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

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.

 


It's unlikely anything in this shot is safe for celiacs and other gluten intolerants

Could gluten be damaging your health?

Previously published on Gluten Factsheet

It's unlikely anything in this shot is safe for celiacs and other gluten intolerants

It’s unlikely anything in this shot is safe for celiacs and other gluten intolerants

Do you suffer from some or all of these problems: IBS, depression, difficulties with your weight, aches and pains in your bones and joints, chronic fatigue? If so, you may be gluten intolerant.

Gluten is a protein found in cereals, specifically, wheat (the main culprit), barley and rye. A similar protein is also found in oats. These cereals are relatively recent additions to the human diet, on the evolutionary timescale. Basically, our bodies haven’t had very long to learn how to deal with gluten – so it’s not surprising if a high proportion of us have difficulties digesting it.

During man’s evolution, our diet consisted mainly of fruit, berries, nuts and large seeds, plus vegetables, roots and the occasional piece of meat when the hunt went well. It was only about 12,000 years ago that grasses were introduced. There’s a theory that this change of diet was what killed off Neanderthal man in favor of Homo sapiens, although many believe that assimilation accounted for this. Perhaps it was a bit of both.

Whatever the case, the fact remains that our ancestors had a very short time to get used to the sudden change in diet. Within 10,000 years bread had become known as “the staff of life” in many parts of the world. Even today people in some places don’t eat much of these grains – the area of China where rice is grown, for example.

Wheat flour is consumed in huge quantities in the West – think pies, bread, pasta, pizza… It’s very likely that someone who eats a lot of something they can’t digest properly will develop health problems. And that is what seems to be happening, although the health profession, as usual, is taking a while to catch up.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Surf the net for a little while, looking for the words “gluten intolerance”, “gluten and depression”, “gluten and health”, “gluten and obesity”, and so on. There are many studies, stories from sufferers, and a few doctors and other medical types saying it’s all a load of rubbish.

(I guess it’s understandable that doctors don’t want to put a health warning on wheat, barley and rye – after all, they’ve already warned us off almost everything else – though they do seem to change their minds quite a lot. What would their patients eat?)

It’s well known that a deficiency in certain vitamins can result in serious health problems. Because gluten based products form such a high proportion of most people’s diets, which many of them can’t digest properly, malnourishment is becoming common in the West – even in the chronically obese.

Despite what some in the medical fraternity would have you believe, gluten intolerance is not a fantasy. The most severe form, celiac disease, is a very nasty disease. I have a healthy disrespect for doctors. Remember when they were trying to get us to eat Mad Cows? ‘Nough said!

If you’re happy to accept irritable bowel syndrome, arthritic symptoms and depression in exchange for a bowl of pasta, you’re braver than I am. I used to suffer from all these problems, until I cut gluten out of my diet. I wish I had known about it before.

If you do have symptoms like the ones listed at the top of this article, it’s important you try and find out the cause. Gluten is a prime culprit. And there is quite a bit of evidence to link gluten to bowel cancer, as well (which has been increasing steadily for years).

How should you go about this? There’s little point in going to your doctor, because even if he doesn’t laugh at you, the only form of gluten intolerance that can be detected (sometimes) by a blood test is celiac disease. So you need to do a bit of detective work for yourself to establish whether or not gluten is a problem for you.

The best way to check it out is to cut gluten out of your diet for two or three weeks and see how you feel at the end of it. There will most likely be changes, though some symptoms may take quite a while to fade away completely. But at the end of the trial, go and get a pizza or a sticky bun or something, just to see what your body’s reaction is.

Gluten intolerance is much more common than people realise. Don’t be a victim, check it out. You really are worth it.


Plantain is a well known weed

Plantain health benefits: for wounds and bronchitis

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Plantain is a well known weed

Plantain is a well known weed

The plantain, Plantago major (syn. P. borysthenica, P. dregeana, P. latifolia and P. sinuata), is a weed in many places around the world. It is not related to the cooking plantain, a type of banana. Other names by which it is known include broadleaf plantain, common plantain, greater plantain and large plantain.

Plantain is one of the nine sacred herbs of Wicca.

Plantain is a well known weed, often found in lawns. It’s a hardy perennial which can reach a height of anything from 15-75cm (6-30″) including the flower spikes, flowering in every season apart from Winter. Ripe seeds can be harvested from July to October. It is attractive to wildlife.

Don’t exceed the stated dose: excess amounts may cause a drop in blood pressure, or diarrhea. Susceptible people might experience contact dermatitis, so wear gloves when handling unless you know you’re ok. Plantain should not be used by people suffering from intestinal obstruction or abdominal pain.

Make a standard infusion using 30g (1 ounce) dried or three handfuls of fresh chopped leaves to 560ml (1 UK pint, 2.5 US cups) boiling water. Leave to steep for 3-4 hours, then strain off the leaves and discard.

You can heat up fresh plantain leaves in hot water and apply direct to make a useful treatment for swellings and wounds, which stops bleeding and also encourages tissue repair. A standard infusion of leaves can be used internally to treat asthma, bronchitis, catarrh, cystitis, diarrhea, gastritis, hemorrhage, hemorrhoids, (“piles“), hay fever, irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcers and sinusitis, as a diuretic and to reduce fevers, or applied externally for cuts, external ulcers, inflammation of the skin and stings.

Plantain seeds are used to treat internal parasites and as a laxative.

A treatment for rattlesnake bite uses 50:50 plantain and horehound. However, it is best to get straight to a qualified medical practitioner, or preferably your local emergency clinic, in cases of snake bite.

Though you may not need to cultivate plantains, if you decide to do so, please remember that it’s important to use organic growing methods to avoid contaminating your remedies with noxious chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Hops in the wild, inset leaves at various stages, male and female flowers

Hops health benefits: sedative and traditional beer flavoring

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Hops in the wild, inset leaves at various stages, male and female flowers

Hops in the wild, inset leaves at various stages, male and female flowers

Hops, Humulus lupulus, are also called the common hop to distinguish the plant from the related but not very medicinally active Japanese hop (H. japonicus). It is the plant most often used as a base for beer until barley malt took over – but as it is gluten free, is suitable for celiacs, which beers based on barley are not. Hops are also often grown as an ornamental – particularly the golden hop, H. lupulus ‘Aureus’.

The term “hops” is properly used for the female fruits, but is also often used to refer to the plant itself.

The hop is a European native climber. The leaf is variable, depending on maturity. Pictures a-d inset on the main photo show different stages. It is a hardy perennial, not fussy about soil type, dry or moist soil, and even surviving drought, growing well in any situation so long as it is not in full shade.

Hop flowers

Hop flowers

Hops are not self-fertile because you need both male and female plants to produce fruit (sometimes called flower cones), which appear on the female plants. Male flowers are inset as e in the main picture, with cones at f. Do not confuse the fruits with the flowers, illustrated on the left, which are different on male and female plants. It is the fruits which are used in making beer.

A note of caution: Up to 3% of people may be sensitive to hops, resulting in red or purple eruptions on hands, face and even legs. If you experience this problem, it’s best to use other remedies. Whether or not you suffer from dermatitis from handling hops, if hairs from the plant get in your eyes, you are likely to experience irritation.

Hops are easily propagated from seed sown in spring and potted on until they are large enough to plant out in summer. Provide support, as this is a climbing plant which can reach a height of 20 feet (6m). You will need to grow both male and female plants, as the fruits are the main part used in herbal medicine, and these will not be produced if you only grow plants of a single sex. You can also divide established plants or take basal cuttings in spring, planting out immediately into their final position.

Besides their use in brewing, hops can also be used for other purposes in the kitchen: young leaves in salad, shoots, young leaves and rhizomes (underground stems) can be cooked, and the leaves used for tea. Extracts from the plant are used commercially for flavoring non-alcoholic beverages, candy and dessert foods of various types. The seeds are a source of gamma linolenic acid (GLA).

Hops are useful medicinally in those who are not sensitive to them (see note of caution above). Prolonged use is bad for you – so although you might already have considered having a couple of beers every day as a tonic, this is not an option from the health point of view.

Hop pillows (a small cushion stuffed with flowers) are often used as an anti-insomnia device. You can also add a couple of tablespoons of hops to your evening bath for the same purpose.

Hops have been used for many purposes, in particular as a sedative and digestive aid. The ability to improve digestion is a function which hops share with other bitter herbs. Female fruits can also be used as a tonic and to reduce fevers. The hairs on the fruits contain a substance which has been shown to increase milk flow in nursing mothers. Make an infusion of the fruits using 1 teaspoon of fresh or dried fruits to 120ml (1 US cup, 4 fl oz) of boiling water. This can be taken hot or cold.

A poultice made from fruits can be used to treat to treat boils and other skin eruptions, and is also said to relieve the pain of external tumors. To make a poultice, make a paste of the fruits mixed with hot water, wrap in a bandage and apply to the area to be treated, refreshing in hot water as required.

A standard infusion of leaves, shoots and female flowers can be used for anxiety, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome and premature ejaculation, or externally as a wash for external ulcers and skin conditions such as eczema, herpes and skin infections. Make this with 30g (an ounce) of dried or 3 handfuls of fresh mixture as described to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water, and leave to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours before straining for use.

As with all plants used for herbal medicine, hops should be grown organically to avoid corrupting the active constituents with foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic hops visit the Gardenzone.


American valerian or Sitka valerian

American Valerian health benefits: soothes nerves and brings sleep

American valerian or Sitka valerian

American valerian or Sitka valerian

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

American valerian, Valeriana sitchensis, is also known as Sitka valerian. It’s closely related to valerian. Another plant sometimes called American valerian, Cypripedium calceolus pubescens, the nerve root is not related, nor is Jacob’s ladder (sometimes called Greek valerian). It’s very easy to tell these plants apart, particularly when in flower. The plant I’m covering in this post has tiny white flowers which are in clusters or even balls of many flowers on a single stem, whereas the nerve root is an orchid with fairly typical orchid foliage and large flowers in bright colors on individual stems and Jacob’s ladder has clusters of dark blue flowers. The plants are almost impossible to mix up unless you are going purely by the common name.

American valerian is a perennial which has male and female flowers on separate plants, so if you want to produce seed (so that you can replace plants you have dug up, for example), you will need several plants, to be sure of getting viable seed. The plant reaches a height of about 4 feet (120cm) and is happy in almost any soil, so long as it is moist. It will not grow in the shade.

American valerian should not be used by anybody suffering from liver disorders of any kind.

The part used in medicine is the root. Dig up 2 year old plants after the leaves have fallen for use either fresh, or after drying by laying out in a single layer on kitchen paper somewhere out of the sun which is dry and airy. Turn the roots over every day or so until they are completely dry and store in a dark, cool place in an airtight container. However, fresh root is 3 times more effective than dried.

Make a decoction from 30g (1 ounce) of fresh or dried root to 570ml (2½ US cups or 1 UK pint) of water. Place the ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Continue to simmer until the liquid has reduced by half (about 20 minutes), then strain and allow to cool. The correct dose is 1 tablespoonful a day maximum, and it is used for anxiety, insomnia, hypertension (high blood pressure), and cramps including those associated with menstruation and irritable bowel syndrome. It can also be used externally to treat eczema, ulcers, cuts and grazes.

You will not be surprised that in common with all plants grown for use as herbal remedies, American valerian should be grown organically so as to avoid the active constituents being adulterated or completely negated by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Garden valerian for tranquillity

Valerian health benefits: soothes and helps you sleep

Garden valerian for tranquillity

Garden valerian for tranquillity

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Valerian or garden valerian, Valeriana officinalis, is also known as garden heliotrope and sometimes as all-heal (although this name is also used for selfheal, Prunella vulgaris, which I will talk about in my next post). It’s closely related to the American valerian, Valeriana sitchensis, which is sometimes used in the same way. It is not related to nerve root (also sometimes called American valerian) or to Jacob’s ladder (sometimes called Greek valerian).

Valerian is a hardy perennial, growing to a height of 150cm (5′), which prefers moist soil in sun or dappled shade. The scent is attractive to cats, dogs, horses, rats and mice.

The part of the plant which is used is the root, which is usually dug up in the fall of the second year and either used fresh or dried, or distilled for oil. If you intend to use it, you will therefore need to sow seed every year, so as to have fresh supplies.

Please note that valerian is not suitable for anybody suffering from disorders of the liver. Prolonged use may lead to addiction, so don’t use valerian for periods longer than 3 months tops.

Make a decoction from 30g (1 ounce) of fresh root or half that quantity of dried to 570ml (2½ US cups or 1 UK pint) of water. Place the ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Continue to simmer until the liquid has reduced by half (about 20 minutes), then strain and allow to cool. The correct dose is no more than a tablespoonful a day, and it is used for anxiety, insomnia, hypertension (high blood pressure), and cramps including those associated with menstruation and irritable bowel syndrome. It can also be used externally to treat eczema, ulcers, cuts and grazes.

I offer valerian capsules in my online shop.

As you probably realize, valerian intended for use as a herbal remedy should be grown organically, to avoid polluting its active constituents with foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic valerian, visit the Gardenzone.


Evening primrose is high in GLA

Evening Primrose health benefits: high in GLA

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Evening primrose is high in GLA

Evening primrose is high in GLA

Evening primrose, Oenothera biennis (sometimes labeled Onagra biennis), is not related to the common or wild primrose, despite the name. It’s biennial, so to ensure a continuous supply, you need to sow or plant it 2 years in a row, after which it will self-seed if it is happy. Don’t try to grow it in the shade or on heavy soil, but poor soil is fine.

Once grown mainly as a root vegetable or a decorative “wild” plant, evening primrose came to prominence as a source of Gamma linolenic acid (GLA, an Omega 6 oil) in the 1980s, and oil of evening primrose or “EPO” (extracted from the seeds) is sold in capsules.

EPO is used as a topical treatment (or as a component of a massage oil blend) for eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Taken as a supplement it is used as a prophylactic and treatment for PMS, endometriosis, diabetic nerve damage, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, hyperactivity, ADHD, obesity, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and schizophrenia.

Make a standard infusion from the leaves and bark, 2-3 teaspoonfuls of fresh or 1-2 teaspoonfuls of dried, to a cup of boiling water. Allow to stand for at least 10 minutes, strain and sip slowly to treat gastro-intestinal disorders and asthma. The oil extracted from evening primrose seeds is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, liver damage caused by alcohol abuse, and to reduce both cholesterol levels and blood pressure. An infusion made from crushed roots (using the same quantities and method given above) is used as a treatment for bowel pain. The crushed roots can be made into a poultice to treat piles and bruises.

I offer EPO in my online shop.

Aromatherapy

Evening primrose oil is used as a carrier oil or carrier oil additive, mainly in blends intended for skin care, acne, dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea and also in hair products to help prevent dandruff.

As with all herbs grown for use as remedies, organic growing methods are important to avoid harmful chemicals being absorbed along with the remedy. To find out more about growing organic evening primrose, visit the Gardenzone.


Peppermint can be invasive, grow in a sunken pot

Peppermint health benefits: not just for toothpaste

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Peppermint can be invasive, grow in a sunken pot

Peppermint can be invasive, grow in a sunken pot

Peppermint, Mentha x piperita officinalis, is one of the most important remedial members of the Mentha genus, although it is actually a hybrid, which explains its vigorous growth, although even true species in this group tend to be invasive. Grow it in a big pot sunk into the ground, unless you want to be battling against its attempted takeover of your garden! If you would rather just grow it in a container, make sure you keep it well watered, as otherwise it will dry out and your plant will end up looking quite scraggy. There is the benefit that it’s easier to bring the plant indoors if your winters are very cold.

In most parts, peppermint will survive the winter perfectly well, just don’t be tempted to take more than a few leaves at a time when snow is on the ground. The minty taste is strong, and can be used for peppermint tea and for flavoring sweets and other confectionery. If you don’t have any other type of mint, you could also use it for mint sauce, although spearmint is the type generally used for this.

You may be surprised to learn that this common herb can sometimes cause an allergic reaction, and it is therefore considered not suitable for children when used as a herbal remedy.

Use the whole plant (including roots, if possible), chopped fairly finely, to make a standard infusion. Allow 3-4 teaspoons of fresh or 1-2 teaspoons dried herb to 1 cup of boiling water, leave to stand for about 10 minutes and strain. A dose of 1 or 2 cups a day (no more) can be used to treat colds and flu, digestive disorders such as indigestion, intestinal cramping, gastroenteritis and gastric ulcer, and to help relieve irritable bowel syndrome. It’s also useful to treat nausea, including morning sickness. The same infusion can be used (after it has cooled) as a lotion for itching skin and burns, and as an insect repellent.

Put a handful of chopped fresh herb (or about a tablespoonful of dried) into a large bowl of boiling water for use as a steam inhalation to help relieve catarrh, sinusitis and asthma. To use this you lean over the bowl, covering your head and the bowl with a towel to keep the steam inside, and inhaling the steam.

You can make a compress with chopped fresh or dried leaves mixed into a little hot water, wrapped in gauze. Use this to treat neuralgia and rheumatism by putting it onto the affected area and holding it in place until the herbs have cooled. Refresh by dipping it into hot water, squeezing out the excess, and replace. Do this several times, until you feel that enough benefit has been obtained from it.

I offer a variety of peppermint products in my online shop.

It’s important that any herb used for herbal medicine is grown organically, so that you don’t end up giving yourself a huge dose of some chemical best left outside the body! For more information on other uses for this herb and how to grow organic peppermint, visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Peppermint essential oil is one of the most useful essential oils. It’s also one of the safest, although it must be used diluted on the skin, as it may cause irritation. It’s used for itchy skin, acne and other skin conditions, headache, nausea, muscle pain and many other uses.

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.