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

 

The Immune System – Part Two – The body’s greatest asset.


The Immune System – The body’s greatest asset.

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In this second post on the immune system I will cover the components of this complex defence mechanism, how it works and how to maintain its efficiency with some changes in diet.

It is a system that is usually taken for granted and treated with disrespect until it lets us down, and then we blame it for making us ill.  In fact if we have not provided this vital function within our body, the foods containing the nutrients it requires; it is us who is to blame. Many millions in the world do not have access to fresh produce and are unable to give their immune systems what it needs, causing widespread disease. This means that it is even more important for those of us who do live with the luxury of food choice to make the most of it.

Without an efficiently functioning immune system we would all have to spend our lives in a bubble without any contact with the outside world. Ever. One minor infection could kill you!

There have been a number of cases over the years of children born with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID). They have been forced to spend their lives separated by clear plastic from their family and any contact with bacteria or viruses. Today, thankfully with gene therapy, this devastating disease is curable but for some a normal life is simply not possible.

The immune system is another one of our silent partners and is an extremely important one. Our most crucial years in terms of this amazing system in our body, is our childhood, when our contact with people, animals, grass, pollens, foods; develops the immune system until it becomes our guardian angel. Watching and waiting for any breach in our system and rushing to our defence within seconds of the alarm being sounded. (Anyone who has had a child going to nursery or school for the first time will have experienced first-hand the process, as the mass contact produces a whole raft of immune system strengthening infections!) It is however, never too late to make the changes necessary to strengthen your immune system.

In a nutshell if your immune system is not functioning well your entire body including the tissues, organs and systems suffer damage and cannot repair themselves. Additionally you are wide open to bacterial, viral and toxic invaders who are looking for a nesting site. You have what they need to reproduce and thrive but they like to make some adjustments when they arrive. They like a lovely acidic, toxic, waste filled environment without too much oxygen. (A rubbish diet with little exercise will achieve that nicely)

They are particularly fond of a new home that does not have troublesome neighbours such as anti-oxidants and they prefer a quiet life without too much exercise so that they get on and breed. They are a class act and make sure that they give you something back in the form of rent. Frequent colds and flu, thrush, skin complaints, fatigue and stomach problems. If you are a really up market landlord and are offering premium accommodation they will pay you back with arthritis, rheumatism, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s and cancer.

The immune system is not involved in just our internal defences. It actually has a pretty formidable array of physical barriers that are designed to keep pathogens, which is all harmful substances out of our bodies.

Our first line of defence

The skin is our main external protector. If it is not damaged it will not allow harmful substances to enter the blood stream. The problem is that of course it is porous and is designed to allow fluids out and in through the pores. So any substance that touches your skin such as chemical preparations can pass right through. For example if you use strong household cleaners these contain highly toxic substances that will pass through the dermal layer and store in the tissues causing anything to a mild rash to a violent allergic reaction. This is why you must wear gloves when using them. Many of us react to perfume, cosmetics or even simple hand creams that our body obviously thinks of as toxic. If you cut yourself then germs can pass through directly to the bloodstream and from there they have complete access to the rest of your body.

We have special hairs and mucus tissues in our nose, mouth and throat that are designed to catch anything harmful.   If a toxin gets as far as our stomachs, then acid and enzymes will react and cause you to vomit to get rid of it. Should any harmful bacteria, virus or toxin get past these barriers then we have a very complex system of cells and anti-bodies that will rush to our defence. Most of us have suffered stomach upsets before and it is just the body getting rid of the toxins. (More about these in a later post.)

The liver is of course the place where most of these toxins are going to pass through, and it has specific enzymes designed to destroy them so that they can then be evicted from the body. Which is fine if the toxicity is only occasional but unfortunately our modern diet and environment puts the liver under a great deal of pressure and toxins will not all be expelled, going on to do sometimes irreparable damage.

Free radicals running riot through the body.

If you cut an apple and effectively damage it, within a few minutes it will begin to turn brown. If you leave it long enough the tissue of the apple will begin to break down and you will end up with a liquid, bacteria covered and unidentifiable lump on your cutting board. That just about sums up what free radical damage does to your body. We bandy about the phrase Free Radicals as if they are some dissident political group or school yard bullies which is essentially true. Like most bullies they are missing something and want yours.

A free radical is a molecule. A normal molecule has an even number of electrons and is considered stable. Free radicals on the other hand have an uneven number of electrons and are unstable. They are desperate to be like the normal molecules so they have to steal from them to get another electron. This of course means that they have created another free radical. More and more cells become damaged and leave the body open to most diseases including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Like the apple the damage is a kind of oxidation, which is the action of adding oxygen to a substance or rusting and when I wrote about cholesterol, it was the low density lipoprotein with its smaller particles that becomes oxidised by free radicals making it unhealthy.

Do Free Radicals have a positive effect on the body?

Ironically the immune system uses some free radicals to go and steal an electron from harmful molecules that have entered the system illegally. Problem is, like everything else in the body we need balances and checks. The Free Radical police are anti-oxidants and if you have not got enough of them then the free radicals become vigilantes and go after everything that moves.

Also we create free radicals when we exercise energetically and take in additional oxygen. These then assist with the metabolism of foods that enter the body. Again if the balance between these and anti-oxidants is not correct more free radicals are created than are needed. This is why we need a healthy diet including foods that provide these anti-oxidants.

vegetables

Those of you who read my articles on a regular basis know what is coming next!… To boost your immune system there are some very easy guidelines to follow.

  1. Cut out sugars from your diet so that you are only ingesting a maximum of 6 teaspoons per day in cooked foods and as a sweetener. Effectively, that means do not eat industrial processed foods, particularly items such as breakfast cereals and most commercial flavoured yogurts. Do not be taken in by low-fat food and those that say artificially sweetened. The chemical stuff is definitely unhealthy and has documented side effects. Too much sugar in the system provides a wonderful environment for all toxic pathogens and your immune system will only be able to stand on the side lines as its defence team fights a losing battle. If you have not read my posts on sugar before; here is the link: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/sugars-and-candida-2015-2/
  2. Industrially produced foods has been through a machine, rarely has many natural ingredients and has chemical additives. If it is wrapped in plastic, comes in a packet or has very attractive cardboard advertising then treat with suspicion. Most of the time your immune system will spend more time dealing with the toxins than your digestive system will take to consume and process.
  3. Drink sufficient fluids to help toxins pass out of the body. If you are one of those who boast that you manage on a cup or two of tea a day and that you get all the fluids you need from the food you eat; think again. We lose moisture when we exhale, through our skin and when we pee which adds up to between 1.5 to 2 litres per day. You cannot replenish that from food alone and if you pinch the skin on the back of your hand and it is slow to resume its normal smooth appearance then you are dehydrated. This will impact how your immune system functions.
  4. Adopt the 80/20 rule for your diet. 80% all fresh natural produce that has been grown, picked or dug up out of the ground. The brighter the colour the better. I know that having a busy work and personal life makes this daunting sometimes but I use frozen vegetables all the time.. Especially out of season. The only two that I usually prefer to prepare myself are carrots, potatoes and sweet potato as the frozen ones do not taste as good. Also economically onions are much better non-frozen but I do in bulk and they keep in the fridge for a week. Green vegetables particularly are very good these days and if you are really in a hurry get a good quality mixed veg bag.
  5.  Combine with good quality protein that has not been mass farmed (farm shops are great) and moderate intake of wholegrains. (White carbohydrates are treated like sugar by the body. Milk, Butter, Eggs and Olive Oil should also be part of your nutritional shopping list as they provide vitamins and minerals as well as Omega Fatty Acids to boost your entire system.
  6. Follow my ‘Cook From Scratch’ approach to eating.
  7.  20% of your diet is where the Red Wine, Dark Chocolate and occasional Guinness comes in!

Next time – other strategies that you can employ to assist your immune system it is primary focus which is saving your life.

Here is the first post on the Immune System

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2015/09/29/lets-hear-it-for-our-bffs-bacterial-friends-and-foes/

Please feel free to comment and share.

©sallygeorginacronin Just Food For Health 2009

I would love to connect with you on social media and if you would like to know more about me and my books here are the links.

About Me : https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/about-me/

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Health Bite of the Day – Are you feeling a little liverish this monday morning?


We have now moved down the body and having looked at the digestive system in the last week or so, I am going to cover major organs within that system that also have other roles in our body’s health.  The liver and the kidneys.  I will be covering those this week as I received a number of questions on liver health – some from concerned parents who are worried about teenage drinking.  Alcohol is dangerous in the wrong hands there is no doubt but diet and other lifestyle issues also play a major role in keeping the liver healthy and functioning.

I remember a teenage client who wondered what all the fuss was about – you could get a transplant couldn’t you?  I set him the task of researching the actual operation, first hand accounts of those who had undergone this major operation and the long lasting implications and side effects.  Hasten to say he was a lot less cocky about the process on his next appointment.

I have met people who believe that as long as you give up smoking and drinking before you are 40 you will be absolutely fine!  Yes, there are individuals who drink like a fish and live to 95 and some of them even smoked too.  They also did not have the benefit of our high sugar modern diet and lack of exercise!  I also would be tempted to ask them to pick my lottery numbers each week because they are the fortunate ones.

For the rest of us, the earlier we put some thought into the long term care of our major organs the better.  I will admit that I was in my late 30’s before I woke up to this fact when given some rather indigestible truths about my prognosis.  But better late than never.  Part of that care comes from understanding the how, what and where an organ’s role is in our body and health.  So here is the Liver – the guardian of our health.  Here is the positioning of the liver – higher up in the chest than people imagine which is important when determining symptoms such as pain.

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Eventually, everything that we put into our bodies, from scrambled eggs to toxins, goes through this vital organ and overwhelm is not a strong enough word to use for the effects on the liver over a relatively short period of time. One of the outcomes for example of this latest online drinking craze Neknomination is the high risk of liver damage and in some cases death.

There are entire books on the subject of this vital organ that is the guardian of our body, so this is merely an overview. We often regard our heart as the most important organ but for me the liver is very high up on the list of reasons to stay healthy.

Where is the liver?

The liver sits in the right upper part of the abdomen where it stretches halfway across the left upper abdomen. It is the largest internal organ of the body, weighing between 3 and 4 lbs. It is roughly triangular in shape and rests under the right diaphragm and the right lung. Beneath the liver is the gall bladder, attached by the bile duct, and there are blood vessels entering above the liver from the heart called the supra hepatic vena cava carrying oxygen rich blood from the heart. It contains veins called the portal system, which take the blood from the intestines to the liver before sending the blood back to the rest of the body.

What is the function of the liver?

The liver has two essential roles, making or processing chemicals and eliminating toxins and waste. Without the portal system none of the nutrients that we have carefully processed and passed into the intestines could be carried in the blood, through the liver, to nourish the body and provide us with energy.

It is not really the liver that does all the work but the millions and millions of cells within the liver that maintain the critical life processes. Specialist cells called hepatocytes deal with the raw materials our body runs on – proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

We are made of protein and we need to consume protein to renew cells and create new ones. It is necessary for the formation of hormones, which are the body’s chemical messengers, and also for making enzymes. Unfortunately the body does not necessarily accept all the protein that we consume and it needs to be changed to a format that is usable.

The liver will break down the consumed product and transform it into a protein that the body does recognise and can use efficiently. The process involves the raw material being absorbed from the blood in the portal veins into the surrounding hepatocytes where it is synthesised by the enzymes and passed back into the blood. Any waste however is not re-absorbed into the bloodstream but prepared for elimination.

Carbohydrates are formed from the three essential elements of life, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. They are most commonly in the form of sugars, which provide us with energy. Our muscles are designed to burn sugar, or sugar like substances, whenever they work. The liver plays a vital role in the process of converting carbohydrates into the appropriate fuels that can be easily accessed by the muscles.

It does this by converting carbohydrates into two forms very similar to pure sugar. One is used for a quick fix and the other is put into storage for later use. The instant energy comes from glucose and the stored glycogen. A lack of sugar as fuel can lead to brain damage. The body being the survivor it is, makes sure that there is sufficient stored to provide us with energy when we need it, such as in the case of running from a rampaging bull or if we are faced with starvation.

The balance is critical, and a healthy liver will ensure that there is just enough sugar in the blood at all times.

Fats are not always the bad guys. We know that there are good fats and bad fats but the body does need fat for insulation and as a shock absorber to surround major organs. The liver turns the fat we eat into forms that can be built into or renew existing fatty tissue. Some of us have a little more of that than we might wish but it is our storehouse and vital to our wellbeing.

Finally, the liver ensures that waste products, both in the form of toxins that have found their way into the body and from by-products resulting from the thousands of chemical processes that are taking place throughout the body every minute of the day, are disposed of correctly

The waste disposal cells are called Kuppfer cells, after the man who discovered them. They are the Dyson’s of the cell fraternity, sucking up bacteria and toxins before handing them over to the hepatocytes for processing.

In the chapter on the respiratory system I looked at both the common cold and influenza and the liver works as part of the immune system to weaken or destroy these harmful germs. This is why following a healthy liver programme can have such a tremendous effect on your general health, particularly in the winter months when there are so many more infections around.

An example of a toxic by-product is the ammonia produced during the breakdown of protein. It is poisonous, and the liver cells neutralise it sending the harmless waste, in the form of urea, back into the bloodstream. This applies to alcohol, medication or drugs so it is vitally important that your liver is functioning at an optimum level for your health and survival.

What other roles does the liver carry out?

The liver stores iron as well as other vitamins and minerals that you need, such as Vitamin B12.

Bilirubin is an orange-yellow waste product of red blood cells that can be toxic in large amounts in your body and can cause conditions like yellow jaundice. The liver excretes this bilirubin into the small bowel where bacteria can change it into the safer green coloured biliverdin.

The liver also makes clotting factors that stop bleeding after injury, and without which you could bleed to death.

The liver helps manage the cholesterol in our body – and the body needs cholesterol – but like anything in excess it can do more harm than good. It forms the base molecule for hormones like oestrogen and testosterone, and it is also the base for bile acids that are used to emulsify fat in the small bowel so that fat and fat soluble vitamins like E and K can be absorbed.

Do diet and lifestyle play that much of a role in liver health?

Well, think about everything that you put into your mouth and the changes it will go through before eventually leaving your body. I think of the liver as the guardian of my health because of all the complex processes it is in charge of, that ensure that I am not only nourished but am also protected from germs and toxins.

The saying “We are what we eat” is never more true as is “You are only as good as what you eat”. If you have adopted a diet strategy which involves eating high fat, processed, sugar laden and nutritionally sterile foods, you cannot expect your liver to transform it into the ultimate wonder diet. It can only work with what you give it and if you add excessive alcohol consumption into the equation, you will find that the liver can become overwhelmed, and will suffer damage.

The good news is that the liver regenerates extremely quickly provided it does not have scarred tissue. Within a matter of 6 weeks you can improve your liver health and therefore you general health quite dramatically.

In the next blog I will focus the disease cirrhosis, which is a general term for liver damage. I will look at some of the other reasons for liver damage but the main theme is about how our diet affects this major organ.

To save you time when looking for specific health or other topics I have compiled a directory.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2014/03/21/complaints-to-the-management-lost-in-translation-and-space-blog-directory-by-subject/