Disease Prevention Through Herbs, Food & a Healthy Lifestyle

By:  Renee Davenport

What, really, will a man give in exchange for his soul?  Seriously, think about it.  Sooner or later every person must answer that question. Isn’t it ironic that many times just when one is called to that question the exchange price makes any transaction impossible? We’ve all witnessed despondent people making desperate attempts to save their life because they’ve received a terrible diagnosis.  Many diagnosed with sickness spend long days in agony wondering “what if” and wishing they had made very different choices when they were well.  Sure, now they’re willing to eat healthy, give up smoking, stop drinking, start exercising, or make some other changes to save their life.  Often, though, it’s too late.  It is truly sad that many don’t begin taking serious measures to protect their soul until the price for exchange is out of reach.  Once that happens, everyone’s resources together cannot purchase good health.  Because of the relief it brings when loved ones die many are comforted by the thought “at least they are out of their misery”.  In reality, however, this “comfort” is, well, no comfort at all.  Really, what comfort can there possibly be in death?  We see the scenario all too often but are we really taking note and learning something?  Let’s ask the question personally.  What, really, will I give in exchange for my soul?  We all do well to answer that question while an exchange is feasible… and pleasant.  (Ok, somewhat pleasant.)    

The good news is that many of the diseases that plague humanity can actually be prevented by making a few simple exchanges while good health is affordable, so to speak. We can utilize a few simple herbal preparations and commit to a few new diet and lifestyle choices.  The benefits of such decisions are incomparable.  Yes, it will cost us something… we know that nothing worthwhile in life is without its cost.  The longer we wait the higher the costs. 

Just what will prevention through diet and a healthy lifestyle cost?  It will cost time.  The time it takes to become informed through targeted research in an effort to take ones health into one’s own hands becoming a partner with the healthcare providers instead of a passive by-stander. We’re going to spend our time anyway, right?  Would we rather be forced to spend our time visiting doctor after doctor praying that the third opinion is better than the first two?  Wisdom dictates the former is the better choice.  It will cost money.  The cost of clean food.  We’re going to spend our money anyway though, right?  Would we rather be forced to purchase high priced prescription drugs, medical paraphernalia and doctor and hospital co-pays?  It may cost us a little symptomatic withdrawal as we replace our current preferences with healthier choices.  But we’re going to have withdrawl anyway, right?  Drugs are not without their side effects, right?  Have you paid attention to the incredible list of “possible side effects as the pharmaceutical company sells their recommended prescriptions?  What about “gas with oily discharge” and “death”.  Well, there is no “withdrawl” from the latter… but I think you understand the point I’m making.  Exactly!  Yes, when it comes to prevention and good health, right now the cost is as low as it will ever be.  So let’s hop to it!  It’s do or die!

Upon realistic examination of our choices it is definitely the course of wisdom to take our health into our own hands and make some sacrifices while the yield is high. Indeed, what are you willing to give in exchange for your soul?  Keep in mind that usually, the higher quality desired the more expense required.  Now that we have talked a little about the reasonableness of being intensely interested in this most important subject, just how can we go about prevention using herbs, diet and a healthy lifestyle?  Really, why consider making herbal medicine a regular part of our healthy way of life?

One of the greatest tools available to aid us in our quest for disease prevention, good health and vitality is herbal medicine.  Although commonly dubbed “alternative medicine”, for the most part, herbal therapy can be safely used alongside conventional medicine and does not have to be an "alternative" at all.    

Here are just some of the excellent reasons why every person alive can make good use of herbs as a part of our healthy way of life1. :

  1. Historicity:  Herbal medicine’s history of success is as old as man himself
  2. Easily Individualized: Herbal medicine can be easily tailored to individual needs, including that of babies, children and the elderly
  3. Safe:  When used with good sense their safety record is quite impressive.  This should not surprise us because most herbs are actually foods.  Therefore, long term use is generally safe even when no disease or illness is present.  Thus, they maintain and encourage health even among those with no diseases or illnesses.  Wow, right?
  4. Scientific Support:  Herbs have many properties which work together synergistically making their scientific research formidable yet rewarding.  Nevertheless, medical research is expanding rapidly and supports its efficacy.  
  5. Environmentally Friendly:  Producing herbs organically enhances the environment.  They are a permanently renewable resource.
  6. Affordable:    You can grow many on your own making them quite affordable
  7. Eliminates Causes of Disease:  Virtually all disorders can benefit from herbal medicine.  Herbs can actually alter the bodies ability to deal with illness by toning organs and systems of the body going straight to the root of the problem rather than simply treating symptoms

I challenge anybody to find one prescription drug that can accomplish all of that!

In our quest for prevention, health and vitality we must appreciate that the management of stress plays a key role.  It has long been established that stress is a precursor to many diseases and illnesses.  It has been proven that stress reduces physical and mental performance and may exacerbate existing illness and unmask latent disorders. Researchers say that stress accounts for constipation, diarrhea, lack of energy, lack of concentration, loss of appetite, arthritis flare-ups, tension, stomach cramping & bloating, skin problems, heart problems, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, neck and back pain.2.  This list is by no means exhaustive.

The critical times in which we live may make stress management seem impossible.   Most of the stress we experience we have absolutely no control over and stress does not announce its destructive visit beforehand.  Therefore, things like job loss, death or injury of a loved one, spousal infidelity, divorce and personal injury often wind up consuming and controlling the host, and not vise versa.  Can herbal medicine help us deal with all this unsolicited onslaught of stress?

The answer is a resounding YES!  Herbal medicine can assist with each and every symptom mentioned above.  There is a specific type of herb that can be a key player in encouraging good health in the face of stress.  This type of herb is called an adaptogen.  Herbs that have adaptogenic properties increase the nonspecific power of the body’s resistance against stressors and increase the body’s general capacity to withstand stressful situations.  Hence, they guard against diseases caused by overstress.  Adaptogens reduce stress reactions and prevent or delay the state of exhaustion thus providing protection against long-term stress.  Herbal adaptogens that can play a key role in our quest for health and vitality include:  silk tree, Japanese angelica tree, chickpea, dang shen, Siberian ginseng, reishi mushroom, holy basil, Korean and American ginseng, schizandra, ashwaganda and rhodiola. 

These herbs provide antioxidant activity, liver protection, antitoxin activity, improved blood-sugar metabolism, less craving for alcohol or sugar, improved immune resistance, increased energy and stamina, improved muscle tone, increased strength, faster recovery from illness, better focus and concentration, a feeling of well being and better moods3.   What is the science behind such an amazing class of herbs?   

Research tells us that “the effects of the adaptogens are associated with a part of the bodies stress system, namely, the sympatho–adrenal-system (SAS) that provides a rapid response mechanism mainly to control the acute reaction of the organism to a stressor.”4.   

These amazing herbs increase the state of non-specific resistance in stress and decrease sensitivity to stressors, which results in stress protection and a prolonged phase of resistance.  The stimulatory affect of adaptogens delivers all the benefits that those who take illegal stimulants seek but with critical differences.  There are no side affects and they’re perfectly legal. What is more, instead of exhaustion, a higher level of equilibrium or homeostasis is attained.  The stimulating and anti-fatigue affect of adaptogens have been documented both in animals and in humans.   It has been demonstrated that the beneficial stress-protective activity of adaptogens is associated with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the regulation of key mediators of the stress response common to all cells.  One such enhancement is the biosynthesis of ATP, adenosine triphosphate, the major energy currency molecule of every cell.  With the use of adaptogenic herbs ATP is increased to normal levels in the stressed cells resulting in increased energy.4.

Rhodiola, to mention just one powerful adaptogen, is so effective that results have been seen in as little as 30 minutes with just a single dose.5. The more research that is done the clearer it becomes that adaptogenic herbs are a vital, indispensable tool in disease prevention and health maintenance.  This is just one example of the power that lies in an herbal remedy.  With a little research one discovers that the other classes of herbs are equally impressive.  

In addition to herbs, a clean diet is an absolute must if we are to live a life of prevention and function with optimal health and vitality.  A clean diet consists of whole foods, whole grains and water from the freshest, cleanest source.   It means eliminating high fat, processed, nutrient poor foods and replacing them with raw, natural nutrient packed ones.  We want to cut down or eliminate red meat and pork.  We want to avoid consuming refined, highly processed foods and non-nutritive substances, such as hydrogenated fats, artificial flavorings, colors, preservatives and sweeteners. It means that we eliminate pesticides and synthetic hormones.  We want to choose organic food as much possible.  Avoiding genetically modified foods is of importance as well.  Granted, organic food is usually more expensive than their pesticide laden counterparts.  However, since it lessens the toxic load on the body the extra expense is a sound investment that can be effectively tapped in the future.  According to the CDC short-term exposure to high levels of pesticides may cause respiratory, gastrointestinal, allergic, or neurological symptoms. Long-term exposure may be associated with neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimers7.  In view of the foregoing, if organic foods are beyond our budget it is well worth the effort it takes to learn which foods have the heaviest toxic pesticide load and avoid them.   Consuming a clean diet also means giving attention to the manner in which the foods we eat are prepared.  Raw foods are best because they hold onto all their vital enzymes and offer the greatest nutrition.  .

When making dietary choices for optimal health and vitality it is of the utmost importance that the foods offer an abundance of nutrients with a minimum of calories.  We want these nutrient dense foods to be whole, clean, raw, natural, organic, seasonal and unprocessed.   When preparing these foods it would be best to use preparation methods that will retain the nutrients.  Many whole foods from plant sources may be consumed in their raw state.  It is most encouraged to do so as this delivers the highest amount of nutrients.  Whole Nutrient-rich food delivers a high concentration of health-promoting nutrients without excess calories.   They are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, powerful antioxidants and phytonutrients that science believes are at the foundation of health promotion, disease prevention and longevity.  In order to retain the maximum amount of nutrients when our foods are cooked we must use the lowest possible temperatures so as not to result in the consumption of carcinogens that result from high heat

What are phytonutrients and why are they necessary for optimal health and vitality?  Phytonutrients are nutrients derived from plant material that have been shown to be necessary for sustaining life. Phytochemicals contain protective, disease-preventing, compounds. Their role in plants is to protect them from disease, injuries, insects, drought, excessive heat, ultraviolet rays, and poisons or pollutants in the air and soil. They form part of the plants immune system.  Phytochemicals are associated with the prevention and/or treatment of at least four of the leading causes of death in Western countries - cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension. They are involved in many processes including ones that help prevent cell damage, prevent cancer cell replication, and decrease cholesterol levels.8.  If we consume a wide variety of the recommended daily allowance of fruits and vegetables we will receive an abundance of the phytonutrients that are so necessary for disease prevention, optimal health and vitality. 

If we choose to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables we may also find that there is less of a need for vitamin and mineral supplementation.    Many people make the mistake of regularly consuming foods which have been stripped of all vital nutrients and then trying to replace those nutrients by taking vitamin and mineral supplements.  This practice definitely does NOT lead to health and vitality.  Supplements can be fantastic… if they are used for their intended purpose:  To supplement whole foods, not replace them.   To illustrate:  many people get a second job to “supplement” their income.  The second job is not intended to meet the family budget, it just provides a little extra so that the family can perhaps meet an unexpected expense beyond the capacity of the main income.  If the main job is lost the person realizes that the part-time supplement is inadequate to carry the family budget so he looks for another full time job.  The longer it takes to find a new job the more his family will suffer. Life is usually very stressful for families in this situation.

In like manner,   if we find that our food has had the very life stripped, ripped and beaten out of it and is thus dead what is necessary are new whole food choices, not isolates and supplements.    It is clear, vitamin and mineral supplementation cannot compensate if foods that have been processed and stripped of their nutrients are the nucleus of our diet.  The longer we try to make it on supplements the more our health will suffer.  It may not be immediate but it will happen.  Nobody is independently healthy.  

A discussion of prevention, health and vitality cannot be complete without discussing the vital role played by exercise.  The benefits of regular exercising are varied and very well documented.  These benefits include energy balance, increases in resting metabolic rate, reduction of resting blood pressure and increased arterial blood carrying capacity.  There is an increased capacity for forming and breaking down blood clots, improved glucose handling and stronger bones in those who are active compared to those who live a sedentary lifestyle9..  Therefore, an active lifestyle tremendously benefits the organism. Studies show that belly fat is an indication that something really serious is happening inside, and it’s really no laughing matter.  The truth is abdominal fat is the worst fat to have on the body because it’s different from fat in other areas. This fat is actually more biologically active.  This causes dangerous calcium build-up in the arteries. This is significant because often people in a normal BMI range are still carrying extra weight in their stomachs but may not realize they’re at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.    

There is substantial evidence that lack of exercise leads to a number of chronic life threatening diseases. These include type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, breast cancer, lung and endometrial cancers, prostate cancer.  Instead of “sitting around” waiting for a cure for cancer one great key to prevention is regular physical exercise.  Lack of exercise results in a decrease in bone mass, lack of muscle strength, osteoporosis, dysfunctional social interactions and clinical depression.  Regular physical activity is necessary to stimulate our body to repair and maintain itself naturally10.   It is an integral part of a healthy way of living.

A healthy lifestyle incorporates mental and social behaviors which contribute to our wellbeing and make us more pleasant to be around.   A large percentage of deaths can be prevented if we adopt a healthy lifestyle.  It is well documented that smoking tobacco, abusing prescription drugs and overindulgence in alcohol lead to diseases and death.  Therefore, every effort to eliminate these detrimental lifestyle components will result in prevention, longevity and an enhanced quality of life.  Some additional lifestyle components that make life more pleasant include adequate rest and relaxation, charitable giving, simple acts of kindness and a positive outlook.    We must not live for ourselves.  We must realize that our decisions affect others and resolve to be the best example that we can be in all these areas.  This too brings a sense of satisfaction and contentment in life.

So, what will we give in exchange for our soul?  Will we analyze our life and make the necessary adjustments to incorporate a life of prevention using organic herbs, a clean healthy diet and healthy lifestyle choices?  Is your soul worth the cost?  Let us not sacrifice our soul on the altar of expediency and self indulgence.  Rather, let us practice prevention through herbs, diet and a healthy lifestyle.  If we do we will reap the rewards that good choices bring and avert serious health hazards while we still have time to do so.   

Good health to you!


1.      Eyewitness Companions Herbal Remedies by Andrew Chevallier. 

2.      http://www.womenshealth.gov/faq/stress-your-health.cfm#2

3.      http://www.chiro.org/nutrition/FULL/Adaptogenic_Herbs.shtm

4.      Panossian & Wikman, Pharmaceuticals 2010, 3, 188-224; doi:10.3390/ph3010188

5.      Panossian and Wagner, Phytother. Res. 19, 819–838 (2005)

6.      http://www.glyconutrientsreference.com/whatarephytonutrients.php

7.      http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hsb/pesticides/activities.htm

8.      http://www.tonytantillo.com/reference/phyto.html

9.      L. Miles, Physical activity and health.  British Nutrition Foundation, High Holborn House, London, UK   http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/118516643/PDFSTART

10.      http://pagingdrgupta.blogs.cnn.com/2008/12/25/is-belly-fat-more-dangerous-to-our-health/

11.      http://www.euro.who.int/Document/E66134.pdf