The Myth of the Immaculate Gut

I’m so tired of cockamamie health advice that seems to start with the premise that we are nothing but a long, hollow tube beginning at the mouth and ending where the sun don’t shine.  Some presume, it seems, that keeping the tube squeaky clean at all times is the cure for every woe.  Juice fasts, enemas, and liver cleanses galore are prescribed for everything from acne to asthma.  Some of these treatments may have merit in certain situations, but I believe that total health depends upon more than an immaculate gut.

Something many people overlook in their quest for health is the fact that we are complex, finely tuned organisms, exquisitely sensitive to changes in our emotional and physical environment.  We have certain needs which are irreducible.  Physically, we need clean air, clean water, and adequate nutrition.  To be healthy mentally and emotionally, we need love, connection, and a feeling of safety.  These things are not negotiable, and any health advice that ignores these facts is likely to be harmful.

For example, the current juice fasting fad seems to be taking the world by storm.  Ask any confirmed health nut, including me unfortunately, if they’ve tried a juice fast and you’re likely to get a yes.  “If you’re clean inside, you’re green inside”, right? But the juice fast, or indeed any type of fast, ignores one basic truth: we need food.  I can already hear all the yes-buts. “Yes but, we are capable of going without food for a time, and fasting can be helpful, it’s even saved lives!”  I’m not an expert on fasting. Maybe there really are people who have turned their health around because of a fast.  What I have to go on is my own limited knowledge and experience, which tells me that fasting hurts.

Three years ago, I decided to try a juice fast.  Many of my friends were doing it.  I’d seen Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.  I thought it might be the answer to some of my nagging health problems.  My goal was to sustain the fast for at least five days, knowing that, with my blood sugar issues, I probably wouldn’t be able to go much longer than that.  By day three I was miserable.  I felt scary-bad.  My blood sugar was a mess and my adrenals were shot.  I gave up and decided to eat, hoping that I would be able to regain some equilibrium within a few days, but that was not how it went down.  The fast was the beginning of a long downward slide.  It set off severe chemical and food sensitivities which I now believe were a result of the adrenal fatigue.

Because proteins DRIVE the detoxification process, cleanses based on juices, fruits or vegetables do not make a lot of sense.  – 17 Signs of Impaired Liver Detox

The “liver flush”  or “liver cleanse” is another very popular treatment intended to purge the body of toxins.  Again, I’m sure many people have benefitted from these treatments, but it should be recognized that a treatment this powerful can also be potentially harmful.  The liver cleanse requires at least a partial fast.  No protein or fat is to be taken for more than 24 hours.  After 2:00 PM the day of the cleanse, no food is to be eaten.  This type of fast is not extreme and seems reasonably safe for most people.  But for those with blood sugar issues or adrenal fatigue, it can be quite difficult, even harmful.  Some treatment protocols, including Hulda Clark’s, specify that an overdose of magnesium in the form of Epsom salts must be taken.  This, apparently has resulted in cases of hypermagnesemia.  The end result of the treatment is diarrhea, and for some, vomiting, which stresses the system and creates electrolyte imbalance.

My experience with the liver flush was extremely unpleasant, even traumatic.  I think I would have been fine with the diarrhea and vomiting, that passed pretty quickly.  But I did experience hypermagnesemia, which was really scary.  As there are very good alternatives to the liver flush, I would not ever do this to myself again.

I’ve noticed that, in addition to seeming rather extreme, many popular natural treatments seem to completely overlook the mind/body connection.  There is mounting evidence that our thoughts have a direct bearing on our physical and emotional health.  That may mean, among other things, that it’s not just the carotenoids in the carrot that affect our health, but also our thoughts and feelings about carrots.  Sound far-fetched?  Take a look at this .

But the mind/body connection goes far beyond digestion. If your thoughts can affect your gut, you can bet that they affect every other part of you as well.  Epigenetics Shatters the “Central Dogma”

So maybe it’s time to rethink this puritanical urge of ours to purge our bodies of impurities.  Maybe it’s not what we can squeeze out of our bodies that matters as much as what we put into them.  Maybe if we nourish ourselves, body and soul, the trash will take itself out.

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Eat Local

by Doug Kerr

by Doug Kerr

(Continued from Simplicity of Wellness: Love For the Earth and its Creatures , and  Grow and Cook Your Own Food )

3.  Eat local.

“Shake the hand that feeds you.”  – Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eaters Manifesto

There’s an organic farm about five miles from my home. When I went there once to buy some produce, the farmer, Mr. Alvarez, took time to talk to me about his farm.  He was very proud that he had developed a new cultivar of chile.  He was also very proud of the fact that the food he grows is safe.  It’s safe for his own family.  It’s safe for the farm laborers, without whom Mr. Alvarez’s produce would not make it to market.  And it’s safe for us, the eaters.  That day I saw where my food came from.  I went into the field and picked my own very fragrant basil.  I filled bags with gorgeous looking heirloom tomatoes, potatoes, chiles, zucchini, garlic, and onions.  And when I returned home with my booty, my family and I enjoyed the taste of the uncommonly fresh and delicious food.

Most of us simply cannot grow all of our own food.  That does not mean that we always have to settle for the well-traveled mystery foods from the grocery store.  I say mystery foods because even when we buy fresh, unprocessed whole foods, we usually have no idea where exactly it came from (somewhere in California?) or whether we can trust that “natural” or “organic” label.  But when we go out to the farm or visit the local farmer’s market, we get to “shake the hand that feeds” us.

By Natalie Maynor

By Natalie Maynor

Eating local foods is good for us because the foods are fresher and often safer.  We can ask the farmer how exactly he deals with pests and what type of fertilizers he uses.  We can chat with him about food and farming, maybe getting a feel for why he does what he does.  This builds confidence and trust.

Eating locally is better for the planet as well because it circumvents the very wasteful and polluting food distribution system now in place.  We don’t need millions of semi trucks on the road if we buy from the farmer next door.

Eating locally is especially important for carnivores.  More and more people are becoming aware of the issues surrounding factory farmed meat, milk, and eggs.  But if you’re not one of those people, I suggest you take a look at Food Inc., or one of the many other documentaries exposing the filth and cruelty of factory farming.  I saw the film, but I didn’t need to.  I live where the practices of factory farming are baldly exposed to the public, and it’s very distressing to see (and smell!).

“Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do.”
― Michael Pollan

Many people are unaware of the fact that when they eat factory farmed meat, they are getting far more than they bargained for.  Along with the protein and fat, we’re eating significant levels of antibiotic residue, artificial hormones, and agricultural chemicals.  This is wreaking havoc on our endocrine and immune systems, and it seems to be contributing in large measure to the current epidemic of antibiotic resistance.  Not only that, but the runoff from said farms pollutes the air, the waterways, and the land that we depend on.

“I dislike the thought that some animal has been made miserable to feed me. If I am going to eat meat, I want it to be from an animal that has lived a pleasant, uncrowded life outdoors, on bountiful pasture, with good water nearby and trees for shade.”  – Wendell Berry

Happy cows make good milk.  Chickens allowed to express their innate chickennes lay really nice eggs.  Meat from pastured animals is just better in so many ways.

by Rachel Kramer

by Rachel Kramer

Eating local foods shows love and respect for the creator, ourselves, our families, and for the planet, especially it’s animals.  But this may not always be easy.  It’s definitely not as convenient to shop at the farmer’s market or go out to the farm.  Buying locally produced grass-fed animal products often takes forsight and planning.  I very often fall short of my own ideals in this respect.  Alright, almost always, especially in the winter.  But I try.  And when I succeed, my body thanks me and my conscience is comfortable.

Look for sources of local food at:

Eatwild’s Directory of U.S., Canadian and International Farms & Ranches

Local Harvest

Photos by Doug Kerr , Natalie Maynor , and Rachel Kramer

Grow and Cook Your Own Food

grow food

(Continued from Simplicity of Wellness: Love For the Earth and its Creatures )

2. Grow things and cook your own food.

“There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling.” ~Mirabel Osler

An unknown author once said that “you can bury a lot of troubles in the dirt.” I can personally testify to the truth of that.  Gardening was one of the first things I did during my recovery. As soon as I had enough strength in my legs so that I could stay on them for any length of time, I would go outside into my yard and pick a little here and cut a little there.  I would sometimes visit my old, neglected garden spot to find the strawberries and mint and chives that were still growing there.  Those were times which inspired starred passages in my gratitude journal.  It makes me think of what Nathaniel Hawthorne said about his special piece of ground:

I used to visit and revisit it a dozen times a day, and stand in deep contemplation over my vegetable progeny with a love that nobody could share or conceive of who had never taken part in the process of creation. It was one of the most bewitching sights in the world to observe a hill of beans thrusting aside the soil, or a rose of early peas just peeping forth sufficiently to trace a line of delicate green. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

There aren’t many pursuits that are as health-giving as gardening.  The garden obliges us to spend time outside, soaking up the sun, exercising our muscles, and breathing fresh, herb scented air.  It gives a sense of purpose.  It ties us to the earth, makes us responsible for the health and beauty of our little patch.  And if we grow food, it provides us with nourishment and taste that cannot be rivaled by any of the insipid fare found at the supermarket.

Growing our own food may seem revolutionary now, but not long ago it was mundane.  The garden and farm were where all the food was, not the supermarket.

“The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.”
– Joel Salatin

Gardening is an alternative to our current food system, which is broken.  Our current system is hurtful to every living thing within its sphere of influence.  Agricultural chemicals, mono-cropping, genetic engineering, and confined animal feeding operations (or more accurately, animal concentration camps), are all examples of farming practices which do profound damage to farm animals, ecosystems, and to humans.

And farming is only the beginning of the problem.  Our system of food distribution is completely unsustainable principally because it relies on a finite resource, petroleum.  The sometimes thousands of miles that typical supermarket foods have traveled represents vast amounts of wasted fuel as well as significant levels of increased air pollution.

“The passive American consumer, sitting down to a meal of pre-prepared food, confronts inert, anonymous substances that have been processed, dyed, breaded, sauced, gravied, ground, pulped, strained, blended, prettified, and sanitized beyond resemblance to any part of any creature that ever lived. The products of nature and agriculture have been made, to all appearances, the products of industry. Both eater and eaten are thus in exile from biological reality.” – Wendell Berry 

For many of the same reasons that gardening is good for us, cooking our own food is too.  When we start with fresh, simple, natural ingredients and cook our own meals with them, we make sure that what we put in our bodies is as safe and as pure as we can make it.  This does not have to be complicated.  Even a quick, freshly prepared meal such as a plate of scrambled eggs with some orange slices on the side will be a thousand times better for us than a fast food sandwich or a bowl of Captain Crunch.

Cooking, like gardening, is also better for the health of the planet.  The process of producing fast food and processed foods creates an enormous amount of waste: food is wasted, paper is wasted, and loads of plastic and paper are dumped into landfills.

When we choose to grow food and cook it ourselves, we are choosing to show respect for ourselves and for the planet that was so lovingly prepared for us.  Although I understand this, I also understand how difficult it can be to accomplish these things.  I haven’t had a decent garden in three years because of illness.  Cooking can be a challenge if it’s something we’ve never done or if our health is bad or our schedule is busy.   But even baby steps matter.  A simple home cooked meal, a  flower bed, or a container full of herbs are significant.  Why?  First, because the simple act of producing that small amount of beauty or food makes us feel better.  And second, because baby steps sometimes lead to bigger steps.

Gardening is Good For You

Photo by SteveR

Simplicity of Wellness

(Simplicity of Wellness will be a series of short posts that will eventually become one long article with its own page. This is my first installment. I hope you enjoy.)

dew on grass

“A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts. We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it.”

– Henry David Thoreau

I have learned the key to health the hard way.  I’ve tried repeatedly, and mostly unsuccessfully to “get healthy” by all manner of contrivance. I gobbled the vitamins, herbs,and “nutriceuticals”.  I bopped along to the exercise tapes.  I bought the air purifiers, tested my water, tossed the Teflon and plastic, and bought organic. I even felt self-righteous about my efforts because I was, as I thought, doing it naturally.  But I was trying to build a house without a foundation, and for that reason I was bound to fail.

What is health?  Websters dictionary defines it as “the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit”.  The opposite of health, then, is the condition of being unsound in body, mind or spirit.  As a society we intuitively understand this, as is evidenced by our metaphors for poor health.  We “fly to pieces”, “come apart at the seams”, and “come unglued” when we are not well.  Poor health is a state of disconnection, disintegration.

What is the antidote?  In a word, love.  We cannot be healthy in the absence of love.  It will not matter how many pills we swallow, how many organic carrots we munch, or what kind of water filtration system we buy if we have not learned love.  God is love, which means that love created the universe.  It is the true foundation of everything, including us.

What does this mean in practical terms?  It means that a loving connection with the creator, with ourselves, and with other creatures is where all healing journeys begin and end.  We must begin at the beginning.

Photo by Michael Jastremski