Food As Medicine
Hippocrates said: "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food"
Food, including herbs and spices, has been used as the main way of staying healthy in all cultures until the last century when pharmaceutical medicines began to be used in our health system. Traditional Medicine regimes use foods to heal the body and maintain health.
Ayurvedic medicine from India has, for thousands of years, suggested that food affects our well-being, and certain foods can bring our body back into balance by affecting the way our DNA expresses itself. Modern science calls this epigenetic. Specific foods are recommended for different conditions, such as cooling foods for hot conditions such as inflammation and skin rashes, and moist, warming foods for cold, dry conditions in the body, such as constipation and chills. Ayurveda, Chinese, and traditional Western Herbal Medicine suggest that humans can be divided into body types or constitutions that perform best on certain foods. These regimes use food to balance out the body by eliminating damp, warming, moistening, or cooling according to the body's needs. Herbalists and Naturopaths have been using natural food, herbs, and spices for hundreds of years to ward off disease and even heal internally and externally.
Ancient cultures had their own medicines and food remedies depending on the plants available to them. It is often said that when there is an illness, nature will provide the cure. For example, nettle and marshmallow (1,2) plants, which reduce the severity of colds and flu, grow in winter when illness is more prevalent. Oranges and lemons are rich in Vitamin C and ripen in winter. Dandelion grows in spring to support the liver and gall bladder function after heavy winter foods in cold climates. Because illness is generally an imbalance in the body, food can be used to bring the body back into balance. One food that can be used all year round and has been used as both a sweetener and medicine from very early days is organic manuka honey.
Medicinal honey is bacteriostatic, meaning that bacteria cannot grow in it. It was, therefore, used as a preservative for other foods and medicinal herbs. Natural raw honey has been traditionally used for bacterial infections of the throat and respiratory system, often as a honey and lemon drink or an elixir for coughs. Medicinal honey has been used for stomach conditions, including ulcers and acid reflux since ancient times. Current research has found that gastric ulcers and reflux are often caused by a bacteria known as Helicobacter Pylori, which creates an environment in the stomach beneficial to its own proliferation.
Organic Manuka Honey, especially with a high MGO level, such as Biosota Medicinal Grade Manuka Honey, can be used to break down the biofilm that H. Pylori uses to protect itself, making it vulnerable to natural stomach acid, which can destroy it. As a practitioner, I have had several clients test clear of H. Pylori after a regime of Manuka honey and a diatomaceous earth supplement. This can eliminate the need for long-term antibiotics, which can disrupt the gut microbiome. NB: This protocol is best done under the supervision of a Naturopath.
Benefits of Manuka Honey as a Functional Superfood
1. Effect of Diet on Gut Flora
Research is showing that processed foods do not support a healthy gut environment, and along with the high use of antibiotics (2,3) and pesticides that kill both beneficial and harmful bacteria, our gut microbiome diversity in western societies is greatly reduced. Organic fruits, vegetables, and honey contain oligosaccharides, which are food for beneficial bacteria in the gut. These are known as prebiotics, and the right choices can help improve the microbiome, leading to improved health outcomes mentally and physically. Medicinal Manuka Honey is particularly beneficial in promoting the growth of probiotic species such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus species, including B. longum, B. adolescentis, B. breve, B. bifidum, and B. infantis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus reuteri, and Lactobacillus rhamnosus, which are important for a healthy digestive system. (2,3,4,5,6,7)
A healthy gut microbiome can reduce the incidence of irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, gastritis, and bloating, and reduce the symptoms of Crohn's disease. (8,9,10,11). Medical grade Manuka honey has been shown to reduce the presence of disease-causing gut bacteria, including Escherichia Coli, Salmonella, and Clostridiodes Difficile while stimulating the replication of beneficial bacteria. (7,12)
The anti-inflammatory properties of honey also have a positive effect on the gut as well as on wound healing. It is suggested that honey down-regulates inflammation while upregulating anti-inflammatory molecules in the body, leading to less pain, and discomfort, and a more positive environment for healing both the digestive system and wounds (12, 13, 14, 15).
Organic Manuka Honey can be used to keep the gut microbiome in a healthy state or bring it back from an unbalanced environment. (7, 8,9) A disturbed microbiome is often caused by antibiotics, so regular intake of Manuka Honey can help re-establish a positive gut flora.
2. Food, Gut Flora, and Mental Wellbeing
Recent research suggests that women who eat a diet high in processed foods are more prone to depression because of the composition of their gut flora (16,17). A great deal of research now suggests that our gut flora affects our physical and mental well-being. Children can also suffer from behavioural problems stemming from a poor diet and gut flora. Poor gut health can cause brain fog, anxiety, and mood disorders.
Reducing refined sugars, which can feed yeasts/fungi and harmful bacteria, eliminating processed foods while increasing the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, including prebiotic foods such as yogurt, kefir, and sourdough bread, adding a probiotic formula, and natural honey can improve the microbiome, leading to better nutrient absorption and better overall mental and physical health.
3. Food to Prevent Illness and Maintain Health
While food can be used to help the body recover from illness, the main aim of natural medicine is to maintain a state of wellness to prevent sickness, both acute and chronic.
Over the past few years, chronic illness has increased markedly in western countries with the high consumption of fast, heavily processed foods and sugar-filled beverages. We have also had a large increase in the number of chemicals in our food from both growing and processing. These processed foods and chemicals can disrupt our hormonal system and lead to obesity, diabetes, poor cardiac health, and auto-immune problems.
For this reason, Naturopaths and Nutritionists suggest eating a diet high in fresh foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and lean meats. Fresh organically grown foods (3,4) generally have more nutrition and less toxicity and are a good choice. Select foods low in refined flour and sugars and use organic honey as a sweetener when needed. Tip: do not overheat honey as it can alter its properties. If you wish to add honey to a hot drink, allow it to cool a little before adding honey – do not cook it on the stove or in the microwave.
By eating fresh vegetables raw or lightly steamed, you are obtaining maximum nutrition. Eating foods in season, locally grown, also means nutrients will be at their highest. Eating a variety of colors in fruit and vegetables helps to ensure a wide range of vitamins and minerals are available, as well as a variety of fiber.
A range of proteins from plant and animal sources ensures a wide range of essential and non-essential amino acids for growth and repair. If you are vegetarian, it is even more important to eat a wide range of plant proteins, as plant foods can be deficient in some essential amino acids. Vitamin B12 is also essential for vegans and vegetarians and is found in mushrooms and yeast.
Fats such as butter, olive oil, and omega-3s in fish are essential to maintain healthy cells, blood vessels, and the digestive system. Omega-3s (5) help reduce inflammation in the body and maintain brain function, especially memory. Avoid hydrogenated/Trans fats which are often in commercially prepared foods and deep-fried fast food. Trans fats are associated with several health problems (18,19,20).
When we eat a balanced diet and do not overconsume, we give our body the best chance to maintain health. It will also have a reserve of nutrients to call on when needed to fight disease or heal injuries. Adding honey to our daily diet can improve our gut health and immunity, reduce inflammation, and even improve our mental health.
Author Bio: Alison Verbruggen
Alison commenced her career lecturing in the areas of health, nutrition, and food science. She spent 15 years working with professional, vocational, and community groups to promote nutrition, food preparation, and general health improvement strategies. She later studied Kinesiology and Naturopathy and has had her own practice for over 20 years. Her emphasis has been on educating and supporting clients to improve their diets and lifestyle. Alison is also a yoga practitioner and Senior Teacher and Mentor with Yoga Australia. Yoga has allowed her to bring practices to help those with stress and anxiety into her consults. She believes in a holistic approach to health including diet, exercise, mind and breathing practices, developing positive relationships, and having a purpose in life.
ND, Dip T Tech, Nutrition & Health Educator, Kinesiologist, Senior Yoga Teacher/Mentor
Read More: Benefits of Manuka Honey
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