Diet on prescription
“A pill for every ailment”
has become the fundamental basis for treatment in present day clinical medical practice. Unfortunately pill almost never deal with the reasons why these symptoms exist, while they frequently create new health problems as side effects of their activities. This is not to say that treatment of the symptoms is wrong. What would be wrong to think that by eliminating the symptoms we have deal with the problem itself. Unfortunately, disease continues to develop further with symptomes being camouflaged by these presciption drugs.
In fact, this way we allow the major illness to develop and then spend huge sums on heroic measures, even then ignoring the underlying lefestyle-related causes. Perhaps the greatest evidence of thee depth of the crisis is that we have come to accept such levels of chronic disease as normal, despite evidence that much of ti is preventable. Many reports on nutrition and Health, have pointes out that ‘dietary imbalances’ are the leading preventable contributors to atherosclerosis, heart diseases, cerebrovascular diseases, gastrointestinal diseases and have recommended the expansion of nutrition and lifestyle modification education for all health care professionals.
According to an April 2015 study by IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics in US, a company that tracks sales at the pharmacy level for drug companies, total drug spending in 2014 was 374$ billion, up 13,1 % from the prior year. 10 topmost selling drugs were statin drugs for hiperlipidemia, beta blocker for treating heart diseases, Ace inhibitors for high blood pressure, antidiabetics, drugs for asthma, for gastric ulcer, diuretics and pain killers.
Medical science has become one-sided in its focus, increasingly losing sight of the whole person in its attempts to treat the body’s individual parts. Here a few common conditions like high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, heart diseases, strokes and gastrointestinal disorders have chosen to show how diet and life style changes as first choice prescription address the symptoms as well as the cause of the disease.
HYPERLIPIDEMIA, ATHEROSCLEROSIS, HEART DISEASE AND STROKE
A common precursor of heart disease is atherosclerosis in which the inner arterial walls harden and thicken due to the deposit of fatty substances. These substances form a plaque, which causes narrowing of the arteries. Over time, plaque can block the arteries and interrupt blood flow to organs including heart and brain. Atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries is one of the most common heart diseases leading to angina and heart attack, while atherosclerosis of cerebral arteries can precipitate strokes. Cholesterol, which has been cast as the villain in heart disease, is a waxy, oily substance necessary for the maintenance and repair of the body’s cells.
Cholesterol levels in the body are determined by measuring the levels of lipoproteins in the blood( proteins that carry fats in the bloodstream). This includes high density lipoproteins (HDL) and low density lipoproteins (LDL). LDL cholesterol is often referred to as “bad”: cholesterol because it appears to deposit fats on arterial walls and cause the most arterial damage. However, LDL cholesterol becomes harmful only after it has been oxidized. Oxidized cholesterol (known as oxysterols) enter the blood stream either from processed foods, from the metabolism of ingested animal products, from environmental pollutants such as chlorine, fluoride and chlorinated pesticides, from various stressors such as infections, traumas and emotional stress. Lard kept hot and used repeatedly to cook French fries and potato chips is loaded with oxysterols as are gelatin preparations.
Another source of oxysterols is methionine, an essential amino acid found in red meat , milk and milk products. Methionine is converted in the body to homocysteine, which is normally converted in the body to the harmless amino acid, cystationine. But lack enzyme necessary to convert homocysteine to cystationine can lead to abnormally high levels of homocysteine. Vitamin B12, B6 and folic acid are also required for this conversion. Presence of antioxidants such as vit C, vitamin E and betacarotenes can neutralize the oxysterols. Excess of homocysteine is capable of generating free radicals, which are capable of producing oxysterols. Therefore, oxidized cholesterol should be considered the real culprit in atherosclerosis, as it can work to initiate plaque formation on arterial walls, which can lead to atherosclerosis and ultimately to heart attack and strokes. So this cholesterol phobia should be seen in the right perspective.
New information concerning the safety, side effects and efficacy of cholesterol lowering drugs is a matter of concern. A study conducted in Finland reported that deaths from heart attacks and strokes were 46 percent higher in those taking cholesterol-lowering drugs. Never drugs being touted as safer also have harmful side effects. For example studies have shown that lovastatin lowers the level of coenzyme Q10 in the bloodstream, an antioxidant that helps the body resist heart damage.
Vegetarian diet, exercise and stress reduction techniques can reverse the arterial buildup of plaques. Dietary guidelines include: elimination of meat, sugar, tobacco, fried food and alcohol, which are all sources of free radicals. Monosaturated oils (cold-pressed olive oil), omega-3 oils (flaxseed oil or oils from deep ocean fish) and omega-6 oils (evening primrose oil, black currant and borage oil) should be used. Oils must be fresh and cold-pressed (rancid oils can be harmful). Fibre from sources like green leafy vegetables, fresh raw fruits, bran, whole grains, beans, and seeds should be added to the diet. Buy organic (free of pesticides, herbicides, steroids and antibiotics) whenever possible . Eat minimally processed foods (avoid additives and preservatives or food containing powdered eggs or powdered milk).
HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
Conventional high blood pressure medications treat hypertension by reducing the heart output , lowering the blood pressure, or reducing the fluid retention through the use of diuretics. Many of these drugs have unwanted side effects. These medications may relieve the symptoms but do little to address the cause. Dietary changes, nutritional supplementation and lifestyle changes such as weight loss and stress management can successfully treat hypertension. Diet low in fat and salt but rich in foods containing potassium, calcium, magnesium and fibre is highly recommended.
Garlic and other members of onion family significantly reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Potassium rich fruits such as avocado, bananas, grapefruit, nectarines and vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, green peas, potatoes and squash can lower high blood pressure. Calcium rich foods including nuts and leafy vegetables such as kale. Dietary magnesium is found in nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans), rice, bananas, potatoes, wheat germ, kidney, lima beans and molasses.
Nutritional supplements include fish oil containing omega-3 fatty acids, garlic, evening primrose oil, magnesium, potassium, selenium, zinc, vitamin B6, niacin, vitamin C, coenzyme Q10, tryptophan, taurine, cysteine. (Caution: high intake of vitamin E is not recommended for people with hypertension). Life style plays a major role in development of hypertension. Hence, weight loss, excercises and stress management reduce hypertension. Stress reduction techniques from various disciplines of mind –body medicine such as biofeedback, yoga, meditation , Chikung, relaxation excercises and hypnotherapy have all proven successful in lowering blood pressure.
Preeti Agrawal M.D. Ph.D.