Doctor's Tip: Signs that the medical establishment may be starting to get healthy eating

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In the 1940s Dr. Walter Kempner proved that severe hypertension could be reversed by diet. Over 25 years ago Dr. Dean Ornish, and later Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, proved that our biggest killer — heart disease — can be reversed by plant-based, whole food nutrition with avoidance of salt, sugar and added oil. But unfortunately, the medical field is bound by tradition; doctors are paid well to do procedures but not for counseling; and physician training and practice are unduly influenced by the pharmaceutical and food industries. As a result, the power of food to prevent and reverse disease has been neglected by traditional medicine.

Finally, there are some hopeful signs that this may be changing. Dr. Kim Williams, who was recently the president of the American Collage of Cardiology, decided to go plant-based a few years ago, after reviewing several different diets. When people asked him why, he said, "I don't mind dying so much, but I don't want it to be my fault."

The American Heart Association publishes the respected medical journal "Circulation." In the June 5 issue there is an article titled "Medical Nutrition Education, Training and Competencies to Advance Guideline-Based Diet Counseling by Physicians." The article notes that "training physicians to provide diet and nutrition counseling as well as developing collaborative care models to deliver nutrition advice will reduce the health and economic burden of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease to a degree not previously recognized." It goes on to note that "despite evidence that physicians are willing to undertake this task and are credible sources of diet information, they engage patients in diet counseling at less than desirable rates and cite insufficient nutrition knowledge and training as barriers to carrying out this role. …These data align with ongoing evidence of large and persistent gaps in medical nutrition education and training in the United States."

The American Family Physician journal is getting on board as well. The June 1 edition contained an article titled "Diets for Health: Goals and Guidelines," which reviewed the pros and cons of various diets that are touted as being healthy. The article points out that plant proteins are preferable, and cites the health benefits of fruits and vegetables, legumes (beans, lentils, chick peas), whole grains, healthy fats and spices. In a highlighted box titled "What is New on This Topic: Diets For Health," the article notes:

• Large, prospective cohort studies show that vegetarian diets reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes mellitus, and that vegan diets offer additional benefits for obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease."

• "Eating nuts, including peanuts, is associated with decreased cardiovascular disease and mortality, lower body weight, and lower diabetes risk.

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• "In a prospective cohort study, consumption of artificially sweetened beverages increased the risk of type 2 diabetes."

Of course, Drs. Esselstyn, Fuhrman, Greger, McDougall, Barnard and others have been telling us these things for years — this information really isn't new. What's new is that the medical establishment is finally listening.

At my 50th medical school reunion in Denver last month, graduating medical students told me they still aren't being taught much about nutrition or prevention. But maybe this will finally change, and in the near future medical students will learn that health isn't all about pills and procedure — that inexpensive, low-tech lifestyle changes can prevent and reverse many of the chronic, costly diseases that afflict so many Americans.

Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and other medical issues, and to help people with hospital or other medical bills they don't understand or think are too high. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at gfeinsinger@comcast.net.

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