Food vs. Medicine

Written by Tracy Ryan 12/21/2012 Final Project for Sociology


Hippocrates has been quoted as saying “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.  Even all those years ago it was known that there is a connection between food and health.  The unfortunate state of our modern society has led me to believe that even if people knew that they could get off of medication by changing their diet and adding exercise to their daily routine, the majority of the population would prefer to continue taking dangerous medications rather than take control of their own health.

In the documentary “Forks Over Knives” it discusses how before the industrial age families ate together, they spent time preparing food (mostly food they grew themselves or purchased locally) and eating as a family.  Present day we are a fast paced, convenience food, quick gratification society.  We don’t want to take the time to shop and prepare food for meals.  We don’t want to exercise in order to stay off of medication for preventable diseases such as high blood pressure and obesity.

There are three preventable illnesses that I am focusing on in this paper: obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.  What really saddens me is how common it is to see these illnesses in our children, especially since these illnesses are mostly preventable.  We have health epidemics in our modern society and they are a direct result of marketing by convenience food companies and pharmaceutical companies.  The advertisers target all age groups and even purport their food as being healthy and good for you.  

So we rush from work to after school sports for our kids and stop off and grab some fast food for the family to eat on the way.  By the time families get home from the events, kids get an evening snack and rush off to bed to start over the next day.  How did we come to be in such a sad state of health?  It all began back in the early to mid-1900’s when the first supermarkets and then the first McDonald’s were opened and people realized that there were other options to home grown food and home cooked meals.  Our economy became such that both parents needed to work to make ends meet.  This change in our society created the chaotic family we have today, well, that and the women’s movement.

This change did not occur overnight.  But gradually, over time we became a society of lazy, instant gratification and exhausted people.  Why get up in the morning and prepare a lovingly home cooked breakfast for our loved ones when they can just have a pop tart or the like, or just stop off at a fast food place for breakfast.  No need to prepare a sack lunch for our loved ones going off to school or work, when they can pop into a restaurant or fast food place for their lunch break from work, or eat a school lunch provided by their school.  After school snacks are no longer lovingly made by parents, kids get home and can have Twinkies or cupcakes.  Fruit and vegetables are no longer a staple in most homes, they have been replaced with chips, sweets and hamburger helper.

As the convenience foods and fast foods became more prevalent in our lives, so did heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.  There is a correlation that most of us do not want to acknowledge.  There is plenty of research out there to show that as we rely more and more on convenience foods, the rates of these preventable diseases has increased.

Doctors are finally catching on and trying to make a difference.  There are Dr.’s like Andrew Weil who reaches as many people as he can through his books and lectures, Dr. Hyman who wrote a groundbreaking book titled “Ultra Metabolism” in which he discusses preventable diseases and making better food choices and adding exercise to your daily routine, and Dr. Katz who created the “Nutrition Detectives” and “ABC Fitness” programs for Health Coaches to bring to schools to help educate children on the importance of watching what you eat and of adding exercise into their daily lives.

Dr. Daphne Miller regularly prescribes new foods to her patients in order to help them avoid dangerous prescriptions or to lower their doses and in some cases to eliminate the need for certain prescriptions. Dr. Miller takes it a step further and encourages all of her patients seen in her San Francisco based office to get off of tobacco as well. (Taboh, 2012)

“I got into my private practice and suddenly realized that I really did not have the proper training to take care of the most salient issues that I was seeing every day," Miller says, "which were issues related to heart disease and diabetes and cancer, all of which in some way could be traced back to nutrition and lifestyle issues.”   Dr. Miller wrote the book “The Jungle Effect” which journals her travels around the globe in search of the dietary connection to disease.  She visited many areas that are not affected by the chronic diseases we see in our modern society.  (Taboh, 2012)

According to Taboh, “A growing number of physicians agree[s] with Miller’s approach, including Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and associate professor at Brigham Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School.”  Also found in her article is this quote by Mozaffarian, “There’s lots of research which has come together to tell us that our focus should be on healthy foods, and those overall healthy, food-based dietary patterns should really be the focus of our priorities in the U.S. and globally.” (Taboh, 2012).

Dr. Julie Chen wrote an interesting article for the Huffington Post, titled “Using Food as Medicine and our Ally”.  In this article Dr. Chen covers how as a child her parents’ doctor taught them about the proper foods to eat in order to prevent heart disease and high blood pressure.  Her article mostly focuses on “a Nov. 2011, article published in the Journal of Human Hypertension by Q. Chen, et al., researchers found that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and low saturated fat/total fat/cholesterol significantly lowered blood pressure by blunting the counter-regulatory response of the renin-angiotensin system. What this means is that a healthy diet like this could help our body regain a more healthy normal blood pressure range by helping our own body's signals do what it needs to do to achieve that.” (Chen, 2011).

“I have always said to my patients that our bodies are miraculous machines and if given what they need to function optimally, they know what to do to heal and strike the perfect balance. This study shows us that a diet rich in the fundamental building blocks needed by our bodies for optimal functioning will allow our bodies to know what to do with their signals to achieve optimal health outcome.” (Chen, 2011).

“So, the next time you hear your doctor tell you to eat your vegetables and to avoid fatty processed pro-inflammatory foods, just remember that it's not just your doctor who's telling you that... your body is screaming to you for the same thing as well. It just needs your help to give it the fundamental nutrients it needs to do its job; and once you do that, your body knows exactly what to do to achieve its main purpose of repairing and healing itself so that you can function at your ultimate best.”  (Chen, 2011).

For my research I created a survey and sent it out via email and posted a link to it on my Facebook page.  I also interviewed my mother and looked at my own life and health history.  

My mom has had high blood pressure for over 30 years, she is 71 years old and told me that about 20 years ago she was able to get off of her high blood pressure medication because she added walking into her daily schedule.  She walked 2 miles a day and was able to lower her blood pressure by that simple addition to her daily routine.  Currently she is on many medications, 2 for high blood pressure and I asked her what happened and she simply stated that she stopped walking.  In 2008 she underwent open heart surgery where the Dr. replaced 2 valves, performed a myectomy and did an unexpected bypass.  This gave her a chance at a longer life and her heart surgeon and cardiologist both told her to change her diet and add in daily walks.  Unfortunately she has not added in the daily walks and although she has made some changes in her diet, she has not made enough.

I have had borderline high blood pressure for 3 ½ years now and I had gestational diabetes in 2000, and I have done nothing to change my habits.  I recently attended and graduated from a school to become a Certified Health Coach, in this school I learned about diets and proper eating as well as adding exercise into my daily routine in order to prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, and I continued to not make the necessary changes to improve my health.  Two weeks ago I went to the dr. and they recommended that I start on high blood pressure medication.  I agreed, but upon reading all the side effects and risks associated with this medication I chose not to take it.  Instead I started walking, 4 days a week and it has lowered it a little bit, but not enough.  I was back at my doctor’s on Friday and was told that my triglycerides are high, my blood sugars are high, my B12 is low and my D3 is dangerously low and they wanted me to take a diabetes medication.  I disagreed and asked her to give me a month to make the necessary dietary changes and to continue with my walking to improve my health.  I received a B12 injection and will begin taking B12 supplements in 2 weeks and am taking an Omega 3 supplement and a high dose Vitamin D3 supplement until my levels come up to where they should be.  

My survey statistics showed that of the people who took the survey 100% agree that adding exercise into their daily routine can prevent high blood pressure.  And the majority of those polled agreed that if they were shown that diet and exercise could help them get off of medication then they would make the necessary changes to improve their health.

My research and my own experiences show that most people will choose the easy road, but when approached with a choice between medications or changing their way of eating and adding in exercise, most people chose to make the changes rather than start taking or staying on dangerous medications.


Chen, Julie. "Julie Chen, M.D.: Using Food as Medicine and Our Ally." Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. N.p., 22 Dec. 2011. Web. 21 Feb. 2012. <>.

"David Katz MD." David Katz MD. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2012. <>.

"Dr Hyman's Website — Functional Medicine, Books & Supplements." Dr Hyman's Website — Functional Medicine, Books & Supplements. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2012. <>.

" - Official Website of Andrew Weil, M.D.." - Official Website of Andrew Weil, M.D.. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2012. <>.

Forks Over Knives. Dir. Lee Fulkerson. Perf. T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D.. Monica Beach Media, 2011. DVD.

Taboh, Julie. "US Doctor Prescribes Food as Medicine | People | English." News | English. N.p., 17 Jan. 2012. Web. 21 Feb. 2012. <>.

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