‘Let food be thy medicine’

Dare to take a nibble from your stick deodorant or a bit of your body lotion for a quick snack? Whether a common store brand or pricy high-end health and beauty product touted for having some great ingredient, it is likely that no one would want to do so. First of all, it would taste awful. Then there’s the obvious objection that these are not foods and have a long list of chemical ingredients that are difficult to pronounce. If this is so, then why do we use them on our skin, the largest organ of our bodies? Whatever we put on it is absorbed into our system.

More and more people are becoming increasingly concerned about all the harmful ingredients in our foods. Addictive chemical additives, artificial sweeteners, genetically modified grains and other plants, various pesticides and hormones in animal and dairy products may be a great contributing factor to a whole host of many, many diseases including excess weight, diabetes, and cancer. Consequently, people are beginning to demand both organic and other more healthy food sources in their quest for overall wellness, returning to a “yesterdays” time when things were unadulterated and more basic. That includes hygienic and beauty products.

Hippocrates, the Greek physician from truly “yesterdays” times of 460-377 B.C. and considered the founder of modern medicine, said it best. “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” He knew that the key to good health was a healthy lifestyle and diet; a diet of food as nature intended: wholesome and pure, which actually prevents disease. When sick, nature can also be the healer of disease, especially when we come to know all that it has to offer in its wonderful creation. After all, Psalms 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.”

The earth in all her bounty is full of plants that contain countless compounds that are nothing short of amazing. Certain oils, called “essential oils,” were used in ancient times for their healing and therapeutic properties. In fact, they, and honey, have even been found in Egyptian tombs.

Essential oils come from the stems, roots, flowers, and other parts of aromatic plants. They are extracted through a low heat distillation process using high pressure steam. A “CPTG,” or “certified pure therapeutic grade” oil is not diluted nor does it contain fillers. It has no artificial ingredients and is free of pesticides. Unlike the perfume industry that obtains oil under a high-heat process just for the aromatic qualities, a certified essential oil is much, much more potent. Just as honey in stores, the high heat process kills most of what is really good in it.

Like high quality foods, the best essential oils are not found at dollar store prices. Part of the equation includes the amount of plants needed to extract the oils. For example, according to the book, “Modern Essentials,” which also describes the distillation process, it takes several hundred to several thousand pounds of plant material to extract one pound of pure essential oil. But as the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In other words, it’s worth some extra effort and money up front to keep healthy and to prevent bigger problems down the road with either the diseases themselves or the many adverse side effects of synthetic drugs and ingredients.

Why do essential oils work so well? “Modern Essentials” also sheds some light on this subject.Oils can be diffused in the air, applied to the skin, or taken internally. To name just a few of the benefits, the oils are so small in molecular size that they can quickly penetrate the skin and cell membranes throughout the body. They stimulate the immune system, are powerful antioxidants, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and anti-infectious; thus resulting in the ability to prevent or fight off a plethora of conditions. According to the book, essential oils are able to pass what is called the “blood-brain barrier,” so that they can be part of a treatment for such diseases as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and MS.

Basil, bergamot, cilantro, cinnamon, cypress, eucalyptus, frankincense, ginger, grapefruit, helichrysum, lavender, lemongrass, melaleuca, myrrh, oregano, peppermint, rosemary, thyme, wild orange, wintergreen, and ylang-ylang are just a few of the essential oils at our fingertips. Peppermint and ginger are good for digestion. Lavender is good for relaxation and the nervous system. Geranium and frankincense are good for skin. Wintergreen is good for pain. Grapefruit is good for weight control and lemon for cleansing. The key is to do your own research from many good books to learn more about specific oils for specific conditions.

Getting back to deodorant and moisturizers, who wants “poisons” accumulating in your body? Some research is quite alarming regarding what these products contain just to maximize such things as their shelf life or to enhance color. Numerous sources tell us the ingredients to avoid, many of which create an imbalance of important hormones and have been linked to cancer and other serous aliments. Believe it or not, some of these products contain the same ingredients as anti-freeze solutions! A quick list of some to avoid in health and beauty products include parabens, sulfates, glycol, mineral oil, DEA, MEA, TEA (thanolamines), DMDM, FD&C colors, phthalates, chlorine, triclosan, and fragrance (parfum). Don’t be fooled by the last one in thinking it’s a natural source for aroma. Unless it states otherwise, it is most likely a synthetic mixture of all kinds of chemicals and is not from an essential oil. That alone, according to several sources, could trigger asthma, headaches, dizziness, hyperactivity, and wreak havoc on the nervous system.

Go the natural way and avoid all these problems. Use ingredients that are pure enough to eat. All you need for an effective deodorant is a paste made of baking soda and water. For fun, try adding an essential oil such as lime for its refreshing and stimulating properties, which is great for your mood too. Cut a small square from an old t-shirt and sprinkle it with a few drops of lemongrass oil as a dryer sheet that can be used over and over. Use a lemon essential oil mixture to clean off your counters.

Finally, by all means, stop spending a fortune on fancy moisturizers. Something as simple as coconut oil will do the trick. A personal favorite however, is a recipe concoction that includes among other things, beeswax, honey (Hippocrates’ favorite “medicine”), and three essential oils all great for the skin including lavender, geranium, and frankincense; the last so special that it was even given to the Christ child.

Make it a good week and remember the sage advice of Hippocrates. It’s time to rediscover nature’s wealth. Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Mary Burns Deas writes a weekly column for the OBSERVER. Comments may be directed to