Dandelion: The Beneficial Weed

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“What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction.The promise that life could go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again.”

Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay

Maybe you are wondering why the quote above is in this post. What does it have to do with the medical qualities of dandelion? Nothing. But it could be counted as one of those small things that make our lives more beautiful or it could be perceived as hope. Fortunately, the dandelion’s attributes don’t stop at its beauty.

Dandelions (family Asteraceae, genus Taraxacum) have been known as medicinal herbs since Antiquity. It is a marvel plant indeed. When consumed they can provide calcium, potassium, manganese, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, zinc and vitamins such as C, E, K, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9 and other nutrients (source: USDA Nutrient Database).

They are said to have diuretic properties and are also effective in case of constipation or gallbladder issues. Its high content in nutritive salts are effective against acids in the blood and it can soothe irritated stomachs and promote better food appetite and proper digestion. I guess there’s no need to enumerate more properties of this yellowish happy weed. So far, you have figured out it is healthy and nutritious, which is more of a reason to start consuming it. You could consider one of the following:

  1. Dandelion tea (also known as dandelion coffee): It is a herbal tea made from dandelion roots but it is not literally coffee as the alternative name suggests, but it resembles it. Can be used as a tonic for the liver or a successful laxative. The raw Taraxacum officinale roots contain sesquiterpene lactones, carotenoids, flavonoids, coumarins, phenolic acids among others.
  1. Salad made from dandelion leaves

How Is Cancer Linked to What We Eat?

This morning I attended a lecture on plant physiology and I learned about the most efficient plant-based foods that can prevent cancer or can be used in association with chemotherapy. I also learned that in a class of fifty people only one person is completely healthy and the rest have pre-cancerous cells that may lie dormant for up to four decades. While we can’t avoid being affected by our genetics, environmental conditions or infections, we certainly can alter our lifestyles in order to ensure a healthy body and mind.

The major risk factors in developing cancer are:

  • Food (30%) – What we put in our bodies often signs our death certificate sooner or later. Nowadays western societies have developed a fast-paced style of doing things and taking the time to cook properly, sit down and enjoy what’s on our plates is seen as a waste of time in most of the cases. The alternative option is offered by fast-food restaurants, takeaways or processed ready meals and it can easily fall into a routine because of our lack of time. In developed countries food has an overall reduced quality because it contains preservatives, dyes and it undergoes numerous processes meant to prolog its shelf-life. While in Asia food is seen as a source of health, in the West it’s merely a source of energy that keeps us going throughout the day.
  • Smoking (30%) – The effects of smoking on the human body are well-known and numerous studies have shown that it leads to smoking-related cancers (42,800 deaths each year in the UK), cardiovascular disease (30,600 deaths each year in the UK), and nearly 30,000 people die each year in the UK because of emphysema, bronchitis and other chronic lung diseases.
  • Hereditary factors (15%) – Even though a person’s genetics is a less impacting factor in developing cancer than food and smoking, it is still to be considered. People who have a predisposition for cancer should pay special attention to what they eat and the vicious habits they engage in their daily lives.
  • Ultraviolet radiation, pollution, drugs, infections, alcohol, obesity and other factors are also responsible for the onset of cancer, yet in smaller percentages. Obesity accounts for 35% of the colon cancer cases in men and 65% of the uterine cancer cases in women. I will explain later how obesity and cancer are closely interlinked.

The least cases of cancer are in India, Thailand and China because they have a diet based on fruits and vegetables, compared to Czech Republic, Hungary and the USA, where is the highest incidence due to an increased consumption of red meat and processed foods.

Cancer is basically the malfunction of a cell that goes into division and invades the proximal tissues, forming new blood vessels (angiogenesis). The progression of cancer can take one to forty years but it can only be clinically identified in the pre-terminal and terminal stages. A person is declared cured if the treated cancer doesn’t relapse for at least 5 years. Cancers with the highest percentage of healing (70%) are breast cancer and prostate cancer, and the ones with a lesser chance of healing (20%) are lung cancer, esophageal and pancreatic cancer.

The treatment for cancer is limited to surgical interventions when the tumor is localized and incipient, radiotherapy with X rays, and chemotherapy with intravenous drug administration. Chemotherapy is by far the most common treatment for sick patients but it is very traumatizing because the drugs that are used are extremely toxic and in the end the rate of success weighs on how much a person’s body can resist the chemical abuse.

A new form of treatment was developed in the past 5 years and it showed better results. The metronomic treatment is a mild form of chemotherapy, but the drugs are administered more often in lower doses and the procedure is associated with a strict diet. It is important to remember that a diet by itself CANNOT cure cancer, but it can increase the efficiency of the treatment.

Sources of food that can be used for the prevention of cancer or that can form a diet that assists chemical cancer treatments:

1. The cabbage family

It includes red cabbage, white cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, radish and others. They are meant to be consumed raw, steamed or quickly fried, at least three times each week. The active substances (polyphenols and glucosinolates) contained in these vegetables are helpful in leukemia, bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon and prostate cancer. Keep in mind that Brussels sprouts have the highest amount of glucosinolates.

2. Onion, garlic and leek

They contain high amounts of polyphenols that are active in stomach cancer, esophageal cancer, breast cancer, colon and prostate cancer, reducing by 70% the risk of development. They should be eaten raw because the active substances in the vacuoles can easily be damaged by cooking.

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3. Soya

Soya in all its forms is a healthy source of phytoestrogen and it is a basic food in Japan (at least 65 g/day), while in Europe it is less appreciated (1 g/day). Phytoestrogen blocks cell division and tumor growth, being useful in breast cancer, uterine cancer and prostate cancer. Obesity favors the synthesis of sexual hormones in excess, which can trigger the onset of cancer but phytoestrogens function as anti-estrogen compounds by blocking the estrogen cell receptor and therefore stops the cell from going into division.

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4. Turmeric

The active substance in turmeric is curcumin and it is useful in stomach cancer, melanoma, breast cancer, liver and colon cancer. It inhibits angiogenesis and cell division and its potency is increased by a thousand times when pepper is ingested with it.

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5. Green tea

Did you know that 15 000 cups of green tea are consumed worldwide each second? This isn’t the only most consumed drink in the world, but it is also very healthy because it contains polyphenols that have antibacterial and antifungal properties. It is useful in melanoma, kidney cancer, leukemia, prostate and breast cancer. The strongest green tea is Sencha (the Japanese ryokucha) which is made into the green tea beverage by infusing the processed whole tea leaves in hot water. Green tea can be a very potent natural drug if consumed three times per day for a long period of time.

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6. Berries

This group includes strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and others. It containts polyphenols (ellagic acid) that prevent tumor proliferation and inhibits cell division. The antocyanins they contain give them color, maintain tumor latency and reduce estrogen synthesis.

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7. Omega-3 fatty acids

They can be found in plants (walnuts, pine seeds, green algae, olive oil) and in animals (salmon, sardines, trout and tuna). Omega-3 fatty acids aren’t synthesized within the human body, therefore it is essential they are taken from foods. It is advised to consume fish twice each week and a fistful of walnuts each day. These compounds protect the cardiovascular system, reduce cholesterol and have anti-inflammatory properties. They are useful in pancreatic cancer, colon cancer and breast cancer.

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8. Tomatoes

They contain an active substance called lycopene that has the highest concentration in tomato paste. It is ideal to eat tomatoes or their derived products at least twice a week as it is very useful in preventing prostate cancer.

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9. Citrus fruits

They contain active substances that are good antioxidants against esophageal cancer, mouth cancer, laryngeal cancer, stomach cancer and leukemia. It is important to remember that grapefruit shouldn’t be consumed when following a prescribed drug treatment as it tends to accumulate drugs within the body, preventing them from being eliminated. The high amounts of drugs that accumulate can sometimes lead to death.

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10. Red wine

The recommended dose of red wine each day is 250 ml because it can decrease the risk of death by 25-30 % due to cancer or cardiovascular disease. Red wine contains resveratrol, a substance that reduces cholesterol, inhibits blood clotting and it is very active in breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer and esophageal cancer. In countries where the consumption of red wine is reduced there is a higher mortality caused by heart disease (Finland, USA, Canada), while in Italy and France, where high quantities are consumed, the incidence of such disease is extremely reduced. Also, it is important to remember that red wine’s potency is 6 times over that of white wine.

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11. Dark chocolate

This product is obtained from the fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree and it contains polyphenols that are active in cardiovascular disease and various forms of cancers. The recommended daily dose is 40 grams.

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Lastly, there are certain foods that you need to avoid if you want to prevent cancer development:

– pickles

– smoked foods

– fast-food

– excessive amounts of alcohol

– foods that have been fried in oil for a long period of time

The Unseen Face of Charles Darwin

Many people in the world today are suffering from a crippling long-term condition that affected even some of the greatest minds in recent history, such as Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, Emily Dickinson, Nikola Tesla, and Vincent van Gogh. It is nothing more and nothing less than anxiety; and it is here to stay.

Darwin battled anxiety most of his life, being prisoner to a multitude of symptoms including chronic fatigue, nervousness, vomiting, hysterical crying, severe stomach pain, spasmodic flatulence, insomnia, dying sensations, rashes and boils. We all know about Darwin’s epic journey on board of HMS Beagle, but very few people know that the great scientist spent much of his trip feeling very sick.

During the years he wrote his masterpiece book On the Origin of Species, Darwin was mostly housebound, spending a great deal of his day either in bed or vomiting. From reading his journals it is obvious that he was frustrated to no end with doctors who couldn’t cure him, especially with his father, Dr Robert Waring Darwin. Some of his friends have suggested he tried Dr James Gully’s water therapy at Malvern in Worcestershire, which temporarily improved his mental health without actually curing him. Another doctor from the Victorian era, John Chapman, tried to treat Darwin with the application of ice to the spinal cord, but needless to say the treatment was utterly fruitless.

Darwin’s terrible symptoms have been a source of debate for the past century and a half and they have been attributed to a long list of conditions such as lactose intolerance, gout, peptic ulcer, duodenal ulcer, amoebic infection, Chagas’ disease, chronic brucellosis, and many others, but anxiety is the most logical explanation for Charles Darwin’s poor health because whenever he would stop working and go walking or riding, his health would immediately be restored.

After all let’s not forget that Darwin lived in a society where the belief that God made the Earth and all its creatures was the norm, including his beloved wife, who was a devout Christian, therefore publishing his controversial theory of evolution by natural selection in 1859 imposed a great deal of stress on him. He suffered from an early age from social stress, but ultimately it is the undeniable need to tell the world about his discovery that led to the worsening of his anxiety, thus showing his complete fact-based belief in the truth behind his revolutionary idea.

Retin-A: Benefits and Disadvantages

 

Before and AfterIf you are an acne sufferer or you simply want to maintain a healthy skin, then you probably heard about Retin-A, a tretinoin-based cream. Tretinoin can be purchased as a cream or gel from various brands, such as Retino-A, Atralin, Avita, Renova, Stiev-A and others, but they all basically have the same effects: they combat acne, wrinkles and slow down the aging of the skin. This wonder chemical compound, which is a form of vitamin A, is also used to treat acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), a cancer where there is a high number of immature blood cells in the blood and in the bone marrow. In such cases the tretinoin stops the growth of cancerous cells and it can also force them to mature into normal blood cells. The main difference between the tretinoin used for skin-related issues and the one used as part of the treatment for APL, is that the first is for external use only, while the latter is administered orally in form of capsules (sold as Vesanoid, a chemotherapy drug). Both types of this medication must be prescribed by a doctor and cases of pregnancy or allergy to tretinoin are to be reported beforehand in order to find other alternatives. Tretinoin is a teratogen and it can use birth defects in newborns, such as cranial abnormalities, if used during the pregnancy, but the topical form (cream/gel) seems to have limited effects on the fetus, compared to the oral (capsules) form.

I have used Retin-A cream for a long time and I realized this is a cream like no other. It takes patience and perseverance in order to observe its beneficial aspects. In the beginning, most users would toss the cream tube in the garbage bin rather than using it ever again. Tretinoin is an active compound and, depending on which concentration you use (0.025%, 0.05% or 0.1%), you will experience itchy red, peeling skin. Such a thing seems like an unnecessary hassle for the sake of acne removal or a wrinkle-free skin. I have met people who claimed that for them Retin-A didn’t work, but I think they didn’t use it long enough. What this cream does is quite extraordinary. At first it peels your skin aggressively on your nose, chin, forehead and cheeks, especially if your skin type isn’t the oily one. This causes reddening of the skin, a higher production of sebum as a consequence of the skin drying up and then a large number of pimples tend to appear everywhere on the face, opposite to what the cream claims to do, and that is reduce the effects of acne and with time, eliminate it completely. In such a case, most people feel compelled to give up on the treatment. But as in many other cases, patience is well-paid.

It takes up to 4-6 months of tretinoin use in order to see some great effects. This is basically a chemical peeling, which requires time for it to show what it’s worth, compared to microdermabrasion, which has almost instant effects, but it is not only more expensive, but also more invasive. Dealing with the side effects of Retin-A use is only a matter of getting used to and given it only takes a few months of bad skin, the effects are totally worth waiting for. I used Retin-A in 2012 for the first time and, in many years, my skin was finally clean and healthy, without redness or an excessive sebum secretion. But when I wanted to buy another Retin-A cream, my dermatologist revealed to me that my country ended all contracts with foreign distributors of this cream and therefore I was forced to stop the treatment.

In 2014 my boyfriend traveled to India and knowing that that is the land where everything can be purchased if you pay for it, I told him to look for Retin-A in the local drugstores and I wasn’t disappointed. Not only did he find it, but it was much cheaper than the one sold in Europe. The only difference was that the one I used in 2012 was Retin-A, produced by Bayer, and the one I started to use earlier this year is called Retino-A, produced by Johnson & Johnson, but they’re exactly the same thing sold under a different name and package.

I’m currently in my 3rd month of use and I have noticed improvements. The skin is still dry sometimes, but I found it very useful to apply each time after I wash my face a product purchased from Boots UK, Coconut Body Oil for all skin types. It moisturizes the skin, the oil being quickly absorbed into the thirsty tissues. Fortunately enough, coconut oil isn’t only a great moisturizer, but also protects the skin from sunburns and I recommend it instead of those highly commercial sunscreen oils, which have almost no organic compound and might prove more harmful in time. Dealing with the redness is more difficult, but not impossible. I tried many foundation creams, but one that does its job quite well is 123 Perfect CC Cream from Bourjois Paris, that has anti-redness properties and is also SPF15. Another side effect is skin sensitivity and that includes sensitivity to the sun, to harsh soaps and other face care products, so I try to avoid washing my face with products that dry it more than it already is because of the tretinoin. It is very important to avoid exposure to the sun with the cream recently applied to the skin and it must be accompanied by a powerful sunscreen, preferably organic.

Despite its obvious disadvantages, Retin-A/Retino-A (or any other product whose active compound is tretinoin) is a cream that really works. In 25 years of scientific studies, no other chemical compound proved more efficient to combat acne and wrinkles than tretinoin. Pollution, make-up, smoking, drinking, UVs, they all cause the skin to age drastically earlier than it should, but with the help of tretinoin-based creams/gels, a balanced diet and proper hydration (preferably use water for this purpose!) your skin can regain its former glow and elasticity, without spending too much money or energy in the wrong direction.