Tag Archives: Guest Blog

ENRICH Physician Education to Improve Patient Health

This is a guest post from Angela Eakin, M.D.

As a doctor in my final year of family medicine residency, the issue of nutrition education for medical school students is particularly significant to me. The influx of chronic disease in America is linked to what we’re eating. This is why the ENRICH Act, which will expand the nutrition curriculum offered at medical schools, is so important.

ENRICH

During my daily rounds, I see nutrition-related diseases in my patients. I’m not just talking about diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, or strokes. Acne, migraines, chronic pain, inflammatory conditions, and many other ailments may all be amendable with dietary changes. Many of the chronic disease states in America stem from or contribute to systemic inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation is multifactorial, but what we put in our mouths or choose to keep out of our mouths can have a significant impact on the level of inflammation in the body.

The great part about this is that individuals can take control of their health through their dietary choices. The hard part about this is that there is so much conflicting information about nutrition and what is considered a “healthy” diet.

Although practicing medicine had always been my goal, I took a different path to medical school than most premed students. Instead of obtaining the common biology or chemistry degree, I completed a Bachelor of Science in nutrition and dietetics, followed by a Master of Science in nutrition science. I was excited to apply and expand my strong base of nutrition knowledge in medical school. However, I quickly learned that nutrition is not emphasized in the core curriculum—despite the fact that many of our country’s health problems stem from dietary choices.

My peers and I wanted to promote health in our future patients, but received very little education about how lifestyle choices, including diet, can directly impact disease risk and outcome.

Throughout my years of training one large realization has really stuck with me: Even the health care industry is nutritionally under-served. 

Misleading headlines and conflicting data can confuse providers just as much as the general public. However, through this confusion, physicians still aim to provide patients with optimal dietary advice. But how does a provider know what is the optimal advice? Even if a provider feels they know the optimal advice, do they feel confident enough to counsel patients?

These are questions that require attention if we want to help the millions of Americans who suffer from dietary related chronic diseases. Although there has been some support in the past, a renewed effort to help medical students learn and apply basic nutrition knowledge is desperately needed. The ENRICH act will educate future health care leaders about the importance of nutrition, arming them with tools to help reverse the rising chronic disease epidemics.

If we can help someone delay starting a medication, come off a medication, or reverse a chronic disease, then we’ve succeeded.

For more information about the ENRICH Act and to ask your members of Congress to co-sponsor this bill, go to www.ENRICHYourHealth.org.

Foods that Fight Depression

This is a guest post from Ulka Agarwal, M.D.

As a psychiatrist, my patients often ask me if there are dietary changes they can make to improve their depression. Many cannot tolerate antidepressants, don’t benefit from them, or are reluctant to try medications or seek counseling due to stigma. As a result, they miss an average of 19 work days per year, costing employers up to $44 billion dollars a year in lost productivity. Depression can aggravate other chronic illnesses as well, like diabetes and heart disease. We know that plant-based diets prevent and even treat these chronic illnesses, but can they also improve mood? Our recent study published in the March/April issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion demonstrates how a plant-based nutrition program improves not only depression, but anxiety, fatigue, productivity, and other markers of well-being.

This 18-week study analyzes the health benefits of adopting a plant-based vegan diet in a corporate setting. Study participants, GEICO employees who were either overweight or struggling with type 2 diabetes, adopted a low-fat vegan diet, favoring high-fiber, low-glycemic foods. They learned about preventive nutrition and new cooking tips through weekly “lunch and learn” sessions led by a clinician or cooking instructor. They also formed bonds, sharing helpful health tips along the way and connecting with the group on a daily basis through an online forum. Study participants alleviated symptoms of anxiety, depression, and fatigue, and improved their productivity both at work and outside of work, according to the 36-Item Short Form Health Survey (SF-36) and the Work Productivity and Activity Impairment Questionnaire (WPAI):

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They also lost an average of 10 pounds, lowered LDL cholesterol levels by 13 points, and improved blood sugar control, if they had type 2 diabetes. When people improve their physical health they become more physically and socially active and their overall quality of life improves.

How does a plant-based diet improve depression? Depression is related to inflammation in the body and low levels of serotonin. Plant-based foods naturally lower inflammation in the body because they are naturally low in fat and high in antioxidants. High vegetable intake increases the amount of B vitamins in the diet, which have been found to affect mood.

So what are you waiting for? Jump right in with a low-fat, plant-based diet! It’s the best prescription to boost your mood, energy, and productivity, while reducing your risk for chronic illnesses. I know I’ll be prescribing a plant-based diet to all of my patients for their emotional and physical well-being.

To learn more about the study, visit the American Journal of Health Promotion

About Ulka Agarwal, M.D.:

Ulka Agarwal, M.D., is the lead physician and psychiatrist at California State University, East Bay, where she developed and leads a plant-based employee wellness nutrition program.  Dr. Agarwal is the former chief medical officer for the Physicians Committee and a graduate of Dr. Andrew Weil’s Integrative Medicine Fellowship through the University of Arizona.

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.

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