It is often said that we, in developed nations, are living longer than ever. But are we? Certainly the average life span has increased when antibiotics, artificial life support, emergency care, and pharmaceuticals are taken into account. With all of that, we’ve managed to tack on a whopping 6 more years to the average life span since 100 BC. The percentage of people living a really long life, however, has significantly gone down. The percentage of Americans aged 100 in 1830 was .02. In 1990, it was .015%. And today it is .001%. Most important, the quality of life experienced in our bodies has deteriorated.
My quest for radiant health got serious when I decided to have children. Discovering the importance of nutrition was an accident, really. I was reading The Garden of Fertility by Katie Singer, on natural ways of charting your fertility signals to safely and effectively prevent or achieve pregnancy, and the best way to prepare your body for conception and pregnancy. I wasn’t expecting to discover that nutritional preparation was key to successful fertility and parenting.
Most of my female friends and family struggle with at least one reproductive health issue. From infertility to uterine fibroids to painful and heavy periods to polycystic ovarian syndrome, we women are constantly reminded of the vulnerability of our wombs. I believe that these womb scars are, in part, a result of individual and collective psychic scars. There is so much wounding to correct and make right, it is overwhelming to know where to begin. Maybe we are not ready to face old wounds, but our lives and our children’s lives demand it.
Before the introduction of street lamps and modern lighting, women ovulated when the moon was full and bled while it was new. We now know that exposure to light affects our circadian rhythm and our hormonal system, which is at the root of our menstrual cycle. Melatonin, which regulates the circadian rhythm and the hypothalamus, is primarily secreted at night because it requires darkness to be produced. Bright light suppresses its secretion. The hypothalamus regulates the endocrine system, temperature, blood pressure, and emotion. You can imagine, then, that something as simple as certain exposure to light, can impair the hormonal system.
Lunaception is a technique that can help regulate and normalize women with very short or long cycles. In addition, to creating regular, healthy menstrual cycles, lunaception can be used to avoid pregnancy. The technique mimics our ancestors’ natural experience with darkness and the moon. It involves sleeping in complete darkness from days 1-13 of the menstrual cycle, sleeping with a low light source on days 14-17, and then sleeping in complete darkness again until the start of a new period. Complete darkness means 15 minutes after turning out the lights, you cannot see objects in the room. To achieve this, it is necessary to eliminate or cover light coming from any source like street lamps, night lights, digital clocks, etc.
Lunaception, or even just sleeping in complete darkness every night, has been shown to strengthen gynecological health, increase fertility, and improve hormonal levels and premenopausal symptoms. But the most direct and easy way to address the roots of reproductive illness, outside of emotional healing therapy, is through correcting diet and nutrition. This is simple to say, but proper diet and eating takes quite a bit of mental fortitude because of the modern mixed-up and confusing nutritional landscape in this country. The first fact to face is that modern nutrition is grossly inadequate for the task of sustaining our bodies, those of our children, and future generations.
Nowadays we have our scapegoats all lined up for the causes of illness and disease. We blame the 3 g’s: germs, genetics, and God. We take no personal responsibility for our sick bodies, let alone our sick children. Traditional people understood well that reproduction entails a critical period of formation and growth in utero, and they recognized that men and women—especially women—need extra nutrition up to 6 months before conception. This nutritional window was recognized as a special period where special foods were fed to the parents to-be. And these special foods were fed through gestation and lactation.
Traditional cultures made a science of birthing healthy children. They took serious the charge of reproduction. They knew this was their true source of wealth. Blackfoot women knew that the lining of the buffalo large intestine gave babies a nice round head. The Maasai only allowed couples to marry after several months of consuming milk from cows eating the wet season grass. In Fiji, islanders hiked miles down to the sea to acquire certain species of lobster crab which they knew produced “a highly perfect infant”. Thousands of years of dedication, trial and error, and wisdom being passed on was necessary to protect the genetic wealth of a people to survive in a harsh and wild world.
Our bodies were built by these nutrient dense foods. Between 3 and 2 ½ million years ago, our brain grew to the proportions it did because eating nutrient dense foods from meat sources allowed our digestive systems to shrink, diverting precious energy away from it towards the brain. As the maternal metabolic turnover increased, the blood flowing through the placenta of every hominid fetus contained a fuller, more dependable source of omega 3’s and other nutrients, and nothing could prevent the fetus from taking advantage of it. The proper functioning of our minds and our bodies are still dependent on these foods today.
We come from over 150,000 generations of hunters and gatherers. Our bodies are built to consume meat for the protein and fat it provides. With agriculture—the domestication of cereal grains—came the “diseases of civilization” (to say nothing of the diseases of ecosystems). Before that, we were largely, disease-free. The reason cereal grains are so nutritionally problematic is because they contain many toxins and anti-nutrients to stop animals from eating them. Heat, grinding, soaking, rinsing, sprouting, and fermenting disable some of these anti-nutrients. But eating too many of these improperly prepared starches and sugars can overload the intestines causing an inflammatory response, impairing proper digestion and absorption and allowing toxins into our bloodstream. A host of problems like Type II diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and depression may result.
Cereal grains are plants that have designed an intricate way of protecting themselves. They produce lectins which produce auto-immune responses. In effect, the body turns on itself. Grains are basically carbohydrates lacking in essential amino acids, and they have enough opioids to make them highly addictive. Essential amino acids are essential building blocks of protein that we cannot make ourselves, we can only eat them. But every cell in the body can make all of the sugar it needs. The actual amount of carbohydrates required by the body is zero. Eating a high carbohydrate, low-fat diet is like a tiger attack 3 times a day because of how sugar stimulates the release of adrenaline. Not only does this create a hypoglycemic cycle of extreme highs and lows, it damages the stomach’s ability to produce hydrochloric acid which can leave you feeling sick, nauseated, and bloated. White flour breaks down in the body into glucose. Too much sugar in the body makes it secrete excess insulin, and if this happens, the ovaries may stop making estrogen and secrete testosterone instead. This action diminishes or stops ovulation and hinders progesterone. The repetition of this process results in polycystic ovarian syndrome.
The good moods you experience throughout the day are mainly possible through protein. Brains deprived of protein and fat can be rigid, angry, and easily set-off. A build-up of endorphins requires a large, consistent supply of high-protein foods like fish, eggs, cottage cheese or chicken. Lack of protein puts you at risk for depression because of the lack of tryptophan. Depressed people tend to crave sweets and starchy foods because the sudden rise in blood sugar gives a short-lived burst of energy, but it is followed by a period of letdown and exhaustion, which leads to craving more sugar. White flour and white sugar are classic bad-mood foods. Amino acids (building blocks of protein) are our most effective weapons for fighting these false moods. Although sunlight, music, romance, exercise, and nature can raise your endorphin levels, they can’t help if your basic levels are too low.
It is time to start listening to your hunger, the real hunger of your body—not the cravings and addictions of pseudo-foods. Your cells could never be satisfied with that. Only truly nourishing foods can satisfy you on the cellular level. To put it bluntly, your brain is hungry for fat—real fat. So eat up all the full fat cream and butter you can get your hands on. Leave that skin on the chicken (it’s the tastiest part anyway). Fry those collards up with bacon grease. Put that lard back in those biscuits. There is something to be said for American Southern culinary tradition.
Why does this sound so wrong? It is because this country has built an entire ideology off of the very flimsy Lipid Hypothesis which claims that high amounts of saturated fats and cholesterol can raise your risk of heart disease. The Lipid Hypothesis, formulated back in the 1970s, came from a series of dodgy, if not fraudulent, epidemiological studies and questionable researchers who broke the epidemiological golden rule against conflating correlation with causation. The hypothesis has been disproven and decried by doctors and researchers for years to no avail. But it has persisted to the point of becoming doctrine because it fit very nicely into a big corporate agenda of convincing Americans to set aside their local butter, lard, and tallow in favor of the very cheap and plentiful vegetable oils (including soybean oil, canola oil, and corn oil). At first, this came with a lot of resistance from Americans deeply connected to their culinary traditions, but to the ultimate detriment of the soil, our ecosystems, and our bodies, Big Agriculture won the day through shear stubborn persistence (and a lot of financing towards public and private grants and research to prove this theory).
In the meantime, let’s talk about the facts. Cholesterol is necessary for life. Low cholesterol levels are associated with higher cancer risk and increased mortality in heart failure patients. Cholesterol keeps cells structurally stable. Without it, you’d be a puddle, not an animal. It is the body’s basic repair substance with antioxidant powers, and all of your hormones are made out of it. 20 percent of the body’s cholesterol needs has to be ingested by food (the body makes the rest). Breastmilk is high in cholesterol, as infants brains cannot grow without it. It is known that eating egg yolks—good sources of cholesterol—is protective against Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative diseases. It is also an excellent food for conceiving and birthing healthy babies.
Nutritionist Dr. Mary Enig says it is very important to know your fats—meaning know the good fats from the bad. Commercial vegetable oils are exposed to high heat, mechanical processing, solvent extraction, refining, bleaching, and degumming, rendering them all highly rancid. They can set off chain reactions in the body that destroy cells and damage DNA. The worst of all fats to be avoided at all costs are the trans-fats found in hydrogenated vegetable oils such as margarine and vegetable shortening. Trans-fats have been linked to obesity, heart problems, cancer, infertility, lowered sperm counts, low birth weight babies, and reduced quality of breast milk. Unfortunately, trans-fats are commonly found in almost all commercial baked goods. Saturated fats, however, are stable in the body. In addition, essential vitamins A, D, B, and K all need saturated fats for transportation and absorption. Saturated fat is necessary for the optimal functioning of our nervous and endocrine system. And the endocrine system, remember, is at the root of our reproductive health. It is extremely difficult to sustain a pregnancy without enough animal fat in the diet because it directly impacts the level of progesterone.
And still, the low-fat diet is heralded as the healthiest diet. This, despite the fact that the fatty acids found in artery clogs are mostly unsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. This, despite the fact that during the period of rapid increase in heart disease from 1920-1960, American consumption of animal fats declined and the consumptiom of trans-fats and vegetable oils increased dramatically (USDA-HNIS). This, despite the known fact that the all-cause death rates are higher in individuals with cholesterol levels lower than 180 mg/dl. So let’s state these facts loudly. Saturated fat has not been satisfactorily shown to raise cholesterol levels, and high cholesterol has not been satisfactorily proven to cause coronary heart disease. This flips the entire low-fat religion completely on its head.
George Mann, MD, former co-Director of the famous Framingham heart study stated: “The diet-heart hypothesis has been repeatedly shown to be wrong, and yet, for complicated reasons of pride, profit, and prejudice, the hypothesis continues to be exploited by scientists, fund-raising enterprises, food companies and even governmental agencies. The public is being deceived by the greatest health scam of the century
No discussion about food and reproductive health is complete without talking about soy. The soy industry has done an excellent, but frightening, job of convincing us that it is the healthiest alternative to meat and dairy out there. Soy contains so many anti-nutrients that is not edible for humans without a lot of processing, even more so than other seeds. In Asia, a way was found to make soy edible by fermenting it into miso, which disables the trypsin inhibitors that otherwise cause gas, bloating, pain, and diarrhea. Even so, it was only served as a condiment in small amounts. This is in stark contrast to our Western highly processed unfermented soy that is eaten liberally as a meat substitute, and even further processed and repackaged to serve as an alternative to milk.
In addition to trypsin inhibitors, soy contains the highest amount of phytates which can permanently damage your thyroid if you eat or drink enough. It also contains phytoestrogens. Infants on soy formula receive the equivalent of 3 to 5 birth control pills a day. It is extremely dangerous to be used as formula in infants. Phytoestrogens produce infertility by locking on to estrogen receptors in the body and blocking them and other hormones such as LH and FSH (key hormones in the menstrual cycle). They also disrupt the body’s production of estrogen, and this has been known since the 1940s. Soy can cause endometrial damage and infertile cervical mucus changes. Soy can halt menstruation or significantly lengthen the menstrual cycle. The isoflavones in soy are associated with cancer and endometriosis. It can lower sperm count in men and interferes with testosterone. In short, soy can cause accelerated brain aging, infertility, miscarriages, birth defects, decreased libido, aggression, anxiety, and other behavioral disorders. This plant has gone through a lot of changes to prevent itself from being eaten, even as far as messing with an animal’s ability to reproduce.
When indigenous people on their native diets were studied, no cases of cancer, heart disease, or diabetes were found. Studies of cultures eating high amounts of coconut oil, eggs, fish, and dairy have found that there is a lower risk of strokes than those eating the least. Animal fats contain many nutrients that protect against cancer and heart disease. The world renowned Kalenjin Kenyan runners come from a culture free from chronic and degenerative disease. Raw and fermented dairy products form the bulk of their diet. Unfortunately, many of these same people, once they switch to the modern western diets, start manifesting the same illnesses and diseases that we have become so familiar with. So what were indigenous people eating before the influx of western foods? The definition of cuisine is a local tradition of food and food preparation. World cuisine is as different and diverse as local dress and customs. What connects them all, however, are the pillars of world cuisine: meat on the bone and organ meats from wild or grass-fed animals; foods that are fermented or sprouted (particularly any grains); and raw or fresh foods from produce, dairy, or meat sources. Food with the most minerals are marine foods, (from sources like fish, shellfish, fish organs, fish liver oil, and fish eggs) which explains why the healthiest people on earth are coastal-dwelling fishing peoples. The next healthiest groups are always the hunter-gatherer/pastoralist groups who eat wild or pastured land mammals. (Note: meat from factory farms are not consumed by either of these groups, as they weren’t consumed by our ancestors).
When asked why they ate the foods they did, the answer from all of these people was the same: “So we can make perfect babies” . Clearly, we have much to learn about eating. “Our ancestors didn’t think of their food in terms of carbs and protein and fat. They thought more in terms of good soil, healthy animal, freshly picked, and for this reason, their traditional cultural practices, and the foods they took into their bodies, kept them firmly tethered to the natural world. In other words, they stayed connected”.
If 100% of your food comes from mega non-specialty grocery stores, like Safeway or Publix, the road to optimal health might be a challenge. So where should we be getting our food from? One hundred years ago, this would have been a preposterous question. Food was pulled from the outdoor garden, the backyard, the barn, a neighbor’s flock, fished out of the river or ocean, or was purchased from a small market down the street. This is still the case in many countries. But since we are where we are, and most of us live in cities far removed from local foods, what can we realistically do about getting healthy sources of food? Radiant health starts with making a commitment to obtaining real food. Then it becomes a process. Before you know it you’re on a journey, until finally it becomes a lifestyle, a mission, a spiritual identity.
It is important to maintain a good relationship with yourself while on this path. In other words, be gentle with yourself, instead of judgmental, but be committed. Once you start looking, you will find an abundance of resources like community supported agriculture (CSAs), seasonal farmer’s markets, and buying clubs or co-ops. You’ll get connected to the slow food movement in your city. You’ll start budgeting better to afford the greater cost of truly healthful foods. You’ll discover small community health food stores, or get the hook-up with a local farmer. You’ll start growing herbs and vegetables in your own backyard or rooftop garden. The point is, when you make the decision to be committed to the path of radiant health, the synchronicity of just the right opportunity, at just the right time won’t stop. Start slow, don’t get too frustrated that you give up, and don’t judge yourself for everything that you eat. Eating is sacred, and when you eat, be happy and thankful about it. The way you approach your food can be just as important as what you eat. Our ancestors knew this, as do our indigenous neighbors, and so do you if you sit down to eat a holiday meal with your family. Being a woman already revolves around her relationships. It shouldn't be a stretch to become inspired to be in sync with your relationship with food and where it comes from.
For more information on traditional nutrition, look up the Weston A. Price Foundation or research the Primal diet or the Paleo diet.
-References “Length of Life in the Ancient World”. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, January 1994.
Wise Traditions Vol. 8 No. 1, 2007 p13.
Singer, Katie. The Garden of Fertility, Penguin Group Inc, 2004, p158-159.
Shanahan, Catherine and Luke Shanahan. Deep Nutrition, Big Box Books, 2009.
Morgan, Elaine. The Descent of the Woman, Souvenir Press Ltd, 1972.
Keith, Lierre. The Vegetarian Myth, Flashpoint Press, 2009, p153.
Eades, Michael R. and Mary Dan Eades. Protein Power, Bantam Books, 1999.
Ross, Julia. The Mood Cure, Penguin Books, 2004, p26-27.
“Myths and Truths about Cholesterol”, The Weston A. Price Foundation for Wise Traditions leaflet, 2010.
“Principles of Healthy Diets”. The Weston A Price Foundation for Wise Traditions leaflet, www.westonaprice.org
Federation Proceedings July 1978 37:2215.