Benefits of Shilajit for Men and Women

Men who live and work in the mountains are known for their strength and endurance, and it appears there’s more to it than simply the mountain air. Shilajit, pronounced shil-ah-jeet, is an organic tar-like substance that naturally occurs in mountains around the globe, from the Himalayas to the Andes. It may not sound tasty, but as you’ll see in a moment, it works. Ayurvedic doctors began using it hundreds of years ago for its potent health-supportive properties.

6 Benefits of Shilajit for Men’s Health

Shilajit contains several potent substances including antioxidants and humic and fulvic acid. The plant contains over 80 minerals that support the body, and many have an incredible effect on a man’s health. If you’re a man, no matter where you live, you’ll want to look into shilajit. Here are 6 health benefits of Shilajit for men that will hopefully convince you:

1. Supports Fertility

A study gave 60 men suffering from infertility shilajit twice daily for 90 days. At the end of the trial period, sperm counts in the men increased by more than 60%, and sperm activity improved by 12% or more. This supports what Ayurvedic doctors have known for centuries. Any man dealing with infertility should consider this safe, natural alternative to address his condition.

2. Promotes Testosterone Levels Naturally

It does more than increase the number and health of a man’s ‘swimmers.’ Men who take shilajit enjoy a boost to their testosterone levels, and a man needs higher testosterone levels to protect muscle tissue, keep fat off, and maintain a better overall mood and thinking.

3. Enhances Performance

Tradition holds men who take shilajit have more energy and feel generally better. It could be the mountain air, or it could be the nutrient density of shilajit. Researchers have determined shilajit acts at the cellular level to improve energy production at its source, the mitochondria. When your cells are nourished like this, you feel like more awake, you recover faster, and you have what it takes to go that extra mile.

4. Protects the Heart

A recent study using animal models tested how well shilajit protects the heart. The animals who received the herb showed less cardiovascular damage, with researchers concluding the effect must come from more than simply its antioxidant activity.

5. Supports Memory

Increased testosterone levels play an important role in how well you think. But researchers have identified a special effect created by small molecules called dibezno-alpha-pyrones. These molecules prevent the breakdown of the brain chemicals needed for memory. Other studies report the fulvic acid in shilajit supports normal brain health.

6. Encourages Healthy Aging

Studies report shilajit’s antioxidant activity protects against cellular damage, and it’s this cellular damage that speeds the aging process in your heart, lungs, liver, and skin. The fulvic acid in shilajit delivers antioxidants and minerals directly to cells where they’re needed. This keeps them safe from free radical damage and accelerated aging.

A Final Thought

When it comes to taking shilajit, make sure you get the real stuff. If it’s solid at room temperature, you’ve got a hold of something that is of questionable quality. Shilajit should taste bitter, have a brownish-blackish color and melt in your hand.

Benefits of Shilajit for Women’s Health

Formed over hundreds of years from decayed plant material, Shilajit is a tar-like substance found in the Himalayas, Caucasus, and Andes. Pronounced “shil-ah-jeet,” it offers quite a few compounds that support human health. This substance has been part of Ayurvedic medicine for centuries and is especially beneficial for women, providing energy enhancement, mood support, and antioxidant protection.

3 Benefits of Shilajit for Women’s Health

Here are a few of the health benefits of Shilajit and how it relates to female health:

1. Supports Healthy Aging

In some villages in the Himalayas, Shilajit is a regular part of the diet. Residents of these villages consider it an important component for promoting good health. One research study found that Shilajit when combined with Indian ginseng, may be helpful for reducing the risk of age-related cognitive decline.

2. Energy Enhancer

The data doesn’t lie. Human and animal studies suggest that Shilajit helps you fight fatigue and feel energized. Traditional medicine credits it as a revitalizer to enhance physical performance. Why? Because Shilajit supports ATP production, helping to enhance energy at the cellular level.

When researchers decided to test its impact on the physical challenges associated with high altitudes, such as physical stress, lethargy, and general tiredness, they determined that its fulvic acid content acts at a deep tissue level to overcome these common issues.

3. Antioxidant Protection

Shilajit is loaded with fulvic acid, which has remarkably high antioxidant values. Recent research indicates that it supports brain health and its antioxidant compounds may be the main route through which Shilajit protects the brain. Women seeking to support cognitive function may want to consider Shilajit. Other studies have noted positive effects on memory, anxiety, cognitive function, mood support, and stimulating brain activity.

One Final Thought

Real Shilajit will have a brownish-blackish color, melt in your hand, and have a bitter taste. Always find a high-quality source, as many suppliers sell inferior or old products that have lost potency.

What is Shilajit?

From deep within the Caucasus and Himalayan mountains, Shilajit (pronounced shi-lah-jeet) is a naturally occurring substance that’s rich in beneficial nutrients. Although it’s somewhat unknown today, it is still prominent in many natural health practices, including Ayurveda. This blackish, smooth substance can be found in high concentrations in the Altai Mountains. One of the main constituents of the material is fulvic acid, which has shown some promise in heavy metal protection and brain support.

What is Shilajit?

Shilajit is a sticky resin that oozes from rocks in the mountains in response to heat from the sun. It is often referred to as “rock sweat” and “stone oil” for its tar and sap-like texture. Shilajit is most often a black color, but can range in hue depending on location. The substance is rich in nutrients, like humic acid, A, B, and C vitamins, and trace minerals, and it may be useful for supporting men’s health. While shilajit research is by no means large, there is evidence that its compounds offer many health benefits.

What are the Benefits of Shilajit?

Shilajit may support healthy aging, increase the body’s ability to rejuvenate tissue, increase metabolism, boost the immune system, promote digestive health, and even help strengthen bones. Its effects on brain health should also be noted. Research shows that compounds in shilajit may be helpful against Alzheimer’s disease risk. According to some spiritual traditions, shilajit is excellent for cleansing the chakras, or energy centers at various points of the body.

Shilajit contains at least 85 substances and minerals that are essential for the human body, including vitamins A, B, and C, and essential minerals like iron, zinc, and magnesium. Due to its mineral content, some research suggests it may be helpful in cases of anemia. It’s incredible as an antioxidant and helps neutralize harmful free-radicals. Its status as a potent antioxidant may explain why shilajit is so beneficial for brain health. Review of the literature on shilajit also shows the substance to be a powerful adaptogen. Perhaps its best feature though is its rich concentration of fulvic acid.

What is Fulvic Acid?

Fulvic acid–also known as humic acid–is like an octane booster for your body. It is a mixture of a number of different acids and is composed of degraded organic matter. Fulvic acid helps makes nutrients more absorbable, supports brain health, and makes it easier for your body to cleanse itself of chemicals, toxic metals, and harmful compounds that negatively affect your health.

Supplementing With Shilajit

Shilajit can be taken as a standalone supplement, and it’s also sometimes added to herbal formulations to supercharge their effect. In fact, that’s why we’ve added it to several of our products, including Zeotrex, our solution for chemical and toxic metal cleansing.

 

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Shilajit: 10 Health Benefits and It’s Use

Shilajit, also called mineral pitch, is the result of a long process of breaking down plant matter and minerals. It is a sticky, black, tar-like substance that comes from rocks in high mountain ranges.

Shilajit was traditionally sourced in India and Tibet, though it is now found in many other countries.

Shilajit has been used in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, and the compounds in it appear to be beneficial for many conditions.

Ten potential benefits of Shilajit

When it is used correctly, shilajit may have several benefits for the body. This may be due in part to the high concentration of fulvic and humic acids, as well as many minerals.

1. Brain function

man holding a red pill and a glass of water

Shilajit is formed from the slow decomposition of plant matter and is available as a supplement or powder.

The numerous compounds found in shilajit may be helpful for brain function, and may even aid Alzheimer’s therapy.

A study in the International Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease noted that shilajit is traditionally used for longevity and to slow aging. The compounds in it may help control cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s.

Researchers expect shilajit to have an impact in preventing cognitive disorders, but more research is needed to explore these possibilities.

2. Aging

One study noted that fulvic acid, one of the key compounds in shilajit, acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound. As such, it may help reduce free radicals and cellular damage in the body, which are two key factors in aging.

Daily supplementation of shilajit may contribute to the overall vitality and a slower aging process in some people.

3. Anemia

Anemia develops when the blood does not have enough healthy cells or hemoglobin. There are many causes of anemia, including iron deficiency.

Iron deficiency anemia can cause numerous symptoms in the body, including:

  • irregular heartbeat
  • fatigue and weakness
  • cold hands and feet
  • headache

Shilajit contains high levels of humic acid and iron, which may be helpful in treating iron deficiency anemia. It is important to explore this option with a doctor before taking supplements, however.

4. Antiviral

The wide range of minerals and compounds found in shilajit may also help fight off viruses. A research study noted that shilajit could fight off and kill many different viruses in isolated environments, including some herpes viruses.

Researchers commented that while it does appear to be effective, more studies carried out with live subjects are needed to back up these claims.

5. Chronic fatigue

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that shilajit helped reduce symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome in test subjects.

Researchers noted that shilajit might help improve cell functions in the body, which means it may reduce fatigue at the source of the problem and increase energy levels naturally.

6. Altitude sickness

One of the claims made by traditional practitioners is that shilajit can help alleviate altitude sickness. The changes in pressure at high altitudes can greatly affect some people. Symptoms of altitude sickness range from body pain and fatigue to lung congestion and low oxygen in the brain.

Shilajit is a complex substance that contains more than 80 different minerals, as well as fulvic acid and humic acid. Because of this broad spectrum of beneficial components, shilajit is thought to help reduce many symptoms of altitude sickness.

It may help improve the brain’s cognitive processes, boost the immune system, and reduce inflammation, all of which could lessen altitude sickness.

7. Liver cancer

Shilajit also shows promise in fighting against certain types of cancer cells. One study found that shilajit helped force the destruction of cancerous cells in the liver.

It also stopped these cancer cells from multiplying. Researchers noted that their results show that shilajit has an anti-cancer effect, but more studies are needed.

8. Heart health

man having his blood pressure taken

As it may lower blood pressure, those with heart disease or hypotension should not take shilajit.

Shilajit may also protect the heart and improve heart health. A recent study using rats noted the protective effects shilajit has on the heart.

Animals who were treated with shilajit prior to cardiac injury had less damage to the heart than those who were not given shilajit.

It is important to note that shilajit may reduce blood pressure in some cases and should not be taken by anyone who has an active heart condition.

9. Obesity

Carrying extra weight can tire the muscles and put stress on the bones. A study in the Journal of Medicinal Food noted that people who were obese who took an oral supplement of purified shilajit responded better to exercise than those who did not.

Researchers noted that the shilajit seemed to activate genes in the body that helped the skeletal muscles quickly adapt to the new workout. This could mean less fatigue and more strength over time.

10. Male fertility and testosterone

Shilajit has also been studied to increase male fertility. One study gave 60 infertile men shilajit twice a day for 90 days.

After the test period, almost half of the men who completed the treatment showed an increase in total sperm count and sperm motility, or how many and how well the sperm move towards the egg, both of which are factors in male fertility,

Another study looked at the ability of shilajit to increase testosterone levels in healthy volunteers. Men between 45 and 55 years old were given shilajit for 90 days. At the end of this period, researchers noted significant increases in the levels of total testosterone.

Use

young woman holding a glass of milk in one hand and a glass of water in the other

Shilajit powder can be taken dissolved in water or milk.

Shilajit is available as a powder or as a supplement that can be dissolved in milk or water.

A person can dissolve a pea-sized portion of shilajit in liquid and drink it up to three times a day, depending on the instructions on the package.

The recommended dose of shilajit is 300 to 500 milligrams per day. However, it is important that a person speaks with a doctor before taking any natural supplements.

Potential side effects

Research suggests that shilajit is safe for long-term use as a dietary supplement. However, there are some potential side effects of using shilajit.

Shilajit may lower blood pressure, which can be dangerous for people on high blood pressure medications. People with an active heart disease or with a history of hypotension should avoid taking shilajit to prevent a drop in blood pressure.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor natural supplements, so it is important to get the supplement from a reputable source. Low-quality shilajit may be tainted with heavy metals, free radicals, and even arsenic in some cases.

Also,

Shilajit has several health benefits and is a safe and effective supplement when used correctly. It is always best to speak to a doctor about the correct dosage in each case.

Working directly with a doctor can also help a person monitor any potential side effects.

Our Holiday Favorite Spice: Cinnamon

Most of us think of spices as incidental to our diets, but perhaps it’s time to update our appreciation of these flavorful, and powerfully health-promoting, seasonings.

Spices are defined as any “aromatic vegetable substance.” The keyword is a vegetable. Derived from “vegetables” in the form of tree bark {cinnamon}, seed {nutmeg}, or fruit {peppercorns}, spices have potent anticancer, anti-inflammatory and other health-promoting effects that are daily being confirmed by researchers. Indeed, the following spices have been identified b the National Cancer Institute as having cancer-preventive properties: sage, oregano, thyme, rosemary, fennel, turmeric, caraway, anise, coriander, cumin and tarragon. In one comparison of antioxidant power from the Agricultural Research Center, the compounds of oregano rank higher than vitamin E.

Spices also make major contributions to our health by allowing us to reduce the amounts of salt, sugar and fat in our foods.

We’ve chosen cinnamon as a super-spice because of its general popularity and usefulness.

Cinnamon is welcome all year round, but its special scent is a particular treat in the winter months. What could be more welcome and delicious than a warm mug of apple cider sprinkled with cinnamon or a cinnamon baked apple with crushed nuts on a cold snowy day? It’s exciting to learn that cinnamon has actual health benefits.

cinnamon-stick-powder-130909

Cinnamon, that delightful spice eliciting memories of Grandma’s kitchen and the comforts of home, is actually more than a delicious addition to foods. One of the oldest spices known and long used in traditional medicine, cinnamon is currently being studied for its beneficial effects on a variety of ailments. Recent findings on the power of cinnamon to promote health, in particular, its benefits for people with type ll diabetes, have elevated it to the special status of a super-spice.

cinnamon two types

Cinnamon comes from the interior bark of evergreen trees that are native to Asia. The type we most commonly see in the supermarkets is cassia cinnamon {Cinnamomum cassia}. Known as Chinese cinnamon, it has the sweetly spiced flavor we’re familiar with. Varieties of Chinese cinnamon come from China and northern Vietnam. There’s also Ceylon, or “true,” cinnamon [Cinnamomum zeylanicum}, which is sweeter with a more complex, citrus flavor. Both types of cinnamon are available in sticks {“quills”} or ground.

Cinnamon and your Health:

Today, we’re in the process of learning about the power of cinnamon to affect health, and once you appreciate the special qualities of this mighty spice, I’m sure you’ll be eager to use it more frequently.

Perhaps the most exciting recent discovery concerning cinnamon is its effect on blood glucose levels as well as on triglyceride and cholesterol levels, all which could benefit people suffering from type ll diabetes.

In one study of 60 patients with type ll diabetes, it was found that after only 40 days of taking about one-half teaspoon of cinnamon daily, fasting serum glucose levels were lowered by 18 to 29 percent, triglycerides by 23 to 30 percent, low-density lipoproteins {LDL} by 7 to 27 percent and total cholesterol by 12 to 26 percent. It’s not yet clear whether less than one-half teaspoon a day would be effective. It’s particularly interesting that the effects of the cinnamon lasted for 20 days following the end of the study, leading to speculation that one wouldn’t have to eat cinnamon every day to enjoy its benefits. This is great news for all of us and points out once again the benefits of a varied diet of whole foods and spices. The cinnamon – and perhaps other spices and certainly many foods – that you’re eating today are affecting your health into the future.

Cinnamon, by its insulin-enhancing properties, is not the only spice to show a positive effect on blood glucose levels. Cloves, bay leaves, and turmeric also show beneficial effects.

In addition to being a glucose moderator, cinnamon is recognized as being antibacterial. The essential oils in cinnamon are able to stop the growth of bacteria as well as fungi, including the common yeast CandidaIn one interesting study, a few drops of cinnamon essential oil in about 3 ounces of carrot broth inhibited the growth of bacteria for at least 60 days. By contrast, bacteria flourished in the broth with no cinnamon oil. Cinnamon has also been shown to be effective in fighting the E. coli bacterium.

A recent fascinating study found that just smelling cinnamon increased the subjects’ cognitive ability and actually functioned as a kind of “brain boost.” Future testing will reveal whether this power of cinnamon can be harnessed to prevent cognitive decline or sharpen cognitive performance.

Cinnamon in Your Life:

cinnamon-leafWhat does this exciting news on cinnamon mean to you? While it may not be practical to eat cinnamon on a daily basis, try to incorporate it into dishes when appropriate. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, make a special effort to increase your cinnamon consumption.

Almost everyone is a fan of cinnamon, but we may need a little inspiration to get cinnamon into our diets more frequently. A dash of cinnamon in applesauce, pumpkin smoothies, and pumpkin pudding, and other foods is a delightful treat.

  • For a healthy dessert, sprinkle cinnamon, a few raisins and walnuts, and a bit of honey, if desired, on a cored apple and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes until soft.
  • Make cinnamon toast. Drizzle some honey and sprinkle some cinnamon on toasted whole grain bread.
  • Simmer, don’t boil, milk with a teaspoon of vanilla and a cinnamon stick for a few minutes. Drink the warm milk with a bit of added honey or pour over hot oatmeal.
  • Combine one teaspoon cinnamon with two tablespoons honey and one cup yogurt. Serve as a dip for sliced fruit or as a dressing for fruit salad. Spoon a dollop on top of hot oatmeal, whole-grain pancakes, waffles or granola.
  • Combine equal parts of cinnamon and cocoa. Sprinkle on yogurt and fruit slices.
  • Combine one tablespoon or more ground cinnamon with one-half cup sesame seeds, one-quarter cup golden flaxseeds and one-quarter cup ground flaxseed meal. Use as a topping on cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, grapefruit halves or cantaloupe. Whole flaxseeds add crunch and fiber, though you get more of the nutritional value from ground flaxseeds.
  • Try to buy organically grown cinnamon, as it is less likely to have been irradiated. We know that irradiating cinnamon may lead to a decrease in its vitamin C and carotenoid content.

Lavender: Health Benefits and Uses {Updated}

Lavender is an herb native to northern Africa and the mountainous regions of the Mediterranean.

The herb is highly regarded for skin and beauty and is commonly used in fragrances and shampoos to help purify the skin. It can be purchased over-the-counter (OTC) from drugstores, and some versions are used to add flavor to baked goods and foods.

There are also many medicinal properties associated with lavender.

Lavender is also grown for the production of its essential oil, which comes from the distillation of the flower spikes of certain lavender species. Lavender essential oil, in contrast to the plant form, is toxic when swallowed.

Uses of lavender

Lavender oil is believed to have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help to heal minor burns and bug bites.

Research has revealed that lavender oil may be useful for treating anxiety, insomnia, depression, and restlessness.

Some studies suggest that consuming lavender as a tea can help digestive issues such as vomiting, nausea, intestinal gas, upset stomach, and abdominal swelling.

In addition to helping with digestive problems, lavender is used to help relieve pain from headaches, sprains, toothaches, and sores. It can also be used to prevent hair loss.

Fungal infections

A study published in the Journal of Medical Microbiology found that lavender oil could be effective in combating antifungal-resistant infections.

The researchers found that the oil was lethal to a range of strains that can cause disease in the skin.

In the study, the essential oils distilled from the Lavandula genus of the lavender plant seemed to work by destroying the membranes of fungal cells.

The study showed that Lavandula oil is potent and demonstrates antifungal activity on a wide spectrum.

Wound healing

A study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine compared the effects of several treatments for wound healing.

The researchers compared the effects of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), saline solution, povidone-iodine, and lavender oil. These were applied to laboratory rats.

The study authors noted that wounds closed faster in the TENS and lavender oil groups than the control groups. These findings suggest that lavender has an accelerator effect on wound healing.

Hair loss

Lavender is possibly effective for treating alopecia areata. This is a condition in which hair is lost from some or all areas of the body.

Research shows that lavender can promote hair growth by up to 44 percent after 7 months of treatment.

Anxiety disorder and related conditions

Lavender dental anxiety
Lavender scents have been shown to reduce anxiety before a dental appointment.

review article in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice evaluates how effective Silexan might be for patients with different anxiety disorders. Silexan is a lavender-oil preparation available in 80-milligram (mg) gelatine capsules.

The team found that Silexan had an anxiolytic, or anxiety-reducing, the effect on patients with generalized or subsyndromal anxiety within 2 weeks.

Researchers have also found that lavender scent may help anxious dental patients.

The investigators measured the dental anxiety levels of 340 adult patients during their wait at the dentist’s waiting room for their appointment.

Half the patients were exposed to lavender scent, while the other half were not.

The team found that those exposed to lavender scent reported lower levels of anxiety compared to the other patients. The calming effect of lavender was present regardless of the type of scheduled dental appointment.

Kritsidima, who conducted the study, concluded:

Our findings suggest that lavender could certainly be used as an effective ‘on-the-spot’ anxiety reduction in dentists’ waiting rooms.”

Dr. M. Kritsidima, study author

Lavender does not seem to impact anxiety about future dental visits. However, it has been shown to provide a sense of calm while attending a treatment.

Post-tonsillectomy pain in children

Lavender oil has been shown to reduce the amount of pain-killing medicine required after a tonsillectomy.

A team of researchers at the Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Iran, carried out a study to determine whether aromatherapy with Lavandula angustifolia essential oil might reduce symptoms of pain in children after the removal of the tonsils.

The study included 48 children aged 6 to 12 years. They were randomly separated into two groups of 24 participants. One group took painkillers alongside lavender and the other took only painkillers.

The frequency of each child’s acetaminophen use and nocturnal awakening due to pain was monitored for 3 days after surgery. Pain intensity was also measured. Acetaminophen is also known as Tylenol or paracetamol, and the group using lavender oil was shown to use acetaminophens less frequently.

However, there was no significant difference in how often they woke up at night or their perceptions of pain intensity.

Due to the small sample size, more research is required to fully confirm lavender oil as an effective painkiller.

Premenstrual emotional symptoms

Researchers have also studied whether lavender might help to alleviate premenstrual emotional symptoms.

Many women of reproductive age experience a range of symptoms in the premenstrual phase, commonly known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Even though PMS is common, no single treatment is universally recognized as effective. As a result, many women turn to alternative therapies, such as aromatherapy.

This crossover study involved 17 women, aged on average 20.6 years, with mild-to-moderate premenstrual symptoms. The participants spent one menstrual cycle with no lavender aromatherapy treatment, and another undergoing lavender aromatherapy.

The study concluded that lavender aromatherapy could alleviate premenstrual emotional symptoms.

What does lavender not treat?

There is insufficient evidence to rate lavender’s effectiveness for treating:

  • depression
  • colic in infants
  • constipation
  • nausea and vomiting
  • migraines
  • otitis, or ear infection
  • high blood pressure
  • menstrual pain
  • eczema
  • cancer-related pain
  • dementia
  • lice

One study found that lavender fragrance could have a beneficial effect on insomnia and depression in female college students. However, the authors highlighted that “repeated studies are needed to confirm effective proportions of lavender oil and carrier oil for insomnia and depression.”

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved lavender for medicinal use. It is sold as a supplement only and should not replace any prescribed course of treatment.

If you choose to use this essential oil, the FDA does not monitor these products. There may be concerns about purity, safety, or quality. Be sure to research safe and reputable products and companies. 

Interactions

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) warn people to be cautious when combining lavender with the following:

  • drugs that induce sleepiness, such as benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and Ambien
  • drugs to reduce blood pressure, such as captopril, enalapril, and losartan

If you are already taking the above, seek medical advice before adding lavender to your drug regimen.

Risks and precautions

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) revealed that repeated use of lavender oil on the skin might trigger prepubertal gynecomastia, a condition that causes enlarged breast tissue in boys before puberty.

The safety of taking lavender during pregnancy or while breastfeeding has also not been confirmed. Discuss any use of essential oils, herbs, or supplements with your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

As lavender is thought to slow down the central nervous system, doctors advise patients to stop using lavender at least 2 weeks before surgery.

What Are Phytochemicals?

Study after study after study has shown that a diet high in fruits and vegetables is especially beneficial to human health and can even reduce the risk of many serious health conditions. Phytochemicals may be one of the reasons why.

Phytochemicals are chemical compounds produced by plants. They are commonly found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and grains. Phytochemicals are frequently confused with phytonutrients. Whereas phytochemicals include plant compounds that are beneficial as well as those that are detrimental, phytonutrients specifically refer to compounds that have a positive effect. In other words, all phytonutrients are phytochemicals, but not all phytochemicals are phytonutrients.

The distinction between phytochemicals and phytonutrients is an important one, as not all phytochemicals are beneficial. Technically, cocaine, codeine, oxycodone, and nicotine are all phytochemicals. Even ricin, one of the most deadly and potent poisons in the world, is a phytochemical. This doesn’t mean that all phytochemicals are bad, quite the opposite. Some phytochemicals offer incredible health benefits.

Types of Phytochemicals

There are thousands of different phytochemicals. Here are a few that are of particular interest from a dietary perspective.

Carotenoids

Carotenoids are plant pigments responsible for the yellow, orange, and red color of many fruits and vegetables, including red peppers, papayas, paprika, tomatoes, and watermelon. There are more than 750 types of carotenoids, the one you’re probably most familiar with is beta-carotene. Beta-carotene gives carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes their rich orange pigmentation. Beta-carotene also offers a number of health benefits; the human body even converts it into vitamin A. Other carotenoids include alpha-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene.

Carotenoids are strong antioxidants. Antioxidants can help reduce the oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Epidemiological studies have shown a link between dietary intake of carotenoids and a reduced risk of many diseases.

Carotenoids are why carrots are credited as being good for the eyes. One of the reasons eyesight gets worse with age is because absorbing short-wave blue light (tablets, smartphones, and televisions are a major source of short-wave blue light) causes oxidative damage. Lutein and zeaxanthin filter blue light and protect the eyes like tiny, internal sunglasses.

Polyphenols

Polyphenols are the largest group of phytochemicals with over 8000 identified compounds. Like carotenoids, polyphenols are powerful antioxidants. Polyphenols can be split into several subgroups, including flavonoids and lignans.

Flavonoids

Flavonoids are a subgroup of polyphenols and a large family of phytonutrients themselves. There are over 4000 individual flavonoids and several subclasses of flavonoids, including anthocyanins, flavonols, flavanols, flavanones, flavones, and isoflavones.

Of these, flavonols are the most common in the human diet. They’re found in apples, apricots, beans, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, chives, cranberries, kale, leeks, pears, onions, red grapes, sweet cherries, and white currants.

The similarly named flavanols (not to be confused with the previously mentioned flavonols—note the a and the o) are another subgroup of flavonoids. To avoid obvious confusion, flavanols are sometimes referred to by their less elegant name flavan-3-ols. They can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and lower blood pressure. Dark chocolate is an excellent source of flavanols.

Anthocyanins

Anthocyanins are plant pigments.

Like carotenoids, anthocyanins are plant pigments. They are responsible for the rich reds, blues, and purples found in fruits and vegetables. High concentrations of anthocyanins are found in blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, eggplants, grapes, red cabbage, and red apples.

Anthocyanin-rich plants have been used in folk medicine for centuries and we’re just now rediscovering their benefits. Anthocyanins are strong antioxidants that can help protect the liver, improve eyesight, reduce blood pressure, and even reduce the risk of many serious diseases.

Lignans

Lignans are another type of polyphenol. They’re found in seeds, grains, legumes, fruits, berries, and veggies. Flaxseeds are the richest dietary source of lignans and crushed or milled flaxseed is the most bioavailable source. A diet heavy in lignan-rich food seems to have beneficial, protective effects on the body. Animal studies have found that lignans may have anticarcinogenic effects.

Indole-3-carbinol

Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) is a phytonutrient that’s highly concentrated in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, and cabbage.  A diet high in cruciferous vegetables has long been associated with a lower risk of several types of cancer. I3C may be the mechanism behind this defense. Animal tests have found that I3C supports normal cell development and protects against DNA damage.

Isoflavones

Isoflavones are phytoestrogens—plant compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen in the human body. Soybeans are an especially rich source of isoflavones sometimes referred to as soy isoflavones.

Because they mimic the effects of estrogen, isoflavones can cause hormonal disruptions in both men and women. They can bind to and block the body’s natural estrogen receptors. Isoflavones can inhibit thyroid function, and even increase the risk of breast cancer. In my opinion, it’s best to limit your intake of isoflavones, soy, and soy products.

Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a healthy phytochemical found in wine.

You’ve probably heard of the so-called “French Paradox”—the phenomenon of low rates of heart disease in France despite a diet relatively high in saturated fats. Many speculate it’s influenced by daily, moderate consumption of red wine. Resveratrol may be the primary agent responsible for the healthy effects of red wine.

Plants produce resveratrol to help protect against harmful organisms and environmental challenges, like drought. Resveratrol offers many benefits to humans as well, including heart-protective effects and defense against many degenerative health conditions because of its antioxidant action.

While the incredible benefits of resveratrol appear to be real, the hype behind red wine is less so. When studies about resveratrol made the news a few years ago, media outlets went crazy with headlines like “Can Drinking Red Wine Help You Live Forever?” These hyperbolic headlines turned out to be more sensational than fact. While certain red wines do contain resveratrol, the amount varies by quality and grape variety.

The publicized health benefits of resveratrol have also resulted in the market being flooded with low-quality wine by those hoping to cash in. There was a report a few years ago that found dozens of wine brands were contaminated with arsenic. Even if you find an excellent red wine, be sure to exercise moderation. Alcohol can upset your gut microbiome, disrupt your hormones, and damage your liver.

Fortunately, red wine is not the only source of resveratrol. Resveratrol is found in grapes, peanuts, pistachios, blueberries, cranberries, mulberries, lingonberries, and even dark chocolate.

Getting the Right Phytochemicals

Phytochemicals are not a magical health elixir but they are something to consider when planning a healthy diet. When combined with regular exercise, a balanced, plant-based diet that provides a variety of beneficial phytochemicals and phytonutrients can contribute greatly to your overall health. Currently, there is no official recommended daily allowance for phytochemicals but regularly consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables will ensure you receive a steady, diverse supply.

Plant-based food is the best way to get valuable phytochemicals into your body and, in fact, plants are the only natural source of phytochemicals. Some nutritional supplements contain phytochemicals that have been extracted from plants (and some contain synthetically produced versions, which I prefer to avoid). It’s always best to talk to your trusted healthcare professional who can evaluate your individual needs before taking any new supplements.

Food as Medicine: Cumin (Cuminum cyminum, Apiaceae)

History and Traditional Use

Cumin (Cuminum cyminum, Apiaceae) is a delicate, herbaceous annual in the aromatic parsley family.1,2 It is native to the eastern Mediterranean region and southwestern Asia.1 While Iran and India are the largest global producers and exporters of cumin, it is cultivated in areas of the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and northern Africa as well.1,3 Cumin is cultivated for its aromatic fruits, which appear on the market as “cumin seed.” The fruits will be referred to as “seeds” in this article.

Cumin prefers a warm climate and sandy soil.1,2 It grows to about 19 inches in height and produces five-petaled white or pinkish flowers that are arranged in umbels (umbrella-like formations).4 The slender, dark green leaves have a fluffy, feather-like appearance. The seeds are roughly a quarter of an inch long, oblong, and yellowish-brown in color.5 The dried seed is used whole or in powdered form or as a source of essential oil.1,4 Known for its versatile, earthy flavor, cumin is the second most popular spice in the world today, surpassed only by black pepper (Piper nigrum, Piperaceae).1

Phytochemicals and Constituents 

Cumin seed contains an abundance of micro- and macronutrients. Eighteen amino acids have been recognized in cumin seeds, of which eight are essential amino acids.1 Essential amino acids cannot be created by the body and therefore must be supplied in the diet. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and they aid in growth, digestion, and repair of bodily tissue.6 Fourteen flavone glycosides, which are known to have antioxidant properties, have been documented in cumin: seven from the apigenin group, five from the lutein group, and two from the chrysoeriol group.1 Of the 3-4% essential oil present in cumin, cumin aldehyde appears at 35-60%.1 Cuminaldehyde has demonstrated the ability to inhibit aldose reductase and α-glucosidase, thus making it a promising pharmacological agent for anti-diabetic therapies.7Lastly, cumin is an exceptional source of minerals, such as iron, potassium, and magnesium, as well as B vitamins and antioxidant vitamins such as vitamins A, C, and E.2

In addition, de-oiled cumin, or “spent” cumin, is a rich source of minerals and macronutrients. Spent cumin is the leftover byproduct of the seed husk after oil extraction. Researchers have found that spent cumin had a dietary fiber content of 62.1%, most of which is insoluble fiber.8 Spent cumin currently is considered industrial waste and, as a result, does not have any commercial value. However, this byproduct has great potential as an additive in conventional foods and may be used as a therapeutic agent, particularly as a source of dietary fiber.9 Dietary fiber can lower blood glucose and cholesterol, enhance digestion, and promote healthy bowel movements.

Historical and Commercial Uses

Throughout history, cumin seed, known as jeera in Hindi, has been used traditionally in a wide variety of ways. Medicinal use of cumin seed has its roots in Ayurvedic medicine, which originated in India more than 3,000 years ago and remains one of the oldest systems of traditional medicine in the world.10 Cumin seed has astringent, carminative, and anti-parasitic properties and has been used for the treatment of a variety of gastrointestinal disorders.11 Cumin has been used to stimulate appetite, enhance digestion, relieve dyspepsia, flatulence, and hiccups, as well as diarrhea and dysentery.2,3Other uses, include treatment of jaundice and laryngitis, and as a menstrual stimulant in Unani (traditional Greco-Islamic) medicine.5,11,12 Cumin is still used by practitioners of traditional Siddha medicine in South India as a complementary therapy to treat conditions associated with heart disease, including dyslipidemia, hyperglycemia, hypertension, obesity, and atherosclerosis.13

Cumin’s unique flavor profile has made it an integral spice in various cuisines. The spice was so valuable in ancient times that it could be used to tithe in the church in place of money.2 Historically, the peppery profile of cumin made it a viable substitute for black pepper, a much more expensive and difficult-to-obtain product. Cumin was used widely to season soups, meats, and bread. It is a staple of cuisine in Mexico, India, and the Middle East. Currently, cumin is used globally in a wide variety of dishes, condiments, and spice mixtures.1

Ancient Egyptians used cumin for the embalming and mummification of pharaohs.5 In the Middle Ages, in Europe, it was recognized as a symbol of love and devotion. Cumin was thought to have the power to keep livestock and spouses from wandering away; therefore, guests brought cumin to weddings and soldiers’ wives would bake cumin bread prior to their husbands’ deployment. In the Arabic tradition, cumin has been used in a concoction with pepper and honey to be used as an aphrodisiac. Cumin has been valued for its flavor and fragrance, as well as medicinal and multi-purpose functions for centuries, and continues to be one of the highest-selling spices today.

Modern Research

Although cumin seed is among the most popular household spices and is valued for its unique flavor, modern research is providing science-based evidence to confirm many of its traditional medicinal uses.

Cumin oil contains constituents that produce antimalarial activity,14 though cumin is not an approved antimalarial drug. The most effective antimalarials currently available are derivatives of artemisinin, which is derived from the Artemisia annua (Asteraceae) plant. Malaria is one of the deadliest diseases in the world and the Plasmodium parasite, which causes malaria, is becoming drug-resistant to artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) at an alarming rate. Scientists are investigating other natural products, such as cumin oil, as adjuvants that may make it more difficult for Plasmodium to develop resistance to ACTs.

A considerable amount of research has been conducted to explore the potential of phytochemicals found in cumin for their antimicrobial properties, which can improve food preservation technology and human health. In an in vitro study, an aqueous extract (decoction) of cumin seeds was investigated for its bactericidal properties against Helicobacter pylori. The extract showed 100% inhibition of growth by viable colony count within 30 minutes of application.15 Helicobacter pylori, one of the leading causes of gastric cancer, affects more than half of the global population and can also lead to severe gastric and duodenal ulcers.15,16 The first line of ulcer therapy for symptomatic individuals involves a proton pump inhibitor and two antibiotics; however, antibiotic resistance is an increasing problem and there is a need for alternative, natural antimicrobial agents.15

The anti-ulcerogenic and potential cancer-preventing effects of cumin suggest that dietary consumption may have therapeutic implications.15 A cumin seed decoction appears to be an effective, inexpensive, and easily accessible method of obtaining cumin’s active constituents in solution, which can benefit countries with limited access to antibiotics. In another study, cumin essential oil displayed antibacterial activity against Escherichia coli (E. coli), Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), and Streptococcus faecalis (S. faecalis).3 Further research in this area is warranted, as these data suggest cumin oil has the potential to effectively control pathogen growth, which could be used in the food supply to reduce foodborne disease outbreaks. In 2015, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 61 foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States related to Escherichia, Staphylococcus, and Streptococcus bacteria.17

The effects of different cumin extracts and spent cumin on various digestive enzymatic activities have been studied in vitro. Researchers found that hot water and saline extracts of cumin showed a significant increase in activity of the following salivary and pancreatic enzymes: amylase, protease, lipase, and phytase.9Using the same assays, spent cumin showed comparable effects. Stimulating the activity of salivary and pancreatic enzymes can enhance the digestion and absorption of macromolecules. Enhancing phytase activity improves the bioavailability of nutrients, especially iron and zinc.

Compared with wheat flour and milled rice, spent cumin is a richer source of iron, zinc, dietary fiber, and vitamins B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin).9 The dietary fiber content even exceeds that of many fruits and vegetables, percentage-wise.8 Spent cumin has untapped potential to be used as a healthy, functional, and inexpensive product in the human food supply, as long as food-grade solvents are used during the oil extraction.

Naturally-derived anti-hyperglycemic compounds have been investigated as a means to offer a holistic approach to treating diabetes. Many diabetic medications have adverse events that include nausea, gastrointestinal cramping, weight gain, and hypoglycemia. An in vitro study explored the anti-diabetic effect of two different concentrations of cumin oil extract (0.5 mg/mL and 1.0 mg/mL) compared to the control agents acarbose and quercitrin in rats.7 The cumin extract had an inhibitory effect against two enzymatic targets for the treatment of diabetic complications and management of postprandial (after-meal) hyperglycemia comparable to acarbose and quercitrin. Cuminaldehyde, a phytochemical isolated from cumin seed produced an additional inhibitory response against the targeted enzymes, although results varied with concentrations tested. Cuminaldehyde shows promising effects for an array of pharmacological actions with regard to anti-diabetic therapy.

Nutrient Profile18

 

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 1 tablespoon whole seeds [approx. 6 g])

22 calories

1.1 g protein

2.65 g carbohydrate

1.3 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1 tablespoon whole seeds [approx. 6 g])

Excellent source of:

Iron: 3.98 mg (22.1% DV)

Very good source of:

Manganese: 0.2 mg (10% DV)

Good source of:

Calcium: 56 mg (5.6% DV)

Magnesium: 22 mg (5.5% DV)

Also provides:

Potassium: 107 mg (3.1% DV)

Phosphorus: 30 mg (3% DV)

Thiamin: 0.04 mg (2.7% DV)

Dietary Fiber: 0.6 g (2.4% DV)

Vitamin A: 76 IU (1.5% DV)

Vitamin B6: 0.03 mg (1.5% DV)

Niacin: 0.28 mg (1.4% DV)

Riboflavin: 0.02 mg (1.2% DV)

Trace amounts:

Vitamin C: 0.5 mg (0.8% DV)

Vitamin E: 0.2 mg (0.7% DV)

Vitamin K: 0.3 mcg (0.4% DV)

Folate: 1 mcg (0.3% DV)

DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

 

 

Recipe: Warm Chickpea Salad with Cumin

Adapted from Faith Durand19

 

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
  • 2 15-ounce cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and crushed red pepper and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for about one minute or until the seeds are toasted. The cumin will turn slightly darker in color and smell fragrant.

  2. Turn the heat to medium-low and add the garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, for about three minutes or until the garlic is turning golden but not brown.

  3. Add the drained chickpeas and chopped tomatoes and turn the heat up to medium-high. Cook, stirring frequently until the chickpeas are warmed through and shiny with oil. Turn off the heat.

  4. Stir the parsley, mint, lemon juice and zest, and cucumber into the chickpea mixture. Taste and add salt as necessary.

  5. Refrigerate for at least an hour and preferably overnight. Serve slightly warmed or at room temperature.

References

 

  1. Lim TK. Edible Medicinal and Non-Medicinal Plants: Volume 5, Fruits. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer Netherlands; 2013.
  2. Kaur D, Sharma R. An update on pharmacological properties of cumin. Int J Res Pharm Sci.December 2012;2:14-27.
  3. Allahghadri T, Rasooli I, Owlia P, et al. Antimicrobial property, antioxidant capacity, and cytotoxicity of essential oil from cumin produced in Iran. J. Food Sci. 2010;75(2): H54-61.
  4. Van Wyk B-E. Food Plants of the World. Portland, OR: Timber Press; 2006.
  5. Murray M, Pizzorno J, Pizzorno L. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York, NY: Atria Books; 2005.
  6. Wax E. Amino Acids. MedlinePlus website. February 2, 2015. Available at: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002222.htm. Accessed September 12, 2016.
  7. Lee H-S. Cuminaldehyde: aldose reductase and alpha-glucosidase inhibitor derived from Cuminum cyminum L . seeds. J Agric Food Chem. 2005;53:2446-2450.
  8. Sowbhagya HB, Suma PF, Mahadevamma S, Tharanathan RN. Spent residue from cumin — a potential source of dietary fiber. Food Chem. 2007;104(3):1220-1225.
  9. Milan KSM, Dholakia H, Tiku PK, Vishveshwaraiah P. Enhancement of digestive enzymatic activity by cumin (Cuminum cyminum L.) and the role of spent cumin as a bionutrient. Food Chem.2008;110(3):678-683.
  10. Weber W, Killen JJ. Ayurvedic Medicine: In Depth. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website. 2015. Available at: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/ayurveda/introduction.htm. Accessed September 12, 2016.
  11. Bakovic M, Paliyath G, Shetty K. Functional Foods, Nutraceuticals, and Degenerative Disease Prevention. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell; 2011.
  12. Sultana A, Lamatunoor S, Begum M, Qhuddsia QN. Management of usr-i-tamth (menstrual pain) in Unani (Greco-Islamic) medicine. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. Dec 2015;pii: 2156587215623637.
  13. Esakkimuthu S, Mutheeswaran S, Arvinth S, Paulraj MG, Pandikumar P, Ignacimuthu S. Quantitative ethnomedicinal survey of medicinal plants given for cardiometabolic diseases by the non-institutionally trained siddha practitioners of Tiruvallur district, Tamil Nadu, India. J Ethnopharmacol. Jun 2016;186:329-42.
  14. Zheljazkov VD, Gawde A, Cantrell CL, Astatkie T, Schlegel V. Distillation time as the tool for improved antimalarial activity and differential oil composition of cumin seed oil. PLoS One. 2015;10(12): e0144120.
  15. Mahony RO, Al-khtheeri H, Weerasekera D, Fernando N, Vaira D, Holton J. Bactericidal and anti-adhesive properties of culinary and medicinal plants against Helicobacter pylori. World J Gastroenterol. 2005;11(47):7499-7507.
  16. Epplein M, Signorello LB, Zheng W, Cai Q, Hargreaves MK. NIH Public Access. Cancer Prev Res.2012;4(6):871-878.
  17. Foodborne Outbreak Online Database (FOOD Tool). US Centers for Disease Control and Protection website. August 25, 2016. Available at: wwwn.cdc.gov/foodborneoutbreaks/. Accessed September 14, 2016.
  18. Basic Report: 02014, Spices, cumin seed. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Available at: http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/264. Accessed September 12, 2016.
  19. Durand F. Warm Chickpea Salad with Cumin and Garlic. TheKitchn website. July 20, 2011. Available at: www.thekitchn.com/recipe-spicy-chickpeas-with-cu-150758. Accessed September 15, 2016.

Food as Medicine Ginger (Zingiber officinale, Zingiberaceae)

History and Traditional Use

Range and Habitat

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a tropical perennial herb native to Southeast Asia and widely cultivated in China, India, Nigeria, Australia, Jamaica, and Haiti.1 Its subterranean stem, known as a rhizome, is the edible and medicinal portion of the plant.2 Ginger root is characterized by its knotted, beige exterior and its yellow interior. The herb features thick, protruding, reed-like3 stems and lanceolate leaves arranged in two vertical columns on opposite sides of the stem.4 Seasonally unfurling from ginger’s leaves are dense, ovoid-shaped flower structures that produce yellow-green flowers with a deep purple, yellow-marked lip.3Ginger plants can have an indefinite spread in tropical climates, though it is susceptible to pests and disease.5 The flavor of ginger is described as sweet and peppery with a prominent spicy aroma due to the presence of gingerols and ketones.6

Phytochemicals and Constituents

Thus far, researchers have identified 115 chemical components in a variety of dried and fresh ginger types.6 The most important phenolic elements of the ginger root are gingerols and their ginger-related composites — paradols, zingerone, and shogaols.6,7 Gingerols are the most abundant constituents of fresh ginger6; the three other phenolic compounds are not as plentiful. When gingerols are cooked or dried, they transform into various bioactive compounds,6 many of which have beneficial antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic properties.7 Research suggests that the optimal dosage of ginger ranges from 250 mg to 4.8 g per day of fresh or dried rhizomes.6,8 Other dosages for ginger intake vary depending on the form in which they are consumed and the purpose for which they are intended.8

Historical and Commercial Uses

In India, ginger has been used as a flavoring agent in food and beverage preparations as well as in traditional Ayurveda medicinal practices.4 Historically, it was regarded as the mahaoushadha (“the great medicine”) among ancient Indians.9 Fresh and dried ginger is used commonly in Ayurvedic medicine for the treatment of ailments such as indigestion, fever, and digestive disorders.8 Fresh ginger is thought to be beneficial in reducing nausea and vomiting due to the presence of shogaol, and dried ginger has been shown to alleviate chronic respiratory conditions.10 In addition, gingerol, the most predominate pungent bioactive compound of ginger, has been reported to stimulate digestive enzymes to help improve gastrointestinal (GI) issues.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, fresh ginger root (sheng jiang) is considered warm and pungent and recognized for dispersing cold within the stomach, which contributes to the treatment of nausea and vomiting.11 It also is acknowledged as an expeller of exterior cold, quelling inflammation of the stomach and infections related to the cold and flu. Dry ginger (gan jiang) is considered to be more hot and pungent than fresh ginger, and it is responsible for dispersing cold in the spleen region, thereby alleviating ailments such as diarrhea and poor appetite. Quick-fried ginger (pao jiang) is warm and bitter and used to treat symptoms associated with conditions such as dysmenorrhea and diarrhea. Asian cuisine features ginger in a number of dishes for flavoring, including soups, curries, rice dishes, stir-fries, and sauces.12

It is believed that both the Chinese and Indians have used ginger root for medicinal purposes for more than 5,000 years; however, the exact origin is unknown.6 Highly prized for its medicinal properties, ginger was a popular trading commodity exported to the Roman Empire more than 2,000 years ago from India. (Anecdotally, Queen Elizabeth I of England is credited with the creation of the gingerbread man, which evolved into a popular treat consumed during the Christmas holidays.)

Ginger is used commercially in a variety of forms, including, but not limited to, fresh, dried, and candied.6The age of the ginger plant determines its culinary and medicinal use. Young ginger root harvested at five months has not matured and typically has a mild flavor, suitable to be used fresh. At nine months, ginger characteristically has a thick skin and pungent root, from which the volatile oils can be extracted. This material also is used in dried or ground form as a spice and in commercial baking products. Further, ginger is added as a flavoring to a number of different beverages such as ginger ale, ginger beer, and ginger wine.12

Modern Research

A considerable amount of research demonstrates and supports the significant health benefits of ginger. The majority of clinical evidence for ginger’s medicinal properties is related to nausea caused by pregnancy or chemotherapy.13

Three clinical studies have explored the effects of ginger in reducing chemotherapy-induced nausea in young adults and children.14-16 The results from these studies indicated that ginger is effective in decreasing chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. More specifically, one trial indicated that supplementing with ginger (0.5 g to 1.0 g liquid ginger root extract) reduces nausea.16 In a separate study, researchers observed reductions in the prevalence of nausea in patients with breast cancer when 1.5 g powdered dried ginger root was added to an antiemetic therapy following chemotherapy.14

Another clinical study observed the effects of powdered ginger in patients with intra- and postoperative nausea accompanying Cesarean sections.17 The results indicated that episodes of intraoperative nausea were reduced when ginger was administered orally. However, ginger did not have an effect on the overall incidence of intraoperative nausea and vomiting.

Ginger has been explored as a possible treatment for other GI issues such as dyspepsia, gastric emptying, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).18-20 The authors of one clinical study tested the effects of ginger on functional dyspepsia and gastric motility.18 The results indicated that ginger increased gastric emptying more rapidly than the placebo; however, ginger did not influence any GI symptoms. Researchers of a related clinical trial examined ginger’s effects on IBS over a period of 28 days.20 The results indicated that the group taking 1 g of ginger had a 26.4% reduction in symptoms.

Studies have shown that ginger may be beneficial for non-GI-related conditions as well. In two separate clinical studies, researchers explored ginger’s mitigating impact on dysmenorrhea.  The first study was conducted for a period of three days based on reports of pain experienced during the first two days of menstruation each month.21 The results suggested that ginger had more of an impact on dysmenorrhea symptoms compared to muscle-relaxation exercises. A similar clinical study found that at the end of the study period, 82.85% of the participants in the experimental group reported symptom improvement compared to 47.05% of the participants in the placebo group.22

Three clinical studies have examined the effects of ginger in the treatment of colorectal cancer.7,23,24 As noted, the bioactive compounds of ginger contain antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic properties, which can interfere with pathways responsible for cancer development.7 The results of all three studies demonstrated that an intake of 2 g of ginger root was able to reduce proliferation in the colorectal epithelium. Further, one trial illustrated that ginger simultaneously increased apoptosis (normal, programmed cell death) and differentiation.7 Ginger also exhibited an anti-inflammatory effect in individuals of normal risk and lowered COX-1 in individuals at higher risk.23,24

Other clinical studies have explored the effects of ginger in relation to muscle pain, respiratory distress syndrome, chronic lower-back pain, satiety, migraines, osteoarthritis, and type 2 diabetes.25-32

Nutrient Profile33

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 1 tablespoon [6 g] raw ginger)

5 calories
0.11 g protein
1.07 g carbohydrate
0.04 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1 tablespoon [6 g] raw ginger)

Good source of:

Magnesium: 3 mg (0.75% DV)
Potassium: 25 mg (0.7% DV)
Vitamin B6: 0.01 mg (0.5% DV)
Vitamin C: 0.3 mg (0.5% DV)
Dietary Fiber: 0.1 g (0.4% DV)
Folate: 1 mcg (0.25% DV)
Niacin: 0.05 mg (0.25% DV)
Phosphorus: 2 mg (0.2% DV)
Calcium: 1 mg (0.1% DV)

DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration, based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Recipe: Candied Ginger

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh ginger root
  •  3 cups water
  • 3 cups granulated sugar, plus additional for coating

Directions:

  1. Spray a cooling rack with nonstick spray and set it in a sheet pan lined with wax paper.

  2. Peel and thinly slice the ginger root.

  3. Bring sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan. When the sugar is dissolved, add the ginger and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, until ginger is tender.

  4. Drain the ginger and reserve the liquid for another use. (The reserved liquid can be further reduced to make ginger syrup or added to drinks.) Spread the ginger on the cooling rack in a single layer and dry for 30 minutes.

  5. Once dry, toss ginger slices with additional sugar to coat. Store in an airtight container.

References

  1. Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council and Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.
  2. Webb GP. Dietary Supplements and Functional Foods. West Sussex, UK: Blackwell Publishing; 2011.
  3. Bown D. The Herb Society of America New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. London, UK: Dorling Kindersley Ltd.; 2001.
  4. Ginger. University of Maryland Medical Center website. Available here. Accessed February 23, 2015.
  5. Ginger Root Production in Hawaii. Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service website. Available here. Accessed February 23, 2015.
  6. Bode AM, Dong Z. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2011.
  7. Citronberg J, Bostick R, Ahearn T, et al. Effects of ginger supplementation on cell-cycle biomarkers in the normal-appearing colonic mucosa of patients at increased risk for colorectal cancer: results from a pilot, randomized, and controlled trial. Cancer Prev Res. 2013;6(4):271-281.
  8. Blumenthal M, Hall T, Goldberg A, Kunz T, Dinda K, Brinckmann J, et al, eds. The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; 2003.
  9. Ravindran PN, Babu KN. Ginger: the Genus Zingiber. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2005.
  10. Ginger – Ayurveda “Root” to Good Health. Kerala – Home of Ayurveda website. Available here. Accessed March 4, 2015..
  11. Yang Y. Chinese Herbal Medicine Comparisons and Characteristics. London, UK: Churchill Livingston; 2002.
  12. Van Wyk BE. Food Plants of the World. Portland, OR: Timber Press; 2006.
  13. Weimer K, Schulte J, Maichle A, et al. Effects of ginger and expectations on symptoms of nausea in a balanced placebo design. PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e49031.
  14. Panahi Y, Saadat A, Sahebkar A, Hashemian F, Taghikhani M, Abolhasani E. Effect of ginger on acute and delayed chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting: a pilot, randomized, open-label clinical trial. Integr Cancer Ther. 2012;11(3):204-211.
  15. Pillai AK, Sharma KK, Gupta YK, Bakhshi S. Anti-emetic effect of ginger powder versus placebo as an add-on therapy in children and young adults receiving high emetogenic chemotherapy. Pediatr Blood Cancer. 2011;56(2):234-238.
  16. Ryan JL, Heckler CE, Roscoe J, et al. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) reduces acute chemotherapy-induced nausea: a URCC CCOP study of 576 patients. Support Care Cancer. 2012;20(7):1479-1489.
  17. Kalava A, Darji SJ, Kalstein A, Yarmush JM, SchianodiCola J, Weinberg J. Efficacy of ginger on intraoperative and postoperative nausea and vomiting in elective cesarean section patients. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2013;169(2):184-188.
  18. Hu ML, Rayner CK, Wu KL, Chuah SK, Tai WC, Chou YP, et al. Effect of ginger on gastric motility and symptoms of functional dyspepsia. World J Gastroenterol. 2011;17(11):105-110.
  19. Shariatpanahi ZV, Taleban FA, Mokhtari M, Shahbazi S. Ginger extract reduces delayed gastric emptying and nosocomial pneumonia in adult respiratory distress syndrome patients hospitalized in an intensive care unit. J Crit Care. 2010;25(4):647-50.
  20. Van Tilburg MA, Palsson OS, Ringel Y, Whitehead WE. Is ginger effective for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome? A double blind randomized controlled pilot trial. Complement Ther Med. 2014;22(1):17-20.
  21. Halder A. Effect of progressive muscle relaxation versus intake of ginger powder on dysmenorrhoea amongst the nursing students in Pune. Nurs J India. 2012:103(4)152-157.
  22. Jenabi E. The effect of ginger for relieving of primary dysmenorrhoea. J Pak Med Assoc. 2013;63(1):8-10.
  23. Jiang Y, Turgeon DK, Wright BD, Sidahmed E, Ruffin MT, Brenner DE, Sen A, Zick S. Effect of ginger root on cyclooxygenase-1 and 15-hydroxyprostaglandin dehydrongenase expression in colonic mucosa of human at normal and increased risk of colorectal cancer. Eur J Cancer Prev. 2013;22(5):455-460.
  24. Zick SM, Turgeon DK, Vareed SK, et al. Phase II study of the effects of ginger root extract on eicosanoids in colon mucosa in people at normal risk for colorectal cancer. Cancer Prev Res. 2011;4(11):1929-1937.
  25. Black CD, Herring MP, Hurley DJ, O’Connor PJ. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) reduces muscle pain caused by eccentric exercise. J Pain. 2010;11(9):894-903.
  26. Cady RK, Goldstein J, Nett R, Mitchell R, Beach ME, Browning R. A double-blind placebo-controlled pilot study of sublingual feverfew and ginger in the treatment of migraine. Headache. 2011;51(7):1078-1086.
  27. Drozdov VN, Kim V a, Tkachenko E V, Varvanina GG. Influence of a specific ginger combination on gastropathy conditions in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip. J Altern Complement Med. 2012;18(6):583-588.
  28. Mozaffari-Khosravi H, Talaei B, Jalali B-A, Najarzadeh A, Mozayan MR. The effect of ginger powder supplementation on insulin resistance and glycemic indices in patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Complement Ther Med. 2014;22(1):9-16.
  29. Mansour MS, Ni Y-M, Roberts AL, Kelleman M, Roychoudhury A, St-Onge M-P. Ginger consumption enhances the thermic effect of food and promotes feelings of satiety without affecting metabolic and hormonal parameters in overweight men: a pilot study. Metabolism. 2012;61(10):1347-1352.
  30. Vahdat Shariatpanahi Z, Mokhtari M, Taleban FA, et al. Effect of enteral feeding with ginger extract in acute respiratory distress syndrome. J Crit Care. 2013;28(2):217.e1-217.e6.
  31. Sritoomma N, Moyle W, Cooke M, O’Dwyer S. The effectiveness of Swedish massage with aromatic ginger oil in treating chronic low back pain in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Complement Ther Med. 2014;22(1):26-33.
  32. Maghbooli M, Golipour F, Esfandabadi AM, Youse M. Comparison between the efficacy of ginger and sumatriptan in the ablative treatment of the common migraine. Phytother Res. 2014;28(3):412-415.

Basic Report: 11216, Ginger root, raw. Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture website. Available here. Accessed February 23, 2015.

Magnesium Glycinate: Benefits, Side Effects and Uses

Magnesium is a vital nutrient needed to ensure that the body stays healthy. It is essential to many body processes including regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and making protein, bone, and DNA.

If a person is found to be magnesium deficient, the best remedy is to obtain magnesium naturally. Magnesium that is absorbed naturally from food is not harmful and is excreted in the urine even when consumed at high levels.

Magnesium is also available in a variety of different forms including multivitamin-mineral supplements and other dietary supplements. Supplements can help those who suffer from deficiency. One supplement that is often used is magnesium glycinate.

Uses of magnesium glycinate

Magnesium pills
Magnesium glycinate may be available as a mineral supplement.

Magnesium glycinate is often used because it is the best-absorbed form of magnesium and one of the gentlest on the stomach.

Unlike other forms of magnesium, it may not cause as many adverse side effects, such as gastrointestinal distress or loose stools. This property makes magnesium glycinate a good supplement for bariatric surgery patients.

People who have kidney issues should consult a doctor before taking magnesium glycinate. If they consume too much magnesium, they may have trouble excreting the excess.

Risks and complications

Only a doctor should diagnose magnesium deficiency. They can take blood tests as well as identify the correct plan of action to get magnesium levels back on track.

High amounts of dietary magnesium supplements, including magnesium glycinate, can cause adverse side effects including diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramps. Extremely high intakes of magnesium can lead to irregular heartbeat and cardiac arrest, which can be very dangerous.

Magnesium glycinate and other supplements can also interfere or interact with some medicines. These include:

  • Bisphosphonates are used to treat osteoporosis. The body does not absorb these drugs well if they are taken too close to supplements or medications that contain a high amount of magnesium.
  • Antibiotics. These may not be absorbed by the body if they are taken too soon before or after a magnesium supplement.
  • Diuretics can increase or decrease the loss of magnesium through urine.
  • Prescription drugs used to treat acid reflux or peptic ulcers can lead to low blood levels of magnesium when taken over a long period.
  • Extremely high doses of zinc supplements can interfere with the absorption and regulation of magnesium in the body.

Benefits

Foods containing magnesium
Some foods in which magnesium occurs naturally are avocados, bananas, dark leafy greens, seeds, beans, and fish.

Some people do benefit more from magnesium glycinate than others and it can have a more positive effect on their health. This includes people with the following conditions:

  • High blood pressure or heart disease: Magnesium supplements may help to decrease blood pressure a small amount.
  • Type 2 diabetes: People with higher amounts of magnesium in their diets may actually lower their risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Magnesium helps to break down sugars and may reduce the risk of insulin resistance.
  • Osteoporosis: Magnesium plays a role in the development of healthy bones, and people with higher levels of magnesium may have a higher bone mineral density. This is important in helping to reduce the risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis.
  • Migraine headaches: People who experience migraine headaches sometimes have low levels of magnesium in their blood and other tissues. Supplements may help to reduce the frequency of migraines.
  • Depression: Inadequate levels of magnesium seem to reduce serotonin levels, and antidepressants have been shown to raise levels of brain magnesium.

Measuring magnesium levels is not easy because magnesium is found within the cells or the bones instead of in the bloodstream. It is possible for blood tests to be misleading.

Doctors will typically measure serum magnesium concentrations in the blood, saliva, or urine to help make the best determination.

It is important to let a doctor make the final diagnosis as the symptoms commonly associated with deficiency could be related to another health problem.

Magnesium in the body

The recommended daily amount of magnesium depends on a person’s age and sex. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) provide guidelines for the daily recommended amount in milligrams (mg) below.

Life stage Recommended amount
Infants 7-12 months 75 mg
Children 1-3 years 80 mg
Children 4-8 years 130 mg
Children 9-13 years 240 mg
Teen boys 14-18 years 410 mg
Teen girls 14-18 years 360 mg
Men 400-420 mg
Women 310-320 mg
Pregnant teens 400 mg
Pregnant women 350-360 mg
Breastfeeding teens 360 mg
Breastfeeding women 310-320 mg

Magnesium is found naturally in many common foods. Most people can get the recommended daily dosage by incorporating magnesium-rich foods into their daily diet.

Common foods that contain magnesium include:

  • Legumes, nuts, seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Spinach and other leafy vegetables
  • Fortified breakfast cereals and other fortified foods
  • Milk, yogurt, and other milk products

Magnesium deficiency

According to the NIH, most people in the United States do not get the recommended amount of magnesium from their daily diet. Men older than 70 and teenage girls are most likely to have low intakes of magnesium.

Getting too little magnesium does not typically cause any adverse symptoms within the body. The body loses a certain amount of magnesium every day due to normal body functions, such as muscle movement, heartbeat, and hormone production. Though only a small amount of magnesium is needed, it is important to replenish magnesium levels to prevent deficiency.

When people who are not magnesium deficient have a low amount of magnesium in their body, the kidneys help to retain magnesium by restricting the amount lost in the urine. This can work temporarily until the levels rise, but a person who has low magnesium levels for long periods can develop magnesium deficiency.

In addition to not following a magnesium-rich diet, some medical conditions and medications can affect how the body absorbs magnesium. They can also increase the amount of magnesium that the body gets rid of, which can result in magnesium deficiency.

Health conditions that can lead to magnesium deficiencies include:

  • Gastrointestinal diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis
  • Diabetes
  • Pancreatitis
  • High thyroid hormone levels
  • Kidney disease
  • Taking diuretics

Certain lifestyle factors can also lower magnesium levels.

These include:

  • Drinking too much coffee, soda, or alcohol
  • Eating too much sodium
  • Heavy menstrual periods
  • Excessive sweating
  • Prolonged stress

People who are deficient in magnesium can experience the following symptoms:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue and weakness

According to the NIH, extreme magnesium deficiency can cause:

  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Muscle cramps
  • Seizures
  • Personality changes
  • Abnormal heart rhythm

Parsley: Health Benefits, Facts, Research

Parsley is often an afterthought – an additive used to enhance the flavor or presentation of an already existing dish. However, it may have a range of healthful benefits.

Using herbs and spices like parsley in cooking is a great way to boost flavor and improve the look of a dish without adding sodium; it is may also be a way to provide additional nutrients and health benefits.

Health benefits of consuming parsley

The following possible health benefits have been associated with the consumption of parsley:

1) Cancer prevention

parsley
Parsley is often used to enhance the flavor or presentation of a dish.

Myricetin, a flavonoid found in parsley and other plants, has been shown to help prevent skin cancer. Sweet potatoes, parsley, blackcurrants, and cranberries are some of the foods that contain the highest concentrations of myricetin (per 100 grams).

Parsley and other green herbs and vegetables that contain high amounts of chlorophyll have been shown to be effective at blocking the carcinogenic effects of heterocyclic amines, which are generated when grilling foods at a high temperature.

Charred grilled foods have been linked to many types of cancers, so if you like your food charred, make sure to pair them with green vegetables to help reduce these effects.

A natural chemical – apigenin – found in parsley, celery, and other plants has been shown to decrease tumor size in an aggressive form of breast cancer in a study conducted at the University of Missouri. Researchers believe that apigenin could be a promising non-toxic treatment for cancer in the future.

2) Diabetes prevention

Myricetin has also been evaluated for its effectiveness in the treatment and prevention of diabetes. Laboratory and animal studies have shown that myricetin can lower blood sugars and decrease insulin resistance; it also appears to provide anti-inflammatory effects and reduce excess fat from the blood.

3) Improving bone health

Low intakes of vitamin K have been associated with a higher risk of bone fracture. Adequate vitamin K consumption (which parsley provides in just ten sprigs) improves bone health by acting as a modifier of bone matrix proteins, improving calcium absorption, and reducing urinary excretion of calcium.

Consuming fruits, vegetables, and herbs of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many adverse health conditions. Eating higher quantities of natural foods grown from the earth versus manufactured foods is more likely to result in better overall health.

It is important to realize that the isolation of one chemical or vitamin from food will not likely result in the same health benefits as consuming it in its whole food form.

Nutritional breakdown of parsley

According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, ten sprigs of parsley contains:

  • 4 calories
  • 0.3 grams of protein
  • 0.1 grams of fat
  • 0.6 grams of carbohydrate
  • 0.3 grams of fiber
  • 0.1 grams of sugar

The same quantity of parsley provides 205 percent of vitamin K needs for the day, as well as 22 percent of vitamin C, and 17 percent of vitamin A.

How to incorporate more parsley into your diet

Frittata with parsley
A handful of parsley is a great way to complete a frittata.

Fresh chopped parsley has a spicy, peppery flavor and pairs well with potatoes, tomato-based sauces, poultry dishes, grain-based salads, seafood, Mediterranean flavors, and egg dishes.

Quick tips:

  • Throw a few sprigs of parsley into your favorite green juice
  • Finish off an omelet, quiche, or frittata with a handful of chopped parsley
  • Add chopped parsley to any homemade salad dressing

Try some of these healthy and delicious recipes developed by registered dietitians using parsley:

Potential health risks of consuming parsley

If you are taking blood-thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin), it is important not to suddenly begin eating more or fewer foods containing vitamin K, which plays a large role in blood clotting.

It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a varied diet than to focus on individual foods as the key to good health.

How Eating Herbs Could Boost Your Brain

Adding a sprig of thyme or a pinch of parsley to your next home-cooked meal may do more than boost its flavor – it could boost your brain, too. New research reveals how a substance present in such herbs – apigenin – triggers the formation of human brain cells and boosts connections between them.
[Parsley]
Researchers found the flavonoid apigenin – found in parsley, thyme and other plants and herbs – triggered the formation of human brain cells and strengthened their connections.

Lead author Stevens Rehen, of the D’Or Institute for Research and Education (IDOR) and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), and colleagues publish their findings in the journal Advances in Regenerative Biology.

The team says their findings suggest apigenin – also found in red pepper, chamomile and many other plants and herbs – shows promise as a treatment for numerous neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and schizophrenia.

Previous animal studies have shown that substances from the same flavonoid group as apigenin may benefit memory and learning, and other research has demonstrated that flavonoids have the potential to preserve and boost brain function.

For this latest study, Rehen and colleagues set out to gain a better understanding of how apigenin affects human brain cells or neurons.

Apigenin transformed human stem cells into neurons in 25 days

The team applied apigenin to human stem cells – cells that have the ability to develop into different cell types – in a laboratory dish.

They found that after 25 days, these stem cells transformed into neurons – an effect the researchers say was not seen in the absence of apigenin.

[Apigenin-treated neurons]
The team found apigenin-treated neurons (right) developed stronger synapses than untreated neurons (left).
Image credit: Rehen et al.

What is more, the researchers found that the connections that developed between the newly formed neurons – known as synapses – were stronger and more sophisticated. “Strong connections between neurons are crucial for good brain function, memory consolidation, and learning,” notes Rehen.

Further investigation revealed that apigenin boosts neuron formation and connections by binding to estrogen receptors (ERs), which influences the development, progression, function and plasticity of the nervous system.

While studies have shown the hormone estrogen may delay development of Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, depression and Parkinson’s, among other neurodegenerative conditions, Rehen and colleagues note the use of estrogen therapy is hampered by the risks of tumor growth and cardiovascular problems it poses.

However, the team says their findings suggest apigenin could offer a promising future treatment alternative for a number of neurodegenerative disorders.

“An alternative approach would be to mimic estrogenic-mediated positive effects by modulating specific ERs with other estrogenic compounds, such as some flavonoids classified as selective ER modulators (SERMs),” they explain.

In addition, Rehen says their study suggests the possibility of a simple brain-boosting strategy we can all adopt:

“[…] Flavonoids are present at high amounts in some foods and we can speculate that a diet rich in flavonoids may influence the formation of neurons and the way they communicate within the brain.”