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Written by a medical doctor, a naturopath, and a registered pharmacist, Smart Medicine for Healthier Living is a complete A-to-Z guide to the most common disorders and their treatments, using both alternative care and conventional medicine.
Comprehensive and easy-to-follow, Smart Medicine for Healthier Living is divided into three parts. Part one explains the full spectrum of approaches used to effectively treat common health problems. ...
Written by a medical doctor, a naturopath, and a registered pharmacist, Smart Medicine for Healthier Living is a complete A-to-Z guide to the most common disorders and their treatments, using both alternative care and conventional medicine.
Comprehensive and easy-to-follow, Smart Medicine for Healthier Living is divided into three parts. Part one explains the full spectrum of approaches used to effectively treat common health problems. It provides an overview of the history, fundamentals, and uses of conventional medicine, herbal medicine, homeopathy, acupressure, aromatherapy, diet, and nutritional supplements. It also includes a helpful section on home and personal safety. Part two contains a comprehensive A-to-Z listing of various health problems. Each entry clearly explains the problem and offers specific advice using a variety of approaches. Part three provides step-by-step guidance on using the many therapies and procedures suggested for each health problem.
Smart Medicine for Healthier Living is a reliable source that you and your family can turn to time and time again, whenever the need arises.
"A useful guide to safe and effective relief of common ailments and disorders using nutritional supplements, herbs, homeopathy, acupressure, diet, and conventional medicine."
To the teachers who inspired me, to the students who challenged me, and to the patients who taught me, I would like to express my endless gratitude.
Thank you to Rudy Shur, my publisher, whose vision and support were instrumental in the creation of this book, and to Amy Tecklenburg, my editor, who relentlessly and brilliantly put this all together. Thank you to Nikki Antol for her dedication, and to my co-authors, Drs. Allan Spreen and Jim LaValle.
And many thanks to my husband, Michael, and my two sons, Christopher and William, for their love, support, and much-needed comic relief.
“The marvelous pharmacy that was designed by nature and placed into our being by the universal Architect produces most of the medicines that we need.” (Norman Cousins)
Many factors conspire to make a manuscript of this magnitude a reality. However, deserving of special mention are the efforts of Rudy Shur, publisher extraordinaire, who pushed to bring the whole project together; Amy Tecklenburg, editor extraordinaire, whose knowledge of nutrition assisted in a function far beyond that of normal editing; and Nikki Antol, whose behind-the-scenes input was invaluable.
Finally, I’d like to acknowledge my sister Cathy for the support needed to get this career going in the first place.
I would like to thank my family for their lifelong, never-ending support and love, even when it was considered “strange” to be in natural medicine.
To my new family, Laura, Libby, Jill Beth, and my soon-to-be-born child, for giving me a deeper understanding of love and commitment, and for the spiritual growth they have stimulated in me.
I want to acknowledge my mentors: Alexander Wood, D.C., N.D., the most talented teacher and practitioner of natural medicine that I have had the pleasure of working under; David Polen, D.C., for sharing his in-depth knowledge and understanding of health and disease; Bob McKinney, N.M.D., President of Central States College of Naturopathic Medicine, whose commitment to natural medicine is a commitment to all; and J. Richard Wuest, R.Ph., Pharm.D., Professor of Pharmacy Practice at the University of Cincinnati College of Pharmacy, who helped me to develop the skills I needed to become an effective communicator.
To the partners and staff of Natural Health Resources—your never-ending support is the backbone of the success of our company. Thank you also to my friends Debbie, Asbjorn, and Kelly.
The authors acknowledge Rachel Walton and Robert Rountree for their work in developing and writing Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child, parts of which were included in this book.
In the history of human thinking, the most fruitful developments frequently take place at those points where two different lines of thought meet.
1932 Winner, Nobel Prize for Physics
Some of the most important decisions we ever have to make concern health care. Yet often, people are not aware of the full range of choices available to them. The goal of this book is to offer information on a variety of approaches that will help you create and maintain vibrant good health. The authors believe in an integrated approach to health care that considers all treatment possibilities and draws on what works. Sometimes this will be an herb, sometimes an antibiotic, sometimes both. We believe it is just as significant that a particular therapy has been used effectively for hundreds or thousands of years as it is that a scientific paper substantiates a particular approach. Taking advantage of one form of knowledge does not necessarily preclude using another.
This book outlines and describes the application of conventional medicine, dietary modifications, nutritional supplements, herbal medicine, homeopathy, and acupressure. We believe that understanding and integrating the full range of health-care options offers the most complete and responsible way to a healthy life. We hope to foster an awareness that natural healing therapies and conventional medical treatment, two apparently divergent approaches, can—and should—work together.
Natural healing sciences (including herbal medicine, homeopathy, diet, nutritional supplements, and acupressure) are sometimes called “complementary” medicine. As that name implies, natural medicine and conventional medicine can be used to complement and support each other in helping to create health. Complementary medicine is gaining increasing acceptance in the United States, as evidenced by the many multidisciplinary clinics in which medical doctors, naturopathic physicians, acupuncturists, nutritionists, homeopaths, chiropractors, and counselors work together in an integrated manner, treating the patient as a whole person. Even the United States government has taken notice of these developments. In the fall of 1992, the Office of Alternative Medicine was established at the National Institutes of Health to study the effectiveness of various types of alternative health care. Among the subjects being studied there are homeopathy, acupuncture and acupressure, herbal medicine, reflexology, chiropractic, biofeedback, hypnosis, and relaxation and visualization techniques.
Natural healing systems are much more widely used than many people suppose. The World Health Organization, established in 1948 as a specialized agency of the United Nations, reports that 80 percent of the world’s population relies on natural healing as their primary form of health care. And in 1997, according to an article in The New York Times, 42 percent of Americans tried some form of alternative treatment. In fact, more visits were made to alternative-care practitioners in that year than to primary-care physicians, even though most of these visits were not covered by health insurance and had to be paid for out of pocket.
More and more medical doctors are recognizing the safety and effectiveness of natural medicines. There are physicians who prescribe herbal medicines and homeopathic remedies; many more recommend dietary changes for their patients. By now, a clear link has been established between diet and health. The American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, and the United States government have all published dietary guidelines to promote health. Conventional and complementary health-care practitioners alike emphasize the role of nutrition as fundamental to the healing process. Indeed, a 1988 report of the Surgeon General of the United States found that two-thirds of all deaths in this country are nutrition related.
Homeopathy is an accepted form of medical practice in many parts of the world. Generation after generation of Asian families have turned to acupuncture and acupressure for relief of illness. Even modern pharmacology has deep roots in herbal medicine. The use of the herb ma huang (ephedra), for example, dates back several thousand years; ephedrine, one of its primary ingredients (and pseudoephedrine, a synthetic version of it) is used by pharmaceutical companies today in many over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines.
“The physician treats, but nature heals.” This is an often-quoted saying from Hippocrates—known as the “Father of Medicine”—who recognized that the body has a natural tendency toward health and vitality. To nurture this tendency, we need to treat illness in ways that support and strengthen the body’s natural processes. Using a complementary approach to health care, we can draw on modern conventional medicine, natural medicine, and ancient healing traditions to find what is most effective and supportive in curing and preventing illness.
Conventional medicine generally works with drugs or surgery to suppress or correct a specific condition. And sometimes, that is exactly what is needed. At other times, however, a natural medical approach makes more sense. Natural medicine works by supporting the body in healing itself. While antibiotics can be used to kill harmful bacteria, for example, the herbs echinacea and goldenseal boost the immune system so that the body is better able to resist or fight infection on its own. These herbs strengthen and support the body in its ability to defend itself against bacterial invasion.
When you are suffering from a cold, you can choose to take over-the-counter or prescription medications, such as decongestants or cough medicines, to suppress the symptoms. However, cold medicines can cause side effects, and they do little to strengthen the immune system or address the underlying reason for the cold. Some commonly used ingredients in cold medications can cause restlessness, insomnia, drowsiness, or headaches. And there is nothing in these products that can actually cure the cold. In contrast, when a cold is treated with herbs to soothe the respiratory tract and boost the immune system, homeopathy to ease the discomforts and prevent recurrences, acupressure to open blocked energy channels, and soups and teas to maintain adequate hydration, the body is supported and strengthened as it works to restore health. For many of the illnesses that afflict us, natural medicine is gentle, effective, and safe. It is an important way to work with the body’s ability to heal itself.
In his book Health and Healing (Houghton Mifflin, 1988), Dr. Andrew Weil wrote, “The only prerequisite for learning to take responsibility for one’s own health is to discard concepts that stand in the way and adopt more useful ones. . . . Anyone who comes to see healing as an innate capacity of the body, rather than something to be sought outside, will gain greater power over the fluctuations of health and illness.”
Being willing to accept responsibility is central to taking an integrated approach to health care. Develop greater faith in your body’s ability to heal itself, when supported and nourished by natural medicines. When faced with illness, use this book to learn and understand the many options for care and healing. Observe how the natural and conventional medical treatments you choose affect your health and well-being. Be both responsible and willing to explore health-care options.
With the information in this book, you can learn to be an active participant in your health care. As you gain confidence and understanding in the use of natural healing systems, in concert with conventional medicine when necessary, you will gain greater confidence in optimizing health and minimizing illness. We invite you to discard the concept that health care is an either-or proposition. It’s not. Integrated health care is a remarkably effective and exciting hands-on endeavor.
Using an integrated approach to health care will strengthen your capabilities. Taking care of yourself in this way will promote a healthy and responsible relationship between you and your health-care practitioner. Learn to pay attention to your body, and to appreciate your own uniqueness and vitality.
The human body is wonderfully responsive. When the body is supported with thoughtful integrated care, the best of natural and conventional medicine, it works quickly to attain full health. By giving nature a nudge—by supporting, nurturing, and nourishing the body’s capacity to heal itself—you can help yourself achieve vibrant good health.
How to Use This Book
This is an in-home guide that will help you maintain your health through a unique approach that seeks to combine the best of conventional medicine, herbal medicine, homeopathy, acupressure, diet, and nutritional supplementation. Written by a naturopathic physician, a medical doctor, and a registered pharmacist and naturopath, it offers advice and explanations of the full spectrum of options available today.
This book is intended to help you make informed health-care decisions. The information and suggestions presented here are meant to be used in conjunction with the services of a physician or other qualified health-care providers. This book is not meant to replace appropriate consultation with health-care practitioners, medical investigation or treatment, or emergency first-aid training by qualified professionals. In fact, we strongly suggest that everyone who is able to do so complete an emergency first-aid course that includes instruction in artificial respiration and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Then, should you ever be called upon to practice these techniques, the emergency instructions we provide will help you through the procedure.
The subjects in this book have been divided into three parts. Part One, The Elements of Health Care, discusses the basic history, theories, and practices of conventional medicine, herbal medicine, homeopathy, Bach flower remedies, acupressure, and aromatherapy. It also covers issues in diet and nutrition, nutritional supplementation, and exercise.
Part Two, Common Health Problems, contains an alphabetic directory of common illnesses, and outlines the different kinds of treatments appropriate for each. Each entry begins with a discussion of the problem, its causes, and how to identify the signs and symptoms. Treatment options follow, including recommendations for emergency treatment, if appropriate, followed by information about conventional medical treatment, dietary guidelines, and information on nutritional supplementation, herbal treatment, homeopathy, Bach flower remedies, acupressure, and aromatherapy. Each entry also includes a section on general recommendations that gives a brief summary of the most commonly helpful natural treatments, plus a section on prevention.
Part Three, Therapies and Procedures, gives specific instructions to help you use the diagnostic and treatment procedures suggested in Part Two. The use of special diets, the preparation of herbal and aromatherapy treatments, the locations of acupressure points, and other techniques are explained and illustrated so that you will be able to take advantage of the various kinds of treatments available to you.
Also included, in an appendix, are a list of references; a glossary of some of the terms used in this book; a list of common medical abbreviations; a list of recommended suppliers of herbal, homeopathic, and nutritional products; a list of helpful resource organizations, with addresses and telephone numbers; and a bibliography for further reading.
The Elements of Health Care
The Nuts and Bolts of
Conventional and Natural Treatment
Each of us plays an invaluable role in his or her wellness care. While you may rely on professionals to help you manage certain aspects of health care, the fact is that you yourself are the best judge of your own health. Building on the understanding you have of your body and how it functions, you can learn to move from general observation toward identifying the signs and symptoms that reveal an illness or other health problem. Even having a vague sense that something is just “not quite right” is valid and important. You know your body. You know when something is wrong.
When we are ill, we want to ease the discomfort quickly and effectively. But conventional and natural therapies alike can seem confusing and overwhelming, just when they are needed most. The approaches to medicine covered in this book include conventional medicine, herbal medicine, homeopathy, acupressure, nutritional supplements, and diet. In Part One you will find historical information, tables, diagrams, and guidelines to help you understand each system of medicine from a conceptual and practical perspective.
Each of the healing systems offers advantages and benefits. Each has drawbacks. This section provides a clear, unbiased look at all protocols. It will help you gain the insight you need to choose an effective course of action and become confident in your ability to provide yourself with effective, comforting, and gentle health care.
When most Americans think of health care, they think of conventional medicine. It is without question the dominant approach to medicine in the United States today, and it permeates (often without our being aware of it) even our basic understanding of sickness and health. For example, many people think of health as being the absence of disease, and when they don’t feel well, they are apt to ask, “Is there something I can take for this?” Both of these ideas reflect the assumptions of modern conventional medicine, which tends to be oriented toward identifying diseases and prescribing cures, usually in the form of drugs.
THE HISTORY OF CONVENTIONAL MEDICINE
The story of the development of the conventional medical science we know today weaves through many centuries and many cultures. If we go back to the dawn of history, we find that the earliest doctors were shamans, and the first medicines were plants.
It is generally accepted that the history of today’s conventional medical science starts with Hippocrates, the Greek physician revered as the “Father of Medicine.” Up to the time of Hippocrates (c. 460–370 B.C.E.), illness was believed to be caused by supernatural forces. Hippocrates taught that all disease was of earthly origin, not visited upon the sufferer by some wrathful god.
It was Hippocrates who set the stage for the scientific procedures of today. He began the practice of bedside observation. He listened to and recorded each patient’s story—today, we would call it a case history—and considered the effects of diet, emotion, occupation, even climate, in his diagnosis and treatment. Through careful observation and logical reasoning, Hippocrates showed that it was possible to determine the cause of illness, and thereby discern the cure.
Hippocrates believed that health was the result of good balance between a person’s internal nature and external environment. Illness indicated an imbalance. To restore balance in his patients, Hippocrates designed special diets, mandated exercise, and prescribed botanical medicines, including an occasional purgative or emetic. For digestive troubles (possibly stomach ulcers), he ordered bland drinks. Hippocrates also recognized the importance of stress reduction. He was known to have recommended to certain patients that they relocate to calmer surroundings, or that they take a glass of wine with supper.
Galen (c. 130–200), who was known as the “Great Physician,” added to the knowledge of medicine and anatomy. He performed experiments and dissections, and wrote prolifically about his discoveries. For example, he is credited with discovering that blood is carried through the body by means of the arteries. Although a Greek by birth, Galen lived and practiced in Rome, where he was personal physician to several Roman emperors.
With the collapse of Rome in the fifth century, Europe descended into a period of turmoil. The anatomical studies and the emphasis on observation and logic of the ancient Greeks and Romans were lost to most of the continent for nearly 500 years. During this time, European medical knowledge for the most part amounted to a mixture of folk art and superstition. The heirs to the knowledge of Hippocrates and Galen were not Europeans, but Arabic and Jewish scholars (although some of the classical practice was preserved in southern Italy). It was through these sources that the medical knowledge of Greece and Rome was eventually reintroduced to Europe. By the year 1000, the medical school at the University of Salerno had an established reputation, and for centuries to come, Italy remained the focal point for medical science in Europe. However, the study of medicine remained primarily an academic discipline, rather than an area of active inquiry, experimentation, or practical application. Not until the Renaissance—when invention, intellectual pursuits, and creativity flourished—did this approach begin to change significantly, ushering in the beginning of what we might recognize as medical science.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), considered by many to be the first modern anatomist, extensively studied and diagrammed anatomy. Following his initial contributions, other scholars continued to perform dissections and study anatomy, adding to the knowledge of the inner workings of the body. Reason, logic, and observation once again became the foundation of medical learning. The practice of surgery also has its beginnings during this time—despite the lack of anesthesia.
In the century that followed, the mechanisms of blood circulation and respiration came to be understood. Inventions such as the clinical thermometer and the microscope made it possible to observe the workings of the body on an entirely new level, and anatomical details such as lymph nodes and red blood cells were appreciated. Certain illnesses were also distinguished, including diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus, rickets, scarlet fever, measles, and gout. In the eighteenth century, medical schools were founded in Vienna, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. Although the course of study at the time still emphasized the assimilation of knowledge rather more than experimentation or invention, progress was made in the practice of surgery, amputation, and the treatment of bone fractures, and new diagnostic methods were developed, such as percussion and pulse-taking. Modern immunology also traces its origins back to this period. In 1796, Edward Jenner, an English physician, began a series of experiments that proved that inoculating a person with cowpox provided immunity against smallpox, a dreaded disease that had erupted in epidemics throughout history.
Further dramatic advances and discoveries followed, including the invention of the stethoscope, which made possible more precise diagnosis of heart and lung problems. Huge strides were made in the understanding of anatomy and physiology. Robert Koch—whose bacteriological culture techniques are still used today—identified the bacteria that cause many serious infectious diseases, including anthrax, tuberculosis, and cholera. His work led to an understanding of the importance of water filtration in the prevention of cholera and typhoid. Louis Pasteur made tremendous contributions to our understanding of the causes of disease and the means by which infectious illnesses spread. His study of the activity of bacteria disproved the theory of spontaneous generation (the belief that living organisms can develop from nonliving material) and led to the acceptance of his germ theory of infection. He also invented anthrax and rabies vaccines, as well as the process that bears his name, pasteurization, by which potentially illness-causing microorganisms in food are killed. Soon, many different types of bacteria were identified, including those that cause tetanus, leprosy, typhoid, diphtheria, and gonorrhea.
The acceptance of the germ theory made it possible for surgery to make great leaps forward, because it led to an appreciation of the necessity for sterile conditions during surgery. This new emphasis on aseptic (sterile) technique, plus the development of anesthesia, helped to establish surgery as a viable treatment option, rather than a desperate last resort. (Prior to this time, many people died during or after surgery from infections that were a direct result of a lack of attention to cleanliness.) The germ theory also had great implications for public health policy, which now involved vaccination programs, quarantine measures, and attention to the cleanliness of the water supply.
As understanding of the workings of the body and its systems grew, the latter half of the nineteenth century saw the birth of the fields of neurology (the study of the brain and nervous system), psychiatry, and endocrinology (the study of glands and hormones). In 1895, x-rays were discovered. Medical science continued to follow a path that emphasized the importance of the scientific method—logical study that produces reliable results that can be duplicated. In the last few decades, medicine has made progress that would have been unthinkable just three or four generations ago. The use of insulin injections has allowed people with diabetes to live long and relatively healthy lives; the discovery of antibiotics like penicillin and streptomycin has improved the treatment and prognosis for people with bacterial infections; the polio vaccine was developed and has largely eliminated this dreaded disease; and organ transplantation has become an accepted, viable treatment for certain conditions. Increasingly sophisticated diagnostic tools and advances in treatment have been developed. In addition, the course of conventional medicine has included the creation of huge drug companies, health insurance programs, and government agencies like the National Institutes of Health. All of these developments have played a role in shaping the health-care system we know today.
Because of the many successes in the treatment of infectious diseases, the emphasis in medical research has now shifted toward the chronic and degenerative diseases, which remain less curable. Heart disease, the various forms of cancer, and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) are among the health problems that pose the greatest challenges to medical science today. Since chronic and degenerative diseases are usually the cumulative result of many factors, rather than a reaction to a single agent, practicing preventive medicine—eating a healthful diet, exercising regularly, reducing stress, and making healthy lifestyle choices such as not smoking and limiting alcohol intake—is becoming more and more central to taking care of our health.
CONVENTIONAL MEDICINE TODAY
Most of us grew up with conventional medicine, also called “orthodox,” “Western,” or “modern” medicine. In the United States, conventional health care usually means a visit to your family or primary-care physician. Depending on the nature of the problem, your doctor may run tests, prescribe a drug, recommend dietary changes and exercise, refer you to a specialist or surgeon, or merely tell you to get extra rest and drinks lots of fluids.
Many sophisticated diagnostic tools are available to medical doctors today. Some are familiar, such as the stethoscope, otoscope, and x-ray. More recent advances also include computerized axial tomography (CAT) scanners, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and other laboratory tests. Yet like all healing systems, conventional medical science evolved from a long tradition of careful observation. Even with the tremendous advances of the last 100 years, the most important tool your physician has is still his or her willingness to listen closely and observe carefully.
WORKING WITH YOUR DOCTOR
Physicians are here to help you make appropriate decisions regarding your health care, to work with you. Even if you favor a natural approach to health care, there may come a time when only conventional medicine has the cure you need. A physician who knows you well is a wonderful backup in case of crisis. When choosing a physician, consider the following guidelines:
•Choose a physician who keeps up to date with the latest treatments. A concerned and knowledgeable physician is an absolute must. New drugs come on the market all the time. The side effects of drugs—especially new ones, which do not have long track records—should be understood and carefully considered.
•Find a physician who is open-minded about natural and complementary therapies. Your physician does not necessarily have to prescribe natural medicine, but he or she should at least be willing to listen to your ideas and explore options.
•Find a physician who will work with you as a partner, who believes in making decisions with you, rather than for you.
•Choose a physician who is a good communicator. It is important that a doctor be able not only to explain situations and treatments to you, but also to listen well to your concerns. You want a physician who is competent and supportive, one who will give you enough time so you can ask questions and learn.
•Choose a physician who looks at the big picture. It is essential to work with someone who acknowledges that you are not just a case of high blood pressure, but a person who has interests and responsibilities, who is involved with life, and who has high blood pressure.
•Find a physician who is willing to see you and interact with you as the intelligent, worthwhile person that you are.
In this age of specialization and managed care, the old-fashioned family doctor who knows and treats all members of the family from birth through old age has become something of a rarity. It is up to you, therefore, to take an active role in developing the kind of relationship with any doctor or doctors you consult that will serve your health-care needs best. This presents you with certain responsibilities. First, it is up to you to seek medical advice promptly. Don’t procrastinate. Many people put off going to a doctor because they are shy of baring their less-than-perfect bodies, or they really don’t want to hear what the doctor may say. Even in the face of serious symptoms, some people would rather let nature take its course than see a physician.
If you are concerned about something, make an appointment. The longer you wait, the more you will worry, and the more you worry, the worse you will feel. Your doctor may find that you are basically healthy but would feel better if you made some lifestyle adjustments, such as moderating your diet, learning to manage stress more effectively, and getting regular exercise. If you do have a health problem, an early diagnosis often means an early cure.
Second, when you make your first visit to a particular physician, be prepared to fill out a form that includes details of your medical history and a list of all the medications you are currently taking. Bring all of this information with you. Most doctors will review your history and talk with you before examining you physically. Third, no matter how trivial or even silly you think they are, write down all your questions at home and bring the list with you. Don’t hold back. No matter what is troubling you—mentally or physically—share it with your physician. Remember that your mental state affects your physical being. Very likely even those things you consider too embarrassing to reveal to another living soul trouble dozens of your doctor’s other patients as well. We humans share many of the same problems, both physically and psychologically. Your doctor has heard it all.
Finally, if you do not understand something your doctor tells you, ask him or her to repeat it, more than once if need be, or to explain it in terms that you can understand. Only if you have full understanding and information about your condition can you participate fully in the program proposed for your recovery. A good doctor will want his or her patients to be fully informed regarding their conditions and treatments. Similarly, if your doctor gives you instructions, make sure you understand exactly what it is that you are to do. If the instructions are not perfectly clear in your mind, ask the doctor or a nurse, assistant, or secretary to write them down for you.
There may be a time when your doctor recommends a comprehensive health-care program for you. A good doctor will work with you in formulating a regimen that is both manageable and effective. Make sure you fully understand all phases of any program your doctor is suggesting. Ask as many questions as necessary. Don’t just agree passively to diet, medication, or lifestyle changes that will be immensely difficult or perhaps even impossible to carry out. Airing your fears and concerns is an important part of your responsibility. Without your input, your doctor has no way of knowing that you find a program difficult or impossible to implement. If for any reason you cannot carry out the program, or can handle only a portion of it, tell your physician. There are probably workable alternatives.
A good doctor recognizes that a physician-patient partnership is of immense benefit. The physician you choose should want to know you, welcome your questions, take the time to explain and advise, and be willing to explore natural treatment options. A physician who will work with you in taking an integrated approach to health care is invaluable.
TREATMENT WITH CONVENTIONAL MEDICINES
When you choose conventional medical treatment, an important part of your responsibility as patient is to thoroughly understand the appropriate use of the medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, recommended by your physician.
If you are given a prescription for medication, do not leave your doctor’s office until you fully understand its purpose, the benefits it offers, the effect it should achieve, and how long it will take before you can expect an improvement in symptoms. Ask about any possible side effects that should be reported to the doctor. For example, the development of a skin rash might be an early warning sign of sensitivity to a particular drug. Unless you are aware that a rash may signal “danger,” you could overlook it. If you are taking other drugs or natural medicines, ask about any possible drug interactions. Certain drugs are not compatible with others. If you have been diligent in providing a list of all the medications you take, both prescription and over-the-counter, your doctor will be able to avoid prescribing a drug that might cause an adverse reaction in combination with something else you are taking. Once you begin taking a prescribed drug, do not take any new over-the-counter medicines without first checking with your physician or pharmacist to make sure it is safe to do so. Even a product that has been manufactured expressly to combat a certain condition may not be suitable for you.
When talking with your doctor or pharmacist about a medication or over-the-counter product, ask about all of the ingredients in it. Many medicines contain significant and often unnecessary amounts of preservatives, dyes, and alcohol. Some prescription and nonprescription medicines also contain sugar. Your doctor or pharmacist should be able to tell you what additives are in a prescribed medication. When selecting an over-the-counter product, read the label carefully. The label should tell you exactly what the product contains, including the sugar content and additives (often listed as “inert ingredients”), as well as how to administer it and possible side effects. If you have any doubts about the safety of a particular medication, ask your physician or pharmacist for any further information you need to feel comfortable. We also recommend that you buy or have access to a good reference book on drugs, such as The People’s Pharmacy by Joe Graedon (St. Martin’s Press, 1996).
Be sure to take all medications as directed. The failure to take drugs as prescribed is a serious problem. The National Council on Patient Information and Education reports that over 50 percent of people with high blood pressure fail to take their medication as prescribed; 42 percent of people with diabetes do not take their medication as scheduled; and 39 percent of adults with asthma do not follow the regimen of drugs set by their doctors. The cost of such failure to comply with doctors’ instructions has been estimated at more than $100 billion a year in additional doctor visits, medications, and hospitalization. The costs in terms of people’s health are even higher. Statistics show that over 250,000 adults are hospitalized each year because they failed to take medication as directed, and as many as half of these people die as a result.
Unless there have been complicating side effects, always continue to take a prescribed medication—whether a natural or conventional medication—for the full course of treatment ordered by your physician. This is particularly important with antibiotics. If you are on a fourteen-day course of an antibiotic but stop taking it after ten days because your symptoms have lessened, your symptoms may return within a short time. This can happen because the weaker bacteria are quickly destroyed by the medication, but the more hardy ones may not be. Then, when you stop the medication early, these stronger members of the species can—and in many cases do—evolve into a drug-resistant strain that is harder to kill. Once they have time to multiply, the illness returns in a magnified form and a more powerful antibiotic or combination of antibiotics is required to combat it.
If for any reason you miss a scheduled dose of medicine, take the next dose at the scheduled time. Do not double the next dose. It is dangerous to skip a dose, but it can be doubly dangerous to take two doses at once. Many people complain that they simply forget to take their medication as scheduled. If you find it a nuisance to keep an eye on the clock, invest in a watch with a beeper alarm and set it to go off when it’s time for your next dose. If you are taking several different drugs, you may understandably find it difficult to keep track of what you’ve taken in the course of a day. In that case, it may be worthwhile to buy a pill dispenser that has a different compartment for each day of the week. By looking at the current day of the week, you can tell at a glance what you have taken and what you still must take to complete your daily dosages. There are even dispensers with several compartments for each day, so that each scheduled dose gets its own compartment. Most drugstores sell these inexpensive dispensers. Or you can use a medication chart to keep track of what you have taken. (More about this in HOME AND PERSONAL SAFETY, later in Part One.)
Never take a drug that was prescribed for someone else, even if your symptoms are identical to those the drug is designed to combat. Even if you come down with the same condition as a friend or another member of your family, you cannot assume that a drug prescribed for one person will be safe for another. No drug is equally safe or effective for all people.
Another factor to remember when you are taking prescription drugs is that different drugs interact with each other. When you have a new prescription filled, your pharmacist should give you printed information on the prescribed drug, including a list of any other drugs and/or foods that should not be taken with that medication. You may be surprised to learn that some common foods can decrease the effectiveness of certain drugs, and other common foods can give rise to uncomfortable and even downright dangerous side effects if taken with particular drugs. Most pharmacies have computer programs that track all the drugs being taken by each customer, even if the prescriptions were written by more than one physician. This is an immensely important safeguard. When you have a prescription filled, the pharmacist can call up your computerized records and alert you to any possible danger, should you be taking drugs that are incompatible with each other. You may also get a call from your pharmacist if you fail to request a refill when one is due.
Your pharmacist should inform you as to how a drug should be stored. This is especially important for drugs taken on an ongoing basis. Many drugs lose their effectiveness more quickly if kept in a high-humidity environment, such as that of a bathroom. Others lose their effectiveness when exposed to sunlight, and some require refrigeration. If your pharmacist doesn’t mention any specific storage instructions when you pick up your prescription, ask if humidity is a factor, and be sure to check the bottle. If special storage conditions are needed for a particular medication, you should find a label on the bottle that advises you of storage requirements.
Don’t try to stockpile medications. Drugs undergo chemical changes as they age. Most often this renders them ineffective, but certain drugs can actually become toxic over time. All prescription drugs carry expiration dates for your protection. Always dispose of outdated medications. Similarly, dispose of any medications that undergo a change in appearance or develop an unusual odor. It’s safer to replace them with a new prescription.
Get all your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy. This allows for an accurate record of all the medications you are taking. You should also notify your pharmacist concerning any natural medicines you may be taking so that he or she can keep a complete record for you.
If a drug that once was helpful to you becomes less effective over time, alert your doctor. The body can build up a tolerance to many drugs, especially sleeping pills and pain medications. Increasing the dosage in an attempt to regain the original effect can be extremely dangerous. In all likelihood, you don’t need a higher dose of the original drug, you need a different prescription.
If at any time during the course of treatment you develop signs of an allergic reaction, such as a rash or difficulty breathing, stop taking the medication and call your doctor immediately. If you experience any other new symptoms while taking a drug (such as headache or stomach pains), notify your doctor or call your pharmacist promptly and ask for advice. It may be advisable to discontinue the medication, or there may be other measures you can take to minimize side effects.
When prescribing medication, a doctor may be interested primarily in the effectiveness of a drug, not its cost. Your doctor may not even know what a given medication costs, but it is fair and important for you to ask. Drugs can be very expensive. You may wish to ask if a lower priced generic preparation can adequately be substituted for a brand-name product.
Common Conventional Medications
The most commonly prescribed conventional medications include analgesics (painkillers), antibiotics, cold and allergy medicines, and drugs to combat stomach problems, anxiety, depression, diabetes, arthritis, and cardiovascular disorders, especially high blood pressure. When your doctor writes a prescription or recommends an over-the-counter preparation, refer to the table here for a quick review of some of these medications, their purposes, and possible side effects.
Taking Conventional Medication
Some medications are better taken with food to minimize side effects, and some also work better if taken with a meal. In other cases, however, mixing food with a drug may impede or alter its absorption, making it less effective. Some drugs are fine in combination with certain foods, but not with others (see Food and Drug Interactions, page 8). Always ask your doctor or pharmacist about the best way to take any medication that is prescribed for you.
There are also medications that are designed with a timed-release factor that makes certain ingredients exit the stomach and enter the bloodstream at different times. If you dislike swallowing pills or capsules, and prefer to open or crush them and mix the contents with food or liquid, check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure that form of administration is both safe and suitable for that particular medication. If you crush or cut a sustained-release pill or capsule, for example, you may receive all at once a medication that is meant to be absorbed slowly. These types of medicines should always be taken whole.
Be especially careful if you are taking more than one preparation at the same time, whether the medications are conventional or natural, prescription or over-the-counter. Always be sure that your doctor knows about all the substances you are taking.
Following are general recommendations for taking different types of medicines.
Many medications are available in sweetened and flavored liquid form. These are easy to take. If the taste is too strong, simply dilute the appropriate dosage in a little water, juice, or herbal tea. Many liquid medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, are high in sugar, so if you have diabetes, consult your physician before using them.
Medications in tablet form are generally meant to be swallowed whole. Some people, however, find it difficult to swallow tablets. If you have this problem, you may be able to crush the tablet and mix it with a spoonful of fruit-flavored yogurt or applesauce, or dissolve it in tomato or vegetable juice. You should be aware, though, that some tablets are enteric-coated, and should not be crushed. These tablets are meant to pass through the stomach whole and are absorbed in the intestines. Before crushing tablets, check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure it is safe and appropriate to do so.
Capsules slide down much more easily than tablets do. Most people can swallow capsules even if they can’t quite manage to swallow dry tablets. Unless your physician has given prior approval, do not open a capsule and mix the contents with food. If you have difficulty swallowing capsules, try tilting your head forward as you swallow. Since capsules float, they will move to the back of your mouth with this maneuver.
Food and Drug Interactions
If your diet includes everything from bananas and Brussels sprouts to sour cream and pork sausage, indigestion might not be your only worry. All of these foods can cause problems in combination with certain medications. Medicine, like food, must be broken down by the body before its active components can go to work. However, certain foods and drugs compete with one another to be absorbed or metabolized by the body. This can diminish a drug’s effectiveness and/or cause an adverse reaction. For example, dairy products and alcohol interfere with the action of some antibiotics, and salt consumption influences how well the antidepressant lithium is absorbed.
Finding out exactly which foods can interfere with which drugs has been the focus of many medical studies. Recent studies have shown that taking medicine with grapefruit juice can cause some drugs to stay in the body longer, and at higher levels, than taking them with plain water. While this property of grapefruit juice appears to be beneficial for people taking the antirejection drug cyclosporine (it can reduce the need for high doses), it can dangerously multiply the effect of some blood-pressure medicines. At the same time, grapefruit juice has been shown to compete with some antibiotics (such as erythromycin [also sold under the brand names ERYC, Ilotycin, and others]), certain sedatives and antianxiety agents (such as the sleeping medication triazolam [Halcion]), as well as the calcium-channel blocker felodipine (Plendil). Anyone taking any of these drugs should avoid grapefruit juice altogether.
A well-known type of food-drug interaction occurs with a class of drugs known as monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors, commonly prescribed for depression. Examples include isocarboxazid (Marplan), phenelzine (Nardil), and tranylcypromine (Parnate). People who take these drugs can suffer potentially serious consequences—including headaches and sharp, sudden rises in blood pressure—if they consume foods that contain a substance called tyramine. Tyramine is found in aged, fermented, and smoked foods, including beer, wine, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, and soy sauce, as well as avocados, raisins, bananas, and chocolate. Also avoid anything containing caffeine.
Another drug for which it is critical to follow food-interaction guidelines is the anticoagulant warfarin (Coumadin). Vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, and all leafy greens contain vitamin K, which, if eaten in significant amounts, may decrease the effectiveness of this drug. This does not mean you must completely banish these nutrient-packed vegetables from the menu, but you should eat only moderate amounts (ask your doctor what specific limit he or she would set, if any).
Finding out which beverages or foods should be avoided or consumed in moderation only with each medication is a matter of asking your doctor and/or pharmacist. Pharmacists are required by law to offer patients medical counseling with each prescription they dispense, and most are happy to do so. Unless your doctor directs otherwise, you should assume that the optimum drink for swallowing medicine is water. It is best to drink at least four to eight ounces with each dose to aid the medication in reaching its destination.
The following table indicates some of the most common food-drug interactions and recommendations on how to avoid them.
FOOD AND DRUG INTERACTIONS
If you are vomiting and unable to hold anything down, your doctor may prescribe a suppository. To use a suppository, gently insert it into your rectum. To give the suppository time to melt, hold your buttocks together for about five minutes.
Because they are designed to melt easily, suppositories should be stored in the refrigerator. To make insertion more comfortable and to shorten melting time after insertion, take a suppository out of the refrigerator about thirty minutes before the scheduled time of administration, so that it can come to room temperature. You can also bring a suppository to a suitable temperature more quickly by rolling it between the palms of your hands. Make sure you unwrap the suppository before inserting it.
Injection of a drug is usually done by a nurse or physician. Should you ever have an ongoing need for an injectable drug, such as insulin for diabetes, your doctor should make sure you have the training you need to handle injections at home.
Conventional medicine is a broad, ever expanding field of health care. It is the dominant form of health care in North America, and can be particularly useful in helping you through health crises and acute problems. Develop a trusting working partnership with your doctor. Ask questions, state your concerns and needs, listen, learn—be active in your health care. Your health can best be supported by integrating conventional medicine with natural medicine.
COMMON CONVENTIONAL MEDICATIONS
Any medication can cause an allergic reaction. An allergic reaction can happen with the first exposure or after you have taken the medication several times. Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include rash, swelling, itching, and/or difficulty breathing. If you think you are having an allergic reaction, call your physician. If you experience difficulty breathing, go to the emergency room of the nearest hospital. Always follow your doctor’s prescription and read package directions carefully to be sure you are taking the medication properly and in the correct dose.
Herbalists use the leaves, flowers, stems, berries, and roots of plants to prevent, relieve, and treat illness. From a “scientific” perspective, many herbal treatments are considered experimental. The reality is, however, that herbal medicine has a long and respected history. Many familiar medications of the twentieth century were developed from ancient healing traditions that treated health problems with specific plants. Today, science has isolated the medicinal properties of a large number of botanicals, and their healing components have been extracted and analyzed. Many plant components are now synthesized in large laboratories for use in pharmaceutical preparations.
THE HISTORY OF HERBAL MEDICINE
The history of herbology is inextricably intertwined with that of modern medicine. For example, salicylic acid, a precursor of aspirin, was originally derived from white willow bark and the meadowsweet plant. Vincristine, which is used to treat certain types of cancer, comes from periwinkle. Digitalis, a heart regulator, comes from the foxglove plant. Cinchona bark is the source of malaria-fighting quinine. The opium poppy yields morphine, codeine, and paregoric, a treatment for diarrhea. Laudanum, a tincture of the opium poppy, was the favored tranquilizer in Victorian times. Even today, morphine—the most important alkaloid of the opium poppy—remains the standard against which new synthetic painkillers are measured.
Prior to the discovery and subsequent synthesis of antibiotics, the herb echinacea (which comes from the plant commonly known as purple coneflower) was one of the most widely prescribed medicines in the United States. For centuries, herbalists prescribed echinacea to fight infection. Today, research confirms that the herb boosts the immune system by stimulating the production of disease-fighting white blood cells.
The use of plants as medicine is older than recorded history. As mute witness to this fact, marshmallow root, hyacinth, and yarrow were found carefully tucked around the bones of a Stone Age man in what is now Iraq. These three medicinal herbs continue to be used today.
In 2735 B.C.E., the Chinese emperor Shen Nung wrote an authoritative treatise on herbs that is still in use today. Shen Nung recommended the use of ma huang (known as ephedra in the Western world), for example, against respiratory distress. Ephedrine, extracted from ephedra leaf, is widely used as a decongestant. You can find its synthetic form, pseudoephedrine, in many allergy, sinus, and cold medications produced by large pharmaceutical companies.
The records of King Hammurabi of Babylon (c. 1800 B.C.E.) include instructions for using medicinal plants. Hammurabi prescribed the use of mint for digestive disorders. Modern research has confirmed that peppermint does indeed relieve nausea and vomiting by mildly anesthetizing the lining of the stomach.
The entire Middle East has a rich history of herbal healing. There are texts surviving from the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and India that describe and illustrate the use of many medicinal plant products, including castor oil, linseed oil, and white poppies. In the scriptural book of Ezekiel, which dates from the sixth century B.C.E., we find this admonition regarding plant life: “. . . and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and leaf thereof for medicine.” Egyptian hieroglyphs show physicians of the first and second centuries of the Common Era treating constipation with senna pods, and using caraway and peppermint to relieve digestive upsets.
Throughout the Middle Ages, home-grown botanicals were the only medicines readily available, and for centuries, no self-respecting household would be without a carefully tended and extensively used herb garden. For the most part, herbal healing lore was passed from generation to generation by word of mouth. Mother taught daughter; the village herbalist taught a promising apprentice.
By the seventeenth century, the knowledge of herbal medicine was widely disseminated throughout Europe. In 1649, Nicholas Culpeper wrote A Physical Directory, and a few years later produced The English Physician. This respected herbal pharmacopeia was one of the first manuals that the layperson could use for health care, and it is still widely referred to and quoted today. Culpeper had studied at Cambridge University and was meant to become a great doctor, in the academic sense of the word. Instead, he chose to apprentice to an apothecary and eventually set up his own shop. He served the poor people of London and became known as their neighborhood doctor.
The first U.S. Pharmacopeia was published in 1820. This volume included an authoritative listing of herbal drugs, with descriptions of their properties, uses, dosages, and tests of purity. It was periodically revised and became the legal standard for medical compounds in 1906. But as Western medicine evolved from an art to a science in the nineteenth century, information that had at one time been widely available became the domain of comparatively few. Once scientific methods were developed to extract and synthesize the active ingredients in plants, pharmaceutical laboratories took over from providers of medicinal herbs as the suppliers of drugs. The use of herbs, which for most of history had been mainstream medical practice, began to be considered unscientific, or at least unconventional, and to fall into relative obscurity.
HERBAL MEDICINE TODAY
Today, the U.S. Pharmacopeia, with its reliance on herbal compounds, has been all but forgotten by most modern physicians. They rely instead on the Physician’s Desk Reference, an extensive listing of chemically manufactured drugs. In addition to specifying the chemical compounds and actions of particular drugs, the companies that list their products in this book also include contraindications and possible side effects.
Rather than using a whole plant, pharmacologists identify, isolate, extract, and synthesize individual components, thus capturing the active properties. This can create problems, however. In addition to active ingredients, plants contain minerals, vitamins, volatile oils, glycosides, alkaloids, bioflavonoids, and other substances that are important in supporting a particular herb’s medicinal properties. These elements also provide an important natural safeguard; isolated or synthesized active compounds may become toxic in relatively small doses, while it usually takes a much greater amount of a whole herb, with all of its components, to reach a toxic level. Herbs can have powerful effects, however, and they should not be taken lightly. The suggestions for herbal treatments in this book are not intended to substitute for consultation with a qualified health-care practitioner, but rather to support and assist you in understanding and working with your physician’s advice.
There are over 750,000 plants on earth. Only relatively few of the healing herbs have been studied scientifically. And because modern pharmacologists look for one active ingredient and seek to isolate it to the exclusion of all the others, most of the research that is done on plants continues to focus on identifying and isolating active ingredients, rather than studying the medicinal properties of whole plants. Herbalists, however, consider that the power of a plant lies in the interaction of all its ingredients. Plants used as medicines offer synergistic interactions between ingredients both known and unknown.
The efficacy of many medicinal plants has been validated by scientists abroad, from Europe to eastern Asia. Thanks to modern technology, scientists have identified some of the specific properties and interactions of botanical constituents. With this scientific documentation, we now know why certain herbs are effective against certain conditions. However, almost all of the current research validating herbal medicine has been done in Germany, Japan, China, Taiwan, and Russia. And for the most part, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is responsible for licensing all new drugs (or any substances for which medicinal properties are claimed) in the United States, does not recognize or accept findings from across the sea. Doctors and government agencies generally want to see American scientific studies before recognizing the effectiveness of a plant as medicine. Yet until recently, drug companies and laboratories in the United States have not chosen to put much money or resources into botanical research. The result is that herbal medicine does not have the same place of importance or level of acceptance in this country as it does in other countries.
WORKING WITH AN HERBALIST
There is no national licensing or certification for herbalists in the United States. If you wish to locate a qualified herbalist, the best place to start is probably in your local herb shop or health-food store. The staff there may be able to refer you to a knowledgeable herbalist who can advise you. If you are unable to locate an herbalist this way, you may wish to contact the Herb Research Foundation, located at 1007 Pearl Street, Boulder, Colorado 80302 (telephone 303–449–2265) for suggestions. Today, many doctors, pharmacists, and nurses are getting training in the use of herbal medicines as well.
After making an evaluation of your needs, an herbalist can be expected to suggest individual herbs or herbal combinations known to be beneficial for your particular condition. An herbalist will often recommend herbs or herbal combinations both to strengthen the underlying system or organ and to relieve symptoms. Ask your herbalist when the preparation can be expected to effect an improvement in your condition. When you start taking an herbal prescription, promptly report improvement, lack of improvement, or any side effects to your herbalist. If the specified amount of time passes without any change in your symptoms, it is important to report this, too. A change in prescription may be indicated.
TREATMENT WITH HERBS
The power and potency of the healing herbs are very real. Every herbal treatment suggested in this book has specific healing properties, carefully balanced to create a particular action within your body.
When you take an herbal preparation, pay close attention to how it makes you feel. Watch for signs that symptoms are easing. Using herbal treatment requires observation, coupled with good judgment. Natural herbal preparations are generally well tolerated, even by children. Most herbs are nontoxic, with few, if any, harmful side effects. However, it is important to know the actions and possible side effects of an herb before you take it. Although it is very unusual, some people may show signs of sensitivity to a particular herb. Reactions can include a headache, an upset stomach, or a rash. If you have a reaction, discontinue use of the herb.
If you are responding favorably to the herb, but the reaction is too intense, either decrease the dosage or discontinue use of the herb. For example, say you are constipated and you take a laxative herb. If you begin having diarrhea, you have obviously achieved relief of constipation. It’s the right idea, but the reaction is too intense. Use your judgment and discontinue the herb. Likewise, if you are taking an herb with expectorant properties and you begin coughing up large quantities of mucus, you should consider decreasing the dose so expectoration is manageable.
Herbal treatment is useful for both acute and chronic conditions. It is also valuable in maintaining health and preventing illness. Many of the herbal preparations recommended in this book will help boost the immune response and help arm the body against recurrent infections.
Common Herbs and Herbal Preparations
Herbs are available in a variety of forms, including fresh, dried, in tablets or capsules, or bottled in liquid form. You can buy them individually or in mixtures formulated for specific conditions. Whatever type of product you choose, the quality of an herbal preparation—be it in capsule, tablet, tea, tincture, bath, compress, poultice, or ointment form—is only as good as the quality of the raw herb from which it was made.
Generally, herbs fall into two categories: wild-grown and farm-grown. A wild-grown herb is one that grows naturally, without human intervention. As a result of natural selection, plants tend to be found in places with conditions that optimize their growth. For example, horsetail grows best in moist, swampy areas, while arnica thrives at high altitudes in alpine meadows. The process of gathering herbs from their natural habitats is called wildcrafting.
The disadvantage of wild-grown herbs is that there is no guarantee that the plants haven’t been exposed to chemicals and pesticides. Herbs harvested from a meadow, for example, may have been exposed to chemical drift from a crop-dusted farm nearby. Exhaust fumes from passing traffic may have settled invisibly on plants growing near a country road. Water-loving plants, like horsetail, may be rooted in the bank of a polluted stream.
Because of the possibility of contamination, unless you are very sure of the source of wildcrafted herbs, organic herbs grown commercially may be a better choice. Wildcrafted herbs also have greater variability in terms of the active ingredients they contain than cultivated plants do. This variability makes it more difficult to guarantee the consistency of the end product. Organic farm-grown herbs are becoming increasingly available, as more and more herb farms are being established. With careful management, organic herb farms can provide a steady supply of quality herbs to the consumer.
To produce top-quality products, herb farmers require a great deal of specialized knowledge. For maximum potency, it is important that particular herbs be harvested at the optimum moment. For example, echinacea is gathered in the spring, winter, and fall, but not in summer, when the plant’s energies are concentrated on growth and flowering.
Responsible farmers use compost and organic matter to fertilize and replenish the health of the soil. For obvious reasons, we favor the use of certified organically grown herbs, produced without the use of synthetic fertilizers or chemical pesticides. Not all states have agencies inspecting and certifying organic growers, so to be sure you are getting pure, pesticide-free herbs grown without chemical contamination, check the label for the words “certified organic” before you make a purchase. The name of the certifying agency should be specified on the label. There are over thirty private and state organizations currently involved in certifying organic produce. Most use standards similar to those of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). Federal legislation on requirements for labeling a product “organic” has been passed, but is not yet being fully implemented and the proposed federal guidelines for organic labeling are generating a great deal of controversy. These are considerably less stringent than those of the NOSB, and would also prohibit labeling of organic produce by the specific farming procedures used. It is currently best to look for certification from an organization such as the Organic Growers and Buyers Association, California Certified Organic Farmers, or the Texas or Washingon state Department of Agriculture.
The herbal treatments recommended in Part Two of this book include teas, baths, compresses, poultices, oils, and ointments. In some instances, you may need to start from scratch and preparing herbal treatments yourself (instructions on how to prepare your own herbal treatments are given in Part Three, Therapies and Procedures). Some of the most commonly used herbal treatments and their applications are reviewed in the table beginning here.
Using Herbal Treatments
Herbs and prepared herbal compounds are available in different forms, each of which has its own particular characteristics. Your pharmacy or health-food store will have individual herbs as well as complex herbal formulations, including raw herbs, tinctures, extracts, capsules, tablets, lozenges, and ointments. Here’s a look at what’s available.
If the label says tincture, the preparation contains alcohol. In a tincture, alcohol is employed to extract and concentrate the active properties of the herb. Alcohol is also a very effective natural preservative. Because tinctures are easily assimilated by the body, this can be a very effective way to administer herbal compounds. Tinctures are concentrated and cost-effective. However, the full taste of the herb comes through very strongly in a tincture. Some people may find the taste of some herbs unpleasant. Goldenseal, for example, is bitter-tasting.
Another concern when using tinctures is the presence of the alcohol. If you wish to lessen the amount of alcohol in a tincture, mix the appropriate dose with one-quarter cup of very hot (just short of boiling) water. After about five minutes, most of the alcohol will have evaporated away, and the mixture should be cool enough to drink. Also, some herbs do not extract well in alcohol, and some compounds may not stay stable in tincture form, so tinctures may not always have the desired potency.
Modern Science Meets Traditional Wisdom
Herbal products are available almost everywhere you turn. But the quality of these products can vary greatly; with plants, there is a natural amount of variability in the active compounds they contain. As a result, in the past there was often no way to figure out what exactly you were paying for. Fortunately, this is changing. Today, modern techniques are being used to process herbal products. These manufacturing steps are as elaborate as those used to produce manufactured pharmaceutical products—sometimes, in fact, even more elaborate.
Applying the principles of pharmaceutical manufacturing is done for good reason. Over the past forty years, scientists have worked to identify active ingredients and substances termed marker compounds in herbs. A marker compound may not necessarily be an active ingredient itself, but for a substance to serve as a marker compound, it must be known that an herb with a certain percentage of that compound has therapeutic activity. Identifying active ingredients and/or marker compounds permits supplement producers to guarantee that their herbal preparations have a known percentage of active constituents and a known dosage. This process is called standardization. Standardized extracts also undergo a concentration process. For example, if 50 pounds of ginkgo leaves will end up making one pound of the final extract, it is termed a 50:1 extract.
In addition to allowing consumers to know what they are getting, standardization permits researchers to conduct valid scientific studies to determine the therapeutic effects of herbal treatment. Most studies of herbs that are quoted in the scientific literature were done with standardized extracts. The most reliable herbal products are those that have been tested and proven to have benefits in human trials, and that can be produced in such a way as to deliver the same strength of active ingredient every time.
When evaluating herbal products, it is important to know what to look for. Some companies quote scientific studies to support the use of certain herbs, but do not actually use the same extracts in their products that were used in the studies. Some other companies do indeed put quality extracts in their products—but not enough to be effective. Still others misuse the word standardized to mean that their capsules weigh the same amount every time, not that they contain the same amount of active ingredient. It is therefore necessary to read the label of any herbal product carefully before you buy it. Look for the following information:
•The name of the compound the standardization is based on.
•The percentage of that compound the extract contains.
•The extract ratio (for example, 50:1 or 4:1).
•The weight of each capsule or tablet.
•The number of capsules, tables, or ounces per bottle.
•The recommended daily dosage (in therapeutic levels).
•The expiration date and product code (for tracking purposes).
•The producer’s name, address, telephone number, and/or website (so that you can contact the company for further information about the product).
A reputable company should also screen the product for the presence of pesticides, heavy metals, parasites, and fungal contamination, and determine the stability and consistency of the finished product.
Standardized extracts are the most advanced form of herbal therapy available today. By being an informed consumer and knowing what to look for, you can be sure that you’re getting what you pay for with herbal remedies.
Extracts can be made with alcohol, like tinctures, or the essence of the herb can be leached out with water. When purchasing a liquid extract of an herb, the only way to be certain of the extraction process (alcohol or water) is to read the label. Extracts offer essentially the same advantages and disadvantages that tinctures do. They are concentrated and therefore cost-effective, and they are easy to administer, but they have a strong herbal taste.
Standardized extracts are currently the most advanced form of herbal therapy. They allow you to be sure that the product you buy contains consistent doses of active herbal components (see Standardized Extracts, page 25).
Capsules and Tablets
Capsules and tablets contain a ground or powdered form of raw herb. They are easy and convenient to use, and most people prefer them. In general, there seems to be little difference between the two in terms of clinical results. Because finely milled herbs degrade quickly, it is important that herbs be freshly ground and then promptly encapsulated or tabeleted, within twenty-four hours of being powdered. When making your selection, read the label to make sure fresh herbs have been used in the product.
There are many delicious blends of herbal teas on the shelves of your health-food store; they need no introduction here. You’ll find loose herbs ready for steeping, herbal formulations aimed at specific conditions, and convenient pre-bagged teas. Some are just for sipping; some are medicinal. When you are ill, a comforting cup of herbal tea (medicinal or not) is a wonderful way to take additional liquids. However, teas can deliver inconsistent doses, so they are not recommended as the primary form of using herbs for specific health problems.
Herbal-based, nutrient-rich, naturally sweetened lozenges are readily available in most health-food shops. You’ll find cold-fighting formulas, natural cough suppressants, some with decongestant properties. Many are boosted with natural vitamin C. Choose lozenges made without refined sugar.
Ointments, Salves, and Rubs
From calendula ointment (for broken skin and wounds) to goldenseal (for infections, rashes, and skin irritations) to aloe vera gel (to cool and speed the healing of minor burns, including sunburn) to heat-producing herbs (for muscle aches and strains), there is a wealth of topical herbal-based products on the market. Your selection will depend on the condition you are treating.
The Treatment and Care entries in Part Two of this book offer recommendations for herbal treatments for common conditions. When using herbal treatments, you can follow the same basic suggestions that you would for conventional medications. If the taste of an herb is too strong, dilute the appropriate dosage in a little juice or water. Tableted herbs or capsules can be swallowed whole, opened or crushed and mixed with a spoonful of fruit-flavored yogurt or applesauce. Herbal teas can be sweetened with honey. For instructions on how to make and use different types of herbal preparations, see PREPARING HERBAL TREATMENTS in Part Three of this book.
When taking herbal remedies, use your judgment and common sense. The herbal treatments recommended in this book are gentle. It is still possible, however, for any herb to cause adverse reactions. If you develop a rash, a stomachache, a headache, or any other new symptom after treatment with an herbal remedy, discontinue using the herb and consult with your health-care provider.
Adverse reactions are unusual if herbal remedies are used in recommended doses. Problems are more likely to occur if an herb is overused—if the dosage is too high or if the herb is taken continuously for too long. Chamomile, for example, may cause an individual to develop an allergy to ragweed if taken on a daily basis for too long; the prolonged use of licorice can lead to elevated blood pressure. An herb may also interact with another medication you are taking. This is why, even if an herb is beneficial for a chronic condition, it is not usually recommended that an herbal remedy be taken on an ongoing basis, but rather that it be used for set periods of time, or alternated with another remedy or remedies. When using herbal treatment—as with most other aspects of a healthy life—moderation is the key. If you have any question about the use of a particular herb, consult with a qualified herbalist or health-care professional.
Herbal medicine has a long history, and a time-tested, valuable place in the treatment of many common health problems. When using herbs to treat an illness, often you not only help to alleviate symptoms, but also address an underlying problem and strengthen the overall functioning of a particular organ or system. Herbs are readily available—they can even be grown in your own back yard. To be sure you are getting the best and purest product possible, however, we recommend that you use herbal products formulated by reputable manufacturers. The more you use herbs, the more comfortable you will become with this gentle, effective form of health care.
COMMON MEDICINAL HERBS
Any medication, including herbs, can cause an allergic reaction. An allergic reaction can happen with the first exposure or after you have taken the preparation several times. Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include rash, swelling, itching, and/or difficulty breathing. If you think you are having an allergic reaction, call your physician. If you experience difficulty breathing, go to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.
Always read package directions carefully to be sure you are taking the preparation properly and in the correct dose. Note that with herbal medicines, side effects are more likely to occur in the case of overdose. When taken in recommended doses, toxicity is unlikely.
Homeopathy is a system of treatment that uses dilutions of plant, mineral, and animal substances, as well as some chemicals, to stimulate the defensive systems of the body in a very subtle way. It is widely used in Europe, but not as well known in the United States. The theoretical and empirical basis of homeopathy is a concept called the Law of Similars, often summarized as “like cures like.” Perhaps more than anything else, what distinguishes the practice of homeopathy from other approaches to medicine is that instead of focusing on the specific causes of disease (such as viruses and bacteria), it focuses on the specifics of the symptoms of disease, as they are experienced by the individual person.
THE HISTORY OF HOMEOPATHY
Samuel Hahnemann (1755–1843) of Leipzig, Germany, created the practice of homeopathy. A medical doctor, Hahnemann did in-depth studies and wrote extensively on chemistry, pharmacology, and medicine. His study of arsenic, written in 1796, remains an authoritative text.
In 1790, Dr. Hahnemann began to question the accepted medical theories of the time. Cinchona officinalis, or Peruvian bark, had been the treatment of choice for malaria since 1700. Conventional medical thought attributed its beneficial action to its bitter and astringent properties. Hahnemann rejected this explanation. He observed that other plants and botanicals had even greater bitterness and stronger astringency, yet did nothing to relieve malaria. In an attempt to better understand how cinchona worked, he experimented by taking some himself. After taking the cinchona compound, Hahnemann promptly developed the symptoms of malaria.
This inspired him to further experimentation with many different plants, chemicals, and minerals. Hahnemann experimented first on himself, then on his family and friends. As his work continued, he noted the same remarkable effect again and again: Derivatives of certain extracts produced symptoms in the body similar to those produced by certain diseases. Pressing on with his experimentation, Hahnemann found that systematically diluted doses of extract actually produced the opposite effect. Instead of causing the symptoms of a particular disease, the well-diluted extract reversed the course of the disease. This led Hahnemann to his observation that “like cures like”—that is, a substance that causes a certain set of symptoms in a healthy person will, in minute doses, cure a sick person of those same symptoms. He called this phenomenon the Law of Similars.
Many of Hahnemann’s colleagues argued against his practice of using himself as a guinea pig, predicting dire consequences. But the doctor refused to heed their warnings, saying, “He knows with greatest certainty the things he has experienced in his own person.” Through his experiments, Hahnemann learned that a minute dose of a substance would cause illness in a healthy person but, paradoxically, effect a cure in a sick individual. For example, a remedy that caused fever, chills, and leg cramps in a healthy person would cure a sick person of similar fever, chills, and leg cramps when given in microdoses.
Homeopathy is accepted as an effective form of medicine in many parts of the world today, including Great Britain, France, Germany, Greece, India, and South America. The British royal family has been under the care of homeopathic physicians since the time of Queen Victoria.
This systematic and precise form of natural medicine can address both physical and emotional symptoms. It recognizes that each person is unique and will have an individual disease pattern. The experimentation, documentation, in-depth testing, and recording of the effects of homeopathic remedies did not end with Dr. Hahnemann. Diagnosis of a specific disease is not the primary concern when using homeopathics. Rather, the correct remedy is chosen according to the specific symptoms and emotions you are experiencing.
Homeopathic remedies stimulate the body’s vital force, enhancing its ability to heal itself. The “vital force” described by Hahnemann cannot be precisely identified. Even today’s most technologically advanced medical detectives do not really understand the ways in which body and mind work together. A complex interrelationship between immune factors and regenerative biological systems, the essential life force locked within body and mind remains a mystery.
Homeopathic remedies work by, in effect, “turning on a switch” that affects particular functions in the mind or body. Homeopathic compounds somehow send a healing and normalizing message throughout the body. They spark unbalanced internal systems so that they are better able to perform their functions.
Increasingly, the effectiveness of homeopathy is being backed up by scientific research. In 1997, the British medical journal Lancet published a comprehensive review of such research that looked at 186 separate scientific studies. The majority (119) were double-blind and/or randomized placebo-controlled studies, meaning that they were designed according to the same scientific principles as studies of pharmaceutical drugs. Of these, 89 were considered rigorously controlled enough to include in the review. As a group, these research studies demonstrated that homeopathic remedies had an effect 2.45 times greater than that of placebos. Among the health problems treated in these studies were respiratory and other infections, digestive disorders, allergies, arthritis, and psychological problems.
Other studies have supported the underlying principle of homeopathy—that the same substance will have opposite effects depending on whether it is given in ordinary doses or in homeopathic microdoses. It is well known, for example, that taking common aspirin decreases the blood’s tendency to form clots, but a French scientist working at the School of Pharmacy of Bordeaux demonstrated that microdoses of acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin’s active ingredient) actually shortens bleeding time. Similarly, in studies on animal subjects, ordinary doses of thyroxine (thyroid hormone) were shown to speed up metabolic processes, while highly dilute doses slowed them down. As yet, there is no satisfactory scientific explanation for this phenomenon; however, the effectiveness of homeopathic treatment is widely accepted around the world.
WORKING WITH A HOMEOPATHIC PHYSICIAN
Remedies that may be appropriate for a variety of common health problems are recommended in Part Two of this book. However, because the deeper concepts of homeopathy and the intricacies of the remedies can be difficult to master, you may find it helpful to consult a homeopathic physician. Often, a homeopathic physician can determine a constitutional remedy that will help to balance your entire system.
Homeopathy is on the upswing in the United States. Many different types of health-care practitioners use homeopathy. You will find medical doctors, naturopathic physicians, acupuncturists, herbalists, chiropractors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and laypeople who are knowledgeable in the field. Homeopathic pharmacies, even major health food stores, are other resources to explore. They may be able to tell you how to find a practicing homeopath in your area.
There are national organizations throughout the United States that can provide you with a list of homeopaths as well. If you cannot readily find a homeopathic physician in your area, you may wish to contact the International Foundation for Homeopathy, the National Center for Homeopathy, or Foundation for Homeopathic Education and Research (see the Resources section at the end of the book).
When choosing a homeopath, it is important to select a physician with whom you feel very comfortable. This doctor will question you closely, asking you to reveal very intimate information. Much of homeopathic diagnosis and treatment depends on your ability to observe and relate specific details, some of which may even seem absurd or irrelevant to you at first. For example, if you have a runny nose or are coughing up phlegm, your homeopath will want to know the color, smell, and consistency of the discharge. You will probably be asked if it is heavier in the morning or evening, after eating, or before eating.
Your homeopath will also consider your temperament and the way you respond emotionally to illness. Do you want company when ill, or prefer to be left alone? Do you become irritable and demanding, or quiet and passive? Do you sleep a lot, or become restless and wakeful? Do you want the window open to admit cool, fresh air, or do you feel chilly even snuggled under a cozy comforter?
How the other members of your household respond to your illness is something else your homeopath will ask you to reveal. When a loved one is ill, some family members become irritated and annoyed, some nervous and anxious. The very fortunate have a deep well of calm and certainty on which to draw. Be truthful when your doctor inquires about this. Emotional responses are not something people can necessarily control consciously. Faced with a hectic schedule, many of us have difficulty mustering up as much patience as we would like. All of the physical and emotional factors surrounding you must be taken into account in determining the appropriate remedy. Because the emotional response of those around you will unavoidably have an impact on you, your homeopathic physician may prescribe a helpful remedy for other members of the household as well.
TREATMENT WITH HOMEOPATHIC REMEDIES
Of all the remedies commonly used in the various medical protocols, homeopathic remedies are unique in that they are symptom-specific. That is, the correct remedy is determined not by the disease, but by the specific complex of physical and emotional symptoms you are experiencing. The choice of homeopathic remedies takes into consideration your temperament and emotional responses as well as the most minute details of your physical condition.
For example, the cold that infects you and a neighbor may be caused by the same virus, but each of you will exhibit a unique set of symptoms and emotions. One of you may have a headache and a runny nose, feel completely exhausted, and want to eat when not napping. The other may be clogged and congested, feel restless, be unable to sleep, and refuse food. Consequently, although infected by the same virus, you will require entirely different remedies.
Homeopathy respects the complexity and uniqueness of each individual. To identify the correct homeopathic remedy, you must carefully observe your unique—even quirky—behaviors and responses. Choosing the appropriate remedy requires you and the homeopathic physician to match your symptoms, both obvious and subtle, with the remedy. Today, some practitioners also select homeopathic remedies based on their effectiveness for specific conditions.
Based on your overall physical, emotional, and mental constitution, your homeopathic physician may prescribe a constitutional remedy. An appropriate constitutional remedy can help prevent illness, as well as maintain and support optimal health. For example, if you are subject to recurrent colds, sinusitis, allergies, or digestive disorders, a constitutional homeopathic remedy may be extremely helpful.
The correct constitutional remedy can help strengthen and stimulate the vital life force. The response to the remedy will be at once subtle and profound, on the physical, emotional, and mental levels. Prescribing a constitutional remedy is a complicated art, however. To discover the most helpful constitutional remedy, consult a homeopathic physician or other health-care practioner experienced in homeopathy.
Common Homeopathic Remedies
Homeopathic remedies are prepared according to the standards of the United States Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia. All remedies are derived from naturally occurring plant, mineral, or chemical substances. Some of the most useful homeopathic remedies and their common indications are described in the table on page 34.
Homeopathic remedies come in different potencies. Of all of the issues in homeopathy, Dr. Hahnemann’s concept of potency is probably the one that has evoked the most questions, because it seems somewhat paradoxical at first. The term potency means something different in homeopathy than in conventional medicine. Homeopathic remedies undergo a systematic series of dilutions. After each dilution, the remedy is succussed (shaken with impact or force). Each time a remedy is succussed, it is considered to have been potentiated. Thus, the more times a remedy has been succussed, the greater its potency.
Commonly available homeopathic remedies come in several forms: the mother tincture, x potencies, and c potencies. Homeopathic tablets are made by mixing diluted remedies with lactose (milk sugar) to make solid pellets. There are also homeopathic creams, ointments, and salves, made by mixing diluted remedies with a cream or gel base.
The mother tincture is an alcohol-based extract of a specific substance, as it comes from the original plant, animal, or mineral. Mother tinctures are generally used topically or in a fashion similar to herbal tinctures.
In homeopathic remedies, the x (derived from the Roman numeral decimal system) represents 10. It indicates that the mother tincture has been diluted to one part in ten. The number preceding the x indicates how many times the remedy has been diluted and succussed. Thus, a 6x potency represents six such dilutions/succussions, beginning with the mother tincture. Remember that the more times a homeopathic remedy has been succussed, the more potent it is. So a 6x potency remedy, which has been diluted and succussed six times, is more potent than a 3x potency compound, which has been diluted and succussed only three times.
The c, also derived from the Roman numeral decimal system, represents 100. A c potency indicates that a mother tincture has undergone dilutions to 1 part in 100; the number preceding the c indicates how many dilutions it has undergone. Thus, a 3c potency indicates that the substance has been diluted to 1 part in 100 and succussed three times. As with x potencies, the higher the number, the stronger the remedy.
In home treatment, it is usually sufficient to use the lower potencies, such as 12x, 30x, 6c, and 9c. Many homeopaths agree that once you have identified the correct remedy, it will work regardless of potency.
If you are lucky, you may live in an area where you have access to a homeopathic pharmacy that specializes in homeopathic remedies. If not, check with your local health-food store. Major health-food stores across the United States usually carry a comprehensive selection of homeopathic remedies. If you cannot find what you are looking for, many health-food shops will special-order for you. A list of recommended suppliers of homeopathic remedies is also provided in the Appendix.
Proper storage and handling of homeopathic remedies is extremely important. They are sensitive, and a certain amount of care must be taken in order not to diminish their potency or interfere with their action. Keep remedies out of sunlight and extreme heat, and away from strong smells. Avoid touching homeopathic remedies with your hands, and do not put any pellets that fall out of the bottle back in. Also, never touch the inner rim or the inside of a remedy bottle or lid.
Taking Homeopathic Remedies
Many common health problems can be treated effectively and gently with homeopathy. Home use of homeopathic remedies is ideally suited for acute situations—conditions that attack suddenly—rather than conditions medically termed chronic (illnesses that develop slowly and persist over a long period of time).
When you take the right remedy, it will work quickly. Experienced homeopathic physicians say that using the “wrong” remedy will usually cause no harm. Once the symptoms improve, discontinue the remedy. It is possible to experience an aggravation or increase in the symptoms being treated, an effect sometimes caused by the Law of Similars. Should your symptoms be increased by a remedy, stop taking it.
Homeopathic remedies come in pellet, tablet, and liquid form. You should avoid touching them with your hands, as this can decrease their effectiveness. Shake pellets or tablets into a clean spoon or the top of the bottle, and then place them directly into your mouth and let them dissolve rather than chewing them. Homeopathic pellets and tablets are mostly sweet milk sugar (lactose) that melts in the mouth, so they are generally very easy to take.
The liquid remedies—homeopathic tinctures—are not generally preferred because of their high alcohol content. However, as with herbal tinctures, if you put them in very hot water and let the mixture sit for five minutes, much of the alcohol will evaporate.
Homeopathic remedies work best when taken at least thirty minutes before or after eating. Clinical experience suggests that strong flavors (such as mint products), odors (paints, perfumes), foods and beverages that contain caffeine, and camphor or camphor-containing products (mothballs or deep-heating ointments)—all decrease the effectiveness of the remedies, so all of these substances should be avoided when using homeopathic remedies.
Unless the treatment recommendations in Part Two specify otherwise, use the following guidelines when administering homeopathic remedies.
•For a severely acute situation. For a problem such as a headache or fever, take one dose, as directed on the product label, every fifteen minutes for one hour. If you see no change after four doses, you probably have the wrong remedy and should choose another.
•For a less acute situation. For a problem such as a runny nose or a sore throat, take one dose, as directed on the product label, every two hours. Once symptoms start to improve, you can continue the remedy at less frequent intervals. During this stage, take one dose, three times daily.
A homeopathic remedy should be taken for as long as it is needed. For example, if a headache is gone fifteen minutes after you take a headache remedy, stop taking the remedy. If the headache returns four hours later, try the same remedy again. Once you feel better, there is no longer any need to take the remedy.
Homeopathy is a form of treatment that offers a first line of defense for common complaints. It is ideal for people who cannot use certain over-the-counter drugs or herbs, whether because of other health problems or because they must take other medications on a regular basis. Because everyone in the household can use the same remedies, homeopathy is cost-effective, and the remedies are clearly labeled to indicate the conditions they are designed to treat, making it easy to select the right ones.
Bach Flower Remedies
The world of natural treatment also includes emotion-balancing flower preparations. This system of healing was developed by Dr. Edward Bach (1897–1936). Dr. Bach believed that physical problems were secondary to emotional problems—that physical illness was a manifestation of emotional imbalance. He taught that physical symptoms could be relieved by altering or alleviating destructive emotions. The various remedies he devised are used to treat illness by easing quite specific types of emotional and mental distress.
The Bach flower remedies are dilute essences of plants. Unlike chemical mood-altering drugs, the flower remedies—while effective—are gentle and easy to use. Although beneficial and benign, these natural flower essences have remarkable emotional and mental balancing effects. Because they act quite gently, they can be used freely whenever you think they may help you feel better.
When choosing a Bach essence, match your overall temperament, personality, and fears, as well as the particular emotional distress you are experiencing. If no single remedy seems to address all of these concerns, you may combine up to three remedies. (Although there is no danger in blending more than three remedies at any one time, their effectiveness can be diminished in a blend that is too complicated.)
CHOOSING A REMEDY
Once you have identified the primary emotional distress you are experiencing, use the table here to find an appropriate remedy. Match your personality, temperament, fears, and emotional upset with the suitable Bach flower remedy. Bach flower remedies are available at many health-food stores. If you cannot get them at a store near you, you can obtain them through Nelson Bach USA, Inc. (see the Resources section at the end of the book).
USING BACH FLOWER REMEDIES
Bach flower remedies are essences of flowers that come in tincture form (here). The bottled remedy you buy at your health-food store is called the mother tincture, and is the most concentrated form available. There are two different ways you can take a Bach remedy:
•Place a drop of the mother tincture into a small glass of noncarbonated spring water and sip it over a period of a few hours. For added benefit, swish the mixture around in your mouth before swallowing it.
•If you prefer, you can make a diluted mother tincture. Fill a two-ounce glass bottle with spring water. Add three drops of mother tincture and shake gently to blend. When using a diluted mother tincture, take two droppersful, three times daily.
After taking a flower remedy, monitor your response. As your emotional response and behavior change, the need for a particular remedy may cease to exist. Take a remedy until the situation has been resolved. Once your mood and emotions have been gently altered, you may need to select another remedy to complete and sustain the alteration. Once any destructive emotions have eased sufficiently and you feel your emotional and mental state has come into balance, discontinue the remedy.
Of all the Bach flower remedies, the overwhelming favorite of many people is Rescue Remedy. This is a premixed combination remedy made from the essences of cherry plum, clematis, impatiens, rock rose, and star of Bethlehem. It is useful in many crisis situations, such as after hearing bad news, before a major or anxiety-provoking event in your life, or after an injury. It helps to relieve apprehension and restore calm when you are nervous, panicked, or tense. Rescue Remedy is particularly good when the cause of the distress is not clear—when you feel overwhelmed and/or intensely frustrated yet cannot say precisely why. Put two or three drops in half a glass of water and sip it as needed.
Bach flower remedies are dilute essences of plants that treat emotional, mental, and physical distress. As with homeopathic remedies, choosing a flower remedy involves paying close attention to your emotional state, and then selecting the remedy that matches your observations. Although science is still baffled by the Bach flower remedies, anecdotal results over the past fifty years have been impressive. Many people report that these gentle preparations are excellent for alleviating stress and making them feel better when they are sick, uncomfortable, or unhappy.
Acupressure is a gentle, noninvasive form of the ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture. In acupuncture, thin needles are inserted into the body at specific points along lines called meridians. In acupressure, thumb or finger pressure is applied at these same points, but the body is not punctured. In both practices, the aim is to effect beneficial changes and achieve harmony within the body’s systems and structure.
The Yin-Yang Circle
THE HISTORY OF ACUPRESSURE
Because acupressure evolved from acupuncture, an ancient Chinese healing practice, the history of this form of treatment begins with traditional Chinese philosophy as it applies to the healing arts. The fundamental principle of Chinese philosophy is the concept of yin and yang. The yin and yang are two opposite, yet complementary, forever-entwined forces that underlie all aspects of life. Yin and yang is depicted as the subtly curved light and dark halves of a circle. Both proceed from the t’ai chi (the Supreme Ultimate).
According to this philosophical system, the human body, like all matter, is made up of five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Each element corresponds to an aspect of the body, such as the organs, senses, tissues, and emotions, as well as to aspects of nature, such as direction, season, color, and climate (see inset, here). The five-element theory, combined with the principle of yin and yang, forms the basis of the Chinese concept of balance. The intention is to balance yin and yang and to balance the energies of the five elements.
Yin is earthy, female, dark, passive, receptive, and absorbing. It is represented by the moon, the tiger, the color orange, a broken line, and the shady side of a hill. Yin is cool, inward, still, and soft.
Yang is represented by the sun, the dragon, the color blue, an unbroken line, and the sunny side of a hill. Yang is hot, outward, moving, aggressive, and bright.
Because yin and yang are intertwined halves of the same whole, all things, and all people, contain elements of both, although at any one time, one or the other will be predominant. Thus, a child is more yin; an adult more yang. When you assert yourself, it is your yang that is coming to the fore.
The sun is yang, the moon is yin. We awaken in the morning and greet the sun. It is natural to be active and moving throughout the daylight. As twilight descends into night, we become more passive and quiet. Nighttime expresses the qualities of yin.
Chinese medical theory teaches that the two branches of the body’s nervous system, the sympathetic and parasympathetic, correspond to the two halves of the yin-yang circle. The sympathetic branch is the part of the nervous system that mobilizes our bodies to respond to stress. It initiates the fight-or-flight response, a more yang part of the cycle. The parasympathetic branch replenishes and supports the body during rest, the yin part of the cycle. These two branches oppose and balance each other to create stability and health. When the yin and yang are balanced within the body, all the body’s functions are healthy. Illness is caused by an imbalance between yin and yang.
Conventional Western medicine typically pinpoints and directly treats only the affected part of the body. Chinese medical philosophy encompasses the entire universe. Everything that affects the patient is considered, including emotion, environment, and diet.
Chinese philosophy proposes a way of life based on living in accordance with the laws of nature. This profound connection with nature is reflected in the language used to describe illness. For example, you might be diagnosed with a “wind invasion” or “excess heat.” Acupuncture (or acupressure) points may be chosen to “disperse wind,” “remove summer damp,” or “disperse rising fire.”
In traditional Chinese medicine, every aspect of health is described in terms of a balance between yin and yang. For example, yin illnesses are caused by excessive expansion (overweight as a result of eating too much sugar, for example), while yang illnesses are caused by excessive contraction (sunstroke or fever). An imbalance of yin and yang factors can be demonstrated by showing how red blood cells respond to different substances. When red blood cells are placed in water (yin), they absorb the water, expand, and finally burst. When red blood cells are placed in a concentrated saline (salt) solution (yang), they contract, shrink, and shrivel. In a solution of normal saline (0.9 percent salt), the yin and yang are perfectly balanced and the cells remain virtually unchanged. An example of how the ancient yin-yang theory can be used to describe concepts in conventional medicine can be found in the treatment of breast and prostate cancer: Female hormones (yin) help control prostate cancer (yang); male hormones (yang) help control breast cancer (yin). The interplay of the yin and yang—as one increases, the other decreases—describes the process of the universe and everything in it. In more familiar Western terms, as modern physical science teaches, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
The Five Elements and Their Correspondences in Nature and the Human Body
In traditional Chinese philosophy, all matter is considered to be composed of five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water). The elements in turn have correspondences in various aspects of the natural world, including the human body. According to this philosophy, health is achieved when yin and yang, and the energies of the five elements, are all in proper balance. The elements and some of their corresponding characteristics and parts of the body are illustrated in the table below.
In Chinese philosophy, the energy that pulses through all things, animate and inanimate, is called chi. Health exists when there is a harmonious balance under heaven of both internal and external forces. Each bodily organ must have the right amount of chi to function. Too much or too little chi causes an imbalance, resulting in illness or disease. Chi flows through all things, enters and passes through the body, creating harmony or disharmony.
Chinese medicine works directly with the natural, vital energy—or chi—of the body. The goal of acupuncture and acupressure is to normalize the body’s energies. Chi can be tapped at specific points along channels known as meridians. Activating one key point sets up a predictable reaction in another area. By tonifying (increasing energy in) a specific area, the yin-yang balance is treated. Moving an excess of chi from one area and directing it to another, weaker area, corrects the yin-yang balance.
Acupuncture is an ancient protocol. As a component of Oriental medicine, it has been practiced for centuries. The Huangdi Neijing (Canon of Medicine), written about 500–300 B.C.E., is the oldest surviving medical text. Among other medical practices, it describes the use of acupuncture.
Acupressure is a form of body work in which pressure is applied to specific acupuncture points to balance internal function. Acupressure is practiced around the world.
The Chinese have a very descriptive term for taking advantage of a combination of two or more healing systems—a practice this book advocates. They say the patient is “walking on two legs.” A two-year study conducted jointly by the Northwestern University Medical School and Evanston Hospital in Evanston, Illinois, employed a combination of acupuncture and acupressure. In this study, patients suffering from chronic headaches of all types, including migraine, cluster, whiplash, and tension, were first treated with acupuncture. The patients were then individually instructed in specific acupressure techniques to use when a headache seemed imminent. The researchers reported that the need for prescription painkillers and other drugs was eliminated entirely in most patients—thus verifying the effectiveness of “walking on two legs.”
WORKING WITH AN ACUPRESSURIST
There are professionally trained and college-educated acupressurists, just as there are acupuncturists. If you wish to consult a trained acupressurist, check the yellow pages of your telephone book. You’ll find this category listed in most large cities.
For the most part, though, the gentle form of acupressure recommended in the Treatment and Care entries in Part Two of this book is something you can do yourself, at home.
TREATMENT WITH ACUPRESSURE
In The Chinese Art of Healing (Bantam, 1972), author Stephan Palos identifies the hand as “man’s original medical tool.” We instinctively use our hands to alleviate pain. When we suffer a bump or bruise, have a cramp, or hurt anywhere inside, we rub, knead, or massage the painful spot.
When you are ill, gently working the acupressure points recommended in the appropriate entry in Part Two will probably be beneficial (the illustrations in Part Three provide guidelines for locating all of the acupressure points recommended). Massaging a particular point helps relieve symptoms as well as strengthen and balance the yin-yang in the body. For example, applying acupressure to the point identified as “Large Intestine 11” helps relax the intestine, thus relieving constipation. Another related point is Stomach 36; massaging Stomach 36 helps tone an upset digestive tract. When you are ill, the appropriate acupressure points, as well as other areas of the body, will be tender. Use your intuitive sense. Notice what feels good.
Common Acupressure Points
In acupressure, there are twelve lines called meridians that run along each side of the body. Each pair of meridians corresponds to a specific organ. For example, there is a pair of Lung meridians, Spleen meridians, Stomach meridians, and Liver meridians. Acupressure points are named for the meridian they lie on, and each is given a number according to where along the meridian it falls. Thus, Spleen 6 is the sixth point on the Spleen meridian. The table on page 42 lists some of the acupressure points most often recommended in the entries in Part Two of this book.
When you give an acupressure treatment, your tools are your hands, notably your thumbs and fingers, and occasionally your palms. For the most part, you will be using the balls of your thumbs and fingers, never the nails. Before administering acupressure, make sure your fingernails are clipped short, so that you do not inadvertently scratch yourself.
Choose a time of day when you are most relaxed, perhaps after a warm bath and just before bedtime. Take a few deep breaths. This aids relaxation and will automatically focus your attention inward on your body. Be calm and unhurried. Make sure to keep warm throughout the treatment. You can apply pressure to the points directly onto the skin, or through a shirt or light sheet.
Work right-side and left-side acupressure points at the same time. Use your fingers or thumbs to apply threshold pressure to the point. Threshold pressure is firm pressure, just on the verge of becoming painful. The idea is to stimulate the point without causing the body to tighten up or retract from the pain. The pressure you exert should not hurt. Firm but gentle is the rule.
Apply from one to five minutes of continuous pressure. Or apply pressure for ten seconds, release for ten seconds, reapply pressure for ten seconds, release for ten seconds. Repeat this cycle five times.
Specific acupressure points helpful for different conditions are included in the Treatment and Care entries in Part Two of this book. To learn how to locate specific acupressure points, see ADMINISTERING AN ACUPRESSURE TREATMENT in Part Three.
Acupressure is a wonderful hands-on way to stimulate the body to heal. By using the acupressure points described in this book, you will be working to relieve the underlying cause of illness.
Aromatherapy is the art of using essential oils to stimulate beneficial changes within the body. Essential oils are liquid essences distilled from the flowers, leaves, and other parts of certain plants, and they are intensely concentrated. For example, it takes 150 pounds of lavender flowers to produce a single pound of essential lavender oil, and 5,000 pounds of rose petals to produce a pound of essential rose oil. There is a significant difference between the essential oils used for aromatherapy and the type of fragrant oils used most often as perfumes. Essential oils are usually extracted by steam distillation from a single plant source, such as a certain type of tree, grass, flower, leaf, gum or resin, root, or seeds. They are typically seventy times more concentrated than the plant or herb from which they are derived.
Aromatic essential oils have been used for centuries as inhalants and in baths, massage oils, and compresses to gently alter mood, restore energy, and enhance pleasure. The ancients even applied essential oils directly to the skin to treat certain disorders, a method of administering medicinal substances that has been validated scientifically. Today, many medications are introduced into the body by means of drug-impregnated skin patches, among them hormone replacement therapy and nicotine for those who want to stop smoking without the usual uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
The use of essential oils to promote health has not received extensive scientific study, but there is some research that demonstrates beneficial effects. Tests have shown that active constituents contained in the oils can be detected in the bloodstreams of laboratory animals one hour after exposure. An article in the British medical journal Lancet reported that people suffering from insomnia fell asleep more readily when breathing in the fragrance of lavender. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York has experimented with aromatherapy on patients undergoing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans who complained of claustrophobia while spending an hour in the magnetic capsule. Patients exposed to the scent of vanilla reportedly felt less anxiety and discomfort during the procedure. Fragrant vanilla, an undeniably pleasant scent, may even qualify as an aphrodisiac. It has been reported to increase blood flow to the penis. (Interestingly, certain essential oils have long been reputed to be aphrodisiacs, but vanilla is not among them.)
While studies substantiating the effectiveness of essential oils are few, advocates say the effects they provide are sufficient to explain their popularity. One of the most promising uses of aromatherapy seems to be in the treatment of emotional and stress-related disorders. Think of the refined ladies of past centuries who pressed lavender-scented handkerchiefs to their noses when they were agitated or felt as if they were about to swoon. The fragrance of lavender is a known calmative. Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, the great French philosopher, wrote in his Essais in 1580 that certain essences could make him happy, excited, contemplative, or peaceful. The same is true for us today.
The table here provides an introduction to some of the most popular essential oils used in aromatherapy. Pure essential oils can be purchased in special aromatherapy stores and some health-food stores. They can also be ordered by mail (see the Resources section at the end of the book for suppliers).
You can use essential oils in a variety of different ways: as inhalants, in massage, in baths, and in compresses (see PREPARING AROMATHERAPY TREATMENTS in Part Three for instructions). You should not, however, apply them directly to your skin, as they can be quite irritating if not properly diluted. And never take essential oils internally. Always store them in glass bottles, away from heat, light, and moisture—and, of course, out of the reach of children.
Diet and Nutrition
Food provides the energy the body needs to function. It provides the nutrient base necessary for building, maintaining, and repairing a strong and healthy body. Food also provides immediate information to the body. It can make you feel full and energized, or tired, jumpy, and irritable. The breakfasts you eat, the lunches and snacks you select, the dinners you prepare—all provide the fuel required by every cell in your body.
THE HISTORICAL USES OF DIET
Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine,” wrote, “Let food be your medicine. Let your medicine be your food.” This recommendation is as important for us today as it was in ancient Greece. Food was a primary form of medicine in ancient cultures and has continued to be used as such through the ages. Warm teas and soups for colds, prune juice for constipation, toast and crackers for diarrhea—all are well-known and time-tested “medicines.”
Food is important not only for curing illness, but for preventing it. Today, the importance of diet in maintaining health—and conversely, in contributing to the development of disease—is increasingly evident. A proper diet is therefore useful in treating acute and chronic illness as well as in promoting and enhancing optimal health.
THE AMERICAN DIET TODAY
A hundred years ago, food was prepared in a very different way than it generally is today. Most important, food was prepared and served more simply. In the last several decades, thanks to food-processing technology, we have seen the development of a vast selection of quick-fix packaged, canned, frozen, boil-in-a-bag, and microwavable foods that get us in and out of the kitchen fast. Few people cook in the traditional sense of the word, at least on a regular basis. It’s easier and more convenient to stir water into the contents of a package, open a can, heat up a frozen dinner, or “nuke” a prepackaged meal in the microwave.
Highly processed junk food is a billion-dollar-a-year industry. The shelves of American supermarkets are weighted down with candy, cookies, and all kinds of packaged baked goods; snacks loaded with sugar, fat, and salt; sodas, colas, and “juices” and punches made with more chemicals and additives than fruit; and artificially flavored and colored cereals.
The typical American diet is in need of an overhaul. Most of us eat too much fat, too little fiber, and too many empty calories, and are deficient in vitamins and minerals. The typical American gets about 42 percent of total calories from fat, with 16 percent coming from saturated fats and 26 percent from unsaturated fats. Compare this with the recommended amounts: a maximum of 30 percent of total daily calories from fat, with 10 percent from saturated fats (such as meat and dairy products), 10 percent from monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil), and 10 percent from polyunsaturated fats (such as corn, safflower, and soybean oils).
The typical American gets about 22 percent of total calories from complex carbohydrates (such as those in grains and legumes), 6 percent of calories from naturally occurring sugars (such as those found in fruits and honey), and 18 percent of calories from refined and processed sugars (such as those found in sodas, candy bars, and many processed foods). Yet it is recommended that 40 percent of the calories we consume should come from complex carbohydrates and naturally occurring sugars, and no more than a quarter of that from refined and processed sugars.
One of the most significant steps you can take toward feeling healthier, improving your energy level, and reducing your risk of potential disease is to improve your diet. And this change costs nothing. You can make a good start toward a better diet by focusing on five basic dietary goals:
1.Increase your intake of fresh vegetables.
2.Decrease your intake of refined and processed sugars.
3.Decrease your consumption of cooked fats, and make sure the majority of fats you eat are healthy fats, such as those in olive and flaxseed oil.
4.Limit your salt intake.
5.Eat adequate amounts of quality protein.
In addition, base your diet on nutritious whole foods. Don’t depend on processed, packaged foods for your nutrition—it is a disservice to your health. Save food items containing refined and processed sugars for occasional treats only.
FOOD ADDITIVES AND OTHER CHEMICALS
Too much of what passes for food in the United States contains chemicals such as manufactured sweeteners, processed fats and/or fat substitutes, artificial flavorings and colorings, plus vast quantities of preservatives. Preservatives are nothing new. Salting down and pickling meat and vegetables were common practices centuries ago, as was the drying (dehydrating) of various foodstuffs. Foods preserved this way lasted a very long time, which was important in an era before refrigeration and efficient transport of fresh foods. But these natural methods took so much time and care that they were not easily adaptable to mass production. As the prepared-food industry grew by leaps and bounds, other time-saving and more cost-effective—if less healthy—methods of preserving foods were developed by the major food manufacturers.
Food additives and preservatives undergo exhaustive testing, on an individual basis. During the testing phase, laboratory animals are given megadoses of a single additive at a time. It’s easy enough for manufacturers to explain away any adverse reactions by pointing out that a human will ingest only a tiny bit of a particular additive per serving. But few studies have been conducted on how different food additives interact with each other or what these interactions do to the human body—even though it is virtually impossible to find a processed food product that contains only one additive.
And what about the effects over the long term? Current scientific research cannot tell us what the cumulative effects of ingesting a single food additive will be—let alone what the ever-present chemical combinations of multiple additives may do over a period of many years. Today’s food products often contain more chemical additives than basic food ingredients. Always read the labels! Trying to find additive-free products can be an exercise in frustration. Preparing fresh, whole foods is a good beginning and a way to avoid the frustration.
Another problem with the American food supply today stems from the fact that farmers often use pesticides and chemicals in their fields that contaminate even what look like healthy fresh foods. These toxic chemicals do not disperse and decay harmlessly. They contaminate the food we eat, pollute the air we breathe, and seep into the water we drink. And these chemicals are all pervasive, often mysteriously traveling far from the areas where they were actually used.
DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) is a case in point. It was banned in 1972, yet nearly every American still carries traces of DDT in his or her body. DDT has even been detected in wild animals roaming free in the Antarctic, a place once thought free of man-made chemical contamination.
Each year more than 2.5 billion pounds of chemicals are sprayed or dumped on agricultural crops, spread in forests, and used to treat ponds and lakes or “green” lawns and parks. Farmers, pest-control companies, and homeowners spend billions of dollars annually on such chemicals. A 1987 study released by the National Cancer Institute showed that children living in homes where pesticides are routinely used are seven times more likely to develop childhood leukemia than are children who live in chemical-free households. In 1989, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reported on a comprehensive two-year study of the impact on children of pesticide residues in food. It showed that, compared with adults, the average child receives four times more exposure to eight cancer-causing pesticides in food. Apples, apple products, peanut butter, and processed cherries that have been treated with the chemical growth regulator daminozide (better known as Alar) were named as foods posing the greatest potential risk. The average exposure of a child under six to daminozide and to UMDH, the carcinogenic compound it forms in the body, has been found to be 240 times the level that poses what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calls an “acceptable” cancer risk after a lifetime of exposure to this toxic chemical.
The NRDC study targeted only eight widely used chemicals. But you should be aware that the EPA has identified sixty-six different carcinogenic pesticides that turn up in the average person’s diet. To date, the EPA has not acted to restrict the use of these chemicals.
Only about 1 percent of the produce, domestic or imported, in your supermarket has been tested for pesticide residues, and tests currently used can detect only around 40 percent of the possible chemical contaminants. Many dangerous metabolites (chemical compounds that form as the source chemicals break down in the body) cannot be detected at all.
The General Accounting Office (GAO) reports that it takes the FDA close to a month, on average, to complete a laboratory analysis of a food sample. During that time, a suspect food stays on the market. In more than 50 percent of the instances where the FDA has found violations, the GAO says, the contaminated food was not recovered. By the time the FDA had completed lab testing, unsuspecting consumers had eaten the “evidence.”
GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FOODS
Genetic engineering is a technique that is applied to food crops for a number of different reasons: to increase yield by speeding up the growing process; to increase resistance to plant pests and viruses; and to slow down the ripening process so that the product stays fresh-looking longer. To accomplish these seemingly desirable goals, scientists take genes from other living organisms (including pigs, bacteria, and viruses) and splice them onto the genes of certain food crops.
Food Safety and the FDA
In the early 1990s, Dr. Harvey W. Wiley tested some commonly used early chemical preservatives, including deadly formaldehyde, and demonstrated their toxicity. The federal Pure Food and Drug Act, pioneered by Dr. Wiley, became law in 1906, creating the first real protection for the commercial food consumer. In 1928, Congress authorized the creation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Insecticide Administration. Three years later the organization’s name was changed to the Food and Drug Administration, as we know it today.
In 1958, the federal Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics Act was passed. The Food Additives Amendment to this law required food and chemical manufacturers to demonstrate the safety of their products by running extensive tests on additives before they were marketed. Test results had to be submitted to the FDA, which made rulings on particular substances based on the data supplied by the manufacturers. This marked a significant change; previously, the agency had not been permitted to ban the use of a food additive on the grounds that it had been inadequately tested, or even because it was suspected of being unsafe for human consumption. In addition, the Delaney clause, written by Representative James Delaney, was part of the 1958 law. This clause specifically prohibits the use of any food additive that has been shown to cause cancer.
These developments would seem to justify consumer confidence in the safety of the foods we buy. However, since it was enacted, the Delaney clause has repeatedly been attacked and circumvented. Consider the case of saccharin, an artificial chemical sweetener in use since 1879. In 1977, researchers demonstrated that saccharin caused cancer in laboratory animals. The FDA responded by announcing a ban on the use of the substance in foods and beverages. In the six months following the FDA announcement, industry lobbyists such as the Calorie Control Council spent over $1 million fighting the ban. As a result of their efforts, people from all over the country bombarded their congressional representatives with requests to keep saccharin on the market.
In response to this overwhelming pressure, and despite the research implicating saccharin as carcinogenic, the FDA has continually postponed imposing its ban on this substance. And even though saccharin has now largely been superseded by the proliferation of aspartame, another questionable artificial sweetener (it is suspected of causing nervous system problems, including headaches and seizures; may break down into toxic compounds when heated; and is potentially disastrous for people with PKU, a relatively common genetic disorder), saccharin is still around today, decades after it was identified as carcinogenic.
Although many people think of genetic engineering as the stuff of science fiction, this technology is already in use. Genetically altered corn, potatoes, and tomatoes may already be in your supermarket, on the produce shelves and/or in the canned and frozen foods section. Processed foods, including canola and soy oils and some canned sodas, may also contain genetically altered material. At least 15 percent of the U.S. soybean crop currently consists of genetically altered soybeans, and more than 60 percent of processed food products contain soy derivatives.
There are many reasons to be concerned about these developments. First and foremost, genetically engineered foods have not been subjected to long-term testing. Changing the genetic composition of foods can reduce their nutritional value. For people with food allergies, there is reason to fear that genetic engineering may introduce allergens from allergenic foods into previously “safe” foods. Moreover, a large percentage of field-tested genetically altered plants are food crops that were engineered specifically to withstand heavier doses of toxic herbicides. Scientists say that the existence of these herbicide-tolerant plants could make it possible for U.S. farmers to triple their use of herbicides. Another concern is that cross-pollination is bound to occur as insects, birds, and the wind pollinate natural and genetically engineered crops growing in adjacent fields. Engineered living organisms can reproduce and migrate, creating unwanted mutations, and adding still more uncertainty to the end results.
In addition to the effects we can anticipate, genetically engineered foods may very well have serious but as-yet-unknown side effects. It is impossible to predict what effects genetically engineered foods may have on the human body, on livestock and poultry fed altered foods, and on the environment. Yet the FDA does not require that genetically engineered foods be labeled as such, so there is no way to know whether the produce you pick up in the supermarket is in its natural form or not. Unless you buy organic foodstuffs exclusively, there is no sure way to protect yourself against the potential dangers posed by engineered foods. Unfortunately, most people are unaware that the food chain is being so profoundly changed, perhaps irrevocably.
There are organized groups speaking out against genetically altered foodstuffs in general, and many grass-roots groups are demanding that these foods carry identifying labels. If this issue concerns you, get involved and spread the word. As much as possible, choose organically produced foods, including meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. For more information about this issue, you can contact The Pure Food Campaign (see the Resources section at the end of the book).
CHOOSING FOOD AND WATER
Your shopping habits have an important and powerful influence on your diet. After all, you will eat whatever you stock in the refrigerator and cupboards. In this section we will offer guidelines to help you provide yourself with a healthy, balanced, nutrient-rich diet.
Buy Organic Food
Whenever possible, we recommend that you buy organically grown produce and grains, and buy meat and poultry from animals raised without hormones or antibiotics. Buying organically grown foods reduces your risk of exposure to pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Certified organic foods are grown without the use of synthetic chemicals. They are absolutely the healthiest choice both for us and for the earth and air.
Contaminants in the air, food, and drinking water of the nation are a major concern. By testing rainwater samples from twenty-three states, a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey found that agricultural chemicals end up in the atmosphere. Along with eliminating the pesticide residues that linger on commercially farmed foods, organic farming spares the earth from these unnecessary and destructive toxins.
There are currently no national regulations in force governing the production or sale of organic foodstuffs. However, a fourteen-member panel called the National Organics Standards Board has been created by Congress. Its purpose is to devise national standards for organic foods and then (1) to advise the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on how to implement the federal rules and regulations that will insure the standards have been met and (2) to govern the production and sale of organic foodstuffs.
The recommendations under consideration include requiring that any food product labeled organic contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients. If at least half of the ingredients in a product are produced organically, its label could include the statement “contains organic ingredients.” Organically raised livestock, including poultry, would have to be fed organically grown feed, allowed access to the outdoors and direct sunlight, and not kept in overcrowded barns and pens. They might be given antibiotics if they became sick, but not routinely, to promote growth. If implemented, such recommendations would require federal certification of everyone and everything involved in every step in every process involved in bringing an organic product to market, including the farmer, the fields, the handler, the processor, and the marketer. It is universally agreed that the term “organic” could not be applied to genetically altered and engineered foods. The recommended fine for knowingly mislabeling a product as organic would be $10,000.
The National Organics Standards Board’s recommendations are just that—recommendations. They are not yet the law of the land, and they may not be for some time. Some states already have certification programs governing organic farmers in place, and more states are following suit. If you don’t know how your state stands on this important issue, call your state agriculture department and inquire. Whether your state provides official certification or not, almost every community has a number of markets where guaranteed organic produce, meats, eggs, and milk are sold. If you have difficulty finding a source of organic foods, ask your local grocery to carry certified organic produce and grains. Or look under the word “Organic” in your local Yellow Pages for sources.
If you can afford the additional cost—it’s true that organic foods are more expensive—it is very much worth your while to eat clean. If you cannot buy organic fruits, vegetables, and grains, wash everything thoroughly. Use a mixture of warm water and vinegar (one-quarter cup of vinegar for each gallon of water). Vinegar accelerates the breakdown of some pesticides. When serving vegetables like cabbage and lettuce, always remove the outer leaves, which often contain much more chemical residue than the inner leaves do. Root vegetables (carrots, potatoes, turnips, and the like) should be scrubbed and peeled. Any fruit or vegetable that has been waxed (this is often done to apples, cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, and citrus fruits to make them look shinier and more attractive) should be peeled as well.
Eat a Balanced Diet
The best diet is one in which 40 to 65 percent of your daily calories come from complex carbohydrates, 15 to 30 percent from protein, and 20 to 30 percent from fats. Of the complex carbohydrates, 45 to 50 percent should be in the form of vegetables; 15 percent, whole grains (wheat, rye, barley, rice, oats, millet, and others); 15 percent, legumes (dried beans, peas); and 20 to 25 percent, whole fruits. The sugars found in complex carbohydrates are more gradually absorbed into the bloodstream than those from processed refined sugars. A diet rich in complex carbohydrates will help you feel more alert and energetic during the day. Of course, individual nutritional needs vary somewhat, depending on your activity level and other factors.
Complete proteins are found in milk, cheese, eggs, meat, fish, poultry, nuts, and most legumes. Combining grains and vegetables will also provide complete protein. Proteins are essential for the growth and repair of all body tissues, including organs, muscles, bone, skin, blood, and nerves. Each cell in the body requires protein.
Fats are essential for metabolizing fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), for normal growth and development, and for maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails. Fats regulate digestion, influence blood pressure, and are needed for the production of prostaglandins, chemical “messengers” that are present throughout the body. It is important to remember, however, that all fats are not created equal. We recommend using unrefined, minimally processed, cold-pressed organic oils. Use flaxseed, linseed, pumpkinseed, soybean, and walnut oils in order to get important essential fatty acids. Safflower, sunflower, canola, and olive oils are also acceptable sources of fat. Polyunsaturated oils should be kept refrigerated after opening. Try to avoid products containing hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils. Margarine and solid shortenings are usually manufactured with partially hydrogenated oils (see The Hydrogenation Process, page 56). Despite what many people have been led to believe, a small amount of butter is probably better for you than any amount of margarine.
Another key to a balanced died is to eat a variety of foods. Along with the fun of trying new and different foods, variety ensures that you will get the full range of nutrients your body needs. Next time you shop, buy something new. Include vegetables and grain with each lunch and dinner. At a minimum, you should eat five servings of fresh vegetables and fruits each day. Seven to nine servings is even better. This may sound like a lot, but a serving is generally defined as only one cup of raw leafy vegetables, one-half cup of other vegetables (cooked or chopped raw), or one medium piece of whole fruit, such as an apple, pear, banana, or orange.
Prepare your food simply. Foods that are steamed, baked, or broiled are easily digested. Use water, lemon juice, broths, flavorful herbs, and juices to steam, bake, or broil. Avoid frying your food. Fried foods are difficult to digest; heated oils and fats turn rancid quickly; and oils and fats add calories.
Make sure you have three meals a day, with healthy snacks as necessary. Healthful snacks might include any of the following:
•Almond butter and celery
•Carrot sticks/carrot chips
•Low-fat cheese (made from skim or almond milk or soy-based) and whole-grain crackers
•Low-fat cream cheese and celery with raisins on top
•Fruit sticks or fruit kabobs, or a piece of fresh fruit
•Hummus and whole-grain crackers
•Jicama and peanut butter or almond butter
•Millet or rice toast and fruit-sweetened jelly
•Fresh nuts and/or seeds
•Rice cakes with peanut, almond, or sesame-seed butter and, if desired, fruit-sweetened jelly
•Smoothies (plain yogurt, fruit, and a dab of honey mixed in a blender) or fruit freezes (fruit, ice, and a dab of honey mixed in a blender)
•Fresh raw vegetables and onion dip (use yogurt in place of sour cream for the dip)
•Plain yogurt with fresh fruit and nuts
To supply the fuel your body needs, make breakfast and lunch the larger meals; eat lighter foods at dinner to support your body as it slows down and prepares to rest for the night. Allow at least two hours between dinner and bedtime. Sleeping on an overly full stomach can cause restless sleep and a groggy feeling in the morning.
The third basic recommendation for a healthy diet is to reduce your consumption of refined sugars—or, better yet, eliminate them from your diet completely. Admittedly, this is a great challenge for many people. About half of the carbohydrates eaten by the typical American are sugar. The average adult eats about 150 pounds of sugar each year; the average teenager eats a whopping 300 pounds annually.
The ingestion of sugar has many adverse effects on the body. It increases the excretion of valuable minerals, including calcium, magnesium, chromium, copper, zinc, and sodium. The reduction in the amount of calcium in the blood in turn prompts the secretion of parathyroid hormone, which causes the release of calcium from the bones, accelerating bone loss and, possibly, the development of osteoporosis. Sugar also causes blood-sugar levels to soar. In response, the pancreas steps up its production of insulin to drive the blood-sugar level back down. Many people may react to these changes in blood sugar with jitteriness, agitation, and an inability to concentrate, followed by tiredness and irritability. In addition, if this cycle is repeated over and over, the pancreas becomes overworked and fatigued, and the body’s cells can become resistant to insulin—ultimately resulting in diabetes. Sugar impairs immune function by competing with vitamin C for transport into white blood cells. This reduces the ability of the white blood cells to destroy aggressive bacteria, making the body more prone to infection. Sugar promotes the overgrowth of yeast in the gastrointestinal tract. And we all know the association of sugar with tooth decay and obesity.
Mother was right: You’d better eat your veggies. Phytochemicals, compounds present in fruits and vegetables, are a relatively recent focus of nutritional research. Scientists are only beginning to identify them and their properties—there are thousands of phytochemicals that have been isolated and, no doubt, many more that will be—but research has already confirmed their positive effects. Many of them are powerful substances that offer proven health benefits. Some are antioxidants that fight free radicals. Others have other beneficial properties. Many of the entries in Part Two single out certain fruits and vegetables as beneficial for specific conditions because of the phytochemicals they contain. Here’s a quick summary of some of the phytochemicals that have been scientifically studied:
• Acemannan, extracted from the aloe vera plant, appears to be one of its most active ingredients. It is used both orally and intravenously, and has uses from antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial to helping with symptoms from AIDS and cancer.
• Acetylated acidic polysaccharide and galatluronic acid, two compounds that combine to form the gooey texture okra is known for, are very soothing to the digestive tract.
• Allicin, found in raw garlic, has antibiotic and antiviral properties, lowers cholesterol, and reduces the risk of blood clots. Ajoeine and adenosine, present in cooked garlic, also reduce the risk of blood clots.
• Anthocyanidins (also called phenols) found in grapes—and therefore in red wine, grape juice and grape-seed extract—are strong antioxidants that fight cancer, reduce levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL, or “bad cholesterol”) in the blood, strengthen blood vessels, thin the blood, aid the immune system, and fight allergies.
• Calcium pectate, a type of soluble fiber present in carrots, may help lower cholesterol levels. In one study, people who ate seven ounces of carrots a day for a three-week period experienced, on average, an 11-percent reduction in serum cholesterol.
• Capsaicin, the compound that makes hot peppers hot, has been shown to be an anticoagulant, and may help to prevent heart attacks and strokes due to abnormal blood clots.
• Curcumin, found in the herb turmeric, has been compared against the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) phenylbutazone, with good results. It seems to have some antioxidant and, possibly, anticancer effects as well.
• Ellagic acid, found in many berries (including blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, strawberries, huckleberries, and loganberries), is believed to have anticancer properties.
• Genistein, an isoflavone present in soybeans, soy flour, soymilk, tofu, and textured soy protein, helps reduce blood cholesterol and fights cancer. It works in much the same way as the cancer drug tamoxifen. It also eases menopausal problems, including hot flashes, and may help in building bone density.
• Glycyrrhizin, found in licorice, has been used to decrease inflammation in people with arthritis.
• Indoles, which are present in the cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and their relatives) are antioxidants that boost the immune system and aid the body in disarming and excreting toxins. It is believed they also can render inactive a type of estrogen that has the potential to support the growth of breast tumors. Researchers have observed that people who eat cabbage frequently have a lower incidence of colon and breast cancer than those who do not.
• Liminene, a substance found in lemons and limes, is a strong antioxidant.
• Lycopenes, found in tomatoes, have antioxidant properties, protect against cancer (notably prostate and pancreatic cancers), and stimulate the brain.
• Lutein, found in dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and collard greens, is an antioxidant carotenoid with more power than its better known cousin, beta-carotene. It fights free-radical damage, and has been shown to reduce the risk of macular degeneration, a common cause of blindness in older people.
• Oleuropein, found in extracts from the olive leaf, has been shown to have antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial effects.
• Quercetin, found in red and yellow onions, red wine, broccoli, and tea, fights cancer, viruses, bacteria, and fungi. This antioxidant bioflavonoid also lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of unwanted blood clots.
• Pectin, found in apples and other fruits, is a type of fiber that has been shown to be effective in lowering cholesterol levels.
• Sulforaphane, found in broccoli and broccoli sprouts, has demonstrated cancer-preventing properties.
Since nearly every fruit, vegetable, grain, and legume that has been tested contains phytochemicals, it is unlikely that all of these beneficial compounds will be identified anytime soon. Thus, while some manufacturers are producing concentrates of known phytochemicals, it is impossible to get their full benefits in supplement form. Eating a diet that includes generous amounts of a wide variety of fresh produce is still the best way to ensure that you are getting the fullest possible range of phytochemicals and in the balance that nature intended.
There are alternatives to refined sugar. Honey, rice syrup, molasses, barley malt, and maple syrup are fair substitutes. But these too should be used sparingly, as in excess they add little to the diet except calories.
Food advertising promotes many products that are laden with refined sugars—soda, candy, cookies, and breakfast cereals, among others. Processed foods frequently contain surprisingly large amounts of sugar. Even foods that don’t seem like sweets, such as spaghetti sauce or peanut butter, often contain sugar. Thus, by decreasing your use of processed foods, you can significantly decrease your refined-sugar consumption. It is important to read food labels carefully so you know exactly what you are eating.
If you can’t eliminate sugar entirely, limit it to early in the day. If you eat sugary sweets before bed, you may have difficulty settling down for sleep and may wake up groggy and tired the next morning.
Drink Plenty of Clean Water
To keep all of your body’s systems functioning efficiently, you need to drink at least six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day. Water accounts for approximately two-thirds of the average adult’s body weight. That means that if you weigh 120 pounds, you’re carrying 80 pounds of water; if you weigh 180 pounds, your body contains 120 pounds of water. Water is more important to life’s essential processes than any other substance we know of. An adult human can live for up to forty days without food, but for no more than seven days without water.
In the United States, it has long been a point of pride that people can safely drink their tap water. Most community water systems supply water that is—though heavily chlorinated—considered to be both safe and of acceptable quality. Yet between 20,000 and 100,000 people become ill every year from drinking tap water, and some die. The very young, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk. Because the symptoms associated with drinking contaminated water often mimic those of the flu, the cause of the problem is seldom identified. Most people will simply ignore an upset stomach, a mild case of diarrhea, or a temporary unidentified digestive disturbance, or treat these symptoms with an over-the-counter remedy of some kind without thinking much about it.
Although the chlorine that is added to most municipal water supplies does destroy waterborne bacteria, including the bacteria that cause typhoid fever, cholera, and dysentery, it can be dangerous to your health. Chlorine injures red blood cells and damages their ability to carry life-giving oxygen where it is needed. Some studies suggest that chlorine may contribute to high blood pressure. Chlorine also destroys vitamin E.
Research has linked chlorine-based chemicals to certain forms of cancer, as well as infertility and other reproductive problems. The chemical structure of some chlorine-based chemicals is very close to that of the human sex hormone estrogen. As a result, research suggests, these chemicals may either block the action of natural estrogen, or, in some cases, actually amplify its effect. In the early 1990s, researchers found that certain cancers, infertility problems, and reproductive abnormalities had one frightening thing in common: All can be caused by exposure to chlorine-based and other chemicals that mimic the effects of human estrogens. Recent years have seen certain alarming health trends in the general population, including a 50-percent drop in the sperm count of the average man; a 50-percent increase in the rate of testicular cancer; and a doubling of the incidence of breast cancer among American women. All of these conditions can result from excessive estrogen exposure. While there is no consensus among researchers that estrogen exposure is indeed to blame, or that chlorine in drinking water is implicated, Greenpeace and the American Public Health Organization have called for a ban on chlorine, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a study of this chemical’s possible health hazards.
Fluoride is added to the water supply in more than half the cities in the United States, ostensibly to improve dental health. Yet there is still no conclusive evidence proving that this actually works. On the other hand, there is considerable evidence that fluoride itself creates health problems. There is a higher incidence of Down syndrome, cancer, osteoporosis, osteomalacia, mottled teeth, and deaths from all causes in areas where fluoride intake is high. Fluoride also destroys vitamin C. Moreover, sodium fluoride and fluosalicic acid—the compounds used to fluoridate water—are byproducts of aluminum manufacture. They are not found in nature.
A Word About Fat
Many people have come to think of fat as a dirty word. It isn’t. In fact, fats are necessary nutrients, just as proteins and carbohydrates are, and it is impossible to be truly healthy without an adequate supply of them. It is important, however, that the dietary fat you consume be the right kind.
Fats are the most energy-dense of the three major nutrient types. That is, they contain more calories per gram than either proteins or carbohydrates do. Fats are therefore a major source of energy for the body. They have other vital functions as well. They help the body to maintain its temperature in cold weather; they act as a “cushion” for vital organs; and they are necessary for healthy nerve function, healthy skin, and proper wound healing. In infants, a lack of the right types of fats slows growth and development, particularly the development of the brain.
Fat molecules are composed of a fatty acid or acids plus glycerol, the slippery substance that makes soap soapy. The general scientific term for a fat molecule is glyceride. Depending on the number of fatty acids they contain, specific fat molecules may be designated monoglycerides (one fatty acid), diglycerides (two fatty acids), or triglycerides (three fatty acids). Most dietary fats are triglycerides. Triglycerides do not dissolve in water.
Fatty acids are basically chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen and oxygen atoms attached. They differ from one another both in the number of carbon atoms in their carbon chains and in the number of hydrogen atoms attached to the carbon chain. A fatty acid that contains the maximum possible amount of hydrogen is called saturated. In foods, triglycerides with saturated fatty acids are generally solid at room temperature, like butter. Saturated fats occur mostly in foods from animal sources, as well as in coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and cocoa butter. A fatty acid that contains less than the maximum possible amount of hydrogen is referred to as unsaturated. Depending on how many pairs of hydrogen atoms are missing, an unsaturated fatty acid may be either monounsaturated (one pair missing) or polyunsaturated (more than one pair missing). Unsaturated fats are generally liquid at room temperature, and are usually found in foods of vegetable origin, such as vegetable oils. Many fats and oils, both of animal or vegetable origin, contain mixtures of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Still another type of fat found in some foods does not occur in nature, but as a result of food-processing technology (see The Hydrogenation Process, page 56). These are known as trans-fatty acids.
Saturated and trans-fats (hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats and oils) have been linked to a number of serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. These are the so-called “bad fats.” A number of the polyunsaturated fatty acids, on the other hand—the “good fats”—have been designated essential fatty acids. This means that they are required for health and that the body is unable to synthesize them, so they must be obtained in the diet. Essential fatty acids fall into two groups, depending on molecular structure, the omega-3 and the omega-6 essential fatty acids. The omega-3 essential fatty acids include alpha-linolenic and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and are found in flaxseed oil and fish oils. These fatty acids help to lower blood-fat levels and prevent the development of blood clots, thus decreasing the risk of heart disease. The omega-6 essential fatty acids include linoleic acid and gamma-linolenic acid, and are found in black currant seed oil, borage oil, and evening primrose oil, among other sources. The omega-6 oils play a part in nerve function, growth, skin health, and wound healing.
How much fat should you eat? Most nutritionists agree that, for most people, fat intake should fall in the range of 25 to 30 percent of total dietary calories. Thus, if you normally take in about 2,800 calories a day, between 700 and 900 of those calories should be from fat. Since fat contains 9 calories per gram, 900 calories from fat translates into a total of 100 grams of fat.
To figure out the amount of fat you should consume each day, do the following:
1.Figure out approximately how many calories you eat in a day.
2.Multiply this number by 0.25.
Divide the result from Step 2 by 9.
This will give you the number of grams of fat that will give you 25 percent of your daily dietary calories. You may find that, like most people in industrialized Western countries, you are consuming more fat than you should. More serious, however, is the fact that, as a group, we consume too much bad fat and not enough of the good fats. So the solution to the “fat problem” is not simply to cut out fat, but to change your diet so that you eat more good fat and less bad fat. One easy way to do this is to increase the amount of fish in your diet. Besides being an excellent source of good fats, fish also provides good-quality protein. Eating just two fish meals per week will help to keep your heart and circulatory system in good health. Types of fish highest in omega-3 fatty acids (a 3.5-ounce serving contains more than 1 gram of EFAs) include anchovies, carp, herring, lake trout, mackerel, salmon, sardines, scad, sturgeon, tuna, and whitefish. Types of fish that contain somewhat less (a 3.5-ounce serving contains 1⁄2 to 1 gram of EFAs) include bass, bluefish, eel, hake, halibut, oysters, pompano, rainbow trout, rockfish, shark, and smelts.
Any health professional will tell you that drinking eight glasses of water every day is a standard prescription for good health. Unfortunately, tap water cannot be considered healthy unless proven to be so by laboratory tests. Boiling tap water for three to five minutes will kill bacteria and parasites, but the boiling process concentrates heavy metals, and it cannot eliminate certain pollutants or destroy the chlorine and fluoride.
For a very long time, we have recommended that people drink only pure spring water from a reputable source, and that is the recommendation you will find in most entries in this book. It is important to use quality water not only for drinking, but also to make ice cubes, to reconstitute juices, and for cooking, particularly for cooking grains, such as rice, that absorb water as they cook. It is even advisable to use the purest water possible to brush your teeth, and to filter the water you bathe or shower in. (There are water filters for shower heads made just for this purpose.) Spring water is preferable to distilled water, which has little to no mineral content. Distilled water is the ultimate in soft water, and for reasons not yet fully determined, drinking softened water over time can lead to a measurable increase in high blood pressure and increased risk of heart attack and stroke. This was reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association as far back as 1974, based on data covering millions of people on both sides of the Atlantic over a period of decades, though little was made of the news.
Along with the chlorine and fluoride that are routinely added to tap water, there are many other substances that sneak through the purification processes. Most of the pollutants that contaminate drinking water are tasteless, odorless, colorless, and invisible. These substances can include viruses, bacteria, parasites, inorganic chemicals, asbestos fibers, lead, pesticides, herbicides, radioactive particles, methanes, and other poisonous agents. You can’t taste them, smell them, or see them. The only way they can be detected is by laboratory analysis.
You should be aware, however, that while many companies advertise their products as “natural spring water,” there is no legal definition of what constitutes a spring, and “natural” means only that the mineral content of the water has not been altered. It can be hard to really tell what you’re getting. Indeed, the differences between the different types of water available today are a mystery to many. Here’s how to find out how your water sources measure up:
•Tap water. Contact your local water department or local health department and ask how the water supply is cleaned and treated. Some state agencies will test your tap water free of charge. However, most test only for bacteria, not toxins, pollutants, or parasites. If you really want to find out what is in your tap water, you might have to pay for an independent analysis conducted by a commercial laboratory.
•Filtered water. There are three common types of water filters: absorbent filters, microfilters, and ion-exchange filters. Absorbent filters, usually made of charcoal, are designed to pick up and hold contaminates as water passes over them. Microfilters, which can be fashioned of any of a number of different materials, have tiny holes designed to catch and eliminate contaminants as water passes through them. Deionization or demineralization is accomplished with ion-exchange filters, which are designed to remove heavy metals, including lead. None of these filters can remove all contaminants. To remove parasites such as potentially deadly cryptosporidia, a microfilter must have a guaranteed pore size of one micron or smaller, according to the National Sanitation Foundation. Also available are reverse-osmosis filtration systems. These utilize semipermeable membranes similar to those used in kidney dialysis machines to remove impurities. The pores in the reverse-osmosis membrane are so tiny that most contaminants in water (including chlorine and fluoride) are trapped, but hydrogen and oxygen molecules pass through easily. This is one of the most efficient all-around methods of filtration available.
•Distilled water. The steam distillation process starts with boiling water. As the water boils, steam rises and is funneled through tubing into a condensing chamber, where it cools and condenses back into water. The steam is pure water vapor. Most of the contaminants remain behind. If you regularly boil water in a teakettle, you have probably noticed the scale that builds up on the bottom of a well-used kettle. That’s what happens in the distillation process. However, a lot of the buildup consists of the healthy minerals that give water its taste. That’s why distilled water tastes flat.
•Bottled water. Bottled water can be purchased in supermarkets in gallon bottles or delivered to your home in five- or six-gallon jugs. Any bottled water you buy should carry a label showing the original source of the water (spring, well, public water supply, etc.) and the type of treatment (filtration, distillation, deionization, ultraviolet-light treatment, ozonation) it has undergone, as well as listing all the elements present in the water (hydrogen, oxygen, minerals). If it doesn’t, choose another brand or contact the bottler directly for this information. If you are considering having bottled water delivered to your home or business, we suggest you ask for written documentation from several different companies attesting to the cleanliness and purity of the water each offers, and choose the supplier whose water is the cleanest. If you have bottled water delivered, be aware that the cooler or ceramic jug you use to dispense the water should be cleaned regularly. Use a mixture of equal parts hydrogen peroxide and baking soda once a month to clean the jug. Run this mixture through the spigot, too. Or, as an alternative, you can use grapefruit-seed extract (see WATER PURIFICATION in Part Three). Before refilling, rinse well with tap water, and dry it with a clean towel.
The Hydrogenation Process
Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats are vegetable or seed oils that have been subjected to elaborate processing. Hydrogenating an oil means saturating its carbon molecules with hydrogen. This is accomplished under tremendous pressure at temperatures of up to 410°F in the presence of a metal catalyst (nickel, platinum, copper) for as long as eight hours.
A liquid oil can be transformed into a solid or semi-solid fat by adjusting the length of the hydrogenation process. When the desired degree of hardness is attained, the process is stopped. Margarines, “soft” margarines, and solid shortenings are manufactured with partially hydrogenated oils.
Hydrogenation destroys the nutritional value of the oil. A hydrogenated product doesn’t spoil, because it is a completely inert (dead) substance. It can be heated for cooking without decomposing. However, it contains chemically altered metabolites—some of which may be harmful—plus traces of the metal catalyst.
Even though logic might suggest otherwise, partially hydrogenated products are in some ways worse than completely hydrogenated products. The molecules in oil being bombarded with hydrogen become saturated (hydrogenated) erratically, and when the process is stopped, a proliferation of strangely altered molecules called trans fatty acids are left behind. Many of these chemically altered elements are harmful because they interfere with the body’s normal metabolism. Others have not been scientifically researched. Studies have shown that trans fatty acids are at least as bad for you as saturated fats. What’s worse, when saturated fats raise cholesterol levels, they tend to raise the level of high-density lipoproteins (HDLs, the so-called “good cholesterol”). This is not the case with trans fatty acids. Two major studies, one published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the other in The New England Journal of Medicine, showed trans fatty acids to be the worst type of fat in terms of heart-attack risk.
For more information about drinking water and water treatment systems, you can contact the Water Quality Association (see the Resources section at the end of the book).
BASIC NUTRIENTS YOUR BODY NEEDS
The four basic building blocks of the diet are water, complex carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. A proper balance of these essentials is necessary for optimum health. The table on page 57 provides a brief introduction to fundamental dietary requirements, as well as a guide to the functions and food sources of these four dietary elements. A diet based on a wide variety of simply prepared whole foods is most likely to meet your basic nutritional needs.
Vegetarians must take special care to provide adequate protein for tissue growth, maintenance, and repair by eating a nutrient-rich and protein-adequate diet. Many plant foods do not contain the full spectrum of eight amino acids that make up a complete protein. At one time it was thought that to provide a complete protein, certain foods—such as rice and beans—had to be combined and eaten at the same time. Now we know that a diet based on a variety of vegetables, legumes, and grains will provide adequate protein. However, it is important that vegetarians eat a varied, balanced diet in order to get the full spectrum of amino acids, and therefore complete protein.
Also necessary for good health are nutrients that together are classified as micronutrients, which include vitamins and minerals.
Vitamins are essential to normal body function. They are not a form of energy or fuel, as foods are. But they play an indispensable role in the normal metabolism, growth, maintenance and repair of the body.
Vitamins are classified as either water-soluble or fat-soluble, depending upon which type of molecule (fat- or water-based) transports them in the bloodstream. Water-soluble vitamins include all of the B complex and vitamin C. These vitamins are quickly used by the body or excreted in urine, so they must be replenished daily. Water-soluble vitamins may leach out of foods during cooking, be damaged by overprocessing, or be destroyed when foods are overcooked.
The fat-soluble vitamins—A, D, E, and K—are fairly stable during low-temperature cooking. However, antibiotics, mineral oil, and certain drugs (steroids, for example) interfere with their absorption from the digestive tract. Frying foods alters the fat-soluble vitamins in them as well.
Know Your Greens
Throughout this book, we talk about the importance of various types of vegetables, particularly green vegetables. Nutritionally speaking, though, some greens are better for you than others. Here we will compare the nutritional value of several different types of green vegetables.
Most salad greens are a good source of vitamin C, beta-carotene (the precursor of vitamin A), iron, calcium, folic acid, and dietary fiber. Generally, darker green means more nutrition. For example, the dark green leaves of romaine lettuce have up to six times the vitamin C and five to ten times the beta-carotene of an equal amount of iceberg lettuce. And arugula, an even greener green, has about four times the vitamin C and three times the beta-carotene of romaine. Compare the nutritional values of ten popular salad greens (figures are for 3.5 ounces, or about two cups):
Many other types of green plants, especially kale, collards, and dandelion greens, are rich in carotene, vitamin C, flavonoids, and other substances that help protect against degenerative diseases. They are also a good source of fiber and many minerals, particularly iron and calcium. Ounce for ounce, fresh collard greens, kale, and mustard greens have about as much calcium as whole milk, and dandelion and turnip greens actually have more. Such green leafy vegetables as turnip greens, collards, green and red Swiss chard, beet greens, kale, dandelion greens, mustard greens, broccoli raab, and sorrel should all be included in a healthy diet. For example, just 3.5 ounces of beet greens can supply more than the daily requirement of vitamin A, 50 percent of the daily requirement of vitamin C, and 15 percent of the daily requirement of calcium. Consider the following figures:
Note that leafy greens lose much of their volume when cooked. For example, a pound of raw greens will yield only about 1⁄2 cup of cooked leafy greens. Recommended preparation methods include steaming, simmering, blanching, braising, and quick sautéing—in other words, almost anything except frying.
There are a number of “prize” vegetables that really stand out for the impressive nutrition they offer. Kale is one of them. A single 3.5-ounce serving of kale supplies nearly twice the recommended daily allowance of both vitamin A and vitamin C, as well as 50 percent of the RDA of vitamin E, 15 to 20 percent of the RDA of vitamin B6, folic acid, calcium, and iron, and 10 percent of the RDA of magnesium. Other “prize” vegetables are all the members of the cabbage family, including red and green cabbage, savoy cabbage, bok choy and napa cabbage, broccoli, radishes, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.
For a review of the vitamins you need every day, as well as their respective functions and food sources, see the table here.
Minerals are part of all body tissues and fluids. They are essential in nerve responses, muscle contraction, maintenance of the body’s fluid balance, and the internal processing of nutrients. Minerals influence the manufacture of hormones and regulate electrolyte balance throughout the body. The term electrolyte refers to the form in which various minerals circulate in the body. Calcium, potassium, and sodium are examples of important electrolytes. Calcium, for example, is not only an important constituent of bones and teeth; it is also involved in the transmission of nerve impulses, the transmission of energy from cell to cell, and the contraction and relaxation of muscles, including the heart. Calcium, potassium, and magnesium together control the continuous cycle of contraction and relaxation of the heart muscle and blood vessels. If these electrolytes are out of balance, resulting fluid shifts may cause swelling or dehydration, the neuromuscular system may become irritable, or an irregular heart rhythm may develop.
Minerals are excreted daily and must be replaced either through the diet or in supplement form. For a quick review of the minerals you need every day, as well as their functions and food sources, see the table here.
Diet and nutrition together make up a huge subject that deserves your time and attention. Read more, experiment with new and different foods, use cookbooks devoted to whole-foods cooking, and ask lots of questions. The more you understand about food and nutrition, the more committed you will be to making sure you eat a healthy, wholesome diet.
WORKING WITH A NUTRITIONAL COUNSELOR
There are many different kinds of professionals, with varied educational backgrounds and philosophies, who can recommend dietary programs and nutritional supplements. Registered dietitians, nutritionists, naturopathic physicians, pharmacists, chiropractors, medical doctors, and nurses—to name only a few—may all practice nutritional medicine. When interviewing a nutritional counselor, whatever the individual’s professional credentials, find out about his or her educational background, work experience, and nutritional philosophy.
Nutrition is a broad and constantly changing field. Eating a healthy, well-balanced, allergen-free diet, along with nutritional supplements when needed, is one of the most important things you can do to support your health. You may need assistance planning the optimum diet. Choose a counselor you feel you can work with, a person who believes in the fundamental importance of a healthy diet. As with any health-care practitioner, choose a person who knows the current research, who is compassionate, and who will work with you as a partner to create the healthiest, most manageable plan possible.
While they should not be used as a substitute for a varied, healthy diet, nutritional supplements can help to ensure that you are getting an adequate supply of all the basic nutrients your body needs. They can also be helpful in supporting the body during illness. For example, in many of the entries in Part Two we suggest boosting the body’s infection-fighting capability with three specific vitamins. Vitamin C is a well-documented anti-inflammatory that eases the common cold. Bioflavonoids help fight infection, reduce inflammation, and decrease allergic reactions. Beta-carotene, which the body uses to manufacture vitamin A, helps mucous membranes to heal.
In addition to vitamins and minerals, many of the entries in Part Two contain a recommendation for probiotic supplements. Probiotic (meaning “life-promoting”) bacteria are the friendly bacteria that live in healthy intestines. There are different types of bacteria that normally inhabit the digestive system. Lactobacillus acidophilus is specific to the small intestine; Bifidobacterium bifidum is specific to the large intestine. These friendly bacteria are termed resident bacteria because they form colonies and do their work inside the body.
Acidophilus bacteria perform many essential functions. They produce the enzyme lactase, required for the digestion of lactose (milk sugar), and aid in the digestion of other nutrients as well. Some strains fight undesirable microorganisms that invade their territory, aid in the destruction of dangerous disease-causing bacteria by producing natural antibiotics, and help reduce the levels of low-density lipoproteins, the so-called “bad cholesterol.” When acidophilus colonies are present in sufficient strength, they inhibit the proliferation of Candida albicans, a fungal organism (yeast) that can cause a host of problems.
Bifidobacteria produce lactic and other acids that increase the acidity of the region they inhabit and make the area inhospitable to dangerous bacteria. They prevent harmful bacteria from converting compounds known as nitrates (ingested in food or water) into related compounds called nitrites. Nitrites in turn can be converted into nitrosamines, which are known cancer-causing agents. When present in sufficient numbers, bifidobacteria prevent disease-causing bacteria and fungi from forming colonies in their territory and send them on their way. Bifidobacteria also aid in the production of B vitamins and assist in the dietary management of certain liver conditions.
The body can lose its stores of friendly bacteria in many ways. For example, if you must take antibiotics, these drugs not only destroy harmful bacteria, but kill off the essential bacteria as well. Birth-control pills, certain over-the-counter drugs, the chlorine and fluoride in tap water, environmental pollutants, mental and physical stress, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, tobacco, and alcohol also reduce normal levels of beneficial bacteria. Even just getting older causes a loss of the friendly bacteria you need to stay healthy.
Because friendly bacteria have the astonishing ability to rid the body of disease-causing bacteria before they can create a problem, probiotic supplements have become virtually a necessity today. If you must take a prescribed course of antibiotics, supplementing your diet with yogurt is helpful, and taking lactobacilli for at least ten days after the treatment is very important. The bacteria found in true cultured yogurt—as opposed to the commercially produced variety—do not remain in the body for long, but they too enhance digestion and help inhibit undesirable microorganisms.
When selecting probiotics supplements, choose products cultured from “super strains.” Good manufacturers will have independent research available concerning their products’ ability to survive in an acid environment, specifics about the strain of bacteria they contain, and other characteristics. Also, make sure the product you select has an expiration date stamped or printed on the label. Many live bacteria die in the container. Without an expiration date, there is no way to tell whether you are purchasing living bacteria that will colonize your intestines and deliver full benefit, or inactive bacteria that will do you no good at all. If you are allergic to milk, choose a dairy-free product.
Another food supplement recommended for various conditions is chlorophyll. Chlorophyll, the green pigment found in plant tissue, is a natural deodorizer and contains many useful trace nutrients, especially magnesium. It is helpful when treating ailments as varied as bad breath, canker sores, chronic constipation, menstrual cramps, vaginitis, and mononucleosis, as well as in rebuilding blood after a major bleed or in rebuilding bone tissue after a break.
CHOOSING DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS
Vitamin and mineral supplements are either isolated from food sources or manufactured synthetically. Synthetic and natural vitamins and minerals have identical chemical structures and supposedly do the same work within the body, although there is some controversy over which are more effectively absorbed and used. It is true that, for example, vitamin B1 (thiamine) is the same molecule however it is made. However, a natural vitamin-B complex contains all of the B vitamins in addition to other coenzymes and as-yet-unidentified compounds that may support the B vitamins’ functioning in the body. Similarly, synthetic vitamin E contains a single compound, whereas natural vitamin E contains a mixture of different but related substances known as tocopherols. Recent studies have reported that taking natural vitamin E results in higher blood levels that last longer.
Whether you select a natural or synthetic formula, be aware that the contents of any supplement have to be altered in some way to put them into pill, powder, or capsule form. Many vitamin and mineral formulas contain refined sugars or artificial sweeteners, such as sucrose, mannose, xylitol, and aspartame (NutraSweet). Some health-care practitioners question whether artificial sweeteners are carcinogenic. To be safe, select a formula that does not include them. To avoid stomach upset, it is best to take vitamins and minerals with food. Minerals are best taken at the beginning of a meal. Vitamins are best taken at the end of the meal, when your stomach is full. If you are using a combination vitamin and mineral supplement, take it after a meal.
The dosages of nutritional supplements recommended in this book are therapeutic dosages. That is, they are meant to be taken for limited periods of time to address specific health concerns. They are generally higher than the recommended daily allowances (RDAs) set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. RDAs represent the minimum amount of nutrients needed to prevent nutrient-deficiency disease—the equivalent of the “minimum wage” for health. Many researchers agree that levels above the RDAs allow for greater health benefits.
When taking nutritional supplements, you should be aware that if a formula appears to be helping support your body, it does not follow that “more is better.” Toxic overdoses of vitamins or minerals are rare, but they can occur, especially with products containing iron. Reactions to appropriate doses of vitamin and mineral supplements are likewise rare; however, you should be responsible and careful in taking them. If you develop an upset stomach or any adverse reaction, decrease the dosage or stop taking the supplement.
Follow the storage instructions on product labels. In general, you should store vitamin and mineral supplements away from heat, tightly capped, and out of reach of children. Keep vitamins A and E in the refrigerator. These two vitamins are usually oil-based and will keep longer in a cool environment. Check the expiration dates on any formula you buy. A vitamin or mineral formula that has passed its expiration date will not have full potency.