What are the benefits (if any) of cannabis oil?

One of my newsletter and blog readers has asked me this question, and I’m getting the distinct feeling that the cannabis oil/medical marijuana story is going to be highly divisive. There will be some who consider it to be a hallucinogenic drug which cannot possibly have any health benefits, whilst there will be others who report that it is a universal panacea which is going to cure all the world’s ills. There’s truth in both camps, so let’s take a look.

Before I continue, I have to state here that I am, and have always been dead against drugs and, with the exception of alcohol in my earlier life, have never used them. It’s a feeling that I am sure will stay with me for life. I think one of the main reasons for this was seeing a film called Christiane F when I was still a teenager – if ever something is going to put you off such substances, this film is it.

Firstly, some definitions, and the necessity to say that hemp oil, which you might put on your salads and in some recipes, is very different from cannabis essential oil which is a concentrated and powerful medicine obtained via steam distillation of the flowers and upper leaves of the plant.

Likewise hemp seeds, which are a great source of protein and essential fatty acids of the omega 3, 6 and 9 type, cannot be put into the same category as cannabis essential oil or medical marijuana (see below). You’d probably have to eat approximately 24kg of hemp seeds in one sitting to ingest enough THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychotropic drug that causes “trips”, and why most people take it as a recreational drug in the first place) to have any significant central effects.

Medical marijuana is obtained from the whole (medicinal grade) plant, which must be carefully grown without the use of pesticides and fertilisers. Its health benefits, and those of cannabis essential oil, come from the monoterpenes and flavonols (which benefit the immune system) as well as the THC, which is more controversial.

Several body systems possess cannabinoid receptors including the brain, lungs, liver and immune system. Medical marijuana and cannabis oil is being used in the USA and Europe for pain relief from specific conditions such as cancer, nerve pain, muscle spasms such as those caused by multiple sclerosis, etc. Predominantly in the USA, it is being used to treat mood disorders, cancer, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Parkinson’s disease and seizures, in addition to its role in acting as an excellent painkiller.

Cannabis oil is delivered under the tongue and is rapidly absorbed. Whilst it is true that cannabis essential oil can be used for the relief of stress and anxiety, I would suggest that there are perhaps other less controversial essential oils that would also do the same thing, in addition to using magnesium spray to boost levels of this important mineral, which some 80% of the population is likely to be deficient in.

Personally I would consider the use of this interesting medical intervention as a last resort when other approaches have failed. However I am sure that for the terminally ill and those who use it for the alleviation of chronic pain, it is a Godsend.

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Christmas shopping – sorted!

It’s that time of year again! And does it leave you agonising over what to buy for a health-conscious loved one?

Fret no more. Here’s The Raw Food Scientist’s comprehensive list of great products and recommendations that are as good to give as they are to receive. To make life even easier for you, I’ve included price categories. With all Tribest products, which are on sale at the moment (think juicers, blenders and dehydrators), you can access a further 10% discount by quoting RAWFOOD10 at checkout. Happy shopping!

Over £400

In this price category we have the fabulous Green Star Elite juicer from Tribest. This is the one I use and I wouldn’t be without it. It juices everything and if you want a juicer that will give you a lifetime of great service, this is the one to buy. It comes in white or chrome. Go on, you know you want to!

Alternatively, how about a detox retreat weekend? My advanced retreat is for serious health seekers only, and would make a wonderful present for a cherished loved one, or indeed both of you. All info here

£300 to £400

For this price you can get a really good dehydrator, fantastic for making crackers, breads, fruit leathers and many other living foods recipes. The quality of the Tribest Sedona dehydrator stands out from the crowd. Choose from the Sedona, the Sedona Combo and the Sedona Express, and remember, they’re on sale right now. Access 10% discount with the code RAWFOOD10.

If you’re after a chrome juicer, and can’t quite stretch to a Green Star Elite, the Tribest Solostar 4 in chrome is a superb single auger juicer in this price category.

Our summer retreat also fits in nicely here, suitable for all who are looking for a fabulous weekend detox break. All info is here. You really won’t want to miss this one.

£200 to £300

In this price bracket you’ll find some excellent juicers. There’s the single auger Solostar 4 and Solostar 3, as well as the “upright” single auger Slowstar juicer, which takes up very little counter space. For those looking for an excellent quality mid-priced juicer, one of these beauties will suit your needs perfectly. Access your 10% discount with the code RAWFOOD10.

£100 to £200

Juicers in this category include the Tribest Fruitstar. This space-saving little workhorse has a powerful motor and comes with a 10 year warranty. It juices fruit, vegetables and leafy greens. It’s a steal at £199, especially with a 10% discount if you quote RAWFOOD10.

Alternatively, why not consider a consultation – with me? Yours for £140 – no price rise for the past 2 years. Get in quickly before I change my mind…

£50 to £100

There’s so much to choose from in this price bracket! The Tribest Citristar juicer is a brilliant piece of kit for quickly making citrus juices, and is currently on offer at £58.95. Alternatively, a Z-star manual juicer is perfect for travelling, especially for those who like to be able to juice their leafy greens wherever they go. Also on offer, it’s yours for £82.45.

3 excellent personal blenders also fall into this category. Choose from the Tribest 150, 250 or 350 – they’re all currently on offer.

If you like the idea of nut milk and want to make your own, here is a kitchen gadget that will do it all for you – the Tribest Soyabella. And you don’t just have to use it for soya milk, despite the name – it makes lots of other yummy milks too.

Sprouting is such an important part of the living foods lifestyle, and an automatic sprouter really does do it all for you! I’ve got the Tribest Freshlife at home, and use it all the time. Why not try it? You’ll love the ease with which it gives you perfect sprouts every time. Most of it can even go in the dishwasher after use. Remember your 10% discount with the code RAWFOOD10 at checkout.

Finally in this category, what about some listening material? High quality studio recordings of my CDs are now available for your listening pleasure. All details are here.

Under £50

Ah, where do I start? Well firstly, everyone loves a good book at Christmas, and, at risk of blatant self-promotion, what about one of mine? All details are here, and you can get quantity discounts too!

Christmas wouldn’t be complete without some skincare products, and I was fortunate to discover Conscious Skincare when I was a speaker at Bristol Vegfest in May 2016. Have a browse at their website – I’m sure you’ll find just the thing.

A neat kitchen gadget in this price range is a yoghurt maker from Tribest. Why not give someone a surprise with a Yolife? Making yoghurt at home with a milk substitute ensures you get more probiotics than you would with shop-bought yoghurt. Quote RAWFOOD10 for your 10% discount.

Finally, if you hanker after authentic products with a feel-good factor, I love the range made by artisans for SWAGS World. From sandals to bags made from recycled newspapers and magazines (I’ve got both the handbag and tote bag from SWAGS World, and much admired they are too!), toys and even Christmas decorations, that’s your shopping list sorted!

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Breaking Through the Pain

Having put a rib out whilst waterskiing in the Caribbean, I maybe should have listened more carefully to what my body was saying. But with an adventure quadrathlon to do two days later (or should that be a pentathlon since it also included a 100 foot abseil?) I was determined to get better fast. The resident osteopath fixed me up nicely, and I pronounced myself fit to participate in the fun on the following day. As it turned out, that was unfortunate. On the mountain bike section, I came off the bike and broke my arm. Yes, just like that – one compression fracture close to my right wrist. To put it mildly – ouch.
I bound it up with the only materials available – a napkin from last night’s dinner (why that was in the backpack I’ll never know) and a short length of elasticated bandage. I walked to the nearest accessible dirt track whilst my forearm started to swell dramatically, and awaited collection by the event organisers. Thence to hospital (after stopping off to collect my insurance documents and credit card, the ubiquitous necessities of modern life).

Breaking an arm (or any bone for that matter) causes some interesting physiological changes. The body goes into immediate stress mode: blood is diverted to the muscles, the adrenal glands pump out adrenaline and cortisol, and the heart rate and blood pressure rise rapidly. It’s a protective mechanism and the entire sympathetic nervous system is stimulated (Foex, BA: British Medical Bulletin 1999, 55 no.4).

Lying on the hospital bed, I decided to get to work on my body immediately. Controlling the pain was the first thing. When you’re in pain, the breathing changes from deeper, abdominal breathing to short, rapid gasps that deliver less oxygen to the tissues. That’s not useful – a different approach was needed.

I have never been good at meditation, being hopeless at sitting still for any length of time. Instead of meditating, I run. But on that Sunday, I lay there and focused. Really focused. On my breathing, on relaxation, on “healing vibes” to my right arm. I imagined myself back on the beach at the resort, listening to the sound of the Caribbean sea washing against the white sand. I imagined the lush forest surroundings, the steep hills behind the low-rise buildings, the hot sun, the sparkling water. It was an intricate, beautiful picture that I held in my mind, and my physiology responded accordingly. When the nurse entered to check my stats, she was astonished. Blood pressure – 130/78 (it often hits 200/110 with acute tissue trauma, but this wasn’t much above my regular stat of 110/70). Heart rate – 64/min (only slightly higher than my normal resting heart rate of 56/minute). Respiratory rate – 8/min. They took that one twice because they didn’t believe it.

By consciously creating a relaxing picture in my mind, I had effectively decided not to have a stress reaction. Back at the resort, plaster cast and sling on right arm, and having refused all pain relief, I laughed and joked with the people around me that it could have been much worse. In fact, my Facebook post for that day reads as follows:

“Thanks everyone for your concern. Came off the mountain bike and landed awkwardly. For the technical amongst us, I have a compression fracture of my right distal radius. But 3 good aspects.

1. I still have one arm and 2 legs that work fine.
2. I’m left-handed.
3. I’m in the CARIBBEAN!”

And what was the ongoing effect of laughing and larking around with people? Boosting my endorphin levels – natural painkillers.

The mind is an amazing thing, and it is intricately connected with the body. Last Sunday, I had first-hand experience of the power of visualisation to calm my pain and benefit my physiology. Certainly beats Ibuprofen!

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My office is tidy, but the kitchen is a mess…

Have you ever felt that it is never ending – this quest for whatever you are currently focusing on in your life, whether that might be your health journey, your work projects or something else? This was brought home to me after I got back home at 11pm on Sunday night from the September retreat. I’d given it my all, and arrived home tired, unloaded the car, put the spare food in the fridge and went straight to bed.

I knew that I’d have a lot of sorting out to do, but was happy to leave it until the next day (I always take the day off “normal duties” after a retreat to get back to normal and sort out the house). After a really good sleep, I awoke feeling energised as usual, ready to launch into the tidy-up process and the barrage of e-mails that didn’t get answered over the days that I was away. Firstly though, the all-important green juice and a run.

I spent a good part of the day catching up; tidying the office, replying to all the e-mails I had missed, and the large volume of paperwork, and the important job of e-mailing other resources to my retreat guests who had questions during the retreat which I had promised to answer for them. By late afternoon I was finally done, and the office was clean, tidy and my “to-do” list clear. I then ventured downstairs, and was horrified at how bad the kitchen looked. If anyone had visited me, I would have been embarrassed to show them into the kitchen, lest their impression of me should take a serious nose-dive.

Allow me to clarify. I am not messy; in fact, I’m very organised. But picture the post-retreat scene. Blender still in a crate, dry goods (nuts, seeds, tamari, tahini, seaweeds etc) in bags, sprouting equipment in boxes, the few books and CDs which remained unsold in a separate box, sports bag and yoga mat on the floor, laptop and projector in yet another box … the list goes on, but all were still in the kitchen from where I had left them the night before after unpacking the car. So this got me thinking. If anyone had seen my office that day, they would have thought that I was one of the most organised, productive people they had ever met. Look at the kitchen, and it would have told a totally different story.

The moral? Look at what you have achieved so far and celebrate your successes. You’re never a finished article; there is always more to do. By the following day, my kitchen was likewise back to its normal organised self. Did I beat myself up and think that I could not take the evening off because I hadn’t managed to sort out the messy kitchen? No; I went to a yoga class at the gym (celebrating what I had already achieved that day). Realistically, I wouldn’t have been able to sort the kitchen out in one evening, and it needed a fresh and more energised “me” to tackle it.

Every so often, you need time off from things. And the harder you push yourself, the more time you need. This goes for anything in life, whether it’s a short break from the never-ending list of e-mails to reply to, or a rest after intense exercise, or even from tidying up. Taking mini-breaks allows you to be more productive in getting those tasks done. Wherever you are on your health journey, if you subscribe to my newsletter, realise that you’ve come a long way already, and don’t be daunted by the fact that there is “so much more to do”. Don’t stop striving, but allow yourself a break to celebrate that success. You deserve it!

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7 Lifestyle Hacks for Great Immunity

Your immune system – probably the best friend that you have. It stops you getting ill, it stops you getting cancer by recognising abnormal cells… the list goes on. Starting with the 5 “baddies” to avoid, the good news comes in points 6 and 7. Happy immune-boosting!

1.      Over-exercising

Exercise in general is great for the immune system, and people who regularly perform moderate intensity exercise for 40 minutes have on average half the number of coughs and colds that affect non-exercisers. However, more is not always better. Endurance athletes can start to suppress their immune systems with over 90 minutes of moderate to high intensity exercise (such as long-distance running, triathlon etc), due to the production of two adrenal hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, both of which suppress the immune system. The effect of this can last up to 3 days post-exercise. Fit-looking endurance athletes are not always the healthiest people! If you’re involved in endurance events, avoid suppressing the immune system by eating a diet rich in dark green leafy vegetables and dark-coloured berries, and make sure you well exceed the very basic “five a day” recommendation. Alternatively, switch your exercise type – high intensity “sprint-type” workouts with short rests boost the immune system. Exercise releases endorphins (happy hormones) in the brain, which help you to sleep better and improve your mood; both of which in turn help the immune system.

Finally, with obesity being at an all-time high, it’s vital to exercise to maintain ideal body weight. It’s also recently been discovered that obesity directly damages the immune system by reducing its antibody response.  

2.      Stress

Stress is an insidious killer. Whilst “eustress” (good stress) – that passion which sees you jumping out of bed in the morning to embrace the day – is good for you, chronic, long-term stress and anxiety severely degrade not just the immune system, but the whole body. It’s all because of cortisol and adrenaline again, and their negative effect on white blood cells. Stress also depletes magnesium, a mineral that is involved in over 50 biochemical reactions and is additionally vital to bone health.

Laughter is the perfect antidote to stress, and studies have shown that watching funny videos boosts the production of natural killer cells, a vital part of the immune system. Children laugh up to 400 times a day. How many times a day do you laugh? Make time for a good laugh with friends – it really is the best medicine.

3.      Alcohol intake

Alcohol consumption is rising in women, and it brings with it many health challenges. In addition to interfering with the beneficial effects of vitamin C, alcohol disrupts the activity of white blood cells and natural killer cells. Binge drinking seems to put the immune system at most risk. Take a look at your alcohol consumption. There is no alleged “beneficial” effect of alcohol that cannot be found elsewhere. Want heart-healthy antioxidants, the type found in red wine? Eat red grapes or blueberries; these will also boost your immunity.

4.      Antibiotic damage

A major proportion of your immune system actually lies in your gut, and antibiotics can wipe out these “friendly bacteria” and weaken your immune system. If you’ve been taking antibiotics, or if you suffer in general with poor immunity, it’s vital to restore the balance by using some probiotic capsules, or cultured/fermented foods such as fresh sauerkraut or kimchee. These are a healthier option than yogurt drinks. High sugar diets also adversely affect your natural probiotic levels – yet another reason to ditch the white stuff.

5.      Low vitamin D levels are associated with poorer immunity, since vitamin D is essential for triggering and arming T-cells, which seek out and destroy bacterial invaders. In the UK between mid October and early March, it’s impossible to get vitamin D from the sun because even if it is out, it’s too low in the sky to trigger production in the skin. It’s been estimated that one in 6 people are severely depleted in vitamin D. There’s a lot of fear surrounding sun exposure, but 20 minutes outside every 2-3 days, without sunblock, has been shown to be beneficial for vitamin D production. Alternatively take a good, plant-based vitamin D supplement, ideally combined with vitamin K2, as I discuss in my book Love Your Bones.

6.                  A good diet, which includes essential protective antioxidants, is vital for immunity. Ensure that you get enough variety of brightly-coloured vegetables, including leafy greens, red peppers, sprouted green foods such as alfalfa, and a moderate amount of low-sugar fruits such as red and dark berries. High-sugar sweet fruits such as dried figs and dates can be detrimental to immunity because of the sugar content. Avoid processed cereals, white flour, white pasta and baked goods and focus on high quality wholefoods instead. Your immune system, and your whole body, will love you for it!

7.                  Other boosts for immunity

Garlic is really helpful for keeping coughs and colds at bay. Allicin, a chemical found in raw, freshly crushed garlic, inhibits bacteria and boosts immune function. Why not crush some on a salad?

Massage is a great de-stresser which lowers cortisol levels. It also boosts levels of oxytocin in the body, a hormone which regulates the stress hormones.  

Walking in nature is great for immunity, as is, surprisingly, cold water immersion. Scientists have found that by jumping into water at a temperature of 14C, three times a week, 2 types of white blood cells which are associated with the immune response are stimulated. Cold showering has the same effect if you’re not feeling quite so brave. Finally, consider whole-food supplementation. Here’s a link to the one I have used for over 20 years, with scientifically proven results not just for the immune system but also many other whole-body benefits.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Happiness Molecule

For as long as I remember, I’ve always hated winter, apart from when it’s cold and sunny; that I can somehow cope with. To this day, I’m convinced I should really be living in the tropics, or…

Source: The Happiness Molecule

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The Happiness Molecule

For as long as I remember, I’ve always hated winter, apart from when it’s cold and sunny; that I can somehow cope with. To this day, I’m convinced I should really be living in the tropics, or, at the very least, the Mediterranean. I love summer – I love the heat, the brightness of the light, the intensity… The only time that I really seem to embrace winter is when I go skiing. The strength of the sun at altitude energizes me; it always has done. There’s a reason for this of course. It’s all down to a little molecule called serotonin.

Serotonin is a fairly unassuming molecule when you first meet it. It’s also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), and is made in the brain and the intestines. It is formed from tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids. “Essential” here refers to the fact that you have to acquire tryptophan via your food, because the body cannot manufacture it.
Serotonin is classified as a neurotransmitter, and is known to affect mood, body temperature and other important vital functions. An important aspect of serotonin is that it is converted to melatonin, a hormone which gives us good quality sleep. Low serotonin levels have been linked to depression and undesirable mood fluctuations. More recently, other “trace amines”, as they are known, have been found to have similar relationships with mood disorders and addiction (1).

Serotonin is produced when we are exposed to bright light, and it has been indicated that low serotonin levels are associated with chronic fatigue, which I discuss at length in my forthcoming book (due for release in March 2017). However, it is so far not known if it is the fatigue which reduces the serotonin, or the low serotonin which causes the fatigue. What is known is that low serotonin levels have a negative effect on mood, which is why certain antidepressant drugs have been developed which keep serotonin levels higher for longer. These drugs are the SSRIs, which I wrote about in my book Love Your Bones, because they have a negative effect on bone health.

The conversion of tryptophan to serotonin requires magnesium and vitamin B6, so if you are deficient in either of these important nutrients, you could easily end up with a poor conversion rate and low serotonin. Magnesium deficiency is rife in the developed world, with some authors suggesting that 80% of the population is deficient. Because serotonin makes us feel good and it is converted to melatonin, which helps us to sleep, what happens if you interrupt those conversion pathways? The potential for depression and poor sleep patterns. How many people do you know who are affected by these problems?

The enteric nervous system (the network of nerves that are found in the gut, and often referred to as the “second brain”) uses more than 30 neurotransmitters, just like the brain, and in fact 95 percent of the body’s serotonin is found in the intestines. So if our probiotics are out of balance, serotonin levels can be adversely affected and this in turn affects mood. Talk about a gut reaction! Can you see how all of these factors interrelate with each other? And how deficiencies of even one or two micronutrients can have such wide-ranging effects? As always though, there is never “just one thing” that makes the difference. If you are following a diet that includes daily green juices (including wheatgrass), lots of sprouted food, green leafy vegetables, sea vegetables and whole food-based supplements, you’re unlikely to be deficient, but remember that stress runs magnesium out of the body like you wouldn’t believe. So get out in the sun this summer, run around and enjoy it, and pay attention to reducing your stress levels. It’s all important.

1. Pei Y, Asif-Malik A, Canales JJ. Trace Amines and the Trace Amine-Associated Receptor: Pharmacology, Neurochemistry, and Clinical Implications. Front Neurosci. 2016 Apr 5;10:148

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