Herbal medicine and chemical composition of the human body
In explaining why I broke down the macronutrients into their elemental forms, some definitions will have to be made to help with our understanding.
Nutrients are chemical substances that can be used by an organism to sustain its metabolic activities. These metabolic activities in humans and other animals include the provision of energy, growth, renewal of tissues, reproduction and lactation. Please note that the nutrient has to be a chemical. Examples of nutrients are: carbohydrates, amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins and trace elements. There are other chemicals, such as dietary ﬁbre and secondary plant metabolites (phytochemicals), even though they are part of the food are not classified as nutrients.
Nutrients referred to as essential nutrients are molecules that cannot be synthesised in the body and can only be provided by the diet. These essential nutrients provide for metabolic processes like other nutrients: vitamins, e.g. ascorbic acid, and trace elements, e.g. selenium; and for structure, e.g. proteins, essential amino acids, vitamins and trace elements.
Dietary deficiency or excess
Causes of dietary deficiencies range from a lack of all nutrients as in famine, to absence or omission of individual food items from the diet for social, economic, cultural, religious or personal reasons. Nutrients may not be absorbed from the intestine in some illnesses. A deficiency or excess of overall calorie intake or of individual nutrients may result in nutritional disorders. Ingested food is broken down to chemicals of a molecular size that is readily absorbed and utilised by the body. The process of absorption is dictated by the nutrient needs of the body and bioavailability value. Food or nutrients can only be absorbed into the body through the intestines in their chemical forms. It is also interesting to note that these foods are also present in the plants (herbs) in their chemical (molecular) forms.
It is not possible to live for more than 2–3 min without oxygen. However, human life can continue without water for between 2 and 7 days, depending on the ambient temperature and the amount of exercise being taken. Survival without any food at all, but with water, may be for 60–120 days, depending on the body stores. Females and those with considerable subcutaneous fat generally survive for longer than slightly built males.
There are individual responses to nutritional deficiency and excess, although in general weight increase is associated with overall excessive eating and weight loss is associated with inadequate dietary intake. A failure to provide amino acids, fats, vitamins and trace elements leads to specific lesions, which may progress to morbidity and death.
Nutrients contribute to bodily needs in several ways:
• provision of energy
• creation of structure
• provision of essential small molecular substances that the body cannot synthesise.
Some nutrients are sources of carbon and nitrogen, which pass into the metabolic pool to meet the body’s general needs, e.g. carbohydrates, fats and amino acids. Carbohydrates and lipids are necessary fuels for metabolic activity, to a variable extent for structure and in some instances in the synthesis of hormones. The whole range of amino acids is relevant for adequate structural growth. Amino acids may also be utilised at times of nutritional deprivation as a source of energy.
Waste products of metabolism
The body excretes waste products of metabolism in the breath (carbon dioxide), through the urine, generally water- soluble compounds and the fat-soluble compounds through the bile. The accumulation of metabolic waste products has disadvantageous effects on growth, metabolism and well-being. In fact different kinds of the chronic degenerative diseases have been linked to the accumulation of waste products of metabolism.
In our study of herbs for food and medicine, we shall always remember that the Genesis 1,29 Diet which is the main source of all our nutrients contains the macro and micro-nutrients, essential and non-essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals, trace elements, enzymes, phytonutrients, fibre, detoxifies, anti-inflammatory agents etc. As I take one more look at it I am convinced that indeed food is our medicine and our medicine food.
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