History of Clinical Nutrition – Hippocrates & Food as Medicine
Hippocrates, famously said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. In a world where you can find a pill to treat just about anything, it is easy to forget just how powerful the food we eat can be to our health and wellness.
We literally are what we eat. The nutrients from food are broken down by our digestive systems and rearranged into the very building that blocks from which cells are made. As humans are made up of trillions of cells, it is the overall health of our individual cells that determines the health of our whole body. For these reasons it should be crystal clear why a wholesome diet is the foundation of wellness.
Food contains macro-nutrients such as carbohydrates, protein and fat. These are the basic fuels of the body and provide the energy to grown, heal and reproduce. Micro-nutrients are the essential co-factors, vitamins, minerals and enzymes. These are found in food in varying amounts and are necessary for optimal health. Fresh, local, raw plant foods tend to contain the highest levels of micro-nutrients are are considered “nutrient dense”. Per calorie they contain more vitamin, mineral and beneficial phyto-nutrients (helpful compounds unique to plants) than any other category food.
Switching to a plant based diet is one of the most important choices you can make for your health and that of the planet. Diets high in phyto-nutrients have been shown to be protective against a myriad of chronic illnesses. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity are all reduced on a mostly vegetarian, vegetarian or vegan diet.
Clinical nutrition is the use of food and diet to treat and prevent disease. Fruits and vegetables have powerful nutrients that can help stop disease progression and even prevent many illnesses. In fact, a new science, known as “nutra-genomics” seeks to describe the influence of food and food constituents on gene expression. Unfortunately, people often falsely assume that genes are all powerful and completely pre-determined. Sadly, many individuals feel doomed if a parent or close relative has suffered from cancer or any other genetically-linked condition.
Thankfully, this is not the case asgenes are controlled like switches. They can be turned on, they can be silenced, or they can even be turned off.
How do we flip the switches?
The practice of clinical nutrition uses diet, nutritional supplements and lifestyle choices to control these genetic switches, turning the protective genes ON and the bad, while also turning OFF the bad disease causing genes.
The benefits of the food we eat go beyond their macro-nutrient ratios and antioxidant values. Specific phyto-nutrients (from plants), such as catechins, polyphenols and stilbenes from green tea actually directly affect gene expression.
Foods and their nutrients also affect what are known as transcription factors. These are the messengers that are activated by certain things (like food) and tell a cell which genes to turn ON and OFF. Some Transcription factors such as NF-kB and AP-1 cause inflammation and accelerate aging and disease.
NF-kB is linked to increase risk of allergies, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer to name a few. AP-1 tells genes to make certain enzymes that digest collagen leading to skin aging and wrinkles.
Fortunately there are also beneficial transcription factors, that reduce inflammation and its associated diseases. NRF-2 is a transcription factor which turns inflammation OFF, increased the body’s production of antioxidants and protects us from cancer.
By consuming diets high in phyto-nutrients (such as sulphoraphane from broccoli), we can turn NFK-1 OFF and beneficial transcription factors like NRF-2 ON.
So Hippocrates was right, food is a powerful medicine not only benefiting the body from the nutrients it provides but also by turning ON beneficial genes in the body.
Good luck finding a drug that can do all of that!