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Hold the Coconut, Pass on the Gluten Free Products Please!

April 9th, 2017 Posted in Articles, Tibetan Medicine Info

By Nashalla G. Nyinda, Menpa © 2017

Not all things ‘gluten free’ or made from coconut (the oil, milk, water or natural sugar derived from coconut) nor the date sugar, nor the chia or flax seeds, tapioca and alternative flours are the good for your gut fix they are touted as. In fact, sometimes they will harm you. That itself is a controversial statement within the current alternative and natural healthcare world.

As a Traditional Tibetan doctor who has studied this ancient medicine known in as Sowa Rigpa, The Healing Science of Tibet, I am in a unique position to make such a controversial statement. Long have I pondered how to refute the constant onslaught of ‘Heal Your Life with Coconut Oil’ or  ‘Coconut: Miracle Oil from Nature’ and ‘Drink Coconut Water and Milk to Heal (insert whatever) Disease’ or ‘Gluten Free Recipes to Restart Your Digestion.’ Yes, every you name it – coconut cures it article I see on a weekly basis floating around the internet has inspired me to write this article. My patients know this all too well. I have to restrain myself from perpetual eye rolls or throwing up my hands each time I hear “I use coconut oil to cook exclusively and do self massage.” Several times a week I hear myself repeating while shaking my head, “Stop using the coconut oil” or “No coconut milk or water.”

People come to Tibetan Medicine with a myriad of symptoms, disorders and complaints. Like most ancient or indigenous medicine systems, Tibetan Medicine traces 90% of illness back to indigestion. When you get digestion and absorption to work efficiently, this cleans the blood, lowers inflammation and every system of the body begins to function more efficiently.

Many people react to gluten and claim gluten sensitivity, or have bonafide Celiac Disease. The Paleo and Gluten free food industry is booming from chronic indigestion which has become an epidemic. In the case of either gluten sensitivity or Celiac Disease, most patients are eating gluten free products which actually harm their digestion just as much as gluten, if not more. These same people often don’t understand why their gut is slow to heal despite eliminating gluten, eating purely organic and carefully prepared home cooked meals.

Likewise, Celiac patients are so weakened from years of inflammation, fatigue and pains, even gluten free grain alternatives or any type of processed gluten free products can cause severe reactions. For many of these folks the Paleo Diet is all they can manage without feeling they live in a perpetual state of fatigue, pain and brain fog. While Paleo friendly restaurants, or grain free items in the grocery may exist more than ever before, the vast majority of Americans with gluten reactions are frustrated. For these patients extreme limited dietary options or just the amount of time they have to devote to cooking when dealing with chronic fatigue, IBS, Diverticulitis, Celiac etc. is daunting. Moreover, Paleo diets can send a body into ketosis and is hard on the kidneys if not properly balanced.

As this article will demonstrate, many of the gluten free and alternative options are actually more harmful for those with sensitive digestion. Frustration ensues for the patient trying to eat ‘clean.’ Yes, they improve their digestion somewhat. However, many still feel like their digestion is fragile. They can’t go to a party, restaurant or dinner at a friends house without fear of severe repercussions from accidentally ingesting foods, which to their delicate system can mean weeks of discomfort. Common among the ingredients in many gluten free products are coconut oil, coconut milk or sugar, date sugar, tapioca flour, chia and flax seeds. In Tibetan Medicine these all are extremely harmful for cold or heavy indigestion disorders.

Almost everyone is surprised when told to stop eating these gluten free or grain alternative products. Tibetan Medicine, its concepts behind food and potency, or “power of effect” on the substances we eat and our bodies are the pinnacle behind truly healing the gut. If one pays attention to the potency and characteristics of the food, diet changes alone can often reverse sluggish digestion, clear brain fog, heal chronic indigestion and eliminate inflammation of the intestinal tract. Sound too good to be true? Trust me, eighteen years experience with Tibetan Medicine and the joy and newfound energy my patients experience when they cut these foods out of their diet, or when over time they can eat limited or infrequent grains with zero aggravation tells me otherwise.

Let me give a quick lesson in the basics of Tibetan Medicine and why these products are not for everyone.

The basis of the Tibetan medical theory revolves around detailed observation of the external elements in the world, such as in nature, while seeing the interconnected aspect these same internal elements give to the human organism. Based upon these qualities, characteristics, taste is created from the five elements and whatever foods consumed. A physician then applies observation to symptoms and mannerisms for diagnosis and treatment based on where the dominance or deficiency lies.

Because external and internal elements are interrelated, in fact are based on the same material, Tibetan Medicine takes the viewpoint that the sciences of anatomy, physiology, pathology and pharmacology are all based on the five elements.

The Five Elements: འབྱུང་བ་ལྔ་

  1. Earth ས་
  2. Water ཆུ་
  3. Fire མེ་
  4. Air རླུང་
  5. Space (also translates as ‘Sky’) ནམ་མཁའ་

The 5 elements create the 3 humors. If one was to translate the word ‘humor’ from the Tibetan language, it literally means ‘faults’ and is a direct indication to the underlying concept that homeostasis is always in fluctuation. As this is a Buddhist system, we relate to the five elements as arising from the 3 root poisons of passion, aggression or ignorance.

Within the 3 humors, again we reflect upon the elements. What are they comprised of, what’s their basic nature and what characteristics do they contain? In learning this we are able to antidote easily and with great accuracy.

A physicians’ role is to view and treat each person as an individual. This is the primary reason the Tibetan medical approach is unique. Each person has their own combination of relating to how the environment, life history and habits affect their body mind and spiritual states. Due to each person having a distinctive elemental makeup and dominances of those elements and humors, two people with identical conditions may have slightly different symptoms. Likewise, for this reason we never treat the same disease the exact same way and often treatment protocols and dietary guidance can vary.

Once one clearly relates to their basic nature, the relationship of outer to inner becomes clear. Foods and behaviors become either an antidote or aggravator. It is as much the patient’s responsibility in prevention and treatment to follow the instructions as is the physician’s duty to explain why diet, behavior and the treatment methods are so essential.

The 3 Humors:

  • rLung (pronounced Loong) WIND རླུང་ arising from passion or attachment
  • mKhris-pa (pronounced Tri-pa) BILE / FIRE མཁྲིས་པ་ arising from aggression
  • Bedkan (pronounced Pay-can) PHLEGM བད་ཀན་ arising from ignorance

There are three possible ways the 3 humors can be imbalanced: (Most frequently there is excess)

  • Excess
  • Deficient
  • Disturbed (in TCM calls this rebellious)

Most frequently people have a natural predominance to one or two humors, which will dominate and thus most likely go out of balance first. There is the occasional person with a balance or disorder of all three humors, but this is less common. Things always shift with times, stages of life and seasons. There are 7 possible combinations one can present with the humors.

7 possibilities: How the humors display themselves:

  • Single wind
  • Single bile
  • Single phlegm
  • Duel wind + bile
  • Duel wind + phlegm
  • Duel phlegm + bile
  • All 3 humors combined: wind + bile + phlegm

The first two treatment methods of diet and behavior are the most important in recovering balance or management of a condition. Why, because this part of the treatment is performed by the patient. The methodology when applied correctly is not necessarily dependent on the physician. Let me repeat that, YOU the patient can be responsible for your healing process. For many westerners this concept of relating directly to ones illness and taking responsibility for your own healing journey is innovative. A good physician of Tibetan Medicine is much like a person giving you a bag and telling you what to pack to carry along the path you will be traveling down. Proper dietary prescription is the most profound medicine by itself simply because everyone needs to eat several times a day. This paradigm shift in relating to the characteristics of our food, how they match, or oppose the characteristics of our elements and illnesses becomes the most powerful healing tool of all. When a Tibetan doctor guides you on foods to avoid and those which help,  its like having the road map and good directions. Essentially what are the proper to tools for your unique toolbox.

Understanding these concepts link us directly to the nature of a humor, its associated root poison, the qualities, powers and characteristics. This sows the seeds of bringing awareness to what aggravates you personally when you eat it. The healing methods of Tibetan Medicine are totally self-sustaining with simple observation and basic comprehension.

Going back to the premise of this article, why is coconut oil, water or sugar and many gluten free products not the cure all magic often touted? This is because the qualities and characteristics of these food items relates directly to the elements and characteristics we have previously introduced. Why then would tapioca for example, be bad for digestion? It is very sticky cool and aggravates indigestion issues. The same is so of coconut! Everyone reads how wonderful coconut oil is. Yes, it’s a high burn oil which does not alter when cooked, yes it is full of good fats, so how could it possibly harm?

Look back again at the basic characteristics of the humor which comprises the elements of earth and water, we call it Badkan in Tibetan. They are oily, cold, heavy, blunt, smooth, firm (stable), sticky. Now ponder the qualities of indigestion. Heavy, bloated, hard or sticky stools, belching, burping are very frequently described symptoms. For those with sluggish digestion, even water can make one feel heavy and bloated. Lastly, look at the quality of the gluten free ingredients commonly used. Coconut oil, dates, figs, flax seed, chia seed, tapioca. All are heavy, cold, sticky, smooth and firm or stable. It is simply a matter of the characteristics of these foods will increase the very same characteristics of the elements which in turn give rise to the increase of the Badkan or earth and water humor and almost all disorders relating to indigestion.

Now yes, there are two types of indigestion in the Sowa Rigpa system. One can be “hot indigestion”, the other “cold indigestion.” In this article the gluten free products and coconut oil I am referring to are those which mostly harm colder natured indigestion. In this case often the symptoms are sluggish stools, bloating, belching, heaviness, fatigue, especially after eating and foggy brain. Cold indigestion can over time create inflammation, yet the nature of it remains cold. Likewise, hot indigestion, which you see more with acid reflux, sharp abdomen pains soon after eating and loose or watery stools, can become chronic. Over a prolonged time this heat indigestion will turn slowly into a cold indigestion. However, even if you compare the nature of bile or mKrispa as it is known in Tibetan, relating to the fire element, its basic characteristics of oily and moist are still found in the grain free flour cooking ingredients on many packaged gluten free products: flax, chia, tapioca and coconut oil.

So then, what oil should I use you ask? A good high burn oil is grape seed oil. However caution should be used in ensuring this was not extracted using harsh chemicals like hexane. Another issue with grape seed is it is high in Omega 6, which is not bad in small amounts, yet can be harmful to your hormone regulation if taken frequently or in large quantities. Cold pressed grape seed oil is a good choice, just keep the chemicals out of it. If you’re more prone to insomnia or anxiety and do not have hot indigestion, meaning the commonly seen symptoms of acid reflux, etc. then I recommend avocado oil. Avocado oil is rich in oleic acid, resists oxidation and is high in beta-sitosterol. Beta-sitosterol is a type of cholesterol which the body uses to convert less healthy fats into more usable forms.  Avocado is full of chlorophyll and a type of magnesium known to remove toxic metals from the system. However, because avocado is so heavy, consume with caution, limiting to a few times a week only. Other options, ditch the oil altogether and use low sodium free range chicken stock. Better yet, make your own bone stock, letting it sit and cool down. Remove the fat from the top and refreeze it in ice cube trays. Ready to stir fry those veggies? Use a few of those bone stock ice cubes as an ‘oil’ and receive good nutrition without the heavy quality many oils can have. When people are very weak from long term indigestion low fat good quality bone broth is the amazing healing agent it is now suddenly becoming known for. Tibetan Medicine has touted its healing benefits for hundreds of years. Precisely because the heavy, oily and sticky quality of oil itself can hamper both hot or cold indigestion issues, oil should be minimized. This makes good quality bone broth with the fat removed an ideal ‘oil’ to use.  Cooking and baking, don’t worry, a little coconut oil won’t harm you, but daily use certainly will. I have seen this clinically over the years. People improve almost immediately within a month or more when they stop using coconut oil in excess. If there are no lactose tolerance or allergy issues, go for the real butter. Tibetan Medicine says “a spoonful of butter a day will sharpen the mind and produce longevity.” When doing self massage for anxiety or dry skin, don’t use the cold natured coconut oil! Instead use apricot kernel or almond oil after your showers. These are more warm and light and do not hamper digestion. Often people have heard of using sesame oil from Ayurveda for anxiety and ‘wind’ related issues. Yes, it’s warming, yes it calms wind and anxiety. However, it is very heavy in nature and if your digestion is already sluggish, it can harm digestion, and it has a hot nature, so if you have hot indigestion it can harm that too, even with external application.

In short, no one health food is THE health food solution for everyone. In Tibetan Medicine all people are unique, with their individual alignment of the elements and thus a unique dominance of humors. These can even be expressed as an overlay of a disorder which have dominances of characteristics that may even feels very different from the ‘real you’ and somehow intuitively, you know something is off balance.

Instead I encourage you to think always about foods quality and the specific experience and characteristics. Ask yourself, how does this feel in my body? Does it make you feel heavy, bloated, sluggish? Does it make you feel warm or cold? Do you feel light, does it seem sharp? Do you feel tired or more energized after consumption? These awarenesses can begin to inform you about how to make food choices.

See other articles on this website or our full clinic website for more info on Tibetan Medicine and healing with the ancient system of Sowa Rigpa.

Eat well!