By Kimberly Yawitz
You may have heard of probiotics, but do you know about prebiotics?
Despite the similarity in names, there are some key differences.
While probiotics rightfully get a lot of praise from health experts, prebiotics are important as well.
So, what are prebiotics, and how can you get more of them?
Keep reading to learn more about the power of prebiotics.
What Are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are a relatively new discovery in terms of medical science.
They're very different from probiotics, but they work closely with them.
Prebiotics vs. Probiotics
- Stronger immune system
- Healthier gut
- Symptom relief from depression and anxiety
- Lower body weight
- Improved heart health
- Cancer prevention
Prebiotics are compounds in foods that feed probiotic bacteria. In doing so, they help beneficial bacteria grow and to work more effectively.
Fibers resist digestion in the stomach and the small intestine. They reach the colon intact, where they're fermented by probiotic bacteria for fuel (3).
Some probiotic bacteria can feed off of these. However, these fatty acids are thought to have health benefits beyond feeding beneficial bacteria, including (4):
- improved gut health
- a stronger immune system
- enhanced glucose and dietary fat metabolism
- appetite control.
Bacteria in the colon feed off of prebiotic fiber to form short-chain fatty acids (24).
In short, both prebiotics and their digestive end-products are important to health.
Benefits of Prebiotics
Prebiotics are said to have several health benefits, including:
- A healthier ratio of beneficial to harmful bacteria
- Increased bone health
- Lower risk of allergies
- Reduced intestinal permeability
- A healthier immune system.
Most studies to date, though, show that these benefits aren't from the prebiotics themselves. So far, few studies have directly linked prebiotics to positive health outcomes. Rather, they play an important supporting role by helping probiotics be more effective (5).
Summary: Prebiotics are fibers that help feed probiotics. In doing so, they increase the population of healthy bacteria and help them work more effectively.
Though all prebiotics are fiber, not all dietary fibers are prebiotics.
The most common prebiotic fibers include:
- Guar gum
- Resistant Starch, including maltodextrin
Here are a few types of foods that can help nourish your gut bacteria.
Onions and garlic can be added to a variety of dishes to boost intake of prebiotics. Jerusalem artichokes and leeks are delicious roasted, while jicama is great raw in salads or baked like French fries.
Human and animal studies have shown that root vegetables can positively impact the gut biome.
One study found that after 40 days pigs fed inulin or Jerusalem artichoke had higher levels of short-chain fatty acids in the colon. The Jerusalem artichoke group also saw increases in beneficial Bifidobacterium spp. bacteria (6).
Also, in one small human study, volunteers who drank juice shots fortified with inulin from Jerusalem artichoke had significantly greater increases in probiotic bacteria than those who drank plain juice (7).
Eating fruit every day is recommended as part of a healthy and balanced diet.
Among many other health benefits, certain fruits have positive impacts on the gut biome.
Apples and bananas are particularly rich in prebiotic fibers. Apples are high in pectin, while ripe bananas contain inulin, and unripe bananas also have resistant starch.
In one small study, women who ate two medium bananas per day for 60 days saw modest increases in bifidobacteria (8).
Meanwhile, rodent studies have found that the pectin in apples increases levels of beneficial gut bacteria while decreasing harmful bacterial strains (9).
Examples include greens (especially dandelion greens), peas, corn, leeks and asparagus.
Greens can be used in salads, but soaking or sautéing dandelion greens can reduce their bitterness. Other spring vegetables are highly versatile and can be incorporated into a number of dishes.
Would it surprise you to know that chocolate can help promote a healthy gut biome?
Cocoa beans contain fibers that can be fermented by probiotics. They also contain antioxidants called polyphenols, which can help beneficial bacteria grow in the gut (12).
Just keep in mind that not all chocolate is created equal. Look for a dark chocolate with few additives, or stir pure cocoa powder into yogurt, smoothies, oats or baked goods.
Lentils are legumes, which means they grow in a pod.
Prebiotic fiber content varies depending on the type of lentil. Some types are rich in resistant starches, while others are higher in fructooligosaccharides or sugar alcohols (14).
Animal studies have found that lentil-based diets promote a favorable balance of healthy to unhealthy gut bacteria. However, limited data are available in humans (15).
Nonetheless, lentils have many health benefits, and it makes sense to include them in the diet as tolerated. They're great in soups, curries, salads or on their own.
Wheat is the most abundant source of prebiotics in the Western diet (16).
Wheat and other whole grains contain various types of prebiotic fiber. For example, barley and oats are high in beta-glucan. Others contain resistant starch or other fibers.
In one small human study, consumption of 48 grams of a whole grain breakfast per day for three weeks resulted in significant increases in bifidobacteria and lactobacilli (17).
Also, in one lab study, beta-glucan from oats showed greater prebiotic activity than other prebiotic foods, including corn and sugar beets (18).
You can maximize the prebiotic benefit by experimenting with a variety of whole grains. Whole wheat bread, rice and pasta are great, but don't overlook less popular grains like barley, rye, farro and quinoa.
Most nuts and seeds contain some prebiotic fiber, though walnuts are among the richest sources.
In one human study with 135 healthy adult volunteers, daily walnut consumption positively altered the gut biome by significantly increasing the abundance of Ruminococcaceae and Bifidobacteria, and significantly decreasing levels of Clostridium sp. bacteria.
Volunteers in this study ate 43 grams per day (a little over 1/3 cup chopped) of walnuts. Participants reduced calories from fat or carbohydrates due to the high calorie content of walnuts (19).
Summary: The best way to consume adequate prebiotic fibers is to eat a variety of plant foods. Aim for 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day and round out your plate with whole grains, legumes and nuts. Feel free to indulge in pure cocoa for dessert.
There's a growing market for prebiotic supplements with sales expected to reach $7.5 billion by 2023 (5).
A large selection of prebiotic supplements are available online, many of which contain inulin as an active ingredient. Some popular ones include:
- Dr. Tobias GutMeiser Ultimate Prebiotic
- Prebio Thrive
- Biohm Super Greens
- Uplift Food Daily Uplifter.
Unfortunately, few studies have specifically examined prebiotic supplements. Most have focused on animals or human infants, while others have looked at synbiotic supplements, which include both prebiotics and probiotics (20).
These supplements are probably safe for most adults, but we don't know enough to say if they're effective (21).
Summary: Prebiotic supplements have been very popular, and many options are available online. The research hasn't caught up to the demand yet, at least in human adults. While they won't likely harm you, there's not enough evidence to say if they work.
Are Prebiotics Right for Everyone?
Prebiotics are safe for most people.
However, some people with irritable bowel syndrome or other digestive issues are intolerant to certain prebiotic fibers. This is because many prebiotics are high in FODMAPs.
FODMAPs are fibers that undergo fermentation in the colon, just like prebiotics. In fact, certain prebiotic foods are also high in FODMAPs.
Reaction to FODMAPs in the gut.
A diet that temporarily restricts foods high in FODMAPs may be helpful for people who frequently experience this type of discomfort (22).
That's not to say that you should give up prebiotics altogether, though. Doing so alters the composition of beneficial gut bacteria, many of which lower gastrointestinal distress.
Even on a FODMAP elimination diet, prebiotic foods that are high in FODMAPs should be reintroduced gradually as tolerated (23).
A free 7-day low-FODMAP starter plan is available here.
Summary: Some prebiotic fibers are high in FODMAPs, which can cause gastrointestinal issues in people who are sensitive. A diet that temporarily restricts then reintroduces high-FODMAP foods may be helpful. The reintroduction phase is important, because unnecessarily restricting prebiotic foods will limit the effectiveness of gut-friendly probiotics.
Some Final Thoughts on Prebiotics
No studies to date have directly linked prebiotics to positive health outcomes.
But that's not to diminish their importance. Prebiotics feed probiotics and allow them to work more effectively.
As such, they play a secondary role in many important bodily functions.
There are many supplements on the market, but research hasn't caught up to consumer demand.
For now, the best way to obtain prebiotics is to eat a diet with a wide variety of fibrous plant foods.
Do your best to incorporate whole grains, root vegetables, spring vegetables (when available), fruits, legumes and nuts.
A bit of high-quality dark chocolate won't hurt, either.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Diet vs Disease.
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By Joe Leech
While there are many health benefits to being vegetarian, some of us don't want to completely cut out meat.
This is the idea behind the flexitarian diet, which reduces meat intake instead of avoiding it altogether.
This article discusses the potential benefits and risks of following a flexitarian diet to help you decide if it's a good plan for you.
What is a Flexitarian Diet?
"Flexitarianism" is essentially what it sounds like: a flexible vegetarian diet.
A person who identifies as flexitarian might eat meat occasionally, but does not include it as a regular part of their normal diet.
Most often, those who prefer not to eat meat do so for health or ethical reasons (or both). The same can be said for flexitarians looking to improve their overall health and lessen their impact on the environment.
Summary: Flexitarianism means eating a flexible vegetarian diet, which reduces meat intake instead of completely cutting it out. This may be a decision based on health or ethical reasons (or both).
Will a Flexitarian Diet Promote Weight Loss and Improve Overall Health?
In short, yes, if we first look at the benefits of a vegetarian diet.
Studies have found that those who eat a vegetarian diet are more likely to have a body mass index (BMI) that falls within the normal range.
This may be because vegetarians are likely to consume more fruit and vegetables, which are low in calories and high in fiber—two major components in promoting weight loss.
Additionally, vegetarians tend to have an increased life expectancy compared with meat-eaters. Several studies have found that people who eat a diet high in fruit, vegetables, nuts and whole grains have a lower risk of both cardiovascular disease and cancer—two of our biggest killers (1, 2).
Meanwhile, observational studies indicate that eating red meat may lead to an increase risk of cancers, including colorectal cancer. Avoiding or limiting red meat can help reduce this risk (5).
That said, compared to a vegetarian, a flexitarian will benefit from getting important nutrients—such as protein, vitamin B12, and iron—that are highly concentrated in meat.
So it seems a flexitarian eating pattern can be healthy for a range of people. As you'd expect, those who eat a semi-vegetarian diet tend to have lower BMIs, lower risk of breast cancer and lower blood glucose levels compared to those who eat meat often (9).
Summary: Flexitarians may experience similar benefits as vegetarians, who typically weigh less and have higher life expectancies. Eating a diet low in meat is also linked to lower risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Health Risks of Flexitarianism
Changing your diet in any way may come with some unexpected risks.
As mentioned above, meat is an excellent source of dietary protein, as well as zinc, iron and vitamins like B1, B2, B3 and B12.
This means flexitarians need to be sure they're getting these nutrients from other sources when cutting down on meat.
For example, limiting red meat may increase your risk of iron deficiency anemia. Flexitarians may want to increase their intake of plant foods like soybeans, chickpeas, quinoa and lentils—all good sources of iron (9).
You'll also want to seek out high-protein plant foods, such as nuts, seeds, lentils, tofu and beans. This graph gives you an idea of the protein content of many plant foods:
Summary: Eating a flexitarian diet may lead to deficiency in iron, as well as other essential nutrients like protein, zinc and B12. Flexitarians need to be sure they're getting these nutrients from both meat and plant sources.
Who Should (and Shouldn't) Consider a Flexitarian Diet?
If you are overweight, at increased cardiovascular risk (including those with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes or people with a family history of metabolic health issues) or have ethical concerns about eating meat, you may benefit from adopting a flexitarian lifestyle.
However, you should discuss this diet with your doctor or dietitian if you have:
- Iron deficiency or any other type of anemia
- Dietary allergies or intolerances that limit your intake of non-meat foods
- A history of eating disorders or drastically restricting your diet (10).
Summary: Those who are overweight or at increased cardiovascular risk may benefit from following a flexitarian diet. Anyone with existing health problems should discuss the decision with their doctor or dietitian first.
How to Become Flexitarian
If you currently eat meat, it's best to make small, gradual changes to your diet.
Consider tracking your meat intake for one week. Write down every portion of meat consumed for seven days.
The following week, aim to reduce meat intake by around one serving (approximately 85 grams or 3 ounces). Continue doing this week by week until your weekly meat intake equates to less than five servings per week.
It's useful to observe when your largest intake of meat is likely to occur. For most people, this will be dinner. Replace meat in the evening meal with vegetarian options or meat substitutes.
Because the flexitarian diet is, by definition, flexible, you can choose how much meat you wish to consume. Continue to gradually lessen your meat consumption until you reach a point that feels right to you.
See below for ways to incorporate this idea into a meal plan.
Summary: To adopt a flexitarian lifestyle, gradually reduce meat intake by cutting out one serving a week.
2-Day Sample Flexitarian Diet Plan
Breakfast: Omelette with eggs, cheese and selected vegetables as desired (e.g. mushrooms, tomatoes, bell peppers)
Lunch: Sandwich on wholegrain bread with cottage cheese, lettuce, tomato, grated carrot, cucumber
Dinner: Pasta with vegetarian sauce
Snacks: Fruit, nuts, yogurt
Breakfast: Rolled oats with milk and berries
Lunch: Sandwich on wholegrain bread with egg, cheese, lettuce, tomato, alfalfa sprouts, beetroot
Dinner: Roast vegetables with tofu and couscous
Snacks: Fruit, nuts, yogurt.
Is a Flexitarian Diet Right for You?
There is no one perfect diet.
In fact , the best diet for you may very well be different to me.
What I like about the flexitarian diet is that it allows for flexibility.
This places the diet among the more sensible and sustainable methods of eating (unlike the ketogenic diet) as it doesn't require strict dietary restriction.
Overall, reducing meat intake may offer many health benefits, particularly if you are already overweight or experience metabolic health issues. Meat is high in calories so reducing your intake will be beneficial.
To start, try cutting out one serving of meat (about 3 ounces) every week. But note that those with existing health problems, including iron deficiency or other anemias, should talk to their doctor or a dietitian first.
Making these types of slow, gradual changes to your diet will lead to longer lasting changes and hopefully a beautiful relationship with food and your health.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Diet vs Disease.
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Solar panels allow you to harness the sun's clean, renewable energy, potentially cutting your electric bills as well as your environmental footprint. But do solar panels work on cloudy days, or during seasons of less-than-optimal sun exposure? For homeowners who live outside of the Sun Belt, this is a critical question to consider before moving ahead with solar panel installation.
In this article, we'll go over how solar panels work on cloudy days, whether solar panels work at night, and how to ensure you always have accessible power — even when your panels aren't producing solar energy.
How Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days
Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels can use both direct and indirect sunlight to generate electrical power. This means they can still be productive even when there is cloud coverage. With that said, solar panels are most efficient and productive when they are soaking up direct sunlight on sunny days.
While solar panels still work even when the light is reflected or partially obstructed by clouds, their energy production capacity will be diminished. On average, solar panels will generate 10 to 25% of their normal power output on days with heavy cloud coverage.
With clouds usually comes rain, and here's a fact that might surprise you: Rain actually helps solar panels work more effectively. That's because rain washes away any dirt or dust that has gathered on your panels so that they can more efficiently absorb sunlight.
Do Solar Panels Work at Night?
While solar panels can still function on cloudy days, they cannot work at night. The reason for this is simple: Solar panels work because of a scientific principle called the photovoltaic effect, wherein solar cells are activated by sunlight, generating electrical current. Without light, the photovoltaic effect cannot be triggered, and no electric power can be generated.
One way to tell if your panels are still producing energy is to look at public lights. As a general rule of thumb, if street lamps or other lights are turned off — whether on cloudy days or in the evening — your solar panels will be producing energy. If they're illuminated, it's likely too dark out for your solar panel system to work.
Storing Solar Energy to Use on Cloudy Days and at Night
During hours of peak sunlight, your solar panels may actually generate more power than you need. This surplus power can be used to provide extra electricity on cloudy days or at night.
But how do you store this energy for future use? There are a couple of options to consider:
You can store surplus energy in a solar battery.
When you add a solar battery to your residential solar installation, any excess electricity can be collected and used during hours of suboptimal sun exposure, including nighttime hours and during exceptionally cloudy weather.
Batteries may allow you to run your solar PV system all day long, though there are some drawbacks of battery storage to be aware of:
- It's one more thing you need to install.
- It adds to the total cost of your solar system.
- Batteries will take up a bit of space.
- You will likely need multiple batteries if you want electricity for more than a handful of hours. For example, Tesla solar installations require two Powerwall batteries if your system is over 13 kilowatts.
You can use a net metering program.
Net metering programs enable you to transmit any excess power your system produces into your municipal electric grid, receiving credits from your utility company. Those credits can be cashed in to offset any electrical costs you incur on overcast days or at night when you cannot power your home with solar energy alone.
Net metering can ultimately be a cost-effective option and can significantly lower your electricity bills, but there are a few drawbacks to consider, including:
- You may not always break even.
- In some cases, you may still owe some money to your utility provider.
- Net metering programs are not offered in all areas and by all utility companies.
Is Residential Solar Right for You?
Now that you know solar panels can work even when the sun isn't directly shining and that there are ways to store your energy for times your panels aren't producing electricity, you may be more interested in installing your own system.
You can get started with a free, no-obligation quote from a top solar company in your area by filling out the 30-second form below.
FAQ: Do Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days?
How efficient are solar panels on cloudy days?
It depends on the panels, but as a rule of thumb, you can expect your solar panels to work at 10 to 25% efficiency on cloudy days.
How do solar panels work when there is no sun?
If there is literally no sunlight (e.g., at night), then solar panels do not work. This is because the photovoltaic effect, which is the process through which panels convert sunlight into energy, requires there to be some light available to convert.
However, you can potentially use surplus solar power that you've stored in a battery. Also note that solar panels can work with indirect light, meaning they can function even when the sun is obscured by cloud coverage.
Do solar panels work on snowy days?
If there is cloud coverage and diminished sunlight, then solar panels will not work at their maximum efficiency level on snowy days. With that said, the snow itself is usually not a problem, particularly because a dusting of snow is easily whisked away by the wind.
Snow will only impede your solar panels if the snowfall is so extreme that the panels become completely buried, or if the weight of the snow compromises the integrity of your solar panel structures.
Will my solar panels generate electricity during cloudy, rainy or snowy days?
Cloudy days may limit your solar panel's efficiency, but you'll still be able to generate some electricity. Rainy days can actually help clean your panels, making them even more effective. And snowy days are only a problem if the snow is so extreme that the panels are totally submerged, without any part of them exposed to the sun.
By Joe Leech
That's the best word I can use to describe moringa, the seeds of which I tried in Uganda.
Despite its strong taste, moringa is quickly becoming a popular nutrition supplement in the U.S.
All parts of the moringa tree—including the seeds, pods and leaves—have long been used in other parts of the world for their nutritional properties.
This article looks at what moringa is and some of its most beneficial uses, including disease prevention and even water purification.
What is Moringa?
Often referred to as the "miracle tree," the fast-growing moringa tree is actually native to northern India.
The most well-known and widely used part of the tree are its seeds, which have been part of a traditional diet in Asia and Africa for centuries.
Today, moringa is readily available in various forms, including capsules, extracts, oils, powders and teas. The seeds can also be roasted and eaten like nuts, and the flowers can be used to make tea.
However, the easiest way to consume moringa is in powder form, made from dried leaves. The taste is much milder than the seeds, and dried leaves actually contains higher amounts of nutrients than the fresh versions.
Overall, moringa is highly valued for its nutritional benefits. It's also been used for non-food purposes like biodiesel production and as an ingredient in beauty products (1).
Summary: Moringa originates from northern India and has long been used for nutritional, medical and various non-food uses.
1. Moringa is Rich in Nutrients
Moringa is rich in vitamins, minerals and bioactive compounds.
One cup (140 g) of moringa seeds contains (2):
- Calories = 37
- Carbohydrates = 8.5 g
- Protein = 2 g
- Fat = <1 g
- Vitamin C = 235% daily value
- Iron = 350% daily value
- Potassium = 13% daily value
- Magnesium = 28% daily value
- Calcium = 3% Daily Value
Note the exceptional amounts of iron (350% of daily value) and Vitamin C (235%).
Moringa seeds also contain 19 of 22 amino acids, including all 9 essential amino acids, which your body can't produce itself. This is similar to other well-known "superfoods" seeds like sunflower and chia seeds (3).
Meanwhile, the pods are especially fibrous, which can help with digestive issues.
Even with this impressive amount of nutrients, moringa is very low in calories.
Summary: Moringa seeds are low in calories, but rich in essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
2. The Moringa Plant Combats Malnutrition
In developing nations, where malnutrition is more prevalent, moringa can be a lifesaver.
In fact, many communities and villages are cultivating the moringa plant in order to make it a staple part of their diet.
Along with its impressive amount of vitamins and minerals, moringa is a good source of protein and essential fats.
The leaves have even been used as a multivitamin supplement because of their high amounts of minerals like iron, calcium, and zinc, all essential for growth and development.
The tree is also resistant to drought and can withstand dry and hot climates, making it an excellent, nutrient-dense food source for impoverished communities.
Summary: Moringa is a good source of protein, fats, vitamins and minerals necessary for proper growth and development. The plant is easy to grow and resistant to drought, making it an important food source for malnourished communities.
3. Can Be Used for Water Purification
Boasting antimicrobial properties, moringa seeds also play a powerful role in water purification in developing nations.
When the oil is extracted from the moringa seeds, a protein-rich "cake" is left behind. This can inhibit bacterial growth and be used to purify water for humans and animals (3).
Because moringa can be grown in abundance, this is an easy, cost-effective way to prevent waterborne diseases.
Summary: Moringa seed extract can inhibit bacterial growth and be used to purify water, making it potable for humans and animals.
4. Acts as an Anti-inflammatory and Antioxidant
Research shows that moringa seeds contain a powerful mix of health-promoting antioxidants (4).
In mouse studies, moringa seed extract functioned as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, improving symptoms of ulcerative colitis (UC). This data suggests a similar effect could be seen in humans (5).
Another study found that boiling the seeds increased the availability of both antioxidants and iron (6).
Summary: Moringa seeds offer anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, which may help symptoms of ulcerative colitis.
5. Boosts Heart Health
Various studies have found that moringa seeds may be beneficial to heart health.
In one lab study done on rats, the consumption of moringa seeds decreased oxidative stress and protected heart cells while reducing inflammation (7).
Another study on rats found that moringa seed powder reduced cardiac fibrosis, triglycerides and heart rate, and improved overall cardiac function (8).
Summary: Studies have found that moringa seeds may improve heart health by reducing triglycerides, oxidative stress and inflammation.
6. Moringa Supports Digestion
Due to its high fiber content, moringa pods may be beneficial for your digestion.
Each pod contains around 47% fiber and can help you digest regularly and easily (9).
In saying that, whether you'll benefit from an increase or decrease in fiber depends on your situation.
Summary: Moringa pods are high in fiber, which can aid digestion in many instances.
7. May Help Fight Cancer
Moringa seeds are known for their potential cancer-fighting abilities.
A protein extracted from moringa seeds has been shown to slow the growth of liver cancer in both human and animal cells by up to 71% (10).
In another lab study, moringa seed extract kept breast cancer cells from significantly growing and spreading (11).
Liver and colon cancer cells have also been shown to decrease significantly when treated with moringa seeds (12).
Although this research only reflects lab studies and cannot be applied to humans, the results are promising.
Summary: Moringa seeds have been shown to slow the growth of cancer cells in various lab studies.
Why You Should Try Moringa Leaves and Seeds
The seeds, pods and leaves of the moringa tree are rich in nutrients and contain very few calories.
Studies have also shown that moringa has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and may even help improve digestion and heart health too.
In fact, it's so nutritious that the moringa tree is cultivated in developing countries as it helps combat malnutrition and can even purify water. It's literally a lifesaver.
Moringa can now be found all over the world in various forms, including capsules, extracts, oils, powders and teas. This is one of the most popular moringa supplements available on Amazon, the reviews are surprising.
Just be prepared for a rather potent flavor.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Diet vs Disease.
By Joe Leech
Boswellia is an herbal extract and essential oil, also known as frankincense.
It's has been used for centuries in incense, perfumes and traditional Asian, African and Middle Eastern medicine.
It's now touted for its anti-inflammatory properties and potential ability to even fight cancer.
This article digs into the science behind boswellia to see if it lives up to the hype.
What is Boswellia and Frankincense?
Frankincense is an extract from the gum resin of the Boswellia tree, native to tropical regions of Africa and Asia.
The name "frankincense" come from the Old French term "fran encens," meaning pure incense.
Frankincense can come from any of the 25 species of boswellia. However, each produces a resin containing slightly different components, so the end product will vary greatly.
Differences in Boswellia Species
There are three main species of boswellia extract that are most often used as supplements or essential oils.
- Boswellia serrata: A key herb in Ayurveda, this is also referred to as Indian frankincense. It's often found in capsule form and is the most common nutrition supplement.
- Boswellia carteri: This species originates from East Africa and China. Its resin is typically used to make frankincense oil, a popular essential oil.
- Boswellia sacra : Native to Arabia and northeastern Africa, this type is also used for frankincense oil. In fact, most believe that B. Carteri and B. sacra are the same plant (1).
What is Boswellia Complex?
Boswellia is sometimes combined with other herbs for added benefits.
Boswellia Complex is an extract supplement containing boswellia, celery seed, ginger and turmeric.
It was designed by MediHerb to support kidney function, healthy joints and circulation. However, no scientific studies have yet been performed to support this claim.
Summary: Frankincense is an herbal extract from the Boswellia tree, native to tropical regions of Asia and Africa. Most supplements oils are made from boswellia serrata (Indian frankincense) and boswellia carteri (most often used to make frankincense oil).
Health Benefits of Boswellia Extract
Research on boswellia (mostly on boswellia serrata) has largely focused on its impressive anti-inflammatory properties.
AKBA is one of the main acids studied. It's displayed powerful effects against pain and inflammation, especially in those with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
But boswellia may also have the power to combat everything from asthma to depression to cancer.
Here are some of its top potential health benefits.
1. Boswellia Helps Alleviate Pain and Inflammation from Arthritis
As a potent anti-inflammatory, boswellia is an effective treatment for those with osteoarthritis.
Boswellia serrata extract may even work as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), but without the joint damage that can be caused from these drugs.
One study found that a combination of Boswellia and curcumin proved more effective than the NSAID diclofenac for treating active osteoarthritis (2).
Others focusing on Boswellia alone have also reported significant improvements in pain, stiffness and function in those suffering with osteoarthritis in the knees (3).
2. Boswellia Improves Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
The herb's anti-inflammatory abilities could also extend to helping those with IBD, including ulcerative colitis (UC), Crohn's disease and microscopic colitis.
A small study performed on patients with chronic UC showed boswellia serrata to be an effective treatment with few side effects.
In fact, an impressive 70% of patients who took boswellia (thrice daily at 300mg per dose for 6 weeks) went into remission compared to 40% on the IBD medication sulfasalazine (4).
A similar trial on those with Crohn's found similar benefits. Compared to anti-inflammatory drug mesalazine, the boswellia serrata extract H15 appeared to be just as effective and without the side effects (5).
3. Boswellia Reduces Symptoms of Asthma
The anti-inflammatory effects of boswellia may also help those with asthma.
The inflammatory leukotrienes are what cause bronchial muscles to constrict and work harder. Boswellia works to inhibit this action.
One study found that 70% of patients with chronic bronchial asthma experienced improved breathing and significantly fewer asthma attacks after a 6-week treatment of 300mg boswellia serrata taken 3 times daily (6).
A newer report showed similar benefits in mice for the treatment of asthma caused by environmental allergens (7).
4. Boswellia May Help Fight Cancer
There are a growing number of studies showing boswellia's potent effects against cancer.
One of the more exciting results came in a trial on mice with pancreatic cancer who saw a 50% reduction in tumor size with boswellia treatment (9).
Another group of researchers noticed that frankincense oil had the power to distinguish normal bladder cells from cancerous ones, suppressing the latter (10).
While the majority of these studies have been done on animals, researchers suspect boswellia could have similar effects in humans.
In fact, one case study actually saw the complete elimination of a metastatic breast cancer tumor located in the female patient's brain (11).
Remember that this research is still in its infant stages, and has been done on very few humans. It's important to speak with your doctor first before trying boswellia as a supplement to other treatment.
5. Boswellia Boosts the Immune System
Boswellia may improve immunity and blood circulation and speed up healing from viral and bacterial infections.
This may be attributed to its ability to reduce inflammation and work as an antioxidant against free radicals (13).
In particular, one study has shown its effectiveness alongside curcumin in inhibiting a specific mosquito-transmitted virus (14).
Some also recommend steaming or diffusing frankincense essential oil to help relieve a cough or cold.
6. Boswellia Could Be an Effective Antidepressant
Though little has been studied on boswellia's potential impact on mood and behavior, one study has found it may offer some antidepressant-like effects.
This particular study used a component of boswellia known as acetate and found that it offered smaller but similar effects to the antidepressant drug Paroxetine (15).
Boswellia is just one of several foods and natural remedies that may help with depression, along with conventional treatment and lifestyle changes.
Summary: Boswellia has displayed potent effects against pain and inflammation in osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, IBD and asthma. It's also shown promising roles in inhibiting cancer growth and reducing tumors in various forms of cancer. Smaller studies have focused on its antiviral and antibacterial effects, as well as its potential as an antidepressant.
Does Boswellia Extract Have Side Effects?
All forms of boswellia and frankincense typically have zero side effects, though women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid it.
Using boswellia in large doses for medicinal effects can stimulate blood flow in the uterus and pelvis and may induce miscarriage.
Most other populations can use boswellia freely, though some people may experience minor side effects including:
Boswellia may also interact with and decrease effects of anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and aspirin.
Some believe that boswellia may cause liver damage or dysfunction. While this may be the case with very high doses, there is yet to be any proof behind this. In fact, boswellia may actually help protect the liver (16).
To play it safe, be sure to check with your doctor before trying boswellia if you're taking other medications or have liver problems.
Summary: Boswellia is generally safe with few side effects, though women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid it.
How Do You Use Boswellia Serrata?
Boswellia or frankincense is often available as boswellia serrata in a resin, pill, powder, oil or cream.
Products will typically display their concentration of boswellic acids, including AKBA, the main medicinal component of boswellia.
Brand name products of boswellia serrata include 5-Loxin, Aflapin, and ApresFLEX. These often have higher concentrations of AKBA with lower daily doses (at about 100-250mg).
The Arthritis Foundation suggests products containing 60% boswellic acids at a dosage of 300-400 mg three times per day.
Interestingly, you may want to add some fatty food to your diet when supplementing with boswellia serrata. The fats may actually enhance the absorption of its acids (17).
When using frankincense oil look for supercritical fluid-CO2 extracts, which offer pure versions unaffected by heat or oxidation.
What Are People Saying About Popular Boswellia Products?
There are several boswellia extract and essential oil products available online, many with generally positive reviews.
Here's a look at what customers are saying about some of the most popular brands:
- Superior Labs Boswellia Extract: With nearly 1,500 reviews, this product boasts 4.7 out of 5 stars. Customers claim it's offered significant relief in joint pain (more so than Tylenol or Advil) and even migraines, with no side effects. The few negative reviews saw no change in pain or inflammation, while a few customers experienced flushing, nausea, and allergic reactions.
- Boswellia Complex by MediHerb: Of over 60 reviews, this product has an average rating of 4.3 out of 5 stars. The majority of customers found it to be helpful as a pain reliever, though most complaints had to do with the expensive price and awful taste.
- Frankincense Essential Oil by Essential Oil Labs: With over 2000 reviews, customers have found it valuable for several applications. One customer was able to eliminate a cyst, another found it to be an effective addition to her anti-aging cream, and another used it to reduce symptoms of restless leg syndrome. Negative reviews found the oil to be of poor quality.
Summary: Boswellia is often available as a resin, pill, powder, oil or cream. Check for products containing at least 60% boswellic acids, the main medicinal component.
Is Boswellia (AKA Frankincense) Worth Trying?
Boswellia, aka frankincense, has several promising health benefits with an increasing amount of evidence to back them up.
Most research has focused on the boswellia serrata extract, better known as Indian frankincense.
This form of boswellia (as well as others like boswellia carteri) has displayed potent effects against pain and inflammation in osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, IBD and asthma.
It's also been shown to inhibit cancer growth and reduce tumors in various forms of cancer—at least in mice.
Smaller studies have focused on boswellia's antiviral and antibacterial effects, as well as its potential as an antidepressant.
Unless you are pregnant or breastfeeding—in which case you should avoid it—boswellia is worth trying, especially if you're experiencing persistent joint pain and inflammation that has not improved with lifestyle changes.
Overall, it has few side effects and a lot of happy customers who have found it to be far more effective than many over-the-counter drugs.
It's also one of the few essential oils that actually work.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Diet vs Disease.
By Maeve Hanan
Fasting is becoming increasingly popular as a way to boost health.
But it can be confusing to figure out how much of the hype is backed by evidence.
This article discusses the different types of fasting, including intermittent fasting, along with some of their main benefits.
What is Fasting?
Fasting is a period of time when little to no food is eaten.
People may choose to fast for health, religious or spiritual reasons.
The main types of fasting include:
- intermittent fasting (IF)
- water fasting
- liquid fasting
- juice fasting
- religious fasting
- fasting for a medical procedure.
There is some evidence that fasting was a natural part of life for our ancestors due to cycles of "feast or famine," which may affect how our body stores and uses energy today (1).
Summary: Fasting involves eating little or no food for a set amount of time, and may be done for health, religious or spiritual reasons.
Types of Fasting
Each type of fasting has its own restrictions for when and how often you should eat.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is a pattern of eating that involves switching between periods of fasting and non-fasting.
IF is often a more manageable approach to fasting that offers many of its same benefits.
There are different types of IF including:
- The 5:2 Diet involves eating no more than 600 calories per day for two days a week, while eating normally the other five days.
- The 6:1 Diet (also called Eat Stop Eat) involves fasting for 24 hours once per week, without changing your diet on the remaining 6 days.
- Alternate Day Fasting usually involves alternating between fasting for 24 hours, then eating normally for the next 24 hours on repeat.
- The 16:8 Diet (also called the Leangains Method) involves eating within an 8-hour window everyday, and fasting for the other 16 hours. For example, many people choose to skip breakfast and eat between 12pm and 8pm.
Religious or Spiritual Fasting
One perceived benefit of fasting for those with spiritual beliefs is to "cleanse the soul."
Most major religions promote periods of fasting, which often goes hand in hand with times of prayer.
Water fasting involves only consuming water, though some diets also allow black tea and coffee.
The length of water fasts can vary, but most last 24-72 hours. Some of the benefits of IF diets also apply to 24-hour water fasting since there's an overlap with the 6:1 IF diet.
For example, one study found that a 24-hour water fast increased total cholesterol (including HDL, the "good" cholesterol) and reduced triglyceride levels and weight. However, the study was small and only lasted two days (2).
Medically-supervised water fasting has also shown to slightly reduce blood pressure (3).
However, while water fasting may have some potential benefits, it can also be an extreme and unhealthy way to diet.
In fact, one study found that water fasting can lead to fatigue, nausea, headaches, raised blood pressure and even life-threatening cases of dehydration and low sodium levels (4).
Fasting for a Medical Procedure
Certain medical procedures require patients to fast beforehand.
This is to ensure that no unsafe regurgitation will occur under general anesthetic, and that images can be seen properly during a gastroscopy.
Summary: Intermittent fasting (IF) involves switching between periods of eating and fasting, while water fasting restricts all intake of food for a set period of time. Others choose to fast for religious or spiritual reasons. You may also be asked to fast before a medical procedure.
Health Benefits of Fasting
As you might expect, fasting can help you reduce your calorie intake because it limits the hours in a day that you can eat.
It can also help promote weight loss, which we'll discuss more below.
The "thrifty genotype theory" suggests that we've evolved to benefit from periods of fasting. This means fasting may affect our biochemistry and metabolism and reduce the risk of conditions such as type 2 diabetes (7).
Fasting has also been linked with reducing inflammation and damage caused by free radicals.
Summary: Fasting diets can help reduce calorie intake, promote healthy aging, reduce inflammation and reduce risk of conditions like type 2 diabetes.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting (IF)
IF has become increasingly popular as it's a more manageable way to fast while still reaping many of its benefits.
Intermittent Fasting and Weight Loss
Studies have found specific weight loss benefits related to IF.
A trial from 2017 found that IF resulted in a similar amount of weight loss as traditional dieting (10).
Another study found that simply reducing the window of eating from 14 hours to 10-11 hours per day boosted weight loss (11).
Islamic fasting during Ramadan can also be described as a type of daily IF, since no food is eaten between sunrise and sunset everyday. This type of fasting amounts to an average intake of 1,220 calories per day and 1-2 kg weight loss, but most of this weight is usually regained within 2 weeks after Ramadan has ended (12, 13).
Similarly, studies among the Seventh-day Adventist population have found that having the largest meal of the day at breakfast time and eating fewer calories later in the day is associated with a healthier BMI level (14).
Intermittent Fasting May Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease, Diabetes and Depression
IF may also have a great effect on your physical and mental health.
Some studies have found that IF could help reduce the risk of heart disease since it's been shown to improve cholesterol levels, reduce damage from free radicals, and decrease blood pressure (15, 16, 17, 18).
IF diets can also reduce the risk of diabetes. It's been shown to improve insulin levels and insulin resistance to the same degree as traditional calorie restriction (19).
Practicing IF may also help people reduce symptoms of depression. One study found a significant reduction in anger, tension, confusion and low mood in a group of older men who were following an IF diet (22).
While many of these findings are promising, the evidence isn't very strong. More research is needed to better verify these potential benefits.
Intermittent Fasting and Aging
Animal studies have found that IF may promote autophagy, a process our body uses to recycle damaged parts of cells that may potentially be harmful. This in itself could potentially slow down aging (25, 26).
This is a very interesting topic, but at the moment we need more research to look into whether IF definitely promotes healthy aging in humans.
Summary: Intermittent fasting (IF) involves regular cycles of fasting and non-fasting. IF can be an easier type of fasting to follow and may promote weight loss and healthy aging, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and improve mood.
What Are the Health Risks of Fasting?
Risks related to fasting can range from headaches and lack of energy to patterns of disordered eating and more serious health issues.
Who Should Avoid Fasting?
Fasting is not recommended for people who need a regular supply of nutrients, such as:
- growing children
- pregnant or breastfeeding women
- those who are malnourished
- some people with: type 1 diabetes, cancer, liver disease, kidney disease, reflux or heartburn (29, 30, 31, 32, 33).
Fasting May Lead to Disordered Eating
Fasting in an extreme or unhealthy way can be a symptom of an eating disorder.
Therefore, those who have an active or previous eating disorder should avoid fasting.
Females can be more susceptible to this. For example, a study of teenage girls found that those who fasted were at a higher risk of developing bulimia and binge-eating behavior as compared to those who dieted in a more traditional way (34).
Fasting Risks For Women
Some women report negative side effects related to fasting diets including:
- missed periods
- binge eating
- changes in metabolism
- early-onset menopause.
However, not much research has looked into why these things can happen, but it might be related to female hormones.
Other Possible Risks
Prolonged fasting has also been associated with:
- increased cholesterol
- pancreas damage
- worsened insulin function (which increases the risk of diabetes)
- irregular heartbeat, headaches and fainting
- slight reductions in athletic performance, exercise ability and muscle mass (35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40).
There are even some reported cases of death caused by prolonged fasting as a weight loss method (41).
In general, more studies in humans need to be performed before we can say whether IF is a safe and healthy approach in the long-run (42).
Summary: Fasting is not recommended for those who need a regular supply of nutrients for their health, including pregnant or breastfeeding women, or people with certain medical conditions. Possible side effects related to fasting include malnutrition, dehydration, disordered eating and even death in some cases. But serious risks are rare and usually related to prolonged fasting, not IF.
Should You Try Fasting?
Fasting involves having little or no food for a period of time.
Intermittent fasting involves switching between periods of eating and fasting, while water fasting restricts all food intake for a set period of time. People may also fast for religious or spiritual reasons, or in preparation for a medical procedure.
There is some evidence that fasting may help with weight loss and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. This is mostly because fasting typically helps people reduce their calorie intake.
The benefits of fasting may also include a reduction in inflammation and damage caused by free radicals, improved mood and even promoting healthy aging.
However, more research is needed to confirm that fasting offers such benefits, and in a variety of populations.
This is because fasting doesn't seem to be suitable for everyone, including those who need a regular supply of nutrients for their health, like pregnant or breastfeeding women and people with certain medical conditions.
Fasting must be done with caution, as it can come with some serious health risks like malnutrition, dehydration or a development of disordered eating.
In general, if you're fasting to lose weight or improve your health, you may want to consider less risky—and way more pleasurable—ways of eating to boost your health.
You may wish to discover the best diet for your tastes and goals by playing this short game.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Diet vs Disease.
By Joe Leech
Echinacea is a popular herbal supplement.
It's used as a natural remedy for preventing and treating the common cold … but does it work?
This article reviews the known benefits of echinacea.
What Is Echinacea?
Echinacea, also called purple coneflower, is a flowering plant from the Asteraceae family.
It's native to North America and was first used as a traditional medicine by the American Indians.
There are nine species, but only three are used as medicine (1):
The plant is dried to make capsules or prepared as a liquid for supplementation. The products are often very different from each other because they:
• Contain different parts of the plant—roots, flowers, extracts.
• Are made differently—dehydrated, extracts, expressed juice.
• Have different chemicals—the proposed active ingredients.
• Are of different strengths.
• May have various other ingredients added.
Echinacea is thought to have immune boosting, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral effects.
However, how it works is not fully understood by researchers.
It seems like the active ingredients are one or a combination of different chemicals such as alkamides, caffeic acid derivatives, polysaccharides and glycoproteins (2).
Summary: Echinacea is plant from North America. It's often formed into capsules or a liquid and used as medicine for issues related to immunity.
Can Echinacea Prevent or Cure the Common Cold?
The common cold is a viral condition that adults get on average 2 to 4 times a year.
Many claim echinacea can:
• Prevent a cold or upper respiratory tract infection.
• Reduce the length of sickness.
• Improve symptoms.
• Reduce repeat infection.
Research on the topic is mixed as many studies use various types of echinacea products. Some also looked at clinical inoculation of colds (giving people a cold), while others looked at naturally developed colds.
Here is a look at the evidence for each claim:
Several studies have investigated whether echinacea can prevent a cold.
Taken as a daily supplement it may help to prevent sickness, however, it's not entirely clear.
One meta-analysis of 14 studies found a 58 percent reduction in cold occurrence from a daily supplement. However, that review has been criticized as it compares all types of echinacea products and this may not be scientifically correct (1, 3).
A more recent review concluded that echinacea may have a "weak positive" effect. Whether or not it is clinically relevant—meaning whether it will actually prevent a cold—is not known (1).
Reduces Length of Sickness
Taking echinacea at the first signs of a cold may reduce the length of sickness, although again these claims are highly variable.
The same meta-analysis comparing various types of echinacea found a 1.4 day reduction in sickness duration when compared to placebo.
There is no evidence that echinacea improves cold symptom severity.
A review of three studies looked at whether echinacea decreased the severity of symptoms such as sneezing, sore throat, cough and headache. Researchers found no significant effects (4).
Reduces Repeat Sickness
A recent review of six studies, including almost 2,500 patients, looked at whether echinacea supplementation can reduce repeat sickness.
Researchers found that in those with sub-optimal immune systems, echinacea use halved their risk of recurrent respiratory infections
Illnesses such as pneumonia and tonsillitis were also less frequent with echinacea use (5).
But again, this review compared all types of echinacea products so it's hard to pinpoint which is best.
Summary: It remains unclear if echinacea has benefits for the common cold. There is some (weak) evidence that it may help prevent colds, reduce the duration slightly and reduce the risk of repeat infections.
Are There Any Other Benefits?
Aside from colds, there are claims that echinacea can have many other benefits.
• Fighting cancer
• Healing skin wounds
• Reducing anxiety
• Controlling blood pressure
• Treat inflammation
• Treat herpes
• Stimulate the immune system
• Reduce vaginal yeast infections
It sounds promising but the reality is that much less research has been done on these possible benefits.
The current scientific evidence is either very weak or non-existent.
Summary: Not enough research has been done to support the use of echinacea for other benefits including cancer, anxiety and exercise performance.
How to Take It
Echinacea is typically taken orally as a capsule or as a liquid.
Most take it when they feel a cold coming on but others use it as a daily supplement.
Capsules are often taken 3 times a day (900mg-1500mg) and a tincture of echinacea (alcohol extract) is usually taken as 2.5ml 3 times a day or up to 10ml daily.
But note there are no standard recommendations for how to take it or what is an optimal dose.
You can also find echinacea as a herbal tea and a cream for wound healing.
Summary: Echinacea is commonly taken orally as a capsule or liquid. There is no known optimal dose.
Are There Any Side Effects?
Echinacea is generally regarded as safe.
However, there are some special considerations to think about:
• Some people may be allergic, particularly those allergic to chrysanthemums, daisies, marigolds and ragweed.
• Children may develop a rash.
• It may worsen asthma symptoms.
• It's not recommended if you have an autoimmune disease, like celiac disease, due to its possible immune boosting effects.
• It may affect other medications you are taking.
Additionally, the long-term safety of echinacea is unknown.
If you're thinking about taking it, talk to your doctor, particularly if you have allergies, asthma, an autoimmune condition or are on other medication.
Summary: Echinacea is thought to be safe, however some people may experience an allergic reaction, rash or increased asthma symptoms.
Benefits of Echinacea: Does It Really Work?
There is no clear evidence that echinacea can prevent or cure the common cold.
There seems to be some weak positive effects, but these are inconsistent.
Despite the lack of evidence, there are plenty of people that insist it works for them during the cold season. If this is you and you don't experience side effects, then it's likely a safe choice.
Just know that there are other ways to prevent or treat the common cold that aren't so pricey.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Diet vs Disease.
By Eleise Britt
Weight loss teas claim to suppress appetite, increase fat burning and boost metabolism.
But do they work?
This article takes a sales-free look at the scientific evidence.
What Is Weight Loss Tea?
Weight loss teas are usually a blend of tea and herbs, depending on the brand.
They're said to help with weight loss by enhancing fat burning, increasing metabolism and suppressing appetite.
Many are also marketed as "detox teas" and "fit teas," with claims they increase energy and cleanse your body of toxins.
Most of these teas come with a recommended exercise and eating plan to be followed in addition to drinking the tea every day or two.
They are generally expensive and heavily marketed on social media.
Summary: Weight loss teas are a blend of tea and herbs that are claimed to enhance weight loss through several different mechanisms. Detox teas and fit teas are similar and all come at a premium price.
Diuretics and Laxatives in Weight Loss Tea
Many weight loss teas contain laxatives, caffeine or diuretics.
These ingredients can lead to short-term loss of water weight, giving you the illusion of having lost weight or feeling slimmer.
As the name suggests, a drop in water weight is a drop in the amount of water stored in the body. This type of weight loss is not from a reduction of fat stores and is not a sustainable method of weight loss.
As soon as you stop using the tea or hydrate properly, you will regain the water weight.
Losing water weight can also lead to dehydration. It is not a healthy or safe practice and can lead to serious health problems.
For weight loss to be sustainable you need to decrease the amount of fat stored in the body.
Many weight loss teas contain a natural laxative called senna.
Laxatives make you move your bowels more frequently and in some cases senna can cause stomach cramps, pain and diarrhea.
Long-term use of laxatives is not only unpleasant, it can become dangerous.
Continual use can cause your body to become dependent on the laxative, which is especially problematic when you stop taking them. Dehydration and severe electrolyte imbalance can also occur.
Also be mindful that psyllium husk, a type of fiber supplement, can have a laxative effect. It's commonly used as an ingredient in weight loss teas.
Diuretics make you urinate.
This is because they stimulate the body to excrete increased water and sodium.
This may be useful if your body is holding on to excess fluid. However, they are not useful for long-term weight loss and can cause dehydration.
Natural diuretics found in weight loss teas include:
Tea leaves naturally contain caffeine, albeit in small amounts.
Summary: Many weight loss teas contain laxatives and diuretics. They can cause a loss of water weight but not body fat.
Do They Enhance Fat Burning, Suppress Appetite and Boost Metabolism?
Some weight loss teas do not contain diuretics or laxatives.
Instead they use ingredients claimed to have fat-burning, appetite-suppressing and metabolism-boosting properties.
Many of these ingredients lack evidence to support these claims.
Garcinia Cambogia has been used as an ingredient in many weight loss supplements.
However, evidence to support weight loss claims is not strong.
A large systematic review of trials found any weight loss that resulted from taking garcinia cambogia was minimal and short term (1).
Watch this video for a more in depth look at garcinia cambogia.
There's no solid evidence in humans available to support any weight loss effects of Ginseng (2).
This includes gynostemma pentaphyllum which is often referred to as a type of ginseng.
The ancient practice of meditation—particularly mindfulness meditation—has recently surged in popularity. In fact, in the U.S. about 8 percent of adults and 1.6 percent of children have tried it already. This is because the health benefits of mindfulness meditation are incredibly impressive … and supported by scientific studies.
This article explores the health conditions and diseases it may help with.
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
There is a range of different meditation styles, but the most popular are:
- Focused Attention (Vipassana)
Most techniques emerged from a religious or spiritual context, but most now practice outside of these traditional settings.
Mindfulness is a specific approach that can be used alone or with other meditation techniques.
It's most commonly defined as "paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally."
Mindfulness meditation is the most well-studied in health research. Scientific literature may also refer to it as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction or Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, which are types of mindfulness training.
I'll refer to it as mindfulness in this article from here on.
Summary: Mindfulness is a form of meditation that is the most well-studied in health literature. It's an ancient practice that emphasizes presence of mind and focus.
Reducing Stress is the Secret Sauce
Mindfulness appears helpful in a wide spectrum of health conditions.
It's not understood why, but stress reduction appears to be the common link.
Stress is associated with decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, thought to be problematic. Mindfulness allows for conscious thinking in the prefrontal cortex, which may reverse this pattern of brain activity under stress (2).
Under high stress there are high levels of catecholamine release in brain, which weaken prefrontal cortex function. National Center for Biotechnology Information
For these reasons most experts suspect the ability of mindfulness to reduce stress is the key reason to its benefits.
Summary: Mindfulness appears to reduce stress and markers of stress. This is important as many health conditions are worsened by stress.
Mindfulness Meditation For Anxiety and Depression
Mindfulness has a direct effect on mental health.
Evidence is strongest for anxiety (General Anxiety Disorder) and depression, two of the most common mental health conditions worldwide.
Anxiety causes chronic, excessive, and often uncontrollable worry.
Studies show mindfulness can help.
In one clinical trial of 89 patients with anxiety, one group undertook an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR), while the other group received 8 weeks of stress management education.
Members of both groups who participated in just one or more sessions showed symptom improvement, assessed by the Hamilton Anxiety Scale.
However, the MBSR group showed much greater improvement than the stress management group when additional anxiety symptom scales were used (5).
Change in symptom scores for three anxiety measures after Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. The lower the number the better.
Other studies have found similar benefits, particularly when mindfulness is used alongside anxiety medication (6).
Clinical depression is complex disorder characterized by low mood and avoidance of usual activities.
Conventional care includes medication and psychotherapy. Unfortunately, many patients relapse with this protocol or are do not comply with medication regimens (7).
Research suggests that mindfulness can help prevent relapse for those who do not wish to use maintenance antidepressants.
In one study (7):
- One group of 28 patients with major depressive disorder in remission received maintenance antidepressants.
- The second group of 26 patients gradually discontinued antidepressants while receiving an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) program.
- The third group of 30 patients gradually discontinued medications while receiving placebo pills under clinical supervision.
Compared to the placebo group, the mindfulness and antidepressant groups showed equally reduced likelihood of relapse. Keep in mind the mindfulness group were weaned off antidepressants.
Proportion of unstable remitters who survived without relapse during maintenance/follow up. M-ADM = maintenance antidepressant pharamacotherapy, MBCT = taper + Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy and PLA+CLIN = taper + pill placebo and clinical management.
Data from several studies suggests mindfulness and antidepressants are comparable for treating mild to moderate symptoms of depression (8).
This certainly does not suggest those with depression should discontinue medications. However, mindfulness does show promise as an alternative, and certainly as therapy alongside antidepressants.
Summary: Studies indicate it's useful for managing anxiety compared to conventional stress management practices. It may also be an effective alternative to antidepressants for those at risk of depression relapse.
Mindfulness Meditation and Weight Loss
Obesity rates worldwide have more than doubled in the past 36 years.
Research is now heavily focused on prevention and treatment strategies.
It can also increase awareness of hunger and satiety cues, a concept known as mindful eating (12).
A very large observational study showed a relationship between mindfulness and reduced risk of being overweight or obese. Although it was not able to prove that mindfulness causes lower body weight (13).
Average weight change by group condition among overweight versus obese participants. Mindfulness dramatically reduced cortisol awakening response in obese but not overweight subjects.
It makes sense that mindful eating is beneficial for weight loss given our modern, fast-paced, fast food lifestyles.
Summary: Research has shown a link between mindfulness and healthy body weight, but more research is needed.
Mindfulness Meditation and Metabolic Risk Factors
Metabolic syndrome is a group of symptoms that raise risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
You are considered to have metabolic syndrome if you have three or more of the following symptoms:
- A waist circumference greater than 102 cm (40 inches) in men and greater than 88 cm (35 inches) in women.
- High triglycerides
- Low HDL cholesterol
- Elevated fasting glucose (sugar)
- High blood pressure.
Observational studies have shown that metabolic syndrome is less common among those who use mind-body practices, including mindfulness (16).
Smaller clinical studies have explored the cause-effect relationships between mindfulness and metabolic risk. Interestingly, improvements to metabolic risk were seen in studies that showed no significant reduction in body weight (15).
In one study of 194 obese adults, the first group received diet and exercise advice, and the second received that same advice plus an all-day mindfulness retreat.
Compared to the first group, the mindfulness group showed significantly improved cholesterol and triglycerides after 12 months, and better fasting glucose levels after 18 months (15).
Changes in weight, fasting glucose, and triglyceride/HDL ratio for mindfulness and control groups from baseline to 18 months. Lower values are better for all 3 measures.
Summary: Mindfulness appears to improve certain metabolic risk factors, even without weight loss. In particular triglycerides, cholesterol ratios, blood sugar levels and blood pressure.
Mindfulness Meditation and the Gut Microbiome
The human body is full of bacteria.
These bacteria make up the human microbiome, mostly located in the large intestine or "gut."
Very small, early studies on humans have shown a correlation between psychological stress, stress hormones, and changes in microbial composition (20).
In theory then, mindfulness based stress reduction could be a way to help prevent negative changes in the microbiome.
Increased stress seems to dramatically alter the types of bacteria in a mouse's gut, which has been observed multiple times.
Interestingly, this shift in bacteria does indeed increase inflammatory marker levels in the blood, which has huge implications for many common health conditions.
Summary: Research has linked psychological stress to changes in the microbiome, which could theoretically contribute to illness. But more human studies are needed to determine if mindfulness can help maintain a healthy microbiome.
Mindfulness Meditation and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Considering the potential benefits of mindfulness on each of those triggers, it makes sense it helps with IBS management.
In one study of 43 IBS patients, the group who received mindfulness training showed significantly greater reductions in IBS symptoms than the group who received standard medical care (26).
These benefits were still noticeable after 6-months.
Summary: Small studies indicate that mindfulness may help relieve IBS symptoms. This makes sense given the suspected triggers of IBS are stress and psychological-related.
Mindfulness Meditation and Pregnancy
Small studies have shown that mindfulness may lessen pregnancy-related stress.
In one study of 74 pregnant Indian women, participants who received twice-weekly mindfulness sessions for 5 weeks showed significantly reduced perceived stress than the control group (32).
This suggests mindfulness could very well be beneficial in reducing day-to-day perceived stress during pregnancy, but much more research is needed.
Summary: A small study shows that mindfulness reduces perceived stress in pregnant moms at 12 weeks gestation. More research is needed though.
Mindfulness Meditation and Cancer
In 2012, there were 14.1 million new cases of cancer worldwide.
The number of new cases per year is expected to increase 68% by 2030.
Mindfulness has been shown to significantly improve symptoms and side effects from cancer and its treatment. This includes stress, anxiety, depression, vitality, fatigue, and sleep levels (33, 34, 35, 36, 37).
Newer studies suspect that mindfulness may also help to treat cancer progression in the first place. In particular, markers of cancer activity in breast cancer.
In one study of 128 stage I to III breast cancer patients who had completed standard medical treatment:
- One group of 53 patients attended eight, 90-minute mindfulness-based educational sessions, plus a 6-hour mindfulness retreat.
- The second group of 49 patients attended a 90-minute group supportive-expressive therapy (SET) sessions once a week for 12 weeks.
- The third control group of 26 patients attended single 6-hour stress management session.
Compared to the mindfulness and SET groups, the control group had significantly shorter telomeres following the intervention.
Although it could have exciting implications for cancer treatment, it's important to remember this is an emerging area of research. Mindfulness should not replace standard cancer care, but instead be used alongside it.
Summary: There is potential that mindfulness can positively influence cancer progression, or at least breast cancer. At a minimum, mindfulness appears to improve certain cancer symptoms and treatment side effects.
Mindfulness Meditation For Beginners
The potential health benefits of mindfulness meditation are very impressive.
It's a harmless practice that can only be good for us.
If you are a beginner looking to explore the benefits of mindfulness, many free resources are available online.
I personally use Headspace, which is a guided meditation app for beginners available on iPhone and android. It's free for 10 sessions, and is a great way to understand what it's all about.
There is a huge fad component to the gluten-free movement.
However, many people genuinely cannot tolerate it, even without celiac disease.
The problem is they don't realize it and then live with the symptoms as though it's normal.
This article looks at the most common signs and symptoms of gluten intolerance.
Celiac Disease vs. Gluten Intolerance
First, it's important to understand the difference between celiac disease and gluten intolerance.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease triggered by gluten.
Even tiny amounts of gluten will severely damage the small intestine of an individual with celiac disease.
A gluten intolerant individual can typically eat small amounts of gluten safely, but experiences health issues when their threshold is exceeded.
The following are common signs and symptoms of gluten intolerance, after celiac disease has been ruled out.
Summary: Gluten can physically damage the small intestine in those with celiac disease. A gluten intolerance or Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, is a more subtle sensitivity diagnosed after exclusion of celiac disease.
1. You Have an Autoimmune Disease
An autoimmune disease is the term given when your immune system mistakenly attacks and damages your own tissue.
There are more than 80 types, characterized by which tissues or organs in the body are damaged.
Gluten intake is consistently linked with numerous types, but whether it's the cause remains to be seen. It's influence in Celiac disease is the obvious example, but research indicates gluten likely affects Hashimoto's hypothyroidism and Graves' disease, to name a few.
In any case, it seems gluten intolerance is more likely in those with an autoimmune condition.
2. You Have a Known Food Intolerance
Food intolerance (or food sensitivity) is said to affect up to 10 percent of people.
A reaction occurs when an individual's threshold to particular food chemicals or compounds is surpassed.
Anecdotal evidence indicates it is quite common for someone with a food intolerance to also be highly sensitive to gluten.
Note that those who don't tolerate gluten-containing foods (but don't have celiac disease) should also consider FODMAPs as a trigger for symptoms.
3. You Always Experience Abdominal Pain and Bloating
Abdominal bloating is characterized by tightness and/or swelling in your abdominal region.
It occurs because of excess gas or disturbances in the muscles involved with digestion.
In a study of 59 adults with suspected NCGS, abdominal pain and bloating were the top reported digestive symptoms (5).
It's thought that a buildup of gas is the main cause in those who are sensitive after a gluten rich meal.
4. You Have Diarrhea on Most Days
Diarrhea is a common digestive symptom of food intolerance and potentially gluten intolerance too (6).
It isn't just uncomfortable though, as long term diarrhea left untreated can lead to dehydration and even nutritional deficiencies (7).
5. You Often Experience Rashes and Itchy Skin
Skin conditions associated with intestinal diseases are becoming more frequent.
New research suggests that NCGS can cause skin lesions similar both to eczema and psoriasis, particularly on the elbows, back of hands and knees.
In a study of 17 patients, a gluten-free diet greatly improved symptoms after just one month (8).
Research is in its early stages though and it's unclear if gluten is a direct cause of these conditions or simply worsens them.
6. You Consistently Have Joint or Muscle Aches
Chronic joint or muscle pain is a common symptom reported in studies of non-celiac gluten sensitivity (9).
The pain is said to be like that of Fibromyalgia, a condition which may be improved by going gluten-free, at least anecdotally.
As joint and muscle pain is a broad symptom, only consider it a possible sign if you experience several of the other symptoms.
Do You Have Any Signs or Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance?
Remember that a gluten intolerance only affects a small percentage of people.
That means going gluten-free only has health benefits for a select few.
But you may be one of them if you frequently experience one or more of the above signs and symptoms.
Always speak with your doctor or dietitian first before making any major dietary changes.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Diet vs Disease.
Craving sugar and gaining weight?
Some may diagnose this cluster of symptoms as Adrenal Fatigue … but is it actually a real condition?
This is a sales-free look at the facts.
What is Adrenal Fatigue and the Function of Adrenal Glands?
Adrenal fatigue refers to a cluster of common symptoms one might experience when under long-term mental or emotional stress.
It's also known as Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome, HPA Axis Disregulation or Hypoadrenalism.
The concept was introduced in 1998 by chiropractor and naturopath James Wilson. Since then it has become very popular among alternative health practitioners.
The adrenal glands—small organs above the kidneys that produce certain hormones—help to manage stress. But they are said to grow tired or fatigued when overworked for a long period of time.
As a result they produce inadequate amounts of hormones that influence stress, such as cortisol. At least, that's the theory.
"Adrenal fatigue is not a real medical condition. There are no scientific facts to support the theory that long-term mental, emotional or physical stress drains the adrenal glands and causes many common symptoms."
So there is clearly a divide in opinion between alternative and conventional medicine.
Summary: Adrenal fatigue is a condition said to be caused by long-term stress. However, it is not recognized in the medical community.
Adrenal Fatigue vs. Adrenal Insufficiency
It's important not to get these confused.
Much like Hashimoto's disease it cannot be treated with diet and lifestyle alone. Without proper hormone replacement medication, adrenal insufficiency is life-threatening.
Adrenal fatigue, if it exists, is not immediately dangerous.
Summary: Adrenal fatigue should not be mixed up with adrenal insufficiency, which is a rare yet serious condition treated with strong hormone medication.
Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms Are Subjective
It's human nature to try and make sense of patterns and clusters.
Clusters of symptoms are no exception and we often give them a non-scientific name, like Leaky Gut Syndrome.
Adrenal fatigue is another example. These are several symptoms listed on James Wilson's AdrenalFatigue.org website:
- Always tired
- Feeling stressed
- Struggling to keep up with daily tasks
- Reliance on caffeine through the day
- Strong cravings for sugar or salt
- Low libido
Immediately it's clear how broad and unspecific symptoms are. No doubt they are real, but they easily overlap with other known medical issues.
The real issue is that the symptoms are not objective, nor measurable. That is, there is no validated symptom score to assess how mild or severe a case may be.
Summary: Symptoms of adrenal fatigue are real, but so broad that they overlap with other medical issues.
Adrenal Fatigue Tests Are Not Accurate
Proponents claim existing blood tests are not sensitive enough to detect small declines in adrenal function.
So the only criteria for diagnosing adrenal fatigue are the non-specific symptoms.
Therefore it's not actually possible for health practitioners to determine what classifies as adrenal fatigue and what doesn't, assuming it is a real condition.
But researchers note salivary cortisol is not necessarily representative of blood cortisol. Numerous other factors including adrenal sensitivity, cortisol binding, estrogens and HPAA responsivity influence the saliva reading. This makes it an unreliable stress biomarker on its own (3).
Additionally, treatment endpoints are as non-specific as the diagnosis.
In other words, without measurements there is no way to confirm when a patient's adrenals are corrected or "cured." It's the reason why studies must use adrenal fatigue questionnaires to measure results instead of testing physical or chemical changes (4).
If this were the case for other common medical conditions, like type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure, the doctor would never know when to increase, decrease or stop medication.
Summary: There is no way to accurately test or measure adrenal fatigue. Therefore practitioners cannot actually prove who has it, nor when it has been corrected.
Adrenal Fatigue Supplements
Few medical conditions are broad and unmeasurable.
Fibromyalgia is one of them, perhaps adrenal fatigue is another.
Despite this, supplements for adrenal fatigue and associated natural remedies are more common than ever. Even the creator of adrenal fatigue, James Wilson, sells his own line of supplements online.
Keep in mind that given the non-specific nature of adrenal fatigue, there is no way to develop a supplement to specifically treat it. Nor a way to test if that supplement is effective.
Nutrition supplements should be used to supplement deficiencies linked with a particular condition. However, only a handful of studies even mention adrenal fatigue let alone have tested for associated nutrient deficiencies.
There are also many hormone supplements available that promise to treat this condition. But these can do more harm than good if they aren't required.
Adrenal Crisis is not uncommon in patients receiving inappropriate adrenal hormone treatment.
Summary: Adrenal fatigue supplements are sold by many alternative health practitioners, including the creator of adrenal fatigue. However, it's not possible to develop or test a supplement's effectiveness without a way to measure the problem condition first.
Adrenal Fatigue Treatment and Diet Changes Do Help
Many claim that adrenal fatigue "treatment" restored their health.
They lost weight, have more energy and feel fantastic. Of course this is great to hear, but actually not surprising.
The typical adrenal fatigue treatment protocol includes eating more fruits and vegetables, cutting out sugar-laden and starchy junk food, exercising more, improving sleep quality and taking measures to reduce stress.
These recommendations address the fundamental aspects of good health, also known as the pillars of health. Anyone who improves one or more of these diet and lifestyle aspects will feel better to some degree.
But whether adrenal gland function actually shifts as a result of these changes is debatable and not possible to prove from observation.
Summary: An adrenal fatigue diet and treatment protocol may help improve an individual's health. But this is because it encourages important diet and lifestyle improvements, rather than a boost to adrenal gland function.
Could Adrenal Fatigue Be Subclinical Adrenal Insufficiency?
Some proponents claim adrenal fatigue is a mild or early form of adrenal insufficiency and should be formally recognized as such.
But in cases of subclinical hypothyroidism, doctors are able to measure a patient's blood TSH levels. This provides an objective measurement used to determine diagnosis and treatment efficacy.
As this isn't possible with adrenal fatigue it's difficult to confirm this theory, though it is interesting.
Is Adrenal Fatigue Real?
It's frustrating if you constantly feel unwell to have a doctor that seems unable or unwilling to discover the true problem.
I understand that, because the symptoms are very real. It's the reason adrenal fatigue has become such a popular alternative approach to this type of scenario.
However, there is no scientific evidence to validate the concept. Without any reliable method of measuring adrenal fatigue it's near impossible to make the "diagnosis."
That said, believing one has adrenal fatigue can sometimes be beneficial. It provides a "physical" reason for individuals to take action and improve their diet and reduce stressors. This is why so many experience improvements.
But if the real problem is more sinister than poor diet and high stress, accepting adrenal fatigue as the root cause can be dangerous. It only prolongs the time required to discover what's really causing symptoms.
Add to that the unproven adrenal fatigue supplements pushed on desperate customers and you start to question how helpful or ethical this diagnosis is.
In the end it's clear that taking measures to improve your diet and better manage the stressors in your life is key to getting your health back … Whether adrenal fatigue exists or not.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Diet vs Disease.