“Let Food be Thy Medicine, and Medicine be Thy Food.” -Hippocrates
When I was 16 I began having chronic hip pain. Over the years I’ve been told it’s half a dozen different things and I’ve had x-rays, MRI’s, chiropractic care, physical therapy, massage therapy, different types of medicine and more to try and resolve it. One day, one of those physical therapists handed me a bottle of fish oil and said, “Try this.” I was a little taken aback, “fish oil?” I had zero expectations. Nothing else had done much for me, what could a little bottle of fish oil do? It made a huge difference. That little bottle of fish oil had a greater impact than any previous therapies or medicines I was offered to manage the pain.
How Could Food be More Powerful Than Medicine?
One of the challenges with medicine is that it overrides the body’s innate ability to heal. If we get down into the chemistry of how each one of us is built, our basic components are made from food. Every bite we take is broken down into its microscopic components such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids. Each of those components has a critical role in supporting the body to rebuild or repair. When we nourish ourselves with foods our body needs, it knows exactly what to do with those nutrients to best support healing and longevity.
When we take a medication, it is more like consuming a tiny robot. It goes in and has a job, but it bypasses all the checks and balances in the body. At times this is necessary, but there are just as many if not more situations where this is not.
Let’s consider chronic pain. We first try to determine if there is anything externally we are doing that is causing the pain. Of course, right? The next step we consider is if there is anything internally we can do to help manage the pain.
Real Food for Chronic Pain
There is a wide variety of over-the-counter pain meds, but those are all tiny robots. What if we just support what our body already does? At its most basic, the entire inflammatory cycle is comprised of various fats. Some fats support a more pro-inflammatory response (necessary in the right amount) and some fats support a more anti-inflammatory response. This isn’t rocket-science, just basic physiology.
By taking the fish oil, I was very simply up-regulating my own anti-inflammatory cycle. Suddenly, I had less pain.
When given the right tools, the body has an incredible capacity to heal. Our body is entirely made up of nutrients we eat each and every day. In fact, whatever we eat is essentially put into two categories:
1) What the body needs
Now, if we go beyond just adding certain foods to help us manage pain, we can also consider that some foods actually harm us and ultimately up-regulate the pro-inflammatory cycle. When we look through this very black and white lens, it really shifts the perspective on what we put into our bodies, doesn’t it?
Let’s take a look at a recent client of mine. Just a couple of weeks ago I was running a RESTART class and one of the women in the class had chronic sinus pressure coupled with intense headaches the moment she set foot outside of her house each day. To avoid this, she took allergy medicine daily. As she started the RESTART program, she had ZERO expectations of food having anything to do with her sinus pressure, she was just hoping to jumpstart a little weight loss.
A couple of weeks in, she forgot to take her allergy meds one day and then went outside. No headache. No sinus pressure. She was stunned. What she discovered was that dairy and sugar were causing the sinus pressure and the intense headaches. Not the outside air. The outside air just exacerbated what was already there. Suddenly, she no longer needed those allergy meds.
Our Bodies are Complex and Dynamic
Many of the symptoms we try to treat with medicine are caused by the very food we eat. So many of today’s highly processed foods fuel the inflammatory fire, and we don’t even realize we are doing it. In our culture, we’ve become conditioned to the quick fix. When we feel pain or discomfort of any kind, we don’t necessarily look into why it might be happening. We don’t dig into the symptom and find out if there was a trigger or an imbalance happening.
The truth is, our bodies are complex and dynamic. Giving a pill for every ill disregards this concept and alienates the body’s incredible ability and desire to heal. To create healing we need to look at the body as a whole and understand that each system influences every other system in the body. Yes, you may have significant hormone imbalances, or chronic joint pain but the likelihood that the problem is isolated to your endocrine system or joints is highly unlikely. Something upstream started to breakdown but you didn’t start to feel the problem until it went further downstream.
Paleo Diet as Medicine
This is why the Paleo diet has worked so well for so many people to fix problems that no medication or conventional method has been able to touch. The Paleo diet takes out most of the highly inflammatory foods and replaces them with nutrient-dense whole foods loaded with the very basic vitamins and minerals in easier-to assimilate foods that promote healing. It essentially helps to up-regulate that anti-inflammatory cycle and allow space for the body to do its thing, and heal.
When contemplating food versus medicine, I don’t believe it is fair to say one is better than the other. Medicine is like the band-aid you put over a scrape. It is there as a protective agent to buy you time to figure out how and why your body is struggling. But, the healing must come from within. To disregard food as a healing agent is irresponsible. If we shift our perspective and think of food as the positive life-giving entity it can be, and make our choices with this perspective, we’ll get results that pay dividends for years to come.