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FOOD VS. MEDICINE – AND SO MUCH MORE!

by David Osborn, MH, L.Ac
Monday, August 18, 2014
I recently received an email in my inbox from a follower and admirer of my blog posts.  She was from the website www.bestmasterofscienceinnursing.com, and was presenting me with a link to an educational infographic entitled, Food versus Medicine.  I present you with the link to it below:
I believe that I had received solicitations from this organization before to do blog posts on the educational infographics they forwarded to me, and this one was one of the best I have received yet.  It is important, and deserves to be read and pondered, because of its core message:  Most people in the modern world rely far too much on medicine, and not enough on making healthy and constructive changes in their diet and food intake.  And it makes me happy that conventional medicine is finally coming around to the “you are what you eat” line of thinking, and starting to realize the importance of food and a healthy diet in health maintenance and disease prevention.
Indeed, a healthy, balanced diet of pure, natural food should be the foundation or cornerstone of anyone’s health regimen.  But it shouldn’t stop there; this is only just a beginning.  It’s true that diet is the foundation and single most important building block towards better health, and its importance is vastly underestimated by the vast majority of Americans and others in the modern world.  A healthy diet would have gone a lot further in the days of our grandparents or great grandparents, when the natural environment was a lot more clean and pristine, but today we are faced with a vast, bewildering array of complex and difficult health challenges, some of which pertain to the health issues and conditions discussed in this infographic.  Not only are we faced with monumental environmental pollution just as a consequence of the toxic byproducts of our modern industrial civilization, but even beyond this, so much of the environmental damage and derangement that we are seeing is caused by man’s inhumanity / insanity towards man and Nature.
What about herbs?  This infographic, entitled, “Food versus Medicine” could be considered a bit misleading and incomplete in its presentation, as an “either / or” choice between one or the other.  More perceptive readers might be able to figure out that it is not exactly as black-and-white as it seems; it could also be read, “Food before Medicine”; in other words, before you resort to medicine to solve your health problems, why not do everything you can to solve them through food and diet?  But what I am getting at here, and what every holistic and natural healer knows, is that food versus medicine, which this infographic takes to be pharmaceutical drugs, are NOT the only two options we have before us; herbs are natural medicinal substances, mostly of botanical origin, which occupy a vast middle ground between food on the one hand and pharmaceutical drugs on the other.  And so, we go from an either / or choice to a continuum with food on one end, pharmaceutical drugs on the other, and a vast middle ground between the two, which is medicinal herbs. 
 
Medicinal herbs can be differentiated into two broad groups, according to their basic mechanisms of action.  First, there are herbs whose therapeutic benefits are mainly derived from the vital nutrients they contain, such as vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and other phytonutrients; in today’s holistic health jargon, these herbs function mainly as superfoods.  Examples of such herbs and other natural medicinal substances are Nettle leaves, Spirulina, Parsley leaves, Sea Buckthorn berries and Bee Pollen.  The reason why they are so important today is that the foods that are available to us today are quite nutrient depleted, compared to those same foods back in our grandparents’ and great grandparents’ day.  To remedy these nutritional shortcomings, herbal superfoods are quickly becoming an additional essential food group.
In contrast to the nutritionally oriented superfood herbs, there are the medicinal herbs proper, or herbs whose main therapeutic actions are derived from the natural medicinal phytochemicals they contain, which adjust or manipulate key bodily organs and functions in various ways in order to bring the organism back to a state of balance and homeostasis.  By and large, these medicinal herbs work with virtually no negative side effects when used correctly due to two main reasons:  1) they work with Nature and not against it;  2) they are generally gentler and milder than pharmaceutical drugs in their mode of action.  Many of these medicinal herbs, especially the more tonic ones, areamphoteric in nature, in that they can balance or optimize key bodily functions, up-regulating them if they are too low, and down-regulating them if they are too high.  Examples are Garlic’s regulation of blood pressure, and Reishi’s effect on immune function.
It must also be remembered that these two basic modes of action – nutritional and medicinal – need not be exclusive to each other in the herbal kingdom; many herbs have properties and healing virtues of both, although one or the other is usually dominant.  You could actually see herbs as a whole continuum that lies in between food and medicine, or pharmaceutical drugs.  Towards the food end of the spectrum lie the nutritional superfood herbs, while towards the medicinal end of the spectrum lie the medicinal herbs.  Truly, herbs, both nutritional and therapeutic / medicinal, greatly expand the vast palette of therapeutic options that we have to choose from to improve and maintain our health.
I was considering naming this blog post “Food versus Medicine – But What About Herbs?” but chose the above title because of what I read that touched on other important health and environmental issues today, which I spoke of earlier as man’s inhumanity / insanity to man and Nature.  And by this, I am specifically referring to GMO foods and the health problems that are associated with them.  One of the dietary options mentioned in this infographic is following a gluten free diet for those with gluten intolerance and celiac disease, and – lo and behold – the rise of gluten intolerance and celiac disease quite closely parallels the introduction and rise of GMO foods in the marketplace.  These conditions, as well as many other food allergies and intolerances that are proliferating wildly today, stem from a condition that holistic health practitioners call leaky gut syndrome.  In other words, proteins from partially or incompletely digested foods from the GI tract are leaking into the bloodstream via lesions in the intestinal walls to derange our immune systems and provoke allergic responses.
One of the main GMO varieties of corn is genetically engineered with a gene from Bacillis thuringensis, a soil bacteria, which acts as an insecticide, causing the intestinal walls of insects to explode and dissolve, killing them.  Now, if this Bt toxin has the ability to kill insects like this, don’t you think that it might be able to poke a few holes in your gut and cause it to leak?  These health and environmental issues are detailed and explained more thoroughly in Jeffrey M. Smith’s excellent book, Seeds of Deception.  I highly recommend that you read it.  Holistic health practitioners who have been around for several decades will have to agree with me that, before GMO foods were introduced into the marketplace, gluten intolerance and leaky gut syndrome were quite rare; now it’s very commonplace.  Instead of seeing the whole gluten intolerance phenomenon as another great opportunity for a commercial bonanza by the health food industry, we must look more deeply into the root causes of such conditions; most corn consumed in the US today is genetically modified.  Although herbs are definitely able to help heal and regenerate the intestinal walls and counteract a lot of the damage of leaky gut syndrome and gluten intolerance, nothing beats getting rid of the cause.
Another nutritional issue that is brought up in this infographic is the connection between increased levels of Sodium intake and high blood pressure.  This is somewhat misleading – instead of branding Sodium, a naturally occurring and essential mineral, as the “bad guy”, why not be more open and direct, and say that the real bad guy is excess intake of table salt, or Sodium Chloride?  Not all Sodium is bad; for example, Celery is rich in natural Sodium salts that will not raise blood pressure; another example is Dandelion.  Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of the Sodium that most people in our modern world consume is in the form of table salt, or Sodium Chloride.  Instead of table salt, why not use Dulse flakes, a natural sea vegetable loaded with natural organic salts, and having a naturally salty flavor, to salt your food with?  Or use Sea Salt, which contains many other natural mineral salts besides Sodium Chloride.
Sea Salt is another excellent example of misleading labeling and miseducation of the public on health matters, which is often done with the collusion of the FDA and other government agencies.  I once saw a very misleading label on a carton of Sea Salt, which read, “This Sea Salt does not contain Iodide, an essential nutrient.”  I felt like scribbling below this label on the carton, to provide the missing half of the story:  “However, it is an excellent source of Iodine, which fulfills the exact same nutritional function.”  You see, the FDA, in putting that label on the carton of Sea Salt, was colluding with the iodized salt manufacturers to discourage consumers from buying this alternative form of salt, which is actually healthier than the iodized variety of common table salt, because it contains a broader, fuller spectrum of natural salts, not just Sodium Chloride, by getting them to think that, nonetheless, it was inferior to the iodized table salt.  It turns out that table salt is iodized with Potassium Iodide, which is carried on potato starch, to remedy for the salt’s lack of this essential mineral.  The salt iodizers colluded with the FDA to get them to change the laws and regulations to make us, the unwary consumer, feel that Sea Salt is nutritionally inferior when, actually, if the truth were told, it is not, and the reverse is the case – the inferior salt is actually the iodized table salt.  Some Sea Salts are now iodized these days in response to that erroneous and misleading label, but this is totally unnecessary, and actually nutritionally redundant.
The bottom line is that this is a complex modern world that we live in, and the health conscious consumer can’t always trust the governmental and health care authorities to look after their best interests.  You have to take it upon yourself to get educated and do your homework if you’re going to steer clear of the numerous nutritional and health scams that are out there, and get what is actually best for you.  And these deceptions and misleading statements can even come in the form of omissions or half truths – you have to research not only what they tell you, but also what they DON’T tell you!

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