Can Food Be Medicine?

In clinic, I saw a young teenage girl suffering from chronic abdominal pain, bloating, gas and alternating explosive diarrhea, urgency and constipation. It had been going on for months. It was affecting her school work, energy levels, focus, and mood. Her check up and the blood tests were normal. Parents are told everything is normal?

Young woman in pain

I see this many times in the clinic. A young patient has gastrointestinal symptoms and the full medical work up does not reveal any pathologic findings. She gets labeled with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). This leaves a frustrated and discouraged family to carry on their lives with no valuable treatment solutions. So why is food not considered medicine when we seek medical treatment? Why have we become so dependent on a pill, an antibiotic or a procedure as the only medical solution.  Food is Medicine. It’s time to change that mindset!

So my simple solutions:

  1. Find the ROOT CAUSE- sometimes it is as simple as being Sherlock Holmes. Elimination diets are great and cost nothing. Start a food log and eliminate one food at a time. Common triggers are gluten, dairy, sugar, processed foods, artificial sweeteners, fruit juices, dyes, preservatives, and prepackaged meals. If you can’t pronounce it or find it in your pantry, don’t eat it or drink it. Cleaning the gut can take months so be patient, one week isn’t enough to give up!
  2. Choose GUT FRIENDLY FOODS- high fiber foods, pre-biotics and probiotics when the bowel is acutely inflamed can be rough on the stomach and can make gas, bloating, cramping and diarrhea worse. Especially if there is inflammation, malabsorption and dysbiosis. Start with a gentle gut healing diet like a low FODMAP diet. (fructose (when in excess of glucose), fructans, galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), lactose and polyols (eg. sorbitol and mannitol). It makes it easier for the bowels to heal without the additional stress.
  3. Avoid certain MEDICATIONS -common side effect of some medications can be abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation (antibiotics, narcotics, antacids). Even natural supplements like Vitamin C, aloe and magnesium can cause diarrhea.
  4. Manage STRESS- the mind and body are connected as one. Every illness can be traced to an initial stress. As long as the mind is not at rest, the gut may not heal. Work towards breath work, meditation, guided imagery, exercise, connecting with friends and having fun.
  5. Work towards a HEALTHY DIET- once the gut has calmed down, adding in more fruits and vegetables, pre and probiotics via foods is a great idea. If symptoms reappear, then step back and reassess potential triggers. Eat natural, whole and organic when possible. Eat a more plant based diet. Red meat and processed meats like hot dogs, sausages and cold cuts have been classified by the World Health Organization as a Class 2 Carcinogen, same as cigarettes. So rethink your sandwich meats and school lunches!
  6. Additional WORKUPS that may help- allergy and food sensitivity/gluten testing, SIBO or small bowel overgrowth testing, Comprehensive Stool Analysis for malabsorption, dysbiosis or infection. Micronutrient testing for deficiencies like ZINC can be the cause. These can be outside of insurance coverage and expensive at times. So do 1-5 first!

The gut is a wonderful, tropical rainforest with lots of species of bacteria living in a nutrient rich environment sharing a symbiotic relationship with us. Just like the outside world, if we pollute the space they live in, poison the cells and food supply, these bacteria die and become sick which in turn makes us sick. Teach your kids to nourish their bodies with good, healthy, whole food so they can remain healthy inside and out. Food is Medicine!

The light in me, bows to the light in you~ Namaste

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Dr. Patel was named one of the TOP DOCS in Phoenix Magazine 2009, 2016 and Internist of the Year 2011 by the American College of Physicians Arizona Chapter. She is uniquely trained, board-certified and practices both Pediatrics and Internal Medicine in Fountain Hills, Arizona. She is additionally fellowship trained in Integrative Medicine. 

She has a passion for teaching medicine and acts as a preceptor for both medical residents and providers in training. Dr. Patel has a special interest in Integrative Medicine, Women’s health, Pediatric & Adolescent care, Nutrition and Medical Cosmetics.

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