Nutritional Healing

Talk With Your Doctor
About Nutritional Healing

In the last several years of medical practice, I have seen nutritional healing more and more often. And the reason it is happening more frequently is clear. My patients and I are willing to agree together that there is real power in seeing food as medicine and truly believing that healthy foods make a difference. I have seen the same results now in groups of people as my wife Gail and I teach our “Simple Steps” seminars: people returning to class week after week with stories of real results from changes in food choices. And I receive frequent e-mails from subscribers to my bulletin Real Foods That Heal for the difference it has made in their lives.

There is no doubt in my mind that the most important aspect of nutritional healing is prevention. When I read journal articles and scientific studies in public health, it is more than obvious that food choices are a huge factor in literally determining who lives and who dies, who becomes disabled from strokes or heart failure, who suffers from cancer or loses their eyesight or kidneys from diabetes. My passion in medical practice, in my teaching and writings is to empower individuals and groups to make choices of healthy foods for a strong life. For people who make those positive choices, both they and I will probably never know what we may have prevented; what bliss to not know that!

But of more immediate concern to many of my patients who are already experiencing disease of some sort is the question: “is my food making me sick?” Or “how can I eat in such a way as to get well?” “Is nutritional healing possible for me?” And the answer many times is “yes, it is very possible, let’s explore the details.”

While there are some general nutritional principles which I recommend for almost everyone (such as the anti-inflammatory diet), it is important to avoid a “cookie cutter” approach or to assume one size fits all. Often there are clues in a careful medical history which lead me to specific nutrition suggestions for a patient which I may not have recommended for everyone. Let me share a couple of examples.

The parents of a three year old girl consulted me several years ago with a set of very puzzling symptoms, including severe constipation, behavior problems far beyond her expected development, and back pain. Most concerning was the back pain, a very unusual symptom in a preschooler, and we went as far as quite a lot of blood tests and X-rays before I was assured there was not a tumor or cancer responsible for this child’s unusual pain. But in the midst of long conversations with her parents, I began hearing clues that suggested a dietary cause, and I urged them to cut all dairy out of her diet for several weeks. With that one change, eliminating milk, all the symptoms resolved, from pain to behavior. Does that mean all children should avoid milk? Not necessarily, but it does mean that doctors need to consider common allergy causing foods as the root of puzzling symptoms in children.

More recently, a middle aged nurse came to my office with disabling migraine headaches since her teen years. She missed work some days every week, and on the days she was able to stay at work was often in such pain as to be both miserable and ineffective at her job in the post-op recovery room. She had come to me expecting to learn self-hypnosis as a migraine prevention tool (hypnosis is excellent for migraine prevention), but a careful medical history again suggested that nutritional healing was possible. I urged her to cut out all wheat products, which dismayed her greatly since she loved pasta especially. But as desperate as she was, she did cut out wheat, and the daily headaches suddenly dropped to less than one a week. A miracle? No, just willingness on the part of one doctor to look at foods as a key to health or illness.

I could tell more stories, but want to emphasize this instead. Doctors are barely taught anything about this in medical school. If you ask most doctors about how to use foods to improve your medical conditions, they will shrug and say “it doesn’t matter what you eat as long as you just take your prescriptions.” I am here to tell you that is simply not true. It does matter. Just like you can’t build a house with rotten wood or bad cement, or run a race car with dirt and water in the gas tank, you cannot expect your body to heal if the raw materials you are providing it are inadequate or not suited to your body. Nutritional healing is possible. Food choices make a difference in auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, in preventing heart attacks and lowering cholesterol, in improving diabetic control and even eliminating it, and preventing recurrence of cancer. And as illustrated in my two patients, even without those critical illnesses, food choices make the difference between daily discomfort and happy productive living.

You can take control of your health with foods, so keep learning and reading, and find a doctor near you who will take it seriously.

For your health and healing,


Robert Pendergrast, MD 

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