This article was originally published in The Jerusalem Post on 23 April 2023: https://www.jpost.com/opinion/article-739967
“People are fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health, and are treated by the health industry, which pays no attention to food.” – Wendell Berry
I have pointed out in previous writings how difficult it is to undo paradigms built over decades, even once they are proven completely wrong.
The stories of these two individuals demonstrate that both patients and the doctors need some serious reeducation on how to deal with chronic disease. Without reeducation, we will stay mired in the terrible cycle of treatments that don’t work and overburden the medical system.
Story 1: Julie
Julie is 61 years old, works hard in her job, and has been struggling with weight issues much of her adult life. What brought Julie to The Wellness Clinic was battling the beginnings of type 2 diabetes. Her hbA1c, a commonly used marker for type 2 diabetes, was now beyond pre-diabetes and one percentage point into diabetes. Julie knew she needed to do something other than the status quo.
Her physician agreed not to start her on medication, and she went to see a registered dietician. The dietician gave her a standard (and incorrect) diet for weight loss and lowering blood sugar. I looked at the diet prescribed. I noticed right away that there was far too much animal proteins, including dairy, and not enough unrefined carbohydrate. Although she did initially lose some weight on this diet, it didn’t last. Julie’s diabetes markers continued to climb. So she came in for her first session.
I think the best way to describe Julie’s reaction to the food program I use was great skepticism and real fear. She couldn’t believe that eating more grains, beans, vegetables, starchy vegetables, and fruit was going to help her reverse her diabetes. When I told her she could eat baked potatoes, her eyes widened with shock at the word “potato.” Julie asked me multiple times, “Are you sure about this?”
I cited a few of the many studies and especially emphasized to her the research of Dr. Neal Barnard and his associates. Dr. Barnard has demonstrated, beyond a doubt, that type 2 diabetes is a disease of fat. High blood sugar is a symptom and result of the disease. It is excess fat that clogs up the insulin receptors-gateways of the cells. This is what creates insulin resistance! When people move to a plant-prominent diet, cut way back on animal products, and eliminate ultra-processed foods, their condition reverses. If one sticks with a plant-predominant, whole-foods diet, he need not worry about the condition returning.
Three weeks ago, Julie came for her last of 5 coaching sessions. During our 3 plus months together, Julie lost 10 kilograms (22 pounds). More importantly, her A1c dropped 6 percentage points and her fasting glucose dropped by 10 points! As a bonus, her cholesterol which wasn’t very high to begin with, dropped 30 points. Julie’s fears and skepticism disappeared. She left convinced as to what the real science is and what the research shows. She feels better and is extremely relieved that her health has changed direction.
Story 2: Jeffery
This past week, I had my biweekly Zoom session with Jeffery. He is a Rabbi who lives in the southern United States. Half a year ago he began at The Wellness Clinic with literally every problem you can imagine in chronic diseases! The list: class 3 obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and anxiety. This is what we call metabolic syndrome.
We got started on the program. At first, it was slow going. Nevertheless, Jeffery was determined and persistent. He knew that if he didn’t tackle his health issues head on, quality of life in the future wasn’t going to be great. Jeffery had the advantage of an extremely supportive wife. As time went on and we fine-tuned his program and the progress became better and better. Every time he was able to reduce a medication, Jeffery’s results from lifestyle medicine became increasingly pronounced. His weight began to drop more steadily and in slightly larger amounts. As of last week, he has ceased taking 5 different medications, including his anxiety medication. Now Jeffery is weaning off the final medication related to his diabetes.
Without all of these meds, he no longer has a blood pressure problem, no longer is a type 2 diabetic, and his cholesterol is in a great place. His anxiety is under control. Jeffery has lost 30 kilograms (66 pounds) and is basically a new person with a new life. He also knows that he can keep going, sustain this way of life, lose more weight, and never feel deprived. There is so much variety on a mostly whole-food, plant-based way of eating!
Like Julie, Jeffery was very skeptical at the beginning. Yesterday Jeffery recounted that in our first meeting 6 months ago, I told him he can certainly get off all of his medications. “At the time, I thought you were a crazy quack,” Jeffery said. Well, I’m not. I just follow the science.
It’s more than just 2
I am not bringing these two cases to prove anything. 2 cases don’t make a study. But the programs they have done are based on many thousands of studies. Food and lifestyle, for most chronic conditions are the single most effective interventions. Yes, pharmaceuticals have an important place, but they are usually limited in what they can do. Lifestyle medicine treats root causes. And it isn’t just chronic disease.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the experts were telling us to mask, social distance, wash our hands, and quarantine. Yet, early data told us that something else was going on. The Italian health authorities revealed that 99% of deaths in Italy were people with other chronic illness. The CDC in the United States told us that in 90% of deaths, there were comorbidities. None of the health experts were talking about diet, exercise, sleep, obesity, or smoking. Yet, when we go back a look at the data, we see that interventions in those areas were the most protective. This is true for most infectious disease. One is less likely to get infectious disease when the immune system is working well.
Week in and week out, I read in major mainstream medical publications about drug recalls, and studies showing that the approach to treating heart disease is incorrect. And then there are the statistics showing that yearly, over 100,000 people in the United States die from prescription medications, prescribed in hospitals. This isn’t about overprescribed opiates or drug interactions. Also, the ineffectiveness of stents and heart bypass surgery to extend life, without lifestyle changes, are now being questioned. We have the most pharmaceuticals even in history but we are sicker than ever before. The sustainability of our health care systems as illness increases is just not doable.
Look back at the circumstances of Julie and Jeffery. We know that the answer to all of these problems exists. We don’t need a better pill or another procedure to solve 80% of our chronic illness problems. Imagine if our pharmaceutical companies could put more time, effort, and resources into solving problems that lifestyle can’t solve! After a holiday season is the ideal time to commit to a better way of living. I hope that reading about these two cases, two out of many, will inspire all of us to make the necessary changes to lead a healthy and happy life and to “add hours to her days, days to her years, and years to her life.”