Nutritional Therapy As an Alternative Treatment
Some alternative medical practitioners believe that eating the right foods can augment conventional medical treatment in addressing the symptoms and causes of disease. Foods have been used for their healing properties for thousands of years. Healthy foods not only contain vitamins and minerals; they also contain enzymes, phytonutrients, essential fatty acids and other substances that are thought to prevent and help cure disease. Nutritional therapy should not be used in place of traditional medical treatment. Check with your doctor before changing your diet to treat any disease or condition.
Nutritional therapy is the selection and consumption of specific foods to obtain vitamins, minerals and other substances necessary for optimal health, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. This alternative medicine discipline focuses on the relationship between food and health, and relies on the science of how nutrients are absorbed and used in the body.
The ancient Greek philosopher Hippocrates raised awareness of the connection between food and health in the Western world, according to Michael Castleman, author of "Nature's Cures." Hippocrates viewed food as medicine, and advocated a diet based on nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables and grains. Formal studies of nutrition began in France during the 18th century, when chemist Lavoisier noticed the correlation between breathing and food metabolism. In 1912, Polish chemist Casimir Funk discovered that correction of a vitamin B1 deficiency could prevent beriberi. Around the same time, scientists recognized the connection between nutritional deficiencies and other diseases such as rickets, pellagra and scurvy.
Many alternative medical practitioners believe that nutritional therapy should focus on natural foods and the reduction or elimination of processed, refined foods. Dr. James F. Balch, author of "Prescription for Nutritional Healing," recommends a diet of between 50 percent and 75 percent raw, organic foods for optimal health. Raw foods are thought to contain the highest amounts of vitamins, minerals and enzymes, while cooking is thought to break down these nutrients.
According to Dr. Balch, processed, refined foods can contribute to a variety of diseases, including autism, diabetes and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Nutritional regimens that reduce or eliminate refined foods may help control the symptoms of these conditions.
Alternative nutritional therapists often recommend fruits and vegetables high in vitamins A, C and E, which are thought to contain antioxidants that can prevent cellular damage and several types of cancer, such as skin and colon cancer, notes Dr. Balch.
Garlic contains two chemicals, allicin and ajoene, which are thought to lower blood pressure, thin the blood and lower blood cholesterol levels, according to Castleman. This may help people with heart disease manage symptoms and prevent heart attacks and strokes.
Flax and hemp seed contain essential fatty acids that may help reduce artery-clogging cholesterol, enhance brain function and improve circulation.
While nutritional therapy is generally considered safe, some foods may cause allergic reactions. Castleman recommends an elimination diet, which involves the systematic removal of suspected allergy-causing foods from your diet, to identify foods that trigger allergic reactions.
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