Food As Medicine – Thoughts on ‘The Food Hospital’

Here in the UK, Channel 4 have recently been showing a program called ‘Food Hospital’ exploring the use of food as medicine. For all that it’s billed as ground-breaking, I can’t help but feel it’s a missed opportunity. According to the experts involved, all manner of health conditions can be helped by eating a natural diet. Vegetables, wholegrains, fruit and lean meat are good for you, and refined foods, sugars, artificial additives, too much alcohol and anything deep-fried is bad for you. Who’d have thought it?

I was particularly interested to see a girl presenting at the ‘food hospital’ for alopecia (hair loss.) They were at a loss to explain why this was happening, but noted that the she also suffered from digestive problems, diagnosed as IBS, so the treatment plan was aimed at the IBS in the hope that this would also improve the alopecia, which it did. We were told that this was a ‘food as medicine first’ but I beg to differ!

This where the Chinese understanding of nutrition and diet comes into its own. It is a rich and complex way of looking at all aspects of health and well-being, and it explains perfectly why this treatment was successful.

The digestive system is seen as the basis for the overall health of the whole body. It if from food that we create our Qi and Blood on a day to day basis, and we need strong digestion in order to do this efficiently. In Chinese terms, a digestive weakness easily leads to Qi and/or Blood Deficiency.

This where alopecia comes in. The term ‘Blood’ is used in Chinese medicine in a wider sense than we understand it in English. ‘Blood’ also includes many of the functions of the body that are responsible for moistening and nourishing, and the quality (and quantity) of the hair is intimately related to the quality of Blood – one of the symptoms of Blood Deficiency is hair loss.

In this example, a Chinese Nutritionist could have identified Blood Deficiency on the basis of the girls’s symptoms, and would also have noted the IBS and digestive weakness. As Blood is created from food by the action of digestion, the logical treatment is to strengthen and regulate the digestive system.

The Chinese have been using food as medicine for many thousands of years, and today we can benefit from a rich history of research and development in this field. The ‘Food Hospital’ may be new to many UK viewers, but it in my opinion is does little more than touch on the vast body of knowledge that is already available to us if only we know where to look. Chinese medicine already has a very sophisticated way of looking at food and nutrition, and an extremely effective framework for using food as medicine.

In comparison, I must say that the work of the ‘Food Hospital’ seems a little uninspiring. Nice try, Channel 4, but it could have been so much better!


More about the show, can be found on Channel 4’s website, where you can also watch previous episodes.