Eat well, live long, and die happy,” so the
saying goes. If that’s true, Italians will live longer and die
happier than the rest of us. Landmark studies in the 1960s found
that residents of southern Italy attained the highest adult life
expectancy and the lowest incidence of cancer and heart disease in
the world. Decades later, that’s still the case.
But in the United States, where heart disease is a significant
concern, the picture is not as rosy. Data from the World Health
Organization shows that 243 men and 132 women per 100,000 Americans
die each year from coronary heart disease. This contrasts starkly
with 139 men and sixty-four women per 100,000 dying of heart
disease in Italy per year.
Clearly, the Italians are doing something right. For centuries,
Italians have eaten a diet based on whole grains and pastas, olives
and olive oil, green vegetables, seasonal fruits, legumes, and
wine; a diet that we now know is heart-protective and
cancer-fighting. Eat like Italians, and Americans might become as
healthy as Italians. Except that we don’t—and we haven’t.
The Mediterranean diet
Americans may chant “low fat, high fiber” as a mantra, but when
it comes down to what we’re actually eating, it doesn’t look
pretty. For the past decade, the nation has bought into the idea of
healthy consumption. Olive oil has been on everyone’s lips
(figuratively, if not literally), and pasta touted as the new
manna. Salads and fish have been the stars of health and women’s
magazines, although we are still not eating as well as our Italian
In 1993, experts on diet and health from around the world
considered the traditional Mediterranean diet and its benefits.
Within the year, the Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust (a
nonprofit group dedicated to promoting healthy eating), the World
Health Organization, and Harvard’s School of Public Health came up
with the Mediterranean diet pyramid (at right), a graphical
representation of what Italians eat, to encourage Americans to do
The Mediterranean pyramid differs from the U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) food guide pyramid in several important ways. In
the USDA model, fats and oils are at the top of the pyramid, with
the admonition to “use sparingly.” In the Mediterranean pyramid,
olive oil is the only fat, and it is used liberally. Italians may
derive as much as 30 percent of their calories from olive oil. This
translates to about 100 times more olive oil than the average
American consumes, and it appears to be beneficial.
Most striking when comparing the Mediterranean pyramid to the
USDA model is the USDA’s suggestion of two to three servings of red
meat, eggs, or poultry per day. The Mediterranean model suggests
red meat be consumed only a few times per month, and poultry and
fish a few times a week, with the abundance of food coming from
plant sources: fruits and vegetables, breads and grains, beans,
nuts, and seeds.
Jan Yoshimoto, a registered dietitian for the U.S. Naval Academy
in Annapolis, Maryland, summarizes the differences. “The American
diet is more processed and animal-based, contributing to a high
total fat intake—especially of saturated fat,” she says. “The
Mediterranean diet is predominantly plant-based and seasoned with
olive oil, providing excellent sources of monounsaturated fats and
antioxidants, which are protective against coronary heart disease
and certain cancers.”
According to the Oldways Trust, the average Italian consumes 30
percent less meat than the average American, as well as 20 percent
less milk and 20 percent fewer eggs. Italians eat three times as
much pasta as we do, three times as much bread and fresh fruit,
almost twice the amount of tomatoes and fish, and six times more
In keeping with that fact, the Mediterranean diet pyramid also
includes wine. A graphic of a wineglass is pictured to the side of
the pyramid, with the notation “in moderation.” Population studies
have found that moderate red wine intake is associated with lower
risk for heart disease and overall mortality. These findings are
partly attributed to increases in healthy HDL cholesterol levels.
Yoshimoto states that this is not a license to start drinking if
you currently do not drink. Discuss alcohol intake with your health
professional and be aware that moderation refers to no more than
two drinks per day.
In a 1994 USDA nationwide food survey, it was found that most
Americans consumed more than the recommended 30 percent of total
calories as fat. So how do we lower total fat while adding olive
oil in food preparation—and still have our wine, too? Yoshimoto
suggests that we gradually make a few lifestyle changes: First,
decrease entrée portions of animal foods. Second, replace butter,
shortening, and margarine with olive oil in food preparation.
Third, enjoy one or two glasses of red wine daily. And last, but
not least, incorporate more physical activity into your daily
The Italians may be famous for their Ferraris and Vespas, but
they are still a nation of walkers. This is why the Mediterranean
pyramid also includes a picture of people exercising, as a reminder
to engage, as the Italians do, in daily cardiovascular work.
As a dietitian, Yoshimoto knows well that if a diet is not
appetizing, it won’t be followed for long. So she decided to travel
to Italy and see for herself what Italians were really eating. She
reasoned that it would be fresh, simply prepared, and very good.
She was right.
Supper begins at around 9 p.m., with an antipasti of eggplant,
zucchini, mushrooms, garlic, and tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil
and broiled. Pass the bread, but don’t look for butter—you won’t
find it. The next course might be pasta with fresh tomatoes and
basil, followed by grilled fish. Finish up with a salad of mixed
greens, including leaf lettuces, arugula, radicchio, and fennel,
dressed simply with olive oil and wine vinegar.
Yoshimoto is convinced that the Italian attitude toward life
aids health, too. “Mealtimes are not for just getting food down,
but for sharing it with family and friends,” she says. “There is no
hurry. Talk and laughter, savoring and enjoying good food and
company, is the aim of the enterprise.”
After the meal, there is the passeggiata, or promenade, a
leisurely ramble around the town square, where people enjoy the
evening, greet friends, stroll arm in arm, and take in the air.
“You can’t really put this on a pyramid, but the Italians seem to
take the time to enjoy life,” says Yoshimoto. Food is only a part
of the Italian good health picture, Yoshimoto concludes. The rest
may be attitude.
Yoshimoto says it’s easy to get some Italian attitude in your
kitchen. All you need is plenty of good olive oil, pasta, fresh
veggies, and herbs. Here are two of her original recipes to get you
started. Buon appetito!
MARINATED PORTOBELLO MUSHROOMS
3 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
2 heaping teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 to 1 cup fresh basil, coarsely chopped
Dash of salt and pepper
4 cleaned portobello mushrooms
Put all the ingredients except the mushrooms in a blender. Pulse
two to three times; set aside. Trim off the stems of the mushrooms
and, cutting at an angle, slice each cap into three pieces. (The
slanted cut will expose the marinade to more surface area of
mushroom.) Put the mushroom slices in a plastic bag and pour the
marinade over them. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours and massage
the bag once or twice to mix the mushrooms and marinade. Drain the
mushrooms. Grill or pan-fry on medium heat for 5 minutes, turning
once. Drain on a paper towel. Use to make mushroom burgers, or chop
mushrooms into smaller slices to add to omelets, pizza, or
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large sprig fresh parsley
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
3 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh dill
2 tablespoons fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon each of pepper, salt, and sugar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/3 cup chopped chives
Place all the ingredients in a blender and pulse five times; set
8 oz. whole-wheat farfalle, fusille, penne, or rotelle pasta
2 cups broccoli florets
1 cup thinly sliced carrots
1 cup cherry, teardrop, or pear tomatoes
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
4 ounces sliced black olives
Cook pasta until al dente, and set aside. Clean and rinse the
broccoli florets. Microwave on high for 3 to 4 minutes, until the
broccoli is a dark green. Microwave the carrots on high for 3 to 4
minutes, until slightly limp. Toss the pasta, broccoli, carrots,
tomatoes, mushrooms, olives, and half of the salad dressing in a
large bowl. Add more salad dressing until the ingredients are
coated with the dressing. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before
Vitex proves effective for PMS
Cindy L. A. Jones, Ph.D.
Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus), also known as
chaste tree, has long been a traditional treatment for the symptoms
of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Now, medical science has documented
that vitex is indeed a safe and effective treatment for PMS through
a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. This study
enrolled 170 women with an average age of thirty-six who were
diagnosed with premenstrual syndrome.
The women received either one 20-mg tablet of vitex extract or a
placebo pill daily, beginning at the start of their first menstrual
cycle during the study. After three months of treatment, the
womens’ symptoms were assessed both by the participants themselves
and by their physicians with an assessment called clinical global
When symptoms before and after the study were compared, 52
percent of the women taking vitex had significant improvement,
compared to 24 percent of the women in the placebo group. Most of
the improvement was seen in reductions of irritability, mood
alteration, anger, headache, and breast fullness. (Vitex treatment
did not decrease bloating.
The physicians’ evaluations confirmed these positive results.
Mild adverse effects of the herbal treatment were reported in just
4.7 percent of patients and included acne, multiple abscesses,
intermenstrual bleeding, and rash.
Typical treatment for women who suffer from PMS is a variety of
drugs, including pain relievers, antidepressants, and hormone
suppressors. None of these, however, has been found to be
completely satisfactory. Scientists have not yet uncovered how
vitex works to relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. The herb
contains a mixture of iridoids, flavonoids, and compounds with
structures similar to those of sex hormones. Researchers propose
that components of vitex may act on the pituitary gland to
stimulate the production of luteinizing hormone, which in turn
stimulates progesterone production. It’s also possible that vitex
may modulate the secretion of the hormone prolactin.
Schellenberg, R. “Treatment for the premenstrual syndrome with
agnus castus fruit extract: Prospective, randomised, placebo
controlled study.” British Medical Journal 2001, 322:134–137.
Getting healthy–with fats!
Ann Louise Gittleman, N.D., M.S., C.N.S.
It may sound strange, but eating the right kind
of fats is definitely where it’s at for healthy weight loss. Sadly,
many people have been so brainwashed by the fat-free mentality of
the past ten years that they still suffer from fat phobia. And
although we are slowly emerging from the no- or low-fat craze, the
notion that all fats are bad is a hard one to shake.
There are, of course, some fats you should definitely stay away
from. Hydrogenated, oxidized, fried, or heat-processed
fats—typically found in margarine, vegetable shortening, or fried
foods—are sources of the unnatural and unhealthy trans fatty acids.
These are the fats that have been linked to heart disease, cancer,
and aging. But there are good fats. The essential fatty acids, for
instance, are not only necessary for overall health but are also
beneficial for shedding excess pounds. They are crucial to
cardiovascular, immune, reproductive, and skin health.
The truth is high-quality, protective fats (such as olive oil,
flaxseed oil, fish oils, nuts, seeds, and avocados) can help keep
blood-sugar levels stable so you actually feel fuller longer. In
addition, some of the healthy fats can trigger fat burning rather
than fat storage. And that boosts your body’s natural fat-burning
ability. So the question isn’t whether you should include fats in
your diet. The question is which ones?
Thanks to the fat-free propaganda of the past decade, Americans
have mistakenly linked all dietary fats with elevated cholesterol
levels, cardiovascular problems, and obesity. They reacted by
dramatically altering their dietary regimens and removing fats from
their meals. But without fat, many developed powerful food cravings
and wound up substituting unlimited carbohydrates for the missing
Even the most nutritionally conscious health buffs went
overboard with these fat-free carbohydrates and became fat in the
process. They ate too many refined, white-flour carbohydrates (such
as bagels and white rice), as well as those highly touted complex
carbohydrates (such as whole-grain bread, potatoes, and corn).
These foods can produce a quick spike in blood-sugar levels, which
raises insulin, the fat-promoting hormone. Elevated insulin blocks
the body’s ability to burn stored fat for energy and creates a
rapid fall in blood-sugar levels, resulting in more hunger.
This roller-coaster ride of blood-sugar peaks and valleys has
ultimately led to our national problem: weight gain. In fact, more
Americans are overweight today than ever before. More than 50
percent fall in the overweight category. As odd as it may sound,
many of these overweight individuals are suffering from an
essential fatty acid (EFA) deficiency. EFAs are absolutely
necessary for the body’s biochemical processes. Without them, your
body senses a famine and begins to convert more carbohydrates into
fat, turning it into a fat-producing machine.
EFA deficiency may also be the cause of disorders such as
arthritis, diabetes, skin disorders, breast cancer, PMS and
menopausal symptoms, low energy levels, fatigue, allergy, yeast
problems, mood swings, and depression.
Among healthy fats, the omegas are probably the most studied.
These families of EFAs include omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9. The
omegas provide support for many bodily functions, including the
cardiovascular, reproductive, immune, and nervous systems. Both the
omega-3s (in sources such as flaxseed oil, fatty fish, walnuts, and
pumpkin seeds) and the “good” omega-6 sources (such as borage and
evening primrose oil) contain the essential fatty acids your body
needs but can’t produce on its own. For that reason, they must be
taken in food or by supplementation.
Current research indicates that the omega-3s reduce high
triglycerides, lower hypertension, regulate irregular heartbeat,
and assist in preventing learning disorders and menopausal
discomforts. They also facilitate infant brain development. Certain
omega-6s are outstanding for improving diabetic neuropathy,
rheumatoid arthritis, PMS, and skin disorders, as well as playing a
role in cancer treatment.
Although not considered essential, omega-9s also provide
substantial health benefits. They should still be a part of your
diet because of their monounsaturated oleic acid content.
Monounsaturated oleic acid plays a protective role in lowering
heart-attack risk and preventing arterial cholesterol buildup. It
is also believed to assist in cancer prevention.
The key to vibrant health and successful weight loss is balanced
nutrition. Here’s a list of the best dietary sources for each of
these healthy fats. But remember: When they are processed or
refined, the nutritional benefits of these oils are dramatically
Omega-3s: Eat fatty fish (choose from salmon, mackerel,
sardines, or butter fish) three or four times a week. Or supplement
with 1 to 3 g of fish oil or flaxseed oil daily. Other omega-3
sources are wheat germ oil, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, purslane, and
hemp seed oil.
Omega-6s: Enjoy 1 to 2 g of borage oil or 3 to 6 g of evening
primrose oil daily. Other omega-6 sources include black currant
seed oil, pine nuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, and conjugated
linoleic acid capsules.
Omega-9s: Eat 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil daily. Other tasty
omega-9 sources include sesame oil, avocado, peanuts, almonds,
pecans, cashews, hazelnuts, and macadamia nuts.
Ann Louise Gittleman, N.D., M.S., C.N.S., is one of the foremost
nutritionists in the United States. She is the author of the
best-selling books Eat Fat, Lose Weight (Keats, 1999) and Why Am I
Always So Tired? (Harper San Francisco, 1999). Her new column will
appear in each issue’s Natural Healing section.
Natural help for adult acne
If you are older than twenty and are still
experiencing skin problems, you aren’t alone. Although acne is
thought to be a condition affecting gawky teenagers, dermatologists
report that acne affects millions of adults.
Adult acne is similar to juvenile acne in that it’s caused by
clogged pores. However, adolescent pores become clogged with excess
oils brought on by puberty; adult pores become clogged with dead
skin cells. To make matters worse, adult skin is much more
“Adult acne can also be termed irritant acne,” says Howard
Murad, M.D., a dermatologist in Manhattan Beach, California. “The
onslaught of chemicals and pollutants in the environment
[continually] insults the skin. One result of this irritation is
rosacea, a condition where the skin becomes inflamed. Red bumps
appear that look like acne lesions,” he says.
Interestingly, Murad says that all of the culprits that we have
traditionally blamed for acne really don’t apply. “It’s not
chocolate and oily food. Lately, it is the low-calorie sushi and
soy sauce with high levels of iodine that are responsible for
breakouts,” he says. He also feels that women are more stressed
than ever, and stress creates a ripe setting for breakouts.
“Adult acne really needs to be dealt with both externally and
internally,” Murad says. He recommends herbs and supplements such
as zinc, yellow dock (Rumex crispus), burdock root (Arctium lappa),
and vitamin A for internal use. Externally, he suggests using
topical anti- inflammatory ingredients such as aloe (Aloe vera),
arnica (Arnica spp.), and licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra).
A firsthand acne experience
Julie Bailey, herbalist and owner of Mountain Rose Herbs in
Nevada City, California, knows about adult acne firsthand. The
extent of the breakout determines how she copes with skin
eruptions. “If I have a real volcano on my face, I oftentimes use a
giant burdock leaf as a poultice. I just steam it over a pot of
mineral water, then cut some slits into it so that I can see and
breathe. I usually drape the leaf over my face while enjoying a hot
bath,” she says. Bailey also likes to use vitex berry paste (Vitex
agnus-castus)—she lightly steams the berries and then crushes them
into a paste. Clay powder can be added to give the mixture a more
Internally, Bailey uses a host of herbs for cleansing the liver,
endocrine system, and lymphatic system. She recommends burdock root
and red clover flower (Trifolium pratense) for liver support. “Of
course, you can also use milk thistle (Silybum marianum) and
artichoke (Cynara scolymus),” she says. These herbs can be taken in
capsule form or by steeping the blend of herbs into a tea.
According to Bailey, cleansing the system is great for the skin
because it eliminates toxins that might otherwise be expressed
through skin eruptions. “Detoxing the liver and other key systems
in the body is a wonderful idea on a seasonal or bi-yearly basis.
However, you don’t want to overly tax these systems daily. Instead,
you want to offer support for better functioning. The combination
of red clover flower and burdock root is perfect for a daily mild
boost to the system,” she says.
Acne help at the spa
At Urban Nirvana in Charleston, South Carolina, esthetician and
co-owner Jennifer Spear finds that adult acne is on the rise. “We
see ladies with a great deal of milia, or whiteheads beneath the
surface of the skin, as well as enlarged pores, blackheads, and
full-blown acne breakouts,” says Spear. To make matters worse,
these women often have extreme combination skin types. “We approach
the dry and oily combination skins by treating them as if they were
totally different faces. We mask, exfoliate, and hydrate the
different skin types with products that treat each area,” she
When recommending a professional treatment for adult acne
clients, one really should think “gentle but effective,” according
to Spear. “Adult acne is greatly brought on by inadequate
exfoliation,” she says. “We try to choose an exfoliant that will
really rid the skin of dead cells and ensure that new skin will
Name: Ann Louise Gittleman, N.D., M.S., C.N.S.
Hometown: Currently lives in Bozeman, Montana, but grew up in
West Hartford, Connecticut.
Occupation: Nutrition consultant and nutritionist. Author of
sixteen books, including The Living Beauty Detox Program (Harper,
2000), Eat Fat, Lose Weight (Keats, 1999), and How to Stay Young
and Healthy in a Toxic World (Keats, 1999).
Education and training: B.A. degree in English and drama from
Connecticut College; principal and teacher certificate in religious
education from Hebrew Union College in Israel; M.S. degree in
nutrition education from Columbia University; N.D. degree;
Certified Nutrition Specialist from the American College of
Nutrition in New York.
How did you first become interested in alternative
I was greatly inspired by my mentor, Dr. Hazel Parcells. She
taught me the importance of looking at the unsuspected and
underlying causes of ill health ranging from parasites to allergies
to heavy metal toxicity. She lived to the ripe old age of 106 and
was still going strong.
What would you say to someone considering alternative
Read the way I did—extensively. What’s important is being
committed to finding the underlying causes of why you don’t feel
well. Don’t just put a Band-Aid on the problem—natural or
otherwise. Find the root. Then you’ll be able to change your
lifestyle and your habits, and then ultimately your life. Good
health is vitality and the synergistic flow of energies working in
harmony; it’s not just the absence of symptoms.
What do you see happening with the interaction between Western
and alternative medicine?
I don’t like the term “alternative” medicine. We may not be
prevailing, but we’re certainly not alternative. I like the concept
of “integrative” medicine—embracing the best of both worlds.
“Fusion” medicine is a great word, too. One of the greatest
modalities we have today is state-of-the-art functional medicine
testing, which has evolved from integrative medicine. It helps us
find out which types of fatty acids and amino acids are missing so
that each individual can follow a diet based on his or her
individual needs. One diet or group of supplements does not meet
everyone’s needs, and it’s been this inability to individualize
that’s been our biggest problem.
What is your daily routine of alternative therapies?
I meditate in the morning—either with a tape or I sit quietly for
ten to twenty minutes. I do daily exercise—twenty minutes on the
treadmill and then I work with a personal trainer two times a week
weight lifting. I eat as pure a diet as I can with quality fats and
essential fatty acids. My diet is high in protein with slow-acting,
What are your hobbies?
I love to sing and dance, especially tap dance. I would’ve been a
country-western singer if I didn’t do this. After college, I
performed in off-Broadway musicals and variety shows. Now I travel
all of the time and just don’t have the time to be in a show, even
though I’d love to audition for a local production. Now my creative
side is rechanneled into my writing. I also love to read about
metaphysics, history of religion, and archaeology—really ancient
history, I guess.
Do you have any funny stories to share?
My niece, Shira, was in the second grade and was asked to write a
paper about her favorite person, and she chose her Aunt “Annaweez.”
She wrote that I’m her favorite person because I give her presents
and I give her vitamins so she can be healthy. I even came to her
classroom so she could introduce me to her classmates.
Makes 1 pint
4 cups watermelon, juiced
2 cups watermelon (white part), diced
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
11/2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 medium white onion, sliced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon jalapeno pepper, minced
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 lemon, juiced
2 tablespoon currants
2 tablespoon walnuts, roasted
Reduce watermelon juice over medium heat to 2 cups. Combine all
ingredients, and simmer until almost dry. Chill and serve.
Recipe by Joseph K. Poon for the National Watermelon Promotion
Kiss canker sores goodbye
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa
Commonly called canker sores but more correctly
termed “aphthous ulcers,” these mouth ulcers can be extremely
painful. Jonathan Wright, M.D., of Kent, Washington, says that
canker sores are almost always linked to food allergies and
nutritional deficiencies, particularly of iron, vitamin B12, and
folic acid. Here are some tips to try for relief.
• Because mouth ulcers stem from a breakdown in tissue
structure, gotu kola (Centella asiatica) can be quite effective.
Gotu kola is widely known to heal wounds and promotes
connective-tissue growth. Try 1 oz. of dry gotu kola, brewed as
tea, per day. You could also try a smaller dose, to tolerance, in
• Mouth rinses that may help include alum, milk of magnesia, and
cinchona bark (Cinchona spp.). Some practitioners suggest myrrh gum
powder (Commiphora spp.), applied directly to the ulcer.
• Probably the most outstanding herbal remedy for mouth sores is
licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), a potent antiviral,
anti-inflammatory, and tissue healer. Try putting a pinch of dried,
powdered root on the sore, or sucking on a licorice lozenge.
A new healthy buzz
Bee products have been used as health aids
throughout history and across cultures. Today bee pollen, royal
jelly, propolis, and venom are used by the public and recommended
by naturopaths, acupuncturists, and even some physicians. What
place does their use have in today’s diverse health-care field?
To begin with, bee products provide numerous nutrients. Justin
Schmidt, an entomologist with the United States Department of
Agriculture in Tucson, Arizona, is studying the nutritional
benefits of bee pollen and drawing up an index listing the
percentage of recommended dietary allowances found in it. It is a
“good source for just about everything humans or animals need
except for lipid-soluble vitamins,” he says. Naturopath and
acupuncturist Rick Marinelli of Portland, Oregon, says he
recommends organic bee pollen as a nutritional supplement and as a
treatment for hay fever sufferers, who take small amounts of the
previous year’s local pollen before the season starts. The
treatment is effective in many cases, he notes. The pollen can be
eaten raw and unrefined, in pellet form, or in tablet form, and is
also available in energy bars and drinks. Pollen products for dogs
and cats are popular, too.
Royal jelly is produced in the glands of worker bees. The
substance is fed to worker bees in their first three days of life
and to queen bees their entire lives. Like pollen, it has numerous
vitamins, enzymes, amino acids, and some antibiotic properties.
Marinelli prescribes it to people who lack vitality or have
experienced illness, trauma, stress, and surgery.
Propolis and bee venom
Propolis, plant resins gathered by bees and used to coat the
inside of the beehive and honeycomb cells with an antiseptic layer,
is used by humans, often in capsule form, to fight pathogens and
enhance the immune system. The flavonoids and phenolics in it
protect against bacteria, fungi, and various microorganisms. It can
strengthen vascular tissue so it doesn’t bleed so easily, says
Schmidt. It can also be used for the mouth and gums as a gargle (in
water) or a drink (in juice). Propolis is also put into some
toothpastes. Naturopaths may recommend it to treat
upper-respiratory problems, ear or throat viruses, and surface
Bee venom, the product of the sting, is an old folk remedy that
has been used in almost every culture we have records for, says
Schmidt. It is used for internal problems as well as injuries such
as joint swelling. “Anecdotal records of tens of thousands of
beekeepers and others have found bee venom therapy effective in
alleviating arthritis,” he says. Almost any condition of the immune
system may be helped by bee venom therapy, he believes. An active
component of bee venom is melittin, a powerful anti-inflammatory.
Marinelli has used injectable venom to treat scar tissue,
arthritis, rheumatism, and soft-tissue pain. “It is remarkably
effective for those types of things,” he says.
People with multiple sclerosis (MS) have reported varying
degrees of success with bee venom, which can also be administered
directly from bee stings. Floyd Alexander of Warren, Ohio, has had
MS for eighteen years and says bee venom enhances his muscle tone,
assists with bladder and bowel function, provides relief from
arthritis pain and swelling, and gives him energy. “MS has not left
my body,” he says, but bee products “enhance my body function and
keep me strong.” A beekeeper now, he receives visitors from across
the country seeking treatment for MS, Lyme disease, injuries,
Alzheimer’s disease, and other conditions.
The future of bee products
Although there are doctors in the United States who recommend
bee products, and the president of the American Apitherapy Society
is a doctor, many in the medical community are skeptical about
their usefulness. Yet some physicians and scientists have begun
scientific studies in recent years. Many of these studies are
listed in the National Library of Medicine files of the National
Institutes of Health (www.pubmed.com). In addition, physicians at
Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., are investigating bee
venom’s efficacy as a treatment for MS. At this time, people in
Eastern Europe and Asia (especially China) are very interested in
research on bee products, says Schmidt, but some of the studies
they’ve done so far have not been conducted with controls or other
elements of the scientific method. Time will tell if these ancient
remedies will once again enter the mainstream of health care.
3627 E. Indian School Rd. Ste. 209
Phoenix, AZ 85018
(800) 875-0096; www.ccpollen.com
Pleasant Valley Apiaries
10010 Lost Prairie Rd.
Marion, MT 59925
YS Organic Bee Farms
2774 N. 4351 Rd.
Sheridan, IL 60551
(800) 654-4593; www.ysorganic.com
The benefits of strength training extend far beyond just looking
Do you equate lifting weights with the bulging
biceps of Arnold Schwarzenegger? The sooner you let go of that
misconception, the better off you—and your body—will be. Research
has shown that pumping iron benefits health in profound ways. After
about age forty, most of us lose about 1 percent of muscle mass
each year, and incorporating moderate weight training into your
fitness routine just a few times a week can help deter muscle
wasting, bone weakening, and loss of balance.
A fitness study
A landmark study conducted by Tufts University in 1994 examined
sedentary women between the ages of fifty and seventy years old.
For one year, half of the group worked out with weights while the
other half continued to do nothing. Those who regularly visited the
gym gained one percent of bone mass and exchanged two and a half
pounds of fat for muscle. They also scored 14 percent higher on a
balance test than before they started lifting. Those who didn’t hit
the weights lost 2 percent of their bone mass and one pound of
muscle; their balance scores dropped by 8.5 percent.
According to IDEA, an international organization dedicated to
the education of fitness professionals, weight training may also
help fight heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes. And because
increased muscle mass increases resting metabolism, those who
weight train burn more overall calories throughout the day.
The American College of Sports Medicine suggests incorporating
weight training into your workout program two to three times per
week if you’re just getting started with a fitness routine. It
recommends one set of eight to ten exercises per day—eight to
twelve repetitions per set—to condition each major muscle group
(such as legs, chest, shoulders, arms, and back). In order to allow
your muscles to recover, stagger your weight training so that you
never work the same muscle groups on back-to-back days. As you
progress and become more advanced, be sure to continue to challenge
your body. Perform multiple sets per exercise and add more
exercises per body part. As you add more exercises, stagger your
lifting sessions so that you have enough energy to complete your
workout. For example, train legs, back, and biceps on Mondays and
Thursdays, and then hit chest, shoulders, and triceps on Tuesdays
and Fridays. Abdominals may be worked as often as you’d like.
Free weights versus machines
If you’re a beginner, stick to the machines. (Ask a personal
trainer or gym staff member for a demonstration if you need help.)
As long as you’re set up correctly (generally all it takes is
adjusting the seat to the proper height), you’re ready to lift the
weight. And because the apparatus can only move in one direction,
you’ll have good form. Once you become comfortable with the
exercises, start integrating free weights (barbells and dumbbells)
into your routine. Using free weights develops balance and
coordination, because they use several muscle groups to help
maintain proper position. For example, if you’re performing an
exercise for your upper body on a stationary machine, you’re doing
very little for your lower body. However, if you’re using free
weights to perform that same exercise, you’ll need to stabilize the
weights by using your leg and trunk muscles. Ideal weight-training
programs use a combination of machines and free weights.
Think negative. Every repetition consists of a positive and a
negative. The positive is the first half of the exercise, and the
negative is the second half. Try to maintain control throughout the
entire exercise; don’t let the weight fall to its starting
Gauge yourself. Use the eight to twelve suggested reps as a test
to know whether you’re using too much or too little weight during
the exercise. If pumping out twelve reps is a cinch, and you could
easily do more, add some weight. If you can barely get to eight
without a struggle, you need to reduce the weight.
Change is good. Your muscles have memory and will quickly adapt
to your weight routine. It’s why many people plateau after about
eight to ten weeks and stop seeing results. Avoid this problem by
changing your routine, swapping out exercises, and alternating the
muscle groups you work on the same day. In other words, instead of
continuing to do leg extensions to work your quads, switch to a leg
press. Or rather than working arms on the same day as your
shoulders, try training them when you train your legs instead.
Mirror, mirror. Watch what you’re doing and make certain your
form is correct. Poor form can not only lead to injury, it may also
prevent the results you’re working so hard to achieve. For example,
a bench press performed incorrectly may not work your chest muscles
at all; instead, you could be targeting your shoulders and not even
know it. Try using lighter weights or ask a fitness professional
for some help.
Kelli Rosen, former managing editor of The Herb Companion, is a
former personal trainer and fitness instructor, and was the 1993
Pennsylvania bodybuilding champion.
Why we need water
We can survive for days without food, but the
same doesn’t go for water. Our bodies, composed of 55 to 75 percent
water, need water to function properly, and ultimately, to survive.
Water is found in muscle, fat, bone, blood, all body tissues, and
all bodily fluids.
“Water not only satisfies thirst, it is also necessary to
regulate body temperature and to transport nutrients and oxygen
within the cells,” says Kathy Holmes, registered dietitian and
clinical nutrition manager at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood
Springs, Colorado. Water is essential for all bodily functions,
including hydrating the intestines to allow for proper bowel
movements and cleaning and filtering the kidneys.
How much water is enough to maintain good health? As a starting
point, some physicians and dieticians recommend drinking half your
body weight in ounces of water every day. This is just the minimum
that Hilary Back, a naturopathic physician in Aspen, Colorado,
recommends for her patients. “You always want to drink before
you’re thirsty,” she says.
Back suggests that first and foremost, meet the daily amount by
drinking plain filtered water alone. Tap water often contains
chlorine and may contain inorganic minerals and heavy metals—a good
reason to choose filtered or spring water, she says. Holmes, on the
other hand, recommends drinking 8 to 12 cups of plain old tap
water, because bottled water may not contain fluoride, which some
practitioners think may help protect tooth enamel and prevent tooth
decay (read more about fluoride on page 51 of this issue).
Holmes says that all liquid beverages count as water. However,
alcohol and caffeinated fluids are not the best sources because
they act as diuretics, causing the body to lose water, she says.
Carbonated drinks contain phosphates, which can take calcium from
bones if the beverages aren’t consumed in the proper ratio with
calcium, says Back, but sparkling water is okay if it’s not
carbonated with phosphates. Drinking juice adds calories because of
the sugar content.
Some foods have a high water content, such as watermelon,
lettuce, cheese, and yogurt. Even bread contains nearly 40 percent
water. Yet trying to get your daily water intake from food can be
difficult because it’s hard to gauge how much fluid you’re actually
Bear in mind that water intake should increase during and after
exercise. An additional 1 to 3 cups of water should be consumed for
each hour of activity, says Holmes. Weigh yourself before and after
exercising, and replace each pound of body weight lost with 2 cups
The best way to drink more water daily is to keep a water bottle
around at all times—in your car and at your desk at work, and in
the refrigerator at home. You can also buy a five-gallon water
dispenser so that you always have cold, tasty water available. It
may help to drink 8 ounces of water for each hour that you’re at
work—that adds up to 64 ounces during an eight-hour work day.
Back recommends using a glass or hard plastic bottle, such as a
Nalgene bottle, which doesn’t leach as many xenoestrogens
(substances that mimic estrogen in the body, found in soft
plastics), thought to possibly interfere with women’s natural
hormones. Nalgene bottles also have measures written on the
outside, so you can keep track of your water intake.
AHAs: Modern skincare with herbal roots
C. Leigh Broadhurst, Ph.D., and James A. Duke, Ph.D.
Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) are common ingredients in skin-care
products, especially those designed to improve the appearance of
facial skin. These products include scrubs, masques, lotions, and
skin-lightening and anti-aging treatments.
It doesn’t matter whether you fill a dermatologist’s
prescription, grab a store brand off the shelf in discount drug
chain, or select an organic herbal regimen at an exclusive spa: All
of these lines contain essentially the same AHAs, and all can be
effective. However, it isn’t because a drug treatment was proven
effective that herbal alternatives have sprung up to take the
lion’s share of the skin-care market from over-the-counter sales.
AHAs were cornerstones of traditional herbal skin care long before
they were introduced to dermatology.
AHAs occur naturally in many fruits.
How AHAs work
AHAs are also called “fruit acids” because they occur naturally
in many fruits. Alpha hydroxy means that a hydroxyl group (OH) is
on the “alpha carbon”—the one adjacent to the final carbon in the
acid molecule. For example, if you add alpha-OH to acetic acid, the
chief acid in vinegar, you make glycolic acid, the most common and
widely utilized AHA.
Glycolic acid is concentrated in sugarcane juice, so it’s a
byproduct of sugar refining. Other common AHAs are lactic acid
(present in tomato juice and buttermilk); tartaric acid (found in
grapes); and citric acid (derived from citrus fruits). When applied
to the skin, AHAs increase the turnover rate of skin cells and help
exfoliate (shed) the top layers of dead skin. This effect makes the
skin look younger, tighter, and fresher, and freckles and dark
spots are somewhat lightened. However, improvements in skin
appearance happen largely because AHAs slightly irritate the skin.
Prescription facial peels contain 50 to 70 percent glycolic or
lactic acid, thus are effective exfoliants but cause redness,
blotchiness, and sensitive skin. Less expensive drugstore products
contain 1 to 10 percent AHA (usually glycolic or lactic acid) and
provide reduced side effects but often little noticeable
improvement. There’s no looking younger without paying a price: The
conventional rule of thumb with AHAs is the greater the irritation,
the better the results.
A gentler approach
A more traditional herbal approach can help improve the skin’s
appearance without increasing skin irritation. This is important
because skin peels are used for more than vanity. AHA treatment has
the potential to help skin diseases that are characterized by
extreme flaking and scaling, such as psoriasis and hyperkeratosis.
For disease treatment, conventional peels may be used regularly for
years, but skin irritation is a real drawback.
Typical herbal approaches employed by natural cosmetic
manufacturers use extracts of herbal fruits such as bilberry and
sea buckthorn. The extracts contain mixed AHAs along with other
phytochemicals that are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. They
also help normalize the skin’s immune reactions. Well-designed
whole herb products actively can reduce skin sensitivity and
irritation, counteracting the negative effects of AHAs. In
addition, many herbal antioxidants applied topically can be
absorbed by the skin and used directly to fight the aging
Until the 1920s, Caucasian women strongly preferred milky white
skin without freckles or suntan. Facial masques were made with
buttermilk and crushed strawberries to whiten skin and fade
freckles. These masques worked well enough that their recipes are
still in herbal books today, and here’s why: The tang of buttermilk
(and other dairy products such as yogurt and kefir) comes from the
fermentation of milk sugar (lactose) to form the AHA lactic acid.
Strawberries have some AHAs, but more important, they are rich in
ellagic acid. Ellagic acid lightens freckles and spots by
inhibiting a key enzyme used in the production of melanin, the skin
pigment that’s concentrated in freckles and spots.
In Japan, white skin is still preferred, and some phytochemicals
and herbal extracts approved for Japanese cosmetics inhibit the
production of melanin. These include arbutin (from cranberries and
bearberries), ellagic acid, kojic acid (from koji, the malted rice
used to brew sake), licorice, mulberry root, and pyracantha. These,
too, are cosmetic solutions derived from traditional herbalism.
C. Leigh Broadhurst holds a doctorate in geochemistry and is a
nutrition consultant in Clovery, Maryland.
James Duke is a member of the Herbs for Health Editorial
Advisory Board. His most recent book is Herbs of the Bible
(Interweave Press, 1999).