in high doses and should not be taken for long periods. It should not be used while pregnant or breastfeeding or by anyone suffering from a kidney infection or kidney disease. Take no more than 10g (a third of an ounce) of dried leaf daily and do not exceed the stated dose. It is best to use uva ursi no more than 5 times a year (but if you’re getting UTIs or E.coli more frequently than this, you should be consulting a physician in any case). Discontinue use if the symptoms being treated do not go away after a week (48 hours for urinary tract infections) or if you develop a high fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or severe back pain and seek immediate medical assistance.

Despite all these warnings, uva ursi is a sovereign remedy for urinary tract infections and E.coli, best used in combination with a vegetarian diet to ensure that the urine is alkaline (otherwise the reaction in the kidneys which releases the active ingredient will not take place). For the same reason, do not combine its use with cranberry juice, as this makes the urine acidic.

The method for making an infusion is unusual. Soak the dried leaves from a few hours up to a week in alcohol (brandy is best), then use a teaspoon (5ml) of the soaked leaves to each cup (250ml, 8 fl oz) of boiling water. Allow to stand in the usual way before straining off the leaves and discarding them. You can drink up to 3 cups a day of this infusion, but stick to the time limits mentioned previously.

You may come across instructions for using uva ursi in poultices. However, the hydroquinone is easily absorbed by the skin, so rather than waste your 5 doses a year on stuff you can treat with other things, my advice is to save them up for UTIs and E.coli, which are much more difficult to find remedies for.

A recipe for lung repair recommended by Dr Elise Wright of (sadly now defunct) /contains 1 part each of coltsfoot and uva ursi to 2 parts great mullein by volume. Take 2 cups of an infusion made from a teaspoonful of this mixture to a cup a day.

I offer uva ursi leaves in my online shop.

Uva ursi is not used in aromatherapy.

Uva ursi doesn’t need a great deal of attention, so it should be easy enough to ensure that organic cultivation methods are used. This will also avoid diluting or corrupting the active constituents with foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Maidenhair Fern health benefits: for hair loss, coughs and colds

The black maidenhair fern likes growing on cliffs

The black maidenhair fern likes growing on cliffs

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

There are several maidenhair ferns. The one known in Britain by this name is Adiantum capillus-veneris. It is also called avenca (a name also used for the Northern maidenhair and the fan maidenhair), black maidenhair fern, ladies’ hair, Southern maidenhair, Venus maidenhair and Venus’ hair fern. It is a true fern, even though it bears little resemblance to ferns like bracken. It is not related to ginkgo, sometimes called the maidenhair tree because of a superficial resemblance of the leaves.

The Northern maidenhair

The Northern maidenhair

The fan maidenhair

The fan maidenhair

The Northern maidenhair, Adiantum pedatum, is also sometimes called the five-fingered fern or rock fern. It’s a much more familiar fernlike shape, as can be seen from the second picture.

The fan maidenhair, Adiantum tenerum, is also called the brittle maidenhair and has leaflets which are very roughly diamond or fan-shaped, quite similar to the black maidenhair, but lighter in colour.

There are many other maidenhair ferns in the genus Adiantum, but the one covered in this post is the black maidenhair fern (top), which is the most useful from a medicinal viewpoint and will be referred to simply as maidenhair fern from now on. It is a small plant, and slow growing, and reaches a height of about 30cm (1′) or a little more, though individual fronds can reach a length of 50cm (20″). These have been used as a garnish for sweet food, and also dried for tea.

Maidenhair fern is found growing wild across many continents, including North and South America, Africa, south eastern Europe and the Ukraine, Nepal and Turkey. Though not listed as a habitat in GRIN Taxonomy, it’s also found in Britain and many other warm temperate and tropical places, including Australia. It likes to grow on cliffs, rocks or in rocky crevices, often by the sea. It requires a semi-shady position and well drained neutral to alkaline soil.

Maidenhair fern is not frost tolerant and prefers a humid atmosphere, but it is often grown as a houseplant. If you choose to do this, stand the pot on a tray of shingle or large gravel, which you can keep topped up with water to provide the humidity it requires.

Both leaves (fronds) and roots (rhizomes) are used. Leaves are best used fresh, but can be dried for later use.

Many ferns contain toxic substances, but there is no record of toxicity relating to the maidenhair fern. However, due to the family history, it may be best for anyone suffering from a life-threatening condition to avoid using it. It is in any case not suitable for use during pregnancy. However, maidenhair fern is one of the oldest recorded herbal remedies, and it seems unlikely that someone wouldn’t have noticed if there was a problem, given that it has been used across the planet for thousands of years and is still used in many places today, though rarely in modern Western herbalism.

To make a standard infusion, put 3 handfuls of fresh herb or 30g (1 ounce) of dried into a warmed pot. Pour over about 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) of boiling water. Put the lid on and stand for at least 10 minutes up to 4 hours. Strain before use.

To make a decoction, use about 15 grams (a half ounce) of grated rhizome to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) of cold water in a small pan. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and continue cooking until the liquid has reduced by half. Strain before use.

To make a poultice, crush the herb to a paste, adding hot water if necessary. To make the necessary pulp, you can add flour, cornflour or bread, mixing well so that the herbs are evenly distributed. Moisten a bandage in hot water and wring out, then spread the surface with the pulp and apply this to the area to be treated.

The fresh or dried leafy fronds are antibacterial, anticandidal, antidandruff, anti-fertility, antitussive, antiviral, astringent, contraceptive, demulcent, depurative, diuretic, emetic, weakly emmenagogue, emollient, weakly expectorant, febrifuge, galactogogue, hypoglycemic, laxative, pectoral, refrigerant, stimulant, sudorific and tonic.

Research in the 1980s found an anti-fertility (contraceptive) effect in rats; an extract prevented implantation, and thus conception. A 1989 study in Iraq showed that maidenhair fern is effective against E. coli, Staphylococcus, Proteus, Pseudomonas and Candida. A French study demonstrated its antiviral properties atainst Vesicular stomatitis. A study in Belgium in 1993 confirmed earlier research which showed that a water extract had an anti-hyperglycemic effect (lowered blood sugar levels).

The tea or syrup is used across the world as a soothing expectorant to treat bronchitis and respiratory disorders in general including colds and asthma. Another use which seems almost universal is as a treatment for hair loss (alopecia) and dandruff. Throat conditions such as laryngitis are also treated with maidenhair fern in many places. It is also used to promote or regulate menstruation, and in Brazil, as a childbirth aid.

A decoction is used in the Peruvian Andes for alopecia, gallstones, and jaundice.

Externally, it is used as a poultice on boils, bee stings, eczema, snake bites, and wounds. A paste made from the leaves is used in Nepal to treat headaches and chest pains by applying it directly to the area; a poultice would seem to be the easiest way to achieve this to avoid a potential mess!

As usual (even though you probably won’t be growing it yourself), if you do have the facilities and decide to grow this plant, avoid chemicals and other non-organic methods, so you can ensure that your remedy is not contaminated. To find out more about growing organic herbs, visit the Gardenzone.

Woad health benefits: for food poisoning and influenza

Woad was used by ancient Britons for tattoo art

Woad was used by ancient Britons for tattoo art

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Woad, Isatis tinctoria (syn. Isatis canescens or I. indigotica), is also sometimes called asp of Jerusalem, dyer’s woad or Marlahan mustard. In China, the plant is extensively used for medicine, and each part has a different name: the leaves are called da qing ye, the roots ban lang gen and the pigment qing dai.

You may also occasionally come across the name glastum, which was one of the names used by the ancient Romans. Glastonbury is in an area once known for its woad.

At the time of the Roman invasion, Britons used woad to tattoo blue patterns on themselves, which made them appear fearsome in battle (which is why the Romans called them Picti, which means “painted men”). It can also be used to make a blue dye using alum and potash as mordant. The woad dye-production industry continued in Europe from at least the 10th century until the beginning of the 20th century when synthetic dyes became available.

Woad is a class A noxious weed in parts of the USA. It is a biennial or short lived perennial with a taproot which makes it difficult to eradicate. A native of Central and Southern Europe, it is naturalized in many parts of the UK and across much of the USA. It prefers rich neutral to alkaline (even very alkaline) soil which is well drained, and will not grow in full shade. As the plant depletes the soil, it needs to be planted in a new place every couple of years to maintain a good supply. It’s a member of the cabbage family (which is susceptible to clubroot), so should not be preceded or followed by other members of the same family.

Harvest in the summer, preferably before it flowers to avoid self-sowing, and dry in a cool airy place out of the sun before storing in an airtight colored container. If you wish to use the pigment, this can be extracted from fresh leaves following the instructions given here.

To make a standard infusion use 30g (1 ounce) of dried leaves or 3 handfuls of fresh to 600ml (2.5 US cup, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to stand for at least 15 minutes (up to 4 hours), then strain off the herb and discard.

To make a decoction use 30g (1 ounce) of chopped root to 600ml (2.5 US cup, 1 UK pint) of cold water. Bring to a boil, turn down and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, then strain off the herb and discard. Dosage in either case is up to 1 cup, split into 3 doses.

The leaves have antibacterial, anticancer and antiviral properties, the root is antibacterial and anticancer. Use a standard infusion of leaves to treat viruses and bacterial infections including encephalitis, erysipelas, heat rash, influenza, meningitis and mumps. Use a root decoction to treat fevers, respiratory inflammation in influenza and meningitis, acute infectious diseases including diptheria, dysentery, food poisoning (E.coli and salmonella), streptococcus, typhoid and paratyphoid. The pigment can be used externally as a plaster for inflammation and to staunch bleeding.

Those Picts must have been healthy!

As with all herbs used in remedies, you should grow woad organically to ensure that its active constituents are not masked or etirely eliminated by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic woad visit the Gardenzone.