Sunday, October 26, 2008

Umbellularia CalifornicaTION

Received a call at the last minute from a co-worker offering a chance to run the Bothe-Napa State Park half-marathon that was sold out! My bib belonged to an Asian dude originally from South India (sshhhHHH! -- don't mention to the race owners). Scored a great workout (only 10K actually) and free cool wool socks...

The other trail running I've done was the Marin Headlands race a couple Aprils ago where the bluest-ever wildflowers were in a sea of blooms over magnificent green hills. Enviro-Sports does a fantastic job at picking breathtaking locales paired with perfect timing for optimum weather, temperature and picturesque views. Unlike the Marin Headlands, with the semi-drought we experienced here in Northern California, Bothe-Napa park had neither muddy streams nor any waist-deep creeks to cross *big grin* THANK GOD.

Here were the usual hazards associated with blazing through the forest at crazy breakneck speeds:
--branches -- poking EXACTLY out at eye level
--gravel, slippery dry leaves, uneven footing which promote face-plants, shin-plants and twisted ankles
--steep slopes similar to downhill skiing (great place to catch your breath unless your foot catches a raised root or rock which can send you straight to the ground)
--crossing shady creeks
--TICKS - my main challenge (Lyme disease is indigenous -- needed to avoid petroleum skin/hair products which apparently ticks are highly attracted to)

My 6'2" race partner didn't need to worry as much about face-plants because I reassured him his face was definitely higher up from the ground than my vertically challenged one.

With all the senses heightened and exhilarated (trying strongly to avoid planting my head), it was difficult not to be totally captivated and distracted by the intoxicating smell of the forest and a particular aroma I couldn't quite identify until another runner shared with me that the woodsy perfume was (!) BAY LEAF (umbellularia californica). I've often cooked with it (the commercial Mediterrean species laurus nobilis) but the leaves were usually impotent and I've frankly never noticed anything so wonderful as what I was stomping and crunching below my feet. The air off the fresh leaves on the trees below the dense canopy wafted off as we brushed past them. Were the valleys just one big room deodorant? Could one possibly thrash the body any better while immersing the senses in this astonishingly sensual aromatherapeutic experience? (Honestly, a nice side effect of being on the an evolutionary/paleo lifestyle and diet is despite going through the gauntlet (Crossfit, endurance events, whatever), I rarely ever experience muscle aches or soreness afterwards. It defies bio-physics.)

My daughters love Pokemon and here is a creature they haven't discovered yet named after this fascinating spice:

Bayleef (ベイリーフ, Beirīfu?, Bayleaf in original Japanese language versions) is the evolution of Chikorita and first appeared in Pokémon Gold and Silver. It has a pale yellow body supported by four legs and a rather long neck and tail. On top of its head is a single large leaf. Its most defining trait is the "necklace" of seven tubular leaves that is located around its neck. Each of these curled up leaves contains inside it a tree shoot. From these leaves wafts a spicy scent that has stimulating properties. It can cheer people up, restore their health, make them more energetic and even heighten their drive for competition.

Have you ever purchased bay leaves from the grocery spice aisle? One ounce costs more than M A R I J U A N A... j/k. Don't forget I'm a legal drug-dealer (ie, board-certified-doctor-of-pharmacy) . . . not the other. Seriously, the stuff we buy where the volatile oils (known as eugenol) are mostly degraded by storage and age doesn't hold anything against the REAL STUFF. After the race I wanted to go back and stuff leaves into my wet sweaty bra but I r e s i s t e d the urge I'm proud to tell y'll. State property after all!

Why did humans ever evolve cooking and spicing up our food with this wonderful herb? Why do the French tie bouquet garnis in their fragrant kitchens?? How did Greeks and ancient Romans find power in rewarding victors with wreaths of laurel/bay leaves? What do Indians and Persians favor in their biryani (rice)? Mexicans in their delish nutrish menudo?

Remarkable antimicrobial properties exist in all spices and herbs and bay leaves are no exception.

Eugenol apparently lowers stress-related cholesterol in experimental animals as well as attenuating/reversing red-blood-cell membrane dynamics (Valdman AV et al, Indian J Exp Biol. 1992 Jul;30(7):592-6).

The first and only IPO I bought in high school was Calgene I'm sad to confess (f o o l I was...AND still am after missing GOOGLE). Talk about GMO-frankenfood monstrosities. *sigh* Perhaps, however, they've mildly redeemed themselves... somewhat. Their research on the California bay leaf enzyme called 12:0-ACP thioesterase shed light on it's involvement in lengthening the carbon chain in saturated fatty acids in the flowers (ie, seeds -- the reproductive parts) and leaves (less activity). Apparently the seeds of the California bay leaf tree are rich in lauric acid, the medium 12-carbon chain saturated fatty acid.

Voelker TA et al. Lysophosphatidic acid acyltransferase from coconut endosperm mediates the insertion of laurate at the sn-2 position of triacylglycerols in lauric rapeseed oil and can increase total laurate levels. Plant Physiol. 1999 Jul;120(3):739-46.Hawkins DJ et al. Modification of the substrate specificity of an acyl-acyl carrier protein thioesterase by protein engineering.Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1995 Nov 7;92(23):10639-43.
Graham IA et al. No induction of beta-oxidation in leaves of Arabidopsis that over-produce lauric acid. Planta. 1999 Jan;207(3):385-92. (Plants generate energy via beta-oxidation of fatty acids just as animals do!)

Why do we love lauric acid ? For heart disease, immune protection and optimization and overall health?

Lauric acid lowers Lp(a)... particularly in men (44%; non-statistically significant). See below Table.
  • Temme EH, Mensink RP, Hornstra G. Comparison of the effects of diets enriched in lauric, palmitic, or oleic acids on serum lipids and lipoproteins in healthy women and men. Full PDF here. Am J Clin Nutr. 1996 Jun;63(6):897-903. PMID: 8644684

Lauric acid also raises HDL -- the plaque-regression-related subfraction (and cancer protective particle). Please see Table 5 -- at the top. In a short six-weeks, lauric acid increased total HDL by:

-- 16.7% for men (baseline: HDL = 1.26 mmol/L = 48.7 mg/dl) which appears to correlate well with Lp(a) reduction! Though hard to tell with Lp(a) varying in the deviations and this study population too small for any significance or actual comparisons.

-- 5.6% for women (baseline: HDL = 1.58 mmol/L = 61.1 mg/dl; TG=82.3 mg/dl)

In the below research conducted by the same group, they found that "Nevertheless, lipid transfer activities correlated significantly with the relative abundance of HDL2b, HDL2a, HDL3b, and HDL3c with phospholipid transfer activities. In general, serum phospholipid transfer protein (PLTP) activity correlated positivly with HDL cholesterol after the dietary interventions...serum PLTP activity, as measured as the rate of radiolabeled phosphatidylcholine transferred from liposomes toward serum HDL, was significantly higher with the lauric acid diet (23.5+/2.6%) than with the palmitic acid diet (22.5+/-2.5%) (P = 0.0013)."

Food sources rich in lauric acid are:

  • unrefined coconut oil (40-50%)

  • unrefined palm oil

  • butter oil ( -- contains also butyrate (ligand for the niacin-receptor), CLA, Vitamin K2, LDL-lowering Plant Sterols, Vitamin A/D/E, omega-3 ALA, etc. Read Weston A. Price.

  • human breastmilk (not my highest recommendation *wink*)

  • (umbellularia californica seeds and flowers... probably other herbal seeds too but haven't had time to verify)


Anonymous said...

Hey G

You and Phil are not the only ones on TYP who are fans of lauric acid. I have been eating unrefined virgin coconut oil for about 8 weeks. Will be interesting to see what my new lab results are when I retest. This is in addition to my fish oil. I do not have elevated Lp(a), but have decided to try this for other health concerns. Dr. Mary Enig mentions coconut oil helping thyroid in Eat Fat, Lose Fat.


mess talker said...

Pretty interesting. My wife cooks a lot with the bay leaves. Tasty but she always warns me not to eat them. No need to worry about ticks when you use peppermint soap. Try crazy dr.bronners before you head out. Spray on the tents before camping (dilute, dilute, dilute as he says on the bottle among many other crazy things). Good stuff.

Dr. B G said...


I'm glad we're not the only ones :)

I've been reading the cookbook Nourishing Traditions which has many quotes from her book and several other great sources. I've even started using coconut oil on my lips and one my daughter's -- it's a great (cheap) chapstick with no preservatives or chemicals which we are allergic to!

Please let us know how it goes! I'm curious how much weight loss people notice and the lean muscle gains. A friend used MCT oil which is similar and has noticed improved migraines and Lp(a) already. I'm cooking with a little coconut oil but since the flavor is so overpowering I've used minimal amounts.


Dr. B G said...

Hi Wes,

Thank you for the tip! I'll try crazy Dr. bronners next time I hike! I can't give up my hair products yet...isn't that terrible? I'll even wash my hair with dr.bronners just to be on the safe side!

I usually toss the bay leaves -- I was reading that the edges can be so sharp that they can perforate the stomach/throat. That would NOT be fun!