At the Herbal Academy of New England, one of our greatest joys is to witness the deepening relationship between the students in our online herbalism programs and the plants and herbs already in their homes—common spices like coriander, cinnamon, thyme, cumin, and clove. Simply by opening a kitchen cabinet, a student steps into the world of herbalism through their own familiar collection of herbs and spices bursting with vibrant and fragrant medicine.
Humans have been pinching, dashing, and tossing herbs and spices into pots and pans since ancient times. Many culinary herbs are high in volatile oils, which aid digestion and relax our nervous systems. Others are rich in antioxidants that offer protection from DNA damage, as well as enhance the activity of the body’s own antioxidant enzymes. Spices like turmeric, clove, rosemary, and ginger contain plant compounds that even in small amounts bring us health and vitality, while creating depth of flavor and preventing spoilage in our food.
A student need not venture even as far as the spice cabinet before encountering a potent herb that is often overlooked as people reach for more exotic healers. But this small, dried berry was once considered exotic, and so rare and expensive that it was kept under lock and key. In times past, it was used as currency, ransom, and sacred offerings.
Black pepper, the king of spices, has been part of Indian cooking and medicinal traditions for thousands of years, and now sits next to almost every saltshaker on countless tables across North America.
Black pepper is the fruit of Piper nigrum (Piperaceae), a vine native to South India and primarily cultivated on India’s Malabar coast, Sumatra, and in Vietnam. It is the most traded spice in the world. Piper nigrum, depending on how it is processed and prepared, produces white, red, orange, green, or black peppercorns, all of which are unique in taste and scent.
Black Pepper in Herbalism
Ayurvedic practitioners use black pepper to improve digestion and to address gastrointestinal problems and colds. Black pepper is also used as a warming herb for kapha imbalances, as well as for headaches, urinary problems, and toothache. Masala chai, a delicious traditional Indian brew, features black peppercorns as well as other common kitchen herbs high in antioxidants like clove and cardamom.
Similarly, Western herbalists use black pepper for cold and flus, as a diaphoretic to stimulate sweating, carminative to help with digestion, anti-inflammatory, and as a diuretic. It is also used to enhance circulation, and is included in preventatives like fire cider, a traditional folk formula of apple cider vinegar infused with kitchen herbs and spices.
The taste of black pepper on the tongue triggers the stomach to release hydrochloric acid, which is needed to digest protein, and stimulates digestive enzymes in the pancreas. Black pepper has been found to significantly enhance the activity of the body’s natural killer cells, and has anti-tumor and anti-mutagenic properties.
Black Pepper Health Concerns
Because not enough information is available to determine safety in pregnant and breastfeeding women, only culinary amounts of black pepper should be used by those who are pregnant and breastfeeding. Black pepper may inhibit drug metabolism so should be used with caution, if at all, by those taking pharmaceutical medications (talk with your doctor). It is not recommended to take pepper in very large amounts—fortunately culinary amounts (1/2 – 1 teaspoon) can be very effective!
There have been some concerns raised about a constituent called safrole, which is found in very small amounts in black pepper as well as other herbs like basil, star anise, nutmeg, and ginger. This constituent was given a bad rap after being isolated and injected in large amounts into rats, who then developed liver cancer. However, injecting large amounts of an isolated plant chemical into a non-human species tells us nothing about the effect on humans who eat small amounts of the whole plant. In contrast, the research data on humans and whole black pepper indicates the opposite: that black pepper is anti-carcinogenic. Regardless, safrole significantly decreases when peppercorns are cooked and dried according to traditional preparation methods.
Black Pepper as Catalyst
Perhaps the most interesting use of black pepper in herbalism is that of catalyst. Catalysts are activator plants that herbalists add in small amounts to formulas to help “direct” the other herbs, enhance their effectiveness, or help the body assimilate them. Often catalysts are strong tasting plants like ginger, cayenne, rosemary, peppermint, and lavender. On the sweeter side, licorice root is a classic catalyst, the great harmonizer of complex herbal brews in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Black pepper’s catalytic action is seen in recent research showing that compounds in black pepper enhance the bioavailability of antioxidant compounds in turmeric by up to 2,000%. Other studies have shown that piperine, a component of black pepper, improves the bioavailability of other substances in food including beta carotene, selenium, pyroxidine, and amino acids.
If the microcosm is a reflection of the macro, we can see black pepper’s strong catalytic action in world history, in the sense that this spice catalyzed Europeans to explore and “discover” new continents and lands across the globe, and led to the development of lucrative major trading ports, including New England’s own Salem, Massachusetts. Black pepper also made the fortune of Elias Haskett Derby, America’s first millionaire.
Black Pepper Ethical Issues
Farmers who cultivate spices like black pepper face increasing challenges from fluctuating market prices, world demand, competition, and irregular weather patterns, all of which create hardship in earning a livable income. Unfortunately, black pepper’s trading price is now lower than it was over 20 years ago and does not meet the cost of production for struggling farmers.
We recommend seeking out black pepper and other spices that are associated with a fair trade cooperative that guarantees minimum premiums for growers. In addition, look for companies that adhere to environmental and cultural standards such as no forced labor, commitment to sustainability practices, and restricted chemical use.
Choosing and Using Black Pepper
To preserve black pepper’s volatile oils, use whole peppercorns and store away from light until you are ready to freshly grind them. Look for peppercorns that are uniform and rich in color, with a strong aroma.
The versatility of black pepper makes it a fine accompaniment for dishes both savory and sweet (strawberries or peaches with black pepper are surprisingly spectacular combinations) and can be added in small amounts to tea, chai, and sprinkled on sandwiches and popcorn. Or try it in Golden Milk, a delicious traditional Indian drink combing turmeric and black pepper.
Taste will vary depending on where the pepper was grown and how it was prepared. My personal favorite is Tellicherry black pepper, grown near Kerala on the Malabar coast of India. Tellicherry peppercorns have a slight sweetness and exotic fruitiness that balances out deeper warmth and pungency.
Marlene Adelmann, our director at the Herbal Academy of New England says that “learning about the medicinal properties of plants is like a gift within a gift, and like turning on a light you didn’t know existed.” We encourage students in our online Intermediate Herbalism Course to turn this light on through a meditative experiential exercise, in which we ask students to experience their kitchen spices as if they are tasting and smelling them for the very first time.
This exercise can present a challenge for students tasting black pepper, a spice so commonly used it is often no longer consciously tasted or experienced. But when approached mindfully and with a curious beginner’s mind, black pepper’s exotic perfume calls to mind distant lands and tropical vines, and its pungent and fruity warmth dazzles the taste buds like no other. Black pepper is truly a gift within a gift, offering us taste and health with every pinch.
Farag, SE, Abo-Zeid, M. Degradation of the natural mutagenic compound safrole in spices by cooking and irradiation. Nahrung. 1997 Dec;41(6):359-61.
Percival, SS, Heuvel, JPV, Nieves, CJ, Montero, C, Migliaccio, AJ, Meadors, J. Bioavailability of Herbs and Spices in Humans as Determined by ex vivo Inflammatory Suppression and DNA Strand Breaks. J Am Coll Nutr. 2012 31(4):288 - 294.
Singh A, Duggal S. Piperine-Review of Advances in Pharmacology. Int J Pharm Sci Nanotechnol 2009; 2:615-20.
Spices and Herbs. Fair Trade International. Web accessed January 31, 2014 from
Srinivasan, K. Black pepper and its pungent principle-piperine: A review of diverse physiological effects. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr, 47(8):735-748, 2007.
Annie Hall is the Assistant Director at the Herbal Academy of New England, the home of the the Online Introductory Herbal Course and the Online Intermediate Herbal Course, and meeting place for Boston area herbalists.
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Maybe it was moments after birth, maybe it was weeks, but you have finally established breastfeeding. You have now decided that for either necessity or leisure, it is time to leave the house and face the world with your precious little one. You’ve got diapers and extra clothes for baby, water and a snack for yourself. And then it hits you, how am I supposed to feed this little one when I am not in the comfort of my own home in my favorite breastfeeding chair with my pillows and my boppy and my breastfriend and my…
Take a deep breath, breastfeeding in various locations need not be stressful. In fact, once you find your comfort zone, you will realize that you can feed anywhere, in any position with and without anyone knowing. So, here are a few tips and approaches to prepare you for your first adventure out with baby. To begin, lets discuss the primary approaches - whip it out, or conceal and cover.
Whip it Out (WIO)
The WIO momma believes that a primary function of the breast is to feed baby and that it should be done whenever and wherever baby expresses hunger. WIO momma will usually lift her shirt up above the breast and get baby started or pull her shirt under the breast. The benefits to this approach is that there are few clothing considerations. For example, a two-piece option, shirt and pants or skirt, will work just as well for feeding as a long dress with a flexible neckline. Another benefit is that no additional equipment or clothing are necessary and when you are having coffee with a friend, there is little to do besides lift and feed. One challenge is that momma will be remonstrating against the status quo system which says breasts should be seen in a bikini or low-cut dress, but never for feeding in public. This popular comic depicts the situation well. But, as a mother, this will not be the first time you must assert yourself and make the best decision for you and baby. The WIO approach provides great training for this.
Conceal and Cover (CC)
Like WIO momma, the CC momma also believes that breasts are perfectly designed to feed her baby and that she can do this anytime baby needs to eat. CC momma, however, wants to protect her breasts from the eyes of others. There are many ways to cover up. The most basic being that when a shirt is lifted to put baby on the breast, momma will either pull the shirt down to where baby’s mouth and nipple meet to cover the breast or use a hand or other piece of clothing to cover the breast. The next level up is draping a receiving or other small blanket over momma’s shoulder and baby’s head. The top level is the official cover, which can be found everywhere from Target to Etsy to the hands of a crafty friend. Covers act like a curtain in which you close up baby from the outside world and with a little ring slipped around mommas neck, they allow momma to look down and watch baby eat. Within the different levels of CC, there are different benefits and challenges. For example, basic CC often draws little attention from others as it usually looks like baby is merely cradled in momma’s arms. While it requires no additional clothing or equipment, type of clothing must be considered as two-piece outfits are a must. A little flash of nipple or breast from time to time is inevitable at this level. Next, blankets are simple enough to carry and to cover up with. As baby gets older, however, baby is likely to want to take the blanket off and blow your cover. In warmer climates or times of the year, a blanket may also be the last thing either party wants draped around themselves. Finally, the official covers are efficient in hiding all that is happening and in ensuring that neither baby nor breast nor nipple will see the light of day. They can, however, be a bit cumbersome with several steps needed to secure them and again in warm weather may not be desirable.Often, covers attract more attention in trying to hide in public than in simply having baby at the breast.
WIO vs. CC
As your public breastfeeding adventure continues, you may find that you are a CC momma in some situations and an WIP momma in others. Or, you may find you are strictly WIO or strictly CC. “Every situation is different for me depending on my mood, baby's mood, where we are, what the weather is like and who we are around. I've done the whip it out in public but I've also covered sitting on my own couch and visa versa, “ says Gretchen Tellessen of Troutdale, OR. And Marie Dahlstrom of White Plains, NY says, “Tried to cover up at first, too much of a fight. Whip-it-out, no fight.. Happy baby equals happy mama.” Like Gretchen and Marie, other mommas have already begun this adventure and they continue on with you as you are just beginning. Here is some of the advice they offer:
Practice at home. Many mommas suggest practicing “public breastfeeding” at home. This may include getting baby to the breast with out your boppy, and breastfriend and, and...and all the other props you use at home. If you plan to feed while wearing baby, certainly rehearse that scenario - go over how to clear all the extra fabric or loosen straps to make momma and baby comfortable. Or, it may involve a mirror, “I always liked the advice of practicing in front of the mirror so you could see exactly what others see,” says Jessica McCauley Aremitage of Housten, TX.
Dress in Layers. Beware, if you are anything like me, the nursing tank may become a permanent part of your wardrobe for years to come. And I am not the only one in this boat. A nursing tank is a simple tank top you wear under what ever else you are wearing, and it unhooks at the breast to provide access for baby while conveniently keeping your fresh, squishy belly covered. Kalla Burke of La Crosse, WI says she uses the two shirt method, “ You can pull the t-shirt up and the tank top down...I turn away from people till I get the baby latched and then nobody can see my nipple.”
Smile and make eye contact. “Any eye contact I made (when breastfeeding)...I smiled. Some people look down, some smiled back.” says Jocelyn Adele Thomas of Gresham, OR. Just as a dog smells fear, so do those around you when you are feeding.. Whether you are comfortably tucked away in the back of a friend’s living room or front and center at a potluck, those around you will pick-up their comfort cues from you. If you present yourself as confident with what you are doing, others will feel more confident sharing the space with you. Additionally, when you look folks in the eye and smile at them, it gives them no reason to look anywhere else.
Trust yourself. “Everyone else eats in public,why not my sweets?” asks Marie from NY. With that said,if you aren’t a WIO momma, don’t force it. If you feel weird feeding in front of uncle Tom, turn your back to him or go to another room. Calie Chapman of Sandy, OR says that while she,”gave up caring if people saw cleavage,” she still gets nervous and asks if certain people mind if she feeds. In the end, do what is right for you and your baby. Know that your first attempts may be stressful and that like parenting, you may need to try a few different approaches before you find what works. Jocelyn in OR says, “Its not my deal to make everyone comfortable, so I never tried.” She is right. Your deal is your baby, figure out what makes you and baby comfortable in feeding and do it with your head held high and your breast ready for take off.
What would you add to this guide? What were your experiences the first few times you breastfed in public? Are you a WIO or a CC momma?
Photo courtesy of Leah Pellegrini, feeding baby Lucca at Painted Hills, OR
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Could you possibly have enough plaque in your arteries to put you at high risk of deadly heart disease and yet have normal cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight? New research says absolutely yes, but it also reveals that a calcium score test can accurately measure your true risk.
How do you know if you have heart disease, the number one killer in America? While some people have symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath, most people have no symptoms at all. In fact, for many, the first symptom is death. But it doesn’t have to be that way: The calcium score test is a quick, easy, non-invasive, $99 test that finds heart disease before it turns deadly.
Calcium Score Tests are Advantageous
Most imaging tests that visualize the arteries that supply the heart are expensive, time-consuming, invasive, and/or risky, and some of them just don’t do a very good job of confirming the presence of calcified plaques clogging the heart’s arteries. Doctors and researchers have been debating for years whether it’s worth it to look for heart disease in patients with no symptoms, given the expense and invasiveness of most of these tests. In the last few years, however, more studies support and more doctors are recommending the coronary artery calcium score test as an easy, quick, inexpensive, and relatively safe way to visualize coronary artery disease.
What Is a Calcium Score Test?
The coronary artery calcium score test is a painless test done by a CT scanner. It supplies less radiation than a chest CT and does not require any IV or contrast dyes, as do many of the other imaging tests. This test measures calcium deposits in the coronary arteries. The calcium is part of the calcified (hardened) plaques, which are gradually formed due to inflammation and oxidized cholesterol and fats in the walls of arteries. The amount of calcium seen on CT is related to the amount of underlying coronary atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries of the heart), the hallmark of coronary heart disease.
Better at Predicting Heart Attacks
New studies, just presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 2014 Scientific Sessions, show calcium score tests to be better at predicting long-term heart problems than other available tests, particularly when evaluating low-risk patients. A Houston Methodist Hospital study, for instance, found that coronary calcium testing in people with no heart disease symptoms is definitely worthwhile. Nearly 1,000 patients, most of whom were considered low risk for heart disease, were given a calcium score test and a plain exercise treadmill stress test and then tracked for seven years. The coronary calcium score test proved a far better predictor of risk. Lead study author Su Min Chang, M.D., said the results show that calcium scoring can help catch patients who are on the way to developing heart disease earlier than other available tests.
Interpreting Your Calcium Score
A low calcium score suggests a very low risk for blocked coronary arteries and coronary events. The optimal calcium score is zero (no calcium detected). Scores of 1 to 99 are generally considered low; 100 to 399, moderate; and above 400, high. People with low scores (less than 100) have less risk of cardiac events like heart attacks, and the risk increases as the score increases. A high coronary artery calcium score can help to predict heart attacks or the need for coronary bypass surgery or coronary (balloon) angioplasty.
Low Calcium Score Means 50 Percent Higher Risk of Dying
Even patients with low calcium scores (1–99) are 50% more likely to die than patients with a score of zero, according to another recent, 20-year study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s yearly conference. Nearly 5,600 subjects from UCLA Medical Center were followed for an average of 10 years. All subjects were considered to be at low risk for heart disease, and those with calcium scores of zero were compared with those with low, moderate, and high calcium scores.
Moderate scores (100–399) were associated with an 80% greater likelihood of dying, and high scores (above 400) were associated with a three-times-greater risk of dying as compared with patients with zero calcium. Clearly, it’s possible to have a deadly amount of plaque even if you’re traditionally considered low-risk based on your cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, smoking status, etc.
How to Get a Calcium Score Test
Don’t hesitate to discuss the benefits of coronary artery calcium scoring with your doctor. In some states, you can decide to get the test yourself without a doctor’s request just by calling and scheduling with diagnostic imaging departments directly. The average cost is only $99.
If you do have a higher-than-optimal calcium score, there is a lot you can do to decrease your risk of having a heart attack. Rather than focusing on any one therapy, maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle has been found to be the best predictor of keeping calcium scores low, the heart healthy, and living a long life, another study found. A low-sodium diet filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy sources of fats, and lean protein is a key, as is moderate exercise, stress reduction, and good control of blood pressure and blood sugar. You’ll find information on all these therapies here, in our comprehensive guide to lowering cholesterol.
American College of Cardiology. News Release. 2014 Mar 29.
We’ve all heard about how a Mediterranean diet is linked to good cardiovascular health and lower blood pressure. Until recently, researchers could only speculate on which foods within a Mediterranean diet were responsible for its blood pressure-lowering effects and how they worked, but the results of a new study may solve the mystery.
Olive Oil and Lettuce
Researchers from King's College London in the UK discovered that the combination of unsaturated fats and nitrate-rich vegetables is the key. In addition to olive oil, the typical Mediterranean diet comprises foods rich in unsaturated fats, such as fish, nuts, and avocados. When these fatty foods are eaten along with vegetables rich in nitrates, such as leafy greens and certain other vegetables like celery and red beetroot, the unsaturated fatty acids react with the nitrogen compounds in the vegetables to make what are known as nitro fatty acids. These nitro fatty acids then go on to block an enzyme called soluble epoxide hydrolase. Blocking this enzyme then inhibits a series of reactions that results in dilation of blood vessels and, consequently, lower blood pressure.
The classic Mediterranean diet pairing of olive oil and green leafy vegetables like lettuce and spinach is particularly good at producing the enzyme-blocking fatty acids, the researchers found.
The authors, who published their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, note that previous studies have already suggested that blocking soluble epoxide hydrolase lowers blood pressure. For their study, the researchers compared normal mice to mice engineered with a version of the enzyme that could not bind with nitro fatty acids. After inducing high blood pressure in the two groups of mice, the researchers then fed them a Mediterranean diet, which generated nitro fatty acid. Blood pressure went down in the normal mice but not in the genetically modified mice in which the nitro fatty acids could not bind to the soluble hydroxide hydrolase enzyme, showing that this is the mechanism by which the Mediterranean diet lowers blood pressure
"The findings of our study help to explain why previous research has shown that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts can reduce the incidence of cardiovascular problems like stroke, heart failure and heart attacks," said Philip Eaton, one of the study authors and professor of Cardiovascular Biochemistry at King's College London.
Vegetables High in Nitrates
Have you considered switching to a Mediterranean diet to help treat your hypertension? There are numerous books and online resources outlining various versions of Mediterranean diets and providing menu plans, recipes, nutritional information, and more. While none of them provide lists of fruits and vegetables high in nitrates, it’s important to make sure you include them in your diet plan if your goal is to lower blood pressure. The following table shows how different vegetables compare according to their nitrate content.
Nitrate content (mg/100 g fresh weight)
Very low, <20
Artichoke, asparagus, eggplant, garlic, onion, green bean, mushroom, pea, pepper, potato, summer squash, sweet potato, tomato, watermelon
Low, 20 to <50
Broccoli, carrot, cauliflower, cucumber, pumpkin
Middle, 50 to <100
Cabbage, dill, turnip, savoy cabbage
High, 100 to <250
Celeriac, Chinese cabbage, endive, fennel, kohlrabi, leek, parsley
Very high, >250
Celery, lettuce, rocket (arugula), spinach, red beetroot, watercress, chervil
Additional Foods to Eat to Lower Blood Pressure
Combine vegetables from the higher nitrate categories with olive oil, nuts, avocados, and fish to form your own favorite blood pressure-lowering combos. Make a salad with beets, celery, avocado, and olive oil-based dressing and voila! And don’t forget about additional specific foods to eat to lower blood pressure: pomegranate juice, berries, dark chocolate, hibiscus tea, and more. There’s no doubt about it, food is medicine. Use it to start treating your high blood pressure today.
- Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 May 19.
- King’s College London. News Release. 2014 May 20.
- Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jul;90(1):1-10.
Maintaining a stable level of blood sugar (glucose) throughout the day is a vital part of fighting fatigue and feeling energized. Everything you eat affects your glucose level, but sugars, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are all metabolized differently, providing significantly different results.
Simple sugars burn first and fast. They are responsible for the energy spikes and crashes that many people experience throughout the day.
Complex carbohydrates. Once the simple sugars are depleted, the body burns complex carbohydrates, such as beans, whole grains, and vegetables. These are broken down into glucose more slowly than simple sugars, which allows them to stabilize blood sugar between meals. However, even the healthiest carbohydrates can only provide the body with glucose for a few hours after a meal.
Fats and proteins are the body’s long-term energy reserves, and can even be used for months into starvation. When properly metabolized, they are the key to a steady, long-term supply of glucose.
For many people, though, nutritionally poor diets can halt the conversion of fats and proteins into glucose, which results in chronically low levels of blood sugar and decreased energy. This means that people can eat sufficient (or excessive) fat and protein, but still feel exhausted. The problem is a breakdown of energy-producing machinery, not a lack of fuel.
Minerals and Vitamins to Fight Fatigue
The breakdown occurs because protein cannot be converted into glucose without adequate supplies of certain vitamins and minerals, which are often missing from nutritionally poor diets. To restore proper metabolism and boost energy, it is vital to maintain a daily supply of these energy-producing vitamins and minerals.
Biotin is excreted from the body on a daily basis, so it needs to be replenished daily. Biotin can be found in carrots, walnuts, almonds, cashews, and other nuts.
Magnesium and zinc. Both are found in high levels in spinach.
Calcium is required for lipid oxidation. It can be found in cabbage, broccoli, and almonds.
Co-Q10, iron, sulfur, and copper. Kale, cashews, and avocado contain high levels of copper, while spinach is rich in iron. Read a detailed discussion on Co-Q10 supplementation here.
Oxaloacetate is an important part of the metabolic cycle. Studies indicate that a lack of oxaloacetate can cause energy production to fall by nearly 500%.
These nutrients are found abundantly in whole-food, vegan, vegetarian, Mediterranean, and paleo diets, which provide all three of the important types of fuel: complex carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins. Maintaining stable and balanced quantities of these nutrients and fuels will allow the body to produce short-, medium-, and long-term energy. Give it a try and share your experience with us in the comments section below.
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"Whoever you are, you are more of that person when you're in labor." ~ Dina L.Relles
While all labors are beautiful and miraculous, they often push a mother and beyond her mental and physical limits. Such was the case with a recent birth I attended. Momma checked into the hospital in the wee hours of the morning and rested between mild contractions until mid morning. After a few laps around the hospital hallways, a breath of fresh air on the terrace and some hip circles, momma’s sensations really began to pick up. Before long she was in and out of the stationary tub, rotating her pelvis on a birthing ball and groaning through the contractions in the birth tub. Momma was focused and consistent in keeping her energy on moving baby down and out of the birth canal. After a good nine hours of solid active labor with intense contractions, the medical staff checked her dilation. She had been 3cm. nine hours ago and was still 3cm. dilated now.
Momma was discouraged; she felt she had reached her limit hours ago. It was evening now and momma had been awake for over 36 hours as she had not slept the night before. After some discussion of mommas’s options, the medical staff left the room to let momma make some decisions. The room was dark and quiet. The only sounds were the groans of the contractions, the shared breathing of momma and dadda and the swishing water of the birth tub. In the midst of the quietness momma said, “I am grateful. I am grateful for my baby. I am grateful for Michael. I am grateful that my mom is here. I am grateful to be in the water. I am grateful for the contractions. I am grateful for our doula, I am grateful my labor started naturally. I am grateful...” As momma continued her list, her gratefulness transformed a burdened environment back into an open and fresh experience.
Media often portrays childbirth as an excrutiating experience where mothers completely loose their cool, and start cursing at their partners as they grow fangs. My earlier post about why I was too chicken to have a medicated birth was my first exposure to this phenomena. Here though, in this medical environment, with gadgets, monitors, beeps and pagers was a perfectly serene mother, choosing to be grateful. It was suggested she be given petocin to help her uterus contract and get her past 3 cm. Momma acknowledged that at the peak of her pain threshold, she didn’t want the more intense contractions pitocin would give her without an epidural. Neither the pitocin nor the epidural were in her birth plan. But grateful for the assistance they would provide, momma agreed to both. The epidural allowed her to rest through the night and in the morning, momma spent less than 20 minutes pushing before she met the newest love of her life.
After a birth, I like to ask mommas to tell me their birth story. My perspective is valuable, but not nearly as valuable as momma’s perspective of the experience. Can you guess what this momma said?
“I am grateful for this experience,” was her first response. She explained how thrilled she was to have experienced a natural and un-medicated labor for as long as she did. She was very grateful for the relief brought about by the epidural. She was grateful that her fingers we no longer as swollen. She was grateful to eat without worrying about her blood sugar. She was grateful for her precious little boy. For each moment of her labor, she was grateful.
It is always such an honor to be present at a birth, and this birth was no exception. I gained so much from this momma’s gratefulness. Momma, you know who you are; and for you - I am grateful.
Trillium photo by Lisa Marie Morgan; "I found this beautiful and delicate flower the day after the described birth. Grateful!"
By administering energy in controlled, coherent pulses, physicians can use electromagnetic pulse therapy to treat wounds, chronic pain, and alcoholism. While research supports the benefits of this type of therapy when performed by professional physicians using clinical instruments, it does not support claims that electrotherapy mats and home devices effectively treat soft tissue pain. This article, then, looks only at professionally administered therapies.
Low-intensity direct current (LIDC) is safely administered by placing the electrodes from the LIDC instrument onto the surface of the skin. A very small amount of electric current flows in one direction to the site and creates a magnetic field around the wound. This creates an effect known as galvanotaxis, which causes fibroblasts and keratinocytes to travel to the wound and begin to heal tissue upon reaching the damaged area.[2,3] In studies, this effect has been shown to increase the rate of healing by 100% to 150%.[4,5] It also makes the resulting scar tissue more resistant to future damage.
In addition, LIDC has antimicrobial effects. In two studies, patients who received LIDC experienced no infections and less discomfort at their wound sites.[4,6] Typically, treatment is administered for 60 minutes each day until the wound is healed.
Depression, Pain, and More
Cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES) is another type of electric procedure approved by the FDA when administered by trained physicians and health providers. In this treatment for depression, insomnia, and anxiety, electrodes that are placed on the ears send a small electric current into the brain. This deactivates certain portions of the brain, which mitigates symptoms of neural imbalance and hyperactivity by controlling neurotransmitter release and neuron signaling patterns.
This deactivation has also been shown to reduce the pain symptoms of fibromyalgia. Patients using CES devices report that they experience a decrease in chronic pain, and MRI scans confirm that this is due to a deactivation of pain signaling in the brain. Fibromyalgia patients using CES have been shown to experience a 28% reduction in tenderness, a 27% reduction in pain intensity, and a 55% improvement in quality of sleep. Similarly, patients who use CES therapy for spinal cord injuries report a significant decrease in pain intensity.
CES has also been used to treat the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Studies show that CES can help alcoholics to reduce their alcohol consumption as well as the stress and depression associated with quitting. The treatment plan consists of daily 30-minute sessions over a period of four weeks. Additional studies indicate that the calming effect of CES also reduces anxiety symptoms in alcoholics.
How To Find Effective Electrotherapy
This discussion of electrotherapy comes with two important caveats. The first is that home use electrotherapy mats are not proven to be effective at relieving soft tissue pain. The pain relief described here is a result of direct current being applied to the brain by clinical CES devices that are operated by physicians. Mats are not shown to achieve this result.
The second important note is that CES shuts down parts of the brain. This makes it an effective method for relieving symptoms, but like medication, it is not a cure or remedy. The advantage that CES has over medication is that CES does not elicit side effects. As FDA-approved treatments, LIDC and CES are available at clinics that specialize in trauma therapy and rehabilitation, and are likely to be covered by most insurance companies. Natural Health Advisory Institute has a searchable physician or practitioner directory where those practicing electro-stimulation therapy can be located.
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