Physician Profile: Kim Williams, M.D.

This physician profile is republished from the Winter 2015 edition of Good Medicine. Dr. Williams will be speaking at our upcoming conference on the topic of a plant-based diet for cardiovascular disease. To learn more or register for the International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine: Cardiovascular Disease, visit PCRM.org/Conference.

kim-williams-fb
Kim Williams, M.D., president of the American College of Cardiology, will be among the world’s leading physicians and researchers speaking at the Physicians Committee’s International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine: Cardiovascular Disease on July 31 to Aug. 1, 2015, in Washington, D.C.

In this Good Medicine exclusive, Dr. Williams, who began following a vegan diet in 2003, answers questions about the state of heart disease and tips for preventing it.

Describe nutrition or lifestyle recommendations that you discuss with your patients.

Everyone who is able should exercise for at least 45 minutes most days of the week. But food quality and content are also important. High fat and high sugar content increases mortality. Plant-based diets lead to better outcomes, reduce health risks, and have a much more favorable effect on obesity, compared with the standard American diet.

What is the one thing someone can do today to improve their heart health?

Everyone needs to know their critical numbers, such as blood pressure, fasting blood sugar, cholesterol levels, body mass index, and waist circumference. They say knowledge is power. In this case, being aware of risk factors helps motivate people to make a difference.

What do you think is the No. 1 cause of the heart disease epidemic?

I’m happy to say that there is not an escalating epidemic in the United States. We have reduced cardiovascular mortality about 50 percent over the last few decades. However, internationally the numbers are climbing as people and low and middle income countries adopt a more sedentary lifestyle with less healthy foods.

Diet Away Erectile Dysfunction

One surprising early sign of life-threatening heart problems is erectile dysfunction. A new study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that screening men with ED for heart disease could help prevent a million heart attacks or strokes over the next 20 years and save billions of dollars. But why let it escalate that far? Vegetables—not Viagra—are the best way to prevent not only ED, but the heart disease it’s linked to.

Of course the first thing that men who are already turning to Viagra, Cialis, and other ED drugs should do is schedule an appointment with their physician. Approximately 44 percent of men with heart disease risk factors—such as ED—are unaware of their risk, according to the study. But if men with ED were screened for heart disease, 5.8 million cases would be identified over 20 years.

Now we know just how costly erectile dysfunction is. The study authors say that even a 20 percent decrease in heart attacks or strokes as a result of screening and treatment could help avoid 1.1 million heart attacks and strokes, saving $21.3 billion over 20 years. And more than 1 million cases of ED would also be treated, saving $9.7 billion. That’s a combined savings of $28.5 billion.

ED is a canary in a coal mine, according to Stephen Kopecky, M.D., who will discuss how ED is an early indicator of heart disease at this summer’s International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine: Cardiovascular Disease. Why? Because—as this new study shows—the blocked arteries that cause ED can eventually stop blood flow to the heart and brain.

About 8.8 million men have heart disease—and 5 million of those have a history of heart attack, according to the American Heart Association. Heart disease killed more than 200,000 men in 2009 and 68,814 died from heart attack. Three million men today are stroke survivors, and in 2009, stroke caused the death of more than 50,000 men, says the American Stroke Association.

But arteries can literally open up again simply by adopting a low-fat, plant-based diet. A study in JAMA found that found that normal sexual function returned in almost one-third of the men who ate less saturated fat and cholesterol (both of which are abundant in animal products) and more fiber (only found in plant foods).

The best way to keep the blood pumping is a plant-based diet.

 

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.