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”by
Bugs…Don’t Kill ‘Em, Eat Em!“If all the insects were to disappear from the earth, within 50 years all life on earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.” Jonas Salk
In the previous posting I discussed protein requirements for present-day humans and questioned the inefficiency of the ecological model with respect to evolution.
A couple of years ago, while pondering a failing in my second attempt at a biodynamic garden, I was looking at an infestation of insect eggs on my collard greens. Reflecting back on an involuntary, three-day survival situation I also pondered that, by day three, those insect eggs would have looked pretty appetizing. Sitting there, I realized that before the advent of modern farming, the plants we ate and water we drank would have been full of the products of all life stages of insects. This is a well of protein and other essential nutrients that we have now virtually eliminated from our food supply.
The general consensus is that, despite the ability to hunt, hunter-gatherer societies still obtained 80% of their food calories from gathering. To help incur the survival advantage, all species in the food web (other than present-day humans) have retained the universal law of the conservation of energy. However, the transfer of energy in the form of calories is quite inefficient. As we move up each trophic level in the food chain only about 10% of the energy is transferred.
For a species to skip a trophic level is an incredibly inefficient utilization of resources and is an idiosyncrasy in the natural laws. Like lions attacking an elephant (which is rare), a species has to be under an incredible amount of stress and scarcity to expend the energy to harvest higher in the food web. Nonetheless, due to communication, cooperation, the ability to make tools, and the ability to be omnivores, this idiosyncrasy allowed humans to expand beyond their niche and take over the Earth. Coyotes (also omnivores) are one of the few other creatures that have managed similar success. The difference between coyotes and humans is that coyotes remained part of the ecological web whereas humans moved beyond it.
Because insects are a much more abundant and energy-efficient protein source, they likely acted as an evolutionary bridge for humans. Insects would have provided the all the essential amino acids as well as the essential nutrients choline and omega-3 fatty acids. Access to these nutrients would have enabled humans to move away from coastal food dependency and more inland. It’s possible that this protein source was more passively obtained through the consumption of plants which, as I already mentioned, would have contained insect eggs and larvae.
Insects also provide various chemicals that help to treat and prevent disease. For example, their exoskeleton provides chitin, a key source of glucosamine which is now taken as a dietary supplement to help prevent joint tissue degeneration. Perhaps if we still ate insects we wouldn’t need to take their exoskeletons in pill form. Several “bugs” are used medicinally in Traditional Chinese Medicine. For example earthworms, which contain the enzyme lumbrokinase, are used to treat blood clots and congestion of tissues when there is lots of inflammation and phlegm present. I can speak from experience that asthma patients respond profoundly better when earthworm is included in a formula. Other medicinal insects that actually work when used appropriately include cicada skin for dry, itchy skin, and mantis egg case for urinary leakage and incontinence.
It’s time that we move from viewing insects as pests to viewing them as a resource. We evolved eating them. Efforts to transcend the stigma of eating insect products in our society offer an array of benefits. Reduction of consumption of fossil fuels to produce protein, reduction of need for pesticides in some crops, recovery of species numbers which depend on various insects as a primary food source in areas like the country’s mid-section where pesticide use results in incidental insect elimination. In an effort to work with the natural laws I say the “Don’t kill ‘em, eat ‘em!” policy should be implemented immediately.by