3 Safe and Natural Herbal Alternatives to Improve Your Life
While phthalates, parabens, and xenoestrogens may sound like aliens from a 90’s sci-fi movie, they are actually much scarier. Known as endocrine disruptors, these toxic chemicals are commonly found in a variety of personal care items like shampoos and lotions. Such compounds have been proven to disrupt hormone function and have even been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers. After learning about xenoestrogens while listening to a podcast a couple years ago, I decided to make every effort to rid my home of them. I switched my Old Spice out for Native deodorant, which is free of parabens and metals like aluminum. I began using unscented castile soap made with essential oils to wash my hair and body in the shower. When it came to laundry and household cleaning products I made the change to chemical free, biodegradable options. In an attempt to get rid of traditional mouthwash, I even tried oil pulling for a while (but just couldn’t handle the sensation of coconut oil lingering in my mouth all morning).
That’s when it occurred to me. I was doing so much to eliminate these damaging compounds from my immediate environment and keep them off my body; but what about all the harmful things I was still putting in my body? I do my best to follow the latest health trends and research. Try to eat organic, grass-fed, and antibiotic free whenever possible. Drink plenty of water. Avoid sugar and processed and packaged foods. It wasn’t my diet that I was concerned about. It was the smorgasbord of supplements and over-the-counter drugs that I (and so many other Americans) turned to every time I needed a pick-me-up or a wind-me-down, got a headache, or had indigestion. Small changes lead to big changes over time and by far the most valuable modification I’ve made to optimize my health is opting for eco-friendly, health conscious, herbal alternatives. Here are three uncommon uses for herbal alternatives that have been impactful in my life.
Revving Up: The Best Herb for Your Pre-workout/Endurance Routine
Choosing to hit the gym rather than the couch can be difficult for many people after a long day’s work. Finding the energy to truly crush a workout can be even harder. There’s no question why pre-workout mixes are some of the best selling supplements on the market. Unfortunately, you may be getting more than just the desired effects of strength and energy. A 2014 study found that many common formulations are full of a meth-like synthetic stimulant called DMBA.
Despite being banned by the FDA due to possible lethality, the substance was present in over a dozen commercial pre-workout supplements being sold in stores and online.
A safer, healthier option that will still give you that much needed boost is cordyceps sinensis extract. Bizarrely enough, cordyceps is a fungus that kills caterpillars, then grows out of their bodies. It originates in the mountains of China where it has been used for hundreds of years to combat fatigue, muscle weakness, and to improve mental stamina. Modern scientific research backs up its efficacy for improving athletic performance. The benefits include significant improvements in both resistance and cardio training. So whether you’re a runner or a powerlifter, this is the herbal alternative for you.
Unlike typical pre-workout supplements, cordyceps doesn’t contain any unhealthy ingredients. It works by boosting oxygen utilization and providing energy on a cellular level. Through these mechanisms, cordyceps supports your body’s natural energy production instead of relying on adrenal depleting stimulants.
Cordyceps is available as a tincture, liquid extract, or in powder form. However, I choose to take it in capsule form for sake of convenience. Many companies have cordyceps supplements, sometimes mixed with other ingredients. I prefer Shroom Tech Sport because it’s certified drug free by the Banned Substances Control Group (BSCG) and includes vitamin B12, another natural energy producer. I simply take a few caps about 45 minutes before my workout and am good to go.
Winding Down: The Best Herb for Taking the Edge Off
The work day takes its toll. For many, the easiest way to wind down is to hit the corner bar for a couple of beers. While there’s nothing wrong with meeting friends for a happy hour here and there, the negative aftermath of alcohol consumption is common knowledge these days. It adversely affects sleep, performance, weight gain, decision making, and overall health. Or maybe cannabis is your preferred modality for winding down. True, it’s an herbal alternative, and it doesn’t come with a hangover or any major deleterious health effects like alcohol. However, for some people cannabis can mean short-term memory problems, decreased motivation, and even anxiety and paranoia. I’ve found an herbal extract called kava to be the perfect answer.
The record of kava’s calming effects stretches back thousands of years. Originally used as a ceremonial drink in Polynesian culture, kava root has been used as a pain reliever, mild sedative, muscle relaxant, and natural remedy for insomnia. Today, it’s considered a quick, easy, and safe way to achieve a calm state. Research has shown that the lactones in kava act to naturally promote relaxation and help to eliminate stress and anxiety. The reason I love kava is because it helps me take the edge off, but I’m still in a completely focused and relaxed state. Whether I want to exercise, read a book, or spend time with family, I can be fully present and focused on the task at hand. Not many people have the time or energy to make a traditional kava brew. Fortunately, there are a variety of other options, including teas, powders, pastes, tinctures, and even kava candy. In my opinion, a convenient extract is the best choice for me. It’s fast-acting, all natural, and fits in my pocket.
The Best Herb for Hangover Prevention and Relief
Hopefully, if you heed the advice above, you’re not dealing with cotton mouth and a headache every morning. Still, everyone needs to let loose sometimes. We all look forward to a good wedding, birthday party, or weekend event. What we want to avoid is the dreaded hangover the following morning. Even if we’re “prepared”, the best option for most is to stock the fridge with your favorite sports drink and lay out a NSAID pain reliever to take before bed. However, these don’t help much and come with their own negative effects. Sure Gatorade is full of electrolytes, but the sugar layden mix isn’t much better than a soda when it comes to putting junk in your body, and even if you remember to take the Aleve on your night stand, it comes with a slew of negative side-effects including increased risk of heart failure, damage to the stomach and intestines, and liver toxicity (especially when combined with alcohol). Luckily, there are herbal alternatives to help mitigate the stresses a night out can put on you mentally and physically.
To prevent a hangover, you want to make sure your liver and kidneys are functioning optimally. To do this, I recommend making a pre-game smoothie that will ensure your body is ready to handle whatever you throw at it. The smoothie should have a base of a cup of ice blended with coconut water. Coconut water is a natural source of water, anti-oxidants, and electrolytes, especially potassium. These will help keep you hydrated and promote healthy organ function, without the added sugar of a sports drink. The herbal ingredients consist of milk thistle, turmeric, and ginger.
Milk Thistle: Milk thistle has been shown to boost liver health and has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiviral properties. This herbal extract is key for preventing liver damage and it provides nutrients to help the liver to get rid of metabolic waste and toxic compounds that result from heavy drinking.
Turmeric: The powerful anti-inflammatory effect of turmeric will help to alleviate future aches and pains, and prevent the unattractive swelling that accompanies excessive alcohol consumption. Be mindful that it is robust in color and taste and will turn your smoothie orange, and can be rich and overpowering. Luckily, the warmth and spice of ginger will help mask that.
Ginger: In addition to balancing the flavor of the smoothie, ginger has been proven to stimulate blood flow and is well known for prevention of nausea. It also stimulates the metabolism, bolsters immune function, and enhances detoxification. Add an apple or half a banana and you’re all set for a night out (and the morning after).
In an ideal world, good sleep and nutrition practices would be enough to get us through the day. The reality, however, is that sometimes we need a little help when it comes to revving up, winding down, or dealing with life’s stressors, and that’s okay. What’s important is that we make wise decisions regarding what we put in our body. By opting for the alternative route of herbal remedies, you’re setting yourself up for a happy, healthy life today and for many years to come.
Photos provided by Carlos Leal