Five Foods That Are Better Than Drugs

  • 13 Nov 2007
  • Reading time 6 mins
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If you take pain killers, diabetes drugs, cholesterol lowering or blood pressure medication or anti-depressants did you know that there are foods and nutrients that work better? It sounds almost unbelievable, but the chances are even your doctor also doesn’t know.

Take statins, prescribed for high cholesterol. The big brand names are Zocor, Lipitor, Crestor and Lescol, accounting for £20 billion worldwide sales. There’s two kinds of cholesterol – LDL, the bad kind that you want to lower, and HDL, the good kind that can remove unwanted or damaged cholesterol from your arteries. Increasing the proportion of your cholesterol that is HDL is the most important way to reduce your risk of a heart attack. You might be surprised to find that taking niacin (B3), a simple B vitamin, is the most effective way to raise HDL cholesterol levels. According to a recent review in the New England Journal of Medicine, niacin increases levels of it by 20 to 35 per cent.

Niacin also lowers LDL cholesterol by up to 25 per cent. One of the authors of this study was cardiology expert Roger Blumenthal, an associate professor and director of the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and its Heart Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Statins, by comparison, only raise HDL by between 2 and 15 per cent. Combined with a Mediterranean style diet and omega 3 fish oils the results are even better. Eating only one serving of oily fish a week cuts your likelihood of having another heart attack by a third. Last year a Japanese study gave over 9,000 people the omega-3 fat called EPA (1.8g a day) with statins and compared that with 9,000 people receiving only statins. After 4.5 years, those taking the fish oils had 19 per cent less incidence of cardiac death, heart attacks or other serious cardiovascular problems.

Andrew is a case in point. When he had his cholesterol measured it was 8.8. He was put on statins and, six months later, it was 8.7. He was also gaining weight, feeling tired and stressed, and not sleeping well. With help, Andrew changed his diet and started taking supplements of niacin and omega 3. Three weeks later, he had lost 10 pounds his energy levels were great, he no longer felt stressed and he was sleeping much better. And his cholesterol level had dropped to a healthy 4.9!

So, why aren’t doctors prescribing this kind of approach? “Some drug companies spend £10,000 per doctor per year marketing their drugs. Medical journals are heavily biased towards drugs since most of their funding comes from drug companies. About 60% of all continuing professional education for doctors is paid for by the drug industry. None or this marketing is happening for food cures. There’s simply no money in it.” says medical journalist Jerome Burne, co-author of a revolutionary new book Food is Better Medicine Than Drugs. Together with nutrition expert Patrick Holford, they show exactly which diet changes and supplements can reverse common ailments better than drugs. Red onions, for example, are good for eczema. Olives, ginger and turmeric help relieve arthritic pain. Broccoli improves memory, while oats, cinnamon and a mineral called chromium can literally cure diabetes.

Linda, who had suffered with diabetes for a decade, is a case in point. Within six weeks on a low ‘glycemic load’ (low GL) diet including oats, cinnamon plus chromium, her diabetes was gone. “My blood sugar level used to high, between 11-18 mmol. It’s now between 4 – 8. The optimum is 7 so my blood sugar is well under control. The other thing is the energy. I was permanently tired. I could have spent the whole day in bed. Now my energy level is incredible. I would recommend this diet to everybody. It is so much easier than I thought. This is literally the answer to my prayers.” In fact, she had to reduce her medication because she was getting hypos – low blood sugar. She had been taking Amaryl, a sulphonylurea drug, plus Metformin. Once her blood sugar had normalised, she was able to stop her Amaryl. Six months later, eating low GL has become part of her life, she’s lost 35lb (16kg), her blood sugar has remained stable and she no longer gets sugar lows. Her doctor has kept her on Metformin, but even this may not be necessary.

Metformin works by making insulin, the hormone that takes sugar out of the blood, work better. But so does the mineral chromium and cinnamon. There have been over twenty trials on chromium, a cheap supplement that comes in 200mcg tablets. Those giving 400mcg or more produce five times more reduction in blood sugar than metformin, and there’s no side-effects. The toxic level or chromium 10,000mcg. Metformin depletes vitamin B12, so you’ll need to supplement at least 100mcg if you’re on this drug, thereby raising homocysteine and potentially raising cardiovascular risk.

Half a teaspoon of cinnamon a day also significantly reduces blood sugar levels in diabetics, and is also great news for non-diabetics who have blood sugar problems but are unaware of it, the most common symptom of which is chronic tiredness and energy slumps or feeling faint. In one study all diabetics responded to the cinnamon within weeks, with blood sugar levels 20 per cent lower on average than those of a control group.  Some of the volunteers taking cinnamon achieved normal blood sugar levels.

Oats, or specifically oat bran, contain a powerful anti-diabetes nutrient. It’s called beta-glucan. Diabetic patients given oatmeal or oat-bran rich foods experienced much lower rises in blood sugar compared to those who were given white rice or bread. In fact, it’s been known for nearly a decade that having 10 per cent of your diet as beta-glucans can halve the blood sugar peak of a meal.  This level of effect is far greater than you’ll get from taking metformin, at a fraction of the price and with none of the side effects. Practically, that means eating half oat flakes, half oat bran, cold or hot as porridge, with a low-GL fruit such as berries, pears or apples, and snacking on oat cakes (rough oat cakes such as Nairns have the most beta-glucans). With over 1,000 studies on beta-glucans, the evidence really is overwhelming.

If you are on medication or suffer from chronic ailments Jerome Burne’s and Patrick Holford’s blockbuster book, Food Is Better Medicine Than Drugs is a must read.

What do doctors think of it? “It is packed with useful and original information for patients with various long term diseases or those who are simply seeking to live a healthier life. It is extremely practical, a crusade against ignorance, and enables patients to remove their straightjackets and take a new approach to improving health” says Dr Michael Dixon, Chairman of the NHS Alliance.

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