People who practice medicine must first thoroughly understand the source of the disorder and know what has been violated. Then use food to treat it, and if the food will not cure it, afterward apply drugs(medicines). – sun simiao, a physician in the 7th century

The Institute of Health Metrics and evaluation in the US issued an update on its ‘global burden of disease study’, which identified poor diet as the single greatest cause of global ill health – more than smoking, alcohol, pollution, or any other factor. The Institute particularly singled out diets that are low in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains and high in red meat and sugar-sweetened drinks. East Asian medicine, a 3,000-year-old tradition of embedding food as medicine in the culture has always understood that diet is fundamental to health and longevity. Especially, in the time of the pandemic, food can be one of our first forms of medicine to enhance our immune system, reduce stress, and minimize the effect of the virus in its initial stages. The warmer past winter provides us with a wind warm pathogen such as COVID 19 transmit easily from our medicine perspective combined with environmental instability. 

As four pillars of human health – diet, exercise, supplements, and stress management- how to feed ourselves and our families has become difficult and complex. If our health is compromised due to poor underlying health conditions, stress, overwork, or chronic fatigue, we become increasingly susceptible to external pathogens including viruses as our immune system is taxed and our defensive system is not well nourished. First of all, we need to reduce those obstacles to improve our defensive capacity. 

  1. By managing stress, we can effectively harness our innate healing capacity to its full potential. Stress comes and goes, but when stress becomes chronic due to unresolved uncertainty, serious bodily damage can manifest. Over the past decade, studies have shown that chronic stress can disturb the body’s normal physiological equilibrium and induce genome-wide epigenetic changes, leading to fatigue, depression, and anxiety, exacerbating pro-inflammatory diseases, and increase susceptibility to infections and cancer. 
  2. Sleep that knits up the ravel’s sleeve of care, The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath, Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, Chief nourisher in life’s feast – William Shakespeare, 1606. It is estimated that between 50-70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders sufficient to hinder their daily life and harm their health. There is a marked relationship between poor sleep and obesity in both adults and children. Other consequences of poor sleep include increased risk of coronary heart disease, reduced testosterone and sperm damage, poor memory and cognitive ability, depression, and other mood disorders. 
  3. If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health. – Hippocrates 5th century. Lack of physical activity is one of the greatest contributors to virtually every kind of disease, unnecessarily shortened life, and mental and physical decline in old age. It is estimated to contribute to more than five million deaths a year worldwide which is significantly more than obesity. 

We are facing challenges that are interwoven in our lifestyle and the foods we eat. Most foods are now transported from far away, deficient in important nutritional values, and loaded with preservatives and chemicals to make ‘food-like’ products. 

Let me think about the amount of food we need for daily purposes. Many studies found that calorie restriction with optimal nutrition can not only offer significant improvements in health and increased lifespan, but also reduce the risk of mental decline and dementia. Studies on species as varied as monkeys, fruit flies, and dogs have come up with similar conclusions that a calorie-restricted diet can increase longevity, maintain the nervous system and cognitive functions for longer, improve immune function and reduce the incidence of disorders such as atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, respiratory disease, and autoimmune disease. Recent human studies, even though not yet continued long enough to confirm, show beneficial changes in a range of biomarkers, especially those related to cardiovascular disease (lowering of total cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, etc.) and regulation of glucose. Several studies also suggested that protein restriction alone can extend the maximum lifespan by 20 percent. Obesity may have harmful effects on the brain. Studies suggest that the accumulation of fat around the middle of the body may increase the risk of dementia and more rapid cognitive decline in later life. There is evidence that reducing food consumption can promote neurogenesis (production of new nerve cells in the brain) in mice as well as improving their learning ability. In humans, calorie restriction has been found to reduce atherosclerosis, cell inflammation, and insulin resistance – factors associated with reduced cognitive function. 

The way of eating is that: overfilling yourself with food will impair your vital energy and cause your body to deteriorate. Over-restricting your consumption causes the bones to wither and the blood to congeal. – Original Tao, 4th century

Then how much is good for us? With Stomach Qi there is life, Without Stomach Qi there is a death as a Chinese old saying. The simple guide to know how much to eat is to become aware of our appetite, but as we know, appetite can be easily distorted by many factors. As the 5:2 diet shows -which eating five days a week, and severely restricting calorie intake such as 600 calories for men, 500 for women on the other days- genuine appetite comes when we are really hungry. It renders the taste of food astonishingly tasty such as a simple soup or a slice of good bread because our bodies genuinely need nourishment and the reward is the simple pleasure of enhanced taste. 

Digestive disorders are so common in the US population that according to a 2010 report, around 20 percent of Americans suffer from them at a cost of over 140 billion dollars. These disorders range from indigestion signs, acid reflux, GERD, and IBS and constipation. Mounting evidence related to the medication prescribed for these symptoms shows increasing numbers of serious side effects including proton pump inhibitors with heart attacks. The concept of ‘regular eating’ is simple and very actionable to make our digestive system function well throughout our lives and it involves avoiding over-eating, eating at regular times of the day, and eating slowly and chewing thoroughly on unrefined natural and seasonal foods.

Also, there is growing evidence that the microbiota in the gut play a role in how we process food and healthy gut microbiota has been associated with a close relationship with many other body systems including the gut-brain axis.