Saturday, June 30, 2012

Probiotics and Fibre

Here's an interesting link regarding gut flora that was posted to my home page this morning:

Really, this is a no brainer, but it's great that it's finally been "verified". Of course fibre boosts beneficial gut flora! In a healthy gut, that's all that there is for them to eat. All of the useful carbohydrates, proteins and lipids, etc., should have been digested and absorbed. Unfortunately, due to general trends in diet and lifestyle these days, almost everyone's digestion is compromised to some degree. That leads to alterations in gut flora, which is one of the primary causes of the development of inflammatory diseases of the digestive tract. It's sad (but typical) that for decades the medical establishment claimed that probiotics were useless. Another kind of snake oil promoted by natural health practitioners. However, in the last decade they have become the rage, at least among researchers. Their use hasn't percolated down to the doctors and nurses in the front lines to any great degree yet. There's been tons of research on their health promoting benefits, from improving digestion to boosting the immune system. Of course no one admitted they were wrong, but at least this the information is finally getting out there to the general public.

The moral of the story is that for this and many other reasons it's important to eat lots of fibre. In situations where taking probiotics is recommended, take them with some source of (preferably soluble) fibre. I personally recommend taking them with whole flax seeds and/or psyllium husks - certified organic of course!

Many people who take probiotic supplements may have heard of fructooligosaccharides (FOS). These are relatively small polysaccharides composed of fructose units. They are particularly common in the latex and roots of herbs from the Aster family like elecampane (Inula helenium), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), chicory (Cichorium intybus) and burdock (Arctium spp.). They are undigestible by humans and therefore make up part of the fibre content of our diet. They are one of the kinds of fibre that help promote healthy intestinal flora. Many probiotic supplements include FOS and often charge more money for it. Be forewarned that this is just a gimmick. The amount of FOS in these products is irrelevant. That doesn't mean that some of them aren't good quality products. But their inclusion of FOS is for optics only. It adds virtually no value to the product. If you want FOS, eat Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) or very young dandelion, burdock or chicory roots (the roots of older plants may make great medicine, but not great eating). When it comes to probiotics, take them with soluble fibre and you'll get much better results.

Elecampane (Inula helenium).

The Underlying Philosophy of this Blog

Now that I'm blogging, I am going to briefly explain where I'm coming from. In these posts I'm probably going to say a few things that will freak out a few people. Others will just think I'm crazy. This is unavoidable. I'm going to be completely honest about how I experience the world and not hold anything back. When these philosophical elements creep in, if it seems weird or doesn't make sense to you, try to go easy on the judgement. There will be a lot of information here that is useful to anyone who has a passion for herbs, regardless of their personal paradigm.

Spending a lot of time in nature and working with the plant medicines can alter the way we experience the world. When we approach life with an open heart and mind we can find ourselves living in a world that is no longer filled with objects, but instead filled with people. Humans are one among a myriad of non-human people living on this beautiful planet. So to me the plant medicines that I work with are not objects or commodities. They are people! They are my friends, colleagues and teachers. It is a great blessing that our Earth Mother has given birth to these wonderful healing beings. As an herbalist I am honoured to be able to learn from them and work with them. Without them there is no herbalism, no medicine. At the same time the plant people need herbalists in order to do their work. We are the bridge between them and the human people who need healing. So the medicine is not just the herbs or the herbalist, it is something that we create together.

Some of my plant friends and colleagues.

Some people may think that this is absurd. That's fine! We can choose to experience the world any way we want. If we approach life from a materialistic perspective, we will experience a world that is full of objects. When we approach life with humility and an open heart and mind, the world is a very different place. It's a big, awesome, living, mysterious place...

The Great Mystery!

Anyway, this is just a heads-up. This kind of stuff is going to be weaving in and out of all of the practical information that I'm going to be sharing. Herbalism is my life and my path. I can't separate it from how I experience the world. They are one and the same. Some of you may love this stuff. Others will learn to tolerate it. Still others will find it offensive and go off to other corners of the internet to read other kinds of information on herbs, such as the many interesting ways scientists are using herbs to torture the rat people. That reminds me of a study that I read about a few months ago concerning rat ethics. Apparently a rat will forgo a meal to release another member of its species from a cage within the cage, even though it would have to share the meal afterwards. Apparently scientists could learn a thing or two about ethics from the rat people!

Welcome to my blog!

So here I am doing a blog! It's almost an oxymoron. I'm someone who doesn't read blogs or tweets, and who isn't on any social networking sites (Jill put Living Earth on Facebook, but I'm not on it personally). In my life, if I have time to spend doing that kind of stuff, I'd rather be out on the land observing, harvesting, or just being!

So why bother doing a blog? Some people have been suggesting I do this for some time. Finally I gave in for several reasons. One of the reasons is that I've had several books laid out for about ten years and the first one is only about half done. I can't write putting aside a day a week. It can take days just to get into the flow. What I need is to be able to put aside large blocks of time, but that isn't an option yet. So this blog is a forum from which I can provide some useful information to whoever is interested without having to finish a book.

One of the reasons we are currently transitioning many of the Living Earth courses into an online format is so that, once the transition is complete, I won't be spending so much time in the classroom and I will be able to put aside more time for writing. That brings me to another reason for this blog. It will provide another venue through which our online students to get to know me and where I'm coming from, something that is difficult to do when you aren't taking classes in person. It also provides an opportunity for me to put out some practical information that will be helpful for the online students or for anyone else who has a passion for herbs. Even the students who have taken in-class courses with me for years will find a lot of this useful as I can provide little tidbits that I wasn't able to fit into any of the classes.

This blog can potentially go anywhere and it will! You can expect detailed information on the harvesting of herbs as I go through harvesting season. Observations or inspirations that come to me while I'm out on the land doing what herbalists do (at least this herbalist). Probably the occasional rant as well. Consider this a window on the world of an herbalist. Hopefully it will inspire some people to get out into Nature more, which is where all healing and medicine come from. Others may even be inspired to walk this path. I can't think of a better, more fulfilling way to live one's life - but then I'm definitely biased!

Welcome to my world...