• Holy Basil– “Queen of Herbs”

    When I was helping out at a health food store in the supplements section, customers kept asking where they’d find the adaptogenic herbs. “Oh yeah, those!” I’d say. (Ermmm, adapto-what?) “Let me just look it up!” Out came the smartphone. How did I ever manage before 1999? 

    I found out that adaptogens are plants that help resist many kinds of stressors. These stressors can be chemical, biological, or physical.

    Luckily, many adaptogenic herbs could be found in the stress-relief section, or the cold-prevention section, or wait, they’re also in the anti-inflammatory section too. Thankfully, adaptogenic herbs are here, there, and everywhere.

    I noticed that many people sought out holy basil to soothe coughs and colds. Others looked to it, along with rhodiola to relieve anxiety.

    The name “holy basil” or “tulsi” was both charming and powerful, and the happiness on peoples’ faces when I told them we had it in stock drew me in. So I decided to do some research on it myself. I sorted through a wealth of information, and the following are the highlights of what I found.

    Also known as tulsi, Ocimum sanctum has been used for centuries for its potent and diverse healing powers. It’s a centuries-old staple in Ayurvedic medicine. Its broad range of uses and long-standing presence has earned its nickname Incomparable One and Queen of Herbs.

    Tulsi is a perennial shrub and a member of the basil family. Unlike the culinary herb sweet basil, it has a strong, peppery taste and a plethora of nutrients.

    Most of its health benefits are found in its spiky, light green leaves. They can be ground up to make teas, tinctures, and supplemental capsules.

    As an adaptogenic herb, it nurtures the nervous system and helps people bounce back faster from the effects of mental and physical stress. That’s why people use it to counter the effects of anxiety.

    “Early research suggests that taking 500 milligrams of Ocimum sanctum twice daily after meals for two months reduces anxiety and depression.”

    Holy basil hasn’t been thoroughly studied yet, but it is packed with these and other health-giving plant chemical compounds, known as phytonutrients:

    Ursolic acid  Researchers have found that ursolic acid has anticancer activity and anti-inflammatory effects. One way it helps the body avoid cancer is by initiating the self-destruction (apoptosis) of certain cancer cells, including breast cancer cells! Ursolic acid also absorbs and destroys free radicals that harm human cells.

    Eugenol: Along with rosmarinic acid, this compound helps protect against skin, liver, oral, and lung cancers caused by toxins. One way they do this is by helping the body get rid of the harmful chemicals. Another way they do this is by stopping cancerous cells from spreading to other areas of the body (metastasis).

    Oleanolic acid: Several studies have found that it prevents the growth of malignant tumors and other cancerous cells. Also, if you’re worried about high blood sugar, oleanolic acid that’s extracted from tulsi has been shown to reduce blood glucose levels.

    Rosmarinic acid:  Scientists have discovered that when this phytonutrient is broken down and made absorbable to us humans, it suppresses amyloid accumulation. Amyloid is a waxy plaque that builds up in organs that occurs in diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

    * Studies also indicate that holy basil reduces fertility, so it isn’t recommended if you are trying to conceive.

    After reading about its almost magical healing abilities, I decided to take a chance and buy some from my local health food store. I found 45o mg capsules as a combination of organic holy basil leaf and holy basil leaf extract.

    I opened the bottle, I was greeted by a clean, sweet, tomatoey scent. I split a capsule to try the powder–wow, it is truly a peppery plant!

    After a week of taking them twice a day, I do notice an uptick in my mood and in my ability to take deep breaths. This happened alongside the days getting warmer, longer, and sunnier here in the northeast. Coincidence? If I’m to believe the studies, it seems only fair to give more than a little credit to the Queen of Herbs.

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    Sources

    https://medericenter.org/the-mederi-blog/holy-basil-an-herb-with-incomparable-benefits.html

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27469428/

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6150249/

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/oleanolic-acid”

    https://time.com/5025278/adaptogens-herbs-stress-anxiety/

  • Nutrient-Packed, Warming Winter Comfort Food

    It’s 20 degrees outside, who wants to make an ice-cold berry smoothie? (crickets)

    As the days get shorter, darker, and cooler, our mammal-instinct to lay low and seek comfort food naturally comes to the fore. This is normal–even expected!

    While it becomes a little harder to muster the willingness to keep up with regular exercise and healthy eating, we can make a few easy adjustments to give our energy and spirits a boost.

    Here is a minimal effort (I like it already), nutrient rich, comforting recipe that I hope will warm your tummy and your heart.

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    Berry Blast Oatmeal–it’s pink, it’s yummy, it’s filling–

    Total time needed: 10-15 minutes
    What you need:
    1 cup of frozen berry mix (mine contains blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries)
    1/2 sliced banana for extra creaminess
    1 cup of quick-oats oatmeal
    1 cup of almond milk
    1 tablespoon of honey
    sea salt to taste (if desired)

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    Rinse berries with filtered water.
    Microwave them on high for 1 minute (or until just defrosted) and set aside.
    Combine in a medium pot:
    -quick oats
    -almond milk
    -banana
    -honey
    Cook until the mix starts to bubble (3-5 minutes).

    Stir in berries, warm for 1-2 more minutes.
    Pour into a bowl.
    Salt to taste.

     Makes one generous serving!

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    Blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries contain plenty of antioxidants!

    Blackberries and raspberries contain an abundance of flavonoids. Flavonoids are powerful antioxidant chemical compounds found in plants. An especially helpful group of flavonoids are colorful AnthocyaninsThey give berries their deep red, blue, and purple hue. 

    Anthocyanins are linked to reducing unhealthy LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. LDL cholesterol sticks to the walls of blood vessels and arteries. So generous amounts of them in our diets can improve heart health and strengthen blood capillaries.

    In-vitro lab tests also show that Anthocyanins slow down or stop the production of enzymes that create cancer cells in the stomach, colon, and lungs(!)

    Researchers have also started to study how Anthocyanins can inhibit the progression or possibly prevent Alzheimer’s disease. https://www.verywellfit.com/blackberry-nutrition-facts-calories-and-health-benefits-4109221

    I hope you try this recipe for yourself. I did a few taste-tests on my family and it turned out to be a winner. Comment below to let me know how it goes!

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    Other references:

    https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/283018

    https://www.amhsjournal.org/article.asp?issn=2321-4848;year=2018;volume=6;issue=1;spage=73;epage=80;aulast=Mahmood

    https://nutritionandhealing.com/2005/06/30/the-health-benefits-of-dark-berries/

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1082894/

    Photo credits: Raspberries, Blackberries, Blueberries: Markus Spikus for Unsplash.com, Winter Scene: Lorelei Mann

  • Caring for the Caregiver, Bringing the Beach Home

    Summer’s warm gentle hands are starting to fold as autumn creeps in around the edges. A few brown leaves crunch underfoot. Dandelions turn fluffy and smoke from a wood-burning stove (or is that a BBQ?) fills the air.

    The warmest season of the year is coming to an end, and so are treasured trips to the beach.

    After just one day there, I feel energized, happier, healthier. There are many reasons to love ocean beaches.  Here are just a few of them:

    It’s the water…

    Whether I only put my feet in or take a running flop, the cold numbing seawater also feels healing and fresh.

    It turns out that ocean water is much like some of the fluid that surrounds our cells, called interstitial fluid (source). Both are rich in sodium and chloride, which makes it non-irritating and soothing to our respiratory system. In this way, seawater helps relieve allergies.

    Sodium has antiseptic attributes, so wounds heal faster in the ocean! Chloride helps with nerve function. Also, the magnesium in the water reduces eczema and helps our skin hold onto moisture longer.

    It’s the air…

    Because water and air mix together so easily at the beach, we actually breathe in all those super-charged, nutrient-rich water-droplets. 

    There’s also a high concentration of negative ions found in beach air. Negative ions happen when air molecules break apart. Sunlight and waves naturally slice them. So do rainstorms and waterfalls!

    Studies say that airborne negative ions remove pollution including fine particles like soot that harm our health. They also remove certain bacteria, viruses, and mold. Breathing ocean air gives us a break from highly polluted areas.

    Also, having an abundance of negative ions around you has a positive effect on brain function and mood by regulating serotonin. Serotonin is a popular neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness.  It also has been shown to decrease symptoms of depression and of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

    It’s the light…

    The generous bath of sunlight the beach offers on a clear day naturally sparks the brain into making serotonin. While the sun helps you make this feel-good chemical, negative ions in the air help you regulate it!

    Also, the ultraviolet sun rays cause our bodies to produce vitamin D. Depending on skin color and location, it could take anywhere from 15 minutes to more than an hour in full sunlight to get your daily dose of vitamin D.

    Having enough Vitamin D is needed to fight viruses, bacterial infections, and maintain respiratory health. Evidence suggests there’s a link between vitamin D and cancer risk in mice. They found that increased levels of vitamin D slows or completely prevents cancer cell and tumor growth. It also helps the body kill off malignant cells (source)

    News to me: UV rays from the sun help regulate our white blood cells. It helps prevent our immune system from attacking itself in the form of lupus, multiple sclerosis, asthma, IBS, and type 1 diabetes. 
    Plus the sand…

    My senses love the crunch-crunch of it. It’s not everyone’s favorite, but that feeling of sand under my feet has a comforting way of reminding me of where I am in the moment. 

    BOOM–Instant Beach Resort in the midst of winter, the pandemic, and chilly Boston.*

    I’m 50 minutes away from a beautiful ocean beach on a straight run, without traffic, speeding. It takes extra effort, determination, and polar bear genes to make the trip in the freezing cold. So I pulled some things together for a possible home beach situation:

    *All of these items can currently be found on the web. A list of where to find them will be added shortly.

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    Additional References:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2873555/

    https://www.wellness.com/blog/13295843/the-benefits-of-ocean-air/wellness-editor

    https://gracefullyagingtips.com/sunshine-good-for-health/

    https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/vitamin-d-fact-sheet#what-is-the-evidence-that-vitamin-d-can-help-reduce-the-risk-of-cancer-in-people

    https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2015/02/why-sunshine-is-good-for-you-its-more-than-vitamin-d/

    https://study.com/academy/lesson/interstitial-fluid-definition-pressure-composition.html

    Photo Credits: Sergio Sousa for Unsplash, Marcus Spiske for Unsplash

  • Stealth Midline-Crossing Exercises

    Sneaky…Sidewinders…Stealth Do-Gooders, we know who we are.

    We slip supplements in our child’s smoothie on the sly. We act like dumb bunnies so they can polish their social pragmatic skills as they explain the art of Uno, or we pretend we’re at a loss for what to do next so they can test-run their planning abilities. I know, it takes one to know one.

    So how about adding some subtle cross-body exercises to your toolkit? Occupational therapists do them with our kids all the time, and we can do some of them too, FOR FREE!

    Cross-body movements happen when you move your arms and/or legs across the imaginary vertical line running down the center of your body.

    When we cross our midline intentionally through exercise, we engage both sides of the brain simultaneously. When both sides of the brain are activated, they communicate with each other as they work together. This can lead to more coordination between the two brain hemispheres and more coordination in the body.

    Babies practice cross-body coordination by crawling. It’s a building block of walking, eye-teaming, and later, reading and writing. If you ask an 8-month-old why she crawls, she’ll say “Sashee-watchee–kwak–kwak,” but really she is exercising to grow and integrate her brain and nervous system. She is also building up her core strength.

    For a lot of our kids, this cross-body coordination doesn’t come easy. There can be issues with balance, core muscle strength, body awareness, reading, and writing. The more consistent exercise they can get crossing their midline, the better. 

    Here are some easy midline-crossing exercises (imperfectly demoed below) you can do almost anywhere:
    Standing Cross-Crawl. Do these s-l-o-w-l-y so that most of the time you are balancing on one foot.

    Arm Swings
    Cross-Body Arm Swing Exercises
    Side Stretches

    Cross-body exercises also relieve anxiety, increase focus, and support a sense of calm. As a stressed special needs caregiver, I was glad to find that these exercises could help both of us.

    cross midline brain balance hook-up pose
    No sweats required!

    I’ve given this one a try when I’m about to have my own melt-down. Just a quick cross-body “hook up” I found in the book “Educate Your Brain.” 

    We also love these morning exercises with Moe Jones, where he crosses the midline plenty. He’s a very welcoming, daddy-like, and calming presence. One repetition of his workout routine takes only 5 minutes.

    My goal is that we do these exercises just 3, 5, possibly 10 minutes a day to help with reading, writing, and having a general sense of centeredness and peace. Just another something for the toolbox. There’s always room for one more!

     

     

    References: Mayo Clinic, wholebrainliving.com, “Educate Your Brain” by Kathy Brown