Food as Medicine
"Let Food be thy medicine and medicine thy food."
Before we had a medication to treat every condition, we had food. When is the last time you went to the doctor's office and were prescribed food to treat an ailment? Don't get me wrong, we have made many incredible advancements in the medical field and some medications can be extremely effective, however, I believe we can still learn a lot from Hippocrates' wisdom.
Modern medications are not always aimed at treating the root of the problem, sometimes they focus on alleviating the symptoms. Some also come with a variety of unpleasant side effects. The best part about using food as medicine is usually there are not side effects and often they are able to better address the root of the problem rather than the symptoms. Have you ever heard of someone taking a drug for one condition, but develop side effects so bad that they had to start taking another medication to help? That just does not seem logical or right to me. It's like putting a band aid over another band aid and thinking the wound will heal faster.
If only we knew of foods that decreased inflammation, lowered cholesterol and blood pressure. Food is more accessible, more affordable and easier on our body as a whole. What if I told you there are foods that do all of these things and more. Studies have shown that common foods can do many incredible things for our body.
So why don't our Doctors tell us about these foods prior to prescribing drugs? There are a variety of factors that go into this, but money is the biggest of them all.
The pharmaceutical industry in the US is a billion dollar industry. The top companies are bringing in up to 70 billion dollars a year in revenue and the industry as a whole is spending over 2 billion dollars in research and development annually. When an industry is spending 2 billion dollars in research and development, you better believe they are not going to want people talking about a food that is $3.99 per pound that can work better or as well as their billion dollar drugs. Simply put, there is no money to be made from food. Even the most expensive and exotic health foods cannot come close to the cost of some medications.
Another setback for doctors is the lack of evidence supporting the use of common food items for medicinal purposes. This again, can be tied to financial gain. To complete a large randomized control study, which is considered the highest level of evidence, you need money to support your work. Remember, the pharmaceutical industry spends over 2 billion dollars to fund that research to prove their medications are effective. Do you think the food industry has that much money allocated for research and development? Not at all. Most research completed on food is completed on a small scale and with a limited budget.
For example, one study that was completed on 10 people showed that eating 4 brazil nuts during a single meal resulted in a decrease in LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels by 20 points within 9 hours of consumption. It takes the commonly prescribed statin drugs 4 days to begin showing a decrease in LDL levels. After 30 days, cholesterol levels were tested again on each of the participants and their LDL levels maintained the improvement. Again, this study involved a single serving of 4 brazil nuts without any other diet modifications and cholesterol levels were improved for one month! The most common side effects from statin drugs are listed as headache, difficulty sleeping, muscle aches and weakness, dizziness and nausea and vomiting. The most common side effects of eating 4 brazil nuts…a little extra protein in your day?
Usually a study with incredible results like this would be repeated on a larger population to determine if it was a fluke or if in fact, 4 nuts can make such an impact on cholesterol levels. However, due to lack of financial incentive, this study was not reproduced. But when comparing the side effects of statins vs brazil nuts, do you think it would be worth a shot to start with 4 brazil nuts a month instead of a few pills a day? My thought is even though the research is not rock solid to support this claim, as long as there are not any ill side effects, you might as well try 4 brazil nuts a month first. It's inexpensive, easy and requires less effort than taking a prescription drug every day.
A larger study completed in 2015 in Australia followed 2,500 people over a span of 15 years. Their diets were tracked throughout this period and a surprising connection was made between the amount of nuts a person was consuming and the risk of death from chronic inflammatory diseases such as heart disease and stroke. People who ate more nuts had anywhere from a 25% to 50% reduction in risk of dying from these types of diseases over the 15 year study. A handful of other studies have also found the heart protective properties of nuts, especially walnuts. The best part about these studies is that they are not talking about an exorbitant amount of nuts. Most studies showed about a handful or two of nuts a day could do the trick. One study even stated 1/2 a walnut a day could be beneficial! Is there space in your diet for less than a single walnut a day if it could cut your risk of having a heart attack in the future?
Another under the radar food that could make a huge impact on how you feel is the spice turmeric. Turmeric has been used in Eastern Medicine for hundreds of years for its anti inflammatory and antioxidant properties. More recent research is showing that turmeric, along with many other common spices used such as ginger, rosemary and clove have the potential to decrease inflammation and pain as well as some over the counter medications. Studies completed on rats have shown doses of curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, were nearly as effective as cortisone in decreasing edema. Other studies have found that curcumin was as beneficial than pain medications in patients after hernia surgery.
Here's one more study to sink your teeth into. A study performed in 2013 on 110 people looked at the effect of ground flax seed on blood pressure in hypertensive patients. The study demonstrated a potent effect of flax seed consumption on patients blood pressures. Over 6 months of eating 30 grams of ground flax seed daily, participants decreased their systolic pressure (the top number) by 10 points and diastolic pressure (the bottom number) by 7 points. The decrease in pressure over the 6 months correlates to a 46% decrease in the risk of having a stroke and a 29% decrease in the risk of developing heart disease. Even more interesting, if a participate had a starting systolic pressure greater than 140, they dropped that number by 15 points.
Now that is a lot of information to chew on! By no measure does this information mean that you should go home and empty your medicine cabinet and start eating only flax seeds, walnuts, brazil nuts and turmeric. Before making any changes to your currently prescribed medications please discuss it with your doctor or pharmacist. What I hope you gain is some insight and knowledge and potentially peak your interest into a hidden world of food as medicine. Most of these foods have been found to be more effective as preventative medication. So if you don't have high cholesterol or elevated blood pressure, maybe adding a few brazil nuts and flax seeds to your diet will help you keep it that way. Next time you snack on some walnuts think about the impact your making on your health.