Food is medicine on TV

  • 2 Nov 2011
  • Reading time 5 mins
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Last night (Tuesday 8pm) Channel 4 launched a series called Food Hospital and tackled a case of polycystic ovaries, diabetes, migraine and cancer with food, not drugs.It’s great to see such an important positive message on TV. Having written Food is Better Medicine Than Drugs, with Jerome Burne, it is great to see some of these ideas on TV.

The man with diabetes was trialled on an 800 kcal diet for 3 months and, much like the Newcastle study, it completely stabilised his blood sugar and he lost over 2 stone in weight. They spoke about diet ‘reversing’ diabetes. The critical question is why does the diet work, and what does he do now?

One of the radical discoveries is that such a low cal diet seems to bring insulin producing cells back to life. I suspect that the key to the success of this diet is that it is extremely low GL (glycemic load). That is the kind of diet he needs to be on now. It is sustainable and is proven to stabilise blood sugar. I explain all this in my new book Say No to Diabetes. Then there was a lady with rather extreme polycystic ovaries and obesity. Again, the low GL diet approach is the winner for polycystic ovaries, which, like diabetes, are very much linked to insulin resistance (insensitivity). By the looks of things she was, kind of, on a low GL diet but the emphasis seemed to be more on calories. Eating a strict 40 GL diet works fantastically well.The mineral chromium, at an intake of 600mcg a day, which means a 200mcg supplement three times a day, improves insulin sensitivity.

That’s what I would have given to both these people. The third candidate had been through breast cancer and chemotherapy and the question was what diet should she be on? The presenter said that the only proven factors that promote cancer are smoking, alcohol and obesity, but there is a fourth and that is a high GL, or high sugar diet. Studies are very consistent about this. I have a whole section on it in my book Say No to Cancer. I think one of the current misinterpretations is that obesity is driving all these conditions. It is more likely that losing blood sugar control is the driver of both these conditions and also weight gain. One of the reasons for this is that the more you lose blood sugar control the more insulin you make because the insulin you make doesn’t work well enough due to insulin resistance. High insulin also consistently promotes cancer cell growth. The girl that was fighting cancer with diet had opted to avoid all dairy products, instead having soya, rich in phytoestrogens.

The dietician said this was a ‘hypothesis’, not yet proven but didn’t recommend she stop doing it. The less dairy a country consumes the less is the incidence of cancer. Also, there’s some evidence that the more phytoestrogen rich foods, such as beans and lentils, the less cancer too. The likely reason for this is two fold: milk both contains oestrogens, and most breast cancers are oestrogen positive. But milk also promotes higher levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) which is known to be a direct promoter of cancer cell growth. The phytoestrogens in beans latch onto oestrogen receptors in cells but don’t send a ‘grow’ signal. Some scientists think they block the potentially harmful effects of hormonal growth promoters such as oestrogen and IGF-1. The ‘unproven’ bit is that some studies that have looked at the difference in cancer incidence in the UK compared to milk consumption haven’t found a clear link. This is a subject I go into in a lot of detail in Say No to Cancer.

The last patient was a young boy with migraines. He was put on an ‘amine’ free diet, also free from chemical additives. He was also given supplements of B2, magnesium and CoQ10. Although we are often told ‘ you can get all the nutrients you need from a well balanced diet’ the science does show good results for B2 in relation to migraines, at doses considerably above what you can eat. B3, niacin, and 5-HTP have also been shown to help. I did a blog on migraines recently. The boy got better, which is good news, but a critical question is why? Was it the lack of amines, the lack of additives or the supplements? If I had to place a bet I’d go for a fourth explanation – the amine free diet was a dairy-free diet and, in my experience, dairy allergy is an extremely common cause of migraine. In fact, I used to have weekly migraines and that was the principle cause for me.

Finally, there was an item on the myth of ‘superfoods’. Bluberries were in the dock and, interestingly, when fed to a volunteer one hour later, lo and behold, we saw their blood flow improve as their arteries became more flexible. This is considered to be the result of upping intake of flavonoids. It was pointed out that blackberries also contain flavonoids but sadly the experiment wasn't repeated on them. I think all blue/red berries are superfoods and recommend you eat as many as possible. The reporter said potatoes contain more vitamin C than blueberries, so maybe they should be a superfood too. This is a bit misleading because

a) potatoes don’t contain much in the way of flavonoids and

b) vitamin C is increasingly destroyed by cooking. Few people eat raw potatoes and few people eat cooked blueberries. That having been said if you boil new potatoes for the shortest amount of time they’re a good source of vitamin C. Overall, it's great to see these kind of things being shown on national TV. And if you haven't had a chance to listen yet - don't forget I release a monthly Food is Medicine podcast - click here to listen to the latest ones.