The Case for Choosing Organic food and Ayurveda
Angela Hope-Murray MSc Ayur, BSc, MA.
Ayurveda places nutrition at the heart of its methodologies for the optimization of life and longevity. If we are to take health seriously one of our first considerations should be our diet. With this in mind in 2018 the WHO stated that “pesticides are potentially toxic to humans and can have both acute and chronic health effects depending on the quantity and ways in which a person is exposed.”
This article speaks to the current farming methods, which use pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and fungicides and are causing the accumulation of such substances in our bodies and are creating toxic residues that are known as ama in Ayurveda.
According to Vagbhata a well-respected Ayurvedic physician from Sindh province in the sixth century stated that ama can be defined as “The first dhatu (rasa) which by weakness of (digestive fire) remaining uncooked and vitiated accumulates in the stomach and small intestine is known as ama”.
The signs and symptoms of ama in the system are clogging of the channels, a sense of heaviness, lack of energy, restlessness, indigestion, congestion, accumulation of the 3 wastes products of the body, (which are faeces, urine and sweat), a loss of taste and sexual debility. Mental ama on the other hand is created by unexpressed emotions, which is less relevant to the topic although frustration about the quality of our food may add this dimension.
When Agni, the energetic force behind all activity in the body is disturbed a process known as pathogenesis, which is the manner of formation of a disease begins to take place. If a channel or a tissue element known as a dhatu has impaired Agni, then ama can accumulate at the site. This leads to the onset in our bodies of generalized symptoms, which have just been described above.
Robust health is possible when Agni’s qualities are optimally is hot, sharp, dry and subtle. This can be ensured, first and foremost, by consuming fresh, nutritionally rich, warm and cooked food. Nutrition that has had minimum exposure to artificial processing, pesticides and herbicides as these will diminish the digestive fire and block the srotas or channels of the body.
The number of scientific studies supporting the consumption of organic food for the maintenance of good health increases every year. Only last month the Centre of Research in Epidemiology and Statistics in Paris looked data from 70,000 French adults and concluded that the rates of post-menopausal breast cancer were 21% less likely and the incidence of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was 73% lower in those whose dietary intake consisted of mostly organic food. It also suggested that “because of the lower exposure to pesticide residues it can be hypothesised that organic food consumers may have a lower risk of developing cancer.”
Ayurveda teaches us that taste of food is as nutritious as the substance we are eating, when you consciously select the appropriate tastes in your activity, drink medicine and food you will become more satisfied and happier resulting in an overall sweetness in your life. The Sanskrit word for flavour thoroughly embraces this concept of taste and is known as Rasa, Monier-Williams dictionary informs us in that the root is ‘ra’, which means to feel, perceive, taste, relish to love and desire. Then when added to the suffix ‘sa’ the meaning extends to encompass the best part of anything, any liquid, primary juice called chyle, the prevailing sentiment in human character, disposition of the heart or mind, religious sentiment, pleasure and desire. It goes on to describe six flavours of which there are 63 combinations besides the original ones. It would seem that in our world of factory produced processed food that this fuller definition of flavour needs to be embraced to give us full satisfaction from our daily intake of food.
Underuse of the sense of taste is one of the causes of disease mentioned in Ayurveda, it can be attributed to a number of causes namely, pesticide contamination, where residues on food are becoming a widespread problem and involves drinking water, meat, fish, vegetables and milk. Those using them and manufacturing them are at greatest risk but others in the general population are also affected, these substances include organo-phosphates, organo-chloride and Carbamate pesticides all of which can cause neurological problems.
Pesticide exposure has been associated with persistent bitter and metallic tastes in the mouth. Zinc deficient soils are also related to widespread organo-phosphate use, which incidentally, leads to loss of taste in the mouth anosmia.
So, what are the benefits of eating organic food?
There is still an argument on both sides of the situation which is mainly based on a meta-analysis published in 2012 by Stanford University, which supported the idea that there in no difference in the nutrient content of organically grown food and food stuff produced in the conventional way. What was highlighted in their investigations was the fact that organic food was free of pesticide residues and antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Now let’s look at one of the main culprits it the chemical realm called Roundup/Glyphosate. It is a powerful herbicide, which blocks the Shikimic metabolic pathway that is the only growth route for plants, killing 99% of known flora. This is why when you walk in the arable farmland now the land is sterile supporting only monoculture. Inadvertently leading to the diminution of the biodiversity of both flora and fauna. Roundup ready accounts for most of the GMO species of crops and allows for these crops to be sprayed many times during their growing period suppressing all weed growth without harm to the plant.
So why doesn’t it affect animals and humans?
The reason is that we utilise the metabolic pathway known as Mevalonic system which it is unaffected by glyphosate. So here we come to the crux of the matter in that Glyphosate was developed and patented as an antibiotic thus it kills bacteria. So, it not only kills beneficial bacteria, but it also kills our gut symbiotic bacteria, which makes up most of our immune systems. Further, Glyphosate is a strong mineral chelator and it binds minerals rendering them unavailable for absorption by our bodies.
In the old days you would have said wash the vegetables before use but because the herbicide is systemic this option is not available for protection. Before we leave this subject other harmful effects, which have been recorded in the utilization of this substance, are that it can influence breast tissue by damaging oestrogen receptors, alters genetic oestrogen regulated gene expression, depletion of several amino-acids, inhibition of liver P450 enzyme giving reduced ability to detoxify. This all results in a build-up of ama in the system and could be part of the reason for the recent explosion of autoimmune conditions and allergies. Alongside, the use of Dichlorophenols, which are substances used in pesticides and chlorinated water.
So, what are the potential benefits or eating organic food?
It appears that the level of polyphenols is significantly higher than chemically sprayed ones.
There appear to be greater concentrations of anthocyanins, flavanols, flavones phenolic acids and stilbenes in organic produce. These are plant-based anti-oxidants, which have been linked to the reduction of a number of diseases and an inhibition of the aging process by protecting the body from free-radical damage.
A study in 2007 by Risk et al. suggests that after adjusting for diet and lifestyle factors that the content of rumenic acid, which is a congregated linoleic acid found cow’s milk (that has been linked to the suppression of coronary heart disease and some cancers) is significantly higher in lactating women who consumed an organic diet.
Finally, is the most important reason for adopting this way of eating is the effect that organic farming has on bio diversity of the environment and especially since the fact that the soil is home to 25% of the species living on the planet.
Sterile soil gives us plants, which are low in trace minerals, the water holding capacity is much reduced and there is increased chance of flooding. That in turn increases the need for irrigation. While run–off from fertiliser causes an algal bloom, depleting oxygen and killing fish.
I will look at strategies for managing the situation in my next blog, but you could make a start by growing your own vegetables, even herbs in a window box would be a start whilst remembering that we are nature not separate from it and that the environment is crying out for love.
Is an Ayurvedic practitioner with a background in osteopathy, podiatry and nutrition who specialises in musculoskeletal conditions and nutrition With over 40 years of experience, Angela works to bring balance back into your life.
Angela also has a weekly clinic in central London at
The Hale Clinic, 4, Harley Street London W1G 9PB. Call 020 7631 0156