Nutrition and Health Blog

May 12, 2014

Food as Medicine

The future aint what it used to be. ~Yogi Berra

As Medical Director of Functional Formularies I am pleased to offer the first in a series of monthly blog entries that will explore the many connections between what we eat, how we feel, and how long we live. The intent is to highlight current state of the art research from many fields in the life sciences that can be applied to daily livingnews to use in ones life. In the process I will challenge much of the conventional wisdom that has guided our understanding of how best to choose wisely when it comes to eating.

Like most traditionally trained physicians, my exposure to the science of nutrition was limited at best i.e., 1 hour over four years! Sadly this has not changed very much! As nephrologist (kidney specialist) I had more understanding of some aspects of nutrition and health than many of my colleagues because of the many metabolic imbalances seen with chronic kidney diseases. These insights however were focused on what to avoid to prevent harm e.g. sodium, potassium, phosphorus and protein.

In 2000 I began to explore the burgeoning field of nutritional science. It was like transitioning from a life of black and white to one of vivid multicolor! I began to understand that food is medicine-so much more than calories and macronutrients like carbs, fats, and protein. I began to appreciate that while essential fats, vitamins, and minerals are essential to support and sustain life, no two people had the exact same requirements as long held thought. What really began to blow me away was the recognition that phytonutrients-plant based molecules that plants create to protect themselves from their environment, had a host of diverse effects on human biology e.g. lowering inflammation, improving brain neurotransmitters and reducing cancer riskto name a few. As it turns out, many plant based nutrients are known to impact human biology at the level of our DNA, revelations of biology seen with epigenetics and nutrigenomics.

In this epiphany- the shift from food as a fuel source to food as information- everything began to shift for me. At heart I am a cell biologist, drawn to the biologic workings of the cell in relationship to whole systems. Over the last 10 years our scope and depth of understanding with respect to the powerful role that food has on human health and disease has been unprecedented.

Over the next several months I will focus my monthly blog on various themes that hopefully will build on each other. These themes will create a mosaic that suggests a very different way that we as humans interact with our environment than what has been held true for many generations. We will connect the molecular and the micro with the macro i.e., how our DNA and the cosmos interact! And as Yogi Berra, one of the great philosophers of the 20th century once noted, The future aint what it used to be.

Topics to be included in the months ahead include: 

  • The Origins of Health: An evolutionary perspective on the epidemic of chronic complex disease
  • Epigenetics: How our environment becomes the author of our DNAs Book of Life.
  • Inflammation: are you playing with fire?
  • Food and Gastrointestinal Health: Do you have the guts to be well?
  • Mind, Mood, and Food.
  • Minding your Mitochondria
  • The Truth about Fats
  • Sugar and Fructose: How Sweet theyre Not
  • Nutrition and Autoimmunity

Get well, be well and stay well!

Mark Pettus Director of Medical Education, Wellness and Population Health Berkshire Health Systems Pittsfield, Massachusetts