Culinary Medicine in San Antonio

By Michael J. Wargovich, PhD, and Iverson Brownell, CEC, CanSurvive Cuisine
Friday, September 8, 2017

People in San Antonio are not healthy. In 2017, Bexar County ranked 78th in the state in terms of good health. In San Antonio, 68 to 71 percent of the population is overweight or obese, and one in seven San Antonians have diabetes. This is part of a global phenomenon, in which the greatest risk of cancer will be in the developing world in the next 20 years.

Much of this can be attributed to a constellation of diseases brought on by chronic inflammation, which leads to a much higher risk for cancer and heart disease. In addition, a diet too high in calories, fat and sugar can contribute to chronic inflammatory diseases, such as diabetes and obesity. This issue of MDNews San Antonio is the first of a continuing series that will highlight the concerted efforts of hospitals, physician practices and other organizations to reverse the epidemic of chronic inflammatory diseases brought on by poor diets.

CanSurvive Cuisine and its nonprofit arm, the CanSurvive Wellness Project, were built upon a fascinating observation first noticed in the 1980s, that daily or habitual use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs ) for five to 10 years reduced the risk of common cancers, such as cancers of the colon and rectum, lung, breast, and prostate, by up to 50 percent. Use of NSAIDs, while helpful in controlling inflammation in the short term, does have significant side effects, such as bleeding and ulcers, that limit a physicians’ recommendation for habitual use.

There is good news though. A healthy diet abounds in natural anti-inflammatory foods and other compounds that are just as good as anti-inflammatory drugs and safer over the long term. Basic and clinical trial research at UT Health San Antonio have paved the way to a better understanding that herbs and spices harbor most of the anti-inflammatory punch in the diet.

It has been conjectured that a lack of exposure to protective anti-inflammatory food items in fast foods can be associated with the rise in chronic inflammatory disease in the last 20 years, both in the U.S. and worldwide. A recently completed clinical trial at the UT Health Science Center tested the benefit of including daily exposure to anti-inflammatory foods over a six-month period in overweight and obese breast cancer survivors. The encouraging result was a decrease in certain pro-inflammatory blood markers in trial participants — a first step to improving long-term health.

To reverse the headlong rush to poor health outcomes in San Antonio, a number of health organization have taken the first steps to introduce culinary medicine to our community.