By Cassie I. Story, RDN
Have you begun to feel the cool crisp air on your skin? Perhaps you have noticed the leaves turning from emerald green to pale orange. On the other hand, maybe you live in a mild-tempered climate that stays the same year round, with the ocean waves leaving little hint for seasonal changes—but traces of fall and pumpkin spice everything have made their way to stores near you. While planting a garden may seem so last season, it is not too late to enjoy homegrown (literally) produce that will be ready just in time for a fall harvest.
Not only can starting a garden bring you a literal bounty of food, research has shown that it offers a host of health benefits as well. Studies have shown that gardening may improve an individual’s life satisfaction, vitality, and psychological wellbeing; supports cognitive function; and can increase a sense of community and togetherness.1-2
A 2017 meta-analysis suggests that gardening activities have various significant positive effects on health including reductions in stress, mood disturbance, and body mass index.3 The analysis also notes several enhancements in quality of life measures like a sense of community, increased physical activity levels, and improved cognitive function.3 Several possible mechanisms were suggested through which gardening may promote health, although it may be difficult to unravel the causal relationships between gardening and health.3 The pathways that the authors suggest for the health impact of gardening may be the benefits of direct experience with nature, the uptick in physical energy expenditure, the opportunity to engage with members in the community via community gardens or produce sharing, and lastly by increasing fruit, vegetable, and herb intake.3
Gardening has been shown to improve quality of life and health across the lifecycle. Intervention studies on children and college-aged students have shown an increase in daily fruit and vegetable consumption when participants recently participated in gardening activities.4 Observational studies on aging populations have found that maintaining a home garden is associated with restorative and physical benefits, increased positive feelings, and a sense of pride, creativity, and achievement.5
If you are ready to dig in, there is no need for space or climate to be an issue. If you are new to getting your hands dirty, a container garden can be an easy and less intimidating way to start!
Here is your step-by-step guide to getting your container garden growing.
1. Choose your container(s).
Start with a large container or pot that is at least 15 inches deep and wide. If you are a beginner gardener, bigger is better because you can hold more soil and lock moisture in longer. Large flowerpots, barrels, baskets, planters, or any other large container will work—get creative and choose something that speaks to you.
The container or pot must drain well. Ensure there is at least one hole in the bottom for water to flow out. If your container does not have drainage holes, use a drill to create 4-6 holes throughout the bottom for even clearance.
Choose one vegetable or herb for each container, especially if this is your first time gardening. It is important not to overcrowd the pots.
2. Place container in an appropriate area.
Choose an area that receives about six hours of sunlight a day. You may need to move the container throughout the fall depending on the weather (frost, wind, etc.). If you live in cooler areas of the country, you may need to cover your produce with a light cloth overnight to prevent frostbite.
If you have room, try placing it on a small cart or wooden box so that you can easily move it to a more desirable area as the weather and sun pattern change.
Purchase high-quality, organic potting mix designed to retain moisture well, along with quality plant starts or seed packets from your local garden store. Fill the base of the container with an inch or two of small rocks or pebbles to help drainage and to prevent mold or mildew.
Add soil to the container, leaving about two inches of space from the top. Thoroughly water the soil and let drain for a few hours before planting the seeds or starter plant.
For seeds, plant according to package directions. For starter plants, dig a hole deep enough for the soil to reach the same level they were growing in the container in which they came.
4. Water your new plants.
Maintain moisture levels. The soil should feel moist about one to two inches below the surface. Depending on the climate you live in, you will likely need to water your plants multiple times per week. In the intense Arizona sun, where temperatures can continue well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit through November, I oftentimes find myself watering twice a day to maintain optimal moisture. Watering in the morning is preferred to the evening, because it helps the plants stay hydrated during the heat of the day.
Late summer, early fall vegetables
What to plant from a plant start (with fruit already on the vine):
Ten seed vegetables to plant in late summer for a fall harvestPlant the seeds half an inch to a full inch deep and about one inch apart in each row:
Beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, peas, radishes, sage, snap peas, squash
Whether you are a novice or seasoned gardener, planting a container garden can be an easy and rewarding experience. I hope this article inspires you to get your hands dirty and play with your food!
1. Gonzalez MT et al. J. Adv. Nurs. 2010;66:2002-2013.
2. Wood CJ. J. Public Health. 2016;38:e336-e344.
3. Soga M et al. Preventive Medicine Reports. 2017;5:92-99.
4. Loso J. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2018;118(2):275-283.
5. Scott TL et al. SAGE Open Med. 2020;8:2050312120901732.
By Michael Stanclift, ND
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) may sound like a code name for an eccentric secret agent, but this versatile compound’s aliases indicate how common it is in the natural world. CoQ10 also goes by the names ubiquinol or ubiquinone.1 It’s a fat-soluble antioxidant that affects all cells in our bodies and is especially important for the powerhouses of our cells, our mitochondria.1 Most of the benefits from CoQ10 come from its ability to protect cells and their components from oxidative stress and its ability to produce energy in our mitochondria.1
So who might benefit from CoQ10? Anyone looking to enhance the health of these bodily systems:
Our muscles have a ton of mitochondria in them, and in turn they really like CoQ10.2 If our muscles don’t have enough CoQ10, they can become tender, and we might experience more fatigue.1 In some cases, taking CoQ10 supplementally can help with discomfort, tenderness, and fatigue.1
On a related note, our hearts are also loaded with mitochondria and are essentially muscles that never rest.3 CoQ10 can help improve contractility of our heart, prevent the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol, maintain healthy blood pressure, and support the delicate endothelial layer that lines our blood vessels.1 Some medicines, like HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, commonly known as “statins,” inadvertently blunt our ability to make our own CoQ10, so can reduce what we have available.1 In situations such as this, supplementing CoQ10 may help.1
Research shows CoQ10 supplementation can support long-term healthy blood sugar levels.1
Our highly active brains don’t make up a big percentage of our weight, but they certainly consume a lot of our energy in calories.4 All that energy consumption has the potential to result in oxidative stress, requiring a steady supply of antioxidants.1 Also, remember that our brains have a lot of fat in them, and as CoQ10 is the only internally produced fat-soluble antioxidant, it is precious in our cranium-encased think organs.1 Research shows that CoQ10 levels in our brains are important, and having an adequate amount can be protective.1
Sperm have the important job of delivering half a set of genes to an egg, and the “delivery” part of that job relies on, you guessed it, mitochondria.5 You’ve probably seen a microscope view of sperm, those tadpole-shaped cells with a head (housing DNA) and a tail. Between the head and tail are a collection of tightly wound mitochondria, which power and propel the whip-like tail and cause the sperm to swim.5 Therefore, CoQ10 plays an important role in the health of sperm.
Because CoQ10 is pivotal in our abilities to produce energy in our cells and protect them from potential damage from this energy production, it’s needed in all cells. CoQ10’s importance becomes most apparent in our most metabolically active tissues such as our muscles, hearts, and brains. If you’re looking to enhance the health of these organs, then ask your healthcare provider if supplementing CoQ10 is a good idea for you.
By Michael Stanclift, ND
You’re feeling that rush as you catch your stride on your morning run. The air is perfect. Suddenly a cramp or muscle ache stops you dead in your tracks. You try to shake it off, but it just grabs more. Ah!
We still don’t completely understand why muscles tighten up involuntarily. Exercise, pregnancy, electrolyte imbalances, nerve compression, and diminished blood supply to the muscle all may contribute.1,2 So what can we do to combat these harmless but pesky discomforts? In this article we’ll look at what the research says. Surprisingly, some popular natural remedies don’t shine through in the current medical evidence.
What might not help with cramping
Magnesium and Epsom salts:
A Cochrane Review found that oral magnesium wasn’t likely to help with muscle cramps in older people, and the findings were inconsistent in pregnant women.3 A recent randomized, placebo-controlled trial in pregnant women found no difference in leg cramps with magnesium compared to placebo.4
Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) baths have long been a go-to for muscle relaxation, and “float” centers with sensory deprivation tanks full of the magnesium-rich water have popped up as an urban refuge from the constant stimulation of modern life. A study in nonathletic healthy men found a one-hour float (in magnesium sulfate) after exercise reduced pain perception compared to one hour of passive recovery.5 However, these findings are tough to attribute to magnesium, as the study’s control didn’t match other potentially therapeutic factors, such as body positioning and sensory deprivation.5 So a relaxing bath may help with cramping and muscles, but it’s unclear if adding Epsom salt makes a significant difference.
Active cool-down and static stretching:
Many believe after exercising intensely a period of low-to-moderate intensity will prevent muscle soreness and injuries, but this doesn’t appear to be true.6 A 2018 review found evidence on active cool-downs shows it doesn’t significantly reduce soreness, stiffness, or range of motion and may inhibit muscular glycogen resynthesis (energy storage).6 This same review found that static stretching before or after exercise didn’t reduce muscle soreness.6
What might help with muscle cramping:
This surprisingly simple tool can be valuable if you suffer from muscle soreness and cramps. Using a foam roller after exercise can reduce muscle soreness and improve athletic performance the following day.6 Physical therapists from Harvard agree that 30-120 seconds per area can be helpful in relieving sore muscles and preventing cramps.7
Tart cherry or pomegranate juice:
A small randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found 355 ml (~12 oz.) of tart cherry juice drunk twice a day for a week before a 26 km (16-mile) run reduced the amount of pain reported from participants.8 A research review found similar effects from drinking tart cherry juice twice a day, and one study found pomegranate juice reduced soreness.9 But the research on these two drinks in relation to muscle soreness has shown mixed results.9 A recent study compared tart cherry, pomegranate, and placebo drinks to analyze the impact on muscle soreness in nonresistance trained men.10 In this study, the researchers were surprised to find that neither of the fruit drinks appeared to help with muscle soreness when compared to placebo.10
In a small double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial in experienced runners, 5 days of powdered ginger supplementation (1.4 g/day) moderately reduced muscle soreness from a run (on day 3) during the supplement period.11 A review of randomized clinical trials found that consuming up to 4 g of ginger postintense exercise can reduce muscle soreness and improve muscle recovery.12 Lower single dosages of 2 g ginger did not help with muscle soreness when compared to placebo.12 This suggests it may take multiple days or higher doses to get the effect.
It’s no surprise that curcumin, a bright orange compound from the spice turmeric is making news again. A research review found curcumin in a wide range of doses (150 mg-5,000 mg) can reduce muscle soreness after exercise.13 Curcumin can work when used on an “as needed” basis, with even a single dose (150-200 mg) showing effectiveness for muscle soreness following exercise.13 Interestingly, in this review they found small doses (90 mg twice a day) of curcumin taken for 7 days before exercise had no effect on postexercise soreness, while the same dosage taken after exercise for 4 days was effective.13 Other studies in the review at similar doses did not find curcumin improved muscle soreness compared to placebo, so differences in the trial participants and types of exercise may influence the effects.13
Conclusion:Cramping and muscle soreness can ruin a good exercise session, but they don’t have to. When it comes to combatting these annoying aches, you have numerous options—but beware that some popular natural treatments might be more hype than help.
1. Young G. Leg cramps. BMJ Clin Evid. 2015;2015:1113.
2. Mayo Clinic Staff. Muscle cramps. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/muscle-cramp/symptoms-causes/syc-20350820#:~:text=Overuse%20of%20a%20muscle%2C%20dehydration,Inadequate%20blood%20supply. Accessed February 11, 2021.
3. Garrison SR et al. Magnesium for skeletal muscle cramps. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;2012(9):CD009402.
4. Araújo CAL et al. Oral magnesium supplementation for leg cramps in pregnancy-An observational controlled trial. PLoS One. 2020;15(1):e0227497.
5. Morgan PM et al. The acute effects of flotation restricted environmental stimulation technique on recovery from maximal eccentric exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2013;27(12):3467-3474.
6. Van Hooren B et al. Do we need a cool-down after exercise? A narrative review of the psychophysiological effects and the effects on performance, injuries and the long-term adaptive response. Sports Med. 2018;48(7):1575-1595.
7. Harvard Health Staff. Roll away muscle pain. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/roll-away-muscle-pain#:~:text=Foam%20rollers%20are%20easy%2Dto,from%20exercise%2C%20and%20reduce%20injury.&text=As%20you%20age%2C%20occasional%20muscle,lightweight%20cylinder%20of%20compressed%20foam. Accessed February 11, 2021.
8. Kuehl KS et al. Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010;7:17.
9. Bowtell J et al. Fruit-derived polyphenol supplementation for athlete recovery and performance. Sports Med. 2019;49(Suppl 1):3-23.
10. Lamb KL et al. No effect of tart cherry juice or pomegranate juice on recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage in non-resistance trained men. Nutrients. 2019;11(7):1593.
11. Wilson PB. A randomized double-blind trial of ginger root for reducing muscle soreness and improving physical performance recovery among experienced recreational distance runners. J Diet Suppl. 2020;17(2):121-132.
12. Rondanelli M et al. Clinical trials on pain lowering effect of ginger: A narrative review. Phytother Res. 2020;34(11):2843-2856.
13. Yoon WY et al. Curcumin supplementation and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS): effects, mechanisms, and practical considerations. Phys Act Nutr. 2020;24(3):39-43.
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