You’ve probably heard the saying, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” The opposite also contains some truth. Just as there are healing diets – those that give a body the nutritional support it needs to properly self-regulate – there are diets that can harm.
Of course, if you want to get nitpicky about it, what harms isn’t really food so much as food-like products, chemically laden and nutritionally empty. Talk about a double-whammy!
One of the ways faux food can really screw things up is by upsetting the balance of bacteria in your gut.
Yes, you have bacteria in your gut – and throughout the rest of you. In fact, there are about 10 times as many microbes living in you at this very moment than there are human cells making up the “real you”! More than 500 species live in your intestinal tract alone. And as in human populations, some of them are helpful and others, not so much.
And what science continues to show us is that it’s the balance of these organisms that can make a big difference between illness and health, dysfunction and optimal function.
Gut flora in particular play a very big role in your immune response, as well as your mental health. They help produce vitamins and absorb minerals. They can also inhibit or trigger food allergies.
That food allergies have become much more common – especially in children – through recent years seems a sign that imbalance is more the norm than not.
But just as diet can mess with the bacterial ecology of the gut – and it’s important to remember that it’s only one factor among many, including antibiotic use, toxic exposures and a sedentary lifestyle – diet can also help set things right.
In a newsletter earlier this fall, Dr. Frank Shallenberger shared a nifty study published about 15 years ago in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It followed two groups of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). One group ate what they normally ate. The other went on a 7 to 10 day fast, followed by an individually adjusted gluten-free vegan diet.
After three and a half months, all patients were evaluated. We bet you can guess which group showed significant improvement. What’s more, that improvement was long-lasting, leading the author to conclude that “dietary treatment may be a valuable adjunct” to traditional therapy for RA.
When you think about it, this is hardly surprising. Like periodontal disease, RA is an inflammatory condition. The dietary changes eliminated foods that tend to trigger inflammation, particularly white flour, sugar, conventionally raised animal products and conventional, hyper-processed food products.
At the same time, it necessarily includes many alkalinizing, healing foods, especially fresh vegetables and fruit.
Dr. Shallenberger points out another interesting aspect of the study:
The food allergy testing they used was of no help. This doesn’t surprise me. I think too many people depend on food allergy tests completely to tell them what foods may be a problem for them.
Don’t get me wrong. I use food allergy tests. But I’ve always recognized that there is a good 20-30% error rate in them. That means that there is a 20-30% chance that the foods that are supposed to be okay are not okay, and the same chance that the foods that are supposed to be bad are really harmless.
The only fool proof way to find out if your arthritis is caused by foods is to do what these researchers did. Go on a 7-10 day fresh juice fast (you’ll need a juicer). Then eat a vegan, gluten-free diet until your symptoms are gone. Once they are, you can begin to add in meat, dairy, and wheat (one at a time), to determine which foods are causing your problems. In all likelihood it will end up being the foods you currently eat the most often.
Remove the bad, increase the good, eliminate any problem foods along the way. It just makes sense, doesn’t it?
Image by Peter Gerdes, via Flickr