Nutrition as a stand-alone therapy has an incredibly weak scientific basis. However integrative nutrition is becoming more acceptable among conventional medical practitioners. But what is integrative nutrition and what is it used for?
As any one with a passing interest in nutrition and an internet connection must know by now, a vast number of spurious claims are being made for a wide variety of ‘miracle foods’.
The açaí fruit, for example, can reverse diabetes (despite being 32% fat) and other chronic illnesses. It can also expand the size of your penis and increase your sexual virility (if you are male). In addition this fat-heavy fruit promotes weight loss (without gender bias) … among numerous other attributes. Wow!
Incredible claims like these makes the idea that certain foods have healing properties and can be used to treat disease highly controversial.
Though most of us accept that the Western diet is unhealthy, there is deep scepticism about whether certain foods can be used for healing.
Nutrition as therapy
This scepticism may be well-founded. The evidence that nutrition can be effective in place of conventional medical therapies is patchy at best.
Of course the lack of evidence could be due to a lack of scientific enquiry. There is little money to be made by using food as medicine, so there is little incentive to carry out studies. Big Pharma naturally prefers to keep pushing pills.
However, you have probably noticed that medicinal claims made about particular foods are often couched in terms that do not make a definitive claim … food X is ‘thought to be’ helpful in treating a condition Y … a low intake of vitamin B ‘could be ‘ linked to depression.
Modern rules and regulations concerning food and medicines make this kind of language necessary. Nevertheless, it is obvious that these kinds of claims are not supported by the hard evidence you would expect from a clinical drug trial.
Indeed, eschewing conventional medical treatments in favour of nutritional and other alternative options can prove fatal.
For example, when Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003, he spent nine months exploring alternative therapies before submitting to conventional surgery by which time his cancer had metastasised with fatal results.
There is some evidence, however, that food can be powerfully curative on occasion.
As revealed in a recent TV programme, a 310lb Australian was able to cure his urticaria (hives), an auto-immune condition, with a medically supervised 60-day juice diet and was able to ditch the pills he had been using for nine years. A morbidly obese Ohio truck-driver was able to do the same.
In fact there is some evidence that certain foods do have a therapeutic effect.
A gluten-free diet, for example, is a known and proven therapy for coeliac disease, an inflammatory disease of the gut.
There is some evidence that vitamin D has anti-inflammatory properties, though this has not yet been proved conclusively.
Turmeric has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect but again this is not fully proven.
Even if some people find relief from symptoms with certain foods that does not mean the food is treating the core disease. Nevertheless diet can be a very effective help in managing certain chronic conditions.
Integrative nutrition is the idea that food can be used alongside conventional medicine to help the body heal itself.
Integrative nutrition is not an alternative to conventional medicine, the primary therapy.
It is used, for example, during chemotherapy and radiotherapy to mitigate the side effects arising from these treatments. In this sense, it is integrated with conventional medicine.
I remember my time as a patient some years ago in Ibn Sina Hospital in Kuwait, the premier eye hospital in the Middle East. I had a chronic eye infection which was treated with strong antibiotics delivered intravenously.
To counteract the effects of the antibiotics on my digestive system, I was prescribed a specific diet that emphasised ‘live’ yoghurts. Once my infection was under control I recovered very quickly.
I later spoke to the head of the catering firm who was supplying the food for the patients in Ibn Sina and several other hospitals in Kuwait. He told me that they had more than 5,000 ‘standard’ menus from which the doctors in Kuwait’s health system could prescribe for their patients.
This, he said, enabled the hospital consultants to take a targeted approach when prescribing for nutrition.
Cancer therapy and nutrition
Integrative nutrition can be especially useful during cancer treatments, according to a recent article in Health New Focus, a supplement of the Irish Times, a reputable daily newspaper.
Chemotherapy as a treatment for cancer can have toxic effects. During this conventional therapy, integrative nutritional therapy can be used to maintain the strength of the immune system so that the treatment does not have to be interrupted because of infection.
The nutritionist can ensure this happens by making several adjustments to the patient’s diet.
For example, medicinal mushrooms can be prescribed to support the immune system, while ginger can be used to ameliorate the nausea associated with chemotherapy. Turmeric can be added to dishes for its anti-inflammatory properties, while papaya can be prescribed for its ability to aid digestion.
The nutritionist will also eliminate sugar and processed foods from the diet because of the effect they have on tumours. Sugar, for instance, feeds cancer cells and would be cut out entirely.
Diabetes and nutrition
As anyone who has read my book Beating Diabetes will know, it is possible to avoid the horrendous complications of diabetes … heart failure, liver disease, retinopathy and neuropathy among other dire outcomes … using diet alone.
This is working for me and a number of friends and readers. It should work for 90% of type 2 diabetics.
Doing so, however, is not a cure. There is no cure for diabetes.
What the diet I espouse does is reduce the blood glucose swirling around in my blood-stream to a level at which it is no longer damaging my body.
However, I am still diabetic and know that if I reverted to the standard Western diet I was eating years ago, my diabetic symptoms would soon return and I would be back on the road to developing the complications diabetes bestows on those who do not control it.
While there are very few cases of nutritional therapy curing patients without the intervention of conventional medicine, integrative nutrition has been shown to be very useful in supporting conventional medicine in cases of chronic conditions.
Even when they are treating diseases associated with poor diet, such as diabetes or heart disease, doctors seem to prefer to rely on pharmaceutical drugs rather than instructing their patients to use diet to reverse their condition.
Isn’t it time doctors began prescribing nutrition?