Food Is Medicine: How Functional Medicine Uses Food To Help You Heal

Food Is Medicine: How Functional Medicine Uses Food To Help You Heal

Written by Claudine Kubesh, M.D.

For over 10 years, our patients have received comprehensive and compassionate care that address their biggest health concerns. With extensive experience in functional medicine and internal medicine, Claudine Kubesh, M.D. listens to your concerns, identifies root causes, and responds proactively to improve and maintain your whole body wellness.

We’ve all heard the saying, “you are what you eat.” But is it really true? Is food medicine? Does food have that big of an impact on our health and wellbeing? Is it possible to heal your body with food?

Years of experience, research, and history shows that yes, food does make a major impact on our lives. What we eat can either make or break our health. In fact, we can even use food as medicine to help our bodies heal from illness, prevent disease, and live long and healthy lives.

At Seattle Functional Health, we believe that food should not only fill your belly but fuel your body and mind. And in many cases, food is crucial for reaching your health goals, too.

So, let’s explore more about the concept of food as medicine and learn how transforming your plate can transform your health, too.

The Functional Medicine Approach to Healing with Food

When Hippocrates said, “let food be thy medicine,” he knew a thing or two about holistic health. Food is our original form of medicine, offering sustenance and nutrients that keep our bodies healthy and functioning throughout our lives. In ancient healing traditions, food was considered the first line of defense against illness and disease. Appropriate diet changes or medicinal foods were almost always used in healing.

In our modern age, we choose manufactured medicines over food and forget how powerful a medicine good diet can be.

Functional medicine, however, has taken the middle road. We see the immense value of modern medicine, but also appreciate the medicinal effects of food and still use diet as a major catalyst for healing.

As part of a functional medicine treatment plan at Seattle Functional Health, we study your diet, test for imbalances and unique sensitivities, and recommend a plan that works with your body, not against it. Eating the right diet for you, along with other healthy lifestyle habits, gives your body what it needs to heal itself.

What Makes Food Medicine: The Basics

Food is medicine because it gives the body the building blocks it needs to heal itself and thrive. Much of this is tied to our gut health and the power of the microbiome to protect, defend, nourish, and heal the body as a whole.

Additionally, each medicinal food has a different makeup or nutrient profile that gives it characteristic healing properties. Here are some of the key things we consider when using food as medicine:

Vitamins and minerals
The body requires small amounts of certain vitamins and minerals to function. But, the Standard American Diet tends to focus on foods that are either depleted in these vitamins and minerals or lack them completely. This leads to deficiencies and later on, disease. By focusing on whole foods that are full of these nutrients, we can adequately support all of our body systems and functions.

Fiber
Fiber is found in fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. You may not think of fiber as a “medicine” but it is essential for health. It keeps digestion regular, feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gut, and reduces harmful inflammation. Adequate fiber intake is linked with a lower risk of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Healthy fats
Healthy fats, specifically those containing omega-3 fatty acids, are crucial for health. They reduce harmful inflammation, slow aging, and prevent disease. Foods that include healthy fats can be used medicinally to manage issues like pain, anxiety, immune disease, and heart health.

Plant compounds and antioxidants
Plant compounds are found in highly nutritious foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, seeds, and more. These compounds tend to have an antioxidant effect. Antioxidants work to reverse and prevent damage to our cells. Researchers are currently studying the potential of antioxidants in slowing aging and improving our longevity.

What Makes Food Medicine: Nutrigenomics

Food is not considered medicine in the way we think of medicine today. We cannot simply take doses of one type of food until our health issues have resolved, we need to integrate the right foods for our unique conditions as a daily method of self-care.

But if we want to truly embrace food as medicine, then we have to dive a little deeper than “healthy” foods and “unhealthy foods.” We need to look at something called nutrigenomics.

Nutrigenomics is the field that studies how different foods and food compounds interact with our genes. By understanding these interactions, we can choose foods to positively impact our health by encouraging the specific pathways we are trying to address. Additionally, we will avoid those foods that stimulate the expression of genes that increase our risk for chronic disease.

We use this information to address our overall nutrition, avoid the known diet culprits (like GMO, non-organic foods, and processed foods), make informed food choices, and boost our diet with key foods that are rich in the specific compounds our body needs to heal.

Common Health Conditions and Medicinal Food Fixes

No one food is right for everyone, but there are some delicious medicinals that offer help for many of our common chronic conditions:

Digestive disorders and tummy troubles
It’s no surprise that diet has an impact on our digestive health, as anyone who has experienced food poisoning would agree! Thankfully, the impact goes both ways and we can use food to heal from tummy troubles too. In general, a healthy diet full of whole foods, fiber, and antioxidants protects the digestive system and helps it work optimally. But, when issues like indigestion, nausea, irritable bowel syndrome, or constipation become regular problems, a functional medicine nutrition plan is in order.

Food Fix: Pineapple
The best foods for healing digestive issues will depend on your body’s unique issues and presentation. But, pineapple is a delicious and quick food fix. Pineapple is rich in glutamine and an enzyme called bromelain. Together, these two compounds work to enhance the gut microbiota, heal the digestive tract, and improve digestion.

Low or High Blood Sugar
Blood sugar can be a tricky problem to manage, even with medications and lifestyle changes. But food and diet seem to be one of the most important factors for maintaining a healthy blood sugar level. This is because blood sugar level is intrinsically linked to our diet and digestion.

Food Fix: Cinnamon
Cinnamon is a delicious spice, but it also has some powerful health benefits. Along with improving cardiovascular health, cinnamon can also balance blood sugar. It does this by increasing the body’s insulin sensitivity and slowing down the absorption of carbohydrates. Studies show that this and the antioxidant effects of cinnamon can be a great benefit to those managing diabetes.

Acne, sun damage, and inflammatory skin conditions
Issues like acne, sunburn, hives, rosacea, and other skin conditions all involve an inflammatory response in the skin. Inflammation, while helpful to fight off infections, can cause long term damage and health issues when left unresolved. The key to moderating inflammation in the skin and throughout the whole body is to eat an anti-inflammatory diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and foods high in antioxidants and other healing compounds. Avoid aggravating foods like dairy, processed foods, and refined sugars.

Food Fix: Green Tea
Along with a general anti-inflammatory diet, green tea acts as an anti-inflammatory superfood when it comes to skin conditions. Polyphenols in green tea help to moderate sebum production and reduce inflammation in the skin (major contributors to acne). Additionally, green tea stimulates better healing from sun damage. This is because green tea contains the antioxidant EGCG, which helps to reduce inflammation and enhance the immune system.

Chronic pain and fibromyalgia
Chronic pain, migraines, fibromyalgia, and other pain conditions are complex and require an individualized treatment plan that focuses on whole-body health. Functional medicine offers a range of solutions for these issues, but a strategic, healthy diet is always at the center. As with skin conditions, pain often involves unmoderated inflammation. An anti-inflammatory diet can go a long way to not only manage symptoms and relieve pain but work to heal the underlying causes.

Food Fix: Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Try Nuts, Seeds, & Salmon)
Nuts and seeds are a great healthy snack, and they just might help to moderate pain levels too. For instance, pumpkin seeds and walnuts are an excellent choice for managing arthritis as they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that nourish and support the joints. Salmon is one of the best fatty fish to manage all kinds of inflammatory and chronic pain, again because of its high omega-3 fatty acid content.

Stress, depression, and mood imbalances
If you think that your mood and emotions are all in your head, think again. Our mental health relies on a gentle balance of neurotransmitters and hormones to maintain our happiness and well being. Thankfully, certain foods have been shown to be helpful in maintaining this balance, warding off depression, and boosting our moods:

Food Fix: Fermented foods
Research shows that fermented foods rich in probiotics like natural yogurts, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, and miso can enhance the regions of the brain that make us emotionally resilient. They also strengthen the microbiota of the gut, which in turn improves brain health and balance through the gut-brain axis.

Functional Medicine and The Power of Food

There is no perfect diet, but there is a perfect diet to help your body accomplish the health goals you have at this time.

At Seattle Functional Health, diet and nutrition is an essential aspect of our treatment plans for almost any conditions. By adjusting the diet, we can often relieve side effects and reverse chronic health conditions without having to turn to surgery or medications. In other cases, a specific diet plan can be a helpful complement to conventional medicine to offer better healing results.

At Seattle Functional Health, we are committed to offering the best plan of action for our patients. Are you ready to get started with a comprehensive functional medicine program? Take the first step to better health and schedule your consultation with Seattle Functional Health!

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