I've said it before, and, doggamned, I'll say it again: food is so much more than simply fuel.
Food is celebration
Food is connection.
Food is to be enJOYED.
Food is MEDICINE.
Back before modern man discovered penicillin and how to grind up antibodies and stick em in capsules and load probiotics into pills and put vitamins and minerals into handy fruit shaped chewables, people got (or didn't get) their nutrients and curatives from the garden.
I think we could have a really entertaining and healthy debate about how much our medical system has improved (truly, so grateful for the technology and progress that has saved so many lives) and also how much it has become a disease management system. What if we had a wellness system that was enacted from a very young age that instilled how our food system can be a preventative medicine? Because another debate we could easily engage in is how much our food system has improved (thank goodness there are so many grocery stores and packaged foods and farmers and ways to get food to the masses) and also how much our food system has grown to lack nutrition, instead feeding empty calories and manmade vitamin and calorie devoid products to the masses.
We've forgotten (in just a few generations) how to deal with symptoms, treat ailments, and use the bounty from the earth to soothe our body woes.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Andrew Weil, an Integrative Medicine specialist, speak, and I jotted down the following as I listened: "We don’t have a healthcare system in America, we have a disease management system. How did we get into the mindset of prescribing medicine as the only legitimate way to treat disease?”
The main message of Dr. Weil's talk?
Chronic, low-level inflammation is at the root of most disease.
So, what is inflammation and how can we combat it?
Inflammation is a necessary part of the body’s immune response system; without it, the body would be unable to heal itself after an injury, defend itself from bacteria and viruses, or repair damage to the cells.
You're probably the most familiar with acute inflammation. You know, like when you trip and fall while training for a half marathon (not that I've ever done this) and skin your knee: you get a tear in the skin, and white blood cells, hormones, and nutrients flood the area. You're then bleeding everywhere because blood flow has increased. White blood cells have rushed to the area to ingest (ew) and remove germs. And then, of course, swelling happens because fluid comes along with the white blood cells.
Acute inflammation? Short term; goes away after a few days.
Chronic inflammation is a little more insidious. This is more like the constant wear and tear conditions (kinda like your Uber driver talking about how it's not really worth it to drive for Uber seeing as all the driving depreciates their sweet a$$ ride): arthritis, autoimmune diseases, allergies, asthma, Crohn’s, IBS...
This persistent low-grade inflammation happens when the body sends an inflammatory response (just like acute inflammation described above) to a perceived internal threat that doesn’t REQUIRE that response.
Now, sometimes, the threat can be real, but we may not feel the threat or the inflammation.
Okay... cool. Thanks, Doctor Science! Facts are fun!
What do we do with the knowledge that chronic inflammation is screwing with us??
We can adjust what we put into our bodies, reducing processed foods in favor of whole, plant-based foods. Vegetables are your pharmacy staple!
Recommended foods for an anti-inflammatory diet:
- Omega 3 fatty acids - cold water fish, avocados, walnuts
- cruciferous vegetables - broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, and cauliflower contain sulforaphane that blocks enzymes that are linked to joint deterioration and may be able to reverse damage to blood vessels that have been damaged by blood sugar problems and inflammation
- onions - quercetin inhibits histamines known to cause inflammation
- olive oil
- whole grains
- Spices like: ginger, rosemary, turmeric, cayenne, cloves, and nutmeg
- daily ACV, lemon water
- daily probiotic (one hour before eating) - I take Dr. Ohhira's
- take a high-quality vitamin to fill in the gaps your diet isn’t providing - get with your doctor on this one to detect deficiencies - take it with your meal
Below are a few more tips to make your pantry into your medicine cabinet.
- Elderberry Syrup: Long a folk remedy, elderberry is thought to be excellent for prevention and immune boosting. During cold and flu season, 1 tsp is recommended per day, and, should sickness befall, upping the dosage to 3-4 teaspoons a day in place of NyQuil may treat you better! (I always had a very negative reaction to over the counter cold medicines, so I choose to avoid them, myself.)
A 2004 randomized, controlled trial, found that Elderberry extract offers an "efficient, safe, and cost-effective treatment for influenza". This study compared two groups of patients suffering from influenza-like symptoms, giving one group elderberry and the other a placebo for 5 days. The group that was taking the Elderberry syrup had a reduction in symptoms on average four days sooner than the placebo group.
- Fire cider is a potent tonic (it's a handed down folk recipe, so there are many variations, but most include ingredients like horseradish, garlic, onion, ginger, and chile pepper infused in apple cider vinegar) that helps knock out any unsavory bugs that invade your system. You can jazz up your morning routine daily by adding a tablespoon of fire cider in a 32 oz glass of warm water with a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon, ginger, and cayenne. This usually keeps me going throughout the winter. When I have a cough/cold, I also add a tablespoon of raw local honey.
- Garlic Oil: Garlic oil is what I use in place of the nasal spray I grew up using when congestion strikes. You can make your own by sautéing a garlic clove in 1 tbsp of oil (mince the clove and sautée until lightly browned, then strain out the oil, being sure not to use the homemade oil until it is room temperature), or you can buy it at stores like Whole Foods [I get mine at our local Baton Rouge spice shop, Red Stick Spice Co. It's culinary grade, but funnily enough, that is the perfect quality for medicinal use, as well. As the culinary-grade oil is made without heat, the antimicrobial benefits of garlic (source) are preserved better than sautéing on the stove top]. However, I have tried both and can speak to the efficacy of the home-brewed version, as well. I dip a straw into a bit of oil, and drip it into my ears (room temperature), and rub a q-tip in the oil to spread a layer on the inside of my nostrils (morning and night when I feel congestion coming on, and several times throughout the day when the congestion is full on).
- Thieves Oil: A combination of clove, cinnamon bark, rosemary, lemon, and eucalyptus, Thieves Oil can provide relief from symptoms of colds/infections. Studies have shown that cinnamon has the highest antimicrobial activity, along with eucalyptus and lemon, which may explain this efficacy. One to two drops on your tongue (or dripped into your tea/coffee) does the trick.
- Turmeric Chai Tea: I'll brew a big batch of this tea and sip on it all day when I'm sick. I beat the flu with this turmeric chai (and lots of rest, and I am not by any means saying that you should drink this tea and avoid the doctor if you get sick—get checked out and always follow your excellent doctor's advice if it is sound and in line with your beliefs.)
Turmeric has a long-standing reputation in Ayurveda (traditional Indian diet/holistic approach to life) as being a cold cure-all. Along with cinnamon (used in Chinese medicine for hundreds of years and recently demonstrated as having antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial effects), ginger (anti-inflammatory), and local honey (antibacterial), this tea helps your body put up a good fight against seasonal invaders. (Check out the full post for the recipe and sources/cited studies)
And ya know, it's not all about the food. Lifestyle plays a huge role in how we feel. You probably can sense where this is going...
A 2012 Carnegie Mellon study found that chronic stress is also associated with the body’s inability to regulate the inflammatory response.
Another similar study (also by Carnegie Mellon) showed that people suffering from psychological stress are more susceptible to developing common colds. Because cold symptoms are side effects of the aforementioned inflammatory response (triggered as part of the body’s effort to fight infection) the greater the inflammatory response, the greater the symptoms.
When stressed, cells of the immune system are unable to respond to hormonal control, and levels of inflammation occur which then promote disease.
Stress on inflammation on stress and it's an ouroboros situation!
This? This is why both diet and stress are so closely linked to how you feel.