Herbal Bitters

At one point in time, bitters typically only made an appearance in the American diet in the form of black coffee or a dash of Angostura in a cocktail. But times are changing, and bitter-tasting herbs now rock the aisles of natural food stores, hipster bars, and the workshop offerings at herbal conferences. We can thank herbalists for bringing these herbs to the forefront of “mainstream” herbal consciousness, but medicinal bitters actually date back thousands of years and have played a major role in modern herbalism for decades.

What Is A Bitter?

Quite simply, a “bitter” is an herb that tastes bitter. Bitters stimulate bitter receptors on our tongue’s taste buds and elsewhere in the body. Strong classic bitters include gentian and wormwood, though we don’t tend to use either due to sustainable harvesting concerns and potential safety issues, respectively. Our favorite basic bitter is artichoke leaf. Fellow mild lettuce-family bitters include burdock, dandelion, chicory {radicchio, endive}, and certain varieties of lettuce. More complex bitters include coffee, which has high levels of the alkaloid caffeine, and herbs rich in the antimicrobial alkaloid berberine, including goldenseal, coptis, barberry, and Oregon grape root. Aromatic bitters include elecampane root, chamomile, lemon balm, and catnip.

What Do Bitter Herbs Do?

Although individual herbs can have different properties, we generally call on their bitter flavor to encourage a certain set of health benefits.

Turn on Digestion: Bitters are most well known for their ability to stimulate digestion and assimilation, particularly when you taste them on the tongue {versus taking them in capsule form} since this turns on digestive-system function. Peristalsis, the wave-like motion that moves food through the digestive system, kicks in, which promotes better transit time and elimination. Blood circulation to the digestive tract also increases, and the body produces more stomach acid and digestive enzymes. Interestingly, many people with acid reflux actually feel better with bitters because they improve function and signaling so that the lower esophageal sphincter shuts properly while food churns in the stomach. Bitters seem to stimulate vagal tone, improving the bi-directional communication between the digestive system and the brain.

Studies show that bitters such as gentian and artichoke leaf relieve and prevent dyspepsia, a broad group of digestive symptoms that includes belly issues with food {pain, discomfort, feeling too full}, bloating, burping, heartburn, GERD, and the loss of appetite. This effect makes bitters potentially useful in various digestive issues, such as indigestion, hiatal hernia, ulcers, gastritis, irritable bowel disorder, and gastroparesis. Finally, they boost the absorption of nutrients.

Bitters may not agree with everyone, but you can usually tell within a dose or two whether or not they’re helping you.

Boost Detoxification: Most bitters have a cholagogues action, meaning that they encourage the liver to produce and excrete more bile. The liver produces bile as a waste product when it filters the blood. The gallbladder stores this bile. After you eat and food passes from the stomach to the intestines, the gallbladder releases its contents via the common bile duct to join the partially digested food. Through this process, it leaves the body via your waste, but it also helps emulsify fats and aid digestion in the process. If you don’t have a gallbladder, your body excretes bile gradually throughout the day rather than via food-driven spurts, which is why it’s harder to digest fatty meals without a gallbladder. By improving bile production and excretion, bitters support detoxification as well as fat digestion – regardless of the status of your gallbladder.

We often turn to dandelion, yellow dock, burdock, turmeric, artichoke, and other classic bitters for these benefits. Yellow dock has added laxative effects, burdock also boosts lymph detoxification, and dandelion leaf and root both enhance kidney detoxification. Artichoke leaf and turmeric help protect the liver from damage as well. New research suggests that bitters may also improve the cell’s ability to pump out toxins for removal.

Regulate Appetite and Reduce Sugar Cravings: Bitters have additional effects on the digestive system and brain-gut connection, as well as on endocrine function. In addition to supporting vagal tone, the stimulation of bitter receptors also regulates the production of gut hormones {CCK, leptin, and ghrelin}, as well as the sensitivity of your cells to these hormones. Among other things, these hormones affect your appetite and cravings. Taking bitters with meals can help people who tend to overeat feel healthfully full more quickly while also stimulating a better appetite in people who find themselves nauseated by food. {Note that taking strong bitters without any food can overstimulate the digestive system and aggravate nausea and hypoglycemia in sensitive people.} Regular use of bitters reduces your desire for sweets and increases your interest in healthy food, which can make it much easier to opt for good food choices and maintain a healthy weight.

Some herbalists believe that many of our obesity and appetite issues stem from”bitter deficiency.” As humans have selectivity adapted our food crops from their wild to current states, we have bred out bitter flavors in favor of sweet and starchy. Technology that allows us to process and refine foods furthers that divide. What was once a ubiquitous flavor in our diet is now quite rare, particularly in American cuisine. Other cultures still maintain the use of bitters in the meal, including citrus peel, bitter cordials, tamarind, artichoke, and wild bitter greens and lettuces. Even though we love our bitter coffee and chocolate, we sweeten and cream them past the point of recognition.

Lower Blood Sugar: We almost intuitively know that bitters reduce blood sugar when we sip black tea or coffee alongside something sweet. When consumed with sweets, bitters may reduce the glycemic effect of that food and improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin. This goes along well with the aforementioned ability of bitters to improve satiety as we eat, reduce sugar cravings, and improve our desire for healthy foods. Researchers think that insulin resistance may be caused in part by a lack of bitter stimulation of receptors on the pancreas.

Beyond The Bitter Basics

New research is revealing, even more, capabilities of the bitter flavor. We’re finding bitter receptor sites throughout the body, not just on the tongue or in the digestive tract. Here are a few potential benefits bitters may offer based on highly preliminary research:

  • Improving lung function by boosting bronchodilation.
  • Improving longevity by enhancing gene function.
  • Encouraging the parasympathetic “relaxation” response via its vagal nerve stimulation.
  • Promote bladder control.
  • Helping to regulate energy metabolism in the cardiovascular system, as well as heart rhythm and contractile force.
  • Supporting immune function.

Bitter Herbal “Coffee”

This coffee-like drink tastes particularly nice over ice. You may also enjoy adding chaga, cacao powder, and/or a pinch of ginger or nutmeg to the mix. It’s caffeine-free unless you use cacao.

1 part dandelion root

1 part burdock root

1 part roasted chicory root

1 part cinnamon chips or 1 cinnamon stick per cup {optional}

Simmer one heaping teaspoon of the blend per 8 to 16 ounces of water for 20 minutes. Strain and enjoy hot or cold. While it tastes great with cream and sugar, these offset the benefits.

Bitters Spray

Blends of bitters generally include strong bitters, warming spices, and perhaps a few other extras. Lightly sweeten them if desired. You can use dried herbs to make your own bitter tincture blend. Feel free to play around to create your own mix. Citrus peel/fruit, spices, elecampane, catnip, lemon balm, chamomile, holy basil, blue vervain, fennel, and other herbs make welcome additions.

1/2 oz dandelion root

1/2 oz artichoke leaf

1/2 oz burdock root

1/2 Tsp grated fresh ginger

1 cardamom pod

4 oz of 80- or 100-proof vodka

2 oz of maple syrup or vegetable glycerine {or substitute more vodka}

Combine all of the above in an 8-ounce jar with a tight lid. If needed, top it off with more vodka so that it’s filled to the brim. Shake every day or so. Strain after one month, bottle, and store in a cool, dark, dry spot.

To Use: Take 1 ml {30 drops} or 1-4 sprays by mouth or add 1-2 ml to plain seltzer and sip with meals.

 

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Natural Pomegranate Juice Demonstrates a Beneficial Effect on Systolic and Diastolic Blood Pressure and hs-CRP, while also Increasing Triglycerides and VLDL Cholesterol

Metabolic syndrome is the name for a group of risk factors (high blood pressure, increased blood levels of sugar and lipids, and excess body fat around the waist) that increase the development of cardiovascular disease. Foods high in polyphenols have high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Pomegranate (Punica granatum, Lythraceae) fruit juice may have cardiovascular benefits in relation to this issue. However, nutritionists are concerned with pomegranate’s simultaneous effect on the rise of glycemic factors and sugar-dependent lipids; namely, triglycerides and very-low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (VLDL-C). The purpose of this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study was to evaluate the effect of pomegranate juice on cardiometabolic indices and glycemic indices in patients with metabolic syndrome.

Patients with metabolic syndrome (n = 32; aged 18-70 years) were recruited via advertisement in Shabestar, Iran. This study took place between December 2012 and January 2013. Included patients had ≥ 3 of 5 components of metabolic syndrome—namely, waist circumference > 88 cm for women and > 102 cm for men, serum triglycerides ≥ 150 mg/dL, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol < 50 mg/dL for women and < 40 mg/dL for men, systolic blood pressure ≥ 135 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure ≥ 85 mmHg, and fasting plasma glucose concentration > 110 mg/dL. Excluded patients included those who were pregnant or breastfeeding; consumed alcohol; had systemic, inflammatory, hepatic, or kidney diseases; and were allergic to pomegranate juice or the pomegranate placebo. Patients were withdrawn from the data analysis if during the study they had any change of diet, any disease development, or had an increase in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol where medications were needed. Patients were treated with either 500 mL pure pomegranate juice or placebo for 7 days, and, following a 7-day washout, they received the opposite treatment.

Pomegranate juice was prepared by hand by the researchers. The arils were removed from Shiraz pomegranates and were manually squeezed to yield juice; no additives were used. The juice included anthocyanins, 100.46 mg/L; total phenolics, 69 mg/L; total flavonoids, 283.02; and antioxidant capacity (DPPHsc [2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl radical scavenging activity]), 69%. Food engineers created a placebo formula to resemble the pomegranate juice taste and color. The similarity of the placebo and pomegranate juice was confirmed by 3 expert testers. The placebo was void of any polyphenols. The patients were asked not to change their lifestyle, diet, or physical activity during the study. Food intake and physical activities were recorded in a diary for 3 days to ensure no changes were made during the study. Blood was drawn at baseline and after 7 days of treatment to measure high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), fasting blood sugar, total cholesterol, blood insulin, triglycerides, HDL, LDL, and VLDL. Blood pressure also was measured.

Thirty patients were included in the final analysis; 1 patient was withdrawn due to development of the flu and taking antibiotics, and 1 patient had emotional and psychological problems. There was no change in intake of energy, carbohydrates, protein, or fat. Triglyceride levels and VLDL were significantly higher after pomegranate juice than after the placebo (P = 0.025 and P = 0.016, respectively). Blood hs‑CRP was significantly lower after pomegranate juice compared with baseline (P = 0.028) and placebo (P = 0.018). After pomegranate juice consumption, systolic and diastolic blood pressure significantly decreased compared to baseline and placebo (P < 0.001 for all). After placebo, systolic blood pressure significantly decreased compared to baseline (P = 0.007).

The authors conclude that 500 mL/day of natural pomegranate juice had a beneficial effect on systolic and diastolic blood pressure and hs-CRP, despite increasing triglyceride and VLDL levels. Other studies report no effect of pomegranate juice on hs-CRP, while one reported a beneficial effect in overweight and obese individuals. The authors hypothesize that the difference between their findings and other reports can be attributed to the high daily dose of pomegranate juice in this study and the variety (Shiraz) of pomegranate used. It is not surprising that the increase in triglycerides was accompanied by an increase in VLDL because VLDL transports triglycerides. A meta-analysis concluded that the significant increase of triglycerides could disappear with long-term use.1 The authors state that “This study showed that nutritionists, at least in the short-term, were right in being concerned because consuming pomegranate juice, in addition to having beneficial effects on blood pressure and inflammatory indices, has harmful effects on triglyceride and VLDL-C which is due to its high level of fructose.” Long-term studies in a larger population are needed to confirm these short-term results. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interests. The study was funded by Urmia University of Medical Sciences; Urmia, Iran.

Reference

1Sahebkar A, Simental-Mendía LE, Giorgini P, Ferri C, Grassi D. Lipid profile changes after pomegranate consumption: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Phytomedicine. 2016;23(11):1103-1112.

Moazzen H, Alizadeh M. Effects of pomegranate juice on cardiovascular risk factors in patients with metabolic syndrome: a double-blinded, randomized crossover controlled trial. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. June 2017;72(2):126-133.

Food as Medicine: Kiwifruit (Actinidia deliciosa, Actinidiaceae)

Kiwifruit (Actinidia deliciosa, Actinidiaceae), also known by the less common name “Chinese gooseberry,” is one of 50 known species within the genus Actinidia.1 These species are climbing, woody vines with large, heart-shaped leaves and cream-colored flowers that bloom in the spring. The flowers are dioecious, with male and female blossoms found in separate individuals. The kiwifruit matures in early winter and typically has brown fuzzy skin. Depending on the species, the flesh is either green or yellow, but all species are filled with small black, edible seeds.1 While A. deliciosa accounts for about 90% of kiwifruit in international trade, two other species are cultivated and sold commercially: A. Chinensis and A. arguta.2 Actinidia deliciosa is the common green kiwifruit.3 The most common cultivar of A. chinensis is “Hort16A,” known by the brand name ZESPRI, or “gold kiwifruit.”4Actinidia arguta is referred to as “baby kiwi” or “grape kiwi” due to the small size of its fruits.2Actinidia species are native to southwestern China, but they are now cultivated in New Zealand, the United States, Italy, France, Chile, and Japan.5

Phytochemicals and Constituents

Kiwifruit provides fiber, potassium, folate, phosphorus, copper, and vitamins A, C, E, and K.3,6 In fact, one kiwifruit provides more than the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin C for adults and almost 35% of the RDA of vitamin K. Vitamin C has numerous health benefits, including anticarcinogenic and immune-regulating properties.3,7 In addition, it plays a role in the formation of collagen, a major component of connective tissue, skin, and bones. Vitamin C intake also has been shown to help mitigate a number of conditions, including cardiovascular disease and inflammation.8 Vitamin E is an antioxidant that stops the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and protects cell membranes against damage caused by reactive oxygen species.9 Vitamin E also helps maintain the structure and function of skeletal, cardiac, and smooth muscles. Vitamin K regulates blood clotting, aids in the transfer of calcium through the body, and supports bone health, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures due to age.10

Kiwifruit is also a good source of fiber, which contributes to its laxative effect. Additionally, the lignins in cellulose (a form of dietary fiber) are believed to have antimutagenic properties due to their ability to increase the adsorption of aromatic amines in the gut, thus preventing them from entering the bloodstream. Aromatic amines can act as carcinogens after they have been metabolized by the liver.3

One of the interesting compounds present in kiwifruit is actinidin, an enzyme that helps to hydrolyze proteins. Due to the actinidin content of kiwifruit, other fruits and dairy products will soften or curdle upon prolonged contact with the chopped fruit, so kiwifruit should be added at the last minute to fruit salads and other mixed preparations. Actinidin has been shown to improve digestion by assisting with protein digestion and digestive motility.11 Kiwifruit contains numerous other bioactive compounds, including organic acids, plant pigments, and polyphenols. The primary organic acid in kiwi is citric acid, but it also contains malic, quinic, gallic, and oxalic acids. Organic acids provide the fruits with significant antioxidant properties.

Some of the plant pigments present in kiwifruit include carotenoids and chlorophyll, and some cultivars also contain anthocyanins.11 The carotenoids include beta-carotene, lutein, violaxanthin, and 9’-cis-neoxanthin.3 When compared with other commonly consumed fruits, kiwifruit is the richest source of lutein, which is a carotenoid that is highly concentrated in the macula of the eye and is associated with lowering risk of cataracts. All Actinidia species contain chlorophylls a and b, but levels are much lower in the gold kiwi variety. Some kiwifruits also contain anthocyanins, but they are not a significant component of the antioxidant capacity of the fruit. Glutathione is another important antioxidant present in kiwifruit, and it not only prevents oxidative damage of cells but also helps to keep vitamins C and E in their active form, regenerating their antioxidant capacities.11

Historical and Commercial Uses

Kiwifruit is featured in Chinese literature dating back to the 15th century.12 The kiwifruit was originally called mi hou tao, or “monkey peach,” because monkeys would eat the fruit in the wild.4 Traditionally, both the root and the fruit of A. chinensis were used in traditional Chinese medicine and are known as xiao yang tao. The root of A. Chinensis contains antiangiogenic phytochemicals including triterpenes, polyphenols, and anthraquinones, and it has been noted in the Chinese pharmacopeia as being useful for treating many diseases, such as stomach, rectal, and breast cancers, as well as hepatitis viral infections.12-14 The fruit of A. Chinensis was used as a juice to quench thirst, aid digestion, clear heat, and reduce irritability, inflammation, and vomiting.3,14

Other Actinidia species were used for their therapeutic effects as well. Historically, A. macrosperma was used to stimulate the immune system and A. polygama was used as an anti-inflammatory agent and to counteract allergies due to its anti-asthmatic effect.3,15

Modern Research

Clinical trials for kiwifruit primarily have focused on its effects on the digestive, immune, and cardiovascular systems. Preliminary research has also investigated the antioxidant properties of kiwifruit and its possible inhibitory effect on cancerous cell growth.

Gastrointestinal System

Clinically, kiwifruit has been shown to have a laxative effect. Daily consumption of the fruit improved the frequency and ease of bowel movements and improved stool bulk and softness in healthy older adults.3 In another study, researchers found that daily kiwifruit intake relieved symptoms in subjects suffering from chronic constipation, with no reports of adverse effects like diarrhea.3 Additionally, a trial in healthy subjects who were not experiencing constipation found no adverse gastrointestinal effects from daily consumption of kiwifruit.16

These gastrointestinal benefits are attributed to the lubricating effects of kiwifruit’s pectin and the enzyme actinidin, which combine with the enzymes in the stomach and the small intestine to improve digestion.4The pectin and fiber present in kiwifruits also function as prebiotics. Prebiotics help to modify the composition of the bacterial flora in the gut so that healthy bacteria are stimulated and harmful bacteria are suppressed. An in vitro study looked at the prebiotic effect of the pectin present in kiwifruit compared to other prebiotics like inulin, guar gum, and citrus pectin. The pectin in kiwifruit was more effective than these prebiotics in reducing the intestinal adhesion of harmful bacteria and increasing the adhesion of beneficial bacteria.17 In a mouse study on irritable bowel disease (IBD), extracts of both green and golden kiwifruit were administered, resulting in a potent anti-inflammatory effect. These results indicate that further research should be done exploring the medicinal properties of kiwifruits in the treatment of IBD.18

Antibacterial and Immunological Activity

In an in vitro study, essential oil from A. macrosperma produced inhibitory effects against a number of common bacteria, including Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus, as well as three common fungal species.3 In a mouse study, kiwifruit extract was shown to alter innate and acquired immunity when the mice were injected with cholera and diphtheria/tetanus vaccines.15 This could have implications for improving immunity in vaccinated individuals, particularly children and other high-risk populations.

Other animal studies have shown that extracts of A. arguta may have anti-allergenic effects, implying a potential for the use of kiwi extracts as therapies for allergy conditions like bronchial asthma or eczema.3 A human trial observed the effects of daily intake of golden kiwifruit on both older adults (older than 65 years) and young children (ages 2-5) in relation to cold and flu-like illnesses. For the adults, those who ate four kiwifruits daily had symptoms for fewer days over the course of a cold than the adults who ate two bananas (Musa acuminata, Musaceae) daily. In the preschool children, the odds of getting a cold or the flu decreased by almost half in the children who ate two kiwifruits daily instead of one banana.4

Cardiovascular System

There is some evidence that kiwifruit may have the ability to affect risk factors for cardiovascular disease, like blood pressure, plasma triglycerides, and platelet aggregation. A human study showed that eating two to three kiwifruits per day reduced triglyceride levels by 15% and reduced platelet aggregation response by18% compared to control.19Multiple studies have shown that daily kiwi consumption improves not only triglyceride levels but also the ratio of total cholesterol to high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. One clinical trial studied male smokers who ate three kiwis per day for eight weeks. The patients had significantly reduced blood pressure and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) activity (a component of the blood pressure-regulation process), especially those with hypertension. A number of in vitro studies support the claim that kiwifruit reduces platelet aggregation, but clinical trials are conflicting and more human studies are needed to confirm this effect.4

Antioxidant and Cytotoxic Properties

The vitamin and phytochemical composition of kiwifruit give it powerful antioxidant properties. An in vivo study showed that kiwifruit juice ingestion increased plasma antioxidant capacity within 30 minutes and that these levels were sustained for up to 90 minutes. Though this was not a long-term study, this may have implications for kiwifruit’s ability to fight oxidative stress.3 Similar findings were established through two human studies in the United Kingdom, which showed that kiwifruit consumption improved antioxidant status of both the plasma and lymphocytes of participants. One of these studies also showed that kiwifruit seemed to stimulate DNA repair. A pilot study was performed to extrapolate on this possibility and the results showed that kiwi aided DNA repair for an average of 13 hours after ingestion.7

Though vitamin C is known for its antioxidant power, it also has a synergistic effect on iron absorption. In a study of young women with mild anemia (iron deficiency), participants who consumed two golden kiwifruits with an iron-fortified cereal daily had significantly improved iron levels compared to participants who ate the cereal with a banana. The vitamin C content, along with the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin present in kiwifruits, are likely responsible for this outcome.4

There is a great deal of investigation into the role of antioxidants and other phytochemicals in the prevention of cancerous cell growth, but despite kiwifruit’s history of use in traditional Chinese medicine, there are few clinical trials establishing the connection of the fruit and its constituents with cancer prevention or treatment. In vitro studies have shown that extracts of Actinidia species may be toxic to cancer cells. Additionally, mice studies have shown that kiwifruit juice inhibits the growth of sarcoma cells.12 Another mouse study showed that catechin in the stems of A. arguta and the juice of A. deliciosa increased bone marrow proliferation, which may have implications for reducing the adverse effects of chemotherapy treatments. There has also been evidence suggesting that the prebiotic effect of fiber found in foods may change the bacteria in the colon, providing protection against colon cancer.3

Consumer Considerations

Though it is poorly understood, there is an allergy risk associated with the fruits of Actinidia species. Allergic reactions can range from mild itching of the throat, mouth, and lips, and swelling to anaphylaxis, though it is more common for reactions to be mild. The more severe reactions typically occur in children.4The prevalence of allergies to Actinidia fruits may vary geographically; in France, Finland, and Sweden, kiwifruit is one of the top ten most common allergens.16 Allergies to kiwifruit are often cross-reactive with other common allergens such as pollens, rye (Secale cereale, Poaceae), hazelnut (Corylus avellana, Betulaceae), chestnut (Castanea spp., Fagaceae), banana, and avocado (Persea Americana, Lauraceae). Heat treatment and industrial homogenization have been shown to greatly reduce the allergic reactivity of green kiwi. These treatments are often performed on processed products like beverages and jams.20

Kiwifruit contains oxalate, which is from the salt of oxalic acid. Oxalates can cause oral irritation in some individuals, and they can be risky for individuals with a history of calcium oxalate-containing kidney stones. Oxalate in high concentrations can also reduce the bioavailability of calcium, magnesium, and iron in the body.3 Though kiwifruit contains more than 10 mg of oxalate per serving (enough to be considered high levels), it would require daily consumption of large quantities of kiwifruit for the levels of oxalates in the body to become dangerous. Additionally, oxalate content decreases during storage.16

Nutrient Profile21

Macronutrient Profile: (Per one fruit [approx. 69 grams])

42 calories
0.8 g protein
10.1 g carbohydrate
0.4 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per one fruit [approx. 69 grams])

Excellent source of:

Vitamin C: 64 mg (106.7% DV)
Vitamin K: 27.8 mcg (34.8% DV)

Good source of:

Dietary Fiber: 2.1 g (8.4% DV)
Potassium: 215 mg (6.1% DV)
Vitamin E: 1 mg (5% DV)

Also, provides:

Folate: 17 mcg (4.3% DV)
Manganese: 0.07 mg (3.5% DV)
Magnesium: 12 mg (3% DV)
Calcium: 23 mg (2.3% DV)
Phosphorus: 23 mg (2.3% DV)
Vitamin B6: 0.04 mg (2% DV)
Thiamin: 0.02 mg (1.3% DV)
Niacin: 0.24 mg (1.2% DV)
Riboflavin: 0.02 mg (1.2% DV)
Vitamin A: 60 IU (1.2% DV)
Iron: 0.2 mg (1.1% DV)

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

Recipe: Kiwi, Lemon, and Rosemary Shrub

Courtesy of Jerry James Stone22

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 pounds kiwifruit
  • 2 slices of lemon
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup champagne vinegar

Directions:

  1. Peel and thinly slice the kiwifruit. Arrange a layer of kiwifruit in a quart-sized jar and sprinkle with sugar. Repeat the layering until all the sugar and fruit is in the jar. Seal and let stand for five hours.

  2. Add the lemon, rosemary, and vinegar to the jar. Seal and shake to combine and dissolve the sugar, then let stand for 24 hours.

  3. Strain the mixture through a sieve into a clean quart-sized jar. Seal and refrigerate. To serve, mix two tablespoons of the shrub with sparkling water in an ice-filled glass.

References

  1. The National Geographic Society. Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants. Washington, DC: The National Geographic Society; 2008.
  2. Wojdyło A, Nowicka P, Oszmiański J, Golis T. Phytochemical compounds and biological effects of Actinidia fruits. J Funct Foods. 2017;30:194-202. doi:10.1016/j.jff.2017.01.018.
  3. Hunter DC, Skinner MA, Ferguson AR, Stevenson LM. Kiwifruit and health. In: Bioactive Foods in Promoting Health: Fruits and Vegetables. Auckland, New Zealand; 2010:565-580. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-374628-3.00037-2.
  4. Stonehouse W, Gammon CS, Beck KL, Conlon C, von Hurst PR, Kruger R. Kiwifruit: our daily prescription for health. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2013;91(6):442-447. doi:10.1139/cjpp-2012-0303.
  5. van Wyk B-E. Food Plants of the World: An Illustrated Guide. Portland, OR: Timber Press; 2005.
  6. Murray M, Pizzorno J, Pizzorno L. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York, NY: Atria Books; 2005.
  7. Rush E, Ferguson LR, Cumin M, Thakur V, Karunasinghe N, Plank L. Kiwifruit consumption reduces DNA fragility: a randomized controlled pilot study in volunteers. Nutr Res. 2006;26(5):197-201. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2006.05.002.
  8. Carr AC, Pullar JM, Moran S, Vissers MCM. Bioavailability of vitamin C from kiwifruit in non-smoking males: determination of “healthy” and “optimal” intakes. J Nutr Sci. 2012;1:e14. doi:10.1017/jns.2012.15.
  9. Weil A, Becker B. Facts about vitamin E. Weil website. August 2016. Available at: www.drweil.com/vitamins-supplements-herbs/vitamins/facts-about-vitamin-e/. Accessed June 21, 2017.
  10. Ehrlich SD. Vitamin K. University of Maryland Medical Center website. July 16, 2013. Available at: www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-k. Accessed June 22, 2017.
  11. Drummond L. Chapter three — The composition and nutritional value of kiwifruit. Adv Food Nutr Res. 2013;68:33-57. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-394294-4.00003-1.
  12. Motohashi N, Shirataki Y, Kawase M, et al. Cancer prevention and therapy with kiwifruit in Chinese folklore medicine: A study of kiwifruit extracts. J Ethnopharmacol. 2002;81(3):357-364. doi:10.1016/S0378-8741(02)00125-3.
  13. Zhu WJ, Yu DH, Zhao M, et al. Antiangiogenic triterpenes isolated from Chinese herbal medicine Actinidia chinensis Planch. Anti-Cancer Agents Med Hist. 2013;13(2):195-198. doi:10.2174/187152013804711146.
  14. Hsu HY. Oriental Materia Medica: A Concise Guide. Long Beach, CA: Oriental Healing Arts Institute; 1986.
  15. Shu Q, Mendis De Silva U, Chen S, et al. Kiwifruit extract enhances markers of innate and acquired immunity in a murine model. Food Agric Immunol. 2008;19(2):149-161. doi:10.1080/09540100802117198.
  16. Singletary K. Kiwifruit. Nutr Today. 2012;47(3):133-147. doi:10.1097/NT.0b013e31825744bc.
  17. Parkar SG, Redgate EL, Wibisono R, Luo X, Koh ETH, Schröder R. Gut health benefits of kiwifruit pectins: Comparison with commercial functional polysaccharides. J Funct Foods. 2010;2(3):210-218. doi:10.1016/j.jff.2010.04.009.
  18. Edmunds SJ, Roy NC, Love DR, Laing WA. Kiwifruit extracts inhibit cytokine production by lipopolysaccharide-activated macrophages, and intestinal epithelial cells isolated from IL10 gene deficient mice. Cell Immunol. 2011;270(1):70-79. doi:10.1016/j.cellimm.2011.04.004.
  19. Park YS, Leontowicz H, Leontowicz M, et al. Comparison of the contents of bioactive compounds and the level of antioxidant activity in different kiwifruit cultivars. J Food Compos Anal. 2011;24(7):963-970. doi:10.1016/j.jfca.2010.08.010.
  20. Nishiyama I. Fruits of the Actinidia genus. Adv Food Nutr Res. 2007;52(6):293-324. doi:10.1016/S1043-4526(06)52006-6.
  21. Basic Report: 09148, Kiwifruit, green, raw. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service website. May 2016. Available at: https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/2253. Accessed June 22, 2017.
  22. Stone JJ. Kiwi, lemon & rosemary shrub (drinking vinegar). Jerry James Stone website. December 4, 2013. Available at: jerryjamesstone.com/recipe/kiwi-lemon-rosemary-shrub-drinking-vinegar/. Accessed June 22, 2017. [Editor’s note: The linked webpage contains profanity.]

Exercise and Herbs

While the active season of summer may be coming to a close, fall entices many sports enthusiasts to run, bike, hike, and train when cooler weather presides. Of course, a successful workout requires adequate fuel and self-care to reduce the risk of injury and make for an enjoyable experience. So we look to herbs to help us postpone the onset of fatigue and aid in recovery.

Cayenne {Capsicum annuum}

Capsaicin, one of the cayenne’s active components, aids muscle pain and soreness by providing topical heat to those areas. Taken internally, the pepper informs the brain to circulate endorphins throughout the body. These endorphins make the athlete feel good, which helps with stamina during a long and intense workout. And because cayenne causes your body temperature to rise, it boosts metabolism {we burn more calories when the body is forced to go through a heating and cooling process}.

Ashwagandha {Withania somnifera}

A study published in 2015 in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that the root has significant benefits for muscle strength, mass, and recovery in resistance training. Male subjects between the ages of 18 and 57, with little experience in resistance training, were split into a placebo group and an ashwagandha-extract group. The men spent eight weeks completing exercises that included leg extensions and bench presses. They were measured before and after eight weeks. At the end of the trial, those in the Ashwagandha group showed a siginificantly greater increase in muscle strength on the leg extension and bench press exercises and a significant increase in muscle size in the arms and chest. Exercise-induced muscle damage and body fat percentage were both reduced. In addition, participants saw a greater increase in testosterone levels.

Peppermint {Mentha x piperita}

Peppermint is a wonderful stimulating herb that boosts performance. Just a drop of peppermint essential oil on the tongue can give a blast of refreshing energy. Try it before and during a workout to increase endurance. Its antispasmodic properties help reduce muscle spasms and cramping, making it beneficial during a workout or while recuperating. This herb also contains potassium, magnesium, and calcium, important electrolytes that we can lose through sweat. An individual doing a long-duration run such as a marathon would benefit from drinking a peppermint infusion to replenish the needed potassium and electrolytes.

Chamomile {Matricaria recutita}

We may associate this herb with bedtime, but it actually works wonders on muscles, thanks to its ability to reduce inflammation of the affected areas. As an antispasmodic, it also eases muscle tension, which is particularly helpful during cramping. A cup of strong chamomile tea will work almost immediately. For topical relief before or after a workout, add chamomile essential oil to a base oil and use for a massage.

Lavender {Lavandula angustifolia}

This fragrant herb offers soothing relief for joint pain and muscle soreness, offering both anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic benefits. Combine it with almond oil for use in massage, or add it to a bath to relieve aches and pains while enjoying much-needed aromatherapy. It’s perfect for someone who’s just completed a long-duration workout or a marathon. {Use lavender essential oil or loose fried lavender in a muslin bag and add to the tub}.

Mustard {Brassica alba}

As a rubefacient, mustard {applied as a paste} brings heat to a sore or injured area by dilating the capillaries and increasing blood circulation {it will turn the skin red}. Some people also swear by “mustard baths,” an age-old bath blend that includes mustard powder, Epsom salts, and essential oils such as eucalyptus to warm fatigued muscles and lessen pain throughout the body.

Nettle {Urtica dioica}

This vitamin-packed herb strengthens the body’s overall health, stimulates metabolism, and boosts energy and stamina. It’s also beneficial for recovery after a hard workout. Nettle is rich in magnesium, calcium, zinc, manganese, iron, potassium, and many other minerals and vitamins. Calcium regulates muscle contraction and is necessary for the repair and maintenance of bone tissue. {Deficiency in calcium can result in stress fractures because of low bone mineral density.} Nettle reduces musculoskeletal pain as well as inflammation and muscle spasms.

Oats [Avena sativa}

Oats are a great source of energy, and their tops are rich in magnesium, an important mineral for muscle and nerve function. Oat’s anti-inflammatory action reduces fatigue and helps with post-exercise recovery.

Athletic Energy Balls

1/4 ounce spirulina

1-ounce Siberian ginseng powder

1-ounce ground ashwagandha

1-ounce astragalus

1 cup sesame butter

1/2 cup honey

1/2 ounce ground pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup crushed almonds

2 Tbls cocoa powder

1 Tbls carob powder

Combine herbs and spirulina, mixing well. In a separate bowl combine sesame butter and honey to form a paste. Add powdered herb mix into the paste. Next add pumpkin seeds, almonds, cocoa and carob powders. Roll into balls roughly the size of a walnut. Place in the refrigerator to harden.

Fo-ti {Polygonum multiflorum}

An energizing herb used in Chinese tonics, fo-ti improves endurance and reduces stress in the body by boosting circulation and supporting the heart. It contains lectins, protein-sugar complexes that help block the formation of plaque in the blood vessels that would restrict the flexibility of their walls. Fo-ti works best when taken regularly.

Astragalus {Astragalus membranaceus}

Another amazing tonic herb, astragalus strengthens the whole body, stimulates metabolism, and improves energy and endurance. This herb’s ability to increase the uptake of oxygen aids in recovery. A 2014 study published in Molecules showed that astragalus supplements increase exercise endurance and muscle glycogen {which muscles then convert into glucose} in mice. It also reduces exercise-induced fatigue.

Licorice {Glycyrrhiza glabra}

This anti-inflammatory aids the respiratory system, which is useful for the increased breathing associated with being active. It’s also handy {and tasty} when dealing with fatigue and exhaustion during high-intensity exercise or recovery.

Dandelion {Taraxacum officinale}

Dandelion is a restorative herb that helps during recovery. The leaves contain a wealth of vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C. A shortage of iron in the body can cause a deficiency of hemoglobin, which makes it difficult for the body to move oxygen into the muscles. Adding raw dandelion leaves to a salad is a great way to increase iron intake. Dandelion is also rich in potassium, which replenishes the body after long-duration activity. It relieves inflammation and the buildup of fluid in the joints and increases the absorption of nutrients.

Rosemary {Rosmarinus officinalis}

As a stimulant, rosemary supports the circulatory system and boosts energy. Thanks to its analgesic and antioxidant properties, it’s great at targeting inflammation. These antioxidant properties also reduce oxidative stress and decrease joint pain. A nice cup of rosemary tea is a great way to relax and reap the benefits during recovery. Steep one tablespoon of rosemary leaves in two cups of water for 20 minutes. Strain and enjoy.

Turmeric {Curcuma longa}

Turmeric is an immune-boosting herb that has highly effective anti-inflammatory properties, thanks to its active compound curcumin. This powerful herb encourages flexibility and also aids the ligaments and tendons. Turmeric promotes the health of the musculoskeletal system. As a recovery herb, it reduces the pain, fatigue, and inflammation caused by the stress of an intense workout. For a simple recovery drink, mix turmeric root powder with a cup of warm almond milk {or milk of choice}. Stir 1/2-1 teaspoon of the turmeric powder into the warm milk. If you’d like something sweeter, add honey. Turmeric capsules are also a great option.

Athletic Energy Capsules

1 part ground licorice

1 part ground fo-ti

1/2 part ground oats

1/4 part cayenne powder

“OO” gelatin or vegetable capsules

Blend all of the powdered herbs together in a bowl and scoop into the capsules.

 

 

Iron Deficiency: How to Improve Low Iron Levels

Iron deficiency knows no borders-it’s common throughout the world and in all economic classes. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 30% of the world’s population has an iron status that is considered below normal. This may seem like a wildly inflated or inaccurate figure, but healthy adults only store about 3-4 grams of iron in their bodies. This is an incredibly small amount of this essential element and the loss of just a few extra milligrams every day can quickly add up to an iron deficiency.

In much of the developing world, iron deficiency is typically the result of harmful organisms, acquired immunodeficiency, and other health issues. In more developed areas with sanitary water and working conditions, this deficiency is more likely to result from diet, pregnancy, or blood loss. Because of this, iron deficiency can be both a condition itself and a symptom of other conditions.

To address nutritional deficiencies like low iron status, a doctor or medical professional must first identify the deficiency and then determine what might be causing it. Typically, you would simply consume more of the missing nutrient-for example, from foods rich in iron or iron supplements-to make up for the deficiency. Iron is a bit more complicated than other essential nutrients, though. Too little iron is a concern, but high iron levels can be equally troublesome as too much iron can cause oxidative damage. You must aim for iron homeostasis to keep yourself healthy.

Iron Distribution in the Body

Iron is regulated and stored in minuscule amounts. The mineral is primarily involved in oxygen transport in several different processes throughout the body. Under normal circumstances, iron is securely attached to proteins to keep it from reacting with other molecules in the body and generating free radicals.

The vast majority of iron, about 70%, is stored in your red blood cells in molecules of hemoglobin. Myoglobin and some enzymes account for another 15%. Ferritin and transferrin, which are proteins that store and transport iron, contain the remaining 15%.

What’s the Difference Between Anemia and Iron Deficiency Anemia?

Anemia is a general term that refers to a deficiency in red blood cells (the red blood cell count), or a deficiency of hemoglobin in the blood cells themselves. There are several types of anemias, and iron deficiency anemia is one of them. Since iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia, you often see the condition referred to as simply “anemia” or shortened to IDA. True iron deficiency anemia is relatively rare in developed countries, however.

Iron Deficiency

In general, this deficiency is the result of an iron imbalance. You’re either not ingesting enough iron or you’re losing too much iron through your sweat, urine, stool, or blood loss. Insufficient iron intake or iron stores inhibit the production of healthy blood cells which decreases the amount of oxygen circulating throughout your tissues.

Medical tests are necessary to confirm iron deficiency. A normal hematocrit reading, the number of red blood cells in your blood, runs from 35-50%. You also might have your ferritin assessed to establish how much iron you have in reserve to generate new red blood cells. A ferritin level below 20 mcg/mL indicates an iron deficiency.

Iron Deficiency Anemia

Iron deficiency anemia is a more severe form of iron deficiency that typically results from prolonged low iron status. With this anemia, your clinician will use blood tests to establish that you have a more severe deficiency that classifies you as anemic. She may order a complete blood count (CBC) to determine how concentrated your red blood cell count is. If your hematocrit reading is exceptionally low, your physician may determine that you have iron deficiency anemia. A very low ferritin level, 12 mcg/mL or lower, also indicates iron deficiency anemia.

Causes of Low Iron Levels

There is a wide range of factors that influence your iron status, but in the developed world, the top causes are malnutrition or iron depletion.

Causes of Iron Deficiency

  • Heavy menstruation
  • Organ and tissue damage from stomach ulcers or colon conditions
  • Low iron intake from the diet
  • Consuming foods that block iron absorption
  • Inadequate intake of vitamin B-12 or folate
  • Pregnancy leading to significantly increased need and production of red blood cells

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency

You may not notice you have an iron deficiency until a medical professional runs a blood analysis and sees your hematocrit reading is lower than ideal. Others may experience the classic symptoms associated with iron deficiency anemia. These telling symptoms indicate that you aren’t getting enough oxygen to your cells to support normal cellular function and metabolism.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency

  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling cold, or low skin temperature in the extremities
  • Headache
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Pale skin and face (pallor)
  • Hair loss

Populations at Risk for Iron Deficiency

Specific populations are more at risk for developing iron deficiency due to a variety of factors. Women of childbearing age typically lose more iron than other populations, while pregnant women need more iron to support increasing demands for oxygen for both mom and baby. Those with internal bleeding in the stomach or intestines are also at greater risk for developing an iron deficiency. Gastric bypass also affects the amount of iron the digestive system is capable of absorbing.

Vegans and vegetarians can develop iron deficiencies if they avoid healthy foods like grains, beans, and leafy greens. However, most vegetarians consume more iron and other micronutrients than non-vegetarians.

Foods and Nutrients That Decrease Iron Absorption

Even with an iron-rich diet, you might inexplicably develop low iron levels. That’s because some foods affect its bioavailability. Some foods or nutrients enhance iron absorption, namely vitamin C-rich foods like bell peppers and citrus fruits. Others foods and nutrients bind to the iron in your food during the digestive process and prevent your intestines from absorbing it. Here is a list of the foods and nutrients that inhibit iron absorption.

Iron Absorption Inhibitors

  • Tea
  • Herbal teas made from chamomile and peppermint
  • Coffee
  • Eggs and egg protein
  • Milk and dairy products
  • Chocolate and cocoa
  • Grapes and wine
  • Almonds
  • Barley
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Calcium
  • Copper
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc

To be clear, you don’t have to avoid these foods altogether. Just leave a two-hour buffer between eating your iron-rich meals and the foods listed here. This buffer ensures that you can enjoy your cup of green tea without accidentally inhibiting iron absorption.

How to Improve Iron Levels

Maintaining normal iron levels is a delicate balance. Eating a diet rich in the top vegan sources of iron is essential to provide your body with the iron it needs. Even better, nonheme (plant-based) iron absorption is significantly more easily regulated by the intestines. It can increase absorption when you’re deficient, or block absorption when your hemoglobin levels are normal and your iron storage is optimal. That’s why we formulated our new iron supplement with completely plant-based iron from curry tree leaves. Iron Fuzion™contains the ideal form of iron for you body to address iron deficiency while avoiding iron overload.