By Steven Johnson, D.O.
Issue: Spring 2004, Digestion - Issue #35
Steven Johnson, D.O. is the medical director for Foxhollow Clinic. Located near Louisville, Kentucky, the clinic is a new inpatient initiative integrating anthroposophical, allopathic, and holistic modalities to treat patients with acute and chronic illnesses. The clinic is also developing a retreat and conference center. Learn more at 502-241-4304.
Lilipoh: What makes digestion/nutrition such an important topic today?
SJ: That's because today, we are seeing many changes in the ecology of our digestion and those changes are having a great impact on childhood illnesses as well as many chronic adult illnesses. A balance in the intestinal flora in our digestive tract helps us to assimilate food and to eliminate by-products from our blood through evacuation or excretion of the gut. Today, imbalances are common this is largely a nutritional problem that mirrors what we are seeing in our natural environment today the micro and the macrocosm are always connected.
Lilipoh: Can you say more about this relationship between our inner ecology and the environment?
SJ.: There are now many environmental factors disturbing the gut ecology. We are inundating our foods with hormones, growth factors, genetic engineering and antibiotics. Also, many pesticides and toxins now in food find their way into our digestion. Modern agricultural practices also cause deficiencies in trace minerals, such as zinc and selenium, which help us to eliminate toxic elements in the food, as well as support biological processes. All of this alters the immunity of our body and the ecology of the gut. Just as when the ecology of the farm is disturbed, the basic production of nutrients in the body is also disturbed. This is at the root of the many early-appearing chronic illnesses we see today. It is something we have to overcome. It is not the only reason, but it is where a lot of the imbalances start.
Lilipoh: What problems result from these digestive imbalances that you describe?
SJ: Our ability to assimilate our food is challenged more and more. When not properly digested, foods cross into the blood not fully broken down and so you could say the ego or the individuality can't assimilate these foods in the proper way. They are seen, then, as foreign because they are still somehow connected to nature. We are seeing more sensitivities to certain foods because we can't properly digest them. When the body "perceives" food that is not fully digested as foreign, the immune system reacts by producing immune complexes which are often neurotoxic. That manifests in the higher rates of chronic diseases like arthritis, autoimmune illnesses and others. We are also seeing it in behavioral disorders in children. This is becoming a very significant issue. When the nutrition problems are removed, you can see a level of improvement. The problem is not only one of digestion, but we are seeing that it is a very strong factor.
Lilipoh: It's disturbing that eating, which is supposed to help us, is instead creating more problems for us!
SJ: Part of the problem is that food grown through large-scale chemical-dependent agriculture has diminished nutritional value. We see the deficiencies I mentioned in trace minerals. Minerals and metals also help the self or ego to overcome unhealthy environmental influences via a balanced immune system and elimination processes. Without them, your ability to eliminate harmful substances such as pesticides and mercury is impared. And all of this puts a large strain on the etheric body.
Lilipoh: The "etheric body"?
SJ: In Chinese medicine this is what we call the chi the life forces which enable our bodies to grow and renew. In anthroposophy it can be called the body of formative forces.
Lilipoh: What should we be doing if we want to have healthy digestion?
SJ: We have some power over what we choose to eat. Food that is grown from smaller local organic or biodynamic farms, I believe, has a higher quality of nutrition. It is richer in the trace minerals. When we eat locally grown foods, we tend to eat with the course of the year. We find that foods grown in a particular season (spring, summer, fall or winter), contain the nutrients that our bodies need at those times. This connection to nature strengthens us. These choices also have an impact on our local culture and economy.
Lilipoh: We have really gotten away from this.
SJ: Right. We don't eat in the rhythm of nature anymore. We are not growing up with a connection to the land nor experiencing the rhythms of the land. We are being disconnected from nature on many levels, but the level of agriculture is the most basic one because natural rhythms support the etheric body and our ability to think, heal and have the internal fortitude we need to be motivated and productive. I think the dissolving of agriculture at the local level and the lack of organic and biodynamic practices is also mirrored in the chronic disfunction of our general society and economy. Our true humanity is no longer reflected there. So I think this is very, very important.
Lilipoh: So, when we eat healthy, high quality nutritious food, we take in substances that help us to have a stronger immune system then we can better deal with environmental toxins and the nutritional deficiencies in our food.
SJ: Everything in the body requires that we have the right substance the right spiritual substance and the right physical or nutritive substance. Today we are seeing a breakdown in the availability of both. It is a change in culture. As we see changes in the outer ecology, as our environment becomes less alive, we see these same imbalances showing up in our inner ecology. They are connected. If you think about, for instance, the rampant growth of autistic related disorders, and hyperactive behavioral disorders, it is important to note that all these children have imbalances in their sensory integration. Many of them have auditory deficiencies, many have visual deficiencies, some have coordination problems having to do with sensory integration and neurological development. We see an increase in corresponding food sensitivities which reflects an inward inability to meet nature. One could say that the digestive tract is the first place we meet the environment, the place where we meet nature through what we consume. There we also develop sensory deficits, as well. We can't perceive and digest the world properly.
Lilipoh: When we have good food and a connection to nature as part of our regular lifestyle, we tend not to be as attracted to heavy media input and some of the other more unhealthy or disturbing parts of society.
SJ: Rudolf Steiner made a very bold statement many years ago. He said that the problem of people not taking interest in spiritual ideas which to me means just taking an interest in the higher aspects of life is a problem of nutrition. I think he meant something more than just the vitamins and minerals and the physical aspects of the food. The elemental forces, the spiritual forces that we need for higher development are also part of nutrition. And if they are lacking, our inner spirituality, our higher self, has difficulty unfolding. If we want a balanced outer ecology, we have to start by understanding our own inner ecology.
Lilipoh: There is a real connection between what we take in and our spiritual growth.
SJ: Remember that there is a positive aspect to disease, illness, toxicity, and all of their attendant problems. Dealing with them, meeting them, we also develop our individualities. This is the challenge to develop the individuality. So if we can come through this if we can meet it then we will be able to act more freely out of our individuality. I think this is the direction of the future, that our spirituality comes from within. What was once instinctive and part of the outer social forms is no longer present. Today our spirituality needs to come from a true inner experience. Illness is also an opportunity it is not all bad or meaningless it is a response to something. We need to evolve healthy practices of nutrition out of our own intuitive sensibility.
Lilipoh: From our own inner strivings?
SJ: Yes. True preventive medicine has to do with spiritual health, not vaccines, not just focusing on what we eat. All that is important, but we also need to consider the spiritual aspects. When we connect with our spiritual life out of our own interests and out of our love for what we are doing and out of our own free will, that activity is actually what preventive medicine is. So when we talk about nutrition as prevention, that includes the way we relate to the land, connect to the land, and connect to the rhythms of nature. This is preventive medicine. Having small local farms that produce food of a high quality containing the forces and nutrients we need, that is preventive medicine. Why? Because it allows us to be integrated and connected within ourselves and to the environment we live in. It is both an individual and social process, which is hygienic to mind, body and soul. That is a true concept of preventive medicine.