Flash back a couple of years… (see Breaking Down and then Taking Back Control for more details of the health story that changed my life and was the impetus for me to team up with Gav on 35to65.com).
My health is failing and falling fast… from insulin and digestive issues to torn and ruptured muscles and seemingly ever more fracture-able bones, things kept getting worse…
It all started to turn around when I finally decided to do take control by undergoing…
A Food Allergy test followed by…
A 14 day Elimination Diet (of the resulting problem foods and beverages).
Before this I was having all kinds of digestion issues to the point of refusing dinner invitations as I’d be afraid I’d spend the majority of the time after eating in the bathroom fighting the food. Visiting a Naturopath for the first time (I later fired him for his desire to retain me as a lifetime b12 injection customer—I mean patient and for his stunning lack of knowledge about the body’s master anti-oxidant Glutathione), I was exposed to a simple and logical solution to digestive problems.
- Test all the foods (and beverages) you can via a Food Allergy Screening/Panel and see how your body tolerates them.
- Go on a 14 day Elimination Diet where you eliminate the bad and keep eating/drinking only the good.
- Assess How You Feel after the 14 days.
This elegant 3 step plan that a Kindergarten student could likely have thought up to figure out what was was “giving them a tummy ache” was somehow missed by me and 3 other western physicians plus a gastroenterologist (physician trained in disorders of the digestive system) of all people.
My panel confirmed a severe allergy to Casein and most dairy products and a significant intolerance to gluten and most wheat products.
I had suspected these were my biggest problems but here I had it in writing, from a scientific report. I could ignore the obvious no longer. I needed to take out the bad no matter how much I “loved” aka was addicted to those no good goodies.
No more poppyseed bagels…
No more fried hot wings or… gasp, chicken tenders and fries.
What was I going to eat!?
Whenever I used to get really hungry and didn’t have a meal around, I would binge eat bowls of Life Cereal with milk. Now I was facing a petrifying future existence with no milk and no Life Cereal (or Marshmallow Alphabits, Honeycomb, Sugar Crisps, Captain Crunch, etc)—for 14 whole days! That’s like a million seconds or something like that ( 1,209,600 to be precise).
There’s no way I was going to make it…
14 days without Dairy, Gluten, Fried Foods, Vegetable Oils, or Added Sugar
I survived. Barely.
Some days I felt like my body was eating itself as I seemed to never get filled up with salads and veggies (and some grilled chicken). Agonizingly slowly my body began to re-balance my gut (over half a million seconds or so). By not consistently attacking my gut with foods that were slowly but surely “gutting” it open, I was giving my body the rest and time it required to repair the damage. The damage that had been compiling for over 30 years as I gorged on junk food, basing my diet on fried pub food and added white sugar to things (that totally require extra sugar) like coffee with only 9 tsps of sugar (and cream) or sugar breakfast cereals and uber-sweet De Dutch Panneokoeks (think crepes but thicker, with added whipped cream, and vanilla ice cream).
Now, the 14 days had finally ended…
I could go back to all of my closest “friends”, my comfort foods. I could scarf down 6-8 poppyseed bagels a day, return to the McD’s drivethru and order my usual 20 “I can’t believe it’s really chicken” chicken nuggets with bbq sauce, supersize fries, and a double hamburger with bacon (or 2). I could even open my cupboard and relieve it of the 3 boxes of Life Cereal that had been beckoning to me for those entire million or so seconds–maybe even in one night of marathon late night tv (or infomercials).
But a funny thing happened.
Instead of welcoming back my long time friends, I shunned them. I threw out 5 or 6 bags of chips (covered with toxic artery clogging vegetable oils). I threw out or gave away all of my cereal–yes even my beloved best friend Life Cereal. I threw out all the milk in my fridge (which made for a heavy garbage run–note to self: use the sink next time genius). I deleted Dominos and Pizza Hut #’s from my phone and made a vow to stop eating bread and gasp poppyseed (and sesame seed and every other flavor) bagels.
I had to. There was no other sane choice. I felt too good. My body was starting to feel like MY body again. I was breaking the chains of slavery that had held my gut (and brain) hostage for so many years. Not only was I feeling lighter but my digestion seemed to work again like it had over 10 years ago. My brain fog was clearing up. I was a new man.
Except for one thing.
I was tired and hungry almost all of the time. Ok, that was two things. But really they were one because the reason I had no energy was that my nutrition was lacking big time. My gut problems led to nutrition problems, where I wasn’t able to absorb nutrients or vitamins properly anymore. So it always felt like my body didn’t have the fuel it needed to run properly. I needed a shortcut fast or I was going to starve or fall asleep at the wheel.
My Energy or Life Force felt weak. From the ravages of my diet to constantly trying to perform work and family life, not to mention competitive sports like hockey with opponents half my age, on little to no sleep, something had to give.
Running running running from work to sports games, with little to no proper nutrition or sleep over a long period of time finally resulted in what felt like the complete depletion of my hormones. I had been living life with the Adrenaline tap always on and it seemed to have finally run dry.
What to do now? Where do I look to replenish my energy and re-balance my hormones?
Adaptogens and Stress
Adaptogenic herbs are herbs or plants that can affect different parts of the body in different ways. Simply put, Adaptogens help you and your body adapt to various stressors in the environment.
Adaptogens and The 3 Treasures of TCM
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there are three main energy types in the body: Jing, Qi, and Shen. Some Adaptogens focus on just one energy type while others have effects on two or even all three.
Jing is essentially the sexual energy or virility composed of the youth/growth hormones Testosterone, Estrogen, Human Growth Hormone (HGH), etc. Aphrodisiacs like Maca that increase your libido are examples of Adaptogens affecting Jing energy.
Qi (aka Chi, Life Force, Vitality, or Breath) is the energy that gives you the power to do everything that you do. When Qi is weak then you are weak and susceptible to disease. Qigong is an example of a practice that is intended to unblock, strengthen, or restore Qi.
Shen is simply spiritual energy. Shen is the instantaneous sum of your outlook and satisfaction (or dissatisfaction in life).
If you’ve been feeling anxious, like you’re lacking purpose, or something’s missing in your life, Adaptogenic herbs can help bring your energies back into balance and impart in you strength, clarity, and emotional control to stabilize your foundation or get you back into a flow state.
“When you’re this big, they call you MR.”
My Favorite Adaptogens — MR. = Maca + Rhodiola
M is for Maca (aka Maca Root, Lepidium, or Incan Superfood)
Awhile back a good friend introduced me to something they had grown up with that I had never heard of. An edible tuber/root from Peru called Maca. Maca usually comes in powdered form and is really easy to add to a smoothie or health elixir, or even sugar– I mean sugar-free gluten-free cereal (think quinoa). Maca has an earthy and slightly sweet taste but I learned quickly the special part of Maca (and Adaptogenic Herbs, Plants, and Roots like it), is not its taste. It simply delivers. On many fronts. It is nutrient dense (there’s that word again), aids energy, strength, and yes, libido. Maca is well known for its ability to put the Mac back into your MacDonalds—bad analogy I know, especially given my awful diet history but you get the drift. Suddenly I had energy again (of all types) and I was feeling stronger than I had in years. My Jing was restored–and then some! More on The Incan Superfood Maca coming in a blog post soon. Stay tuned!
R is for Rhodiola Rosea (aka Rose Root, Golden root, Rose of Heaven, Plateau Ginseng, Aaron’s Rod, King’s Crown, Lignum Rhodium and Orpin Rose, or as it’s known in TCM– Hong Jing Tian)
(Stimulating adaptogen, antiinflammatory, antioxidant, antidepressant, cardioprotective, immune potentiator, nervine)
Just about a month ago, finally, after receiving 10 or so email newletters (over a couple of years) raving about the benefits of this sacred flower found in Tibet and Siberia, I purchased some Rhodiola Rosea. Immediately my breathing seemed easier, cleaner, deeper, and stronger. Over a few weeks, I could feel my Qi building (full disclosure, I am practicing Shaolin Martial Arts like Qigong which also help build Qi) and my sense of calm and focus enhanced, even beyond Matcha Green Tea (click to see more on my love affair with Matcha). Regardless, I’m sticking with Rhodiola for awhile in part for what I’ve already experienced and in part for all the amazing health, wellness, and longevity benefits you’re about to learn about below:
What is Rhodiola?
Rhodiola grows way up in the mountains, in areas with low oxygen content and consuming this flower or more commonly a tea or nectar made from this flower allows one to breathe easier in high altitude or low oxygen areas. It has been shown to significantly enhance oxygen utilization by the lungs and improve blood flow resulting in improved performance for endurance athletes, hikers, and increased calm and focus for Tibetan Buddhist monks and others who practice meditation. In addition, it’s been shown to help clear the lungs, nourish the heart, fortify the spleen, boost mental acuity and have calming effects on the central nervous system. It is even recommended for those who suffer from general weakness, adrenal exhaustion or are recovering from paralysis caused by a stroke.
Rhodiola is derived from the Greek word “rhodon” meaning “rose”, believed to be a reference to the rose-like aroma when the roots are decocted as a tea. Rhodiola has petal-shaped leaves that resemble the pattern of a rose flower and it’s pinkish hued tea also tastes similar to rose petals .
The Many Faces of Rhodiola
For thousands of years Asian and European healers have used Rhodiola to treat altitude sickness, reduce fatigue, sharpen concentration, relieve nausea, and help with depression. According to Ron Teeguarden, “This incredible herb was used by the Tibetan monks to enhance their inner spiritual power, the power of concentration and physical endurance.”
Rhodiola also has a long history as a Rejuvenative tonic in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and Russia. Rhodiola has been an official medicine in Russia (formerly Soviet Union) since 1969, as a mild CNS (central-nervous system) stimulant, memory enhancer, cardiotonic, and immune tonic.
Rhodiola Rejuvenation and Telomeres
One of the active ingredients in Rhodiola, salidroside – stimulates the creation of T-cells, the immune system’s first defenses. In some studies salidroside has been shown to actually rejuvenate immune systems in aging rats, making them less susceptible to succumbing to infection and disease.
In another study, Rhodiola was fed to fruit flies and those flies lived 24 percent longer than the rest of their swarm. For the flies, that meant another 3 days of life–big deal right? But for humans that would equate to extending lifespan about 20 years! Maybe more important even is that these fruit flies stayed energetic and active for the duration of their lives, indicating Rhodiola increases both lifespan and healthspan–at least in fruit flies.
Dr. Al Sears (one of the world’s first certified Anti-Aging doctors) suggests Rhodiola’s beneficial effects on lifespan and healthspan stem from its action on your Telomeres *, those endcaps on your DNA that helps keep your DNA from unraveling like a frayed shoelace. Stress, Anxiety, and Depression have all been shown in studies to decrease Telomeres. Rhodiola’s two major active ingredients, salidroside and rosavins team up to sharpen your brain and support your nervous system, giving you the strength physically, mentally, and emotionally to fight Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, and take on all of life’s challenges. Rhodiola inhibits Cortisol production, the Stress Hormone which is considered one of the prime evils of aging prematurely.
*Btw, you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about Telomeres in my blog series/presentation here: Personal Telomeromics.
Benefits and What The Experts Have to Say About Rhodiola
According to Ben Greenfield of www.BenGreenfieldFitness.com, Rhodiola is “one of the premier adaptogens in the entire world and one of my personal favorites. Regarded as life-prolonging and wisdom enhancing, it can reduce stress response, is blood purifying and is said to balance both creative and cognitive functions of the brain. One of the best herbs for blood oxygenation, it is useful for all endurance sports. Used to treat depression and chronic fatigue and protects against radiation. It is a favorite herb for cosmonauts and mountain climbers. Rhodiola is a “Three Treasure” tonic, it builds Jing, Chi and Shen.”
LostEmpireHerbs.com has this to say about Rhodiola:
“According to Chinese Medicine Rhodiola contains all three treasures and is said to enter into the five main meridian systems (heart, spleen, liver, lungs, and kidney), although its primary function is as a Qi and Lung tonic.”
Rhodiola Rosea Benefits
- Alleviates anxiety
- Cognitive brain tonic
- Uplifts mood and helps relieve depression
- Increases work performance
- Cardioprotective effects
- Helps with focus, concentration and memory
- Known to cure altitude sickness
- Used to enhance meditative states
- Improves capacity to take in and utilize oxygen
- Protective against radiation
See even more benefits here.
Note: Rhodiola benefits are enhanced over a period of continuous use and when combined with other herbs/superfoods in herbal elixirs or teas.
Rhodiola rosea is considered a very safe tonic to use for extended periods of time with no toxic side effects however avoid using Rhodiola in anxious, manic, or bipolar patients as it can be overly stimulating at times to some people. It is always important, however, to consult your physician if you have a serious medical condition or are taking prescription medications.
Learn more on possible side effects here.
Adaptogens are becoming the new Anti-oxidants. While many of them have anti-oxidant properties, they offer so much more that it is only a matter of time before the general public learns of their almost “magical” abilities to restore balance and vibrant health. So if you are feeling tired, weak, anxious, or just down on life for some reason, your hormones and energies may be blocked and/or badly depleted. Try an Adaptogen or two and watch your vitality return like it has for me and many others who have added Adaptogens to their health and nutrition arsenal.
For those of you already familiar with these wonder herbs, which are your favorite Adaptogens!? Let us (and the rest of the readers) know in the comments below.