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Food As Medicine Touted As New Drug For Treating Chronic Illnesses

Apr 4, 2008
A powerful new drug -- one that you already take every day -- may help cure all chronic illnesses.

What am I talking about?

Just take a look at the end of your fork.

It's called food.

Although there's no magic bullet to prevent, treat, cure, and reverse most chronic illnesses, a growing body of research suggests that food is the most powerful drug we have to do just that.

Yet most medical schools never taught physicians about the two most important things we need to know -- nutrition and the role of the environment and toxins in our health.

My goal is to help my patients heal and get better and I have no particular allegiance to any type of treatment -- whether it is a drug, surgery, radiation, or new procedure.

But time after time, I find the most powerful, fastest acting, and most dramatic results come from using food as our main medicine.

I use food for healing, not because I believe it is better to use natural treatments than to use drugs, but because it works better and only has positive side effects.

These days, an increasing number of doctors agree.

This June, I will give the keynote speech on the history of nutrition and medicine at a course in Baltimore called "Food as Medicine," sponsored by the Center for Mind Body Medicine.

This ground-breaking course brings nutritional science to healthcare professionals in a digestible, practical, hands-on format.

The course was created more than seven years ago by Dr. Jim Gordon, who was the chairman of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine. He was recently honored as one of the five pioneers of integrative medicine by the Bravewell Collaborative and has been a leader in mind-body medicine, nutrition, and healing for nearly 40 years.

For the last seven years, Dr. Gordon has trained hundreds of practitioners, including faculty from more than 50 medical schools, which are now including this knowledge of how to use food as medicine in their curriculum.

That's a lot different from the early days.

Years ago, I attended a food-related meeting with the nutritionists, doctors, chefs, and owners of Canyon Ranch, where I worked. I emphasized that I believed the future of nutrition and the culinary arts must recognize the therapeutic value of food to heal chronic illnesses.

As soon as the words "food is medicine" left my lips, I was under attack.

The chief chef vehemently argued that food is only about good taste, not good health.

Luckily, this outdated view is changing.

An increasing number of food services, restaurants, and other institutions now recognize the healing power of food and are including healing foods as part of their offerings.

The "Food as Medicine" course addresses things that most practitioners never learn in medical school. These include the scientific basis of nutrition as a therapeutic tool, how we can eat in a sustainable way, and how the health of our planet has directly affected the health of our food and the health of our bodies.

The course stresses areas such as nutrigenomics, the idea that food is information that speaks to our genes and activates messages that create health or disease.

It also explores the role of stress, nutrition, hormone balance, the health of our gut, and the importance of detoxification and food.

The course is based on the basic tenets of Functional Medicine but is broken down into simple, practical tools practitioners can use every day with their patients.

It addresses specific nutritional approaches for conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, ADD, asthma, allergies, autoimmune diseases, fibromyalgia, and adrenal, thyroid, and neurodegenerative problems. We also teach practitioners about the use of nutritional supplements and cutting edge laboratory tests.

We also increase self-awareness -- and make it fun -- with food demonstrations and organic meals.

The faculty this year is amazing.

They include:

* James Joseph, a leading antioxidant researcher from Tufts University
* Collin Fogarty Draper, an expert in nutrigenomics
* David Ludwig, head of the obesity program at Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School
* Gerard Mullin, from John Hopkins Medical School
* Michael Lumpkin, a professor at Georgetown University Medical School
* Many other distinguished speakers

Kathie Swift -- the nutrition director of The UltraWellness Center -- is the course director.

The course will benefit health practitioners, including physicians, osteopaths, medical school faculty, nurses, nurse practitioners, registered dietitians and nutritionists, physician assistants, community healthcare practitioners, psychologists, mental health professionals, and other health professionals.

According to Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and one of the leading researchers in the world in nutrition, "It is time to end the confusion. 'Food as Medicine' presents the best current scientific evidence for physicians, nutritionists, and other health professionals who want to counsel patients and teach students."

But the course is open to everyone.

So I encourage all of you to tell your healthcare practitioners about it -- and consider attending yourself. This course provides tools and information to use the most powerful weapon against disease in the 21st century, your fork.

Remember what Hippocrates said:

"Leave your potions in the chemist's crucible if you can handle your patients with food."
About the Author
Mark Hyman, M.D. is a pioneer in functional medicine, practicing physician and best-selling author. A sneak preview of his book "The UltraSimple Diet" is available. See The UltraWellness Blog for more on Food as Medicine
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