Collier and Lee Counties Edition
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Food is the Body’s Fuel and Medicine

Most children learn in school about the Food Guide Pyramid, an easy-to-read chart intended to simplify the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s suggested servings for each of the primary food groups. Today, all packaged food products feature a nutrition facts panel so that consumers can see a simple breakdown of calories, fat grams, cholesterol and other important data, based on a 2,000-calorie diet that is intended to be consumed 100 percent by day’s end.

However, few individuals follow these rules to the T. In fact, they shouldn’t, because every person has a unique footprint that stems from genetics, lifestyle choices, exposures and stressors on the body, both mental and physical. Everyone has different caloric and dietary needs. A marathoner, for instance, needs a completely different diet than a sprinter. An individual with a family medical history that contains a long list of Alzheimer’s patients should not load the dinner plate with the same items as someone with ancestors that had a clean bill of health.

Whenever a functional medicine physician sees a patient for the first time, they collect far more information than just height, weight and blood pressure. These numbers are helpful, but so is a patient’s medical history. Patients often view comprehensive history forms as cumbersome, or even daunting. On the other hand, a functional medicine physician sees them as clues offering explanations of an individual’s current state of health and possible indicators of what’s to come.

In functional medicine, unraveling a patient’s medical history and peeling back layers of overall health allows the physician to begin assessing whether nutrition is contributing to any health concerns.

While genetics and exercise are key factors in overall health, food is our body’s fuel and a powerful medicine when integrated into a medical treatment plan created by a licensed professional. A patient complaining of joint pain, for instance, could have symptoms stemming from an old sports injury or perhaps be developing arthritis, but too little vitamin C in one’s diet also can cause joint and muscle aches. A thorough medical evaluation, paired with a detailed nutritional analysis, can help make that determination. Rather than prescribing acetaminophen for joint pain, simply eating strawberries and Brussels sprouts on a regular basis or adding a splash of lemon to a glass of filtered water might be the prescription.

Adding cilantro to an individual’s diet can help treat hormone and thyroid problems. Garlic stimulates the liver, which produces enzymes that filter toxins from the digestive system. Trimming consumption of red meat and eliminating soda reduces the risk of kidney disease. Other dietary adjustments can target neurological and brain health, gastric disorders, food allergies, weight management, vascular disease and other ailments.

Functional medicine is a cellular-based approach to medical care that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease. Nutrition is a cornerstone of functional medicine, and cannot be overlooked when diagnosing a problem. Too much or too little of any item can cause problems. A dinner of baked chicken, whole grain pasta and steamed broccoli, with fresh fruit for dessert, comprises a healthy meal many dietitians would recommend, but it isn’t always what is best for each person’s health, nor does anyone want to eat the same meal day after day. That’s why this field of medicine offers nutritional strategies for dining out and tips for maintaining a healthy diet while on vacation.

Ultimately, the patient holds the key to their healing and well-being, which is why it’s critical that they feel empowered to take control of their health through the right combination of diet, exercise and lifestyle.

Pamela Hughes, D.O., the founder of Hughes Center for Functional Medicine, located at 800 Goodlette Rd. N., in Naples, provides patients with modern modalities and evidence-based, leading-edge functional and integrative medicine. For more information, call 239-649-7400 or visit

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