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by Charissa Farley-Hay (Farley Interlocking Pavers, Wildest Restaurant, Coachella Yoga, and Pilates Power Gym) Whether you are combating a chronic illness, dealing with anxiety, depression, stress, maintaining your health and wellness, or looking for improved performance, there has always been a pill for that. Increasingly however, there have been doubts of risk versus benefits, side effects, long term damage, and overall efficacy. Since the earliest written records, there has always been documentation of plants as medicine and physical/mental support. So what happened?

Antibiotics happened. In 1928 the first antibiotic was developed and by 1930 the first commercial antibacterial was commercially available. By 1945 Penicillin was introduced on a large scale as a treatment for bacterial infections. Antibiotics were a game changer in the treatment of infection and had faster and better outcomes than any prior regimes. Through the early 1960s most of the antibiotics we use today were discovered and introduced to the market. (The lack of new antibiotics, overuse and antibiotic resistance, these treatments and becoming less effective and we are inevitably facing a major problem.) During this time industrialized food production, tv dinners, packaged food, and formula to replace breast milk were just some of the current “science” that made their natural alternatives also seem outdated.

During this time there were of course, other pharmaceutical developments that were highly successful, especially in the treatment of acute conditions. Pain medications, anesthesia, and aspirin are not medications anyone would ever want to give up. It is easy to see why it was thought there would always be a newest “silver bullet” and that pills could cure or improve anything — and that plants, herbs, food, spiritual practices, movement, exercise, relationships, sound, nature, and basically anything-not-a-pill, was old-fashioned, voodoo, and simply not scientific.

But science appears to be changing. In the treatment of chronic illness, the data is disturbing. Our current pharmaceutical treatments are keeping people alive, but not by curing them. Many chronic diseases have now been accepted as something you live with, minimizing your quality of life – for the remainder of your life. But there is much research indicating that the pill may not be the answer. A loud chorus of published medical research, physicians, and scientific data are demonstrating that diet, exercise, lifestyle, stress- reduction, community, and plants can not only treat chronic disease as effectively as pharmaceuticals, but in many cases reverse it. Medicare currently reimburses The Ornish Lifestyle Program. This is the first program that is scientifically proven to reverse heart disease by optimizing four important areas of your life – what you eat (primarily plant based), how you manage your stress (yoga and meditation), how much you move (exercise), and how much love and support you have.

Food as Medicine. Eating whole plant foods is better for your health than taking supplements. Rather than taking supplements it is recommended that you eat 2 cups of fruit and at least 2.5 cups of vegetables every day. Nine out of ten Americans don’t meet this recommendation. An online search of the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health can keep you occupied for many hours researching the latest findings on hundreds of plants and their impacts on human health and disease. Or you can speed track you research at where Dr. Greger analyzes hundreds of studies, their sources, and how the research is conducted for you. Below is a summary of some of the most interesting plants taken directly from that site. (I have discussed some of the dangers he covers such as too much protein and the health issues associated with animal products in previous articles.) *Dr. Greger recommends GBOMBS – daily. Greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries and seeds.

Turmeric. Since 1987, the National Cancer Institute has tested more than a thousand different compounds for chemopreventive, or cancer-preventing, activity. Only a few dozen have made it to clinical trials, and Curcumin, turmeric’s bright-yellow pigment, is among the most promising. Curcumin is special in that it appears to belong to all three groups, meaning it may potentially help prevent and/or arrest cancer cell growth. Curcumin may play a role in preventing or treating lung disease, brain disease, and a variety of cancers, including multiple myeloma and cancers of the breast, brain, blood, colon, kidney, liver, pancreas, and skin, and may also help speed recovery after surgery and effectively treat rheumatoid arthritis better than the leading drug of choice. It also may be effective in treating osteoarthritis and other inflammatory conditions, such as lupus and inflammatory bowel disease.

Broccoli Sprouts may improve survival rates of bladder cancer patients, help protect skin cells from sun damage, and potentially boost liver detoxification. They have among the highest concentrations of sulforaphane, a dietary component of cruciferous vegetables that has been shown to benefit autism and suppress the ability of breast cancer stem cells to form tumors. Cancer cells can use epigenetics against us by silencing tumor-suppressor genes that could otherwise stop the cancer in its tracks. A number of chemotherapy drugs have been developed to restore our bodies’ natural defenses, but their use has been limited due to their high toxicity. There are, however, a number of compounds distributed widely throughout the plant kingdom—including beans, greens, and berries—that appear to have the similar effects naturally. For example, three hours after eating a cup of broccoli sprouts, the enzyme that cancers use to help silence our defenses is suppressed in our bloodstream to an extent equal to or greater than the chemotherapy agent specifically designed for that purpose, without the toxic side effects.

Greens. People may have gained health benefits from wild greens as long as 200,000 years ago. Today, greens are considered one of the healthiest vegetables, and they’re inexpensive. Organic greens may be healthier than non-organic greens due to their defensive response to getting bitten by bugs. Consuming at least one serving a month of greens appears to reduce the risk of glaucoma by 69%. Lutein and zeaxanthin, nutrients found greens, also appear to be protective against cataracts and macular degeneration. Greens consumption is associated with increased physical attractiveness, reduced facial wrinkling, improved dental health, better immune system, and may reduce free radical DNA damage. The calcium in dark green leafy vegetables is more effectively absorbed by the body than that found in cow’s milk. Potassium from greens may be anti- inflammatory and may prevent strokes and heart disease.

Greens can also provide iron and zinc, antioxidants, and magnesium, a nutrient that may lower the risk of a range of health concerns including diabetes, heart disease, and sudden cardiac death. Folate, which can reduce the risk of depression, in greens appears preferable to folic acid supplements. Many nutrients found in greens are fat soluble, which means including some healthy whole food fats like nuts or seeds, in a meal can help you better absorb the phytonutrients. Plant-based diets, including greens, tend to be alkaline-forming, which may help protect muscle mass and reduce the risk of gout and kidney stones. High consumption in particular of green leafy and cruciferous vegetables may be linked to lower rates of cognitive decline. Some nutrients are destroyed by cooking, but some nutrients become more absorbable. A mix of cooked and raw vegetables, including greens, may be best.

Mushrooms have shown efficacy in antioxidant and DNA support, blood sugar support, breathing, digestion and microbiome, energy and stamina, heart support, immune response, liver and detox support, memory and cognition, stress and sleep, nerve support, and performance and recovery. (Probably a good idea to cook them, though as there can be toxins in raw mushrooms.) Mushrooms appear to work in the lab to suppress breast cancer cell growth as well as in population studies. Mushrooms can boost your immune system, but what about the millions of people who suffer from autoimmune diseases, inflammatory diseases, and allergies. Their immune systems may already be too active. Sufferers of seasonal allergies have a decreased risk for cancer due to their overactive immune system. Mushrooms may boost the immune system fighting potential correlated infection, while decreasing chronic inflammation.

Flax Seeds are one of the richest sources of essential omega-3 fatty acids and have around one hundred times more cancer-fighting lignans than other foods. They have also been demonstrated to prove helpful against breast and prostate cancers; controlling cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood sugar levels; reducing inflammation; and successfully treating constipation. Researchers designed a prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial so they could randomize subjects into two groups and secretly introduce tablespoons of ground flax seeds every day into the diets of half the participants to see if it made any difference. After six months, those who ate the placebo foods started out hypertensive and stayed hypertensive, despite the fact that many of them were on a variety of blood pressure pills. What about the hypertensives who were unknowingly eating flax seeds every day? Their blood pressure dropped from 158/82 down to 143/75. A seven-point drop in diastolic blood pressure may not sound like a lot, but that would be expected to result in 46 percent fewer strokes and 29 percent less heart disease over time.

Black Cumin. For three cents a day, black cumin (Nigella Sativa) may improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar control, as well as accelerate the loss of body fat. A half teaspoon of powdered black cumin a day was effective in the treatment of Hashimoto’s (autoimmune thyroiditis) in patients. With this being just some of the many plants currently being studied, few downsides, and a myriad potential health benefits, I’d suggest trying to find ways to incorporate plants into your daily diet.

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