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Information About Nutrients and Herbs - Uses, Benefits

1. LACTOBACILLUS

This is the comprehensive name for a group of bacteria in the intestines. They are non-motile, do not producespores and are acid resistant. They convert carbohydrates to lactic acid in the intestines, and are used to sour milk and make yogurts. The family of Lactobacillus include, for example, Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Lactobacillus Bulgaricus.

2. LACTOFERRIN

An iron-binding enzyme in milk which is also made in the human body by immune cells such as neutrophils and macrophages, lactoferrin inhibits microbial growth by depriving germs of the iron needed for their growth. Abundantly found in mother's milk, lactoferrin is part of the protection that breast feeding gives the baby against gastrointestinal infections. Cow's milk contains much lesser amounts of lactoferrin than mother's milk and commercial formulas even less.

Lactoferrin slows down the growth of many kinds of microbes and some yeasts, and can also directly kill some bacteria. It also enhances the effect of antibiotic drugs thus enabling lower doses to be used. Lactoferrin is presently beginning to be available by means of recombinant gene technology, that is, by combining genetic material from different sources. Although so far no negative side effects have been observed, it should be used cautiously until more results are available.

3. LACTOSE, LACTOSE INTOLERANCE

Lactose is milk sugar obtained from the evaporation of cow's mille As a disaccharide, it is made up of glucose and galactose. In the souring of milk (as in the production of yogurt), lactose is converted to lactic acid. The milk of mammals contains between 4 and7 per cent lactose, which cannot be absorbed as such. To absorb lactose, newborns have to secrete the enzyme lactase which breaks down lactose to its components, glucose and galactose, which are absorbable. However, after weaning and growing to adulthood, many people lose their ability to secrete lactase and cannot therefore digest milk or dairy products. This condition is known as 'lactose intolerance' and affects some 70-90 per cent of oriental, black, native American and Mediterranean adults, whereas the rate among northern and western Europeans is as low as 15 per cent.

The symptoms of lactose intolerance include abdominal discomfort, bloating and diarrhoea in response to drinking even small amounts of milk. For people with lactose intolerance who wish to drink milk, the enzyme lactase is obtainable from some health food shops as a supplement.

4. LAUREL, BAY TREE (LAURUS NOB/us)

An evergreen tree that grows wild in European and Mediterranean countries, the laurel is cultivated for its leathery, lanceolate leaves and fruit. Commonly known asbay leaves, they are used as a flavouring in cooking, but they are astringent and can also be used to stimulate digestion and relieve flatulence. The essential oil (available trom larger health food stores in the aroma therapy section) made from the fruit and leaves are used for the relief of rheuma­tism, bruises and skin problems.

5. LAVENDER (LAVENDULA OFFICINALIS)

A native of the Mediterranean regions, lavender is an evergreen shrub that has for many centuries been widely cultivated for its aromatic flowers. An infusion or the essential oil of the scented flowers is a sedative, and can be used to alleviate cramps and muscle pain. It is also used to treat flatulence, headaches and dizziness. Lavender oil is widely used in aromatherapy and perfumery. Available from larger health food stores in the aromatherapy section.

6. LDL (LOW DENSITY LIPOPROTEINS)

These are a dangerous form of cholesterol carrier which transports cholesterol in the bloodstream to the tissues, thus promoting cholesterol deposits, clogging of the arteries, atherosclerosis and heart disease. Lowering LDL levels in the blood can significantly reduce the risk of heart attack

7. LEAD

Lead is a highly toxic element, which even in very small amounts of less than 1 mg a day can be harmful, while larger amounts can be fatal. Its sources in our environment are many and varied: car fumes, industrial emissions, cigarette smoke and lead-based paints in old houses, are just a few. Inhaled lead is the most dangerous because it is absorbed in the body much more efficiendy than ingested lead. Lead attacks the brain causing nervousness, depression, apathy, mental retardation in adults and hyperactivity in children. Higher levels of lead poisoning can cause sterility, hypertension and death. Those most at risk are garage workers, painters, plasterers, and workers in battery plants. There are various nutrients that can help to prevent the build-up of lead in the body. For example, calcium prevents lead accumulation, vitamin C neutralizes lead, vitamin A activates the enzymes that prevent lead absorption and kelp contains sodium alginate, which combines with lead and excretes it through the bowels. Some cases of lead poisoning have been found to respond to penicillamine, a chelating agent that binds with lead, increasing its elimination in the urine.

8. LECITHIN

Lecithin is a waxy substance found in all body cells and in various foods. It is composed mainly of two B vitamins, phosphatidyl choline and phosphatidyl inositol, and the amino acid methionine. Lecithin is vitally essential to the body: 30 per cent of the brain's dry weight, and 73 per cent of the liver's fat are composed of lecithin. As a fatty product, lecithin aids transportation of fat throughout the body and, with cholesterol, produces bile. Lecithin has a remarkable emulsifYing ability. It can help to dissolve minor gallstones, reduce the size of the fatty particles in blood, lower cholesterol levels and prevent atherosclerosis.Lecithin reputed to be a 'brain food' as its ingredient choline is converted in the brain to a neurotransmitter, improving mental function and memory (see CHOLINE). Lecithin supplements can be useful to people engaged in mental work. The best natural sources of lecithin are unrefined, fresh vegetable oils, egg yolks, nuts, seeds and soybeans. Supplemental lecithin made from soybeans is available in granule and capsule forms from health food shops. In the food industry, soybean lecithin is extensively used as an invaluable emulsifier (E322) in such foods as chocolate, confectionery, ice cream and desserts. Lecithin lowers the surface tension of water in these foods, allowing oils and fats to combine with water. In margarine, it prevents water leakage and in breads it is used to increase loaf volume, soften the crust and extend shelf-life

9. LEEK

A vegetable related to the onion, it probably originated in the eastern Mediterranean region. Nowadays, it is popular in northern European countries, especially as flavouring vegetable in soups and casseroles. It has mild astringent qualities which makes it helpful in the treatment of diarrhoea and internal bleeding.

10. LEGUMES (BEANS)

The bean family is a group of highly nutritious foods that is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates and dietary fibre. In addition, beans provide energy and encourage elimination, and are an inexpensive source of protein, B vitamins and minerals such as calcium, potassium and Iron. From a culinary point of view, they are very adaptable and can be prepared in a variety of ways to satisfy most tastes. Sprouted beans (see SPROUTS), which are more easily digested, provide a rich source of vitamin C and enzymes. When combined with grains in the right proportions, legumes can provide a complete protein that is equal to meat in nutritional value. Members of this food group include black, lima, kidney, pinto, adzuki, mung beans and peas, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts and soybeans.

11. LEMON

An excellent source of vitamin C and bioflavonoids, lemons also contain small amounts of calcium, phosphorus, potassium and carotene and, being acidic, can substitute for vinegar in the kitchen. Lemon juice is antiseptic and is a home remedy for many disorders, particularly colds, sore throats, laryngitis, rheumatism, allergies and diarrhoea. It destroys hostile germs, cleanses the blood, promotes weight loss, strengthens weak blood vessels and aids digestion when taken before meals. Lemon juice is normally used by blending the juice of two average-size lemons with water, to which honey can be added to make it less sharp. A course of lemon juice treatment can dissolve kidney stones and gravel when taken on an empty stomach. In this case, the juice of between 5-10 lemons should be dissolved in water, which is then sipped throughout the day for a period of 2-4 weeks. Fresh lemon can also be used in salad dressings, as lemonade, or as lemon tea, which is made by adding a littlelemon juice to a glass of hot water. Lemon rind, too, is very useful: it can be used for flavouring or, if sweetened, it can be eaten on its own as a candy, or with the full lemon. To reap the full benefit of the fiuit, it is important to use only fresh lemons, not bottled juice, and to consume them as soon as possible after buying

12. LEMON GRASS (CYMBOPOGON CFTRAVS)

A fragrant tropical grass, it is rich in two volatile (essential) oils, central and citronellal, and some terpenes. It is used mainly for its antiseptic and antibacterial qualities, but it can also be helpful in the treatment of fever. Scientific studies of lemon grass have found the herb to be an effective treatment for flu and cholera. Available from supermarkets and specialist ethnic grocers.

13. LENTILS

Lentils are a mildly flavored legume that come in a great variety of colours and are widely available. India alone produces more than fifty varieties. Generally, however, the green, brown and red varieties are the most commonly used in western countries. All the varieties are a nutritious source of the B vitamins, iron and fibre. Lentils are the quickest cooking of the legumes. They are also used as sprouts.

14. LETTUCE

One of the most popular of the salad vegetables, lettuce is rich in vitamins A and C, chlorophyll, iron, potassium and silicon. The darker-leafed varieties contain about six times as much vitamin A and have three times the vitamin C content of the paler varieties such as iceberg. They are also a better source of potassium. Lettuce can be used to increase the production of mother's milk, improve urination and help in the treatment of haemorrhoids. Lettuce leaves contain a bitter principle (lactucarium) which is an excellent sedative. A large dish of fresh lettuce leaves eaten before bedtime can calm nervousness and induce sleep.

15. LEUCINE

Leucine is one of the essential amino acids fundamental to the utilization of protein in the body. It is also one of the three branched chain amino acids and, as such, is used by the body to build and repair muscle tissue. It is also recommended for convalescence after a period of being bed-ridden. Since leucine lowers blood sugar levels, it must be taken in moderation as it can adversely affect hypoglycaemia.

16. LICORICE (GLYCYRRHlZA GLABRA

A perennial herb native to southern Europe and Asia, it is also cultivated elsewhere for its root which contains a glycoside (glycyrrhizin) that acts like a mild cortisone. As it is fifty times sweeter than sugar, it is often used to sweetenmedicines and also as a flavouring agent. Traditionally, Middle Eastern Arabs used it to prepare a strong infusion called 5005, which was served cool and used to help digestive disorders. Licorice tea, or as an infusion, is diuretic and mildly lax­ative. It is also an expectorant and is used to relieve phlegm. As such, it is commonly used for colds, coughs and mucous congestions. Licorice is also a soothing, emollient herb that can be helpful in healing peptic ulcers. In addition, licorice root, which contains oestrogen precursors, is used in Asian countries for female problems such as irregular menstrua­tion. Licorice is available in health food shops in powder and capsule form, and also as syrups and candies.

17. LlGNINS

Lignins are types of fibre found mainly in plant foods such as whole grains, beans, peas, carrots, tomatoes and potato. They have various beneficial effects, such as anti­cancer, antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal activity. They can also help to lower high cholesterol levels and prevent the formation of gallstones by binding with the bile acids. Plant lignins are converted in the intestines into two compounds, enterolactone and enterodiol, which protect from cancer. They are especially beneficial in preventing cancer of the colon and breast cancer.

18. LILY OF THE VALLEY (CONVALLARlA MAjAUS)

A perennial plant found growing wild in Europe and North America in damp, shady places, lily of the valley is also a popular garden plant. It is antispasmodic and diuretic, but is mainly recommended as a heart tonic that can safely strengthen the heart. In larger doses, it can act as a laxative. Available at health food stores and herbalists.

Caution: Lily of the valley should be used only under m.edical supervision. It contains glycosides which, if taken inincorrect doses, can cause irregular heartbeat and upset stomach.

19. LINDEN (TIUA EUROPAEA)

Also known as lime, this tall, deciduous tree is native to many parts of the northern hemisphere, particularly Europe and North America. An infusion of the leaves and bark is pleasandy aromatic and can be used as a mild sedative. Linden infusions also promote perspiration and are a traditional home remedy for colds, coughs and sore throats. They can also be used as a gargle. Linden flowers produced as a tea provide a delicious and relaxing remedy for stress conditions and it is especially good as a bedtime drink. Available at health food stores

20. LIPIDS

A general descriptive term for any group of fats or fat-like substances found in the body. This term includes free fatty acids, triglycerides, cholesterol, bile acids, phospholipids and lipoids. Unless protected by antioxidant nutrients and enzymes, lipids are easily oxidized in the body creating dangerous superoxides and free radicals that attack cells and DNA, and cause heart disease, cancer and other degenerative diseases of agemg.

21. LIPOIC ACID

A once obscure nutrient, lipoic acid is now rapidly gaining popularity for its many beneficial effects in the body. Lipoic acid, which has many vitamin-like functions, is synthesized in the body, although not always in sufficient quantity. It is a potent antioxidant and a sulphur-containing coenzyme; as such, it is an energizer and plays a vital role in 'burning' blood sugar to energy. It is of benefit to diabetics as it helps to normalize blood sugar levels. Because lipoic acid is both water-soluble and fat-soluble, it is a universal antioxidant and can also enhance the action of other antioxidant vitamins, such as water-soluble vitamin C and fat-soluble vitamin E. By quenching free radicals, lipoic acid protects cells and helps to prevent the various degenerative diseases of ageing such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, cataracts and Alzheimer's disease, along with many others. It is also a chelating agent - that is, it binds to toxic metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury and removes them from the body.

Lipoic acid supplementation can increase energy and slow down the ageing process; supplementation is particularly important in later years, when the synthesis of lipoic acid in the body is reduced. Supplementation can also benefit diabetics. Foods richest in lipoic acid include liver, yeast, spinach, broccoli and tomatoes. However, these foods contain alpha-lipoic acid which is bound to protein (lipoyllysine) and is not as biologically active as the flee alpha-lipoic acid found in supplements which are available in capsule form from health food stores. The normal daily allowance for adults is 20-50 mg.

22. LYCOPENE

The red carotenoid in tomatoes with an exceptional antioxidant action, lycopene has been found by numerous studies to be a powerful quencher of free radicals, stronger even than beta carotene or other carotenes, with outstanding anti-cancer properties. A study published in Anti-Cancer Drngs reported that lycopene increased the number ofT 4 cells and normalized the T 4 and T8 ratio, creating an improved immune function. Lycopene is now available in capsule form as a nutritional supplement from health food shops. A study done at the Aviano Cancer Centre in Italy found that people who eat raw tomatoes at least seven times a week cut their risk of stomach, bladder and colon cancers by half A Japanese study showed that lycopene suppressed the development of breast tumors in mice. Lycopene worked partly by blocking the activity of transforming growth factor alpha, which is known to promote cancer. A recent Harvard University study of various carotenoids showed that increased consumption of lycopene significantly reduced the risk of prostate cancer in men. Lycopene, which incidentally is richer in tomato sauce than in fresh tomatoes, is also used as a colouring (E 160d) in the food industry.

23. LYSINE

An essential amino acid that is needed to form protein in the body, lysine is known to boost the immune system by effectively helping suppress the herpes simplex virus, which manifests in symptoms like mouth blisters and cold sores. Consequently, lysine supplements are now widely recommended for the treatment of herpes. Daily lysine supplements of 500 mg were also found to increase the blood levels of ferritin (an iron-binding protein) in women with iron-deficiency anemia. Lysine is also needed to form collagen, the subskin and connective tissues, and is essential for calcium absorption. Since it is lacking in grains, nuts and seeds, lysine supplements can help to prevent calcium deficiencies, particularly among strict vegetarians and the elderly. Lysine also combines with methionine, to form carnitine, an important amino acid that aids weight reduction and helps to prevent heart disease. Lysine supplements are widely available in health food stores, either on their own or incorporated in specific formulas.

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