role of disease prevention through herbs and diet, and what constitutes a healthy lifestyle. Just about everyone knows that diet and exercise play a vital role in overall good health. Just about everyone knows that fresh fruits and vegetables should play an important role in a healthy diet. However, studies indicate that fresh herbs can also play a crucial role in a healthy diet, and may help prevent certain diseases and illnesses.
To biologists, herbs are any plant that is not woody and dies at the end of the season. However, to most people, herbs are special plants with aromatic properties that add flavor and appeal to foods and recipes. However, herbs have also been used medicinally for centuries, and new studies show that many herbs may help prevent many different types of diseases and conditions; from Alzheimer's disease to heart disease, and that they should be an important part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Free Radicals and Antioxidants
Free radicals occur in the minutest areas of the human body -- in the atoms that make up the cells of the body. When atoms join together they form bonds, and weak bonds that break allow free radicals to escape. Free radicals are dangerous because they are extremely unstable and the move fast. They need an electron to help them become stable, so they usually attack the nearest molecule to steal its electron. The editors of a health Web site note, "When the 'attacked' molecule loses its electron, it becomes a free radical itself, beginning a chain reaction. Once the process is started, it can cascade, finally resulting in the disruption of a living cell" (Editors). The release of some free radicals is normal, and sometimes, the body uses them to fight bacteria and viruses. The editors continue, "However, environmental factors such as pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke and herbicides can also spawn free radicals" (Editors). Damage from free radicals happens when far too many are produced, and there are no antioxidants available to control them. Free radicals also increase as a person ages.
Antioxidants are present in Vitamin sC and E, and antioxidants help control free radicals. The editors note, "Antioxidants neutralize free radicals by donating one of their own electrons, ending the electron-'stealing' reaction. The antioxidant nutrients themselves don't become free radicals by donating an electron because they are stable in either form" (Editors). Antioxidants also may help prevent diseases such as heart disease and caner, too. Thus, antioxidants are vital in maintaining good health throughout life, and many herbs are high in antioxidants, making them an excellent choice in a healthy diet.
Herbs and Prevention
Most people that understand the relationship of free radicals and antioxidants know that many fruits, berries, and vegetables contain important amounts of free radicals. However, news studies indicate herbs may be an even better source of antioxidants than previously thought. Another author notes, "The study revealed that many popular herbs are a great natural source of natural antioxidants, compounds that play an important role in neutralizing free radicals. In fact, the total phenolic contents of many herbs in the study were higher than those reported for berries, fruits, and vegetables" (Forristal). Of course, like other sources of antioxidants, some types of herbs carry more antioxidants than others. Author Forristal continues, "The culinary herbs with the highest antioxidant activities are the oreganos, which belong in the mint family (Lamiaceae). In fact, this study showed that their extremely high phenolic content and oxygen radical absorbance capacity (or ORAC) make their total antioxidant activities higher than tocopherol (found in vitamin E)" (Forristal). Oreganos are extremely easy to grow in the home garden, and in most climates, they will over winter very easily, so gardeners can enjoy oreganos and other herbs throughout the growing season. However, oreganos are not the only herbs that help prevent diseases and illness.
Turmeric is another herb that studies have discovered can prevent a number of diseases. The active ingredient in turmeric is "curcumin," and it has been shown to have strong healing properties. Another author notes, "According to a small 2006 clinical trial conducted by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, curcumin can help shrink precancerous lesions known as colon polyps, when taken with a small amount of quercetin, a powerful antioxidant found in onions, apples, and cabbage" (Kalish). Turmeric is also thought to help prevent Alzheimer's disease, and ease the pain of arthritis, as well. Turmeric is found in most curry powders, and on its own, as well. Doctors recommend adding about 400 mg of the herb to a daily diet to gain the health benefits (Kalish).
Another popular herb, rosemary, may help reduce the risk of some kinds of cancers, although studies have not been conducted on humans. When broiling or frying meats, HCAs can occur, which have been linked to several types of cancers. Rosemary helps destroy these HCAs, so marinating meat in rosemary is a great preventative measure. Author Kalish states, "Rosemary contains carnosol and rosemarinic acid, two powerful antioxidants that destroy the HCAs" (Kalish). It is also extremely effective when combined with other healthy herbs, such as oregano or garlic.
Sometimes, herbs gain a reputation for healing through folk wisdom, and ginger is one of those herbs. Moms have often said it soothes upset stomachs, and there is proof that is the case. Kalish remarks, "In one study of cruise ship passengers traveling on rough seas, 500 mg of ginger every 4 hours was as effective as Dramamine, the commonly used OTC motion-sickness medication. I n another study, where subjects took 940 mg, it was even more effective than the drug" (Kalish). However, ginger also helps regulate blood flow, which could lead to lower blood pressure. It is also an anti-inflammatory, so it can help arthritis pain and help prevent some types of cancer, such as ovarian cancer (Kalish).
St. John's wort may not be an herb that many people think of growing in their herb gardens, but perhaps it should be. Research shows that it can relieve anxiety and mild to moderate depression, and it does it without the side effects that many prescription anti-depression medications tend to offer. The herb contains melatonin, the hormone that regulates a body's sleep-wake cycles; it increases amounts of the body's own melatonin, which can help improve sleep. Doctors recommend taking 300 mg of a St. John's wort supplement that includes at least 0.3% hypericin (the active ingredient), three times a day (Kalish).
One of the most popular herbs is garlic, and it is used in a variety of recipes, so it is easy to incorporate in a healthy diet. Studies indicate that eating a large amount of garlic lowered the rates of several cancers, including ovarian, colorectal, and others. Garlic can also reduce the number of colon polyps in people with a history of them. Garlic also contains an active ingredient that decreases blood pressure, and it may help prevent strokes, as well. Another writer states, "It [garlic] has been considered to increase longevity and to confer stamina and physical strength, and it has been used empirically as a vermifuge, antiseptic, antimicrobic, antipyretic, and analgesic" (Bianchini, and Vainio). There are many other herbs in the family allium, which garlic belongs to, such as onions, leeks, and chives, which contain many of the same healing and preventative qualities as garlic. Fresh garlic is the best source, but there are garlic extract capsules that also provide the same benefits (Kalish).
Another stress reliever is holy basil, a special type of regular basil. It increases adrenaline and decreases serotonin, leading to less stress. It may also help prevent or reduce the effects of breast cancer. Author Kalish notes, "First in test tubes and then in mice, a tea made of holy basil shrunk tumors, reduced their blood supply, and stopped their spread" (Kalish). Researchers plan to see if it has the effect on humans. Plants and seeds are available online, and it is best to use fresh leaves for brewing tea. Holy basic extract is also available at many health food stores.
These are just a few of the herbs that people can incorporate into a healthy diet. Herbs contain antioxidants, but they are also flavorful, so they enhance the diet with their flavors, making even bland foods more interesting and appealing. Herbs are also easy to grow, so just about anyone can grow fresh herbs at any time of the year. If there is no garden available outdoors, plant a pot with herbs and place it in a sunny windowsill, and soon a windowsill herb garden will appear. As with most ingredients, using fresh herbs is much more preferable than using dried herbs, which lose much of their active ingredients in the drying process.
Many herbs are also available in extract form in health food stores, and many of the studies in question have indicated that the extracts of these herbs are also valuable for maintaining a healthy diet and preventing many common illnesses and diseases. As…