Updated: Nov 8
Understanding the dynamic and interconnected nature of life
Homeostasis, maintaining balance in the body, ensures a steady and narrow range of internal balance, a state known as dynamic equilibrium, despite changes in the external environment. It is the body’s own biological thermostat regulated by feedback mechanisms and is crucial for maintenance and health of cells, tissues, organs, systems, and the whole organism. These feedback loops control these environments within normal ranges by reversing any internal upward (excess) or downward (deficiency) changes.
These are examples of healthy ranges resulting from homeostasis regulatory mechanisms:
Water balance (roughly 3 kg of water per kg of dry weight ~75%
Body temperature (normally between 36 – 38ºC)
Carbon dioxide concentration (normally 35 – 45 mmHg)
Blood pH (normally between 7.35 – 7.45)
Blood glucose levels (normally 75 – 95 mg/dL)
Interoception is also vital in this feat of balance. This is the ability you to access, identify and appraise internal body signals. A simple example is experiencing thirst. If you take a moment to connect with your inner body you can sense what is going on inside the body for the purpose of taking steps to support and maintain homeostasis (like drinking a glass of water in the above example) if necessary. Interoception include signals from these Systems:
Skin, Skeletal & Muscular - Protection, support & movement systems
Circulation & Immunity – Cardiovascular, lymphatic systems
Energy supply & Fluid balance – Respiratory, Digestive & Urinary
Coordination & Control – Nervous & Endocrine
Dis-regulation or disintegration of these systems can happen following lack of attention to some signs needing our corrective actions, sensory overload, undergoing debilitating illness, trauma, following aggressive treatment or after surgery among other disruptive triggers. These bring forth a juggernaut of compromises to the body as a whole. It could be problems such as under-nourishment due to improper nutrition or mal-absorption, hormonal imbalances (ie digestive enzymes), inappropriate pH conditions, abnormal tissue conditions such as deficient/dry tissue states or under active/cold states.
Getting accustomed to listening to one’s inner system whispers is important because we can start to sense imbalance and engage early with transformational herbal treatment, food medicine and/or corrective habits. From the example above, most people, but the time they are thirsty are already experiencing dehydration because they were not tuned into other signals from the body.
When practicing herbal medicine and food medicine there are protocols for addressing the deregulated body in order to bring the body back to its own homeostasis. As a therapeutic chef and herbalist my goal is always to looks for signs of tissue states in order to determine which foods and/or herbal actions to deploy to address the lack of balance.
In the case of the body having lost its proper
relationship with water element (beyond thirst) as indicated by either excess (overproduction of mucus, water logged tissues) or deficiency (dry and brittle nails & skin) the following herbal actions are carefully considered:
Alteratives (most are bitters): Plants and food that support the body and help it to return to proper functioning by aiding body in secreting appropriate enzymes that lubricate the system and best support overall metabolic process. Examples are: Herbs such as burdock root, cleavers, dandelion, yellow dock, aloe vera, barberry, Oregon grape, dandelion, red clover sarsaparilla, stinging nettle, and marshmallow root
Demulcents: Plants and herbs that are rich in mucilage and are able to soothe and protect irritated or inflamed internal tissues and organs. Examples are: marshmallow (both roots and leaves), comfrey, flax seeds, burdock, angelica, aralia (specifically has a lung affinity), slippery elm, and licorice (should be considered under professional guidance due to serious contraindications)
Astringents: these bind the mucous membranes and therefore help regulate inflammation. Examples are: sumac, red raspberry, yarrow and shepherd’s purse
Marshmallow(Althaea officinalis) root mucilage is exceptionally helpful in soothing, restoring and protecting the mucous membranes and provides protective and calming effects to irritated mucous membranes of the digestive canal, urinary, and respiratory canal. It coats irritated joints. It has complex sugar molecules (extracted with cold water) from the root which are clinically shown to have immunity boosting properties. The common oral use of the root of marshmallow against dry cough caused by pharyngeal and mucosal irritation, is related to the bio-adhesive properties of the polysaccharides to the epithelial mucosa, which protects the cells from mechanical irritations and microbial invasion (Sendker et al,, 2017). I often pair it with chamomile for its anti- inflammatory and mild sedative qualities to bring calm to the body so it can do the work of healing itself naturally.
Safe to use with no contraindications except it that it may delay absorption of other drugs if taken at the same time.
Hoffman, D. (2003). Medicinal Herbalism, The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press; Vermont; USA.
Culpeper, N. (1995) . Culpepers Complete Herbal. Wordworth Editions Ltd, Hertfordshire, UK.
Wood, M. (2008). The Earthwise Herbal Volume 1: A complete guide to old world medicinal plants. North Atlantic Books; Berkeley, CA, USA.