More on NUTRITION- the rant!
Nutrition-put the kettle on, then read this! The digestive system and what is put into it are at the very core of a healthy organism, the fundamentals of health, in a way. There seem to be as many opinions on what is optimum nutrition, what is likely to be detrimental, beneficial or borderline, as there are practitioners. People are confused, allopathic dieticians seem not to be in possession of the full facts, never having heard of, or disregarding, conditions which naturopaths know to be at the root of many diseases eg., leaky gut, dysbiosis, effect of diet on colon health.
My goal is to effectively advise my clients on the best nutritional package that I can persuade them to live with day- to -day, to educate them in the value of proper nutrition, and how to adapt it to their lifestyles. Nutrition is a highly effective therapeutic tool, being perhaps the primary conduit for enhancing the immune system, and initiating/ perpetuating tissue repair throughout the body, through the use of functional foods and tailored supplementation. It is perhaps the therapeutic use of functional nutrition which fascinates me particularly; the tailoring of nutritional input to tackle disease from the ground up, not hacking in at the sides and missing the roots.
Clinical nutrition addresses health at the most fundamental level. Nutrients are the body’s fuel and provide the building blocks for all tissue, and for all chemical processes which collectively keep the systems running. If these nutrients are insufficient in terms of quality or quantity either because of poor source or poor assimilation, there will be ramifications in the health of the body. It follows that a high percentage of disease has as its source some dysfunction in the digestive system or metabolic processes, or a poor diet insufficient in essential nutrients.
For optimum health to be achieved, it is essential that the digestive system is in a state conducive to the maximal absorption of nutrients from food. Such digestive tracts are exceedingly rare in our society, and the results are evident. Part of the problem is that most people are in the same condition; it is a cultural thing, and therefore sets of symptoms are regarded as ‘normal’ or not worthy of concern, because they are so common. This perceived normality leads to disbelief when people are told how their bowels really should be working! Clinical nutrition supplies brushes and shovels to clean up its own back yard, and this has to be seen as one of its most important roles- to pave the way to its own effectiveness by improving the GIT.
Another very important role for clinical nutrition lies in the provision of support for people undergoing conventional treatment either with a GP or after a stay in hospital, which has compromised their immune system, or affected their digestive system. Patients who have undergone a course of antibiotics are never advised by a GP to ‘make sure to take those pre-biotics, plenty of fibre, come back in a few weeks and we’ll see about re-seeding your bowel with high quality pro-biotics. Oh, and functional foods for your immune system’. From personal experience of a digestive system complaint requiring hospitalisation, pertinent advice does not come from either doctors or dieticians. Provision of such support has to be one of our most important roles, otherwise the ramifications continue and deepen.
I see the need for nutritional supplements as mainly two-fold. Firstly, to replace essential vitamins, minerals and trace elements which should be in the food we eat, but are missing due to soil quality and farming methods, combined with how food is distributed. Secondly, as therapeutic tools to selectively treat and reinforce specific organs/ systems. Non-organic food production suffers in quality from the most fundamental level- the growing medium. The old methods of maintaining soil health eg., crop rotation and manure fertilizers, have been replaced with chemical fertilizers. Instead of companion planting to reduce pests, plants are bombarded throughout their growth cycle with pesticides, most of which cannot be completely removed after they reach the consumer. Added to this we have GM foods- it is now impossible to guarantee any product containing soya is GM free. It is, no doubt naïve to think that there could ever be a re-creation of a food production base whereby food would contain its true nutritional value in terms of global producers. Even if local organic farming were to increase in scale, cost dictates markets, and competition from cheap foreign imports would make it less viable. Food distribution methods also degrade the nutritional value, mainly via refrigeration and duration of transportation from source to consumer. Vitamin levels in particular suffer very quickly.
Secondly, the therapeutic use of supplements continues to grow in importance. There is now an increasing public acceptance of the need for anti-oxidants in the diet, and also the need for EFA’s and trace elements lacking in the diet. Most people though, including quite a few scientists I have spoken to, are reluctant to believe that there is significant nutritional difference between organic and ‘standard’ produce. Unfortunately, the medical profession re-inforce this view. In the UK all herbal tinctures, tablets, capsules, are combined with vitamins, minerals etc., under the umbrella of ‘nutritional supplements’. These are our main arsenal in the prevention and treatment of disease. Pure nutritional supplements- ie those taken to replace a lack in the diet, or an inability to synthesise in the body- can be used not only to restore normal parameter levels, but with active therapeutic effect at higher doses. For example, Non acetyl carnosine is present in decreasing levels with progression of age, and has been shown to reverse cataract formation when given as eye drops. Magnesium and chromium have been shown to be effective in the management of both types of diabetes. Another example of the benefit of proper supplementation is the administration of iron. Allopaths prescribe iron sulphate, which is poorly absorbed and stored as ferritin-a toxin. Iron phosphate however, is better assimilated, non toxic, and has benefits for 1st stage inflammation on top of its main purpose. To sum up, if you are not pulling your own food out of your organic garden, or off a tree, and hope to live a healthy life, you need supplements.
The main problems seen in Ireland as a whole are obesity, diabetes, dysbiosis, cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis. It may also be safe to assume that Prof.M. Kirkman’s assumption of a high level of Leaky Gut Syndrome is valid. Breast feeding is not popular in Ireland, this must have implications for the prevalence Leaky Gut Syndrome and other digestive weaknesses.
Food seems to be viewed in the main as either a ‘means to an end’ (whereby hunger is satisfied by whatever seems pleasurable to eat at the time), or as something to be indulged for hedonistic pleasure. Usually ‘pleasure’ in terms of food equals ‘fatty, sweet, savoury and bad news’, unless one has some culinary expertise. Many people do not seem to have the time to indulge in the development of such expertise. Time is now a valued commodity, not to be wasted in the kitchen. Evidence for the existence of this culture can be seen in the supermarkets, in the new sections devoted to ready made ‘ding’ dinners, which offer a ‘healthy, balanced meal for busy people with a zest for life’. Lovely, until you read the ingredients. Fast food is big business here, as in the rest of the UK. The major chains invest a great deal of money ‘grooming’ children to satisfy hunger with their products, and the parents keep coming back. With many families a fast food binge has become a regular weekly ‘event’.
For those who do cook regularly, the western diet as enjoyed in N. Ireland or indeed, Ireland as a whole, potentially presents the digestive system with injurious fuel. In the main, the diet contains too much simple carbohydrate, is low in fruit and vegetables, high in salt, sugar, processed food and trans fats. What vegetables there are, are usually overcooked, removing most of what few nutrients remained in them. Many meal elements come from tins (peas, beans, corn), which, of course, the Government states constitute a valid part of the ‘five portions a day’ formula. Tinned foods, of course, add to the amount of hidden sugar and salt, as well as other preservatives etc. The typical diet also contains a high level of acidifying food, such as an excess of red meats, especially pork, dairy products, caffeine drinks and mechanically recovered meat. This pH imbalance has serious ramifications throughout the body.
The typical diet is also high in mucoid foods such as refined white bread, dairy products, red meat, which when combined with the usual low fibre intake, has serious implications for colon health. Diverticular disease is common, as is IBS and Crohn’s disease. Most people drink with their meal, it is the custom. This practice however, reduces the effectiveness of the gastric juices, impairing digestion and causing bloating and incomplete breakdown of food. The western diet needs to incorporate complex carbohydrates, organic vegetables with alternative cooking methods, reduction of red meats in favour of fowl, fish, and game, higher levels of fibre. In short, a change in eating culture is required- this means education on a national and client/therapist scale. This is the role of the clinical nutritionist.