Food as Medicine: The First Principle of Prevention
I rarely talk much about diet, mostly out of resignation that it is a topic so fraught with confusion and a habit so resistant to change. You’ve all lived long enough to have been bombarded with new fads, new trends and often contradictory recommendations. Though armed with some clear approach to lose weight or clean up offending food habits, we still find ourselves returning to what’s familiar and comforting. I don’t want to tackle here the complex psycho-emotional issues and chemical realities of addiction (as for me and so many, especially around sugar, I believe we are talking about addiction.) And though I believe it’s important, I want to put aside the moral and environmental issues around eating animal protein. What I do want to underscore is the idea that food is our first medicine, and the misuse or overuse of food can be the cause of the injuries that we hope to heal.
Last time I wrote about the work of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation. While there is no clear understanding of what causes Alzheimer’s, what is known is that the brain is a fleshy organ that needs the right nutrition, plenty of oxygen, protection from the oxidizing impact of stress, and quality sleep to allow for repair and reorganization. ARPF’s first pillar of prevention is diet and supplements. Their recommendations are:
- 20% “good fats” such as extra virgin olive, avocado, flax seed, or coconut oil; nuts and Omega-3 from fish
- 40% lean protein from fish, chicken, turkey and soy
- 40% complex carbohydrates from fresh vegetables, legumes, and whole grains
- “super-foods for the brain: blueberries, spinach and others” (I would point to importance of phytonutrients, as well as the anti-inflammatory effects of garlic and spices such as turmeric and capsicums)
- They urge everyone to take a high potency multivitamin along with mineral supplements that includes folic acid. They also point to the impact of Vitamin C taken along with Vitamin E in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The whole list of memory specific nutrients is available from their teaching materials in my office or online.
The key element in many of these considerations is the role of inflammation, the cumulative and often destructive response of the body to irritants. What causes inflammation in one person is not necessarily the same as in another, though we know that the modern diet high in refined carbs and sugars is a major culprit. The imbalance of organisms in our gut fed by certain food choices also contributes to inflammation. And it goes without saying the ever multiplying list of additives and industrial chemicals we ingest from food and the environment is a burden to healthy tissue.
To quote James Baldwin, “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed if it is not faced.” Following a preventive and supportive diet is a daily challenge, but without clear knowledge we fall prey to the misguided habits or our youth and the ubiquitous influences of commercial food and restaurant interests. I urge us to become our own clinicians and see our diet as the first prescription we fill.
For more good information, both Lathrop libraries have collections of newsletters and special reports from among others: Tufts University School of Nutrition Science, Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic. Thanks to David Morrisey for his help with this in Northampton.
Arthritis Advisor, Mayo Clinic Health Letter, Harvard Health Letter courtesy of David Morrisey
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