Reishi Mushrooms: Traditional Medicine for Cancer, Diabetes and More

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Reishi mushrooms, also called lingzhi mushrooms, are a species of medicinal mushroom characterized by their kidney-shaped cap and tough texture. Though widely appreciated throughout the countries of their native Asia, reishi are especially venerated in China. In fact, practitioners of ancient Chinese medicine have been prescribing reishi for a host of medical conditions such as high blood pressure and fatigue for at least 2,000 years. Even today, reishi are held in high regard by the Chinese, and have retained their traditional nickname, the “Mushrooms of Immortality.” Below are some of the health benefits attributed to reishi.

Boost immunity and prevent cancer

Reishi muhsrooms are rich in beta-glucans and hetero-beta-glucans, which are biologically-active polysaccharides found in the cell walls of certain plants and fungi. Many studies, such as the Lithuanian study published in the Medicina journal in 2007, have proven that these substances increase our immunity by enhancing macrophages and activating natural killer cell function (“killer cells” being the white blood cells that destroy infected or cancerous cells). This led the researchers to conclude that reishi could inhibit tumor growth.

Reishi mushrooms’ anti-cancer abilities were confirmed by a later study conducted by two scientists at Bellarmine University in Kentucky, who found that the polysaccharides and saponins present in the fungi could decrease cell proliferation in cancerous lungs by instigating apoptosis (cell death). The scientists claimed that “detailed biochemical characterization of this ancient herbal remedy could hold tremendous promise for the treatment of lung cancer.”

Slow the aging process

Reishi mushrooms contain an important antioxidant, ganoderic acid, which can inhibit oxidation by neutralizing free radicals. Though unchecked free radical activity is usually associated with degenerative diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s, it also accelerates the aging process. In fact, this phenomenon has its own term: the free radical theory of aging (FRTA). Therefore, eating more antioxidant-rich foods like reishi can contribute towards healthier hair, clearer skin, brighter eyes and fewer wrinkles.

Treat cardiovascular conditions

According to Phyllis Bach, author of the book, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, reishi mushrooms have been used to treat numerous cardiovascular conditions (including serious conditions like heart disease) for centuries in their native China. One condition that reishi particularly excels at treating, however, is diabetes.

A Chinese study published in the December 2006 issue of the Journal of Asian Natural Products Research, for example, found that diabetic subjects who were fed reishi extracts over an eight-week period exhibited lowered triglyceride and blood sugar levels, as well as reduced markers of kidney stress, compared to the control group. This research was reinforced by another Chinese study published in 2009 for the journal Phytomedicine, which found that reishi extracts lowered the blood glucose levels of mice within a single week, leading the researchers to believe that the mushrooms inhibit an enzyme used by the liver to manufacture glucose.

Rich in nutrients

Reishi mushrooms have become so well-known for their disease-preventing abilities that people often forget that they make good nutrient supplements in their own right. One grounded reishi mushroom, for instance, supplies our bodies with a large number of important nutrients including fiber, amino acids, protein, steroids, triterpenes, lipids, alkaloids, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and ascorbic acid. Like their fellow medicinal mushrooms, shiitake and maitake, reishi are also a good source of copper, a trace mineral with antioxidant and enzyme-supporting properties.

Note: Unlike other medicinal mushrooms, reishi are difficult for our stomachs to digest even after they’ve been cooked, and are best consumed in extract form. Reishi powders and tinctures are a good choice, though a lot of people also swear by reishi tea. Additionally, stick to organic reishi products cultivated in the United States and Europe, since Chinese reishi are likely to be polluted.

 

Prickly Pear: Discover the Healing Power of an Ancient Aztec Superfood

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If you live in Latin America, or a semi-arid region of the United States, a wild superfood may be ripe for the picking in your own backyard. Known as prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp), the leaves and fruit of this desert plant can be harvested and consumed to treat a variety of conditions — including diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and inflammation.

Native to the mountainous areas of Mexico, prickly pear cactus has been used since ancient times as a potent medicine, as well as a daily food source. Many of the nutritional advantages of the plant are attributed to its growing habitat – namely, volcanic soil and high altitude. The Aztecs so valued prickly pear that it was considered food fit for warriors and royalty. Jump to the present day and you’ll find health enthusiasts have also embraced the food for boosting stamina, improving health and slimming down.

Health perks

A common sight in Hispanic communities and Latin America, cactus as a food may seem exotic to those unfamiliar with its use. And yet, science is beginning to recognize prickly pear as a beneficial food and therapeutic medicinal for many of the health disorders plaguing us today. One of the more intriguing uses for the cactus paddle (known as nopales) is in the treatment of diabetes. As a low-glycemic, high-fiber food, nopales lowers blood sugar levels, helping to keep obesity and diabetes at bay. Moreover, research published in Chemistry Central Journal found that consuming either tortillas or bars made with nopales increased vitamin C plasma levels, and reduced both cholesterol as well as triglycerides – which is good news for those concerned about cardiovascular disease.

As an added benefit, the plant sterols found in prickly pear act as antioxidants in the system, reducing inflammation and deterring the formation of plaque on blood vessel walls. What’s more, the flavonoids present in the cactus minimize free radical load, which lessens the strain on the liver and boosts overall immunity. Since the fruit and leaves of the plant are loaded with non-carbohydrate polysaccharides in the form of pectin, hemicellulose and mucilage, prickly pear soothes and coats the digestive tract, relieving constipation as well as ulcers.

How to use

Fresh prickly pear nopales and fruit can often be found in your local supermarket – just be cautious about the source as some varieties from Mexico are contaminated with a potent neurotoxic pesticide. Tortillas and fruit bars made from prickly pear are also available. Additionally, organic nopales powder is an easy way to spruce-up your favorite smoothie. If you are lucky enough to have prickly pear cactus growing wild in your neighborhood, have a look at this informative tutorial on how to harvest and juice the fruit.

Studies Show Many Health Benefits from Eating Fermented Foods

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Although the human body is made up of 10 times as many bacteria as human cells, mainstream medicine and an unsuspecting public continue to kill off the bacteria that make up their body indiscriminately through the use of antibiotics and antibacterial products. Meanwhile, studies show that many of the health issues being faced by our modern society are being created by damage caused to our internal flora. At the same time other studies along with human experience are showing the health benefits that come from undoing that damage through the consumption of fermented foods.

The human body is made up of an estimated 10 trillion human cells and 100 trillion bacteria which means we are actually more a collection of bacteria than we are human. However many products commonly used today for cleaning and personal hygiene (antibacterial hand sanitizers for example), as well as antibiotics and chemical laden junk foods are damaging the bacteria that keep us healthy and make us what we are.

Prior to the paranoia over bacteria and the implementation of pasteurization, all traditional cultures not only survived despite bacteria, they actually thrived by making use of bacteria (albeit unknowingly) to create healthy, fermented foods. These fermented foods not only allowed traditional cultures without refrigeration to store foods for the times when food was not plentiful, but they helped keep them strong and healthy by keeping their internal flora balanced and therefore their immune systems strong.

Fermented foods are key to good gut flora

Today there is a resurgence of interest in fermented foods. It is a craze that is growing among those looking for healthier diet options and recent studies back up what those fermented food fans know through experience: fermented food is healthy food! Studies have shown that regular consumption of fermented foods can not only correct digestive problems, but also have positive effects on heart disease, arthritis, obesity, gum disease, mood and more.

Although many associate fermented foods simply with dairy products such as yogurt, kefir and cheese, there is much to learn because the variety of foods that can be fermented is endless. From the more traditional German sauerkraut, Vietnamese kimchi and sourdough breads, to more unusual mixtures such as fermented beetroot with garlic and cheeses made from nuts, there are unlimited ways to add these simple, healthy foods to our diets.

Go nuts to significantly lower risk of obesity and diabetes

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… and aid your weight management strategy

A surprising number of people avoid eating nuts as they retain the false stigma that the calories derived from a handful of nuts contribute to weight gain. Nuts also deliver a higher percentage of fat calories per ounce than many nutritionally deficient processed foods and are thus considered to be unhealthy. As the incidence of metabolic syndrome (six health metrics that increase risk of diabetes, heart disease and many other potentially fatal chronic conditions) continues to skyrocket in many unsuspecting individuals, a wealth of scientific evidence now shows that eating a variety of tree nuts is not only beneficial to our health, but also helps lower obesity prevalence in the adult population and aids weight management as part of a natural food diet.

A research team from Loma Linda University in California studied 803 Seventh-day Adventist adults to establish an association between tree nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts), metabolic syndrome (MetS) and obesity in a population with a wide range of nut intake ranging from never to daily. Publishing the results of their work in the journal PLOS ONE, the scientists were able to determine that the amount of tree nuts consumed daily correlated directly to the prevalence of obesity in the adult participants.

Tree nuts improve metabolic profile to lower MetS abnormalities and improve weight loss efforts

The researchers used a validated food frequency questionnaire to determine the daily intake of tree nuts and peanuts, both together and separately. The participants were then rated as to high tree nut consumption, averaging 16 grams per day, to low consumption with an average intake of 5 grams per day. Lead study author, Dr. Karen Jaceldo-Siegl noted “Our results showed that one serving (28g or 1 ounce) of tree nuts per week was significantly associated with 7 percent less MetS… doubling this consumption could potentially reduce MetS risk by 14 percent.”

MetS (consisting of increased abdominal obesity, elevated triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure and hyperglycemia) signals metabolic deterioration as the body is forced to deal with a cascade of physical abnormalities that ultimately lead to cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, dementia and drastically lowered quality of life.

Regular consumption of tree nuts can lower the risks associated with MetS as they help to balance oxidized cholesterol ratios and improve vascular function, largely due to the quality, monounsaturated fat content and wealth of minerals supplied in a handful of the small tasty gems.

Another benefit found by the researchers is lowered body weight. Although nuts are relatively high in calories, they squelch appetite by providing a solid source on non-animal protein and have little to no impact on blood glucose levels. Additionally, there is some evidence to suggest that the monounsaturated fats are conserved by the body for cellular metabolism and are not readily burned as a source of fuel by the body.

Dr. Jaceldo-Siegl concluded “We found that high tree nut consumers had significantly lower prevalence of obesity compared to the low tree nut consumers… and, high consumers of tree nuts had the lowest prevalence of obesity when compared to the low peanut/tree nut groups.” Nutrition experts recommend eating 1.5 ounces of tree nuts each day, the amount in a good size handful, to ward off chronic disease processes and help keep weight in check.