Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine once said, “Let food be thy medicine.”
Can food help prevent memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and other chronic illnesses? I believe it can.
In fact, I believe that food is the original and best medicine. Today this idea has become one of the guiding principles of healthy living. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Every schoolchild knows that one. Beyond that, there are certain foods that activate our body’s natural healing force. When this takes place-when we eat specific foods in a carefully chosen way–we are able to prevent and heal scores of ailments safely and effectively.
Ancient wisdom, mixed with modern medical science, shows us exactly how nutrition can be used to fight disease and foster well-being. Further examples utilizing this concept include using salmon as medicine, because of its rich content of the salubrious fat DHA, important for optimal cardiovascular and brain function. Soy, known for its isoflavones, which are anticancer, and the ancient yogic food combination of mung beans and basmati rice for healing chronic illness, especially in the elderly are other examples.
My intense interest in this topic led me to attend one of the most enlightening medical conferences I have ever been to.
The theme was “Food as Medicine: Integrating Nutrition into Clinical Practice and Medical Education” and was sponsored by The Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington DC., in association with the University of Minnesota and, Georgetown University School of Medicine. The conference was underwritten by a grant from the H.P. Wallace Foundation.
The meals served at the conference were organized to exemplify what we were learning: to take better care of ourselves and guide our patients. The food was absolutely delicious and gave all the participants the experience of knowing that if you eat well, you feel well and can have great energy and enthusiasm for life. Moreover, each day the conference began with yoga class which was so well attended that a second room had to be opened to accommodate all the people who wanted to start their day in a very positive way.
Like most physicians, I received very little nutritional education in medical school and as an anesthesiologist, healthful eating was nor part of my training. I’ve been studying holistic health and nutrition on my own, however, for over 20 years. Plus, as a clinician treating patients with short term memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other conditions, I have a rich and varied experience in prescribing dietary changes to help my patients heal. But I wanted to learn even more, because I had heard about most of it, although I had not studied it completely.
I fully understood the impact this material is going to have upon the lives of so many people. Upon delving deeper into this subject however, I realized just how profound this work is and I can tell you without hesitation that this is the future of medicine.
Let’s take the concept of food and nutrients as information-rich biochemical messenger molecules. This is far-reaching. As a board certified anesthesiologist, medical acupuncturist and author of seven books incorporating integrative concepts including yoga and meditation, I believe I understand the theory behind messenger molecules.
Food can send a positive or negative signal to your body. In fact, in a manner not unlike acupuncture, this message can affect your genes and the proteins they synthesize. Some foods are very stimulating and present a signal reflecting the frenetically-paced microsecond world in which we live. These are acid-forming foods or what Dr. Bland refers to as yang foods. Yang is a Chinese medical term meaning hot, or stimulating. When your body is too yang this imbalance can lead to pain from inflammation or may also lead to hypertension.
Red meat is a prime example of a yang food. It is digested to form amino acids which are themselves further broken down as they enter the bloodstream. Once in your blood, amino acids may relay a stress signal to the receptors on cellular membranes. This harmful cellular stress effect, especially when it occurs over and over again, may cause the genetic machinery to produce prostaglandins that can lead to the production of an inflammatory response. Over time this chronic condition of cellular “over stress” may lead to illnesses such as arthritis and autoimmune disorders such as lupus and cancer.
If the yang energy foods in your diet are balanced with some nice alkaline foods such as fresh organic fruits and vegetables, including asparagus, kiwi fruit and perhaps some watermelon, we are countering that negative signal which may lead to illness. This is referred to in Chinese medicine as yin or something that has a relaxed, soft or calming effect. In this way, food can either serve to cause serious illness over time, or food can be the best healing medicine.
We also learned about the importance of omega-3 fatty acids such as the DHA I mentioned was found in salmon. It is also important to provide adequate amounts of this good fat for optimal health and healing by using vegetarian sources such as flax and hemp.
In conclusion, learning to eat as medicine is an ongoing process and one that we would all be wise to pursue to retain brain longevity.