How to Get the Most Out of Natural Remedies

October 9, 2015

How to Get the Most Out of Natural RemediesFrom immune system boosters, to joint re-builders, to heart helpers (and a plethora of things between), there are so many plants, oils, minerals and foods that assist us with our health. Beneath the surface though, many biochemical reactions are happening between us and these remedies that could be enhancing or hindering their effects. While factors vary widely depending on the remedy used, there are some general questions and considerations to keep in mind that can help maximize what they have to offer:

1. What is the source? How was it harvested/stored/produced? Was it heated or frozen in the process, is it combined with any other ingredients in a formula or used by itself? Are there any contaminants or additives? How long does it last? These questions help determine the quality and potency of the remedy. You may need to contact the company to ask these questions directly if it is not provided on their label or website.

2. How is the remedy used? If it’s a plant, is there a particular part of the plant that should be used (seed, leaf, root, berry, etc), or, is there a recommended way to deliver the remedy for maximum absorption (liquid, powder, capsule, lotion, etc.)? These things can change depending on the condition the remedy is used for.

–> If you aren’t already working with a trained professional who can guide you, use keywords in your research that include the name of the remedy being used, the best way to use it (the technical term for this is: delivery method) and the health condition or goal it’s being used for.

Example: ‘best way to use Dandelion for liver’ – this will bring up more specific information to guide you in the process.

3. Does it need other nutrients in order to “activate” and work best? Some remedies, like turmeric and calcium, are more effective when combined with other nutrients.

4. Could anything else you’re doing or other remedies you’re taking effect the benefits? For instance, if you drink black tea or take antacids (like Tums) while also taking iron supplements, the body is not able to absorb and use the iron. Timing could also be a factor effecting success. Due to what’s lost in the digestion process, taking iron supplements during or after meals can reduce it’s absorption by about 30%! Meanwhile, vitamin C helps enhance the absorption of iron.

Now that we’ve outlined the basic considerations to keep in mind, let’s look at some specific remedies more closely.

Garlic is a traditional go-to remedy with a long history of use for promoting health. It is antimicrobial and antibacterial, therefore an excellent food to ward off cold and flu bugs. There’s a lesser known caveat about garlic, though. To reach its full potential, oxygen needs to convert the sulfuric compound found in garlic, alliin, to allicin-the powerful antimicrobial agent that gives garlic its bug-conquering kick. That means, simply chopping or crushing garlic and letting it sit for a few minutes will help to get the most health benefit from it. The potency degrades quickly with heat; so use it raw when possible and if cooking, do so lightly.

Turmeric is another famous remedy, prized for its anti-inflammatory effect. It’s a superb aid for joint health and reducing cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation in general. Some products on the market offer a standardized form of curcumin (the most active compound found in turmeric) however studies have found using the whole plant (in this case the rhizome, or root) is more effective. A simple way to enhance and get the most from it, is to combine it with black pepper. If you’re taking turmeric supplements, look for pepper included in the formula. If you’re using the powdered spice, just add pepper with it when cooking or blending up smoothies.

Milk thistle loves the liver! It nourishes the liver unlike anything else. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the liver acts as the body’s ‘General’, working constantly to filter through everything and direct energy to where it needs to go. It’s a tough job, especially in today’s toxic world. Milk thistle really gives back to the liver in a gentle yet powerful way. It’s primarily protective, and likened to providing comfort like a baby blanket. It’s a good idea to include milk thistle when detoxing the liver. It’s also especially indicated for use with chemotherapy. But caution! Not everything on the market is worth the venture. It’s common to see milk thistle in tea form at health food stores – and while it looks nice and tastes delicious, the active constituents in milk thistle are not water soluble. That means the tea might look nice and taste nice but it does nothing to protect the liver. It is the milk thistle SEED that protects and nourishes the liver, and tincture is the best form to use. If sensitive to alcohol, freeze-dried capsules can also be effective.

Calcium gets a lot of stage time and attention. It’s said to prevent osteoporosis but shockingly, if used incorrectly it can actually cause osteoporosis. It can also contribute to heart disease – which is the # 1 cause of death in the United States. Calcium works with magnesium, vitamin D3, and vitamin K to be absorbed and utilized. Without adequate amounts of magnesium, calcium ends up deposited not into the bones but instead–into the blood and arterial pathways! The standard ratio recognized and recommended by most health agencies is a 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium, but some studies suggest a lot more magnesium may be needed, with a 1:2 ratio of calcium to magnesium. The Standard American Diet (SAD), with its emphasis on various Got Milk? campaigns, has around a 4:1 or 5:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium! Yikes. Calcium from supplements also risk calcifying the pineal gland (since calcium is magnetically drawn to the pineal gland) whereas calcium from food sources are better absorbed. Leafy green vegetables, cinnamon, rosemary, sesame seeds, and non-dairy milks are good nutritional sources of calcium.

Wow, there’s so much to think about! It can seem overwhelming, but take it a step at a time. Before trying to tackle everything, the first thing to do is figure out what things (if anything) you take daily. Since you get the most exposure from daily remedies, look at ways to get maximum benefit from those. Then gradually become more and more familiar with the many natural remedies that you use and encounter.

Do you use any of these remedies? Any questions? Please let me know!!


Photo: Davide Ragusa via Barn Image

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Jen is an enthusiast for all things related to nature and revels at the endless ways we can honor it, protect it, and work with it. Much of her time is spent learning, traveling, and talking with people. She's carving her path in the world as an herbalist, skin care guide, nutrition coach, aromatherapist, and feng shui specialist.


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