In my last post, I broadly discussed the exciting field of epigenetics, which is radically changing the landscape of what we’ve long believed about genetics and biological destiny. Emerging research shows that food and herbs may be the most important factors in our genetic well-being, directly affecting our health, disease risk, and longevity.

As a clinical herbalist, I find the relationship between herbs and epigenetics particularly compelling. A large body of research shows that a wide array of botanical compounds work in a variety of ways to maintain health at the cellular level, and offer great promise in improving our molecular expression, protecting against cellular stressors and aging by normalizing gene behavior. We cannot change the genes we have, but we can positively alter the fate and behavior of our genes by supplying them with beneficial herbal and dietary compounds.


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The science of epigenetics is turning what we’ve long held true about biological destiny upside down. Although it remains true that our DNA—our genetic code—provides the blueprint for our physiological makeup, researchers have discovered that there’s something extra controlling our genes—and food and herbs may in fact be the most important factors in our genetic well-being.

That extra “something” controlling our genes is the epigenome, the cellular material that sits on top of the genome (the complete set of genetic material present in a cell or organism). While epigenomes do not alter the genetic code, they direct genes to switch on (becoming active) or off (becoming dormant) through a variety of biological mechanisms. This intriguing finding means that your genetic heritage is not the primary determinant of your health, disease risk, or longevity.


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First discovered in 1929, vitamin K has long been recognized as necessary for healthy blood clotting. This, of course, is a critical function—without sufficient vitamin K, we would bleed to death from even a minor wound. But in the past decade, vitamin K has been shown to play a much greater role in health than was previously recognized.

Research shows that vitamin K, in synergy with vitamin D, is an essential nutrient for building strong bones. Vitamin K also supports cardiovascular health, promotes an appropriate inflammatory response, ensures healthy cellular function, and provides redox/antioxidant activity.


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Once referred to as “the staff of life,” wheat has become a controversial food. Although people have been consuming wheat in various forms for thousands of years, increasing numbers of health conscious individuals are turning their backs on what was once regarded as a satisfying, nourishing staple.

In some cases, avoiding wheat is essential for health. Those with celiac disease—a serious inflammatory condition caused by an abnormal immune response to gluten—should never eat wheat or any other gluten containing grains. But while only 1% of people have celiac disease, millions more have adopted a gluten free diet—in particular, shunning wheat.


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“I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts.”  ~Sherlock Holmes.

Conventional medicine has long been wary of traditional herbal medicine, particularly when it comes to the potential interactions of herbs and pharmaceutical drugs. However, the focus of conventional medicine always seems to be on the negative interactions of herbs and drugs, when in fact, herb-drug interactions can often be positive.


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Closely related to the culinary herb sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum), holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) is a plant with a rich history of use as a healing herb. Because this venerable herb has so many applications, it has become one of my favorites. I often include holy basil in adaptogenic tonics, and also find it useful for specific conditions, ranging from support for cancer and cardiovascular disease to improving skin health.

Native to India, holy basil is also known as tulsi, which means “the incomparable one.” Considered as sacred in the Hindu faith, most traditional homes and temples in India have at least one tulsi plant, which is used in prayers to insure personal health, spiritual purity, and family well-being. In Ayurvedic medicine, tulsi is classified as a rasayana, an herb that nourishes a person’s growth to perfect health and enlightenment and promotes long life.


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