Tag Archives: Reducing Inflammation

Umeboshi Plums – Tasty and Alkalinizing

 

Having recently returned from Japan, I thought it fitting to write about a set of quintessential Japanese foods that packs huge health benefits: umeboshi vinegar (also called ume plum vinegar), umeboshi plums and umeboshi plum paste.
Although labeled as vinegar, umeboshi plum vinegar is actually the liquid left after Japanese nanko plums (they’re called plums in Japan but are technically more like little apricots) are preserved by brining with sea salt and red or purple shiso leaves. The mixture is allowed to ferment in barrels for a year. The sea salt draws the liquid from the plums and the shiso leaves give the brined fruits and liquid their natural pink tint. This is what the sour little fruits look like before they’re brined:
Soaking the harvested fruits to remove bitterness:
The red or purple shiso leaves that provide umeboshi plums and vinegar their pink color:

 

Umeboshi brining with red shiso leaves and sea salt:
After brining, the fruits look like this and are frequently served as a salty pickle during a Japanese meal:

 

The salty little brined fruits are an acquired taste, but umeboshi vinegar is mild, somewhat salty and an excellent condiment with many uses.

 

HEALTH BENEFITS
Umeboshi plums are considered the king of alkaline foods, highly respected in Japan for their remarkable medicinal properties in balancing the body and helping with indigestion. Even sucking on an umeboshi plum pit  can settle a queasy stomach. (Minifie, 2013)
Because they are high in citric acid, which has a powerful, paradoxical alkalinizing effect on the body, umeboshi plums are the  Far Eastern equivalent of both aspirin and apple,  a potent hangover remedy and one of the best preventive medicines available. An umeboshi a day keeps the doctor away.
A 1000 year old Japanese medical text discussed the use of umeboshi to prevent fatigue, purify water, rid the body of toxins and cure specific diseases such as dysentery, typhoid and food poisoning.
During the samurai period in Japan, which lasted through most of the Middle Ages, this fermented plum was the soldier’s most important field ration. It was used to flavor foods such as rice and vegetables. Its high acidity made it an excellent water and food purifier as well as an effective antidote for battle fatigue. (Mitoku, no date)
In China the dried plums are use medicinally to reduce fevers, treat nausea and control coughs.  (Weil, 2010)
The Standard American Diet (SAD) is high in refined sugars and red meat, both of which severely acidify the body, producing inflammation – the gateway to many serious ailments. An overly acidic diet is at the core of many symptoms such as fatigue, digestive imbalances, emotional imbalances and anxiety. Adding foods to our daily diet that alkalinize the blood, urine and saliva can help restore balance and health again.

See INFLAMMATION to read more about its adverse affects on our health.

Umeboshi plums, paste and vinegar are such super foods. They have been consumed in Japan, China and Korea for centuries for this medicinal purpose.
Umeboshi foods are created via a lactic fermentation process using only Japanese plums, shiso leaves and sea salt. Shiso leaves have many medicinal health benefits themselves that contribute to the antimicrobial and infection fighting components of umeboshi.

See PREBIOTICS AND PROBIOTICS and KEFIR for more information on the health benefits of fermented foods.

Umeboshi has  traditionally been used to treat:
  • Fatigue
  • Alcohol poisoning (hang-overs)
  • Vomiting
  • General nausea (including pregnancy and motion sickness)
  • Diarrhea and dysentery
  • Infection
  • Runny nose
  • Liver toxicity
  • Oxidation of cells
The addition of an umeboshi plum in rice dishes adds a pleasant salty and sour taste and also combats the bacterial growth in rice known as Bacillus cereus. A popular Japanese dish often found in Japanese and Korean markets is called onigiri – sticky rice wrapped in either nori (seaweed) or on its own with an umeboshi plum in the center.
Traditionally, these plums are said to have been used by the samurai to keep up their stamina, stave off fatigue and help heal between battles. They were a staple in their daily diets. In more recent times, they are enjoyed with green tea, as the opposing flavors juxtapose each other nicely. Eating an umeboshi plum before breakfast helps stimulate digestion for the day.
They are also high in iron (important for hemoglobin production, stress reduction and immune function), thiamin (important for healthy nervous system, metabolism and digestion), and riboflavin (helpful for the formation of antibodies, healthy metabolism and cortisol production).
Try eating a few umeboshi plums the morning after a party or after a lengthy flight to combat jet lag, nausea and exhaustion.  (Smythe, 2012)

 

 

USES
* With its salty, somewhat sour, fruity taste, umeboshi vinegar makes an interesting seasoning. The Japanese toss it with steamed vegetables and sprinkle it over sauteed greens and rice. Use it creatively in vegetable dishes  when you want to add a sea-like flavor.  You can also use it in lieu of fish sauce for a lighter fishy taste.
* Umeboshi vinegar nicely tempers the spiciness of bitter greens like arugula and watercress.
* Drizzle salads with extra-virgin olive oil and a small amount of umeboshi vinegar – remember it’s salty so start with only a little. Toss and taste. Add more if needed.
* Add a little umeboshi vinegar to dark leafy greens such as kale to amplify their mineral-y goodness.  (Minifie, 2013)
* From the back of my bottle of Mitoku brand Ryujin Authentic Umeboshi Vinegar Pickled Plum Seasoning:

“The Ume plums from Ryujin village are very special. Gathered in remote mountain orchards from trees that have never known chemicals, they have a wild quality and are exceptionally flavorful. Traditionally hand-pickled with Shiso leaves and sea salt, the tart red juice drawn from the kegs of pickled plums is prized as a gourmet vinegar.

“A convenient, zesty seasoning, Mitoku Ryujin Umeboshi Vinegar adds refreshing flavor and goodness to many foods. Use it to perk up salad dressings, cooked vegetables, homemade quick pickles, and tofu dips and spreads. When substituting Umeboshi Vinegar for regular vinegar, reduce or eliminate the salt in the recipe.

“TANGY GREENS: Steam or saute cabbage, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower or broccoli until just tender, then toss with Umeboshi Vinegar to taste.”

 * Some other recipes for cooking with umeboshi plums, umeboshi paste and plum vinegar:  Braised cabbage, cole slaw, orange-ume dressing and umeboshi tea

 

Onigiri Umeboshi

Umeboshi vinegar and plums are imported into the US from Japan. You can find umeboshi vinegar and perhaps also the brined plums in health food stores and Asian food markets – even Amazon sells both. Just make sure the brand you buy uses shiso leaves, not food dye, and no artificial preservatives.
Having tried the jarred plums here in New York and found them unpleasantly salty, I didn’t really appreciate their loveliness until tasting the numerous varieties that came with most of the meals I had in Japan. Some were saltier than others and they varied in flavor intensity. I liked them all, especially as one of the pickles eaten with rice.

 

 

 

In Memorium

I thank Carol Hornig for introducing me to umeboshi plums and vinegar. She was a talented nutritionist and splendid human being who is sorely missed.

 

REFERENCES

Minifie, K. (2013)  WANT. Ume Plum Vinegar. Epicurious. See http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/blogs/editor/2013/10/want-ume-plum-vinegar-umeboshi-vinegar.html

Mitoku. (No date). Braised cabbage with umeboshi. See http://www.mitoku.com/recipes/index/braisedcabbage.html

Mikoku. (No date). Cole slaw with umeboshi. See http://www.mitoku.com/recipes/index/coleslaw.html

Mitoku. (No date). Health Benefits of Umeboshi. See http://www.mitoku.com/products/umeboshi/healthbenefits.html

Smythe, Y. V. (2012).  Umeboshi Plums Health Benefits. Naturally Savvy. See http://naturallysavvy.com/eat/umeboshi-plums-health-benefits

Weil, A. (2010). Umeboshi: Japanese Health Food? Dr. Weil.com. See  http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA400746/Umeboshi-Japanese-Health-Food.html

 

© Copyright 2014 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.

 

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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More on Overactive Mast Cells and How to Calm Them Down

I wrote earlier about an essential part of our immune systems called mast cells and the period when mine went wild, reacting to pretty much anything I ate or drank as if Attila’s Huns were at the gate and needed to be attacked at all costs – even if they killed me in the process.

 

Since I figured out that it was hyperactive mast cells that were giving me such grief in 2012 and enlisted my chiropractor and GI doctor to help me calm them down, I’ve continued to have intermittent periods when those cells in my gut immune system have become overactive, resulting in bloating, gas, some diarrhea alternating with constipation, and even occasionally a bit of acid reflux.
Always looking to figure out the underlying cause of a health problem and fix it rather than treat only the symptoms, and knowing that chronically hyperactive mast cells produce allergies and autoimmune diseases  – along with any number of other diseases and conditions – and that emotional stress exacerbates mast cell hyperactivity, I came to the realization that I actually had the tools to calm myself and slow down the reactivity in my GI tract.
Here’s how I finally got the message:
Last week I went to see my GI doc just to check if my gut might have developed some new problem that was causing these unpleasant symptoms. He’s a fairly traditional Western doctor and also a very nice, compassionate man. I’d brought my C. difficile article and a stack of other articles on mast cell hyperactivity to my appointment with him in 2012. He thanked me and asked if it would be OK if he read them on his own time. Then he agreed to do a biopsy during my colonoscopy to check for mast cell proliferation. A good thing I’d asked since my colon looked perfect and it was only the biopsy that revealed all the mast cell over activity.
Since 2012, he’s become interested in the whole topic of the gut microbiome and opened our appointment last week by giving me an excellent article published in The New York Times in  2005  called “The Other Brain Also Deals With Many Woes”. I highly recommend it to you as the clearest description I’ve read of how mast cells can cause serious mischief and how stress increases the problem.
This is the part of the article about mast cells and stress:

 Another mechanism that lends credence to physiology as the source of intestinal     dysfunctions is the system of mast cells in the gut that have an important role in immune response.

“During stress, trauma or ‘fight or flight’ reactions, the barrier between the lumen, the interior of the gut where food is digested, and the rest of the bowel could be broken, and bad stuff could get across,” Dr. Wood said. “So the big brain calls in more immune surveillance at the gut wall by activating mast cells.”

These mast cells release histamines and other inflammatory agents, mobilizing the enteric nervous system to expel the perceived intruders, and causing diarrhea.

Inflammation induced by mast cells may turn out to be crucial in understanding and treating GI disorders. Inflamed tissue becomes tender. A gut under stress, with chronic mast cell production and consequent inflammation, may become tender, as well.

In animals, Dr. Mawe said, inflammation makes the sensory neurons in the gut fire more often, causing a kind of sensory hyperactivity. “I have a theory that some chronic disorders may be caused by something like attention deficit disorder in the gut,” he said.

Dr. Gershon, too, theorizes that physiology is the original culprit in brain-gut dysfunctions. “We have identified molecular defects in the gut of everyone who has irritable bowel syndrome,” he said. “If you were chained by bloody diarrhea to a toilet seat, you, too, might be depressed.”

Still, psychology clearly plays a role. Recent studies suggest that stress, especially early in life, can cause chronic GI diseases, at least in animals. “If you put a rat on top of a little platform surrounded by water, which is very stressful for a rat, it develops the equivalent of diarrhea,” Dr. Mayer said.

Another experiment showed that when young rats were separated from their mothers, the layer of cells that line the gut, the same barrier that is strengthened by mast cells during stress, weakened and became more permeable, allowing bacteria from the intestine to pass through the bowel walls and stimulate immune cells.

“In rats, it’s an adaptive response,” Dr. Mayer said. “If they’re born into a stressful, hostile environment, nature programs them to be more vigilant and stress responsive in their future life.”

He said up to 70 percent of the patients he treats for chronic gut disorders had experienced early childhood traumas like parents’ divorces, chronic illnesses or parents’ deaths. “I think that what happens in early life, along with an individual’s genetic background, programs how a person will respond to stress for the rest of his or her life,” he said.

Either way, what is good for one brain is often good for the other, too. A team of researchers from Penn State University recently discovered a possible new direction in treating intestinal disorders, biofeedback for the brain in the gut.

CALMING DOWN THOSE HYPERACTIVE MAST CELLS
I was now intent on finding a way to soothe my mast cells so they wouldn’t overwork themselves rushing to my rescue when there were no invaders to kill.
When my mast cells were working too hard, my gut didn’t feel disorganized or uncentered as it had during the C. difficile infection. It did feel like I was exerting too much pressure on my GI tract, especially on my intestines. I felt a kind of subtle tightness in the area.
So I did some simple breath work (pranayama) and visualized removing the tightness, making it roomier inside my gut. And I instantly felt better and all the symptoms stopped. Since then, when I’ve felt myself tightening up in there, I’ve been able to use the technique to reduce the pressure.
What a relief!

 

 

Here’s a short video showing a simple breathing exercise for anxiety and tension.
And a longer guided relaxation video for visualizing health.
Please remember that breath work and visualizations don’t need to be done seated cross legged on the floor. Try doing them sitting in a chair, standing, lying down, walking – wherever you are. And they don’t have to be done for a long period. Even 30 seconds can make an enormous difference.

 

 

REFERENCES

Brown, H. (August 23 2005). The Other Brain Also Deals with Many Woes. The New York Times. See http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/23/health/23gut.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

 

© Copyright 2014 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.

 

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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