For those who can’t grow pomegranates, consider sumac instead

Sumac is a shrub like tree or a tree like shrub that is an invasive plant in many areas. Types that have white berry clusters should be avoided as the white berries are poisonous but the types with clusters of red berry like seeds are safe to consume when made into a tea and they may be dried and ground into a spice. Native Americans use them in a lemonade like beverage and they are ground into a spice which is used in many Middle Eastern dishes and as a table condiment to sprinkle on foods to individual taste. The ground Sumac is mixed with salt or available plain in shaker bottles and is mixed with a few other spices in the blend called za’atar (sesame seed, salt, and thyme or hyssop).

Some of the phytonutrient content and medicinal properties  of edible sumac are similar to those found in pomegranate and may be associated with the bright red pigmentation. The botanical name for Sumac , ‘Rhus,’ translated as a foreign word means ‘red.’ Some people may be allergic skin reactions from touching the plant in nature (1) and as a more concentrated tea it has diuretic properties, which can have health benefits to help remove toxins if plenty of additional water is also consumed to prevent dehydration. (2)

Sumac is used medicinally in Arab countries. Studies on sumac extracts to date have indicated that the plant may be a source of bioproducts with the following bioactivities: antifibrogenic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimalarial, antimicrobial, antimutagenic, antioxidant, antithrombin, antitumorigenic, antiviral, cytotoxic, hypoglycaemic and leukopenic (Rayne and Mazza, 2007).” (1)

The lemonade like flavor would be from the terpene limonene and possibly other terpenes found in the plant. Anthocyanins likely give it some of the bright color. It also contains tannins primarily in the form of gallotannins, which are similar to the elligatannins/ellagic acid found in pomegranate, (3), and other aldehydes and beneficial acids that give it tartness including vitamin C – ascorbic acid. (1) Eating a large enough amount on a regular basis may be important for the health benefits from phytonutrients. Research with elligatannins has found them helpful for cancer prevention and somewhat for treatment (4) but a recent study that used a small dose, 900 mg of pomegranate extract per day, found some changes in important genes but not conclusive health benefits. (5) Research on tumor inhibiting properties of sumac found it beneficial during early stages when the tumor is developing rather than as a treatment after it was formed (animal study). (6) Animal based trials in more recent research that found benefits using pomegranate extract used doses that would be equivalent to larger doses, 1 to 10 grams/kilogram body weight per day. The study and amounts used are discussed in this post and the link is in this earlier post. A beneficial substance that we have to make for ourselves, Nrf2 may be involved. Tannins, anthocyanins, and aldehydes were all mentioned as being helpful for helping promote our own body’s ability to produce more Nrf2. The gallic acid (related chemically to the gallotannins, the mango fruit is also a source (8)) is mentioned to help induce apoptosis in cancer cells (cell death) in an article discussing the role of oxidative stress in cancer treatment. (7)

“Gallic acid (3,4,5-trihydroxybenzoic acid, GA), a polyhydroxy phenolic compound, is abundant in natural plants such as gallnut, grapes, sumac, oak bark, green tea apple peels, grapes, strawberries, pineapples, bananas, lemons, and in red and white wine. Its antioxidative DNA-damage action has been well documented []. However, gallic acid induces apoptosis in several cancer cell lines by increasing ROS level and GSH depletion [].” (7)

That excerpt is from a section titled: 5.1. Anticancer ROS-Generating Compounds from Natural Origin(7), which also contains information on other phytonutrients and foods that contain them that have been found beneficial for preventing or treating cancer or reducing oxidative stress.

I bought some dried sumac prepared for table use but chose a brand without salt added to it so I could use as much as I want without having to be concerned about adding too much salt. The aroma and flavor are good and the color is very pretty, slightly more purplish than paprika but similar in the bright addition it makes when sprinkled on the surface of a food. It was $3.99 for a 9.33 ounce bottle at a Middle Eastern foods grocery store.

Phytonutrients with bright colors often seem to be associated with health benefits but that doesn’t mean all wild berries or plants are edible. Read guides and know what you’re harvesting before eating it – and avoid private property and nature preserves where it might be illegal to pick anything.

They are so common in some areas that I happen to have picture taken on a recent walk. A discussion with more detail and a close up image taken during late summer is available here: The ‘Lemonade Tree’: It’s Time to Harvest Sumac, EdibleEastEnd.com. (2)

Wild sumac seed pod in wintertime.

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

  1. Sumac – an overview, ScienceDirect Topics, sciencedirect.com,   https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/sumac
  2. Ronald Halweil, The ‘Lemonade Tree’: It’s Time to Harvest Sumac, Edible East End, August 9, 2012, EdibleEastEnd.com,   https://www.edibleeastend.com/2012/08/09/harvest-sumac/
  3. J. P. PerchelletH. U. GaliE. M. PerchelletP. E. LaksV. BottariR. W. Hemingway, and A. ScalbertAntitumor-Promoting Effects of Gallotannins, Ellagitannins, and Flavonoids in Mouse Skin In Vivo
    Food Phytochemicals for Cancer Prevention, Chapter 25, pp 303–327
    Chapter DOI: 10.1021/bk-1994-0546.ch025, ACS Symposium Series, Vol. 546, http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/bk-1994-0546.ch025
  4. Tariq Ismail, Cinzia Calcabrini, Anna Rita Diaz, Carmela Fimognari, Eleonora Turrini, Elena Catanzaro, Saeed Akhtar, and Piero Sestili,

    Ellagitannins in Cancer Chemoprevention and Therapy. Toxins (Basel). 2016 May; 8(5): 151. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4885066/

  5. Nuñez-Sánchez MA, González-Sarrías A, García-Villalba R, et al, Gene expression changes in colon tissues from colorectal cancer patients following the intake of an ellagitannin-containing pomegranate extract: a randomized clinical trial. J Nutr Biochem. 2017 Apr;42:126-133. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2017.01.014. Epub 2017 Jan 27.    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28183047
  6. Perchellet, J.P., Gali, H.U.Perchellet, E.M.Laks, P.E.et al., Antitumor-promoting effects of gallotannins, ellagitannins, and flavonoids in mouse skin in vivo  [1994], ACS symposium series, ISSN : 0097-6156, Source: Information Systems Division, National Agricultural Library, http://agris.fao.org/agris-search/search.do?recordID=US9602151

  7. Giuseppina Barrera, Oxidative Stress and Lipid Peroxidation Products in Cancer Progression and Therapy., ISRN Oncol. 2012; 2012: 137289.  
       https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3483701/
  8. Gallotannins, Science Direct, ScienceDirect.com,   https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/biochemistry-genetics-and-molecular-biology/gallotannins

Ellagitannins and red raspberries

Prior to the research on pomegranates and ellagitannins research was being performed on the use of red raspberries for their health and anticancer benefits. The summary points are that the whole fruit, the mixture of a variety of phytonutrients provides the benefits and that an isolated singe phytonutrient may be less bioavailable and less bioactive – less chemically likely to provide benefits as the mixture of phytonutrients that the whole food provides. An article from 2001 discusses this in more detail and mentions that early work on pomegranates suggested they would be an even better source of the group of ellagitannins and other polyphenols.

The compounds when working together within the body seem to help make cancer cells stop dividing and start dying by apoptosis like normal cells would – and without having any toxic effects on other normal healthy cells. The ellagitannins and other phytonutrients in red raspberries also seemed to prevent precancerous cells from becoming cancerous – dividing at above average rate of growth.

Other health benefits of the whole fruit used as a fruit puree equivalent to eating one cup of red raspberries per day, providing 40 mg of ellagitannins, included:

“European medical studies also demonstrate that red raspberry ellagitannins lower the incidence of birth defects, promote wound healing, reduce heart disease, and may reduce or reverse chemically induced liver fibrosis. In addition, the ellagic acid produced from the ellagitannins has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties.”

Read more: The Truth About Ellagic Acid and Red Raspberries,    https://jonbarron.org/article/truth-about-ellagic-acid-and-red-raspberries

Ellagitannins and pomegranates was a discussion begun in a previous post: Pomegranate polyphenols and Microglia M2 Activation. I didn’t include the information in my summary but one of the links mentions that whole pomegranate juice / juice made with the peel / provides about 2 grams per liter of ellagitannins which would be many times more than 40 milligrams. Two grams would be 2000 milligrams and a liter is slightly less than a quart which is four cups, so roughly the whole pomegranate juice/extract is providing 500 milligrams per cup. A cup of juice would be more concentrated, being a liquid, compared to a cup of loosely packed whole red raspberries with seeds and air space, so a cup of raspberry puree or red raspberry juice would likely provide more than 40 milligrams.

Black raspberries are a dark purple color were not mentioned in the 2001 article but a more recent study on cancer therapy from 2016 mentions them as a source of ellagic acid so they may have an equivalent amount of the beneficial phytonutrients.

Read more: Black raspberries in cancer clinical trials: Past, present and future.   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5008867/

Blueberries and blackberries and other berries are good sources of a variety of beneficial phytonutrients. Many types have the most prevalent phytonutrients listed and extraction methods that are typically used for commercial products are discussed in this research review: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5384171/

A shorter article discussing phytonutrients found in blueberries, blackberries and raspberries in a more general way:   http://berryhealth.fst.oregonstate.edu/symposium/lukehowardabstract.htm

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

Why care about thyroid cancer? It’s about iodine.

Or more importantly about the lack of iodine and the excess availability of bromide, fluoride and perchlorate – all halides – all chemically similar enough so that the body may build thyroid hormone with them if there is a deficiency of iodine. Bromide replaced iodine in baked goods some point in time around the 1950s as an anti-caking agent in flour. Fluoride was added to water supplies and to toothpaste around the same time. Both fluoride and bromide may be used in medicines to help make a natural product able to be patented as chemically unique. They also may increase the active life of a medicine if the combination can be made to be able to enter cells with a molecule of bromide or fluoride attached then it tends to stay there longer because the molecule of the halide is so big that it is difficult for the cell to excrete  – which may make accumulation to toxic levels more of a long-term risk.

Iodine deficiency makes the risk of radioactive iodine more of a risk but it makes the use of X-ray machines with radioactive iodine more effective. Or the radioactive iodine to kill the thyroid cancer treatment more effective (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27856930). I prefer health. Iodine deficiency can make hypothyroid symptoms more likely which may include depression, easy weight gain and a reduced sex drive.

Will we ever be allowed to discuss underlying natural causes of chronic illness and cancer or do we have to simply trust that prescription pads can cure everything no matter how high the cost to individuals or society – and the problem with that plan is they can’t cure everything and the side effects of cancer treatments can be severe and may include cognitive deficits – loss of thinking ability.

Do we as a people have to be ashamed of a desire for health or for a healthy sex drive or is it now the norm to expect looking good to not be associated with feeling good? Shaming women over wanting to feel better or to wonder why they’ve lost interest in life, let alone sexual relations, is something I’ve experienced as a patient. If the standard lab test for hypothyroidism shows the presence of thyroid hormone then any symptoms are ‘crazy’ – ask for an autoimmune antibody lab test to be done. Hypothyroid symptoms may occur during autoimmune hypothyroidism while the thyroid hormone lab test shows the presence of thyroid hormone. It may be present but if it is loaded with bromide, chloride or fluoride atoms then it may simply be adding to long term cancer risk instead of performing the normal functions of regulating metabolism. Feeling cold and having easily thinning hair are also symptoms of hypothyroidism. Constipation and being sensitive to gluten containing foods may also be associated problems with hypothyroidism.

Shaming patients has not been found to be effective at helping them in the area of drug or alcohol problems:

“The results add to a body of literature suggesting that widely used shaming and humiliating methods of treating alcohol and other drug problems — such as those seen on shows like Celebrity Rehab — are not only ineffective but also may be counterproductive.” (9.156)

Patients with problems with chronic obesity or overweight issues that are actually due to hypothyroidism may try very hard to lose weight and may exercise a lot and eat very little and still not lose weight or even gain it. A severe hypothyroid problem can make a person’s metabolic needs drop far below average. An average diet for a person is recommended to not go below 1200 calories per day. Someone with hypothyroidism may be eating 800 calories per day and still not be losing weight – are they shameful over-eaters? or are they starving for iodine? I vote the latter. But society tends to look at anyone who is overweight as someone who eats too much – no it might be someone whose body gains weight too easily.

It has been made clear to me that sexual health is not to be discussed unless it is regarding men’s sexual health. Women don’t sweat, they just glow, or something like that. If men want sexual health it seems like they would want healthy partners too. We really aren’t talking about men’s sexual health either though, just take a pill and don’t worry about potential underlying cardiovascular risks that may be associated with ED (Erectile Dysfunction – yes, actually we don’t talk about that much either.)

Babies come from under cabbage leaves still I guess. Unfortunately they need iodine too. Rhubarb is a good source of iodine so maybe start looking for babies under rhubarb leaves. Or maybe just eat more rhubarb because it would not only be providing iodine, it also has a phytonutrient, parietin, that has been shown to be effective against cancer cells. A concentrated amount of the parietin was used however: https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/613194/Cancer-killing-drug-rhubarb-ready-within-years

Parietin is an orange pigment found in the rhubarb and in many types of lichen. I don’t happen to have an image of rhubarb handy but here’s some pretty lichen on a rock in a desert area:

Colorful lichen on a rock in the desert during early winter, with colored pieces of glass, found nearby.

The chemical left healthy cells unharmed which is unlike typical chemotherapy treatments. The parietin may be stopping cancer cell growth by blocking anaerobic metabolism – the burning of energy without oxygen. Our bodies preferentially use metabolic pathways that use oxygen (and cause oxidative stress as a byproduct). This article is longer and contains a list of many other beneficial phytonutrients and vitamins found in whole rhubarb. It contains antioxidants and a variety of beneficial things in addition to iodine:  https://www.naturalhealth365.com/rhubarb-cancer-enzyme-1820.html

While I don’t have a picture I do have a recipe for Blueberry Rhubarb Jam – the two fruits work well together in a sauce, cobbler, or jam because rhubarb is fairly tart – acidic, and blueberries are fairly mild – more alkaline. They balance each other nicely in this low sugar recipe: http://transcendingsquare.com/2012/07/21/blueberry-rhubarb-jam/

If you happen to have a patch of rhubarb or know someone who does you’ll know that when it is season there is lots and then it is out of season, the leaves get large and the usuable part – the celery like stalks become too large, less tender, less colorful and the parietin at least is in the colorful pinkish pigments on the exterior of the rhubarb leaf stalks.

A simpler recipe that I made to use up a lot of rhubarb all at once was a Rhubarb Ginger Sauce which I would freeze in batches which turned into a sorbet like frozen treat. I also would use the sauce thawed in baked goods as a substitution for part of the liquid in a recipe similar to substituting applesauce.

The recipe was roughly 12 cups of washed and chopped rhubarb stalks, about 1/2 inch long sections, simmered with 3 cups of sugar and an inch or two section of ginger root, peeled and minced fine. Some might prefer less ginger or no ginger, that amount made a fairly zingy sauce. The stalks make their own sauce as they simmer and the chunks become soft and lose their form. Simmer for about 20 minutes. I would need to try it again to check the recipe but that is the way I remember making it. Once frozen the sugary treat was easy to eat like a fruit sorbet rather than freezing into a more solid ice cube. The sugar content would be necessary for that effect, I think a sugar free sauce would freeze more solid.

So plan ahead, eat healthy now and prevent precancerous cells the natural way – with a healthy immune system and active metabolic rate. It is difficult to have a normal lifestyle let alone exercise regularly when the body is coasting on 800 calories a day due to hypothyroidism.

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.