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The Use Of Nutrition And Dietary Changes In Managing Chronic Illnesses

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The Use Of Nutrition And Dietary Changes In Managing Chronic Illnesses

The reality of chronic illnesses is an undeniable fact of life for 60% of adults in the U.S. These long-lasting health conditions, which include diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis, significantly impact life quality and are a growing concern due to their continued contribution to escalating healthcare costs. The correlation between diet and health has long been noted. But how far can the impact of nutrition and dietary changes go in managing, or possibly even mitigating, some of these chronic illnesses? This article will explore this question, shedding light on the potential of dietary interventions in managing chronic disease.


What is Chronic Illness?

Chronic illnesses refer to health conditions that persist over a long period of time. While chronic diseases can often be controlled, they are usually not curable. Those living with such conditions are affected by symptoms that significantly alter their quality of life and may lead to a decreased lifespan. In fact, chronic diseases are the foremost cause of death in the U.S., being responsible for 70% of all deaths. Conditions such as chronic back pain and depression are frequent contributors to a decrease in productivity and an increase in healthcare costs.

Around the world, chronic illnesses are a leading cause of premature death, even in areas where infectious diseases are common, according to the World Health Organization. However, it’s worth noting that many chronic diseases and their effects can often be prevented or effectively managed through lifestyle changes, proper medical treatment, and regular monitoring of new potential issues. There's a broad range of conditions that fall under chronic illnesses. Some examples include allergies, asthma, Alzheimer's disease, different types of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, chronic back pain, depression, diabetes, epilepsy, and obesity (2).

A good choice to keep in mind is that many chronic diseases are tied to lifestyle choices that we can change. Opting for a nutritious diet, increasing physical activity, and avoiding tobacco use can help prevent many of these conditions. Additionally, for those already living with chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease, adopting healthier lifestyle habits can help manage the disease, avoid complications, and potentially prolong their life (7).

What is Nutrition's Role In The Development of Chronic Illness?

Nutrition plays an essential role in the prevention, treatment, and development of chronic disease.

Food Additives and Chronic Illness

Food additives are substances incorporated into food products to enhance certain characteristics such as taste, appearance, and shelf-life. US food products contain anywhere between 3,000 to 14,000 of these substances, ranging from natural and artificial flavors, artificial dyes, sweeteners, preservatives, and nutrients. They are integral to the large-scale industrial food production process, contributing to profitability by extending shelf-life and improving sensory appeal. It's worth noting, however, that numerous additives approved and used in the U.S. are associated with health issues and are even banned in other countries. Furthermore, the issue of the combined effects of different additiv

es, a reality in the typical diet, is frequently overlooked. Studies have shown that additives, harmless in isolation, can pose significant harm when mixed with others. Despite these potential risks, weak regulations and a lack of adequate testing practices persist.

On another note, some additives, though popular, have known adverse effects on health. For instance, aspartame, a common artificial sweetener, has been associated with seizures and brain tumors in laboratory animals. High fructose corn syrup, a widely used sweetener, contributes more to obesity and type 2 diabetes than regular sugar. Sodium nitrate, found in packaged meats, can form cancer-causing compounds in the human body, and certain preservatives such as BHA are classified as probable human carcinogens. Additionally, some food additives may interfere with gut health, potentially leading to inflammation and disturbances in the digestive system's natural bacteria (8,10).

Processed Foods and Chronic Illness

Diets high in ultra-processed foods like sugary breakfast cereals, frozen dinners, and certain luncheon meats can increase the risk of developing obesity and chronic disease. This risk is linked to the specific processes of food preparation, the ingredients involved, and the displacement of healthier, minimally processed foods. However, not all packaged foods are ultra-processed; some, like canned vegetables and whole grain pasta, can be healthy. Ultra-processed foods typically contain many ingredients that are not common in home kitchens and have long shelf-lives, signaling their high level of processing. Research has found that ultra-processed foods and drinks, along with processed foods, could increase the risk of chronic disease. Furthermore, other studies have found positive associations between ultra-processed foods and cardiovascular disease and death.

Inflammatory Oils and Chronic Illness

The consumption of inflammatory oils can contribute to chronic illnesses, with unhealthy fats posing risks to overall health. When unhealthy fats, especially those high in trans fats, are consumed - even in seemingly insignificant amounts - they can increase the risk of cancer, inflammation, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Oils used in restaurants or pre-packaged foods are often cheaper, less health-promoting types, such as soybean, palm, and canola oils. Furthermore, the manner in which these oils are used, often in high-heat cooking methods, can negatively affect their nutritional properties. Therefore, it's important to be mindful of not only the types of oils we consume but also how they are prepared in our foods. Making healthier choices, such as cooking with oils like olive, coconut, or avocado oil which tolerate heat well, and integrating raw plant-based oils like flaxseed into our diets, can be beneficial in promoting better health.

Processed Sugar and Chronic Illness

Excessive sugar consumption, significantly exceeding the daily recommended amounts, has escalated globally, resulting in a rise in chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, liver disease, cognitive disorders, and dental caries. High sugar intake rapidly spikes blood sugar levels, overstimulating insulin release, which can lead to energy crashes and metabolic disorders. Unlike simple sugars, complex carbohydrates provide a slower, more sustainable energy release and are nutrient-rich. Processed sugars negatively impact various health aspects, notably gut, cardiovascular, metabolic, and brain health. With sugar implicated in several conditions, from cardiovascular diseases to Alzheimer's disease (identified as "type 3 diabetes") and cancer, a conscious reduction in sugar consumption is imperative. Prioritizing whole foods and fiber while limiting processed sugars can significantly reduce the risk of chronic diseases and enhance overall health.

Functional Medicine Labs to Help Individualize Treatment for Patients With Chronic Illness

Several functional medicine labs can help to individualize treatment for patients seeking to better manage or prevent chronic illness.

DNA Diet Test

The DNA Diet test offered by DNALife uses genetic profiling to provide personalized diet recommendations for patients dealing with chronic illnesses. By examining genes associated with the metabolism, absorption, and storage of fats and carbohydrates, this test guides the creation of an individualized nutritional strategy, which can be important for managing and potentially preventing chronic diseases.

GI-MAP Zonulin Test

The GI-MAP Zonulin test by Diagnostic Solutions offers a comprehensive overview of gut health, a vital component in chronic disease management. It assesses the gut microbiome, possible pathogens, and zonulin levels, a marker for gut permeability. The results can aid in customizing treatments aimed at restoring gut health and improving overall health outcomes in patients with chronic illnesses.

Micronutrient Testing

SpectraCell's Micronutrient test enables healthcare practitioners to design personalized dietary and supplemental strategies aimed at improving a patient's nutrient status. By determining nutrient deficiencies, this test gives insights into the individual's unique biochemical needs. Chronic diseases, often exacerbated by poor nutrition and high consumption of ultra-processed foods, can be better managed through the individualized dietary and supplemental interventions informed by this test.

Food Sensitivity Testing

Alletess's 96 IgA Food Sensitivity Panel evaluates a patient's immune responses to various food proteins that could cause inflammation and contribute to chronic illnesses. Identifying these food sensitivities provides insights for individualized dietary interventions, helping to mitigate inflammation and manage symptoms in patients with chronic conditions.

Best Nutrition for Patients with Chronic Illness

Nutritional intake in the United States, despite recent improvements, remains subpar as per recommended nutritional guidelines. Most people do not consume sufficient vegetables, whole grains, and fatty acids but instead tend to eat meals high in sodium and empty calories. Diets rich in sodium and poor in vegetables, whole grains, and fatty acids are significantly associated with hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, with high-sodium diets particularly predicting mortality from cardiometabolic disease. Chronic lifestyle-related illnesses pose a burden on the U.S. healthcare system, prompting an urgent need for dietary change and health awareness.

Excess sodium intake can cause an increase in blood pressure, highlighting the importance of managing blood pressure to reduce organ damage and mortality. On the contrary, diets high in potassium are optimal for healthy individuals with normal kidney function because of its crucial role in reducing blood pressure and promoting cardiovascular health. Moreover, high-potassium diets can also help prevent conditions such as osteoporosis and kidney stones due to potassium's role in reducing calcium excretion. However, the average American diet is characterized by high sodium and low potassium, necessitating a shift towards healthier eating habits (24).

One of the most effective diet plans supported by scientific clinical trials is the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. This diet is focused on weekly nutrition goals instead of prescribing specific foods or meals. It recommends minimizing foods with added sugars, saturated fats, and trans fats and encourages the consumption of nutrient-dense foods, especially those high in fiber, protein, and mineral nutrients like potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Adherence to the DASH diet can lead to improved blood pressure, healthy weight loss, improved insulin metabolism, reduced inflammatory markers, and reduced triglycerides (24).

Supplements and Herbs For Patients with Chronic Illness

Patients with chronic illness may find improvements in disease burden when using the following supplements:

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

These essential fatty acids, most commonly found in fish oil, have been studied for their anti-inflammatory effects and potential benefits for cardiovascular health. They can also support brain health and modulate the gut microbiome.

Dose: 1-2 grams

Duration: Ongoing


Given the role of gut health in chronic disease, probiotics can be a useful supplement for patients with chronic illness. Probiotics can help maintain a healthy balance of gut flora, which is important for digestion, nutrient absorption, and immune function.

Dose: 10-20 CFU daily

Duration: Ongoing

Turmeric (Curcumin):

Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is well-known for its potent anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin has been studied for its potential ability to reduce symptoms in chronic inflammatory conditions and support overall health.

Dose: 500 mg daily (can vary depending on condition)

Duration: Ongoing


Magnesium is essential to over 300 hundred biochemical reactions in the body, including the nervous and immune systems. It's often recommended for patients dealing with chronic stress or those who may be deficient due to a highly processed diet.

Dose: Upper limit from supplements/medications is 350mg

Duration: Ongoing



In conclusion, managing chronic illnesses presents a significant challenge, yet the power of nutrition and dietary changes should not be overlooked as important elements in this journey. Embracing an integrative approach, one that includes comprehensive diagnostic tests, individually tailored diets, and carefully chosen supplements, can lead to improved management and outcomes. Ultimately, nourishing your body with the right nutrients can contribute significantly to battling these enduring conditions. This intricate pathway to better health may seem daunting, but rest assured, you're not alone in this endeavor, and every step towards improved nutrition heralds progress and potential enhancement in your overall wellness.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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