An Apple A Day: Our Food IS Medicine
The headline says ‘How Some Doctors Are Looking to Food to Treat Illness,’ and to that, I say, “Join us!” Training for Naturopathic Doctors includes far more time dedicated to micronutrients, macronutrients, and nutritional dietary therapies than MD training and therefore, it is not at all uncommon for Naturopaths to prescribe dietary changes to a patient. Using food as medicine is engrained in us through our training and supports one of our most basic principles to Treat the Whole Person. This involves addressing not only the person’s current symptoms, but their nutritional status, lifestyle, family history, physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental and social factors. This more comprehensive approach to treatment is becoming more and more popular among MDs, with doctors like Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Oz, Dr. Mercola and the like, coming to the forefront and urging people to come around to the truths and practices that Naturopathic Doctors have known all along.
Sometimes, a dietary prescription is a comprehensive therapeutic diet aimed at a particular goal, like using the FODMAPs diet for a SIBO diagnosis or the DASH diet for treating hypertension. Other times, dietary advice is aimed toward overall wellness and disease prevention and, in my opinion, should include both what needs to be added to the diet and what needs to be taken away. More broccoli, fewer carbs, yes! I can’t count how many times a month I have to tell a patient to drink more water. This may or may not be followed with, less soda, coffee, alcohol. Less refined sugar, more protein is one that comes up a lot as well.
Additionally, I may ask the patient to eat more foods that contain a particular nutrient that would be beneficial to their condition. Most commonly, these are probiotic rich foods, foods high in iron, Vitamin A rich foods, and foods high in Omega-3 fats. Perhaps more obviously, I talk to patients about how to avoid and substitute foods that have a direct adverse impact on their health, like gluten for someone recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease or cheese for someone who is histamine intolerant.
I recognize that with the way our healthcare system is set up, most doctors don’t have the time to have in-depth conversations with patients about their food choices. Sometimes people need to make a separate appointment to discuss diet and food choices, or they should see someone who will have more time, like a Naturopathic Doctor, nutritionist, or dietician. I’ve also heard doctors say they’ve given up on discussing food with their patients because they meet too much resistance and they don’t think the patient will do it anyway.
Talking to patients about their eating habits can be difficult. Changing eating habits can be difficult. It is important to acknowledge that the way that we eat, when, and why, can be entangled with deep social, cultural, and emotional influences.
Making dietary changes can require a lot of support at first, and doctors need to see that people get it because eating differently can help people improve so many different diseases! From diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease to IBS, migraines, hives, and eczema, food choices can be the difference between taking a medication or not, between having the disease, or not. I’m happy that more MDs are talking to their patients about therapeutic dietary choices and I hope that more begin. Medication and supplementation can never defeat a poor diet, and the more healthcare providers address this truth, the more likely they are to help people truly heal.