Nutritional medicine is a holistic approach to the interactions of both nutrition and environment on human health. Nutrients are the building blocks of our physical body. When the body is supplied with the correct balance of foods, vitamins and minerals we remain healthy. All humans are unique in terms of biochemistry, metabolism, anatomy and genetics. Our internal environment differs in gut flora, integrity of the intestinal wall and the immune system. All of these affect our ability to process foods, absorb nutrients and detoxify and expel wastes.
When assessing nutritional status we need to include the impact of the external environmental factors. These include exposure to toxicity from heavy metals, fertilizers, pesticides, synthetic chemicals including pharmaceutical and recreational drugs. In addition, food additives, flavorings and colorings or particular foods themselves may lead to sensitivities, allergies and intolerances. Chronic parasitic, fungal, bacterial and viral infections can disturb our internal environment. Poor sleep and psycho-social stresses also affect and our ability to cope effectively and impact on our health.
Living an optimally healthy lifestyle provides the best conditions for the body to both prevent and heal from disease states. Improving our diet by eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains and drinking plenty of filtered water is a good start. Foods may be depleted in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals as a result of depletion in our soils, green harvesting and cold storage and all too often we consume foods that are highly processed and overcooked or of poor quality and little nutritional value. Our bodies are then affronted daily by excessive production of free radicals caused by our polluted environment and stressful lifestyles. As a result oxidative stress has now been shown to be the root cause of over 70 chronic degenerative diseases.
Nutrition plays an important role in virtually every medical condition. It follows that correcting nutritional imbalances is fundamental to the prevention and treatment of many common conditions.
What are Nutrients?
Nutrients act on many different levels and are involved in all bodily functions and processes. They provide the basic materials we require to sustain life. They include macro nutrients like protein, fat and carbohydrates and micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fats, enzymes, hydrocarbons and water.
Vitamins are referred to as micronutrients because they are required in relatively small amounts. They regulate metabolism and assist biochemical processes to release energy from food. Vitamins are either water soluble or fat soluble. Water soluble vitamins including vitamin C and B group cannot be stored in the body so must be consumed daily. Fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K are stored in the liver and fatty tissue.
Enzymes are made of proteins. Each enzyme has its own specific role in the body. They may also be obtained from food. However, they are destroyed by cooking even on low heat. Dietary enzymes must be obtained from raw food. Without enzymes the body cannot maintain proper function. Enzymes act as activators or catalysts of chemical reactions and work with vitamins as coenzymes to ensure quick and accurate actions and to supply the body with energy.
Minerals are natural elements found in the earth, plants and in other foods. They too act as coenzymes in bodily activities. Minerals are required for the formation of blood and bone, nerve function and the composition of bodily fluids. They are divided into macro and micro minerals. Macro minerals include calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium and phosphorous. Micro minerals, only needed in trace amounts, include zinc, manganese, selenium, chromium, iron, copper and iodine.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. They form our muscles, tendons, organs, glands, nails, hair and most body fluids. Of the twenty-nine known amino acids 80% are produced in the liver. The remaining 20% are the essential amino acids that must be obtained from our diet. Amino acids enable vitamins and minerals to perform properly. Each has specific functions and deficiencies can lead to the development of various symptoms. Some act as neurotransmitters or as precursors to neurotransmitters, others increase stamina, lower blood sugar levels or aid in the formation of skin.
Water makes up approximately 70% of the human body and is involved in digestion, absorption, circulation, nutrient transport, temperature maintenance and excretion of waste.
To determine a person’s nutritional status a number of tests and observations may be employed. These include blood tests, urine tests, hair samples, muscle testing and tongue and nail assessment and a dietary assessment. Generally the more activity a person engages in the higher their requirement for nutrients. Therapeutic nutrient doses are required if there is a diagnosis that includes the following: stress, on medication or contraceptives, physical or mental illness, recovery from surgery, those on restricted diets, smokers or those that consume excessive amounts of alcohol. Recommended daily allowances of nutrients are designed to prevent disease states and maintain health, higher therapeutic levels are required to optimise recovery from illness.
Importantly, vitamins and minerals can be synergistic or antagonistic. Therefore it may be dangerous to supplement with a single vitamin or mineral as each one acts as a catalyst for the absorption of other vitamins and minerals. To be safe it is always advised that supplements be prescribed by a qualified practitioner.
Nutritional medicine supplements can be effective used alone or therapeutically combined with a variety of other nutrients. For example probiotics, herbal medicines, homeopathics and fish oils. Taking the correct nutrients at appropriate doses can increase or decrease the levels of important chemicals in the body’s biochemistry. Nutritional medicine has evidence for reducing inflammation, toxicity, managing oxidative stress, correcting hormonal imbalances, improving immune function, altering genetic expression and reducing coagulation of blood. In effect, nutritional medicine may assist in the correction of many underlying biochemical problems that contribute to chronic degenerative disease states.