Fixing What Ails You ... With Food

Eat Your Medicine

WebMD Feature

Pop a cold pill or sip a cup of mom's chicken soup? You may have scoffed all these years at that old-fashioned remedy, but research is now showing that mom may just have known best after all. Chicken soup's just one "food fix" that may be just what the doctor ordered. Take a look...

Sniff, Sniff

The suspected benefits of chicken soup were reported centuries ago when the Egyptian Jewish physician and philosopher Moshe ben Maimon (also known as Maimonides) recommended chicken soup for respiratory tract symptoms. His 12th century writings were based on earlier Greek writings. Fast forward to 1993 when Stephen Rennard, MD, conducted an informal laboratory study and submitted the results mostly on a lark. Seven years later, Rennard's chicken soup research was published in the Oct. 17, 2000, issue of CHEST, the peer-reviewed journal of the American College of Chest Physicians. Rennard, Larson Professor of Medicine in the pulmonary and critical care medicine section at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, found that chicken soup -- whether prepared from scratch or bought in a supermarket -- seems to inhibit or reduce the movement of neutrophils, the most common white cell in the blood that defends the body against infection. The soup may also improve rehydration and nutrition in the body, as well as providing psychological and physical comfort if you're feeling ill.

A Day Without Orange Juice ...

Is a day when you might not be reducing your blood pressure, says Melinda Hemmelgarn, MS, RD, associate state nutrition specialist and coordinator of the Nutrition Communications Center at the University of Missouri. Increasing both potassium and calcium in your diet will lower your blood pressure, says Hemmelgarn. Choose OJ that is calcium-fortified and not-from-concentrate. Another good source of potassium -- bananas.

A Taste of the Grape ...

Juice, that is. Drinking a cup a day of 100% purple grape juice contributes to a healthy heart, says Jane E. Freedman, MD, assistant professor of medicine and pharmacology at Georgetown University, and lead researcher in a study published last year in Circulation. The study showed that drinking grape juice not only has a direct effect on important functions like blood clotting, but also appears to increase the levels of valuable antioxidants while decreasing free radicals. Purple grape juice has three times the antioxidant power of grapefruit, orange, tomato, and apple juices. (An added bonus: preliminary studies have shown that compounds in purple grape juice were as effective as those found in cranberry juice for preventing urinary tract infections.)

And speaking of those UTIs ...

One glass of cranberry juice or one ounce of dried cranberries a day will help stave off infection, says Amy Howell, PhD, research scientist at the Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research at Rutgers University. The compounds found in cranberries prevent certain bacteria from making the foot-like processes that they use to attach to the walls of the urinary tract.

Blue on Blue

Blueberries for those blue veins, says Luis Navarro, MD, founder and director of The Vein Treatment Center in New York. According to Navarro, blueberries are good for circulation. Foods that contain flavonoids -- such as blueberries -- help increase the tone and strength of veins and reduce the fragility of capillaries. And the proanthocynanidins and anthocyanidins -- big words that give berries their blue-red color -- help improve the strength of the vascular system overall. "The best time to start taking care of your legs is before they become a problem," says Navarro. "Eating the right foods gives legs the energy and strength they need to ward off varicose veins."

See Your Way Clear

If you want to lessen the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration -- a disease that causes irreversible blindness in people over the age of 65 -- eat your veggies, says ophthalmologist Robert Abel, MD. Lutein, a nutrient found predominantly in dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collard greens, promotes eye health by acting as a light filter, protecting the eyes from some of the damaging effects of the sun, and as an antioxidant, protecting the eyes from the damaging effects of aging, says Abel, a member of the Lutein Information Bureau Advisory Board. Because the body is unable to naturally manufacture lutein, you have to rely on your consumption of lutein-rich foods (or lutein supplements) to maintain optimal levels of lutein in the eye. There isn't an official Daily Reference Intake for lutein, but a 1994 Harvard University study showed that 6 milligrams -- equal to about one-third cup of cooked spinach -- is likely to have beneficial effects. If you're not going to get that amount daily, it won't hurt to add a multivitamin that includes lutein, says Abel.

You've Got a Terrible Headache

If you suffer from migraines, you may have trigger foods that you can't eat. Common migraine triggers are dairy products, chocolate, eggs, citrus fruits, meat, wheat, nuts and peanuts, tomatoes, onion, corn, apples, and bananas, says Neal Barnard, MD, author of Foods That Fight Pain. Ironically, if a migraine does hit, some of those triggering foods may just provide relief as well. Caffeine, for example, may cause migraines in some people, but ease them in others, says Barnard. If caffeine is not a problem for you, drink one to two cups of strong coffee at the first sign of a migraine. You may also find relief from starchy foods such as toast, crackers, and potatoes, which can reduce the headache or nausea and may even shorten the attack.

On the Deep Blue Sea

Or on a plane, a train, or in a car. If you suffer from motion sickness, you may be tempted to stay home. Not necessary, says Barnard. In studies, ginger was shown to reduce the nausea and vomiting associated with motion sickness, and was found to be more effective than dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), which is commonly used for motion sickness. To calm the stomach, says Barnard, take one-half to one teaspoon (one to two grams) of powdered ginger. Health food stores often carry gelatin capsules containing the powdered ginger so you don't have to grind it yourself. Take two capsules about 30 minutes before your trip.

Nuts to You

A handful -- just two ounces -- of almonds may help you avoid the onset of Alzheimer's disease. In a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, researchers found that the vitamin E in almonds is an antioxidant, which can reduce age-related deterioration in the brain.

Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD, April 15, 2002

©1996-2005 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Last Editorial Review: 1/30/2005