Book review: Food is Better Medicine than Drugs by Patrick Holford

Book review - Food is Better Medicine than Drugs by Patrick Holford

Patrick Holford is a UK based nutritionist and co-founder of The Institute of Optimum Nutrition in London. Food is Better Medicine than Drugs is one of 37 books Holford has written on the field of health and nutrition. As an advocate of alternative approaches to health and nutrition, Food is Better Medicine than Drugs has been translated into many languages and is available for E-readers.

This book may be for you if you:

  • Take prescribed medicine, but want to find a natural alternative to better health.
  • Want to know about another approach to preventing common illnesses such as Alzheimer´s, diabetes, arthritis, or cardiovascular disease.
  • Are going through the menopause and want to find an alternative to HRT.
  • These are just some of the topics covered.

Within Food is Better Medicine than Drugs we can discover natural ways of staying healthy and disease free. There are a variety of questionnaires designed to shed light on symptoms you may be suffering from. It is followed by practical guidance on how you can take control of your own health. This means living a fuller, healthier life with the help of specific foods and supplements.

Core messages from Food is Better Medicine than Drugs

Many common illnesses and diseases are investigated within the book. For each, Holford discusses the amount of people affected today. He then explores the effect that standard medical treatment for each illness has on health systems like the UK´s National Health Service (NHS). Holford goes on to look at the most commonly prescribed medicines, both for their side effects and effectiveness. Throughout the book Holford backs up his opinions with scientific studies from leading medical journals and trials. This is then compared with natural alternatives taking into consideration the use of specific foods, supplements, holistic therapies and certain lifestyle changes. Holford challenges us to take responsibility for our own health. Questionnaires in each section, allow us to evaluate their relevance to our current health. This way we can assess whether we could be taking preventative steps now to protect our future health.

Three topics I wish to highlight from the book are:

Just how effective are prescribed medicines?

Much of western medicine is designed at targeting symptoms not causes. Meaning for a lot of people, when you stop taking your medicine, the symptoms come back. At no point does Holford express that there isn´t a place for prescription medicine. However, he does put forward the case that once you start taking prescription medicine, unless you take other steps to address the root cause(s), you could be on it for life.

Wouldn’t it be nice to find an approach that not only worked with the root cause but benefited and supported your body to treat illness and disease naturally?


In 2007, when this edition was published, Holford states that approximately 15 per cent of people in the UK were labelled as clinically depressed. In 2004, 3.5 million people in Britain received prescriptions for anti-depressants.

But we don’t have to rely on anti-depressants. Holford notes that in clinical trials anti-depressants don’t boast spectacular results. It may come as a surprise but actually reducing your amount of sugar can have a huge impact. This is due to a direct link between mood and blood-sugar balance. Incorporating lots of refined sugar and carbohydrates into your diet are linked to depression. This is because the body has to use its supply of B-vitamins to break down each teaspoon of sugar into glucose, as opposed to boosting your mood.

Holford then shares studies that show incorporating exercise and fresh air into your day can have a notable reduction in levels of depression. Not sure what exercise to try? Here at La Crisalida we believe yoga can be a fantastic way of getting in tune with body and mind, which can help to reduce or alleviate depression and anxiety. You can read more about the many health benefits of yoga here


In the chapter ´Balancing hormones in the menopause´ Holford shares how women can find effective relief from menopausal symptoms without relying on HRT.

Holford investigates the correlations between HRT, and cancers of the womb and breast. Putting aside the possible side effects he also looks at how effective taking HRT actually is, for both reducing side effects and the risk of osteoporosis.

Holford´s suggestion to help relieve the symptoms of menopause is to address your diet to balance you blood sugar. Research has shown that when you experience a dip in your blood sugar levels, it can trigger a hot flush. As discussed above, balancing our blood sugar levels means you don’t have to rely so much on essential B vitamins to turn sugar to glucose. This is particularly important in regards to menopause as B vitamins play an important role in preventing osteoporosis. You can find out more about sugar, and eating to balance your blood sugar levels in our article Sugar-the highs, lows and alternatives.

If you still want to use hormones, Holford suggests opting for a natural progesterone cream. With no known cancer risk, Holford shares how a natural progesterone cream can help prevent oestrogen dominance while maintaining your libido. In a trial sited by Holford a large percentage of women found it significantly relieved menopausal symptoms.

Personal note

I found the scientific research about prescription medicines and finding out what is not normally discussed with the patient a bit daunting at times. However, because it is followed by practical steps to help you on the path to better health, Food is Better Medicine than Drugs is an empowering read.

I particularly loved the inclusion of health questionnaires. As a yoga teacher and employee of a health and wellbeing retreat I thought I was a picture of good health. The questionnaires allowed me to notice what areas of my health I had been overlooking. It brought things to my attention, allowing me to see links between my eating habits, lifestyle, and any health concerns.

I feel it is important to highlight that Holford has put his name to a range of health supplements. For some this may question his approach to recommending the use of supplements. With this in mind, I still feel Food Is Better Medicine than Drugs gives valuable information and a good starting point to explore alternative approaches to your own health and wellbeing.


If you want to give your health a boost the natural way, Food is Better Medicine than Drugs is a great book to investigate. Holford breaks things into manageable chapters and practical steps for easier digestion.

For people with a particular health concern, it might be worthwhile looking at Holford’s other works. For example, he has written a series of books titled ‘Say No to…’ diabetes, cancer, heart disease.

At La Crisalida we aim to allow people the space to explore their own options for health, understanding that they may different for each of us. Following a plant based diet is an integral part of what we do at our health and wellbeing retreat. Come and spend some time with us to experience how you feel after eating plant-based food for a time. If you want to try at home, we share some ideas of how you can create delicious and nutritious food in this month´s article on tips for vegan cooking at home.

Read it for yourself

You can order your own copy of the book by clicking on the following link: Food is Better Medicine than Drugs by Patrick Holford (external link to Amazon). We hope you find this book as interesting as much as we do at the retreat. Share your thoughts with us in the comments box below.

Note: La Crisalida Retreats are an Amazon Associate and earn from qualifying purchases.