Sometimes I wonder what the heck I’m doing, preaching about whole food, plant-based diets for preventing and reversing chronic disease. I’m not a medical professional, I’ve never studied nutrition in a post-secondary institution, I’m not a scientist of any kind, and I’ve only been eating this way myself for 2 years. I am a former microvascular angina patient. I am a dog-walking civilian, devoid of credentials. You actually shouldn’t listen to me – I’m an anecdote.
Here’s the thing. When I watched Forks Over Knives on a whim one evening, I didn’t know of one single person who had reversed their heart disease. Oh sure, I had relatives who felt better for a while after their angioplasties, but they were still taking a fistful of medication every day, and a diseased artery with stents is still a diseased artery.
I didn’t know anyone who had reversed Type 2 diabetes. I didn’t know anyone who lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off. I didn’t know anyone who had reversed an autoimmune condition.
No doctor had ever mentioned the possibility that I could once again live a life without pain or limitations. That I could stop pacing myself. They never told me that I could climb mountains, paddle my kayak, or go zip lining. They didn’t tell me that there was a way that I could restore my health and feel decades younger.
I was skeptical that eating a whole foods, plant-based diet would really make that much difference. Wouldn’t I have heard about this earlier? Wouldn’t some doctor have mentioned it? What tempered my skepticism was the fact that no one was selling me anything. No supplements, or secret information that could only be unlocked with a credit card.
So I decided to give it a try, but I had low expectations because I thought that if it really worked, I surely would have heard of it from mainstream medical sources.
I tried eating whole plant foods and it worked better than I ever could have imagined. I started to feel better within a week, and after a month my angina was gone. After 6 weeks I resumed exercising. I lost nearly 40 pounds. My blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate, and bmi all fell to excellent normal levels. I went from being in poor health in December to being in excellent health in March.
What did my doctors say about this? My cardiologist said “keep doing what you’re doing”, without asking any specific questions about what that was. My gp told me the same thing and added that nutrition counselling is very difficult because most people don’t even want to give up potato chips. Now doctors are actually supposed to ignore anecdotes and base their practice on scientific evidence, but in the field of treating angina, they seem to be ignoring both. Drs. Esselstyn and Ornish have both published peer reviewed studies showing reversal of heart disease and improvement in quality of life in cardiac patients using diet and lifestyle. Dr. Esselstyn actually uses diet alone.
The fact is that medical advice that comes from a Netflix documentary and goes contrary to conventional medical advice is going to have the whiff of quackery no matter how sound it is. Most people don’t resort to quackery until they have exhausted the more conventional options for treatment. When you go googling for alternative therapies for whatever ails you, you enter a wild and dangerous world. This is a world inhabited by monsters who can detect desperation a mile away and who possess dodgy diplomas and beautiful websites. Many people have gotten lost in that world, and others have found their way back to the relative safety of their doctor’s office, hair singed and wallet lighter, vowing never to venture out again.
I can’t blame anyone for listening to their doctor. I can’t blame anyone for ignoring me, the anecdote, when I say your doctor isn’t telling you the whole story. You actually shouldn’t take medical advice from random people on the internet.
This is why I’m thrilled to see organizations like the American College of Lifestyle Medicine dedicated to educating physicians and other health professionals on the dramatic effect lifestyle factors can have on health. It’s why I am so excited when I hear of doctors who educate their patients on how whole foods, plant-based diets can actually reverse their chronic conditions. And why I think that the vast majority of doctors who do not are committing medical malpractice through their own ignorance. I know that doctors do not have the time or expertise to counsel patients on the practicalities of a plant-based diet, but if my doctor had said “this way of eating works to reverse angina” and handed me a sheet of paper with a list of resources, I would have started the healing process years earlier and avoided much suffering.
I believe that a doctor’s stamp of approval would help many people decide to make the effort to change their way of eating. To know that a wfpb diet is scientifically valid and is more effective than drugs would make the difference for lots of folks. Not fearing the dragons at the edge of the map would make the transition easier.
It breaks my heart to see people suffer unnecessarily from the trajectory of obesity and chronic illness that seems so inevitable in middle age and beyond. It really is within one’s power to return to vibrant health through simple, though not necessarily easy, diet and lifestyle changes. I would love to see this be the standard message in every doctor’s office, but until it is, I’ll be here, telling my story and pointing people to evidence-based resources.
Here is the information I wish my doctor had given me when I was sick. Of course, even better would be to have been given this information years earlier so that I would not ever have gotten sick.
Start with the Plantrician Project Quick Start Guide if you are new to this.
Watch Forks Over Knives on Netflix if you haven’t already. It will provide a great inspiration and is wonderful for introducing spouses to the world of plant-based nutrition.
Go over to nutritionfacts.org, the online home of Dr. Michael Greger, who is the author of How Not To Die. I highly recommend his book.
If you are interested in a deeper dive, have a look at this web site created by Dr Subhas Ganguli, a Canadian gastroenterologist with a Masters degree in Health Research Methodology: Food as Prevention. Dr. Ganguli doesn’t appear to have a social media presence, so you may not have heard of him, but he has provided an excellent evidence-based resource for patients and medical practitioners, which I highly recommend.
And don’t forget to follow me on facebook for links to interesting articles and new research.