February 11, 2009

Nature's Drug Store

Wait, where's the hair mousse and the dental floss?
You call this a drug store?

I know just did a post on how berries may fight cancer, but I seem to have collected a couple more studies with the same theme: sometimes the food we eat can help fight diseases we'd rather not get, or help us with other tiresome medical conditions.

And in addition to the most recent studies, the Google reminded me of some similar research that I'd seen lurking around the web but never got around to mentioning. So what the heck; I'll throw that in here too.

One annoying fact that totally messes with this post's "theme": often these studies used extracts and pills rather than actual food. But, at least what they stuffed into the pills was at one time real food.

So here's a quick quiz: can you match the food item with the particular health study that Crabby randomly landed on when she went to write this post?

Green Tea
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Tart Cherries
Fish Oil (Omega-3)

Health Concern:
Hot Flashes and Menopausal Depression
Multiple Sclerosis
Inflammation leading to Heart Disease and Diabetes
Breast Cancer
Excess Fat

Pencils down? OK, let's see what we got:

Menopausal Depression and Hot Flashes:

Sounds like fun, I can't wait!

And the winner is: Omega-3!

A study of Omega-3 and menopausal symptoms recently published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicated that Omega-3 helped ease "psychological distress and depressive symptoms." The women were given one gram of EPA in a gel capsule every day for eight weeks. The study also found that hot flashes dropped from 2.8 a day to 1.6; comparable to results obtained with hormone therapy and antidepressants.

Increased Fat-Burning (plus glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity):

This recent study involved green tea, combined with exercise. Scientists found that young healthy men who were given the equivalent of 3.5 cups of tea (well, yeah, again it was actually Green Tea Extract), and then did cycling trials, had higher average fat oxidation rates than the control group who didn't get the green tea extract. Their "fat oxidation to total energy expenditure" was also significantly higher, which sounds like a good thing.
The researchers said "this has potentially positive effects for athletes who want to increase their fat burning capacity or obese and diabetic patients who want to burn fat and lose weight.”

They also found that the green tea had a helpful effect on glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. Good stuff, that green tea!

Multiple Sclerosis:

Caffeine seems to help ward off multiple sclerosis--at least in animal studies. Mice given caffeine were 75 percent less likely to develop the animal model of MS than those not given it. The dosage was the equivalent of 6 to 8 cups of coffee a day for humans. In the animals given caffeine who did get MS, they had milder cases and less brain pathology.

Inflammation Leading to Heart Disease and Diabetes:

Tart cherries were shown to help reduce inflammation, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. And again, these were just animal studies, so who knows. The antioxidant anthocyanin was believed to be the reason for the cherries' anti-inflammatory powers.

Breast Cancer:

Extra Virgin Olive Oil may help to fight breast cancer! How? Well, beats me, as this was one of the most indecipherable summaries of a research study I've ever read. But for those of you who can translate this, it is apparently good news!

"The study has shown the anti-HER2 effect of fractions of phenolic compounds directly extracted from extra virgin olive oil in breast cancer cell lines. They have used solid-phase extraction methods of semi-preparative liquid chromatography to isolate fractions of commercial oils and, later, separation techniques (capillary electrophoresis and liquid chromatography connected to mass spectrometry) to check the purity and composition of the fractions."

That's nifty, I guess! As someone who likes Extra Virgin Olive Oil but doesn't much like breast cancer, I'm pleased the scientists think it's good news.


Cinnamon helps! Um, unless it doesn't.

So this one is kinda cheating. Several years ago there were some hopeful studies that said cinnamon could help diabetics with glucose levels, but since then, other studies have said: meh, maybe not so much. WebMD reviewed the cinnamon studies and was not impressed.

However, my own mother just reported that she significantly reduced her blood sugar levels by taking cinnamon capsules! She went from borderline pre-diabetic to a nice healthy number. (Her motivation? To stop getting those annoying pamphlets from the doctor telling her to do all the healthy lifestyle stuff she's already been doing for years).

So who are you gonna believe, some smarty-pants researchers with their statistics and fancy laboratories and control groups and whatnot? Or your own mother? If my levels ever creep up, I may give the cinnamon capsules a try. (I suppose yummy frosted cinnamon rolls might be counterproductive for preventing diabetes?)

Sorry, this is kind of a boring post. Anyone have any favorite natural remedies, nutritional research updates, or amusing old wives tales to pass on?


  1. Great story about your mother! My ma loves to hear research or just tales from her friends and try every capsule under the sun. I try to warn against, but it doesn't seem to work...I just take deep breaths through her 'rationales'. Of course, after hearing your story, I'm now waiting to be proven wrong by her with numbers!

    Have a great day!

  2. Does chocolate for depression count? What about eating a spoon full of sugar for the hiccups? Well, probably not... Warm milk for insomnia is good, but makes me sweat a lot for some unknown reason. I have found a hot cup of coffee also helps with mild nausea. Mega amounts of cranberry juice for a kidney/bladder infection. Oranges for curing a cold. I guess I use food for curing myself more than I thought.

  3. Interesting that exercise does all these things also!

    Well, maybe not so good at flossing teeth.

  4. I almost always prefer to try the natural route before prescription meds of over-the-counter cures.

    Cranberry juice for UTIs.

    Plain yogurt for those nasty yeast infections. Garlic too.

    Garlic and Vitamin C for colds and other viral infections.

    That's all I've got. I find that they help about 75% of the time if used diligently.

  5. Definitely cranberry for the UTIs.

    We're going to be trying cinnamon for the blood sugar thing, because we read the good studies before the meh studies, so if it has any effect on either one of us (or not), I'll report back.

    Also, never discount the value of a good placebo effect...

  6. Well now. I might be an anomaly, but I've been taking the damned fish oil capsules every day for over a year and am now wondering just how bad the hot flashes would be without them, because, dammit, they are bad enough now!!! Maybe I need to take more. Or maybe not. (Fishy smell, anyone?)

  7. I use Lysine whenever I am starting to get a canker. If you catch the canker early enough one or two pills and it will go away. If it's a huge honking one already then it may take more but it works FANTASTIC to get rid of them.

    Oscillococcinum is the best stuff for a flu. I use it all the time and it wipes it right out. (that's just homeopathic not old wives tales)

  8. Bananas for muscle soreness from working out (my dad said they were worth their weight in gold when he was training for a marathon).

  9. I keep reading about the positive health effects of green tea. However, I just don't like the stuff. On the other hand I've also read that you need to find a place that sells "real" green tea, that you just can't buy it pre-made in a grocery store. Maybe I need to buy some from a health store?

    This post was a little short on your usually delightful crabbiness. Still, some useful information was here! Thanks!

    - Dave

  10. Can I blame you for the effect of 3.5 cups of green tea and 6-8 cups of coffee on my daily schedule?

  11. My grandmother swore that honey-and-vinegar mixed in a glass of water and drank once a day helped her fight breast cancer for 30 years. Hey, she was enjoying life into her 90s, so maybe you should try it!
    No word on whether it affects hot flashes ;)

  12. There is nothing boring about proof that a healthy diet is a major key to healthy living.

    Your mom's story is proof that, like medicines, some things work for some people, not for others. If it can't hurt, try it. You might be one of the lucky ones.

  13. Great blog!

    Gives me something to shoot for with www.looserdiary.blogspot.com

    I see you like sailing. Might want to check out my nephews sites


    God bless

  14. Crabby? You like sailing? What did I miss?

  15. I've also heard that gargling with saltwater is good for you. But don't put the glass of saltwater anywhere near a fan -- that would be saline too close to the wind.

    looks around proudly, only to meet a sea of glassy-eyed people glaring ...

  16. I drink about 3 cups of green tea a day. But it probably isn't even close to the equivalent of an unspecified amount of "extract." Well, just another item I'm picking up at the health food store. I'm such a sucker.

    My grandma always believed that the citric acid in grapefruit burned fat. So she was always eating them...with about 2 tablespoons of sugar! Needless to say, she never did lose that weight.

  17. Just found your blog. Love it! I try to use "nature's drugstore" as much as possible. Now that I've entered menopause, I have another great big bit of research to do. Oh boy.

    Thanks for blogging.... Vee at www.veegettinghealthy.blogspot.com

  18. I do drink green tea and I'm sure it helps weight maintenance - but partly just because it has no calories.

    I take Vitamin C, garlic and echinacea tablets as cold prevention over the winter, but no other food for specific benefits.

  19. Mom knows best :)

    A woman I work with who is fit and looks about 15 years younger than she is swears by making cranberry green tea and drinking 1 L of it every day. She boils a bag of frozen cranberryies in a large pot with 5L water until the berries pop out of their skin. She turns the heat off and adds 2 green tea bags and lets them steep about 10 minutes (apparently boiling water can remove some of the antioxidants in tea). She then blends the whole mess together, strains it and stores it in the fridge. She brings a bottle of it to work every day and sips it instead of regular tea.

    She looks awesome and is really healthy.
    I'm gonna try it...

  20. Wow, geosomin, that sounds tart.But it also sounds healthy.

    I keep hearing that wives tale about carrots being good for your eyes... yet I still wear glasses. :-7

  21. When I'm coming down with a nasty sore throat, I gargle a little peroxide. It seems to really wipe out germs, if you've been heavily exposed. (I used to teach pre-school--talk about germs!)

    But, I only suggest this sparingly and carefully. Also, now that I have a healthier lifestyle, I've rarely gotten sore throats. But it really works in a pinch.

  22. ok now I AM wondering if there are studies about the sugar and hiccups.

    It works...or so Ive HEARD :)

    Id never do that.

  23. I take circumin, tumeric and green tea though not mixed. Resveratrol , CoQ10 & I3C all for anti-cancer properties.

    (notice I pulled the quackwatch report - it has lots of good info)

    CoQ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coenzyme_Q10

    Circumin -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circumin

    Indole 3 carbonal aka I3C is a phytochemical found in cruciferous veges and a dietary supplement.

    From Sloan Kettering -http://www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/69263.cfm

  24. Hmm. I'm interested in the green tea bit. For the fat-burning properties, sure, but really for the glucose-tolerance part. (I'm super-sensitive to changes in my blood sugar, both high and low. But apparently I'm not diabetic. Weird. Good, but weird.)

    As for old-school home remedies: for an upper-respiratory flu or cold, take 1/4 cup of warmed blackberry brandy about half an hour before bed.

    Don't get too excited: it tastes NASTY (like drinking syrup), but it works! There was an article in the LA Times a couple of years ago (that I can't find now, so no link - sorry) that referenced a study which found that fermenting berries in alcohol caused them to release over 100 times more antioxidants than your body would normally be able to access.

    So the theory on the brandy is that the alcohol knocks you out, and the antioxidants fight the virus! Neat! (Also, this really works best with BLACKBERRY brandy. Straight brandy won't do it, because there're no antioxidants.)

  25. Got a wicked case of Montezuma's Revenge, or just an upset tummy? – coconut water will calm down an intestinal upset

    Hot flashes and night sweats keeping you up? – coconut water cools you down and regulates the body's temperature

    PMS'ing? Retaining fluid? Irritable? – coconut water is a natural diuretic that eliminates swelling of the feet and hands, AND restores emotional stability

    Just had a killer workout at the gym? Don't reach for the Gatorade. – coconut water will rehydrate and restore electrolyte levels naturally without added chemicals and sugars

    If you're good with a machete, just lop off the top of a young Thai coconut and drink up. Me, I prefer to buy my coconut water already packaged at Whole Foods. Look for Zico or ONE brands.

  26. Crabby, why are you always asking people to think?

  27. My latest natural food super star crush is quercetin. It's been credited with preventing terrible forms of cancer (pancreatic), lowering blood pressure, minimizing asthma & prostatitis...no word yet on hot flashes. And, increased feeling of well being like St. John's Wort!


  28. I love research like this! If I can focus on all the good reasons to eat healthy food then I focus less on all the reasons I want to eat the crap stuff. of course, I was going mention chocolate and mood but I see Whobody beat me to it!

  29. I loved this post.......not boring at all!!!! I love cinnamon and put it on everything ;) so maybe I'm a step ahead of diabetes :)

  30. I like Marste's post about berries and liquor.
    Finally a healthy excuse for the blueberry and saskatoonberry vodka I've been making :)

  31. Honey is great for sore throats.
    And thank heavens for the caffeine having a positive effect, though if I had 6-8 cups per day I'd be such a nervous wreck I'd need something else to bring me down!

  32. Not usually a juice drinker, but anytime I have a sore throat - hot grapefruit juice makes my throat feel better right away.

  33. And the winner is... regular exercise!

  34. Earthmother I too drink coconut water but I drink it after a really intense workout.

  35. A lot of modern medicine is based on traditional plant remedies. We used to use dog leaf to counter nettle stings when we were young. It worked perfectly.

  36. I've heard about a study that showed oolong tea was superior to green at augmenting fat burning.

    I love tea and I drink all kinds because they all have different benefits. (Not to mention flavors).

    When I get that little sore throat that means a cold is coming on I gargle salt water, put honey in my tea, eat more citrus fruits, and go to bed early. I almost always nip it in the bud this way.

    For belly aches - ginger tea is a miracle.

    To the commenter who doesn't like green tea - try another kind. I don't like plain green tea much myself. Try whatever strikes your fancy. Ginger green is my current favorite. There are a lot of fruity green teas out there as well. You can always add a little fruit juice to plain green tea too. A squeeze of orange, a dash of cran, whetever. They even have fancy recipes for tea punches online so you can get your green tea, pomegranate juice, acai, etc. all in one beverage.


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