How to use food as a medicine

Ever felt worried and been struck with a gripping stomach pain? Or developed a cough while grieving?

The health of our organs and our emotions are closely linked, according to author, naturopath, herbalist and chef Janella Purcell.

In the updated version of her wellbeing book, Janella Purcell’s Elixir, Purcell details how the mind, body and spirit are interconnected and how a better diet can help prevent problems in all three of these areas.

‘‘We know that when we get upset we might get a headache or feel nauseous or get eczema or asthma, we know the effect emotions have on our body but we don’t seem to put them together,’’ Purcell says.

She says five of our major organs – the heart, lungs, spleen, kidneys and liver – are associated with certain emotions, as well as with particular seasons. 

When there is an issue with one of these organs, it often means something is out of balance in another area of our lives.

‘‘For example lungs store grief and sadness and autumn is the time lungs are most sensitive. So say you had something that happened and you hadn’t grieved properly, which a lot of people in the West don’t do, it gets pushed down and comes up when the lungs are more sensitive and will come up every year,’’ she says.

‘‘It could only just be physical, but if you have an emotional aspect that relates to that organ, that’s going to come up, that’s going to create the condition.’’

Each organ also has a brother or sister organ. The heart and small intestine are paired together, as are the lungs and large intestine, so people dealing with respiratory issues may also experience lower digestive or irritable bowel problems – one of the main concerns clients bring to Purcell.

Elixir has tips on how to eat to use food as medicine to prevent and alleviate the symptoms of poor health. 

Purcell says fixing diet is the easiest step when beginning to address overall wellbeing, because simple changes make a difference.

‘‘You’ve got to get your food right and the first step for someone who wants to be healthy – body, mind and spirit – is to get your food under control,’’ she says.

If there are problems with the kidneys, for example, which are associated with fear and anxiety, eating things such as parsley, leeks, salmon and shallots and avoiding overly salty or raw foods can help. 

Similarly, if you are having problems with your heart, which is associated with happiness, mung beans, sea vegetables, cucumber and red lentils are just some of the foods that will be beneficial.

Once diet is taken care of, Purcell says it’s important to then address the things in your life causing problems with these organs to start with.

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