Pilot Study Explores “Food as Medicine” in Underserved Communities

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Kannapolis, NC: Seven North Carolinians are completing their first of nine weeks of virtual nutrition education sessions, empowering them to use dietary change, whole foods, and supplementation to improve their health naturally. 

The sessions are part of a 16-week scientific research study called “Food as Medicine,” co-funded by the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM) and Standard Process. The main objective is to test the hypothesis that access to fresh, whole foods combined with a structured nutrition plan and comprehensive nutrition education will have measurable improvements in the health outcomes of underserved populations. 

“This is a landmark research project,” says Maurice Werness Jr., ND, a co-investigator on the study who is teaching the educational sessions. “It is the start of work that can offer the possibility of shifting how medicine is practiced in the United States and around the world.” From the importance of regulating blood sugar to choosing ideal natural food sources, the lessons of these courses are reinforced with a custom smartphone-based gamification app designed to provide measurable and quantifiable data throughout the learning process.

The participants, drawn from low-income North Carolina communities that have struggled with quality food access and high levels of chronic disease, are supplied with $900 in grocery store gift cards over the 16-week study period to support access to whole foods. They will also receive complementary nutritional supplements from Standard Process. “Our mission at Standard Process is to change people’s lives, so our expectation with this project is to empower our participants through education and whole food nutrition so they can make healthy and sustainable choices to advance their health,” says lead researcher Carolina Carlisle, PhD, a Clinical Research Scientist at Standard Process and lead scientist on this project.

To track the program’s impact, all seven participants traveled to Standard Processes’ Nutrition Innovation Center, where baseline vitals were taken along with a full panel of blood tests and a microbiome test. Key markers will be tested again at the study’s midpoint in October and at the conclusion of the project in early December.

“We want this data to inform new approaches of how we can help improve the health of our community members,” says Michelle Simon, PhD, ND, President and CEO of the Institute for Natural Medicine. “Our current healthcare system does not do enough to incorporate diet and lifestyle interventions for chronic conditions. We’re bringing root-cause medicine to the community level so people can enjoy successful health outcomes without resorting to a healthcare system that focuses on symptom management.” 

Outcomes of the pilot study will refine future research projects and provide the foundation for other data-driven nutrition education programs. “We hope to, with partners, build this out nationally in communities heavily burdened by chronic disease,” Dr. Simon says. 

It’s the adage of “you are what you eat,” updated with rigorous data and metrics to serve the modern issues of the twenty-first century.

About the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM)

INM is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming health care in America by promoting evidence-based natural treatments through education, access, and research. 

About Standard Process

Standard Process, founded in 1929, is a multigenerational supplement manufacturer committed to advancing health through whole-food nutrition while supporting research that validates current practices and inspires innovation.

Media Contacts

Institute for Natural Medicine

Wyn Delano

Chief of Staff

Standard Process

Brea Nance

Clinical Research Coordinator 

About The Author(s)

INM's team is made up of naturopathic doctors and health journalists.

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