Ask the Herbalist
As millions of people turn 60, many begin thinking: "What can I do to stay mentally alert and maintain precious memories?"
The May 2006 issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch gave six guidelines for mental health, including eating a diet with lots of whole, unrefined foods and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in a normal range while increasing high-density lipoprotein, or "good" cholesterol with diet, exercise and dietary supplements.
Cardiovascular health is at the top of the list. Brain function and memory are directly associated with cardiovascular health, because the brain has the highest need of any organ for blood, nutrients and oxygen. We have direct control over brain and cardiovascular health through our day-to-day choice of diet, activities (or nonactivities) and the amount of stress we create and how we react to it.
Choosing the best cardiovascular and brain health diet is simple—the more fruits and vegetables the better, and eating some of them raw and unadulterated is a good idea. Increasing overall fiber is important for clearing out waste products on all levels.
Some of the best heart friendly and vessel-clearing foods include high-pigment fruits such as pomegranate, blueberries and the lowly prune. The harmful effects of damaging oxygen radicals are counteracted by compounds these foods contain, such as phenolics like flavonoids and anthocyanidins, and oligomeric proanthocyanidins found in grape seeds and pine bark.
A lot of tropical and exotic fruits have recently been touted for their vessel- and heart-clearing properties—especially noni fruit, gou ji, or gogi, berries (Chinese wolfberry) and mangosteen pericarp. These fruits all contain strong antioxidant potential.
Besides promoting daily antioxidants in the diet and in supplement form, herbalists often focus on liver health to create good cardiovascular and mental health. Our liver produces cholesterol—both HDL and low-density lipoprotein, or bad cholesterol—and it helps the body rid itself of chemicals that initiate the inflammatory processes that can lead to cardiovascular disease and memory problems. The liver is also the body's major source of natural antioxidants, such as glutathione.
A liver-wellness program with herbs should include artichoke leaf extract, which can help lower cholesterol and maintain good fat digestion, and a cleansing liver flush program several times a year. Other cholesterol-balancing herbs include burdock root (gobo), dandelion root, chicory (an ingredient in many coffee substitutes) and yellow dock root. Many liver-cleansing products are available that contain these herbs.
I recently reviewed the scientific liter?ature on ingredients that lower high blood pressure and cholesterol and have strong research behind them, and came up with a few that really seem to be effective. These include plant sterols (1.8 grams per day), polymethoxylated flavones (300 milligrams per day), tocotrienols (100 milligrams per day) and policosanol (about 40 milligrams per day). Some recent research seems to favor plant sterols especially, then tocotrienols. Research shows that consumption of 2 to 3 grams daily of plant sterols in the diet can reduce LDL cholesterol by 10 percent to 15 percent, with no known side effects. A number of studies show a positive effect for policosonol, but a large new study published in the May 2006 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association showed no benefit.
According to traditional Chinese medicinal wisdom, one of the best ways to avoid cardiovascular and memory problems is to keep the blood moving smoothly twith "blood movers"—herbs that can help prevent abnormal clotting. These include the regular use of tomatoes, garlic, ginger and chili peppers, and products that contain them. One of the best blood movers and antioxidants for cardiovascular and memory health is ginkgo leaf extract. The usual dose is about 60 milligrams of the extract, two to three times a day. However, unlike garlic and chili peppers, the highly bitter and astringent taste of ginkgo really takes getting used to. I'm still not used to it after all these years, and I'm an herbalist. This is one case where you might be better off with an encapsulated product where you can enjoy the benefits without the taste.
Christopher Hobbs is a Capitola, Calif., based herbalist, acupuncturist and author of Natural Therapy for Your Liver (Avery, 2002).
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 2/p. 40