Let food be thy medicine


All of us here at Functional Formularies greatly appreciate those MDs who are looking more closely at the role of food, whole food, in treating conditions and diseases that common sense would indicate are food-based.  Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ulcerative colitis (UC), and Crohn’s disease (CD) are widespread throughout North America and rates for all are rising steadily.

Many gastroenterologists and microbiologists have shown previously that all of these conditions can be caused by changes in an individual’s micro-biome or by imbalances that some of us may acquire as young children.  For multiple reasons, many young children have some type of dysbiosis at a young age and it creates a host of immune disruptions where their intestinal lining comes under attack.

Of course certain microbes, and in this case many pathogens capable of causing these disruptions, prefer high sugar-containing, grain-centric, or flour-rich diets to feed their populations.  With these types of very common feeding habits, some individuals develop larger, GI bacterial population imbalances that fuel the fire of inflammation or intestinal damage.  Finally, a gastroenterologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital showed what many others have thought all along: that eliminating the sugar, grains, and flour, along with preservatives, can effectively treat these intestinal disorders, resulting in disease remission!

In fact, the elimination diet, or in this case carbohydrate-specific diet, used in this trial produced changes in the overall health of children in ways that medications cannot.  This way of eating (whole foods, no sweeteners, no grains or dairy) created change in the children’s micro-biome.  This resulted in less inflammation and more recovery than could be generated by an immune suppressive intervention and/or antibiotic use (the current conventional treatment for diseases like Crohn’s).

The new way of eating for these kids most remarkably changed the populations of critical bacteria in their gut.  Bacteria that can cause inflammation and conditions like Crohn’s disease disappeared and bacteria that help protect the intestinal lining, such as Roseburia or Ruminoccocus increased in numbers.

As the Human Gut Project director Jeff Leach has said, “if we build it they will come”.

It turns out that common types of carbohydrates in these children’s diets ultimately determined the levels of pathogenic bacteria.  Clostridium difficile for instance, prefers high sugar diets and refined carbohydrates in general.  As pathogens go, C.difficile can change a person’s life dramatically when it becomes a dominant force in the micro-biome. Feeding Citrobacter or a Klebsiella population are also not good ideas.  Additionally, if we eat more fermentable fiber (enter Liquid Hope and Nourish!) then we are feeding those families of bacteria that can outcompete and in many cases displace these types of pathogens.

We live in a medical world that is filled with many amazing practitioners -  Physicians, Nurses, Dietitians and other care providers who believe that a foundation of whole food does make a big difference.  Unfortunately there is also a significant amount of inertia holding many of these individuals in an entirely pharmaceutical-based practice.  Research investigations led by researchers like David Suskind, MD, are illuminating the possibilities with food-based interventions.  Hopefully this research and that which follows will make it easier for individuals and families to receive the nutritional support that they deserve.  Thank you Dr. Suskind.

John Bagnulo MPH, PhD. - Director of Nutrition