Food As Medicine

Food As Medicine

Written by: Lisa Forsythe, LAc

Choose carefully. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) understands nutrition is paramount to health.   Practitioners incorporate food as medicine to expedite the recovery process and achieve lasting results.

Wise patients participate in their healing with diet to enhance outcomes. Talk doesn’t cook rice.

Chinese have practiced medicinal food cures from time immemorial. Sun Shu Mao, a Chinese physician, is best remembered as a roving herbalist and acupuncturist. He believed human life is more precious than gold. Dr. Mao published his food cure book, “1,000 Ounces of Gold Classic” in 652 A.D.. He prescribed seaweed and pig thyroid for goiter and liver for night blindness. These prescriptions remain relevant today in Chinese Medicine. 1400 years later, Western medicine has come to the same understanding.

Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine said, “He who doesn’t know food, how can he understand the diseases of man?” Ancient physicians knew food choices determine health status. However; modern medicine has strayed from this wisdom with little or no medical school training in this critical subject. What we eat, how much, and when has everything to do with our present health status. Equally, it will determine our future quality of life and longevity. How could it not? Dr. Mehmet Oz, famed TV physician, states people must make lifestyle changes in order to achieve health. Diet tops the list.

There is a saying in Chinese Medicine, “7 parts nursing, 3 parts treatment”. “Nursing” means proper diet and lifestyle modifications. According to respected TCM practitioner, Bob Flaws, those who want to get the most from treatments must support healing efforts. Patients comply with physical therapy instructions. However; often times diet instructions are not given nor followed. Thus, one of the most important components of healing is ignored. It is often the foods we enjoy most frequently that contribute to our disease. Those who think not eating a balanced diet will have a profound effect are mistaken.

According to TCM, foods have assigned nature and flavors. The nature is the temperature effect on the body. For example, when I studied in Beijing in June 1996, the hospital was extremely hot without A/C. The Chinese doctors would eat watermelon on breaks due to its cooling nature. Their sweating was dramatically less than us Westerners. Flaws points out how pears aid lung dryness but are contraindicated for those overweight and congested. Flavors are prescribed according to the patient’s imbalance. Sour foods are prescribed to stop diarrhea. Bitter foods such as cooked leafy greens encourage weight loss. Count calories or carbs doesn’t enter the equation. Knowing the TCM diagnosis does. What’s healthy for you doesn’t necessarily mean it is for your loved ones. Every body is different!

Dietary therapy guidelines are individualized. However, avoiding dairy, sugar, and alcohol until balance is restored is generally recommended. Some people complain these instructions are too stringent until they see the results. All foods may be allowed when eaten in moderation upon healing. They are surprised to learn the healthiest countries follow these diet suggestions as matter of course. Dairy is foreign to the Eastern diet; their waste lines reflect this. Going back to old eating patterns is discouraged, as this is what often contributes to the present health condition. Many patients report not only a reduction in symptoms but also a sense of well being including improved energy and sleep. Weight loss often accompanies results. Often times, doctors decrease medications. One of the biggest gifts for committed patients is observing how their bodies function; all healing is an inside job. Patients learn how food choices affect their quality of life, empowering knowledge indeed. Quality of life is the reward. What else could be more important?

“He who takes medicine and neglects to diet, wastes the skill of his doctors.” ~ Chinese Proverb