Instead of reaching for a bottle of NSAIDs the next time you have a migraine or joint pain, Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S, is urging you to look to the wisdom of traditional healing practices in his new book, Ancient Remedies: Secrets to Healing with Herbs, Essential Oils, CBD, and the Most Powerful Natural Medicine in History (Little, Brown Spark).
Dr. Axe’s book comes at a good time. Now that we’re reaching nearly a year of physical distancing, stay-at-home orders and increased screen time, many of us are struggling to find balance in the new normal. Dr. Axe’s book challenges the reader to step back and look at one’s life and health holistically, using concepts from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), herbal remedies and mind-body practices to help reach optimal health.
In fact, according to Dr. Axe, founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com, one of the most impactful aspects of ancient medicine practices such as traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda and others is that they are forms of personalized medicine. There is not one specific diet or approach that works for everyone but, using the book as a starting point, the reader can build a holistic plan suited to them. With a primer on everything from mushrooms and herbs to CBD, we love the handy reference guide to specific conditions such as anxiety, high blood pressure, inflammation, migraines and more – including foods to include and their “ancient” prescriptions (butterbur for the next migraine instead of NSAIDs? sign me up!).
We sat down with Dr. Axe to get his thoughts on everything from anti-inflammatory herbs, the best probiotics for gut health and – perhaps most importantly – the Chinese concept of qi and how it might be the key to better immunity and vitality. Plus, he shares some actionable steps we all should be taking to stay healthier and more resilient in these turbulent times.
CE: What do you think Western medicine gets wrong?
JA: I believe it’s really unfortunate that prescription drugs are the first thing that doctors prescribe when a patient comes in with a complaint, rather than first trying lifestyle adjustments or natural methods. In my experience – and the majority of doctors in functional medicine would attest to this – it’s a rarity for someone with diabetes, heart disease or many other conditions to ever need pharmaceutical intervention. When I ran my clinic, I helped over 50 people reverse their Type 2 diabetes using remedies such as cinnamon, fenugreek, chromium, bitter melon and a diet high in protein and fat, removing the carbohydrates. By getting to the root cause of disease, you can heal more quickly and more fully rather than just treating the symptoms, which is what the majority of Western doctors do.
CE: The book touches on the concept of energy, or life force, in Chinese medicine known as qi (pronounced “chee”) or prana in Indian medicine or ki in Japanese. Why is it so important to our health and how do we recharge it?
JA: Qi is our “cellular energy” that strengthens the immune system so that it can fend off harmful pathogens. A qi deficiency can leave the body fragile and more susceptible to illnesses. We recharge qi by eating a healthy diet packed with nourishing and fermented foods, consuming immune-boosting herbs (like adaptogens), getting enough sleep and rest, and reducing stress.
CE: In the book, you talk about soil-based organisms as being key to gut health. Why are they superior to other kinds of probiotics?
JA: Soil-based probiotics exist to keep plants healthy and well-nourished. They help to prevent plants from becoming contaminated by molds, fungi and yeast. They do the same thing for humans – helping to relieve a range of health issues including allergies, autoimmune disease and inflammatory conditions. Introducing these healthful bacteria into your body can seed your gut with beneficial microbes to help strengthen immunity and support healthy digestion.
CE: Tell us about a couple of the long-lost ancient foods that we all should be incorporating into our diets.
JA: The number one ancient food that you should add to your diet is bone broth. It provides several healing compounds, including amino acids, hydroxyproline, glycine and glutamine, which helps to support healthy aging. It also provides collagen, which promotes healthier skin, hair, bones, connective tissue and more. Healthy fats are also important ancient foods that have been demonized in Western medicine. Coconut, olive oil, avocados and ghee, for example, help with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, boost energy, build strong cell membranes and promote better brain function.
CE: For years now, turmeric has dominated headlines for its anti-inflammatory powers, but what are some lesser known herbs or spices that can help fight inflammation?
JA: Chaga is an anti-inflammatory mushroom and adaptogen that can prevent the production of inflammation-triggering cytokines. It’s also known for boosting energy and strengthening immunity. Boswellia, a resin extracted from the frankincense tree, is also a powerful anti-inflammatory that fights brain inflammation and contains powerful antioxidant phytochemicals.
CE: CBD is a recurring topic in your book. Many of us know about CBD’s pain-relieving properties, but what are some other conditions that it can help treat?
JA: Research suggests that CBD can help to reduce anxiety, improve digestion, curb nausea, promote better sleep, boost cognitive health and reduce inflammation. Hemp is a multipurpose plant because the cannabinoids within it interact with receptors throughout the endocannabinoid system, which is present throughout the entire body, including our brains, skin and bones.
CE: In your book, you mention herbs such as milk thistle and dandelion to help support the body’s detoxification (through the liver). Detox has become a bit of a charged word these days, should everyone be thinking about their toxic load?
JA: Yes. Put plainly, we are all exposed to potential toxins every single day. This includes environmental toxins, chemicals in foods, soil, water, home cleansers, body products and more. The build-up of these toxins can lead to major health issues, so promoting detoxification with herbs helps to expel them from the body.
CE: Can you share a couple of ancient lifestyle practices that we may not have heard of, and how can they help us find balance?
JA: Gua sha is an ancient Chinese technique that involves scraping the skin in order to stimulate blood flow. Using a massage tool, you scrape your legs, back, neck, butt and arms. Preliminary research suggests that this helps relieve diabetic peripheral neuropathy and promotes better blood flow. Red light therapy has ancient roots and allows low-power red light waves to be emitted through the skin. This helps to promote wound healing, skin rejuvenation and tissue repair.
CE: Many of us are dealing with an unprecedented amount of stress these days, what is one thing we could be doing daily to ground ourselves?
JA: Walking in nature, or “forest bathing” is an excellent way to reduce stress. It leaves you calmer, more energized and focused. It boosts feel-good chemicals in the brain and rebalances your body’s qi, or cellular energy.
CE: In today’s climate, what are some things that everybody should be doing to strengthen their immune system?
JA: Let’s choose something simple – sleep. A lack of sleep will trigger inflammation and weaken your immune system. Your body depends on rest to refuel and stay healthy. Reducing stress, maintaining a healthy weight and engaging in daily physical activity are also important factors.
Ancient Grains Bowl
Here’s a recipe from Dr. Axe’s book that uses the ancient grain quinoa. This bowl contains antioxidant-rich superfoods such as sweet potatoes, mushrooms and kale to help fight inflammation in the body.
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a rimmed baking sheet with one-half of the oil.
- Spread the sweet potatoes in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. Bake, for 30 minutes, turning once, or until browned on both sides.
- While the sweet potatoes are in the oven, cook the whole grains according to the package directions.
- Heat the remaining one-half of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, mushrooms and kale and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 5 minutes.
- Combine the sweet potatoes, whole grains, onion mixture, carrot and pesto in a large bowl and toss to mix. Divide among 4 bowls and garnish with the pine nuts.