Making Faces, an exhibition of work by artists exploring identity after a traumatic brain injury, is running at the Southbank Centre in London until 23 August 2017 Continue reading…
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The newspapers love a cancer research story, but many are misleading or won’t affect patients for many years. But there is plenty of progress worth reporting
Every news story about cancer research should come with a health warning: believe the hope, but not the hype. Good headlines are quick and catchy, good science is steady steps taken on a complicated issue over a long time. If a new treatment is still being researched, it could be metaphorical miles and actual years away from getting into the hands or bodies of patients. As blogger Kay Curtin, who has advanced melanoma, puts it: “The media tend to pick one line on a report and run with it, but they do not draw attention or highlight that it’s just a potential benefit, or the fact that many of these are just proven in a petri dish or a mouse and very often do not prove effective when tested on humans. It is cruel to existing patients to make claims with misleading headlines.”
One of the best ways to deal with cancer is to divide and conquer, based on as much knowledge as we can get of how individual tumours work. Treating all cancers from the same part of the body equally isn’t good enough – you must match the right patient with the right treatment.
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When the Observer columnist first went out for a run he hobbled home, only managing 200 metres. Four years later, running is a liberation …Four years ago, I put on what I used to call my gym kit and went for my first run in decades. Two hundred metre…
Versions of Jodie Whittaker’s bogus TV medic do exist. But fantasists and charlatans tend to operate outside the hospital, where victims have been assaulted, misdiagnosed or offered false hope
Within the first half-hour of the BBC’s psychological thriller Trust Me, Cath (a former nurse) had stolen her doctor friend’s identity, picked up some suturing skills from YouTube, and was handling a stethoscope like a pro. Before you could say: “Adrenaline, STAT!”, Cath (played by Jodie Whittaker) was a fake doctor at an Edinburgh hospital, yanking twisted ankles into place and shoving chest drains where they belonged.
It couldn’t happen in real life, though, could it? It already has. Others with medical backgrounds have posed as fully fledged doctors before. Take Levon Mkhitarian who encountered 3,363 patients in two years, working across seven NHS trusts on oncology, cardiology, transplant and surgical wards as well as in A&E. Mkhitarian, originally from Georgia, had graduated from medical school in the Caribbean island of Grenada and received provisional registration from the General Medical Council (GMC) to work specifically under supervision here. But he failed to complete the year. He went on to fraudulently secure a job anyway, was caught, and then promptly struck off. Undeterred, he forged a host of documents including a medical degree and energy bills, stealing the identity of a genuine doctor. The IT department of the William Harvey hospital in Ashford, Kent, finally rumbled Mkhitarian when he applied for a security pass in the name of another doctor. He pleaded guilty to fraud charges and in July 2015 was sentenced to six years in prison.
By Dr. Mercola
If not for the fact it’s been scientifically proven, you might say the health advantages of green tea are legendary. You may have heard the proverb “History became legend, and legend became myth.” This is certainly something that could be said about green tea, as unfortunately it’s shifted far into the background for most Americans, undoubtedly because it pales in comparison in popularity to the bold brew known as coffee and the derivatives thereof.
It’s unfortunate because green tea contains a particularly powerful ingredient researchers have recognized for some pretty spectacular benefits. However, many of them have been known to ancient healers for millennia. The latest studies indicate a new interest that shouldn’t be taken lightly. To unpack the benefits, there’s one compound in particular — antioxidant catechins — with potential for your mind as well as your body. As study author Xuebo Liu explains:
“Green tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water, and is grown in at least 30 countries. The ancient habit of drinking green tea may be a more acceptable alternative to medicine when it comes to combating obesity, insulin resistance and memory impairment.”1
Study: How Green Tea Compound Can Protect Your Body and Brain
How sad is it that a meal regimen loaded with sugar and all the wrong fats is often referred to as “the Western diet?” But a new study shows that epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG, is a catechin that may help counteract the negative effects of this notoriously nutrition-deficient approach to food. While the initial study2 was done on mice, scientists believe the same antioxidant effects would apply to humans.
The researchers’ goal was to investigate the protective effects of EGCG treatment on insulin resistance and memory impairment induced by a high-fat and high-fructose diet (HFFD). The researchers divided 3-month-old mice into three groups and gave each group a different diet: the control group, a high-fat and high-fructose diet, and a HFFD plus EGCG. Although3 more research is needed to know exactly how much ECGC is needed, here’s what they found four months later:4
- EGCG prevented HFFD-elicited memory impairment and neuronal loss
- EGCG significantly ameliorated insulin resistance and cognitive disorder by upregulating the insulin receptor response having to do with brain-signaling pathways
- Long-term HFFD-triggered neuroinflammation was restored by EGCG supplementation, in part by inhibiting the expression of inflammatory mediators
- EGCG also reversed high glucose and glucosamine-induced insulin resistance in neuronal cells by improving the oxidized cellular status and mitochondrial function
Those are some pretty dramatic improvements — and to think the same may be available to humans simply by consuming EGCG is extremely compelling. In addition, the mice eating the HFFD were heavier than those eating the regular diet, and significantly heavier than the HFFD mice supplemented with EGCG. Further, the HFFD mice showed greater memory impairment than the others.
These aren’t the first positive results; one study highlighted the effect of drinking green tea on breast cancer due to the high catechin content.5 Additionally, green tea aficionados who drink at least five cups per day were shown in another study to have a 28 percent decrease in their heart disease risk6 (the black tea also tested in the study reflected no such benefit).
Forbes noted that most studies on green tea have been done on people in Asia, or at least on people eating what is considered an Asian diet, which is quite different from what is typically consumed in the U.S. However, believing the findings to be a sort of green light to gastronomical cart blanche is a move in the wrong direction, Forbes noted. “It’s more an exploration of how powerful the effects of dietary antioxidants can be.”7
10 Benefits of Green Tea Extract
If drinking green tea has those kinds of benefits for your health, you can imagine what else the catechin compounds can do for you. Authority Nutrition8 lists several possible advantages of green tea extract and/or supplementation, connected to a number of clinical studies:
✓ Health benefits range from promoting heart, liver and brain health to improving your skin and reducing your cancer risk9
✓ Improves skin, including dermatitis, rosacea, warts, skin aging and acne,19 improves elasticity, reduces sun damage
nterestingly, another study showed that individuals with higher than average waist sizes (central obesity) experienced a weight decrease after drinking green tea for 12 weeks, as well as lowered waist circumference and body mass index.27Green tea extract can increase the antioxidant capacity in your body. Regarding cell damage from free radicals, another study notes their nefarious association with several serious diseases, as well as aging, which is another reason why drinking more green tea is a good idea, or even taking green tea supplements.28
Another Toothsome Advantage of Green Tea Consumption
Sensitive teeth often prevent people from drinking hot or cold beverages, but this is another problem green tea may help with. A green tea formulated toothpaste addresses the problem, and is said to ease the pain of sensitivity in teeth and preventing cavities as a bonus. This bit of research presents a remedy for a related dilemma, as existing toothpastes for sensitive teeth haven’t had the best track record in retaining their effects for very long. Daily Mail notes:
“Dental erosion is often the most common cause of pain or discomfort to the teeth. A phytochemical in the herbal drink has previously been shown to fight a bacteria which causes tooth decay. The new mixture combines this with an ingredient commonly used in sensitive toothpastes and an essential mineral for strong teeth.”29
Erosion that attacks tooth enamel exposes a bony tissue known as dentin, which contains microscopic hollow tubes that, when exposed, allows foods and hot and cold liquids to make contact with underlying nerve endings in the teeth, exacerbating the pain. Unprotected dentin can also speed up cavity formation.
Dentists generally approach the problem by plugging the tubes with a mineral called nanohydroxyapatite, but brushing, teeth grinding and acid produced by bacteria and erosion over time breaks the material down, further exposing the dentin and causing resumed pain.
Chinese researchers used both nanohydroxyapatite and green tea extract (which, incidentally, has been shown to successfully combat streptococcus mutans, which forms biofilms on teeth that can cause cavities) along with the nanoparticles of the mineral silica, which resists damage from acid. Additionally:
“The team tested this on extracted wisdom teeth and found that the formula plugged the dentin tubules. It also released EGCG for at least 96 hours and stood up to tooth erosion and abrasive brushing and prevented biofilm formation (and) showed low toxicity.”30
Green tea also serves to freshen your breath due to its natural ability to keep sugar-based plaque from forming on teeth, and captures sulphur-containing compounds that can cause odor. Here are another couple of benefits from green tea that you can sink your teeth into: One or more cups of green tea a day can increases your chances of keeping your teeth as you age, a Japanese study reports, although sugar added to your tea may negate the effect. And say no to artificial sweeteners.
Ditch the ‘Western Diet’ — Here’s a Better Way of Eating
Contrary to conventional advice, a ketogenic diet — which is very low in net carbohydrates and high in healthy fats — is actually a vital key to boosting mitochondrial function, thereby suppressing disease and supporting healing.
The importance of avoiding unhealthy fats and using healthy fats in your diet simply cannot be overstated. When your body is able to burn fat for fuel, your liver creates water-soluble fats called ketones that burn far more efficiently than carbs, thereby creating fewer reactive oxygen species (ROS) and secondary free radicals that can damage your cellular and mitochondrial cell membranes, proteins and DNA.
Ketones also decrease inflammation, improve glucose metabolism and aid the building of muscle mass. Healthy fats also play an important role in maintaining your body’s electrical system. As mentioned, a ketogenic diet focuses on the three keys to achieving nutritional ketosis: minimal carbohydrates, moderate amounts of high-quality protein and high amounts of healthy fats. Green tea can also be included as a healthy beverage option to boost your overall health and well-being.
By Dr. Mercola
Lectins1 — sugar-binding plant proteins that attach to cell membranes — may be a hidden source of weight gain and ill health, even in an otherwise healthy diet. In fact, since lectins are present in most plant foods, if you’re eating a whole food diet yet find yourself still struggling with weight gain and/or stubborn health problems, lectins may well be a hidden culprit.
Many lectins are proinflammatory, immunotoxic, neurotoxic and cytotoxic. Certain lectins may also increase blood viscosity, interfere with gene expression and disrupt endocrine function.
The problem with recommending an altogether lectin-free diet is that this would eliminate most plant foods,2 which should ideally make up the bulk of your diet. Moreover, in small amounts, some lectins can be quite beneficial,3 so 100 percent avoidance is likely neither possible nor ideal. They key then becomes finding a happy medium where the worst lectins are avoided, and the effect of others are tempered through proper preparation and cooking.
How Lectins Can Wreck Your Health
Before we get into strategies to reduce lectins in your diet, let’s review the reasons why. As explained in Dr. Steven Gundry’s4 book, “The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in ‘Healthy’ Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain,” some plant lectins can contribute to leaky gut by binding to receptor sites on your intestinal mucosal cells, thereby interfering with the absorption of nutrients across your intestinal wall.
As such, they act as “antinutrients,” and can have a detrimental effect on your gut microbiome by shifting the balance of your bacterial flora.
Among the worst culprits are wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), found in wheat and other seeds in the grass family.5
Compared to WGA, gluten is a minor problem. According to Gundry, WGA is actually one of the most efficient ways to induce heart disease in experimental animals. Lectins in general are strongly associated with autoimmune disorders, so anyone struggling with a dysfunctional immune system may want to seriously consider experimenting with a low-lectin diet.
One way by which lectins causes harm is through molecular mimicry. By mimicking proteins in your thyroid gland or joint spaces, for example, lectins can cause your body to attack your thyroid and contribute to rheumatoid arthritis. Part of these disease processes is the penetration of the gut wall by lectins and their co-travelers, lipopolysaccharides (LPSs), also known as endotoxins, which tend to elicit very strong immune responses.
Lectin-Rich Foods Best Avoided Entirely
While it may be near-impossible to avoid all lectins, seeing how they’re found in most plant foods, your first step would be to eliminate the worst offenders. If you have any kind of health problem in which lectins are a suspected contributor, it would be wise to eliminate the following entirely:6
• Corn-fed meats. This includes most meats sold in grocery stores. To avoid factory farmed, corn-fed meat, make sure the meat you buy is certified grass fed by the American Grassfed Association.
• Casein A1 milk. Casein A2 is the normal protein in milk, present in sheep, goats, water buffalos and some Jersey cows’ milk. Unfortunately, most cows today are casein A1 producers. Most store-bought milk will be A1, even if it’s organic. The A1 protein is metabolized in your gut to make beta-casomorphin, which can attach to the beta cell of your pancreas and incite an autoimmune attack.
Many who believe they’re lactose intolerant are actually just responding to the casein A1 in the milk. If you’re going to drink milk, make it raw milk from organic, grass fed casein A2-producing cows. Jersey cows may produce either A1 or A2 casein, so you’ll need to confirm the type of milk produced with the farmer. Holsteins are A1 producers and should be avoided.
• Peanuts, cashews and unfermented soybean products. If you want to eat soy, make sure it’s traditionally fermented.
High-Lectin Foods to Eat Sparingly
The following foods are also high in lectins, but at least here you have a choice: You can either avoid these foods or eat them sparingly, and when you do, make sure you prepare and cook them properly. Research demonstrates that by sprouting, fermenting, soaking and cooking high-lectin foods, lectin content is dramatically reduced, making them safe to eat for most people. This group includes:7,8,9,10
- Legumes (plant seeds in pods, such as peas and beans11)
- Grains, especially whole grains
- Nightshade fruits and vegetables (such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, bell peppers and goji berries, just to name a few)
- Curcubita (gourd) family fruits such as squash, pumpkin and zucchini
Among the legumes, some beans are also lower in lectins than others, making them a safer bet.12 Among the moderate-to-low lectin varieties are rice beans, cowpeas, broad beans, lupin seeds, Great Northern beans and Pinto III cultivars. Among the lowest, and therefore the safest, are Polish pea varieties, cooked and raw green beans and lentils.13
High-to-moderate varieties best avoided if you’re susceptible to lectins are white kidney beans and soybeans. Red kidney beans are among the highest of all. For comparison, white kidney beans contain one-third of the hemagglutinating units of toxic phytohemagglutinin found in raw red kidney beans, and broad beans contain just 5 to 10 percent of the lectins found in red kidney beans.
Beans — Proper Prep and Cooking Guidance
If you choose to eat beans, be sure to prepare and cook them properly. While absolutes are rarely called for, a warning is appropriate here: NEVER eat raw or undercooked beans, as they can have acute, toxic effects. As little as five beans can cause a reaction reminiscent of food poisoning. To make beans safe to eat, be sure to:
- Soak the beans in water for at least 12 hours before cooking, frequently changing the water. Adding baking soda to the soaking water will boost the neutralization of lectins even further.14
- Rinse the beans and discard the water used for soaking.
- Cook for at least 15 minutes on HIGH heat. Cooking beans on too-low a heat can actually increase toxicity levels up to five times or more.15 Avoid any recipe calling for dry bean flour, as the dry heat of your oven will not efficiently destroy the lectins. The best way to destroy lectins is to use a pressure cooker like the InstaPot.16,17
How to Optimize Health Benefits of Potatoes
The lectin content in potatoes (a member of the nightshade family) will also be reduced by cooking, although these lectins tend to be more resistant to heat than those in beans. In the case of potatoes, cooking will reduce the lectin content by 50 to 60 percent. You can also boost the nutritional value of potatoes by chilling them after cooking.
This increases the digestive-resistant starch in the potatoes — fibers that resist digestion in the small intestine and slowly ferment in your large intestine, where they act as prebiotics that feed healthy bacteria.18
As an example, roasted and cooled potatoes contain 19 grams of resistant starch per 100 grams, whereas steamed and cooled potatoes contain 6 grams and boiled, cooled potatoes contain a mere 0.8 grams.19,20 Additionally, since they’re not digestible, resistant starches will not result in blood sugar spikes. In fact, research suggests resistant starches help improve insulin regulation, reducing your risk of insulin resistance.21,22,23,24
Of the plant foods that are the safest, in terms of lectin content, are asparagus, garlic, celery, mushrooms and onions. Other excellent choices that you can eat without restrictions are:
- Cooked tubers (root vegetables) such as sweet potatoes, yucca and taro
- Leafy greens
- Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts
- Avocados (while avocados contain high amounts of lectins,25 these lectins are safe and healthy. Research26 shows that the specific type of lectin found in avocado, persea Americana agglutinin,27 is devoid of specificity for carbs; it interacts with proteins and polyamino acids instead)
- Olives and authentic extra-virgin olive oil
Other Ways to Reduce Lectins in Your Diet
Aside from eliminating the worst offenders and cooking certain high-lectin foods properly, other ways to reduce lectins in your diet include:
• Peeling and deseeding your fruits and vegetables, as the skin or hull and seeds tend to contain the highest amounts. For example, if you’re on a lectin-restricted diet, you may be able to eat deskinned almonds, but not almonds with the skin on.
• Opting for white grains over brown. This tip, suggested by Gundry, does run contrary to most recommendations that say brown varieties are healthier than white, but in this case, white rice and white bread may actually be preferable.
Keep in mind, though that the only way to make bread safe to eat on a lectin-restricted diet is by raising the bread according to traditional methods, using yeast or sourdough, which effectively breaks down the gluten and other harmful lectins. You’d be hard-pressed to find this in your local grocery store, so you’d either have to buy it from a traditional artisan or bake it yourself.
You’ll also want to make sure the grain is organic, as most non-organic wheat grown in the U.S. is desiccated with glyphosate. This herbicide, which is toxic in and of itself, also potentiates gluten in people who are not even gluten-sensitive and interferes with your liver’s ability to manufacture the active form of vitamin D. It also chelates important minerals, disrupts the shikimate pathway, decimates your microbiome and increases leaky gut, which allows more of the LPSs into your bloodstream.
• Sprouting seeds, grains and beans will deactivate lectins, although there are exceptions. For example, lectin content is actually enhanced when sprouting alfalfa.28
• Fermenting will also effectively reduce harmful lectins.29 When it comes to soy, fermented soy products are the only ones worthy of consumption. Sourdough is another example of a fermented product that makes bread safe to eat, in part by deactivating lectins. Of course, all sorts of vegetables can be fermented, thereby boosting their health benefits.
• Using a pressure cooker. Plant lectins are most effectively neutralized when cooked in a pressure cooker, so this handy kitchen gadget may be a worthwhile investment. Many swear by the InstaPot,30 which is a multipurpose pressure cooker. Avoid slow cookers, as they will actually increase lectin content due to the low temperature used.
A study31 that compared the phytic acid content of soaked peas that were then either boiled regularly or cooked in a pressure cooker found pressure cooking reduced phytic acid content by 54 percent, compared to 29 percent through regular boiling. Pressure cooking may also preserve more nutrients than other cooking methods.
Limit But Don’t Eliminate All Lectins
In summary, while I believe lectins have the potential to wreak havoc on health, complete avoidance is neither possible nor ideal. Conducting an online search for “lectin-rich foods” will yield lists that are so long, they basically encompass the entire vegetable kingdom. You cannot eliminate them all, and since SOME lectins have health benefits, you wouldn’t want to, either.
The key is to identify the worst culprits, cut those out, and make sure you prepare and cook certain high-lectin foods properly to make them safer to eat. Naturally, your individual situation will determine just how strict you need to be. Many people, especially those with autoimmune disorders, tend to be particularly sensitive to specific lectins found in specific foods.
So, experimentation may be needed to identify them. As a general rule, I recommend paying particular attention to lectins if you are currently eating a healthy, whole food diet yet continue to have health problems. While not a guarantee for success, eliminating or reducing lectins just might be the missing key to your healing.
By Dr. Mercola
When you think of aloe vera, you may remember it as a spiky plant with tiny spines along both sides of the thick, variegated leaves that fan out from their base. A succulent plant that grows wild in tropical regions, including the warmest areas and arguably thousands of households across the U.S., aloe vera has had a plethora of uses for thousands of years, both medicinal and nutritional. A blog called Biomed Central notes:
“Such extensive human use of aloe vera is nothing new; historical sources suggest aloe vera trade routes were well-established in the Red Sea and Mediterranean regions as far back as the 4th century B.C … Over 500 species of aloes exist, spread over Africa, the Middle East and various Indian Ocean islands.”1
Part of its popularity is that it’s a striking plant to look at, but the gel inside the leaves also has strong healing capabilities for a number of maladies and conditions. In fact, the gel could easily remedy many of the problems thousands of people purchase creams and lotions for, purportedly containing extracts from the aloe vera plant, but often containing only a fraction of the healing power available from the genuine article.
Aloe vera’s commercial success, for cosmetic, pharmaceutical and food use worldwide, is estimated to be somewhere around $13 billion annually. As Medical News Today reveals:
“Aloe vera contains various powerful antioxidant compounds. Some of these compounds can help inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria … Aloe vera definitely has some unique therapeutic properties, especially when applied as an ointment for the skin and gums.”2
Where Does the Healing Come From?
It’s the gel inside the leaves that contain the highest levels of bioactivity, but here’s what’s really amazing, according to holistic nutritionist and author Laura Dawn, who launched Happy and Raw:3 aloe vera’s got you covered at least eight different ways, as it’s:
These capabilities come from aloe vera’s many compounds and phytonutrients, such as vitamins A, C and E, choline, folic acid, and B1, B2, B12 and B3 (niacin). Minerals include selenium, zinc, calcium, iron, copper, manganese, potassium, magnesium and chromium. You’ll also find high amounts of:
- Polyphenol antioxidants — These help combat free radicals, which contribute to disease, infections and hasten the aging process.4
- Fatty acids — Aloe contains plant sterols, which are valuable fatty acids, including campesterol and B-sitosterol, as well as linoleic, linolenic, myristic, caprylic, oleic, palmitic and stearic acids.5
- Amino acids — There are about 22 amino acids, called the “building blocks of protein,” that are necessary for your body, and aloe vera contains 18 to 20 of them, including all eight of those considered essential for human health.
One study shows aloe vera contains 75 potentially active compounds, including lignin, saponins and salicylic acids and amino acids, 12 anthraquinones, which are phenolic compounds traditionally known as laxatives. It also provides campesterol, β-sisosterol and lupeol, and the hormones auxins and gibberellins that help in wound healing and have anti-inflammatory action.6
As an adaptogen, aloe boosts your body’s ability to adapt to external changes and increases your ability to deal with stress, be it physical, emotional or environmental. Scientists believe adaptogens balance your system and stimulate your natural defense and adaptive mechanisms, further helping to combat illness and disease. Also:
“Aloe alkalizes the body. Disease cannot manifest in an alkaline environment. Most people are living and subsisting on mostly acidic foods. For great health, remember the 80/20 rule — 80 percent alkaline forming foods and 20 percent acidic. Aloe vera is an alkaline forming food. It alkalizes the body, helping to balance overly acidic dietary habits.”7
Topical and Internal Benefits of Aloe Vera
The first aloe vera-based ointment for sunburn entered the marketplace in 1959, but studies allow that it’s effective for first- and second-degree burns. Whether it’s a burn, puncture wound, cut, psoriasis8 or bug bites, topically applied aloe vera exerts powerful healing benefits.
Aloe’s analgesic qualities help with pain relief while preventing and relieving itching as an antipruritic. Being astringent, aloe gel causes body tissues to contract, which helps reduce bleeding from minor abrasions. As an antipyretic, it’s used to reduce or prevent fever, and being 99 percent water, it’s great for hydrating your skin. Happy and Raw asserts:
“Aloe increases the elasticity of the skin making it more flexible through collagen and elastin repair. Aloe is an emollient, helping to soften and soothe the skin. It helps supply oxygen to the skin cells, increasing the strength and synthesis of skin tissue and induces improved blood flow to the skin through capillary dilation.”9
The Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry notes that aloe helps the body cleanse itself,10 and a four-study review acknowledged that it could reduce the healing time of burns by as much as nine days in comparison with conventional medicine’s remedies.11 In addition, aloe vera:
✓ Helps heal and alleviates pain of canker cores13
✓ Improves cardiovascular health as beta sitosterol helps optimize cholesterol
✓ Aids digestion; reduces constipation due to the compound aloin, or barbaloin14
✓ Lowers blood sugar levels15
✓ Reduces inflammation
✓ Helps detoxify your body
✓ Boosts your immune system due to polysaccharides
✓ May improve skin, increase collagen production16 and alleviate wrinkles
From all the above advantages from using aloe vera, weight loss is considered to be a secondary benefit simply because things like improved digestion, reduced constipation (aka regularity), detoxification and lowered blood sugar are all related, and have a varied but direct impact on your weight.
Growing Aloe Vera Plants for Medicinal (and Other) Use
Native to tropical regions, aloe vera plants can grow outdoors even in Northern climates during warm weather. Growing them in the ground is very straightforward. Rather than just plain soil, I would highly recommend adding compost and a layer of wood chips, which improve the soil quality and provide valuable plant nutrients.
One thing about growing aloe vera is that it’s incredibly easy to do, and the baby plants they produce are so plentiful, you can remove new shoots fairly regularly and pop them into separate pots to give away or fill several window sills with the spiky succulents.
They grow faster when their roots aren’t crowded, so leave several inches of space in between so they’ll grow bigger faster. It’s probably no surprise that these plants love bright light, but especially if they’re in a pot, allowing them to bake in hot sun and high temperatures all day might scorch and kill them. Indirect light is best. If you don’t grow it yourself, you can purchase a plant from many health food or grocery stores.
Water your aloe plants well, but to keep rot from setting in, allow at least one or two inches of top soil to become completely dry in between waterings. Water less often in the winter. Additionally, when placing aloe vera plants in pots, even tiny plants, the pots must have drainage holes at the bottom. Otherwise they’ll eventually become waterlogged and die unless you pick them out, dry the roots for a few days, then place them in dirt again.
When a plant gets large enough, you can cut individual leaves off, as close to the ground (or just under the soil level) as you can. Carefully slice off the little spines on each side, slice off two or three inches (or as much as you need), then cut through the flat side of the leaf to expose and scrape off the gel for use as a cooling aftershave lotion or sunburn remedy.
In fact, fresh gel from an aloe plant (rather than an aloe product) is one of the best remedies for sunburn. You can even slice open the leaves and open like a book to lay the exposed gel directly on skin needing its healing properties. For a refreshing drink, place a few teaspoons of the gel (not the skin) in a small glass bowl and use a hand mixer or high-speed blender for several seconds, then add a bit of fresh lime juice.
Products Containing Aloe Vera (or Claiming to) Not Always What They Claim
It’s already been mentioned that the most potent way to get the effects of aloe vera is to use the plant itself, not some product containing percentages along with a lot of other stuff, including chemicals. There is such a thing as certification by the International Aloe Science Council (IASC), which was created in the early 1980s due to rampant abuse in the representation of many different consumer products claiming to contain at least a percentage, but many did not.
There are still “wannabe” (aka scam) products with zero aloe content out there hoping for a corner of the market. In addition, Happy and Raw includes a paragraph addressing intake precautions:
“This plant is incredibly medicinal, yet there are some cautions against long-term use. Just because a little is beneficial, doesn’t mean that a lot is more beneficial. This is an incredibly potent plant and should be used with a level of respect for its potency. Long-term use can lead to loss of electrolytes, especially potassium. Tip: Avoid taking aloe internally during pregnancy, menstruation, if you have hemorrhoids or degeneration of the liver and gall bladder.”17
If you don’t currently have an aloe vera plant in your home, you may find having one helpful for many of the problems listed above, or to try it as a fresh, healthy drink.