“FOOD IS MEDICINE” says Dr. Michael Lara, a physician in private practice from San Francisco in his seminar on “The Pharmacy in Your Kitchen: An Overview of Medical and Medicinal Food”.

“Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates

The content in this blog is based on information gathered from the above titled seminar that took place on Thursday February 18, 2016.  Most of the information presented in this blog was acquired from the presentation and accompanying materials.  If you have any questions about what is written here, please feel free to contact me directly or connect with Dr.Michael Lara through Facebook: www.Facebook.com/BrainMD and his website: www.drmikelara.com.
Please be sure to check with a qualified health professional before implementing any medical or medicinal food protocol.  Food is medicine and also has a potential to harm.  It’s important to include your health care provider(s) in the conversation to keep you safe and maximize benefit.  

87% of Americans believe that certain foods have health benefits that go beyond basic nutrition.  But most doctors and physicians don’t think of medical foods when discussing health concerns and treatment options with their patients.  I signed up for the seminar to see what the options are out there for my clients when dealing with sexual concerns as well as other health conditions, like depression, insomnia, and chronic pain.

What is a medical food?
The FDA defines Medical Food as “A food which is formulated to be consumed or administered enterally through the supervision of a physician and which is intended for the specific dietary management of a disease or condition for which distinctive nutritional requirements, based on recognized scientific principles, are established by medical evaluation.”

Medical foods aren’t regular foods, but rather the dietary products formulated for the management of diseases for which specific nutritional requirements have been established.  They aren’t drugs or dietary supplements and are monitored separately by the FDA. All efficacy claims for medical foods must be based on recognized scientific principles and clinical data and medical foods may be used only under medical supervision (but may or may not require a prescription).

Medical foods are different than supplements and drugs, and are regulated by the FDA.

The purpose of this blog is to discuss the use of medical and medicinal foods in relation to sexual functioning as well as other conditions that my clients present with.

Medical Foods and Mechanisms of Actions

Medical foods affect three mechanism of actions: neurotransmitters, inflammation, and nutrient metabolism.  While much of the research presented deal with conditions related to diseases such as Alzheimers, osteoarthritis, and insulin resistance, medical foods also address sleep issues, depression, pain, inflammation, chronic pain, neuropathy, and metabolic issues.

The mechanism of action that I found very interesting and relevant was medical foods that alter neurotransmitter levels.  One of the biggest challenges I have as a sex therapist is working with clients who have various mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression who take psychopharmaceuticals to address the anxiety and depression.  They often present with sexual issues related to the anxiety and depression AND/OR the side effects related to taking psychopharmaceuticals to treat the anxiety of depression.  We sometimes feel very stuck when trying to address the sexual issues while at the same time effectively managing the anxiety, depression, or other health concern.

Medical Foods and Depression

Medical foods that affect neurotransmitters can offer options to address depression without the side effects to sexual functioning.depression photo

Deplin (L-Methylfolate) is a medical food for patients with treatment-resistant depression.  While Deplin may require a prescription, L-Methylfolate can be purchased over the counter.  L-Methylfolate improves depression and reduces markers of inflammation.  And even more interesting is that there are tests that can be done (and more and more mainstream doctors are having patients have these tests) that can tell you whether you are deficient in some of these areas.   Dr. Lara recommends the company 23 and Me for genetic testing to see if you have deficiencies in areas that could benefit from targeted treatment based on the results.  .

Dr. Lara presented extensively on curcumin (found in spice tumeric and mustard) which can have anti-depressant effects via MAO Inhibition as well as other positive benefits.

Medical Foods and Sleep Issues

MANY of my clients struggle with sleep issues, and medical foods might provide an alternative to sleep medications that might have unpleasant side effects, be highly addictive, quickly increase tolerance, and diminish the quality of your general sleep.  A medical food that may work on sleep issues through acting on neurotransmitters is Gabadone.

Medical Foods and Sexual Functioning 

While I wish Dr. Lara spent more time discussing the benefits of medical foods for sexual functioning (even if just periphery, like, how a medical food can reduce inflammation, possibly inflammation in the genital region due to issues that cause sexual pain, or how medical foods can affect the neuropathy of sexual organs), he did spend some time talking about the benefits of Cocoa and Maca.

Cocoa is derived from the trees and considered the”drink of the gods” and is  rich in anti-oxidants.  Dr. Lara made it clear that he wasn’t talking about Milk Chocolate (and a groan ensued from the crowd) but dark, unsweetened 70%+ cacao.  Optimal dose is 10 grams a day.

Maca is a plant that grows in central Peru in the high plateaus of the Andes mountains. It has been radish photo harvested as a vegetable crop in Peru for at least 3000 years. Maca is a close relative of the radish. Maca has been linked to helping with low desire, sexual dysfunction, erectile dysfunction, hormonal issues, symptoms of menopause, and menstrual problems.   To be clear, Maca is not a medicinal food, but when combined with cocoa, it can have medicinal affects.  Maca Cocoa a libido-enhancing antioxidant drink.  It also can reduce the effects of menopause without affecting the hormones and has been reported to increase the subjective feelings of well-being.  

Natural Food Sources

While there are several products that can provide some of the medicinal foods to you, it has been stated that the best way to get some of these medicinal foods is through actual FOODS!  A great resource to see how much a food has of what you are looking for is the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/),  The website is a great way to find natural sources of nutrients mentioned above in your food.

Working With Practitioners That Can Help You 

Dr. Lara stated that most doctors don’t prescribe or recommend medical food because they don’t know about them.  If you are interested in learning more about medical food, especially medical food for sexual functioning, you will want to seek out one of the following providers who are trained and educated on using medical foods for sexual functioning (or just general use): Naturopaths, Osteopaths, and Functional Medicine Doctors are all trained and educated in working with supplements and medical foods.  You can find information on these practitioners at the following websites:

Institute for Functional Medicinehttps://www.functionalmedicine.org
American Association of Naturopathic Practitionershttp://www.naturopathic.org
American Osteopathic Association: https://www.osteopathic.org/

Overall, the presentation was well-done and informative, although there wasn’t a whole lot of information presented about sexual functioning.  But very valuable information that is relevant to my work is how there are a multitude of options around medical food and insomnia and depression, which are often confounding conditions that affect my clients.  Medical foods may offer options to many clients with a variety of medical issues that could be effective in treating their condition while reducing or eliminating the sexual side effects of the issues themselves (one of the hallmark symptoms of depression is low sexual desire) and psychopharmaceuticals and other drugs.  While there really isn’t a lot of data on the efficacy of medical food for sexual functioning, its a growing area that has a lot of fascinating implications.   Definitely worth asking your healthcare provider about.