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INTRODUCTION

Eating food is something that most people do every day of their lives. Indeed, to go for too long without food will lead to disability, disease and, ultimately, death. Therefore, it should not be surprising that cultures throughout history have sought to understand the role of dietary exposures (i.e., the foods we eat) in determining health and well-being. Interest in understanding the role of diet in health extends back millennia in the Greek, Ayurvedic, and Chinese traditional medicine systems1–5; that is, long before scientific medicine, as we know it, came to the West. It is interesting to note that in the modern (post-Medieval) Western tradition the first clinical trial, conducted by Lind in the middle of the eighteenth century,6 focused on a dietary factor (i.e., ascorbic acid-rich limes for the prevention and treatment of scurvy among sailors on long journeys). That work preceded by a century that of John Snow,7 who showed that cholera was spread by contaminated water (and even that is a nutritional exposure of sorts!) and is widely credited to be the father of modern epidemiology.

Careful observations regarding the role of diet in health have been recorded throughout human history and have become part of cultural traditions all over the world including in: East Asia (e.g., Chinese Traditional Medicine); South Asia (e.g., Ayurvedic and Siddha Medicine); West Asia/Middle East (e.g., Persian Medicine); Africa (e.g., Herbalism); the Americas (Herbalism and Culinary Traditions); and Europe (e.g., Greek Medicine).1–5 These traditions incorporate the concept of balance, with the specific understanding that manifestation of imbalance, including a clinical diagnosis of a disease, can be rectified through changes in lifestyle behaviors. All of these traditions credit dietary factors with playing an essential role in restoring equilibrium to the body. While specific, culture-bound explanations may differ from the kind of evidence that we associate with modern medical science, the conclusions are strikingly similar. For example, specific foods that are recommended in the Asian tradition include ginger, garlic, onion, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, and pepper8,9; all of which we now know can reduce chronic systemic inflammation.10–13

Many dietary traditions began as part of larger systems of religious and spiritual thought, philosophy, and practice.14,15 While it might be unusual to encounter a patient who understands the concept of balance and the role of nutrition in restoring biological systems to a state of homeostasis, and rarer still to find someone who understands the philosophical underpinnings in these traditions, most people understand the importance of a healthy diet in maintaining or restoring good health. So, it is not surprising that patients often present with strong feelings about diet. These may include a desire or intention to reverse or slow the progression of some specific condition or disease, and evidence has existed for several decades that heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even prostate cancer may be reversible.16–21 All of these findings are ...

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