Birthings, Grassroots Healing, Musings, Reflections, Spirituality

The Mother Within

For Mum. Love you xo

 

“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love  her; rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn for her; That you may feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her breast, that you may drink deeply and be delighted with the abundance of her glory”…”behold I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like a flowing stream. Then you shall feed; On her sides shall you be carried and be dandled on her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”

This is one of my favourite passages out of all the writings of the Prophets. It’s hard to imagine now of this troubled city, but it speaks of a time to come when a true, everlasting peace shall flow out of Jerusalem to bring comfort and healing to the whole world. The poetry evoking the maternal archetype is sublime. It touches that deepest part of ourselves, to that tiny baby that still exists deep in our core, who still craves the tenderness and comfort and nourishment that only a mother can give. The archetype is universal in its application, whether we experienced it with our own mothers or not, it gives us hope.

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Carnations. My mums favourite. image source: Wikimedia commons.

The purpose of introducing this post with this quote is not to discuss or expound the belief system that it comes from, instead this central concept of drinking deeply of this outflowing comforting peace reminded me of an interesting parallel to that other, and equally archetypal mother we continue to carry within ourselves – the Extra-Cellular Matrix.

Today it is Mother’s Day here in Australia, so I thought it fitting to drop a post about a thought process that I recently shared on Facebook, that as Matthew Wood noted, makes the Extra-Cellular Matrix exceptionally human, and in my pattern-attuned mind, Divinely inspired. It came to me whilst listening to Matthew talk about the mucopolysaccharides in Marshmallow Root (which gives a cold infusion of the root a slimy, gel like consistency) and how in practice we might use it in ‘leaky gut syndrome’ because it is similar to the Matrix material which acts as something like a mortar in between the cells in the gut lining. I’ll explain what this means and revise what the ECM is as I share my thought process here in the fulness of its progression.

Which came first, the protein or the Matrix? For a long time, alternative health practitioners have said that dairy/milk is mucous forming^, it’s acidic (when pasteurised and homogenised), and it’s one of the top food allergens. Mainstream medicine and mainstream dieticians have always refuted these concepts, possibly dependant on where their funding came from. This post/thought process isn’t about the inherent good or badness of dairy in the diet, nor is it an invitation to debate whether breast really is best (it is), rather I am drawing correlations in regard to the role of the Extra-Cellular Matrix in the effects of milk on the human body – particularly the infant human body.

Many years ago, during a semester of Nutritional Biochemistry, I learned that babies are born with purposefully designed ‘leaky guts’. That is, their gut membrane is full of tiny little holes^^. These tiny perforations don’t seal up until the appearance of the first teeth. There’s an ingenious reason for this. Mother’s breast milk, especially the Colostrum of the first 2-3 days post-birth, is full of proteins such as antibodies and other immunity-founding components, as well as the macronutrients – fat, carbs, and protein. The ‘leaky gut’ of the baby allows these large proteins to move through and start establishing a good foundation for the immune system. Different microflora species, as well the food they need are also found in breast milk, and this – along with the flora received during the normal birth process – helps to establish the baby’s own gut microbiome. We now know that a healthy microbiome has far-reaching health affects – from our immunity to our mental health.

My understanding is that the emergence of the teeth signals that along with this sealing of the gut membrane, the baby is now ready for solids and other foreign proteins – found in other animal products and grains in particular. Introduction of these prior to this milestone confuses the fledgling immune system and sets up an immune response, which if coupled with other foreign intrusions (such as formaldehyde, aluminium, mercury, and recombinant DNA from bovine, porcine, and simian tissue, and aborted human foetal tissue – also known as Human diploid cells MRC-5), results in the development of allergies and food intolerances. But in learning about the ECM (extra-cellular matrix), I’ve now come to a slightly more developed understanding.

The ECM is the gel-like fluid that exists between the capillaries, the lymphatic vessels and the cells themselves. It consists of single-molecule width polymers such as glucosamine and hyaluronic acid. This ‘matrix’ receives nutrient and metabolic waste product like some central transport station which then organises where everything needs to go. Whereas once the cell theory (that is, the cell was an autonomous unit that regulated itself) dominated medical thought (and still does), researchers have since found that it is actually this Matrix that regulates all cell function, and acts as a unified whole throughout the body as an organ in its own right. Most recently it has been rediscovered by mainstream science and is now known as the Interstitium. By and large this is the organ that the treatment of alternative practitioners targets the most. And we were doing this intuitively long before the mainstream got wind of it.

I’ll let Matthew, referencing Alfred Pischinger, the doctor who brought the Interstitium to the fore, describe the Extra-cellular Matrix with his usual eloquence;

“It was Dr Alfred Pischinger (2007) who demonstrated that the pathology and biology based on the cell as the basic “unit of life” was a delusion resulting from superficial observation and disregard for the complexities of natural systems. His research on the extracellular matrix is still to be appreciated in conventional medicine, but Pischinger has shown that the basic functional unit of life is the capillary/matrix/cell. The cell in a multicellular organism does not control itself, like a person or an animal, but is controlled by the matrix, which determines when and what it east, when it releases waste products, whether it reproduces or migrates, ad how actively it contributes to the life of the organism as a whole. The matrix is fed and drained by the capillary bed (including the lymphatic capillaries), and therefore this triad is the basic unit of life. Changes in the cell are related to changes in its environment, and changes in this environment are related to changes in the circulation.“(Wood, et al. 2015. Traditional Western herbalism and Pulse Evaluation: A conversation.)

klimt 1905 mother and child
Gustav Klimt.1905. Mother and Child.

Now I have to wonder, as I examine breast milk more closely – yes, it seems to be the same consistency as ECM fluid – indeed most secretions in and from the body are composed of this fluid. With this in mind, I contemplate whether the importance of breast milk lies not so much in the immune proteins etc that it provides (although the love, comfort, and nutritional nourishment is paramount), does it – as an extension of the mother’s matrix – actually entrain the baby’s matrix? We might compare this with how the mother’s heart entrains the baby’s heart to beat at a regular rhythm, or the mothers breathing patterns entrain, or teaches the baby to breathe more slowly and evenly. This speaks to the instinct to carry our newborns around, or sleep next to them, keeping them close to our hearts, now sadly often over-ridden.

When we introduce milk from another animal before the appropriate time, does the baby’s body instead recognise that this matrix material simply does not carry the same ‘vibe’ as the mother’s matrix? After all, as I write this I have to conclude that amniotic fluid also has its origins in the matrix fluid, and given that the baby has spent some 40 weeks being bathed in this very personal imprint of his or her mother, I suspect that the similarities would be instantly recognised – at least on a sub-conscious or instinctive level.

This is important, because if we understand the incredible significance of this Interstitium, this Matrix (interestingly, from the Latin – also meaning ‘mother’), on the regulation of our bodies and our overall health, then surely we should come to a greater appreciation of how important this innately human liquid gold is to our children.

I think another fascinating tangent off this is that for women who, for whatever reason, can’t breastfeed, the historical record going back to the most ancient of annals tells us that until we felt the need to sterilise our experience of life, finding a wet-nurse seemed instinctive. The wet nurse was a surrogate nursing mother, and often this was another mother, relative, or a hired servant. Occasionally, in the most dire of circumstances or in the mythological realm, the wet-nurse was an animal. But even the thinking that the intelligence of the wet-nurse would be inherited by the nursling is telling. And to complete the continuum, I was recently discussing this thought process with my own Mum, and she mentioned that when I was a baby her doctor told her that the baby’s saliva is exactly the same as the Mother’s. Instinctively, during the introduction of solid foods and foreign proteins, many mothers throughout history in all cultures would chew the food first before giving it to the infant. This instinct began the process of digestion, reducing the food to a mush and therefore making it easier for the baby’s young digestive tract to recognize and accept. I’m not one to think that the ancients were clumsily fumbling around in a darkness filled with the cobwebs of superstition. I think that they knew and experienced life in its full expression, something that most of us might only dream abou

It is beyond the scope of this platform, as well as your attention to go as deep as the subject will allow here, so if you would like to know and understand more about the Extra-cellular Matrix, particularly in regard to how we work with it through herbal medicine, keep an eye out for Matthew Wood’s new book on the subject, publishing sometime in the next year. A preview of his work on it can be found at www.matthewwoodinstituteofherbalism.com

I find that the physical manifestations of the untainted creation are an expression of the spiritual, and so some of you may continue to run with this concept of a unifying Matrix and consider what upholds and sustains the universe and keeps the planets and the stars in their orbits, or Who binds the cluster of the Pleiades, or loose the belt of Orion?

I will leave you to ponder.

 

 

Until next time,

Blessings be on the Mothers xo

 

 

 

 

Addendums and continuing thoughts:

 

^ A 2013 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that bioactive peptides in cow’s milk do indeed induce mucous production in the neonatal rat jejunum (small intestine). The response appears to be a protective mechanism. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/133/11/3499/4817930

 

^^ It is now recognised that mouth-like openings known as ‘tight junctions’ exist in the gut membrane. Opiate-like proteins (bioactive peptides) such as those found in Gluten stimulate the release of a hormone called Zonulin which controls the opening and closing of these tight junctions, and this stimulation can give rise to gluten-sensitivity as the continual consumption of gluten-containing products keep these tight junctions open via the constant release of Zonulin, which then leads to an inflammatory response due to the entrance of the large foreign proteins in Gluten products that bypass normal digestion. Mammalian milk, whether from a cow, dolphin, or human also contains similar bioactive peptides that act like opiates in the body. This opiate like effect is evidenced by the ‘punch-drunk’ expression of a baby satisfied after a full feed from her mother’s breast, and why babies have a tendency to fall asleep whilst feeding. Further research is perhaps needed to determine whether these tight junctions in the newborn gut are permanently open and kept open by the continual supply of Mothers milk, or the perforations exist between the cells themselves and the tight junctions are not yet in operation until the teeth erupt.

Plant Medicine

Sustainable Healthcare – When Botanical Med Boffins Get Together.

As a Medical Herbalist, I belong to a professional regulating body. This is the National Herbalists Association of Australia. It’s the oldest, most respected, and well run complimentary medicine association in the country.

Like many professionals, my knowledge base doesn’t stop with what I learned all those years ago at university. I’ve learnt mostly from the plants and people that i work with, from personal study and research, and I also learn from the formal continuing education opportunities that the NHAA provides. One such opportunity was the recent  9th International Conference on Herbal Medicine that the NHAA put on (end of March – much has happened in between then and now, but I’ve been itching to write this post). Held over 3 days (oh why must it run over the Sabbath – thank goodness for conference recordings!), it was the best excuse for a semi-isolated nomadic practitioner to talk nothing but botanicals, phytochemistry, and grass roots clinical experience, and not have people look at you like you have two heads. In short, it was exhilarating and encouraging, and a good opportunity to catch up with old class mates, tutors, and colleagues, and make new contacts along the way. The presentations and presenters were world-class and cutting edge. Evidence-base and research driven was emphasised, but balanced well with a nod to our empirical roots, getting our hands in the dirt with the plants, and the importance of the heart-centred therapeutic relationship.

The theme of the conference this year was ‘Sustainability in Herbal Medicine’, which seemed to be the theme for March, as I had previously been made aware of a Kickstarter project by Ann Armbrecht (from Numen film fame – a post on that to come) for a new doco on sustainability in Herbal Medicine. The irony was that both were coming from opposite ends of the sustainability spectrum. While Ann is focussing on where our herbal medicines are coming from – are they sustainably grown or wildcrafted?, and although there were a couple of presentations on the former aspect of sustainability in Herbal Medicine, the NHAA conference focussed more on the sustainability of the profession of Herbal Medicine itself.

And I have to concur. In this age of the self-appointed health guru (read ‘coach’), where the internet is primary health adviser number one, and with a close runner up being those sensationalist columns in women’s glossies, Dr Oz, and health food shop marketing, are actual clinical visits to the medical herbalists and naturopaths becoming obsolete? Have we who have spent the better part of a decade burning the midnight oil to amass a diverse knowledge base spanning the biomedical sciences, the art of diagnosis, and the art of counselling, the complexities of phytochemistry, pharmacology and pharmacognosy, the intimacy of medical botany and it’s therapeutic application, the endless hours of learning to critique and then wade through the equally endless research papers, and then the practical application of it all in hundreds of hours of student clinic, in order to earn our degrees and our place as legitimate and truly holistic healthcare providers – have we done this in vain? Only to be trampled by the new fad ‘one size fits all’ cure-all health guru? The recent (and tragic) death, and ‘outing’ of some high-profile ‘wellness gurus’ in Australia has highlighted the contrast. As an interesting side note: as a trained wellness coach, giving actual medical or even health advice is not part of the coaching model. The goal of wellness coaching is simply to help people achieve their wellness goals, and to refer to a trained professional if there is a specific health concern.

So having ranted about that, back to the conference. In regard to the sustainability of the profession we are encouraged to contribute more to conducting our own clinical research (as a body of clinicians) building our own body of evidence-base research, and therefore taking ownership of our own herbal medicine (can anyone say ‘medical herbalists for the use of medical cannabis’? – sorry, another issue which may warrant a post sometime in the future).

Interspersed with this was new clinically practical information on the human microbiome (which i referred to in my previous post), the alarming incidence of gluten intolerance and it’s progression to auto-immune disorders, and the amounting evidence for the environmental toxin factor in the development of most degenerative diseases, as well as working with cancer patients, and managing other clinical presentations and measuring outcomes.  There was a LOT to take in, some of it not necessarily new to us (but new to science-backed evidence), but it was wonderful.

Perhaps my highlight was getting back to our roots and interacting with the actual plants – tasting, smelling, feeling, observing – the art of organolepsis. The difference in organic/biodynamically grown and conventional/commercially grown was clearly palpable.

There is a science and an art to this wondrous calling, and the NHAA managed to honour both seamlessly with this conference.

I realise that this post may seem a bit foreign to the lay person. I am not sorry. This practice that I find myself embraced by requires passion and compassion – for both plants and people. It is obsessive and demanding, yet utterly rewarding. So if nothing else, know this, we are a strange, us plant folk, but we are in love with what we do.

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