The other day I saw an advertisement from the University of California at San Francisco medical center that invited us to imagine a world without disease. The ad’s message was that because of the diligence, innovation and bold experimentation going on at UCSF, we are on the verge of such a utopian existence.
However, according to the government’s statistics on disease incidence in the U.S., the reality is quite different. Not only are we not on the verge of a disease-free world, but we have about 53 percent of our children living with at least one chronic disease — up from about 12 percent four decades ago. If one includes the number of adults with diabetes, cancer, arthritis, heart disease, hypertension and all the other chronic diseases that Americans suffer from in record numbers, it is easy to question the ad’s promise. I have to wonder, do they think that a child living with asthma (about one in six children) is pretty much a disease-free child, as long as they have steady access to inhalers and steroids?
The irony is that because of the groundbreaking work of Weston A. Price decades ago, it is clear that many human cultures actually did achieve this near-disease-free state. Their incidence of chronic disease was almost zero, cancer and heart disease were unknown, and some didn’t even have a word for constipation. They experienced the usual childhood illnesses easily and with rare complications, and all this was accomplished without the use of any of the strategies being investigated or used by modern medicine today. The question is, what was their secret?
Of course, their world was less poisoned, less stressed, more socially connected, more intimate with nature than ours. But they also ate healthy plants and animals, and LOTS of different types of foods. As I have pointed out before, many traditional peoples, like the native tribes of Northern California, regularly ate more than 100 different plants a year, often 15 to 20 different plants a day. This strategy allows the person access to all the known and unknown healing substances and properties used by plants in their own defense.
Plants make many different alkaloids (interestingly, one of the substances whose synthesis is blocked by glyphosate) that have been shown to prevent or heal many diseases that humans suffer from. The regular consumption of a wide variety of these alkaloid-rich plants is a strategy toward disease prevention proven in the crucible of life. Diversity, soil and plant health are everything when it comes to health and disease prevention. These factors are why we are so rigorous about choosing who grows our vegetables. Increasingly, we will be using biodynamically grown vegetables, as well as continuing to rely on foragers who use sustainable practices.
Diversity is a key principle of Dr. Cowan’s Garden. Almost everyone can eat kale, but not everyone has access to ashitaba, burdock root, cholla buds, chaga and other products we offer. We continually are looking to diversify our diets and to diversify the line of products we offer.
Here’s to not only medical innovation, but to honoring and learning from traditional wisdom as well!
About a dozen years ago I heard a farmer present the results of his work on his decades-old biodynamic farm in Australia. He showed slides of the massive pit they had dug in which they laid dozens of cow horns filled with manure, which were used to “enliven” the fields. He shared how they made the biodynamic preparations that are at the heart of the biodynamic process. These preps stimulated calcium uptake by the plants, as well as root and fruit development, and others strengthened the plants against various diseases. But the main thing that stuck with me were the slides he showed of an insect on his farm that had been declared extinct a decade earlier.