Food as Medicine?
Food Nourishes but Does it Heal?

This page deals with food as medicine and whether or not foods can be discussed in terms of healing or curing a disease.  Maybe all men are created equal but all foods are not.  Food can nourish us or kill us; it is our choice...but can it heal us? 

It has been said we are what we eat so what type of food are you?  

Heart attack to go

Are you burgers, fries, pizza, fried chicken, and Coke or "Pepsi please".

Plate full of health

Or are you apples, bananas, blueberries, broccoli, tomatoes, whole grain, soy milk or green tea?  Or maybe somewhere in between as most of us are.

What we chew, swallow, digest and absorb can dramatically extend or shorten our lives and educated choices in food can give us an incredible, wonderful lifestyle.  Bad choices can degrade our lifestyle to one of sickness and pain.  So if the wrong food can kill us, can the right food heal us?

The golden arches in Times Square

For sure the wrong food will kill us as so aptly verbalized by Dr. William Castelli, M.D. and Director of the Framingham Heart Study..."When you see the Golden Arches you are probably on the road to the Pearly Gates."

"Let Food be your Medicine"...
Sounds Like Food is Medicine

Hippocrates, honored by being called the "Father of Medicine", reportedly said, "Let food by your medicine and medicine be your food".  That quote naturally raises the question about the ability of food to heal. 

Hippocrates says yes, the FDA says no.  I'll put my money on the Father of Medicine any day.  There are so many wonderful quotes relating to food as medicine; here are two more. 

From Thomas Edison..."The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition".  Wow, if that doesn't point to food as medicine, what does?

And from Roger Williams, Ph.D, "The human body heals itself and nutrition provides the resources to accomplish the task."

It appears that some very famous people seem to think that food heals or at least is the source of healing.  Works for me but unfortunately, not our government.

According to the FDA, if we think of food as medicine or a food manufacturer makes any health claims for their product, then guess what; it's not food anymore, it's a drug and better have gone through the New Drug Approval process and have FDA blessings for those health claims.

What about that?   Oliver Wendell Holmes, a Supreme Court Justice and Medical Doctor, said, "If we doctors threw all our medicines into the sea, it would be that much better for our patients and that much worse for the fishes."

And Dr. Benjamin Rush, M.D. said, "Unless we put medical freedom into the Constitution, the time will come when medicine will organize into an undercover dictatorship to restrict the art of healing to one class of men and deny equal privileges to others; the Constitution of the Republic should make a special privilege for medical freedoms as well as religious freedom."

Never heard of Dr. Rush? Well, he was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and personal physician to George Washington.

What he meant by his statement is that men must be free to choose their own type of medical care, not have the government or one of it's unelected agencies dictate the type of care we may opt for.  He was very prescient since we are now at the point that he warned us about. 

He wasn't advocating universal medical care;  he was saying the government should not dictate what is medicine and what is not medicine and what type of treatment we can or can't choose.</p> 

When it comes to food as medicine, how far can the government go?  Think about going to your doctor to get a prescription for your Cheerios.

Speaking of Cheerios, as this is being written, a battle seems to be shaping up between General Mills and the FDA over health claims on the packaging of Cheerios breakfast cereal.   According to the FDA, General Mills' claim that "eating Cheerios can lower cholesterol 4% in six weeks" constitutes "serious violations" of FDA truth in labeling regulations.

Well, Cheerios is made of whole grain oats and we will examine the health benefits of oats shortly and make up our own minds.  Here's a relevent question...How many people die each year from eating Cheerios?  How about none. 

Another question...How many die from taking FDA approved, doctor prescribed drugs every year?  How about 225,000.  Please pass the Cheerios.

Why Not Take Food as Medicine?

Under their regulatory charter, the <a href=""><b>FDA</b></a> has responsibility for the safety of both food and drugs and they go to great lengths to ensure that drugs do what they are intended to do and are safe when taken as prescribed. 

After all, drugs are synthetic, have side effects, interactions and are poison.  I didn't make that up.  Around 1527 or so, Paracelsus, the Swiss father of modern pharmacology, said "All drugs are poisons, the benefit depends on the dosage".

Whether or not drugs actually heal or merely control symptoms is up for debate. 

Food on the other hand is a product of nature and we can't legally present food as medicine.  Food is not usually dangerous for consumption, that is, until we process it, inject it with preservatives and taste enhancing chemicals, or deep fry it in vegetable oil. 

The nutritional value of food varies considerably from home grown, organic food versus food farmed by a corporation on depleted soil, sprayed with pesticides, chemical fertilizers, possibly grown from genetically modified seed, green harvested, heat processed and filled with preservatives.  

The mass produced, processed, fast food, may not kill us as fast as a drug but can kill us just a surely over time through nutritional deficiencies and slow buildup of toxins and cardiovascular damaging chemicals and substances.

Since food is not as inherently dangerous as pharmaceutical drugs, there is some leeway given to the food producers by the FDA but they draw the line at health or cure claims.  When we think of food as medicine, we aren't really referring to the food itself but the micronutrients it contains and how they affect the body. 

The truth in labeling regulations and prohibitions against food producers making health claims really is designed to protect us.  On the surface, we need to be protected from false information and be protected from the chance that we might forego proper medical care by self-medicating with food as medicine.  

Most regulations grow out of past abuses and there have been plenty of abuses in the food and supplement industries.  The problem is that when government, politics and money is involved, common sense and reason go out the window.

Now most of the regulations flowing from the FDA seem to be geared to shielding the drug companies from competition from food companies and supplement manufacturers.

FDA Aside, Why not Promote
Food as Medicine?

Getting back to basics, the word "heal" means to restore to health and "health" is the condition of being sound in body, mind and spirit; or freedom from physical disease or pain (Webster's Collegiate Dictionary).

A well entrenched school of thought is that the human body is designed to heal itself and will heal itself if it is given the right tools.  The right tools are the full complement of micronutrients, carbohydrates, protein and fats that the body requires for energy, growth, repair, immunity and regulation of vital functions. 

It is often said that the most important nutrient is the one that's missing.

A common example used to make the point is the experience with scurvy in the British navy of the 17th and 18th centuries.   Scurvy was a feared disease, often fatal, that was characterized by degeneration of connective and muscle tissue, gum disease and anemia.  Now we know that it is not a disease at all but a deficiency in an essential nutrient, vitamin C. 

When the sailors were given limes or other sources of vitamin C, they did not get scurvy and those with scurvy recovered.  Did vitamin C cure scurvy?  Are Limes and oranges examples of food as medicine?  According to the Webster, it did cure scurvy because it restored the body to health.

In reality, there is no scurvy bacteria or virus to attack, no toxin to remove and no environmental condition to blame.  With scurvy, the body is missing a fundamental building block causing defects in structure and function.
When the missing nutrient is supplied, the body heals itself.  Vitamin C is a cofactor in the construction of healthy tissue, not a component of the tissue itself. 

Regardless of all the healthful benefits of orange juice, if Tropicana or Minute Maid put a statement on their product stating that orange juice "cures" scurvy, they would probably be hearing from the FDA. 

Why?  Because orange juice is not an FDA approved drug and only an FDA approved drug can make the "cure" claim.  What they can say is something to the effect that "orange juice contains 130% of the RDA of vitamin C per serving and vitamin C has been shown to support the construction of healthy tissue in the human body".

A Tropicana OJ carton says it has 130% of the vitamin C daily requirement but makes no health claim or "support" claim whatsoever.

 Food as Medicine:  Cereals

Cereal companies have been walking a fine line when it comes to presenting their food as medicine; reference the current Cheerios issue.  Saying that the soluble fiber in a cereal such as Cheerios or Quaker Oats helps remove cholesterol is apparently OK but saying that cheerios can lower cholesterol by 4% in six weeks is too specific for the FDA to ignore.

The Quaker Oats Old Fashioned Oatmeal label states that "as part of a healthy diet, the soluble fiber in oatmeal helps remove cholesterol"; no percentage of reduction or time frame is given.

Oats still in the husk

Oats contain about 55 percent soluble fiber and 45 percent insoluble fiber and a high percentage of complex carbohydrates. 

Such complex carbs have been linked to reduced risk of colon, breast, and prostate cancer; better management of diabetes; and fewer bowel problems such as constipation.  The B1 content in oats may be responsible for these results since vitamin B1 is required by the body for carbohydrate metabolism.

Oat flowers before harvesting

We may be justified by putting oats in that "food as medicine" category.  Over 12 years ago, in 1996, the Harvard School of Public Health conducted a study of more than 40,000 men that showed those with the highest levels of fiber consumption experienced a 35 percent reduction in the risk of heart attack compared to those with lower levels.

Tufts University followed that up with research showing that eating a diet rich in oats significantly reduced both blood pressure and cholesterol.

Has any cereal manufacturer ever filed a New Drug Application with the FDA for oats as a cure for cardiovascular disease, any form of cancer or any other disease? 

The answer is no, thus oats are not an FDA approved drug and cannot make any health or cure claim whatsoever.  Yet we keep on eating oats and reaping their health benefits so what's going on?  In a word, "prevention".  

Active Lifestyle toasted rice cereal says it contains "35% Daily Value of Antioxidant Vitamins A, C and E per serving"...and says "Supports Healthy Immune System with Antioxidant Vitamins A, C and E".  Does it heal anything? 

Is there an FDA approval to market Special K or Active Lifestyle rice cereal as a cure?  No and no.  Again we eat it for prevention and because it is low glycemic and doesn't cause an insulin spike and thus can manage diabetes.  The operative word is "manage", not cure.

Pick up just about any box of breakfast cereal and there will be some type of statement about it's health benefits.  Nevertheless, "food as medicine" does not apply even though they may be fortified with antioxidants, trace minerals, fiber or essential vitamins. 

We still must make smart choices on breakfast cereals since too many of them are highly processed, highly sugared trash that turn our kids into little hyperactive, obese, pre-diabetics.

Food as Medicine:  The Superfoods

Superfoods, as good as they are, still aren't food as medicine.   Superfood is a term applied to those foods that have medicinal properties in terms of supporting health. 

They are characterized by being rich in the antioxidant vitamins C and E, high in fiber, contain essential fatty acids, especially omega-3, and phytosterols.  In almost all cases they are fruits and berries, cruciferous vegetables, nuts and cold water fish.

These foods seems to fall into several natural groupings:  the antioxidants, the cancer fighters, the healthy hearts, the oils and essential fatty acids, and the fiber and probiotic gastrointestinal bacteria.

Blueberries and broccoli are especially hot today and are about as close as we can get to food as medicine. A very good article from presents the top ten health benefits of wild blueberries. Blueberries, number one on the superfood parade

The writeup cites studies and published articles backing up the healing claims of many micro-nutrients and phytochemicals in blueberries and uses words like "remedy" and "cure" in context of some chemical substances; not the blueberries themselves but the powerful, beneficial substances they contain.

Wild blueberries seem to have a justifiable reputation for food as medicine.  But they are not medicine and any suggestion that they do cure any disease will trigger a "cease and desist" letter from "you know who"...the FDA.

Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable and health organizations have linked them to lower rates of cancer. Like all cruciferous vegetables, broccoli naturally contains two important phytochemicals -- indoles and isothiocyanates.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore isolated from broccoli an isothiocyanate, called sulforaphane, that increases the activity of a group of enzymes in our bodies that squelch cancer-causing agents.

Broccoli; it belongs on your plate, every day

In addition, broccoli is chock full of both soluble and non-soluble fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and other phytochemicals. 

The verdict on broccoli is that it is effective in normalizing blood pressure, controlling cholesterol levels, promoting colon health, assisting in Alzheimer's, diabetes, arthritis and numerous other diseases of aging (is there really such as thing as a disease of aging)?

Enter the Avocado

The avocado is a fruit that almost no one ever thinks of as a superfood.  It is chock full of antioxidants, vitamins C and E which together help slow plaque build-up, potassium, magnesium, 11 different carotenoids which appear to protect us against certain cancers, and 20 other healthful nutrients.

The trick is that it has to be peeled properly in order to take advantage of all these nutrients since most of them are found nearest the skin.  So just peel it by hand like a banana.

Here is a link to Dr. Joseph Mercola's page on the Anti-Cancer-Benefits of Avocado in which he cites many studies supporting the health benefits of this remarkable superfood. He also offers a great infographic on avocados. Guacamole anyone?

Blueberries, broccoli and avocados were used as the prime examples of a superfood as medicine but a similar case could be made for cauliflower, walnuts, beans, soy and many others but the final verdict would be the same.  They aren't medicine and no "food as medicine" healing claims can be used in marketing.

Sunburst Superfoods

Are Nutraceuticals a form of
Food as Medicine?

From superfoods, we are inevitably drawn to nutraceuticals.  Ever Heard of Nutraceuticals?  No?  It is just a combination of the word "nutrition" and "pharmaceutical".

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While superfoods are real foods, nutraceuticals are generally extracts of foods believed to have a medicinal effect on human health. Most nutraceuticals are sold in a medicinal format such as a capsule, tablet or powder accompanied by instructions on the most beneficial dosages.  

Nutraceuticals also encompass products like probiotic drinks and active yogurt that support gastrointestinal health.  

The word "Nutraceutical" is intended to convey the message that the prodcut is demonstrated to have a physiological benefit or provide protection against a chronic disease. 

Examples of claims made for nutraceuticals are resveratrol from red grape products as an antioxidant, soluble dietary fiber products, such as psyllium seed husk for reducing hypercholesterolemia, broccoli (sulforaphane) as a cancer preventative, and soy or clover (isoflavonoids) to improve arterial health. Such claims are being researched and many citations are available via PubMed and the like to document the findings.

Other nutraceutical examples are flavonoid antioxidants, alpha-linolenic acid from flax seeds, beta-carotene from marigold petals, anthocyanins from berries, etc.

With the US Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), several other compounds were added to the list of supplements originally OK'ed as nutraceuticals. Thus, many botanical and herbal extracts such as ginseng, garlic oil, etc. have been developed as nutraceuticals.

The bottom line on nutraceuticals is that, while they may have a medicinal effect and are sanctioned by DSHEA, they are not medicines and do not cure or heal in the FDA meanings of "cure".  Why? 

Because none of them have gone through the FDA New Drug Application process and have demonstrated their efficacy through the gold standard of controlled double-blind, placebo clinical studies.  They are still preventative and supportive of various bodily functions and structure. 

Nutraceuticals (as well as supplements and herbals) belong to the wellness industry, not the sickness industry.  The sickness industry is the world of Pfizer, Merck, Glaxo and the rest of the drug pushers as well as the traditional medical community.

The Bottom Line...Forget About
Food as Medicine

It is as simple as "sickness = medicine" and "wellness = food and supplements".

The one fact that gets overlooked in the debate over drugs verses food as medicine is in the concept of wellness verses sickness. 

Medicine characterizes the sickness industry while food and supplements characterize the wellness industry.  Medicine is not prescribed when we are well, it is administered after we are already sick; food and supplements are preventive in nature.  Medicine doesn't prevent illness. 

We strive to eat healthy food and take supplements to compensate for the nutrients that are largely missing in our food supply today so our health won't degrade to the point that we need the pharmaceutical industry's products.

Food as medicine is limited to the extent that an illness is clearly and demonstrably the result of a nutritional deficiency and eliminating the deficiency will restore the body to proper function and structure.  We don't get sick because we have a deficiency of Crestor, Plavix, Lipitor, Prozac or any other prescribed drug.

Medicine Doesn't Prevent Illness? 
What About Vaccinations.

Obviously innoculations (vaccinations) are clearly for prevention and for our purposes, they aren't medicines.  Through vaccinations, we have eliminated such dreaded diseases as diptheria, polio and smallpox but there is a caveat. 

34 of these before entering school?

Vaccinations must be administered wisely and judiciously.  Infants and children today are bordering on being criminally over innoculated to the extent that there is debate over the possibility that so many vaccinations given so close together can cause other unintended consequences. 

According to Dr. Blaylock, M.D., on average, kids receive about 34 innoculations before entering school.

Have a shot of side effects

The autism debate still rages on and many are wondering if the rise in ADD, ADHD and bipolar disorders may be a result of over innoculation.

Rather than chase a "vaccination rabbit" on this "food as medicine" page, you can link to a paper on the dark side of vaccinations by Dr. Russell Blaylock M.D. titled The Truth Behind the Vaccine Cover-Up". Pretty scary stuff that we subject our kids to.

And in Conclusion, A Comparison
Having Nothing to do with Food as Medicine

We started out with a series of quotes dealing with food as medicine.  Let's close with a tongue-in-cheek comparison between two political hot potatoes; guns and doctors.  I would love to give attribution but the source isn't known; it was received in one of those funny e-mails from a reader.

About physicians:
(A) The number of physicians in the U.S. is 700,000

(B) Accidental deaths caused by Physicians per year are 120,000 (not counting prescription drug deaths)

(C) Accidental deaths per physician is 0.171.

Statistics courtesy of U.S. Dept of Health Human Services.

About guns:

(A) The number of gun owners in the U.S. is 80,000,000  (Yes,  that's 80 million..)

(B) The number of accidental gun deaths per year, all age groups, is 1,500.

(C) The number of accidental deaths per gun owner is .000188

Statistics courtesy of the FBI.
So, statistically, doctors are approximately 9,000 times more dangerous than gun owners.  Remember, "Guns don't kill people, doctors do."

Please alert your friends to this alarming threat.  We must ban doctors before this gets completely out of hand!!!!!

Out of concern for the public at large, the statistics on lawyers have been withheld for fear the shock would cause people to panic and seek medical attention!

I didn't put this in to disparage doctors, I love doctors.  The problem is that too many of them view food as the problem and would never think of food as medicine.  Also, I've talked to too many doctors that think of supplements as "snake oil".  Oh, well, they just don't know what they don't know.  There is hope, the times they are a'changing.

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