Smorgasbord Health Column – The Gentle Detox Tool Box – Water retention – Dandelion by Sally Cronin


As part of the Gentle Detox series, I wanted to share one of the natural remedies that can help eliminate toxins and bring the body back into balance.

I have used herbs either in cooking or in tincture form for over 30 years and there are several that I have introduced over the year that are a permanent fixture in my medicine cabinet. These include Echinacea, Milk Thistle and Peppermint.

At this time of year when over-indulgence has been hard to avoid it is easy to become bloated down to water retention as the body struggles to cope with the extra sugars. A tell tale sign is a puffy face especially under the eyes, puffy ankles and lower legs. Waistbands are tighter and it usually results in at least an extra 5lbs in weight.

The problem is actually not enough fluids to flush the system of the wonderful, sugary treats (toxins according to your body) that you have consumed in a short space of time. Alcohol also dehydrates the body and once the body senses that there might be a drought it goes into water conservation mode and stores fluid until such time as normal service resumes.  You will have ‘experts’ tell you that you don’t need to drink water as long as the food you eat contains it…sorry but whilst it helps to eat fruit and vegetables high in fluid content you still need to flush the system through with good old fashioned and unadulterated water.  If your tap water is high in flouride or other inserted chemicals then find a good quality filtered water or make your own.  Of course you cannot always blame fluid retention… but it is a contributory factor.

Drinking dandelion can be helpful in reducing this but also please take with caution if you suffer from certain conditions involving any of your major organs, as there is a delicate fluid balance required for them to function healthily.

Dandelion

Today a double whammy – a herbal remedy and a free food. Used as a medicine for thousands of years before the word ‘patent’ entered our vocabulary. Used for a number of health issues but definitely for water retention. Please make sure you do take note of the restrictions on use if you are on medication, especially prescribed diuretics for heart conditions.

This herb has been used medicinally, over the centuries, for a number of conditions that relate to the health of the blood. This includes anaemia, cholesterol problems, circulatory problems and diabetes. Additionally, it is a common component of detox complexes due to its diuretic properties and to help clear chest congestion, jaundice, rheumatic pain, gout, gallstones and insomnia.

It is an all-rounder and has enjoyed many different names in folklore. We know it most commonly as the Dandelion and are used to seeing its yellow flowers in the hedges and fields in the early summer. As children, most of us would have tried to tell the time by blowing on the puff-ball of seeds it produces in the autumn.

Its botanical name is Taraxacum officinalis and the name dandelion comes from the French dent de lion or lion’s teeth, a description of the distinctive serrated leaves of the herb. In Tudor times its diuretic properties were well known and it was given the more apt name of piss-in-the-bed! We have evidence that it was used medicinally since around 650 AD by the Chinese and it first appeared in European apothecaries in the late 15th century.

There were a number of superstitions surrounding the plant including its ability to foretell the number of years before a girl married and apparently if you saw the seeds being dispersed by the wind from the puff-ball rain was imminent.

Apart from being used as a medicine, blanched dandelion leaves can be used in salads or prepared in the same way as spinach and dried leaves have been used for many years to make tea and beer. A word of warning before you dash off and include as a signature dish for your next dinner party, it can cause wind problems – as it is not digested or processed until it reaches the intestines. More about Dandelion as a food later.

Today, dandelion is mainly used as a diuretic. Most chemical diuretics cause a loss of potassium but this is not the case when using dandelion. As potassium is vital for correct fluid balance in the body, taking dandelion is a safer way to reduce any excessive water retention. However, taking any diuretic to remove excess fluid should always be done with caution. Fluid is essential to life and if you force your body to excrete fluids on a continuous basis you will be losing critical minerals and salt too. Only use occasionally and if your water retention persists then do consult your GP as it could be the result of an underlying systemic problem.

The roots of the dandelion have traditionally been used in liver tonics. They are rich in Choline a B vitamin that prevents fat from being trapped in the liver. When the liver is blocked with fat, metabolism is affected and can lead to liver disease and elevated cholesterol levels.

Gallstones tend to be formed if the gall bladder does not completely empty of the bile it has produced. Dandelion improves both the production and the delivery of the bile and can be used as a preventative for people prone to this problem.  As someone with an inherited gallbladder problem, Dandelion, as part of a specialised diet has helped me maintain a reasonably stable digestive process.

The herb also contains inulin which is a naturally occurring oligosaccharide (simple sugars linked together). Inulin is indigestible by enzymes that normally metabolise starch so it is not broken down into simple sugars (monosaccharides) that can cause fluctuating blood sugar levels. It has been used by diabetics to help regulate their blood sugar levels but should always be used under medical supervision. If you are losing weight, however, it will help reduce your sugar cravings in the first few weeks until your body has adjusted to a lower sugar intake. Quite frankly the taste will do that for you anyway!

If you are overweight dandelion will help re-balance the fluids in your body and get rid of excess amounts initially. One of the other problems associated with obesity is inefficient fat metabolism and as bile is essential for this process increasing its production will also contribute to a healthy weight loss.

If you suffer from a bacteria and flora imbalance in the intestines, such as an overgrowth of Candida Albicans, eating dandelion leaves can help. The herb is a very efficient prebiotic which stimulates the growth of healthy, probiotic bacteria in the gut. Other probiotic formulas in yoghurt and milk are subject to various chemical processes on their way to the intestines before they can be effective. The dandelion is indigestible until it reaches the gut so is a much more potent source of friendly bacteria.

You can pick dandelions from the hedgerows and use as a food or buy an herbal tincture from a health food shop. There are a couple of restrictions. If you are currently taking prescribed medication such as diuretics, insulin or anti-coagulants you should not take without medical supervision as it may affect the potency of your drugs. Similarly, if you have already suffered from gallstones or a liver condition such as jaundice or hepatitis then you should take advice before using.

Dandelion is a nutritious food as well as tea.

As a food dandelion offers a great nutritional package – Vitamins: A, folate, B6, C, E, and K. Minerals: Magnesium, copper, phosphorus, calcium, iron, potassium and manganese. Dandelion leaves picked from the hedgerow can be used as salad leaves but always remove the woody stems and wash very well. Apart from additional protein in the form of bugs, dogs for some reason love peeing on them! Apart from salads, you can throw into a soup pot with a vegetables and then blend for a lovely creamy soup. Cook like spinach and eat with rich meat dishes. Use raw in sandwiches with egg or avocado.

Some hardy souls have ground the dried roots into a substitute coffee, but do not expect to see in Starbucks anytime soon! It does however; make a good tea although I tend to get from the health food shops as they usually have a high quality selection. As a little word of warning – I suggest that you use the tincture and tea earlier in the day and also the leaves with lunch as there is a good reason that in medieval times it was called piss-in-the-bed!

Remember if you have water retention drink water up to 8 glasses per day (add more in hot climates) but do not overdo as you can upset your electrolyte balance which is essential for the health of blood’s chemistry and processes such as muscle action.

 You can find the other posts in the Gentle Detox in this directory: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/the-gentle-detox-2019/

©sally cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2019

A little bit about me nutritionally.

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with over twenty years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.

If you would like to browse by health books and fiction you can find them here: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2018/

 If you have any questions then please do not hesitate to ask in the comments.. or if you prefer send in an email to sally.cronin@moyhill.com

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The Medicine Woman’s Treasure Chest – My annual reminder – Before you Indulge..think Milk Thistle


For some of you it is Thanksgiving this week which is a wonderful opportunity to meet with family and friends and of course over indulge. This celebration kicks off the festive season and from the first week in December there will be Christmas parties at every opportunity and good intentions fly out the window as the sausages on sticks and mince pies are handed around.

Do not get me wrong… I am with you 100% and Christmas is one of my favourite times of year when chocolate coins and almond paste are on the top of my to do list! However, there are two major organs in the body that find this month of the year extremely confusing and upsetting. Our brain and our liver.

The brain turns into a pinball machine with all its pleasure and reward centres being pinged off regularly as we hand around the treats and sit down to laden tables. For the rest of the year most of us are moderate eaters with just the occasional blip, but at Christmas the restraints are off and our eyes and taste buds are in charge of proceedings.

This results in some pretty dramatic chemical changes in our brain that has a knock on effect on the glands of the body. The immune system is impacted which is why it is so easy to pick up a cold or the flu as we mingle with family and friends. As the sugar floods our bloodstream our blood sugar levels play havoc with our kidneys and our energy levels.

mince pies

The liver is in no position to help us out. Normally it happily removes toxins and waste from the body and releases stores that help with digestion and protect us. For the next few weeks it will be working overtime and it will not be able to do its job causing a build up of toxins in the cells of the body. This is not helped by all the antacids and over the counter painkillers that are knocked back in December and early January.

That is the bad news. The good news is that there are ways to support the body and the liver through the festive season. The first strategy is to use your usual common sense and know when you have had enough!! The second is to make sure that you drink plenty of water throughout the day to flush out toxins. The third is to eat light, fresh meals on the days that you are not indulging in heavy celebrations so that you give your body and major organs a break. Finally you can take a herbal remedy in the form of Milk Thistle to help support your liver as it works overtime in December.

As with in any complementary medicine, it is important not to assume that it is either safe to use or that it will cure your condition. In the case of herbal therapy there is a great deal of written and oral evidence, over centuries in some instances, that it is an effective and safe way to support the body and when appropriate can be used in conjunction with conventional medicine. In the case of milk thistle, trials have indicated that even at high doses there is little known toxicity.

Thistles are part of the daisy family, found mainly in Europe, Asia and Australia, especially dry and sunny areas. It can grew very quickly to over 10 feet and produces a milky white sap when the distinctive green and white leaves are crushed. It is a plant that takes over and smothers other growth so is not always welcome. It has been used medicinally for the last 2,000 years and it was highly regarded by the Romans. It has undergone extensive research and in some parts of Europe, like Germany, it is the most commonly used herbal therapy.

Scientific studies into the effects of the herb are mixed but do show some indications that taking Milk Thistle has positive benefits for the liver. It might also have some anti-cancer properties but this will take considerably more research to confirm. Traditionally, no self-respecting medicine man or woman would have been without the herb, especially for the treatment of poisonous mushrooms, including the Death Cap.

The liver has over 500 functions in its role as guardian of our health and it is vital it is kept working at an optimum level. If your liver is sluggish you may notice a few symptoms that indicate a need to look at your diet but also at ways to encourage the organ to function better. If you suffer from headaches at the side of your head that sometimes affects the eyes, or you feel nauseous after eating fatty foods, or find it difficult to get going in the morning you may be suffering from liver fatigue. In Victorian times grumpy old men and women were termed ‘liverish’ due to increased stress and irritation levels.

How does milk thistle work?

Milk thistle (Silybum Marianum) helps protect the liver and encourages it to regenerate. It protects against incoming toxins and also assists the liver to cleanse itself of alcohol, drugs, heavy metals, and poisons. It is also helpful in treating congestion of the kidneys and the spleen.

By stimulating the release of bile from the liver and the gall-bladder the whole digestive process is improved, which in turn ensures that any nutrients are absorbed more effectively. It also supports the liver in its role of purifying the blood, for this reason it has been used in support of treatment for psoriasis and other skin conditions.

Silymarin is the main component of milk thistle seeds and is a flavonoid containing 4 isomers – Silybinin, silychristin, silydianin and isosilybinin. Silymarin works directly with the cell membranes of the liver preventing damage and encouraging re-growth.

Research into the actions of this herb indicates that it helps reduce inflammation in hepatitis, soften the lesions caused by cirrhosis and helps detox livers that are cancerous. Anyone taking long term medication will also find that taking milk thistle (with the agreement of your doctor) may alleviate some of the side effects and help the liver process and eliminate the drugs more effectively.

How do you take milk thistle?

Milk thistle is an herb that is not soluble in water so you cannot make a tea from leaves, or extract. It is soluble in alcohol, which is why it is found in tincture form, and in capsules. One of the most effective ways to take it is as part of a complex where other herbs such as dandelion, artichoke and peppermint are included. These herbs are also very supportive of the liver – as artichoke helps reduce cholesterol and blood lipid levels; dandelion is a mild diuretic and laxative and has long been used to help with liver and gall bladder problems; and peppermint is a general aid to digestion and helps relax muscles.

Normally you would take 15 to 20 drops, twice a day in a little water, as an adult. It is one of the herbs that is not recommended for children. As a precaution, you should always ask a qualified herbalist before giving herbal medicines to children, or anyone pregnant. This also applies to patients who are HIV positive.

As with any herbal treatment it is a good idea to take a break from the therapy from time to time. If you have been taking it for three months, take a break for about six weeks before resuming. It is also a good idea to keep a diary of how you feel during treatment, as it will help you note improvements. Also, do not forget that herbs to not necessarily work overnight. They need time and it can take several weeks to notice appreciable differences in the way you feel.

Provided you have consulted your doctor there should be no problem taking milk thistle in conjunction with prescribed medication for hepatitis, gall-bladder disease and during recovery from alcoholism. One of the areas in which it may be very helpful is during chemotherapy, but in this instance it is extremely important that your medical team are consulted, as it will affect the potency of your treatment.

It is one of those herbal remedies that are useful to have around at Christmas time. As I have mentioned the liver takes a great deal of punishment at this time of year and apart from keeping hydrated and alternating alcohol drinks with water, I also suggest that you take Milk Thistle from now until after New Year. Then move to a gentle detox with the herb as part of a complex for the rest of January.

This of course does not mean you have a free licence – this poor herb can only do so much!

I am happy to answer any questions you have about health posts.. If it would benefit everyone then please leave in the comments section. Or you can contact me via sally.cronin@moyhill.com

Thanks for dropping by and love to have your feedback. thanks Sally