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An Unsafe Cleanse?

Touted as a way to cleanse the body of stored toxins, chaparral (Larrea divaricata) is a desert shrub that grows in Mexico and the southwestern United States. It has a history of use by Native Americans, who made a tea from the leaves to treat chicken pox, colds, diarrhea, menstrual cramps, pain, snake bites, skin disorders and rheumatism.

Chaparral is now available in capsules, tablets and tincture form, and is promoted as a treatment for acne, dandruff, diabetes, PMS, sciatica, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcers, urinary tract infections, cancer and the aforementioned toxin cleansing.

I don't recommend taking chaparral internally (as a tea or supplement) for any condition. Although it has been linked to rare cases of kidney and liver dysfunction, it appears to be generally nontoxic, but I haven’t seen any scientific evidence showing that it is effective when taken internally for the conditions for which it is so often recommended, including cleansing the body of toxins. However, I do recommend chaparral for topical use to treat eczema and other kinds of skin irritation and inflammation. You can buy chaparral lotions or salves from stores that sell herbal preparations.

Learn more about chaparral and other supplements.


Be Happy, Live Longer

The happier and more positive you are, the healthier you're likely to be and the longer you'll live. Those conclusions are from an analysis of eight different types of research carried out in more than 160 separate studies. The overall findings are pretty convincing that positive emotions and enjoyment of life contribute to good health and a longer lifespan. The study team's lead researcher characterizes the results from this analysis as stronger than data linking obesity to reduced longevity. The report was published in the March, 2011, issue of Applied Psychology, Health and Well-Being. In related news, a study from Duke University Medical Center found that optimistic heart patients were 30 percent less likely to die over the 15 years following coronary angiography (a procedure to evaluate blood flow in the heart) than those who were less optimistic about their expectations of recovery. This study was published online on February 28, 2011, in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

My take? We've known for some time that optimism can positively influence the immune system. In addition, optimism and other positive emotions are associated with lowered production of the stress hormone cortisol and with reduced risk of chronic disease. Research also suggests that simple laughter may help boost immunity, relieve pain, lower stress, and even help protect against heart disease. Pessimists tend to blame themselves when bad things happen, and view good events as transitory and negative ones as lasting. Optimists are much more likely to explain bad events as due to a temporary external cause. They have a generally positive view of life and confidence in their ability to affect their own future. Because optimists tend to actively engage in planning and problem solving, they may experience less stress than pessimists, and develop more resources to deal with stress. The result? Better overall health, and shorter recovery times after an illness or surgery.

Hanging out with other happy people seems to help too!


4 Ways to Manage Chronic Fatigue

A healthy diet can help the body in its efforts to heal itself, and in some cases, particular foods can lessen the symptoms of disease. To help reduce the effects of chronic fatigue syndrome (such as debilitating fatigue, impaired memory, sore throat, muscle or joint pain, headaches and other maladies), try the following:

  1. Decrease your protein intake to 10 percent of your daily calories.
  2. Eat a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables (preferably organic) for their protective phytochemicals.
  3. Eat garlic regularly for its antiviral effects.
  4. Incorporate immune-enhancing mushrooms into meals, including shiitake, oyster, enokidake and maitake mushrooms.

Remember: Garlic loses much of its medicinal value when cooked or dried, so opt for fresh!


Herbal Teas and Health

We know that green tea (and to a lesser extent black tea) provides healthy antioxidants - natural compounds linked to lower cancer risk and improved heart and brain health. New research now shows that some herbal teas (more correctly called infusions, since they're not from the tea plant Camellia sinensis) also have some health benefits. A study group from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University reviewed the scientific literature on three of the most popular herbal teas and concluded that they warrant further investigation. The researchers found that chamomile tea, known for its soothing effects, has antimicrobial activity and significant activity against the harmful clumping of platelets (cells that help stop bleeding). They also reported that peppermint tea has significant antimicrobial and antiviral activities plus strong antioxidant and antitumor action, as well as anti-allergy potential. The investigators further reported that hibiscus tea lowered blood pressure in a group of pre-hypertensive and mildly hypertensive adults. The findings were published in the March, 2011, issue of Agricultural Research magazine.


Exploring Expo West

Every year, Dr. Weil attends the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, CA. The 2011 Expo took place two months ago, and was home to a record number of exhibits and companies - a positive sign for the natural health industry. This year, Dr. Weil sampled everything from hemp milk and soy wrappers to organic sake. Could some of these new products end up at True Food Kitchen? Explore the Expo's floor with him!


Body Size, Not Shape, Ups Heart Disease Risk

If you're packing extra pounds in your hips and thighs, you should be aware that excess weight may present the same health risks as a big belly. A new international study including more than 222,000 adults in 17 countries may have refuted earlier findings that being overweight is worse for heart health if the excess fat is in the abdomen. The study, published online March 11, 2011, by The Lancet, concluded that it doesn’t matter where you carry your fat - being overweight itself presents a threat. But the investigators found that, overall; the most important predictors of heart disease are high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking. They stressed, however, that while measures of excess weight alone may not be the best indicators of risk of heart disease, being overweight or obese can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, all of which contribute to heart disease. No matter how you look at it, those extra pounds still matter.

Learn about metabolic syndrome - a collection of conditions that increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.



Preventing Mouth Wrinkles?

It's one of life's small injustices - women are more prone than men to form wrinkles around the mouth. There are a few reasons why:

  1. According to a recent analysis by dermatologists in the Netherlands, women have fewer oil-producing sebaceous glands around the upper lip - meaning less oil to keep the skin soft and supple.
  2. Women (particularly postmenopausal women) have fewer blood vessels in the upper lip area resulting in less blood flow to the region.
  3. The muscles around the mouth are closer to the skin in women than they are in men; this can mean the skin is pulled closer, leading to wrinkles.

Short of cosmetic surgery, there's not much you can do to eliminate wrinkles, but you may be able to minimize them by not smoking, avoiding sun damage and keeping your skin well moisturized.

Learn other ways to age gracefully.


Potassium May Protect Against Stroke

If you're eating lots of potassium-rich fruits and vegetables such as bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, and raisins, along with beans, dairy foods and nuts, you may be less likely to suffer a stroke than those whose diets provide less potassium. This finding comes from a review of 11 international studies that followed more than 247,000 adults for up to 19 years. The investigators found that for every 1,640 milligram increase in daily potassium intake, the odds of suffering a stroke dropped by 21 percent. Although potassium helps lower blood pressure, results of earlier studies have been inconsistent on whether or not a diet providing plenty of potassium protects against strokes and heart problems. This review didn’t find a strong link between potassium intake and lowered risk of heart disease, and doesn’t conclusively prove that potassium intake alone accounts for the lower stroke risk seen. The difference could be due to healthier habits among those whose diets were high in potassium, or from other healthy micronutrients in the fruits and vegetables. The study was published in the March 8, 2011, issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

More on potassium.