The Human Body Is Complex, but the Solution to Many Diseases Is Simple

This is a guest post from Physicians Committee member Garth Davis, M.D.

Obesity Week is a huge scientific meeting joining experts in medical and surgical weight loss to discuss the latest science pertaining to the disease of obesity.

dr-garth-davisThere were surgical discussions, behavioral therapy discussions, science on genetics, science on diet, etc. For a science geek, the meeting was fantastic. That being said, I did get the feeling that for the most part, we may be missing the forest for the trees. Let me explain.

Nutrition researcher and author Marion Nestle said, “The problem with nutrient by nutrient nutritional science is that it takes the nutrient out of context of the food, the food out of context of the diet, and the diet out of the context of the lifestyle.” This is no more evident than in these large scientific meetings. The studies that were reviewed looked at the minutest changes in the body. Nobody really talked about food at all. We talked about protein, carbs and fat, but never once was an actual food mentioned. I often wonder what these scientists think a “protein” is. What would they classify a bean, which is starch and protein? Or steak, which is protein and fat.

The other problem is that the goal of all the science was not to demonstrate a new way to eat but rather to find targets for drugs. For example, there were some interesting studies on brown fat versus white fat and how we could potentially discover a medication that could turn white fat to brown fat and thereby raise metabolism. On the surgery side, discussions centered around how we can improve the surgery and handle the complications that inevitably occur. If someone fails the surgery, what other surgery can we do? There was no real mention of what we should tell people to eat after we alter their GI system with surgery.

One presentation really showed perfectly how we have missed the big picture by delving so deeply into the biochemistry and physiology. A very intelligent scientist was reviewing her incredible research questioning whether pancreatic beta-cell dysfunction was the first step in developing obesity and diabetes. Her work was intricate and complicated. She demonstrated that consumption of heme iron, oxidizing substances, and acid may cause the beta-cells to stop functioning. At the end of her talk, someone asked her what she eats and she said a “low-carb diet.” What??!!!  A low-carb diet implies a high-protein diet, which implies a high-meat diet. Meat is the source of heme iron, oxidizing substances, and acid. Meanwhile, most low-carb diets avoid fruit, which is an excellent at scavenging oxidized substances and neutralizing acids.

There is great research showing that whole-food, plant-based diets are the best for weight loss, diabetes, and heart disease. Unfortunately, the medical community seems to believe it needs to be more complicated—or that patients just can’t follow such a diet.

The complexity of the human body and its response to food is fascinating, but the solution to our Western diseases is really much simpler than Western medicine will realize. Eat your fruits and veggies and get moving. That is far more important than any bit of science we discussed. There will never be a silver bullet miracle pill. Hippocrates’ ancient words will always hold true, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Dr. Garth Davis is a surgeon in Houston specializing in bariatric surgery.

Do a World of Good by Quitting Meat

cowspiracy

As a doctor, I focus on removing meat and dairy products from the diet for disease prevention, but many folks choose to eschew meat to reduce their carbon footprint. Just as we can no longer ignore food’s impact on our own health, we can’t ignore food’s role in climate change either.

For your eco-conscious friends who still chow down on cheeseburgers, there’s a new documentary emphasizing the meat industry’s global environmental impact. Cowspiracy slams home the fact that meat production is the number-one source of greenhouse gases and deforestation. And while parts of the United States are facing a drought, it takes 660 gallons of water to produce a single hamburger.

Al Gore, Bill Gates, and James Cameron have all been decidedly outspoken about how meat production and consumption affect both health and the environment. Research shows that animal products are bad for humans—leading to an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes. Moving meat products off your plate—for whatever reason— will have a lasting impact on your own health and the environment.

Discussing Diet and Diabetes with the Macedonian Minister of Health

This is a guest post from Physicians Committee member Ted Barnett, M.D.

Research shows that a low-fat, plant-based diet is effective in managing and reversing diabetes, decreasing the need for medication and cutting medical costs. This is why the Minister of Health of the Republic of Macedonia invited Caroline Trapp, N.P., C.D.E., from the Physicians Committee, and me to discuss how a healthful diet can reduce the country’s rising diabetes rates and associated costs.

Diabetes is a global epidemic, but as a physician practicing in the United States, I tend to focus on the skyrocketing rate of diabetes within America. However, the diabetes statistics in Macedonia are even worse.  More than 11 percent of people in this country, once part of Yugoslav, have diabetes. And from the years 2000 to 2030, its prevalence is expected to nearly double.

After arriving in the country, we visited Saints Cyril and Methodius University of Skopje. We met with the director of the university’s cardiology clinic as well as Nikola Jankulovski, M.D., the dean of the university’s medical school. Our nutrition presentation to a group of faculty members on Wednesday was a success, with many staying after the lecture to ask questions. This was followed by two-hour presentations to even larger groups on Thursday and Friday. During our presentations, Ms. Trapp focused on diabetes and I focused on heart disease.

One of the most crucial meetings was with Nikola Todorov, the Minister of Health.

Caroline Trapp, Minister Todorov, and Alex Mitov, M.D., discussing diabetes in the Minister’s office.

Caroline Trapp, Minister Todorov, and Alex Mitov, M.D., discussing diabetes in the Minister’s office.

Minister Todorov is very interested in reducing the $25 million the country pays for insulin each year. Ms. Trapp presented our research showing that he could reduce medical costs by starting patients on a low-fat plant-based diet.

Not long into the meeting, the Minister asked to team up with the Physicians Committee to do a research study in Macedonia to establish that lifestyle interventions can successfully treat diabetes. Of course, we are excited by the opportunity to help show the benefits of a plant-based diet firsthand.

We met again with Minister Todorov on Friday evening and he reiterated his support for a research project to evaluate the effects of lifestyle changes. As I am an interventional radiologist, he was also interested in my opinions regarding establishing a program for intracranial catheter thrombectomy and thrombolysis in the setting of acute stroke.

Alex Mitov, M.D., Caroline Trapp, N.P., C.D.E., Esma Redžepova, and Ted Barnett, M.D. at the home of Ms.Redžepova.

Alex Mitov, M.D., Caroline Trapp, N.P., C.D.E., Esma Redžepova, and Ted Barnett, M.D. at the home of Ms. Redžepova.

On Friday evening, after our second meeting with the Minister of Health, we had a delightful meeting with Esma Redžepova, one of the most famous performers in Macedonia and someone who has lived with type 2 diabetes for nearly 20 years. As a humanitarian, she has been twice nominated for the Nobel Peace prize. We found her to be an inspiration!

Dr. Daniela Miladinova, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, and Ted Barnett, MD.

Dr. Daniela Miladinova, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, and Ted Barnett, MD.

We are grateful to the government of Macedonia for inviting us to help them tackle the diabetes epidemic and look forward to bringing our expertise to bear.