Updated: 6 days ago
NURTURING AND NUTRITION
AS PHYSICAL AND SPIRITUAL FUEL
"LET FOOD BE THY MEDICINE, AND MEDICINE BE THY FOOD." Hippocrates
I am what you might call a 'non-churchgoing Christian'. I didn't particularly like my experience of the Church early on, and I certainly didn't appreciate being strong-armed into being 'good' by threats of a fiery hereafter. I decided to find out whether I was capable of loving without the threats. I wanted to know if I was capable of something beyond the faux 'goodness' I'd been encouraged to cultivate. I wanted to be more than just 'nice'. I wanted to understand why, in spite of good intentions, I was capable of really selfish (one might say 'bad') behaviour. Was I truly 'fallen', 'sinful' in my very nature?
So I've been seeking to live my life honestly, and sincerely, but always trying to be conscious of my simple understanding of Christ's teachings regarding love. Which is jolly difficult, I must say! But when I think about my life, my ideals and my aspirations, I do start from one basic but important tenet:
I inhabit a body, and all my experience, wisdom, growth and potential love for others can only come through the function of this body. I am certainly not much good without it!
We have been told that the body is the 'temple of the soul'. If we happen to be one of those who takes seriously the concept of a 'soul', I think we probably see it as the 'divine' part of ourselves.
The body? Not so much.
But a temple is holy, is divine! It is where God is to be found, or at least to be communicated with. It is hallowed ground, devoted to worship and thanksgiving.
We fill our churches with flowers and incense. We lower our voices instinctively, with respect and awe. Do we respect and treat our bodies with the same reverence?
I am sorry to say that for a long time I didn't. I felt rather ambivalent about my body, perhaps having absorbed an idea of its sinfulness from my early church 'mentors'.
I spent most of my youth and early adult years grappling with this shame and with the dislike I felt for my body. So I am glad that, in conceiving a child fairly late in life, experiencing pregnancy and going through a life-saving Caesarian section towards the end of that pregnancy, a strong focus and a growing wonder at my body's capabilities started to come about.
To feel a living being growing and moving inside my own body was ridiculously exciting, and simply miraculous! How on earth was this possible?
I had a challenging pregnancy and a dangerous birth, and yet I was forever changed when, emerging from that hastily-applied anaesthetic and having had a necessary cup of tea, I gazed upon the face of my child. An adoration and an unexpectedly powerful protectiveness filled and illuminated me, instantaneously, as though some stagehand had pulled down a mighty switch backstage.
After a few days' hospital post-birth recovery, we said a nervous goodbye to the reassuring staff, and took this tiny, vulnerable object of devotion home. We were now on our own!
This is where things got interesting!
Not long before our (unplanned) pregnancy we had become acquainted with the idea of the 'native' way of nurturing. And we'd liked the idea! And so we did not have a cot or nursery waiting for us at home. Just the bed! Somewhat nervously, we placed our baby down between us, and we all slept. Waking up in the morning, with our little one between us, was bliss. There had been no crying, no disturbance in the night. There had only been a little snuffling sound, alerting me to my baby's need for milk. I'd gathered him in to give him what he needed. Then we'd slept again.
'The Continuum Concept' by Jean Liedloff was a particular book we had come upon . It had pointed us to a 'different' way of approaching our nurturing and family life. Instead of following the expected 'Western' practices, we joined others practicing 'attachment parenting' in co-sleeping and feeding on demand rather than leaving the baby to cry alone in a dark room at night and imposing scheduled feeding times.
Here is Liedloff, sitting with some of the Yequana children in the Brazilian rainforest, looking for all the world like a young Jane Goodall. Two extraordinary anthropologists in my estimation.
I was fascinated by Liedloff's conclusion, having seen how the natives' instinct-led care led to balanced, happy and naturally socialised children, that Western childrearing practices can adversely affect the growing child's development, that the baby's brain development may be compromised by going against our 'native' instincts.
Parenting and nurturing practices in the West actually started to change around 250 years ago due to the influence of churchmen and economists (with an emphasis on 'independence' training, necessitating physical distancing of children from parents) with an accompanying range of new behavioural problems arising. Did you know, tantrums were unknown until then?
I found some seminal books which supported Liedloff's thesis. 'Three in a Bed: The Benefits of Sleeping with your Baby', by Deborah Jackson (Bloomsbury 2012), and 'The Family Bed' by Tine Thevenin (Penguin 1986), outlined significant brain research which made sense to me and which enabled me, with confidence, to follow my instincts. 'Emotional Intelligence; Why it can matter more than IQ'' by Daniel Goleman (Bantam Books, 1995), and 'A General Theory of Love', by Lewis, Amini and Lannon (Random House, 2000) joined the others on my bedside table.
It's complicated, the world of brain research. I persisted, though, and I believe I gained an adequate enough grasp of the importance of good brain development for a child growing to balanced adulthood.
The brain, the HQ, enabling rationality, intellect, decision-making, emotion, creativity, survival, life!
We have a triune brain. It comprises the primal 'reptilian' brain, the limbic brain and the neocortex. We need all three parts of the brain to function together, efficiently and optimally, if we are to thrive during our time on earth.
Good nurturing is key to enabling the three parts of the brain to work together efficiently. Problems arise when neglectful and avoidable stress is experienced by the baby. If this happens consistently then the three parts of the brain will not wire together efficiently. A resultant 'short-circuiting' will happen at future times of stress. This means that the 'survival' part of the brain (in the limbic brain) will take precedence, and reasoning (coming from the neocortex) becomes temporarily impossible. Thus our sense of mortification at a temporary bout of temper (or road rage!).
The brain can be the engine of extraordinary and complex intellect, ideas and creativity. At its optimum, and with ethical balance, it is capable of miraculous and transcendent feats.
Joseph Chilton Pearce even proposed that the next evolutionary stage of mankind could be ‘Homo Spiritus’, so convinced was he of the role of love and nurturing in bringing forth our in-built potential.
As for the role of nourishment in nurturing, there is irrefutable evidence that 'healthy' fat is one of the most essential nutrients for the forming brain (which consists of nearly 60% fat). It continues, along with other essential nutrients, to be essential throughout life. The question is: is the Western way of eating fulfilling this need? Why was saturated (animal) fat demonised?
Can we, as a society as a whole, be seen to be a healthy one?
With an incredible increase in, not only mental health issues, but also degenerative disease such as dementia and Parkinson's, alongside heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity, we cannot but ask whether this increase has gone hand-in-hand with a decrease in the quality of our Western nutritional choices.
Genetics can account for much of this, of course. But let's not stop at genetics. Let's carry on to the comparatively new (and liberating) field of epigenetics, which highlights the influence of lifestyle and environment (external factors collectively called 'the exposome') on the turning on/off of our genes. In other words, nothing is set in stone! A family's inherited physical and emotional tendencies and habitual choices ("Oh, he takes after his father ....") can be changed to a completely different trajectory by different lifestyle and environmental choices.
So much for the brain! What about the rest?
The body possesses an extraordinarily complex immune system, housed not in one place but in many. One of the largest centres of this system, housing 70% of its total, is the gut.
We know that gut health issues are increasing hugely in Western society. This may, among other things (like the over-use of antibiotics, stress, alcohol and smoking), be caused by the poor food we are increasingly consuming.
And if our gut health is compromised, then our nutritional intake and health is affected, and so is our immune system! A double whammy!
Our God-given immune system is, of course, of utmost importance, particularly when we are faced with an unforeseeable ‘pandemic’ as we did with Covid-19. In spite of some scientists and the media declaring otherwise, those with strong immune systems are less at threat than those without.
God-given? Where, if at all, does God come into this? Do you believe in God? Do I? Is my openness to the possibility of God's existence a form of wishful thinking coming from a basic existential fear of the void (as certain atheists would have it)? Am I naive to consider that there might be an intelligent, personal energy behind creation that is upwardly-directed, that is good?
I hold more of an open-minded philosophical/spiritual/biological position than a religious one. If God exists then he surely cannot be confined, by His very nature, to a mere label?
In 'The Road Less Travelled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth' by M Scott Peck (Arrow, 1978), Peck pointed to the inbuilt instinct to growth in the human being, with an accompanying downward tendency that we are challenged to resist. Perhaps the 'upward' instinct is God, is thriving, is growth, is well-being, is life itself? Does it really need a name if it leads us to a 'good' life?
Certainly I could try to stop imagining and projecting my idea of what He is like, and just be .... open. If He did then happen along, I might at least be able to perceive him without being blinded by my own pre-conceived, invented Monty Python cardboard cut-out version!
All I can do, maybe, is lead my life (as Jordan Peterson has suggested in his own torturous peregrinations) as though He exists. It can't be a bad way to live, can it, if God is indeed love?
I have come to think that our idea of love is actually a bit limited. It is easy to love the loveable, especially those in our family or circle of friends. But some people are really hard to love, certainly on an emotional level. But that doesn't mean that I shouldn't try to find understanding for a person's ways, and I can certainly find things to appreciate in him. Understanding and appreciation are qualities of love that do not depend on 'emotion' being present. To try to understand, rather than just automatically dislike, is more a 'decision' than a 'feeling'. Perhaps we can see God in action in these consciously-made decisions?
Another of the ways in which one might say that God is observable, (since, like the wind, He can only be seen through the effect of its/His presence) is through observing the upward, positive benefits to the immune system when ‘Godly’ qualities are called into play. The act of kindness, the receiving of kindness, and even the observation of acts of kindness, have been shown to boost the immune system. Appreciation and gratitude (again, 'qualities' of love), have an equally positive effect!
In a church, a place of peace, we are flooded with light, with colour, from the stained glass windows. Did the early Church fathers, and their architects, know how light and colour, not to speak of certain acoustics and chants, have beneficial effects upon our bodies, our minds, our neurological systems, and our very immune systems? Perhaps!
GREGORIAN CHANT: 285 Hz FREQUENCY TISSUE HEALING CELL REGENERATION
"285hz frequency helps to return cells into its original form. It reduces the pain, enhances immune system, and rapidly heals your damaged tissue.
"In the Solfeggio scale, the frequency of 285 Hz is said to be directly connected to our genetic blueprint for optimal health and physical well-being. It is known to promote the healing of damaged tissue and other physical wounds, as well as on internal organs.
"The 285Hz vibrations are supposed to support the body in its cellular regeneration, encouraging it to heal itself in the event of an injury and also enhance the immune system as a whole.
Solfeggio frequencies form part of an ancient scale that was rediscovered in the early 70’s. They are a tone sequence of special tonal frequencies. Originally used in Gregorian chants for centuries, they recently were brought to everybody’s attention for their healing powers. "
FEAR AND IMMUNE FUNCTION
We know that fear and anxiety can compromise our immune systems, not to mention our thinking, our stability.
A person fortunate enough to have a brain well-wired by good & loving nurturing, and well-formed by good nutrition, is less likely to react adversely to fear and stress when times become difficult, and therefore will have a chance to make better, more measured and more positive choices.
A neglected and abused child, conversely, can be seen as avoidably but nevertheless physiologically geared to stress, fear, instability, violence and crime. His nutritional needs, particularly for his growing brain, may have been inadequately met. His neurological development, through emotional neglect, would have been compromised from the very start of his life. Rage is a more likely response for him in stressful situations than a slower, more rational response.
In that physiological reality, morals for him are nothing but words, concepts. You cannot blame an unattended kettle for boiling over and scalding the cat if you yourself lit the flame under the kettle and then left the kitchen.
As the Sufi poet Hafiz said, morals can be seen as learning wheels on a bicycle, no longer necessary when true love and its according stability and balance has been established.
TO BE FULLY HUMAN
Human was first recorded in the mid 13th century, and owes its existence to the Middle French humain “of or belonging to man.” That word, in turn, comes from the Latin humanus, thought to be a hybrid relative of homo, meaning “man,” and humus, meaning “earth.” Thus, a human, unlike birds, planes, or even divine spirits up above, is a man firmly rooted to the earth."
It seems that we have all the equipment to have a chance of living a 'good' life. But for that equipment to work, we have two main requirements. Firstly, secure and complete love and nurturing, leading to a properly wired neurological system. Secondly, a well-nourished and therefore healthy brain, body and immune system. The necessity for nurturing and nutrition go hand in hand.
And I think it can be inferred that these are physically and spiritually key. A well-intentioned 'religious' or 'spiritually inclined' person doesn't necessarily or inevitably lead a good life or behave well.
A case in point is my own life and the sometimes destructive choices I have made based on lack of self esteem and insecurity. I was by no means neglected by my parents; they were wonderfully devoted, caring, and responsible. As a baby, though, I was left to cry, I was left alone at night. That's how it was done then. The influence of John B Watson (Psychological Care of the Infant and Child, 1928), not to mention Mabel Liddiard and her The Mothercraft Manual (1923), were all too pervasive.
Brain research since that time has shown that being left to cry without response causes stress, creating not only a constant surge of the corrosive stress hormone, cortisol, into the system, but also a brain that cannot be completely or efficiently wired, making later stress hard to handle.
I have struggled throughout my life with anxiety stemming from a difficulty in handling stress. And I have not, as a result, always behaved well (in spite of a moral upbringing, and in spite of religious strictures and sincere intentions).
I came to realise, with some horror, that my ways were causing real difficulty for those I loved. I did not want others to suffer on my account. And so I became determined to deal with my issues. I sought in therapy to understand the root of these issues. I found techniques to manage them. The tendency to furious anger at the pain of any perceived neglect is now, if not gone, at least of manageable proportion.
But it has been necessary for me to concentrate (with a good dose of humility) on self-awareness. This has brought increased consciousness and the ability to self-reflect before reacting to triggers. But again, I see this as remedial. Basically, my emotional problems may have (and I am not denying that personality/conditioning play a great part in this too) been based on a physiologically flawed and perhaps avoidable start in life.
Prevention is surely better than cure.
THRIVING vs EXISTING
I thrived on the fresh simple food (meat, fish, vegetables, milk, butter, lard, eggs), my mother cooked for our family. My health and energy began to decline when, in my mid-twenties, I took on a vegetarian approach, with all its manufactured margarine, soya milk, pasta, starchy rice and so on.
I also lost many nutrients by not eating meat and fish.
My sudden change to vegetarianism may also explain the very negative change in my libido. Which is a swine, because I loved my libido!
KETO? I NEVER DIET!
In recently accompanying my long-term vegetarian husband (he has gut problems alongside depressive issues) on a ketogenic approach to our food, I have effortlessly lost most of the abdominal fat I achieved during menopause (before that I was naturally slender with no thought of dieting).
More than that, though, I find myself suffering less tiredness, body pain and brain fog. I am less emotionally reactive, am feeling brighter and more stable, and am less overwhelmed when events become stressful.
(and it's helped my husband too!)
This brings me to conclude that the food I ate, from my mid-twenties, was lacking and inadequate, perhaps adding to or exacerbating my emotional difficulties. I conclude that I am now actually eating a remedial diet.
So what is a ketogenic diet?
A PROPER HUMAN DIET
Dr Ken Berry MD (https://www.youtube.com/c/KenDBerryMD), a family physician who practices in Tennessee in the United States, has a mission to help the increasing number of people suffering inflammation-based metabolic illness. He encourages us to follow a 'proper human diet'. He says, "This is, by definition, uninflammatory".
It is the diet based on that eaten by our ancestors, and it is evolutionarily appropriate. This is a diet that has been around for more than 15,000 years (at which point it mainly comprised fatty red meat and seasonal fruits and berries). We have been farming grains for only 12,000 years, more or less. At a certain point around then, a dramatic 'event' wiped out many species of animal, requiring man to begin farming in order to survive.
Mankind's health did not improve. Berry tells us that anthropological studies, in examining mummies, show that the ancient Egyptians had terrible atherosclerosis, bad teeth, with the majority of their diet being a grain-based, plant based one.
The ingestion of excess sugar and grain-based carbohydrates creates insulin resistance and thus chronic inflammation. As well as an increase in such processed carbohydrates in our diets, Berry mentions fruit and fruit juices too. He tells us that we have cross-bred our fruit over the past few hundred years until they are now basically sacs of sugar. And by eating a good balance of non-starchy vegetables with 'good' fat we do not lose nutrients by reducing our intake of fruit or juices.
The 'proper human diet' is nutrient dense; full of fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. This diet is satiating; containing healthy fat, healthy protein and non-starchy vegetables.
A 'proper human diet' (whether keto, ketovore or full carnivore), containing a high proportion of ‘good’ fats, with greatly reduced or eliminated carbohydrates, can address many metabolic problems caused by inflammation.
Even a diet which is based on purely natural foods, avoiding all processed products, would give each and every body a fighting chance to ‘reset’ and to regain our natural health.
"Dr Ken Berry .....has made it his mission to turn the tide on the epidemic of Type 2 Diabetes, chronic inflammation and dementia." Karen Martel, Transformational Nutrition https://karenmartel.com/the-medical-benefits-of-a-ketogenic-diet-with-dr-ken-berry/
All these measures can be seen as radical ‘first aid’ for bodies which, instead of being treated as temples, have long been treated as convenient depositories for the food we now choose, unconscious or unaware of its nutritional value, and sometimes to fulfil and quell our need for comfort and our taste addictions.
TAKE ME TO THE RED BARN!
Do we live to eat, or eat to live? Metabolic illness is becoming an epidemic, and it seems that our food choices are at the bottom of this.
When did this really obvious decline in our collective health begin? I remember, after visiting Canada in 1972 (and availing myself of the glorious and cheap takeaway burgers at The Red Barn in Toronto) being extra aware of the introduction to the UK of North American cultural icons and values: TV shows, movies, and fast food in particular.
Alongside this was the growing economic need, together socio-political demands, that both parents should work, with childcare required and accordingly provided, and convenience foods produced alongside that.
It became clear from then on that new problems were developing: the new generation of ‘latchkey children’ (https://socialinfection.org/three-symptoms-latchkey-children-carry-through-life/), declining family unity (with more ready, processed meals, often eaten at different times), increasing rates of divorce, increasing obesity and metabolic disease, and declining mental health in young people. Depression, increasing incidence of suicide, eating disorders and, now, gender dysphoria, are conditions barely or never heard of even in our parents’ youth.
Alongside this our spiritual foundation has become very shaky: churches have been emptying for years and Christian principles increasingly abandoned. This, alongside industrial and economic change and the cracks in family structure mentioned above, seems to have been accompanied by an according decline in civility, behaviour, mental and physical health.
So much of this can be put down to changing social mores, but also to varying degrees of neglect. Much difficult behaviour can be explained purely by early failure in nurturing.
But with the accompanying decline of nutritional standards, it seems more than likely that much depression and many mental health issues, as well as physical ills, could also be explained by the quite simple nutritional deficiencies many millions must be suffering.
A person’s journey into physical and mental health starts with the mother's diet and lifestyle before and during gestation. After birth, breastfeeding is natural and ideal. If breastfeeding is not possible, there comes the introduction of formula milk, with its lack of important saturated fats, added vegetable oils, sugar etc. A mother’s breast milk contains, among many other things, sialic acid (important for cognitive function) and the amino acid called tryptophan, the lack of which can prime a child for future
The following study 'Comparing Infant Formulas with Human Milk', gives the following insight into future health factors as implied in the above paragraph:
COMPARING INFANT FORMULAS WITH HUMAN MILK
PERFORMANCE ADVANTAGES OF BREASTFEEDING
Breastfed infants have different growth characteristics compared with formula-fed infants. They grow at slightly different rates and have a different body composition (Butte et al., 1990; Heinig et al., 1993) and may have a lower risk for later obesity (Gillman et al., 2001; Singhal et al., 2002). (These characteristics are discussed in greater detail in Chapter 6.) Given the great interest in the effect of early nutrition on metabolic setpoints that may affect the child's risk for adult diseases (e.g., the early origins of chronic disease hypothesis) (Barker et al., 2002) and the increasing incidence of early insulin resistance, obesity, and type II diabetes in teenagers, future
research should concentrate on whether breastfeeding is protective. (my emphasis)
This unnatural replacement food is then followed by the foods often recommended for weaning (fruit, cereals, rice etc). Here, especially in manufactured baby foods, there are more sugars and carbohydrates than protein, 'good' fat and the necessary vitamins and minerals essential for growth. The child’s diet thereafter often continues in an unbalanced way.
AN S-WORD (a warning)
You won't like this video. It's The Carb Addiction Doc, telling us in no uncertain terms that manufactured baby food is SHIT.
And so we have a generation of children and young people struggling in an unprecedented way with obesity and early-onset Type 2 diabetes, not to mention depression and mental issues.
Countless young children are, in addition to being given a horribly sub-par diet, experiencing more and more stress, with early separation from their parents and the demands of unenlightened early education contributing much to this.
Antidepressants are being prescribed to children as young as four years old. Really?
I find this knowledge hard to bear. And that is because I fully believe that the difficulties leading to such prescriptions are actually a completely appropriate response to completely inappropriate circumstances.
Just as grief treated by antidepressants is an inappropriate response to a natural feeling of loss, so such natural feelings experienced by children should be allowed, and understood and their lives adjusted accordingly. Children's feelings, shouted via their behaviour, surely should not be muted by medication? Children need to be heard and responded to.
We could equally say, "A well-adjusted individual contributes to building a healthy society."
But even on a purely physiological level, an ongoing low mood may well be alleviated by a simple dietary adjustment. Certainly it appears that more serious depression may be alleviated or eliminated if the fundamentals of that person’s diet (aka their fuel, their building blocks) are looked to. No therapy, no medication, no special needs provision, needed.
LEARNED HELPLESSNESS (a bit challenging, this one)
Our reliance on the NHS and our invariable demand for pharmaceutical solutions leads us even further into a morass of avoidable difficulty. With our self-reliance and sense of self-responsibility noticeably eroded over the last six to seven decades (and with such an exaggerated spotlight in the media on mortal illnesses), we seem to find ourselves in a place of learned helplessness. And with iatrogenesis (doctor-made illness) being the fifth leading cause of death, we surrender our bodily autonomy at our literal peril!
Journal of Family Medicine and Family Care
Iatrogenesis: A Review on nature, extent and distribution of healthcare hazards.
"Modern medicine is given overarching importance in tackling disease in the human body than environmental determinants, although most of the literature confirms that the determinants of disease are there in the environment. Yet in modern times what is being emphasised is a highly limited and reductionist approach of curing ailments in the human body only, which is one of the desired interventions but is full of other side effects and risks leading to iatrogenic reactions. Most of the literature establishes that modern medicine is one of the major threats to world health....
".... In his prestigious work named “Limits to Medicine: Medical Nemesis - The Expropriation of Health” , Ivan Illich opines that iatrogenesis is structural because it undermines people's agency and competence to deal with their own disease. He also classified iatrogenesis as social and cultural. According to him, social iatrogenesis results from the medicalisation of life and cultural medicalisation is the destruction of traditional ways of dealing with and making sense of death, pain, and sickness....
"The WHO assesses that almost 50% of the medicine prescribed and sold is inappropriate and 50% of patients take these drugs incorrectly (WHO. The Safety of Medicines in Public Health Programmes: Pharmacovigilance an Essential Tool. Geneva: Uppsala Monitoring Centre; 2006.). (my emphasis) . There are issues of prescribing and delivering correct therapy to the patients. Another challenge faced by healthcare system is accurate and timely diagnosis of the ailment ..."
DID THE MEDICAL SYSTEM KILL MY MUM?
It is very hard to observe loved ones suffering side effects from a prescribed drug, only to see them being prescribed another drug to counteract those side effects. That happened to my mother the night she died. I will never get over the pain of that. And later on you will read my thoughts about my father's distressing conditions that can very conceivably be described as iatrogenic illnesses.
My mother suffered quite severe rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease, and for many years she only just managed to function on a cocktail of quite powerful drugs. She died at the age of 74 after being given a drug to stop her vomiting. Nobody thought to question why she was vomiting. She was, I believe, actually vomiting thick yellow mucus, which is something the stomach produces to protect itself from an overload of inappropriate toxins. An uncomfortable but essential response by her body. The autopsy then revealed an enlarged heart. This can be caused by an overload of toxic chemicals.
Was her suffering inevitable? Could a change in diet have helped her?
It seems that there is increasing ill health and suffering in our elders, in particular in autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases, and which is causing more and more pharmaceutical interventions, not to mention the need for full-time care, whether at home or in care/nursing homes.
SPEAKING OF OUR ELDERS ....
We saw, through the two torturous years of lockdown, how our elders suffered. Care homes in particular became a very necessary focus.
Throughout the lockdown our precious and vulnerable elders were isolated, through a policy of 'well-meaning' Government protection. Many were shamefully neglected. Many died of sheer loneliness.
The British Medical Journal
Covid-19: Neglect was one of biggest killers in care homes during pandemic, report finds
BMJ2021; 375doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.n3132 (Published 22 December 2021)
"The pandemic has disproportionately affected people living in care homes, who accounted for an estimated 30% of all deaths from covid-19 across 25 countries despite making up only 1% of the world’s population, a report has estimated.1
The analysis was carried out by Collateral Global, a research group that says it is dedicated to reporting on the effects of governments’ mandatory covid-19 mitigation measures. The report said the pandemic had exacerbated long running problems in the care sector, such as chronic underfunding, poor structural organisation, staff undertraining, underskilling, and underequipping, and a “lack of humanity in dealing with the most vulnerable members of society.”
“Neglect, thirst, and hunger were—and possibly still are—the biggest killers,” the group said. They also said that care home residents faced barriers in access to emergency treatments during the pandemic."
Dying of neglect: the other Covid care home scandal
Out of sight, the elderly have remained out of mind during this crisis
From magazine issue: 6 June 2020
"The Covid-19 crisis has placed extra demands on care homes, many of which were already inadequately staffed after years of underfunding. Across Europe, as in Britain, outsourcing to private contractors (in many cases private equity firms) led to cost-cutting. During the pandemic, many carers became immersed in attempts to prevent the spread of infection. Contact between carers and residents was reduced, often as a result of the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). Less contact means less care and, therefore, more deaths ....
"..... It has taken a global pandemic to realise what has been going on in care homes: underfunded, under-resourced and understaffed, many were destined to fail. Simple restoration of fluids, nutrition, a little oxygen therapy and good supportive care can often save the lives of the frailest and most vulnerable. But with medical attention focused on slowing the spread of Covid-19 in the community at large, care home residents were denied basic care. Lockdown did nothing to impede deaths in the place where they were most likely to happen.
"Out of sight, the elderly have remained out of mind. Many homes were already not fit for purpose. The extra confinement which came with the Covid-19 panic has proved deadly. For the sake of a drink, in many cases, the elderly have died in their droves. We will, next time, learn lessons about what not to do. But we can help by being honest with ourselves about a scandal that is still ongoing."
THIS IS AN URGENT WAKE-UP CALL
Those of us who already baulked at the practice of giving over the care of our precious parents to institutions were vindicated by being brought face to face with horrifyingly impersonal and systematic indifference displayed towards those who, not only contributed over decades to our society, but who gave us life. They were the ones who sacrificed, worked, and struggled to give and enable us our better lives.
I quote again this passage from The Spectator article shown above to emphasise the serious inhumanity older people are facing:
""..... It has taken a global pandemic to realise what has been going on in care homes: underfunded, under-resourced and understaffed, many were destined to fail .... many homes were already not fit for purpose."
Vulnerable now, old and infirm people depend (much like our children) upon the responsiveness and goodwill of those given responsibility for their lives. Has our easy trust in these (profit-driven) institutions been misplaced?
We know that our care homes range in quality. We know that the care given can be nothing other than standardised. How many care homes think it worthwhile to offer food that may enhance their residents' mental and physical well-being? Can a resident suffering dementia ever hope to be given individualised care, individualised nutrition to bring even some improvement to their health? I am not sure.
My questions are open, because I have only just become acquainted with the world of the 'care home'. It is a world I hope never to encounter again.
THE WAY AHEAD?
My raison d'etre for writing this piece is that I believe we might re-think our assumptions, our convenient acquiescence to the 'expected' ways in which our children begin their lives and our parents end them.
Are tantrums natural, inevitable?
Should children really be suffering more and more from obesity, type-2 diabetes and depression?
Is it inevitable that poor health comes with age?
Are there other solutions to poor health than those provided by the pharmaceutical industry?
Are our diets conducive to good, long-lasting health?
Can we learn from communities in which strong family values, good health and longevity are the norm?
The questions are many and complex, with some being too difficult to answer as things stand.
Complex they may be, and difficult, but in the meantime more and more children of older parents are being required to pick up some horribly difficult pieces. With a father and three aunties all facing a painful deterioration through dementia, I feel great and unutterable sadness. Imagine millions of other adult children feeling the same sadness, doing their best but facing terrible choices, and witnessing heartbreaking suffering in those they love best!
Can we extricate ourselves from this disaster now, or do we have to wait for ground-roots reform in every single institution we rely on? Education, healthcare, elder care? All have been found desperately wanting with the spotlight of Covid-19 focussed upon them.
NO, WE DO NOT HAVE TO WAIT
I do not think we need to wait. When my father was diagnosed with dementia with Lewy Bodies, and when we were informed by his doctor of the untreatable deterioration he could expect, my horror and sorrow impelled me to research this disease. Surely there was something we could do?
Here is what I found.
NUTRITION AND LIFESTYLE CHANGE AS MEDICINE
Pioneering scientists and nutritionists (many in the field of Functional Medicine, like Dr Dale Bredesen, below) are discovering that degenerative diseases (like dementia and Parkinson’s) are likely to be, in fact, metabolic illnesses, with many explorable and effective routes (one being diet) to address and alleviate the root causes and thus the symptoms.
Nutritionist Amy Berger MS CNS NTP has written a book called 'The Alzheimer's Antidote: Using a Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet to Fight Alzheimer's Disease, Memory Loss and Cognitive Decline'. (Chelsea Green Publishing, March 2017)
"Amy Berger’s research shows that Alzheimer’s results from a fuel shortage in the brain: As neurons become unable to harness energy from glucose, they atrophy and die, leading to classic symptoms like memory loss and behavioural changes .... The Alzheimer’s Antidote shows us that cognitive decline is not inevitable, but if it does occur, we don’t have to sit idly by and wait helplessly while it progresses and worsens. Amy Berger empowers loved ones and caregivers of Alzheimer’s sufferers, and offers hope and light against this otherwise unnavigable labyrinth of darkness." (publisher)
Here she talks to Ken Berry about her book and her research:
A simple summary is that a low-carbohydrate, high-fat (keto) diet encourages the liver to produce ketones, which the brain can utilise as an alternative fuel to glucose (which the brain cannot use). At the same time, inflammation caused by high-blood sugar and the resultant insulin-resistance (and which is seen as instrumental in causing metabolic disease such as dementia and Parkinson's) is reduced when following this dietary programme.
For those who cannot convert to a ketogenic diet, exogenous ketones, via coconut oil and MCT oil, can bring improvement in cognitive function. Dr Mary Newport helped her husband, and since then many others, with the addition of coconut oil to his diet.
In light of all this, our family are exploring an initial path of nutritional adjustment, all the while ensuring that, whether his dementia can be reversed or stabilised or not, my father’s overall health will be as good as it can possibly be.
PROTON PUMP INHIBITORS: A WARNING!
In many ways, we are working in the dark. How can we ever really know, in spite of our research, what has caused my father's quite distressing conditions? It is possible that these conditions (he also suffers from osteoporosis, diagnosed in early 2020) may have been caused by the over-prescription of Omeprazole. Omeprazole belongs to a class of drug called Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs), prescribed for those with reflux/stomach/digestion problems. This type of drug literally inhibits the production of stomach acid, and research suggests that reduced stomach acid compromises the absorption of vital nutrients.
My father was prescribed this PPI following a stomach ulcer procedure. It was, as far as I can gather, seen as a preventative measure. Its use should have been reviewed after a period of weeks. He continued taking it for years. It is possible, then, that as a result of this he is in fact suffering from the effects of nutritional deficiencies.
Essential nutrients may have been lacking for those important years.
Particularly vitamin B12.
A US nurse, Sally Pacholok, wrote a book, Could it be B12? (Linden Publishing, 2011)
A feature-length film, based on the book, was made (link below).
The possibility that a vitamin B12 deficiency could 'mimic' the symptoms of conditions like dementia was certainly food for thought! There surely could be nothing lost in checking for such a deficiency? A nutritionist we consequently consulted agreed that, among other incredibly important vitamins and minerals, a supplement of Vitamin B12 might go towards replacing its possible loss, thereby enabling my father's brain and neurological system to take advantage of it if it still can.
It is known too that a side effect of Omeprazole, particularly if over-used, can be osteoporosis. Whether or not this is the case (we will never be able to prove this in either case), we are seeking to add to my father’s diet powerfully nutritious foods such as home-made bone broth, which will add collagen and minerals to his system and therefore maybe alleviate to some extent his osteoporosis.
OUR REMEDIAL APPROACH
This is basically a two-pronged approach: trying as much as possible to cook foods that enable an alternative fuel to glucose to be utilised by the brain (with inflammatory foods, like sugar, wheat and vegetable oils being reduced or eliminated), and ensuring that nutrient deficiencies are addressed.
There are up to thirty or more factors which may contribute to the development of dementias according to Dr Bredesen, nutrition being but one. These include environmental factors such as mold and heavy metals, and well as stress and problematic sleep. Realistically it may be hard, in my father's case, to test for and cover all these of factors.
But the more information I, my family and friends, and you, my readers, have at our disposal to help us re-think and explore our own choices in life, the better. I believe passionately in prevention, hard though it sometimes is to break lifetime habits and (let's be frank) overcome quite strong cognitive dissonance in ourselves.
Time will tell whether any of the measures we can take will stabilise or bring improvement to my father's two conditions. His general health will surely, though, be enhanced by reducing processed and toxically inflammatory foods and re-introducing fresh and whole foods to his diet.
Here's an A-word! It is a word I had never encountered before my father became ill. It is 'autophagy'. And it strikes me that it is an important word to understand if we want to pursue better health for ourselves and those we love.