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There is an undeniable health crisis in our country today. In spite of ongoing advances in the medical and pharmaceutical industries, the number of deaths due to conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer continue to rise to epidemic proportions. Hospitals and clinics are overflowing with sick people clamoring for solutions. But perhaps the solution to our health problems is much closer than we think.

What if I told you there is a medicine, that if taken regularly, could possibly help you prevent—or even reverse—cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, chronic fatigue, diabetes, depression and other degenerative diseases?

Nature has provided just such a medicine and it has never been easier to take advantage of than today.

What is this incredible medicine?

You guessed it... FOOD!

In this article, I will introduce you to some foods that are said to have amazing healing properties. You may be familiar with many of these foods, but perhaps not as familiar with their potential to heal your ailments. There are many more healing foods than I can cover in this short article, but just start incorporating a few of these healing foods into your diet right away to experience a great benefit. If you would like to learn more, some great resources will be provided at the end.

A Potentially Life-Changing Concept...
First off, a little history. Using food as medicine is actually not a new concept—except perhaps to our modern western society. Traditional healing systems around the globe have relied on the medicinal use of food for treating disease and facilitating healing of the body for centuries. For example, in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), dietary therapy is considered the first and most effective avenue to treat disease conditions. Herbal medicines and manual therapies would be added as needed. In this tradition, not only the quality and quantity of food consumed is taken into account, but the manner in which it is prepared, how it is consumed and the cooling or warming effect it has on the body. “Cold” conditions are treated with warming foods. “Heat” conditions, with cooling foods. Other considerations, such as the season and the unique characteristics of the patient, also influence what food is recommended. The idea is that eating the appropriate foods supports the balance of yin and yang in the body—resulting in improved health.

Similarly, the Ayurvedic medical system categorizes foods according to their properties. Different foods are consumed in order to support or suppress contrasting energies in the body according to an individual’s constitutional type, called “dosha.” Eating foods in alignment with your particular dosha helps balance the body, resulting in improved health and wellbeing.

The big thing that these traditional systems have recognized for centuries, that we in our modern society have basically overlooked—is that food has the power to heal. The right foods consumed in adequate amounts can sometimes prevent and reverse disease.

Up until recently, little was understood in scientific terms about how individual foods function in the body and the mechanisms responsible for their healing effects.

However, in the last decade or so, there has been an explosion of clinical research aimed solely on determining specific health benefits of individual foods and identifying various nutrients and phytochemicals associated with these benefits. I will share some examples of recent studies in the paragraphs ahead. The findings of recent research have been nothing short of astounding!

In the U.S., we have become consumers of “stuff” that tastes good and looks like food, but all too often is devoid of nutrition. It is usually highly processed, full of sugar and/or chemical additives, and just about as nourishing as the cardboard box it is packaged in. Our bodies cannot thrive on this sad (or S.A.D.—standard Ameri-can diet) diet. Our biology is much better suited to a diet of fresh, organic, whole foods—that are consumed the way nature designed them. There is a disconnect between what we eat and what our cells need to be nourished.  

Phytonutrients—Nature’s “Magic” Messengers
Fruits and vegetables contain chemicals and active compounds called phytonutrients. Phytonutrients act as messengers to our genes and have a direct influence on the health and function of human cells. A gene is a distinct portion of a cell’s DNA that is the coded instructions for making everything the body needs, especially proteins. We each have about 25,000 genes. Depending upon the chemical messages received from the food we eat, the genes make changes throughout the body. Recent research indicates that the phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables prevent our genes from making negative changes to the rest of the body. This is the single most powerful and important medicinal function fruits and vegetables have on the body.

Fruit as Medicine

Rich in fiber, quercetin, pectin (a soluble fiber that fights high cholesterol and cancer of the colon) helps keep bowels regular and reduces diverticulitis. Research suggests that consuming one apple a day helps lower the risk of heart attack by as much as 32%.

Full of antioxidants and phytonutrients for eyes, brain, heart and immune system. Berries are rich in quercetin (a powerful anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective antioxidant). The results of detailed molecular studies by researchers D. Barch, Ph.D. and B. Narayanan, Ph.D. suggest ellagic acid (EA) is a powerful chemo-protective agent that protects DNA from damage, prevents binding of carcinogens to DNA and lowers incidence of heart disease and cancer. EA is particularly effective against cancer cells of the cervix, breast, pancreas, esophagus, skin, colon, and prostate. Also may help protect chromosomes from radiation damage.

Consuming just half a cup a day doubles the antioxidant intake from food of the average diet. The pigment in berries comes from a class of flavonoids called anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins. Other red and purple fruits and vegetables, such as purple cabbage, eggplant and tart red cherries, also contain these compounds that may protect against brain aging, heart disease and cancer. These flavonoids raise glutathione levels in the body, which reduces inflammation in the brain—a condition thought by many experts to play a major role in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other diseases of aging. Patients with Parkinson’s have been known to have low levels of glutathione in their brain tissue. Blueberries increase the body’s ability to make and release dopamine which helps fight decreased brain function associated with aging and syndromes such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. In studies conducted by Dr. James Joseph of Tufts University, subjects in the control group who received blueberry extract (equivalent to a half-cup per day for a human), showed a marked increase in brain acuity and motor coordination over other test groups in which subjects received extracts of spinach, strawberries, vitamin E.

May protect the eyes against damage from increased solar radiation and increase blood circulation to the retina. Research has shown that bilberry taken in combination with vitamin E has a 97% success rate at halting cataract progression. The dark purple pigment in bilberries from anthocyanins increases rhodopsin just as the anthocyanins in carrots do.

The extract of this berry has been shown to be effective as the drug Trimethoprim in the prevention of recurrent urinary tract infections in older women, without increasing the risk of antibiotic resistance and super-infection and/or fungal infection.

Cranberries alsocontain the antioxidant quercetin, which helps lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Contain potent plant phytoestrogens that can help regulate the symptoms of post menopausal women, yet this amazing fruit does not exhibit well-known carcinogenic potential associated with synthetic, horse-derived (e.g. Premarin), and even so-called bio-identical or “plant-derived” estrogens. To the contrary, pomegranate has been shown to act selectively to modulate estrogen receptors (SERM) that are beneficial to the organism, while down-regulating activity at the receptors known to be associated with estrogen-sensitive cancers. This type of dynamic intelligence is unique to natural substances, and is not yet reproducible through pharmaceutical preparations.

Pomegranates have experimentally-confirmed potential to suppress breast, prostate, colorectal, gastric and uterine cancers.

Lemons are an excellent blood purifier and liver stimulant. Lemon juice is an effective therapy for ridding the body of kidney stones.

Have been shown to be potentially useful in controlling hypertension. The amino acids found in watermelon—such as L-citrulline—cause blood vessels to dilate naturally. This assists in reducing high blood pressure.

Vegetables as Medicine

High in beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A helps the mucous membranes of your respiratory tract defend your lungs against bacterial and viral invasion. maintains optimal detoxifying potential throughout the body. They have a broad mix of carotenoids, including lutein and zeaxanthin, which may help prevent cataracts, macular degeneration and night blindness. The more vitamin A you have in the body, the more Rhodopsin you produce. Rhodopsin is a purple pigment that helps us see in dim light. Alpha-carotene fights cancer and treats heart disease. Carrots have calcium pectate, a soluble fiber that lowers cholesterol. Consuming with good fats helps the absorption of these important nutrients.

The pigment that gives beets their bright red color is called beta-cyanin. This substance has shown promise as a cancer fighter. Beta-cyanin is rich in folic acid and potassium. Folic acid is crucial for optimal cardiovascular and brain health, while potassium supports muscle and general metabolic activity. Beets are also helpful in iron deficiency anemia and are a liver tonic. Beets lend themselves well to juicing, but have powerful detoxification action that can be too much too fast. I recommend using no more than two ounces mixed with six ounces of carrot, apple or other juice.
Cabbage Family (including cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, savoy cabbage, bok choy, etc.)

Members of the cabbage family provide a powerhouse of nutrients, indoles and sulforaphane.

  • Savoy cabbage contains additional phytonutrients called beta-sitosterol, phenophytin-a, nonacosane and nonacosanone, all of which are potent cancer fighters.

  • Bok Choy and Chinese cabbage contain brassinin a powerful estrogen-regulating nutrient that has been show to battle breast cancer.

Brussels Sprouts
Shown to reduce risk of breast, prostate and colon cancer. Also may lower cholesterol and risk of heart attack, and eliminates constipation. Contains folic acid and immunity boosting vitamin C. In a study done in the Netherlands in 1997, people who ate more than ten ounces of Brussels sprouts a day for three weeks displayed a 28 percent reduction in damage to their DNA, compared with those who ate none at all. Leaves on the outside contain the most nutritional value, so do not remove them unless they are damaged.

[*A note of caution to those who suffer from gout. Cauliflower in particular contains amino acids called purines which turn into uric acid in the body. The uric acid crystals can worsen the symptoms of gout. Red meat contains far more purines than cauliflower.]

Chili Peppers
May raise your endorphin level so you feel good after eating them. They contain lots of vitamin C and other antioxidants such as beta-carotene. Chilies have been used as natural remedies for coughs, colds, sinusitis and bronchitis around the globe. Chilies help lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL), so they support healthy cholesterol levels guarding against strokes, high blood pressure and heart attacks. Capsaicin is the active alkaloid in chili peppers, which can also be incorporated into a pain relieving cream that is effective when rubbed into aching joints. How it works: manipulating levels of substance P (a chemical that transmits pain sensations to the brain). Capsaicin depletes the nerve cells of this neurotransmitter. Caution: test on the skin to make sure no irritation develops.

Rich in alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, gamma-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene and zeaxanthin, calcium, iron, manganese, potassium, vitamin C and E, lutein. How it works: protects DNA in your genes and instructs your body to make healthy cells.

Rich in minerals, spinach has a diuretic effect in the body helping reduce bloating. High in iron, calcium, beta-carotene, lutein, magnesium, manganese, quercetin, vitamin K (essential for blood clotting), folic acid (for cardiovascular and brain health). Low folic acid levels in the blood have been associated with high levels of the amino acid homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine are a marker for increased risk of death resulting from heart disease. Neurologists recommend eating spinach three times a week as a brain tonic. Since spinach is one of the most highly sprayed vegetables, use only organic spinach.

I saved this one for last because there are some exciting discoveries going on with this humble cruciferous vegetable. Recent research on broccoli has demonstrated it to be an effective medicine against cancer and heart disease. Broccoli is a powerhouse of antioxidants such quercetin, glutathione, beta-carotene, lutein, indoles, vitamins A, C, K, B6, E, folic acid, glucarate, sulforaphane. It is also rich in minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium. These help build strong bones. Broccoli contains anti-estrogenic compounds, called glucosinolates, that are especially helpful in reducing excess estrogen that has been linked to breast cancer. Dr. Paul Talalay, MD, Professor of Pharmacology at John Hopkins University School of Medical Research has shown that sulforaphane protects genes from damage by helping rid the body of harmful stress and alarm signal molecules. Sulforaphane serves as a cancer blocking agent in the body. Broccoli is particularly helpful in preventing and fighting cancer of the colon, breast and prostate. Another study, conducted by the American Health Foundation, found that sulforaphane inhibits the formation of premalignant lesions in the colon. Researchers in Toulouse, France, found that human cancer cells die when sulforaphane is introduced.

How Does Broccoli Kill Cancer Cells?
Cells have what is called phase I and Phase II detoxification enzyme systems. Phase I enzymes search for cancer-causing compound that have entered the body and interact with them to turn them into water soluble compounds rendering them inactive in the body. Occasionally phase I enzymes generate chemicals that are themselves carcinogenic. Hence the need for phase II enzymes, such as glutathione S-transferase, which help the body detoxify further. Phase II enzymes directly attack and destroy the carcinogens before they can damage the genes.

Analysis shows that the concentration of sulforaphane decreases as broccoli plants mature. In fact, 3 days old broccoli sprouts have 20 to 50 times the concentration of sulforaphane as cooked, mature broccoli. Just one ounce ofbroccoli sprouts provides as much cancer fighting activity as twenty ounces of regular cooked broccoli!

Like all cruciferous veggies, broccoli also promotes good colon health, prevents constipation and may help prevent colon cancer. Additionally, the high antioxidant content promotes overall good health and provides great protection from serious eye diseases. The lutein in broccoli further aids against age related macular degeneration. For immune function, just half a cup of broccoli juice a day provides more than the USDA recommended daily value of vitamin C!

Willy Street Co-op: Your Natural Pharmacy!
The list of beneficial fruits and vegetables goes on and on. As research continues, more and more phytonutrients are being discovered—many with exciting abilities to protect and heal our bodies on a cellular level! But we don’t have to wait for science to catch up with the wisdom of nature that has been there all along. Some of the best “medicine” for preventing and healing disease is available right now at a garden plot or Willy Street Co-op Produce department near you! By incorporating food as medicine into your daily life, you have the opportunity to activate healingfor your body and create vibrant health for your life.

A few guiding principles to keep in mind...

  • Buy organic whenever possible. Fruits and vegetables that are grown on depleted soil using petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides are not advised.

  • Select non-GMO fruits and vegetables. Trust the wisdom of eating food that has been perfected by nature over time.

  • Buy local, fresh and frequently.

  • Adopt a peaceful frame of mind. Your state of mind is of utmost importance at mealtime. Relax for optimal digestion and assimilation.

  • Chew your food well. Your stomach does not have teeth so chew well before swallowing! Digestion begins in the mouth and chewing is a major component of proper digestion! Saliva contains an enzyme called amylase, which aids in the breakdown of starchy carbohydrates.

As always
Make sure to consult with your health care provider when making any dietary changes, and for further information.

Additional Resources:

  • Food as Medicine, How to Use Diet, Vitamins, Juices, and Herbs for a Healthier, Happier, and Longer Life by Dharma Singh M.D. Khalsa

  • Tao of Food by Richard Craze and Roni Jay

  • The Wheat Grass Book by Ann Wigmore