The Food Pharmacy

The ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, said: “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” In those days, there was little else to rely on. So over the centuries, until the era of synthetic drugs commenced in the 19th century, a folklore of food medicine developed all over the world.

Until recently, organized medicine did not give much credence to this folklore beyond simply nostrums such as certain plants or herbs treating minor burns. Now, in a fascinating and carefully written book, science writer Jean Carper writes: ‘The new scientific fascination with the food pharmacy is emerging, especially in the United States and other strongholds of Western medicine, for at least three reasons: an infusion of scientific ideas from other cultures, notably the Far East; a revival of fascination with things natural (holistic medicine, health foods and so forth); and stunning scientific advancements in the understanding of the diet’s impact on disease.”

Published in July, Carper’s book, The Food Pharmacy (Bantam), has received far less attention from the nation’s talk shows than any third-rate diet book promising hoax relief. Yet, it is carefully researched and can do more good for families than many billions of dollars of dubious prescription and over-the-counter medicines which Americans consume each year.

Carper chronicles the surge in scientific investigations regarding “the chemical basis for food’s remarkable impact on human health.” Yogurt, onions, ginger, fish and, most prominently, garlic are among the hundreds of specific foods that she connects with specific, beneficial results regarding some disease, pain, inflammation, clots, bacteria, motion sickness, insomnia — to name a few of the useful, understandable connections she cautiously makes based on the best available evidence.

Her findings are summarized in the introduction as follows:

“Foods are full of pharmacological agents. Foods do act as drugs in the body. Which foods you eat can make a health difference at the cellular level. Food folklore is full of wisdom that is now scientifically confirmable. Taking clues from food folklore, prestigious scientists are investigating food-disease connections and finding amazing powers in the food pharmacy. Some physicians and scientists are ‘prescribing’ foods on the basis of new understandings of disease mechanisms.

“You can direct your own health by taking advantage of the new scientific information about the therapeutic powers of food.

“By making small changes in your diet — by deliberately eating more of foods known to have positive health effects (instead of always worrying about what is bad for you), you may prevent and alleviate both acute and chronic maladies such as infections, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, constipation and other gastrointestinal diseases, ulcers, arthritis, skin disorders, headaches, low energy and insomnia.”

Notice that Carper says “may prevent and alleviate” such maladies.

Her twelve tales of scientific investigation is a particularly engrossing part of the book. It covers the “great fish discoveries, onions for the heart, the cabbage-cancer connection, the search for the mysterious carrot factor, barley, oats, the vegetarian secret and chile peppers’ Yin-Yang Therapy.”

When you read this book, you won’t put it down until you get hungry.

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