Edible flowers

Flower Power

Valentine’s Day is one of the most popular days of the year for flower sales. Bouquets of roses, lilies, gerbera daisies, baby’s breath and more fly out of florists’ shops, bringing smiles and feelings of love and appreciation to their recipients. But flowers do more than just look pretty and give off nice aromas. Whether they’re made into teas, sprinkled on salads, or used in other culinary applications, edible flowers supply meals with beauty and nutrients.

One edible flower is nasturtium. Nasturtium flowers are brightly colored, and all parts of the plant can be eaten: the petals, leaves and stems. The stems start out with a slightly sweet taste, but a peppery heat soon takes over. In fact, the name nasturtium, which means “nose-twister,” comes from the peppery zing, which is reminiscent of watercress—botanical name Nasturtium officinale. However, even though watercress has “nasturtium” in its scientific name, it is related to the flowering nasturtiums only at a higher level of classification; they belong to different families, genus, and species. 

The most common culinary application for nasturtium flowers is as an ornamental—but edible—decoration in salads. Other ways to prepare them include stir-frying, and horticultural experts also suggest stuffing them with a filling, like grape leaves. The flowers can be stuffed as well, similar to a common preparation for squash blossoms. Plus, the green, unripe seed pods can be pickled and used as a substitute for capers. As if those weren’t enough interesting ways to use this plant in the kitchen, the leaves and flowers can be made into pesto, which, according to Martha Stewart, makes a great garnish for nasturtium risotto. As for their nutrient content, nasturtium flowers provide vitamin C and lutein, plus small amounts of zeaxanthin and β-carotene. 

The compound in nasturtium primarily responsible for its peppery zing is a volatile mustard oil, benzyl isothiocyanate. Its ability to affect mucosal membranes and certain types of bacteria underlie the traditional use of nasturtium in herbal medicine as an expectorant and antibiotic, as well as a remedy for respiratory ailments and urinary tract infections. 

Another pretty flowering plant that has culinary uses is lavender. Dried lavender flowers are often included in blends for herbs de Provence, which can be used in any number of savory dishes, for meat and vegetables alike. The more common application for lavender flowers, however, is in sweet dishes, such as lavender shortbread cookies, lavender ice cream, and even a lavender-chamomile tequila cocktail. It’s important, however, to buy culinary lavender, as ornamental lavender may not be suitable for consumption.

Lavender flowers have a lovely purple color, and just as with nasturtium, they aren’t only nice to look at. Lavender has been employed for centuries as an anxiolytic—meaning, it helps people find calm. Compounds in lavender essential oil (LvEO) may help elevate serotonin levels in the brain, while decreasing their turnover rate. (Many antidepressant medications work via a similar mechanism.) LvEO is typically used in aromatherapy applications, but research in mice indicates that the olfactory route (being able to smell) is not actually required in order for LvEO to be effective. The anti-anxiety and calming effects occur even in mice who have had their sense of smell chemically removed. Studies suggest that LvEO may help patients remain calm before dental examinations, and perhaps this might apply to medical office visits in general. 

Other uses for edible flowers, their oils and extracts are endless. For example, rosewater, made by distilling rose petals, is a common ingredient in Middle Eastern and North African dishes. Rose petals are also edible, but the object of your affection will probably appreciate them much more in a vase than on a plate!

Sources

 

 

 


Frankincense

The Gift of Frankincense

Frankincense, also known as olibanum, is often referred to as the “king of oils” and its very name means “high quality incense.” Historically, it was deemed an exquisite gift, and is most often referenced when the biblical magi of the east offered the gifts of frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child.  Frankincense originates from the Middle East and has often been used in various religious practices throughout the centuries as well as Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, giving evidence to its sacredness in both health and religion. Even its French name, “franc encens,” which means “high quality incense,” demonstrates its historical intent. 

Frankincense oil is obtained from tapping the sticky resin of trees of the genus, Boswellia. The resin can be chewed like a gum, but more commonly, it is steam distilled into an essential oil.  The essential oil of frankincense has been widely used in aromatherapy and is a common constituent in perfumes, fragrances, diffuser blends, and body care products. Don’t be fooled into thinking its benefits are merely external. On the contrary, the therapeutic potential of this essential oil is one reason it is highly esteemed among health advocates. 

Antimicrobial

A variety of medicinal chemicals reside within the essential oil of frankincense, the most well-known being the family of boswellic acids. These therapeutic compounds provide several health benefits, including the ability to discourage the growth of numerous harmful organisms. As a result, frankincense has been a helpful addition to natural cleaners, dental hygiene products, and facial astringents to prevent the growth of microorganisms. It also helps support the body’s normal defenses against internal fungi, viruses, and unfriendly bacteria that may threaten to compromise health and vitality. The food industry has taken advantage of frankincense’s antimicrobial activity and uses it to naturally inhibit the growth of a dangerous fungal toxin, known as aflatoxin, commonly found on corn, soy, peanuts and other foods. 

Immune Support

Not only can frankincense help to constrain harmful microorganisms, but the boswellic acids are also able to support the immune system, thereby creating a strong defense against infections, injury, inflammation, and associated health conditions. Boswellic acids have been studied and found to interact with several cells and enzymes of the immune system so as to promote a healthy response from this critical system when it encounters infections and is dealing with health challenges. Numerous individuals suffer from health conditions associated with an impaired immune system that no longer identifies “friend” or “foe” and frankincense may be helpful in supporting a normal immune response. The immune system is also responsible for establishing a health inflammatory response to injury and illness. Studies have shown boswellic acids can support the action of several enzymes that are involved in these responses to establish a healthy inflammatory response, resulting in better pain management and injury. This dual action of supporting immunity and the inflammatory response makes frankincense an ideal health booster. 

Cell Growth and Health

Most recently, there has been an explosion of interest in frankincense’s support for cell health. A normal cell of the human body progresses through a lifecycle that includes growth and reproduction. Some cells, such as those of the skin, grow and reproduce very quickly as old cells die and must be renewed. Other cells, such as those of the brain and nervous system, grow very slowly. Frankincense supports the natural cell lifecycle of each body system and encourages normal cell growth and reproduction. It also helps the body recognize cells that are not growing properly and must be eliminated to ensure optimal health of the entire body. 

Antioxidant

Frankincense is among the most powerful essential oils with antioxidant properties. By fighting against damaging free radicals, frankincense can offer innumerable health benefits. Free radicals are generated by unhealthy diets, lack of exercise, environmental pollutants, and exposure to harmful electromagnetic fields, among other things. Further, the lack of antioxidant-rich foods in the standard American diet often leaves the body hungry for these critical nutrients. The effects of free radicals are far-reaching and include damage to delicate genetic material and cells of all organ systems, resulting in aging, loss of function, and deteriorating health. The antioxidant power of frankincense can combat free radical damage and provide a hedge of protection against future damage. 

In possessing the ability to fight infection, support the immune system, promote a healthy inflammatory response, and combat free radicals, frankincense lives up to its reputation as “king of oils.” Its usefulness not only reaches out to the small aches and pains of everyday life, but also extends to the most serious health challenges. Certainly, frankincense offers the invaluable gift of healing. 

Sources

Al-Yasiry, A.R. & Kiczorowska, B. (2016). Frankincense--therapeutic properties. Postepy Hig Med Dosw (Online), Jan 4(70), 380-91. 

Ammon, H.P. (2010). Modulation of the immune system by Boswellia serrata extracts and boswellic acids. Phytomedicine, 17(11),862-7. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2010.03.003.

Ammon, H.P. (2016). Boswellic acids and their role in chronic inflammatory diseases. Advances in experimental medicine and biology, 928,291-327.

Khan et al. (2016). Pharmacological evidences for cytotoxic and antitumor properties of Boswellic acids from Boswellia serrata. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Sep 15(191), 315-23. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2016.06.053

Ahmed et al. (2015). Phytochemical analysis and anti-cancer investigation of boswellia serrata bioactive constituents in vitro. Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention, 16(16), 7179-88. 


Healthy Fats

Fat – the Sixth Taste?

Any good chef will tell you that fat makes food taste better. A plain baked potato is nothing compared to one with a pat of butter and a dollop of sour cream. And let’s face it: a bowl of unadorned pasta isn’t all that appetizing until you add some garlic and olive oil, or a creamy alfredo sauce. It makes sense that we humans are hard-wired to enjoy fatty foods. Compared to proteins and carbohydrates, which both provide four calories per gram, fats provide nine calories per gram, making them more than twice as energy-dense. To our prehistoric ancestors, who likely faced intermittent periods of food scarcity, fat may have been a prized bounty. In the modern world, however, where we have constant access to an inexpensive food supply, our penchant for fatty foods (and sweets!) may cause us to consume more calories than we expend—particularly when procuring large amounts of these foods no longer requires hours of hunting and gathering, but rather, just a hop in the car for a quick trip to the supermarket.

Researchers have determined that there are five basic tastes humans are capable of discerning: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and savory or umami. It is speculated that each of these tastes serves a specific role in helping us distinguish nutritious and “safe” foods from poisonous ones. The sweet taste implies carbohydrate; umami hints at the presence of protein and amino acids (specifically, glutamate); bitter may indicate the presence of harmful compounds; salty suggests important minerals and electrolytes; and sour may help keep us away from foods that have spoiled. 

The idea that there are just these five basic tastes is as entrenched as was the concept of our solar system having nine planets. However, just as the reclassification of Pluto as a “planetoid” has forced a rewriting of astronomy textbooks, new research suggests that there may be a sixth taste, and that this unique sensation comes from fat. 

In order to distinguish this taste sensation from the rest, and to provide clues as to its meaning, scientists have coined the word oleogustus. “Oleo” implies oil, while “gustus” is borrowed from the Latin, gustatus, for “sense of taste.”

It’s no secret that fat makes other foods delicious, but what, exactly, is the taste sensation of fat, by itself? It may depend on the makeup of individual fatty acids in a particular fat. For example, butyric acid, found in butter (especially in rancid butter), is bitter and unpalatable on its own. But consumed as a whole food, with all its component fatty acids, butter is sublime. Participants in the study in which researchers identified the “fat taste” initially classified the fat sensations as being bitter, but when they were asked to limit that category to samples that presented only bitter flavor, the fats comprised their own group.

It’s not surprising that the participants perceived the fats as being bitter. Good quality extra-virgin olive oil, when fresh, can be quite bitter. Some varieties have a pinch to them, and even produce a “burning” sensation in the back of the throat when tasted by themselves. (Some foodies deliberately seek this out, as it may indicate a higher polyphenol content in the oil.)

The different taste sensations are distinguished by specific receptors on cells located in taste buds at the back and sides of the tongue. Ultimately, these taste receptors send feedback to the brain, which could play a role in satiety versus the desire to keep eating. Taste perception can also be affected by hormones, which could explain changes in food preference and intake in the short-term, as well as over time. As an adult, you might enjoy the taste of certain foods you avoided as a child, or maybe the opposite has happened, and you’ve lost the appreciation you had for a specific food in the past.

Sometimes, cravings for something sweet, salty, or fatty, can be a sign that your body genuinely needs whatever nutrients the foods in those categories might provide. But when you’re already well-nourished and are simply experiencing the ups and downs of the blood sugar rollercoaster, or are eating to ease emotions, remember that, along with those hard-wired desires for sugar and fat, we humans also have higher cortical function, which allows us to override our baser instincts. We have a physiological need for adequate nourishment, but we also have white knuckles and willpower!

Sources

  1. Running CA, Craig BA, Mattes RD. Oleogustus: The Unique Taste of Fat. Chem Senses. 2015 Jul 3.
  2. Iwata S, Yoshida R, Ninomiya Y. Taste transductions in taste receptor cells: basic tastes and moreover. Curr Pharm Des. 2014;20(16):2684-92.
  3. Gravina SA, Yep GL, Khan M. Human biology of taste. Ann Saudi Med. 2013 May-Jun;33(3):217-22.

Saffron

Saffron: A Treat for the Taste Buds, an Even Better One for the Mind

When you think about the most expensive exotic foods, what comes to mind? White truffles for upwards of $6000/pound? Caviar for over $1500/pound? Kobe beef for $150/pound? Certainly, there’s no shortage of gourmet delights to impress friends and please the palate—for a price. Each of these foods has a reason why it’s so prized, be it the process required to grow or harvest it, or the way the animals are raised and fed. When it comes to the specific category of seasonings, there’s one spice that takes the financial cake: saffron. At anywhere from $500-$4500 per pound, saffron is by far the most expensive spice in the world.

The reason it’s so pricey is because it comes from the stigmas of the crocus flower, and each flower has just three stigmas—which are so delicate that they need to be harvested by hand—and it takes approximately 225,000 stigmas to make one pound of saffron. Good thing it’s a strong flavor, so a little goes a long way. Saffron is popular in the cuisine of the Middle East and North Africa, but is especially famous for being the star of Spanish dishes, such as the classic paella. When cooked, saffron lends a warm yellow-orange color to food, which is why it’s often used in rice and broths. Ground turmeric can be used as a substitute for a similar color, and although the flavor isn’t exactly the same, it’s similar enough to serve as a stand-in. As holds true for many other herbs and spices—basil,rosemaryoreganocinnamonginger—the benefits of saffron go far beyond what it can do in the kitchen. Saffron might be a treat for the taste buds, but what it can do for the mind may be even better. A solid body of research supports surprising but well-documented effects for saffron on depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. This modern data lends scientific weight to the centuries-long use of saffron as an adaptogen in Ayurvedic and traditional Persian medicine.

Among adults with major depressive disorder, supplementation with saffron has been shown to be as effective as commonly prescribed antidepressant medication, without the unpleasant side-effects typical of these drugs. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial (RCT) of adults who met the DSM-IV criteria for major depression showed that oral supplementation with saffron extract was more effective than placebo at improving scores on the commonly used Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D), with significant differences noted as early as two weeks after supplementation was initiated. In a double-blind, randomized trial that compared the effects of saffron extract to the commonly prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) fluoxetine, in adults with mild to moderate depression, saffron extract demonstrated similar efficacy to fluoxetine in significantly improving HAM-D scores, with fewer unpleasant side-effects. For patients who find that they do experience benefit from prescription SSRIs, addition of a saffron supplement may help boost the efficacy of these agents. A double-blind RCT showed that compared to patients on an SSRI alone, patients taking an SSRI plus a saffron supplement had greater improvements in mood, anxiety, depression, and general health, based on responses to multiple questionnaires. Aside from its serotonergic effects, saffron’s mechanisms of action may be achieved via antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective effects.

Among the undesirable side-effects of anti-depressant medication is interference with healthy sexual function. For men experiencing fluoxetine-related sexual dysfunction, supplementation with saffron (15 mg B.I.D. for 4 weeks) resulted in significant improvement in erectile function compared to placebo, although sexual desire and overall satisfaction did not differ between the groups. Saffron supplementation has demonstrated similar effects in women: among women with major depression who were taking fluoxetine and experienced subjective feelings of sexual dysfunction, compared to placebo, saffron supplementation (30 mg/d for 4 weeks) resulted in significantly greater improvements in Female Sexual Function Index, arousal and lubrication, but, similar to the men, no changes in desire or satisfaction. Saffron has long been considered an aphrodisiac, and now there’s at least some data to substantiate that.

A relaxed, candlelit meal at a cozy Spanish restaurant, with good food and good wine, might be a mood booster and aphrodisiac all by itself…or maybe it’s the saffron!


Cauliflower

Cauliflower – Humble, Yet Wonderful

If cauliflower wasn’t so ‘unflashy’ with its dull, white hue, it would be the redheaded stepchild of the edible plant world. More boldly colored vegetables and fruits proudly display their beneficial compounds: anthocyanins in blueberries, cranberries, and blackberries; carotenes in sweet potatoes and carrots; magnesium in dark, leafy greens; and resveratrol in dark grapes and red wine. But don’t be fooled by cauliflower’s unassuming appearance. The absence of color doesn’t mean there’s an absence of nutrients. This versatile vegetable shares many of the beneficial properties of its Brassica brethren, and it’s time to give it its due.

Like all its cruciferous cousins—which include broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, and more—cauliflower is descended from wild cabbage, believed to have originated in what is now Turkey. It serves up a good amount of vitamin C, folate, vitamin K1, and fiber. Plus, its extremely low glycemic load makes it an ideal vegetable for reduced-carbohydrate diets. If you’ve been watching your carb intake, but find yourself missing foods like mashed potatoes and rice, look no further. Low-glycemic versions of your starch-based favorites require nothing more than cauliflower and a little creativity. After a quick whirl in a food processor, cauliflower can be made into couscous, or stir-fried with meat and vegetables as a mock “fried rice.” Long-time low-carbers might be familiar with “fauxtatoes”—cauliflower steamed until very soft, then puréed and combined with butter, cream, milk, or sour cream, to approximate the flavor and texture of mashed potatoes. And even if you don’t compost your vegetable scraps, don’t automatically ditch the outer leaves—they’re edible, too

For those seeking milder fare, cauliflower is still a great option: its low caloric density and high water content mean you can eat a substantial portion of it without racking up excessive calories. For all of these reasons, cauliflower fits perfectly into many different dietary strategies:  vegetarian, low-carb, Paleo, and, of course, plain and simple “healthy eating.”

Aside from serving as a vehicle for keeping things interesting at dinnertime, cauliflower brings some pretty impressive health benefits to the table as well. It’s a good source of sulfur, which your nose will confirm for you if you steam it a little too long. Cabbage and broccoli are usually the first vegetables that come to mind under the cruciferous category, but cauliflower runs right alongside. The sulfur these foods provide is critical for supporting detoxification processes in the liver. Beyond that, cruciferous vegetables are also known as rich sources of glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing compounds that have a number of health-promoting properties. One of the most widely studied is indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a compound that may help the body reduce harmful storages of excess estrogen. 

The method you use to cook cruciferous vegetables can affect the amount of these helpful compounds that remain in the final dish. In boiling, a significant amount of glucosinolates are lost to the cooking water. This isn’t an issue if the water is used in the final dish, such as for a soup or stew. Otherwise, steaming or stir-frying will preserve more of these beneficial components (just make sure your steamer basket is above the level of the water). Of course, cauliflower can also be consumed raw, in salads, or with dip. Raw cruciferous vegetables can be tougher to digest than well-cooked, so if you experience bloating or flatulence, you may prefer to stick to cooked cauliflower. One thing to note – eating large amounts of raw cruciferous vegetables has been associated with lower thyroid function. In their raw state, these foods contain goitrogens—substances that may interfere with the absorption of iodine. This, however, is not a reason to avoid these otherwise extremely nutritious foods. Just stick to cooked. (Raw cauliflower and broccoli are awfully hard to chew, anyway! Plus, they taste better roasted with olive oil and a little sea salt, or steamed, with a nice pat of butter.) 

Lest you think cauliflower only comes in the white variety, if you visit a farmers’ market, you might be treated to the sight of cauliflower in colors you’ve never seen before, such as purple, yellow-orange (which is higher in beta-carotene than white), and Romanesco, which is almost neon green, and has a slightly more “spiky” appearance than the rounder and more common cauliflowers. But even the humble white variety that inhabits most supermarkets isn’t so humble anymore.

For some great recipes to get you thinking about how to spice up the blank canvas that is cauliflower, check out this diverse collection

 

Sources

  1. Weng JR, Tsai CH, Kulp SK, Chen CS. Indole-3-carbinol as a chemopreventive and anti-cancer agent. Cancer Lett. 2008 Apr 18;262(2):153-63.
  2. Zhang J1, Hsu B A JC, Kinseth B A MA, Bjeldanes LF, Firestone GL. Indole-3-carbinol induces a G1 cell cycle arrest and inhibits prostate-specific antigen production in human LNCaP prostate carcinoma cells. Cancer. 2003 Dec 1;98(11):2511-20.
  3. Song L1, Thornalley PJ. Effect of storage, processing and cooking on glucosinolate content of Brassica vegetables. Food Chem Toxicol. 2007 Feb;45(2):216-24

Oil dropper

Is CBD an Answer to Managing the Pain of Fibromyalgia?

Chronic pain could almost be considered the most epidemic non-infectious health condition in America.  The Centers for Disease Control estimate that chronic pain affects at least 20 percent of all adults in the United States, but suggests the reality may be that as high as 40 percent. Those suffering from chronic pain outnumber individuals suffering from diabetes, heart disease, and cancer combined. While chronic pain may not give the external appearance of a debilitating health condition, it is more injurious than what meets the eye. It leads to loss of mobility and reduces the workforce, is a cause of the current opioid crisis, and provokes anxiety and depression – conditions whose gold-standard, pharmaceutical therapies cause additional challenges. The national health crisis caused by overutilization of opioid medications for pain has led to numerous, preventable deaths and forced the industry to discover alternative therapies to manage chronic pain. It is in the wake of this crisis that cannabidiol (CBD) found its opportunity for fame. But, is it all it claims to be?

Fibromyalgia – A Global Pain Disorder

Pain is most often the body’s response to inflammation and serves a positive role in alerting us of injury or infection. It frequently coexists with red and swollen areas of the body and its source can often be determined by applying pressure to the injured or infected area. Even the muscle aches that accompany a fever alert us of a disturbance in our body. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) are commonly used to manage this temporary type of pain. Adjunct therapies such as hot/cold compresses, massage therapy, and acupuncture are also helpful for managing temporary or localized pain. Nature also provides us with anti-inflammatory botanicals such as willow bark and frankincense which are effective for controlling pain sourced from inflammatory processes. 

Those suffering from classic fibromyalgia are no strangers to wide-spread chronic pain (partnered with chronic fatigue) because it is the hallmark feature of their condition. However, the pain experienced with fibromyalgia isn’t your standard pain. Unlike most pain which can be pinpointed to a certain locality, the pain of classic fibromyalgia is global, meaning it is perceived throughout the entire body. It is also unique in that the sensation of pain is a strong reality, but its source is a mystery. It may even make one wonder if their pain receptors are in overdrive since typical stimuli such as light touch, a breeze, clothing, loud noises, and even bright lights can elicit the sensation of pain. 

The pain associated with fibromyalgia is distinct because it originates from dysfunction in the central nervous system. There is no inflammation-causing injury or infection responsible for producing the pain. Instead, the central nervous system is responsible for the pain of fibromyalgia. It is “confused” and processes normally nonpainful stimuli as painful. As a result, standard pain managing therapies don’t work well for those with fibromyalgia. Historically, conventional pharmaceutical therapies for managing pain associated with fibromyalgia have included NSAIDs and muscle relaxants but to no avail since fibromyalgia is not rooted in either inflammation or skeletomuscular disorders which these agents are designed to target. Interestingly, antidepressants, such as amitriptyline and the antiepileptic drug, pregabalin, have been shown to bring some relief to a small number of fibromyalgia sufferers; however, these pharmaceuticals have extensive side effect profiles that make their use less than optimal. It becomes evident that managing fibromyalgia pain is difficult since standard treatments fail and successful alternatives are lacking. Therefore, when CBD rose to the market and claimed to be a successful tool in managing pain, it aroused the curiosity of many fibromyalgia sufferers who wondered it if could be their gate to a better quality of life.

Phytocannabinoids – The Next Generation of Pain Therapy

Phytocannabinoids including CBD have flooded the market since the passage of the 2018 United States Farm Bill which legalized Cannabis species that contained less than 0.3 percent of the psychoactive phytocannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and defined these unique species as hemp. Various species of the Cannabis plant deliver more than 100 phytocannabinoids which possess medicinal properties, but medical research has focused primarily on two cannabinoids, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Both act upon the endocannabinoid system of the human body, a signaling system laced throughout the central and peripheral nervous system and found in nearly all the path pathways. Activation of two of its primary receptors - CB1 (located in the brain and peripheral tissue) and CB2 (located in the immune and blood systems) - are linked to the health-promoting benefits of phytocannabinoids, including pain management. 

Analgesia (pain relief) has been one of the larger areas of focus in cannabinoid research. These medicinal compounds seem to offer success where traditional pain management therapies have failed or they have been found to enhance the outcomes of traditional pain therapies. A systematic review of 13 randomized placebo-controlled trials involving cannabinoids for the treatment of chronic pain found Cannabis-based medicinal extracts provided effective analgesia in various conditions with chronic, nonmalignant, neuropathic pain which is similar to the type of pain experienced by those with fibromyalgia

Evidence for Cannabinoid Use in Fibromyalgia

While this news sounds exciting, how does the research evidence stack up for the use of cannabinoids for fibromyalgia pain? First, it is important to note that many studies examining the application of Cannabis for fibromyalgia use synthetic THC (known as nabilone or medical marijuana). Many other studies will report results on subjects who smoke native Cannabis plants (marijuana) which contain various types and amounts of phytocannabinoids, including higher doses of THC. These studies are not useful for determining the pain-reducing effects of CBD, alone. After excluding these studies from inquiry, the remaining studies most often use a combination of THC and CBD in known ratios. Despite the inclusion of THC, they can still offer some assistance in understanding the potential impact of CBD on fibromyalgia. 

In a 2019 randomized controlled trial, four Cannabis varieties with varying ratios of THC and CBD were tested on 20 individuals with fibromyalgia. Although most test groups revealed a reduction in pain after a single treatment, the decrease was not any greater than that reported by the placebo group, which annulled the potentially positive results. In an observational study published in 2019, 211 patients with fibromyalgia took various doses and ratios of cannabinoids reported a significant improvement in pain intensity, quality of life, and fibromyalgia-related symptoms after six months of therapy. Additionally, an average of 20 percent of the subjects were able to reduce or eliminate their pharmaceutical drugs taken for managing fibromyalgia symptoms. However, the most effective cannabinoid product in this study had high levels of both THC and CBD. It is impossible to make any conclusive evidence about the success of CBD based on these studies; however, they do allow for the possibility of CBD to help manage fibromyalgia pain when other modalities fail.

It is worth mentioning that studies of subjects who smoked and consumed the native Cannabis plant (marijuana) reported significant improvements in fibromyalgia symptoms. For example, in a 2018 report, 383 people with fibromyalgia in Israel (where Cannabis use is common) responded to a questionnaire that collected data about their Cannabis use and fibromyalgia-related symptoms. Nearly 94% of the respondents reported pain relief and significant improvement in other fibromyalgia-related symptoms. 

Although the most recent literature doesn’t seem to offer much assistance in determining the success of CBD as a solo agent, it is indicative of the potential power of targeting the endocannabinoid system for pain relief. It is also useful in understanding the synergistic effect of the collection of phytocannabinoids that can be utilized by harvesting the entire plant rather than extracting a single agent. This principle is crucial when choosing a potentially effective CBD product from within the market and may help ensure greater clinical success, if success is to be found in the CBD-rich phytocannabinoids harvested from hemp.

Not All CBD is Created Equal

Although hemp is a Cannabis species with a controlled amount of THC that is far lower than the native Cannabis (marijuana) species used in most clinical studies, anecdotal evidence combined with our understanding of the role of the endocannabinoid system in pain pathways suggests that some people may find pain relief from a high-quality CBD product. But, not all CBD products on the market will offer the same degree of effectiveness. Most CBD products are classified as full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or an isolate. Each of these forms delivers a different therapeutic outcome, making it important to choose the right one.

Isolate

Also known as purified CBD, this form is manufactured by isolating CBD and eliminating all other compounds present in the hemp plant. Although this may seem beneficial at first, studies have shown that the extracted compounds provide synergistic value. In fact, in an observational data meta-analysis comparing purified CBD and CBD extract in the treatment of refractory epilepsy, not only was a greater quantity of purified CBD isolate necessary to reach the desired outcome, but it resulted in more adverse side effects compared to the CBD extract.

Full-Spectrum CBD

Often considered the “Cadillac” of CBD products, full-spectrum CBD retains all the original compounds of the hemp plant including additional phytocannabinoids, aromatic terpenes, and essential oils. These compounds have been found to act synergistically, enhancing the therapeutic effect of CBD in a phenomenon known as the “entourage effect,” and delivering the greatest therapeutic potential. Since growing conditions impact the constituents of full-spectrum CBD products, it is important to know the Cannabis variety and strain selected, sourcing, and the method of extraction. A reputable CBD manufacturer will provide this information.

Broad-Spectrum CBD

Like full-spectrum CBD, broad-Spectrum CBD products contain additional phytocannabinoids, terpenes, and essential oils; however, the THC component has been completed removed from the product. This form of CBD is most often recommended for individuals who must avoid all traces of THC for personal, religious, or medical reasons.

Successful pain management is paramount to living with fibromyalgia. Unfortunately, the success rate of conventional therapies is far too low because of the unique nature of fibromyalgia pain. However, as we discover more about the role of the endocannabinoid system in pain pathways and the therapeutic potential of targeting this system for managing centrally-mediated pain, phytocannabinoids such as CBD may become a promising tool for managing fibromyalgia pain in some individuals. The research is still inconclusive, but the possibility is welcoming and should be entertained by those struggling to find solutions to their pain.


Clovers

Exploring Some Fun Facts about Irish Soda Bread!

With Saint Patrick’s Day right around the corner, let’s take a little detour and enjoy a more lighthearted blog. What does this holiday bring to mind? Beloved Irish cultural tradition, or an excuse to drink enough beer to challenge even the strongest liver? In North America, ways to mark the holiday vary. There are themed “fun runs,” where costumed participants complete a 5- or 10-K race, restaurants temporarily feature corned beef and cabbage on their menus, and in many cities, neighborhood bars and bagel shops add green food coloring to their wares to produce electric green colored beer or bagels for one special day only. And don’t forget the Irish soda bread. Like a Christmas fruitcake, it’s a creation that can be made and consumed any time of year, but you’ll have a hard time finding soda bread in bakeries and supermarkets outside of mid-March.

Irish soda bread is like a scone, in that it can be pleasantly moist or incredibly dry. The dryness, of course, can be corrected by warming the bread in a toaster or oven and adding a pat of butter or apple butter. Whether consumed plain or with toppings, two of the hallmarks of this special food are raisins and caraway seeds, which, depending on one’s taste preferences, can make this a flavor treat or something to be avoided at all costs. 

Raisins may not be ideal for individuals who need to manage their blood sugar, but the overall amount of these sweet morsels in a chunk or two of Irish soda bread is small. Raisins don’t shine in the nutrition department as much as, say, leafy greens, but they’re a good source of potassium and provide small amounts of iron, copper, and manganese. (Golden raisins have a similar profile to black raisins, as do currants, which are sometimes used in soda bread as well.) Even with their relatively high sugar content, though, snacking on raisins may be a better choice than processed food snacks for healthy blood sugar and blood pressure. (In one study, compared to subjects who ate processed snacks, those who snacked on raisins fared better in both of these areas.) And while the removal of water concentrates the sugar in grapes as they become raisins, this concentration process may also result in raisins having higher amounts of certain polyphenols than grapes do.

As for caraway seeds, like other seeds, they’re a good source of minerals, fiber, and healthy fats, although you’d have to eat quite a lot of them before those numbers start to stack up. (And most people aren’t likely to snack on a handful of caraway seeds the way they might with sunflower or pumpkin seeds.) Eat enough caraway seeds, and it’s possible to get appreciable amounts of iron, magnesium, and calcium. Caraway seed oil may be helpful for indigestion and upset stomach. (Caraway is sometimes included in herbal teas designed as digestive aids.)  

So, of course, consuming Irish soda bread by no means will give you substantial amounts of any of these nutrients.  But it’s always enlightening to explore related fun facts that may accompany long-standing food traditions.

While holidays are reasonable times to indulge in foods we wouldn’t normally consume, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with eating an old-fashioned Irish soda bread made the traditional way, individuals with gluten and dairy sensitivities need not be left out in the cold. Creative cooks have come up with gluten- and dairy-free recipes to create Paleo-friendly versions that all can enjoy. 

The name “soda bread” comes from the baking soda used for leavening, as opposed to yeast. The reaction between the alkaline baking soda and a source of acid—traditionally buttermilk—is what helps the bread rise. For the dairy intolerant, however, buttermilk is off the menu, so milk-free soda bread recipes usually call for apple cider vinegar as the source of acid. As in many gluten- and grain-free recipes, the wheat flour can be replaced by almond or coconut flour. 

Here are recipes for healthier versions of this holiday treat, both free of gluten and dairy: a very basic recipe, and one with a little more flair.

If Irish soda bread isn’t your thing…no worries. If you’d like to celebrate St. Pat’s day in a fun way, consider a ‘healthier’ twist on that green beer—no artificial coloring required. You can color your holiday brew with spirulina, chlorophyll, wheatgrass, or matcha powder!

References

  1. Anderson JW, Weiter KM, Christian AL, et al. Raisins compared with other snack effects on glycemia and blood pressure: a randomized, controlled trial. Postgrad Med. 2014 Jan;126(1):37-43.
  2. Williamson G, Carughi A. Polyphenol content and health benefits of raisins. Nutr Res. 2010 Aug;30(8):511-9.
  3. May B, Köhler S, Schneider B. Efficacy and tolerability of a fixed combination of peppermint oil and caraway oil in patients suffering from functional dyspepsia. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2000 Dec;14(12):1671-7.
  4. Keshavarz A, Minaiyan M, Ghannadi A, Mahzouni P. Effects of Carum carvi L. (Caraway) extract and essential oil on TNBS-induced colitis in rats. Research in Pharmaceutical Sciences. 2013;8(1):1-8.

Foot health

Put Your Best Foot Forward

They say “the eyes are windows to the soul.” And while that may be true, way down at the opposite end of the body, our feet our offer a surprising number of clues about what’s going on inside us. And during these summer months, where insulated winter boots have made way for sandals, as a general rule, feet are exposed more than during any other season. Whether we’re lounging at the beach or walking barefoot through the grass, our feet tend to see the light of day more when the weather is warm. While we take deliberate action each day to care for our teeth, our hair, our skin, and more, we tend to take our feet for granted. As with many other parts of the body, we all but ignore our feet, expecting that they’ll always magically operate just as nature intended. Until, that is, something makes us take notice.

Many things about our feet can reveal issues going on at a deeper level inside us. The good news is, we don’t have to be podiatrists to recognize when something doesn’t look right. Also, when combined with other, seemingly “mild” or innocuous symptoms, out-of-the-ordinary issues with our feet can lend evidence as to what might be going on elsewhere in the body.

Cold feet aren’t just for weddings. When feet are uncomfortably cold on a regular basis, this may be indicative of hypothyroidism (particularly if experienced along with cold hands and other symptoms of low thyroid function). When toes become painfully cold, or possibly even numb, it may indicate Raynaud’s phenomenon. Another clue to Raynaud’s would be a color change: in Raynaud’s, blood vessels in the fingers and toes constrict and narrow, resulting in reduced blood flow to these extremities, giving them a white or even blueish appearance. (It tends to happen during cold weather and/or when affected individuals are under a lot of emotional stress.) Little is known about what causes Raynaud’s, but it is separated into two categories: Primary Raynaud’s, called Raynaud’s disease, “happens on its own” and is not associated with an underlying associated medical condition, while secondary Raynaud’s, or Raynaud’s phenomenon, is a condition that results when more serious diseases reduce blood flow to fingers and toes. 

Other uncomfortable sensations in the feet and toes may be indicative of more dire health issues. Feelings of numbness, or feeling like one is wearing socks or stockings when they aren’t, may be symptoms of peripheral neuropathy or diabetic neuropathy. Coldness, tingling, and “pins and needles” sensations in the feet (and hands) could be symptoms of pernicious anemia, which stems primarily from a vitamin B12 deficiency. 

Ridges and lines in the toenails not due to trauma/injury might be signs of nutrient deficiencies. Iron insufficiency may result in fingernail ridges, abnormally shaped nails, or even nails that are concave in spots (called koilonychias), and this may be mirrored in the toenails. Unsightly yellowish toenails may be a sign of fungal infection (the most common cause), but they could also be a sign of compromised liver function, with jaundice causing a yellowing of skin, nails, and whites of the eyes.

Another indication of an underlying issue our feet clue us in to is enlargement of the big toe, particularly when accompanied by redness, pain, and a sensation of heat. Taken together, these may be a sign of gout. Originally thought to be due mainly to a high intake of dietary purines (high purine foods include animal proteins and beer), more recent evidence suggests that excess fructose consumption contributes to gout. Some studies suggest that overconsuming even natural fruits and fruit juices that are relatively higher in fructose compared to other fruits may also contribute to gout, so it’s not just sodas sweetened with sugar or HFCS, as are often “blamed” in such situations.

While our feet do send us these clear messages, most of these issues would occur along with other signs and symptoms. For example, numbness and tingling in the feet and toes are unlikely to be the only signs of peripheral neuropathy or pernicious anemia. And cold feet would certainly not be the only symptom of hypothyroidism a patient would experience. But for those people—and there are plenty—who tend to ignore all “the little nagging things,” until they become very serious problems, paying more attention to their feet might help hammer home the possibility that something more sinister is going on elsewhere in the body.

Feet aren’t glamorous. Unlike the adrenal glands or the gut microbiome, there isn’t a lot of buzz about them in popular health and nutrition news. But we ignore the signals they send us at our peril.

Sources

  1. Choi HK, Curhan G. Soft drinks, fructose consumption, and the risk of gout in men: prospective cohort study. BMJ : British Medical Journal. 2008;336(7639):309-312. 
  2. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Peripheral Neuropathy Fact Sheet. Updated March 2016. Accessed from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/peripheralneuropathy/detail_peripheralneuropathy.htm
  3. Bakst R, Merola JF, Franks AG Jr, Sanchez M. Raynaud's phenomenon: pathogenesis and management. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2008 Oct;59(4):633-53.
  4. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Pernicious Anemia? Updated April 2011. Accessed from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/prnanmia/signs

bread

Gluten-Free Fearmongering? (Go with Your Gut)

Do you eat gluten-free? 

If so, do you have celiac disease, or do you prefer to avoid gluten because you—like many other people—have found that you just feel better without it? Maybe your skin is clearer when you stay away from gluten, or you have fewer headaches, your moods are more stable, and your digestion and elimination (your poo!) are better. You know you feel better without gluten, but what if a study by Harvard researchers said, “the avoidance of gluten may result in reduced consumption of beneficial whole grains, which may affect cardiovascular risk. The promotion of gluten-free diets among people without celiac disease should not be encouraged.” Would you go with your gut (no pun intended), or would you take their word for it and ditch your gluten-free diet?  

Let’s take a closer look at this. To be fair, some people are becoming overly and unnecessarily “afraid” of gluten. The growing popularity of Paleo diets as well as low-carb and ketogenic diets has put the potential negative impacts of gluten consumption front and center on people’s radar like never before. (Even though the latter two diets are not by definition gluten-free.) And while gluten does negatively impact people who don’t have celiac disease, but who have a milder form of gluten sensitivity, this doesn’t mean that everyone should avoid gluten on principle. For people who experience no adverse effects from consuming gluten, there’s no need to go out of their way to avoid every molecule of this grain-based protein. Some might enjoy a bagel or slice of pizza now and then, and they don’t need to worry about cross-contamination in restaurants or at social functions. So the demonization of gluten might indeed be going too far, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely benign—let alone protective—for everyone without celiac disease.   

First of all, the study in question (published in BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal) was an epidemiological survey. What this means is, researchers took data from food intake and tried to find associations between consumption of those foods and a particular health outcome. This study—like many others in nutrition research—was based on food frequency questionnaires (FFQs). There are different versions of FFQs, but they usually ask people to recall how much of a particular food they consumed over some defined period of time, or how often the food was consumed. Sometimes these questionnaires require people to think about their food intake going back years. If you can’t remember what you had for lunch five days ago, you’ll have some appreciation for how sketchy this data typically is. FFQs are unreliable at best, and at worst, they’re just plain useless. Epidemiological data can be used to generate hypotheses, but not to prove cause and effect. For example, the traditional Okinawan diet was rich in pork fat and sweet potatoes, and the Okinawans are renowned for their health and longevity. But unless we do far more precise clinical experiments, there’s no way to know whether the pork fat and sweet potatoes caused the Okinawans to have long, healthy lives. (Same goes for olive oil in the Mediterranean diet.)  

So, regarding the food frequency questionnaires in the BMJ study, who consumed gluten? Who avoided it completely? Who ate only small amounts of it, and who ate wheat every chance they got? Who ate gluten and didn’t even realize it (hidden in sauces, marinades, etc.)? What else did they eat, and how much, how often? We can never really know what people eat unless they’re sequestered in a metabolic ward, where every morsel of food is weighed and measured, and the subjects have no access to any other food.

The study authors claim that people who follow a gluten-free diet might reduce their intake of whole grains, and a reduction in whole grain consumption might increase risk for cardiovascular trouble. Really? It could easily be argued that if people replace the gluten containing items with nutrient-rich non-starchy vegetables, quality proteins and healthy fats, they could just as well decrease their cardiovascular risk. 

What, exactly, are these researchers afraid of? That individuals living with obesity, type-2 diabetes, and other effects of insulin resistance might do themselves harm by avoiding whole grain bread, pasta, muffins, fiber bars and breakfast cereal? There is nothing—not a single vitamin or mineral—present in gluten-containing grains that cannot be obtained from animal foods and non-grain plant foods, usually with a much lower glycemic impact, which is key for turning the tide on the exploding worldwide “diabesity” epidemic.

To its credit, BMJ published a well-written rebuttal to the study, whose authors noted, “Indeed, hominins consumed a grain-free diet from 2.6 million years ago to about 12,000 years ago, so it is highly unlikely that a gluten-free diet or Paleolithic diet is going to kill anyone long-term. In fact, grains are not essential, and contain no nutrient that cannot be obtained from other plant foods. Thus, it can be safely concluded that, whether gluten-free diet is indicated or not, it is not detrimental to avoid gluten.” Hard to say it any more clearly than that.

Bottom line: trust yourself. You know your own body better than anyone. If you feel better when you avoid gluten, don’t second-guess yourself based on scaremongering headlines.

 

Sources

  1. Lebwohl B et al. Long term gluten consumption in adults without celiac disease and risk of coronary heart disease: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2017 May 2;357:j1892.
  2. Pijak M, Szantoova K,  Vyjidak J. Letter to the editor: Are gluten-free diets among people without celiac disease „mass murder“? Re: Long term gluten consumption in adults without celiac disease and risk of coronary heart disease: prospective cohort study. BMJ 2017;357:j1892
  3. Catassi C, Bai JC, Bonaz B, et al. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: The New Frontier of Gluten Related Disorders. Nutrients. 2013;5(10):3839-3853.

pineapple

Pineapples – Off-the-Charts Refreshing

With the exploding popularity of low-carb and ketogenic diets, fruit has been getting a bad rap. And tropical fruits, in particular, have been getting a really bad rap. While the low glycemic load of berries makes them the go-to choice for individuals who still want to enjoy fruit occasionally on these types of diets, bananas, mangoes, papaya, and pineapple have acquired the unfortunate stigma of being “too high in sugar” for regular consumption. And while, indeed, it may be that people with insulin resistance or blood sugar imbalances may be best served by limiting or avoiding tropical fruit, this category of delicious and nutritious food need not be off the menu for everyone. Pineapple, in particular, has some properties that may justify bringing it back to the table or school lunch box. 

Pineapples are sweet, but they’re not without their positive aspects. And “high in sugar” is a relative term, anyway. Pineapple is a good source of vitamin C and manganese, and a 100-gram serving of pineapple (approximately 3.5 ounces) provides just 12 grams of carbohydrate (8 grams of sugar), with an overall very low glycemic load. Plus, the sugar in pineapple comes along with small amounts of thiamin, B6, and other nutrients, so even with their sugar content, pineapples are a far cry from the empty calories of snack cakes, soft drinks, and other sources of nutritionally void concentrated sugar. (Obviously, pineapple canned in heavy syrup should be avoided. Pineapple is best consumed either fresh or frozen, with no added sugar in the frozen variety. If buying canned, be sure to seek out brands that use pineapple juice rather than syrup.)

Thanks to frozen and canned versions, pineapples can be enjoyed year-round, but they really shine best in summer, when they are off-the-charts refreshing. A spicy pineapple salsa can jazz up any gathering, and you can even add pineapple to guacamole for an interesting twist. Grilled balsamic pineapple makes a delicious treat for outdoor grilling, and using pineapple can be as simple as topping a burger with a slice. For other savory dishes, consider chicken pineapple stir-fry or pineapple pork. Pineapple is especially nice to pair with meat dishes, because pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme that may help aid in the digestion of proteins. (For this reason, bromelain is sometimes included in plant-sourced digestive enzyme supplements, usually along with papain, a similar enzyme that comes from papaya. In fact, papain is so effective that “meat tenderizer” powder is often made from papain.) To indulge a sweet tooth with pineapple, there’s coconut pineapple popsicles, carrot pineapple muffins, and even pineapple upside-down cakeall gluten and dairy free!

The benefits of bromelain don’t stop at breaking down protein. Bromelain has been shown to be helpful in boosting the immune system, particularly when it comes to illnesses of the respiratory tract. Through supporting a healthy inflammatory response in the airway, it may be beneficial in fighting bronchitis, sinusitis, and rhinitis. These respiratory-supporting properties also make pineapple juice a natural cough remedy, particularly when combined with raw honey and ginger, to soothe the throat. 

Research indicates that bromelain’s “pharmacological properties depend on the proteolytic activity only partly, suggesting the presence of nonprotein factors in bromelain.” As the natural source of bromelain, the same is likely true for pineapple fruit and juice, as well. There may be synergistic effects among multiple compounds in pineapple that go beyond the properties of bromelain, itself.

And lest you think the skin of a pineapple has only one of two fates—either the garbage can or the compost bin—unpeeled pineapple chunks can be used to make homemade pineapple vinegar, a delicious south-of-the-border tradition that shares many of the same health-boosting effects as other types of vinegar

For these reasons and more, pineapple need not be banned from the kitchen. It’s delicious, nutritious, and can be enjoyed year-round if used frozen or canned. No luau required!

Sources

  1. Maurer HR. Bromelain: biochemistry, pharmacology and medical use. Cell Mol Life Sci. 2001 Aug;58(9):1234-45.
  2. Pavan R, Jain S, Shraddha, Kumar A. Properties and Therapeutic Application of Bromelain: A Review. Biotechnology Research International. 2012;2012:976203. 
  3. Hale LP, Chichlowski M, Trinh CT, Greer PK. Dietary Supplementation with Fresh Pineapple Juice Decreases Inflammation and Colonic Neoplasia in IL-10-deficient Mice with Colitis. Inflammatory bowel diseases. 2010;16(12):2012-2021.