Food as Medicine?

Who hasn't heard or seen the quote, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." Supposedly, Hippocrates has been reported to have come up with this famous statement. However, the author of this quote is debatable mainly. It's important to know because this sentence may be the reason behind the fallacious thinking for treating some diseases with diet.

With that said, I will be the first to stand behind living a healthy lifestyle and eating a high-quality diet. Even a small amount of weight loss through a healthier diet and exercise can improve health significantly. Additionally, the phytochemicals, fiber, and antioxidants in plant-based foods may help prevent diseases, including cancer. Food can be a powerful tool in prevention and treatment and, not surprisingly, one of the newer trends in wellness is for doctors to write prescriptions for healthy eating. With so much focus on healthy foods and access to more recipes, grocery lists, and portion/calorie controlled menus, doctors are beginning to use this as a springboard to health improvement.

None of these things are problematic and are an essential part of treating the whole person medicinally. Based on some recent discussions I've had, I felt it was important to distinguish between treating illness with food and treating disease with medicine. They are not the same. Yes, they work together, but you can't follow the most stringent, nutrient-packed diet and expect to be cured of aggressive, debilitating, or genetic disease. Unfortunately, many are trying while forgoing conventional treatment, and the results can be catastrophic.

First, what is food? As I said previously, food is powerful and can and does have an impact, mainly when one follows a poor diet over time. Obesity, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer can result. Food is also meant to be enjoyed. Food is part of our culture, social and family relationships, and the vitamins, minerals, fiber, fat, and macronutrients that are included are essential for life.

The dilemma comes when we take the power of food and disregard the power of medicine by replacing it. There are many health proponants who are propagating these false beliefs that don't have scientific evidence behind them and can have potentially disastrous results when applied clinically.

Because people want to have control over their bodies, treat illness, and do it the "natural" way, they buy into these theories. Diet is, in fact, only one of many factors which affect our health. Physical activity, genetics, and environment all play a vital role.

Medicine, on the other hand, is a method to treat and prevent disease. You can eat the healthiest diet in the world and still need medication to treat a sickness you may have. For example, the person who has diabetes who strictly follows their diet still needs insulin to stay alive. Food is not medicine. The child who contracted a virus may eat very healthy meals at home but still needs medication to treat the sickness. Food is not medicine. Cancer strikes even those who eat plant-based, high-quality diet regularly, and they still need conventional medicine to help combat it. No doubt the healthy intake helps to stay active through treatment, but it won't cure the disease.

The idea of "Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food" has lead to a deluge of pseudoscience and quackery. I have seen and heard of people being hurt by these philosophies in several cases. Some may forgo life-saving medical treatments in favor of alternative therapies that treat disease with food. In one such case, a cancer sufferer was advised to use a juice cleanse to cure her aggressive cancer by an alternative health practitioner.

People get sick. Sometimes it has nothing to do with their diet, and they need real medicine to become well. Food is just food. Medicine is medicine. Both of them are essential but are not the same.

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