Food as Medicine: Finding relief to chronic and mental health conditions

Published: Jan. 24, 2020 at 8:01 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

What we put in our bodies plays a significant role in our well-being and it may be fueling some chronic problems.

Numbers from the

show 90 percent of the nation's $3.5 trillion in annual health care costs are for people with chronic and mental health conditions. So, when it comes to health and wellness, it's more than just vanity.

is a nutritional consultant says there are several reasons people are looking to change their diet.

"Digestion is number one," said Teff. "Hormonal issues is number two. We have a lot of kids, so they usually come in because they have a lot of skin stuff."

She also says depression and anxiety rank near the top for reasons why people are looking for help with their diets.

Based on health history and diagnostics at her clinic, she strives to get an idea of why issues are happening in the body. She said it could be a person is not getting enough of certain foods, but also not enough of the right combination for the person's microbiome.

Nic Schilling is one of Teff's clients. He went searching for help a little over a year ago after he was battling a number of GI-issues. Schilling was working out five to six days a week, but he said his diet was far from perfect.

"We all know what we're supposed to do, but it's more fun to play and eat whatever," admitted Schilling.

He said he thought since he spent at least five days a week in the gym, he could eat what ever he wanted. Some of his favorites to indulge in included ice cream, Funyuns, and drinking alcohol. He had also tried a number of fad diets, but only found short-term success.

"The big thing for me was creating a lifestyle," said Schilling.

When Schilling consulted with Teff, she didn't immediately strip things out of his diet. Instead, she added things like pickled ginger in the morning, a yeast supplement before lunch, and 800 grams a day of fruits and veggies.

"My pantry is not fancy," said Schilling. "I have chips and snacks in there and I'll work them into my day because I like them."

In just three months time, Schilling said many of his GI-issues started going away. He was hitting personal records in the gym, sleeping better, and noticed his overall well being improved.

"I'm buying less supplements and eating real food," said Schilling.

Through consulting with Teff, Schilling started counting his macros. It is where he has a set amount of carbs, fats, and proteins allotted for each day. He then weighs his food and tracks it all on an app on his phone.

"Just focusing on the right nutrition has been quite earth shattering," said Schilling.

When other diets didn't worked, he said this is the first one where he's really noticed long term success. Schilling said if you want to take your health and well being serious, don't do it on your own.

"My biggest suggestion, work with a coach. Figure out someone who can help you out with your diet or a program and that will help you be accountable," said Schilling.

Counting macros may seem intense for some, Schilling said it is something he doesn't even think twice about anymore.

"It was certainly a practice when I started a year ago. It drove me crazy and was certainly tough," said Schilling. "But, anything worth doing is worth making it into a habit."

Teff agreed and said this is not a program that works for everyone. While nutrition is the foundation that she starts with, she said there are a number of things to take into consideration including:

"What are people doing all day long?"

"What's there lifestyle like?"

What are they surrounded by to get that shift?"

"Because with that busy mom, you want - if she can - you want to step back and breathe," said Teff. "Just give her 'her time.' She doesn't need more supplements and herbs."

If you're looking to make some lifestyle changes, Teff suggest starting with adding water and veggies to your diet. She said by adding healthy items in before trying to cut something will increase your chances of being successful in implementing a lifestyle change.

"When we take something out, we always feel like we're at a disadvantage and we're missing something," said Teff.

UW-Madison research to heal from within - all by what we eat

Tucked inside of a lab room in Babcock Hall on UW-Madison's campus, Dr. Bradley Bolling, an assistant professor of food science, and a team of researchers and students are working to learn what is in food. Different graphs show the chemical properties which then helps researchers understand the foods impact on health.

"In our lab we are studying specifically nuts, berries, vegetables, and dairy products and how their components can inhibit inflammation which is related to a number of many chronic diseases," said Dr. Bolling.

Over the past two years, Dr. Bolling and his team have published studies about how eating yogurt can prevent inflammation in women who eat it over a period of 9 weeks. Their findings show, what he calls, a modest benefit.

Another study on aronia berries and their anti-inflammatory properties just wrapped up this past year.

"Those were experimenter conducted primarily in mice that had inflammation in their gut," described Dr. Bolling. "We see that the aronia berry consumption decreased that inflammation that results in the gut."

Using food for healing is growing in interest. Dr. Bolling said there's been an increased interest among students at UW-Madison and by the creation of new food products on the market. While the market is flooded with food labels and new headlines that make these claims, he said this is process that moves quite slowly.

"To build information, to really make a dietary recommendation takes years and hundreds of thousands of human participants in studies," said Dr. Bolling. "The work that you see popping up in headlines tends to be sometimes animal studies or chemical-based studies which are promising, but maybe haven't been as well justified b corresponding human studies."

He also warns consumers to beware of marking labels on food products and encourages consumers to do their own research to see where the study maybe in the process. Dr. Bolling recommends reviewing this

In the future though, Dr. Bolling believes studying the healing properties of food is going to lead to specific heath recommendations, rather than making broad scale recommendations.

Below are links to some of the recent research being done at UW-Madison:
As always, before you make any lifestyle changes, be sure to talk with your doctor or nutritionist.