Food as Medicines & Pharmaceuticals - Under the Microscope #3
Last time, we touched on “Food as Medicine” and how it affects our overall health. But how do they fit in with Pharmaceuticals? With the emergence of “Food as Medicine,” people no longer view Pharmaceuticals as their only option for the management of chronic diseases.
There is always a place for Pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceuticals are excellent at doing the job they were designed for, however they are increasingly being used to solve problems they simply can’t fix. Foods as Medicines are created to fill that gap.
In fact “Food as Medicine”, pharmaceutical products, and general dietary management all work in a symbiotic relationship to maintain optimal health. The issue is that many health care professionals are trying to solve problems with Pharmaceuticals that could be managed with diet and “Food as Medicine.
Although Pharmaceuticals can address many health problems, they are not necessarily the right tool for the job. Biology is complicated – really complicated, with thousands of pathways all working together. Pharmaceuticals are designed to repair a damaged pathway. Often though there is nothing broken to fix. The analogy I like to use is this: Life is an orchestra and there are two ways the music can be wrong. Firstly, an instrument might be broken. This is where pharmaceuticals come in – they replace the broken instrument. However, the other way the music can be off is if lots of instruments are just a little out of tune. In this scenario there is nothing to “fix” rather the orchestra needs to be “tuned” or “re-educated” over many of its parts all at once – this is where Food as Medicine comes in. This scenario is also why many supplements are ineffective – they just tune too few instruments to make the music work. In many cases there are both broken instruments and out of tune ones.
So then, how does a health care professional know when to use “Food as Medicine” or Pharmaceuticals?
The answer is not as black or white as you might think. It is common practice to look at each health issue as its own problem, that exists in isolation. But Pharmaceuticals don’t work on their own, they need the biochemical infrastructure to be working as well. It does not matter how many Pharmaceuticals a person takes, if the rest of the body’s biochemistry isn’t working properly then the body cannot make proper use of those drugs. For example: if there is a broken railway track line, a Pharmaceutical will lay more tracks for you. But if you want a network of railroads, then all of it needs electricity to function. . “Food as Medicine” acts as the electricity to make the whole network function. “Food as Medicine” is designed to make sure that the biochemical infrastructure is intact and optimal, and that makes the Pharmaceuticals more effective .
When medicine was industrialised and the first Pharmaceuticals were isolated from plants, people were growing their own food, and buying locally sourced produce. This meant that fresh food was readily available, and ultra-processed “industrialised” foods effectively did not exist. This meant that people were effectively self-medicating with “Food as Medicine” every day. It wasn’t until the over processing of food became endemic that it was realised that Pharmaceuticals do not work on their own, they need good nutrition as well, which people are no longer getting to be effective.
B12 is a good example of the much-needed relationship between “Food as Medicine” and Pharmaceuticals. Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps keep your body’s blood and nerve cells healthy. B12 is depleted in the body by metformin which is the most common of the oral Pharmaceuticals that are used to treat diabetes. But B12 depletion is not a side effect of the use of metformin, rather it is a part of how metformin works. “Food as Medicine” can supply the body with these necessary nutrients, which help improve the efficacy of pharmaceuticals. We need to change the way we view things. “Food as Medicine” is an integral part of an effective therapy. They’re not secluded from each other.