The powerful pancreas – the seat of our insulin production

Hi folks,

Today I wanted to introduce you all to the pancreas.  It is another organ which is under appreciated yet it is implicated in the massive pandemic we are experiencing globally with the rise of type 2 diabetes.  When we eat food it passed though our food pipe (oesophagus) and enters the stomach where is it broken down by hydrochloric acid into smaller bits (we call this chyme).  Digestion continues in the small and large intestines but as you learnt last week the ability to digest fats is determined by the liver and gallbladder.

pancreas

The pancreas is another essential organ for us to be able to access the nutrients in our food.  It is also a hormone gland and creates several hormones which are essential to how we metabolise food.  Insulin is now well known as a hormone because of its role in diabetes and blood sugar levels.  It also produces several enzymes which are essential to the digestion of our food.  Enzymes help to speed up the biochemical processes – your wash powder utilises enzymes to clean your clothes in the washing machine.  They work like a lock and key attaching to particles, altering them (depending on the function of the enzyme) and then releasing them and going on to the next one.  If our pancreas isn’t producing enough digestive enzymes the time it takes to digest our food slows and we may feel sluggish.

enzymes

Every day the pancreas produces roughly a litre and a half of pancreatic juice – this is a clear colourless liquid which contains water, salt, sodium bicarbonate and numerous digestive enzymes.  Yes we have bicarbonate of soda in our cooking cupboards (great for baking cakes), its use in the digestive system in as an alkaline buffer to prevent internal damage from the stomach acid in the chyme (food after it has been processed in the stomach).  The bicarb also creates the proper pH so that the digestive enzymes can work more effectively in the intestines.

Did you know that you pancreas produces this in the body?

Did you know that you pancreas produces this in the body?

It is only a small portion of the pancreas which acts as a hormonal gland, as well as insulin,the hormone glucagon (another hormone which has a role to play in sugar metabolism by keeling blood sugars high enough for us to function), somatostatin (a hormone which regulates several other hormone within the body – in the case of the pancreas it works to keep the levels of glucagon and insulin in check.  The somatostatin acts like a feedback loop in the pancreas; remember that almost all biologic processes have a built-in “off switch” like this. ) and pancreatic polypeptide (which also influences our digestive function preventing pancreatic enzymes from being secreted into the gut after a protein meal, fasting and exercise.).  Finally, a few epsilon cells contain the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates our hunger and very often causes us to eat like a bear in a stream of salmon.

insulin

It is the collaboration of all our digestive organs that enables us to access the nutrients in our food.  We may eat a healthy diet and even take supplements but our ability to access there nutrients can be affected in several different ways – the first is not having the right tools to aid digestion.  This includes bile to digest fats, having enough enzymes to complete the process of digestion and the secretion of the right levels of hormones.  If there is inflammation within the digestive tract our ability to absorb the nutrients is reduced. Not having enough ‘friendly’ bacteria in our large intestine prevents several nutrients from being digested (those which cannot be accessed in the small intestine). We rely on bacteria in our large intestine to continue to break down our food so that we can then absorb several nutrients which are essential to our health.  Fibre is essential for our digestion and so is the pH of our digestive system otherwise it will not function effectively.

digestive health

When you look at each of our organs and realise their importance – the sum of each of these individual ‘parts’ far outweighs the whole!  Each of us are unique, the key to good health and wellbeing is to understand your body and listen to it.  Every part of us are made of cells – every one of them communicate, breath, eat and poop – just on a smaller scale. Just like at work when someone is slacking, the extra workload can be taken up… but not for log periods as that’s when things go wrong.  It is true that we should treat our bodies like a temple as every cell is working tirelessly to make us who we are.

body as a temple

Anyway… enough digressing, I will get back to what I wanted to share with you all. Some people have what is called type 1 diabetes, this is where their body, their pancreas doesn’t produce insulin and they are insulin dependant.  This generally occurs early on in life.  But the rise in type 2 diabetes – a disorder where our bodies are becoming resistant to the insulin that is produced generally occurs later on in life due to our actions and decisions in life when it comes down to our diet and lifestyle.  This is a condition which is dependant on the pancreas (as well as numerous other organs, tissues and cells within the body.  It is seen as a lifestyle disorder and therefore by looking after ourselves and caring for our body we can improve and even reverse this.  If you experience type 2 diabetes why not consider seeing a herbalist?  We can support you with your self care by advising on healthy dietary and lifestyle changes as well as support your health with herbal medicine.  Obesity is the major risk factor in decreasing insulin’s effectiveness, and the rise of obesity is the major reason we’ve recently seen diabetes levels skyrocket. There are many problems associated with diabetes, including frequent urination, fatigue, impotence, nerve dysfunction, accelerated arterial aging and even the development of vision problems that can cause blindness.

diabetes

Pancreatitis is a condition where the pancreas is inflamed, usually caused by toxins, like alcohol, a virus or a blocked duct, draining from the pancreas. The good news is that the problem is averted by avoiding the toxin that may have irritated this sensitive organ or the gallstones that block the duct—overusing caffeine and alcohol are possible culprits. The toughest part about this condition is severe pain. Pancreatitis is caused by a malfunction of the digestive process in which the digestive juices spill back into the pancreas and then into the abdominal cavity and dissolve tissue. That tissue is located right above a big set of nerve cells called the celiac plexus, so it’s an unbearable kind of back throbbing—some of the worst pain people can experience.

Look at your diet and see if you eat the following foods on a regular basis:

  • Fish, eggs, and poultry.
  • D-fortified cereals and dairy.
  • Onions (which contain special cancer-clubbing flavonoids, they are tasty, gourmet-style crunch to food, are a great addition to most sauces and also fill you up with potent nutrients thought to help thwart pancreatic cancer)
  • Foods high in flavonoids include: kale, Swiss chard, endive, raw spinach, chives and white beans. Asparagus, apples, buckwheat and tea. Fennel, blueberries, cranberries and carob flour

Be aware that if you have milk in your tea then you are rendering a lot of the flavonoids inert as the tannins in tea bind with the protein in milk.

black tea

Do you smoke? Take heart in the fact that the smokers in the study were particularly benefited by high flavonol intake, with kaempferol providing the most protection. That said, smoking still raises your risk of poor pancreatic health and it is always best to look at quitting.

When you exercise the pancreas releases the glucagon hormone, when you have burnt off the stores glucose (sugar) in your muscles and liver this hormone forces you to convert your fat reserves into glucose to be able to continue fueling the exercise that you are doing – so it helps you to break down fat when you have an active lifestyle.

You are aware that the pancreas produces insulin but are you aware of the role that this hormone has on the body?  Insulin helps the body store and use glucose, it is responsible for delivering that glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream into muscle, fat, liver and most other cells so that your body can use it for fuel.  Problems happen when either the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin or various parts of the body block insulin and prevent it from delivering glucose to those cells.

If when you go to the toilet and your poo floats (called steatorrhea) then your body is having a problem digestive fat  and may be putting strain on your pancreas.

The following can be harmful to the pancreas, the foods should only be eaten in moderation and the lifestyle issues and emotions should be assessed and resolved:

  • Animal fats, especially cow’s milk and red meat are harmful to the health of the pancreas. Also refined products, sausages and fried.
  • Foods with added chemicals (such as preservatives, colorings, additives, etc.), and refined products (sugar, flour, etc.) block many vital body functions, and damage the functions of the pancreas.
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Anger, frustration and disappointment are emotions that influence the malfunction of the pancreas.

Helpful herbal remedies in strengthening and stimulating your pancreatic function include gentian, goldenseal, echinacea and cedar berries. Dandelion and olive leaf may also help treat your pancreatitis or improve your pancreatic health. Licorice root has been used to support all glandular functions, including the functions of your pancreas.  Turmeric is an excellent anti-inflammatory herbal medicine which can be easily added to your diet and will benefit the pancreas.

turmeric

Dandelion root may be a helpful adjunct therapy in the treatment of your pancreatic problems and may support the health and function of your pancreas. Dandelion root may help stimulate bile production and helps cleanse your blood and liver, which in turn decreases the burden on your pancreas. Other organs that may benefit from the use of this herbal medicine include your kidneys, spleen and stomach. Why not dig up the roots, when they are dried and roasted they may an excellent substitute to coffee with no caffeine and all of the health benefits?

dandelion root

Rheumatoid Arthritis – dietary and lifestyle advice

A lovely lady contacted me by phone yesterday with questions about rheumatoid arthritis (RA).  I would love to help and support the person that she was calling about but it is such a complex ‘pathology’ that advising certain herbs would be irresponsible.  As with most chronic health issues I always advise that they are best to come and see me for a consultation.  The herbal consultations that I give usually last an hour and are an investigational process where all aspects of health and wellbeing are looked at.  The different body systems, past history of health, family history, diet, lifestyle, emotions, even physical signs are assessed such as blood pressure, pulse and tongue diagnosis.  When someone is coming with specific issues a physical examination of the area in question can also be done.  Getting a whole-istic view of the person and their health issues enables me to know which herbs would be beneficial for them and also gives me the information I need to tailor personalised dietary and lifestyle advice for them as well.

hippocrates

So because of yesterdays enquiry I said that I would blog about rheumatoid arthritis.  Do you know what it is?  There are hundreds of different forms of arthritis – osteo- and rheumatoid being the most common and well-known.  It is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the musculoskeletal system mainly affecting the joints.  But unlike osteoarthritis which affects the weight-bearing joints (in part due to wear and tear) rheumatoid arthritis mainly affects the hands, wrists and feet (but can affect the knees, spine and other joints in the body).  Women are more likely to get RA than males and white people are more affected than other ethnicities.  The majority of cases occur between the ages of 25-59 and it has been seen that the contraceptive pill may offer some protection against the development of the disease.  At present modern medicine cannot give an explanation as to why people get RA and others don’t.  There are two main theories as to the cause.  It is proposed that RA is caused by an infection which has triggered the rheumatic response and the second theory is that it is due to the immune system not working properly and attacking its own constituents because it cannot recognise self anymore.

People are diagnosed with RA when they present with the following criteria: arthritis of three or more joints, arthritis of the hand joints, symmetrical swelling of the same joint areas, serum rheumatoid factor (determined by a blood test) and radiographic features of RA.  There are hereditary patterns with this disease too.  

RA signs and symptoms

The onset is usually gradual, people can feel fatigued, have a low-grade fever, have joint stiffness and weakness and vague joint pain at the start, it can develop into painful swollen joints after several weeks.  Several joints are usually affected in a symmetrical fashion.  The affected joints are usually warm, tender and swollen, and the skin can take on a ruddy purplish hue.  The severe joint pain is accompanied by severe inflammation in the small joints but can progressively affect all joints in the body and result in the erosion of the bone and cartilage and the development of nodules around the joints which can be debilitating.  Unfortunately doctors look at prescribing aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories followed by anti-inflammatories, immunosuppressives, and corticosteroids as the disorder progresses – a symptomatic approach which doesn’t look at the cause.  Also a lot of these drugs can cause side effects such as digestive upsets, headaches and dizziness and ironically aspirin and NSAIDs can increase the ‘leakiness’ of the intestinal lining and accelerate the faulty immune response responsible for this disease.  Long term use of corticosteroids is not advised in sufferers of RA due to the side effects that they case.  In the most severe cases of RA joint surgery and replacement are considered.

ra

RA can be a complication of many other autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis and can be aggravated by a ‘leaky gut’ – where the digestive system is inflamed and semi-digested food particles enter the bloodstream.  Physical or emotional stress as well as poor nutrition may be involved in the onset of the disease.

rheumatoid arthritis

Other common symptoms which accompany the joint pains and inflammation include: weight loss, feeling ‘out of sorts’, anaemia, osteoporosis (fragile bones), depression, muscle wasting, peripheral water retention, nodules, carpal tunnel syndrome, swollen lymph nodes, infections etc.  The progression of RA is variable and depends on the individual so it isn’t possible to predict who will develop severe symptoms.  In general 25% remain fit and can function effectively, 40% have moderate impairment, 25% are quite badly disabled and 10% become wheelchair patients.

If there is anything that I have missed out about rheumatoid arthritis and its pathology (how it affects the body) please do not hesitate to contact me and I will be happy to explain.

Herbal treatment varied in accordance to the individual needs.  The joy of herbal medicine is that it is tailored to suit the persons needs and can be altered to suit the changing requirements.  When seeing a patient with RA the prescription may have to be changed several times before progress is made.

Dietary Advice

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In general Ra is not found in societies that eat a diet more in tune with our ancestors.  The western diet is linked to the rate of incidence of RA.  Eating a diet rich in wholefoods, vegetables and fibre and low in sugar, meat, refined carbohydrates and saturated fats help with the prevention and possibly the treatment of RA.  There is strong scientific support for the roles that food allergies and dietary fats play in the inflammatory process.

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A diet high in seafood is beneficial for most rheumatic diseases.  Therefore if you cannot add a lot of seafood to your diet please look at supplementing with fish oils or take 1 tablespoon of flaxseed oil daily.  Eat 2-3 servings of baked, broiled or pickles fish weekly.  Herring, mackerel, sardines and salmon are natural sources of omega 3 fatty acids which counteracts the effects of inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids.

Hippocrates quote

Hippocrates quote

It may be worthwhile becoming a vegetarian if you have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.  A study in Norway discovered that vegetarian foods normalised the dietary fatty acids and reduced inflammation in rheumatic disorders.  During this study the patients were allowed only garlic, herbal teas, vegetable soups and juices/smoothies for the first week or two and then meat free and gluten-free food was introduced and alternated each day.

Limit your consumption of beef, eggs, refined carbohydrates and sugars and animal fat.  These foods contain omega 6 fatty acids (pro-inflammatory).

Avoid lemons and lemon juice as it can contribute to the excretion of calcium from muscles and bones.

Supplement high doses of Vitamin C to support the body in preventing/reducing the damage to the synovial membranes of the joints.

If you experience anaemia and/or muscle wasting as part of your RA you may not be getting the right nutrition in your diet.

Add turmeric and celery to your diet regularly.

A low salt, low-fat, high oily fish diet also benefits RA.  Where possible aim to cut out all gluten and dairy products.

Lifestyle Advice

holistic-healing-approach

Physical therapy can benefit people who have RA – look at introducing exercise/activity into your lifestyle on a regular basis.  Perform 3-10 repetitions of range of motion exercises daily such as flexing the knee back and forth as far as it will go in both direction.  Use swimming as your primary form of aerobic exercise – it is easier on the joints than land-based exercise.

Heat and cold can both have a relieving effect on the painful joints – alternate with hot and cold compresses to support the reduction in inflammation.  In the morning take a hot shower or bath to help relieve morning stiffness.

Massage can be beneficial, especially in the early stages of RA – go to a professional, or if you cannot afford this research how to massage the joints in the affected areas and self-massage on a regular basis.

I have chosen not to give herbal remedies which benefit RA in this article because of the health implications that there are.  Botanicals which may benefit RA may aggravate other health issues such as increasing blood pressure, speeding up/slowing down the metabolism of pharmaceuticals and affecting the hormones within the body.  I implore anyone who experiences this disorder to contact myself for a consultation where we can work together to aim at improving your quality of life using herbal medicine and dietary and lifestyle changes.

Harvesting Herbs or Wild Crafting

WHO

The World Health Organisation document “Good Agricultural and Collection Practices (GACP)” (World Health Organization, 2003) raises the following concerns about wild collected botanicals:

“Safety – The plant must be carefully identified to ensure that the correct species is harvested and to ensure that there is no adulteration or mixing of different species within harvest batches. Post harvest handling activities should ensure that contamination by microbial or chemical agents does not occur. Harvest site assessment must be carried out to ensure that there is no site contamination with toxic substances.

Quality The botanicals must be harvested at the correct time of year to maximise therapeutic levels of active constituents. The botanicals must be processed, handled and dried correctly to ensure that breakdown of active constituents does not occur.

Efficacy – The botanicals must be correctly identified, the correct part of the plant harvested at the right time of year, and the processing and handling must be done correctly for the final product to be therapeutically effective.”

So I would like to share some information with you all with regards to harvesting herbs from the wild.  There is a lot to know and understand before you choose to harvest wild plants.

 

First you need to be able to correctly identify plants, there are some great ‘keys’ out there that aid identification.  This is a must as there are numerous plants which look very similar and in certain circumstances one can be poisonous whist the other one edible.  It is imperative that you can correctly identify plants – if in doubt leave it out.  Also you need to research the plant and see how long it takes to regrow or re-establish itself.  Some plants are slow-growing and can take up to 10 years to get back to pre-harvested levels, others are fast growers and you wouldn’t be able to tell that you had harvested there in a few months or a season.  Learn all of the poisonous plants in your region so that you can be 100% certain with plant identification.

Secondly, you may have invested time and even money in purchasing a plant identification guide but before you can harvest anything you need to understand the habitat that you are planning to harvest from.  For example, in your area it may seem that a certain plant or herb is abundant but it may be that it is the only patch growing in the region.  There are certain agencies that you can speak to in order to get an understanding of your local area.  One way it to explore it 🙂  As I live in Grimsby, I contacted the Lincolnshire Naturalist Union and I am a member of the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.  Both charities can give you the information you require.  Please do not rely on books.  For example, the amazing pasque flower is deemed abundant in books and online – and in places such as Canada it probably is, but in the UK it only grows in 18 sites across the whole country making it REALLY SCARCE!!  

The Pasque flower - Pulsatilla vulgaris

The Pasque flower – Pulsatilla vulgaris

A safe way to determine whether you can harvest a herb it to focus on what most people call weeds.  These are plants which have a great ability to adapt and grow in abundance – the likes of dandelions, plantain, chickweed, cleavers, brambles and nettles are all seen as being weeds but in fact have numerous health benefits and many can be eaten as food as well as used as medicine!!

Nettles make a great herbal tea and soup and has medicinal benefits too

Nettles make a great herbal tea and soup and has medicinal benefits too

There are several laws governing the harvesting of plants from the wild.  In the UK it is illegal to cut or chop trees without the landowners permission.  I was walking though a local woodland which is also a nature reserve and saw a guy with a chainsaw sawing up an old oak tree so he could have a garden ornament.  Luckily there were also wardens in the area and he got caught.  He was breaking the law despite the fact that the woodland belonged to the people – it was still maintained by the local council and therefore their permission would be required.  The guy has been charged and is awaiting trial.

It is also illegal to dig up roots without the landowners permission.  So please check who owns the land and contact them prior to digging roots up.  They may be happy to let you dig up brambles for them (the roots of which are astringent and tonic helping to reduce mouth inflammations (as a mouth wash) and reduce diarrhoea.(as a decoction).  Please, please do your research, into ID, the status of the plant and who owns the land.  

Another UK law states that a profit cannot be made from what is harvested from the land so if after all of the hard work and research you chose that you would like to harvest wild plants for food or medicine then please only do so for yourself and your family.  Never take more than you need.

And unfortunately the research doesn’t stop there either.  You may have correctly identified a useful plant, it is locally and nationally abundant and you have the landowners permission to harvest it.  What do you know of the land?  Is it near a busy road? Are pesticides used nearby? Are you near an industrial estate?  You have to assess the area and determine if the plants that you would like to collect are safe from pollution or contamination.  Unfortunately chemicals do not wash off as easily as a bit of dirt.  It is also appropriate to harvest away from regular dog walking runs and avoid the spray line of a large dog.  With all plants harvested it is essential to wash them.  Sometimes with flowers this is detrimental so researching the area is essential.

“It is said that herbs effectively gathered from their natural habitats may be more potent than those that are cultivated. Wild crafting was a common and original worldwide process for collecting herbs; it was only superseded by commercial growing once demand and supply could not be met. It still is a frequently used method of collection and generally only reputable wild herb crafters who know how to correctly identify herb species and who pick from areas unpolluted by roads, industry or conventional farming, pursue this caring profession. Gathering takes place at the peak of each herb’s growing cycle. All harvesting is done taking in mind the non-depletion of natural plant populations or damage to their habitats.”

You have chosen to harvest a common plant, from an area which is free of pollution and with the land owners permission…. When you harvest please only take 10% of the plant.  If you are harvesting flowers or leaves only take the top few stems.  When harvesting a whole plant only take 10% of the total plant population in the area you are harvesting from.  If you are digging up roots, only take 10% and replant the plant to give it the opportunity to reestablish itself.  The key it to be respectful of nature and to only take what you need.  Do not decimate an area.  It isn’t just us who require the plant.  A lot of native species are home to a vast array of different species who are also dependant on it for food, shelter and/or protection etc.  Out of respect, please leave some of the healthiest and lushest plants in the area where you are wild crafting.

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On that not, if you are harvesting in an area and there is some litter…. pick it up while you are there and dispose of it correctly!!  We are all in our environment and whether we like it or not we are all dependant on it for our survival.  It isn’t something which is away from us.  Our whole economy is dependant on it.  The oil, wood, food, shelter, clothing – even the man-made objects have all been created from the resources in our environment.  Please do your bit.  Picking up a bit of litter when you are already out harvesting does make a difference, as does recycling or upcycling.  Not wasting food, lowering your energy consumption and choosing where you want to spend your money!!!

Sorry for digressing there… back to the subject in hand….

Walking in Bradley and Dixon Woods in the Summer with the light speckling through the canopy

Walking in Bradley and Dixon Woods in the Summer with the light speckling through the canopy

Always leave the area as beautiful as it was before you harvested from it.  Never harvest from nature reserves.  Never harvest herbs or plants which are rare or endangered.  Why not cultivate them instead?  Especially native ones.  I have recently purchased milk thistle and pasque flower seeds.  I am looking forward to cultivating them.  Not only are they rare native flowers in my region but they are medicinal and will benefit the local wildlife as well as myself. Who knows with the permission of landowners I may be able to plant some into the wild and hopefully re-establish the plant population.

milk thistle sliced

There are some great things that you can do though.  When autumn comes and the flowers have set seed, collect the seeds.  You can cultivate some yourself but please spread them in the area away from the mother plant.  Do you bit to help nature along, she will thank you for it.  Also if you are aware that an area is going to be developed or destroyed then please rescue the plants of interest from the area before it is decimated.  Where I live I was only 3 blocks from the countryside but unfortunately they are building out.  There was some beautiful bittersweet (a poisonous herb which as a qualified practitioner I am licensed to use therapeutically).  It is a stunning plant, with bright purple and yellow flowers similar in style to the potato (they are from the same plant family).  It only grew in that area and it was losing it habitat.  I was lucky enough to harvest some of the berries prior to the habitat being destroyed and there are bittersweet plants currently growing in pots in my garden.  I will hopefully keep one but will return them back to a similar habitat locally for them to re-establish.

 

Blue Monday :(

Today is known as Blue Monday – the time of year after christmas, when work and school, money and other problems may just get on top of us.

But lets not be negative nellies, realistically today can be a really a special day, where we can spread some love and make ourselves and others feel better.  Why don’t we use this day to focus on doing good for each other. Good deeds don’t have to cost any money a simple act of kindness can have a huge impact on others.

Wouldn’t it be good to start a new tradition that encouraged people to do nice things for each other? 

Blue Monday ideas should benefit others (a person, an organisation or even internationally) and will probably be something you wouldn’t normally do (but might do regularly from now on), voluntary (compulsory kindness doesn’t really count), thought up by those involved (there’s no formula or template) and fun and creative (for everyone involved).

What are you going to do today?  I am planning to take some of my herbal body care products to the local shelter.

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week 19th – 25th January 2014

It is shocking to realise that over 65% of cancers are preventable and down to lifestyle factors.  What is even more shocking is that there isn’t much money being invested in preventable medicines and millions invested in cancer research and treatment.

As a herbalist my view and treatment of cancer is different to modern medicine, although herbalism can be used alongside orthodox treatment to support people.  The key is that everyone is different – their lifestyle, signs, symptoms and reasons.  Therefore when I support people with their health and wellbeing it takes into account the individual – we are all unique at the end of the day.

This week is cervical cancer prevention week.  This is a European wide initiative lead by the European Cervical Cancer Association (ECCA).  Several charities take part in raising awareness.  This is something I am also happy to do to share information about natural ways we can prevent cervical cancer and information about how herbalists support those of us who are affected by it.

Orthodox medicine are aware that cervical cancer is preventable.  Despite the modern advances in medicine 20% of women do not attend their cervical screenings and at present 50% of school age girls don’t take the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination.

Smoking is a serious contributing factor to cervical cancer – being a smoker can increase the risk of getting cervical cancer four-fold!!  This is because the carcinogens (cancer causing molecules) from cigarette smoke are concentrated in the cervical lining – this may be a protective mechanism as levels in the cervical mucus can be 10-20 times higher than levels in the bloodstream.

Unfortunately in western society our diets are lacking in nutrition.  If our body doesn’t get the nutrition that it needs then it cannot work effectively.  Our bodies are complex, but many people like to liken the body to a machine – this is a way of looking at the body using only a physical perspective (and not our mental and emotional aspects) but we wouldn’t allow our cars to run low on petrol, let the radiators run low on water causing the car to overheat, or not top up the oil to ensure the engine runs smoothly.  We are so much more complex than an engine but for those of us who are not mechanically minded then an engine is very complex.

When we do not nourish our body our body has to cope without the necessary nutrients to compete thousands of different actions required within our body.  New research is discovering that most health issues are linked to our digestion and yet our western diet is high in calories and low in nutrition.  Folic acid can protect against abnormal changes in the cervix.  Folic acid is usually prescribed during pregnancy to support the development of the foetus.  This is because folic acid is required as an essential ingredient for making DNA.

Although we may be fully grown we still require our DNA daily to make new cells and repair damaged ones, therefore without healthy levels of folic acid in our diet abnormal cell production can occur (cancer is seen as an abnormal cell growth).  Scientific studies have found that 5-10mg of folic acid can reverse mildly abnormal pap smears and that a deficiency of folic acid contributes to the start of cervical cancer especially if the HPV virus is present.  Folic acid is a type of B vitamin and healthy dietary sources include: spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, oranges and orange juice, poultry, pork, shellfish and liver.

Foods that kill cancer

Foods that kill cancer

Folic acid deficiency isn’t the only nutritional contribution, if our body is low in beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin B6, selenium or iron then it can increase cervical cancer risk.  If you are a lady who is taking the contraceptive pill it may be worth ensuring that you are eating a nutritious diet.  Taking the pill helps to reduce breast cancer.  There is research that shows that abnormal changes in the cervix are increased in women on the pill, this may be because it is more natural to have children or because the contraceptive pill impacts the absorption of nutrients (our hormones have an impact on our digestion).  Most nutrients can be accessed by eating a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

Hippocrates quote

Hippocrates quote

There is also an emotional connection with our cervix.  Low self-esteem and a disconnection with our bodies can impact our health.  When we are emotionally conflicted the risk of cervical abnormalities can increase.  Symbolically the cervix can represent the potential for change, growth and transformation.  When we are in unhappy relationships, do not stand up for ourselves, have a negative outlook or have recently lost a loved one our risk will increase.  Our emotions are who we are, they are linked to our physical self and can impact on them.  The key is to look after ourselves.  To give us the time we need, not to beat ourselves up when we have a lot on our plate or something goes wrong and to look on the bright side of life.  There is research that has shown again and again that positive people have less health issues, both mental and physical than the more pessimistic people.

I will discuss several herbs which are appropriate for the prevention and treatment of cervical cancer, but want to state that herbal treatment depends on the individual.  There may be ten women who have experienced cervical cancer but each one will be supported differently.  One women may have had five kids and be happily married.  One may have been on the pill all her life.  Another may have experienced trauma such as rape.  Women who have low self-esteem will be supported differently from those who are over-confident.  A herbal consultation looks at all aspects of a person’s health and wellbeing.  This includes past history, family history, diet, a deep investigation into the health issue, any other health issues, emotions, social/lifestyle impacts and much more.  This creates a full picture of a person; I can then work out which herbs to offer to support.

Health benefits of Turmeric

Health benefits of Turmeric

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is an excellent herb which is utilised in many cancer support formulas in Western Medicinal Herbalism, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda.  Curcumin is an active constituent in this spice which has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour effects.  Studies have also found that turmeric can enhance chemotherapy drugs and aid the support of the body.  You can add it to meals to support your health and wellbeing.

The green tea is loose and cut.  The supplier ensures that it reaches a certain standard with regards to the active constituents too.

The green tea is loose and cut. The supplier ensures that it reaches a certain standard with regards to the active constituents too.

Green tea (Camelia sinensis) is a fantastic anti-oxidant herb which contains phyto-phenols and flavonoids.  It has many benefits including reducing mutations, improving cholesterol levels and regulating fat metabolism.  It has been shown that drinking this regularly can reduce many cancer risks including cervical cancer.  You can even add the leaves to stews and soups.

Different fruits which you can try

Different fruits which you can try

When we visit loved ones it normally includes bringing some fresh grapes.  It turns out that grape skins are rich in flavonoids which have anti-oxidant effects which help to reduce the risk of cancers.

ginger tea

Ginger is a spice which I use regularly in my practice (and my cooking).  It helps to reduce inflammation which is linked to cancer, and characteristic of cervical cancer.  You can make a delicious tea using the ginger root and add it to your diet.

I hope that you have found this information helpful.  If you have any questions I am more than happy to answer them.  Also if you would like support with your health and wellbeing and live in the Grimsby area I am available for consultations at The Achilles Centre which is an accredited health care centre based on Dudley Street.

Magical Mistletoe – Viscum album

“I lived my life between the worlds
Neither earth nor sky would call me child
The birds were my companions
The wind and rain my mentors
Daily I grew in power and strength
Till snatched out of time by the trickster”

mistletoe

Mistletoe is a native plant to England and grows abundantly down south.  It even grows in North East Lincolnshire at four sites around the county.  This makes it a rare herb for our region.  I use mistletoe in my practice and recently purchased some fresh berries to grow on my apple tree in my garden.  It is this recent planting of Mistletoe which inspired me to write about this mystical herb.

Mistletoe is also known as Churchman’s Greeting, Kiss-and-go, Masslin, Misle and Mislin-bush.  It is a semi-parasitic plant as it roots itself under the bark of tree branches but can produce enough energy from photosynthesis from its leaves to sustain itself.

The scientific name – Viscum album gives an indication into the plant (which we all know from Yule traditions) Viscum can be translated as sticky and album – white.  Sticky white is a perfect description of the berries – especially if you have ever squashed one of them 🙂  Also Mistletoe can be translated using the Anglo-Saxon language –  mistel, meaning dung, and tan, meaning twig.  Mistletoe has a narcotic effect on birds.  Birds who eat the berries off the twigs do have a psychedelic experience. The sticky white sap covering the berry doesn’t get digested easily so when it is passed from the bird (hopefully on the branch of a rose family tree) it can then stick to the branch and hopefully take root – dung on a twig!!

mistletoe2

As a herb please NEVER self-medicate with Mistletoe – all parts of the plants contain toxins and the plant is considered unsafe with use restricted to qualified professionals such as myself.  Mistletoe poisoning can occur when someone eats this plant. Poisoning can also occur if you drink tea created from the plant or its berries.  Raw, unprocessed mistletoe is poisonous. Eating raw, unprocessed European mistletoe or American mistletoe can cause vomiting, seizures, a slowing of the heart rate, and even death.

Despite this I do use this herb as I have been trained, I understand how to use it, who it would benefit and how much to give.   I have found it to be a great herb to help with insomnia, epilepsy and arterial hypertension (high blood pressure). Mistletoe is antispasmodic and reduced blood pressure which makes it beneficial for someone with epilepsy.  At university we were taught that it was a bit like Alice in Wonderland going down the rabbit hole.  We can hide from our emotions and repress certain things with a negative outcome on our health and wellbeing.  Mistletoe is a nervine and a narcotic which has a profound effect on our nervous system.  Mistletoe can help us to reconnect with the emotions and situations that we repressed and then we can work on them, resolve them and feel a hell of a lot better.  This herb is also undergoing several scientific trials for its use as an anti-cancer herb.  Juice of the berries have been applied to external cancers since the time of the druids but research is looking at internal use.  There has been some success with this and it kinda follows the principle of like cures like (which is more homeopathic than herbalism) – the mistletoe is a semi-parasitic host and therefore would it not cure an unwanted growth?

Mistletoe was sacred to many people including the Druids.  It was seen as even more magical when it grew from an Oak tree.  Iron was never used when harvesting Mistletoe (or any other herb) and sacred rituals for harvest could include using a gold sickle and not allowing the herb to touch the ground once cut.  It was collected under a waxing moon and fed to livestock to ensure fertility.  It is seen as a plant which enhances fertility.  When you hold a branch it does resemble a male and when you squeeze the berries it can look like something which represented the sperm of the Gods.  Kissing under the mistletoe was meant to help aid conception –  it was seen as an aphrodisiac plant and in the past a girl that was getting kissed under the mistletoe maybe wanted something more…

The tradition of hanging it during Christmas was to ward off evil spirits and ensure a good new year ahead.  Myth and folklore also state that the herb is associated with peace and love, something we all want around Yule time.

Mistletoe prefers to grow on members of the Rosaceae family preferring cultivated apple trees, lime, hawthorn and populars.  They were seen as more sacred when growing on Oaks.

mistletoe3

To grow, squeeze a fresh berry and wipe the seed and glue on the side or underside of a branch which is at least 20cm in diameter.  It is worth tieing some wool loosely where you have ‘planted’ the seed, this will also prevent them from falling off.  It is worth ‘planting’ around a dozen a time although I only put two on my apple tree as I didn’t want it to be overrun.  It will take a year before the seeds produce leaves and start to grow into a recognisable young plant. Each year, individual shoots produce just two new branches with one pair of leaves at the tip of each; so progress is slow taking four years before berries are formed.  But I feel that it is worth it.

mistletoe4

On Imbolc in February I will be going around Lincolnshire and ‘planting’ the rest of the fresh berries which I have.  In order to keep them fresh I have placed them in water.  Hopefully this will replicate being in a birds gut as Pliny stated “Whenever Mistletoe is sown, it fails to sprout, which it will only do when it is passed through birds – particularly through pigeons and thrushes.  That is its nature: if it is to grow, it first must be ripened in the guts of a bird”

 

 

Herbal First Aid Kit

I would like to share with you all my herbal first aid kit and the uses that the herbs and oils have for different ailments.  A herbal first aid kit is great to have on hand for your family, I like to take a smaller pack when I am outdoors exploring nature.  The smaller kit is also great for festivals and other adventures.

100% pure Lavender essential oil 10ml                    Clean dressings

Arnica cream (travel size)                                         Plasters

Nettle tincture 100ml                                                 Tuba-grip

Myrrh tincture 30ml                                                   Chamomile tea bags

Honey (travel size jar)                                               Rosemary tincture

Bicarbonate of soda (small pouch)                          Tweezers

Vinegar 10ml                                                            Safety pins

Comfrey cream (travel size)                                    Pain killers (your choice)

Allergies: nettle tincture

Nettles have an anti-histamine effect helping to reduce inflammation and allergies

Nettles have an anti-histamine effect helping to reduce inflammation and allergies

Bites: I also turn to plantain for any form of bites, this can be from gnats, fleas or other animals.  You can chew up a leaf (or mash it to extract the moisture) and then apply it to the bite to reduce swelling. Lavender essential oil can also be used. Add lavender essential oil to rosemary tincture to make an effective insect repellent and soother for insect bites.

Bleeding: To stop bleeding plantain leaves can be harvested from almost any green area of land.  I turn to plantain and yarrow when cut outdoors.  Once I cut myself to the bone with my pen knife repairing a friend’s electric fencing for her horses.  We were miles from any assistance, plantain leaves help to stop the bleeding and bind the flesh.  I was good to go in 5 minutes despite it being on a finger joint.

This is Plantago major, but P, lanceolata can also be used.  The key to identification is to look for leaf ribs which are parallel to each other

This is Plantago major, but P, lanceolata can also be used. The key to identification is to look for leaf ribs which are parallel to each other

Bruises: Arnica cream is great for supporting the resolution of bruising.  If you or your family have hurt themselves and you feel that it might bruise then you can apply arnica cream to the area.  You do not have to wait till a bruise has developed although in some instances the bruising process can be instantaneous.

Burns and scalds: Where possible place the burned skin under running water for ten minutes or plunge it into cold water (A chemical burn needs 20 minutes). I have burnt myself cooking and ironing many a time and I always turn to lavender essential oil, although it is an oil I find that it cools the burn and helps to reduce the pain.  If the burn is as large as or larger than the palm of the hands then please seek medical attention as soon as possible.  Do not put anything on a burn of this size as it may compromise the possibility of a skin graft.  Children and diabetics should always go to hospital.  Never prick a blister due to risk of secondary infection.  Other herbal treatments to help improve burns are aloe vera and a cold compress of chamomile tea.

Chamomile can be bought in tea bags from your local supermarket for ease of transportation and use

Chamomile can be bought in tea bags from your local supermarket for ease of transportation and use

Cuts: If you or a family member cuts themselves, where possible clean the wound, apply pressure and elevate the limb.  Lavender essential oil can be applied to a cut, it is antiseptic and can promote healing.  Comfrey cream can be used to heal the cut if it is shallow.  If it is deep the comfrey may close the wound to fast can cause an abscess. (See bleeding)

Indigestion: Chamomile tea can help to soothe heartburn and indigestion

Prickly heat: Nettle tincture taken internally will help to reduce the inflammation.  Prickly heat is down to clogged sweat glands which is an indicator of poor elimination within the body.  Increase your intake of water and reduce sugar and junk food intake.

Septic wounds: Apply tincture of myrrh neat to the wound using a clean dressing.  If you cannot get to a primary care provider it would be worth taking the myrrh tincture internally as well to support your body in reducing the risk of septicaemia

The myrrh tree growing wild - ensure that you purchase cultivated sources and not wild-crafted

The myrrh tree growing wild – ensure that you purchase cultivated sources and not wild-crafted

Shock: lavender essential oil apply to the collar of the person affected to allow the aromatic oils to calm them.

Sore throat: You can dilute the myrrh tincture with water and gargle with is like a mouth wash.

Splinters: apply honey to the area and cover with a plaster, the honey acts as a drawing agent to bring the splinter to the surface, it also provides an antibacterial and antifungal layer of protection to prevent infection.  If you are outdoors and there are pine trees in the area the resin from the tree has a similar drawing agent and is antiseptic.

Sprains/strains: Comfrey cream is excellent to support the healing and repair of sprains and strains.  It is best to rest and elevate them (where possible), apply cold compresses to bring down the swelling.  If you have to use the joint affected support it with a tuba-grip.

Stings: If you are stung by a bee you need to neutralise the acid – bicarbonate of soda is alkaline, create a paste with a little water and apply to the sting.  Wasps and jelly fish stings are alkaline and require vinegar to neutralise them.

I hope that you find this useful.  Please share with others who may also benefit.  Also I look forward to hearing you feedback and what other botanicals you use in situations such as the ones described above.