Food as Medicine

June 21, 2015 Updated: June 21, 2015

We all have basic remedies in our medicine cabinets for anything from headaches to indigestion to skin care. They are all man-made much like processed foods and like their processed counterparts can wreak havoc on the body over time.  How many of us are aware that reducing stomach acid to counter indigestion is lowering the very acid needed to fend of pathogens that enter our body?  Stomach acid is part of our defense team.

Beharat B. Aggarwal, Ph.D., in his book, Healing Spices, offers a host of alternatives to easing indigestion that are not focused on reducing stomach acid.  If truth be known, most instances of indigestion are due to low levels of stomach acid rather than overproduction of acid. The body produces less stomach acid as we grow older and when we experience emotional stress.

In terms of natural remedies for ingestion, Dr. Aggarwal reports that ginger works for indigestion by reducing gastric emptying time and can help ease feelings of nausea.  Black pepper also speeds up transit time to help to ease indigestion. Cardamom and a combination of peppermint and caraway oil contain a compound that helps to relax spasms of the digestive tract. 

Looking at these spice remedies, one realizes that reducing stomach acid does not have to be the route to ease indigestion. To avoid excess acid levels, we must consume more alkalizing foods, such as most fruits and vegetables, which helps to neutralize stomach acid.  Meat, fish, dairy, and cheese are among the many acid-forming foods.  For a comprehensive list of acid/alkaline foods, you can refer to the following link at

To prevent and treat indigestion, foods with bitter flavors, such as dandelion, endive, chicory, arugula, kale, radicchio, broccoli rabe, and chard stimulate our bitter taste buds, which in turn increase hydrochloric acid levels to aid in digestion. The bitter taste can be dressed up with oil and spices, if it not that appealing to the palate.  Broccoli rabe with a little extra virgin olive oil and garlic is flavorful or bitter greens can be added to soups and casseroles to blend with other flavors. Many of us opt for sweeter greens and lettuces without realizing the benefits of including some bitter greens in the diet. 

In terms of other home remedies, Dr. Aggarwal reports that capsaicin, a compound in chile peppers, can be effective in relieving tension headaches. In the study reported, seventy-percent of the patients benefited from the capsaicin applied to the nostril on the same side as the headache. Curcumin in the spice, turmeric, also can help relieve tension headaches and is the same ingredient contained in Tylenol. Turmeric can be used in a paste to treat everyday skin problems, such as itching, and has been used in face masks to reduce wrinkles. Ginger has been reported as effective in treating migraines with one to two grams at the first sign of a migraine headache.

The list of everyday food remedies to treat everyday problems can go on and on, and is well-worth becoming more familiar with. Dr. Aggarwal’s book is an excellent resource along with Rosemary Gladstar’s book, Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide. When using spices and herbs for prevention and treatment, we need to consult a professional on doses as everything in life must be in moderation. People, often in their eagerness to experiment with a food, spice, or herbs, can overdo it. Toxic reactions are rare, especially with plants, as most toxic plants are not available commercially, but there always is a chance for an individual reaction.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”- Hippocrates