Mediaplanet: How can people take better control of their own health?

Dr. Josh Axe: I believe that food is medicine, so first and foremost, I recommend that people start by improving the quality of their diets. There isn’t one perfect diet for everybody, since we are all unique. But what works for just about everyone is focusing on eating real, whole foods that are as close to nature as possible.

Aside from eating an unprocessed, nutrient-dense diet, it’s also important to address the effects of stress, incorporate some type of movement or exercise into your life, and avoid things that deplete your energy and health — such as sleep deprivation and using unnecessary medications.

MP: Why is it important to get to the root cause of the disease rather than just treating the symptoms?

JA: When we only treat symptoms, we are masking the real underlying problem, which means that symptoms are likely to return. Another issue is that many short-term fixes, such as taking certain prescription drugs, tend to cause side effects and therefore a new set of problems to deal with. A better long-term strategy is finding the underlying cause of symptoms — whether it’s a nutrient deficiency, allergy, or stress. — and making changes accordingly so symptoms are managed for good.

MP: What made you want to pursue a career in natural medicine?

JA: I realized I really needed to become a doctor of natural medicine and chiropractor when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. My mom underwent a mastectomy followed by many rounds of chemotherapy. After all of her treatments, she was diagnosed as being “cancer-free” – but for the next several years, she was sicker than she’d ever been in her life. About nine years after her first diagnosis, she was diagnosed with cancer again. As a family we realized that conventional medicine was not solving her problem, and that natural health remedies and focused nutrition were needed to really help move things in the right direction.

MP: What are your thoughts on the idea of Hippocrates’ quote “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”?

JA: This is basically my personal motto, as well as our company’s mission! Like Hippocrates, I advise people to prevent and treat diseases first and foremost by eating a nutrient-dense diet. Food can function as preventative medicine, and when someone is suffering from an ailment, their diet is often the first thing that needs to be addressed.

To me, this quote explains why a calorie is not simply a calorie; the foods we eat play a critical role in controlling inflammation levels, which are at the root of most chronic diseases. A healthy diet also helps us balance our blood sugar levels, regulates cardiovascular health (including blood pressure and cholesterol levels), supports our digestive organs so we can absorb nutrients and eliminate waste, stabilizes our mood, helps us think clearly, and  much more.

MP: There’s a lot of talk around sugar being toxic for the human body, do you think people should be cutting it out of their diet?

JA: There’s a lot we can benefit from cutting added sugar out of your diet. Sugar can promote inflammation and is basically a source of empty calories. Plus, it’s easy to over-consume them which can contribute to weight gain. Sugary foods can also crowd out healthier options, such as whole foods like fruit, nuts, fish, vegetables, etc.

That’s why I recommend a low-sugar, low-carb diet for many people, which emphasizes fresh produce, lean protein and healthy fats. Depending on the person, I think low-sugar andlow-carb diets have a lot to offer.

MP: Lots of people are still scared off by eating healthy fats – why should we be switching our mindset?

JA: Healthy fats are absolutely essential and the building blocks of what I refer to as a healing diet. When excess sugar and carbs are no longer making an appearance in someone’s diet, they’ll need to fill up on other foods instead. This is where healthy fats, along with quality protein, come in.

Healthy fats help us reach satiety after eating and taste great! They are also important for hormonal health, brain function, mood regulation, and maintaining our energy throughout the day.

MP: Leaky gut is a term that’s popping up more frequently now. What is the first step people should take to fixg it?

JA: To start combatting leaky gut, also known as ntestinal permeability, you should remove known irritants from your lifestyle. This includes alcohol, aspirin, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), any known allergens (including gluten, soy, and dairy), and processed or inflammatory foods. Many people may also  benefit from avoiding unnecessary medications, alcohol, and caffeine. Try to replace processed and synthetic ingredients with whole foods in your diet.

MP: What is the key to a long, healthy life?

JA: While there isn’t a magic formula that will keep you feeling young forever, I do believe that incorporating certain anti-aging and anti-inflammatory foods and practices into your diet is the best way to help bring you closer to that goal.

The top anti-aging foods I recommend are  those with the highest antioxidant and nutrient levels —leafy green veggies, berries, nuts, herbs and spices like turmeric, bone broth, olive oil, fish, etc. These are the same foods that our ancestors have been eating for centuries. They protect our brains, hearts, livers, and so much more. In addition to eating a healthy diet, I also believe that habits like regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and finding time for activities that help you relax, grow spiritually, and engage with your community are also important for physical and mental health.

MP: What is the difference between functional medicine and conventional medicine?

JA: Functional medicine is a practice that focuses on treating the whole person with the goal of improving optimal functioning of the whole body and its connected organs and systems. This makes functional medicine similar to holistic or alternative medicine.

If someone visits a functional medicine practitioner complaining of muscle pains or digestive issues, treatment will focus on correcting the underlying cause of these symptoms rather than putting a band-aid on the patient’s symptoms.