There’s a tendency to think subjectively about the world around us, to focus on the individual constituents and mechanisms behind the larger whole. This tendency stems from cultural beliefs just as much as science itself, a lens we’ve cultivated to understand smaller pieces of a complex reality.
We wouldn’t have technologies or highly-targeted disease treatments without it, but we do need balance. At a point it actually becomes dangerous to ignore the whole, especially when we apply this line of thinking to our health, nutrition, and choices in medicine.
Cannabis’ Entourage Effect is an excellent frame to nature’s call for balance, where the full spectrum of cannabinoids (not just THC or CBD) are known to modulate the effects of each other. Typically, this means a more balanced therapeutic range than isolated cannabinoids alone, and with less side-effects.
While colloquially this effect is associated exclusively with cannabis, it’s a useful tool as we explore more deeply how nature intended nutrition and medicine to work in the body.
Our physiology evolved with an impeccable ability to recover from imbalance. Modern research indicates that controlled stressors such as caloric restriction can even strengthen our ability to recover our equilibrium.
Our physiology evolved to be balanced and maintained through whole-food sustenance, rich in phytonutrients, trace minerals, and diverse vitamin forms. Contemporary processed foods were nonexistent, while today they can pose serious consequences to health and longevity.
Literally unlike the nutrient entourage of whole-foods, processed foods are denatured and filled with fortifications (added vitamins and minerals). These foods provide little diversity for our metabolism, and even more problematic, those common fortifications are vitamin forms with minimal bioavailability, or partial function.
One great example is vitamin E. In fortified foods it comes usually in one form, yet, in nature this essential vitamin is actually an entourage of eight natural forms, each with key modulating properties which synergize for our best health. Research indicates an imbalance in vitamin diversity such as this, or like in the case of vitamin A can increase cancer risks and other diseases.
Sometimes they are essential for malnourishment, but here we see processed foods as tipping our health’s balance overwhelmingly in the wrong direction.
Our wellbeing has also been placed in the hands of modern pharmaceuticals. Unbeknownst to many, the majority of these drugs have been isolated from traditional and indigenous plant remedies.
Unlike their current form as single chemicals, these medicinal compounds were consumed as part of an entourage of many modulating phytocompounds, much like research demonstrates with cannabis today. In many cases, these traditional medicines offer a greater therapeutic range with less side-effects than their modern pharmacy counterparts.
The opioid epidemic, for one, envelopes the dangers of isolating and synthetically deriving drugs from a natural state. The morphine classically found in opium was isolated first with the intention of accurately measuring doses of pain-relief. However, the isolated form also makes it effortless to ingest, posing significant risks for addiction and especially overdose.
Over the counter herbal extracts are dangerous for this reason too. Unlike the whole herb, extracts do not typically maintain the natural proportion of plant compounds.
The traditional anxiolytic root, ‘Kava,’ is an example with purported toxicity as an extract. The molecules responsible for the primary effects are disproportionately extracted from the complex mixture of whole-root compounds. The entourage’s regulatory dynamic is disrupted, and the otherwise ambivalent physiological response instead becomes one of health concerns.
At least with Kava extracts, this can mean increased depression of the central nervous system, and reported liver damage. Reports of side-effects with other extracts exist as well, and can include impurities which become concentrated to unsafe levels.
Most importantly, few herbs, let alone extracts, have been studied outside of their traditional, whole-plant preparations. Many claims surrounding benefits to health are anecdotal, though some do have significant historical references. We should be wary of appropriate usage and safety guidelines for all extracts, pharmaceuticals, and so called ‘quick fixes’ for our health.
The bottom line
As mentioned, we cannot ignore the importance of looking to the individual elements of the whole, so there is obviously a place for pharmacology, fortified foods, and the like. Though we also must not ignore western culture’s tendency for fast results and instant gratification. This means we take shortcuts, become complacent or reliant, and our well-being pays the price.
So, as you approach your daily hustle, keep in mind that our bodies have developed alongside a broad range of nutrition which works together as a system; whole food diets with a balance of fruits and veggies will go a long way to protect you from disequilibrium. Also, as you make wise-choices with any supplements you may take, whether for energy or otherwise, remember those natural safeguards whole herbs typically offer.
Finally, if you’re not sure where to start, Matcha goes a long way as a daily boost to your health. Unlike brewed green tea, with matcha you consume the whole-leaf, which hosts an entourage of nutrition, trace minerals, antioxidant complexes, and brain healthy amino acids — unlike anything else found in nature!