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Heal me, Dr. Food!

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Move over pills and potions. Food is the new Doctor on the block. St. Luke’s Anderson Campus, a hospital in Pennsylvania, is attempting to create a ‘food revolution’ in the US that would make the father of medicine, Hippocrates proud. “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” he had declared in 431 B.C. exhorting his belief that most patients could be treated merely by modifying their diets. St. Luke’s Hospital decided to rely on the local fresh, organic produce to bring about a positive impact in patient health. They approached the Rodale Institute for help in converting a farm located within the Hospital Campus into an organic farm, to grow vegetables for patient meals as well as the cafeteria food. Both the organizations working in this unique partnership, now hope that their ‘farm to hospital’ food program will be replicated at every hospital throughout the U.S. with the entire focus on wholesome hygienic organic food.

In India, the foregoing experiment can be expanded to include not only the farm fresh organic foods in the hospitals and other institutions but also include typical Indian plants and herbs, used as food, as supplements for alleviation of certain medical problems. The Charaka Samhita, which was formulated 3000 years ago lays down the fundamental principles of using edible seeds, herbs, stems, barks and leaves to treat illnesses and plant food forms an indispensable part of Ayurveda medicine.

The Japanese too have carried out experiments with foods which provide special health benefits. In 1980s they developed and commercialised the concept of functional foods called FOSHU (Foods For Specified Health Use). This was done with adequate evidence of effectiveness of the product, identification of active constituents and guarantee of its safety. Benefits of these foods range from cholesterol lowering and regulating blood pressure, improving bowel and gastro-intestinal health and bone health.

[box] FOOD AS MEDICINE

  • Allyl sulfides in garlic and onions prevent heart disease.
  • Phytates in grains and legumes protect against cancer and heart disease.
  • Carotenoids in mangoes, carrots, apricots, pumpkin, green leafy vegetables and lignans in flaxseeds have protective effect against cancers. Isoflavones in soy protect against osteoporosis, cancer and heart disease.
  • Indoles and isothiocynates in cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli too have protective effect against cancer.
  • Ellagic acid in grapes, strawberries, raspberries and nuts function as antioxidant and anticancer substances.
  • Prebiotics in garlic, barley, oats & probiotics in fermented milk and yogurt help in improving gut function and immunity.[/box]

Many people have been consuming majority of these foods for thousands of years to prevent and treat specific health conditions but there is little recorded history of actual outcomes and dose controls. Notwithstanding this, consumer demand for foods capable of promoting good health and preventing or alleviating diseases is growing all across the globe. A study conducted by M M Pandey, Shubha Rastogi and AKS Rawat of CSIR-National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow shows that with growing cost of conventional medicine, sometimes, well beyond the reach of the common man, there is now an increased global interest in traditional and natural methods of treatment. India, with a vast heritage of an ancient, traditional discipline of food as medicine- can revitalise the science and establish a regulatory system for use of such foods to promote a cheaper and natural alternative for safety and health on the lines of Japanese experience.This would greatly reduce the common man’s dependence on conventional and expensive medical treatments. [creativ_alertbox icon=”suitcase” colour=”blue” custom_colour=””]As per the Companies Act 2013, Schedule VII (i) – ‘Eradicating hunger, poverty and malnutrition, promoting preventive healthcare and sanitation …’ is an eligible wp activity.[/creativ_alertbox] The Corporate world could play a major role in making this work by setting up large scale organic farms and commercialising production for use of medicinal foods for general population. This would generate business and employment. Corporate houses can also support NGOs and adopt schools and hospitals, providing not only farm fresh organic food but also food with medicinal values as an eligible wp activity.

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