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June 11th, 2013



Supplementary food and health food are increasingly popular these days because people are more interested in protecting themselves from illnesses rather than waiting until they are sick and seek treatment. Those who are already sick are also afraid of taking many pills because there might be side effects, but naturally, we are not afraid of consuming “food” because we need it to survive. What many people don’t know is lots of medicine comes from food (both traditional herbal medicine and modern medicine) and many kinds of food contain medicinal properties. Too much of certain food can be just as bad as taking too much medicine.

Food that can be dangerous when consumed in big amount includes fatty food, deep fried food and sugar. If we consume too much of those, cholesterol level in the blood will increase, resulting in heart problems. This can be just as bad as some medicine.

Some medicines are made from natural food. Supplementary food in form of tablets or capsules can be good and bad for the health, and in some people, there might even be undesirable side effects. Generally, for medicine to be sold in the market, there has to be lower than 1% side effect. This takes a lot of research and scientific investigation based on reliable statistics, not to mention a lot of expenses. This is why some medicines are just absurdly expensive.

One of the foods that have medicinal properties is cherries. It might not be well-known as health food in Thailand, as it is not our local fruit, and there are just so many fruits in Thailand.

Cherries are known for lowering blood sugar level, promoting good sleep, boosting energy and relieving joint pains and gouts. However, the FDA in America has warned companies that sell or promote cherries not to make fault claims about its benefits.

There are two kinds of cherries. The sweeter kind is called bing cherries, which is more popular because of its sweet, delicious taste. The other kind, tart cherries, is less sweet but more medicinal. Both kinds have anti-oxidant properties as they have Anti-Cyanine, which is responsible for giving the colors red, purple and blue to fruits and vegetables.

Research has shown that anti-oxidants in tart cherries can lower inflammation just like aspirin and other joint inflammation medicines, while bing cherries can lower uric acid, which causes gout.

Recently, a study showed that eating 45 bing cherries a day can have anti-inflammatory effects. This chronic low level of inflammation is was found in people with heart disease risks (so it was hoped that this would mean lower risk for heart disease). Apart from that, another study proved that freshly squeezed juice made from 100-120 tart cherries, when drunk daily, can reduce post-workout muscle pain.

Before declaring cherries your favorite medicine, stop and take a look at its negative side, too. First thing you should be aware of is that the claims about cherries lowering cholesterol level, blood sugar level, spreading of carcinogenic cells and preventing amnesia are based on animal testing. Studies done in human are limited, and mostly done on healthy people. Moreover, most studies use tart cherries, which is sour. Finally, most studies that say those claims require a big amount of cherries, so much that we could end up adding 400 kilocalories to our diet, or as much as eating 2 plates of rice.

This could be like the case of my patient who tried to lose weight by eating orange – 10 kilos a day – because she thought fruits couldn’t make her fat.

To sum up, cherries could be delicious and healthy, but please do not use cherries to replace medicine. For prevention, it can be good for your health. Besides, there are many other red, purple and blue fruits that can be grown locally, and they have just as much anti-oxidants.

Moderation, whether for food or for medicine, is the way to go!

Prof Nithi Mahanonda is consultant cardiologist and interventionist, Perfect Heart Institute.


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