Month: July 2014

Natural sun protection with herbal and culinary oils – a look at plant SPF numbers

naturalsunscreenwildfoodismI like the sun.  I really do.  So it always fascinates me whenever I see others avoiding at all costs this astronomical entity that makes me feel so great.  Maybe I’m unique, I don’t know.  Or maybe there’s a deeper explanation…

All humans require sunlight.  And it’s not just about vitamin D synthesis (although it is important).  The benefits of healthy sun exposure extend far beyond the conversion of 7-dehydrocholesterol to cholecalciferol (vitamin D3), and these benefits have been known for quite some time.

Heliotherapy (phototherapy) was documented scientifically more than one hundred years ago by Niels Ryberg Finsen, a Nobel Prize winning Danish physician who clinically experimented with different wavelengths of light to treat smallpox and tuberculosis of the skin.  Numerous sunbathing clinics were created around the world – first in Europe, then in the United States – to treat patients with skin, bone, and pulmonary tuberculosis.  As antimicrobial treatments became available, however, use of heliotherapy for tuberculosis declined.  Today, heliotherapy is used to treat other conditions, such as acne, psoriasis, eczema, and seasonal affective disorder.

Outside of the clinic, researchers continue to unravel the benefits of healthy sun exposure.  For example, a recent study suggests that sun exposure can reduce blood pressure, which may in turn decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke (1).

Now, I understand the flipside – the risks of prolonged sun exposure, especially for individuals who normally spend a significant amount of time indoors and have not acclimated properly to the sun.  Add to that a diet deficient in antioxidants, and you’ve got a recipe for all kinds of problems.

But even for those who have acclimated themselves to the sun and have ensured a diet rich in antioxidants, sometimes protection is warranted.  Shade and clothing are ways to accomplish this, though I wouldn’t recommend conventional sunscreen products.  Most contain ingredients that could potentially do more harm than good, such as parabens, petroleum oils, and synthetic fragrances.  Research suggests that certain ingredients, when absorbed into the skin, generate more free radicals in users of sunscreen than in individuals who expose themselves to sunlight without sunscreen (2).

There is hope, however, as natural herbal and culinary oils provide their own sun protection factors (SPF) and may be used effectively as natural sunscreens (3).  Research has found that, on average, nonvolatile oils have SPF values between 2 and 8, and volatile oils have SPF values between 1 and 7.

Nonvolatile oils (followed by SPF)

  • Olive oil, 7.549
  • Coconut oil, 7.119
  • Castor oil, 5.687
  • Almond oil, 4.659
  • Mustard oil, 2.105
  • Chaulmoogra oil, 2.019
  • Sesame oil, 1.771

Volatile oils (followed by SPF)

  • Peppermint oil, 6.668
  • Tulsi oil, 6.571
  • Lemon grass oil, 6.282
  • Lavender oil, 5.624
  • Orange oil, 3.975*
  • Lemon oil, 2.810*
  • Eucalyptus oil, 2.625
  • Tea tree oil, 1.702
  • Rose oil, 0.248

*Note: Oils of orange and lemon may increase sensitivity to the sun, and if used cosmetically, may need to be diluted (4).

Overall, this is great news, especially for those who are looking for alternatives to the synthetically produced commercial sunscreens.  Experiment by making your own, or look for products that include some of these oils.

And remember, Homo sapiens evolved under the sun.  In fact, we’re still evolving.  Don’t lose your body’s natural ability to protect itself from healthy sun exposure through extreme indoor living, an inadequate diet, and synthetic sunscreen use.

Intentional sun exposure is a wise strategy.  Perpetual avoidance of the sun?  Maybe not so much.

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-Adam Haritan


Stinging Nettles — Health Benefits Backed By Research

stingingnettlewildfoodismWhen transitioning into the wild food lifestyle a few years ago, a particular plant was frequently mentioned in conversations I had with friends and mentors.  Assuming you’ve read the title, you can already guess which plant that was:  the seemingly formidable stinging nettle (Urtica dioica).

I sought out the stinging nettle plant and discovered a patch a few miles from my home.  With gloves and a bag, I carefully transplanted a few plants from a blanketed hillside to an area near my front door.  Now, five years later, a beautiful stinging nettle patch greets me as I step outside my home.  It may not be entirely “wild,” but it certainly retains a similar robustness of any truly wild and healthy plant species.

Stinging nettle is an extremely versatile plant that has been used for countless years as a food, medicine, dye, and fiber material.  In addition to its traditional applications, stinging nettle also has years of scientific research validating its claims as a health-promoting plant.  In this post, I’d like to summarize six double-blind research trials that elucidate just how powerful stinging nettle can be for human health.

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)
Benign prostatic hyperplasia is a noncancerous enlargement of the prostate gland.  It is estimated that around 50% of men will experience symptoms of enlarged prostate by the age of 60, and 90% of men will experience symptoms by the age of 85 (1).

In one study, stinging nettle was shown to display beneficial effects on the treatment of symptomatic BPH.  Participants taking stinging nettle over the course of six months as part of a double blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial reported improved lower urinary tract symptoms, greater improvements in peak flow rates, and a modest decrease in prostate size compared to the placebo group (2).

In another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving 100 men, clinical symptoms of BPH were improved in participants taking stinging nettle more so than in those taking placebo (3).

And if two human trials don’t do much to persuade you, perhaps a third will.  A 2004 German study looked at the effect of stinging nettle root extract in the year-long treatment of BPH in 246 patients.  Upon completion of the study, researchers concluded that stinging nettle root extract may be a safe and therapeutic option for BPH, as patients taking stinging nettle experienced a greater improvement in symptoms than in those taking placebo (4).

Take note:  it seems that the root of stinging nettle is more effective in treating symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia than the aerial components, though the latter certainly offer nutritious and medicinal benefits of their own.

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes, a condition characterized by insulin resistance, is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States.  With nearly two million new cases diagnosed each year in the United States, it is important, now more than ever, to discover treatment methods that are cost-effective and safe.

A study from 2011 analyzed the effect of a stinging nettle extract on insulin sensitivity and inflammatory markers in patients with type 2 diabetes.  After eight weeks of treatment, patients taking the stinging nettle extract showed a significant decrease in certain inflammatory markers (interleukin 6 and tumor necrosis factor) compared to those taking placebo (5).

Treatment of type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is associated with high levels of glucose in the blood, and we already know that stinging nettle can improve inflammatory markers in patients with this condition.  Is there any evidence that stinging nettle can help lower blood sugar levels?  Indeed there is.

A 2013 study looked at the hypoglycemic effect that stinging nettle leaf extract has on patients with type 2 diabetes.  Compared to placebo, patients taking the leaf extract, in conjunction with conventional oral anti-hyperglycemic drugs, experienced reduced fasting blood glucose levels, two-hour postprandial blood glucose levels, and HbA1c numbers (6).

Allergic rhinitis
Commonly referred to as “allergies,” allergic rhinitis is a type of inflammation of the nasal airways.  It can occur when we breathe in particles such as pollen, pet dander, and dust.  Stinging nettle is often recommended for those afflicted with seasonal allergies, and for good reason.  In a randomized, double-blind study completed by 69 participants, a freeze-dried preparation of stinging nettle fared better than placebo in treating allergic rhinitis (7).

And there we have it – six double-blind human trials that demonstrate the beneficial effects of stinging nettle.  Having been through institutionalized, conventional nutrition training, I can tell you that plants (and other forms of “alternative” medicine) are not spoken highly of in mainstream medicine.  I was often told that many studies involving plant medicines hadn’t yet been conducted on humans, and the ones using animals couldn’t necessarily be applied to human health.  Or in the case that there were studies done on humans, there simply weren’t enough of them to make any solid conclusions.

Well, six human trials may not be a huge number, but it’s definitely a start.

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Thank you!
Adam Haritan