Everything You Know About Nutrition is Wrong Posted on July 20, 2016, 1 Comment
Everything you know about nutrition is wrong.
But maybe you knew that already. Maybe you find yourself smack dab in the category of “Normal American” and realize the company you keep isn’t the healthiest in the world. More than two thirds of your peers are overweight. And looking in the mirror you realize these folks are your peers for a reason. You should have been devastated to learn you’d been diagnosed with cancer; but then again, so have more than half the people you know. Terms like hypertension and diabetes roll off your tongue like you just graduated from med school. You and your friends discuss irritable bowel with a whiff of…umm…well…authority. And the truth is you’re popping so many pills for a litany of symptoms your doctor often asks you if a certain prescription may be right for him. You have a sneaking suspicion that it’s all caused by diet. And I’m here to tell you it’s time to go with your gut.
Or at least stop working against it, for goodness sake!
Eight of the top ten leading causes of death* in the United States can be attributed to what we’re eating in this country.
- Heart Disease
- Chronic lower respiratory disease
- Accidents (unintentional injuries)
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Influenza and pneumonia
- Kidney disease
*Annually there are around 2,596,993 deaths registered in the US with the leading top 10 causes accounting for nearly 75% of all deaths.
Sometimes that connection is rather obvious (if not misconstrued), as is the case with heart disease and diabetes. Other times the association is a bit more ambiguous. How cancer or Alzheimer’s disease is impacted by diet and gut health has only recently been explored by modern medicine. Yet over a hundred years ago, the relationship between a healthy digestive system and the overall health of the human organism had already been well established:
“In mammals there exist two brains of almost equal importance to the individual and race. One is the cranial brain, the instrument of volitions, of mental progress and physical protection. The other is the abdominal brain, the instrument of vascular and visceral function. It is the automatic, vegetative, the subconscious brain of physical existence. In the cranial brain resides the consciousness of right and wrong. Here is the seat of all progress, mental and moral ... However, in the abdomen there exists a brain of wonderful power maintaining eternal, restless vigilance over its viscera. It presides over organic life. It dominates the rhythmical function of viscera....The abdominal brain is a receiver, a reorganizer, an emitter of nerve forces. It has the power of a brain. It is a reflex center in health and disease....The abdominal brain is not a mere agent of the [cerebral] brain and cord; it receives and generates nerve forces itself; it presides over nutrition. It is the center of life itself. In it are repeated all the physiologic and pathologic manifestations of visceral function (rhythm, absorption, secretion, and nutrition). The abdominal brain can live without the cranial brain, which is demonstrated by living children being born without cerebrospinal axis. On the contrary the cranial brain can not live without the abdominal brain....” (Robinson, 1907, pp. 123 -126)
Byron Robinson’s book, The Abdominal and Pelvic Brain, wasn’t well ahead of its time. We’ve simply become so focused in this age of specialization that we’ve lost sight of anything “proven” outside the confines of the laboratory environment. Still, science trudges inexorably forward, eventually returning to what primitive societies have innately known for eons:
what we eat matters
Weston A. Price was another health pioneer who gained invaluable insights into the truth of that statement by daring to study the real world. His research in the 1920s and 1930s took him all over the globe, eventually culminating in his seminal work, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Dr. Price spent years not just studying but living with, talking to, and even assimilating the cultures and habits of numerous indigenous peoples. He wanted to understand why Modern Man was so afflicted with numerous diseases while traditional societies remain largely unaffected. His book chronicled, both in word and pictures, the decline in health as people adopted a diet of convenient, processed foods.
Today it’s even worse. Over 70% of the food consumed in the Western diet didn’t exist 10,000 years ago which probably means you weren’t designed to eat it. And much like putting diesel in an engine built for unleaded fuel, consuming foods not optimal for our metabolic machinery degrades our function on every level. A dentist, Price concentrated much of his research on oral health; and many contemporary studies share a similar focus:
These results support notions that a decrease in masticatory stress among agriculturalists causes the mandible to grow and develop differently. This developmental argument also explains why there is often a mismatch between the size of the lower face and the dentition, which, in turn, leads to increased prevalence of dental crowding and malocclusions in modern postindustrial populations.
Other researchers looked beyond the mechanical repercussions on the oral cavity, considering symptoms which were literally less “in your face”:
IBS is one of the most common functional gastrointestinal disorders worldwide and is thought to be the result of disturbed neural function along the brain-gut axis….studies have demonstrated that IBS may be associated with an activated adaptive immune response. Increased epithelial barrier permeability and an abnormal gut flora might lead to increased activation of the intestinal immune system.
The Enteric Nervous System (ENS) is a subdivision of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). Formed early in embryonic development, the ENS is located in the sheaths of gastrointestinal tissue lining the esophagus all the way down to the anus. It is estimated to have between 200 and 600 million neurons—more than the entire spinal cord—proof if its importance in the evolution of the human organism. Though able to function entirely independently of the Central Nervous System (CNS), the ENS connects to the CNS via the vagus nerve, constantly supplying the brain with information coming from the various components of the gastrointestinal tract.
One of the critical pieces of data being relayed along this pathway is the health of bacteria residing in the intestines. You are a body of over 100 trillion cells. Yet you have more bacteria in your gut than you have cells in your body. An estimated four pounds of bacteria are found in the intestines of the average adult, 85% of which should be “good” while the remaining 15% are considered “bad” or harmful. Unfortunately, as this microorganism population becomes imbalanced, so does the biochemistry of the brain.
Recent studies have implicated the health of the intestinal flora in various mood disorders and abnormal mental states, including clinical depression. The authors of a 2011 review of the scientific literature regarding the ENS write, “this link may contribute to several neuropsychiatric disorders, emphasizing the key role of nutrition….”
And though Dr. Price may not have practiced during an era in which the term “gut-brain axis” was a part of the medical vernacular, he most definitely recognized how poor diet encouraged physical, mental, and moral deterioration. Chapter 19 of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration opens with:
After one has lived among the primitive racial stocks in different parts of the world and studied them in their isolation, few impressions can be more vivid than that of the absence of prisons and asylums.
Is it plausible that our gut influences our thoughts and our emotions? Is it possible that how we eat could truly affect how we act and behave—so much so that our diet determines our destiny? Our morals molded by macronutrients?
Well, the reverse is certainly true. Our mental state continually impacts the function of our digestive system. Do you ever get “butterflies” before an important presentation or performance? Have you ever gotten so nervous before a competition you felt sick to your stomach. Where do you think the term “scared shitless” comes from? All are examples of the enteric nervous system responding to signals from the brain, the study of which is exploding in the new field of neurogastroenterology. The gut gets feedback from the brain. And science is beginning to conclude that this communication is bi-directional—the brain’s biochemistry reflects the biochemistry of the gut—a novel hypothesis gaining ground as research and common sense inevitably converge:
Genetic and environmental studies implicate immune pathologies in schizophrenia. The body's largest immune organ is the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Historical associations of GI conditions with mental illnesses predate the introduction of antipsychotics. Current studies of antipsychotic-naïve patients support that gut dysfunction may be inherent to the schizophrenia disease process. Risk factors for schizophrenia (inflammation, food intolerances, Toxoplasma gondii exposure, cellular barrier defects) are part of biological pathways that intersect those operant in the gut. Central to GI function is a homeostatic microbial community, and early reports show that it is disrupted in schizophrenia. Bioactive and toxic products derived from digestion and microbial dysbiosis activate adaptive and innate immunity.
The critical gut-brain axis is finally garnering the scientific attention it deserves as serious flaws in the conventional, allopathic model of medicine are being discovered. People are sick and tired of being sick and tired with the “this” for “that” approach too often leaving patients with more of “that”.
We are our own worst enemies when we allow recommendations made by experts with specific agendas, financial, political, or otherwise to guide us. And until we realize that blindly following double blind studies instead of our intuition—that instinct which has been developed and refined during hundreds of thousands of years of not just survival but evolution as well—until we honor the guru in our gut, we will never truly be healthy.
Ultimately, we can be our own best therapists.
Even though the state of our intestinal flora is predicated on far more than what we eat, returning to a more traditional diet is still a powerful strategy to reclaim the health that is our birthright. Basically, just eat whatever your grandparents would recognize as food. And if you don’t know what that might have been, simply do the opposite of every recommendation ever made by any government agency or corporate product in the past 70 to 100 years. If you want more specifics, you could get a copy of my book—Spot On: Nutrition. Or read some of the articles coming out in future blog posts and past ones, too. Either way, you’re taking responsibility for yourself, and I bet your head will resonate with that decision.
I know your gut will.