Eat Your Medicine: Creating a Connection Between Food and Health
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” -- Hippocrates
In Ayurveda, there is no distinction between food and medicine. Eating a broad variety of healing, nutritive foods is equally, if not more, therapeutic than supplements and prescription medication. Ayurveda has been described as a science of delayed gratification, meaning that while its holistic approach to health and healing takes more time than conventional Western medicine, it creates lasting change and an overall improved quality of life. In Ayurveda, optimum health means staying in balance, which takes discipline. This means considering the consequences of the food and lifestyle choices we make and deciding whether they are worth paying.
Our body’s systems are all intricately connected, and a beautifully symbiotic relationship exists between the food we eat and our health. When it comes to preventing illnesses, we now know that a healthy immune system is undoubtedly the most important factor to consider. Though a diet rich in naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals is the best way to avoid getting sick, it’s also important to know how to treat yourself when symptoms do arise.
Viruses, such as the common cold or flu, are not easily recognized by the immune system, so they are difficult to treat, and there is no quick fix. We’ve heard all the recommendations over the years - everything from chicken soup to antibiotics. The question is rarely, if ever, “How did I get sick?” Rather, our thought pattern is typically, “How can I get rid of this as soon as possible? I don’t have time for this!”
So how do we know which cold and flu treatment is right for our body? And most importantly, do any of these treatments have long-term consequences? Before you hop on the drugstore train for a nice, smooth ride to recovery, consider the following:
- If you don’t address the underlying factors of your illness, you will likely continue getting sick more and more frequently. The cold or flu is not just a wintertime normality. Each time we come down with an ailment, our immune system’s natural protective factors become one step closer to depletion, which inevitably leads to long-term health problems.
- Educating yourself on potential long-term effects of prescription and over-the-counter cold and flu remedies may change your approach. Though we have the freedom to choose how we treat our ailments, we also must accept the consequences of those choices.
Ditch the Antibiotics
The most important thing to know about treating the common cold and flu is that they are caused by viral invaders; therefore, antibiotics will do nothing to treat them. Antibiotics do not kill viruses, yet they are too often prescribed by physicians for colds and bronchitis. Not only is this an ineffective treatment, but unnecessary antibiotic use can lead to long-term health problems, such as compromised immune system function, digestive problems, chronic candida, and kidney damage.
Beware of Over-The-Counter Treatments
Drugstore medications, such as cough suppressants, antihistamines, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen should be avoided, as they only suppress symptoms and generally have potentially undesirable side-effects. It’s important to remember that all medication has some level of toxicity, which means a potential for long-term consequences to our health. Fever reducing medication is not always helpful because we counteract our body’s ability to naturally fight the virus-infected cells. When we have a fever, it means our body is fighting the infection and our viral load is coming down. A cough should not be suppressed either because it serves a purpose for healing our body. When we cough, we are mobilizing the mucus and preventing it from plugging our airways and mucus membranes. This speeds up the healing process and helps prevent bacterial infections.
Rather than taking medications that suppress our natural immune response to the virus present in our system, why not try some less-invasive, inexpensive food remedies that can be made with ingredients found in your kitchen? These Ayurvedic recipes are simple, easy to prepare, and effective. I was recently struggling with some upper respiratory issues due to some unfriendly viral invaders. I found these remedies to be quite soothing, and they provided more relief than over-the-counter medication. Most importantly, I allowed the virus to run its course, while naturally nourishing my body with healing foods.
Soothing Golden Milk
- 8 oz. hot almond milk (or water - do not use cow’s milk, as it is mucus-forming)
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp black pepper powder
- 2 tsp raw honey
Stir ingredients together until well mixed; drink hot two times per day.
Honey Turmeric Cough Syrup
- 1 tsp raw honey
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
Stir ingredients together; take three times a day until cough is relieved.
Rationale/Indications for Treatment:
According to Ayurveda, Kapha is responsible for the respiratory system and lungs. When there is congestion/build-up of Kapha, an individual may experience symptoms such as sneezing, chest congestion, shortness of breath, cough, and runny nose. Here are a few foods that can assist in treating illness:
- Black Pepper: Excellent for congestion, stimulates the respiratory system, and works as a mucus expectorant.
- Honey: Helps clear sinuses; possesses anti-bacterial properties; strengthens immune system; expectorates mucus, which is associated with the common cold, cough, and sore throat.
- Turmeric: Assists with clearing the lungs of phlegm and activates the liver; warms the body.
In addition to the above treatment, it is equally important to avoid the following:
- Dairy products: Considered mucus-forming in Ayurveda and can exacerbate congestion symptoms, especially when the body is fighting a cold.
- Sugar: Creates heaviness in the upper respiratory system and is mucus-forming.
The most important thing to remember is that antibiotics should not be used to treat the cold or flu. Antibiotics are not only ineffective in terms of treating viral infections, but unnecessary antibiotic use will only cause long-term health problems. Though it may not make sense to avoid symptom-relieving drugs, such as cough suppressants, true healing occurs when we allow our body to naturally rebalance itself. This includes lots of rest, eating health-promoting foods, and allowing our body to do its job without interference. With these nourishing and soothing foods, you will allow your body to use its natural immune response to effectively fight off the virus without being over-taxed with unnecessary medications.
Fuhrman, J. (2011). Super immunity: The essential nutrition guide for boosting your body’s defenses to live longer, stronger, and disease free. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.