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.

 


Chia seeds health benefits: a superfood worthy of the name

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Chia seeds are a star among superfoods

Chia seeds are a star among superfoods

The chia plant (sometimes Mexican chia), Salvia hispanica, is native to Mexico and Guatemala and was one of the staples eaten by ancient Aztecs. It is related to sage, clary sage and Spanish sage.

Chia is an annual plant which reaches a height of around 1m (3′), but is frost tender. However, as it flowers in July and August, the seed crop can easily be harvested before frost strikes. It prefers well drained, light to medium rich soil and a sunny position. Sow under cover in March-April, prick out and pot on as necessary, then plant in their final position in late Spring/early Summer. You can also sow direct, but may not achieve a mature crop if the Summer is poor.

Chia seeds can be different colours, depending on variety, ranging from off white through various shades of brown to black. They are shaped like miniature pinto beans, but only about 1mm in diameter.

Chia is a good plant for attracting bees, and is apparently unpopular with deer, which may be useful in areas close to forests.

Chia seeds are usually mixed with water to make a jelly, and once gelled added to fruit juice. You could also use them to make a pudding. Sprouting the seeds is difficult, due to the gel, but you can use a porous clay base to achieve this with some experimentation. Sprouted seeds can be eaten like other sprouts in salad, sandwiches, and added to breakfast cereal and recipes. A teaspoon of chia seeds mixed into orange juice and allowed to soak for 10 minutes will produce a refreshing drink that will stop you feeling hungry for several hours. You can also grind the seeds and mix with other flours for bread, biscuits and other baked goods. Chia seed is of course gluten free, since it is not a member of the Gramineae/Poaceae family.

Chia seed nutrition tableA well known superfood, chia seeds are rich in essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals (see table). On top of this, 100g chia seed provides 91% of the adult recommended daily intake of fibre. Most amazing is the 17.5g Omega-3 oil and 5.8g Omega-6 oil per 100g, which along with the other nutrients makes it a true star.

The high antioxidant content from vitamins A, C and E plus selenium, ferulic acid, caffeic acid and quercetin helps to protect against heart disease and some types of cancer. The high niacin content (almost twice that of sesame seeds) gives it the property of helping to reduce LDL cholesterol and enhancing GABA activity in the brain, reducing anxiety.

Chia seed has a good level of potassium, very much higher than its sodium content. Potassium helps to counteract the bad effects of sodium in the body and is involved in regulating fluid levels and enhancing muscle strength.

It has to be said that chia is probably one of the better candidates for the label “superfood”.

A chia leaf infusion made with just a few chopped leaves to a cup of boiling water is used to provide pain relief for arthritis, sore throat and mouth ulcers, for respiratory problems, to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It is also helpful for relieving hot flushes during the menopause. Chia seed can be chewed to help relieve flatulence (“gas” or “wind“).

I offer a wide range of chia seed and products in my online store.

If you decide to grow your own chia seed, please remember that for safety’s sake it’s best to use organic methods, to avoid high concentrations of nasty chemicals ending up in your stomach. To find out more about organic gardening visit the Gardenzone.


Cinnamon health benefits: super spice, but not superfood

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Cinnamon bark is a tasty and healthful spice

Cinnamon bark is a tasty and healthful spice

Cinnamon, the inner bark of the Cinnamomum verum tree (syn. Cinnamomum zeylanicum and Laurus cinnamomum), is a spice used for many centuries throughout the world – originally only by royalty, due to the price. The origin was kept secret from the West until the early sixteenth century, when Portuguese traders landed in Sri Lanka.

Although cinnamon trees are grown commercially in many parts of the East, even as recently as 2006 90% of the production of cinnamon was carried out in Sri Lanka.

Left to right: cassia, cinnamon: low quality, regular, best quality

Left to right: cassia, cinnamon: low quality, regular, best quality

Obviously, unless you are lucky enough to live in one of the areas with a similar climate, you won’t be growing your own cinnamon tree. But you can still use it by purchasing good quality cinnamon, which is easy to tell from the inferior cassia if you buy it in “quills” rather than ground (see picture left). It keeps better like this as well.

If you do live in a cinnamon-producing area, you are still probably better off purchasing rather than growing your own, which involves coppicing cinnamon trees, removing the bark from the resulting branches, immediately discarding the outer bark and drying the inner, which rolls up as it dries to form the characteristic quills.

Edit: I just came across this YouTube video on Reddit, which seems to demonstrate beyond any doubt that cinnamon works as an effective ant-repellent.

Don’t believe propaganda that says a teaspoon of cinnamon contains as many antioxidants as a half cup of blueberries or a whole cup of pomegranate juice. This seemed extremely unlikely to me, so I researched the actual nutrient content of each. I’m afraid that you still have to eat those blueberries or drink that pomegranate juice. Cinnamon does contain quite a lot of nutrients, for sure, in particular manganese, calcium and iron, but a teaspoonful a day is not going to fulfil your antioxidant requirements, or go anywhere near doing that, sorry.

Having shot that fox, there is strong research evidence that cinnamon is very helpful to people suffering from diabetes – as little as a half teaspoonful a day lowers blood sugar levels, as well as cholesterol and triglyceride in Type 2 diabetics not taking insulin. Other studies show the same quantity can lower LDL cholesterol in the general population.

Cancer patients would also do well to supplement with cinnamon: studies have shown that it is active against colorectal cancer, melanoma, leukemia and lymphoma. In my view, it’s worth supplementing with cinnamon whatever type of cancer you may have, given the broad spread represented by the ones researched so far.

Copenhagen researchers gave arthritis patients a half teaspoon of cinnamon powder mixed with a tablespoon of honey for breakfast every day, and within a week, their pain was significantly reduced – after a month they could walk without pain.

It’s also prescribed in Germany for appetite loss and indigestion.

Other conditions which are helped by cinnamon include COPD, poor circulation in hands and feet, all kinds of digestive disorders including infantile diarrhea, high blood pressure, muscle cramps, athlete’s foot and medication-resistant yeast infections.

For athlete’s foot and other external fungal infections you can use a wash – make a standard infusion using a half teaspoon of freshly ground cinnamon to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water, allow to cool before use. For other purposes, you can add a half teaspoon of cinnamon to honey (like the Danish study did), or you could just chew the powder and swallow it (as Chinese herbalists often recommend), or make a standard infusion and drink it (hot or cold). Another method would be to obtain empty capsules from a herbal supplier and fill each one with a quarter or half teaspoon of cinnamon so that you can take one or two in the morning or at night along with your regular supplementation. There are also ready made cinnamon capsules available, see below.

I offer powdered cinnamon, cinnamon bark and cinnamon bark 350mg capsules in my online shop.

Aromatherapy

There are two types of cinnamon essential oil: bark oil, which is toxic and should not be used for aromatherapy under any circumstances, and leaf oil which can be used diluted with carrier oil for skin infections and as a stimulant to increase blood flow and sexual appetite. Do a patch test before using on the skin and use in moderation. It can also be used neat (wear gloves) to kill mosquitoes and their larvae, and in an oil burner as a room freshener and mosquito repellent. Even the leaf oil is irritant and should be avoided during pregnancy. Never use internally, even in cooking.

As with all essential oils, cinnamon 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.

Alfalfa health benefits: to stimulate appetite and lower cholesterol

Alfalfa flowers can be yellow, light or dark violet

Alfalfa flowers can be yellow, light or dark violet

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Alfalfa, Medicago sativa, is also known as buffalo grass, lucerne, lucerne grass and purple medic. There are also a number of subspecies which all have common names on a lucerne/alfalfa/medic theme. It’s in the same family as melilot (sometimes called sweet lucerne), but they are not closely related.

Alfalfa is a perennial which reaches a height of around 3 feet (1 meter), a member of the family Papilionaceae (or Leguminosae), all of which have the ability to extract nitrogen from the air. Because of this, it is often used as a green manure. It also makes a good forage crop, its nitrogen fixing giving it the ability to grow on poor soils. Although it requires good drainage it is otherwise not fussy about situation and tolerates drought, though in common with most other green plants it will not grow in full shade.

Researchers have found that alfalfa should not be eaten or used in herbal medicine by anyone who has suffered from lupus (SLE) at any time, even if currently dormant. Not for use by anyone with any other auto immune disease (this includes some you may not realize, such as asthma, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease and more). Not suitable for use during pregnancy or by anyone trying to conceive. Even those who are healthy should not eat large amounts as it can cause liver problems and photosensitization.

Alfalfa is usually considered a salad vegetable, in the form of alfalfa sprouts, but it has many medicinal properties.

To make a standard infusion use 3 handfuls of fresh herb or 30g (1 ounce) of dried to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to stand for about 30 minutes, then strain off the alfalfa and discard.

To make a decoction use 30g (1 ounce) of fresh root or 15g (a half ounce) dried root to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of cold water in a non-aluminum pan. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and reduce to half the quantity, then strain off the alfalfa and discard.

The standard infusion is oxytocic (promotes uterine contractions) and has an estrogenic action useful for fibroids, menopausal complaints and pre-menstrual tension. It can also be used to treat anemia and jaundice, to lower cholesterol, stop bleeding/hemorrhage, promote weight gain and as an appetite stimulant, an aid to convalescence, a diuretic, gentle laxative, stimulant and tonic. The juice is antibacterial, emetic and can be used to relieve pain caused by gravel/small stones. A decoction of the root is used to lower fevers.

I offer alfalfa seeds and alfalfa 500mg tablets in my online shop.

Because it’s a legume which fixes nitrogen with its roots (often used as a green manure), there should be no need to use anything other than organic methods when growing alfalfa, which is important to avoid corruption of the essential constituents. To find out more about growing organic alfalfa visit the Gardenzone.


Turmeric health benefits: a treasure chest of healing

Turmeric is related to ginger

Turmeric is related to ginger

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Strictly speaking, turmeric is a spice rather than a herb, as is ginger which is in the same family. However, when it comes to its value as a remedy, turmeric is a star, and I’ve therefore given it honorary herbal status!

Turmeric is also known as haldi and has also been called Indian saffron (though it is not related to any other plant that bears the name saffron), because it gives a yellow color to food, and is/was used as a cheap saffron alternative. The latin name is Curcuma longa (sometimes Curcuma domestica).

Turmeric requires a temperature of 20-30º C to do well, and to be kept moist, which is a difficult thing to achieve unless you live in the tropics. However, it is possible to grow it in pots. Plants are available from specialist nurseries or you can plant a few fresh rhizomes obtained from an Asian grocer.

Choose rhizomes that look juicy (as ones that are dried out probably won’t grow) with a bud on one side. Plant them in a tray with the bud facing upwards in very gritty compost (mix horticultural or undyed aquarium grit with ordinary potting compost), just covered. Water and put inside a plastic bag out of direct sunlight, preferably with bottom heat. They need a minimum temperature of 20 degrees, as already stated.

Once shoots emerge, you can remove the bag, but make sure you keep the temperature up and the compost moist. At around 6″ (15cm) you can pot them on into individual pots (as rhizomes grow, you will probably need to pot on to allow room for them to develop). Put them on a tray full of pebbles or shingle, and keep the tray topped up with water (but not high enough so that the pot is sitting in it), to keep the atmosphere around the plant moist. Make sure the compost in the pot doesn’t dry out completely between waterings.

Although I’ve given instructions for growing, it’s not really practical to convert the resulting crop into the turmeric powder we are familiar with, because it’s a long process involving boiling them for several hours, drying them in an oven, and then grinding to a powder. Turmeric is cheap enough (especially in Asian stores) to make all this effort seem a bit of a waste – although do be careful that what you’re buying isn’t too cheap, as there have been cases of cheap (and sometimes dangerous) fillers being substituted for some of the yellow powder that is sold. The leaves can be used in Indonesian cooking, in particular beef rendang, the plant and the flowers are attractive, and it’s unusual enough to provoke comments from visitors, so you may agree with me that it’s probably worth growing just as an ornamental.

As you no doubt know, turmeric powder is used extensively in Asian cooking and also apparently to make tea in Okinawa! It’s also used by food processors in the West to color many food products where you would not expect to find it, from cheese, butter and margarine to salad dressings, mustard and chicken broth, amongst other things.

Turning to its medicinal value, there are a couple of contra-indications. Do not use in medicinal amounts if you have gallstones or any gallbladder or bile duct disorder. Turmeric is also not suitable for use as a herbal remedy during pregnancy, although it’s safe enough in the levels found in food.

Apparently, taking turmeric in combination with black pepper (more correctly piperine, which is a component of black pepper) increases its effects 20-fold, so if you’re making a meal which includes turmeric, adding 20g of black pepper (or long pepper, Piper retrofractum, a close relative) would turn it into a remedy!

Turmeric has a long history of medicinal use across Asia. In China, it is prescribed as an anti-depressant, but mostly its uses relate to its antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, blood sugar regulating, glucose metabolism stimulating, cholesterol-lowering and liver detox/tonic effects. It is effective in reducing the pain of rheumatoid arthritis – more so than many proprietary anti-inflammatory drugs – and also has a reputation for preventing metastasis in a variety of cancers, including breast cancer and prostate cancer, preventing the growth of new blood vessels in tumors, and preventing melanoma from increasing. Though it seems incredible, it has also been found to be a natural anti-venom effective for bites of the King Cobra. Finally, research seems to indicate that it can both put off and possibly repair damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease. And this is just a quick overview. It’s truly a treasure chest of healing in a single spice.

Chronic low level inflammation is a major component of almost all Western chronic diseases. This may be why turmeric, a very potent anti-inflammatory with few side effects, is beneficial for so many conditions. Turmeric is the subject of numerous research studies, which find that it is almost a miracle spice, effective for many conditions including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, cystic fibrosis, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. It has even been shown to help regenerate the liver.

Drink a teaspoon of turmeric mixed with a cup of yogurt, milk or fruit juice to treat indigestion and bloating, to normalize blood glucose and reduce insulin resistance in diabetics and to strengthen the immune system. Add a quarter teaspoon of ground black pepper to combat colds and respiratory infections.

A condition called Hidradenitis suppurativa or Acne inversa, a very unsightly type of acne, has responded well (even in patients who have suffered from the condition for many years) to a dose of 1 teaspoon of turmeric mixed with 60ml (1/4 US cup, 2 fl oz) warm water, taken three times a day. To treat any of the other conditions given, try starting off with a dose about half as strong as this, increasing if necessary. However, if you or your patient are suffering from a serious illness, do not neglect to take and follow medical advice as well.

Cuts, burns and bruises can be treated with a paste made by mixing turmeric powder with water and applying on a bandage to the affected area (or without a bandage, if this is feasible – however, turmeric will stain any fabric it comes into contact with permanently, so the bandage is probably a useful precaution).

I offer various turmeric products in my online shop.

I doubt you will be growing turmeric at home for medicinal use, however, if you do wish to, it should be grown organically to ensure that its properties are not masked or completely eliminated by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.