The science of health – food as medicine

A couple of weeks ago I woke up to an episode of “On Being” on Minnesota Public Radio. Krista Tippett, the moderator, led a discussion between Mark Hyman, Penny George, and James Gordon called “The Evolution of Medicine.” In a nutshell, the show was about the transition of medicine from “a science of treating disease to a science of health.”

I was snapped into consciousness by Mark Hyman, MD, saying: “I think one of the biggest scientific discoveries of the last 30 years is that food isn’t just energy, that it’s actually information that provides instructions in a literally minute-to-minute, bite-by-bite basis to everything that’s going on in your body.”

The episode was just finishing up, so I jumped out of bed, made my tea, and searched for the program online. I knew I needed to listen to the entire show before doing anything else with my day. 

The show encapsulated much of what I find to be true about health and healing in my acupuncture and nutrition practice. We must approach the body as a whole, functioning unit in order to figure out why something has gone wrong, and we must learn how to fuel and detoxify it properly to keep it functioning correctly. If we don’t do these two things, we are only managing symptoms and not assisting a person to shift into health.

I found Dr. Hyman’s comments to be particularly pertinent. Hyman has a functional medicine practice in Cleveland, Ohio. He defines functional medicine as “dealing with the causes and not just the symptoms, dealing with the body as ecosystem, or looking at the whole organism, not just the organs.”

Functional medicine, Hyman goes on to say, “is basically dismantling ou

r concepts of disease, yet it’s completely absent from most medical institutions and thinking in medical schools. It’s as big a paradigm shift as ‘the Earth is not flat, Earth is not the center of the universe.’ It’s huge.”

I recommend the entire “On Being” program, but if you would prefer a synopsis, here are some highlighted quotes from Dr. Hyman:

  • “We now think you have a disease or you don’t. But the truth is that disease arises from an imbalance in the system. I think of functional medicine as being like a soil farmer, as opposed to an industrial agriculturist, who is putting chemicals on the plant. We’re actually taking care of the soil so disease can’t actually occur, or it [disease] goes away as a side effect of creating health.”
  • “When we eat real, unprocessed, organic foods to get our necessary nutrients and avoid sugars and all processed foods, which add toxins to our system and rob our bodies of nutrients, our bodies begin to heal. It is really quite amazing. and the way to avoid and turn around chronic disease.”
  • “You literally change your gene expression with every bite. You change your immune system. You change your gut flora, you change your hormones, you change all the protein functions in your body, and it has a direct effect on every function, either for good or the bad, depending on what you’re eating. When you realize this, it changes your relationship to food. It’s not just a source of energy or pleasure, but actually transformational.”
  • “We don’t, in medicine, know how to use food as medicine. We use drugs, we use surgery, but we have no insight that food is connected to health in most cases. And yet it’s the most powerful drug, and it works faster, better, and cheaper than any drug on the planet.”
  • “I’ve had people change their diets in three days; they got off 50 units of insulin. There’s no drug that can do that. People have autoimmune disease, they can be pain-free in weeks simply changing their diet—and get off very expensive medications.” 
  • “We really can shift the way we think about treating disease to be primarily food-based. I think the two big insights, really, are that food is medicine, and that the community is medicine. It’s not just a delivery mechanism. And you put those two together it’s like rocket fuel for transforming health.”

As Dr. Hyman states, you can make huge changes in your health by just changing your diet. If you want to take it one step further and provide structure to the process, Nutrition Response Testing is an amazing tool to find out exactly what your body needs nutritionally. It also can identify if there are toxins in your body that are creating unwanted symptoms, and what the best solutions are for handling them. Basically the system creates the environment in which the body can begin to heal itself.

“Everybody has that capacity to create that change in their own life, in their own body, and in their community, and that’s where it really has to start.”