Surprising Foods That Fight Pain, Cholesterol, Allergies and More

Date: September 1, 2009      Publication: Bottom Line Health      Source: Mao Shing  Ni      Print:

We all know that a nutritious diet is one of the keys to living a long, healthy life.

Problem: Even health-conscious individuals get stuck in a rut of consuming the same foods and drinks all the time.

Solution: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers a wide variety of healthful, delicious foods and drinks that have been consumed for their disease-fighting properties for thousands of years.

Best anti-aging foods…

Orange peel for cholesterol. As we age, LDL “bad” cholesterol often accumulates in the arteries, leading to heart disease and stroke. Orange peel actually may lower cholesterol better than some medications, such as statin drugs, without the side effects.

Studies show that compounds called polymethoxsylated flavones (PMFs), found in pigments of oranges and tangerines, can reduce bad cholesterol—without decreasing the level of HDL “good” cholesterol.

My advice: Grate or chop the peel of an orange or tangerine (preferably organic to avoid potentially toxic pesticides). If cooking a 12-ounce serving of meat or chicken, use the whole rind. As an alternative, use low-sugar marmalade, which contains orange rind, in your sauce.

Papaya for allergies. Papaya is rich in the enzyme bromelain and has long been used by the Chinese to help reduce the inflammatory process that promotes allergic reactions. Other bromelain-rich foods include pineapple and kiwifruit.

My advice: Try eating two to three cups of the bromelain-rich fruits mentioned above daily—and add cherries and grapes (all types), which are rich in phytochemicals that also fight the inflammation that results from the body’s immune response to allergens. Bromelain is also available in supplement form. If you suffer from hay fever or other allergies, take 200 mg daily. Do not take bromelain if you have a bleeding disorder, high blood pressure, or liver or kidney disease or if you have food allergies, especially to pineapple. Talk to your doctor first if you are taking antibiotics, blood thinners or sedatives, since bromelain may interact with these drugs.

My favorite anti-aging beverages…

Chicory for heart health. Chicory, an herb that is popular in China and parts of Europe, contains a compound called inulin that helps strengthen the heart muscle—and may even be useful in treating congestive heart failure (a condition that causes inadequate pumping action of the heart).

One study found that chicory helps regulate an irregular heartbeat—a potentially dangerous condition that can lead to heart failure. Other research shows that chicory helps lower cholesterol levels and may slow the progression of hardening of the arteries.

My advice: In the US, chicory root is most often roasted for use as a brewed coffee substitute that can be found in most organic food markets. For heart health, drink one to two cups daily of chicory coffee substitute. Don’t use chicory if you have gallstones or are allergic to plants in the ragweed family.

My favorite: Teeccino Mediterranean Java Herbal Coffee. Radicchio, a type of leafy chicory, is also widely available. Eat it two to three times weekly (in salads, for example).

Chinese asparagus root for increased energy and brain function. This close cousin to the asparagus found on Western dinner tables contains many phytonutrients, including quercetin, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound. It has been used in China to promote longevity for more than 2,000 years. Chinese asparagus root can be found online, in health-food stores and at the offices of TCM practitioners.

My advice: Consume as a brewed tea (one to two cups daily) or in capsule form (300 mg to 500 mg daily).

White willow bark tea for pain relief and blood-thinning properties. This herb contains salicin, a compound found in aspirin. Aspirin was originally discovered in—and extracted from—this bark. Besides its pain-relieving properties, white willow bark acts as an anticoagulant, which helps prevent the formation of blood clots and thickening of blood that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

My advice: If you have pain caused by arthritis, muscle strain or tendinitis (tendon inflammation) or are at increased risk for heart disease or ischemic stroke (from a blockage)—due to family history, high blood pressure or smoking—drink one to two cups of white willow bark tea daily. If you take daily aspirin therapy for heart attack and/or stroke prevention, ask your doctor about taking supplemental white willow bark (100 mg daily) instead.

Caution: If you have a bleeding disorder…take a blood thinner, such as warfarin (Coumadin) or a beta-blocker…or are allergic to aspirin, do not use white willow bark.

Source: Mao Shing Ni, LaC, DOM, PhD, a Santa Monica, California–based licensed acupuncturist and doctor of oriental medicine, He is cofounder of Yo San University, an accredited graduate school of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Los Angeles, and author of Secrets of Longevity (Chronicle).