On Making Food Thy Medicine

“Let food be thy medicine”

According to wellness expert and best-selling author Dr Mark Hyman, food is the most powerful medicine available to treat chronic disease. Joel Fuhrman, another physician, has noted that improper nutrition triggers cellular defects against which drugs are ineffective, but that such defects often respond well to proper nutrition. Chronic diseases like cancer, type II diabetes and hypertension have strong nutritional links, and can be reversed through diet alone. Medical students today are learning a little about the link between nutrition and disease. Nevertheless, almost 2500 years after Greek physician Hippocrates uttered the statement quoted above, the medical establishment in the West is yet to incorporate formal training in Nutrition into its medical school syllabus. Medicine as practised in the Western context is not healthcare, but sick care; and food as healthcare remains yet to be implemented by most practitioners.

Reversing the therapeutic order

In medical practice, the focus is primarily on treating symptoms of disease, with diet lying at the bottom of the therapy pyramid. Much greater emphasis is placed on surgery, pharmaceutical products and physiotherapy than on more natural and often equally effective methods including exercise and stress management as well as diet. However, a growing body of physicians now believes that, in most cases, treatment should start with diet.

Food and epigenetics

Epigenetic changes alter the physical structure of genetic material (DNA) without affecting the underlying DNA sequence. One such change is effected through methylation, the addition to DNA of methyl groups which act as chemical ‘caps’ that turn genes on or off, with consequences ranging from favourable to disastrous. Diet is one factor known to trigger epigenetic changes, which can be handed down from one generation to the next: in this manner, the dietary sins (or virtues) of parents are visited on the children. Other factors linked to epigenetic changes include obesity, exercise, smoking, alcohol intake, environmental pollutants, psychological stress and shift work. Apart from providing energy, food emits chemical signals that move the consumer’s physiology in the direction of health or sickness – depending on the type of food consumed. Food may be thus be regarded not merely as a set of macronutrients but also as information: a form of molecular intelligence that can influence genetics as well as physiology.

Food and pesticides

All commercial green crops get sprayed with pesticides, including wheat crops used in pasta, cereals and animal feed. One of the most commonly used of these is the herbicide glyphosate (formulated as Roundup), used on plant leaves to kill weeds. Once viewed as a safe product, glyphosate is now associated with cancer, birth defects and neurotoxicity, and carries multi-generational effects. Atrazine, another herbicide, has been shown to disrupt hormones, increase cancer risk and induce negative behavioural and genetic changes that are also passed down through several generations.

Recent findings suggest that an offspring’s risk of autism spectrum disorder increases following prenatal exposure to pesticides within 2,000 m of its mother’s residence during pregnancy, compared with offspring of women from the same agricultural region without such exposure. In one case study, food management was used successfully to treat sudden onset autism in which a school child, previously even-termpered and excelling academically, suddenly became violent and academically poor. Analysis showed that the affected child’s urine contained high levels of glyphosate. Six weeks on a highly modified organic diet led to undetectable urine glyphosate levels, accompanied by a complete reversal of the autism symptoms.

Making right dietary choices

Our body is constantly changing, and every diet choice affects that change. The American academic and farmer Wendell Berry famously observed that people are fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health, and are treated by the health industry, which pays no attention to food. In today’s information-rich world, it is possible for people to manage their own health and wellbeing through making the relevant dietary choices. In making such choices, an emphasis on foods that are rich in life energy can help reduce the impact of pesticides in the food chain. The following measures have been shown to exert a positive impact on heath:

Minimising food processing – to attain and maintain good health, it is important to eliminate from the diet such heavily processed foods as biscuits, cakes, crisps, tinned vegetables,sausage rolls, frozen pizza and microwaveable dinners.

Eating kimchi – and other fermented foods including kefir, kombucha, tempeh, yoghurt and apple cider vinegar. These foods add healthy bacteria and enzymes to the gut, increasing the health of the digestive system and enhancing the immune system. It is estimated that one tablespoonful of sauerkraut contains one trillion good bacteria, so that health advantages can be reaped with relatively small amounts.

Prioritising whole foods – these are unprocessed, unrefined plant foods that include whole grains such as brown rice, rolled oats and quinoa as well as fruits and vegetables. Such foods are rich in properties that nourish the microbiome and create good gut-brain connections, which activate genes in the brain that mediate wellbeing. Experts claim that 90% of body pesticides can be eliminated in one week on a raw organic diet.

Not everyone has access to organic foods. The most important rule for optimising health is to avoid refined foods while eating foods in season – which means buying locally. For those toxic foods that prove irresistible, following an 80:20 rule (80% of nutrient-rich and 20% of nutrient-poor foods) is a commonly agreed method for maintaining health while allowing oneself an occasional ‘treat.’

Foods for different effects

Many of these recommended foods facilitate digestion, and shift the microbiome positively:

Anti-inflammatory foods – turmeric, walnuts, pineapple, broccoli, green tea, flaxseed, lemon, berries, cantaloupe, kale, garlic and avocado.
Foods for the immune system – mushrooms, onions, garlic and honey.
Foods for prostate health – anise, Celtic sea salt, lychee berries, peaches, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, tangerines, watermelons and mangos.
Brain foods – nuts, bananas, seeds, tomatoes, dark chocolate, spinach, salmon, berries, eggs and avocado.

Conclusion

Our history and our own choices in life can have a massive effect on quality of life. Using food as medicine, we can change our genetic expression and health quality. In 1903, Thomas Edison predicted that the doctor of the future would use not drugs but nutrition to cure or prevent disease. While we await this beneficial development in the medical establishment, it is possible for us to begin making dietary decisions that will transform life and health into their best possible states.