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Can the use of food as medicine go too far?

Can the use of food as medicine go too far? This article looks at whether it is safe to rely solely on food for treatment of disease.
Food items and pharmaceuticals.

It is well established that food contributes to good health and food plays an important role in the prevention and treatment of disease, but is it safe to rely solely on food for the treatment of disease?

Can food be a complete cure?

Examples abound of claims in the popular and grey literature – books, internet sites, blogs, testimonials etc. that diseases such as cancer can be ‘cured’ through food. These claims can at times be extreme and usually provide an over-simplified solution to complex diseases/conditions, for example, ‘Eat X food only and it will cure you’.

There are people who have views against conventional medicine and current evidence-based practice and push non-evidence-based treatments with tempting promises. It is common to see this conventional vs non-conventional theme around the world.

Why can’t we do both? Why one view or the other?

There are many examples of ‘diets’ that claim to cure different diseases, with strict food and diet regimes. One instance is a diet that makes promises to people suffering from cancer and recommends a diet of juices made from raw and organic foods, eating numerous times throughout the day, along with supplements. The reasoning behind this is that they claim this regime ‘removes’ toxins from the body and allows the body to heal itself naturally.

Followers of this type of advice may stop conventional treatment in favour of what they see as a more ‘natural’ approach. And while eating more nutrient-dense foods is important for health it is crucial that individuals are able to understand where the line is between food and dietary patterns that are able to assist with good health and healing vs ‘curing’.

One size does not fit all

It is important to note that just because one form of treatment ‘works’ for one individual, it does not necessarily mean it will work for another.

We are all individuals with differing genetics, environments and medical histories. We also must understand the difference between science and opinion; many people will offer an ‘opinion’ on what they think will ‘work’, usually with minimal science behind it.

If an individual is considering a change of diet, or interested in understanding how nutrition can help with treating disease, then working with a medical specialist and a well-qualified nutrition professional such as a dietitian to understand how nutrition and diet could work alongside medical treatment (such as surgical, pharmaceutical etc), rather than thinking it has to be one or the other.

Things change

Remember that just because the food was used for a purpose in the past, doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best choice now. Throughout history, people have always used what has been at their disposal, not necessarily because it is the best choice but because it is all they have had.

Research is constantly being carried out so we can learn more about effective treatments for disease and recommendations may change over time as we learn more.

A delicate balance

It is important to balance the current evidence; if you would like to use traditional medicine, understand how it fits in with conventional treatment and whether any studies have been carried out well to understand the possible properties; ask questions; do your research, and seek professional opinions from specialists within that area.

Remember, many people use food to help them reach their peak health levels, so to do this well it is important to understand current advances in nutrition science so you and your healthcare professional can work together to decide what is best for you.

© Monash University 2021. CRICOS No. 00008C
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Food as Medicine

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