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Understanding Food as Medicine: A Functional Medicine Approach



In the functional medicine (integrative healthcare) approach, the adage "food is medicine" holds profound truth. To truly harness the healing power of food, it is crucial to understand your body at a chemical level. This involves interpreting your Complete Blood Count (CBC) and metabolic profile, identifying imbalances, and addressing the underlying causes rather than merely treating symptoms. This approach supports temporary supplementation and promotes balanced health through a nutritious diet.


Understanding Your Body's Chemistry

To start, it is essential to comprehend what your CBC and metabolic profile reveal about your health. These tests provide a snapshot of your body's internal environment, highlighting potential issues such as inflammation, nutrient deficiencies, or metabolic imbalances.


  • CBC Blood Test: This test measures various components of your blood, including red and white blood cells and platelets. Abnormal levels can indicate anemia, infections, or immune system disorders.

  • Metabolic Profile: This includes tests for blood sugar levels, electrolytes, kidney function, and liver function. Imbalances here can point to issues such as diabetes, kidney disease, or liver problems.


The Importance of Understanding the 'Why'

When faced with abnormal results, it is tempting to jump straight to supplementation to correct the numbers. However, it's more beneficial to understand why these numbers are off. For instance, low iron levels might suggest not just a need for more iron but also potential issues with absorption or chronic blood loss. By identifying and addressing the root cause, you can create a more effective and lasting solution.


The Role of Systemic Inflammation

Systemic inflammation is a common underlying factor in many chronic diseases. Managing inflammation is crucial for overall health and can be effectively achieved through diet and lifestyle changes. Here’s how:


  1. Balanced Blood Sugar: Keeping your blood sugar levels stable helps reduce inflammation. This can be achieved by consuming a diet rich in whole foods, fiber, and healthy fats while minimizing processed sugars and refined carbs.

  2. Anti-Inflammatory Foods: Incorporate foods known for their anti-inflammatory properties, such as fatty fish (rich in omega-3 fatty acids), leafy greens, nuts, and seeds.


The Overlooked Link Between Lack of Movement and Chronic Inflammation

When people think about chronic inflammation, they often blame issues like gut problems, food allergies, environmental toxins, and infections. There's another major cause that gets ignored: not moving enough.


Research published in well-known journals shows that being inactive can greatly increase inflammation in the body. Fat cells release substances called adipokines, which activate the IL-6 inflammatory pathway. IL-6 then triggers another pathway called NF-κB, creating a cycle of ongoing inflammation.


In clinical settings, patients with conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, joint inflammation, or autoimmune diseases might experience flare-ups. It's easy to assume these flare-ups are caused by specific triggers like certain foods or environmental factors. However, simply being inactive can also be a trigger.


Studies have found that even basic muscle movement can quickly reduce this inflammation. Muscles release substances called myokines that help control IL-6 and effectively shut down the NF-κB pathway. Few things can stop inflammation as effectively as muscle activity.


The Power of Environment and Lifestyle

Your genetic predisposition does not seal your fate. Environmental factors, diet, and lifestyle choices significantly influence your health outcomes. Understanding how your body works internally, you can use food to fill you up and nourish and heal you.


  1. Healthy Environment: Ensure your living environment supports your health by reducing exposure to toxins and promoting physical activity.

  2. Nourishing Diet: Focus on a diet that provides all the necessary nutrients to support your body’s functions, emphasizing whole, unprocessed foods.

  3. Active Lifestyle: Regular physical activity supports overall health and helps maintain balanced blood sugar and reduced inflammation.


Embracing the concept of food as medicine requires a deep understanding of your body’s needs and imbalances. By addressing the "why" behind your health issues, you can use food to achieve balanced health and manage systemic inflammation effectively. Remember, while you may have a genetic predisposition to certain conditions, your environment, diet, and lifestyle choices play a crucial role in determining your health outcomes. Understanding and nourishing your internal environment will transform food into a powerful tool for healing and wellness.



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