This week I read Minding My Mitochondria by Dr. Terry Wahls. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2000, which advanced to secondary progressive MS. She was confined to a wheelchair and couldn't walk even short distances.
She did research on nutrition, particularly on the micronutrients in a wholesome diet that will help nourish the brain and nervous system, the primary problem underlying MS. Her main concern is to nourish her mitochondria, sub-units in each cell that convert glucose to ATP, which fuels cell activity in our bodies. The mitochondria also clean up toxins and allow our cells to heal and renew themselves. And when a cell's life is done, which is pre-programmed by genetics and partially influenced by nutrition, it's the mitochondria's role to tell the cell to die. Without that, the cell becomes "immortal," even if it's not healthy, and this is cancer. Cell death is a crucial factor in ongoing good health. So we need to keep our mitochondria functioning at their best to keep our cells healthy.
With intensive nutrition based on her research, and a program of exercise and electrical stimulation of her muscles and nerves, Dr. Wahls is now walking without canes, she uses a motorized bicycle and is leading an active life. She's not "cured." She still has to follow her exercise regimen and stick to the diet she's developed. If she skips either of these components, within a day or two, she can feel the difference.
Her book is interesting. She explains a lot of science in fairly simple terms. She includes recipes. She provides information I haven't seen in any other book, so it was worthwhile reading hers.
For my own needs, too much of her information was focussed on MS, and she includes soy products in her recipes, which I don't tolerate well. For me, the big factor (besides intestinal problems and obvious allergic reactions when I eat it) is that soy is antagonistic to thyroid function. I'm hypothyroid as it is, so I can't afford to eat something that will depress my thyroid's function even more. In a pinch, I'll eat a soy product over a dairy product, because dairy has a much more immediate and severe effect.
Dr. Wahls also includes oats, quinoa and other grains as substitutes for wheat. I'm trying to avoid all sources of gluten, and even though these grains do not contain gluten by nature, they are often contaminated by gluten because they're processed in the same facilities that process wheat, rye or barley, that DO contain gluten. For anyone trying to avoid gluten completely, it's essential that they ascertain that oats or quinoa are processed in a completely gluten-free way, or simply avoid them altogether.
I'm glad I read her book, because she's often cited as an expert in this area, and she certainly explains the science as clearly as anyone I've ever read. I'll add it to my library of nutritional information.
Possibly the best thing, though, that I got from her book was a philosophy that seemed to underlie much of what she said. Maybe it was just my take on it. She never really articulated outright, yet it underlies a lot of Paleo thinking. It's important to keep this in mind, in my view.
There are certain foods to avoid because they have detrimental effects for most people. Other foods are detrimental to individuals and they should avoid them for optimum health.
But beyond that, there's no sense being paranoid about food. Don't get stressed or panicked making sure you always get only the purest, most organic and nutritious foods. Focus on eating RIGHT, on including a variety of foods and those foods we know are beneficial. Try, whenever possible, to get organic produce or grass-fed meat or free-range eggs. But any whole food is still better than a processed food, even if it's an egg from a battery-farm chicken or hothouse vegetables or green beans in a can. Do what you can, within your budget, your time, your interests, your abilities.
If you eat well, you're giving your body, right down to your cells and the hard-working mitochondria within your cells, the best possible selection of micronutrients to support healthy functioning, so then your body can take care of itself. It can rid itself of many toxins, it can repair damage from environmental factors.
Eliminate the negative. Accentuate the positive. Eliminate the bad stuff where you can, but in working toward the positive, including the best possible foods while reducing or eliminating foods that are detrimental or of no benefit, you will support your body and yourself to cope with the less-than-optimal situations and nutrition you may encounter in a normal, active life. Enjoy your food, enjoy your life.
I'm easily amused. I try to be positive about things, yet I am also driven to distraction by irrationality. Especially if the purpose is valid, but could be achieved with less drama. You'll see all of this in my writing!