Food and Your Health
By Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine once said,
“Let food be thy medicine.”
Can food help prevent memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease,
cancer, and other chronic illnesses? I believe it can.
In fact, I believe that food is the original and best
medicine and one of the best ways for to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease. Today this idea has become one of the guiding principles of healthy
living. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Every schoolchild knows
that one. Beyond that, there are certain foods that activate our body’s natural
healing force. When this takes place-when we eat specific foods in a carefully
chosen way–we are able to prevent and heal scores of ailments safely and
Ancient wisdom, mixed with modern medical science, shows us
exactly how nutrition can be used to fight disease and foster well-being.
Further examples utilizing this concept include using salmon as medicine,
because of its rich content of the salubrious fat DHA, important for optimal
cardiovascular and brain function. Soy, known for its isoflavones, which are
anticancer, and the ancient yogic food combination of mung beans and basmati
rice for healing chronic illness, especially in the elderly are other examples.
My intense interest in this topic led me to attend one of
the most enlightening medical conferences I have ever been to.
The theme was “Food as Medicine: Integrating Nutrition
into Clinical Practice and Medical Education” and was sponsored by The
Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington DC., in association with the University
of Minnesota and, Georgetown University School of Medicine. The conference was
underwritten by a grant from the H.P. Wallace Foundation.
The meals served at the conference were organized to
exemplify what we were learning: to take better care of ourselves and guide our
patients. The food was absolutely delicious and gave all the participants the
experience of knowing that if you eat well, you feel well and can have great
energy and enthusiasm for life. Moreover, each day the conference began with yoga
class which was so well attended that a second room had to be opened to
accommodate all the people who wanted to start their day in a very positive
Like most physicians, I received very little nutritional
education in medical school and as an anesthesiologist, healthful eating was
nor part of my training. I’ve been studying holistic health and nutrition on my
own, however, for over 20 years. Plus, as a clinician treating patients with
short term memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other
conditions, I have a rich and varied experience in prescribing dietary changes
to help my patients heal. But I wanted to learn even more, because I had heard
about most of it, although I had not studied it completely.
I fully understood the impact this material is going to have
upon the lives of so many people. Upon delving deeper into this subject
however, I realized just how profound this work is and I can tell you without
hesitation that this is the future of medicine.
Let’s take the concept of food and nutrients as
information-rich biochemical messenger molecules. This is far-reaching. As a
board certified anesthesiologist, medical acupuncturist and author of seven
books incorporating integrative concepts including yoga and meditation, I believe
I understand the theory behind messenger molecules.
Food can send a positive or negative signal to your body. In
fact, in a manner not unlike acupuncture, this message can affect your genes
and the proteins they synthesize. Some foods are very stimulating and present a
signal reflecting the frenetically-paced microsecond world in which we live.
These are acid-forming foods or what Dr. Bland refers to as yang foods. Yang is
a Chinese medical term meaning hot, or stimulating. When your body is too yang this
imbalance can lead to pain from inflammation or may also lead to hypertension.
Red meat is a prime example of a yang food. It is digested
to form amino acids which are themselves further broken down as they enter the
bloodstream. Once in your blood, amino acids may relay a stress signal to the
receptors on cellular membranes. This harmful cellular stress effect,
especially when it occurs over and over again, may cause the genetic machinery
to produce prostaglandins that can lead to the production of an inflammatory
response. Over time this chronic condition of cellular “over stress”
may lead to illnesses such as arthritis and autoimmune disorders such as lupus
If the yang energy foods in your diet are balanced with some
nice alkaline foods such as fresh organic fruits and vegetables, including
asparagus, kiwi fruit and perhaps some watermelon, we are countering that
negative signal which may lead to illness. This is referred to in Chinese
medicine as yin or something that has a relaxed, soft or calming effect. In this way, food can either serve to cause
serious illness over time, or food can be the best healing medicine.
We also learned about the importance of omega-3 fatty acids
such as the DHA I mentioned was found in salmon. It is also important to
provide adequate amounts of this good fat for optimal health and healing by
using vegetarian sources such as flax and hemp.
In conclusion, learning to eat as medicine is an ongoing
process and one that we would all be wise to pursue for Alzheimer’s prevention and to retain brain longevity.