It’s not, A Chinese Herb for Weight Loss

Chinese herb bitter orange for weight loss and digestionI am often asked, "What's a good herb for weight loss?"  Ever since ephedra was banned it seems people have wanted a substitute.  Lately, one Chinese herb in particular is showing up in a lot of weight loss supplements.  That herb is unripe bitter orange.  Although it is not ephedra (ma huang), is does contain a similar chemical to the ephedrin called synephrine. 

Bitter orange  refers to the peel of a particular specie of unripe orange and has been used in Chinese herbal medicine for centuries.  Also known around the world as citrus aurantium  it's a native of the Far East and grows well in most warm climates.  Unripe bitter orange is part of the Chinese herb pharmacopeia and has been used in Chinese cuisine, fragrance and medicine for over 2000 years.  

The medicinal part of the bitter orange seems to get all the attention these days.  It has digestive effects and carminative effects, meaning it can help prevent gas formation in the intestines.

The active property of unripe bitter orange that are so desirable for those seeking a weight loss supplement is the synephrine.   This alkaloids appears in slightly higher quantities in the unripe fruit than in the ripe bitter orange.  Today many weight loss supplements are including varying amounts of bitter orange peel extract for it's synephrine value to hopefully increase metabolism which may help a person lose weight.

However, if you are looking for herbs for weight loss this is not the magic bullet.  There have been some reports that taking unripe bitter orange is conjunction with caffeine, mate and other stimulants can cause cardiotoxicity, increased blood pressure and increased anxiousness. Sounds like a bad combination to me and I would stay clear of supplements combining these stimulants.

Unripe bitter orange was never used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for weight loss but it was used and still is used to help improve digestion and to move the Qi or energy, help unblock the bowels, and it has been used to raise blood pressure. But like most Chinese herbs, its use is magnified when paired with other herbs in a set formula with proven time tested benefits.    Funny how an old Chinese herb is new again.

Natural Alternatives to Birth Control Pills for PMS

Natural remedies to PMS and period crampsMany young women are looking for a natural alternative to birth control pills for the PMS and cramps they get each month.  Chinese herbs are very effective at controlling and eliminating PMS (premenstrual syndrome).  The birth control pill is an option many women choose because they are not familiar with Chinese herbal medicine.

The approach I take is very different than the way progesterone and estrogen therapy found in the “Pill”.  Chinese Medicine can treat PMS and cramps successfully without artificial hormones.

Chinese Medicine recognizes that the liver is an organ that not just cleans blood but also moves blood.  When the liver is overly taxed by stress, lack of sleep, drugs or accumulation of chemicals (including hormones found in our food supply) the liver energy can become stagnate.   This stagnation effects the breasts, the uterus and eventually all the channels of the body because the liver cannot effectively perform it’s functions.

PMS results because the liver energy and the liver blood are not moving.  Breast tenderness occurs because the liver channel energy runs through the breast area and up to the head which may also result in headaches.  If the liver is given an opportunity to “detoxify” this can help move the liver Qi or energy.

Chinese herbs treat this stagnation with herbs that help move the blood, help normalize hormones and herbs that help reduce the liver Qi stagnation.   By moving the liver energy, the emotional component of PMS such as moodiness and irritability are resolved. This may seem foreign to Americans, but is a common practice of the Chinese.

Chinese herbal formulas for PMS symptoms date back to over 1000 years ago.  This is a remarkable testament to their popularity and to their success. We have many modern day clinical studies that  have been done on Chinese herbs for PMS, click here to read about the largest one conducted on over 3000 women.

Herbal remedies are safe and can provide complete cures for menstrual symptoms.  Symptoms will reduce immediatly and often resolve completely within a few months. A formula used by many women in China is call Jia Wei Xiao Yao San. Today it is found in every drug store in pill form or individual herbal packets throughout Asia.   Many people in China prefer the packets because it’s potency is much stronger than pills.  We don’t yet have these herbs in every drug store in America, but we are sure the American drug stores will catch on soon.  For our favorite PMS Relief product go here.

Bitter Melon to Ward Off Breast Cancer Cells

What vegetable is green, oblong, with the skin of a toad and the name of a fruit? The answer is bitter melon,  a tropical native popular in  South Asia and India.  Most Westerners would cringe at the taste. But it’s time it start showing up in American diets now that a new study from The Journal of Cancer Research, (March 1 issue) indicates  bitter  melon may also ward off breast cancer.

Bitter melon has been used in Traditional Chinese herbal Medicine for ages.  This study, published by the American Association of Cancer Research and conducted in St. Louis MO,  showed this Chinese herb has an ability to slow the growth and in some cases kill breast cancer cells.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer of women in the U.S.  It’s time prevention, not just research for a cure, be emphasized, including dietary changes to effectively stop the spread of this deadly cancer.

Chinese herbal medicine commonly uses bitter melon for the treatment of diabetes.  It is naturally high in Vitamin C, calcium, has twice the potassium of  bananas, twice the beta carotene of  broccoli and is fiber and B vitamin rich. Now we should add breast cancer prevention to the list of what this incredible, edible, Chinese herb can do.

This Chinese herbs preventative properties need to be publicized.  Prevention is not only more cost effective, it is the solution to all our health challenges as we age.   Staying healthy and happy is a health goal we all share.  Find some bitter melon today and eat your way to good health.

Link to the study here


Another  study  just published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported having a double mastectomy, or removing an otherwise healthy breast to prevent breast cancer from occurring in  healthy tissue had no added benefit.  This was a population study conducted by MD Anderson in Houston TX.  Surgery as a prevention against breast cancer had no measurable benefit.

Connect to this study here

Dr. Oz Recommends Ginseng for Swine Flu

Chinese herb ginsengEver since Dr. Oz’s interview in Esquire magazine (Dec. 09) I’ve been fielding a phethera of questions on ginseng.  Thanks Dr. Oz, I’m always happy to talk about the Chinese herbs I love.  It’s an added bonus that the best American Ginseng is actually grown in Wisconsin, my old stomping grounds. I also love to buy American whenever possible.

In response to a question “how to prevent swine flu”, Dr. Oz says: “Vitamin D and American ginseng are the two things I recommend the most. Vitamin D because it stimulates dramatically the ability of the immune system to respond, and American ginseng because it stimulates these things called Toll-like receptors in the gut. They’re ancient – our most primitive immune response – and they make it difficult for bugs to get in through the intestinal wall.”


This is an excellent post on ginseng from Acupuncture Chicago.
By Jennifer Dubowsky

Did you know there are different types of ginseng and they are all considered potent herbs for helping the body adapt to stress – both mental and physical. Ginseng is best known for its ability to stimulate your immune system and fight fatigue and stress. Several dozen studies have shown that ginseng enhances physical and mental performance, improves mood, and aids metabolic function. Other studies suggest ginseng maybe anti-inflammatory and can provide a wealth of benefits including: improved blood cholesterol; lowered liver toxicity; lowered blood sugar levels; improved blood oxygen flow; control of respiratory diseases; and enhanced stamina.

The 3 Most Well Known Types Of Ginseng

Chinese Ginseng (Panax ginseng)

Considered the “king of all herbs” in many countries, found in the forests of northeast China, Manchuria and Korea. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Chinese ginseng is used to tonify the “Qi” (vital energy or life energy force) and is a powerful “yang” or warming tonic herb. It has been reported to: stimulate the immune system; fight fatigue, combat stress, slow aging, balance blood sugar levels, enhance mental performance and memory, lower cholesterol, and strengthen the heart muscle. It may even have anti-tumor and anticancer properties. Before rushing off to get some Chinese Ginseng be aware that it’s overuse can have some negative side effects including; irritability, insomnia and rapid heart beat.

*Panax ginseng has had a notorious reputation as a sexual rejuvenator, particularly for men, however much of this reputation seems to be over-hyped.

American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolium)

Is indigenous to eastern woodlands from Georgia to Quebec, and was used by Native Americans. The picture in this post is of American Ginseng. While not as well known as Chinese Ginseng, American Ginseng has been around for hundreds of years. Jesuit Priests were reported to be trading American Ginseng to the Chinese as early as 1718. American Ginseng has a more “yin” or cooler nature than its Chinese counterpart. While still energizing the body, American Ginseng calms the central nervous system, quiets the brain and lowers blood pressure. Also, because of its more “yin” nature, it is generally better to use on a daily, long term basis than Chinese Ginseng. However if you tend to have a cold constitution, this might not be the herb for you.

Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)

Native to Siberia, Japan, Korea and China. Although not a “true ginseng”, this variety is most highly prized. Eleuthero was traditionally used to promote longevity and general health. Many herbalists prefer Eleuthero as the ginseng for helping with women’s health issues, particularly with depression associated with PMS and menopause. Research, mostly from Russia, confirms this herb’s ability to increase mental and physical performance, stimulate the immune system, increase movement of white blood cells, promote circulation and enhance the benefits of medical radiation treatments while lessening its negative side-effects.

Cautions About Ginseng

Ginseng should be avoided by patients who are pregnant or have high blood pressure. In addition, ginseng may increase the effects other stimulants, which may cause sweating, insomnia, or an irregular heartbeat. It should not be used in conjunction with antipsychotic medications, steroids or hormones. As with all Chinese herbs it is best to consult with a Chinese Herbalist and see what is best for you before taking ginseng products.

Shop for ginseng here.

Another rising star in the Chinese herb medicine cabinet – This time for swine flu

Star Anise fresh and driedThe Star Anise, Illicium verum  or Ba Jiao Hui Xiang has been used as a spice and medicine since antiquity.  Star Anise is used dried and the seeds have a licorice-like flavor. It’s commonly  sold in supermarkets and often used in Chinese cuisine to flavor duck dishes. ( I used it once in my Thanksgiving turkey, it was a hit)   It’s also  contains the active chemical component in the drug Tamiflu, which is now being stockpiled as a defense against the Swine flu.

Star anise was originally in the spotlight  because it’s core ingredient  was discovered effective as a flu fighter for the Avian flu. Now it’s being touted for the swine flu.  In an  announcement in Feb 2006 from  the University of Tokyo’s Graduate school of Pharmaceutical sciences,  they “ found a way to make Tamiflu without using shikimic acid, which is produced from a spice called star anise”  The acid is extracted from the pods which wraps the seeds by using a petrochemical ingredient instead of the plant based ingredient.  The group, headed by Prof. Masakatsu Shibasaki said the new method would ensure the stable supply of the antiviral drug in the face of surging demand worldwide prompted by fears of a bird flu (AVAIN) outbreak.  Although many believe the best  way to produce shikimic acid is extracting it directly from the fruit.

“It (Tamiflu) doesn’t prevent the infection,  but may decrease its’ severity,” (although there is no scientific data it will prevent H1N1) according to the Tamiflu website.  Tamiflu has been on the market since Oct. 1999 and Roche probably never dreamed that this years orders would top 220 million.  In the first  three years Tamiflu was on the market only 5.5 million doses sold.

Other  information from the Tamiflu website said this:  “Influenza viruses change over time. Emergence of resistance mutations could decrease drug effectiveness.  Other factors (for example changes in viral virulence) might also diminish clinical benefit of antiviral drugs. Prescribers should consider available information on influenza drug susceptibility patterns and treatment effects when deciding whether to use Tamiflu.” (line 155),   It continues elsewhere on the site with this,  “Efficacy of  Tamiflu in patients who begin treatment after 40 hours of symptoms has not been established” and “ Safety & efficacy of Tamiflu in pediatric patients younger than 1 year has not been studied.”

Star anise sells for aprox. $5.00  or less for a few ounces.  The best source I found said a dose of Tamiflu contains the equivalent of approximately 13 grams of star anise. That’s a few cents per dose.  Studies on guinea pigs yielded evidence that star anise essential oil had a relaxant effect, antispasmodic  and bronchodilatory effect on muscarinic receptors. People have  traditionally used star anise to reduces gas, relieve minor digestive problems, for headaches  and even to promote vitality.

If your interested in drinking star anise as a tea, a typical dose is .5-1 gram of  coarsely ground seeds. Cooked at a slow boil (covered) in 2 ½ cups water for a aprox. 30 minutes  and then strained. Ground star anise has been traditionally taken in a dose of 3 grams daily. The essential oil of star anise in a dose of 300 milligrams daily has also been reported.  The Food and Drug Administration lists star anise as “generally safe for otherwise healthy adults who are not pregnant, nursing or have a preexisting allergy to the herb.”  I hope the swine flu fades quietly into oblivion like the Avain flu.  Who knows  what will happen once weather changes in the fall and winter when flu season is upon us.  In any case, if your considering a dose of Tamiflu your armed with some knowledge.  Most importantly keep your immune system as strong as possible to avoid any future viruses that abound and remember  grocery store shelves can be very beneficial when you know how to shop.

The Cat, The Birds and The Herbs

CatLast night I was rudely awakened at 3:00 am by a hungry cat.  He climbed up my wind chime which was hanging near a mother dove nesting with her two new babies.  Wind chimes don’t suddenly start chiming, normally they start out kind of slow and steady and usually build in volume as the wind picks up.  This was not the case last night.  The chimes were attacked as were the birds. 

  I heard a bird take flight and I jumped out of bed to see the culprit.  I was too late and it was too dark. Upset by the attack and the rude wake up call, all I could think of was  “will I be able to get back to sleep”.   Mind not quite awake… I  almost forget that I have the perfect Chinese herb formula for sleep.  I’m not usually up at 3 AM  and almost forgot,  a perfect opportunity to use my “I sleep”  herb formula in the middle of the night. When I’ve had a particularly stressful day I will use “iSleep” before going to bed.   I sleep so soundly I never had the need to use it in middle of my night.  Perfect opportunity.  So I took one packet at 3 AM.  

Happy to report I got  back to sleep within thirty minutes, even as I ruminated over the fate of the mommy dove and her babies we’ve been watching for the last two months.   Did the cat get all three.  Did the babies get away.  Could the babies fly yet. My mind  finding any reason to chatter on. (This was  the second set of eggs this year for our mommy dove or maybe it’s daughter of the first mom.  In any case, every year  a mommy dove has a nest somewhere in our yard and we are happy to be her hosts.)

iSleep Herb Pac passed the test  last night. I slept like a log till 7:00 when there was yet  another rude awakening, the alarm clock.  I found bird feathers on the ground this morning,  it’s a cruel world out there, but at  least I slept.

"Empty nest this morning"]

"Mommy dove in nest with 2 babies. (Taken just 2 days earlier)  
"Feathers on the ground"