Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of creating and maintaining positive health by preventing the imbalances that lead to disease.
Ayurveda accomplishes this by taking into consideration the unique constitution of each individual as well as their environment. Therefore we are fed not only by food but also by the sights, sounds and emotions we experience. By establishing balance on a spiritual, emotional, intellectual, behavioral, physical, familial, social and environmental level individuals are able to maintain and preserve positive health for a potential lifespan of 120 years. For the purpose of this paper I am going to focus on the food we eat and how it affects our health.
All natural things (this includes all plants, minerals and animals) are composed of different combinations of the five elements; ether, air, fire, water, earth. The knowledge of this elemental makeup allows us to restore imbalances by using foods and herbs with the opposite qualities of the imbalance. Because herbs are whole foods they contain passive ingredients that balance the active ingredients reducing the side effects that are produced by taking synthetic medicines.
“No disease can be cured unless supplemented by the right diet. About 90% of disease can be prevented by the right diet alone.” C. Edward Coop
Our health depends on how we digest the food we intake. The tissues of our bodies are constantly being broken down and rebuilt. The foods we eat must be broken down into their 5 basic elements and transformed into new tissues. By eating fresh seasonal foods that compliment our age and body constitution at the proper times in a proper environment we support our bodies ability to stay healthy.
Eating food not only nourishes the body but also nourishes the soul and mind.
Healthy food is the most basic need for human survival, health and social stability. Food choices not only directly influence the health of eaters, but food choices profoundly influence the health of the planet. Healthy soil is central to all living things – all plants depend on the soil-food web for their nutrition and all animals and humans depend on healthy plants for their nutrition. In order for humans to absorb minerals they must first be linked with some form of carbon and reduced to angstrom size minerals which we can then absorb intracellularly. Some science shows that sea solids can work in this fashion to restore the depleted mineral balance found in most or our soil due to erosion and improper farming practices. Soil erosion has reduced nutrient bioavailability in plants showing a dramatic decrease in nutrients in conventionally raised food in America since 1940. A 40 year study conducted by an American Dr. Maynard Murray focusing on the deletion of minerals from America’s topsoil showed that plants grown with re-hydrated sea solids provided plants with a full spectrum of 92 minerals. These plants became impervious to disease even when deliberately exposed. The animals that ate these plants also became resistant to disease. Under the Himalayan mountain range lies an ancient evaporated sea which contains this same mineral spectrum in a much more pure state than now available from our polluted oceans.
Science proves that healthy soil grows healthy food and that healthy food nourishes healthy people and healthy people live in healthy communities. Primarily ingesting fruits grains and vegetables lowers the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and could prevent at least 20% of all cancer.
Every time a chemical nutrient is added or subtracted from a food the natural balance is disrupted. When the synergy of all five elements (panchamahabutas) is disrupted, thousands of years of biological programming is thrown out of balance. The eventual result of this is an early onset of chronic degenerative disease.
In the last century modern society has radically changed lifestyle and the source and preparation of food. Many people depend largely on conveniently packaged and processed foods that have dramatically altered the ability to receive whole nutrition. The alteration of the amounts of fat, sodium and carbohydrates in processed food as well as the use of artificial fertilizers, hormones, and antibiotics in food production has affected the nourishment we receive from the foods we eat. Diet-related chronic diseases are of epidemic proportions. Seven of the top ten causes of death are linked to diet. Fresh organically raised food contains prana, the vitality that gives us life. Highly processed food does not carry this prana and as a result we do not receive the vitality necessary to rebuild our tissues in the healthiest manner. Presently, 90% of foods Americans purchase every year are processed foods. In 2006 alone, 2800 new candies, desserts, ice cream, and snacks were introduced to the marketplace compared to just 230 new fruit and vegetable products. Given this information you might ask why people have not changed their habits. Part of the reason may be that this information is not widely broadcast. Another reason according the Dr. Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine explains that meat and cheese, as well as sugar and chocolate, contain opiate-like substances that keep people hooked – and unhealthy.
Foods grown with chemicals and pesticides take in these qualities and redeliver them to us throughout our digestive process. Genetically modified food has had the basic structure and balance altered which has serious effects on our ability to achieve and maintain health-preserving balance. Over time these chemical substances bio-accumulate and contribute to our systems ability to create disease. Adding synthetic fertilizers herbicides and pesticides to the foods we grow upsets the natural balance and harmony of said food, the earth it is grown in and the humans who consume it. The natural rhythm of the plants metabolism is disrupted and as a result the plants fail to absorb the often times few valuable minerals still available in our topsoil. In addition most commercially grown produce has not been allowed to ripen in the field which means its nutrient value is lessened because of incomplete development. When we eat less vital plants we become less vital and more prone to disease. The same rush through production stimulated by artificial fertilizers, growth hormones and genetic engineering results in the plants themselves having less resistance to disease and pests requiring more use of pesticides and herbicides. These poisons seep into the plant via the surface and root system and become part of the cellular structure of the plant. Because pesticides bio-accumulate higher up the food chain, food such as milk, meat and eggs increase exposure to pesticides as they accumulate in fat cells.
The effects of ingesting individual pesticides in the quantities that appear on produce are unknown. In the EPA’s effort to protect the public from the effects of eating foods that have been treated with pesticides they have set tolerances of the amounts that may legally remain in or on the food and animal feed. These tolerances have been set by, analyzing foods as they are harvested, processed, marketed, and prepared. EPA also requires a battery of toxicity tests on lab animals to determine a pesticide’s potential for causing adverse health effects such as cancer, birth defects, and adverse effects on the nervous system or other organs. As a result of these tests the EPA established a Reference Dose indicating the level that EPA judges an individual could be exposed to on a daily basis for a lifetime with minimal probability of experiencing any adverse effect. Recently the EPA has recognized that the diets of infants and children may differ substantially from those of adults and these guidelines may allow them to be exposed to proportionately more pesticides. Given these guidelines were established one chemical at a time and that most conventionally raised produce has more than one chemical found in the end product has caused some people to question whether these guidelines are sufficient to protect our health. Pesticides can be toxic to humans and animals. Seven of the most toxic chemical compounds know to man are approved for use as pesticides in the production of food. These toxins are referred to as Persistent Organic Pollutants. They are called persistent because they can not easily be removed from the environment. Pesticides are generally referred to as broad-spectrum, narrow-spectrum and systemic. The systemic pesticides are taken up by the plants absorption system and occur throughout the plant. They work by poisoning the pollen and nectar of the flowers of the plant and as a result not only kill pests but also kill needed pollinators like butterflies and bees. The systemic poisoning of plant flowers has killed scores of bees. In the winter of 2006/2007 we lost 25% of bee colonies. Bees play a vital role in the perpetuation and of plant cycles and evolution. While systemic pesticide use has not officially been blamed for the loss of bee colonies no once can rightly say they have been good for bees. Pesticides seem to pose one of the greatest risks to our health and environment. Studies have begun to show that even pesticide exposure in allowed limits can have neurological effects on developing fetuses. Common pesticides used in homes and lawns are now being shown in medical research to accelerate aging of the immune ands nervous system resulting in serious health problems years after exposure. Some agriculture pesticides are not required to be tested for subtle neurological effects (i.e. memory, depressions, behavior) – child-learning disorders – pregnancy developmental studies and immune system effects (i.e. lower white blood cell counts, increased infection rates and autoimmunity). The U.S. National Academy of Science concluded in a report on diet and cancer that “there is no epidemiological evidence to suggest that pesticides individually make a greater contribution to the risk of human cancer” but they also concluded that “the possibility that they may act synergistically and thereby create a greater carcinogenic risk cannot be excluded. There is evidence that farm workers exposed to high levels of pesticides have higher incidences of cancer and an increase in genetic damage was observed in Danish greenhouse workers handling plants treated with any of 50 different compounds. The U.S. EPA ranks pesticide residues among the top three environmental cancer risks.
A US study showed rural mid-western men with high amounts of the pesticide diazanon and the herbicides alachlor and atrazine in their urine are far more likely to have abnormal (diluted, deformed and sluggish) sperm.
A study by Belgian toxicologist Dr. Charles Charlier in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that women diagnosed with breast cancer were six to nine times more likely to have the pesticide DDT in their bloodstream compared to women who did not have breast cancer.
A landmark paper published in 1998 by Elizabeth Guillette and collegues using anthropological and standard pediatric assessments of children to asses the impact of pesticide residues from food and the environment on their health. She compared children in two nearby isolated villages in Mexico, one in which pesticides were routinely used in their farming practices, and one in which they were not used. Everything else in these two villages was the same, genes, lifestyles, diet, climate, culture etc. To assess the children’s cognitive development she measured eye-hand coordination, short-term memory, and the ability to draw a person. These are standard anthropological assessment tools.
What she found was an impaired cognitive development in the children of the village that routinely used pesticides, as demonstrated by these efforts by four and five year olds to
draw a person. The drawings on the left are by four and five year olds from the village where pesticides are not used, while those no the right are by children of the same age from the village in the valley where children are exposed to pesticide residues in their diet, homes and environment.
For over 20 years there have been studies showing the increased risk of many diseases such as cancer, weakened immune system, allergies, neurotoxicity, hyperactivity in children, brain allergies, endocrine disruption, decreased mental clarity and poor concentration. The cumulative effect of widespread, chronic, low-level exposure to multiple pesticides is only partially understood.
According to the U.S. EPA's 2002 list of impaired water bodies, over 635 miles of river
and streams in the Central Valley of California, including the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and Delta, are so polluted by agricultural pesticides that they are unsafe for uses such as fishing, swimming, and drinking.
Farm runoff that reaches the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers contaminates drinking water supplies for millions of Californians in the Central Valley, the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California.
Pesticides, pathogens, nitrates and salts have been detected in drinking water sources for at least 46 California counties. The Department of Pesticide Regulation detected pesticides in 96% of Central Valley locations tested, and over half of these detections exceeded unsafe levels for aquatic life and drinking water consumption.
California uses 20% of the pesticides use in America so it is fair to predict that the other 80% being used is increasing toxicity to some level.
Perhaps the amazing fact is that many of the studies showing the dangers of ingesting and inhaling pesticides were completed twenty years ago in the 1980’s, yet in the 1990’s pesticide use increased.
Could these toxic effects of conventional farming in America be responsible for the citizens of America walking around in a state of semi-consciousness? Why else would we or our government allow or tolerate farming practices that contribute so heavily to growing foods that contribute so readily to disease?
The best way to limit chronic poisoning from pesticides is to eat organic fruits and vegetables.
For the same 20 years studies have wavered back and forth over whether there is additional nutrition in organic food. Arguments have risen up as to whether studies were unbiased and truly scientific. There is much evidence showing sometimes they were not. A study called the Firman Bear Report conducted at Rutgers University found organic food much richer in minerals than “commercial produce”. In their study organic tomatoes had 5 times more calcium, 12 times more magnesium, 3 times more potassium and 8 times more manganese, 600% more organic sodium which does not affect blood pressure like table salt and 1900 times more iron.
A study at UC Davis by Dr. Maria Amodio and Dr. Adel Kader show organically grown kiwis had significantly higher level of vitamin C and polyphenols. “All the main mineral constituents were more concentrated in the organic kiwi fruit, which also had higher ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and total polyphenol content, resulting in higher antioxidant activity.
A French study showed similar polyphenol results in tomatoes, peaches and apples.
A 2001 report by Britain’s Soil Association looked at 400 nutritional research studies and concluded food grown organically had more minerals and vitamins.
Dr. Katherine Tucker director of the nutritional epidemiology program at Tufts University in Boston stresses that lower levels of minerals in food is a cause for concern. Magnesium, calcium and other minerals are very important for proper nutrition. She recommends eating unprocessed foods, meat from free-range animals, and grains, fruits and vegetables grown organically or at least using more natural farming methods. .
If there is a positive side to this perhaps it is that Americans are becoming better educated and increasing numbers of people are seeing the benefit in purchasing food directly from the farmers who grow it and are taking the time to prepare and cook it using slow traditional methods. This is demonstrated in the fact that after a century of decline, the number of small farms has increased 20% in the past six years. A study recently published in the American Journal of Agriculture Economics surveyed nearly 500 people and found food shoppers were willing to pay more for locally grown food. Their reasons for doing so were better food quality, better taste and freshness. This trend can be largely attributed to the work done by chef Alice Waters who started the “Slow Food Movement” in California in the 1970’s. She argues that “real food” is grown by people who take care of the land, and who refrain from using herbicides and pesticides. Real food is food that is grown for taste, and is grown in a way that pays people a good wage for their work rather than being grown at somebody else’s expense.
Sustainability means meeting present needs without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their needs. In order to do this we must take into account the harm still being done to the soil and water by conventional agriculture and the people who live on food raised in that manner.
Ayurveda understands the connection between an individualized whole food diet and optimal health in human beings and the planet. It is my hope that with the spread of the knowledge of Ayurveda citizens across the globe will embrace sustainable and conscious eating and growing practices.
As a result our health and spiritual well-being will improve along with the health and spiritual well-being of our planet Earth.