Eating dark chocolate may improve mood

Mood disorders affect almost ten percent of U.S. adults and nearly fifteen percent of adolescents, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. With so many people suffering from mood disorders people are looking for answers in nature and food. Fortunately, a recent study suggests eating a common treat—dark chocolate—may positively affect mood and relieve depressive symptoms.

Researchers from University College London joined forces with Canadian scientists from the University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services Canada to assess the benefits of chocolate consumption on mood. They analyzed data from over 13,000 adults included in the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and assessed their depressive symptoms according to scores on the Patient Health Questionnaire. Other factors such as height, weight, marital status, ethnicity, education, household income, physical activity, smoking, and chronic health problems were taken into account to ensure the study only measured the effects of eating chocolate on mood.

Remarkably, what the scientists found was that people who reported eating dark chocolate in two 24-hour periods had 70% lower risk of reporting relevant depressive symptoms, even after adjusting for the above-mentioned confounding factors. (1) In addition, people who were in the top 25% of eating any type of chocolate were the least likely to report depressive symptoms. The study suggests that eating a bit of dark chocolate on a regular basis can positively benefit mood.

Chocolate contains several beneficial nutrients—fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, selenium, and zinc—and phytocompounds—powerful antioxidants and flavanols—that have proven health benefits. (2) For example, chocolate flavanols improve vascular function and reduce blood pressure. (3a, 3b, 3c) The antioxidants protect cholesterol against oxidation, which can reduce heart disease risk. (4) Interestingly, improved blood flow triggered by chocolate flavanols may also protect the skin against sun damage by increasing blood flow increasing hydration and density. (5) Eating flavanol-rich cocoa can even improve brain function. (6)

Among these beneficial ingredients are phytocannabinoids that can produce a feeling of euphoria when consumed. (7) Phytocannabinoids have the ability to bind to receptors in the endocannabinoid system, which regulates mood stress, response, immunity, inflammation, and much more. This stimulates an endorphin release that has an antidepressant-like effect and elevates mood.

Food is a significant and easy way to alter mood levels because of the effects of food consumption on dopamine receptors in the brain. Certain food ingredients (like chocolate) interact with these receptors to activate the reward and pleasure centers of the brain. Scientists have even observed that people may crave foods that contain these pleasure-triggering ingredients when feeling sad.

Dark chocolate contains 50%–90% cacao solids, whereas milk chocolate contains from 10%–50% cacao and significantly more sugar. A reasonable portion of dark chocolate to reap health benefits is about 10 to 40 grams per day. Some studies report benefits with as low as 6.3 grams consumed, while others found benefits at 48 grams. However, keep in mind that 40 grams of dark chocolate can provide 220 calories and 13 grams of fat, so don’t overdo it at the expense of your waistline.

So go ahead and indulge in a little dark chocolate to help improve your mood and promote greater happiness. It’s certainly an easy way to stimulate the production of endorphins, create feelings of pleasure, and promote a positive mindset.

The powerful influence of smell on memory, emotions, and overall health

Although one of the least explored senses in the field of research, the sense of smell (or olfaction) may be one of the most important senses for overall health. Smell has a unique relationship with memory and emotions that is unmatched. No doubt you’ve experienced déjà vu due to exposure to a scent. This familiar and memorable aroma—like grandma’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, your dad’s garage, new car smell, or the flowers outside the house you grew up in—activates specific areas of your brain reigniting vivid memories and emotions. These nostalgic experiences intimately linked to aromas are called scent memories and demonstrate just how powerful the sense of smell is.

Your sense of smell is directly connected to your brain. Functional magnetic resonance imaging shows that when you smell something two parts of the brain are activated—the amygdala and hippocampus. The amygdala is the emotional center of the brain and the hippocampus plays a major role in memory, so it is not surprising that scents arouse powerful memories and emotions. Indeed, a captivating and familiar aroma has the power to not only remind you of a past person, place, or event, but it triggers emotions more powerful than those generated by other senses like sight and sound. (1)

Collectively, the amygdala and hippocampus (both parts of your limbic system) coordinate a conditioned response that rapidly links familiar aromas with their associated memories. Other senses (visual, auditory, and tactile) do not pass through these areas of the brain, which explains why aromas produce greater emotional responses than the other senses.

Scientists are just beginning to understand the complexity of the sense of smell and its involvement in human health. The discovery of olfactory receptors outside the nasal cavity in areas such as the kidneys, heart, skin, and immune cells highlighted a wider role for olfaction in human health than previously known. (2) A growing body of evidence suggests that olfactory receptors not only play a role in the function of multiple organs and systems, but they also have potential to be used in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. (3) This research has revealed that olfactory receptors perform important functions such as:

  • Regulate heart function.
  • Promote death and reduce the spread of certain types of cancer cells.
  • Regenerate skin cells to speed the wound healing process.
  • Promote prostate health.
  • Aid digestion.
  • Regulate blood pressure.
  • Stimulate insulin secretion by the pancreas. (4)
  • Regulate appetite. (5)

Nostalgic memories and positive emotions can also be produced by the potent aromatic molecules found within essential oils. When an essential oil is smelled, aromatic molecules are carried by olfactory sensory neurons to the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb filters and processes the incoming signals and then mitral cells carry an outgoing signal to the olfactory cortex and the limbic system, which includes the amygdala and the hippocampus. A wide variety of psychophysiological responses occur in response to this outgoing signal that can promote improved health. Here are a few essential oils associated with improved memory and emotions:

  • Citrus oils like lemon, orange, and tangerine are strongly uplifting. Inhalation of citrus fragrance helped normalize neuroendocrine hormone levels and immune function in people diagnosed with depression and was deemed more effective than antidepressants. (6)
  • Rosemary is called the herb of remembrance and for good reason. Teen boys and girls (aged 13 to 15 years old) experienced significantly improved short-term memory when they inhaled rosemary essential oil. (7)
  • Lavender essential oil is associated with a more relaxed state. Healthy individuals who inhaled lavender essential oil reported feeling fresher and more relaxed than individuals who inhaled a base oil. (8)

These few studies—and many more existing studies—show that essential oils can improve mood and memory function simply through inhalation. For more research to support the use of essential oils for memory and emotions, see Medicinal Essential Oils: The Science and Practice of Evidence-based Essential Oil Therapy.

The power of the sense of smell should not be overlooked nor underestimated. The evidence is clear that olfaction plays a significant role in overall human health, so don’t cut your health short. Stop to smell the roses and be sure to incorporate essential oil inhalation into your regular daily routine.

The Real Risk of Lavender and Other Essential Oils for the Hormone System

A recent study reignited fear and confusion in parents about one of the most versatile and trusted essential oils—lavender—and whether it has estrogenic properties. The study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism claims an association between lavender products and premature thelarche (PT; the development of small breasts typically before age three) and prepubertal gynecomastia (PG; the growth of breast tissue in males).

Dozens of sensationalized articles ran with this study’s assertions blurring the line between good scientific journalism and clickbait publicity. Most journalists only read the study abstract and do not dive deeper into the methodology and other important details, which leads to an oversimplification and sometimes misinterpretation of the results. Many health professionals and well-meaning people spammed their family and friends with these oversimplified and misconstrued articles to “prove” they should not use essential oils. So, is it time to throw out lavender and tea tree essential oils and avoid their use in children, or is this a case of scientists untrained in and ignorant of essential oils making absurd conclusions?

Previous research findings

Previously, a study argued that chronic lavender exposure caused PG, while another study alleged that both tea tree and lavender “probably caused” PG in boys. These studies spread like wildfire because they create doubt in people’s minds whether they should use one of the most popular and effective natural solutions available—essential oils. However, one should be cautious in jumping to conclusions and remember correlation does not mean causation.

The first study contains three case reports of PG that resolved after the discontinuance of lavender-containing products. One was a shampoo with lavender listed as an ingredient and the other two regularly used the cologne agua de violetas. They analyzed the cologne with HPLC, and based upon an “assumption” and comparison with an analysis of lavender essential oil concluded that linalool and linalyl acetate were components of the cologne.

The scientists failed to provide the full HPLC analysis of the oil for verification of lavender biomarkers and to rule out synthetic and adulterant markers. Given the substantial adulteration of lavender essential oil and the common practice of perfumers to use petroleum-derived synthetic chemicals (like synthetic linalyl acetate), it is highly likely that the cologne does not contain true lavender essential oil but synthetic bioidentical chemicals. It is also probable that an adulterated lavender was used in the shampoo product.

If you want to read the flawed science of the latter study, I invite you to review page 24 of my book Medicinal Essential Oils. For additional insight into how these studies are flawed—including confounding false-positive results due to the use of 96-well plates and the fact that essential oils may extract plastic chemicals up to 10,000-fold—see my Facebook live video.

Estrogenic activity of lavender and tea tree essential oils

Each of these studies validity is entirely dependent on lavender (or tea tree) producing sufficient estrogenic effects to disrupt the endocrine system. However, compelling evidence suggests lavender and tea tree do not have estrogenic potential.

The rat uterotrophic assay is the gold-standard test in living organisms to detect the estrogenic activity of a substance. During this test, immature female rats are repeatedly exposed to doses of a substance for three days. The weight of their uterus is measured on the fourth day, which provides a sensitive and toxicologically relevant measurement of the estrogenic activity of the tested substance.

In 2013, scientists evaluated the estrogenic effects of topical lavender in the rat uterotrophic assay. Immature female rats were administered 20 or 100 mg/kg of body weight over (roughly the equivalent of an adult applying 1.5 mL to 7.5 mL of lavender essential oil each day for three days) the course of three days. A positive control group was administered 2.5 mcg/kg of 17α-ethinyl estradiol (a synthetic estrogen used in birth control pills). The weight of the uterus and ovaries were recorded 24 hours after the final dose was administered. As expected, the positive control group that received 17α-ethinyl estradiol experienced significant increases in mean absolute and relative uterine weights. However, uterus weights of the lavender treated group did not increase relative to normal values. The scientists concluded that lavender essential oil “was not active in the rat uterotrophic assay and gave no evidence of estrogenic activity.”

Tea tree has not been tested in the uterotrophic assay, nor could any convincing research be found supporting an estrogenic or hormone-disrupting effect. Although a group of scientists contended that individual chemicals within tea tree oil disrupt hormone function, they relied upon flawed methodology that in essence makes their finding invalid (see the Facebook video above for more details).

The most recent study again used an in vitro (laboratory) method by placing human cells in 6-well, 24-well, and 48-well plates. While the authors took measures—also assessed soybean oil—to assess whether essential oils dissolved plastic chemicals in the plates to elicit the observed hormonal activity, they did not use the gold standard in vivo (performed or taking place in a living organism) rat uterotrophic assay. In vitro studies don’t always correlate with in vivo studies, and particularly human clinical studies. With the conflicting results in these studies, the appropriate approach is to weigh the in vivo study results more heavily. In other words, the in vivo study that suggests lavender has no estrogenic activity supplants the most recent study that reported lavender has estrogenic activity in laboratory research.

Lavender and tea tree essential oil major constituents

Essential oils are complex mixtures of volatile aromatic molecules. They can contain from a dozen to hundreds of constituents depending on the oil. The ratio of these molecules is what gives essential oils their therapeutic benefits. It is also known that certain essential oil constituents can synergize, buffer, or counteract the effects of another constituent in the oil.

To aid in this discussion the typical percentages of major constituents in lavender and tea tree essential oil are provided.

Lavender

  • Linalyl Acetate 25%–45%
  • Linalool 25%–45%
  • (Z)-Beta-Ocimene 2%–8%
  • Beta-Caryophyllene 2%–6%
  • Lavandulyl Acetate 2%–6%
  • Terpinen-4-ol 1%–6%

Tea Tree Oil

  • Terpinen-4-ol 35%–48%
  • Gamma-Terpinene 10%–28%
  • Alpha-Terpinene 5%–13%
  • Alpha-Terpineol 2%–8%
  • Alpha-Pinene 1%–6%
  • Terpinolene 1%–5%

Penetration enhancing effects of essential oil constituents

Essential oils have been used to enhance the penetration and absorption of various substances through the skin. Indeed, scientists have observed this effect of essential oils for decades in relation to the transdermal delivery of drugs. Knowing this, synthetic chemicals—some of which are known hormone disruptors—are likely to penetrate through the skin at a higher rate when combined with essential oils.

Terpenes are the most common class of constituent found within essential oils and they are known to acts as penetration enhancers of multiple substances (vitamins, drugs, phytocompounds, etc.). Some of these individual terpenes have been explored for their ability to act as penetration enhancers. It is also possible that essential oils that contain multiple penetration-enhancing constituents—like tea tree and lavender—could possess a synergistic effect.

Lavender essential oil itself is a known penetration enhancer. Looking at the major components in lavender we find that the following are known penetration enhancers:

Tea tree essential oil also contains constituents that enhance the penetration of other ingredients or chemicals through the skin:

These lists are far from inclusive of all constituents in these two oils that increase the penetration of other substances through the skin.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the products

A more plausible answer for the link between products that contain essential oils and PG or PT is interactions with other known hormone-disrupting chemicals present in the products. Many commercial personal care products (shampoo contains parabens and phthalates, which disrupt hormone activity) and colognes (many contain phthalates that disrupt hormone function) are a smorgasbord of harmful chemicals. Not to mention that essential oils may react with the chemicals (like bisphenol A, a known hormone disruptor) in the plastic containers of these products and cause them to leach into the product. Application of the product to the skin leads to absorption of both the plastic container chemicals and the synthetic chemical ingredients in the product.

While ingredients in wash-off products like shampoo and soaps have minimal contact with the skin, repeated exposure to these chemicals can have a cumulative effect. This is particularly true if the chemicals are being absorbed at a higher rate because the product includes lavender or tea tree essential oil. Colognes and perfumes are often sprayed directly on the skin and can have a higher absorption rate as a leave-on product.

In reality, exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals is pervasive today because they are found in our water, air, clothes, food, furniture, vehicles, household cleaners, industrial chemicals, cosmetics, and personal care products. Indeed, one study found that infants are born with a tremendous toxic burden—an average of 200 chemicals present in umbilical cord blood at birth. Exposure to additional hormone-disrupting chemicals that are absorbed at a higher rate due to the presence of essential oils may have simply been the tipping point to trigger PG or PT.

The evidence-based and logical conclusion

Dozens of clinical trials using lavender or tea tree, combined with anecdotal use among millions of children, has not reported a statistically significant amount of estrogenic activity or hormone disruption for these two oils. We are each biologically unique and will respond to different substances uniquely. Most people can eat watermelon, but some have their throat itch and close if they do. Some children can eat peanuts, but to others, peanuts represent a threat to their life. Even among natural products, you will have a very small number of people that respond adversely or experience undesirable effects.

The presumed link to essential oils and hormone disruption in these studies is far from proven and frequently based on poor science and flawed methodology. The observations do not prove definitively PT or PG was caused by essential oils. This has been grossly overstated and aggrandized by the media. What we can learn from these studies is that consumers should be more selective about their products. They should choose natural products and products with essential oils that do not contain hormone-disrupting chemicals. Unfortunately, this is a major trend among companies selling soaps, lotions, shampoos, and other personal care products to capitalize on the growing essential oil industry.

The bottom line is you can still use tea tree and lavender essential oils on your children when diluted appropriately. With anything in medicine or health, the risks versus the benefits have to be weighed. And in this case, the vast whole-body benefits of these two essential oils far outweigh the minimal and rare risks that are far from proven.

Seven essential oils to support lung and sinus function during bad air

The Western United States is experiencing one of the worst fire seasons in recent history. Dozens of wildfires are burning across multiple states, taxing wildland firefighters and government resources. With the massive amount of fires burning, air quality in the West has significantly declined, resembling a dark and thick haze, that challenges the respiratory system of even healthy people. Here are seven essential oils that can aid lung and sinus function during these times of bad air.

People most vulnerable to smoky air
While many healthy people remain unaffected by the smoky air, sensitive individuals and those with existing health conditions are the most vulnerable to the negative effects of bad air. Children are particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of smoky air due to their more rapid breathing rate. On the opposite side of life, the elderly — who are more likely to have other health conditions — can easily succumb to bad air. People with heart (heart failure, angina, ischemic heart disease) and lung diseases (asthma, emphysema, pneumonia, bronchitis, COPD) are likely to experience chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and wheezing. Pregnant women should also be very cautious in these conditions as the air could potentially affect both the mother and the developing baby. Even healthy individuals aren’t immune to the effects. They can experience burning eyes and throat, chest pain, excess mucus production, and difficulty breathing if too much time is spent outdoors.

How smoky air affects the respiratory system
When wood and other organic matter burns it produces a mixture of gases — fires can boost ozone pollution by releasing nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons — and particulate matter. These microscopic particles are particularly concerning because they penetrate deeply into the lungs and cause a range of health problems, from a mild runny nose to chronic lung disease. Particulates produced by wildfires promote acute inflammation, oxidative stress, and reduced immune responses to infections according to research. Exposure to fine particles is also linked to cardiovascular disease (1) and premature death. (2) It is best to limit time outdoors when significant smoke is present in the air and sensitive individuals should consider wearing a mask.

Essential oils that support overall respiratory system function
Essential oils are great remedies for the respiratory system due to their volatility. Their volatility allows them to enter both the upper and lower respiratory tract to influence complete respiratory function. In addition, their complexity (from a dozen to hundreds of constituents), multiple mechanisms of action, and multiple cell receptor targets make them an ideal solution to help you breathe easier during the most challenging situations.

Eucalyptus. A hallmark of inflammatory airway diseases is the overproduction of mucus. Eucalyptus essential oils are rich in the important monoterpene 1,8-cineole. (3) Preliminary research demonstrates that 1,8-cineole modulates the expression of genes involved in the production of mucus; therefore, it reduces overproduction of mucus. (4) Other research shows that eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) essential oil prevents lung injury. (5) A standardized supplement called Myrtol  designed to break down mucus and alleviate sinus congestion, and clinically proven in more than dozen trials — containing eucalyptus, orange, lemon, and myrtle essential oils standardized for limonene, 1,8-cineole, and alpha-pinene (300mg, four times daily), significantly reduced coughing fits during the day and night in people with bronchitis. (6)

Myrtle. Used for centuries to treat pulmonary disorders, myrtle essential oil has moderate amounts of 1,8-cineole — depending on whether it is green or red myrtle — but also contains other respiratory-supportive constituents like alpha-pinene and linalool. Regular exposure to ozone and particulate matter has been associated with exacerbation of pulmonary fibrosis and possibly even the development of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. (7) A methanolic extract of myrtle, which contains volatile constituents found in the essential oil, reduced inflammation and fibrosis of the lungs in animals. (8) Myrtle essential oil has also been shown to positively influence genes related to the respiratory system. (9)

Balsam fir. Another essential oil that is known to positively influence pulmonary epigenetics is balsam fir. (10) This research supports its traditional use for respiratory disorders, including those involving respiratory spasms. Some scientists report that conifer trees, like balsam fir, cleanse the air around us by trapping particulates and airborne chemicals in their foliage.

Peppermint. Russian scientists found that inhalation of peppermint essential oil reduced symptoms of pulmonary tuberculosis and prevented its recurrence in humans. (11,12) Inhalation of menthol — one of the primary constituents in peppermint oil — significantly enhanced mucus clearance in smokers. (13)

Cinnamon, clove, and thyme. A recent study concluded that the essential oils of cinnamon, clove, and thyme are excellent choices to combat respiratory tract infections in liquid or vapor phase. (14) This means you could diffuse these oils to allow them to enter the respiratory tract and help cleanse the lungs of pathogens. Moreover, these essential oils are known as potent antioxidants, which will help protect against the free radical assaults caused by particulates that enter the lungs. Clove and cinnamon are often combined in immune blends, so you may already have a good option in your essential oil arsenal.

Ginger. Opening the airways can reduce wheezing and difficulty breathing. Preclinical research shows that ginger essential oil can reduce airway constriction. (15) The study authors noted that 1,8-cineole and citral, both present in small quantities in ginger essential oil, each triggered bronchodilation (dilation of the bronchi and bronchioles to improve airflow to the lungs).

How to use the essential oils

  • Diffuse a combination of the above oils for at least 60 minutes, twice daily.
  • Perform a steam inhalation of one or more of the above oils (cinnamon and thyme may be too strong) once daily. The steam may help improve mucus clearance.
  • Dilute and apply eucalyptus, myrtle, peppermint, and ginger to the upper chest, once or twice daily.
  • Consider taking a capsule with one drop each of myrtle, eucalyptus, orange, and lemon essential oils (simulates Myrtol), three to four times daily.

Conclusion

Hopefully, firefighters will get the fires in the West under control quickly. Pray for their safety and ability to do so. But, until then, use your essential oils to keep your respiratory system healthy, particularly if you are among the sensitive populations.*

* Note: If pregnant or under the care of a physician, consult your health practitioner prior to use. Some people with chronic respiratory systems may respond adversely to essential oils, so use with caution and under proper guidance.

The mislabeling of tea tree essential oil as a poison

Search for tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) essential oil (TTEO) on the Internet and you will find multiple websites — even government maintained — with stern warnings not to ingest it because it is a poison. As I reported previously, the ingestion of essential oils is disappointingly controversial but TTEO is especially denounced as harmful. This blog is meant to explore the evidence behind the mislabeling of TTEO as a poison.

What is tea tree essential oil?

TTEO is the volatile and aromatic constituents obtained from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia plant. It is native to Australia and has a rich tradition in indigenous medicine systems there. Aborigines in Australia used the healing powers of TTEO topically to treat wounds, cuts, injuries, and infections. The leaves were also soaked in water to make an infusion for sore throats and colds. Additionally, it is believed that the indigenous Bundjalung people of eastern Australia inhaled the oil from crushed leaves to treat coughs and colds.

Modern research has discovered that tea tree is helpful for acne, oral health, warts, wound cleansing, head lice, dermatitis, inflammatory conditions, and influenza infections to name a few. This research has led to a resurgence of this ancient remedy from the Australian bush.

Typical Composition of TTEO

Tea tree is a predominantly monoterpene alcohols and monoterpenes with some sesquiterpenes and sesquiterpene alcohols present. Its major constituent is terpinen-4-ol (4-terpineol), which is typically within the range of 35% to 48%. The monoterpenes gamma-terpinene and alpha-terpinene are also typically found in moderate to significant amounts. Other key constituents include 1,8-cineole (eucalyptol), alpha-terpineol, alpha-pinene, terpinolene, para-cymene, delta-cadinene, aromadendrene, and ledene (viridiflorene). See page 459 of Medicinal Essential Oils for more information about TTEO composition.

What does the evidence from animal studies show?

A key point of this discussion is that virtually anything that can produce a therapeutic effect also has the potential to produce a harmful or toxic effect. Several factors determine whether you experience a therapeutic or harmful effect, such as your current state of health, height, weight, age, and most importantly the amount used. Small children are more susceptible to toxic effects of therapeutic substances.

Animal evidence shows that TTEO can be toxic when ingested in very large doses. The amount required to cause the death of half of the animals in a study is called LD50. The LD50 for rats was determined to be 1.9mL to 2.7mL per kilogram (kg) of body weight. (1) To put this in perspective this is equivalent to a 154-pound (70 kg) adult ingesting 133mL of TTEO. They also found that 1.5g/kg caused the rats to be lethargic and ataxic (lack of voluntary coordination of muscle movements). Another study pegged the rat LD50 at 1.9g/kg. (2) To give you an idea of how much this translates to in human consumption, the same 154-pound adult would need to consume more than 26 teaspoons of TTEO to consume that much. No reasonable person would consume these amounts of TTEO.

Let’s compare this LD50 to essential oils that have been used in numerous human clinical studies safely. Peppermint essential oil has an LD50 of 2.426g/kg in rats and 2.49mg/kg in mice, within the same range as the LD50 for TTEO. (3) Anise essential oil is commonly ingested in capsules for digestive disorders. The LD50 of anise in rats is 3.12mg/kg, modestly higher than TTEO. (4) Even lavender essential oil, which is commonly ingested for anxiety, has an LD50 of 4.25g/kg. (5) This data shows that some essential oils not erroneously labeled as poisons, and commonly ingested by humans, have similar toxicity levels in animals to TTEO. It also reveals that even some of the safest essential oils, like lavender, do have a harmful level of use, although the level is extreme.

The data above certainly doesn’t merit labeling peppermint, anise, and lavender as poisons. So why is tea tree singled out with this dubious title?

Aspirin has an LD50 of 0.2g/kg in rats (6) — far lower than TTEO — but it isn’t being labeled as a poison with warnings in all caps stating not to ingest it. Instead, people are informed about reasonable doses that will not cause death. I doubt people Google to see if aspirin is a poison before using it.

People consume caffeinated beverages indiscriminately without considering if it is toxic or a poison. It too has an LD50 far lower than TTEO at 0.367g/kg in rats. (7) Should people be advised to call poison control centers when they ingest a cup of coffee?

Even vitamin A (retinol) has a similar LD50 to TTEO at 2g/kg in rats. (8) Medical professionals and much of the public is aware of the toxic potential of too much vitamin A and so we use it and administer it at reasonable and safe doses. Likewise, TTEO can be ingested at reasonable and safe doses without hitting the toxic and harmful level.

Remember, water is a life-giving and vital substance, but even drinking too much of it can cause water intoxication — a condition where excess water enters cells causing cells and tissues to swell. Should we then label water as a toxin, or would it be more reasonable to recognize it as a healthy means of hydration when used in reasonable amounts?

Reviewing the evidence in humans

Toxicity has also been reported in human case reports. Two cases of toxicity in adults are reported in the literature. One adult ingested half a teacup (most modern teacups hold 150mL of liquid, suggesting this individual ingested 75ml of TTEO!) of TTEO and the other half a teaspoon full (2.5 mL; which he had ingested previously without problems). (9) Both of these are examples of extreme doses and far beyond reasonable oral use of TTEO.

Most cases of toxicity occur in children. A 17-month-old child and two additional children who ingested less than 10mL (again a whole lot of TTEO) experienced drowsiness and ataxia. (10)

One case report states that a 4-year-old boy consumed a “small quantity” of tea tree oil, which caused ataxia within 30 minutes that progressed to unresponsiveness. (11) His symptoms improved with treatment over the course of ten hours and he made a full recovery. The term small quantity is very subjective and leaves open the possibility that he ingested what would be considered a large quantity in medical aromatherapy.

Several cases of toxicity have involved the ingestion of 10 to 25 mL of tea tree oil.(12) Again, these are extreme and not reasonable doses. Even the National Institutes of Health admits that TTEO “ingestion, demonstrate that at relatively high doses, TTO causes Central Nervous System depression and muscle weakness.” (13) They also state the symptoms generally resolve within 36 hours.

I find it particularly odd that a U.S. state poison control center states “Tea tree oil causes rapid onset of lethargy, confusion, ataxia, hypoventilation, and coma after ingestion of as little as 10mL.” (14) 10mL is hardly a “little” amount in medical aromatherapy, highlighting the inadequate knowledge of essential oils that is rampant among Western-trained health professionals and government agencies.

What we learn from these case studies is that we should limit TTEO ingestion to reasonable amounts and avoid it in children under age six. Indeed, ingestion of tea tree is likely best reserved for teenagers and adults.

The benefits of tea tree oil ingestion

Some question the need for ingestion of TTEO. Certainly, topical application has vast and varying benefits, but a systemic benefit is best achieved when essential oils are taken orally. We know that TTEO prevents an early stage of replication of the influenza virus (15) and therefore sublingual or TTEO in a capsule can be helpful to support the immune system. Epigenetics is an emerging and exciting field that we are just beginning to understand who essential oils influence the human genome. Research revealed in a landmark study that TTEO positively influences genes related to hormone function in men and women. (16) Again, a systemic benefit would best be achieved by taking TTEO orally. TTEO has vast application and oral administration is reserved for cases that demand it for maximum benefits.

The misinformed sharing misinformation about essential oils

This isn’t the first time people untrained in the clinical use of essential oils and without proper knowledge or the required thousands of hours of study have spread poor and misleading information about essential oils. You’ve probably heard that lavender and tea tree will make your boys develop breasts. Well, this couldn’t be farther from the truth and falls more in the realm of pseudoscience. See my video rebuttal of the “research” here. The fact is you need to check facts posted on social media and the Internet against credible experts and resources that follow an evidence-based approach.

The evidence-based conclusion

Based on the above evidence, it is abundantly clear that TTEO has an undeserved reputation as a poison when ingested. If we continue to call it a poison, we should also include caffeine, aspirin, and other substances with similar toxicity profiles.

Can toxicity occur when it is ingested? Absolutely. But, we must consider the extreme amounts required to ingest before we arbitrarily call a beneficial essential oil a poison. Individuals should seek qualified advice from an expert trained in the oral administration of medicinal essential oils before ingesting TTEO. If you are uncomfortable with ingesting TTEO, don’t. No one is forcing you to do so. However, you may be missing out on benefits best achieved through this administration method.

Reverse biological aging by naturally balancing cellular pathways

Billions of dollars are spent every year with one goal in mind — to maintain youth. Creams are applied, surgeries undergone, and extreme exercise or calorie restriction executed to maintain a youthful glow and youthful function. Knowing this, scientists have performed thousands of hours of research in search of the next miracle drug, molecule, or supplement to extend healthy human lifespan. Recent discoveries of cellular pathways — AMPK and mTOR — make this dream more of a reality.

What is AMPK?

Adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is an important enzyme found inside every cell in the body. It serves as a master regulator of energy metabolism. AMPK detects energy levels (the number of ATP molecules) inside cells and controls responses when ATP levels are too high or too low. When activated, AMPK speeds metabolism, accelerates fat burning, and even influences how long you live.

Its activity level also closely regulates aging. The enzyme is most active in days of youth but its activity gradually decreases with each passing year. (1) This decreased activity is partially responsible for the buildup of visceral (belly) fat and muscle loss that occurs during the aging process. Excess weight, and the accumulation of fat around the waistline, accelerates aging. (2) Abdominal fat also generates an abundance of inflammatory chemicals. Indeed, deep abdominal fat transforms into an inflammation-promoting factory, leading to metabolic diseases. (3)

What happens when AMPK activity decreases?

Given that AMPK is the master cellular regulator of metabolism, it’s not surprising that a whole host of adverse effects can occur when its activity slows down.

  • Chronic inflammation
  • Increased visceral fat
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Accelerated aging
  • Dyslipidemia (high LDL cholesterol and triglycerides; low HDL)
  • Mitochondrial dysfunction
  • Poor blood glucose control

AMPK promotes cellular renewal and clean-up

Your cells continuously generate energy to remain viable. The process of energy creation produces toxic debris and metabolic waste that must be carefully managed by your body. Autophagy is the primary process cells use to clear damaged proteins and mitochondria, and other metabolic waste products. It is your cell’s internal housekeeping process.

The easiest way to think about this process is to consider fireplaces and a chimney sweep. Fireplaces are your cells. Inside these fireplaces, a series of oxidation reactions occur to convert food molecules into energy. As a result, the inside of the cell accumulates debris (like soot). The chimney sweep is autophagy, which cleans out the debris so the cell can operate more efficiently. Maintaining optimal autophagy is critical to cellular health and function.

Emerging scientific research suggests that autophagy is involved in virtually every intervention proven to extend healthy lifespan. (4) This discovery is a major advance in the quest to slow and reverse the aging process.

mTOR: AMPK’s partner in longevity

AMPK regulates autophagy and fat-removal partly by modulating a protein, and its partner in crime, called mTOR. mTOR stands for mechanistic target of rapamycin (an immunosuppressive drug that targets mTOR activity), and when properly balanced, triggers the breakdown of fat stores to produce cellular energy. (5) Indeed, scientists have discovered that mTOR functions as a central coordinator of metabolism and cellular growth in response to environmental and hormonal signals.

In essence, mTOR is the master conductor of your cellular symphony of processes. mTOR responds to stimuli such as amino acid levels, cellular energy status, oxygen level, and insulin growth factors. Its two complexes (mTORC1 and mTORC2) serve as a communication hub that integrates cellular nutrient and stress statuses and then formulates an appropriate response.

Like AMPK, mTOR activity is directly associated with the aging process. Animal research demonstrates that decreasing mTOR activity extends lifespan. (5) Conversely, mTORC1 signaling activity is increased in a number of diseases, including cancer. (5) The discovery of mTOR’s involvement in aging and age-related diseases creates an exciting prospect to not only delay aging, but reduce the risk of age-related diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

The role of exercise and eating in AMPK activation and mTOR regulation

Before we explore proven natural solutions to slow aging at the cellular level, it is important to emphasize the importance of regular exercise and eating better. It’s no revelation to those who live a healthy lifestyle that vigorous activity and reducing caloric intake are two well-established strategies to active AMPK activity and regulate mTOR. (6)(7) Calorie restriction triggers mechanisms that improve metabolism efficiency and protect against cellular damage. Many of the health benefits of exercise are linked to mTOR activity in muscle, brain, fat, and liver tissue. (8) Achieving optimal AMPK and mTOR activation is therefore critical for overall health and healthy lifespan.

Health really is a product of what you eat, how you move, environmental factors, and your thoughts and emotions. You simply can’t outpace the effects of poor eating, inactivity, or chronic stress. Nutrition and regular activity are foundational and the longevity results achieved with other natural measures will be amplified when they are properly established.

Natural methods to increase autophagy and AMPK activation and regulate mTOR

  • Gynostemma pentaphyllum (Jiaogulan). Dubbed the immortality herb for good reason, jiaogulan is prized for its ability to promote youthfulness and longevity. Its health benefits are often attributed to its effects on AMPK activity. Laboratory research demonstrates that GP potently increases AMPK activation almost seven-fold (660%). (9A)(9B)(9C) Remarkably, that is far greater than increases achieved with the diabetes drug metformin (1.3–1.6-fold increase) — metformin’s best-studied mechanism of action is through AMPK activation. (10) A randomized clinical study showed GP busts abdominal fat. Scientists observed an 11% reduction in visceral fat when individuals took 450 mg daily. (11)
  • Hesperidin. The citrus bioflavonoid hesperidin also significantly increases AMPK. Clinical research suggests that hesperidin benefits people with metabolic syndrome (high blood sugar, high blood pressure, dyslipidemia, systemic inflammation, and excess abdominal fat). What scientists found was that hesperidin (400 mg to 500 mg daily) reduces systemic inflammation and abdominal fat. (12)(13)
  • Nicotinamide riboside. Preliminary research suggests that the NAD precursor nicotinamide riboside potently triggers autophagy, and improves mitochondrial function to extend lifespan. (14)(15) Typical doses are 100 mg daily.
  • Citrus bergamia (Bergamot) essential oil. Both bergamot essential oil and one of its primary constituents (limonene) stimulate autophagy according to laboratory research. (16)
  • Boswellia species (Frankincense), Pinus densiflora (Pine), and Pelargonium graveolens (Geranium) essential oil. Researchers discovered that three essential oils modulate the activity of the AMPK/mTOR signaling pathway. (17) Regulation of the AMPK/mTOR pathway is likely best achieved through ingestion of the essential oils. Perhaps as few as 1-3 drops daily may be effective. This will need to be determined by clinical research.

Caution

Turning down mTOR and activating AMPK (and therefore autophagy) is not for everyone. Those with sarcopenia (degenerative loss of muscle tissue) or other frailty-associated conditions could experience aggravation of symptoms through chronically decreased mTOR and elevated autophagy. (18)

Conclusion

Emerging evidence surrounding the AMPK/mTOR signaling pathway is an exciting cellular pathway to slow down the aging process and reduce age-related disease burden. Even more exciting is the possibility of influencing aging and age-related diseases with natural products. Don’t take your chances with expensive and risky surgeries to look and feel younger. Mother Nature prepared multiple solutions that you can give a try instead.

 

Why Eating Better Temporarily Makes You Feel Worse

Eating whole and healthy foods does your body good. But if your body is used to refined and processed food, a transition to healthy foods can be difficult. Indeed, it isn’t uncommon to experience gastrointestinal symptoms and even vomiting during this transition. Discover why this occurs and how you can work to make your transition more bearable.

It begins at the cellular level

The surface of cells is full of receptors responsible for binding with signaling molecules and then transmitting those signals inside the cell. The signals that are received inside the cell determine the cell’s behavior. Whether a cell makes more or less of something, your overall health, and your risk of disease depends on this activity. Each signal triggers the formation of action plans that improve or harm your health.

So what exactly are these signaling molecules that regulate our health? Several molecules can interact with these receptors and their influence on cellular behavior and overall health is largely determined by how many of these molecules are present in your blood.

Some molecules can produce positive results:

  • Nutrients — vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, etc. — from whole foods
  • Hormones
  • Neurotransmitters
  • Dietary supplements

Other molecules are not as good for us and can produce harmful results:

  • Drugs
  • Synthetic food additives (MSG, aspartame, trans fats, sodium nitrite, etc.)
  • Nicotine
  • Excess sugar, alcohol, or caffeine

Stress also triggers the release of signaling molecules (cortisol, adrenaline, etc.) that can adversely affect the way you feel. The reality is, your cells continually make decisions based on the signaling molecules that are available in the blood. If your cells are constantly bombarded with rubbish, you will quickly feel like rubbish yourself.

Cellular adaptations

Your body was masterfully designed to adapt to a variety of situations. It relentlessly strives to maintain balance and homeostasis regardless of what is thrown at it. However, we can reduce the body’s workload and make it easier to thrive by a few simple healthy behaviors. Your body’s initial reaction the first time you bombard your cells with greasy, fried food, sugar-laden soda, and empty refined carbohydrates may be severe. Your cells gradually adapt to these signaling molecules and adopt them as the “norm.” Eventually, the severe responses also stop.

Indeed, your cells and body may actually feel “good” or pleasure in response adopting this new norm of negative signaling molecules. That is until you remove the pleasurable signaling molecules or introduce positive signaling molecules. Just like your cell receptors adapted to the dysfunctional regimen, they need to adapt again if you change to healthier options.

Your body has the same response to the new signaling molecules — whether reducing what it was used to or introducing healthier molecules — the same way it initially did to the bad signaling molecules. This change of available signaling molecules feels bad at first, even though it is a positive change to reduce the availability of bad molecules and increase the healthy molecules.

You will continue to feel bad — digestive discomfort, nausea, headache, mood swings, low energy — until your body adapts to the new normal. How long this process of adaptation takes depends on your current state of health, lifestyle factors, stress levels, genetics, and nutritional status, but on average it takes from 3 to 7 days.

Dopamine withdrawal

Another factor that can leave you feeling sluggish, moody, and even anxious when changing what you eat, is modifications in dopamine levels. Foods loaded with sugar, fat, and salt trigger the release of dopamine (a “feel-good” neurotransmitter) that activate the brain’s reward center. This is one reason why eating highly processed foods is so enjoyable. However, when you remove these dopamine-triggering foods, you can experience withdrawal symptoms.

Changes in gut flora (the microbiome)

In addition to adapting to changes in signaling molecules, your gut microbiome (balance of healthy to unhealthy bacteria) rapidly changes in response to what you eat. Recent research reveals that the gut microbiome begins to change within hours and dramatically changes within three to four days after switching what you eat. (1) In other words, what you eat feeds different types of bacteria.

This is one reason that adding prebiotic foods (chicory root, artichokes, dandelion greens, raw onions or garlic, etc.) or high-fiber foods like beans and lentils can increase in gas and bloating. If your body isn’t used to these foods, the gut microbiome undergoes a significant transformation due to the feeding of different sets of bacteria. The result is a few to several days of excess gas until the new normal gut microbiome is fully established and accepted.

Too much sugar, saturated fat, and not enough fiber can alter the gut microbiome enough to trigger immune and inflammatory responses and increase the risk of inflammatory bowel disease. (2) Other studies suggest that your gut microbiome impacts your risk of allergy, asthma, and arthritis. (3) These modifications to the gut microbiome also increase the risk of digestive discomfort such as diarrhea, nausea, and bloating. (4) The overwhelming evidence suggests that we need to provide our gut foods that feed healthy bacteria and even supplement with a good probiotic to maintain overall health.

Toxins released during dietary changes

Changes in eating patterns, particularly those that result in weight loss, releases toxins from fat stores and into the blood. The body preferentially stores toxins in fat tissues rather than vital nervous and muscle tissues. During weight loss, fat breaks down and toxins are discharged into the bloodstream. An increase in oxidative stress — an imbalance in reactive oxygen species and the body’s ability to neutralize them — may occur as a result of a large number of toxins in the blood.

Oxidative stress increases the production of free radical and peroxides that damage cells and disrupts cellular signaling. Indeed, a host of diseases (cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders, pulmonary disease, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, eye diseases, and abnormal fetal development) are linked to oxidative stress as well as the aging process. Symptoms of oxidative stress include fatigue, muscle or joint pain, headache, and brain fog.

Recent research suggests that eating smaller frequent meals (4-6 daily) with 20 to 25 grams of protein at each meal may help the body deal with this release of stored toxins. This eating pattern, called Protein-Pacing Caloric Restrictive Diet reduces calories (1,200 to 1,500 calories daily) to promote weight loss but also aids the bodies normal detoxification processes. Other solutions to reduce a toxic attack on cells is to drink plenty of water to flush them out, get sufficient antioxidants from your food, and use essential oils that aid normal detoxification processes (lavender, frankincense, Eucalyptus radiata).

The difference between an allergy, intolerance, sensitivity and an adjustment

Some people may experience an allergy, food sensitivity, or food intolerance rather than an adjustment. Food allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to a food or substance in a food. It is estimated that up to 8% of children and about 3% of adults are affected by food allergies.

When an allergy occurs, the food or substance is identified by the immune system as a threat, which triggers a protective response. Eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, shellfish, and fish account for approximately 90% of all food allergies. Allergies affect multiple organs in the body and cause a wide range of symptoms. The most common signs and symptoms of a food allergy include: skin reactions (hives, eczema, itching), tingling or itching in the mouth, respiratory trouble (difficulty breathing, wheezing, nasal congestion, repetitive cough), pale or blue coloring of the skin, swelling of the lips, tongue, throat, or face, dizziness, and gastrointestinal problems (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain).

Food sensitivities and intolerances are more common than food allergies. Food sensitivities trigger the release of chemical mediators (like histamine) into the blood causing a delayed and less obvious reaction to the food. They may take days to occur and can involve the skin and respiratory system just like allergies. The primary difference between an allergy and sensitivity is the time it takes to occur. Allergies appear within minutes to as long as two hours, whereas sensitivities generally take days for a reaction to occur.

Unlike allergies, food intolerances don’t involve the immune system. Instead, your body is unable to properly digest the particular food. They may occur due to insufficient digestive enzyme production, chronic stress that causes sluggish digestion, or an overreaction to a food additive (MSG). Depending on the type of food intolerance, people may be able to eat small amounts of the problem foods without a reaction. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea or constipation, gas, bloating, and abdominal pain. Food intolerances are generally less severe than allergies and limited to the digestive system.

The gastrointestinal system is affected in a similar way by adjustments, allergies, intolerance, and sensitivities. Unfortunately, adjustments can mimic allergies in some ways beyond digestive problems. The general fatigue and headaches, and mood swings may make people think they have a food allergy. It is important to distinguish allergies, food sensitivities, food intolerances, and adjustments because there are common symptoms and a severe allergy can be life-threatening.

Rapid reactions that involve the skin and respiratory system following the consumption of a food or substance are likely allergic reactions. If you experience chronic respiratory symptoms (runny nose), long-lasting skin issues (eczema), frequent headaches, or poor appetite it suggests a food sensitivity. Food intolerance is almost always isolated to digestive problems. Food intolerance symptoms generally occur fairly quickly and when many foods or enough of the problem food is consumed.

How to make transitions to healthier foods more bearable

  • Ease into it. You wouldn’t try a 180-degree direction change in your vehicle at 70 miles per hour, so why would you do this with what you eat? Your body will adapt better if you slowly introduce healthy foods and gradually eliminate unhealthy foods. Try to eliminate one unhealthy food or add one healthy food for 4 to 7 days before making the next change.
  • Eat whole foods. Whole and real foods are the best signaling molecules for your body. These foods contain vitamins, minerals, and other vital nutrients that your body readily recognizes and can use to function optimally. Real foods with fiber and protein are particularly important for breakfast so your cells begin the day with the right nutrition and signaling molecules.
  • Eat frequent smaller meals. Eat the same amount of calories — or fewer if you’ve been eating an excess amount — but in more frequent smaller meals. Don’t let more than three hours pass without having a meal or snack. This helps to control blood sugar levels, maintain energy levels, and improve mood.
  • Stay hydrated. The majority of your body is composed of water and it is essential to convert food into energy and helps your body absorb nutrients. Drinking enough water is essential to carry out wastes and toxins produced during metabolism. In addition, optimal hydration supports body weight goals by triggering the release of fat for energy and producing a feeling of fullness. (5) Water should be the primary beverage you consume.

Conclusion

Nutritional transitions aren’t always easy but the temporary discomforts are well worth the vast health benefits you will realize. Stick to it and focus on the benefits you’ll see on the other side. Your body, mind, emotions, and spirit will thank you — eventually.

The Best Type of Protein for Your Health

Protein is vital to the function of all cells. It serves to build and repair tissues, speed chemical reactions, provide energy, and acts as a hormone. Life would cease to exist without protein, making it essential that we consume sufficient quantities daily. But, with all of the protein powder options, which is the best for your health?

What is protein?

Proteins are complex compounds composed of linear chains of amino acids (called peptides). There are twenty common amino acids: alanine, arginine, asparagine, cysteine, glutamine, glycine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, proline, serine, threonine, tryptophan, tyrosine, and valine. Of these twenty common amino acids, nine are essential (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine), meaning we must obtain them through what we eat and drink. Complete proteins contain good levels of all nine essential amino acid.

How much protein do you need?

This depends on a few factors. Protein requirements change due to activity level, age, and current state of health.  Protein needs are also greater among the chronically stressed or during acute infections or illness. As a general rule, healthy adults should consume about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (about 0.36 grams per pound) of body weight to prevent a deficiency. Active individuals may require 1.4–2.0 grams per kilogram (0.64–0.9 grams per pound) to optimize protein synthesis.

Protein synthesis is the process cells use to create new proteins to replenish those lost during normal metabolic function. This is the process muscles use to grow and it will not occur properly without optimum amino acid levels. Interestingly, evidence suggests that taking protein prior to strength training is more effective to stimulate protein synthesis than taking it afterward. (18) The same research also concluded that a fast-acting carbohydrate source (glucose or maltodextrin) that triggers insulin release is essential for leucine to modulate protein synthesis. Ideally, a person would take some protein before and after strength training.

Amino acid profiles of common proteins

 

 

Essential Amino Acid

Complete Protein Requirement1

mg/g protein

Whey Concentrate2,3

mg/g protein

 

Whey Isolate5

mg/g protein

 

Moringa Leaf6

mg/g protein

 

Pea Isolate7

mg/g protein

Tryptophan717.318.921.67
Threonine2761.1–68.779.140.728
Isoleucine2549.7–57.356.058.737
Leucine5579.8–106.6102.483.864
Lysine5176.1–88.197.058.757
Methionine + Cysteine2579.737.832.716
Phenylalanine + Tyrosine4758.252.694.573
Valine3218.4–59.358.83940
Histidine187.8–18.713.125.819

 

 

 

Essential Amino Acid

 

Rice Isolate8

mg/g protein

 

Egg9

mg/g protein

Casein Hydrolysate10

mg/g protein

 

Hemp Seed11

mg/g protein

 

Soy Isolate12

mg/g protein

Tryptophan11.5–11.7179.6–11.2Not determined32.2
Threonine28.6–29.24740.5–42.539.8–45.731.4
Isoleucine32.3–34.75441.0–47.530.9–43.542.5
Leucine63.2–64.18685.0–89.261.7–67.967.8
Lysine21.9–24.27074.4–79.633.2–52.353.3
Methionine + Cysteine39.6–40.85730.3–32.39.7–25.821.7
Phenylalanine + Tyrosine85.6–86.79390.6–102.169.8–88.178.2
Valine42.6–45.66649.7–56.442.6–49.841.0
Histidine16.7–18.22224.1–25.428.1–33.123.0

What is the best protein for health?

This is a common question that doesn’t have a singular answer. The answer depends on what benefits you are seeking. If you simply want more protein in your diet, or a source of calories, just about any protein will work. But if you want the protein for a specific purpose (increase lean muscle mass, appetite control, etc.) your choice of protein will matter more. In addition, vegetarians would want to avoid proteins from animal products, soy is best avoided due to GMO concerns, and individuals who are lactose intolerant would want to steer clear of whey protein concentrates (due to the lactose content). Let’s explore some of the most common protein supplements available.

Whey protein

Often considered the “gold standard” of proteins, whey is a complete protein with good levels of each of the essential amino acids and excellent digestibility. It is one of two proteins found in milk and accounts for about 20% of milk protein, the other 80% being casein. Whey is a byproduct of cheese production. Whey protein concentrate is leftover after the water and casein are removed. Whey protein concentrate has a protein content of about 80%. Whey protein seems to stimulate protein synthesis better than casein and soy protein. (20)

Whey protein isolate undergoes further processing (cross-flow micro-filtration) that separates the fat, cholesterol, and lactose providing a purer end product with about 90% protein content. Whey protein isolate also has fewer calories than whey protein concentrate. It is also more expensive.

Whey protein isolate can also be hydrolyzed – partially digested with enzymes – to create whey protein hydrolysate (WPH). This shortens the protein chains (peptides) and increases the digestion and absorption rate of WPH. It is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, may reduce appetite.

Some experience digestive disturbances (bloating, gas, diarrhea, and stomach cramps) from whey protein. This can be caused by lactose intolerance or sensitivity, or a sensitivity to whey protein.

Moringa leaf protein

The most nutrient dense botanical discovered, moringa delivers a wide variety of nutrients to the body, including protein. Indeed, gram for gram it provides about nine times more protein than yogurt. (6) However, its protein hasn’t been available commercially as a supplement until recently. Moringa leaf protein compares favorably to amino acid profiles recommended for adults and children by the World Health Organization. (13) It can be considered a complete protein because it contains all of the essential amino acids.

Pea protein

With the exception of methionine + cysteine, pea protein contains good levels of all nine essential amino acids. It is often combined with rice protein to improve its amino acid profile. It is a good option for those seeking a gluten and dairy free protein supplement. Research suggests that pea protein equals casein and surpasses whey protein in its ability to curb appetite. (14) Similarly, pea protein matched whey protein in promoting increased muscle thickness after strength training. (15) Combined pea and rice protein powders are an attractive plant-based option for protein supplements.

Rice protein

Rice protein is rich in all nine essential amino acids and can be considered a complete protein. Rice protein (48 g daily) produced comparable results in body composition (lean body mass, muscle mass, fat mass) and athletic performance (strength, power) when compared to whey protein isolate (48 g daily). (16) It is generally more tolerable for those who experience digestive upset with whey proteins.

Egg protein

Egg protein has good digestibility and is rich in BCAAs. It is a complete protein with good biological value at lower levels (about 14 grams daily). The high protein value of eggs makes them a standard by which others foods are measured. Noteworthy is the fact that recent research observed that whole eggs improved protein synthesis 40% greater than egg whites alone. (17) Most egg protein supplements isolate the egg white, pulverize and dry it, then turn it into a powder. Some include the egg yolk, which is preferred considering the findings of recent research.

Casein protein

The majority of milk protein is casein. This slower digesting protein provides a sustained release of amino acids. It is created by dehydrating milk, which can denature the product and lead to health issues. Another concern with casein is whether it is A2 beta-casein (naturally produced by animals for thousands of years) or A1 beta-casein (a protein that developed after the domestication of animals). A1 casein is prone to causing digestive issues, promotes inflammation, and negatively affects cognition. (19) It is extremely high in glutamine – the primary amino acid in the muscles.

Hemp seed protein

Hemp protein is a byproduct of hempseed oil production. After extracting the oil, the hemp seedmeal is processed into hemp protein supplements. It contains a variety of amino acids, including all nine essential oil amino acids, but it is typically lower in lysine, leucine, and tryptophan. (21) Its digestibility is above average when dehulled seeds are used, but slightly below the reference protein (casein) if not dehulled. (21) Hemp protein has the added benefit of being rich in fiber, which helps maintain bowel regularity.

Bone broth protein

Probably one of the hottest health trends today, bone broth consumption is experiencing a remarkable revival. Bone broth protein is produced by dehydrating bone broth (usually from chicken bones). It is promoted as producing a wide range of health benefits, including reduced inflammation, improved mood, and enhanced immune function. However, clinical data to support these claims is lacking thus far and bone broth supplements may be contaminated with lead (which is known to accumulate in the bones). (26) Chicken bones contain all of the essential amino acids – although the exact amino acid profile is unknown – and type I and type II collagen (which are essential for healthy connective tissue and cartilage).

Soy protein

Soy is currently the most widely used vegetable protein source. It is considered a high-quality protein due to its amino acid profile – contains good levels of all nine essential amino acids and a high concentration of BCAAs. However, concerns over its genetic modification and phytoestrogen load have led many consumers to abandon it is a supplement. A number of health benefits have been attributed to soy protein’s active components (phytosterols, saponins, and isoflavones). (22) I personally would recommend avoiding soy protein.

Recommendations for specific uses

  • General nutrition: Moringa leaf protein, rice protein, pea protein, or hemp seed protein; combination of any of these four plant-based proteins are even better
  • Weight loss: Whey protein hydrolysate (23) or whey protein isolate (24)
  • Muscle growth: Whey protein hydrolysate preferably immediately before or within 30 minutes following strength training; combined pea and rice proteins are a good plant-based alternative
  • Post-exercise recovery: 5-10 grams of BCAAs providing a minimum of 3g leucine (leucine, isoleucine, valine in a 2:1:1 ratio; 3-5g leucine, 1.5-2.5g isoleucine, 1.5-2.5g valine) and 5 grams of glutamine; or whey protein isolate, concentrate, or hydrolysate with glutamine
  • Appetite control: Pea protein (14)
  • Muscle preservation in old age: Whey protein concentrate or isolate (25); a combination of moringa, pea, and rice protein is a good plant-based option

Conclusion

Several of the protein options have benefits and scientific support. The best protein really depends on your desired use and results. Since each of us is biologically unique, you may need to experiment and determine what your body needs most. Most importantly, make sure you give your body adequate protein to thrive each day.

Ten essential oils to ignite passion and enhance intimacy

Looking to ignite passion and enhance intimacy? Lost enjoyment in sex or struggling with that elusive and mystical (some would say mythical) libido? No worries, essential oils may be just what the libido ordered. Throughout history, essential oils have been used to encourage cuddling, affection, and intimacy. This blog intends to explore ten oils that can enhance the passion in your bedroom and life.

Known as the sex drive, libido influences a person’s overall desire for sexual activity. Libido is regulated by a complex interaction between hormones and neurotransmitters (chemical communicators of the brain like dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, GABA) released by the brain—specifically the limbic system and amygdala. Dopamine regulates desire, acetylcholine initiates arousal, GABA is necessary for orgasm, and serotonin is the final phase of libido called resolution.

To say that libido is all in your head is mostly accurate. Neurotransmitters released by the brain do the heavy lifting, governing a healthy libido. Estrogen is the primary hormone driving libido in women during the most fertile days. In menstruating females, libido peaks just prior to ovulation—a built-in motivation that encourages sexual intercourse during the most fertile days of the cycle and ensures the survival of the human race.

However, those revved-up days in the cycle virtually vanish as the production of key hormones—that are intimately connected to neurotransmitters—diminish during menopause. Indeed, hormones and neurotransmitters are interconnected in a complex dance (estrogen to serotonin, progesterone to GABA, and so forth) and must maintain a specific rhythm throughout the life of a woman to sustain a healthy libido. The result of losing this rhythm and optimal production of both hormones and neurotransmitters is decreased libido, and reduced blood flow to the vagina, which causes vaginal dryness and decreased pleasure. Less pleasure, discomfort, and decreased libido causes some women to experience a less fulfilling sex life during their mature years.

The male libido resides in the cerebral cortex and limbic areas of the brain and is fueled by neurotransmitters and testosterone. When a male becomes aroused, signals are sent from the cerebral cortex along nerves that elevate heart rate and increase blood flow to the genitals. Just like women, testosterone production changes over the course of a man’s lifetime. It usually peaks in his late teens and slowly declines thereafter. As a man ages, neurotransmitter, hormonal, and vascular changes make greater physical stimulation required to maintain sexual function and pleasure.

Keep in mind that although hormones and brain chemicals regulate libido, it is significantly influenced by emotions and stress levels. For example, you may be showering with the love of your life and feel desire, but arousal only occurs if you feel emotionally balanced and have stress under control. This may be why essential oils are so well-equipped to influence libido—because they profoundly influence mood and emotions by interacting with the same areas of the brain that regulate libido.

Ylang ylang is prized for its positive effects on blood pressure, stress levels, self-confidence, mood, and libido. Its flowers are traditionally placed on a couple’s bed on their wedding night. By relaxing both the mind and body, it places individuals in the right state for intimacy should the desire arise. In addition, its positive effects on blood pressure may increase blood flow to the genitals to make intercourse more enjoyable. How to use: Diffuse 7 to 10 drops in your diffuser 15 minutes prior to and during intimacy; or dilute and apply 1 to 2 drops over the heart.

Sandalwood is employed as a potent aphrodisiac in India. It too is calming to the mind and combats the negative emotions and stress that can interfere with intimacy. Interestingly, sandalwood reportedly smells similar to androsterone (a metabolite of testosterone and dihydrotestosterone), which may trigger subtle sensual signals to the opposite sex. How to use: Diffuse 7 to 10 drops in your diffuser 15 minutes prior to and during intimacy; or dilute and apply 1 drop to the side of the neck.

Patchouli essential oil is used in aromatherapy to reduce tension, stress, and anxiety. It has been used traditionally in Asian cultures as an aphrodisiac. Some experts believe that patchouli stimulates the sex glands to increase both libido and sexual responses. How to use: Diffuse 5 drops in your diffuser 15 minutes prior to and during intimacy, or dilute and apply to the lower abdomen.

Deeply relaxing and producing euphoric feelings, clary sage is a powerful aphrodisiac. It contains trace to small amounts of sclareol, which is a compound structurally similar to estrogen. It has a long history of use for balancing female energies and supporting normal hormone function in women. Clary sage also influences dopamine activity, which helps regulate sexual desire. How to use: Dilute and apply to the lower abdomen area and inside ankle area; or take 2 to 3 drops in an empty capsule and consume daily.

With an earthy aroma, vetiver essential oil is used in the traditions of Ayurveda to increase libido. It positively influences genes associated with both male and female hormone function. Its calming aroma reduces stress, which is vital for sexual health and enjoyment. Moreover, vetiver is known to increase GABA levels in the brain, which may enhance orgasm. How to use: Take 2 to 3 drops in a capsule daily.

Prized for its balancing effects to mood and uplifting aroma, bergamot is known to support optimal levels of acetylcholine in the brain. Optimal acetylcholine levels lead to enhanced sexual arousal. In addition, bergamot positively influences genes related to male and female hormone function. With less stress, improved mood, and optimum acetylcholine and hormone function, you can’t go wrong with bergamot during intimacy. How to use: Diffuse 7-10 in your diffuser 15 minutes prior to and during intimacy, or take 2 to 3 drops in a capsule daily.

Neroli essential oil is a great option for menopausal women according to clinical research. Women who inhaled a 0.5% dilution of neroli oil experienced improved sexual desire, quality of life, estrogen levels, cortisol levels, and menopausal symptoms. It has an alluring aroma that triggers desire in men and women both. How to use: Diffuse 5 drops in your diffuser 15 minutes prior to and during intimacy, or dilute and massage to the shoulders.

More than just a food spice, nutmeg essential oil is known for its psychoactive properties, including stress management and reduction of anxiety. It has also been traditionally used as an aphrodisiac and to improve sexual function. How to use: Diffuse 3 to 5 drops in your diffuser 15 minutes prior to and during intimacy.

Fennel has a licorice-like aroma that is relaxing and promotes self-confidence. Interestingly, fennel was used by the Egyptians to improve female libido and fennel decoctions were consumed by old men to improve virility anciently. How to use: Diffuse 5 drops in your diffuser 15 minutes prior to and during intimacy, or take 2 drops in an empty capsule the day of intimacy.

Several reports from women suggest that peppermint oil enhances sexual experience and orgasm. Peppermint increases focus, which is especially helpful for women who have trouble focusing during intimacy. The most common way it is used is by mixing 1 drop with about 7–10 mL of carrier oil and using it as a lubricant during intercourse. Other reports suggest applying it to the inner thighs is helpful.

Using two or more of the above essential oils together may amplify the benefits. Some find that combining three or more of the above oils into a roller bottle with carrier oil makes it easy to apply and readily available when the moment is right. Another frequent area to apply this type of blend is on the inner thighs.

Enhance intimacy and sensuality in the bedroom and your life with these tips. Used regularly, a night of passion with essential oils may become a more regular occurrence for you and your special someone.

Reference: Medicinal Essential Oils: The Science and Practice of Evidence-Based Essential Oil Therapy.

Stevia, the maligned sweetener

Recognizing its harmful effects, more consumers are choosing products without added sugar. The result is a flourishing alternative sweetener market and confusion about which sugar substitutes are harmful or healthy. Stevia has been a leading natural sweetener until several well-meaning bloggers have maligned it as no better than synthetic sweeteners. So, what is the truth? Is stevia harmful or healthy?

What is stevia?

While the original sugar substitutes were synthetic chemicals (aspartame, sucralose, etc.), several natural options are now available (xylitol, monk fruit, erythritol, etc). One of those natural options is stevia, which is about 250 times sweeter than sugar (sucrose).

Stevia is a small perennial and subtropical herb native to South America. There are more than 150 species of stevia but the most prized variety is Stevia rebaudiana. Two sweet glycosides were isolated from its leaves by scientists in 1931— stevioside and rebaudioside. Both are sweet but stevioside leaves a stronger bitter aftertaste that some find disagreeable. Other naturally occurring glycosides are rebaudioside B and rebaudioside C.

Sweetness comparison (1)

 

Sweetener

Potency

(X sweeter than sugar)

Calories

(per tsp.)

Sucrose

16

Monk Fruit (Lo Han Guo)

300

0

Stevia (highly processed)

250

0

Stevia (Green leaf)

40

0

Xylitol

1

9.6

Erythritol

0.7

1

How stevia is processed

There are three main types of stevia: green leaf stevia, stevia extracts, and highly-processed stevia. Being aware of each type is important for choosing a stevia that is healthy rather than harmful.

  • Green leaf stevia — the type that has centuries of safe use behind it — is minimally processed. The leaves are dried and ground into a fine green powder. This type is approximately 30 to 40 times sweeter than sucrose and retains the health benefits of stevia.
  • Some stevia extracts further process the green powder with water and alcohol (minimally processed stevia extracts). The resulting extract is then subjected to an enzymatic process to reduce the bitter aftertaste. These are often liquid extracts and contain a variety of glycosides, not just one.
  • The worst extracts are highly processed — often undergoing dozens of steps — to create a processed stevia extract that resembles little of what it was in the leaf. These extracts are typically white powders or liquids and concentrated for the sweeter and less bitter part of the leaf (rebaudioside A). Chemical solvents are added to the rebaudioside after it is extracted from the leaf. Then the fillers and other ingredients are added to produce a very sweet and highly treated sweetener. In fact, one commercial stevia product (Truvia) admits on its website that it contains less than 1% stevia. (2) Interestingly, these are the extracts the FDA and other government regulatory agencies have approved for human consumption, but the whole leaf or crude stevia extracts are not.

Concerns over additives

Many bloggers point out that stevia often contains fillers and flavor enhancers like maltodextrin, sugar alcohols, dextrose, cellulose, and other natural flavors. This is true, especially among name-brand stevia products. However, the additive concern can be easily overcome by a savvy label reader. Some manufacturers also share their extraction method/process on their website.

The alleged harmful effects of stevia

Despite its centuries of safe use in Brazil, and Paraguay, and a long history of sage use in Japan several adverse effects have been attributed to stevia consumption. This list includes infertility, hormonal changes, low blood sugar, stressed adrenals, headaches, blood pressure dysregulation, dizziness, thyroid trouble, and even cancer. Let’s explore the evidence to support these allegations.

Infertility and hormonal changes may be a concern if large amounts are consumed. A 1999 study found that administering 6.7g/kg body weight of stevia extract produced functional changes to the male reproductive organs and resulted in lower testosterone levels in rats. (3A,3B) The problem with applying this study to humans is primarily the dose. In 2008, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives established the safe daily intake of steviol glycosides as 4 mg/kg body weight. (3C) This dosage was reaffirmed in 2016. The dose of 6.7g/kg equates to about 469 grams daily in humans. To put this in perspective, you would have to consume over 117 teaspoons of stevia daily to equal this dose. This is an extreme dose that one would hardly be able to consume because of the overwhelming sweetness of stevia.

What about the effects of stevia on blood sugar? This has been tested in both animals and humans. Scientists administered stevia at a dose of 10mg/kg body weight for 28 days in diabetic rats. What the researchers found was that stevia exerted a beneficial effect that increased insulin secretion and reduced blood sugar levels. (4A) This effect appeared to be a result of stevia’s action on the pancreas cells that produce insulin (beta-cells).

Other scientists tested stevia in a food, rather than isolated, which more valid because stevia is typically not consumed alone. This research suggests that consumption of stevia cookies (as opposed to regular cookies) had no significant effect on blood glucose response two hours after consumption. (4B) This same study reported that the stevia cookies reduced hunger — certainly a positive finding for those trying to lose weight. A moringa cookie was also included in the study, which was able to reduce both hunger and blood glucose levels. Similarly, a test in healthy and obsess individuals who consumed tea and crackers with cream cheese sweetened with stevia determined that stevia significantly decreased glucose levels after a meal. (4C) Another clinical study found that stevia enhances glucose tolerance and reduces plasma glucose levels at a dose of 5g of leaf extract every six hours for three days. (4D) Lastly, a single dose of 1,000 mg of stevioside reduced glucose levels after a meal in diabetics. (4E) The current evidence suggests that stevia positively effects blood sugar regulation in healthy and diabetic individuals.

Some experts contend that stevia may stress the adrenal glands. The argument is that the sweet taste of stevia triggers the body to release insulin to shuttle glucose into cells. However, since no glucose exists in the bloodstream, adrenaline and cortisol are released to mobilize sugar stores (glycogen) from other sources (liver, muscles). This argument has some validity and this process might possibly occur. Anecdotal reports from individuals suggest a very small number of people may experience low blood sugar and weakened adrenals after ingesting stevia. But there is little evidence in the form of clinical studies to substantiate this.

The stevia causes cancer fears are a bit of a mystery. Laboratory research suggests that stevioside has an anti-cancer effect in breast, colon, and mouse skin cancer. (5A,5B,5C) Scientists concluded that stevia has no effect on pancreatic cancer development, growth, or death in a mouse model of pancreatic cancer. (5D) One study found that rebaudioside A did not damage DNA or cause genetic mutations in mice when administered at a dose of up to 2g/kg body weight. (5E) A more recent study concluded that stevia and its glycosides do not cause toxicity, cancer, DNA mutations, embryo or fetal harm, and have “therapeutic effects against several diseases such as cancer, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, inflammation, cystic fibrosis, obesity and tooth decay.” (5F) No research to support a carcinogenic effect could be identified. It appears that a connection between stevia and cancer is an exaggeration and not reality.

Current evidence suggests that stevia does influence blood pressure. A two-year, randomized, placebo-controlled study found that taking 500 mg of stevioside powder three times daily significantly reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. (6) No significant incidence of adverse effects was noted between the stevia group and the placebo group. Although four people taking stevia reported gastrointestinal symptoms (abdominal fullness, nausea) and fatigue during the study. Until further clinical research is conducted, it may be prudent for people with low blood pressure to limit stevia.

Stevia doesn’t seem to have any effect on thyroid hormones. (7A,7B) This doesn’t mean that certain people don’t have a bad experience with stevia, some certainly do. Each of us is unique and the foods and supplements we consume will affect us differently. In addition, a small clinical study (16 participants) found that ingestion of 0.2g of stevia three times a day for one week modestly increased cortisol levels and affected the cortisol to cortisone levels in the morning. (7C) Elevated cortisol levels can disrupt thyroid hormone regulation, particularly in those with thyroid disorders. Again, caution should be exercised in people with thyroid disorders.

Steviol is the final product of metabolism and it essentially leaves the body without accumulating. (8) This suggests that stevia and its glycosides are readily metabolized and excreted by the body.

The bottom line

Reasonable use of stevia poses little risk of harmful effects in healthy individuals. People with adrenal fatigue, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, thyroid disorders, or cortisol imbalances may want to limit stevia, especially its long-term use. Your safest bet is to use reasonable amounts of a green leaf extract or minimally processed extracts. Highly processed stevia extracts that don’t contain fillers and additives have a long history of safe use as well but are less preferred. Chances are these are the ones in your favorite products and you have to decide if that product’s benefits outweigh the minimal risks.