Have no fear! Science is on our side

“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.”      Wendel Berry

Two individuals-two case studies, and many lessons learned.   I have pointed out in previous writings how difficult it is to undo paradigms built over decades of time, even when these ideas have been proven to be completely wrong.  But these two individuals with their health problems and their initial reactions only prove that both patients and the doctors need to undergo some serious reeducation on how to deal with chronic disease. If not, we will stay mired in this terrible cycle of treatments that don’t work and an overburdened medical system.

Let’s start with Julie.  She 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 however was battling the beginnings of type 2 diabetes. Her hbA1c, a commonly used marker for type 2 diabetes had steadily been creeping up and she was now beyond pre-diabetes and  one percentage point into diabetes.  She knew she needed to do something other than the status quo.  Her physician agreed to not start her on medication and she went to see a registered dietician.  The dietician put her on a pretty standard (and incorrect) diet for weight loss and lowering blood sugar.  When I looked at the diet she prescribed, I noticed right away that she was eating far too much animal proteins, including dairy and not enough unrefined, healthy carbohydrate.  Although she did initially lose a little bit of weight on this diet, there was weight regain and her diabetes markers continued to climb.  So she came in for her first session. 

I think that the best way to describe Julie’s reaction to the food program I put her on 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.  I would even say that when I told her she can eat baked potatoes, she “freaked out” when she heard the word “potato.”  She 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 that has demonstrated beyond a doubt that type 2 diabetes is a disease of fat, and that high blood sugar is a symptom and result of the disease.  It is excess fat that clogs up the insulin receptors-gateways of our cells.  This is what creates insulin resistance and when people move to a plant prominent diet and cut way back on animal products, and in addition eliminate ultra-processed foods, their condition reverses. If one sticks with a plant predominant whole foods diet, they need not worry about their condition returning.  Three weeks ago Julie came for her last of 5 coaching sessions.  During our 3 plus months together, Julie lost 10 kilograms of weight (22 pounds) and more important is that 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 too.  Our fearful, doubtful, and very skeptical Julie left us quite 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.

This past week, I had my biweekly Zoom session with Jeffery.  He is a Rabbi who lives in the southern United States and came to me half a year ago with literally every problem you can imagine in chronic diseases. He had obesity class 3, 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.  But Jeffery was determined and persistent. He knew that if he didn’t tackle his health issues head on, the future of his quality of life wasn’t going to be great.  He 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.  And every time he was able to reduce another medication, his results from his lifestyle medicine program were more and more 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 and has begun to wean off the final medication related to his diabetes.  So now, without all of these meds, he no longer has a blood pressure problem, no longer is a type 2 diabetic, his cholesterol is in a great place and his anxiety is under control.  He 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 and so many kinds of foods to eat on a mostly whole food plant based way of eating.  But he too 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.

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. 

Looking back on 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 and the CDC in the United States told us that in 90% of deaths, there were comorbidities.   Yet, 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 and even more so, much less likely to be in a critical state or face death when we have been vigilant about our health habits.

Week in and week out, I read in major mainstream medical publications about drug recalls, of new studies showing that our approach to treating heart disease incorrectly, 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. 

Yet, when we 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 new-fangled procedure to solve 80% of our chronic illness problems.  Just imagine if our pharmaceutical companies could put more time, effort and resources into solving those problems that lifestyle can’t solve!  After the holiday season is the ideal time for each of us 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.”

Alan Freishtat is a HEALTH and WELLNESS COACH and PERSONAL TRAINER with 23 years of professional experience. He is a graduate of the eCornell University Certificate course on Plant Based Nutrition for preventing and reversing illness. Alan is director of The Wellness Clinic.  He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at alan@alanfitness.com www.alanfitness.com US Line: 516-568-5027