|Dr. Mercola Articles|
|Your How-To Guide for Growing Astragalus|
|Fri, 22 Jun 2018 05:00:00 GMT|
By Dr. Mercola
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), a member of the pea family, is an adaptogenic herb with a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine as an immune strengthening tonic, where it goes by the name of Huang Qi and Hwanqqi. Another English name for this shrub is milkvetch.
Adaptogenic herbs help your body adapt to physical, emotional or mental stress. The immune boosting, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties of astragalus also lowers your risk for infections and other diseases. The most important part of the plant is its root, which has a distinct yellow color. For medical use, the root is made into powder, herbal decoctions, tea, capsules and ointments. The raw root can also be used in cooking.
Astragalus oil, which you can make yourself, also has both therapeutic and cosmetic uses. Taken internally, astragalus oil helps boost your immune response by promoting the production of antibodies. It also helps maintain your digestive health and can help alleviate ulcers by promoting the healthy balance of gastric juices and gastric acid in your stomach.
As most adaptogens, astragalus has a rather long list of potential uses. Products containing astragalus have been shown useful in the treatment of chronic weakness and fatigue, bloating, heart failure, night sweats, nephritis, urinary tract infections, allergies, and cold and flu prevention. To take full advantage of this medicinal plant, why not consider growing some in your backyard?1,2,3
Astragalus Growing and Harvesting Guide
Astragalus is a perennial plant with hairy stems that can grow up to 4 feet tall, producing small yellow flowers that eventually turn into egg-shaped beans. Flowering season runs from midsummer through late fall. It grows well in zones 6 through 11. Seeds will germinate in three to 10 days following a three-week-long cold period. However, seed germination rate tends to be low, and should you store seeds, be sure to use them within two years. After that, they may no longer germinate at all.
Once your seeds have been cold stratified, rub the seed on fine sandpaper to rough up the outer shell. Just don’t rub too hard, as you don’t want to damage the inside. This procedure may seem onerous, but will help accelerate and improve germination. Next, soak the seeds in water for a few hours or overnight. Now, the seeds are ready for planting. Start out by planting the seeds in a small pot or starter tray, using high quality seed starting mix.
Press the seeds about one-quarter inch to 1 inch into the soil and cover. Keep soil moist but not soggy until seeds start to sprout. Keep the pots on a window sill or in an area that receives morning sun. Once the seedlings have grown a few inches tall, transfer them to larger pots or straight into your garden, provided there’s no risk of frost.
Contrary to many other plants, astragalus prefers dry, sandy soil, and needs partial shade to full sun. Ideal pH is around 7. If you plant more than one, space them at least 15 feet apart. Since sandy soils tend to dry out quickly, you may need to water more regularly than other plants until it’s established.
Whether you’re growing it in a pot or in the ground, make sure the root ball stays moist. This is particularly important during the summer. Mulching around it will help retain water by slowing down evaporation. Every few months, apply compost or rotted manure around the plant. Avoid all synthetic, inorganic fertilizers and pesticides if you intend to use the root medicinally. Keep in mind that astragalus has a tendency to get invasive if it’s in an ideal spot, so prune annually to maintain the desired shape and size.
The medicinal root can be harvested after two to three years. Two years is generally considered the minimum, or else the rootstock will not be adequately large to make something out of. To harvest the root, use a garden fork or needle-nose spade to loosen the soil around the plant to where you can pull up the taproot.
How to Make Astragalus Oil
Once you’ve harvested the root, there are a variety of ways you can use it. As mentioned earlier, you can make your own astragalus oil for topical or internal use. Here’s how:
How to Make Astragalus Tincture
Another alternative is to make a tincture, which can be taken internally as needed. Heather Harris with The Homesteading Hippy provides a simple 1-to-5 tincture recipe on her site, summarized here. She suggests placing the tincture in capsules if you don’t like the flavor. For more details and dosage suggestions, see thehomesteadinghippy.com.4
How to Make Astragalus Tea
For an immune-boosting beverage, try making an astragalus tea, made from either fresh or dried root. A simple recipe by Leaf.tv is as follows:5
Astragalus Immune-Boosting Soup Recipe
Last but not least, fresh astragalus root can also be used in your cooking. Chicken soup is known to help speed up the recovery process when you’re sick. By incorporating the astragalus herb, you’re giving it an added medicinal kick. Here’s a sample recipe from homemadechinesesoups.com.6
Procedure (for double-boiling jar)
|Chia Is Easy to Grow|
|Fri, 22 Jun 2018 05:00:00 GMT|
By Dr. Mercola
If you were alive in the 1970s and 80s, you undoubtedly remember the "chia pet" craze. Cultivating one of these characters was easily accomplished by applying moistened chia seeds to a grooved terra cotta figurine and watering them daily until they sprouted. Because chia seeds become gel-like when wet, they adhered to the pottery in such a way as to create tuffs of green sprouts that mimicked fur, hair and beards.
While the market for those terra cotta creations has waned, the interest in chia seeds and chia sprouts has experienced explosive growth. Part of the reason is chia's nutritional profile. Chia seeds are high in antioxidants, fiber, omega-3 fats and other beneficial nutrients. If you've never considered growing chia, perhaps you may reconsider after learning more about this superb superfood.
What Is Chia?
Chia seeds are harvested from the plant Salvia hispanica, a flowering plant that is a member of the mint (Lamiaceae) family. Chia is native to central and southern Mexico and parts of Central America. Due to its popularity, it is now grown commercially in several countries around the world, including Argentina, Australia, Bolivia and the U.S.1
Chia's tiny oval seeds boast a shiny, mottled seed coat that can be black, brown, gray or white. The plant itself is an annual herb characterized by dark-green leaves that are wrinkled and deeply lobed. When mature, numerous purple and white, somewhat self-pollinating flowers, emerge from a central spike.
The History of Chia
According to Britannica.com, chia was:2
Chia's production as a food crop dropped off until the late 20th century. Its use, some assert, was somewhat revived due to the popularity of the chia pet in the late 1970s and '80s. At that time, chia began to make a comeback as an alternative crop and health food. Today, chia is well-regarded for its nutritional profile, including its rich stores of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids and dietary fiber, among other benefits.
Tips on Growing Chia
Chia is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 8 to 11.3 It is characterized as a desert plant that grows well in sandy loam soils. Chia plants need moisture during the growth cycle but can cope with moderate drought once established. The plant resists insect pests and diseases, perhaps in part due to the natural repellant properties of chia leaves. Chia's pest and disease resistance make it highly desirable for organic production.
Given proper conditions and ample space to grow, chia is one of the easiest herbs to grow. If you are interested in growing a full plant from which you can harvest chia seeds, you can either make space in your garden or plant chia in containers. Another option is to sprout chia, which I will address later in this article. Gardening experts provide the following helpful information on how to plant chia:4,5
As an alternative to direct sowing in the ground, SF Gate suggests you can start chia indoors in March or April. Under proper conditions, the seeds will germinate in three to 14 days. Plant your chia seeds indoors by:6
When transferring your seedlings to the garden, be sure to maintain 12 to 18 inches of spacing on all sides. When transplanting them into containers, start with a large pot to ensure it will accommodate future growth as the plant matures. Chia plants can easily grow 3 to 5 feet tall and about 18 inches wide. Flowers will generally appear about four months after germination. Your plants must flower if you want to harvest chia seeds.
Harvesting Chia Seeds
The key to harvesting7,8 chia seeds is to wait for the flower spikes to fully develop. Chia flowers will attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden. After they are pollinated, the flowers die back and tiny seeds develop. You can encourage bloom production by deadheading the flowers.
The best time to begin collecting individual flower heads is after most of the petals have fallen off. You can place harvested flower spikes on a drying rack or inside an open paper bag so air will circulate in a manner that will dry the flowers.
Once the flowers are completely dry, you can crush the spikes by hand, which will reveal the seeds. You'll want to separate the dry plant material from the seeds. Maintain the seeds in dry form until ready for use. As soon as you rinse chia seeds, they will begin to absorb water, which means you'll need to use them right away. If you do not harvest the seeds and they are allowed to spill out on the ground, you can expect sparrows and other seed-eating birds to devour them.
Chia Seeds Contain Healthy Fats, Fiber and Protein
While you may be aware that chia seeds are nutritious, you may not know about the specific attributes known to make them so beneficial. For starters, a 1-ounce serving (about 2 tablespoons) of chia seeds contains 138 calories, 5 grams (g) of protein, 10 g of fiber and 9 g of fat.9 Chia seeds are good for you because they:10,11
In addition, chia seeds are naturally gluten-free and were included in my list of 10 Superfoods for Digestive Health.
Popular Uses for Chia Seeds
Eaten dry, chia seeds provide a nice crunch and a slightly nutty flavor. If you're looking for ways to use chia seeds that stretch beyond applying them to a piece of "chia pet" pottery, you may be interested to use chia seeds or sprouts in:12
Other options include using chia in its gelatinous form as an energy gel, especially if you add the seeds to coconut water, or in recipes as a substitute for eggs. If you're looking for a refreshing dessert that is also healthy, try this Guilt-Free Chia Seed Pudding recipe.
Cautions About Eating Chia Seeds
Try Growing Chia Sprouts
Sprouts offer some of the highest levels of nutrition available, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes that help protect your body against free radical damage. Many of the benefits of sprouts relate to the fact that, in their initial phase of growth, the plants contain concentrated amounts of nutrients. Chia seeds are no exception, and you can easily grow chia sprouts at home. Sprouts are a fantastic option if you live in an apartment or condo where space is limited. Preparedness Mama explains how to sprout chia seeds:16
Whether you decide to grow chia plants or plan to enjoy chia sprouts, chia is a quick-and-easy source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, among other beneficial nutrients. I highly recommend chia.
|Here's How Alcohol Can Increase Your Risk for Alzheimer's|
|Thu, 21 Jun 2018 05:00:00 GMT|
By Dr. Mercola
Drinking alcohol has been found to have both a protective and damaging effect on the brain, depending on which study you read and how much alcohol is consumed. The jury is still out on whether light or moderate consumption may be good for your brain, but it's becoming increasingly clear that heavy drinking is not. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago even revealed how alcohol may increase your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, by disrupting the way amyloid beta is cleared.
Amyloid beta is a protein implicated in Alzheimer's disease that can clump together in the brain, building up into groups of clumps or a sticky plaque that may disrupt cell-to-cell signaling.1 The study, published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation,2 reveals that binge drinking or heavy alcohol consumption may make it more likely that the brain will accumulate these damaging proteins, contributing to the development of Alzheimer's disease.
Alcohol May Disrupt Your Brain's Ability to Clear Harmful Amyloid Beta
The study focused on rat microglial cells, which are immune system cells in the brain and spinal cord that actively work to clear amyloid beta in a process known as phagocytosis. Researchers exposed the microglial cells to alcohol (in a level comparable to that found in people who drink heavily or binge drink), inflammatory cytokines or a combination of alcohol and cytokines for 24 hours.
The expression of over 300 genes was altered following exposure to alcohol, while exposure to cytokines resulted in changes in more than 3,000 genes and the combined alcohol and cytokines exposure caused changes in over 3,500 genes. Many of the altered genes were involved in phagocytosis and inflammation.3 Notably, microglial phagocytosis was also affected by alcohol, decreasing by about 15 percent after one hour of exposure.
Although the tests were performed in isolated rat cells, which means real-life alcohol consumption in humans may lead to a different result, they suggest that alcohol may hinder the microglia's ability to clear amyloid beta, thereby increasing the risk of Alzheimer's. Speaking with Newsweek, the study's lead author, Douglas Feinstein, professor of anesthesiology in the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, suggested people at risk of developing Alzheimer's may want to be especially careful with alcohol consumption:4
Alcohol Linked to Dementia, Including Alcoholic Dementia
Drinking heavily is known to harm your brain and can lead to alcohol-related brain damage known as alcoholic dementia. The white matter in your brain is considered the "wiring" of your brain's communication system and is known to decline in quality with age and heavy alcohol consumption. While not a true dementia like Alzheimer's disease, the symptoms, such as problems with decision-making, slower reasoning and changes in behavior, can be similar.
However, unlike Alzheimer's, if you stop drinking alcohol it's possible to recover, fully or partially, from alcoholic dementia. That being said, heavy drinking or engaging in binge drinking is also linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, according to two reviews conducted by Alzheimer's Disease International and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).5
The Alzheimer's Society explained, "People who drink heavily over a long period of time are more likely to have a reduced volume of the brain's white matter, which helps to transmit signals between different brain regions.
This can lead to issues with the way the brain functions. Long-term heavy alcohol consumption can also result in a lack of vitamin thiamine B1 and Korsakoff's Syndrome, a memory disorder affecting short-term memory."6 It's also been suggested that alcohol may add to the cognitive burden seen in dementia via neuroinflammation.7
NAD and Niacin (Vitamin B3) Are Important if You Have Alcoholism, May Help With Alzheimer's
People with chronic alcoholism are at risk for niacin deficiency, both due to a reduction in dietary intake of niacin and interfering with the conversion of tryptophan to nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) (the dietary precursor of which is niacin).8 It's also thought that people with lower NAD levels naturally may be at increased risk of addiction, including to alcohol. NAD is also known to be depleted in Alzheimer's disease. Small doses of NAD (not time released) can be incredibly helpful when provided while weaning off alcohol.
The treatment helps to curb cravings for alcohol, detox the body, flushes alcohol (or other drugs) out of the system and relieves withdrawal symptoms. As a potent antioxidant, NAD helps to create energy in cells' mitochondria as well as increases the synthesis of neurotransmitters in the brain.9 What's more, it's being considered as an important therapeutic strategy to help maintain optimal function in the brain and possibly even treat Alzheimer's disease. According to a review in Current Opinion in Psychiatry:10
NAC May Help You Cut Back on Alcohol, Prevent Alzheimer's
If you're a social drinker who perhaps could benefit from cutting back on your drinking, also consider N-acetyl cysteine (NAC). NAC is a form of the amino acid cysteine and is known to help increase glutathione and reduce the acetaldehyde toxicity11 that causes many hangover symptoms. In addition, NAC is known to reduce alcohol consumption and withdrawal symptoms in rodents and cut down cravings in humans.
In a study of people who averaged one drink a week (or binge drinking 0.3 days a month), NAC increased the likelihood of alcohol abstinence and reduced drinks per week and drinking days per week.12 Meanwhile, if you are planning to have a drink, try taking NAC (at least 200 milligrams) 30 minutes before to help lessen the alcohol's toxic effects.
NAC is a powerful antioxidant known to directly target free radicals, especially oxygen radicals, which is important since oxidative damage is believed to be involved in Alzheimer's disease. NAC, in turn, may decrease levels of oxidative damage by protecting mitochondrial function, and in so doing reduce Alzheimer's risk, especially when combined with lipoic acid (LA). As noted in a review published in Cell Journal:13
As for whether or not alcohol can be good for your brain, there is some research showing that light-to-moderate drinking may have neuroprotective effects. For instance, consumption of up to three servings of wine daily is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease in elderly people without the apolipoprotein E4 (APoE4) gene, the gene thought to be most strongly associated with Alzheimer's disease.14
However, as James A. Hendrix, Alzheimer's Association director of global science initiatives, told Newsweek, "no one should start drinking alcohol as a means of lowering dementia risk."15
More Tips for Cutting Back on Drinking
If you believe you have an alcohol use disorder (alcoholism), seek professional help. If you drink excessively on occasion and would like to cut back, you can try keeping track of how much you drink and setting limits on how much (or little) to consume. You should also avoid places, activities and even people who may tempt you to drink and seek out new positive hobbies and friendships to replace them.16
Exercise is also essential. When you drink, it chemically alters your brain to release dopamine, a chemical your brain associates with rewarding behaviors. When you exercise, this same reward chemical is released, which means you can get a similar "buzz" from working out that you can get from alcohol. In one study, hamsters that ran the most consumed less alcohol, while less active hamsters had greater cravings for and consumption of alcohol.17
In addition, exercise may help to mitigate some of the risks of alcohol consumption. Longtime drinkers who exercise regularly have less damaged white matter in their brains compared to those who rarely or never exercise.18 As a bonus, exercise may also reduce declines in cognitive performance attributed to aging as well as protect against changes related to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.19
Key Strategies for Alzheimer's Prevention
Avoiding excess alcohol consumption is important in Alzheimer's prevention, but it's far from the only tool at your disposal. Dr. Dale Bredesen's (director of neurodegenerative disease research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Medicine, and author of "The End of Alzheimer's: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline") ReCODE protocol actually evaluates 150 factors, including biochemistry, genetics and historical imaging, known to contribute to Alzheimer's disease.
This identifies your disease subtype or combination of subtypes so an effective treatment protocol can be devised. Prevention is far better than treatment, however, and for this it's important to focus on a diet that powers your brain and body with healthy fats, not net carbs (total carbohydrates minus fiber), i.e., a ketogenic diet. the ketogenic diet will help you optimize your health by converting from burning carbohydrates for energy to burning fat as your primary source of fuel.
You can learn more about this approach to improving your mitochondrial function, which is also at the heart of Alzheimer's disease, in my book, "Fat for Fuel." One of the most common side effects of being a sugar-burner is that you end up with insulin and leptin resistance, which it at the root of most chronic disease. Keep in mind that adopting the ketogenic diet along with intermittent fasting may further boost your results, especially if you have the ApoE4 gene.