Diet can make you ill but can certain foods cure you?
Is it time for doctors to get more serious about prescribing nutrition?
Patricia Daly, nutritional therapist: “I don’t consider myself as alternative at all.” Photograph: Aidan Crawley
The idea that certain foods have healing properties and can be used to treat disease is controversial.
We are willing to accept that the western diet is making us sick but there is scepticism about whether certain foods can heal the body after trouble sets in.
Ireland is more conservative than other countries when it comes to complementary therapies. The US/Mexico border is dotted with alternative clinics bearing names that drip optimism like The Oasis of Hope Hospital.
Most are set up by US citizens taking advantage of Mexico’s loose medical regulations to offer nutritional therapies for diseases like cancer.
Thousands of Americans travel every year, usually after they have been told conventional medicine can do no more for them, and are put on a regimen of vitamin therapy, daily enemas and large doses of nutritional supplements.
There have been claims of miracle cures but just as many accusations of bogus treatments.
Debate about the clinics tends to erupt when someone prominent dies in them, such as Martin Luther King’s widow Coretta Scott King back in 2006 following unsuccessful treatment for ovarian cancer.
When Steve Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003, he delayed surgery for nine months to explore nutritional and other alternative options. It was a decision he came to regret as the cancer had spread by the time he was willing to submit to conventional treatment.
It seems that when it comes to fighting killer diseases, putting your faith in food alone is not a good idea, but orthodox medicine can also be very one-dimensional.
Even when treating diseases associated with poor diet like heart disease or diabetes, the default is pharmaceutical drugs rather than reversing the condition with diet. So is it time for doctors to get more serious about prescribing nutrition?
If you have any doubts about the power of food, watch the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. It tells the story of Joe Cross, a 310lb Australian who cured his chronic auto-immune condition urticaria with a medically supervised 60-day juice diet and was able to ditch the pills he had been on for nine years.
He also managed to persuade a morbidly obese Ohio trucker who suffered from the same condition to try the juice route, with an outcome that will leave you cheering at the screen.
There is a middle ground emerging in the form of “integrative nutrition” – the idea that food can be used alongside conventional medicine to support the body to heal itself.
Patricia Daly is a nutritional therapist whose speciality is working with cancer patients. She stresses that she never recommends nutritional therapy as an alternative to conventional medicine and that her job is to keep people as healthy as possible during treatment.
Her clients usually come to her during chemo or radiotherapy for help with combating side effects. “I don’t consider myself as alternative at all; what I do must be integrated with orthodox medicine,” says Daly.
“For emergencies, modern medicine is fantastic but for more chronic illnesses it is worth looking into integrating other therapies.”