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June Issue Of Natural Alternatives
June 01, 2015

Natural Alternatives for Your Total Health

June 2015

Hello, and welcome to this edition edition of my Natural Alternatives Newsletter!

I hope you will enjoy reading this issue.

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“The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well.” ~Hippocrates






by Jane Metzger

Herbs can be powerful allies for our health and wellness. Many of us are familiar with Echinacea and yarrow as antimicrobials, wild cherry bark for a cough, ginger for nausea, and a host of other herbs used in acute situations to restore health. Herbs can be very effective used in this manner, but herbs also shine when used as daily building and strengthening tonics.

What are Tonic Herbs?

In a previous article I discussed nourishing herbal infusions, which are made from nutrient-rich herbs that are safe to consume on a daily basis, as we do food. In this article I delve into tonic herbs – those herbs which can be consumed daily to enhance vitality, longevity, and energy. We may be familiar with the concept of tonics from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), wherein they are used “to supplement deficiencies and enhance energy and well-being”

Tonic herbs slowly build and strengthen, restoring our body systems to a balanced state, thus supporting optimum function of our physical bodies as well as enhancing our emotional well-being. They reflect the essence of herbalism, which we emphasize in our online herbalism classes – integrating plants into our diets on a daily basis as supportive, building, strengthening allies used as preventative medicine or to heal chronic disease. Hippocrates hit the nail on the head with his oft-cited declaration, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine by thy food.” In recent years as we have linked the sad state of the Standard American Diet to our health struggles, there has fortunately been an increased emphasis on letting food be our medicine. We can focus on the second half of Hippocrates’ mandate and let medicine be our food by supplementing our diets and nourishing our bodies with tonic herbs.

Is important to note that the definition of tonic is somewhat different in TCM and Western Herbalism. In general, eastern tonics are used in the case of deficiency to build or nourish the body, while western tonics are used to improve organ or system function, often through clearing and cleansing . Western tonics do include nurturing, building tonics such as adaptogens (which increase the body’s ability to resist and adapt to stress, be it physical, mental, or emotional) and trophorestoratives (which build strength and function of organs or body systems); but they also include normalizing tonics (which improve organ or system by stimulating function) and blood tonics (which cleanse and detoxify the blood) . This article focuses on the building tonics which treat deficiency and restore function by restoring strength, generating warmth, providing nutrition, and providing moisture.

The Herb Safety Scale

One important criteria for tonics is that they have no negative side effects if used appropriately. In terms of safety, it is helpful to consider where various types of herbs fall on a safety continuum scale of 1 to 5.

Nourishing herbs are on the left side of the scale with a safety rating of 1, as they are very safe and can be consumed daily as often as desired with no side effects.

On the right side of the scale are herbs for extreme acute use (also called heroic herbs by herbalist Christopher Hobbs), which have a safety rating of 5. These are herbs that are “strong and highly irritating, causing dramatic changes to occur” with little difference between a therapeutic dose and a toxic dose and thus strong potential for side effects – these must be used only under direction of an experienced herbalist.

In between these extremes are tonic herbs and “specific” herbs. Tonic herbs are gentle and slow stimulants, have a wide therapeutic range, and include two types: nourishing tonics that are very safe to take daily over extended periods of time; and stimulating tonics that are safe to take for days to months without side effects if used correctly.

“Specific” herbs are “moderately active stimulants” with a narrower therapeutic range, best for acute use limited to approximately two weeks.

Using Tonic Herbs for Health and Vitality

So what are some tonic herbs, and how can we use them? Tonic herbs can include adaptogens, trophorestoratives, normalizing amphoterics, and alteratives. Tonics can work on one organ or body system or several simultaneously. While it might seem like a good idea to take enough tonics to cover each body system, this could become overwhelming! Including tonic herbs in cooking and making tonic preparations takes some planning, so keep it simple by incorporating just a few into your daily routine.

Consider your areas of weakness in the body - if you struggle with stress or anxiety, choose an adaptogen or a tonic for the nervous system. If you have digestive difficulties, choose a tonic that supports the liver and digestive system. If you have a history of heart disease, choose a cardiotonic. If you are generally healthy and just want to enhance your health and increase energy and longevity, choose an adaptogen to support multiple body systems, or rotate different tonics every few months. Ideally, consume these in or as food (e.g. throw some astragalus or reishi into a soup recipe) or as herbal infusions and decoctions. If your busy life simply does not allow for this, herbal tinctures are also an option.

Immunomodulators for the Immune System 

A strong immune system will fight off daily assaults to our health, and immunomodulators like astragalus root, reishi mushroom, and licorice root help build immunity. These herbs are rich in polysaccharides and saponins, which stimulate the body’s innate immunity . These herbs are also adaptogens, which increase the body’s ability to resist and cope with physical and emotional stress, adapting to the stressor instead of succumbing to it. Additionally, astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous) is tonic to the adrenal glands, heart, lungs, and liver. Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is tonic to the liver, is anti-inflammatory, and lowers cholesterol [1], and its nervine action helps relieve anxiety and sleeplessness. Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra L.) is tonic to the digestive system and is a powerful antiviral (but should not be taken in high doses or on its own for extended periods as it can raise blood pressure).

Turmeric for the Digestive and Musculoskeletal Systems

Efficient digestion and assimilation are paramount for health - a large percentage of the immune system resides in the gut, after all! Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a warming, carminative, and slightly bitter digestive tonic that kindles digestive fire and promotes healthy digestion by stimulating the production and flow of bile and relieving symptoms of indigestion such as cramping, gas, and bloating. It is also liver-protective, helping to prevent liver disease. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory and can help soothe inflammatory bowel diseases. Its anti-inflammatory and analgesic actions are helpful for maintaining healthy joints, tendons, and ligaments, relieving symptoms of arthritis, and keeping tendons and ligaments flexible.

Hawthorn for the Heart

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) is rich in flavonoids and is a well-known cardiac tonic. Hawthorn extract from the berry, leaf, and/or flower is used as a general cardiac tonic, a cardiac trophorestorative, and for cases of angina, high blood pressure, early stages of congestive heart failure, and atherosclerosis . It is a supportive and anti- inflammatory tonic herb for any type of heart-related condition, including helping to heal the heart following a heart attack. Hawthorn berries, leaves, and flowers are also used as calming nervines and are used to heal, open, and protect the energetic heart.

Oats for the Nervous System

Oatstraw (Avena sativa), which makes an ideal nourishing herbal infusion due to its rich nutritive profile, is also a great nerve tonic. The rich vitamin B, calcium, and magnesium content in oatstraw and milky oats help soothe, and strengthen nerves. Oatstraw and milky oats are considered one of the best remedies for “feeding” and restoring the nervous system, particularly in times of stress and in the case of nervous system weakness or exhaustion associated with depression overwork, or emotional trauma . Oats also support cardiovascular health by reducing cholesterol,  improving circulation, and reducing blood pressure by elasticizing veins and arteries.

Ashwagandha for Reproductive Vitality

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) translates to “that which has the smell of a horse, as it gives the vitality and sexual energy of a horse” . This name alludes to the root's strong odor as well as to its use to restore strength and vitality, and to improve and enhance sexual drive by gradually lowering stress levels that may inhibit the sex drive. Ashwagandha also enhances endocrine function. In addition to its ability to build libido in men and women, ashwagandha has been shown to improve potency in men . Ashwagandha is also an adaptogen and acts as an immunomodulant. Due to its calming nature, it is also used to relieve anxiety and tension.

By Dr. Mercola

If you want to boost your brainpower, one of the best choices you can make is to eat more unprocessed whole foods. Real foods are full of the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and countless other phytochemicals that nourish your brain cells (and even grow new ones).

Consider this: people who eat plenty of vegetables and fruits (about 1.6 cups, or 400 grams) a day perform better on cognitive tests1 while those who eat a lot of sugar are 1.5 times more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment than those who do not.

So when choosing your foods remember that it's not only a matter of how many calories they contain and whether or not they might make you "fat" – it's a matter of choosing those that contain the nutrients to support optimal health, including that of your brain.

Top 7 Foods for Your Brain

1. Turmeric

Turmeric is a yellow spice often used in curry that contains the anti-inflammatory antioxidant curcumin. Curcumin is capable of crossing your blood-brain barrier, which is one reason why it holds promise as a neuroprotective agent in a wide range of neurological disorders.

Research has shown that curcumin may help inhibit the accumulation of destructive beta amyloids in the brain of Alzheimer's patients, as well as break up existing plaques.3 Curcumin has even been shown to boost memory and stimulate the production of new brain cells, a process known as neurogenesis.

Also remarkable, animal research suggests another bioactive compound in turmeric called aromatic-turmerone can increase neural stem cell growth in the brain by as much as 80 percent at certain concentrations.4 Neural stem cells differentiate into neurons and play an important role in self-repair.

The findings suggest aromatic-turmerone may help in the recovery of brain function in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and stroke (provided the effect also applies to humans).

A word to the wise… some curry powders may contain very little curcumin compared to straight turmeric powder, so choose the latter for the best health benefits.

2. Wild Alaskan Salmon

The omega-3 fats found in wild Alaskan salmon help fight inflammation throughout your body, including in your brain, and offer numerous protections to your brain cells.

For instance, a study in the journal Neurology found "older women with the highest levels of omega-3 fats… had better preservation of their brain as they aged than those with the lowest levels, which might mean they would maintain better brain function for an extra year or two."

In separate research, when boys were given an omega-3 supplement, there were significant increases in the activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex part of the brain.

This is an area of your brain that is associated with working memory. They also noticed changes in other parts of the brain, including the occipital cortex (the visual processing center) and the cerebellar cortex (which plays a role in motor control).

You can get omega-3 fats in therapeutic doses by taking a supplement like krill oil. But if you're looking for a food source, wild Alaskan salmon (along with sardines and anchovies) is among the best.

Many are concerned about radiation from Fukushima contaminating the salmon, but our primary source is Vital Choice and they regularly check for this radiation and never find it in their salmon.

3. Broccoli and Cauliflower

Broccoli and cauliflower are good sources of choline, a B vitamin known for its role in brain development.

Choline intake during pregnancy "super-charged" the brain activity of animals in utero, indicating that it may boost cognitive function, improve learning and memory, and even diminish age-related memory decline and the brain's vulnerability to toxins during childhood, as well as conferring protection later in life. Eggs and meat are other food sources of choline.

Broccoli offers additional benefits as well, including the anti-inflammatory flavonoid kaempferol and three glucosinolate phytonutrients that work together to support your body's detoxification processes.

4. Walnuts

Walnuts are good sources of plant-based omega-3 fats, natural phytosterols, and antioxidants, and have been shown to reverse brain aging in older rats. DHA, in particular, is a type of omega-3 fat that's been found to boost brain function and even promote brain healing, although it's more plentiful in animal-based omega-3 sources, like krill and wild Alaskan salmon, as opposed to walnuts.

Walnuts contain a number of other neuroprotective compounds as well, including vitamin E, folate, melatonin, and antioxidants that lend even more brain benefits. Research shows walnut consumption may support brain health by increasing inferential reasoning in young adults,9 for instance.

Another study found that consuming high-antioxidant foods like walnuts "can decrease the enhanced vulnerability to oxidative stress that occurs in aging," "increase health span," and also "enhance cognitive and motor function in aging."

5. Celery

Celery is a rich source of luteolin, a plant compound that may calm inflammation in your brain, which is a primary cause of neurodegeneration. Luteolin has also been linked with lower rates of age-related memory loss in mice, and older mice fed a luteolin-supplemented diet scored better on learning and memory tasks. In addition to celery, peppers and carrots are also good sources of luteolin.

6. Coconut Oil

The primary fuel your brain needs for energy is glucose. However, your brain is able to run on more than a single type of fuel, one being ketones (ketone bodies), or ketoacids. Ketones are what your body produces when it converts fat (as opposed to glucose) into energy.

The medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) found in coconut oil are GREAT source of ketone bodies, because coconut oil is about 66 percent MCTs. Medium-chain triglycerides go directly to your liver, which naturally converts the oil into ketones. Your liver then immediately releases the ketones into your bloodstream where they are transported to your brain to be readily used as fuel. While your brain is quite happy running on glucose, there's evidence suggesting that ketone bodies may actually help restore and renew neurons and nerve function in your brain, even after damage has set in.

Therapeutic levels of MCTs have been studied at 20 grams per day. According to research by Dr. Mary Newport, just over two tablespoons of coconut oil (about 35 ml or seven level teaspoons) would supply you with the equivalent of 20 grams of MCT, which is indicated as either a preventative measure against degenerative neurological diseases, or as a treatment for an already established case.

7. Blueberries

The antioxidants and other phytochemicals in blueberries have been linked to improvements in learning, thinking and memory, along with reductions in neurodegenerative oxidative stress. They're also relatively low in fructose compared to other fruits, making them one of the healthier fruits available. Wild blueberries, which have high anthocyanin and antioxidant content, are known to guard against Alzheimer's and other neurological diseases.

Wild blueberries have even been shown to reduce some of the effects of a poor diet (such as high blood pressure systemic inflammation). In one recent animal study, wild blueberries reduced the pro-inflammatory effects of a poor diet as well as prevented high blood pressure, which would be beneficial for your brain health as well.



1. Letting the waistline of your pants be your guide.

If you wait until your pants or skirt are too tight, you’ve waited too long to check in on your weight. Do yourself a favor and let an objective measurement of your weight, such as the scale, and of your waistline, such as your waist circumference, be the information on which you rely to tell you whether or not you are slowly gaining weight.

In most cases, weight gain occurs slowly but persistently over time, and before one notices it, several extra pounds have crept in.

Given that losing a few extra pounds is much easier than trying to lose tens or hundreds of extra pounds, being able to “nip it in the bud” when those extra pounds first start showing up is key to preventing obesity in the long run.

2. Piling your salad plate high with cheese, croutons, and dressing.

While a salad can be an excellent source of fruits and veggies, adding lots of extras is a quick way to commit salad sabotage and end up with a calorie bomb instead of a healthy dish.

3. Not reading nutritional labels.

What you think is a single serving and what the food manufacturer has decided to count as a single serving on the label may be two very different things. Food manufacturers have been notorious for designating serving sizes that are much smaller than what the average consumer actually eats.

For example, a common soup maker states on the nutritional label of one of its small soup cans that each can contains approximately 2.5 servings at 70 calories per serving. Many consumers will eat a whole can, however, so that 70 calories actually becomes 175 calories.

(The sodium and fat content is multiplied, too.)

Additionally, it’s a must to read the ingredients section of the nutritional label, to be sure that there are no trans-fats included in the form of hydrogenated oils, which lead to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and inflammation throughout the body. Also watch out for added sugars, which go by many names and have been singled out as a leading cause of the obesity epidemic.

4. Spending too much time sitting down.

You may have heard that “sitting is the new smoking.” Not only is a sedentary lifestyle associated with a greater risk for obesity, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, but recent research has shown that sitting still for as little as 30 minutes can have detrimental effects on the body.

Research has shown that sitting for as little as 30 minutes at a time without standing up or otherwise engaging in physical activity causes the beginning of a cascade of events throughout the body, a chain reaction that includes poor circulation, inflammation, and endothelial dysfunction (dysfunction of the lining of the blood vessels).

This translates, in the longer run, into higher rates of cardiovascular disease, overweight and obesity, and possibly even cancer.

5. Skimping on sleep.

That age-old advice to get a good night’s sleep turns out to have more to it in terms of health benefits than ever imagined.

In addition to preventing heart disease, stroke, depression, and other disorders, getting an adequate amount of high-quality sleep every night can prevent weight gain and obesity. What is the right amount? Most studies have shown that seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep per night are required to reap the health benefits of good sleep, including those related to preventing obesity.


Thank you for reading.

Brampton, Ontario, Canada

P.S. If you have a comment or suggestion, just reply to this e-mail. Your feedback is important to me.



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This newsletter is for educational purposes only. It is your right to educate yourself in health and medical knowledge, to seek helpful information and make use of it for your own benefit, and for that of your family. You are the one responsible for your health. You must educate yourself in order to make decisions in all health matters. My views and advises are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medicine, but simply a help you to make educated changes in order to help your body heal itself. If you have a medical condition or concern you should consult your physician.

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