The Unexpected Superfood

Superfood. The word is all the rage these days. 

Superfoods hold the promise of enhanced energy and libido, anti-aging, disease-prevention, antioxidant power, increased cognitive function. The list goes on.

We want superfoods. We want them daily. And we’re willing to pay a pretty penny for them. 

I won’t lie: the word superfood often makes me cringe when I hear it. It’s been so overused and sensationalized for marketing many products I consider either not that important for your health, flat out BS, or unhealthy for certain bio-types (we’re all different).

But a series of recent events and reflections led me to define what I consider to be the ultimate, and most unexpected superfood.

This article goes deep, to unexpected places, so be sure to read it in its entirety.

How I Discovered the Ultimate Superfood

We all get busy. Sometimes a little too busy. Recently, I had too much going on at once for too long, and could tell I was getting into physical and psychological-overload mode. Even my regular practices of nutrient-dense food, yoga, breathwork, meditation and twice-daily journaling weren’t cutting it. And I knew some new-fangled elixir superfood wasn’t going to fix things either.

What I needed was a wrench in the spokes of what was undesirably becoming my M.O.. I needed some healthy disruption. A check-out. A middle finger in the face of what had become a swift-hardening cast of routine.

So I jumped at the opportunity to enforce a middle-finger check-out from allll the busy-ness when one of my best friends who I hadn’t seen in a few years came into town (she had moved across the country, but she was back for a limited time!).

We spent a good part of a day together, moseying around Los Angeles, during which time my whole being and nervous system felt like it could soften, expand, unwind and feel connected.

My dear friend and me (and my ginormous index finger) on the beach just before a summer sunset in Santa Monica, CA.

During my time with my friend, I reflected on how friendship and physical engagement (not through Facebook, Instagram, or text messages) is nourishment (one of the best kinds), and how nutrition goes beyond literal food (what we eat) to anything that fortifies our being.

But I’m not here to tell you friendship is the ultimate superfood (although it is awesome, and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside).

I’m here to tell you systems-thinking is the ultimate superfood.

No, you can’t put systems-thinking in a 400-dollar blender with acai, kale, raw cacao, and high-vibration-infused alkaline water, but follow me here….

A Greater Ecosystem

Just as the intangible rays of the sun trigger a biochemical cascade that enables us to create vitamin D in our physical bodies, “nonphysical” forms of nourishment trigger a cascade of physical, biochemical responses.

Physical touch, affection and intimacy trigger production of oxytocin, the hormone and neurotransmitter (aka “the love hormone”) that makes us feel warm and fuzzy (apparently I dig this expression), at ease, and supported.

Conversely, stress or fear trigger the release of a flood of fight-or-flight biochemicals, like adrenaline and cortisol, that, when chronically elevated, can trigger a cascade of unwanted and potentially damaging physical effects.

There are many examples of this relationship between the physical and the non-physical, some more well known, others less well-known.

The point is not what I am talking about. The point is how I am looking at and framing the things I am talking about.

If we look at things in the way I’m describing, if we are open to it, the line between the physical and nonphysical blurs, duality collapses, our being fully immersed in a greater ecosystem of which we are all a part, whether we see it this way or we don’t.

The Unexpected Superfood
A Greater Ecosystem. © Erika Herman.

Parts Vs. Systems: Applying Systems-Thinking to Superfoods

But we don’t usually walk around seeing and treating our bodies, or others’ bodies, or the world at large as if we’re fully immersed in a greater inextricably-interwoven ecosystem.

All too often we focus on the food we put in our mouths, on where that food comes from (is it organic, grass-fed, humanely-raised?).

I’m going to take this a step further than just a physical vs. non-physical discussion: we tend to focus on parts, not systems.

This happens constantly in the way we view the events of our personal lives, defining some as “good” and others as “bad,” as opposed to doing that often-difficult ever-humbling life’s work of refraining from definitions of events, remaining fiercely open, and committing to seeing events as part of an ever-unfolding continuum.

That relationship ended? What if you wind up meeting someone even more compatible with you? Or better yet, what if you finally have an opportunity to master the art of being with yourself? You lost a job? Maybe it’s time to admit you never liked it to begin with, and now you have an opportunity to redefine yourself for your next job, or start your own business? And if you did like your job, perhaps now is an opportunity to feel gratitude, and to commit to renewal (life endlessly renews us if we let it)? There are many examples in our personal lives.

This focus on parts, not systems also happens constantly in conventional healthcare. I’ve found it even happens often in the best-intentioned alternative healthcare that doesn’t dig deep enough.

Parts vs. Systems: Example #1

Recently, a friend I’ve known since we were teenagers admitted to me she’s been giving her five-year-old son Miralax (a laxative) regularly for the past three years. She attributed her son’s chronic constipation to “emotional issues.” While this is a forward-thinking idea (emotions having an effect on the gut), (1) there are effective and healing things to use instead of laxatives (which are not intended for long-term use), and (2) it’s highly likely there’s more going on other than just “emotions” with her son, including (but not limited to)

  • possible nervous system dysregulation (one way “emotions” physically play out that can affect a cascade of biochemicals)
  • compromised friendly gut microflora (read: a huge part of our immune systems) – This is also based on what I know about his mother’s long-standing digestive issues and other health issues that may have played a role in a sub-optimal gut-bacteria foundation. He was also born via C-section, so that first and dramatically important exposure to the colony-forming Lactobacillus in his mother’s vaginal canal that babies swallow as they pass through during delivery, and that makes up a foundational part of babies’ first OWN immune-system (in-utero babies don’t have their own immune systems and instead rely on their mothers’ immune systems). And if he had antibiotics at an early age, without strategic probiotic replenishment (not all probiotics are created equal), his gut microflora was further compromised. (NERD-OUT ASIDE IF YOU’RE INTERESTED: breast feeding (which also provides the colony-forming Bifidobacterium) is important beyond birth-canal bacterial-exposure, but it takes so much longer to populate the gut through breast-feeding (around two years), and most mothers don’t even breast-feed for six months!)
  • possible heavy metals – Yeast and parasitic bacteria love heavy metals (each kind has its favorite–yes!), so when heavy metals are present, these bad guys tend to proliferate. In cases of chronic and/or systemic microbial overgrowth, if you don’t address the heavy metals, you may be wasting your time if you focus solely on the microbes. (CAUTION: don’t take this idea and run with without being properly informed! You have to be very careful and bio-individualized, and run the proper labs to safely and effectively develop and titrate healing protocols to address these issues. Ninety-nine percent of readers will need guidance with this.)

Parts vs. Systems: Example #2

A new client recently came to me because she wanted to get to the root of and heal the root-imbalances that triggered several health issues, including a recent heart attack (her second) her doctors diagnosed as a form of cardiomyopathy known as “broken heart syndrome.” Now, as someone deeply invested in mind-body integrative practices, and someone who has trained in trauma studies and HeartMath for the past decade, I do regard grief or stress as powerful and possible triggers for a cardiac event.

That said, I don’t rest comfortably on that explanation as incisive because when I hear it, my systems-thinking mind rapidly unfurls, making connections, linking research that demonstrates other root causative factors, including seemingly unrelated things like:

  • various kinds of infection and viral activity – While friendly bacteria make up a big part of our immune systems (~80 percent), the ecosystems of our bodies are constantly confronting unfriendly parasitic microbes: bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa. Viral activity is indicated as possible cause of cardiomyopathy. A lesser known possibility is Lyme disease (not a virus). To give you some idea about viruses: they are such big players in human evolution, roughly thirteen percent of human DNA is viral DNA–viruses have influenced our evolution for a long time! Most of the time the presence of retroviruses, or even mere antibodies goes unnoticed by us, silently sucking up cellular energy, hijacking our DNA and inserting its own code into ours; even if we don’t notice anything now, this influence can potentially trigger all kinds of disease down the line if it remains unchecked (yes, powerful antiviral protocols do exist!).
  • impairments in the blood sugar axis, like hypoglycemia, which can trigger a heightened stress-response that results in a “panic attack” that triggers a cardiac event. Hypoglycemia can go way beyond mere diet-mediated glucose and insulin to totally nerdy intricate biochemical pathways whereby your body makes energy from food, and that you’ll never know about without lab-testing, and you can’t correct with food; you need supplements. Believe it or not, hypoglycemia isn’t “low blood sugar,” as we’ve been taught; hypoglycemia is actually glucose dysregulation, and you can be hypoglycemic even if you’re smart and responsibly eat all the best blood sugar and insulin-stabilizing foods. In other scenarios, you can have controlled blood sugar, and still be at risk for diabetic complications. Why? In either situation, the reason is because you may have impairments elsewhere along the more expansive, intricate blood sugar axis or energy-making pathways that food alone can never resolve. In such situations, as is the case with my new client (who already eats VERY WELL), it’s time to run targeted lab work, implement strategic supplement protocols, run follow-up labs, and update/refine/titrate supplement protocols as necessary.
  • neurotransmitters and hormones – What I find fascinating and particularly valuable is the epidemiology of “broken heart syndrome”: it occurs predominantly in post-menopausal women, and research suggests this may be due to changes in estrogen levels brought on by menopause that can affect catecholamines (neurotransmitters like epinephrine and norepinephrine that are part of a stress-response) and glucocorticoid, which can trigger many things, including spasms in coronary arteries. Considering this new client is (surprise) post-menopausal, this is her second event (her first happened when she was also post-menopausal), it’s certainly worthy to run targeted labs for hormone levels (I love the urinary DUTCH test–it’s the most comprehensive and accurate hormone test available). It’s also important to investigate potential genes that can influence these hormones in a big way (I emphasize “can” because being +/+ for a gene doesn’t mean it’s expressed; genetics is only useful ALONGSIDE symptoms and biochemistry (labwork)). The fact that this client also suffers from gallstones adds further weight to the idea that her liver could be overloaded due to different reasons, like toxic hormones, than the more common trigger. (NERD-OUT ASIDE: gallstones often form because we eat super-low-fat diets, causing bile-secretion from the liver to diminish, and the gallbladder (that normally stores bile) to atrophy, thereby impairing fat-breakdown, leading to a congested gallbladder. But, as I’ve said, this client eats very well.) While it is important to heal CASCADE CONDITIONS, like gallbladder problems, the ROOT CAUSE of her cardiac event and her gallstones may very well be related (hormonal changes, imbalances and overload) and addressing one may support healing in the other. And there may even be genetic factors that triggered these hormonal issues. And then there are the epigenetic factors that turned on expression of those genes–various toxins, or viruses could very well have turned on those genes! (Yes, this shit goes deep.)

So is it simply that my client was sad or stressed and had a heart attack? Or was there a biochemical (and possibly even genetic) foundation that lent her to respond to stress in a different way than she did pre-menopause?

Only time, lab work, lots of research and dialogue, and continued observation will reveal the answers. And for each of these possibilities, powerful healing opportunities exist. But these are the kinds of questions I ask myself when I dive in to my clients’ health mysteries.

The systems-thinking is what opens the door to the powerful and effective bio-individualized protocols that can support healing (yes, they do exist).

[UPDATE: All of my above theories have proven to be the case with this client:

  • Lyme and co-infections (indicated in one of the more accurate Lyme lab tests);
  • active Epstein-Barr Virus;
  • blood-sugar dysregulation (largely influenced by environmental mold exposure–diet alone could not regulate blood sugar; heavy metals also at play);
  • pronounced stress-response (constitutionally and environmentally driven).

I developed a dynamic incisive bio-individualized healing plan (dynamic means not-static, updated as context and needs shift). And guess what? It didn’t feature “superfoods.” In fact, we had to eliminate multiple “superfoods” from this client’s diet because they contained extremely high levels of compounds that were negatively contributing to her health (yes!).

The Ultimate Superfood: Case in Point

Emotions (non-physical) are not separate from gut bacteria, or the nervous system, or heavy metal toxicity, or hormones, or infections, or how the body makes energy (all physical).

These all exist in an inextricably interwoven web of multiplicity where all parts are constantly active, relating to and influencing one another–even if our focus on this expansive system is on a singular part.

I’m here to tell you the ultimate, most unexpected superfood is not some berry, or friendship; it’s systems-thinking.

Systems-thinking is what makes healing and thriving possible before anything else.

Tell me, are there any areas of your health you think you might focus on too much simply because you don’t know as much about other areas of your health (i.e. food, mind-body practices, lab work, supplements, etc.)? What areas do you feel unfamiliar with, but want to know more about?

Comment below and tell me–I will read every single comment.

There are no right or wrong answers. Though, the more we become systems-thinkers, the more effective our answers can be, and the more we can thrive.

I am driven to support your exposure to systems-thinking about the human mind-body. So comment below with your answers! 

If you have a health problem you’re committed to getting to the bottom of, and you’re curious about how my incisive bio-individualized systems-thinking approach can help, learn more about my Custom Consulting HERE.

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DISCLAIMER: This website, and the contents published herein, are intended for educational purposes only. They are not intended, nor should they be used in any way to replace sound consultation, diagnosis and treatment by a licensed medical practitioner. This website and its contents are not intended as, nor should they be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or prescriptions. Always consult a qualified licensed medical professional before making any dietary, supplement, exercise, or lifestyle changes. Read full disclaimer HERE.

Image copyright Erika Herman