This humble weed has amazing regenerative powers that get to the root of aging—which is why Dr. Barbara Sturm includes it in so many of her products.
Written By NATALIA GARDUÑO
In cooking, your food is only as good as your ingredients. The same applies with beauty. In a new series, we single out cutting-edge and under-the-radar hero ingredients to find out why they work, how they were discovered and—most importantly—what they can do to make you look better. Here are the heavy-lifters who underpin the formulations of your favorite products.
You’ve probably seen it before. The herb with fleshy leaves that looks inconspicuous in garden beds and sprouting up on sidewalks. Fortunately for us, purslane, or portulaca oleracea as it’s formally known, caught the eye of Dr. Barbara Sturm—so much so that she included it in serveral formulations of her cult-favorite, eponymous skin care range. Before we get to the how and why of her hero ingredient, here’s the scoop on the good doctor: With a couple of noteworthy discoveries under her belt—including the cutting-edge Kobe Procedure that put the basketball star back on the court and her bespoke MC1 healing cream made from patients’s own blood—Sturm decided in 2012 to make her expertise accessible with a non-toxic skin care line. Uncomplicated yet highly effective, the products work to hydrate, protect, and regenerate the skin with, among other things, purslane. “I worked with professors of the University of Miami on purslane,” explains Sturm, “It’s an elusive superfood with powerful benefits to skin health.”
AN UNCOMMONLY GOOD WEED
So how much of a skin-nourishing punch does purslane deliver? A big one. It’s loaded with antioxidants and has more omega-3 fatty acids than fish oil. Possessing one of the highest concentrations of vitamin A among vegetables, purslane also has six times more vitamin E than spinach and seven times more beta carotene than carrots. You’ll also find vitamin B-complex, vitamin C, calcium, potassium… the list goes on. And if you’re already gearing up to toss the superfood into your salad or post-workout smoothie—absolutely go for it—you can expect a slight crunch and tart, lemony taste.
THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH ENZYME
As if that wasn’t enough of a resumé, the nutritious botanical also activates telomerase, which Sturmdubs the “fountain of youth enzyme.” Why is this important? In a nutshell, an increase of telomerase can protect our DNA, prolong the lifespan of cells, and retrain old cells to function as they did in their youth. So how does a plant like purslane play into this? “Studying the research on telomerase led me to purslane, a natural super-compound,” reveals Sturm, who realized that the plant helps to activate the enzyme. “Stimulation of telomerase production has been shown in a Harvard study to not only stop the aging process, but to reverse it.” Behold: the natural pause button for aging. Stronger, healthier cells means the areas responsible for elastin and collagen are also stabilized and, as a result, strengthen the structure of our skin. Simply put, purslane induces a natural anti-aging effect.
BEYOND A YOUTHFUL COMPLEXION
While the anti-aging potential around telomerase is enough to win a Nobel Prize (three scientists literally did so in 2009), purslane does more than trigger a more youthful appearance. Purslane is a wonder ingredient when it comes to wound healing, pain relief, and inflammation. The plant is also used to treat diseases related to the intestine, liver, stomach, and even arthritis. “Due to its strong healing powers, it has been used by humans for a long time but was nearly forgotten until recently,” notes Sturm. With our complexions already reaping rewards from the doctor’s purslane-enriched skin care, we doubt we’ll be forgetting about the plant anytime soon.
High levels of dangerous chemicals absorbed from sun creams
People are absorbing high levels of dangerous chemicals from popular sun creams and sprays. The chemicals could cause cancers and developmental and reproduction problems.
The chemicals have been absorbed through the skin, and into the blood where amounts that are up to hundreds of times above recognised safety levels have been detected.
The high levels in blood plasma samples are from people who have applied the creams and sprays correctly, and according to the manufacturer's recommended guidelines.
America's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set a safety threshold of 0.5 ng/mL in blood plasma for the active ingredients found in most sunscreens—but levels of up to 209 ng/mL have been detected by FDA researchers, who tested four popular products on 24 volunteers.
Any level above 0.5 ng/mL should trigger an automatic toxicology assessment because the chemicals—avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule—could be cancer-causing and may interfere with healthy development and reproduction.
In the test, the four sunscreens—two sprays, one lotion and one cream—were applied to the volunteers, whose blood plasma was tested. Oxybenzone was the most easily absorbed, with levels as high as 209.6 ng/mL being detected.
Laxatives are substances that either loosen stool or stimulate a bowel movement.
They can also accelerate intestinal transit, which helps speed up the movement of the digestive tract to spur a bowel movement.
Laxatives are often used to treat constipation, a condition characterized by infrequent, difficult and sometimes painful bowel movements.
There are several types of laxatives that work in different ways. The main classes of laxatives are (1):
Bulk-forming laxatives: These move through the body undigested, absorbing water and swelling to form stools.
Stool softeners: They increase the amount of water absorbed by the stool to make it softer and easier to pass.
Lubricant laxatives: These coat the surface of the stool and intestinal lining to keep in moisture, allowing for softer stools and easier passage.
Osmotic-type laxatives: These help the colon retain more water, increasing the frequency of bowel movements.
Saline laxatives: These draw water into the small intestine to encourage a bowel movement.
Stimulant laxatives: They speed up the movement of the digestive system to induce a bowel movement.
Though over-the-counter laxatives can be very helpful in alleviating constipation, using them too often can cause electrolyte disturbances and changes in acid-base balance, potentially leading to heart and kidney damage in the long term (2).
If you're looking to achieve regularity, try incorporating some natural laxatives into your routine. They can be a safe and inexpensive alternative to over-the-counter products, with minimal side effects.
Here are 20 natural laxatives you may want to try.
Produced from castor beans, castor oil has a long history of use as a natural laxative.
After castor oil is consumed, it releases ricinoleic acid, a type of unsaturated fatty acid that's responsible for its laxative effect.
Ricinoleic acid works by activating a specific receptor in the digestive tract that increases the movement of the intestinal muscles to induce a bowel movement (26).
One study showed that castor oil was able to alleviate constipation symptoms by softening stool consistency, reducing straining during defecation and decreasing the feeling of incomplete evacuation (27).
You can find castor oil at many health food stores and online.
Extracted from the plant Senna alexandrina, senna is an herb that is often used as a natural stimulant laxative.
Senna is found in many common over-the-counter products, like Ex-Lax, Senna-Lax and Senokot.
The constipation-relieving effects of senna are attributed to the plant's sennoside content.
Sennosides are compounds that work by accelerating the movement of the digestive system to stimulate a bowel movement. They also increase fluid absorption in the colon to aid in the passage of stool (31).
Apples are high in fiber, providing 3 grams of fiber per cup (125 grams) (32).
Plus, they're full of pectin, a type of soluble fiber that can act as a laxative.
One study showed that pectin was able to speed up transit time in the colon. It also acted as a prebiotic by increasing the amount of beneficial bacteria in the gut to promote digestive health (33).
Another study gave rats apple fiber for two weeks before administering morphine to cause constipation. They found that the apple fiber prevented constipation by stimulating movement in the digestive tract and increasing stool frequency (34).
Some research has found that consuming olive oil could be an effective way to alleviate constipation.
It functions as a lubricant laxative, providing a coating in the rectum that allows for easier passage, while also stimulating the small intestine to speed up transit (35).
In studies, olive oil has been shown to work well in both spurring bowel movements and improving the symptoms of constipation (36).
In one study, researchers combined olive oil with a traditional colon-cleansing formula and found that the formula was more effective when paired with olive oil than with other laxatives, like magnesium hydroxide (37).
Aloe vera latex, a gel that comes from the inner lining of the aloe plant's leaves, is frequently used as a treatment for constipation.
It gets its laxative effect from anthraquinone glycosides, compounds that draw water into the intestines and stimulate the movement of the digestive tract (40).
One study confirmed the effectiveness of aloe vera by creating a preparation using celandin, psyllium and aloe vera. They found that this mixture was able to effectively soften stools and increase bowel movement frequency (41).
Produced from the outer layers of the oat grain, oat bran is high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, making it a good choice as a natural laxative.
In fact, just 1 cup (94 grams) of raw oat bran packs in a whopping 14 grams of fiber (42).
A 2009 study evaluated the effectiveness of oat bran in the treatment of constipation by using it instead of laxatives in a geriatric hospital.
They found participants tolerated oat bran well. It helped them maintain their body weight and allowed 59% of participants to stop using laxatives, making oat bran a good alternative to over-the-counter products (43).
Kiwifruit has been shown to have laxative properties, making it a convenient way to ease constipation.
This is mostly due to its high fiber content. A cup (177 grams) of kiwifruit contains 5.3 grams of fiber, covering up to 21% of the recommended daily intake (49).
Kiwifruit contains a mix of both insoluble and soluble fiber. It also contains pectin, which has been shown to have a natural laxative effect (33, 50).
It works by increasing the movement of the digestive tract to stimulate a bowel movement (51).
One four-week study looked at the effects of kiwifruit on both constipated and healthy participants. It found that using kiwifruit as a natural laxative helped alleviate constipation by speeding up transit time in the gut (52).
For some people, coffee may increase the urge to use the bathroom. It stimulates the muscles in your colon, which can produce a natural laxative effect (57, 58).
This is largely due to the effects of coffee on gastrin, a hormone that is released after eating. Gastrin is responsible for the secretion of gastric acid, which helps break down food in the stomach (59).
Gastrin has also been shown to increase the movement of the intestinal muscles, which can help speed up intestinal transit and induce a bowel movement (60).
One study gave participants 3.4 ounces (100 ml) of coffee, then measured their gastrin levels.
Compared to the control group, gastrin levels were 1.7 times higher for participants who drank decaffeinated coffee and 2.3 times higher for those who drank caffeinated coffee (61).
In fact, other studies have shown that caffeinated coffee can stimulate your digestive tract as much as a meal and up to 60% more than water (62).
Water is essential for staying hydrated as well as maintaining regularity and preventing constipation.
Research shows that staying hydrated can help alleviate constipation by improving the consistency of stool, making it easier to pass (65).
It can also amplify the effects of other natural laxatives, like fiber.
In one study, 117 participants with chronic constipation were given a diet consisting of 25 grams of fiber per day. In addition to the increased fiber, half of the participants were also instructed to drink 2 litres of water per day.
After two months, both groups had an increase in stool frequency and less dependence on laxatives, but the effect was even greater for the group drinking more water (66).
This is because they pass through the gut mostly unabsorbed, drawing water into the intestines and speeding up transit in the gut (67).
This process is especially true for sugar alcohols, which are poorly absorbed in the digestive tract.
Lactitol, a type of sugar alcohol derived from milk sugar, has actually been investigated for its potential use in the treatment of chronic constipation (68).
Some case studies have even linked the excessive consumption of sugar-free chewing gum containing sorbitol, another type of sugar alcohol, to diarrhea (69).
Xylitol is another common sugar alcohol that acts as a laxative.
It's usually found in small amounts in diet drinks and sugar-free gums. If you consume it in large amounts, however, it could draw water into the intestines, inducing a bowel movement or even causing diarrhea (70, 71).
Large amounts of sugar alcohol erythritol could also have a laxative effect in the same way, spurring a bowel movement by bringing large amounts of water into the intestines (67).