June 2005

Natural Health Article

 CONTENTS

  • ABCs of Health – “N” is for Nerves
  • Home Safety
  • Tip of the Month – Spray your counter top
  • The Herbalist – “A” is for Aloe Vera

ABCs OF HEALTH

“N” is for the nervous system. Millions of messengers.
Your nervous system contains millions of nerve cells, called neurons. Neurons are highly specialized to transmit messages from one part of your body to another.
All neurons have a cell body and one or more fibres. These fibres vary in length from microscopic to over 1 metre.

Neurons are divided into three types:

  • Sensory neurons: Pass information about stimuli such as light, heat or chemicals from both inside and outside your body to your central nervous system
  • Motor neurons: Pass instructions from your central nervous system to other parts of your body, such as muscles or glands
  • Association neurons: Connect your sensory and motor neurons

What are electrical and chemical signals?

Your neurons carry messages in the form of electrical signals called nerve impulses. To create a nerve impulse, your neurons have to be excited. Stimuli such as light, sound or pressure all excite your neurons, but in most cases, chemicals released by other neurons will trigger a nerve impulse.

Although you have millions of neurons that are densely packed within your nervous system, they never actually touch. So when a nerve impulse reaches the end of one neuron, a neurotransmitter chemical is released. It diffuses from this neuron across a junction and excites the next neuron.

Over half of all the nerve cells in your nervous system do not transmit any impulses. These supporting nerve cells are located between and around your neurons to insulate, protect and nourish them.

The nervous system has two major divisions, the Central Nervous System (CNS)  and the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS).

The Central Nervous System (CNS) consists of the brain and the spinal cord. The spinal cord carries messages from the body to the brain, where they are analyzed and interpreted.  Response messages are then passed from the brain through the spinal cord and to the rest of the body.

Information, in the form of nerve impulses, travels to and from your brain along your spinal cord. This allows your brain to monitor and regulate unconscious body processes, such as digestion and breathing and to coordinate most voluntary movements of your body. It is also the site of your consciousness, allowing you to think, learn and create.

Humans have 12 pairs of cranial nerves. Cranial nerves are sensory, motor, or mixed, and all but the vagus are involved with the head and neck region; the vagus nerve manages the internal organs.

Your brain is made of many parts, each of which has a specific function. It can be divided into four areas: the cerebrum, the diencephalon, the brain stem and the cerebellum.

Like your brain, your spinal cord is part of your central nervous system. Its main function is to relay information about what’s happening inside and outside your body to and from your brain by way of the nerve cells and nerve fibres.

Nerves are tight bundles of nerve fibres. Depending on where the spinal nerves branch off, they supply different parts of your body:

  • Cervical region: supplies the back of your head, your neck, shoulders, arms, hands and your diaphragm
  • Thoracic region: supplies your chest and some parts of your abdomen
  • Lumbar region: supplies your lower back as well as parts of your thighs and legs
  • Sacral region: supplies your buttocks, most parts of your legs and feet, as well as your anal and genital area

The Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) consists of the neurons NOT Included in the brain and spinal cord.  There are 31 pairs of spinal nerves that connect your spinal cord to the rest of your body. These nerves are part of your peripheral nervous system. They carry information in the form of nerve impulses from your spinal cord to the rest of your body and from your body to your spinal cord.
The fibres that carry information towards the cell body, are called dendrites, and fibres that carry information away from the cell body are called axons.

HOME SAFETY

Keeping your home safe does not require alot of money. Just common sense.

Here are some tips:

  • Know the 1-800 number : The number to the Poison Contol Centre Hotline in your area.
  • Lower the water heater temperature. It takes only one second for a young child to be injured by 160 degree F. (71C) liquid; and only five seconds at 140 degrees F.(60C)
    Check the setting of your water heater and make sure it is set no higher than 120 degrees F. (49C).
  • Brighten the lights. Slips and falls are the leading cause of home injury and related death. More than one-third of all families have not installed lighting at the top and bottom of stairs to prevent slips and falls.
    Use bright lights at the top and bottom of stairs and make sure hallways and dark areas in the home are well-lit at night with nightlights.
  • Install smoke alarms on every level of your home and test them monthly.
  •  Develop a fire escape plan for your family that identifies two exits out of every room and where to meet outside. Practice makes perfect – hold a family fire drill at least twice each year.
  • Always stay in the kitchen while food is cooking on the stove.
  • Install child locks on all cabinets used to store potentially dangerous items.
  • Install four-sided fencing with self-locking and self-closing gates. Fencing should completely isolate the pool from the home and be at least five feet high.
  • Constantly supervise children in or near water such as pools, ponds, bathtubs and buckets.

HAVE A SAFE AND HAPPY SUMMER!

TIP OF THE MONTH

Spray your countertop with non-stick cooking spray before
rolling out dough to prevent sticking.

 

THE HERBALIST

I promised I would give you some information on a specific herb, it’s origins and uses.  I really enjoy this part of our newsletter, as I always learn something new and exciting.  This month we will discuss:

Aloe Vera

Latin Name: Aloe vera (Liliaceae [lily] family)

General Description:  Aloe, or aloe vera, is a prickly, grey green succulent native to Africa, but cultivated around the world.  It is a perennial with leaves that can grow up to two feet (sixty centimeters) long, and bears spikes of yellow or orange flowers.  The leaves contain a clear gel that is applied in skin treatments.  A dried yellow sap taken from the leaf base, called aloe bitters, is used internally.

Excellent For:  Aloe is an immune stimulant, laxative, and anti-inflammatory agent.  It also promotes the absorption of nutrients through the digestive tract and normalizes blood sugar.

Some benefits of aloe vera used for specific health conditions include:

Burns and other wounds:  Scientific studies with animals have shown that aloe vera sap activates macrophages, the immune cells that fight bacterial infection.  This allows burns to heal cleanly.  The sap stimulates the circulation of blood at the body’s surface, which accelerates wound healing.  Aloe vera juice speeds up healing because it increases the amount of oxygen carried by the blood to the cells.  Aloe gel is a mild anesthetic that relieves itching, swelling, and pain.  Aloe also helps repair damaged cells and prevents burns from scarring.  It also contains the enzymes, carboxypeptidase and bradykininase, that relive pain, reduce inflammation, and decrease redness and swelling.  Clinical studies have confirmed that burns and cuts treated with aloe vera gel heal as much as three days faster than burns and cuts treated with unmedicated dressings or with chemical antiseptic agents.
Cancer : Alo A, a medically active complex sugar in aloe, stimulates and regulates various components of the immune system.  It stops both the processes of inflammation necessary for tumors to gain bew blood supplies and the growth of tumors themselves.  In a skin cancer study involving animals, aloe gel and vitamin E cream together produced remission approximately 33 percent of the time, compared with just 3 percent when no treatment was given.  In addition, certain compounds in aloe seem to prevent cancer-causing substances from entering liver tissue.  Because it keeps potential carcinogens from entering the liver, rather than changing the chemistry of the liver itself ( like many other cancer treatments), aloe compounds do not cause the liver to create new carcinogens while it deactivates others.  Some clinics have used aloe vera to increase the effectiveness of cancer treatment with the chemotherapy agents cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Neosar) and 5-fluorouracil (5-FU).  Several studies indicate that aloe vera gel can protect both the immune system and the skin from the effects of radiation treatment.  In addition, at least one study suggests that taking aloe internally can reduce the likelihood of lung cancer in smokers.
Constipation : Aloe bitters are a fast and effective remedy for constipation used widely outside the United States.  When compared with other herbal stimulant laxatives such as cascara sagrada or senna, aloe draws less fluid into the large intestine from the rest of the body.  This makes it less likely than cascara or senna to cause dehydration or electrolyte disturbances.  Aloe juices have the same effect as bitters on constipation, but are less reliable and offer less relief.
Crohn’s disease:  Aloe juice ia an effective anti-inflammatory for Crohn’s disease.  It also ensures soft stools.  Aloe bitters and aloe laxatives, however, should be avoided by people with Crohn’s disease, as they may cause painful cramps.  Cathartic preparations of aloe should also be avoided.
Diabetes:  In one five year study, 3,167 diabetic patients with atherosclerotic heart disease were given 120 grams of parboiled aloe leaves for linch and dinner each day.  The patients showed marked decreases in levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and sugar.  While aloe leaves are unlikely to be eaten as a vegetable in the United states, this research demonstrates the antidiabetic potency of the herb.  In another test, diabetic patients were given a spoonful of a much more palatable aloe extract with water at every meal for fourteen weeks.  Their average blood sugar level fell from a very high 273 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) to a slightly elevated 151 mg/dl.  Aloe seeks to act by stimulating the pancreas to secrete insulin.  For this reason, it is potentially helpful only for people with type 2 diabetes whose bodies still produce some insulin.  However, one of aloe’s strengths is that it does not cause weight gain, a common side effect of some diabetes medications.
Frostbite:  Aloe prevents a decrease of blood flow to the frozen tissues, which is a common cause of tissue loss in frostbite.  People treated with aloe vera cream are more likely to heal without any tissue loss or amputation.
Hangover:  An aloe compound called aloin helps prevent alcoholic intoxication, probably by preventing the passage of alcohol from the intestines into the blood stream.
Hemmoroids:  Aloe gel helps heal wounds and can be applied topically.  India’s ayurvedic physicians recommend drinking 1/2 cup of aloe juice three times daily until hemorroid flare-ups are gone.
HIV/AIDS:  In test tube studies, acemannan, a potent immune-stimulating compound found in aloe, was shown to be active against HIV.  Acemannan also may reduce requirements for zidovudine (Retrovir, better known as AZT).  The recommended amount of acemannan is up to 250 milligrams four times a day.  It takes about a quart of aloe juice to provide 1,600 milligrams of acemannan.
Kidney stones:  Aloe juice contains aloemannan.  This complex sugar concentrates in the kidneys, stimulates the growth of healthy kidney cells and slows the rate of crystal formation.
Radiation exposure:  Aloe protects against skin-damaging x-rays.  Aloe is an effective antioxident that absorbs the free radicals caused by radiation.
Skin disorders and wrinkles:  A clinical study found that using aloe vera cream three times a day for four weeks “cured” psoriasis inflammation, stopping skin outbreaks for at least a year.  Aloe gels applied to the skin relieve the pain and inflammation of eczema and psoriasis.  A potent anti-inflammatory chemical in aloe is as effective as hydro-cortisone in treating skin irritation, without hydrocortisone’s detrimental effects on the immune system, and using aloe vera cream with hydrocortisone increases relief of inflammation.  In a study involving sixty volunteers, daily use of aloe vera gel cleared up psoriasis in over 80 percent of volunteers, compared with 7 percent of those treated with a placebo.  Research at the University of Maryland  has found that another compound in aloe, aloe-emodin, which is also responsible for aloe’s laxitive effect, kills the viruses that cause herpes and shingles.  Aloe, which has antibacterial and moisturizing effects, has also been shown to rejuvenate sun aged skin.
Surgery, recovery from:  Studies have shown that patients who underwent surgical procedures and were treated with a dressing and aloe healed much faster than those who were treated with a dressing and surgical gel.
Ulcers:  Aloe soothes peptic-ulcer inflammation caused by excess acid, aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), and alcohol, although it is not effective against ulcers in which stress ia a prominent factor.  Studies show that aloe vera juice heals ulcers so completely that researchers recommend it over the anti-ulcer drug cimetidine (Tagamet).  In people with AIDS, it soothes the lining of the digestive tract, increasing nutrient absorption.

CONTRAINDICATIONS: Aloe gel is available commercially and may be also taken from one’s own plants.  Leaves up to one foot long may be removed from the plant without causing damage.  The best time of day for cutting aloe leaves is mid-afternoon, when the plant has moved a maximum amount of sap into the leaf.  Be aware that there are many so-called aloe vera products on the market that actually contain very little aloe vera.  They are watered-down imitations that are not as beneficial as bona-fide aloe vera.  Read product labels, aloe vera should be listed as a primary ingredient – that is, it should be the first or second listed ingredient.

Aloe bitters and aloe juice should not be taken internally during pregnancy or menstruation, or in cases of rectal bleeding, although aloe gel may be used externally under these conditions.  The laxative compounds in aloe are passed into mother’s milk, so nursing mothers should avoid any internal use of aloe.  Any laxative, herbal or otherwise, affects the rate at which other orally administered drugs are absorbed into the bloodstream.  Therefore, prescription medication and aloe laxatives should be taken at different times.

Long term internal use (more than two weeks) of aloe is not recommended because the fluid drawn into the stool can result in depletion of electrolytes, especially potassium.  Loss of potassium is even greater when aloe is taken internally with potassium-wasting diuretic drugs.  Depletion of potassium by excessive use of aloe laxatives theoretically could lead to toxic build up of calcium in the bloodstream and kidney damage in women who take calcium carbonate for osteoporosis.  Potassium depletion also can cause serious mineral imbalances in persons who take forms of lithium, including Cibalith-S, Eskalith, Lithonate, and Lithotabs, for the treatment of bipolar disorder.  The internal use of aloe should likewise be avoided by people who take potassium-depleting drugs for high blood pressure or congestive heart failure, such as hydrochlorothiazide (found in many diuretic drugs) or furosemide (Lasix).

Scientists have debated whether aloe-emodin, (aloe’s laxative compound) can damage colon cells.  The most recent finding is that, when taken as directed, aloe poses no risk of cancer or genetic damage.  Among people who abuse aloe and similar laxative herbs over a period of at least a year, and who develop other colon changes, about 3 percent can be expected to develop colorectal cancer within five years.  This can be compared with the approximately 4 percent of the population as a whole who will develop colorectal cancer at some point in their lives.  Stopping aloe use before twenty weeks have passed gives the body a chance to reverse its effects.  Aloe juice does not carry the risks of aloe bitters for colon cancer.
This concludes another exciting issue of Natural Health. REMEMBER YOU HAVE TO READ TO WIN!

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