Earl Mindell's Food as Medicine: What You Can Eat to Help Prevent Everything from Colds to Heart Disease to Cancer

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There is Good Medicine in Your Kitchen!

Earl Mindell's Food as Medicine clearly shows how common fruits, vegetables, grains, and fish can help you fight, prevent, or treat everything from acne to yeast infection to cardiovascular disease to osteoporosis. Check your kitchen for:

  • Cherries, grapes and ...
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More About This Book

Overview

There is Good Medicine in Your Kitchen!

Earl Mindell's Food as Medicine clearly shows how common fruits, vegetables, grains, and fish can help you fight, prevent, or treat everything from acne to yeast infection to cardiovascular disease to osteoporosis. Check your kitchen for:

  • Cherries, grapes and strawberries, which may deactivate carcinogens
  • Parsley, licorice, cereal grains, and citric fruits -- they can protect against heart fisease and stroke by preventing clots
  • Salmon, halibut, and albacore tuna -- they lower cholesterol and are also useful in treatment of arthritis
  • Cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and soy products, which are defenses against breast cancer
  • Apples and grapefruit -- known to protect against diabetes

From fighting aging to easing menopausal symptoms, Earl Mindell's Food as Medicine is your tutor as you learn to eat right and stay healthy.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743226622
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • Publication date: 1/28/1994
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 4.00 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 1.25 (d)

First Chapter

Chapter One: Food...It's Strong Medicine

In 400 B.C., Hippocrates, the "father of modern medicine," said, "Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food." After more than 2000 years, the medical establishment has finally acknowledged that he was right: food can be strong medicine.

Respectable, mainstream groups -- including the National Cancer Institute and the New York Academy of Sciences -- agree that nutrition can play a vital role in the prevention, treatment, and cure of a wide variety of ailments. Recent articles in distinguished professional publications, such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association, report that vitamins, minerals, and other substances found in food appear to have a protective effect against certain diseases, including cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and osteoporosis. They report that certain chemicals in food can retard the aging process. Indeed, many experts believe that changes in the typical American diet could extend the average life expectancy by more than ten years! Moreover, recent studies indicate that problems such as miscarriage and birth defects, once considered random events, often result from nutritional deficiencies.

As recently as a decade ago, however, few "respectable" physicians would have uttered the words "food" and "medicine" in the same breath. It would have been unthinkable to tell patients that they might be able to lower blood pressure, treat heart disease, or prevent cancer by eating certain foods. In fact, after World War II, the availability of antibiotics and other "wonder drugs" profoundly changed the way medicine was practiced in the United States. Until the middle of the twentieth century, natural remedies (herbs and food) were listed side-by-side with chemical drugs in the U.S. Pharmacopeia, the official listing of accepted medicines. Physicians were primarily "family physicians," who treated the "whole body" -- not the specialists we have today, whose primary focus is one particular body part or system. Back then, many physicians recognized that factors such as nutrition and even stress could profoundly affect a patient's health. By the time I started pharmacy school in 1958, however, the notion that diet or life-style might somehow be related to health was considered downright unscientific. The real medicines were the pills and potions that physicians prescribed and we pharmacists dispensed. We all believed that there was nothing in nature that could possibly compete with what man could concoct in the laboratory or perform in the operating room.

In the 1950s, food quickly lost its status as a healing agent and was regarded solely as fuel for the body. Fast-food empires designed to offer a quick "fill-up" sprang up around the country selling their heavily processed, high-fat, highsodium food. Burgers, fries, and cola became the mainstay of the American diet. Vitamins were considered necessary only to prevent the most severe deficiency diseases, such as scurvy or beriberi. When patients asked physicians about nutrition or vitamins, their questions were often dismissed with, "As long as you're eating a well-balanced diet, you have nothing to worry about." Few bothered explaining what a "well-balanced diet" was.

Those who disagreed with this approach were labeled charlatans. When the late Adelle Davis wrote that diet was a direct cause of many diseases, she was labeled a fraud. Who would have guessed that the Surgeon General of the United states would reach the same conclusion two decades later! In 1969, when Drs. Wilfred and Evan Shute, two Canadian physicians, first said that vitamin E could help prevent heart disease, they were dismissed as quacks. Today, vitamin E is routinely given to coronary bypass patients because it appears to accelerate healing and prevent new blockages from occurring. When Nobel laureate Linus Pauling began advocating the use of vitamin C as a treatment for the common cold and even speculated that it might protect against cancer, he was vilified by the medical establishment. Recent studies show that he was on the right track.

The medical community resisted the "diet-disease" link and poured its energy and money into bigger and better technology. Although hundreds of millions of dollars a year were being poured into the health care system (today, it's hundreds of billions of dollars), Americans were not getting much healthier.

In the 1970s, a handful of astute U.S. researchers began to question why, despite our wealth and "superior" medical knowledge, U.S. cancer and heart disease rates were high, particularly when compared with many other less-"advanced" countries around the world. They began looking for clues in "unscientific" factors such as nutrition and life-style. A pattern began to emerge: Studies showed that people who lived in less-affluent countries where the diet was rich in fruits, vegetables, and grains appeared to have protection against cancer and heart disease. Those who lived in wealthy countries where "meat and potatoes" were standard fare and other vegetables were used as garnishes (if at all) appeared to be vulnerable to these diseases. Many members of the medical establishment were quick to dismiss these findings as "coincidental" or evidence that some groups must be "genetically" prone to develop certain diseases, while others were immune. Fortunately, more thoughtful scientists took a closer look at the findings. They noticed one obvious difference: many of the "protector" foods were high in fiber and low in fat, just the opposite of the typical American diet. They concluded, quite correctly, that a high-fat, low-fiber diet must somehow increase the odds of developing heart disease and certain forms of cancer.

These pioneers also reasoned that if eating a diet rich in plant foods resulted in a lower rate of cancer or heart disease, some ingredient within these foods -- vitamins, minerals, or other chemicals -- might offer special protection. In laboratories throughout the world, scientists began to isolate particular chemicals in fruits and vegetables. They found that many of these "protector" foods were rich in vitamins such as beta-carotene (the plant form of vitamin A), vitamins C and E, and minerals such as selenium and potassium. They also noticed that people who consumed low levels of these key vitamins and minerals appeared to be at much higher risk of developing certain diseases.

Researchers probed further and found a wide array of other compounds in plant food, which they named phytochemicals. They tested many of these phytochemicals on animals or isolated cells to determine what, if any, role they might play in helping to prevent disease. Some of their startling discoveries were:

  • Coumarins, found in plant food including parsley, licorice, and citrus fruits, are natural "blood thinners" which may prevent blood clots.
  • Indoles, found in cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts), may help to prevent breast cancer by blocking the action of potent estrogens that trigger the growth of tumors.
  • Ellagic acid, found in cherries, grapes and strawberries, may deactivate carcinogens which, if left to their devices, would cause cancerous growths.
  • Phytates, found in cereal grains, may deactivate steroidal compounds that promote tumors.
  • Pectins, a form of soluble fiber found in apples and grapefruits, can help reduce cholesterol and may protect against diabetes.
  • Genistein, a compound found in the urine of people who eat soy-based foods, appears to block the growth of new capillaries that supply blood to tumors.

The work of these researchers has led even the most skeptical members of the medical community to acknowledge that many of the diseases that plague modem men and women may actually be a result of micronutrient deficiencies -- that is, a shortage of vitamins, minerals, and other biologically active substances -- most of which are available in food. Not just any food, but the right food. And unfortunately, in foods that are most lacking in the American diet.

According to the National Cancer Institute, fewer than 25 percent of all Americans are actually eating the foods they should to fully protect themselves against cancer and heart disease and other common ailments. Here's the result.

  • 1 out of 3 Americans will get cancer sometime in their lifetime, and in the twenty-first century, that figure is expected to rise to I out of 2.
  • 1 out of 2 Americans will develop some form of heart
  • disease.
  • Breast cancer is a virtual epidemic, affecting I out of 9 women, with no end in sight.
  • Among men over 50, 1 out of 11 will get prostate cancer.
  • 15 to 20 million Americans over 45 will suffer from osteoporosis, which often leads to severe fractures and even death.
  • 14 million Americans suffer from some form of diabetes, which greatly increases their risk of having a heart attack.

As grim as these statistics are, there are some rays of hope. According to the National Cancer Society, around 35 percent of all cancers may be related to poor diet. If we change our eating habits, we can reduce our risk of developing cancer by more than one third. In fact, many experts believe that 35 percent is actually a conservative estimate and the number may be as high as 50 percent. The diet link may be even stronger for heart disease, the number-one killer of both men and women. In addition, other ailments, from diabetes to osteoporosis to high blood pressure, may be prevented or controlled through proper nutrition.


How Food Works

Before you can understand how the right foods can protect against various diseases, and the wrong foods may actually promote them, you need to understand how the body uses food. Here's a very abbreviated description of what happens to food in your body.

Every morsel of food you eat undergoes a complex process called digestion. It begins in the mouth, where the food is mixed with an enzyme in saliva that begins breaking it down into simple sugars. The masticated food is then swallowed and enters the esophagus, or gullet, where it is propelled through the digestive tract to the stomach. In the stomach, the food is further broken down by various enzymes and hydrochloric acid. Within a short time, the food moves on to the small intestine, which absorbs the available nutrients. From the small intestine, the food moves on to the large intestine, or colon, where it is dehydrated and forms a semisolid waste product. It takes roughly 12 to 14 hours for food to work its way through the intestinal maze until what is left of it is eliminated as feces.

The purpose of digestion is to break food down into components that can be used by the millions of cells in the body. Protein, carbohydrates, and fats provide the energy to fuel just about every body function, from breathing to thinking to walking. Vitamins work with enzymes, proteins produced by the liver, to help metabolize the nutrients from food and convert them into energy.

During the course of a given day, our bodies are exposed to many carcinogens, that is, chemicals that can promote cancer. Sometimes these chemicals are in our food-for example, the process of cooking meat can create compounds that are known carcinogens. Aflatoxin, a particularly potent carcinogen linked to liver cancer, is produced by a fungus that can grow on peanuts and other fruits and vegetables. Pollutants commonly found in the air we breathe or in our water supply may be carcinogenic. Chemicals that we use on the job may cause mutations, or changes in cells that can trigger cancer.

There are several ways that a carcinogen can do its dirty work. It can "initiate" cancer by inflicting damage on a cell, leaving the cell ripe for cancerous growth under the right circumstances. In some cases, a carcinogen can be a cancer "promoter" -- it will find already vulnerable cells and turn them into cancerous ones.

Many vitamins, minerals, and other chemicals found in food may protect against cancer by promoting the production of enzymes that help to block the action of carcinogens. In some cases, a "protector" may deactivate compounds within the body that may trigger cancer. Some "protectors" are antioxidants. They prevent the formation of unstable oxygen molecules called "free radicals," which can destroy normal cells. If we don't have enough of these "protectors," then carcinogens may be allowed to run amok throughout the body.

"Protectors" do a lot more than protect against cancer. Some mediate the biochemical chain of events that produces the kind of inflammatory response that triggers conditions such as arthritis, psoriasis, and lupus. Others help the body maintain normal blood sugar levels, which can help prevent diabetes, and still others help the body better utilize the vitamins and minerals that are essential for strong bones, normal blood pressure and heart function. Some "protectors" help to strengthen the immune system, giving the body the ammunition it needs to fight its own battles.

Once you understand the valuable roles that "protectors" play in keeping us healthy, it will give you a new appreciation of the power of food.


The Future Is Bright

Within the next decade, there will be an explosion in information and interest in "food medicines." Studies involving human subjects will further explore the possible healing power of food, which I believe will greatly enhance our ability to prevent and treat many diseases. In the United States, the National Cancer Institute's Diet and Cancer Branch is in the midst of an ambitious program to study the chemoprotective properties of dozens of foods that have previously been cited as potential cancer fighters. In fact, the NCI is taking this concept one step farther by studying the possibility of extracting these compounds from food to create "designer foods" that are specifically geared to treat or prevent certain diseases. Serious researchers throughout the world, from Tel Aviv to Tokyo, from UCLA to Harvard, are investigating the potential healing properties of hundreds of foods, from tofu to curry to tuna, and are coming up with some fascinating results. Groups such as the New York Academy of Sciences are holding meetings to review the latest research on the effect of vitamins and minerals.

There are still some skeptics who say that we should wait for all the studies to be completed and data analyzed before we make any changes in our eating style. I believe they are wrong -- dead wrong. While we may not yet know all the answers, we know enough of them to take positive action. However, at the rate we're going, it'll be well into the twenty-first century before the studies are done and this new information actually filters down to the public, and even longer before it is incorporated into the diets of most Americans. But there are many people who don't want to wait that long, and would like to start making changes right now. Some aren't sure exactly what to do, or are bewildered by the barrage of nutrition information presented (often inaccurately or in a confusing fashion) by the media. I've written Earl Mindell's Food as Medicine to close that information gap. In this book, I review the latest findings on the vitamins, minerals, and other chemicals in food that can protect against various diseases. I have also compiled a list of the "Hot Hundred" foods, which includes foods that may offer the greatest protection against disease. In addition, I try to correct misconceptions about such complex issues such as fat and cholesterol, food additives, and the controversy over food irradiation. Because having the right information can be the difference between life and death, I have included an extensive Resources section where readers can get up-to-date information and advice on various related matters.

A word of caution: Food may be good medicine, but it is not a panacea. If you are under treatment for a particular problem, do not discontinue your medicine in the hopes that a particular food will work just as well. Making positive changes in your diet may reap great benefits, and there certainly have been documented cases where people were able to slow down or even reverse some medical problems through constructive changes in their life-style. However, simply throwing out your medicine before achieving the desired result is foolhardy and can be extremely dangerous. Your best bet is to consult a naturally oriented physician who is familiar with nutrition.


An Important Point About Food vs. Vitamins

if we know that vitamins and minerals play such an important role in preventing disease, why can't we just take a vitamin pill and stop worrying about diet?

This is one of the most common misconceptions about supplements. Many people believe that they can pop a vitamin and be healthy regardless of eating habits or life-style. This just isn't true. Vitamins and minerals are important, but in order to be effective, they need to work with food; they are not the same as food. They do not provide the same nutrients as food, nor can they satisfy hunger.

Second, the right foods contain many things that vitamins and minerals do not, such as fiber, which may prevent many different forms of cancer, as well as other phytochemicals, biologically active substances that are equally important for maintaining good health.

There are times that I may recommend taking a vitamin or mineral supplement, but that in no way diminishes the importance of food.

Copyright © 1994 by Earl Mindell, R.Ph., Ph.D., and Carol Colman

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