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Foods that lower cholesterol - Dr. Axe
Cholesterol is often one of the most misunderstood aspects of heart health. For many people, loading up on the foods that lower cholesterol brings to mind low-fat meals that lack flavor. However, as you’ll come to see, this couldn’t be further from the truth!

When it comes to lowering high cholesterol naturally, though, strictly avoiding all fats and following a low cholesterol diet is not the answer. Even totally avoiding foods that contain cholesterol itself (like eggs or cheese) isn’t necessary either. It’s all about moderation and balance — eating a combination of nutrient-dense foods that fight inflammation and tackle the root of the problem.

You’ll be happy to know that these foods that lower cholesterol levels include all sorts of great-tasting fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, lean meats and plenty of nutritious sources of fat, too, making it easier than ever to follow a heart-healthy diet.


What Causes High Cholesterol?

First and foremost, it helps to clear up common misconceptions about  in the first place. For several decades, a wide-held belief has been that dietary cholesterol is associated with an increased risk for coronary heart disease (CHD). This led government-mandated dietary recommendations to limit cholesterol intake to no more than 300  milligrams per day for healthy adults. However, based on recent evidence, there are some serious challenges regarding this current dietary restriction, resulting in the removal of the recommendation in the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

While factors like genetics, inactivity, diabetes, stress and hypothyroidism can all impact cholesterol levels, a poor diet is the No. 1 cause for unhealthy high cholesterol. Unfortunately, the standard American or Western diet is highly inflammatory, which elevates LDL (bad cholesterol) and lowers HDL (good cholesterol) in most cases — the opposite of what we want.

How exactly does inflammation cause cholesterol levels to rise?

Cholesterol is a naturally occurring substance that is present in all of us and crucial for survival. It’s made by the liver and required by the body for the proper functioning of cells, nerves, and hormones. Cholesterol in our body is present in the form of fatty acids (lipids) that travel through the bloodstream. These particles normally don’t build up in the walls of the arteries, but when inflammation levels go up, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as “bad cholesterol,” builds up in the arteries and dangerously forms plaque clots, cutting off blood flow and setting the scene for a heart attack or stroke.

Cholesterol itself wouldn’t be nearly as dangerous without inflammation. Inflammation is the primary cause of atherosclerosis, the hardening and stiffening of arteries that accompanies plaque deposits and in turn produces even more inflammation. (1Inflammation is at the root of most diseases, and heart disease is no exception.

While we used to think that following a high-fat, high cholesterol diet could lead to high cholesterol levels, we now know that only certain people have problems properly metabolizing cholesterol, which might increase plasma LDL cholesterol levels. Countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Korea, India and those in Europe don’t include a dietary cholesterol limit in their guidelines. (2) And for good reason: strong evidence demonstrates that dietary cholesterol is not correlated with an increased risk for heart disease in most cases. (3)

Aside from these certain individuals who are more sensitive to dietary cholesterol, it’s estimated that about three-quarters of the population can remain totally healthy while eating more than 300 milligrams per day of cholesterol. In fact, eating plenty of healthy fats will raise HDL cholesterol, the “good kind,” and increase the LDL/HDL cholesterol ratio, which are two key markers of general health.

Patients at an increased risk of heart disease might need to limit their intake of cholesterol and saturated fats, but everyone else is better off focusing on limiting their intake of ultra-processed, packaged junk! Data shows that the impact of lowering dietary cholesterol is small compared to adjusting other important dietary and lifestyle factors. (2)


What Do All Cholesterol-Lowering Foods Have in Common?

If you’re looking for how to lower cholesterol naturally, there is no shortage of low cholesterol diet plan regimens available online and in bookstores that promise the ability to improve heart health. Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC), for example, is a three-part plan that attempts to lower high cholesterol by focusing on a lower-fat diet coupled with exercise and weight control. Creators of TLC report that following this plan can lower LDL cholesterol by 20 to 30 percent. (4) The DASH Diet, low in sodium and saturated fat, is another option that’s endorsed by the American Heart Association and proven to lower high blood pressure.

So what foods do most cholesterol-lowering diets make you say goodbye to and which can stay? For starters, foods with trans fats and hydrogenated oils can actually increase cholesterol levels and definitely need to stay off the table. Many plans also recommend avoiding foods with saturated fats, however this isn’t always necessary for everyone if the foods are natural and of high quality as explained above. In their place, monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are recommended. These include foods that lower cholesterol like benefit-rich avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds.

Aside from switching up your fat sources, one of the key elements to fighting high cholesterol is eating plenty of high-fiber foods. Fiber is found in all types of whole, real plant foods including vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes. Where is fiber missing? In processed foods that are refined and full of sugar — including most breakfast cereals, pastries, breads, rolls, pasta, cookies and granola bars.

When it comes to protein sources, “lean” is usually the name of the game. Healthy lean proteins include pasture-raised poultry like turkey or chicken, fish and other seafood, beans and, yes, even eggs. While I’m not a fan myself, the DASH Diet and TLC both promote low-fat milk products including yogurt and reduced-fat cheeses. For the average person, it’s also perfectly healthy to eat grass-fed animal products as part of an otherwise balanced diet, including beef and lamb.

This way of eating is closely related to the Mediterranean Diet — one of the most highly recommended dietary plans that doctors prescribe to their high-cholesterol patients. People in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean region rely heavily on eating what’s sourced and grown locally rather than packaged foods that are full of refined vegetable oils, sugar, sodium and artificial ingredients.

Historically, levels of heart disease are much lower in these countries than in the U.S., despite the fact that most people still eat a substantial amount of fat. Because of the diversity, flexibility and adaptable approach of this style of eating, it’s easy to begin and to stick with. Also, the food tastes great!


Foods to Avoid for High Cholesterol

The key to lowering heart disease risk factors, including high cholesterol, is reducing inflammation. Inflammatory foods include:

  • packaged foods of all kinds
  • sugar
  • refined grain products
  • processed vegetable oils
  • conventional dairy products (non-organic, homogenized and pasteurized)
  • farm-raised animal products
  • too much caffeine or alcohol

As mentioned above, fiber and antioxidants are crucial for keeping arteries clear and healthy. Increased dietary fiber intake is associated with significantly lower prevalence of cardiovascular disease and lower LDL-cholesterol concentrations. Research also shows that some specific compounds found in plant foods including plant sterols/stanols and isoflavones can help reduce cholesterol levels. (5) Most processed foods are extremely low in both — and the kinds that do have fiber or antioxidants normally contain synthetic, added types.

Poor quality animal products are highly inflammatory, as are toxic oils that are made using chemicals and solvents. Alcohol, sugar and caffeine are all stimulants that the liver can use to produce more cholesterol, increasing levels of inflammation. While these can be okay in small doses (such as 1–2 cups of coffee or a glass of red wine per day), overdoing it can counteract any cardio-protective benefits these ingredients might normally have.


Top 14 Foods that Lower Cholesterol

1. Vegetables (Especially Greens!)

No doubt about it, nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory vegetables are one of the most high-antioxidant foods available. Loaded with phytochemicals that fight free radical damage, they slow down the aging process and keep arteries flexible and healthy. Many dark leafy greens, like spinach and kale, contain very few calories but offer protection against heart attacks by helping artery walls stay clear of cholesterol buildup.

While nearly every type is a good choice, vegetables — including benefit-rich beets, onions, cabbage, broccoli and artichokes — are especially useful for upping your fiber intake and protecting heart health.

2. Nuts

Nuts of all kinds make a good source of healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. They also provide a decent amount of fiber. Certain nuts, including almonds, specifically supply antioxidant flavonoids, plant-based compounds that improve artery health and reduce inflammation.

Studies show nuts can lower “bad” LDL levels, especially in individuals with high cholesterol and diabetes. (6) They can help prevent damage from forming within artery walls and protect against dangerous cholesterol plaque buildup, in addition to fighting weight gain and obesity.

3. Chia Seeds and Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds’ benefits extend to being the richest source of the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). They also rank number one in terms of providing hormone-balancing lignans. Both chia and flaxseeds are extremely high in soluble and insoluble fiber, which can support detoxification and gut health and help with weight loss.

The soluble fiber content helps trap fat and cholesterol in the digestive system so that it is unable to be absorbed. Bile is then excreted through the digestive system, forcing the body to make more, using up excess cholesterol in the blood and lowering cholesterol overall. Use some seeds on your oatmeal, yogurt, in baked goods or blended into smoothies.

4. Olive Oil

Olive oil benefits include being another anti-inflammatory ingredient that’s full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids that lower LDL cholesterol. Use extra virgin olive oil to make homemade salad dressings, add some to sauces, or use it as a flavor-boosting ingredient for stir-fries or marinades.

5. Avocados

Avocados are one of the world’s greatest sources of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, the type that can help raise HDL cholesterol while lowering LDL. Avocados also contain high levels of soluble fiber and stabilize blood sugar levels, in addition to supplying anti-inflammatory phytochemicals such as beta-sitosterol, glutathione and lutein. Besides making guacamole, get creative with these avocado recipes and add it to smoothies, salads, eggs or even desserts.

6. Salmon 

As one of the world’s best sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, the nutrition of salmon is also valuable because it’s linked to lower rates of heart disease, cognitive disorders, depression and many other conditions. Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish like sardines, mackerel and herring. As some of the top foods that lower cholesterol, these fatty fish can also help raise good cholesterol levels while also supporting a healthy weight and better brain function.

 

 

7. Gluten-Free Whole Grains/Ancient Grains

One hundred percent whole grains are tied to better heart health, mostly because they are a great source of fiber. However, because gluten is a common sensitivity and can promote inflammation, I recommend focusing on gluten-free grains like quinoa, rolled oats, buckwheat and amaranth. These tend to be easier to digest, can be used in all the same ways as wheat or wheat flour, and provide plenty of nutrients, too. Oats, for example, contain a compound called beta-glucan, a substance that absorbs cholesterol to help enhance heart health. (7)

8. Green Tea

Green tea is considered the number one beverage for anti-aging. Not only is it a rich source of cancer-fighting antioxidants, it’s also supportive for heart health since it prevents LDL cholesterol levels from rising. Epidemiological studies suggest that drinking green tea can help reduce atherosclerosis and risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation in arthritis cases, and also improve bone density and brain function. (8)

9. Beans and Legumes

Beans are known for packing in tons of fiber, which slows the rate and amount of absorption of cholesterol. They also contain antioxidants and certain beneficial trace minerals that support healthy circulation. Try nutritious black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, mung beans and other varieties in soup, salads and, of course, hummus!

10. Turmeric

Consider turmeric the king of all spices when it comes to fighting inflammation. Turmeric benefits include lowering cholesterol, preventing clots, fighting viruses, killing free radicals, increasing immune health, balancing hormones and more. Turmeric contains the active ingredient called curcumin, which has been studied in regards to protection against numerous inflammatory diseases including heart disease, cancer, ulcerative colitis, arthritis and more.

11. Garlic

Garlic is one of the most well-researched heart healthy ingredients there is. For example, the benefits of raw garlic has been shown to reverse disease because of its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antidiabetic and immune-boosting properties! Garlic has been found to lower cholesterol, prevent blood clots, reduce blood pressure and protect against infections, so use some every day however you can, whether in sauces, soups, roasted veggies or marinades.

12. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes provide a good dose of filling, artery-sweeping fiber in addition to loads of vitamins and antioxidants. They’re also low in calories, low on the glycemic index (which means that they won’t spike your blood sugar) and high in potassium.

13. Persimmon

Often dubbed “the divine fruit,” persimmon fruit is packed with fiber and antioxidants, earning it one of the top spots on the cholesterol lowering foods list. And in recent years, research has uncovered a wealth of potential heart-healthy benefits of this powerful fruit. One study conducted in Japan, for example, found that regularly consuming persimmon fiber for 12 weeks produced significant reductions in LDL cholesterol levels. (9)

14. Okra

Rich in dietary fiber as well as important nutrients like vitamin C, potassium and magnesium, okra doubles as one of the best foods that lower cholesterol and blood sugar simultaneously. Some research suggests that adding a few servings of this superfood to your diet can help you stay within a healthy LDL cholesterol range and fight off heart disease while also balancing blood sugar.

In fact, an animal model published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry showed that treating mice with okra extract not only helped lower cholesterol levels, but also decreased both blood sugar and triglycerides as well. (10)


Recipe Ideas Using Cholesterol-Lowering Foods

There are plenty of healthy and delicious ways to up your intake of foods that lower cholesterol. Need a little inspiration? Here are a few heart-healthy recipes to get you started:


Precautions

While adding these foods to your diet can definitely help keep your cholesterol in check, it’s important to combine them with a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle to really optimize heart health. Even on the best cholesterol-lowering diet, adding a few superfoods here and there is unlikely to make much of a difference if you’re not making changes in other parts of your daily regimen.

Minimizing stress levels, exercising regularly, increasing your intake of whole foods, cutting out heavily processed, high cholesterol foods and giving up unhealthy habits like smoking or drinking are just a few other natural ways to keep cholesterol levels under control and support better health.


Final Thoughts About Foods that Lower Cholesterol

  • Cholesterol is a naturally-occurring substance that is essential for overall health. Too much cholesterol, however, can build up in the arteries and increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Wondering how to reduce cholesterol without medication? One of the most effective methods for how to lower LDL cholesterol levels is simply switching up your diet to include a few servings of foods that lower cholesterol.
  • Vegetables, nut and seeds, fatty fish and legumes are just a few examples of healthy foods that lower cholesterol fast, all of which can be easily incorporated into a variety of low cholesterol recipes.
  • Meanwhile, it’s also important to limit your intake of foods that raise cholesterol, such as sugar, processed oils and pre-packaged foods.
  • For best results, be sure to pair these diet changes with regular physical activity and a healthy lifestyle.

Read Next: Top 7 Heart-Healthy Foods + How to Follow a Heart-Healthy Diet


From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system,
but in reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma,
I’m offering a free webinar on all things leaky gut.
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Pancreatic enzymes - Dr. Axe

Digestion and assimilation of nutrients is a complex process that occurs over several hours, starting from the moment that you place food into your mouth. The pancreas is not actually an organ, but a long, triangular-shaped gland located deep inside the abdomen, between the spine and the stomach. Part of the pancreas comes up against the curve of the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine. The duodenum is the site where many digestive juices enter the GI tract and help break down the foods you eat. The pancreas is essential in both digestion and absorption of nutrients, since it secretes pancreatic enzymes that facilitate the breakdown of foods into smaller molecules — allowing the body to actually use fats, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and so on. (1)

The pancreas also helps control blood sugar levels by secreting hormones such as insulin and glucagon. What enzymes are produced in the pancreas? The major ones include amylase, lipase and protease.

What are some reasons you may be experiencing pancreatic enzyme insufficiency? Common causes include pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, autoimmune disorders, alcoholism or surgery that affects the GI tract. If you’re not making enough of these pancreatic enzymes, below you’ll learn about why you can benefit from either taking enzyme supplements or potentially prescription-strength enzymes.


What Are Pancreatic Enzymes? Role of Enzymes in the Body

The pancreas secretes a digestive “juice” that is composed of two products: digestive enzymes and bicarbonate. Bicarbonate helps neutralize stomach acid and makes pancreatic secretions more alkaline. 

All enzymes are catalysts that enable molecules to be changed from one form into another. Digestive enzymes are substances that are secreted by the body to help turn larger molecules (the macronutrients we call proteins, carbohydrates and fats) into smaller ones. In addition to digestive enzymes, bile and hydrochloric acid also help with digestion.

There are more than 2,700 different types of enzymes in the human body, and each has its own unique role. We make most digestive enzymes in the pancreas, although they are also made in other parts of the digestive system too. We have different enzymes for breaking down different types of molecules founds in foods, including proteins, fats, carbs, fibers and acids. According to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, “a normally functioning pancreas secretes about 8 cups of pancreatic juice into the duodenum, daily.” (2)

What are the three pancreatic enzymes? The major categories of enzymes produced by the pancreas include amylase (breaks down starch/carbs), protease (breaks down protein peptide bonds) and lipase (breaks down fats). (3)

There are also other digestive enzymes that have unique roles, including ribonuclease, deoxyribonuclease, gelatinase, phytase, pectinase, lactase, maltose and sucrase. These help break down things like gelatin, the sugar found in milk, phytic acid, and other sugars like sucrose and maltose.


Pancreatic Enzyme Benefits and Functions

1. Digestion of Starch/Carbohydrates

Amylase (or alpha-amylase) is an enzyme secreted by the salivary glands and the pancreas that helps with digestion of carbohydrates. Amylase hydrolyses starch into smaller molecules called maltose (a glucose-glucose disaccharide) and trisaccharide maltotriose. Some pancreatic amylase is present in saliva, helping to begin the digestive process when you start chewing your food, but the majority is produced in the pancreas. A lack of amylase can cause digestive issues such as bloating, loose stools and diarrhea. (4)

2. Breaking Down Proteins Into Smaller Peptides

Proteases are a category of enzymes that help with digestion of proteins. There are several different kinds, including trypsin, chymotrypsin and carboxypeptidase. They work by breaking down proteins (peptide bonds) into smaller and smaller peptides. Peptidases, which are located on the surface of small intestinal epithelial cells, are then able to break down peptides into single amino acids (the “building blocks of proteins”). (5)

Pancreatic proteases are secreted into the lumen of the small intestine, where they must be converted to their active form before taking over digestion of protein. Protein digestion begins in the stomach, where the enzyme called pepsin helps start the process.

3. Digestion of Fats and Absorption of Fat-Soluble Vitamins

Lipase is produced by the pancreas, and this enzyme helps break down fat. It turns triglycerides into 2-monoglycerides and two free fatty acids so it can be absorbed through the lining of the intestines. Pancreatic lipase is secreted into the lumen of the gut. In order for lipase to do its job properly, bile salts must also be present to aid in fat absorption. A lack of lipase interferes with fat digestion and absorption of essential fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, E, D and K). It can also cause GI issues, including diarrhea and/or fatty stools. (6)

4. Protection Against Microbes and Support for the Immune System

In addition to breaking down protein, proteases support the immune system by fighting parasites such as bacteria, yeast and protozoa in the intestines. A lack of protease and other pancreatic enzymes can contribute to allergies and intestinal infections. These enzymes can modulate inflammatory processes in a number of ways, for example by reducing swelling of mucous membranes, improving circulation, transporting harmful waste products away from traumatized tissues, decreasing capillary permeability and dissolving blood clot-forming deposits. (7)

 

Pancreatic enzymes - Dr. Axe

 


Pancreatic Enzymes Sources and Dosages

The pancreas makes enzymes to digest the foods we eat, but enzymes can also be obtained using enzyme supplements. Pancreatic enzymes are manmade mixtures of the enzymes naturally produced by the pancreas: amylase, lipase and protease.

In supplement form, these mixtures are sometimes called pancrelipase and pancreatin. They are taken to help you break down fats, proteins and carbohydrates when you’re not making enough enzymes on your own. They can also be used to help reduce symptoms like diarrhea, boating, inadequate nutrition and weight loss.

Pancreatic enzyme supplements are derived from both plant and animal sources, including papaya, pineapple and livestock. One example of pancreatic enzymes are proteolytic enzymes, which digests protein by breaking it down into amino acids.  Proteolytic enzymes are usually derived from papaya.

Both prescription and non-prescription pancreatic enzymes are available. Prescription pancreatic enzyme products are regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), while non-prescription enzymes are not considering they are treated like supplements.

What is the recommended dosage for pancreatic enzymes? 

  • The dosage of enzymes that’s appropriate for each person depends on factors like medical history and body weight. You should start with the smallest dose necessary and adjust according to your reaction and the severity of your pancreatic insufficiency.
  • Pancreatic enzymes are usually dosed according to the units of lipase that the product contains. Always read directions carefully, since different doses are recommended depending on the brand. (8)
  • It’s recommended that adults begin taking pancreatic enzymes in doses of 10,000–20,000 lipase units with smaller meals/snacks, or between 20,000–40,000 lipase units with bigger/main meals.
  • Due to the potential for negative reactions, you should not exceed 2,500 lipase units per kilogram of your body weight per meal. This means that if you are a man or woman who weighs 150 pounds (68 kilograms), you should not take more than 170,000 units of lipase per meal. (9)
  • Take your enzymes prior to eating. Enzyme capsules can be taken by mouth or opened so you can mix the contents with something like applesauce (you don’t want to directly mix enzymes with any alkaline food since this can cause them to be inactivated).
  • Be sure to keep enzyme products in a cool, dry place. Avoid having them get moist, since this can change how they work. Check for expiration dates to make sure the product is still good.

A benefit of using pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT) compared to pancreatic enzyme supplements is that PERT manufacturing is regulated by the FDA, ensuring that the products contain a certain level of enzymes. If you’re taking prescription pancreatic enzymes (more on these below), then your dose will be determined by your doctor. Since dosage needs can change as your body adjusts, continue to discuss any concerns or reactions you’re having with your doctor.


Pancreatic Enzymes vs. Digestive Enzymes

  • Pancreatic enzymes, sometimes along with other digestive enzymes, are used to treat GI issues in people who have conditions that cause poor absorption of nutrients.
  • Digestive enzymes are now being taken by an increasing number of people to help treat health conditions like acid reflux, gas, bloating, leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, malabsorption, diarrhea or constipation.
  • Digestive enzymes can help break down difficult-to-digest proteins, starches and fats. This can reduce some of the work that the stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder and small intestine have to do.
  • Who are digestive enzymes appropriate for? They can help people with age-related enzyme insufficiency, low stomach acid, liver disease or inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Digestive enzyme products are derived from several sources, with the most common being fruits (usually pineapple or papaya), animals (usually pigs, ox or hogs), and plants like probiotics, yeast and fungi.
  • Full-spectrum enzyme blends can be used for general digestive improvement. Most products contain some level of pancreatin, which is a combination of all three pancreatic enzymes. The best type of digestive enzyme for you ultimately depends on the symptoms/condition you’re trying to treat.

Who Needs Pancreatic Enzymes?

People can struggle with digestive problems for all sorts of reason — for example, due to inflammation, malfunctioning of one or more digestive organs, allergies, stress, aging and so on. One reason that digestive issues can emerge is due to having the wrong level of enzymes (either too much or too little). For example, someone with pancreatitis might produce too little enzymes, making it difficult to break down foods properly.

Pancreatic insufficiency (also called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, or EPI) is a condition characterized by difficulty digesting foods due to a lack of digestive enzymes produced in the pancreas. EPI affects roughly eight per 100,000 men and two per 100,000 women. Another way to describe this condition is pancreatic enzyme deficiency. This can result in malnutrition because you aren’t able to absorb fats and certain vitamins and minerals properly. (10) EPI will make it hard to digest all three macronutrients (carbs, proteins and fats), but it affects fat digestion most.

Reasons that someone may have insufficient production of pancreatic enzymes can include:

  • Chronic pancreatitis (when your pancreas get’s inflamed). Chronic pancreatitis is the most common cause of EPI in adults. This can sometimes occur due to a blockage or narrowing of the pancreatic or biliary duct. Chronic pancreatitis is most common in people between the ages of 30 and 40 and is more common in men than women. If you have pancreatitis, you may be told that your pancreas levels are high.
  • Other chronic diseases, including cystic fibrosis and autoimmune diseases.
  • Being elderly, since low stomach acid or enzyme insufficiency are more common in older adults.
  • Pancreatic cancer.
  • Pancreatic or duodenal tumors.
  • High levels of inflammation.
  • High levels of triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood).
  • Parasitic infections.
  • Being a heavy drinker/alcoholic.
  • Having surgery to remove the pancreas or one of the other digestive organs.

When enzymes are not being produced properly, they must be obtained from an outside source. Enzymes can be taken as pills or capsules to facilitate absorption of nutrients, especially if someone has chronic pancreatitis. Supplementing with enzymes is also capable of reducing pain associated with this disease.

How would you know if you had pancreatitis? For example, what does the pain of pancreatitis feel like? Symptoms that your pancreas is damaged, inflamed and/or malfunctioning can include:

  • Pain or tenderness in your abdomen
  • Bad-smelling bowel movements
  • Indigestion, cramping and stomach pains
  • Diarrhea, loose stools or frequent stools
  • Gas and stomach bloating
  • Feeling full easily
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Changes in poop color, including yellow or orange stool

 

Who needs pancreatic enzymes? - Dr. Axe

 


Pancreatic Enzyme Supplements vs. Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy

Pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT) is the most common way to treat pancreatic insufficiency. It’s also recommended for use in patients with pancreatic cancer, since prescription enzymes are closely regulated and usually more potent.

Compared to taking over-the-counter pancreatic enzymes, PERT involves taking prescription pills that supply the enzymes your pancreas is not making enough of, helping to aid to in digestion. Pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy is taken with every meal and snack to aid in absorption of nutrients. The prescription enzymes are usually sourced from pigs, making them very similar to those produced by humans. Prescription pancreatic enzymes are enteric coated, which means they have a special coating that prevents the stomach from breaking them down, allowing them to reach the part of the GI tract they are intended to.

In addition to PERT, some people also take painkilling medications or over-the-counter drugs to reduce pain and/or antacids to help stop stomach acid from destroying enzymes.

All enzyme supplements contain pancreatin, which is a mixture of the pancreatic enzymes called lipase, amylase and protease. (11) Currently there are several PERT prescriptions available that have been approved by the FDA. These include: (12)

  • Creon
  • Pancreaze
  • Pertzye
  • Ultresa
  • Viokace
  • Zenpep

PERT products may be taken in higher doses than enzyme supplements. A common starting dose is between 50,000 to 75,000 units of lipase with a meal and 25,000 units with a snack. Usually each PERT capsule contains about 25,000 units, so several may need to be taken at once. This dose may seem high, but it’s estimated that a normally functioning pancreas releases about 720,000 lipase units with every meal.

PERT capsules should be swallowed whole and taken with a cold drink (ideally cold water), since heat can potentially damage the enzymes. You shouldn’t take your enzymes with coffee, tea or fizzy drinks. Take the capsules before you start eating rather than in the middle of a meal. Don’t take the capsules on an empty stomach or if you’re only having one to two bites of food.


Foods to Eat and Avoid to Support the Pancreas

In addition to taking pancreatic or digestive enzymes if needed, you should also eat a healthy diet to support your pancreas and other digestive organs.

What foods benefit your pancreas?

  • High-antioxidant foods, including raw veggies and fruits. This includes leafy green veggies; all berries; orange and yellow veggies like carrots, peppers, squash and sweet potatoes; tomatoes; artichoke; asparagus; broccoli; cauliflower; etc.
  • Pineapple, papaya and kiwi, which are excellent sources of digestive enzymes.
  • Ginger and other fresh herbs and spices.
  • Fermented/probiotic foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, natto, miso and miso soup.
  • Healthy fats like coconut or olive oil, grass-fed butter, ghee, and avocado. Healthy fats are energy-dense, so they can be useful for adding calories to your diet and preventing weight loss. (13) Try spacing out your fat intake throughout the day, which will be easier for your digestive system to handle.
  • MCT oil. If someone has a very hard time digesting fats, MCT oil can be beneficial because it doesn’t require the same amount of digestion as other oils. MCT is easily absorbed and a good calorie/fat source for providing energy and preventing weight loss.
  • Raw juices made with fresh veggies and fruits.
  • Nuts and seeds, ideally soaked to help with nutrient absorption.
  • Uncooked or slightly cooked grain products, such as wheat germ.
  • Clean proteins, including grass-fed meat, pastured poultry, wild-caught fish and free-range eggs.

In addition to eating a nutrient-dense diet, you should also try to space out your meals each day to help aid digestion. Aim to eat five or six small meals per day instead of only several big meals. Your doctor might also recommend taking a multivitamin to help prevent deficiencies in key vitamins, including fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, E and K.

What foods are bad for your pancreas?

  • Alcohol
  • Fried foods and very fatty or oil foods
  • Foods that are overly cooked and preserved, including roasted, broiled or canned foods, which lose some of their nutrients due to high-heat exposure
  • Processed foods that contain synthetic additives

Pancreatic Enzymes in Ayurveda and TCM

Rather than relying on taking pancreatic or digestive enzymes, traditional medicine systems emphasized treating poor digestion holistically. This involves removing any known causes that hindering enzyme production, improving your diet, removing inflammatory foods, managing stress and using herbs that may be helpful.

Before enzymes were available in supplement/capsule form, traditional medicine systems encouraged consumption of foods that naturally contain enzymes. For example, papain is a protease enzyme derived from papaya that can help stimulate the digestion of fats and proteins. In Ayurvedic medicine, papain is said to reduce bloating, act as a diuretic and help decrease inflammation.

Other suggestions to improve enzyme production and general digestive health according to Ayurveda include: (14)

  • Eating seasonal, local foods.
  • Relaxing while eating.
  • Chewing food thoroughly.
  • Eating food at room temperature or slightly above (not very cold or leftover foods), including warm foods like soups, well-cooked veggies and stews are encouraged.
  • Using warming spices, such as ginger, rosemary, sage, oregano, turmeric, cumin, coriander, fennel, cardamom, fenugreek, cinnamon and clove.
  • Allowing three hours between meals to take stress off the digestive system.
  • Drinking water a half hour before meals but not with meals.
  • Eating at least two hours before bed.
  • Waiting at least two hours after eating to exercise. Yoga, exercise and stretching are beneficial for increasing hunger and “digestive fire.”

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), plant-based enzymes are also used to improve digestive “energy” and rebalance the body’s yin and yang qualities. Enzymes have mostly yang qualities because they are a “driving force” behind just about every biochemical process in the body. Enzymes derived from plants can be used with herbs to support many aspects of digestion, including improving appetite, the breakdown of large molecules, absorption of nutrients and reducing stress on the organs. Fresh/raw enzymes are emphasized most because heat is said to destroy plants’ delicate enzymes. (15)

The goal of using enzymes in TCM is to support the stomach/spleen and to improve “Qi,” or vital energy. Acupuncture and herbs complement the use of plant-based enzymes and are important for maintenance of a healthy body. Enzymes can be obtained from eating whole foods (especially raw fruits and lightly cooked veggies) or taken in water extracts or alcohol tinctures, but these should not be made at temperatures above 118 degrees Fahrenheit. Other recommendations for supporting the pancreas and digestive system include always choosing whole, organic, unprocessed, non-GMO foods; limiting intake of liquids and cold foods; and chewing foods thoroughly. (16)


History/Facts About Pancreatic Enzymes

Pancreatic enzymes have been used since the 1800s medicinally in the treatment of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency and other digestive disorders. Today, the World Health Organization considers pancreatic enzymes to be safe and essential medicines for preventing malnutrition in certain patients. 

In 2006, the FDA changed the way that pancreatic enzyme replacement products (PERTs) were sold in the United States. The FDA required pharmaceutical companies with pig/porcine-derived PERT products to submit new drug applications for each product before they could be available to consumers. Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) and Medication Guides were all issued make sure that porcine-derived PERT products were safe and effective.

Since this time six brand name PERT products have made it to market. These are believed to be safe for pregnant women and can be life-saving for people with serious digestive conditions that affect their ability to absorb key nutrients.


Pancreatic Enzymes Side Effects and Precautions

While pancreatic enzymes should help improve digestion, they can also potentially cause side effect like constipation, nausea, abdominal cramps or diarrhea. Talk to your doctor about your reaction to taking enzymes, including any side effects or weight changes you experience. You should work closely with your doctor to adjust the type and dosage of enzymes that you take depending on how they work for you. It’s also a good idea to meet with a nutritionist/dietician if you need help with meal planning and preventing weight loss.

Keep in mind that because PERT products are sourced from pig/porcine. People with allergies or religious objections to consuming pig products should not take these products. If this applies to you, discuss other options with your doctor.


Final Thoughts on Pancreatic Enzymes

  • Pancreatic enzymes are secreted by the pancreas as part of “digestive juices” that contain enzymes and bicarbonate. Their job is help turn larger molecules from the foods we eat into smaller ones that can be absorbed and used for energy.
  • The major categories of enzymes produced by the pancreas include amylase (breaks down starch/carbs), protease (breaks down protein peptide bonds) and lipase (breaks down fats).
  • Benefits of pancreatic enzymes include digesting starch, protein and fats; preventing malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies; and supporting the immune system by killing dangerous pathogens.
  • Pancreatic enzymes are available in over-the-counter supplements and prescription products called PERTs (pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy).
  • People who can benefit from taking pancreatic enzymes include those with the following health problems: chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, pancreatic or duodenal tumors, high levels of inflammation, high levels of triglycerides, parasitic infections, alcoholism, or recent surgery to remove the pancreas.

Read Next: Pancreatitis Diet + 5 Tips for Prevention & Management

The post Pancreatic Enzymes Benefits for Gut & Immune Health appeared first on Dr. Axe.

Source: dr axe

By Dr. Mercola

American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is an herbal plant native to North America that's a member of the mint family. It has a long history of medicinal use, primarily as a mild nerve sedative or nerve tonic. During the 1800s and 1900s, skullcap was sometimes prescribed for nervousness or related symptoms, particularly muscle spasms, irritability, sleeplessness, tremors and restlessness.1

Named for the close-fitting metal skull caps worn during medieval periods, which resembled the plant's flowers, this calming herb has continued to receive praise for its stress- and anxiety-relieving effects, which it's said to exert without some of the side effects, like drowsiness, that other relaxing herbs may cause. Known as a nervine herb, which is one that acts on the nervous system, skullcap has such strong relaxant effects that it's sometimes used to treat barbiturate and tranquilizer withdrawal symptoms.2

Its popularity has been growing in recent years, with harvest and sales increasing 250 percent from 1997 to 2001, perhaps because many herbalists in Europe have taken to prescribing skullcap in lieu of kava kava, which has been linked to liver damage. Whatever the reason, if you're interested in herbal remedies, skullcap is one herb worth knowing, especially since it's easy to grow and has a variety of uses, from tea and tinctures to massage oil and supplements.

Skullcap May Boost Mood, Relieve Anxiety and More

In 2003, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study on healthy individuals revealed that skullcap had "noteworthy" effects for anxiety relief.3 Another study of 43 adults who took either skullcap or a placebo three times daily for two weeks revealed skullcap significantly enhanced global mood — without a reduction in energy or cognition.4 Although research into the herb is limited, as it is with many herbal remedies, surveys suggest that herbal medicine practitioners widely use skullcap.

"The results of the survey suggested that S. lateriflora is highly regarded amongst herbal medicine practitioners as an effective intervention for reducing anxiety and stress and is commonly prescribed for these conditions and related comorbidities," researchers wrote in the Journal of Herbal Medicine.5

When the herb was analyzed for its bioactive ingredients, 10 flavonoids and two phenylethanoid glyside compounds were isolated. Further, at least 73 different compounds have been identified in skullcap essential oil.6 Phenolic compounds, particularly flavonoids, are believed to be responsible for many of skullcap's beneficial effects.7 In addition to its uses for anxiety, skullcap has shown promise as an anticonvulsant and has been shown to be effective in rodents with acute seizures.8

It may also have anti-allergy potential, including helping to alleviate food allergy symptoms by regulating systemic immune responses of T helper (TH) cells. "These results indicate that skullcap may be a potential candidate as a preventive agent for food allergy," according to researchers.9

Skullcap Is a Strong Antioxidant, May Fight Oxidative Stress, Cancer

Bioactive compounds in many plants have powerful antioxidant properties known to neutralize or scavenge damaging free radicals, thereby neutralizing oxidative stress that can play a role in diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, depression and anxiety. Skullcap is no exception, and it's been suggested that its antioxidants could be therapeutic against oxidative-stress-associated mental disorders.10

Another compound in skullcap, scutellarein, may have anticancer potential. In fact, the compound was even found to stop the development and spread of fibrosarcoma, an aggressive cancer of connective tissue.11 Traditionally, the herb was used by Native Americans for a variety of anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory and antimicrobial purposes, including to treat:12

Hypertension

Hysteria

Epilepsy

Diarrhea

Headaches

Nervous exhaustion

Nervous disorders of the digestive system

Heartburn

Fever

Snake and insect bites

Skullcap Was Traditionally Used as a 'Woman's Herb'

In addition to the traditional uses above, Native Americans, particularly the Cherokees, used skullcap to promote menstruation as well as to help remove the placenta following childbirth. It was also believed to be useful for treating "premenstrual tension" and has been suggested as a remedy for mood changes that occur with menopause.

Little modern-day research has been done to confirm these effects, but skullcap does contain vitexin, an active compound found in the herb Vitex agnus castus, or chasteberry, which is commonly used for menstrual disorders.

It's thought that skullcap's benefits for menstrual conditions could be due to effects on hormone levels or neurochemicals that affect mood.13 Because there is a possibility that skullcap could promote menstruation, it should not be used by pregnant women because it could potentially cause miscarriage.14

Chinese Skullcap Has Its Own Benefits

American skullcap shouldn't be confused with Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis). Although they belong to the same plant family, Chinese skullcap is native to China and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, most notably in the treatment of diarrhea, dysentery, hypertension, hemorrhaging, insomnia, inflammation and respiratory infections.15

Flavones in Chinese skullcap include baicalin, wogonoside and their aglycones baicalein wogonin, which are known to have anticancer, antibacterial and antiviral, antioxidant, anticonvulsant and neuroprotective effects. When Chinese skullcap is prepared using its roots, it's known as Huang-Qin, and has shown antihistamine properties that can help relieve asthma and allergies like hay fever.

It's also an antioxidant that can reduce the risk of heart disease, limit damage after a heart attack and possibly serve as an herbal treatment for hepatitis.16

Be Careful With Adulterants in American Skullcap Supplements

If you're looking for a calming herb with the benefit of antioxidant properties, skullcap may be for you. But use caution when choosing to use the herb in supplement form, as its been plagued with problems of substitution and adulteration. In particular, American germander, sometimes called wild germander, wood sage and wild basil, which is potentially toxic, has been found to contaminate skullcap supplements since the 1980s, according to botanist Steven Foster.17

In one study of 13 skullcap-containing dietary supplements, four were found to contain American germander, three contained very low skullcap concentrations and one contained Chinese skullcap instead of American skullcap.18 It's unknown whether the adulteration was intentional or a case of mistaken identity. According to the American Botanical Council:19

"There are those who believe that skullcap and germander can look similar because they are both members of the mint family (Lamiaceae or Labiatae). Foster, and various herbal experts, believe that their physical characteristics are distinct enough to warrant an accurate identification with the naked eye, i.e., in the field

… [but] according to an extensive quality control and therapeutic monograph on skullcap … produced by the nonprofit American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP), the relatively comparable appearances of skullcap and other herbs can lead to accidental adulteration."

Growing Your Own Skullcap

One way to ensure that the skullcap you're consuming is, in fact, skullcap, is to grow it yourself — and it's easy to do so. American skullcap is a perennial herb, which means if you plant it right, it will keep coming back year after year (be sure to plant is in a spot where you don't mind it spreading, which skullcap is known to do, rapidly). Skullcap should be planted in an area with moist soil and full to partial sun (partial sun especially if you live in a hot and dry area).

Keep in mind that many skullcap varieties require stratifying seeds before you put them in the ground. To do so, put the seeds in a sealed plastic bag with moistened sand (about three times as much sand as seeds) or a damp paper towel, then place them in the refrigerator for at least a week.20 The seeds can then be started indoors (germination will take about two weeks) and moved outdoors as seedlings, after the threat of frost has disappeared.

Seedlings can be planted one-inch deep into compost-amended soil. Keep them well watered and continue after the plant grows larger; they do best in moist soil.21 Skullcap can also be grown from cuttings or divided roots, which can be taken from a healthy, mature plant. Mature skullcap can grow to reach 1 to 3 feet tall.

Once the plant blooms, it's ready to harvest for use in teas or tinctures, and can be used fresh or dried. Use a pair of scissors or shears to harvest aerial parts like flowers and leaves. Ensure that there are still plant parts at least 3 inches above the ground.

How to Use Skullcap

Skullcap can be used in tincture, tea or essential oil form. As a massage oil, which can be used for muscle relaxation, try the following recipe from the book, "Healing Plants of the Rocky Mountains," by Darcy Williamson:22

Skullcap Massage Oil

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups flowering skullcap tops
  • 1/2 cup fresh tall sagebrush leaves
  • 2 tablespoons dried cottonwood buds
  • 1/2 cup jojoba oil
  • 1/2 cup sweet almond oil

Procedure

Combine ingredients in a quart jar and cover loosely with several layers of cheesecloth. Allow mixture to stand in a warm place for three weeks. Heat jar in a pan of warm water for 15 minutes to liquefy oil, and then strain.

To make a calming tea, which you can enjoy before bedtime or when you need to soothe your nerves, infuse 5 grams of skullcap into 8 ounces of water for 15 minutes. You can also try adding half an ounce of dried skullcap to one-half pint of boiling water to make an infusion, or try the recipe below:23

Skullcap Tea Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1-2 teaspoons of organic skullcap herb to suit your taste
  • 1 cup hot, but not boiling, water

Procedure

  1. Bring water to a low boil. Add the skullcap herb.
  2. Cover with a lid to preserve essential oils from escaping.
  3. Steep for five to 10 minutes depending on how strong you like your tea. The longer you steep skullcap, the more benefits you may receive.

If you don't happen to have skullcap in your garden but still want to experiment with the herb's beneficial effects, there are many herbal teas available that contain skullcap, often in combination with complementary herbs, but be sure to purchase high-quality leaves or teas from reputable sources.

As always, you may want to start using skullcap under the guidance of a holistic medicine practitioner, and use it in moderation. High doses of this plant's tincture may result in undesirable side effects like giddiness, stupor, mental confusion, twitching, irregular heartbeat and seizures.


Source: mercola rss

By Dr. Mercola

Saffron, which is regarded as the world's most expensive spice by weight, is actually the stigmas of the purple crocus flower (Crocus sativus), which blooms once a year. Due to the fragile stigmas needing to be picked by hand, harvesting saffron is a labor-intensive job. As mentioned in the featured video, given the fact each saffron crocus plant contains just three stigmas it takes about 170,000 flowers to produce a single pound of this costly spice.

Notably, about 90 percent of the world's supply of saffron is grown in arid fields across Iran. Most of the crop is harvested by women who earn about $5 per day picking saffron threads by hand. Other countries producing saffron include Afghanistan, Italy, Morocco, Spain, the Netherlands and the U.S. Saffron gives many rice dishes, including paella, its characteristic taste and golden-yellow color. In addition, this prized herb is featured in bouillabaisse, a traditional French fish stew.

When buying saffron, it's best to choose the thread form over the ground spice because it has a longer shelf life. Beware of look-alike ingredients that may be mixed in including red marigold petals, stigmas from lilies or turmeric. None of these "fakes" will impart the distinctive color or flavor of saffron. To ensure you have access to high-quality saffron, you may want to consider growing your own.

What Makes Saffron Special?

If you are not familiar with this prized spice, which is a member of the iris family of plants, you may wonder what makes the bright orange-red stigmas of the saffron crocus so special. According to National Geographic:1

  • The delicate purple crocus is a sterile triploid, meaning it cannot grow in the wild, nor can it reproduce without human intervention
  • Being sterile, the plants are unable to produce viable seeds, which means reproduction can only take place when clusters of "corms" (bulbs) are dug up, divided and replanted
  • Each plant produces just three stigmas/threads; as mentioned above, about 170,000 flowers are needed to produce 1 pound of saffron threads
  • Saffron is a labor-intensive crop — the plants must be painstakingly propagated and harvested by hand — which explains why high-quality saffron sells for upward of $16 per gram

While it's difficult to pinpoint exactly when and where the cultivation of saffron began, according to one source2 it can be traced back to the Persian word zarparān, which means "having golden stigmas." Ancient texts, dating back thousands of years, also refer to saffron. The offering of adulterated saffron has been a long-standing problem, so much so that the "Safranschou code" was implemented in the Middle Ages to fine, imprison and sometimes even execute those suspected of putting forth fake saffron.3

For millennia, pharaohs, monks, kings and queens have bathed in saffron-scented water, consumed food and drink laced with saffron, offered prayers and sacrifices involving saffron, slept in beds adorned with saffron threads and wore saffron perfumes and saffron-dyed clothing.4 At various times in history, saffron was in such great demand and so highly prized that various thefts and wars have been noted. According to the Independent:5

  • In the mid-1300s, the Black Death, a global epidemic of bubonic plague, caused the demand for medicinal saffron in Europe to outpace supply; at the time, the spice also was used to alleviate illnesses such as insomnia and stomach ailments
  • In 1374, the theft of a shipment of saffron resulted in a 14-week "Saffron War" between Basel and Austria
  • Pirates were said to value saffron more than gold and it was equally prized by American colonists after it was adopted for cultivation by the Pennsylvania Dutch in the 16th century

Tips on Buying Saffron

Because saffron is famously expensive, you may be shocked at the price of it at your local grocery store. You can often find it somewhat more affordably in halal or Middle Eastern markets. Below are some tips on buying saffron:6

For a longer shelf life, choose saffron threads over the ground spice

Select a high-quality brand, or if purchasing it loose from a spice vendor, always buy from a reputable seller

Beware of the many saffron look-alikes, including red marigold petals, lily stigmas and turmeric

Due to its short shelf life, purchase saffron threads in small quantities and commit to use it within a six-month period

Look for saffron threads of deep-red shades and avoid varieties mixed with the yellow styles; the styles, which are attached to the stigmas, add no value or flavor

Choose threads uniform in appearance — wide and flat on one end and tapered at the other

When buying them loose, select saffron threads with a pleasant, fragrant aroma and avoid any with a musty odor

Pick threads that are dry to the touch and a little brittle; keep in mind moisture will cause the threads to become spongy and less fragrant

Why Is Saffron so Good for You?

Given the fact saffron is consumed in very small quantities, you may not think much of its nutritional benefits. In larger quantities, saffron is, however, a good source of iron, which purifies your blood and also helps your muscles store and use oxygen. It also contains magnesium, a mineral your body needs to maintain nerve and muscle function, regulate your heartbeat and promote bone health.

Saffron is high in manganese, which helps regulate your blood sugar, metabolize carbohydrates and absorb calcium, among other things. This vibrant red-orange spice also contains potassium, which is useful to support your adrenal and kidney function, and vitamins B6 and C. Vitamin B6 ensures your brain and nervous system function properly and helps make the hormones norepinephrine, which helps your body deal with stress and serotonin, which regulates your mood.

The vitamin C in saffron boosts your immune system and acts as a potent antioxidant and infection-fighter. In addition to those important vitamins and minerals, saffron contains more than 150 volatile plant compounds, including, most notably:

  • Crocin: A carotenoid chemical compound responsible for saffron's intense red-orange color, which is also an indicator of the powerful antioxidants and carotenoids in saffron that protect your body from free radical damage
  • Picrocrocin: A precursor of safranal, picrocrocin is the main substance responsible for saffron's distinctive earthy taste
  • Safranal: The compound known to provide saffron with its notable aroma

One source claims saffron was used historically to treat more than 90 ailments and has been used as a primary ingredient in herbal health remedies for more than 4,000 years.7 According to National Geographic, saffron has many beneficial uses:8

"Saffron has been used historically to treat everything from heartache to hemorrhoids ... Modern studies have shown the high levels of antioxidants found in saffron may help ward off inflammation in the body and it may be helpful in treating sexual dysfunction and depression. The jury's still out on its reported effects on cardiovascular disease and cancer."

How to Grow Saffron

While you may think saffron too exotic of a spice to grow in your flower bed or garden, you may not realize you can easily grow the saffron crocus from a bulb. In the U.S., saffron crocus blooms in the fall. Remember, each corm (bulb) produces only a single flower and each flower yields just three saffron threads. As such, you'll need to plant a generous number of bulbs to ensure a measurable amount of threads.

Purchase your saffron crocus bulbs from a reputable online retailer or nursery and expect to wait a year after planting for the flowers to bloom. Saffron crocus bulbs do not store well so plant them soon after receiving them, ideally in the early fall. Gardening experts suggest the following tips for growing this exquisite flower, which is best suited for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hardiness zones 5 to 9:9,10,11

Fertilizing: Although not required, you can help your plants thrive by fertilizing them annually

Dividing: As soon as the flowers fade, you can gently dig up your corms, separate them and replant them immediately; while dividing the corms is not required annually, be sure to do it every few years to ensure they do not become overcrowded and therefore less productive

Mulching: Although saffron crocus is hardy to about to minus 15 degrees F (minus 26 degrees C), if you live in a region where temperatures regularly dip lower, you'll want to add a layer of mulch around the plants as soon as they finish blooming

Planting: Place your saffron bulbs in the ground at a depth of 3 to 5 inches with the pointy end of the corm facing up; depending on the variety grown, plants reach 3 to 12 inches in height

Soil: Saffron plants need rich, well-draining silty soil (pH 6.0 to 8.0); they will rot in swampy, poor-draining soil

Spacing: When planting saffron crocus bulbs, ensure at least 6 inches of spacing on all sides

Sun: Plant saffron crocus in an area receiving lots of direct sun

Yield: About 50 to 60 saffron flowers will produce around 1 tablespoon of saffron spice, so plan on a large growing area if you love saffron

Water: Your plants will do fine with minimal water and you need only water them during the blooming season if you live in an area prone to dry weather; the plants are dormant June through August so do not water them at that time

Saffron Crocus Diseases and Pests

Saffron crocus, as with other bulb-based plants, is prone to damage from bulb-eating critters such as birds, moles, nematodes, rats and squirrels. Rabbits have been known to nibble on the flowers and leaves. The only diseases affecting saffron crocus are rust and corm rot, which is caused by fungal infections such as fusarium, Rhizoctonia crocorum and violet root rot.12

These diseases generally appear in the third or fourth years after planting. Since they do not respond to fungicides (and I would not recommend using fungicides anyway), you can combat these diseases by digging up any remaining healthy bulbs and replanting them in a new location.

Harvesting Saffron

As mentioned, harvesting saffron is tedious, time-consuming work. After the crocus flowers bloom, you'll need to handpick the red-orange stigmas from each plant. For best results, use tweezers to carefully extract them. Obviously, harvesting large quantities of this spice will take time and a lot of effort near ground level.

Once picked, you can spread harvested stigmas on a cookie sheet to dry at room temperature until they crumble easily. The yellow stamens and purple petals of the saffron crocus have no use and can be composted.

Cooking With Saffron and How to Store It

Given its price point, it's good to know that with saffron, "a little goes a long way."  Generally, for most recipes, you'll need just a pinch of saffron threads, which should be soaked, dried and crushed before use. In traditional Moroccan cooking, given the fact saffron needs to stand up to other pungent seasonings, larger quantities are commonly used in certain dishes. When cooking with saffron, it's helpful to know 1 teaspoon of saffron threads equals about one-eighth teaspoon of ground saffron.

Most saffron sold from reputable sources is presented in glass jars, which is the perfect storage container. If you buy saffron loose, you will want to store it in a glass jar and maintain it in a cool, dark place. It will retain its flavor and potency for at least six months. After that, you can still use your saffron, but it will be increasingly less flavorful. Homegrown saffron is said to be more fragrant after it is stored in an airtight container away from light for at least one month before use.13

Saffron Is Beneficial for the Treatment of Depression, Heart Disease and More

If you are still not convinced saffron is a spice worth checking out, consider the following research on some of the health benefits of this time-tested herb:14,15

Cancer: The anticancer potential of saffron was highlighted in a 2013 study published in the journal Pharmaceutical Biology.16 After reviewing the current research on saffron, the researchers stated, "Saffron possesses free radical-scavenging properties and antitumor activities. Significant cancer chemopreventive effects have been shown … Based on current data, saffron … could be considered as a promising candidate for clinical anticancer trials."17

Dementia: Saffron contains two chemical plant compounds — crocetin and crocin — both of which are thought to support your brain's learning and memory functions. As noted in the video above, a 2010 study involving 46 patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease found participants taking 15 milligrams of saffron twice a day for 16 weeks demonstrated "significantly better outcomes on cognitive function" than those receiving a placebo.18 The study authors said, "This … study suggests, at least in the short term, saffron is both safe and effective in [cases of] mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease."19

Depression: A 2014 systematic analysis20 involving six clinical studies on saffron and depression suggests the spice was as effective as antidepressant medications. The study authors stated, "Saffron's antidepressant effects potentially are due to its serotonergic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, neuroendocrine and neuroprotective effects. Research conducted so far provides initial support for the use of saffron for the treatment of mild-to-moderate depression."21

Heart disease: Hypertensive lab rats were shown to benefit from an oral, daily dose of saffron in a 2015 Iranian study.22 Specifically, the rats received 200 milligrams of saffron daily per kilogram of body weight during a five-week period. Saffron prevented blood pressure from increasing beginning in the third week. About the outcomes, the researchers said, "Nutritional saffron prevented blood pressure increases and remodeling of the aorta in hypertensive rats. It may be useful for preventing hypertension."23

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS): A 2008 Iranian clinical trial24 investigating saffron as a treatment for PMS symptoms in women aged 20 to 45 with regular menstrual cycles suggests 15 milligrams of saffron taken twice daily is effective to relieve PMS symptoms.

A 2011 review published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology25 that evaluated several herbal remedies for PMS, as well as the more severe premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), validated saffron as an effective treatment for addressing bothersome symptoms. The study authors noted, "Single trials also support the use of … Crocus sativus [for PMS]."26


Source: mercola rss

We get it, you aren’t exactly addicted to your essential oils…you just have several (hundred) bottles laying around. But no […]

The post 9 Essential Oil Organizing Hacks You Need to Try Right Now appeared first on Plant Therapy Blog.

Source: plant therapy Blog

Guillain Barre syndrome - Dr. axe
Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is the most common cause of sudden-onset paralysis in the developed world, causing more than 6,000 hospitalizations each year in the United States alone. Each year GBS is estimated to affect about 1–2 people per every 100,000 living in the U.S. or Europe. (1)

What are the first signs of Guillain-Barre? Numbness and tingling in the legs, feet and toes is typically the first symptom that patients develop. Some might notice these symptoms in their arms or face first, making it difficult to close their eyes, speak or chew normally.

While most people with GBS will go on to recover, some will develop severe symptoms and potentially even permanent disabilities. Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome deadly? When the condition is severe enough — leading to complications such as pulmonary embolism, respiratory failure or a heart attack — it can be life-threatening. Several treatments, including plasma exchanges and/or intravenous immunoglobulins, can limit the severity of GBS and reduce patients’ risk for a broad range of complications.

There are also natural ways to support recovery from Guillain-Barre syndrome, such as physical therapy, a healthy diet, pain management and prevention of gastrointestinal issues.


What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome is an inflammatory disorder in which someone’s immune system attacks their nerves, causing symptoms like weakness, numbness, tingling and pain. (2)

Symptoms usually affect the limbs, fingers and toes first, and then can spread to other parts of the body. When someone has GBS, their nerves, which carry signals between the body and the brain, stop working as they normally should. The myelin sheath, which is the nerves’ protective coating, becomes damaged, interfering with normal signaling, motor control and ability to do everyday activities like chew food, get dressed and walk.

There are several different subtypes of Guillain-Barre syndrome, which include: (3)

  • Acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (AIDP) —  This is the most common type in the U.S., usually causing muscle weakness that starts in the lower body that then spreads. AIDP accounts for about 90 percent of all GBS cases in the U.S. and Europe. (4)
  • Miller Fisher syndrome (MFS) — This type accounts for about 5 percent of GBS cases in the U.S. and a higher proportion in Asia. It causes paralysis in the eyes and loss of balance/coordination.
  • Acute motor axonal neuropathy (AMAN) — This type is more common in China, Japan and Mexico, but not common in the U.S.

Can a person recover from Guillain-Barre syndrome? There’s currently no “cure” for Guillain-Barre syndrome, yet most people with the disorder will have a good prognosis and chance at full recovery. Research suggests that between 50–90 percent of people with GBS are able to recovery completely, avoiding any permanent impairments.

How long does it take to recover from Guillain-Barre syndrome? Recovery can take several months, or sometimes even longer depending on the severity of someone’s symptoms. Several treatments are now available that can help speed up the recovery process and prevent symptoms from becoming severe. Still, patients with moderate or severe GBS still spend an average of one to two months in the hospital, due to the need for respiratory support and other treatments.


Signs & Symptoms of Guillain-Barre Syndrome

Once someone experiences their first symptom of GBS, other symptoms tend to appear and worsen over the course of about two weeks. How long will GBS symptoms last? Most will have symptoms for about two to four weeks, although they can sometimes last longer and linger for months.

The most common symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome include: (5)

  • Numbness and tingling (described as prickling pains or “pins and needles“), usually beginning in the fingers or toes
  • Muscle weakness, especially in the legs and lower body first, which can spread to the upper body
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble walking or climbing
  • Pain in the lower back, which is sometimes severe
  • Difficulty with eye movements
  • Trouble making facial expressions, speaking, chewing and swallowing
  • Difficulty with bladder control and intestinal functions, causing GI problems such as constipation and changes in urination frequency
  • Rapid heart rate (also called tachycardia)
  • Low or high blood pressure
  • Sweating abnormalities

If Guillain-Barre syndrome becomes severe, complications and emergency symptoms may occur. These can include: (6)

  • Numbness and tingling all over the body
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Intense pain
  • Muscle weakness that progresses in paralysis and loss of muscular/motor control
  • Blood clots
  • Pressure sores
  • Permanent disability/impairments, which occurs in about 15–20 percent of GBS cases

Can you die from GBS disease? It’s rare for GBS to be deadly, but it is possible. Some people with severe complications may die due to ongoing respiratory infection or a heart attack.

Depending on how severe someone’s GBS is, the disorder can sometimes be considered a medical emergency and a life-threatening condition. Having GBS may require hospitalization in order for the patient to receive emergency respiratory assistance if they’re having trouble breathing. Some patients also require long-term rehabilitation in order to relearn how to perform everyday tasks that require control over their muscles. About 3 percent of people who have GBS will experience a relapse after recovery.


Guillain-Barre Syndrome Causes & Risk Factors

It’s still not entirely known what causes Guillain-Barre syndrome, although infections affecting the lungs and digestive organs are common in many people with GBS. It’s estimated that about 60 percent of people with GBS have an infection before developing the disorder.

There’s still more to learn about why some people with infections — especially those of the lungs/GI tract — develop GBS and why others do not. Even though certain risk factors have been identified, in a large number of cases there is no identifiable trigger or cause for the disorder.

At this time it’s believed that the most common causes/risk factors of Guillain-Barre syndrome are: (7)

  • History of an infection, such as a respiratory infection, the stomach flu or infections caused by the bacteria called campylobacter. This bacteria is commonly found in raw or undercooked foods, especially chicken/poultry. Infections/illnesses that have been linked to GBS include: cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, hepatitis A, B, C and E, HIV/AIDS, and mycoplasma pneumonia
  • Having recently had surgery (considered a rare cause)
  • Recent history of the influenza (flu) immunization (considered a rare cause)
  • In recent years, history of the Zika virus, a virus transmitted by certain mosquitoes that can lead to complications including birth defects
  • History of Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Being a man, since men tend to develop GBS more often than women
  • Being a young adult

Guillain Barre syndrome: facts & figures - Dr. Axe


Conventional Treatment for Guillain-Barre Syndrome

Doctors usually make a Guillain-Barre diagnosis based on a patient’s physical symptoms, medical history and test results. Typically a doctor will perform a physical exam and run several diagnostic tests, which can include an analysis of cerebral fluid that is obtained via a spinal tap, an electromyography test to check nerve activity in muscles, or a nerve conduction study to test the speed of nerve signals.

Once a diagnosis is made, doctors typically use one or more treatments, including medications and blood exchanges, to help patients recover more easily and quickly. Treatments for Guillain-Barre syndrome include:

  • Intravenous immunoglobulin — This treatment involves administering healthy antibodies that are sourced from blood donors. Immunoglobulins can help reduce inflammatory responses of the immune system by blocking antibodies that contribute to GBS.
  • Plasmapheresis — This is a type of “blood cleansing” procedure, also called a plasma exchange, in which antibodies are removed from the blood in order to reduce hyperactivity of the immune system. This involves separating the liquid part of the blood from the blood cells, then putting blood cells back in so they can help new plasma to develop. (8)
  • Some patients will need prophylaxis treatment to reduce their risk for pulmonary embolism, which occurs when a clump of material, usually a blood clot, gets wedged into an artery in the lungs. Treatment can include taking heparin (5,000 units twice daily) or low–molecular-weight heparin (40 milligrams daily), which is used as an anticoagulant. Compression stockings or other compression devices are also commonly used.

Physical therapy and medications to manage pain may also be used, depending on the patient’s symptoms. Physical therapy is important if muscle weakness becomes very bad and the patient is unable to move their arms or legs. A therapist may need to manually move and stretch the limbs for a period of time during the patient’s recovery to help prevent stiffness and swelling. Some patients with severe GBS will also need to be put on a ventilator to help them breathe.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome Prevention

Preventing viruses/infections that can potentially lead to GBS is very important, considering there is no real cure for the disorder once it develops. Below are tips for preventing illnesses that can sometimes develop into more serious inflammatory conditions:

  • Check travel warnings — Some viruses, such as Zika, are only transmitted in certain parts of the world. You can lower your odds of catching some viruses by avoiding travel in high-risk areas. Check the CDC’s updated travel advisories webpage for the latest warnings.
  • Use insect repellents — Repellents can help to keep mosquito bites, ticks and other insect bites at bay. Citronella oil is also sometimes used for mosquito control. You can also wear light-colored, long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors in high-risk areas to reduce your risk of a bite.
  • Practice safe sex — Limit the number of sexual partners you have. Always use a condom to protect against certain infections/viruses, including hepatitis.
  • Don’t eat raw/undercooked meat — Raw meat and fish are more likely to carry dangerous bacteria that can lead to illnesses or parasites. Cook meat thoroughly, wash your hands when handling raw meat, and wash any surfaces or equipment you use when cooking afterwards.

4 Natural Ways to Help Manage GBS Symptoms

1. Physical Therapy & Movement

According to a report published in the journal Neurohospitalist, “Physical therapy for GBS as an inpatient and continuing upon discharge is associated with better outcomes and recommended for all but the mildest cases.” (9) 

Physical therapy is usually recommended to help regain strength, muscle control, good posture and flexibility. Physical therapy should be initiated as soon as possible for the best results. Working with a physical therapist allows patients to gradually regain control of their limbs following weakness or paralysis. It also reduces risks associated with immobility experienced by many patients with GBS — such as nerve compression, skin ulceration, sensory loss, and contractures.

A trained therapist can guide the patient to carefully assume certain body positions, to use appropriate bracing, and to manuever through frequent position changes. If a patient is dealing with symptoms like difficulty with eye closure, facial weakness or trouble swallowing, then exercises will be done to help regain control over these movements. Other precautions might also be used, such as adding artificial tears, lubricants, eyelid-taping, or protective eye domes.

2. Natural Pain Relievers

Pain affects between 55 percent to 89 percent of GBS patients, sometimes causing severe distress and immobility. Pain usually goes away after the patient recovers, but for some it can linger for months or years afterwards.

Pain treatment depends on the presence and severity of symptoms.

If pain is mild or moderate, natural painkillers may help, including:

  • Lavender and peppermint essential oil. Try placing a few drops of peppermint or lavender oil into your hands and then rubbing the blend on your forehead, temples, back of your neck, lower back, or other achy areas. You can also dilute a few drops by mixing the essential oils with almond, grapeseed or coconut oil. The peppermint-lavender combo also teams up to reduce muscle pain. This handy homemade muscle rub recipe also helps alleviate sore muscles.
  • Epsom salt. Soaking in a bath with epsom salt and warm water can help relax tense, painful muscles.
  • Gentle stretching, yoga or myofascial release. As long as it’s not very painful to stretch sore muscles, try a foam roller and gentle movement to massage tight areas and improve circulation.
  • Acupuncture. Acupuncture works by stimulating trigger points to reduce pain or disability.

Guillain Barre syndrome: exercise - Dr. Axe

3. Treating GI Issues Including Constipation & Weight Loss

Constipation, changes in stool frequency or appearance, bloating, stomach pains and other GI issues can be caused by GBS. Depending on how severe someone’s symptoms are, they may need to be treated with  gastric decompression, motility agents, and possibly parental nutrition (intravenous feeding, a method used to get nutrition into a patient’s veins).

Some ways you can help support your digestive system during recovery include:

  • Avoiding medications that make constipation worse, including opiate medications.
  • Drinking plenty of water and fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Using natural laxatives if constipation is an issue, such as: flax seeds and chia seeds, psyllium husk, castor oil packs, prunes and dates, aloe vera, leafy green veggies, coconut water and probiotic foods (like kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi and probiotic yogurt).

If rapid weight loss starts to occur due to loss of appetite or other complications like abdominal pain, then steps should be taken to prevent malnutrition. Inadequate nutrition is associated with increased risk for fluid and electrolyte abnormalities, ulcers, and infections. Nutritional support should begin as quickly as possible. It’s recommended that patients dealing with weight loss try to eat a high-protein diet and an additional 30 percent of the normal amount of calories they consume until weight stabilizes (for example, 2,600 calories instead of 2,000 in order to promote weight gain).

High-risk patients will also need to be closely monitored to check hydration status, weight, vital proteins, and nitrogen balance. All of these can occur if GI symptoms are severe and a patient’s nutritional status is compromised.

4. Managing Blood Clots, Blood Pressure Changes & Other Cardiovascular Symptoms

The goal of natural methods for managing GBS-related symptoms like irregular heartbeats, blood pressure changes and blood clots is to support overall heart health and prevent complications, such as a heart attack. In GBS patients who are at the highest risk for complications, treatment in the ICU will usually be necessary. These patients will need to be closely monitored for signs of cardiac complications, including sepsis, pulmonary embolism, or heart failure.

For those with mild or moderate GBS, natural ways to manage symptoms, avoid triggers and prevent complications can include:

  • Eating a heart-healthy diet. This includes plenty of vegetables and fruits, clean proteins, and healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado. Be sure to focus on eating healing foods, which include dark leafy greens, colorful vegetables (like yellow squash, red bell peppers and purple eggplant), fruits, legumes, whole grains (like oatmeal and brown rice) and omega-3 foods (like wild-caught salmon, walnuts, flaxseeds and grass-fed beef).
  • Inflammatory, processed foods — such as those containing added sugar, lots of sodium, refined grains, and processed vegetable oils — should be limited or avoided.
  • Avoiding energy drinks, caffeine and alcohol.
  • Avoiding taking certain medicines (speak to your doctor about this), smoking or using tobacco, and recreational drugs. Some medications can increase your risk for blood clots, such as hormone replacement drugs (usually used by menopausal or postmenopausal women), birth control pills, and medications taken to control blood pressure.
  • Managing stress and anxiety, such as with meditation, napping/resting, prayer, light exercise or movement, acupuncture, massage, using essential oils such as lavender or helichrysum, reading or spending time in nature.
  •  Taking breaks regularly when you’ve been sitting for an extended period of time. Try to move around and stretch throughout the day to keep your limbs from stiffening.
  • Taking beneficial dietary supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids, turmeric, garlic and a multivitamin (it’s best to get your doctor’s advice about supplements, especially if you’re taking other medications).

Precautions

If you suspect you might have Guillain-Barre syndrome, always visit your doctor right away, or the emergency room if symptoms become severe. The sooner you treat the disorder the better, so don’t wait for symptoms to get worse. Symptoms to look out for include: tingling and numbness that spreads, unexplained weakness that spreads, trouble breathing, and the feeling that you’re choking.


Key Points About Guillain-Barre Syndrome

  • Guillain-Barre syndrome (or GBS) is an inflammatory disorder in which someone’s immune system attacks their nerves.
  • GBS symptoms include muscle weakness, numbness, tingling, fatigue, pain, and GI issues. If the condition is severe, a patient is at risk for complications like pulmonary embolism and heart failure.
  • Can you recover from GBS? Yes, about 50–90 percent of people with GBS fully recover and don’t deal with any long-term impairments or complications.
  • How long will it take to recover from GBS? Most people have steady symptoms for about two to four weeks, then take several months to fully recover. Some people with severe GBS may need longer to fully feel better, sometimes many months or even years.
  • GBS is usually conventionally treated with intravenous immunoglobulin (administering healthy antibodies), plasmapheresis to help cleanse the blood, physical therapy, pain management and nutritional support.

4 Natural Ways to Support Guillain-Barre Syndrome Recovery 

  1. Physical therapy/movement
  2. Natural pain killers for mild-to-moderate pain, including lavender and peppermint essential oils and acupuncture
  3. Treating constipation and GI issues
  4. Supporting heart health to prevent complications

Read Next: Recognize Mono Symptoms + 12 Natural Treatments

The post Tingling Fingers or Toes? It Could Be Guillain-Barre Syndrome appeared first on Dr. Axe.

Source: dr axe

By Dr. Mercola

Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under the age of 50.1 Preliminary data for 2016 reveals the death toll may be as high as 65,0002 — a 19 percent increase in a single year. Opioids, narcotic pain killers, are responsible for nearly two-thirds, about 42,000, of these deaths.3 Between 2002 and 2015, more than 202,600 Americans died from opioid overdoses.4

While such statistics are sobering enough, recent research5 suggests the death toll may still be underestimated due to incomplete drug reporting of overdose deaths. The researchers believe upward of 70,000 opioid overdose deaths were excluded from national estimates between 1999 and 2015, for the simple reasons that coroners routinely fail to specify opioid use as a contributing cause of death. According to lead author Jeanine Buchanich, research associate professor at University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health:6

Proper allocation of resources for the opioid epidemic depends on understanding the magnitude of the problem. Incomplete death certificate reporting hampers the efforts of lawmakers, treatment specialists and public health officials. And the large differences we found between states in the completeness of opioid-related overdose mortality reporting makes it more difficult to identify geographic regions most at risk.”

The most common drugs involved in prescription opioid overdose deaths include7 methadone, oxycodone (such as OxyContin®) and hydrocodone (such as Vicodin®). Extremely potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl are also being abused by a rising number of people. Now, researchers warn a particularly powerful combination of commonly prescribed drugs significantly raises your risk of death.

Benzodiazepine Overdoses Are Also Rising

While opioids make the most frequent headlines, another class of drugs — benzodiazepines8 or "benzos,” widely prescribed for anxiety and insomnia — also claims its share of lives. Prescriptions for these drugs, which include Valium, Ativan, Klonopin and Xanax, tripled from 1996 to 2013, but this doesn't fully account for the uptick in overdoses, which quadrupled during that time.9

As for why the rate of overdose deaths rose faster than the rate of prescriptions, Dr. Chinazo Cunningham, one of the study's authors, told STAT News,10 "Our guess is that people are using these prescriptions in a riskier way.” The number of pills prescribed to each adult increased over the study period, for instance, which suggests Americans may be taking higher doses or taking the drugs for longer periods, both of which increase the risk of overdose. 

Combining the drugs — which act as sedatives — with alcohol is also risky, as is using the drugs along with opioids. Prescription records also show the use of benzos has risen alongside the use of opioids, and that the sedatives are often used alongside the painkillers to enhance the high.11

According to Dr. David Juurlink, head of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto,12 "Prescribing opioids and benzodiazepines together is like putting gasoline on a fire,” adding that “Benzodiazepines are grossly overprescribed … and many people don't necessarily benefit from them."

Estimates suggest more than 4 in 10 seniors use benzos for anxiety or insomnia, even though their long-term effectiveness and safety remain unproven, and their use has been linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.13

Older adults who used benzodiazepines for three months or more had a 51 percent greater risk of Alzheimer's disease than those who did not, and the risk increased the longer the drugs were used. According to the authors, “The stronger association observed for long term exposures reinforces the suspicion of a possible direct association …”

Opioid-Benzodiazepine Combination Raises Risk of Death Fivefold

A number of studies have already highlighted the deadly risk you take when combining opioids with benzos. Most recently, research14,15 published in JAMA looked at how the risk of overdose changes when you combine the two drugs for a number of days in a row.

As it turns out, during the first 90 days of concurrent use, your risk of a deadly overdose rises fivefold, compared to taking an opioid alone. Between days 91 and 180, the risk remains nearly doubled, after which the risk tapers off, becoming roughly equal to taking an opioid alone.
According to the authors:

“Policy interventions should focus on preventing concurrent opioid and benzodiazepine use in the first place instead of reducing the length of concurrent use. Patients using both medications should be closely monitored, particularly during the first days of concurrent use.”

The study also found that the greater number of clinicians were involved in a patient’s care, the greater the risk of overdose — a finding that highlights the lack of communication between doctors prescribing medication to the same patient, and the clear danger thereof. As noted by senior study author Yuting Zhang, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, “These findings demonstrate that fragmented care plays a role in the inappropriate use of opioids.”

Other Studies Confirm Extreme Risk of Opioid-Benzo Mix

Other studies have come to similar conclusions. A 2013 study found the combination of opioids and benzos was the most common drug combination in cases where an overdose death involved two or more drugs.16 According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, more than 30 percent of opioid overdoses involve concurrent use of benzos.17

Remarkably, another 2013 study18 discovered “substantial co-use” of opioids and benzos among pregnant women that led to death, which is doubly tragic. As reported in a third study that year, which stressed the importance of urine drug testing whenever patients are prescribed an opioid, to ensure their safety:19

“[C]oadministration of [opioids and benzodiazepines] produces a defined increase in rates of adverse events, overdose and death, warranting close monitoring and consideration when treating patients with pain. To improve patient outcomes, ongoing screening for aberrant behavior, monitoring of treatment compliance, documentation of medical necessity, and the adjustment of treatment to clinical changes are essential.”

A study20 published in 2017 found the ratio of patients, aged 18 to 64, who used opioids and benzos concurrently rose from 9 percent in 2001 to 17 percent in 2013, a relative increase of 80 percent. Not surprisingly, concurrent use of opioids and benzos for at least one day doubled the odds of an opioid overdose compared to taking just opioids.

Why Opioid-Benzo Combination Is so Deadly

In 2014, Ohio ended up using an opioid/benzo mix in a death row execution when the conventionally used drugs were unobtainable.21 That just goes to show this drug combination has an assured lethality at the “right” dosage. The reason these two drugs are so hazardous in combination is because both are potent central nervous system (CNS) depressants.

Your CNS, which includes your brain and spinal cord, coordinates and regulates the activity of automatic functions such as breathing. Respiratory depression, meaning slow and erratic breathing, can occur on both drugs, which leads to a buildup of carbon dioxide. In a sufficiently large dose, breathing can cease altogether, leading to death.

Like opioids, benzodiazepines are not intended for long-term use, yet many chronic pain patients end up staying on them for years, and may even take them with opioids for long periods of time. As noted by Dr. Len Paulozzi, medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, benzos “are prominent fellow travelers with opioids. The problem is, people get on them and they stay on them …"

Opioids Account for Three-Quarters of Drug Deaths Worldwide

In related news, the 2018 World Drug Report22 reveals pharmaceutically-produced opioids now account for more than three-quarters of all drug overdose deaths worldwide. Fentanyl abuse is rising in the U.S., while Africa and Asia are struggling with rising overdose deaths from Tramadol. While doctors are still a primary source of opioids, illegal drug traffickers have started cashing in on the opioid abuse trend, manufacturing and selling them illegally.

According to Yury Fedotov, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “We are facing a potential supply-driven expansion of drug markets, with production of opium and manufacture of cocaine at the highest levels ever recorded.” Between 2016 and 2017 alone, the global opium production rose by 65 percent.

In a June 26 address to observe International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, United Nations secretary-general António Guterres said,23 “I urge countries to advance prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration services; ensure access to controlled medicines while preventing diversion and abuse; promote alternatives to illicit drug cultivation; and stop trafficking and organized crime.”

Opioid Makers Shrink Payments to Doctors

One of the factors suspected of contributing to the burgeoning opioid epidemic is kickbacks to the doctors who prescribe them. According to a 2017 study,24 more than 68,000 physicians received drug company payments totaling more than $46 million between August 2013 and December 2015. This means 1 in 12 U.S. physicians collected kickbacks from drug companies producing prescription opioids.

The top 1 percent of physicians received nearly 83 percent of the payments, and fentanyl prescriptions was associated with the highest payments. Many of the states struggling with the highest rates of overdose deaths, such as Indiana, Ohio and New Jersey, were also those showing the most opioid-related payments to physicians, clearly demonstrating a direct link between doctors’ kickbacks and patient addiction rates and deaths.

Increasing pressure on drug companies — in large part brought to bear by lawsuits over deceptive marketing and charges being filed against executives and sales reps for their role in manufacturing demand — now appears to be paying off. According to a recent ProPublica analysis,25 drug company payments to doctors related to opioids decreased 33 percent between 2015 and 2016, from $23.7 million to $15.8 million.

The most significant decrease was related to Subsys, a fentanyl spray made by Insys. The company’s founder, John Kapoor, was arrested in October 2017, charged with bribing doctors to overprescribe the drug. Other Insys executives and sales reps were arrested on conspiracy and racketeering charges.26 In 2015, the company doled out more than $6 million in Subsys-related payments. In 2016, that amount shrunk to less than $2.4 million.

Purdue Pharma, heavily criticized for its deceptive marketing of OxyContin, no longer pays doctors to speak about the drug, and laid off its last opioid sales reps in June 2018.27 While the cutbacks in payments are a step in the right direction, research shows it doesn’t take huge sums of money to influence a doctor’s prescribing habits. A single free meal received in relation to marketing of an opioid has been shown to result in a greater number of prescriptions for the drug in the following year.28,29

Addiction Is a Very Real Problem with Benzodiazepines

Getting back to the issue of benzodiazepines, it’s important to realize these drugs are every bit as addictive and dangerous as opioids, and when taken together, the risk of death is magnified fivefold. Benzos exert a calming effect by boosting the action of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which in turn activates the gratification hormone, dopamine, in your brain.

Side effects include memory loss, hip fractures, impaired thinking and dizziness. Ironically, symptoms of withdrawal include extreme anxiety — in many cases worse than the original symptoms that justified the treatment in the first place. Other side effects of withdrawal include hallucinations, depersonalization and derealization, formication (skin crawling) and sensory hypersensitivity, perceptual distortions, convulsions and psychosis.

There are far safer ways to address anxiety and insomnia, starting with exercise, optimizing your gut microbiome and omega-3 level. The Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) is another effective tool that can help reprogram your body's reactions to the unavoidable stressors of everyday life. This includes both real and imagined stressors, both of which can be significant sources of anxiety. It can also help reduce pain.

In the following video, EFT therapist Julie Schiffman discusses EFT for stress and anxiety relief. Please keep in mind that while anyone can learn to do EFT at home, for serious issues like persistent or severe anxiety you should consult with an EFT professional to get the relief you need. Pain can also be safely addressed without opioids. For a list of suggestions, see “15 Natural Remedies for Back Pain.”


Source: mercola rss

By Dr. Mercola

It’s said that your eyes are the window to your soul, but they may also provide a unique window to your brain. As your vision worsens with age, so too may your cognitive abilities, according to research published in JAMA Ophthalmology. By the age of 65, 1 in 3 people have some type of eye disease that reduces vision, and in the U.S., about 70 million Americans will be 65 years or over by 2030.1

While it’s not a given that your eyesight will decline as you get older (a healthy lifestyle can keep your eyesight sharp well into old age), it’s important to understand that changes in vision may correlate with changes in your brain, either as an indirect consequence of changing your behaviors to accommodate them or due to an as-yet undiscovered biological component.

As it stands, both worsening vision and cognitive function are common among elderly people, but you have the ability to take control of your health so your eyes and your mind stay clear and functioning optimally.

Visual Impairment Is Associated With Worse Cognitive Function

Researchers from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine followed 2,520 Americans for eight years.2 Their vision and cognitive status were tested at the start of the study and again four times throughout. Significant associations were found between the two.

For example, those who had worse vision when the study began had lower scores on tests of cognitive function. On average, the participants’ vision declined enough that they lost the ability to read one line on an eye chart, and visual impairment at a distance was found to be associated with declining cognitive function over time.3

The study authors noted, “Worsening vision in older adults may be adversely associated with future cognitive functioning. Maintaining good vision may be an important interventional strategy for mitigating age-related cognitive declines.”4 As for why worsening vision may lead to worsening brain function, it could be that poor vision makes it harder for people to engage in activities known to stimulate the brain, like knitting, crossword puzzles or socializing with others.

It’s also possible that vision changes could alter your brain at the structural level,5 although this needs to be further explored. The study adds more support to previous research also linking poor vision with poor cognition. In an analysis of two U.S. data sets comprised of nearly 3,000 people aged 60 years and older, visual dysfunction at a distance was associated with poor cognitive function.6

Losing your other senses, including your hearing, may also serve as a bellwether for cognitive decline. In a study of nearly 2,000 older adults, individuals with hearing loss had a 24 percent increased risk of cognitive impairment compared to those with normal hearing,7 and their cognitive function declined up to 40 percent faster.

In this case, a causal link is suspected, perhaps because hearing loss is known to affect neural systems, including those necessary for speech comprehension, which involves both working memory and information processing speed.8

Poor Vision May Increase Your Risk of Dementia, Including Alzheimer’s

People with poor vision have even been found to have a 63 percent greater risk of developing dementia,9 and leaving poor vision untreated appears to be particularly damaging. In research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, those with poorer vision who did not visit an ophthalmologist had a 9.5-fold increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and a fivefold increased risk of being cognitively impaired (without dementia).

“Untreated poor vision is associated with cognitive decline, particularly Alzheimer disease,” the researchers concluded, adding that it’s possible “ocular disturbances may be precursors — not consequences — of cognitive decline.” In addition, lending support to the importance of getting vision problems addressed by a professional, the authors of the featured study suggested simple interventions like updating your eyeglass prescription or removing cataracts could give your brain health a boost.10

As for the somewhat-surprising link between vision and Alzheimer’s, it could have to do with the buildup of amyloid beta, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. The subsequent formation of brain plaque leads to progressive decline in cognitive and social functioning — and research has also linked amyloid beta deposition to neurodegeneration in the retina.11

Amyloid beta has been found in retinal drusen (yellow-colored fatty protein deposits beneath the retina) and is a hallmark of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of blindness among the elderly.

Amyloid beta has been linked with the progression of AMD,12 whereas peripheral drusen has also been linked to a higher risk for Alzheimer's.13 It’s even been suggested that by analyzing the presence of amyloid in the eye, one may be able to predict amyloid buildup in the brain with a fair degree of accuracy.14

Your Eyes May Be a Window to Your Brain Health

Aside from amyloid beta, other markers visible in your eyes may also offer clues to your cognitive health. Diseases that affect your blood vessels, veins and arteries have long been implicated in cognitive impairment, and it appears this may extend to the health of blood vessels in your eyes. Research using data that spanned 20 years and involved more than 12,000 people revealed that people with moderate to severe retinopathy, or damage to blood vessels in the retina, scored significantly lower on tests of cognitive function.15

Dr. Rachel Bishop of the National Eye Institute, who was not involved in the study, told CNN, "If the retinal blood vessels are unhealthy, there's every reason to think that the brain blood vessels are unhealthy as well … The blood vessel supply is essential to all function, the function of all organs, and so if the blood vessels are unable to do their job, there's no way that the brain can be functioning as well as a brain that has a good supply."16

Getting your eyes checked, in fact, can reveal far more than the state of your vision. A skilled practitioner peering into your eyes, or hearing about changes to your vision, may be able to detect other diseases as well, including:17

Diabetes

Hypertension

Multiple sclerosis

Sexually transmitted disease like chlamydia, herpes, syphilis and HIV

Thyroid disease

Systemic inflammation due to lupus or other autoimmune diseases

Cancer

Antioxidants for Healthy Vision and Brain Function

If you’re experiencing changes to your vision, you should see an eye doctor or ophthalmologist to have them checked out. However, be aware that your lifestyle plays a major role in your vision (and brain) health, and that includes your diet. In particular, antioxidants including lutein, zeaxanthin and astaxanthin are your allies for keeping your vision sharp as you age. Lutein and zeaxanthin, in particular, are notable because they’re located in your eyes. According to the American Optometric Association:18

“Of the 600 carotenoids found in nature, only these two are deposited in high quantities in the retina (macula) of the eye … Many studies have shown that lutein and zeaxanthin reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases, including AMD and cataracts … Beyond reducing the risk of eye disease, separate studies have shown that lutein and zeaxanthin improve visual performance in AMD patients, cataract patients and people in good health.”

As an added benefit, those with higher levels of lutein in middle-age have been found to have more youthful neural responses than those with lower levels, which suggests a lutein-rich diet may also keep you cognitively sharp.19 Lutein and zeaxanthin are primarily found in organic pastured egg yolks and green leafy vegetables, with kale and spinach topping the list of lutein- and zeaxanthin-rich foods.

You'll also find it in orange- and yellow-colored fruits and vegetables. Adding dark blue or purplish, almost black-colored berries like black currants and bilberries to your diet is another wise strategy, as they contain high amounts of antioxidant anthocyanins. Research suggests bilberry, in particular, may be effective for preventing cataracts and AMD.20

Astaxanthin Works Double Duty for Your Eyes and Your Brain

Astaxanthin is another notable nutrient that has emerged as the best carotenoid for eye health and the prevention of blindness. Research shows it easily crosses into the tissues of your eye and exerts its effects safely and with more potency than any of the other carotenoids, without adverse reactions.

Specifically, astaxanthin has been shown to ameliorate or prevent light-induced damage, photoreceptor cell damage, ganglion cell damage and damage to the neurons of the inner retinal layers. Astaxanthin provides protective benefits against a number of eye-related problems, including:

Age-related macular degeneration

Glaucoma

Cataracts

Inflammatory eye diseases such as iritis, keratitis, retinitis and scleritis

Cystoid macular edema

Retinal arterial occlusion

Diabetic retinopathy

Venous occlusion

Astaxanthin also helps maintain appropriate eye pressure, energy levels and visual acuity. Krill oil is a great source of astaxanthin that comes with the added benefit of omega-3 fats, which are also protective of healthy vision. People with the highest intake of animal-based omega-3 fats have a 60 percent lower risk of advanced macular degeneration compared to those who consume the least.21

For higher doses of astaxanthin, a supplement works well. If you decide to give astaxanthin a try, I recommend starting with 4 milligrams (mg) per day and working your way up to about 8 mg per day — or more if you're suffering from chronic inflammation. Taking your astaxanthin supplement with a small amount of healthy fat, such as grass fed butter, coconut oil, MCT oil or eggs, will optimize its absorption.

As with lutein, astaxanthin works double duty, also protecting your brain. Researchers found that supplementing with astaxanthin-rich (microalgae) extract led to improvements in cognitive function in older individuals who complained of age-related forgetfulness.22 Another study found it may help prevent neurodegeneration associated with oxidative stress, as well as make a potent natural "brain food."23

It’s even been found to reduce the accumulation of phospholipid hydroperoxidases (PLOOH)24 — compounds known to accumulate in the red blood cells of people who suffer from dementia — and scientists now believe astaxanthin could help prevent dementia, including Alzheimer's. It’s becoming increasingly clear that your vision health and your brain health are intricately linked, and eating right is one of the best ways to protect both as you age.


Source: mercola rss