Some say the external environment is a reflection of our internal environment. They claim our thoughts, emotions, and attitudes determine the outer world. While that may be true to some extent I believe it is also our internal biochemical environment that plays out in the world. One example is our food choices. The choices we make are not always carried out in a conscious manner. Many times we reach for something without even thinking about it and assume we’ve made a choice.
Shouldn’t choices be fully conscious participating events, not acts without mindfulness? When a choice is made without full awareness it becomes a pattern, not a choice. What drives us to ingest a particular type of food or drink without being conscious of the event? It is a complex set of biochemical actions and reactions that contribute to either making choices or repeating a pattern. The biochemical interplay is governed by what is in the extra cellular fluid (ECF) and that part of the brain known as the hypothalamus.
The extra cellular fluid bathes our internal body. It is the fluid outside and in between the cells and is largely made up of blood plasma and interstitial fluid. It is about 90% water and brings cell nutrients (e.g. glucose, fatty acids, and amino acids) to tissue, organs, and glands. It carries oxygen, trace minerals, and hormones that regulate and coordinate all functions of our cells. It removes carbon dioxide, cellular waste, and toxic material from the immediate surrounding tissue. Intracellular fluid, on the other hand, refers to all fluid inside the cell.
The hypothalamus monitors the biochemistry of everything that goes into our mouth. It reads the chemistry and adjusts the finely-tuned balance of the body to accommodate for ingested food and drink. Too much acidic food must be balanced with alkaline substances and vice-versa. Too much sodium must be balanced with potassium; elevated potassium levels require the body to shore up the sodium. It is an endless dance of balance inside us. When the dance gets out of control, we suffer with disease.
The pH of a substance tells if it is acid or alkaline. The pH range is 0-14. Zero up through 6.9 is considered acidic. Seven is neutral and everything above 7 is deemed alkaline. The pH of hydrochloric acid made in our stomach is 0; lemon juice is 2 while baking powder is 8.3 and lye 13. The pH of blood, which is part of the ECF, is tightly controlled between 7.35 – 7.45. It is alkaline.
Any change beyond this very narrow range triggers the body to quickly move the pH back to within range. If blood pH becomes too acidic, that is close to 7.35, the body compensates by increased breathing and expelling carbon dioxide, shifting the pH back to normal range. When the blood pH moves to 7.45 or slightly beyond, the opposite occurs.
The primary components of food include macro-nutrients (carbohydrates, fats/oils, fiber, and protein) and micro-nutrients (food enzymes, minerals, trace minerals, and vitamins). Each one has specific functions, often working together with other factors. Minerals and vitamins are coenzymes combining with enzymes to perform their functions in the body. Generally, animal protein, beans and legumes, grains, pasteurized dairy products, oils and some nuts have an acidifying effect. Fruits, vegetables, many vegetable proteins and eggs, unpasteurized dairy products and other nuts and seeds have an alkalizing effect.
Most people have about twenty foods they consistently eat because it makes them feel good. Food cravings are in this category. They are determined by the hypothalamus gland. It controls our sense of smell and taste. Each macro-food component drives the endocrine system in a very specific way and the body becomes locked in a pattern.
This pattern is what causes us to choose certain foods, but also leads to predictable disease conditions. This is where one reaches for certain foods without thinking much about it. Recognizing and breaking the pattern is necessary. By modifying one’s diet and reducing dietary stress factors, the body can avoid predictable future incidences of disease because the pattern is broken.
One of the most useful tests is a specialized 24-hour urinalysis. It reveals a 24 to 48 hour window informing what the body is doing to maintain relative balance. It reveals bowel toxicity, kidney function, the pH of the urine which mirrors that of the blood, how much salt is used, and many other indexes. Again, for everything consumed, the hypothalamus alters the body chemistry to avoid biochemical imbalances. This shows up in the urine and can be measured.
Instead of simple organically grown food, the standard American diet is full of chemical additives, pesticide and herbicide residues, food colorings and flavorings, sugar, genetically modified (GM) plants and soon GM fish, farmed salmon and a host of other things approved by the FDA. Look at any food label and try to read all the chemicals contained in the product. THAT is what goes into your body and THAT is what your hypothalamus tries to balance every day.
No wonder most people grab snacks without ever realizing what they are putting into their mouths. The food industry has spent billions of dollars over many years researching the exact combination of fat, sugar, and protein that will hook you into eating more than you need. Like the potato chip commercial says, “Bet you can’t eat just one.” Of course you could if you were conscious about what food is and how your eating habits are influenced by your particular chemistry and brain.
The relationship between the brain and digestive tract has become one of the most studied aspects of human health in recent years. The digestive tract is referred to as the “Second Brain.” The cross-talk between the two is constant, each one modifying the actions of the other. Did you know that ninety percent of all serotonin produced in the body occurs in the digestive tract? Serotonin is a brain neurotransmitter that improves one’s mood and is involved with the onset of sleep. Pharmaceutical drugs like Prozac, which is a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) target the neuronal synapses in the brain to try and increase serotonin.
Is it possible that by restoring healthy digestion and consciously choosing the healthiest foods for oneself, one could increase levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin? From the information published in medical journals, the answer is a resounding yes. Repairing the sensitive lining of the digestive tract restores the brush-border which is an immune barrier; one’s levels of neurotransmitters in the brain can be improved rendering SSRI drugs unnecessary.
Restoring healthy neurological functioning increases the possibility of making better food choices. It is cyclic; restore neurological function, improve food choices. Improve food choices and you feed the brain and body what it needs. Improve digestion and neurotransmitters function improves.
Creating a healthier internal, cellular environment by understanding your chemistry and consciously choosing better foods reflects in the outer world. Eliminating foods that excite the nervous system has a calming effect. Removing food additives and colorings, sugars, simple carbohydrates and excessive amounts of proteins are at the top of the list.
Balancing body chemistry through food and nutrition awakens one’s creativity and awareness to degrees not experienced before. It serves not only you but those around you.