Hi, Jenny-Marie here at Raja Wellness and today I’m going to address a question we hear frequently in our clinic: “What vitamins should I take to keep my immune system healthy?”
Now like anything else that pertains to nutrition and herbal medicine, the answer is, “That depends”. There really isn’t a one-size fits all vitamin because we are all unique bodies with a number of factors that will influence our needs. Age, gender, exercise habits, stress-levels, type of work, and where you live can greatly influence what your body needs. However, there are a couple of key vitamins that are generally going to be safe for most people and help your immune system to function at its best.
One product that I recommend to most people is something called Catalyn by Standard Process. This product was developed to offset the nutritional gaps in most people’s diets that started to happen when eating organ meats - like liver and kidneys - fell out of favor in our culture. Liver and kidney are full of Vitamin A, Vitamin B12, Riboflavin, Folate, heme iron (the kind you body can easily use), copper and choline. All of these contribute to your health and B6 in particular has many important functions in supporting the immune system. The best option would be to include liver in your diet and I have a surprisingly tasty recipe from my Grandmother that you can find here. For those people who don’t want to do that, Catalyn is a great option. It does contain animal products and is not appropriate for anyone with an alpha gal allergy or those who don’t want to consume animal products- for them, a product called Floradix is a plant-based liquid supplement that is a good alternative.
Depending on where you live, vitamin D may be in short supply - those of us at higher latitudes have less time during the year when the sun is high enough in the sky for us to get adequate sunlight to trigger our bodies’ production of vitamin D. Others may not be as efficient at producing it; things like stress and diet may actually deplete your natural levels of vitamin D. This is an easy test to get via bloodwork from your physician to check your levels and be sure you aren’t getting too much or too little. If you do need a little extra, I prefer the liquid forms of vitamin D for ease of absorption. Metagenics makes a great liquid D with 1000 IU’s in each drop and has a refreshing subtle minty taste. Again, this is not going to be a good supplement for any one with an alpha gal allergy, or who is avoiding products derived from animal sources. However, we do carry a liquid vitamin D that is derived from lichen (which is a symbiotic association of algae and fungi) by Pure Encapsulations.
Next is Vitamin C, which if you eat plenty of dark leafy greens, bell peppers and citrus - you should get enough from your diet. However, in times of stress, your body may need more of this than you can easily get from food, and there is some evidence that higher doses may help your body fight off invaders. The Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University has some great research on this (“I will include a link below in the description”-include link). Vitamin C has a short half-life in the body and if you get too much of it can cause diarrhea as the body dumps the excess. I like using lower doses of pure ascorbic acid in a loose form myself so I can take more frequent, smaller doses when needed. However, a 500mg capsule gives good dosing options to people. There are buffered forms of ascorbic acid available and these work better for some people than the pure ascorbic acid. Buffered forms of vitamin C work by binding ascorbic acid with minerals to reduce stomach upset. As long as the capsules are vegetarian - Vitamin C is generally safe for those with alpha gal allergies or who avoid animal products.
Lastly is calcium, which we all know is good for the bones - but it also plays an important role in our immune system and defending against viruses in particular. For this purpose, I like Calcium Lactate from Standard Process which comes in a form your body can use very, very quickly. Again, not suitable for those with alpha gal allergies or who avoid animal products - but Pure Encapsulations has a vegan Calcium-D-Glucarate that is a good alternative option. Tofu is also an excellent vegan source of calcium and p lants high in calcium include black-eyed peas and dark leafy greens.
So as always, these are general recommendations and we welcome any questions and can offer virtual consults if needed to address your specific concerns. Be sure to review any changes in your supplements with your doctor.
In Part 1, I wrote about why many of the drinks waiting on store shelves really aren’t good for you because of the sugar in them. I didn’t really touch on the chemicals in them that we might be concerned about, but let’s just say most drinks you can buy aren’t good for you. It’s that simple. Even water can be a concern because of the leaching of chemicals from the plastic- in many cases, we don’t know if they are bad but we also can’t say they are good because it simply hasn’t been studied long-term. So what to drink? Many patients fear that giving up sweet drinks means a life of drinking only water. Never fear, there is hope! Welcome to the wonderful world of teas and tisanes.
Studies have found that some teas may help with cancer, heart disease, and diabetes; encourage weight loss; lower cholesterol, and bring about mental alertness. Tea also appears to have antimicrobial qualities.
“There doesn’t seem to be a downside to tea,” says American Dietetic Association spokeswoman Katherine Tallmadge, MA, RD, LD. “I think it’s a great alternative to coffee drinking. First, tea has less caffeine. It’s pretty well established that the compounds in tea – their flavonoids – are good for the heart and may reduce cancer.”
There is significant literature on the health benefits of tea that I won’t repeat here, but the short version is for most people teas and tisanes are a healthy beverage choice with many varieties and flavors to choose from.
Let’s start with tisanes since most of you are already familiar with teas. Tisanes have no caffeine and depending on the ingredients you choose can have a wide variety of health benefits. The challenge is finding the ingredients locally because many haven’t made their way mainstream yet. Some Asian or international markets will have some. We carry some of these harder to find tisane ingredients for sale in loose form for our communities. They can be brewed and enjoyed hot or cold. In addition to many varieties made from herbs and fruits, a popular tisane is a rooibos. Rooibos teas are a naturally sweet and sometimes nutty herbal tea made from the South African Red Bush. The rooibos tea processing method involves harvesting the red bush leaves, followed by grinding and bruising of the leaves.
Most grocery stores have a wide selection of tisanes (or herbal teas). I recommend reading the labels and selecting those that are organic and without synthetic ingredients. You can even make your own at home from dried or fresh mint, organic citrus peels, fresh ginger, cinnamon...the options are endless.
Teas come in so many varieties- there is a whole world of flavors to explore. Here’s a quick summary of types, all are made from the Camellia sinensis plant:
Black tea made by a process of withering then rolling the tea leaves followed by a long period of fermentation. Then the black tea leaves are fired resulting in a loose leaf black tea with a complex yet recognizable smell and full-bodied, strong flavor.
Need some inspiration for your own teas or tisanes? Here are some of my favorites:
If you need help selecting a tisane specifically designed to support your health needs let us know during your next appointment! Do you regularly drink teas or tisanes? What is your favorite?
Tea: A drink made by steeping the leaves of a type of Camellia sinensis in hot water.
Tisane: An infusion of leaves or flowers used as a beverage, e.g. an herbal tea.
What do you reach for when you are thirsty? Is it a cold soda? An energy drink to get you through the afternoon? Or as many people do around here in Kentucky, a nice tall cup of sweet tea? Did you ever stop to think about what’s in your drink? Are those artificial colors and flavors, the amount of caffeine and the sugar (most often as high fructose corn syrup) really good for you? When you look at the numbers on the label is it really all that bad? What’s wrong with a little sugar in your drink?
This post gives a great summary of what happens when that 20oz of soda hits your body. That 20oz of soda has about the equivalent of ⅓ of a cup of sugar. Would you ever just sit down and eat ⅓ of a cup of sugar? And sometimes the drinks that look the healthiest may have the most sugar. Many fruit smoothies have more sugar than 10 glazed doughnuts!
Now I imagine my diet soda drinking readers are feeling good about their no sugar choice but not so fast! It’s well documented that drinking diet soda is correlated with increased risks of metabolic syndromes and cardiovascular disease.
So how about a nice glass of wholesome juice? It’s natural and can have good nutrients in it if you get the kind without added sugars, so it must be good, right? The key is how much. All fruit is high in fructose but when you eat the whole fruit you get the fiber with it which modulates its effect. Fruit juice is a straight shot of fructose and unlike glucose which can be used by every cell in the body, fructose can only be processed in the liver. Fructose is taken straight to the liver where it is metabolized into free fatty acids (FFAs), VLDL (the damaging form of cholesterol), and triglycerides, which get stored as fat. When you eat 120 calories of glucose, less than one calorie is stored as fat. 120 calories of fructose results in 40 calories being stored as fat. Turns out those little juice glasses used by your grandparents and great-grandparents were about the right size for a healthy serving of juice and more is not better.
So what’s with all these sugars and why do we care? When fructose combines with glucose, it makes sucrose. Sucrose is abundant in sugar cane, sugar beets, corn, and other plants. When extracted and refined, sucrose makes table sugar. “In the 1800s and early 1900s, the average American took in about 15 grams of fructose (about half an ounce), mostly from eating fruits and vegetables. Today we average 55 grams per day (73 grams for adolescents). The increase in fructose intake is worrisome, says Lustig, because it suspiciously parallels increases in obesity, diabetes, and a new condition called the nonalcoholic fatty liver disease that now affects up to one-third of Americans.”
And it turns out for many people there are two main sources of fructose and glucose in our diets: processed foods (even those that aren’t sweet like canned soup) and drinks. This means options for a healthy drink when eating out are often limited to water or unsweetened iced tea. So what to drink? Time to explore the wonderful world of teas and tisanes - which will be in our next article!
Not all of our parents grew up with this, but odds are your grandparents and great-grandparents probably regularly ate this dish. I didn’t grow up eating it, but I did cook it quite regularly in my early 20’s for my grandmother. As she got older we couldn’t trust her with the stove, not after she tried boiling water in a Tupperware on the stove top. But she loved food and whenever I would visit I would make anything she asked me to and always it was “liver and onions please!” She lit up when I said, “Sure, whatever you want, but you have to teach me because I’ve never made it.”. She couldn’t get it in restaurants, but she loved it and it turns out there was a good reason for her too.
The liver is packed with nutrients that are readily accessible to our bodies, especially when we need to build new blood. I learned just how much it can do first hand when I was exposed to chemicals that triggered hemolytic anemia (destruction of my red blood cells)- I would crave meat and I could literally eat pounds of rare meat per day. If I ate some liver and onions during this time I didn’t need nearly as much meat because my body was getting so much more.
A common rejection of eating liver is the idea that the liver is a storage organ for toxins in the body. This isn’t a complete picture- one of the liver’s roles is to neutralize toxins (such as drugs, chemical agents, and poisons), but it does not store these toxins. Toxins the body cannot eliminate are likely to accumulate in the body’s fatty tissues and nervous systems. The liver stores many important nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E, K, B12 and folic acid, and minerals such as copper and iron. These nutrients provide the body with some of the tools it needs to get rid of toxins. Check out the table below to see how liver compares to muscle meat, apples and carrots when it comes to nutrition. As with any meats I highly recommend organic, free range and grass-fed sources! Heartland Whole Life in downtown E'Town has them- including liver. You can also find it at many COOPs, Whole Foods, and some Trader Joes.
Yuck factor- High if you don't cook it right- when prepared correctly it's actually quite good but if you still don't like it you can grind it in with muscle meat and make spaghetti sauce, meatballs, hamburgers, etc. with it. I have served it this way too many unsuspecting people who hate liver so much they can "taste it in anything" but were willing to let me try to fool them. And I did- they loved it.
Prep: thaw overnight and remove the membrane from the edge of the meat with a sharp knife, soak 2-4 hours or all day in raw milk or lemon juice in the fridge.
Cook liver in a skillet over med heat with coconut oil or bacon grease until pink in the center is faint- do not overcook. I slowly sauté onions and garlic in a separate pan which takes about an hour but requires little attention so I start them and do other chores while they cook and then cook the liver after the onions are golden and caramelized. To make onions: Peel and slice 3-6 onions (they reduce by about half while cooking), add fat of choice- I use 1T coconut oil and 1T butter or bacon grease- in cast iron skillet cook over low heat for 45min to an hour or more (if more onions) until onions are browned and caramelized. I stir them every 5-10min- whenever I pass by the stove while doing other things. I also add 4-6 cloves of garlic to my onions as well- usually whole because I'm too lazy to slice them and I like their taste. If you like mushrooms adding some sliced to the pan at the beginning and allowing them to caramelize as well as divine.
Serve immediately! I usually pair the liver and onions with roasted veggies (coarsely chop veggies, drizzle with olive oil and spices, roast at 350 for 45 min) and a cup of hot spicy bone broth to drink.
Soaking is the key- I never understood why my grandmother insisted on soaking it when I would cook for her until I tried cooking it without soaking it. YUCK!!! Some people say to bread it and fry it- on the theory that anything tastes well fried...but regardless of how you make it, this is a food that should be a regular on your dinner table. Here are some other recipes and tips I found useful for cooking the liver. What’s your favorite liver dish?
|APPLE (100 g)||CARROTS (100 g)||RED MEAT (100 g)||BEEF LIVER (100 g)|
|Calcium||3.0 mg||3.3 mg||11.0 mg||11.0 mg|
|Phosphorus||6.0 mg||31.0 mg||140.0 mg||476.0 mg|
|Magnesium||4.8 mg||6.2 mg||15.0 mg||18.0 mg|
|Potassium||139.0 mg||222.0 mg||370.0 mg||380.0 mg|
|Iron||.1 mg||.6 mg||3.3 mg||8.8 mg|
|Zinc||.05 mg||.3 mg||4.4 mg||4.0 mg|
|Copper||.04 mg||.08 mg||.18 mg||12.0 mg|
|Vitamin A||None||None||40 IU||53,400 IU|
|Vitamin D||None||None||Trace||19 IU|
|Vitamin E||.37 mg||.11 mg||1.7 mg||.63 mg|
|Vitamin C||7.0 mg||6.0 mg||None||27.0 mg|
|Thiamin||.03 mg||.05 mg||.05 mg||.26 mg|
|Riboflavin||.02 mg||.05 mg||.20 mg||4.19 mg|
|Niacin||.10 mg||.60 mg||4.0 mg||16.5 mg|
|Pantothenic Acid||.11 mg||.19 mg||.42 mg||8.8 mg|
|Vitamin B6||.03 mg||.10 mg||.07 mg||.73 mg|
|Folic Acid||8.0 mcg||24.0 mcg||4.0 mcg||145.0 mcg|
|Biotin||None||.42 mcg||2.08 mcg||96.0 mcg|
|Vitamin B12||None||None||1.84 mcg||111|