Tag Archives: intestine

Artichokes Support Springtime Health

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Oh, my favorite inexplicably delicious vegetable.  When I was growing up, my mom would steam each of us an artichoke, whip up a batch of hollandaise, and we’d sit down and get to work making a giant pile of finished leaves in the middle of the table.  In my memory, that was the whole meal, though I’m guessing I’m just forgetting whatever else might have been served because I just loved the painstaking process of dismembering the choke leaf by leaf.  You had to finish because otherwise you wouldn’t get to scrape out the middle and eat the real treat at the end.  These days, I usually make a dip with greek yogurt, garlic, and italian herbs, or a little olive oil with lemon juice rather than the hollandaise to lighten things up a bit, but it’s still an event here on artichoke night.

Artichokes are a wonderful springtime treat not only because they are in season, delicious, and a fun activity that keeps everyone focused on dinner, but because they also support our body’s specific health needs during this season.  They are high in inulin, the mysterious fructooligosaccharide I spoke about in my article about Jerusalem Artichokes.  This means they support the health of the large intestine which will promote the removal of wastes from the body.

Historically, artichokes have been used extensively to support the health of the liver, one of the primary organs we need to support during these months of “spring cleaning”.  Generally, studies have shown artichoke to have a protective effect on liver cells.  Beyond this, artichokes have been found to help with one of the primary actions of the liver, which is to properly synthesize and move fats.  This is useful for several reasons:  It helps to bring cholesterols more efficiently out of the bloodstream,  turn them into bile, and then deliver the bile to the gallbladder.  The bile is then excreted via the intestines.  This is the only way the body is able to rid itself of cholesterols.  This can also help increase the efficiency of removal of fat-soluble toxins from the body.  It has also been found to decrease production of cholesterol (which takes place in the liver).

Overall, artichokes are a great support to the bodily processes that need extra support during the springtime.  They help the body process and eliminate wastes more effectively by promoting the function of the liver and large intestine.  So get out the steamer (or it only takes 8 minutes in the pressure cooker!), roll up your sleeves, and get to work.

Sources:
The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods.  Michael Murray, ND.  2005.

Artichoke leaf extract (Cynara scolymus) reduces plasma cholesterol in otherwise healthy hypercholesterolemic adults: a randomized, double blind placebo controlled trial.
Bundy R, Walker AF, Middleton RW, Wallis C, Simpson HC.  Phytomedicine. 2008 Sep;15(9):668-75.

Inhibition of cholesterol biosynthesis in primary cultured rat hepatocytes by artichoke (Cynarascolymus L.) extracts. Gebhardt R. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 1998 Sep;286(3):1122-8.

What is Detoxification? Is It for Me?

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This is one of the most common questions I hear in my practice.  When the warm breezes start to blow, green leaves start popping and flowers start to spring from the branches of crabapple trees, we all become eager to clean up and get ready for summer.  We rake up old leaves, open the windows, and pull out the shorts and t-shirts. We want to shed our layers and move more quickly out in the warm air.  When that urge starts, I start getting many questions from patients about what it means to do some detoxification and whether it would be useful for them.

The answer to this of course is individual; each person will have different specific needs for how their bodies will thrive best from detoxification.  However, as I mentioned in my article Nourishing Ourselves in Springtime, our organs of elimination need the most support during this season and everyone can benefit from this to some extent.  Generally for children under 18, unless there is some specific medical reason for detoxification, adding in some seasonal foods that support elimination will be more than sufficient..  For adults, depending on your situation you may benefit from a protocol that is more comprehensive, so let’s talk here about the basics.

To start, the term detoxification in my mind is somewhat inaccurate.  To dispel some myths, in general our bodies are not filled with toxic waste that keeps us unhealthy.  Our intestines are not coated in black grime built up from decades of poor eating; I have seen many colonoscopies and none of them have featured tar-coated intestinal walls.  However, over time we can accumulate wastes and develop chronic inflammation that can keep the body from functioning optimally.  I liken it to cleaning out the refrigerator:  if there’s a bunch of old salad dressing, ¾ used ketchup, and half moldy vegetables, it makes it harder to find the food that’s good to eat and there’s no room for bring in fresh, happy food.  Detoxification is like a spring cleaning for the body.  We encourage elimination of things we don’t need and make room for nutritious, health supporting nutrients.

So in our spring cleaning we have four primary routes of elimination from the body that we like to support:  liver, large intestine, kidneys and skin.  Often, we focus on the liver first because it is our primary processing organ; this means it evaluates everything that comes into our bloodstream, decides whether we need it or if it is waste, packages it appropriately, then sends it on its way.  For wastes, it utilizes potent antioxidant enzymes to convert harmful chemicals into water and peroxide or makes toxins water soluble so they can easily be excreted in the urine.  Beets, carrots, leafy greens, dandelion greens, and organic liver are all excellent liver support foods.

The large intestines excrete any wastes that haven’t been absorbed through the intestinal wall as well as extra cholesterol or any fat-soluble toxins that are eliminated through the bile.  Probiotic foods such as kefir, natural sauerkraut, and miso can be helpful to maintain balanced flora.  Excretion can be maximized through high fiber foods such as flax, beets, and greens.  One very key component of detoxification is minimizing inflammation.  If the intestinal wall is irritated or swollen, absorption will be impaired, so it is critical during this time to avoid any known allergens or foods that you know bother you.  This is also a good time to experiment with taking out common allergens such as dairy, gluten, or soy.

The kidneys filter the blood to excrete anything we don’t need.  The most important ways to support the kidneys are to keep the electrolyte balance good through eating foods high in minerals (such as beans and greens), avoiding mineral depleting foods such as sodas and coffee, and drinking plenty of water.  Excretion via the skin can be optimized by opening the pores through exercise, sauna, massage, and dry skin brushing before a shower.

Good luck on your spring cleaning–may your efforts now pay off in extra vitality and feeling great in the warm months to come!