Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, is known for many wise sayings. Two of our favorites are “In the first place, do no harm,” and “let your food be your medicine.”
And we think that one of the best ways to do no harm in medical treatment is to let food be your medicine, so we stress nutrition in our practice. We believe that many chronic illnesses which are referred to as “diseases of civilization,” things like allergies, digestive problems, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and some cancers, among others, stem in large measure from a diet of foods we should not be eating.
The logic is straightforward. Since the human body evolved together with the food sources that were available during evolutionary times, our metabolic machinery is only able to process those types of foods that were around then. The foods available in the natural world when we evolved our digestive physiology, up until Paleolithic, or stone age times when we developed our metabolic patterns, included only what grew wild: plants such as leaves, roots, fruits, nuts and seeds, and protein from the animals that ate the plants, like meat and eggs. Our modern diets, however, are composed primarily of grain-based foods, such as breads and pasta, other starchy foods like rice and potatoes, beans, oils pressed from grains and beans, meat from animals fed grains and beans, concentrated refined sweeteners, and dairy products. None of this was available when our digestive machinery was evolving, and we don’t do well when we eat it. Grains and their byproducts were introduced into human diets only after the beginning of agriculture, and this is considered relatively recent in evolutionary terms.
Furthermore, for most of human history, both the plants that grew wild in nature and were gathered as food, as well as the plant varieties cultivated by farmers, were a part of an organic and vital ecosystem sustained by soil that was abundantly rich in nutrients derived from decaying animal and vegetable matter, and alive with a multiplicity of microorganisms which decomposed the organic material and made those nutrients available to us. Now our soil has been depleted by harsh chemical agricultural practices that rely on synthetic fertilizers to produce genetically modified monoculture crops. Farmers use multiple applications of toxic pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides that lead to soil sterilization. Our foods come to us tainted by the large assortment of chemicals used in their growth and production, and overly processed by the agribusiness corporations, who often remove the beneficial nutritional components to promote longer shelf life, and pollute what’s left with inappropriate additives and preservatives. What small amount of fresh produce is available to us, has usually been shipped long distances, which tends to further deplete much of its diminished nutrient load. So, the food available for us to buy is not the same as the food our metabolisms evolved to require.
Eating a diet consisting of these unnatural foods creates a variety of biochemical imbalances in our bodies, most notably the tendency for us to live in a condition of chronic inflammation and stress. This combination of chronic stress and upregulated inflammation contributes to a large assortment of health problems.
Obesity is now reported worldwide to be as serious a problem as malnutrition. Interestingly and sadly, many people eating a standard American diet suffer simultaneously from both obesity and malnutrition. Obesity is a symptom of a metabolism gone awry, often because of poor dietary choices, and typically occurs along with other health problems, such as many of the “diseases of civilization” plaguing the modern world. These conditions appear to be caused by our violation of Nature’s principles. We eat food we are not programmed to be able to eat, lacking essential nutrients but full of added adulterant chemicals, and, combined with our sedentary lifestyles and the widespread environmental toxicity we all face, our lifestyle choices make us sick.
One of our guiding principles is to teach our patients the rules of biology as we understand them, because we are convinced that people do better when they live according to those rules, rather than according to whatever is the fad of the time. We believe this would serve to decrease our dependence on the “patch-up” approach to health care based on drugs and surgery, with its attendant adverse side effects.