Food as Medicine: Introducing Phytochemicals

At the Inspire Wellness Center, organic plant-based food is our alternative medicine of choice: natural, simple, safe and effective.

What is it about vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains that make them such powerful little healers?

All plants contain molecular compounds called phytochemicals — “phyto” comes from the Greek word “phuton” meaning “plants.” Unlike vitamins, phytochemicals aren’t necessary for our survival, nor do they cause any diseases resulting from any deficiency. Their role in plants is to protect them from disease, injuries, insects, drought, excessive heat, ultraviolet rays, and poisons or pollutants in the air or soil. They form part of the plant’s immune system. When we eat plants, we receive the benefit of their fabulous phytochemicals and all the protective, disease-preventing properties that go along with them.


Phytochemicals are associated with the prevention and/or treatment of at least four of the leading causes of death in Western countries — cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension. They are involved in many processes including ones that help prevent cell damage, prevent cancer cell replication, and decrease cholesterol levels.

Phytochemicals  may serve as anti-oxidants in a bodily system when required; for example, the phytochemical beta-carotene can metabolize to create vitamin A, a powerful anti-oxidant. Additionally, phytochemicals may enhance immune response and cell-to-cell communication, allowing for the body’s built-in defenses to work more efficiently. Phytochemicals may even alter estrogen metabolism, cause cancer cells to die (apoptosis), repair DNA damage caused by smoking and other toxic exposure, and detoxify carcinogens by working with bodily enzymes.

I recommend reading the fantastic book by Jeff Primack called Conquering Any Disease to learn more about the role of phytochemicals in the prevention process.

There are tens of thousands of phytochemicals and we are just beginning to scratch the surface of what they can do. They’re most often found concentrated in the skin and fibrous portions of plants, which highlights the importance of “chewing your food thoroughly” before swallowing. It helps to release the “medicine” in your food.


The education that Western medical practitioners receive on proper nutrition is almost non-existent, and what they do get is more often than not simply wrong or outdated.  Physicians are not taught to consider that food could be used to heal their patient, and nutrition is seldom if ever discussed.  During one appointment with a rheumatologist when I was still recovering from MCTD, the physician looked me straight in the eye and said: “What you eat and nutrition have nothing to do with your illness. Nothing you do with it will matter.”  It left me flabbergasted.

Unfortunately this response is far too common. Most conventional Western medicine practitioners are quick to dismiss and discredit any health modality that doesn’t involve prescription drugs or surgery. Quite often, these are the same drugs that are being heavily peddled by their pharmaceutical representatives.

Nature always provides what we need to heal, it has been proven time and again, over thousands of years. Our food should be our first line of defense in any illness prevention plan, and play a large role in the recovery of any illness.

With love, Holly

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