The Foundations of Optimal Health
I was initially drawn to the study of nutrition because of my own health challenges, and the immense benefit I received by implementing changes in my diet. It was a natural progression to continue to expand my understanding of the human body. How could I help my clients with this information? One of my massage instructors once said "You can't rub away a poor diet!" and I have found that to be true in my 20 years of clinical experience.
Even allopathic medicine is recognizing that the underlying cause of many degenerative diseases is inflammation. (See Time Magazine cover story Feb. 23, 2004 "The Silent Killer.") The medical establishment, generally speaking, is not so quick to correlate our diet and possible foundational problems with this inflammation and are prone to treat symptoms with pharmaceuticals, with little to no consideration as to how those symptoms might be related. My own personal experience and my training as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner have led me to conclude that MUCH progress can be made in reducing this underlying inflammation by addressing the foundations of optimal health.
I will explain those foundations in this article, but first I'd like to give a little bit of background into the Nutritional Therapy Association's (NTA) philosophy, and the science and research upon which it is founded.
The research of two doctors in the early 1900's form the basis for the dietary approach advocated by the NTA. They were Weston A. Price, DDS and Francis M. Pottenger, Jr., MD.
Dr. Price was a dentist in Cleveland, OH. He noticed in his practice an overall rapid decline in the health of his patients, particularly children with increased incidence of dental caries (cavities) and poorly formed dental arches. He postulated that it had something to do with what he termed "the foods of modern commerce." (ie: processed grains, sugars, oils) In order to test this hypothesis, in 1930 he set out around the world in search of native cultures who were still eating their traditional diets. This was no small feat in the 1930's! The groups he studied included isolated villages in Switzerland, Gaelic communities in the Outer Hebrides, indigenous peoples of North and South America, Melanesian and Polynesian South Sea Islanders, African tribes, Australian Aborigines, and New Zealand Maori. He carefully examined individuals from these groups and recorded his findings in his groundbreaking book "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration." (1939) Although there were all kinds of different foods being consumed among these cultures, wherever he went, Dr. Price found that beautiful, straight teeth, free from decay, robust physiques, resistance to disease, and fine characters, were typical of native groups on their traditional diets, rich in essential nutrients.
Upon analysis of these foods, when compared with the American diet of his day, he found that they provided at least four times the water-soluble vitamins, calcium and other minerals, and at least TEN times the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, and K). These were in foods such as butter, fish eggs, shellfish, organ meats, eggs, milk, and animal fats; cholesterol rich foods currently out of favor with the creators of the USDA food pyramid.
Dr. Price was able to compare these native people with members of the groups who had moved away into industrialized areas, and he found that they quickly succumbed to the degenerative problems when they began eating the more processed foods. For graphic illustration of this, I suggest looking at the photographs available on the Weston A. Price Foundation's website, (linked below to the brochure "Principles of Healthy Diets".) Side by side photos demonstrating these differences are quite convincing.
One of the most interesting and relevant aspects of Dr. Price's observations was that these isolated groups all seemed to intuitively grasp the importance of these nutrient dense foods for procreation. Special care would be given to both potential parents prior to conception, and to the mother during pregnancy and lactation, and, of course, to growing children.
Dr. Francis M. Pottenger, Jr. MD performed a series of nutritional experiments over several generations using cats, and documenting the affects of various diets. He presented this research in a short, to the point book called Pottenger's Cats. He discovered that mother cats given poor nutrition passed their health problems along to their offspring over three generations. Just as important, he found that it took at least four generations of a healthy diet for the kittens to recover from the poor diet fed to the first generation.
The ramifications of those findings when considered in the context of the current state of our food supply, are profound.
Now that you have a basic understanding of the term "nutrient dense diet" I would like to return to discussing the Foundations.
Built upon a "properly prepared nutrient dense diet" (we will get to the properly prepared issue at a different time!) the pillars of optimal health are: Digestion, Blood Sugar Balance, Mineral Balance, Essential Fatty Acid Balance, and Hydration. Weaknesses in these foundations lead to the degenerative health problems that plague the modern world: diabetes, heart disease, cancer, cognitive disorders, Alzheimer's, infertility, to cite a few.
It is easy to be overwhelmed by all the conflicting, constantly changing information we are fed about nutrition from scientists and experts. A recent letter published in Wise Traditions, (the quarterly magazine from the Weston A. Price Foundation), from Canadian Olympic athlete Will Dean stated "I've spent the past 8 years researching nutrition and I've come to understand that cultures that knew nothing about "nutritional science" were the healthiest." I agree!
The Nutritional Therapy Practitioner has a variety of tools to help you discover the meaning and connectedness of your underlying issues. The knowledge that there is no "one size fits all" answer is deeply ingrained. These tools include a comprehensive health questionnaire, food journaling, and functional evaluation. Together we can explore, discover, and create do-able steps to move you in the direction of greater health.
In the same way pain has been my teacher as a bodyworker, so has it informed my work in nutrition. I understand deeply how emotionally attached we can be to certain foods and behaviors, and how it is possible to move through that. I don't ALWAYS practice what I preach, so I am not inclined to pass judgment on other peoples' choices.
If you are interested in learning more about the findings and teachings of Drs. Weston A. Price and Francis M. Pottenger, Jr., I will provide links below to websites. If there's someone else in Adams County interested in starting a local WAPF chapter, I would love to talk!
And if you are curious about what you might learn with a foundational evaluation, I am here to help!