Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine ● Longevity Nutrition

Monthly Archives: January 2010

A few weeks ago I published an article about Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Origin of Scientific Thought.  Part of its emphasis was discussing Five Element Theory which marked the beginning of scientific medicine and a departure from Shamanism.  The following is a discussion of the interconnected systems of soil biodiversity, plant ecology, gut microbiology, and human health and evolution. 

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, each of the Five Elements, fire, Earth, metal, water, and wood “symbolize five different inherent qualities and states of natural phenomena” including five movements and five phases in the cycle of the seasons.  People are often stumped by the fact that there are four seasons but five elements. Being the source of all life on this planet, Earth was the fifth, and viewed as the source of all the other elements.

The ancient Chinese scholars identified the digestive system to be an extension of and our connection to the Earth.  After all, it is where the elements of Earth are taken in as food and are transformed into a living being.

The bacteria and fungi present in every square millimeter of soil ultimately act as the digestive system or Earth element for plants.  They fix nitrogen and break down soil nutrients and minerals into forms that can be taken up by the plants’ roots. When we eat plants, we also take in some of the bacteria and fungi present in the soil.  These become part of the incredibly complex ecosystem of the gut.  

Each and every organism present in digestive system is a reflection of the organisms present in the soil.  Each one creates its own unique signals and immune responses that literally determine our state of being on EVERY level. 

We are already aware of the anti-inflammatory and immune boosting benefits of acidophilus and bifidus which are being marketed in several yogurt products.  A more interesting example of this appeared in the journal, Neuroscience, in May of 2007.  Researchers found that the presence of the bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae (which is common in soil and not pathogenic to humans) created an immune response that stimulated serotonin sensitivity in the certain parts of the brain.  A couple of things to take note of here:   First, not all immune responses are bad.  They are simply signals.  Secondly, this bacteria’s presence in the gut results in actual behavioral modifications via serotonin which has a happy, calming effect.  Further investigation suggested that this is one reason gardening makes us happy.

Another example is the pathogenic fungus, Rhizopus arrhizus. This fungus is also common in the soil and in trace amounts in our digestive tract.  Like an ecosystem, the richer and more diverse, the more resilient.  As long as our digestive ecosystem is diverse and healthy this fungus remains at low, non-threatening levels and actually serves many beneficial biologic functions.  For example, if you eat anything from the yam family this fungus converts some of the phytochemicals it into the hormone progesterone which is then taken up into the blood via the lymphatic system.  It’s also used very effectively in German Biologic Medicine as a low-dose suppository to stimulate the body to break up its own blood clots and vascular congestion.

A broader example is the influence of Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes and weight gain in humans.  An article that appeared in Nature  demonstrated a strong correlation between a low level of Bacteroidetes and obesity.  Conversely, thinner people had higher levels of Firmicutes.  Further research showed that these bacteria directly alter carbohydrate metabolism in the digestive system. 

Ultimately the bacteria in the soil determine what types plants can establish.  However, after a plant establishes itself, it creates its own local pathogen controls by promoting rhizobacteria.  When we eat plants and their roots the immunity from the rhizobacteria are passed on to our own digestive systems. From the soil, to the plant, to our own digestive system and back again.  They are not separate.  They are one system.  The foods we eat have a direct impact on the preponderance of the various bacteria and fungi present in our gut.  This, in turn, determines the signals and immune system responses.  As a very simple example, too much sugar results in an overgrowth of some fungi like candida albicans.  (more information on this in the future)

The emerging field of gut microbiology has incredible potential for treating disease.  However, after all the research is done, I believe the ultimate conclusion will be that eating food grown in healthy soil with extensive biodiversity will manifest as a healthy, evolving human community.  With our current technology we have only been able to culture between 0.1 and 1% of the soil fungi and bacteria.  The rest is completely unknown to us. 

It is important to consider the impact of microbial deprivation (via the use of bacteriocides, fungicides, irradiation, triple washing and chlorination of our food and water) on the human health and evolution.  There is a growing body of evidence that suggests the immune system problems we are seeing in the younger generations are a result of insufficient bacterial and viral exposure.  Furthermore, because plants determine the presence of specific bacteria, it’s important to consider the impact that monocultures have on soil biodiversity and how this affects human health.

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Beans With Kale, Eggs and Salsa

Since my entry on “Promoting Longevity and Maximizing Telomere Length by Reducing Cell Turnover in Bone with Alkalizing Foods”, I’ve had requests for recipes to achieve this.  I will use the following breakfast recipe to demonstrate not only how to alter your diet to make it more alkalizing but an entire ethos on assembling food to promote longevity.

 Just Add Kale

Any vegetable that can be left in the fridge for weeks and still be in its pristine state is obviously full of antioxidants.  Unlike spinach and chard, kale is very alkalizing.  Being from the cruciferous family, kale is high in indoles.  This phyto-nutrient quells the effects of estrogen and helps to prevent and slow the growth of cancers of the prostate, colon, uterus and breasts.  Their estrogen-quelling effects also make them powerful for reducing the PSA by slowing or reversing prostate growth.  Indoles also help your body neutralize the effects of all those estrogen-like plastic chemicals and pesticides that are ubiquitous in our environment. Being a very hearty plant, it can be grown in harsher climates making it easier to obtain from closer sources thereby reducing its carbon load.  If you have a vegetable garden, kale is easy to grow organically in the cooler seasons.

Tear up two or three kale leaves and add them to any cooked dish or salad to help make your meal more alkalizing and increase your antioxidants.

If you enjoy making fresh vegetable juice, kale is a powerful addition.  Some people find its pungent bitterness objectionable but you only need a leaf or two to get benefits.

Super-Easy Healthy Breakfast Recipe

  • Heat Great Northern beans or Adzuki beans in a little water and add 2-3 leaves of kale torn into bite-sized pieces.  Allow these to steam together until the beans are warm and the kale is lightly steamed to a vibrant green color.  (3-5 minutes)
  • While beans and kale are cooking, add a fresh egg to butter on medium-high heat. (yes, you can eat butter)  When the yolk just begins to whiten, add 1-2 Tbsp of water.  Cover and steam for about 45 seconds depending on how cooked you like your egg.
  • Serve egg on top of beans and kale and add a little sea salt, salsa, and pepper.

Great Northern Beans – Beans are one of the best sources of low-glycemic carbohydrates balanced out with protein.  This balance reduces inflammation throughout the whole body to slow the aging process. It also reduces the survivability of cancer cells.  As I mentioned, pretty much any food that is a protein source is acidifying.  White beans, kidney beans and adzuki beans are all only mildly acidifying so they’re a better choice than animal protein.

Chicken eggs – Little more protein to reduce inflammation and meet one’s minimum daily requirement.  Chicken eggs are only a mildly acidifying protein source BUT it’s important to note that the alkalizing effect comes from the yolk.  The whites are actually acidifying.  In addition to being alkalizing, the egg yolks are one of the few foods that contain a substantial amount of the essential nutrient, phosphatidyl choline, which helps your liver distribute and emulsify fats.  The yolk also contain lots of other fat-soluable vitamins.  It’s also IMPORTANT not to destroy the health-giving nutrients by overcooking the yolk.  If it’s still a little runny all the nutritional benefits are retained.

Sea Salt – a good source of extra minerals and electrolytes makes sea salt incredibly alkalizing.

Salsa or fresh chopped tomato with lime, garlic and cilantro– most of the additional ingredients in salsa, neutralize the acidifying effect of the tomatoes.  In addition, garlic is anti-inflammatory and stimulates the immune system.  Cilantro helps to chelate various heavy metals from the body, especially mercury.

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The emergence of Traditional Chinese Medicine’s Five Element Theory in 476 BCE “…marked the beginning of what one might call “scientific” medicine…”  Healers began to depart from Shamanism and looking for supernatural causes of disease.   “Instead they began to observe Nature and, with a combination of inductive and deductive method, they set out to find patterns within it and, by extension, apply these in the interpretation of disease.” (G. Macciocia)

Despite modern misunderstanding, they didn’t believe that everything was “made” of the Five Elements, fire, Earth, metal, water, and wood.  They assigned each element to “symbolize five different inherent qualities and states of natural phenomena” including five movements and five phases in the cycle of the seasons.

One of the more interesting concepts to emerge from Five Element Theory is called “The Doctrine of Signatures”.  Its premise is, if something contains a certain quality of one of the elements, it can be used to restore balance to something that is lacking or has lost that quality.  The following are some examples of uncanny medicinal coincidences that have emerged from The Doctrine of Signatures.

Walnuts – If it looks like a brain, it must be good for the brain.  Walnuts are one of the few nuts that are a significant source of omega-3 fatty acids.  It’s become common knowledge in conventional medicine that omega-3 fatty acids  play a crucial role in brain development, growth and function.

Ophiopogen – this herb is in the asparagus family and maintains lushness in dry climates.  Because of this quality it was assumed that its roots would be especially effective for cooling and moistening. It’s traditionally used for conditions where inflammation has parched various tissues which often leads to consumptive disorders like COPD.  It turns out ophiopogen contain nuatigenin-type steroids which ongoing research is revealing to suppress proinflammatory cytokines in conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and COPD.

Earthworms were traditionally used to treat conditions where something was severely blocked such as paralysis from stroke or congestion from asthma.  Applying the doctrine, earthworms can burrow and penetrate.  Modern research has revealed the presence of an enzyme called lumbrokinase that is extremely effective in hydrolyzing fibrin, a clotting factor that can cause strokes.  Lumbrokinase is widely available in supplement form and is used by naturopaths and some progressive physicians for the treatment and prevention of stroke.

*Being “modern” medicine there are efforts to genetically modify goats so that they can produce lumbrokinase  in their milk.  Perhaps the presence of health-giving chemicals is not a sign that we should isolate, concentrate or produce these molecules in a way that is inconsistent with Nature. Perhaps it’s more of an indication of how our diets evolved and what we should still be eating. By the way, earthworms would serve as a great protein source that is really low on the food chain. For expansion on the subject of insects as an evolutionary protein source see “Protein, Human Bodies and Missing Links in the Ecological Model”

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