Traditional medicine and the paradox of modern nutrition

Throughout history, people ate whatever grew near where they dwelt. Food was gathered, grown or hunted naturally, according to the season of the year, and prepared using simple, traditional methods.In the past, food was mostly used for nutritional and life supporting purposes.

Today, our approach to food is immensely different.In the West today, you can buy different food items from around the globe at the local grocery shop, regardless of the time of year or your geographic location.Food has become an art form, primarily intent on pleasuring the senses and in many instances, it iscraved or overindulged  for emotional reasons as a result of different emotional deficiencies. We choose what we eat based on our taste buds (on our tongue), sometimes according to what we believe is healthy, and mostly according to passing trends led by the media and food companies.

The ups and downs of modern medicine

There is a great abyss between traditional old-world medicine and modern-day medicine.In the old days, man was closely connected to Mother Earth and knew very well about the healing powers of food.Today, the progression and development of modern medicine and chemical drugs ushered in a complete disconnect from the knowledge and experience of our parents, and granny’s medicine is forgotten or set aside to favor pills and injections.Many people have now discovered that the solutions offered by modern medicine for chronic diseases are unsuccessful in regaining the balance needed for healing illnesses, but rather, they mostly prevent illnesses from progressing fast, suppress symptoms, reduce pain and prolong life at the cost of harming the quality of life.

Despite life expectancy having risen over the years, the variety of diseases humanity suffers from has grown at a dizzying pace.Old generation plagues have been replaced with degenerative epidemics (cancer, osteoporosis, atherosclerosis) with afflicted population numbers rising steadily. Children of our generation have learning problems, behavioral disorders, respiratory diseases, dental diseases, mental disorders, to mention but a few.

New research shows that the violence which is prevalent today doesn’t stem solely from psychological factors, and that moods, violence and criminal behavior are related to physiological conditions such as hyperthyroidism, high testosterone levels, hypoglycemia, vitamin deficiency, lead poisoning, not enough sunlight and drug and alcohol abuse.

The most impressive achievements of modern medicine can be seen in technical areas, such as orthopedics, burn therapy, C-sections, resuscitation, limb fusion microsurgery, heart plugs replacement and in life and death situations.Inversely, treatment of chronic diseases isn’t as triumphant. For instance, modern medicine has been focusing on fighting cancer with chemotherapy, radiation and surgery for the past 25 years, but has only managed to improve the survival rates of 90% of cancer cases to a very small extent.

Drugs that “fix” one problem create a myriad of new problems and so begins an “evil cycle” of drug consumption which keeps expanding without being able to treat the root cause and find a real solution.The common approach today is that physiological symptoms (such as pain, allergies, fatigue and more) are the body’s mistakes which must be mended through sophisticated intervention of modern drugs that alter the body’s physiological functions, suppress sensations or stimulate different body processes.

An example of a common scenario:

A person “treats” stomachaches which are experienced after food by taking antacid medicine that neutralizes the stomach’s acidity. Now this person has a headache (which in many cases is a side effect of the antacid drug) and “treats” the problem by taking an analgesic (one of its side effects is damage to the mucus membrane of the stomach). After a few years the person develops a stomach ulcer.The ulcer is treated with another drug and by frequent milk intake.Over the years, this person who did not change his eating habits develops arteriosclerosis and high blood pressure. The drugs he receives for lowering blood pressure may cause side effects such as dizziness, weight gain, fatigue, diarrhea and impotency. The damage to his quality of life causes him mental stress and he starts to take anti depressants and sleeping pills.After a few years this person has a heart attack and undergoes open heart surgery.Deterioration continues to irreversible degenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis or Alzheimer’s.

This scenario could have evolved differently if only the first stomach ache would have been looked upon as a warning sign. Instead of taking drugs, that person could skip the next meal, only drink clear soup or herbal tea and wait until he feels better before eating again. If the pain appears a second time, he should drink a hot drink again while also trying this time to discover what he ate that made his digestive system protest. If he guesses that what caused the pain werea hamburger and the ice cream cone he had for lunch, he tries to avoid eating those. If he is right in his diagnosis and discovers that his stomach only aches when he eats hamburger followed by ice cream, he can consciously avoid these foods. If a headache starts, instead of taking analgesics he tries to reveal the source of the pain. Say he finds a connection between the headaches and eating fatty pastries (croissants, doughnuts) and therefore decides to avoid these foods. By searching for the source of the pain instead of how to silence it the person minimizes the risk of multiple sclerosis, hypertension and other illnesses and diseases.

Nutrition in ancient cultures

As mentioned earlier, life expectancy today has risen which gives rise to the common belief that we are healthier today than our ancestors were.Studies show that the health of ancient “primitive” cultures was far better than our modern culture today.Researchers and discoverers from past centuries reported with praise and astonishment about the health and beauty of indigenous people of all ages they had met in their voyages. The French admiral, L.A. de Bougainville who arrived at Tahiti in the 18th century, wrote about his voyage and about the natives in his travel log:

“Their vigor and agility, even in old men, surpass those of our young folk…. The contented old age which they attain, without any infirmities, the acuteness of all their senses and the singular beauty of their teeth, which they keep at the most advanced age – what a testimony to the healthiness of the climate and the wholesomeness of the regime followed by the inhabitants!”

Dentist Dr. Weston Price studied and examined the health of teeth and food eaten by ancient and primitive cultures. In one research which tested 1276 ancient native Peruvian skulls, there was not even one single case of jaw deformation.To compare, 75% of Americans today suffer from defects and deformities of the jaw and gums. In a study conducted by Dr. Price about the teeth of primitive Native Americans, no teeth cavities were found nor defects in teeth placement in almost 100% of cases.

The conclusion from these studies is that people who live in synchronicity with nature’s cycle, who eat what is locally abundant and are not exposed to “cultured” food like white sugar, white flour and industrialized foods, enjoy long and qualitative lives.As soon as modern-day food enters the local original menu, so appear the common illnesses which are prevalent in our culture today.

Foods that make up the “primitive” diet

* The remains of the last Stone Age man which was discovered in the Philippines have shown that he ate wild yams, ferns and herbs, frogs, bananas and fruits.

* Traditional Māori (New Zealand) food includes fish, crabs, shellfish, seaweed, herbs and roots.

*Ancient Peruvian tribes that were studied by Dr. Weston Price ate seafood, flora from streams, potatoes, corn, beans, seeds and guinea pig meat.

* The indigenous people of the Hebrides islands, an island chain off the shores of northern Scotland, ate baked pastries made from oatmeal, fish eggs and fish liver.

* The first Danes, Swiss and Eastern Europeans ate fresh milk and its products, rye bread, fresh vegetables, fruits and meat once a week.

*The diet of Native Americans from the snowy Nevada area in the USA leaned mostly on corn and beans.

* The Sikhs of North India ate fresh milk products, fruits, roots, seed and legume porridges and meat once every 10 days.

* The African Maasai people eat mostly only meat, milk and blood. Other African tribes eat a type of grain called durra, millet, fresh vegetables and game meat.

* In ancient Greece, nutrition was based on bread, barley porridge, lentils, flax seeds, leafy plants, turnip, figs, olives and goat cheeses.

Despite the seemingly different food components eaten by varied ancient cultures around the world, it has been found that they all share a much lower calorie, proteins and fat intake and a much higher intake of complex carbohydrates than our current diet today. Fresh or naturally preserved (dried, salted or smoked) foods, local foods eaten seasonally, cooked traditionally and personally adapted for the phase in life (pregnancy, lactation, childhood, adulthood and old age).It’s interesting to note that none of the ancient cultures were found to be completely vegan.The Hindus, for example, who believe in reincarnation (that a person’s soul can reincarnate in an animal’s body) and who prefer, for financial reasonsto keep the cow for milk rather than eat its meat, lead a vegetarian lifestyle.

Animal food was part of human nutrition before the modern age, but in cooler climatic regions around the globe, consumption of plant food exceeded the consumption of animal food.The Native American tribes lived on yams, potatoes, cassava (the root tapioca is made from), gourd family plants and small amounts of meat.For hundreds of years in Europe, home cooked food was based on cabbage, turnip, onion, radishes, nettle, sprouts, mushrooms, ferns and meat of small animal. In Middle Eastern countries, in parts of Europe and in Central America, nutrition was based on beans, chickpeas and lentils, as well as a small amount of game meat and seafood.

According to Dr. Alexander Leaf’s study, until recently it was possible to find ancient eating traditions which were kept within isolated groups such as the Hunza tribe in Pakistan, Vilcabamba in Equador and Abkhazia in Georgia, Russia.People in these distant regions live beyond 100 years, raise families, work hard and lead active and productive lifestyles within their community, as they eat a simple local diet.Today, even these areas are exposed to the effects of modernization and diseases that are related to abundance start to appear.

The approach of traditional medicines to food

The way traditional medicines choose to eat and treat through nutrition emphasizes the consumption of grains, legumes, vegetables, seeds, fruits, nuts and seaweed. One of the main advantages of this approach lies in its flexibility. The food is personalized for the individual and the range of possibilities is expansive. The recommended diet can be completely vegan or one that requires consuming animal protein on a daily basis. A diet that consists mostly of fresh raw food or one that is based mostly on cooked food. A specific diet can support strenuous athletic activity, and another can support strenuous mental activity.The variety of options is as great as the number of mouths.

One of the important highlights is that the food we choose to eat serves as an ally to our body and soul. If we choose our food wisely, we will gain in return good nourishment and blessing. If our choice of a specific food yields negative results, we should relate to it as a message and information which we can use for correcting the situation rather than as punishment for our choices.

Traditional medicines take into consideration two complementing aspects of nutrition: quantity and quality.Quantity looks at the basic components of the food, i.e. how many carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals a particular food contains and what is the best consumption ratio of each basic food component. This is a highly developed aspect in modern diet and is emphasized by the recommendations of the Ministry of Health.

The aspect of food quality can explain how the food will affect the body. Certain foods have the ability to cool the body and other can warm it.Some foods promote the construction of the body as opposed to food that encourages its disintegration.Some foods have a contracting effect while others have an expanding one on the body; some foods have a drying effect and others a moistening one. The sages of the past looked at nature and over the centuries they explored the specific effects each food has on the human body. The effect is determined by a number of characteristics: food color, taste, smell, shape, texture, growth season, growth area, growth direction and manner of cooking.

As an example, let’s compare between two protein foods: proteins include animal protein such as meat, and legumes such as beans lentils and chickpeas. Quantity wise, these foods are relatively rich in proteins and therefore appear in the same category.Quality wise, there is no connection between meat – which has a warming, moistening and expanding effect on the body, to beans, which when compared with meat are cooling, drying and contracting.

Nutritional therapy is based on the understanding that a person is going through a continuous process of change between two opposites: construction and disintegration, absorption and secretion, contraction and expansion, drying and moistening.Food is what enables man to dynamically balance the motions between these opposites. Smart food choices will gradually build a strong body (or rehabilitate a sick one) and proper mental functionality, while inaccurate food choices will eventually result in an ill body. It is important to realize that the food itself doesn’t make us healthy.Food that suits our needs will enable our body to fully realize its positive individual potential without interference. Food that is inappropriate for our needs will interfere with the body’s proper function and will actively promote health issues.

Our body is in constant interaction with nature and we all respond differently to the daily changes that happen around us. Therefore, the same diseases in different people can stem from different reasons, and the way to solve them will differ between people.Just as with acupuncture, each person must be related to individually. The job of the therapist is to find the most suitable dietary “formula” for the patient’s personal condition and change it as treatment progresses.


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