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Over one third of all Americans struggle with cholesterol issues. According to the CDC, high cholesterol doubles the risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.[1]

While much of the science around cholesterol is still up for debate (more on that later), the medical mainstream has nevertheless chosen to simplify the issue by specifically targeting high cholesterol. To this end, society has embraced the use of statins and similar drugs as the gold standard of cholesterol management. More than 25 million Americans currently take statins, and the figure increases every year.

At first glance, statins appear to be another success story in the annals of pharmaceutical history, another miracle pill that circumvents the need for holistic treatment and lifestyle modification. But as usual, statins have a dark side.

Some experts warn that statin use can adversely affect the body in over 300 different ways

Advocates claim that the decreased heart disease risk conveyed by statins outweigh their side effects—but this line of thought is hard to justify when you look at just how many problems statins can cause. Some experts warn that statin use can adversely affect the body in over 300 different ways, including muscle pain and damage, liver damage, increased blood sugar levels and the development of type 2 diabetes, memory loss and impaired cognitive function, and more.[2]

Is red yeast rice a viable alternative to cholesterol-lowering drugs?

Red yeast rice has long established itself as a natural alternative to statins, and over the years, its efficacy has been well-demonstrated by a series of studies.

A 2007 study in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation examined the effects of red yeast rice on patients unable to tolerate statins; over the course of eight weeks, they exhibited a “significant decrease” in both total cholesterol and LDL (“bad” cholesterol.)[3]

A 2010 study in the American Journal of Cardiology confirmed these findings by demonstrating that after four weeks of taking red yeast rice twice daily, statin-intolerant patients experienced a 14% average decrease in total cholesterol and a 19% average decrease in LDL levels.[4]

A 2012 study in the Journal of Dietary Supplements showed an even greater decrease (19% in total cholesterol and 33% in LDL), and even controlled for lifestyle factors in order to demonstrate the acute therapeutic effect of red yeast rice. The researchers observed that the “magnitude of reduction in LDL cholesterol is significantly greater than the 28 percent reduction observed in the 1999 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) meta-analysis on the average effectiveness of statin medications in lowering cholesterol levels.”[5]

Finally, a clinical trial that combined red yeast rice with phytosterols (and found increased efficacy) suggests that phytosterols (which are also found naturally in red yeast rice) are at least partially responsible for its cholesterol-lowering effects.[6]

Caveats, best practices, and a word about cholesterol

If you’ve been researching cholesterol remedies for very long, you may already know that red yeast rice has a controversial history. In 1998, the FDA began to closely regulate the manufacture and sale of red yeast rice supplements. Rumors spread that the product carried potential risks and dangers, but the real reason for the regulation was that red yeast rice was found to naturally contain monacolin K, a cholesterol-lowering compound with the same chemical makeup as popular statins like lovastatin and mevinolin.

Most experts agree, though, that this chemical is not the sole reason why red yeast rice lowers cholesterol. Most importantly, the studies above demonstrated that red yeast rice products do not carry the same risks as statins, despite this chemical similarity. Today, most red yeast rice products do not even contain appreciable levels of monacolin K, due to continuing FDA regulations.

While red yeast rice has been found to be safe (even for statin-intolerant individuals), you should not take red yeast rice if you’re currently taking statins or other cholesterol drugs, the antidepressant Serzone, antifungal drugs, immunosuppressant drugs, the antibiotics erythromycin and clarithromycin, or protease inhibitors used to treat HIV. Always tell your doctor before starting a regimen with red yeast rice.

And remember: cholesterol is not an inherently bad thing, nor should lowering cholesterol be your exclusive goal. As we outlined in a recent article, low cholesterol can also be detrimental to your health—chronic low cholesterol can lead to serious health problems like hemorrhagic stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, and severe mood imbalances like depression, violent behavior, and suicide.

Red yeast rice can serve as a safe and effective alternative to statins if your cholesterol is deemed dangerously high, but always keep in mind that balancing cholesterol should be your true aim. By optimizing your overall lifestyle through diet and exercise, and by addressing fundamental imbalances in your body such as systemic inflammation, oxidative stress, and endocrine dysfunction, cholesterol will level out on its own.

 


References

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_cholesterol.htm

[2] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/statin-side-effects/art-20046013

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17568245

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20185013

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22531006

[6] https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00897975

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When it comes to nutrient-dense dietary choices, the so-called superfoods get all the attention. But it’s easy to forget that, living in the shadow of these popular health foods, there are more common (and usually more affordable) foods that offer just as much in the way of nutrition.

One example is pumpkin seeds, which are usually relegated to the snack food category and rarely thought of as a superfood. The truth, however, is that pumpkin seeds are absolutely brimming with beneficial nutrients and compounds—and research has shown that consuming them regularly can improve a wide variety of health problems.

The mighty pumpkin seed

Pumpkin seeds feature a nearly perfect nutrient profile. They’re low in carbohydrates (but still contain enough to be a good source of readily usable energy), have a very low glycemic index, and contain an ideal balance of healthy proteins and fats.

Pumpkin seeds actually contain higher levels of absorbable protein than any other commonly consumed nut or seed, and also have the right balance between soluble and insoluble fiber. They even contain precursors that your body can use to make brain neurotransmitters (like tryptophan, with which your brain makes serotonin).

Besides all that, their nutrient content is off the charts. Take a look at everything that pumpkin seeds provide…

Vitamins: A wide variety of B vitamins (in which many Americans are deficient), vitamin C, gamma-tocopherol (the most effective form of vitamin E), and vitamin K (which can be difficult to get from food, and which offers many benefits, including the potentiation of vitamin D).

Minerals: All sorts of essential minerals, including potassium, sodium, selenium, and particularly high levels of zinc, iron, copper, phosphorus, manganese, and magnesium. Mineral deficiency is a huge problem in the United States, so combatting it with pumpkin seeds is a wise choice.  

Phytosterols and other goodies: Significant levels of plant compounds that balance cholesterol and cardiovascular health. Another compound called delta-7-sterine even prevents the build-up of harmful compounds that can lead to prostate dysfunction, hair loss, and endocrine issues.

Antioxidants: High levels of the antioxidant lutein, as well as some of the vitamins and minerals mentioned above (especially zinc, selenium, and vitamin E), which function as powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents.

This balanced nutrient profile makes pumpkin seeds an excellent tool for fighting back against nutrient deficiency—especially because food-based vitamins and minerals are generally easier for the body to absorb when metabolized in synergy with other naturally occurring nutrients.

Even vegetarians and vegans can get many of the nutrients they need from pumpkin seeds, including various B vitamins and protein (two types of nutrient in which non-meat-eaters are notoriously lacking).

If you’re a vegetarian or know that you’re vitamin deficient, though, note that it can still be difficult to get enough vitamin B12 (even from pumpkin seeds).

For this nutrient in particular, it’s best to supplement with a highly bioavailable form of methylcobalamin (the most high-quality form of vitamin B12). By combining this supplement with pumpkin seeds (and similarly nutrient-dense foods), you’ll ensure that all your nutritional needs are met.

Putting nutrients to work

With all the information swirling around the natural health community these days, it can be difficult to see the real, concrete benefits that come from all these nutrient-dense foods. So pumpkin seeds are packed with lots of vitamins that I’ve been told are good for me; how does all that translate into tangible benefits for me?

Researchers have tackled exactly this question, and have found that pumpkin seeds have plenty of condition-specific benefits to offer. Here’s a sampling of what you can look forward to when you add these delicious seeds into your diet.

Inflammation control. The anti-inflammatory compounds mentioned above (such as vitamin E and vitamin C) help to balance the body’s inflammatory response, rather than simply suppressing it (like pharmaceuticals and NSAID’s). They can therefore work wonders for aches and pains, arthritis, and other autoimmune disorders.

Improved cardiovascular health. As mentioned above, plant sterols (kind of like the plant equivalent of cholesterol) can have a remarkably beneficial effect on overall cholesterol levels, due to their ability to reduce the absorption of LDL cholesterol. Studies have shown that pumpkin seeds improve many of the markers associated with heart disease risk.[1]

Relief from anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Due to their high tryptophan and magnesium content, pumpkin seeds can even improve your mood and quality of sleep.[2] As mentioned above, this is likely because surplus serotonin and magnesium has been linked with balanced mood, stress management, and sleep cycles.

Elimination of intestinal parasites. Pumpkin seeds even contain a rare amino acid called cucurbitacin, which paralyzes tapeworms and helps remove them from the body (pumpkin seeds mixed with milk and honey is actually a long-standing folk remedy for dealing with parasites).[3]

So while all those official superfoods have plenty of their own benefits, don’t believe that they’re absolutely necessary for optimal health—the humble pumpkin seed gives even these fancy, expensive foods a run for their money.

 


References

[1] http://www.academicjournals.org/journal/JPP/article-full-text/831473255099

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4008810/

[3] http://www.academicjournals.org/journal/JPP/article-full-text/831473255099

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tahini-hummus-healing

If you’ve been hip to health foods for long, you’re probably aware that most snack foods are to be avoided. The vast majority of them are designed to be as satisfying (i.e. addictive) as possible. They’re full of sugars, unhealthy fats, and preservatives, and usually lack most of the nutrients your body really needs.

Hummus, on the other hand, is one popular snack dip that’s actually a wise choice—just make sure you aren’t eating too many chips and bread along with it (try dipping fruits and veggies instead).

This time-honored snack includes all sorts of healthy ingredients that we’ve lauded in other articles, including garlic, lemon juice, and black cumin. The real star of the show, though, is tahini—a nutrient-dense sauce made from sesame seeds that has a number of incredible healing benefits.

Sesame seeds: an underrated superfood

Sesame seeds seem awfully run-of-the-mill in comparison to some of the more exotic superfood seeds out there, like chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp seeds. But they’re a perfect example of a superfood hidden in plain sight—it turns out that they’re packed with as many uniquely healthful compounds (or more) than their more popular (and more expensive) cousins.

To say that sesame seeds are nutrient-dense is an understatement. Take a lot at this sampling of what these seeds (especially when made into tahini) have to offer.

Highly absorbable vitamins and nutrients. When it comes to nutrients, tahini has it all. Sesame seeds have the highest fatty oil content of any seed, 60% of which is made up of sesamin and sesamolin, two highly beneficial polyunsaturated fats.

Another 20% of their makeup is in the form of easily absorbable amino acids, meaning they’re a better protein source than almost any other nut or seed. Some of these amino acids—such as linoleic acid, oleic acid, lysine, tryptophan, and gamma-tocopherol, also help to boost the immune system, regulate metabolism, and aid fat burning. Another amino acid called methionine even facilitates liver detoxification.[1]

Tahini is also a great source of B vitamins, which are notoriously difficult to find in plant-based foods. And here’s the best part: tahini naturally boosts the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (including the vitamins in any other foods or supplements you consume). And higher levels of these essential nutrients, like tocopherol, translates to reduced inflammation and oxidative stress, and therefore a dramatically reduced risk of chronic disease.[2]   

Tons of minerals. As we’ve touched on in other articles, mineral deficiency is a huge issue that affects the vast majority of Americans. Tahini offers a simple and delicious solution: it contains high levels of magnesium, manganese, copper, phosphorus, and zinc. It’s even an excellent (and safe) source of iron, a deficiency that causes anemia, a condition that can lower red blood cell count and lead to severe fatigue.

No molds or fungi. Many nuts and seeds are highly prone to contamination by mycotoxins, as well as many other health-sapping molds and fungi (wheat suffers from this same weakness). Even some of the most healthful varieties easily fall prey to mold growth, which can all but cancel out their healing benefits (mycotoxins are a leading risk factor in chronic inflammation and increased oxidative stress). Because sesame seeds are not susceptible to mold growth, tahini makes an excellent healthful alternative to most nut butters and seed-based dips.

Powerful hormone support. In a world riddled by endocrine-disrupting chemicals, hormone support is absolutely essential. Studies have demonstrated that tahini can be particularly beneficial for women navigating menopause, due to the natural phytoestrogens it contains. While estrogenic (i.e. estrogen-boosting) foods have their downsides, they’re a life-saver to those suffering from low estrogen levels—they’ve even been shown to decrease the risk of osteoporosis, breast cancer, and heart disease.[3]

Consuming too much tahini (and other estrogenic foods) when you don’t have low estrogen can be problematic, but most experts agree that it only becomes an issue at a high volume of consumption—including tahini as part of a balanced diet is a perfectly healthful choice.

Blood pressure and cholesterol regulation. Sesame seeds pack a surprising punch when it comes to maintaining good heart health and optimal blood pressure. Studies have demonstrated that the plant lignans in sesame seeds lower LDL (the “bad cholesterol”) and improve overall ratios of LDL to HDL.[4] Other studies also showed that they lower blood pressure with remarkable effectiveness,[5] and even that they reduce the arterial fatty buildup that can lead to arteriosclerosis.

How to make your own tahini and hummus

If you’re ready to claim all the benefits discussed above (and to enjoy a delicious snack food in the process), be sure to integrate tahini and hummus into your diet. If you purchase the packaged variety, make sure to check the ingredients—the store-bought kind often contains unhealthy oils, preservatives, or inferior-quality ingredients.

There’s certainly good and reputable products to be found in well-stocked health food stores, but your best bet is to make your own.

All you need is some sesame seeds and a bit of olive oil. You can roast the seeds at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or leave them raw for maximum nutrient density. If you use raw sesame seeds, soak 1 cup of seeds in 2 cups of water for at least 4 hours. Blend them in a high-powered blender or food processor, and add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil.

Use your homemade tahini on its own as a wonderful dip and spread, or use it to make hummus. This hummus recipe is amazing, but feel free to experiment and find your favorite!

 


References

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21842753

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11588904

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3074428/

[4] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8979168

[5] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1942178/

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turmeric

These days, health fads seem to change even faster than clothing styles. New products, programs, and miracle remedies are constantly popping up—each more hyped and inflated than the last—and fading back into obscurity just as quickly.

So it’s always nice to uncover those foods and products that are the real deal—the ones that have withstood the test of time and medical scrutiny, and that really are as healing as the hype implies.

The king of all healing foods that fit into this hallowed category just might be turmeric.

There have been thousands of studies conducted on turmeric (you read that number right), and researchers still can’t stop discovering more amazing, clinically-proven benefits.

And we’re not just talking about general, “it’s good for you, so just eat it” benefits. Its virtues are specific and targeted—studies have shown it to be just as effective as the leading pharmaceuticals used to treat many different conditions, including high cholesterol, eye diseases, depression, stroke and heart attack prevention, pain and other inflammatory afflictions, diabetes, and cancer.

New evidence even demonstrates that a newly discovered turmeric component called ar-turmerone can increase the production of brain stem cells by 50-80%. Researchers believe that it therefore confers profound neuroprotection against oxidative stress, and that it could be effectively used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, dementia, depression, and other neurological diseases.

How can one little root do so much?

Most researchers agree that turmeric’s profound healing abilities can be traced to its powerful anti-inflammatory action. For a long time, the component curcumin was given all the credit for this activity, but it seems like turmeric has a lot of other tricks up its sleeve (like ar-turermone, the compound mentioned above).

Full-spectrum turmeric (as opposed to a curcumin extract) is especially effective because it operates by multiple mechanisms of anti-inflammatory action.

Most anti-inflammatory foods and substances operate in one of the following ways: they neutralize inflammation-causing free radicals in the body with a flood of antioxidants, or they stop the body from producing the chemicals that initiate inflammation in the first place (this is how aspirin and most over-the-counter pain medications works).

But turmeric combats inflammation through both of these mechanisms simultaneously. Its multi-pronged approach allows it to work wonders for aches, pains, and arthritis (by stopping inflammation at the source), while also strongly supporting the immune system with antioxidants.

In fact, turmeric isn’t just packed with antioxidants—it also stimulates the body’s production of its own four most powerful antioxidant enzymes, namely superoxide dismutase, glutathione, glutathione reductase, and glutathione-S-transferase.

And because nearly all diseases and ailments can be traced back to inflammation and oxidative stress…it seem like there’s almost nothing that turmeric can’t heal.

But not all forms of turmeric are created equal…

Most of the turmeric supplements you see in stores come in the form of encapsulated powders. The truth is with turmeric powder you may be
getting very little actual benefit.

Turmeric powder has a fairly low bioavailability (meaning that a good portion of it isn’t properly absorbed by your body), it often isn’t very fresh, and
it’s sometimes made with harsh processes that can destroy or degrade turmeric’s healthful components.

Because turmeric is hard to absorb, it must be formulated in a certain way allowing the body to absorb and utilize its entire spectrum of nutrients.

Otherwise it is useless…

PuraTHRIVE Organic Turmeric Extract is an outstanding full-spectrum extract that’s “liposomalized”—meaning it’s specifically blended to make the turmeric bind to phosphlipids (fats) that increase its bioavailability 10 to 20 times! 

This formulation takes all that raw turmeric has to offer and presents it in a format that your body LOVES to consume. 

==> Give this truly revolutionary product a try… you won’t believe how quickly you feel its effects. Once you do, you’ll wonder why you didn’t make turmeric a part of your daily life a long time ago.

 

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coriander_16x9

Industrial society has trained us to believe that good health is something that only modern medicine can provide—that true healing only comes in the form of expensive and proprietary products, pills, and technologies.

But sometimes the greatest health solutions are also the subtlest and most ancient ones. And more often than not, you can find them right in your own kitchen.

Here’s a prime example: coriander (also known as cilantro) is a healing dynamo with a whole host of uses and benefits.

It’s also delicious, as you’re probably aware. If you’re not already accustomed to keeping it around the house, here’s some great reasons why you should consider doing so.

You can use it to help detox

Regular detoxification practices (link: detox) help keep us healthy in today’s toxic world. Coriander is particularly good to removing heavy metals from our bloodstream through a process called chelation.

Unfortunately, heavy metals like mercury, lead, and cadmium are ubiquitous in our environment (mostly as industrial byproducts). They destroy the immune system, undermine neurological function, and sap your vitality.

Use cilantro to protect yourself from heavy metal toxicity by juicing it or throwing it in your smoothie. Combining it with lemon, jalapeno, and chlorella (a maybe a little granny smith apple or beet for sweetness) creates one heck of a detox juice.

It’s an anti-diabetic agent

The secretion of hormones throughout the body (including insulin) is regulated by the endocrine system. When its processes are thrown out of balance by endocrine-disrupting toxins (which are everywhere, by the way), the risk of diabetes increases (and the dangers become greater for those who already suffer from diabetes).

Coriander aids the endocrine system, regulates the secretion of insulin by the pancreas, and ensures that the proper amount of sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream. By this same process of hormone regulation, coriander also helps reduce menstrual cramps.

So while there’s no substitute for proper diet and lifestyle when it comes to treating diabetes and insulin resistance, coriander offers excellent support along the way.

It lowers cholesterol

Another prevalent health problem that coriander helps combat is high LDL (the bad cholesterol), which is one of the leading causes of heart attack and stroke.

Coriander contains oleic, linoleic, palmitic, ascorbic and stearic acid, all of which have been shown to help remove cholesterol deposits in arteries and veins.[1]

It’s powerfully anti-bacterial

We’ve mentioned the pitfalls of antibiotics before.

The prevalence of antibiotic-resistant infections like MRSA is continuing to increase. And even when antibiotics do work, they wreak havoc on our microbiome, which often never recovers from the shock.

This worrying predicament makes it fairly obvious that we need an alternative solution…and coriander may be just the ticket. It packs quite a powerful anti-bacterial punch on its own, and its high vitamin C content simultaneously helps your immune system effectively fight infection.

You can dramatically amplify its anti-microbial properties by using it in the form of high-quality coriander seed oil, which is a highly concentrated distillation of the plant’s medicinal components.

A study published in the Journal of Medical Microbiology showed that coriander seed oil is highly effective against a wide range of bacteria—including antibiotic-resistant infections.[2] And best of all, it will target harmful bacteria without adversely affecting your gut flora.

It aids in digestion

Not only does coriander not upset your microbiome while working its anti-bacterial magic, but it also actively helps your digestion.

Its antioxidants help regulate liver function and bowel movements, and it even aids in the production of digestive enzymes. Soaking coriander seeds in water (or using coriander seed oil) works wonders for indigestion.

It even makes your skin beautiful

Did you know that proper digestion and healthy gut flora help make your skin clean, clear, and radiant?

By helping keep your digestion on track, coriander indirectly contributes to healthy, beautiful skin. It also directly encourages clear skin with its vitamin-rich, detoxifying, antiseptic, antioxidant, and anti-fungal properties.

You can even use coriander seeds and coriander seed oil to treat eczema, mouth ulcers, rashes, inflamed skin, pimples, and other skin conditions.[3] Just mix coriander paste with honey and turmeric, and apply it to the skin.

It even works on allergy-related skin conditions (coriander oil functions as a general anti-histamine, and can also relieve seasonal allergies like hay fever).

It supports eye health

This same cornucopia of vitamins and antioxidants that encourages healthy skin also makes coriander an excellent preserver of optimal eye health.

Its natural phytonutrients, vitamin A, vitamin C, phosphorous, and myriad other essential oils all reduce eye strain and age-related degeneration.

Coriander seeds can even be used to prevent and treat conjunctivitis (pink eye) and other eye diseases. To treat conjunctivitis, many health experts recommend making cold compresses soaked in coriander-infused water, or even flushing the eyes with coriander water.[4]

Ready to add some more coriander to your life?

It’s always convenient when natural healing tools are also delicious. Fresh cilantro is always a treat—add it to eggs, salads, stir frys, or any other recipes that you enjoy. It works particularly well in curries and chutneys (coriander is a frequently used spice in Indian cuisine).

And remember, if you want to reap the full healing benefits that coriander has to offer, consider using coriander seed oil (especially the treatment of bacterial and fungal infections).

You’ll be amazed by the healing power that this little plant packs…and I bet you’ll be inspired to turn some of your focus from Big Medicine to more of the natural healing wonders that are all around us.   

 


References

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18831331

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21862758

[3] http://www.stylecraze.com/articles/amazing-benefits-of-coriander-seeds/

[4] http://www.findhomeremedy.com/11-home-remedies-for-pink-eye-or-conjunctivitis/

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