Posted on by Britt Merrylees

By Dr Malcolm Ball

The benefits of a good diet to our long-term health and general wellbeing, as well as an effective treatment of metabolic disorders have been well established by the scientific community as a whole.  A grilled chicken salad, a piece of fruit, or a refreshing green smoothie can not only give us that extra boost to get through an afternoon, but help us feel rejuvenated and energised. Furthermore a good diet, rich in nutrients and high quality dietary fibres can improve our intestinal health and internal systems(1). Those who eat fruit and vegetables (and shunning fried food) are more likely to avoid heart disease, diabetes and digestive problems(2).

For centuries foods like spices and vegetables have been cultivated and used for therapeutic purposes. Many cultures learned to cultivate the land, finding natural remedies for everyday ailments and passing the knowledge down, generation after generation(3)

New and continued research into this concept has shown us that foods like acai, kale and sugarcane can deliver incredible health benefits. Much to the joy of Australians everywhere, the cacao in dark chocolate has been shown to be filled with disease fighting nutrients like flavonoids and theobromine(4). Brazil nuts are said to be good for those with low thyroid function due to their high level of selenium, and there is even evidence to suggest consuming Brazil nuts results in an improvement in cognitive function (5, 6).  Berries are the most widely studied of the food groups and many berries have been shown to have health benefits. Cranberries have been proven to fight urinary tract infections(7) while blueberries can alleviate stress and boost memory(8).

 By applying the same scientific principles used in modern medical discovery to traditional and herbal supplements, science has been able to gather more information on the clear connection between food and health and how that partnership can be turned into more effective and safe treatments for common health problems. The result? Medical foods – a blend of natural ingredients that contain nutrients found to impact health in a positive way and condensed into easy-to-take capsules or sachets for purchase over the counter or prescribed by a doctor.

As the newest dimension in healthcare, medical foods are consistently being featured in the international media, with new supplements and treatments released to the market every month.

As an example in Australia Souvenaid®, a treatment supported by Dementia Research Foundation, received critical acclaim as a “medical food” for the treatment of mild Alzheimer’s disease.”*  The revolutionary treatment received international attention, articles appearing in Daily Mail, TopNews United States, Vancouver Sun (Canada), Pharmacy News, 60 Minutes, the Telegraph (UK) and a special on A Current Affair in Australia.

For a long time the supplement industry has suffered from fads and poor science, however recently Medical foods have undergone a concept revolution and they are now taking a serious place in the Australian health industry. By taking a more active role in what nutrients we put into our bodies, we can safely monitor, better understand, and even improve the state of our health. The medical world is now taking an active interest in turning back the clock to a more “diet and lifestyle” method of improving our health as an effective way to complement common medications. Is this just a trend – or the next dimension in healthcare? One thing remains certain, food will always form the foundation of health and if we can find a way to use that to benefit those with life-long illnesses, then medical foods will lay the groundwork for continued innovation in healthcare and treatment.

 *Nuticia Australia Pty Ltd (2015) “Souvenaid”. Australia www.souvenaid.com.au

Corfe BM, Harden CJ, Bull M, Garaiova I. The multifactorial interplay of diet, the microbiome and appetite control: current knowledge and future challenges. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2015:1-10.

Fallucca F, Porrata C, Fallucca S, Pianesi M. Influence of diet on gut microbiota, inflammation and type 2 diabetes mellitus. First experience with macrobiotic Ma-Pi 2 diet. Diabetes/metabolism research and reviews. 2014;30 Suppl 1:48-54.

Jennings HM, Merrell J, Thompson JL, Heinrich M. Food or medicine? The food-medicine interface in households in Sylhet. Journal of ethnopharmacology. 2014.

Latham LS, Hensen ZK, Minor DS. Chocolate–guilty pleasure or healthy supplement? Journal of clinical hypertension (Greenwich, Conn). 2014;16(2):101-6.

Kawicka A, Regulska-Ilow B, Regulska-Ilow B. Metabolic disorders and nutritional status in autoimmune thyroid diseases. Postepy higieny i medycyny doswiadczalnej (Online). 2015;69(0):80-90.

Rita Cardoso B, Apolinario D, da Silva Bandeira V, Busse AL, Magaldi RM, Jacob-Filho W, et al. Effects of Brazil nut consumption on selenium status and cognitive performance in older adults with mild cognitive impairment: a randomized controlled pilot trial. European journal of nutrition. 2015.

Blumberg JB, Camesano TA, Cassidy A, Kris-Etherton P, Howell A, Manach C, et al. Cranberries and their bioactive constituents in human health. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md). 2013;4(6):618-32.

Joseph JA, Shukitt-Hale B, Willis LM. Grape juice, berries, and walnuts affect brain aging and behavior. The Journal of nutrition. 2009;139(9):1813s-7s.