Better Health Through Nature
Humans were meant to thrive in the environment. We sequester ourselves from the natural world at our own peril.
Allergies. Asthma. Auto-immune diseases. These and other maladies may have roots in the modern habit of disinfecting everything and spending most of our days indoors. Growing evidence suggests that contact with plants and animals in the great outdoors builds up our immune systems, and vigorous exercise can prevent and cure many health problems. Finally, some natural substances, sometimes from the most unexpected places, are showing more benefit than synthetic drugs.
Back to the farm: Science Daily reported on a study from Aarhus University that correlated farm exposure to better health. “The immune system benefits from life in the countryside,” the headline reads. While it was known that children raised on the farm had fewer allergies and better resistance to disease, this new study shows that adults can benefit, too: “Adults who move to farming areas where they experience a wider range of environmental exposures than in cities may reduce the symptoms of their hypersensitivities and allergies considerably.” This further confirms the “hygiene hypothesis” that too much antibacterial soap and cleanliness can actually turn the immune system against us; we all need to get dirty to a reasonable extent. This gives the immune system practice on real targets instead of our own cells.
I got rhythm: Are you a night owl? An early bird? Having a hard time getting up in the morning, or falling asleep at night? For most of human history before the 1930s, when electricity became widely available, people lived by the rising and setting of the sun. Electric lights do weird things with our internal timing mechanisms. A week of camping, Science Daily said, can re-synchronize your biological clock to sunrise and sunset. Researchers found it brings the night owls and the early birds closer to the same schedule. Our bodies were made to be tuned to the environment; for instance, our skin produces vitamin D when exposed to sunshine; the fresh air filled with plant scents is a stress reliever; the green of a forest is soothing to the eyes.
Natural diet: Tomatoes have lycopene; red grapes have resveratrol; fruits have flavonoids; watermelon has citrulline; these are just samples of “nature’s marvelous medicines” found in plants. Plants make tens of thousands of compounds, some of which are known to have beneficial effects on the heart, the immune system, and cancer prevention. Studies on the benefits of a diet rich in natural foods, reducing processed food, are too numerous to list, but here are a few recent examples. The niacin (vitamin B3) found in many fruits and vegetables is a “fountain of youth” according to a new study reported by Science Daily, which also found that antioxidants are not panaceas; our bodies apparently need some free radicals in moderation. “Be nice to your bacteria,” Medical Xpress wrote, emphasizing our symbiotic dependence on gut flora for good health. Another Medical Xpress article examined the benefits of the Mediterranean diet with its use of olives and olive oil. Dietary flavonoids were discussed by Science Daily. Who doesn’t enjoy watermelon? National Geographic gave five reasons it’s good for you; Live Science topped that by listing 4 benefits of chocolate. Reporting on a medicinal tea from a certain tree, Science Daily spoke of “Nature’s Library” of plant compounds waiting to be deciphered. Even if you don’t want to become a vegetarian, you can benefit from these compounds by adding more plant food to your diet. It’s best to eat it natural when you can; for instance, Medical Xpress found that juicing removes many of the nutrients, and doesn’t make you feel as full as eating the whole fruit or vegetable.
An active life: Big news this week is from a study published in BMJ, reported on LiveScience, that found exercise is just as effective as medication for treating heart disease, stroke and pre-diabetes. Trial participants on pills fared no better than those who exercised, although the combination was even better. Popping pills alone, though, doesn’t provide all the benefits of getting outdoors into the fresh air. Sadly, most adults don’t get enough exercise, the BBC News reported.
Natural pain killer: You’ll never guess where to find a pain-killing medicine that is just as effective as morphine, but non-addictive. Read Medical Xpress’s article about centipede venom. That’s right; the nerve toxin from the Chinese red-headed centipede blocks a well-known pain channel without causing habituation. “Forget about using opioids to relieve pain, this drug could mean you don’t have any pain to relieve,” a researcher said. “It would be totally [sic] new class of drug.” There’s also hope for a new class of natural mosquito repellants, now that the DEET receptor has been identified in insects. Science Daily said that comparable compounds will probably be “found naturally in fruits, plants or animals” that can be developed into safer alternatives than the 60-year-old DEET chemical.
Most of us are too busy, we know, to eat right and exercise, but think of it as an investment. If a healthy diet and a little time each day for exercise paid big dividends, wouldn’t you want that kind of payoff? The question should be how you can afford not to. More energy, better quality of life, less stress, fewer chronic illnesses, insurance against life-threatening conditions – these are all available to anyone willing to build a few new habits. Even talking a short walk every day or two can work wonders. Give up the fried, processed, barbecued stuff; your taste buds will adjust within about a month to healthy food. God has given us a huge spread of tasty plant foods to not only enjoy but improve our lives. It’s not hard to learn how to prepare and enjoy them. We’re not here to prescribe a vegan diet (there are healthy animal foods, too) – many people have special needs – but it make sense for creationists to “think Eden” a little, when God said everything He had made was very good and the first humans were vegetarian. That was the original plan. Sure, the curse has changed a lot, but the world is still filled with good options. “Everything created by God is good,” Paul said, “and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4-5). The operative phrase is “created by God.” He didn’t create fatburger trees and leaves made of pizza. As for exercise, think about Bible characters, who routinely walked long distances in hilly country. It cannot be good for anyone to sit in an office chair all day, staring at a computer under fluorescent lights. We were made with legs and arms and whole systems that are itching for activity. Get outdoors and see a tree once in awhile. Take walks out in nature. Go camping and experience the natural day-night cycles of sun, moon and stars. One might almost say that taking care of the body is a kind of worship, acknowledging and caring for the good design in our earthly tabernacle. Learn to like what’s good for you; that’s a good motto in general for living life to the fullest on God’s green Earth.