Healing Hijack

Healing Hijack

Vis Medicatrix Naturae

I want to share one of my favorite aspects of the human frame.  One of the founding Principles of Naturopathic Medicine, near and dear to my heart, is that the body has an innate ability to heal. When given the right conditions, the body will always move towards a state of optimal health and function.  Reflect on how many times you’ve nicked a finger, scraped a knee or bruised a shin in your life and now consider why there’s no trace left.  These are easily evident examples; so common that we lose sight of the miraculous wonder that has taken place.  At every moment of every day less evident but no less powerful healing continues so elegantly and perfectly that we have to be reminded or even informed to consider it.  Many years ago while navigating my own health challenges I experienced the deeply healing power of nature first hand and I see it in my clients every day.
Opium Poppy


vis medicatrix naturae (vēsˑ me·di·käˑ·triks nä·tōōˑ·rā) – the recognition by Hippocratic physicians that life is 


Hippocrates, regarded as the father of medicine, offered that the body is not a passive victim of illness or disease but persistently rebalances to counteract it and seek health.  In this framework the state of illness is not a singular disease or process but the outcome of the body’s efforts to rebalance and re-establish health.


For this to be true we must consider our actions that seem so contradictory to this noble idea.  Where is this innate healing intelligence when it comes to the foods that we crave that we plainly know are not good for us?  If the body has an innate ability to heal, why don’t we crave dandelion greens and beets all day long?

Healing Hijacked

In a strange way, the body IS trying to find healing in the less-than-healthy foods we crave, but simply put, the essential and powerful signaling is distorted, even exploited.

For instance, did you know that some of the most common foods we consume have morphine-like activity in the brain? Yes, components of many foods (“food opiates”) actually tickle the same receptor sites in your brain as the powerfully addictive drug morphine.  It’s perhaps no wonder you can’t eat just one potato chip!

It is no accident that these foods are addictive. Physiologically, we have hard-wired survival mechanisms the lead us to desire certain foods and it starts with breast milk.  Morphine in breast milk helps establish a strong bond between mom and baby. Feelings of love and attachment, lowered anxiety, and peaceful sleepiness are all shared by mom and breastfeeding infant.  This is particularly important for the human species because humans need a strong maternal bond to survive (versus other species who are more self-sufficient at an early age).  The human body has receptors for morphine and morphine-like substances all over the body.  The effects are real and they are powerful.

Across human history we haven’t changed much, genetically or physiologically speaking, but significant aspects of our environment have.  Our food supply has changed dramatically and today, we have food-manufacturers that have simply exploited our hard-wired survival mechanisms.

So, sticking with just “food opiates”, we need to recognize that many of the foods we crave contain these same addictive, morphine-like properties found in mom’s breast milk and our bodies are hardwired to seek them.  Again, it is real and it is powerful.  Dairy is one of them (other animals also secrete morphine for bonding) but we also have coffee, chocolate, gluten, and fructose at the top of the list.  There are a few more surprising ones like rice, meat, fish and spinach.  These foods can act on morphine receptors when they are not properly broken down by digestion (This shouldn’t happen… In a recent blog I go deeper into how the state of your mind reflects the state of your gut offering insights as to why different food can be addictive to certain people.).  The foods listed above are extremely common and you can imagine how quickly this list would grow to include many of your favorite foods.

So… there is a reason why the cookies in the office keep calling out to you. There is a reason why you cannot have certain foods in the house (because you wil eat them despite your best intentions). There is a reason why you have trouble sticking to a nutrition plan that is better for your health.  Foods are indeed powerful and greatly contribute to health AND to dis-ease.

Here’s the rub… the abundance and convenience of processed foods has us navigating a world full of powerful mood altering, pain altering, and taste-bud tickling substances like our “food opiates” that confuse the healing wisdom of the body.   Our inherent healing wisdom has been hijacked, perhaps with no ill-intent, but it has.  It becomes essential to consider that balanced, healthy eating is not a simple matter of willpower as these physiologic cravings will overcome your best intentions in the long run.  All is not lost, however, as you can break the errant craving cycle.

Recognize that it may require some extra persistence and commitment at first as withdrawal is common and cravings can peak.  We escort people through this process in our 21 Day Metabolic Cleanse and the good news is that these powerful cravings can be controlled in just a few days.  People are often surprised they break their sugar addiction in under a week. With a little work you can say goodbye to the cravings but realize these pleasure seeking pathways are hard-wired.  Without cravings you are free to make heathy choices, but if you lose sight of the their powerful effects, they will return in full.

Get It Back

Start by separating your cravings from hunger.  Is it a pang in your head or a pang in your stomach?  Then, employ tips, tricks and techniques for managing cravings when they come.

  • Staying ahead of cravings is essential.  When they strike you’ve got more work to do.  For instance, have a plan for the 2-4PM energy lull that is so common.
  • Addressing stress is fundamental.  Stress in all of its broad-sweeping forms… dehydration, lack of sleep, hunger, fatigue, mental/emotional stress, nutrient deficiency.  These engage physiologic drives to survive more intensely and trigger the pleasure seeking/pain-avoidance cycles.  You need to stay ahead of these to prevent cravings.
  • Adding higher protein, fiber and water content foods will stave off hunger and blood sugar dips longer.
  • When a craving hits drink some water and do something “physical”… get out of your head and into your body.  This could be as simple as walking, folding laundry or even jumping jacks.
  • For those that are struggling to manage cravings for foods or smoking on their own, we recommend Crave Arrest for an added boost.  It’s an excellent product containing neurotransmitter support and stress response support to diminish cravings.

Develop a plan that works for you, especially for when stress spikes.

As cravings subside across days and weeks the inherent healing wisdom will begin to restore and wiser health choices become easier.  Nourish your metabolism to ensure so your body does not crave these drug-like foods – by eating clean/unprocessed foods, lowering stress (easy- right?), restful sleep, adequate movement, balancing hormones and you got it – perfect digestion!

On a side: In an interesting study (by Zhiwei, et al) with rats, the researchers discovered that morphine “addicted” rats were less inclined to seek morphine rewards when removed from a distressing environment and given adequate rest, good food, decent living conditions, companionship, space to exercise, and adequate privacy.  I know it’s with rats but we can all imagine how enriched mental, emotional, and physical lives might lead to fewer cravings.


photo credit: quinn.anya via photopin cc