23 May 2024
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Is food really the best medicine?

Dr Ross Walker
25 October 2021

Two and a half thousand years ago, Hippocrates, the father of medicine stated: “See food as medicine and medicine as food”. This prophetic statement is as true today as it was back then. Today's conservative doctors have this belief that if you can't fix it with a prescription pad or a scalpel, then the other therapies available are at worst snake oil that may even do harm and are, at best, pure placebo.

What many people don't realise, however, is that the combination of all lifestyle factors has a powerful effect on health outcomes. Practising the five keys for being healthy, which I write and talk about all the time, reduces your risk for all modern diseases somewhere between 70% to 80%. Standard pharmaceutical therapy reduces your risk for the same types of diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer in the 20% to 30% range.

However, over the past 10 years, there have been enormous advances in both cardiovascular medicine and cancer treatments, which has seen much better outcomes for these conditions. Regardless, the people who receive the best outcomes are those who live the healthiest lifestyles.

A recent report published in the journal Pharmacological Reviews from Utrecht University reviewed 200 studies revealing that high-quality nutrients in our food have a profound effect on our cells and, in particular, our immune system. 

This study demonstrates that specific nutritional components can positively affect inflammatory responses and allergic reactions. To understand how this works it’s important to have a basic understanding of the cell. In my opinion, the three key components of the cell are the nucleus (which contains the genetic material), the mitochondria (which are the fuel packs of the cell producing energy to maintain cell function) and the little spoken about but vitally important membrane of the cell (which is the interface between the external environment and the inner workings of the cell).

Some research suggests that the membrane is, in fact, the “brain” of the cell. On the surface of every cell are thousands of receptors, which are basically doorways that allow external stimuli to affect different processes occurring within the cell.

There’s no doubt that consuming 2 to 3 pieces of fruit and 3 to 5 servings of vegetables per day is a significant health practice that leads to low rates of heart disease and cancer. Tragically, less than 10% of our population practices healthy lifestyles, including the ingestion of the above amount of fruit and vegetables. 

Our macronutrients are fat, protein and carbohydrates, which basically form the fuel for cell metabolism and, in the case of proteins, the building blocks for all our proteins and enzymes

But fruit and vegetables also contain a vast array of plant chemicals known as polyphenols, along with a variety of micronutrients which include vitamins, minerals and trace metals. The polyphenols, in particular, have a profound effect on the receptors on our cell surface and therefore maintain vital cell-to-cell communication and communication between external stimuli and the inner workings of the cell.

The study from Utrecht University demonstrates the vital importance of many of these high-quality natural nutrients in modulating the important processes that occur in our body and dampen down inflammation and allergy. Inflammation is a key component of the generation of our typical modern killers, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and respiratory disease, which make up over 70% of the deaths around the globe on a yearly basis.

Pharmaceutical drugs work through a similar mechanism but because they are not natural chemicals they may often damage many of these natural processes going on throughout our body.

As we age, the vast majority of people living in the modern world develop a variety of chronic complaints requiring pharmaceutical medications but the strong message from my work, reinforced by important trials studies (such as this one from Utrecht University) demonstrate clearly the value of the effects of high-quality nutrients on cell function.

Hippocrates knew this two and a half thousand years ago and it is somewhat sad that we see medical therapy as a pill or a procedure rather than the vital importance of leading a healthy lifestyle.

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