What You Need to Know About Tocotrienols

Tocotrienols are a group of chemicals that are part of the vitamin E family. So far, research has uncovered numerous benefits associated with tocotrienols.

Tocopherols are another group of chemicals that make up the vitamin E family. Both tocotrienols and tocopherols come in four forms: alpha, beta, delta, and gamma.

The average American diet contains more tocopherols than tocotrienols, so researchers are increasingly interested in how supplementing with tocotrienols might improve health.

Fast facts on tocotrienols:

  • Tocotrienols are a group of chemicals that are part of the vitamin E family.
  • Most vitamin E supplements are higher in tocopherols than tocotrienols.
  • Tocotrienols may help fight free radical damage to the gastrointestinal system.

What are tocotrienols?

Foods containing vitamin E
Tocotrienols and tocopherols are part of the Vitamin E family.

Both tocotrienols and tocopherols may be referred to as vitamin E. Vitamin E is an antioxidant, which means that it helps to neutralize free radicals.

Free radicals are chemicals linked to a host of health issues, including skin ageing, cancer, and numerous diseases. Free radicals can also cause chronic inflammation.

The primary reason tocotrienols may be beneficial is because of their antioxidant properties. Cereal grains tend to be rich in tocotrienols.

Good sources include:

  • rice bran
  • oats
  • barley
  • rye
  • crude palm oil

The four forms of tocotrienol are alpha, beta, gamma, and delta tocotrienol. Each type behaves differently, offering a range of health benefits.

How are they different from vitamin E?

Tocotrienols are a less common form of vitamin E than tocopherols. This is because there are more tocopherols in people’s diets and some vitamin E supplements consist exclusively of tocopherols.

The chemistry of vitamin E

The distinction between tocotrienols and tocopherols is chemical.

Research has found that only tocopherol can correct vitamin E deficiency, which suggests that tocopherol is the form of vitamin E that the body needs to function efficiently. However, scientists suggest that people interested in getting the most benefits from their vitamin E supplement should choose a supplement containing both tocopherols and tocotrienols.

The benefits of vitamin E

Both traditional vitamin E in the form of tocopherol and the tocotrienol form of vitamin E offer similar benefits. They’re both antioxidants with the power to reduce inflammation, potentially promoting anti-cancer, anti-ageing, and other benefits.

Benefits of tocotrienols

Tocotrienols target specific free radicals and sources of inflammation, however. Research has found that attacking these targets could offer the following health benefits:

Protecting the brain

n illustration of the human brain
Tocotrienol and tocopherol may protect brain cells from free radicals.

Some brain health conditions, including dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other forms of brain decline, are linked to free radical damage.

Tocotrienols may be able to fight a specific inflammatory factor that is related to brain health problems.

2014 study reconfirmed that the antioxidant activity of tocotrienol and tocopherol provide protection from free radical injury to brain cells.

Some research also suggests that tocotrienols may help fight Parkinson’s disease or slow the course of the disease.

Improved heart health

Tocotrienols can reduce or reverse inflammation and free radical damage that undermines heart health. Tocotrienols can also reduce the power of other cardiovascular health risk factors, including the impact of high cholesterol on heart health.

Reduced risk of cancer

Tocotrienols may reduce the risk of cancer by fighting free radical damage. Some studies also suggest that this form of vitamin E can slow the growth of cancer cells. A 2013 study found that tocotrienols could promote the death of breast cancer cells in the lab.

Research has also found that tocotrienols play a role in fighting liver, colon, prostate, lung, stomach, skin, and pancreatic cancers. Some studies suggest that gamma and delta tocotrienols may be more effective at fighting cancer than alpha and beta tocotrienols.

Preventing osteoporosis

Tocotrienols can help prevent and reduce osteoporosis-related bone loss in several ways. Nicotine use can cause osteoporosis, but research has found that tocotrienol lowers the risk. Studies of rats have found that tocotrienol may slow the course of free radical-related bone loss.

People who already have osteoporosis can also benefit from tocotrienol. Tocotrienol may support bone growth, helping the body replace bone that has been lost to osteoporosis.

Improved gastrointestinal health

This can reduce acidity and prevent the development of painful lesions. Tocotrienol was especially effective at fighting the effects of stress on the gastrointestinal system. In a study of rats that compared tocotrienol to tocopherol, tocotrienol alone stopped hormonal and acidity changes related to stress.

Hair and skin health

Some cosmetic and skin care product manufacturers include both tocopherol and tocotrienol in their vitamin E products. Because tocotrienol is an antioxidant, it may help reverse or slow skin damage due to free radicals.

This, in theory, could prevent wrinkles and help the skin look appear youthful. Some studies suggest that applying tocotrienol to the skin may help, but the improvements are modest and more research is needed.

Side effects of tocotrienols

It is recommended to speak with a healthcare professional before using tocotrienol supplements.

Studies have not uncovered any consistent, serious side effects associated with the use of tocotrienols. As with many other supplements, the primary risk is getting too much. People should talk to a doctor about the right dosing of tocotrienols, and do not exceed the recommended daily intake listed on the supplement package.

People with a history of allergies, particularly food allergies, may want to start with a low-dose supplement and can increase the dose slowly if they do not experience any side effects.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor supplements, so it is important to choose brands that are trustworthy for purity and quality.

Tocotrienol shows great promise for improving health. Because it causes few or no side effects, it is safe for most people to try. It is not, however, a substitute for standard medical care. People interested in using tocotrienol should use it alongside traditional medicine to get the greatest benefits.


Microbes in Our Homes: Household Microbes: Friend or Foe?

A number of microbes that share our living spaces might come as a surprise to many. But the key question is, are they bad for our health?

When it comes to microorganisms in our living environments, we are bombarded with antibacterial and antiviral soaps, cleaning products of every description, and a general notion that we must keep our houses clean to combat deadly microbial threats.

On the other hand, we are frequently reminded that probiotic microbes have significant health benefits.

Microorganisms are ever-present in our environment and in our bodies, and many are known to be beneficial — or even essential — for our health. However, some are pathogens and can make us very sick, and they can sometimes even kill us.

Keen to know what microbes might be inhabiting the various parts of my home, I delved into the scientific literature and found out why some of our microscopic roommates are good for us, and why others pose a significant threat to our health.

What microbes lurk around our homes?

Scientists from NSF International — which is based in Ann Arbor, MI — tested 22 households in Southeast Michigan. They found that dishwashing sponges contained the highest number of microorganisms, followed by toothbrush holders, pet bowls, kitchen sinks, coffee reservoirs, kitchen countertops, stove knobs, pet toys, and toilet seats.

In the study, the authors found yeast and molds, bacteria in the coliform family (including Escherichia coli), and Staphylococcus aureus on many of the surfaces tested.

To assess the microbial diversity in house dust, a team of scientists — which was led by Jordan Peccia, a professor of chemical and environmental engineering at Yale University in New Haven, CT — tested samples from 198 homes in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

The researchers found that the most common fungal species were Leptosphaerulina chartarumEpicoccum nigrum, and Wallemia sebi. The most abundant bacteria were from the StaphylococcusStreptococcus, and Corynebacteria families.

Homes with pets and those located in suburban areas had more diverse bacterial species, while those with reported water leaks harbored more fungi.

Meanwhile, scientists from Seoul National University in Korea studied the bacteria that inhabit our refrigerators and toilet seats. They found that the many of the bacteria present were also resident on human skin, indicating that we are the source of a lot of the microbes in our living environment.

“In this study, most bacteria detected were probably not pathogens or opportunistic pathogens, and genera belonging to common pathogens were detected in only a very small fraction of communities on the surfaces of refrigerators and toilets,” the authors explain.

So, our tiny roommates are everywhere: from our kitchen sinks to our living room floors and toothbrush holders. The key question that remains is what their impact on our health is.

The answer depends on our age, the state of our immune system, and, of course, the individual microorganism in question.

Allergy and hygiene

According to the “hygiene hypothesis” — which was originally proposed by Prof. David Strachan in 1989 — allergic diseases are able to be prevented “by infection in early childhood, transmitted by unhygienic contact with older siblings, or acquired prenatally from a mother infected by contact with her older children.”

House dust exposes us to diverse microbes.

In an article published in the October edition of Nature Immunology, Profs. Bart N. Lambrecht and Hamida Hammad — from the VIB Center for Inflammation Research at Ghent University in Belgium — explain that studies in animal models have shown that exposure to some viruses, bacteria, and parasites is linked to lower rates of allergy.

Allergic diseases, including eczema, hay fever, asthma, and food allergies, affect 50 million individuals in the United States, while hay fever alone affects 400 million individuals globally.

Allergies develop when our bodies mistake an otherwise harmless substance as a threat and react with an immune response. Microbes are known to affect this process in several ways.

Certain bacteria, such as BacterioidesBifidobacteriumFaecalibacterium, and Enterobacteria, produce metabolites that promote the generation of regulatory T cells. These cells play a major role in protecting us from developing allergies, but children who are prone to allergy are known to have lower levels of these types of bacteria in their guts.

Microbial components also affect another type of immune cell. Dendritic cells patrol epithelial barriers — namely, the skin, gut, and lungs — where they detect incoming allergens. And if this happens in the absence of microbial components, dendritic cells tend to drive allergic immune reactions, whereas if microbes are present, they do not.

So, where can we find these beneficial microorganisms that might protect us from developing allergies?

Microbes that might give us the edge

Prof. Peccia found that certain beneficial bacteria were preferentially found in homes that housed multiple families and those with more than three children.

One of these, Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, “is anti-inflammatory and protective against Crohn’s disease,” he explains. Members of the lactobacillus family were also found in higher numbers in such households, and these probiotic bacteria have been implicated in protection against allergies and asthma.

In a separate study, Prof. Peccia’s team found that yeasts in the fungal class Kondoa may have a protective effect against severe asthma when present in the home.

Drinking unpasteurized cow’s milk is liked to a lower risk of allergy.

Exposure to microorganisms in raw milk and those in the dust of homes located on farms has been strongly implicated in lower allergy rates.

However, bacteria and fungi aren’t the only friendly microorganisms.

Although most people tend not to associate parasites with Western nations, in the U.S., millions of individuals are chronically infected with these microorganisms.

But it’s not all bad news: there is evidence that tiny parasitic worms called helminths protect their host from allergies.

Many allergens are similar in structure to helminth proteins, which is why in cases of chronic exposure to helminths, these proteins compete with allergens, leading to non-allergic immune responses.

The timing and type of microbe that an individual is exposed to plays a crucial role in the development of allergic diseases.

Not all infections are beneficial. For example, lower respiratory tract infections in children under 3 years of age are a risk factor for wheezing and asthma.

The hygiene hypothesis has been criticized in light of this. Prof. Lambrecht says that new theories suggest that loss of diversity in the human microbiome — a topic I recently explored in a separate article — means that the microbes and parasites that once provided us with protection from allergies no longer fulfil this function.

While microorganisms may play an important role in preventing an allergic disease from developing in small children, they can pose a serious threat to the health of others.

When are microbes bad for our health?

For people who have already developed allergic disease, microbes in the living environment spell bad news.

Early life fungal infections, especially those of the airways, are linked to the worsening of existing allergic asthma. Infections of the airways with viruses and bacteria can have similar effects, while fungal skin infections are known to trigger eczema.

Prof. Peccia also found that the homes of severely asthmatic children tended to harbor similar microbial allergens. In particular, high concentrations of fungi were found in the homes of these children, with yeasts in fungal class Volutella standing out.
Our refrigerators are ideal living environments for harmful microorganisms.

In addition to the danger that microbes pose to those already allergic or asthmatic, food-borne household microorganisms contribute to significant numbers of illnesses each year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that every year, 3,000 people die from food poisoning. Here, the culprits include Salmonella, certain types of E. coliListeria, and fungi.

According to the 2013 NSF International Household Germ Study, the refrigerator vegetable compartment was a ready source of SalmonellaListeria, and fungi, while E. coli were found in the refrigerator meat compartment, as well as on rubber spatulas, blender gaskets, can openers, and pizza cutters.

So, the bottom line is that among the plethora of microorganisms that inhabit our homes and living spaces, some are friends and some are foes. More importantly, how we react to particular microbes depends on our individual immune systems.

Does that mean that I should keep my home meticulously clean? Cleaning my kitchen’s hotspots — mostly the dishwashing sponge, refrigerator, kitchen sink, counter, and cooking utensils — will certainly go some way toward protecting my family from contracting food poisoning.

As for the rest of the microbes, it depends. In homes with family members who already have allergies, reducing exposure to any of the culprits that trigger symptoms makes sense.

But are we increasingly becoming trapped in a vicious cycle of cleanliness to prevent allergy symptoms, depriving the next generation from the much-needed early exposure to microbes?

There is no clear answer, but scientists are getting closer to finding out how exposure to microorganisms might have protected us from allergies in the past.

In the future, we might also see effective and large-scale preventive strategies based on this new knowledge that can restore the lost symbiotic relationships between (micro)organisms and humans without causing disease or requiring a return to an unhygienic lifestyle.”

Could Tai Chi Encourage More Patients to Take Up Cardiac Rehab?

Preliminary research suggests that tai chi, with its slow, gentle approach, might offer a safe and attractive option for patients who do not take up conventional cardiac rehabilitation.

A report on the study, which has been published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, explains that the majority of heart attack patients who are offered cardiac rehab refuse it, in many cases because they are put off by physical exercise.

Some patients are put off cardiac rehab because they believe that it might be painful, unpleasant, or perhaps not even achievable in their current physical condition.

In the United States, heart disease accounts for 1 in 4 deaths and claims 600,000 lives per year. It is the leading cause of death for men and women.

Of the 735,000 people in the U.S. who experience a heart attack every year, 2 out of 7 have already had a heart attack.

Need to improve cardiac rehab usage

At present in the U.S., despite evidence of its benefits, more than 60 percent of patients decline conventional cardiac rehabilitation following a heart attack.

Given this situation, the study authors urge that there is a need to improve the take-up rate of cardiac rehabilitation, to get patients more physically active and reduce their heart risk.

“We thought,” explains lead author Elena Salmoirago-Blotcher, an assistant professor of medicine at the Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University in Providence, RI, “that tai chi might be a good option for these people because you can start very slowly and simply and, as their confidence increases, the pace and movements can be modified to increase intensity.”

As well as helping to achieve low- to moderate-intensity physical activity, tai chi’s emphasis on breathing and relaxation might also relieve stress and reduce psychological distress, she adds.

Therefore, the team carried out a randomized, controlled trial to find out how safe and acceptable tai chi might be – as well as what impact it might have on weight, physical activity, fitness, and quality of life – for heart patients who had refused conventional rehabilitation therapy.

Trial tested LITE and PLUS tai chi programs

The trial compared two regimes: a PLUS and a LITE tai chi program, both adapted from a routine used for patients with lung disease and heart failure.

The PLUS program consisted of 52 classes of tai chi over 24 weeks. The LITE program was a shorter version, with 24 classes over 12 weeks. All participants were also given an instructional DVD so that they could practice tai chi at home during and after the program.

The participants were 29 coronary heart disease patients (21 men and 8 women) – aged 67.9 years, on average – who were physically inactive and had declined cardiac rehabilitation but expressed an interest in a tai chi program. Nine patients were enrolled in the LITE program and 21 on the PLUS.

None of the participants had physical conditions that would preclude they’re being able to do tai chi (for example, recent joint replacement or other orthopedic condition).

Most of the group had had a previous heart attack or undergone a procedure to open a blocked artery, and all continued to have high cardiovascular risk factors.

These factors included having high cholesterol (75.9 percent of the group), having diabetes (48.3 percent), being obese (45 percent) or overweight (35 percent), and continuing to smoke (27.6 percent).

‘Safe bridge to more strenuous exercise’

The results of the trial showed that tai chi was safe: apart from some mild muscular pain at the start of the program, there were no adverse side effects from the tai chi itself.

The participants liked the program that they completed, and all of them said that they would recommend it to a friend.

The researchers say that the attendance level – participants went to 66 percent of scheduled classes – showed that the tai chi program was “feasible.”

Although neither program raised aerobic fitness, as measured after 3 months, the participants on the PLUS program did have higher levels of moderate to vigorous activity after 3 and 6 months.

“On its own,” says Prof. Salmoirago-Blotcher, “tai chi wouldn’t obviously replace other components of traditional cardiac rehabilitation, such as education on risk factors, diet, and adherence to needed medications.”

In an accompanying article on possible ways to improve the take-up of cardiac rehabilitation, a panel of experts writes that it “remains powerful, yet underutilized, tool” in the management of patients following a heart attack or blocked artery procedure.

They suggest that the tai chi study offers an option “that addresses barriers at the individual level (e.g., negative sentiment toward exercise).”

If proven effective in larger studies, it might be possible to offer it as an exercise option within a rehab center as a bridge to more strenuous exercise, or in a community setting with the educational components of rehab delivered outside of a medical setting.”

Eight Potential Health Benefits of Kombucha

Kombucha is a sweet, fizzy drink made of yeast, sugar, and fermented tea. It has a number of potential health benefits, including gut health and liver function.

This article explores eight potential health benefits of kombucha and looks at the research that supports them.

What is kombucha?

A jar of raw kombucha fermented drink, on a wooden table with chopped up lemon and a stem of ginger.
Kombucha is a fermented drink that is popular for its purported health benefits.

To make kombucha, sweetened green or black tea is fermented with a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, otherwise known as a SCOBY.

During the fermentation process, the yeast in the SCOBY breaks down the sugar in the tea and releases probiotic bacteria.

Kombucha becomes carbonated after fermentation, which is why the drink is fizzy.

Potential health benefits

There is a range of potential health benefits of kombucha, including:

1. Gut health

As this 2014 study confirms, the fermentation process of kombucha means that the drink is rich in probiotics. Probiotic bacteria are similar to healthful bacteria that are found in the gut.

Consuming probiotics may improve overall gut health. Probiotic bacteria have been found to help treat diarrhea, and some research suggests they may help ease irritable bowel syndrome(IBS).

More research is needed into how kombucha improves gut health, but the link between probiotics and gut health suggests it may support the digestive system.

The link between healthy bacteria in the digestive system and immune function is becoming clearer as more studies focus on gut health. If the probiotics in kombucha improve gut health, they may also strengthen the immune system.

2. Cancer risk

There is growing evidence to suggest drinking kombucha could help reduce the risk of cancer.

2008 study found that kombucha helped prevent the growth of cancer cells. Further research in 2013 found that kombucha decreased the survival of cancer cells. Both studies suggest kombucha could play a role in treating or preventing cancer.

It is important to note that these studies looked at the effects of kombucha on cancer cells in a test tube. More research is needed to see if people who drink kombucha have a reduced risk of developing cancer.

3. Infection risk

A type of acid called acetic acid, also found in vinegar, is produced when kombucha is fermented.

study carried out in 2000 found that kombucha was able to kill microbes and help fight a range of bacteria. This suggests that it may help prevent infections by killing the bacteria that cause them before they are absorbed by the body.

4. Mental health

Young smiling woman drinking fruit juice ice tea.
The probiotics in kombucha are thought to have the ability to treat depression.

There may be a link between probiotics and depression, suggesting that drinking probiotic-rich kombucha could help promote positive mental health.

There are strong links between depression and inflammation so the anti-inflammatory effect of kombucha may help alleviate some of the symptoms of depression.

2017 review looked at a number of existing studies and concluded that there is strong evidence that probiotics may help treat depression. However, further research is needed to prove how effective they are.

5. Heart disease

Levels of certain types of cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease. Studies in 2012 and 2015 found that kombucha helps to reduce levels of the cholesterol linked to heart disease. Cholesterol levels and heart disease are also influenced by diet, exercise, weight, lifestyle habits, and inflammation. However, the research cited here suggests drinking kombucha may help reduce the risk of heart disease.

At the same time, it is important to note that these studies were in rats. More research is needed to prove that kombucha reduces the risk of heart disease in humans.

6. Weight loss

When kombucha is made with green tea, it may aid weight loss. A 2008 study found that obese people who took green tea extract burned more calories and lost more weight than those who did not.

If kombucha is made with green tea, it follows that it could have a similarly positive effect on weight loss.

Again, researchers need to look at kombucha and weight loss specifically before this is certain.

7. Liver health

Kombucha contains antioxidants that help fight molecules in the body that can damage cells.

Some studies, the most recent being in 2011, have found that the antioxidant-rich kombucha reduces toxins in the liver. This suggests that kombucha may play an important role in promoting liver health and reducing liver inflammation.

However, studies to date have looked at rats and more research is needed to say with certainty how kombucha can support liver health in humans.

8. Type 2 diabetes management

Kombucha tea in iced bottles, with fruit segments fermenting.
Kombucha may help to stabilize blood sugar levels and aid in the management of diabetes.

Kombucha may also be helpful in managing type 2 diabetes.

2012 study found that kombucha helped to manage blood sugar levels in rats with diabetes. This finding suggests it may be helpful in type 2 diabetes management.

Again, more research is needed to say with certainty whether kombucha can have the same benefits in type 2 diabetes management for humans.

Are there any risks?

It is important to be careful when making kombucha at home, as it can ferment for too long. It is also possible for kombucha to become contaminated when not made in a sterile environment.

Over-fermentation or contamination may cause health problems so it may be safer to buy kombucha in a store than to make it at home.

Store-bought kombucha normally has a lower alcohol content than homemade versions, but it is important to check the sugar content.

There are many potential health benefits of kombucha. However, it is important to remember that research is ongoing and not all benefits have been proven in studies with human participants.

If made properly or bought in-store, kombucha is a probiotic-rich drink that is safe to enjoy as part of a healthful diet.

A Gentle Daily Dose


If you wanted to get your body into good physical fitness, would you choose to exercise vigorously for 1-2 weeks of the year and otherwise remain inactive? If you wanted to live in a clean home, would you obsessively scour every nook and cranny for five straight days and every other 360 days let the mess pile up around you?  Unless you’re a wise-cracker, I’m going to go ahead and guess you answered “no” to those questions. It’s only common sense and, in fact, the model described above can be detrimental. 

Why, then, has our culture become so fond of the high-intensity detox cleanse? While there is certainly a place for narrowing in on specific dietary and lifestyle habits for a short period of time as, say, a gentle Spring cleaning or for particular health-related reasons, our focus on extreme cleanses is in general both misguided and ineffectual. 

If you’re looking to improve your health and feel better in your body, the real key is in making more subtle long-term shifts. Mohamed Ali is quoted as saying, “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you down, it’s the pebble in your shoe”. So, let’s take a look at that pebble in your shoe; for addressing that is where you will find a sustained change in your life and in your health. And you’ll feel a marked difference once you do.

An extreme cleanse could get you to the top of the mountain, but you may very well be hurting once you arrive and it’s unlikely you’ll be making it back up there again anytime soon. Instead, take a reasonable look at that pebble. Focus on moving your body every day and eating good protein, healthy fats and lots of greens. Make time for gratitude, deep breaths, and connection. With these gentle, sustained shifts, the stamina to climb any mountain will always be at your fingertips. 

It is in these simple daily rituals that we call on bitters to do their best work and to keep us in our best shape. While it would be helpful to have a bottle of bitters with you for your yearly sprint up the mountain, they offer the most as a tonic. Taken daily before meals, your body will thank you for all of the health benefits they provide.

Enjoy the liver support bitters offer and expect a clean burning metabolism, clear, healthy skin, and fewer cravings. Appreciate how they support your digestion, and soothe gas and bloating. Note that bitters actually encourage digestive secretions, which in turns helps you absorb the most nourishment available in all that healthy food you are eating. Most of all, take small daily strides for your health and appreciate the energy and clarity that accompanies you each step of the way on your hike through life.

Bitters old bottles

Bitter Principles

In modern herbal medicine, bitter principles occupy a central place in herbal therapeutics beating the acrid constituents. Most people consuming herbal medicines complain about the bitterness of the medicines prescribed. This is the only defining attribute of herbal medicine and the only feature to set it apart from other therapies.

The bitter principles work by stimulating the bitter receptors of the tongue and increasing saliva secretion. Thus, it is always advisable to taste and chew the herbs for making them most effective. The bitter principles also bring about an increase in the secretion of digestive juices, thereby increasing appetite. They protect the tissues found in the digestive tract, boosts up the bile flow and strengthens the pancreas.

Their chemical composition includes a complex pattern of molecular structures. Since they act on the bitter receptors of the mouth, thereby producing the bitter taste in the mouth, their stimulation does not produce any electrical changes on the surface of the cell. Instead, the bitter molecules bring about intracellular biochemical changes by acting on the cell membrane receptors. This facilitates an increase in calcium concentrates within the cell and signals the gustatory nerve.

The bitter substances are mostly of terpenoid structure, especially the sesquiterpene lactones, monoterpene iridoids and the secoiridoids. Iridoids are responsible for the chief bitter constituents of the plant family Gentianaceae, Cichorium intybus (chicory), dandelion, Valeriana officinalis (Valerian), wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa), and quassia bark.

Sesquiterpenes account for the bitter taste of the Artemisia plants, or wormwood genus, Cnicus benedictus (blessed thistle), and ginkgo biloba (ginkgo). Other components which add to the bitterness are diterpene bitters, found in columbo root (jateorrhiza palmata) or white horehound (Mar.rubium vulgare). Triterpenoids are the cause of bitterness for the Cucurbitaceae family of plants, which includes pumpkin, cucumber, colocynth, marrows and the bryonies.

Many alkaloids also contribute to the bitter taste as in the protoberberine isoquinoline alkaloids of goldenseal (Hydrastis Canadensis), and Berberis, the morphine alkaloids, the quinoline alkaloids of quinine and Angostura and the purine alkaloids ( in coffee). In addition to this, many miscellaneous compounds like ketones and amino-acids are responsible for the bitterness, as found in hops.

Bitters are indispensable when it comes to counter a heavy meal. Sometimes, chicory and dandelion roots are mixed with coffee beans to produce a bitter drink usually taken after meals. The drink vermouth is a good example of an appetizer which gets its name from bitter herb wormwood. The traditional beer that is brewed with hops can also be used as a digestive remedy due to its bitter principle. Even nowadays, bartenders are faced with the inquiry of a lot of Angostura Bitters (Cusparia angostura) which is commonly used to shoo away a hangover. What’s common to all these practices is the belief that a bitter medicine can balance a heavy or rich meal and can be the basis of excellent tonics. Our grandpas used to believe that medicines that didn’t please our tongue were the best of all. When we go through the records of traditional plant medicine we find a reflection of this notion. All the bitter medicines are cited as ‘genuine stimulants’ and the real panacea for all.

With the passage of time, we have come to discover and understand some more features of the bitter medicines. It is accepted that bitters stimulate only a certain type of taste receptors. Thus, they will have no effect if they are taken in capsules or by intra-gastric tube. The bitter taste buds are thus the mediators in the way of making the responses happen. This is one of the best examples of a reflex response which takes place when a small stimulus initiates a complex reaction. As soon as the bitter taste bud is stimulated, it releases the gastrointestinal hormone gastrin. If we study the common physiological actions of the gastrin, we find a close similarity with the traditional remedies of the bitters. We can, therefore, tally the actions of bitters with that of gastrins.

Basically speaking, gastrins are beneficial in numerous ways. Researchers over the years have established that it increases gastric acid and pepsin secretion, hepatic bile surge, hepatic bicarbonate production, intestinal juice production, pancreatic digestive secretions and intrinsic factor secretion. At the same time, gastrins help in enhancing the flow of Brunner’s glands secretions, insulin, glucagon and calcitonin release, helps muscle tone of lower oesophageal sphincter and muscle tone of stomach and small intestine, augments cell division and growth of gastric and duodenal mucosa as well as helps in cell division and growth of the pancreas.

This information will now help us to explain the role of bitters in the herbal medicine. Let us examine them one by one.

Bitters Act as Appetizers

Gastrin is known to be very effective in increasing the appetite. It acts directly on appetite centers in the hypothalamus and indirectly through increased stomach motility. As we have seen earlier, bitters have also been used as key elements in aperitifs or for increasing appetite during convalescence. They can be very useful indeed in treating anyone for whom anorexia is posing an obstacle to recovery. Sometimes, lack of appetite is the body’s own signal to prevent over-stuffing. But this type of anorexia should be distinguished from other harmful types that reduce the strength of an individual. Administering bitters then comes in quite handy and especially in case of anorexia nervosa where bitters are a very helpful tool to counter the problem.

Bitters Increase Secretion of Digestive Juices

Bitters are known to expedite the process of digestion by boosting the stomach and pancreatic enzyme secretions. In those cases where these secretions are irregular or malfunctioning, bitters can help a lot towards speedier digestion by breaking down the food material. Digestive secretions sterilize the food material inside the stomach and break down protein and other large molecules that threaten the body’s immune system.

There is a paradox with food. It is certainly the most important source of nourishment for the body, but it also poses the greatest immunological threat to it. This is reflected in the presence of lymphoid tissues in the digestive tract. The digestive juices denature the antigenic material that prevents the situation from going out of control.

Sometimes, a low rate of secretion arises due to enteric infections, or if any suggestion is found of antigen penetration through the gut wall. This may occur in case of a food allergy or an autoimmune problem that contains the symptoms of reduced digestive abilities.

Herbal therapeutics point out that a fall in digestive secretion can damage the body to a great extent. It should always be corrected immediately as and when encountered. Besides enteric infections and food allergies, such reduced ability to digest can be understood by the symptoms of a nauseous feeling or feeling bloated even after taking a little food. Passing small malodorous stools is another sign.

As modern food items contain an increased percentage of adulteration, the risk of depressed digestion has increased greatly, and the only measure is to administer bitter remedies.

Since the bitters increase the destructive components of digestive secretions, their use is generally not advised in cases of hyperacidity or those with peptic ulcerations. But it also raises the secretions of protective fluids, such as bicarbonate from pancreas and liver and from the Brunner’s glands. This is not the case for the acrid constituents. The bitters expedite the whole digestive process. For other reasons, they are not prescribed in hyper-acidic conditions.

Bitters Offer Protection to the Gut Tissues

In cases of heartburn, hiatus hernia or oesophageal inflammation, the reflux of corrosive stomach contents into the oesophagus is prevented by bitter remedies. This task is achieved by increasing the tone of the gastro-oesophageal sphincter. The bitters also decrease the harmful effects of the digestive juices and dietary toxins by enhancing the already rapid rate of mucosal regeneration in the stomach and duodenum. This acts as a healer in the case of ulceration or an infection. Similar action, if performed on the matrix of the pancreas might as well help in pulling through a pancreatic disease.

Bitters Enhance Bile Flow

Bile juice is secreted by the liver. It is also considered as the excretion of the liver. The liver contains an extremely dynamic flow of juices. If pictured, each cell can be seen as being in a stream of a mixed nutrient-rich portal blood from the gut and oxygen-rich arterial blood from the general circulation. These fluids disseminate through the cell and are subjected to heavy dispensation that is a part of the liver function. The metabolic products that are born out of this activity move from the liver cell into the outgoing blood flow. Some of the most important, however, is channelled into a separate exit that drains into the biliary system. The liver thus self-cleanses by its own mechanism.

This is the organ which suffers from all the harmful effects of binge eating, defective digestion or ill health by being overloaded with toxins or the deposition of waste material. The fluids which pass through the liver cells may not be enough to wash out the toxins. This poses a threat to the liver making it prone to liver pathology or more common range of functional disorders. An improved flow of bile juice will definitely not allow such waste material to accumulate. Bitters play this role very effectively. With the consumption of toxic materials increasing, this is certainly one of the advantages.

The bitters have been proven to be effective in curing all allergic, metabolic and immunological conditions where the diagnosis points to the digestion. The liver exerts an influence over the immunological system as well. Even in case of herbal therapies for migraines, hepatic remedies are suggested, most of which use the bitter.

The use of bitters leads to a greater production of biliary elements and dilutes the bile as well by increasing the bicarbonate content. In case of gallstone formation or gall-bladder disease, that is formed by the over deposition of bile, bitters are known to work wonders. Along with lemon juice which dilutes the bile as well, bitters are also an effective and accepted treatment of these diseases.

Bitters Improve Pancreatic Functions

Gastrin helps pancreatic secretion and also increases the secretion of insulin and glucagon, the two main hormones the pancreas produces. However, these are conflicting in nature. There is a possibility of a ‘state dependent’ effect. This is a response to gastrin that varies according to the condition of mutual and simultaneous secretion of the two hormones.
Bitters have also been used in controlling late-onset diabetes. Chinese physiology states that bitters can effectively reactive hypoglycemia and produce immediate and excellent results.
Thus we conclude that bitters neutralize pancreatic hormone secretions by increasing the amount of glucagon when insulin is high and vice versa. They are more likely to raise a hormone level when it is deficient. Bitters control fluctuations in blood sugar levels permanently and temporarily as well.

Bitters Act as Tonics

All the above contributions of bitters make it easy to understand that they can boost your health to a great extent. Their primary role is to stimulate all the above-mentioned digestive functions. The digestive processes are the platform where the nourishment requirements of the body are met. This is the place where the body examines the materials it is fed with and most calorific and metabolic processes are regulated. Depending upon the extent to which this platform is in danger under the modern living conditions, it might or might not respond to the bitter remedies.

Bitter remedies were mainly resorted to in old age or in a convalescent state in order to be able to improve the quality of nourishment to the body. However, in the modern age, as illnesses become chronic in nature and more frequent, attacking persons of all ages, it is advisable to resort to bitter remedies. Food has also become less wholesome and more prone to indigestion. Bitter remedies can definitely offset the harmful effects of adulteration to a great extent.