Archive for December, 2016

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh as gifts of HEALTH

The Bible tells us that 3 wise men arrived at the scene of Jesus’s birth bearing gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. That may sound strange compared to modern baby gifts which might be a diaper genie, a mobile or a stuffed animal. We can view Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh as gifts of HEALTH.

Gold, of course, has been valued as ornamental and functional throughout recorded history. For Mary and Joseph gold might have been used to assure a supply of healthful food for the family. (Did you know that gold itself is FDA-approved as a food ingredient? See the lid on my “box of chocolates” cake).  In modern times, gold injections have been used for rheumatoid arthritis. The newest thing is gold nanoparticles (teeny tiny particles) which are being researched for a wide variety of medical uses. For example, they may be used in cancer therapy to disrupt tumor cell communications. MORE.

Frankincense sounds very exotic, but is better known by its other name, Boswellia which is sold as both pills and creams. This herb (from tree sap) has a well-deserved reputation for helping arthritis. Boswellia is also used for memory, asthma and other health issues such as an anti-inflammatory for athletes. It is likely that the gift for the holy family was intended as incense because it was typically used in celebrations and ceremonies.

Myrrh is, like Frankincense, the resin or sap from a tree. In ancient times, it had a greater value than even gold. Like Frankincense, it is used as incense, but also as perfume, liniment, and a dressing for wounds. (We could talk about it again at Easter because Aloe and Myrrh were reportedly used in wrapping Jesus’s body after the crucifixion.) In Chinese medicine, Myrrh is believed helpful for heart, liver, and spleen. Indian Ayurveda tradition values Myrrh as a tonic and rejuvenator. In modern times, Myrrh (and closely related guggul) has been found to lower cholesterol. It is often found in oral care products because it is antiseptic and healing. Good Gums is a brand of tooth powder based on baking soda with myrrh and other ingredients added to prevent gum disease. (Note, that product isn’t for everyone because the herbs make it look like dirt and it tastes like what I think dirt would taste like).

Had they existed at the time, a “onesie” might have been an upgrade from swaddling clothes, but it seems that the magi gave Jesus and his parents gifts of much greater importance.

Sugar is sugar is sugar, right? Or is it?

fructose

Don’t let the chemical symbol for fructose scare you. I am not in the mood for chemistry class either!

By now we have all heard that dietary sugar is of greater concern than dietary fat ever was. But is sugar all the same? The Nutrition Facts panel on food products lumps all sugars into one number. That might give the impression that sugar is indeed just one thing. However, it is not. Fruit for example, contains fructose and glucose as well as sucrose, which is a combination of the other two. Common table sugar is sucrose. Does it matter? In a word, yes. For a long time, many believed that isolated fructose might be better for our health because it is less likely than others to quickly raise blood sugar. However, there is growing evidence that fructose may be a villain, not the hero it was proposed to be:

  • Despite not raising blood sugar, fructose appears to increase insulin resistance in the liver. (Insulin resistance leads to diabetes.) It also turns to fat more quickly. I’ve written in the past that it has also been linked to high blood pressure, gout and kidney stones.
  • Fructose increases appetite and interferes with brain function. STUDY.
  • A diet high in fructose may be a risk factor for heart disease. STUDY.
  • Fructose also seems to damage the lining of the gut and lead to fatty liver disease. STUDY.
  • Fructose may be more likely than other sugars to sugar-coat our body’s proteins—a process called glycation. This virtual caramelization of our proteins is an aging factor. Glycation is especially concerning if the sugar-coating is of our brain proteins or our DNA. STUDY.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is about ½ fructose and is the most common way we consume fructose. It is very easy to overdose on corn syrup because it is used in thousands of grocery store products and not just sweets and sodas. It is in many brands of sauces, dressings, yogurts, frozen meals and other foods that you might not suspect. HFCS is especially insidious in liquid form because beverages slide down so easily without making us feel full.

Hawaiian Punch Fruit Juicy Red is a great example. (Hah! Clever how they subtly imply it is juice by adding “juicy” to the name.) The drink’s facts panel lists that 8 ounces contains 20 grams (5 teaspoons) of “sugar”. We must look at the ingredient list* to learn where the sugar comes from. The first ingredient on the list is water. That is another clue that this is not a natural juice. High Fructose Corn Syrup is next in order of abundance. The water and HFCS represent 98% of the product! Only a small amount of sugar comes from the tiny amount of fruit the punch contains. (In the footnote, I highlighted some other worrisome ingredients.)

Over-consumption of any type of sugar is very hard on the body. But, it is extremely difficult to get complete consensus (and government action) about the potentially elevated risks from fructose and high fructose corn syrup. That is because there are massive and powerful industries built on that sweetener. They don’t fool us by changing name of HFCS to the softer “fructose”, “corn sugar” or “fruit sugar”. HFCS is extremely profitable because it is so cheap…in part because our government subsidizes corn production. (!) For business reasons, those industries pressure regulators, legislators, the media and even scientists. We now know that industry can fund studies to come out with a conclusion that they like. They have also gone so far as to bribe scientists (even at Harvard) to publish good news on sugar when none was deserved. Who knows if that positive spin pressure is at work in this REVIEW. However, some points in that study are correct: over-consumption of beverages and accompanying additional bad habits of big fructose eaters are part of the problem.

A bit of good news: I stumbled across a study showing that cinnamon was very helpful in off-setting some of the negative effects of fructose. (No, no. I’m not suggesting it is okay to drink the punch if you just add cinnamon.)

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*Hawaiian Punch Fruit Juicy Red Ingredients: Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, and less than 2% of: Concentrated Juices (Apple, Clarified Pineapple, Passionfruit, Orange), Fruit Purees (Apricot, Papaya, Guava), Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Citric Acid, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Pectin, Acacia Gum, Ester Gum, Red 40, Blue 1, Sucralose, Potassium Sorbate and Sodium Hexametaphosphate (preservatives).

 

New reasons to appreciate vitamin C for heart health and more

limes72

When it was discovered in 1920, vitamin C wasn’t the first vitamin known. However, it may be the most familiar to us. We have heard about early sailors who died from the vitamin C deficiency disease scurvy before it was discovered that adding limes to their rations prevented the disease. (Hence, the reason British sailors were called “Limeys”.) Indeed, citrus is the most well-publicized source of vitamin C, but the nutrient is also found in a wide variety of other fruits, vegetables and herbs. More surprisingly, since most animals make their own vitamin C, animal foods can also be a source of small amounts. Vitamin C is a bit fragile. For example, it is degraded by cooking and even more so in copper cookware. Vitamin C is not a sexy and trendy supplement, but it is very powerful.

  • Gum disease. Diseases like the flu come on quickly and dramatically. But, in contrast, a deficiency disease develops gradually. For example, bleeding gums may indicate that a person is low in vitamin C and is inching toward scurvy. Other signs of C insufficiency are easy bruising, irritability, shortness of breath, joint pain, poor wound healing, inflammation of the tongue, curly brittle hair, loose teeth, loss of appetite, tiny red spots on the skin, fatigue and eye redness. Article.
  • Sugar can cause C deficiency. A recent article from the Dr. Rath Institute stated “… due to the similarity of the chemical structure of the sugar and vitamin C molecules, excess sugar in the blood can block the channels necessary for transfer of vitamin C inside the cell, thus creating a vitamin C deficiency. (Secondhand smoke also reduces available vitamin C.)
  • Protecting the cardiovascular system. The Dr. Rath article continued “…a lack of vitamin C can damage the cells lining the blood vessel walls [thereby] promoting arterial plaque formation.” The Institute found that conversely, increased vitamin C intake helped protect cells from the damage caused by high blood sugar. (Note: researchers used a special combination containing calcium and magnesium ascorbate [a buffered form of vitamin C] and ascorbyl palmitate [a fat-soluble form of C]. You may find that type C in your natural food store. This item on Amazon will show you what to look for.)
  • Some cardiovascular drugs can cause C deficiency. Various “channel blocker” type drugs (such as Procardia and Nifediac) are used to control high blood pressure, angina and heart rhythm problems. Studies show that these drugs increase the risk of death, heart attack, breast cancer, and gum trouble. Many of those side effects are caused because the drugs happen to reduce the body’s vitamin C levels. Supplementing the vitamin C combination mentioned in the last bullet point apparently helps offset the drug problems. STUDY  

More: A previous blog discussed vitamin C in relation to endometriosis and aging. It covered dosage issues as well. Vitamin C also helps offset the health damage caused by stress.  An interview with Bill Sardi talked about the revival of the use of vitamin C with cancer.

 

 

 

 


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