Archive for November 2012

Which herb is named after the word “nail”?

Hint #1:
This herb has been used in dentistry

Hint #2:
You might find this herb in some over-the-counter sore throat sprays and mouthwashes

Hint #3 (though this one might actually throw you off):
It is actually a pink flower bud before it is dried

I didn’t know about that last one until I researched it. Yes, cloves are actually the unopened pink flower buds of the evergreen clove tree. Cloves are cultivated in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Madagascar, and Brazil. The are named cloves after the Latin word clavus, which means nail because they do actually look like nails. Like many of you, my first thought with regard to cloves is how you can “nail” the cloves into an orange, covering the orange for a lovely fragrant pomander. But there are many medicinal uses as well.

As mentioned above, clove has been used in dentistry for gum pain, temporary fillings, and even root canal therapy. The clove oil contains a component called eugenol, which is both a mild anaesthetic and anti-bacterial agent. This is also why you might find it in sore throat sprays and mouthwashes.

Cloves are also anti-inflammatory. When given to animals already on a highly anti-inflammatory diet, they found an additional 15-30% reduction in inflammatory symptoms.

Cloves, combined with the herbs wormwood and black walnut, are often used as an anti-parasitic. Cloves have also been used to prevent toxicity from environmental pollutants like carbon tetrachloride, a chemical that used to be commonly used in fire extinguishers, in dry cleaning solvents, as a refrigerant, and in lava lamps. There is also some evidence that cloves can help in the prevention of digestive tract cancers.

I was recently reminded about cloves because a patient returning from a trip, brought me a little bag of cloves. I love the smell and thought of the pomander, but figured I would see how else I could use them.

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, cloves are a TCM herb called ding xiang. They are a warming herb and are used to treat symptoms related to Cold in the Spleen, Stomach, or Kidneys. When the diagnostic patterns are suitable, ding xiang is used to treat nausea, vomiting, hiccups, cough, lack of appetite, impotence, and weakness in the legs.

An interesting tidbit I found about cloves is that because of their sweet and spicy smell, Chinese courtiers dating back to 200 BC would keep them in their mouths to freshen their breath when addressing the Emperor. Smart!

Buy whole cloves instead of powder as the active components of cloves are volatile, so the powder quickly loses its flavour and medicinal benefits. Use your nose to determine the quality of cloves. You should be able to smell them quite easily. If you are not sure, drop some in a cup of water. If they are of good quality, they will float vertically. If they sink or float horizontally, they are stale. Keep them in glass jars, in a cool, dark place. The whole cloves will keep up to a year, while the powdered ones will keep just a few months. To grind the whole ones into powder, you could use a mortal and pedestal or a coffee grinder.

Did you know that cloves many contribute to the taste of Worcestershire sauce and ketchup? They are more commonly used in baking, mulled cider or wine, and in Quebec are used in tourtiere. Yum…tourtiere…

You might like to use them in applesauce. I make applesauce often and usually use cinnamon, but my next batch will be flavoured with cloves! You can also use them in stir fries. Or pierce an onion with 5 to 6 whole cloves and add that to soups, broths, or liquids used to poach.

Do you have any ways that you like to use cloves in your home or cooking?


Are your fish oil supplements up to par?

The good news is that most of my patients know about the benefits of the essential fatty acids (EFAs) from fatty fish. Some of them take fish oil capsules because of the good things that they do:

1. Treat inflammation

2. Lower elevated blood pressure

3. Reduce high cholesterol

4. Improve memory, concentration, and focus

5. Support balanced mood: help with depression and anxiety

6.  Improve skin health

7. Support immune system

and more!

But, if you are taking fish oil supplements, are you taking good ones? No point in taking something that is either ineffective or actually unhealthy!

Some supplements you can select based on the sale price. Vitamin D3. Maybe. Vitamin C (though you might like to consider Ester-C instead of regular C). Ummm….well, not many in this category. Quality in the things you consume is important.

Fish oils–any oils, for that matter–can vary widely in quality, and thus in their health benefits, so here are some key things to note.

What kind of fish is used in your fish oil supplement? Tuna? There aren’t many that use tuna anymore as they are a big fish that tend to show an accumulation of heavy metal toxins like mercury. Halibut and cod liver oil are other options. They are also large fish, so quality of selection, processing, and testing is really important. A lot of questions have been raised about the healthiness of wild versus farmed salmon. Most healthcare providers recommend wild salmon over farmed.

Your best choice may be sardines and anchovies as they are small fish with high levels of the omega 3 EFAs called DHA and EPA. These fish have short lifespans and do not eat other fish, so they are less likely to bioaccumulate toxins.

It can be hard to know how well a company has chosen their fish stock; how carefully they process the oils so as not to damage them; how well they remove any toxins and test for safety; and whether the oil quality is still high (and not starting to go rancid) by the time you consume it. Because of this, I recommend choosing fish oils from companies with a good record. Some of the companies that I like for their quality of fish oils include: Integrative Therapeutics Inc (ITI), Nordic Naturals, Nutrasea, Barlean’s, and Xymogen.

Does your fish oil supplement repeat on you? Try another brand. Eat them with a large meal. Perhaps you also need to improve your digestive health.

The next time you are shopping for a fish oil supplement, look at more than the price tag so that you will better benefit from their many healthy properties.


Remembrance Day: Gratitude and Health

Today is Remembrance Day. Remembrance of the sacrifices that were made by those who fought for the freedoms that we enjoy now. Just one day a year designated for remembrance. Every year I remember to stop to pay my respects with silence. But I feel that it’s also important to remember to be grateful every day.

My grandparents did not fight in the war. My Dad’s dad worked for an asbestos company his whole life and he needed to stay at the mine so that they could deliver asbestos for equipment for the war. My Mom’s dad was not allowed to fight. As Japanese-Canadians, he and the rest of my family were sent to the internment camps. They did not fight in the war, but they and their families certainly made their own sacrifices and contributions.

For me to live the life I live now, my parents also made personal sacrifices. I remember my mom worked 3 jobs–a nurse/teacher, a lamaze class teacher, and a figure skating coach. My parents both worked hard to give my sister and me every opportunity they could. My Mom’s mom made sacrifices for her family. She would serve everyone else food and eat only what there was left (if anything, sometimes). I’m fortunate I don’t need to be hungry.

I feel it is my duty, my responsibility to live well. And by “well” I mean that I will take care of my health so that I can do more, offer more. When I feel healthy, I have the energy, focus, and vitality to serve others. My purpose is to serve. I love this role I get to play–helping others find their path of health and wellness. If I purposely damage my own health by eating poorly, failing to exercise, focusing on the negative, I feel I’m doing a disservice to the sacrifices others have made for me.

Yes, spending time every Remembrance Day to pay our respect is important. But what do you, or can you do, more regularly to make sure that the sacrifices of those before you do not go wasted?


Connecting The Dots: Lessons in Time

A few posts ago I wrote about some lessons I have learned from my 96 year old grandmother. Today I learned a lesson from a 70 year old patient. She called it “connecting the dots”.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed with life’s challenges? She had. Lots of life challenges. But she told me that one of the benefits of aging is the ability to look back at those challenges and see how a series of tragedies led to decisions and actions that make her the strong woman she is today. Actually, by her own description, she has always been “feisty”, but she didn’t always understand or accept the positive aspects of these negative events–until last year.

Many of us often hear about the “downsides” of aging–how many times have you heard or said that “getting old sucks”? I love that this patient appreciates where she is now and is grateful for the upsides of aging, looking forward to learning and growing from life’s experiences. Fantastic!

What have you learned from your day today? What big challenges in your life can you connect to a positive outcome, even if it came years afterward? Can you connect the dots and feel gratitude for that?

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