Medicinal Mushrooms and Spagyric Preparations

My love of mushrooms started at an early age after being inspired by a beautifully pictorialized small hardcover book on mycology.  Just recently, my mother and I told one another that this our favorite book in our home library and it still resides there to this day.  I don’t emphasize enough, the amazing health benefits of mushrooms with my patients and students, so here is a brief overview of their medicinal attributes.  In general, most medicinal mushrooms are known as adaptogens, which means that they help the body deal with stress. They also stimulate the immune system, help fight cancer, and reduce inflammation.  They are most often used in Chinese medicine. My preference is to consume them as a spagyric tincture.  Very simply put, a spagyric tincture is one that is supercharged because it contains the minerals of the plant (by plant I mean either an herb or a fungi-mushroom).  Spagyric preparations are made when the ash of the plant is reunified back to the tincture from whence it came.  It is also called herbal alchemy, because it contains the aspects of Mercury, Salt, and Sulphur.  In a chemistry sense, the mineral salts neutralize the organic acids of the plant and this changes it from oil soluble to water soluble, thus making it more bioavailable and non-toxic.  I order my tinctures from feralfungi.com and my favorite is Lion’s Mane.  As with any pharmaceutical or natural product, caution and guidance must be honored.

Lion’s Mane – This mushroom is nootropic (benefits the brain) and optimizes cognitive function.  Dr. Terry Wahls recommends it to those with Progressive MS.  It is also anticarcinogenic and cardioprotective.

Reishi –Often referred to as “God of Fungi” for its anti-inflammatory, immune boosting, and liver detoxifying abilities.  It is highly adaptogenic.

Shiitaki – Often used in cuisine, shiitaki is cardioprotective, antioxidative, and reduces cholesterol.

Cordyceps – It is like the ginseng of the mushroom kingdom.  It increases energy and stamina and therefore anti-aging.

Chaga – Chaga is very popular right now and being consumed as a tea.  It holds its place as having one of the highest scores on the ORAC scale.  The ORAC scale shows which foods are the most antioxidative.

Nitrates: Harmful or Healthful?

Most health conscious people know that nitrates and nitrites are not healthy for us and can potentially cause cancer.  There are some nuances to this and so the blanket statement that they are harmful, is not completely true.

What are Nitrates and Nitrites?

A nitrate is a nitrogen atom plus 3 oxygen atoms and a nitrite is the same except it only has two oxygen atoms.  Nitrates and nitrites can occur naturally in some vegetables, such as beets, but they are also added to deli meats as a preservative, flavor, and color enhancer.  They are also produced by our body and circulate between our saliva and digestive tract. Nitrates are converted into nitrites when ingested by our saliva and digested .  Nitrites can either convert into nitric oxide (NO) which is healthy or nitrosamines which are carcinogens.  Nitric oxide is antimicrobial in the digestive tract and is a signaling molecule that dilates blood vessels. Nitrosamines are converted from nitrites when they are heated to a very high temperature in the presence of amino acids or when reacting to stomach acid.  The key here is high heat.  We typically heat meat at high temps compared to vegetables.  Just think how harmful cured hot dogs are, when heated to high temperatures on the grill.  Also, processed meat companies are required to add Vitamin C which interferes with nitrosamine production (4). Most vegetables and fruits naturally contain Vitamin C (6).

Nitrate Food Sources

Sodium nitrate cannot be added to food products that are labeled organic.  Instead organic foods and products choosing to be “naturally uncured” use sea salt, celery juice, or celery salt instead. Vegetables that are high in nitrates can mix with your saliva and can convert to nitric acid or NO. Nitric oxide remember is good for you, and I’ll explain why in a minute. It is therefore, a good idea to incorporate nitrate laden vegetables into your diet.  Beets, celery, arugula, spinach, and iceberg lettuce are all very high in nitrates (5). Fruits are less nitrate dense, with strawberries trumping the list (6).

Benefits of Nitric Oxide (NO)

Cardiovascular Health

Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow thus improving cardiac health.  In one study, dietary flavonoids and nitrates were shown to lower blood pressure depending on the availability of NO, which is dependent on the conversion of nitrate to nitrite via salivary enzymes (3).

Male Sexual Performance

For men, NO can increase testosterone and enhance erectile quality.  NO is a vasodilator, so increased blood flow to the penis.  In fact, the key ingredient in Viagra and Cialis is NO (5)

Exercise Performance

Athletes are using vegetable nitrate supplements for increased endurance and exercise performance.  Beetroot juice and potassium nitrate are popular supplements.  One study showed that a high NO diet decreased oxygen used during moderate intensity cycling, increased muscle work during fatigability tests, and improved agility in repeated sprinting tests (2).

Anti-platelet

Nitrates converted to NO were shown to reduce platelet reactivity but only in males, according to one study.  This is promising for more future studies as a concomitant to anti-platelet drug therapy (1).

My Advice Regarding Nitrates

Bacon is best cooked in the microwave to reduce nitrosamine production or cook it on a lower temperature for a longer period of time. Children have a very hard time processing excess amount of nitrates, so limit their exposure to hotdogs and processed meats (4).  My recommendation for any age, is to buy cold cuts sparingly and when you do, buy them nitrate free or uncured.  Also, when eating out, don’t order meals with cured meats, like a BLT for instance, unless the menu specifically says uncured bacon.  As a precaution, NO can give some people migraines.

  1. Velmurugan S, Kapil V, Ghosh SM, Davies S, McKnight A, Aboud Z, Khambata RS, Webb AJ, Poole A, Ahluwalia A. Antiplatelet effects of dietary nitrate in healthy volunteers: involvement of cGMO and influence of sex. Free Radic Biol Med. 2013 Dec;65:1521-32.
  2. Porcelli S, Pugliese L, Rejec E, Pavei G, Bonato M, Montorsi M, La Torre A, Rasica L, Marzorati M. Effects of a Short-Term High-Nitrate Diet on Exercise Performance. Nurtrients. 2016 Aug 31;8(9)
  3. Lovegrove JA, Stainer A, Hobbs DA. Role of flavonoids and nitrates in cardiovascular health. Proc Nutr Soc. 2017 Jan 19:1-13
  4. Gunnars, Chris. Are Nitrates and Nitrites in Foods Harmful? 2017. Healthline 4 June 2017. <https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/arenitratesandnitritesinfoodsharmful?.html.>
  5. Kuoppala Ali. 5 Food High in Nitrates to Blast Your Nitric Oxide Levels Through the Roof. 2014. Anabolic Men. <https//www.anabolicmen.com/amp/>
  6. Dubois, Sirah.  Fruits and Vegetables That Are High in Nitrates. 2017. Livestrong 3 October 2017. <https://www.livestrong.com/article/5413.

The Slick Truth About Cooking Oils

When cooking with oils, there are a few important things to consider.

  1. What are you using the oil for: frying, sautéing, or drizzling on food? Also, from a culinary standpoint, what flavors are you looking to enhance your food? For example, when I cook Asian cuisine I like to use sesame seed oil. I love the flavor of truffle oil,  so I like to drizzle it on potatoes after they have been cooked or potato chips.
  2. It is important to buy a healthy oil, so look for one high in nutrients and antioxidants and that has a good balance of omega-3’s and 6’s and even some incorporation of omega-9’s.
  3. Avoid buying GMO oil.  Assume that canola, soybean, and corn oils are genetically modified unless they say NonGMO or organic.
  4. Different oils need to be used at different cooking temperatures. If you heat oils past their smoke point, then you are oxidizing the oil and releasing free radicals that can be carcinogenic.  This also, will deplete their nutrients.
  5. All oils can go rancid if exposed to light, heat, and air, therefore it is important to store your oils in a dark and cool environment.  If an oil goes rancid you can typically smell and taste it. Reused oils go rancid quickly, and I recommend throwing them out.  Rancid oils can release free radicals, called oxidative rancidity, and adversely affect your health.

My list of Oils with their Associated Smoke Point

For frying, searing meat and woking – *avocado oil (520), ghee (485), which is a fat, not an oil, look for organic or grass fed, light sesame oil (410),  sunflower oil (460)

For sautéing – unrefined sesame oil (350), butter (350), which is a fat, not an oil, look for organic or grass fed, *grapeseed (420), virgin olive oil (420), olive oil (350) coconut oil (350)

For drizzling or salad dressing – flaxseed (225) or *extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) (320)

For baking – coconut oil (350) and *organic canola oil (400)

* The oils I personally use the most in each category.

Genetically Engineered Food- Is it Safe?


Here’s the scoop about GMO’s.  GMO stands for genetically engineered organism.  Are they safe?  The verdict is still out. In rat studies, massive tumors were exhibited at age 13 months old in rats that were fed a small portion of their diet (11% being Genetically modified). In humans this study equates to tumors showing up in our bodies at age 43 if only 11% of our diet is genetically engineered. 95% of corn, canola, soybean, cottonseed, and sugar beet grown in the US is GMO.  If you see any product with any of these foods you can assume it is GMO unless it says organic or non-GMO.  Currently GMO products do not need to be labeled.  GMO are banned in 27 countries excluding the USA.

This is how it works.  Genetically engineered seed (GE seed) is made to be Roundup ready or glyphosate (the main chemical in Roundup weed killer) resistant. So when the seed is sowed and a baby plant starts to grow, farmers spray round up to kill the weeds near the crop.  Now they have room to plant more crop? All the weeds die but the genetically engineered crop which is resistant to weed killer grows and the glyphosate gets into the cell matrix.  Problem? Yes! 1)The chemical spray cannot be washed off the crop and glyphosate is classified as a ‘probable carcinogen’ by the World Health Organization.  2) Milkweed is dying off and now the monarch butterfly population is suffering because it is their favorite food. 3) As mentioned before, probably genicatically engineer food is not safe for human consumption. 

How to eat non-GMO

1) Avoid corn, soy, cottonseed, canola, and sugar beet

2) Look for products that say non-GMO

3) Buy organic

4) Avoid PLU codes ( product look up codes that start with the number 8).  For example bananas are 4011, organic bananas are 94011, and GM bananas are 84011.

5) Shop at grocery stores that promise that they do not sell GMO.  Trader Joe’s is one of them.

6) Avoid farm raised fish

7) Avoid eating out at restaurants that don’t promise non-GMO and avoid processed foods.

8) Eat organic poultry and eggs only.

9) Buy grass fed beef, because it is not grain fed.

My Protocol for Getting Rid of Poison Ivy Naturally and Quickly

Since my daughter was little, she has been extremely allergic to poison ivy.  I’ve had to come up with a method that was both safe and natural to get rid of it quickly.  Poison ivy can be contracted from direct contact with the plant or also from contaminated clothes, garden tools, and even pets.
1) Upon contact with poison ivy or even if you think you might have brushed up against it like on a hike, wash as soon as possible with jewelweed soap.  The phytochemicals in the leaves of the jewelweed are used to help counteract skin irritants from other plants like poison ivy and oak. I found the soap at my local Agway, however there are many recipes on the internet to make it yourself.  If you can’t find jewelweed soap, then you can purchase Technu skin cleanser which is found in pharmacies, to help remove the poison ivy oil and prevent the spread of the rash.

2) You can use Technu anti-itch spray (ages 2 years and older), if you are itchy.  It is homeopathic and herbal and I use it instead of calamine lotion.

3) I use Rhus toxicondrendrum 30c, 2 times per day.  It is a homeopathic remedy taken orally.  Use for approximately 3 days.  In my opinion, it is the Rhus toxicondrendrum that helps ameliorate the symptoms and rash very quickly.  Remember, we heal from the inside out.

4) Lastly, don’t forget to wash any clothing, pets or tools that may be contaminated. 

Natural Remedies for the Common Cold

This past fall I had the honor of teaching at Western Connecticut State University and I wrote and taught a class never been offered before on food as medicine, supplements, herbs and homeopathy.  I taught each section individually and then at the end of the semester, as a class, we used all of what we learned to put together a natural remedy guide for common ailments.  This is what we came up with for the common cold.  My disclaimer here is to please consult a professional before taking even natural remedies.  They are natural, but powerful, and come with precautions, dosage recommendations, side affects, age recommendations and drug interactions.  This list is only a guide for discussion with your doctor.
Food

Beneficial – bone broth (rich in minerals and helps boost the immune system) chicken soup (antimicrobial properties in the onion slurry), garlic (mild antibiotic, antiviral, antifungal properties)

Avoid – processed foods, sugar (lowers your immune system and feeds on bacteria)

Supplements

Vitamin C -helps prevent viruses and bacteria

Vitamin D -boosts your immune system.

Zinc gluconate – shown in clinical studies to shorten the duration of colds

Arabinogalactin powder – helps with colds and boosts the immune system

N-acetyl L-cysteine – used as a mucolytic and also helps support lung health.

Homeopathic Remedies

First defense for a sudden onset of symptoms is Aconite neppalus and then reevaluate to see what next remedy fits your symptoms or constitution.  Some common ones for cold symptoms include Belladonna, Kali bichromicum, Pulsatilla, Gelsemium.

Herbs

Echinacea tops the list as the most common cold remedy in Europe.  It is taken for only 7-10 days and then discontinued.  A recommended dose is 300 mg dose repeated three times a day.  Very often it is paired with goldenseal which is a natural antibiotic.

Oregano oil comes in supplement form and is antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal.

Elderberry tincture or syrup can help support the respiratory system.

The King of Antioxidants – Chocolate

   

Oh thank God for chocolate or I should really say raw cacao!  There about 40 different health benefits of chocolate.  Number one in my book, is that it is nature’s most powerful antioxidant.  It is much higher in antioxidants than red wine, blueberries, green tea, gogi berries and acai.  Let me define some parts of the cacao tree for you.  The cacao tree lives in the tropics and mainly in Central America.  The tree bares pods that contain cacao seeds or nuts.  The term nut, seeds, and even beans are used interchangeably.   The nut can be ground into powder which is called cacao powder.  If the nut is not roasted first then the cacao powder is raw and this is the most nutritious form of the nut that you can consume.  The pod also contains fat which is known as cocoa butter. Chocolate is the candy that has been made from the nut. Cacao powder plus sugar equals dark chocolate.  If you add milk to that, you get milk chocolate.  If you take the cocoa butter plus sugar and milk, you get white chocolate.  Dark chocolate is the most nutrient dense because it contains more cacao nuts.The Mayans back in 1400 BC brewed the cacao nuts in water and called it xocolatl.  It was sacred and used as a health remedy, as a form of currency, and in spiritual rituals. It was the British that came up with the term cocoa, which is really slang for cacao. 

Academic studies have confirmed that cacao helps improve cardiovascular health by increasing good cholesterol.  In the FASEB Journal 2013;28 a study showed that dark chocolate prevents the white blood cells from adhering to the vessel walls thus preventing blood clots and artherlosclerosis.  Cacao also was reported to improve the flexibility of the arteries.  Other studies showed that it had an anti inflammatory effect to the cardiovascular system, decreased the risk of stroke, and increased nitric oxide levels which helped relax blood vessels thereby reducing blood pressure.  

More studies found that the epicatechin which is a flavonoid in cacao improves cognitive function, preventing dementia and regulating mood. Other flavonoids help to reduce insulin resistance. Phenylethylamine is a constituent that encourages endorphin release so that you feel happy.  Theobromine  helps to harden tooth enamel.  As a side note it is the stimulant, theobromine in chocolate and the not the caffeine that can harm pets.  Horses, cats, dogs and birds can get sick or even die if they consume chocolate.  Cacao contains vital minerals such as magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, iron and potassium.

If you want the greatest benefits of cacao, buy raw organic cacao powder.  I like to put a tablespoon of raw cacao powder in unsweetened coconut milk with whey protein or I like a tablespoon in a smoothie with plain kefir and frozen strawberries.  If you consume it as a candy the recommendation is to buy at least 65% cacao and eat only 1-2 oz of it or I like to just eat one square.  Remember cacao does have caffeine, but not as much as a cup of coffee.  Also, keep in mind that if you consume it in the form of chocolate, you are also eating sugar which is detrimental to your health. The amount of sugar and cacao in a bar are inversely proportional.  For example in a 70% cacao bar the remaining 30% percent is sugar.  The less the cacao content the greater the sugar and vise versa.

Just Say NO to Sugar

  
Sugar is getting some bad press recently.  It’s consumption has been linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. Sugar raises triglyceride levels, promotes cavities, lowers your immune system, feeds bacteria, yeast, and some cancers.  Simply put, sugar is devastating to your health.  According to Dr. Mercola, sugar is more addictive than cocaine, so no wonder it is the “largest source of calories for Americans.”  

Many American “drink” their calories.  Just think about all the sugar in fancy coffee drinks, ice teas, soda, and fruit juices. Water, black coffee, and tea contain none.  One can of soda equals about 140 calories of sugar.  I was taught in chiropractic school, that the amount of sugar in one can of soda can lower your immune system by about 70% for the next four hours after you have consumed it.  The American Heart Association and the Mayo Clinic guidelines for sugar intake daily is as follows: women- 100 calories a day on a 2000 calorie diet ( this equals 6 teaspoons of sugar) and for men – 150 calories a day on a 2000 calorie diet (this equals 9 teaspoons of sugar). 

All fruits and most vegetables have some natural sugar and that is OK in some quantities.  However, what I want you to really watch is added sugars like granulated sugar, honey, agave, high fructose corn syrup, and molasses.  As a side note, granulated sugar comes from two sources: the sugar beet (a root) and cane sugar (a tropical grass). 95% of sugar beets are genetically modified while pure cane sugar is not.  Proteins contain less than 1 gram of sugar per serving.  Grains with the least sugar are brown rice, barley, bulgar and popcorn.  Veggies with the least amount are olives, turnips, beets, asparagus, spinach, collard greens, endive and lettuce.  Dairy with the least sugar is cottage cheese, fresh mozzarella, and blue cheese.  Years ago, nutritionists used the term glycemic index which meant how fast the body converted starches and sugars after they are eaten to raise blood glucose levels. This term is not used as much since it can be misleading because blood glucose levels can be different depending on if a fat or a protein is consumed with the carbohydrate.  In essence though, the above lists of foods are low on the glycemic index and don’t spike your blood glucose levels as quickly.

In summary, avoid any beverages other than water, black coffe and tea, avoid added sugars, and watch the sugar content or glycemic index of natural foods to avoid raising blood glucose levels.  At all costs, NEVER replace added sugars with artificial sweeteners.  Artificial sweeteners are poisonous to your body, especially your nervous system and encourage weight gain by tricking your brain into thinking you are hungry.

Is Coffee Really Bad for You?

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My favorite coffee cup.

Throughout the years I have heard from some of my patients: “I’m trying to eat really healthy now, I even gave up coffee.” In my head I’m thinking I never thought coffee was so bad for your health, so I decided to do some research. Of course, I always want to read what Dr. Mercola has to say first, as he is my go to researcher. He has written several articles about the health effects of coffee. Interestingly enough, in the past, he recommended not to drink coffee, but in his recent articles he shows new research that supports the health benefits of coffee. In this blog I will summarize the pros and cons of drinking coffee referencing Dr. Mercola’s article “Mounting Evidence Suggests Coffee May Actually Have Therapeutic Health Benefits.”
Here’s the verdict: there are some therapeutic benefits to drinking coffee BUT it depends on how the coffee is processed, prepared and what is put in it. Healthwise, coffee contains vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and bioflavonoids. There is quite a bit of recent studies that show that coffee in moderation can help reduce your risks of certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimers. Other studies show that coffee can decrease the risk of Parkinson’s, help keep muscles and other tissues youthful, decrease depression, and increase cognitive function. The above mentioned article, has a chart of studies supporting the therapeutic benefits of coffee.
First off, it is best to buy dark roast, whole bean, organic coffee. As a side note, the darker the roast, the lower the caffeine content. Espresso actually has less caffeine than regular drip coffee. Coffee is heavily sprayed with pesticides. My family buys our organic coffee inexpensively at Costco. You want to brew your coffee with a non- bleached coffee filter. Finally, drink your coffee either black or with raw or organic milk. I call this drinking coffee the “clean” way. Never use sugar because it lowers your immune system and contributes to poor cardiovascular health. Never drink flavored coffee because the flavoring is usually artificial. Remember too, the fancy drinks at cafes are loaded with calories mainly from sugar. The main con to drinking coffee is that it contains caffeine which is a stimulant drug and is habit forming. Coffee should NEVER be consumed by a pregnant women because the caffeine goes to the placenta and can be harmful to the growing fetus. If coffee makes you feel awful, my advise would be to not drink it at all or limit its use, because I always think you should listen to your body. Other negatives are; that some people have a hard time sleeping at night if they drink coffee too late in the day, coffee is stressful to your adrenal glands, especially if you suffer from adrenal depletion, it is a diuretic and therefore it is not good for people who have issues with electrolyte imbalance. Some studies also showed a mild increase in cholesterol with drinking unfiltered coffee. In summary, in healthy, non pregnant individuals who drink their coffee “clean” and in moderation, the benefits outweigh the risks.

The Importance of a Regular Bowel Movement

When I encounter patients that say I just don’t feel well or I ache all over, I have to think outside the mechanical musculoskeletal box and think in terms of what is out of balance systemically. One of the many important topics I need to address is whether or not they are having a well formed or banana shaped bowel movement daily. Yes, daily! Infrequent bowel movements are associated with bad digestion and can lead to chronic inflammatory disorders such as leaky gut syndrome and fibromyalgia, according to Howard Loomis DC. Not having a daily bowel movement means that the feces are moving very slowly and this gives the body an opportunity to take water from the bowel making the stool hard. As a side note, people who eat a low carbohydrate meal need to drink more water for the same reason. Most importantly, the slow movement causes bacteria and yeast to be absorbed into the blood stream thus causing inflammation of the mucosa of the bowel. This phenomenon is called autointoxication. How to improve bowel function? Make sure that you are incorporating fiber found in vegetables, fruits and grains. Eating a full spectrum of soluble and non soluble fiber from different sources is important. If not enough dietary fiber is consumed then supplementing with natural psyllium husk which can be found at a natural marketplace or non flavored Metamucil from the grocery store is recommended. Make sure to drink enough water daily. You want to drink about half your body weight in ounces or enough water so that your urine is always straw colored. Include food enzymes if you feel bloated or gassy after eating, feel full quickly after eating small amounts, or feel that your food is sitting in your stomach.

References – Autointoxication by Howard Loomis DC which can be found at www.loomisinstitute.com.

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