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The Powerful Protective Compounds Found in Whole Herbs

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This is Part Three of the 3-Part Video Series "The Wiser Approach: A Holistic Approach" with Master Herbalist Paul Schulick and Holistic Nutritionist Andrea Donsky.

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Andrea:

I'm excited to continue, again, the conversation today. And we're going to be talking about herbal medicine, an area that I love learning about. I am not that familiar with it and I'm excited to delve into it. So, I know that you're an expert when it comes to the power of herbs, so let's start with immunomodulating herbs. What are they and why are they important for our immune system?

Paul:

It's an interesting question because when I hear immunomodulating herbs, it's almost like every food and everything we take in our mouth is, in some ways, going to modulating or influence the immune system. So, we tend to think in reductionist terms in our society. It's a little bit like one of our previous discussions about vitamin C.

We think about vitamin C, but we don't realize it's not just... Ascorbic acid doesn't exist in nature. It's always part of a very immense and wonderful symphony. So when we talk about immune modulation, it's something that's going to affect... As I said before, if it affects your mind, it affects your immune system. If it affects your gut, it affects your immune system, and the immune system is... The skin is an immune organ and it protects you from the environment.

You could look at Aloe vera, for example. We could talk forever about Aloe vera. It's an herb that I work with a lot. And again, just like we talked about gummies in the past, or we talked about elderberry, or we talk about any herb or any food, it's impact is going to be... Aloe is a symphony of compounds, so you have a compound that science focuses on, a group of compounds called polysaccharides. Those compounds are believed to have an impact that moves your immune system and however it can do it on the skin. You put Aloe vera, what's its impact. The first word that comes to my mind is soothing so you kind of know it's immunomodulating in the sense that it's soothing or it's restoring. It's also nutritive because you could, and some people do, drink Aloe vera juice.

Now, again, what that is, is always often questionable. But that said, every food that we eat and every herb, peppermint, menthol, has a host or a peppermint has a host of immunomodulating impacts. It's more stimulating, so you feel more activated, so your immune system might be more activated. Immunomodulating could be something like flax seed, for example. Flax seed is going to be soothing; it's going to have a soothing impact. However, when you ferment it using important strains of microbial life like Lactobacillus or bifidobacteria. You ferment the flax and suddenly you created a whole new host of compounds with big words like quercetagetin or herbacetin and those compounds have a... I don't know, without sounding too histrionic... a supercharging effect and supporting an immune system, so that it can better differentiate for you. That is the term that I love to use, which is wisdom. I don't want something that stimulates.

When you think about immunomodulating herbs, again, the mind tends to think in simplistic terms. "I want something to boost my immune system." Really? You really want something to boost your immune system? 

Andrea:

...probably support it.

Paul:

That's better. And even better than support... Support is absolutely in the right direction. You want something to nourish your immune system, to enliven your immune system, to awaken your immune system.

Andrea:

Oh, I like awaken.

Paul:

There you go. To heal your immune... Your immune system, Andrea, believe it or not, just like every other system of your body, your natural killer cells are one of your key innate parts of your immune system built in there. But you know what? They get exhausted and they get exhausted because they can't they're... You're asking those cells...

Andrea:

They're constantly in battle.

Paul:

Who's the friend and who's the foe? So you have all this artificial flavorings and colorings and processed food that doesn't have the integrity of a whole; and then, you take antibiotics because you're getting sick; you break down your microbiome barrier, the epithelial barrier of your gut. And then you're starting to leak into your bloodstream all of these byproducts of digestion.

Andrea:

Known as leaky gut.

Paul:

Thank you. And so what ends up happening is your immune system goes into like, "Wow! Who do I go after here?" And so, ultimately your immune system gets exhausted. And so what I look for, most importantly, as I said in earlier conversations, really important is to soothe the system and that's why I love flowers. I love passionflower. I love elderflower. I love chamomile flower. I love the saffron. These are the flowers. I love roses. Because they are immunomodulating.

Saffron, if you go back in the literature, you'll see saffron has immunomodulating impact, but it's doing it through a soothing, So, we really... What's that word? We really stick ourselves in a corner, there's another way of saying that. But we narrow ourselves to think, "Oh, astragalus, echinacea. This is where you..." No. It's whole; it's holistic. It's mind, it's body, it's exercise, it's getting fresh air, and it's looking at everything that we put in our mouth and everything we put in our head.

Andrea:

Yeah. And what we're exposing ourselves to.

Paul:

Thank you. It's all there.

Andrea:

It's all there.

Paul:

So that's a long answer to what an immunomodulating herb is. It's everything.

Andrea:

It's everything, synergy. Paul, you mentioned in the last video that we did, you talked about polyphenols.

Paul:

Yes.

Andrea:

Can you explain exact... ? Go to a little bit more detail about what they are and why they're important for our immune system?

Paul:

Yes. The ancestors that learned about herbs, the wise women and the wise men, they would observe nature. By observing nature, they would see what herbs or foods might also be good for us human beings. There are certain plants that have survived and thrived in some of the harshest of climates.

And so, what you want to look for in nature, for example, is those plants that have thrived in nature. And how have they thrived? There are compounds, groups of about 8,000 at least, different compounds that exist in plants, that nature has infused in those plants to protect them from bacteria, viruses, UV radiation. And the plants that have the highest levels of these compounds, plants like berries and cocoa and broccoli and cistus, these are plants that have very high levels of these compounds. We know them in science. We've given them names: quercetin, myricetin, kaempferol, luteolin.

And these, in my judgment, Andrea, are the magic molecules that nature has that gives us resilience, that gives our immune system an additional range of adaptation capability. We don't need more ascorbic acid. In truth, I don't believe we necessarily need more zinc or more... I was on a podcast yesterday where a physician was recommending more zinc for people. However, to me, I'd rather eat more pumpkin seeds if I know I need more zinc. But what people really need, Andrea, are these polyphenols, these compounds that can help protect us from harsh environments. Unfortunately, right now, for many of us, the harshest environment is up here and that's where we're assaulting ourselves on a regular basis. That's why I'm such a huge advocate in why I think it's so important to have a daily exercise and meditation practice. So, yeah.

Andrea:

Paul, you were mentioning you'd rather get your zinc from pumpkin seeds?

Paul:

Yes.

Andrea:

And you're talking about polyphenols and making sure that we're getting enough of those. How do we know that our food has the nutrients that we need and how do we know that we're getting enough of it?

Paul:

Okay. Fifty years ago, broccoli was a very different plant than it is today because the soil that it's growing in is nowhere near as nutrient dense as it was 50 years ago.

Andrea:

It's depleted of its minerals.

Paul:

That's correct. So, one needs to be aware of that and that's the range why I think these concentrated allies, these co-pilots that we have, these plants in the plant kingdom that are the most resilient, that are growing wild, that's why they are so much more important.

Now, I do find sources of sprouted pumpkin seeds and sprouted flax seeds, and the best certified organic plants that I can find that I use daily for myself. That said, it's the plants that are grown organically, like the rosehips and the Cistus incanus, and the blackcurrant, and the ginger. I bought a farm 26 years ago, so I could have the best ginger in the world, so I know how important it is to get the right herbs and the right foods. So, when you can't get the right foods because the season's not allowing it, that's all the more reason to rely upon the herbs and the herbal kingdom and the mushrooms.

For example, there are mushrooms like chaga that I think is one of the most important mushrooms that we could possibly consume on a daily basis, and it's growing in the harshest conditions. Where I use my chaga is from the Appalachian Mountains. It grows on birch trees and the birch trees have very high levels of betulinic acid. Betulinic acid is one of these studied molecules that really support the... and I love the word support... and create a wiser immune system. So when you can't get the best foods, then rely upon the best herbs.

Andrea:

What are your thoughts about green tea and black tea? Because those are full of polyphenols.

Paul:

Oh, I love

Andrea:

Should we be drinking it on a regular basis? How much should we be drinking?

Paul:

Yes. I love... I use green tea on a daily basis. I drink a decaffeinated green tea because I'm a little bit sensitive to the caffeine in the green tea, so there's a little bit less of that valuable compound. I do eat cocoa and so a little bit of caffeine for me is okay, but too much just doesn't work for me.

That said, when Cistus incanus, this incredible herb that I've discovered for myself in the last year or two, that herb actually bested green tea in turn, which is known, as you said, for its polyphenols. It bested it in a trial for its immunosupportive effects. So, to me, if I had a choice between the two, I would choose Cistus incanus. But I don't have a choice; I take both each day.

Andrea:

When you say bested it, you mean it came to prove to be better?

Paul:

It reinforced immune response, a challenge to environmental challenges.

Andrea:

Now, you're talking about ginger and I know we talked about it in the last video, so if you haven't seen it, definitely check out our second episode. We have to talk about turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin. We're talking about all these amazing foods that are good for our immunity and good for us in general. Talk about the turmeric. Should we be taking it every single day? How should we be taking it? Is it something that you highly recommend? Do you take it?

Paul:

Yes, absolutely.

Andrea:

I know it's a lot of questions, but...

Paul:

Yes. Well, the most important answer that one can take as a proponent in our field is, are you using it? And the answer is yes. I use turmeric every day. I was impacted a couple of decades ago by a study I saw out of the University of California, which said that people from India who consume about three plus grams a day of turmeric every day have the lowest incidence of Alzheimer's disease in the worldone of the lowest incidences. That had a real impact on me seeing my mother basically waste away from dementia. So, to me, it's one of the most important herbs that I use in my daily routine and I think it's also important to recognize that herbs like turmeric, they become most active as soon as they hit your gut.

When they hit the gut, the microbiome converts the curcumin into tetrahydrocurcumin, and that compound has been found to be many times more active than curcumin. So, just like every herb that you studied in our field, Andrea, you will see that there's a huge range of quality and efficacy. In the case of curcumin, which is one of the heroes of turmeric, again, there's probably a thousand compounds in turmeric. So to think that you're delivering the one compound that's going to be, the answer is human hubris at its best. What we need to deliver is the whole. And so, what I have done for the skin, for example, is we ferment turmeric so that it can have a better holistic effect because you can biotransform curcumin by using your microbial allies.

Andrea:

One of the most important things that we're all getting across from these conversations that you and I have been having is that it comes down to the whole, the synergistic.

Paul:

Yes, yes.

Andrea:

The, "Let's eat it in its natural form. Let's get it as much as we can from nature." That is extremely apparent and understood, so thank you for that. I'm curious what your supplement routine is like?

Paul:

Ah!

Andrea:

What is a day in the life of Paul Schulick?

Paul:

Well, the most important routines for me are, of course, the diet and that I'm pretty rigorous about. My routine is every morning I have a huge handful of locally grown, organic spinach and I have wild blueberries. The wild blueberries and the spinach form the basis, and then I add freeze-dried powders of tart cherry and organic beets. And so I make a very nutrient dense smoothie, which then I add sprouted pumpkin seeds and sprouted sunflower seeds and sprouted flax seeds.

I take very good care to the best of my ability. I'm a farmer. I'm a farmer of my microbiome, so I do whatever I can to support it. And then, the other piece is I use a sprouted oats in the morning and I leave that. I cook that at night and then I let it sit in the refrigerator overnight, so that I create resistant starch, which is going to be further nutritive to my microbiome. So I am very good friends with my microbial allies because that's ultimately what's going to protect me from the unfriendly or the more competitive forces in nature.

Then at lunch, I have another greens blend of kale and broccoli and I supplement that with omega-3s in the form of omega-3s in the form of fatty fish from sardines or from wild Alaskan salmon. And at dinner, I have fermented soy in the form of tempeh, so my supplements are really...

I was gifted or cursed, I would say, with digestive challenges, starting very young. That's how I got into this field. So, I must have had a deficiency of enzyme starting out very young, so I supplement with enzymes and whatever supplements I take are in the form of mushrooms. I use a chaga, as I said. I use reishi and that's pretty much the core of my... supplement routine is mushrooms and enzymes. If I look at my guttural supplements, those are pretty much what I do.

Andrea:

So your getting your nutrients, like your vitamin C and your zinc and all of those that we talked about in our other interview, you're getting that through your food?

Paul:

Yeah. I don't take a vitamin C supplement. I don't take a zinc supplement. I don't take [inaudible] go to sleep. To help me rest at night, I do breathing exercises because as we're all being charged out during the day and soothing at night is the challenge, so that's when I do my breathing work and I do my flowers.

Andrea:

Yeah. And the breathing is so important for us to just relax and that heart rate variability and just to be

Paul:

Absolutely.

Andrea:

... soothe our nervous system. Again, it goes back to that nourishment of the system.

Paul:

That's right. That's right.

Andrea:

I want to talk about lignans for a minute because you mentioned flax seeds quite a bit.

Paul:

Yes.

Andrea:

Lignans are present in flax seeds. Why are they good for us, and why do you love flax seeds so much?

Paul:

Lignans are one of those compounds that recently has emerged as one of the most important immunomodulating food constituents. I have been a long-term fan of flax because just its very nature is very soothing. And having been basically born with an agitated digestive system, flax is just... It's rich in these mucopolysaccharide type of compounds and lignans are incredibly valuable for their immunomodulating impact.

Now what's amazing, Andrea, is as soon as you ferment those, they become many times more active, from my experience. And then I have found, as I've said in a earlier video, that you are able to generate through fermentation, and particularly with strains of bacteria like Bifidobacterium breve, you're able to create high levels of a compound called herbacetin. If you do a Medline search on herbacetin and immunity, oh my goodness, it's quite remarkable in terms of its impact. So that's why I use a fermentation. When I work on creating products, I will ferment the flax seed in addition to it being sprouted, so the anti-nutrients have been basically changed as a result of the fermentation and sprouting. Lignans are really, really important soothing and also immune-modulating compounds.

Andrea:

Is there anything, Paul, that you'd like to share with us that we didn't touch upon today when it comes to immune-modulating herbs?

Paul:

Interesting. I would say that, probably along with the gut, the mind, and directly working on the immune system, I would invite the listener to look at the principle that I have lived by, which is the "one plus one is greater than two," which is always keep in mind that, don't mistake an herb or a food for one part of that herb or that food, and consider the whole.

So, every time our scientific community wants to narrow down flax or chamomile or Cistus incanus, always keep in mind that the whole is more than the sum of the parts, and that's the most important thing that I can convey. And then, as always, is keep the positive, keep that smile. You just smiled. And as a result of that smile, Andrea, you are sending a message to your nervous system through your vagus nerve that everything is okay, and that's doing it right now. Your nervous system is relaxing and you're going into what's called rest and digest, and more of us need to be in that state much more than we are.

Andrea:

I love that. Thank you for sharing your wisdom as always, Paul.

Paul:

Always a pleasure, Andrea. Thank you for having me.

Andrea:

Thanks so much for watching this three-part video series about the wiser immune system. If you haven't yet seen videos one and two in this series, be sure to check them out.