Have you ever been told by a fellow health enthusiast about their latest cure, craze, or discovery and tried it yourself to no avail?
I recall in my early ventures into nutrition and wellness how I hopped on the bandwagon of whatever super-food and super-cure was currently in fashion. Although my intentions were good and my pursuit of wellness was a wise idea, I didn't have the skill set or knowledge base to understand WHAT those foods were doing in my body and WHY I did or did not benefit from implementing them. Some items were fairly benign while others actually adversely impacted my health. Especially for those who are struggling with chronic conditions and for those who are in a fragile health position, trying out the latest and greatest nutritional fad can potentially be daunting, discouraging, and even dangerous. This is one of the reasons it's so great to work with someone who has seen the research and has a firmer grasp of the biochemistry involved in dietary changes than simply listening to the gal in the supermarket line who changed her life with coconut oil (no offense intended, Miss Supermarket Gal, I love coconut oil too!).
However as your own best advocate, remember that:
A. Changes should be made with wisdom and purpose.
B. Changes should be tailored to your current body chemistry and needs.
C. Changes should not be made on the belief that they will "cure" or that they apply to everyone.
Allow me to give a few specific examples...
1. Eat That Fat!: Coconut Oil, High Fat Diets, Ketogenic Diets
This is a hot topic and I want to say up front that I am in no way an opponent of saturated and animal fats or eating dietary fats in general. However, coconut oils and diets high in other saturated fats (primarily animal fats) are quite popular these days. They may be excellent for some individuals, and perhaps not so great for others. This is because, in part, when you consume a saturated fat one of the results is the stimulation of a certain receptor (called a toll-like receptor or TLR) on your immune cells. When this receptor is triggered, your immune cells are given the ramp-up command which is great if your body needs to defend against a pathogen. However, for those who are chronically in the ditch of body inflammation, boosting your inflammatory response against pathogens may be contraindicated. These individuals may need to watch their consumption of coconut and animal fats to either ensure a balance in their diet, or to actually consume higher amounts of unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats. Those who chug the bullet proof coffee at breakfast and consistently eat a high fat or ketogenic type diet the remainder of the day may be inadvertently increasing immune activation and inflammatory load over the long term. Depending on the person's unique biochemistry, this can be a boon or a detriment.
2. The Cider God: Apple Cider Vinegar
Oh yes, I jumped on this bandwagon several years ago, but the taste of neat vinegar soon deterred me. I was told that drinking several tablespoons of ACV would essentially cure me of all my diseases and all my complaints. Fast forward to current day: ACV is a potent food, one which actually influences your immune system - perhaps the reason it is touted as such a healing substance.
The result of consuming ACV in your dressing, your medicinal tinctures, and however else you imbibe it is to influence and boost your T helper cells, type 2 (Th2). This is simply a sciency name for immune cells that are often involved in fighting off parasites as well as being involved in the allergic response such as hives, mucus production, etc. If you have a parasite, hopefully you are getting appropriate medical treatment for it, and perhaps you are taking ACV as a nutritional supplement to your medical care. If, however, you are aging, have an autoimmune disorder, or are struggling with other inflammatory issues, your Th2 cells may already be overly active or overly abundant. Consuming liters of ACV for a person such as this could in fact help tip an already imbalanced Th2 cell population further into imbalance. This is not only not good for your immune system, but it can exacerbate and contribute to health conditions and symptoms that are being caused by the Th2 imbalance in the first place. It may be smart to ask the next person who tells you to take ACV medicinally if it's really for you.
3. Bone Broth: Elixir of the Healthy
I love grassfed bone broth. It is hearty, healthy, and full of amino acids that your body can use for all manner of biochemical processes. But I don't drink it. Before you ask why, I'll simply tell you.
Even a powerhouse food such as bone broth is not for everyone. Despite its great qualities, it's a matter of: It's not you. It's me: Or, my immune system I should say. I personally have what is called a food sensitivity to some of the proteins in bone broth. This is different from an allergy. Allergies are immediate, can be life-threatening, and are measured by IgE antibodies. Sensitivities are often delayed (up to 72 hours), are not immediately life-threatening but cause chronic inflammation, and are measured by IgG antibodies. When someone has a food sensitivity, it is just as imperative not to eat that food as if they had an allergy to it. Food sensitivities can be found via elimination diets as well as blood work. However, regardless of how you unearth the sensitivity, folks such as myself who react to "healthy foods" like bone broth are making a highly unwise decision if we continue to consume bone broth. So, despite its great personality and wonderful qualities, we're definitely not a match made in heaven.
4. The Fast Track to Health: Fasting, Intermittent Fasting, Restricted Calorie Diets
Last in this series of examples is the currently popular and often very effective, fasting.
Intermittent fasting is especially well-known and widely implemented these days. Fasting has been used throughout history religiously, medically, and otherwise. Medically, it can be a great way to allow your body to rest, to clear out dead/malfunctioning cells (called autophagy), to boost brain health, to lose weight, and more. Yet, for some, it can cause harm.
Have you ever felt "hangry"? Many do. It's nothing to be ashamed of. But it is a clear sign that your body cannot currently regulate its blood sugar, also called dysglycemia. If you have ever fasted and gotten hung up on the pangs of the hangry, you know how awful this feels and for good reason. Your precious brain depends on a constant supply of energy as this little organ consumes approximately 20% of your total energy consumption. Your brain cannot store large amounts of fuel such as your muscles and liver, which store glycogen as their back-up energy source. Therefore, if you struggle with dysglycemia you may notice as you fast that as you swing into the low blood sugar realm (hypoglycemia) you begin to feel cranky, angry, tired, and all manner of grinch-like things.
The medical term is neuroglycopenia: It means your brain is hungry. When this occurs it is harmful to your brain, not simply something you should struggle through and overcome. You must eat to fuel your brain and then address why the blood sugar dysregulation is there. For these folks, fasting may not be possible at all or may need to be modified. If you do fast and essentially starve your brain, please consider that you're not experiencing a healing event and may be fighting against your own body with your "healthy" choices. There is hope, but perhaps consider hopping off the fasting race car for the moment and addressing the underlying malfunction.
Other examples abound of instances when current health and diet strategies are beautifully therapeutic for one person, and dreadfully hampering for another. The excitement we feel when we discover a new trick to try is understandable and I applaud you for your efforts to care for your precious body! Simply keep in mind that wisdom asks us to understand what we are really doing to our bodies and how our very unique biochemistry may or may not benefit from what everyone else seems to be doing.
As Dr. Suess would say,
"Today you are you,
that is truer than true.
There is no one alive
that is youer than you."