Food has been considered a medicine throughout the ages. However, as drugs and surgeries came to dominate medicine, the idea that food had much value beyond that of filling the belly and providing calories fell into disrepute.
Even as vitamins and minerals were “discovered” during the past century, it was felt that they were only good for preventing overt vitamin deficiency diseases, such as scurvy, rickets or beriberi.
Fortunately, the past several decades have seen an outpouring of evidence indicating that foods and certain substances in them do have medicinal value, and can also go a long way toward preventing many illnesses.
The past 10 or 20 years have seen the discovery of many previously unknown food substances (called “phytochemicals”) that appear to strengthen the immune system and help to prevent a wide variety of diseases. Some of the vitamins, minerals and other sub- stances that do this include:
• Beta carotene is the “plant form” of vitamin A, which may prevent cancers of the breast, mouth, colon, rectum, bladder, stomach, esophagus, cervix and lungs. It also guards against heart disease and stroke, and slows the appearance of the signs of aging. The vitamin’s many “powers” come from its ability to prevent oxidation and quench free radicals. Although two recent (1996) studies have questioned the value of beta carotene, hundreds of other studies have shown positive results. Without doubt, beta carotene and the other carotenes are superb antioxidants and free radical quenchers. They have shown beneficial effects in laboratory and animal studies, and are included in most nutritional and anti-aging programs.
• Folic acid is a member of the B-family of vitamins, which may help to prevent cervical cancer. It has been proven to reduce the incidence of certain birth defects of the spine if taken by pregnant women at the time of conception and through at least the first trimester. Folic acid helps to ward off heart disease by counteracting the effects of homocysteine, an amino acid metabolite (byproduct) that can damage the walls of the vital coronary arteries.
• Niacin may help to prevent heart attacks by lowering the total cholesterol and the LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
• Vitamin C appears to strengthen the immune system and guard against heart disease by helping to strip cholesterol from the artery walls. It also helps to regulate the liver’s production of cholesterol, protect cells from the potentially cancer causing effects of oxidation, relieve the symptoms of asthma, improve the motility of the phagocytic cells of the immune system and perform many other health enhancing duties in the body.
• Magnesium can help prevent the unnecessary blood clots that trigger heart attacks, lower the total cholesterol and harmful LDL cholesterol while raising the helpful HDL cholesterol, effectively treat certain heart irregularities, lower blood pressure and even increase the chances of surviving a heart attack.
• Calcium helps to keep the bones and teeth strong, and the blood pressure at proper levels. This mineral also lowers the risk of cancer of the colon.
• The mineral selenium is an antioxidant and works with vitamins A, C and E to prevent the oxidative damage to the body that can cause heart attacks and cancer. Selenium boosts vitamin E, making the vitamin more effective.
• The ajoene found in garlic is a potent blood thinner and guards against heart disease and stroke. Also, garlic’s allicin is a natural antibiotic.
The nutritional healer uses a variety of vitamins, minerals, aminoacids, phytochemicals and other substances to prevent and treat dis ease. Medical doctors, chiropractors, naturopaths, Ayurvedic healers and others may use nutritional therapy in their practices.
When selecting a nutritional healer, remember that there is no widely recognized school of nutritional therapy, no standards or agreed upon training for nutritional healers. Some nutritional healers are licensed physicians with a special interest in nutrition. Others are naturopathic physicians, chiropractors or homeopaths. Still others may not have completed any approved training and are not licensed or certified at all.
Only Registered Dietitians receive a standardized nutritional education and must pass an examination. Registered Dietitians, however, tend to be conservative in their recommendations.