Benefits of Beta Glucan (found in oats, mushrooms, and yeast)

Portabella MushroomBeta glucan is a powerful little fiber molecule that has several potential health benefits.  A fiber is anything that the body can’t fully digest and, therefore, passes through the digestive system.  There a many different types of fiber, and some fibers, like beta glucan, stand above the rest.

Beta-glucan is a type of sugar (called a polysaccharide) that is molecularly arranged in such a way that it’s indigestible.   There are basically two different classes of beta glucan: the insoluble kind that activate the digestive tract’s immune cells, and the soluble kind that absorb water and help remove excess cholesterol.

Beta Glucan In Oats and Barley (Grains)

Oats and barley are particularly high in soluble beta glucans, and studies have found that regular consumption of oatmeal or supplementation with grain-derived beta-glucan may help lower LDL cholesterol levels.  Beta-gluacan’s effectiveness, however, is not consistent and is affected by a number of variables.   The amount of oatmeal that was found to help lower cholesterol was 84 grams per day.  Supplemental doses of beta-glucan ranged from 3-9 grams per day.  Other studies indicate that beta-glucan may also help improve blood-sugar levels and perhaps enhance endurance capabilities.

Beta Glucan in Yeast and Mushrooms (Funguses) 

Both mushrooms and yeast are high in insoluble beta glucan.  Some of the best mushroom sources of beta glucan are common white mushrooms, crimini, and shitake.  The primary yeast source of beta glucan is baker’s yeast.  The beta glucan in mushrooms and yeast demonstrates strong immunomodulating effects.  In other words, it activates the body’s immune system, which makes sense given mushrooms’ reputation for boosting the immune system.  Studies have found the beta glucan from funguses activate powerful immune system responses like an increase in white blood cell and killer-t cell activity.  A growing number of studies (though still small) indicate that this activity may help the body fight against cancer cells and viral/bacterial infections. 

While the beta glucan in funguses stimulates specific immune responses, it simultaneously suppresses the body’ non-specific immune responses, like the release of superoxide anion and hydrogen peroxide.  There’s evidence that beta-glucan’s suppression of non-specific inflammatory responses can help reduce the symptoms of common respiratory allergies.

The take away: While the best way to lower LDL cholesterol is to reduce stress, exercise, and eat plenty of greens, eating a little bit of oatmeal everyday might not be a bad idea.  Also, even good old common mushrooms have powerful immune-boosting properties, so eat them up!  They’re affordable and add great flavor to a number of dishes.

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References: Oats and Anti-fatigue, Beta-Glucan’s Effect on Glycemic Index, Biomedical Issues of Dietary Fiber Beta-Glucan, The Application of Beta-Glucan for the Treatment of Colon Cancer, Glucans Inhibit Allergic Airway Inflammation

Originally posted 2013-05-24 00:02:42.

Natural Relief from Nasal Allergies – Researched and Rumored

natural remedies for allergiesAbout 20% of us suffer from hay fever or nasal allergies (rhinitis) this time of year.  Why is it that our bodies respond so vehemently to seemingly harmless pollen, dust, or mold particles?  Genetics, diet, and environment work together to cause our bodies to think that certain inhaled particles are intruders that should be eliminated.  When this happens, the mast cells (immune response cells) in the nasal passage release histamines.  Histamines are organic nitrogen molecules that act on nerve endings to initiate inflammatory responses like sneezing, itching, and mucous release. Herbs and nutrients used for natural allergy relief work by stopping one of these three mechanisms.  They either prevent the mast cells from responding to inhaled particles as dangerous intruders, block histamine from activating nerve endings, or lessen the body’s inflammatory response.

I, for one, have had fairly bad symptoms of hay fever every spring for most of my life, and I don’t wish it on anybody!  If you’ve had allergies so bad that you can barely function, you know what I’m talking about.  I’ve tried nearly every over-the-counter allergy medicine out there, but hardly any of them work for me (most of these are anti-histamines).  When I find one that does work, I usually have to take twice the recommended dose, and I don’t like doing that to my liver!  In my search for natural relief, I’ve discovered a few things that work for me, such as high doses of quercetin, but everyone is different.  Based on research and word of mouth, I’ve compiled a list of the most successful supplements for natural relief that are out there.  You might have to try a few different ones to discover what works best for you.

Stinging Nettle: The phytochemicals in stinging nettle act on the mast cells to prevent the release of histamine.  Stinging nettle also contains phytochemicals that block the histamine receptors on nerve endings.  One double blind, controlled studied found that 58% of people who took two 300 mg capsules of freeze dried stinging nettle during the day found it effective at relieving allergy symptoms, and 48% found it equal to or more effective than their previous allergy medicine.

Quercetin: This flavanol is found naturally in many fruits and vegetables, such as apples, onions, and berries.  It’s usually attached to a sugar molecule (called a glycoside), which also gives it a higher rate of absorption. Quercetin works as both a mast cell inhibitor and an anti-inflammatory.  One study found that quercetin was more effective at inhibiting mast cells than chromolyn, a common asthma treatment.   Quercetin in supplemental form has a relatively low rate of absorption, so common doses range from 250-600 mg, three times daily.

Vitamin C: The role of vitamin C in providing allergy relief is often debated, but one Japanese study found that supplemental Vitamin C, compared with other anti-oxidants, was associated with fewer allergy symptoms. Another study found that a vitamin C solution sprayed into the nose three times daily greatly reduced nasal secretion.  Vitamin C probably provides relief by acting as an anti-inflammatory.

Bromelain: This powerful enzyme is found in pineapples and stimulates the production of plasmin.  Plasmin is an enzyme that helps provide allergy relief by opening up clogged nasal passages.

Local Honey: The research on the efficacy of local honey is limited, but it’s probably one of the more popular folk remedies out there.  It seems like nearly everyone I mention anything about allergies to suggests trying local honey.  I’ve tried eating local honey and it seems to work for me.  There’s also at least  one randomized, controlled study that indicates local honey may have scientific validity.  In Japan, researchers gave birch honey to patients suffering from birch pollen allergies, and the patients who ate the honey had significantly fewer allergy symptoms than those using traditional anti-histamines.  Hey, it’s honey we’re talking about here — it’s worth a try!

Do you know of any folk remedies or research on natural allergy relief that we missed?  What works best for you?  We’d love to read your comments below.

References: Birch Pollen Study, Quercetin Study, Vitamin C and Rhinitis Symptoms, Alternative Allergy Relief, Stinging Nettle Research

Originally posted 2013-04-30 22:03:31.

The Health Research on Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle has enjoyed a long history (dating as far back as 2,000 years) of use by health practitioners to treat liver ailments, gall bladder disorders, peritonitis, allergies and other conditions. Milk thistle has even recently been suggested as a possible treatment for cancer. But is there real medicinal value to this old herbal remedy? Research confirms that milk thistle indeed has some health benefits due to the antioxidant compounds found in its ripe seeds. These compounds: silychristin, isosilybin, silybin, and silydianin, make up the flavanoid referred to as silymarin. According to current research, thanks to its silymarin content, milk thistle provide a number of bonified health benefits.

 Milk thistle protects your liver: Silymarin, due to its antioxidant properties, has been shown to inhibit oxidation in the liver. Oxidation can lead to damaged liver cells, which in turn can seriously impact your liver’s health function. Studies have also shown that silymarin has anti-inflammatory properties that help keep liver cells and tissue healthy. Research also suggests that silymarin can block toxins and/or remove toxins from liver cells, thereby helping to detoxify the liver.

 Milk Thistle may offer allergy relief: Some research suggests that combining extract of milk thistle with an antihistamine may offer greater symptom relief compared to taking antihistamine alone.

Milk Thistle may help protect against some types of cancer: Some preliminary lab studies suggest that milk thistle may help protect against skin cell damage resulting from exposure to ultraviolent radiation (from sunlight) and environmental carcinogens, both of which may contribute to skin cancer. Some clinical trials also suggest that the silymarin in milk thistle may directly inhibit the growth of other cancerous cells, such as breast cancer cells, cervical cancer cells, colorectal cells and prostate cancer cells.

Milk thistle may improve the effectiveness of certain types of chemotherapy drugs: Some lab trials have demonstrated that administering silybin, a chemical compound in silymarin, during chemotherapy treatment may improve the treatment’s effectiveness in reducing the growth of breast cancer cells and ovarian cancer cells.

Research is still underway as to the full extent of milk thistle’s efficacy, but the results point to positive health benefits for the human body. Milk thistle may help fight certain cancers, improve the effectiveness of some types of chemotherapy drugs and help relieve allergy symptoms. Plus, milk thistle’s antioxidant properties spell better health for your cells-and healthy cells mean a healthier you!

References: Cancer.govCancer.orgMedlinePlus 

Originally posted 2013-10-15 10:31:00.