Why Grow Sage in Your Garden?

This Medicinal Herb is a Must-Have in Your Garden or Flower Bed

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

The many health benefits of sage
The many health benefits of sage
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Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a medicinal herb that offers a powerful effect against both viruses and microbes which makes it important in these times of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been used for centuries by herbalists worldwide. The name Salvia comes from the Latin word “salvus” which can be translated as “I save” or “I heal.”

Many plants in your garden perform more than just providing food. Whether you are a prepper or not, you likely grow some of these plants to repel mosquitos, for example. Some herbs, like mint, do double-duty. Sage is primarily medicinal. The Romans were the people who began using sage extensively so it has a long history.

The Medicinal Benefits of Sage

  • A Powerful Disinfectant. A sage decoction (boiling in water to extract the benefits) and gargle to clean your mouth and treat various inflammation of the mouth. Use it externally to treat skin wounds and inflammation. Rub it on or add it to your bath.
  • Sage as an Anti-Inflammatory. It can treat inflamed gums, mouth ulcers, and many other irritations. Chew fresh leaves or make a poultice and apply it to your cold sores on your lips or nose. It’s no wonder that sage is one of the most common ingredients in toothpaste.


  • Use it to Eliminate Indigestion. Do you suffer from indigestion? Like the medicinal herb lemon balm, sage is your friend. Just add it to your line-up of bread baking ingredients or to your cooking.
  • Gallbladder Booster. Adding sage to your daily meals will stimulate the gallbladder.
  • Sage Tea for Cleansing. Some believe that half of a gallon of a mild sage decoction can cleanse your intestinal wall, helps cure polyps, and kills harmful parasites. That’s a lot of curative power. Some believe it is effective as a liver detox method.
  • Cell Protection. Sage can help protect your body’s cells from damage resulting from free radicals due to its high antioxidant capacity. Free radicals often cause cells to die and can lead to impaired immunity and chronic disease. They can be formed either naturally in your body by means of your normal metabolic processes or from external factors like X-rays, cigarette smoke, air pollutants, and exposure to industrial chemicals.


  • Alzheimer’s Treatment. An article in the US National Library of Medicine reports, “In vitro and animal studies have confirmed that several Salvia species contain a large array of active compounds that may enhance cognitive activity and protect against neurodegenerative disease.” It goes on to say, “In this 4-month study, participants allocated to the active-drug condition (60 drops of S. officinalis daily) experienced significantly greater improvements in cognitive function as measured by the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale, and the Clinical Dementia Rating Scale.”
  • Lowers Blood Glucose and Cholesterol. Another article in the US National Library of Medicine reported, “Conclusions: S. officinalis leaves may be safe and have anti-hyperglycemic and lipid profile improving effects in hyperlipidemic type 2 diabetic patients.”

Growing Sage

  • Sage is resistant to both cold and heat; its cold hardy to -30°.
  • It flowers during the summer.
  • Plant it in full sun; it will tolerate partial shade but the flavor will be reduced.
  • Cultivate it in well-drained soil. Sandy loam is preferable but it will grow in average soil too. It prefers a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.7.
  • You can start sage seed indoors as early as 6 to 8 weeks before the average last frost date in your growing zone.
  • Or, sow seed in your garden during late spring after the last frost. Sow seed shallowly, ¼ inch deep.
  • For companion planting, grow sage with chives and calendula, cabbage, carrots, strawberries, and tomatoes. It is believed to deter cabbage-family pests such as imported cabbage worms and root maggot flies. The flowers attract bees and other beneficial insects to your garden. Sage will stunt the growth of cucumbers and has a negative effect on onions.

It’s easy to see why you should grow sage in your garden. Whether you plan to use it for natural medicine, as an ornamental, or for companion planting, it will enhance your property. Always grow organically; what you put in your soil ends up in your body.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Lemon Balm: Uses, Benefits, Growing

A Medicinal Herb That Does Double-Duty as a Pest Control

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Lemon balm next to a tomato plant
Lemon balm next to a tomato plant
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Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a lemon-scented herb that comes from the mint family. It is a perennial and its leaves have a light lemon fragrance. The herb is native to Europe, North Africa, and West Asia, but it’s cultivated around the world today. As with many popular herbs, it is highly regarded for its medicinal qualities. But don’t worry, you won’t need a shaman to administer it. Keeping a plant in your garden provides a steady supply of tea.

Here’s another important use — it doesn’t just have to be relegated to your herb garden, it can be planted anywhere because it offers a fringe benefit. In addition to its health properties, it acts as pest control because it repels mosquitos. Hello, outdoor barbeque!

Benefits of Lemon Balm

  • Stress Relief. Lemon balm is said to soothe symptoms of stress, boost your mood, and help you to relax. Just the thing after a day of dealing with proponents of Critical Race Theory. In a study, the National Library of Medicine found that, “The results showed that the 600-mg dose of Melissa ameliorated the negative mood effects of the DISS, with significantly increased self-ratings of calmness and reduced self-ratings of alertness.”1
  • Treating Insomnia. Combining lemon balm with valerian may help alliviate restlessness and sleep disorders such as insomnia. In addition, drinking lemon balm tea can help with disturbing dreams such as Corona Virus dreams.
  • It May Boost Cognitive Function. MDPI.com published a study that concluded, “active lemon balm treatments were generally associated with improvements in mood and/or cognitive performance, though there were some behavioral “costs” at other doses and these effects depended to some degree on the delivery matrix. The results indicate that Lemon balm delivered in foodstuffs can have positive behavioural effects which may be used in applied health settings.”2

  • Healing Cold Sores. According to WebMD.com, “Lemon balm ointments have been found to help heal cold sores caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV).”3 Using lemon balm cream may help prolong the intervals between cold sore outbreaks.
  • Soothing Digestive Problems. Compounds in lemon balm may help with gastrointestinal problems like bloating and indigestion. Try adding 1 teaspoon (tsp) of lemon balm powder to a bowl of ice cream or smoothie.
  • Help With Menstrual Cramps. A study reported in the US National Library of Medicine concluded that, “the results of the current study showed that M. officinalis capsules were effective to reduce the intensity of PMS symptoms.”4


Health Risks

Although lemon balm is considered safe; the American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook lists lemon balm as a “class 1” herbal product. Some sources recommend limiting it to 3 weeks use, 1 week off. Here are some interactions:

  • HIV Medication. Lemon balm may interact with HIV medications, but sufficient studies have not been conducted.
  • Sedatives and Thyroid Medication. There may be some interaction; consult with your doctor.
  • Glaucoma. Some reports say that lemon balm may increase eye pressure, impacting glaucoma.

Growing Lemon Balm

Plant lemon balm during the warm weather of late spring, once all chances of frost have passed. Space plants 20 to 24 inches apart in an area with partial shade and fertile, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0. I only have one plant so spacing is not an issue.

Begin by mixing several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter into your native soil. Check your soil moisture every few days and water when the top inch becomes dry. You’ll be doing your garden a favor if you install and use a foliar feeding with compost juice or Medina Hasta Gro. Harvest the leaves once your plant is 6 to 8 inches tall; avoid harvesting any more than one-third of the plant at a time.

Lemon balm is a must-have plant in your herb garden (in my opinion). For a small purchase price, you will reap a wealth of health benefits. It is so easy to grow, like other members of the mint family, that not green thumb is necessary.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

References

  1. David O. Kennedy, Wendy Little, Andrew B. Scholey, National Library of Medicine, Attenuation of laboratory-induced stress in humans after acute administration of Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm), https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15272110/
  2. Andrew Scholey, et al., MDPI, Anti-Stress Effects of Lemon Balm-Containing Foods, https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/6/11/4805/htm
  3. WebMD.com, Health Benefits of Lemon Balm, https://www.webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-lemon-balm#1
  4. Marzieh Akbarzadeh, US National Library of Medicine, Effect of Melissa officinalis Capsule on the Intensity of Premenstrual Syndrome Symptoms in High School Girl Students, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4557408/

6 Plants That Repel Mosquitos

How to Design Your Garden and Landscaping to Get Rid of Pests

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Lemon balm in the garden
Lemon balm in the garden
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Here in South Texas, mosquitos are just a fact of life. They are bad for people; they’re bad for pet dogs and cats, and they’re just pests. Dennis Prager once said when he gets to heaven he’s going to ask God, “Why?” Good point. But, while we have to live with them, we will talk about 6 plants that do a good job of repelling mosquitos whether you are having a barbeque or just enjoying your backyard deck. For best results, stick with an organic feeding program.

  • Lemon balm. As you can see in the picture above, this is a fine-looking plant. This is a member of the mint family that gets its distinct scent from citronellal. This is an oil that has some of the same properties as citronella, one of which is the ability to repel mosquitoes. It’s an easy species to grow. Lemon balm is a perennial (more bang for your buck) that, like mint, can become invasive and take over your whole flower bed or vegetable garden. It likes full sun to part shade and adequate water. The leaves can be used as a tea.
  • Citronella grass. The active ingredient here is the essential oil that’s used to make insect-repellent candles. Be sure you’re planting the tall spiky grass Cymbopogon nardus, and not “citronella plant” (Pelargonium citrosum), which is a kind of geranium that smells similar but doesn’t offer the same mosquito-repelling oils. It likes partial sun and moist, loamy dirt, so water it every day, especially if you’re growing it as a container species. It’s a perennial in tropical climates but it still can be grown as an annual in colder places.


  • Basil. The anecdotal evidence says it helps control mosquitoes but the studies are on-going. If you like pesto but veer away from grocery store prices, keep several basil plants in your garden and prune them regularly to keep them from going to seed. Also, why not whip up some Creamy Parmesan Basil Chicken? Basil thrives in full sun and moist soil.
  • Catnip. The active ingredient here is nepetalactone, the essential oil that gives catnip its smell. It’s also a member of the mint family and grows best in full sun and well-drained soil, but will tolerate partial sun and almost any type of soil if that’s what you are working with.


  • Lavender. Who doesn’t love lavender? Anecdotal evidence and tests on lavender essential oil indicate that mosquitoes shun this plant. Some people dry the flowers and make or buy lavender and cedar sachets to ward off mosquitos and moths. Grow it in full sun and drier soil. You only need to water it once or twice weekly in the growing season. It is a perennial species, so expect it to come back yearly.
  • Peppermint. Yet another member of the wonderful mint family. It’s the essential oil that works the mosquito magic. It is related to the lemon balm and has essentially the same care requirements. It likes lots of sun and water. It does well in a pot; in your flower bed, it will want to take over. I like it in tea and add it to my freshly-ground coffee. What a way to start the day!

So there you have it; 6 plants that repel mosquitos, look good, and serve other purposes. They won’t eliminate these outdoor pests completely but you can certainly cut down on those toxic insecticides.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Running in the Heat & Humidity

Working Out in Hot Weather Can Lead to Dehydration and Heat Stroke

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Running in the summer heat
Running in the summer heat
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If there’s one thing runners in Texas understand, it’s heat. Some seem to tolerate it more than others, but too much of it can be deadly. Have you ever wondered exactly how and why it affects you like it does? OK; let’s look into that. It’s a completely different animal than cold weather running. Here are factors to focus on.

  • Thermoregulation. This concept involves maintaining adequate heat production and sufficient heat dissipation; a balancing act, essentially. Your normal skin temp: 33°C (91°F), range 32-35°C. MedlinePlus.gov says, “Some studies have shown that the “normal” body temperature can have a wide range, from 97°F (36.1°C) to 99°F (37.2°C). A temperature over 100.4°F (38°C) most often means you have a fever caused by an infection or illness.”1 But during strenuous exercise the body’s heat production may exceed 1000 W. Some of the heat produced is stored, raising body core temperature by a few degrees. Evaporation of your sweat and an increased skin blood flow are highly-effective mechanisms for the dissipation of heat from the body, however dehydration hampers your ability to sweat and lose body heat.
  • Exercise. Your core temperature increases during exercise in relationship to exercise intensity. Obviously, a slow, easy run will have less effect than speedwork. Heat production is 15-20 times greater than when you are at rest. It has been said that it’s a blessing in the wintertime, and a curse in the summer. Why is it harder to get a head of steam up on hot days? As much as 70% of energy produced is released as heat instead of energy for muscles. This causes an increase in core body temperature by 1°C for every 5 minutes of exercise without heat loss.
  • Heat and humidity. Your heart rate increases up to 10 beats per minute when the temperature is in the range 75-90°F. Your heart rate increases up to additional 10 bpm when humidity is 50-90% because of decreased evaporation. Your performance can decrease by ~20% when temps are above 80°F.


  • Heat dissipation. What areas of body are most important for heat dissipation? Your forehead for one Do you wear a bandana or a cap? Your upper limbs, trunk, and lower limbs are next in line. I’m a big fan of going shirtless or wearing a wicking or cooling shirt like the one below.

Heat is transported by blood from muscles to skin primarily by sweating. This is the first step in the cooling, evaporation process. 75% of evaporated fluids comes from your skin and 25% from respiration (breathing). ScienceDirect.com tells us, “In humans, roughly 1.6 to 5 million sweat glands are found in the skin, and the amount varies between individuals as well as anatomic sites. The region with greatest sweat gland density is the palms and soles of the feet, which contain 600–700 sweat glands/cm2. The primary function of sweat glands is to keep the core body temperature at approximately 37 °C by releasing sweat in a hot environment or during physical activity.”2 So, your soles don’t help matters much. We sweat an average of 1.4 L/hr (max 3 L/hr). Don’t forget to re-hydrate. By the time you get thirsty you are already behind the ball. Use a large water bottle; fill it with filtered water before you leave home.

Your body also dissipates heat by increased skin blood flow (convection). It transfers heat from your core to your skin and stimulates the sweat response.



  • Heat related illnesses. According to the CDC, “Heat-related deaths and illnesses are preventable. Despite this fact, more than 600 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat every year.”3 There are 3 main types of heat-related illness that get progressively more serious. The first is heat cramps-sharp stabbing pain typically in legs or diaphragm. This is caused by electrolyte deficiencies/imbalances. The common treatment is to stop running, ingest a sports drink to replace fluids/electrolytes, and cool your body. The second illness is exertional hyperthermia. Symptoms are a core temp 39-40°C (102.2-104.0°F); excess sweating causing fluid volume loss of 6-10% of your body weight; headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and an elevated heart rate (a real issue for those with high blood pressure). The treatment? all the things mentioned above plus cooling the body via immersion and elevating feet above level of the heart. The third illness is exertional heatstroke. This is characterized by all of the symptoms mentioned above plus core body temperature greater than 40.5°C (104.9°F), mental changes such as confusion, disorientation, and loss of consciousness. Seizures and coma are also likely, and in especially bad cases, death. Treatment includes all of the above but do not take fluids if unconscious/severely disoriented/seizing, etc.
  • Are there risks factors for developing a heat related illness? You bet! These include low fitness level, dehydration, being unacclimated to heat and humidity, overweight/obese (BMI or Body Mass Index greater than 27), medications or supplements, and even lack of sleep.
  • Prevention methods. The first thing to do is be realistic and adjust your pace. Refer to this chart.
Running pace adjustment due to heat and humidity
Running pace adjustment due to heat and humidity

Take walking breaks regularly and often, especially during your weekend long run. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Thirst is not an accurate indicator of dehydration but increased HR and dark urine are. Your body absorbs liquids best when they’re cold (40℉ is ideal); cold fluids will also help reduce your core temperature. Take liquids with electrolytes, eat small amounts of foods w/sodium 12 hrs before running. Acclimate yourself to warmer weather beginning in the spring. 2 weeks of moderate intensity exercise, 30-100 min in duration in the heat, is a good rule of thumb. Keep to a regular schedule; adaptations can be lost in as little as 10 days. Trade in your hat for a visor.

These are the basics of running in the heat and humidity. A little common sense and precautions can go a long way. Above all, have fun; running is good for the soul!

References

  1. MedlinePlus.gov, Body temperature norms, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001982.htm
  2. ScienceDirect.com, Sweat Gland, https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/sweat-gland
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Extreme Heat, https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/index.html

Further Reading


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

8 Benefits of Hibiscus Tea

And How to Grow Hibiscus for Tea at Home

by Kelly R. Smith

Dried hibiscus flowers for healthy tea
Dried hibiscus flowers for healthy tea
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Hibiscus tea (sometimes called “sour tea”) might not be so well known in the USA but it certainly is in other parts of the world. I’ve been drinking it for a few years now, both for the taste and the health benefits; it’s another item in my toolbox to keep my blood pressure in a reasonable range.. I add it to the grounds of my cold brew coffee maker, sometimes with fresh mint from my garden. Yeah, I know; wild, living on the edge. There are several hundred species of hibiscus plants that vary by the location and climate they are grown in, but Hibiscus sabdariffa or roselles is most commonly used to make hibiscus tea. As a bonus, they are stunning in tropical landscape plantings. But we are here to talk about the health benefits of hibiscus tea.

Health Benefits of Hibiscus Tea

  • It lowers blood pressure. This is a big one for me. All blood pressure medications have side effects. For me, I take lisinopril, an ACE inhibitor. It causes coughing and the feeling of being lethargic. Rebekah Edwards says, “A 2013 review by the University of Arizona discovered that hibiscus tea is used in 10 or more countries as a normal hypertension treatment without any reported adverse events or side effects — except in extremely high doses.”1
  • It’s packed with antioxidants. What are antioxidants? They are molecules that help fight compounds we call free radicals, which inflict damage to your cells. The National Library of medicine noting their study says, “Hibiscus anthocyanin extract has reducing power that is approximately 2-fold that of the synthetic antioxidant, butylated hydroanisole.”2 Other than hibiscus, many other foods contain them; tart cherries are a good example.


  • It supports healthy cholesterol and triglycerides. Dyslipidemia is a type of disorder that is characterized by noticeable changes in plasma lipids or lipoproteins, including two you are probably familiar with: cholesterol and triglycerides. As with blood pressure, hibiscus tea’s ability to reduce high “blood lipids” also extends to those with diabetes. A 2009 study had diabetes patients drink hibiscus tea two times a day for a full month and they found a significant increase in HDL (good) cholesterol and a marked decrease in total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • It may help to lower blood fat levels. The National Library of medicine citing a study of sour tea (ST) and black tea (BT) says, “The results of the present study showed that ST has a significant effect on blood lipid profile in patients with diabetes.”3 Many studies have shown that hibiscus tea reduces blood cholesterol and triglycerides in people suffering from diabetes and metabolic syndrome. That said, other studies have shown conflicting results. Obviously, more research is needed in the general population.
  • It prevents oxidative stress. Like most healthy teas on the market, hibiscus is chock full of antioxidants that combat free radical damage caused by substandard nutrient diets and frequent exposure to dangerous chemicals. These antioxidants are found primarily in the anthocyanins of the plant, the natural pigments that give this flower its brilliant red color.
  • It may boost liver health. Your liver is essential to your overall health. Some of its jobs include producing proteins, secreting bile, and breaking down fat. One small human research study found that supplementing with hibiscus tea raised the antioxidant load in the bloodstream as well as reducing compounds that contribute to oxidative stress that damages cells.
  • It shows promise in fighting certain cancers. Although this idea is only starting to gain traction, there is already some evidence to support hibiscus tea’s anticancer power. It has been shown that hibiscus extracts cause apoptosis, or cell death, in leukemia cells. Although the exact mechanisms behind this aren’t clear as of yet, this could be a promising step in the ever-going fight against leukemia, which affects about a quarter of the children and adolescents currently struggling with cancer.
  • It reduces obesity and related risks. How? Human and animal studies have found a link between hibiscus tea and an elevated metabolism. Hibiscus extract may even inhibit you from absorbing as much starch and sucrose as you might from a typical meal. One study in particular gave 36 overweight participants either hibiscus extract or a placebo. After 12 weeks, hibiscus extract reduced body weight, body fat, body mass index and hip-to-waist ratio


Growing and Preparing Hibiscus for Tea at Home

Test your soil pH in a well-draining area that receives full sun at least six months before planting if possible, and, if needed, amend it using elemental sulfur or dolomitic lime to adjust the pH to between 6.1 and 7.8. The do best in humus-rich soil and full sunlight.

Harvest your flowers after they have bloomed. You want the calyxes (the main body of the flower). They should snap right off. Once you have your harvest, complete the steps to prepare and dry them. This video explains it in detail.

How to process hibiscus flowers for tea

Can you benefit from hibiscus tea? Of course! There’s something for everybody and if you grow your own supply you will save money and be certain it is organic.

Others are Reading

Reference

  1. .Rachael Link, Dr. Axe, Hibiscus Tea: The Antioxidant ‘Therapeutic Agent’ You Should Be Drinking, https://draxe.com/nutrition/hibiscus-tea/
  2. Taofeek O Ajiboye, et al, National Library of medicine, Antioxidant and drug detoxification potentials of Hibiscus sabdariffa anthocyanin extract, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21314460/
  3. Hassan Mozaffari-Khosravi, et al., National Library of medicine, Effects of sour tea (Hibiscus sabdariffa) on lipid profile and lipoproteins in patients with type II diabetes, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19678781/


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Visit Kelly’s profile on Pinterest.

About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

What Happens When You Quit Alcohol

Lower Your Blood Pressure and Cholesterol, Boost Your Immune System

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith
You are now entering the alcohol free zone
You are now entering the alcohol free zone
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This article was updated on 01/09/21.

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Were you one of the ones that woke up on the first morning of the new year and made a New Years resolution to quit drinking alcohol? You’re not alone. It is most likely the one day of the year that the greatest number of people pledge to embrace sobriety. Now you’re wondering what changes you will go through along your new lifestyle path. As with any habit or addiction, it varies from person to person but there are some concepts that are generally accepted.

How Sobriety Changes Your Body

WebMD.com says that if you are used to drinking anything more than one drink per day, “cutting back or quitting may lower your blood pressure, levels of fat called triglycerides, and chances of heart failure. Heavy drinking — at least 15 drinks for men and eight or more for women a week — can take a toll on the organ [liver] and lead to fatty liver, cirrhosis, and other problems. The good news: your liver can repair itself and even regenerate.”1

Whether losing weight was part of your impetus or not, that’s another nice side effect for a variety of reasons. Ditching alcohol means ditching empty calories. Also, since alcohol ramps up your ravenous appetite, you can easier resist impulsive overeating. Liquor also makes you more impulsive, and makes you lose your inhibitions so you are less able to resist the extra fries.



Alcohol and Your Immune System

Any alcohol consumption affects your immune system negatively, and the more you drink, the worse it gets. The US National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health Search says, “Clinicians have long observed an association between excessive alcohol consumption and adverse immune-related health effects such as susceptibility to pneumonia. This issue of Alcohol Research: Current Reviews (ARCR) summarizes the evidence that alcohol disrupts immune pathways in complex and seemingly paradoxical ways. These disruptions can impair the body’s ability to defend against infection, contribute to organ damage associated with alcohol consumption, and impede recovery from tissue injury.”2 And as we now know, many COVID-19 deaths are related to or precipitated by pneumonia.

Alcohol also alters the numbers of microbes in your microbiome and the structure and integrity of your gut are altered with alcohol intake. This is comprised mainly of your prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics.

When you stop consuming alcohol, you start rebuilding your microbiome. There’s no way to know how much time is needed to rebuild your gut, of course, since each person’s microbiome is unique — but eating a diet that is high in fiber (such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains) along with probiotic foods (yogurt and kimchi) can help you on your path to getting your gut healthy again.

Changes to Your Brain

There are known physical consequences resulting from heavy alcohol use. Two examples are liver damage and high blood pressure. Alcohol use at any level, however, also has its down side for your brain. It causes mental fog, anxiety, loneliness, and mood changes. Once you wean yourself off the bottle, your brain can begin the healing process and restore your brain’s natural function.

Your brain’s frontal lobe is responsible for a number of critical functions including reasoning, behavior control, memory, and motor function. The lobe takes a heavy hit when you drink to excess. Renewal Lodge has some good news though. They say, “Rational decision making and impulse control are crucial in fighting addiction, and luckily these powerful functions of the brain will return as you begin to heal.”3

Another thing that indulgence in spirits does is to create a complex imbalance of dopamine in your brain. A release of dopamine happens when you are involved in activities that you find pleasurable, such as eating candy, drinking coffee, or playing sports, and it teaches your brain what actions to repeat, and eventually, to crave. Insidious, yes?

Alcohol use overwhelms your brain with dopamine but it also reduces your brain’s dopamine receptors at the same time. When at first you stop drinking, the absence of dopamine along with diminished receptors may lead to feelings of sadness and hopelessness. The good news is that over time your brain will begin to normalize the dopamine levels as well as your brain’s response to it without the presence of alcohol.

An Experiment of One

Doing the research for this article, it all sounded fascinating. The fact that we are all so different means that these effects of going sober should be highly individualized. I decided to throw my hat into the arena as a test subject. I will be reporting on a weekly basis.

A couple of things to mention here; whether they matter or not I do not know but I’ll throw them out there. I am taking Lisinopril, an ACE inhibitor, and a diuretic, to control high blood pressure. Also, I have been doing intermittent fasting for about three months now

  • Week One. The first thing I noticed was having a hard time getting sleepy in the evenings. Even after a couple servings of camomile tea and a melatonin supplement, I didn’t feel ready to go to bed until midnight. Even at that, it took an hour or so to drift off. My dreams were very vivid and indulging in a bit of lucid dreaming way fun. In the mornings I was very groggy. Where’s my espresso?
  • Week Two. I’m still having a hard time getting to that sleepy state in the evenings. The good thing is that when I do lay down, I fall asleep very quickly, not so much “chattering monkey” in my head keeping me awake. I have more energy during the day.
  • Week Three. I’m getting sleepy earlier, going to bed earlier, and falling asleep faster. My Garmin GPS watch also monitors my sleep. I used to always register more “light sleep” than “deep sleep” but now that has reversed. Dreams are still fun. In addition to no alcohol, I’m using my blue-light blocking glasses at the computer consistently (Blue-light messes with your natural melatonin, and so, your sleep cycle).
Garmin GPS watch sleep analysis
Garmin GPS watch sleep analysis
  • Week Four. Sleep is now stabilized and I have more energy during the day. I’ve lost 5 pounds, a bit more than 1 per week! My energy level has been increasing steadily. I’m back to my stretching routine twice a day and I’m averaging 22,000 steps per day. 4 to 7 miles of that is walking my black-mouth cur, Frankie. That’s him in my author bio below. My average resting heart rate is 70. My VO2 Max has gone from 27 ml/kg/min to 28 ml/kg/min. This is the maximum amount of oxygen you can utilize during exercise. It’s commonly used to test aerobic endurance or cardiovascular fitness. So, an upward trend. That’s a good thing. All this is just more data I’m getting from my Garmin GPS watch. For anyone who likes to track and analyze dieting or fitness progress, an instrument like this is essential to gain an insight on what is working and what areas you need to work on.

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens during week five after I quit drinking alcohol. Check back.

You Will Also be Interested In


References

  1. WebMD.com, What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Drinking Alcohol, https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/ss/slideshow-quit-alcohol-effects
  2. Dipak Sarkar, M. Katherine Jung, H. Joe Wang, Alcohol and the Immune System, The US National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health Search, Alcohol and the Immune System, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590612/
  3. Renewal Lodge, 5 Ways Quitting Drinking Affects Your Brain, https://www.renewallodge.com/5-ways-quitting-drinking-affects-your-brain/


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Synbiotics; What Does It All Mean?

by Kelly R. Smith

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The health benefits of probiotics
The health benefits of probiotics

This article was updated on 10/26/20.

Everywhere we turn nowadays we hear about probiotics. But what about prebiotics and synbiotics? Actually, they all work hand in hand. Here’s the rundown.

  • Probiotics. WebMD says, “Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for you, especially your digestive system. We usually think of these as germs that cause diseases. But your body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are often called ‘good’ or “helpful” bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy.” When you lose the “good” bacteria that inhabit your gut, after you take antibiotics for example, probiotics can help replace them. The two main types are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. You can get them through dairy and supplements.
  • Prebiotics. The Mayo Clinic tells us, “Prebiotics are specialized plant fibers. They act like fertilizers that stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.” They are found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, mostly those that are rich complex carbohydrates, such as fiber and resistant starch. These carbs aren’t digestible by your body, so they pass through the digestive system to become food for the bacteria and other microbes. When your balance is off it can affect your metabolism.
  • Synbiotics. ScienceDirect says, “Synbiotics are a combination of prebiotics and probiotics that are believed to have a synergistic effect by inhibiting the growth of pathogenic bacteria and enhancing the growth of beneficial organisms.” Evidence suggests that synbiotics influence the microbial ecology in our intestines. This is true in both humans and animals and synbiotics play a role in alleviating various illnesses.

Knowing what we know about prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics it becomes clear that we should maintain our diet with various types of foods in mind, organic whenever possible. This includes milk, cheese, fermented foods like kimchi and kombucha, whole grains, miso, fruits, and vegetables.

Benefits of Probiotics

  • Improves immune function. They assist in the treatment and/or prevention of many common conditions. Some of these include diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease.
  • Protects against hostile bacteria to prevent infection. Under normal (balanced) conditions, your friendly bacteria in your gut outnumber the unfriendly ones. Probiotics stand duty as gut-beneficial bacteria that create a physical barricade against legions of unfriendly bacteria.
  • Improves digestion and absorption of food and nutrients.
  • Counters the negative effects of antibiotics. When you contract a bacterial infection, antibiotics are most often prescribed to as the immediate solution. That’s a Godsend, but unfortunately, nothing good comes free, and antibiotics kill bacteria arbitrarily, decimating both good and bad bacteria in your intestinal tract. By eliminating beneficial bacteria, your body is susceptible to a number digestive issues. Myself, when I go to the grocery store to have an antibiotic prescription filled, I also stock up on yogurt with active cultures.
  • Boosts heart health.
  • Lowers cholesterol. Probiotics contain bacteria that are effective in lowering total and LDL (bad) cholesterol. Taylor Francis Online says, “Numerous clinical studies have concluded that BSH-active probiotic bacteria, or products containing them, are efficient in lowering total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol.”

Others are reading:

References


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Cosori Automatic Coffee Warmer Review

Sip Perfectly All Day in Your Home Office

by Kelly R. Smith

Cosori automatic coffee/tea warmer
Cosori automatic coffee/tea warmer
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This article was updated on 12/28/20.

If there’s one thing I have to have first thing in the morning is a hot, steaming cup of Black Rifle coffee. The problem I used to have is that it quickly cools off. Then I remembered back to when I was a software engineer for NASA. We were putting in some long hours (requirement drift) on the IMARS project that definitely called for copious quantities of caffeine.

My co-worker Mike had a coffee warmer on his desk. I thought, why not? So I bought the one pictured above. Problem solved. I have enjoyed it consistently since I bought it but especially during the winter.

Features of the Cosori Coffee/Tea Warmer

  • Simple button control. All you need is the on/off, raise temperature, and lower temperature buttons.
  • The digital temperature read-out is large and easy to see (I take my glasses off at my desk in my home office).
  • It’s available in two models — the one with only the warmer and another one that comes with a stainless steel mug. I opted for just the warmer because many of the Amazon reviews mentioned that metal conveys too much heat to the lips. As you might imagine, you need a mug with a flat bottom rather than that ridge around the edge. I found one at Walmart on the cheap.
  • It’s easy to switch between Centigrade and Fahrenheit.
  • The heating surface is 3 1/2 inches across, enough real estate to accommodate most mugs.
  • It is called automatic because of a button, called a gravity induction switch, on the bottom. When the weight of the mug is on the surface the switch depresses and the warmer surface remains active. Pick up the mug and the read-out will flash. The temperature will be maintained for 60 seconds.
  • It automatically turns off after 8 hours as a safety feature. Surprisingly, many other brands do not have this feature. Yes, I did my homework; I’m one of those poor souls that can easily get side-tracked.
  • It is made of brushed stainless steel rather than plastic so it won’t eventually warp and discolor from the heat.

The verdict? I’ve been using this Cosori automatic coffee warmer every morning for a long time now; about 6 months since I posted the initial review. No troubles and it works as advertised. Thumbs up. Yes, I could have saved a few bucks but the features listed above swayed me. And my after-lunch caffeine fix? I have a mug of cold brew coffee. The cooled-off Cosori makes a nice coaster.



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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Zulay Cold Brew Coffee Maker – Product Review

by Kelly R. Smith

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Zulay Cold Brew Coffee Maker
Zulay Cold Brew Coffee Maker

This article was updated on 09/30/20.

If you’re anything like me, you like your coffee. I typically enjoy a brobdingnagian mug or two in the morning in my home office and another in the afternoon. Sure, a lot of people favor Starbucks, and there are 2 very close to me, but that’s not my style. My wife is the same way and we are going through quite a bit of coffee since we are both working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sometimes I prefer my afternoon cuppa from the Zulay cold Brew coffee maker.

I like this slow brewer. I’ve been using it for about 8 months now so I’ve got it down. Joking there; you can’t make a coffee brewing mistake because it’s very easy to use. It only has the 3 components as you can see in the photo above. The carafe, the stainless steel filter, and the lid.

Key Features of the Zulay Cold Coffee Maker

  • BPA-free
  • FDA-cleared
  • Shock-proof glass, brews cold or hot coffee
  • Dual silicone seals
  • Stainless steel filter, the mesh perforations are tiny enough for fine grinds
  • Doesn’t take up too much room in the refrigerator
  • Easy to clean
  • Anti-slip silicone base

Preparing the Cold Brew Coffee

  • This is a fairly simple process. For best results, start with whole coffee beans and grind them right before using. I use Black Rifle Coffee. It’s made in small batches and isn’t roasted until you order it.
  • Stick the filter into the mouth of the carafe. Fill the filter about 3/4 of the way with the grounds. I typically layer mine — coffee, fresh mint leaves from my herb garden, crumbled cinnamon stick, more coffee.
  • Pour filtered water into the filter. I usually go above the top mark on the carafe.
  • Stick on the cap.
  • Put the carafe into your refrigerator and wait at least 12 hours.

There you have it. I highly recommend the Zulay cold brew coffee maker. It is sturdy, has high-quality components and is reasonably priced. If you are curious and want to learn more about coffee and how it has shaped culture and society, check out Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World. Here is my book review.

This site is free of course, but I would appreciate it if you would take a moment to participate in the poll on the right-hand sidebar of this page. Nothing to buy and no data-harvesting; I’m just conducting some research for a follow-up article. Thanks!



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Visit Kelly’s profile on Pinterest.


About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Brewing the Perfect Cup of Coffee

Avoid Making These Mistakes With Your Caffeine Fix

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Cup of coffee and coffee beans
Love a hot cup of coffee!
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This article was updated on 03/26/21.

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Coffee; there’s nothing like it, whether when waking up to a breakfast of toast made with homemade bread, taking a social break, of settling a satisfying dinner. It seems so easy but many people make the following mistakes when brewing the perfect cup of coffee. Don’t be that guy or gal.

Using Water from the Faucet

Tap water can be full of impurities and various minerals. This is not to say that it will make you sick, but there is a strong possibility that it will throw the flavor of your java off and deposit scale in your coffee pot. Instead of using tap water, use bottled spring water or filtered water.

Buying Grocery Store Cold Brew Coffee

This is convenient but expensive. Why? I’m guessing because it’s trendy with the hipsters. Instead, invest in a good quality cold brew coffee maker. Then you can spend that big money on high-quality beans. I use the Zulay cold coffee maker (there’s a link to my product review at the bottom of this page). This allows me to amend the grounds with cinnamon and fresh mint from my garden. Complete control.



Purchasing Pre-Ground Beans

OK, in today’s busy world, you might not want to take the time to grind up some beans in the morning. Just grind it before you go to bed the night before. It will still be great in the morning. Why is this important? Many of the aromas contained in coffee are volatiles. This means they are in a gas form and they are imprisoned in the cells of the beans. But when you grind the beans, these gasses are liberated. Ground coffee from the store, whether it is Free Trade or not, has lost aromas 40 times faster than whole beans by the time you see it. This is why a home grinder is a must-have for someone whose java is near and dear to them.

What Kind of Grinder? I’m Confused.

There are basically two kinds of coffee grinders, blade grinders and burr grinders. The blade models have just that–blades, similar to your blender. Of course they are the less expensive of the two.  

Burr grinders utilize two revolving abrasive surfaces (the burrs), in between which the coffee is ground, a few beans at a time. Coffee aficionados will pick burr grinders over blades every time. The reason is that that the beans are ground in a uniform size, the machine is sturdier and will last longer, and you have more control over your grind than you do with a blade. I use the Capresso 560.01 Infinity. It has commercial-grade solid conical steel burrs with advanced cutting design. And the price is reasonable.

Using a Cold Coffee Cup/Mug

This one is a no-brainer, right? There is no sense in having a hot beverage if you are just going to pour it into a container that is going to cool it off. So pre-heat your cup!

You can either pour boiling water into it or pour cold water into it and microzap it for 45 seconds or so. Either way you will be off to a good start. I work out of my home office and use a small heated coaster (a Cosori Automatic Coffee Warmer) on my desk to keep my brew hot so I can drink it sloooowly.

Not Using the Correct Sugar and Milk

OK, if you’ve made it this far in the article, you are serious about your cuppa Joe. There’s no point in not doing it right all the way. Now, I am a stickler about drinking mine black and strong but I realize that many of you like the milk and sugar thing. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld would say.)

As far as the sugar goes, raw sugar (turbinado sugar) simply tastes better than white sugar. As for milk, put away the skim, nonfat, or 2% stuff; it will just water down your brew. Instead opt for whole milk or half-and-half. It won’t add that much cholesterol to your diet. If that’s a concern, ask your doctor about statins. A good cup is worth it.

Storing Coffee Beans in the Wrong Place

A popular misconception is that the freezer is a good place to store your coffee beans and grounds. That might sound logical but it doesn’t work that way, no matter what Grandma said.

Ideally, they should be stored in a cool, dry place. They will remain in tip-top shape for 1-3 weeks in your pantry if you should store them in an airtight opaque container. They degrade quickly in the presence of light, heat, or oxygen. In our home, we enjoy Black Rifle Coffee. A new package arrives in the mail every other week.

So there you have it. Following these tips will ensure that you don’t make the most common mistakes brewing the perfect cup of coffee. And it never hurts to buy organic coffee beans.

Further Reading


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.