By Lisa Lee, Lic.Ac, PhD
As we approach the final countdown to the release of my book exploring the fascinating cross-over between the microbiome, gut health and Oriental Medicine, and the opportunity this affords us as practitioners and patients of Eastern or Western medicine, and as human beings, I noticed the coincidental timing of the ‘Healthy Eating Week’ run by the British Nutrition Foundation. I pondered upon seeing this on the meaning of ‘healthy eating’. I also found myself thinking about how we often underplay the significance of food as medicine and the role of inadequate diets in the initiation of disease. For there is a real paradox in many advanced societies that despite the abundance of food available, dietary deficits remain significant, and health problems linked to our diet and digestion are all too common. Many will rightly question what lies at the root of today’s struggle to define and implement healthy eating to achieve sustained good health.
As I reflected on this, I recognised the multiple challenges we face on a day-to-day basis in making healthy eating choices. We live in a world where knowledge is at our fingertips, and where we are constantly exposed to a multitude of dietary belief systems and divergent recommendations, yet from which it can be hard to discriminate the helpful from the less so, according to our individual circumstances. We also lead busy lives in which the deeply nourishing qualities of food can easily become lost as we find ourselves, out of necessity or lack of time, prioritising speed and convenience. Our shopping and eating habits are such that we often rely on the mass manufacture of food products which often distance us from real foods and authentic flavours and strip our diets from the freshness and variety needed to provide appropriate nutritional support. And even if in our heads and hearts we know what ‘eating well’ entails, implementing a healthy food strategy can quickly slip down our priority list, as we see it as an added bonus to health, rather than truly realising how strong the link is between health, wellbeing and what we eat. This is sometimes exacerbated by the fact that we live in an era where life-saving medical procedures and medication are allowing us to focus too much on remedial interventions, rather than on the personal engagement needed in the prevention of disease.
While such points may seem to weaken the ease, practicality, or need of eating and living well, more recent scientific findings on the influence of the link between gut health, diet and wider health parameters, twinned with the well-established know-how of Oriental Medicine and its holistically-minded approach to physical, mental and spiritual health, are showing us something quite different: significant health benefits can be derived from making even small and simple changes to our lifestyle and the daily choices we make. For it is these everyday practices that provide the basis for a happy and healthy life. Thanks to the growing evidence from microbiome research, and the positive outcomes from therapies such as acupuncture, we know that ‘eating well’ and more broadly ‘living well’ are not just doable, they impact all aspects of our health, both physical and mental, and can help us reconnect with a more authentic and sustainable way of eating and being.
Acupuncturists like myself will likely agree that at the heart of the system of medicine that we practise lies a belief that good health is both influenceable and attainable. The possibility of achieving and maintaining health exists and emerges deep from within us, by nourishing ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually. Such beliefs can seem outlandish and abstract, yet their essence is contained within the understanding we now have of our inner workings and in particular, the remarkable role played by the human microbiome. The microbiome operates as a micro-ecosystem that functions within the wider ecosystem of the human body, itself part of the broader environments we inhabit and move through. This multi-layered system means that, given the right conditions, our health can be supported by that of our microbiome. This tangible asset, and the potential it offers human health, has made the microbiome, and gut health in particular, a hot topic both in science and in health circles. Yet far less emphasis has been placed to date on understanding how Oriental Medicine can support healthy microbiomes and how microbiome health can be integrated into the practice of Oriental Medicine. The book seeks to help bridge this gap in both theory and practice, and thus makes it both timely and valuable to anyone keen to learn about, or widen their perspective on, the microbiome, gut health, and Oriental Medicine, and the added opportunities provided by their integration.
And to come back to the question at the start of this blog ‘what is healthy eating’, well it is, as emphasised throughout the book, based on the notion that ‘health’ is about living in accordance with ourselves, our microbiome, nature and the world around us. In the book, I explore the avenues at our disposal to do this, and while dietary and culinary considerations based on Eastern and Western nutritional know-how are one of the main ways for us to do so, there are many other key aspects that come into play. How we sleep, how we breathe and how we keep our emotions in check, can all be affected by the state of our microbiomes and by the incorporation of health strategies, such as acupuncture. The microbiome is more than an ally in seeking health: if looked after well, it will help maintain health, allow innate and spontaneous ‘healthy’ choices to be made, and decrease the likelihood of ill-health. It is our guardian, our healer, our teacher and allows us to be connected to our true self. I hope you will find in the book an intriguing and inspiring approach to looking after your own health and that of those around you, whether patients, friends or family. The microbiome and Oriental Medicine teach us that variety and change, and our ability to embrace these, are important parameters of health, something the book itself intends to bring about too. Enjoy!
To purchase your copy of The Microbiome, Gut Health and Oriental Medicine: An Integrated Approach by Lisa Lee, click here.