Does anybody else feel enraged that scientists are only now discovering the link between nutrition and health? A recent ABC Catalyst episode – Gut Reaction (Part 1 & 2 ) explored the interaction between food and bacteria in the gut. My English born father has been espousing this link for the majority of his life. He has applied a new energy to this topic over the past 11 years to extend his life after bowel cancer. He is 99 in November.
The program’s premises was that diet of high fat, high sugar and highly processed foods even in someone young and fit, results in the production of colonies of bad bacteria that destroy the body’s capacity to process and eliminate such foods. This results in the need for the production of additional insulin. A sure bet for a life time of poor eating choices is either Type II diabetes and/or one or more of the various auto-immune disorders. You will no doubt have increased your body’s inflammatory responses and have a higher risk for life threatening health conditions, such as cancer.
You may be worse off if studies into mice births are confirmed in humans, with caesarian births failing to supply much needed gut and e-coli bacteria. This early introduction to destructive bacteria helps us to build immunity, which is absent when we enter via the ziplock womb. Just a little more added guilt to mothers who choose caesarian birth and those that have no choice in the matter. Sure women should have earlier, less invasive births, and so should there be equal pay, adequate child care facilities and support for women to contribute to society in ways other than by their vaginas or wombs!
A life worth examining, is my father’s. At 99, my father is without medication and any serious ageing conditions other than a little stiffness in his joints at the point of first movement and a little eczema. He admits that he should probably remove eggs from his diet to eliminate the eczema however he concedes he should ‘live a little’. He has no Alzheimer’s but a little forgetfulness and tends to miss other people’s birthdays though he is acutely aware of his own.
He is from an era where additives and preservatives were few or non existent. His mother, who birthed him naturally, grew vegetables in a small patch of rented earth, during the lean war years and afterwards. When he immigrated with my mother, to Australia and purchased his first parcel of land, he converted much of that residential plot in Aspley, Queensland to the growing of organic fruit and vegetables. He made wonderful contraptions, like the netted snail confuser, which was essentially a basket that lowered over the lettuces with a copper trim. Copper carries an inherent electical charge which will ‘shock’ a slug or snail if they try to travel across the surface. Ever the pacifist, it was a gentle reminder to the humble house-back snail, that sharing was not an option.
My father was never a smoker or a regular drinker. I have vivid childhood memories of him enjoying the very occasional shandy on a blistering hot Queensland afternoon after moving the lawn in his knee high socks! He has not messed with his hormonal regulatory system and while he may have fallen victim to adrenal gland exhaustion during his brutal experiences in the Second World War, he spent his days in peace, correcting this imbalance.
The Second World War, taught him to appreciate the gift of survival and he dedicated his life to his pursuit of artist endeavours, his wife Molly, the peace of his organic garden, an unshakeable faith in God, the discourse of ideas and learning, community engagement and quiet contemplation. The war had robbed him of his hearing but had given him restful sleep as no sound disturbed his slumber.
Wind the clock forward to the era that promised freedom in capitalism and free market commerce, and where do we find ourselves? – but in the midst of a global health crisis. The feminist liberation manifesto/ propaganda did not include the impact of raised cortisol levels through chronic sustained stress experienced by some heroic women who attempt to juggle a demanding career and still parent effectively despite the lens of societal guilt. The burden of economic sustainability and the pursuit of consumer goods, has driven adult men and women into a frenzy of employment, with reduced life/work balance (this is the correct way around, I believe) and an ever eroding work conditions that conflict with family, rest and healthy living.
I don’t need to conduct a survey to know that most of us have no idea what our adrenal glands do or where in the body to find them. I had no idea when a naturopath commented over 10 years ago, that she thought I had ‘adrenal exhaustion’. I thought , ‘no problem – you bounce back from exhaustion easily, right?’. Wrong!! All of us will experienced stress, though some of us, have been under chronic sustained stress for long periods of time or have experienced emotional/mental and/or physical trauma throughout their lives. Chronic stress exhausts the adrenal gland and it becomes too fatigued to meet the needs of the body. If you have symptoms of fatigue, sugar or salt cravings, low blood sugar, depression, anxiety, skin rashes, poor sleep and allergies, you may have low cortisol levels.
So where is that unobtrusive overworked adrenal gland? It actually a pair and one resides on top of each of your kidneys. It is the wallflower at the hormone producing gland dance. So to put in in perspective, you can lose your ovaries or your testes and live, but if your remove your adrenal glands then you will die shortly after. The adrenal glands produce cortisol and too much cortisone can cause symptoms of weight gain around the waist, poor sleep, fatigue, elevated blood sugars, menstrual irregularities, increased thirst, higher blood pressure and even more frequent infections. (http://health.howstuffworks.com/human-body/systems/endorcrine/the-adrenal-gland.htm).
Enter the age of the antibiotic. Anyone woman who has taken antibiotics can relate to the annihilation of good gut flora and the stealth of the opportunistic Candida. The merry-go-round of discomfort can last for weeks. The management of thrush during chemotherapy is high on the agenda for those undertaking cancer treatments, as the cellular structure of the lining of the alimentary canal is destroyed. Often you are instructed or advised (depending on your self advocacy) to not undertake an organic diet /alkaline diet during chemo, as it may interfere with the efficacy of the chemotherapy drugs. You read between those lines!
Nutritionists, naturopaths and other radicals of the complimentary health movement have endured ridicule for stating what was well founded in logic and in the basic understanding of the human body system. These include, that the gut influences health, alkalinity is incompatible with cancer as it restores the body to full fighting capacity, and chronic stress robs the body of its ability to balance cortisol levels. The body is at its optimum operating level, at homeostasis, where the human body’s internal environment in stable in response to changes in external conditions.
So what can you do. You can eat a balanced diet primarily of organic vegetables, a small serve of fruit (too much sugar is the enemy in all forms), organic chicken and fish, alkaline water, wheat-free grains, nuts and seeds. I am not tolerant of dairy so I give it a wide berth. Some practitioners believe both soy and cow’s milk, leach the calcium from your bones, the direct opposite advice of the dairy industry marketeers. One could ask, why do we need to take calcium supplements after a life long love affair with the cow?
In addition to maintaining a diet that enables good flora to live abundantly and within balance in your stomach, is the need to make time daily for daily exercise and mediation, or if you prefer quiet contemplation, sound sleep and reasonable expectations upon your available time. I made a commitment to myself in recovery to change my life and to restructure my priorities. I have been blessed to have a supportive partner without whom I would not have had the opportunity to reconnect with this essential knowledge that I share on this blog. You can improve your health through nutrition and you can rebuild your sense of well being through complimentary therapies and by slowing down in a world that is addicted to speed and the renouncing of personal responsibility for health outcomes.