Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Lifestyle and Diet - the Miracles of Functional Medicine

Imagine if you will that people were aware of the fact that food was their best medicine and much in the way of prevention would occur from a healthful diet and lifestyle. Imagine too that drugs were reserved for very serious conditions and even then used with the purpose of acting as a temporary measure until the true root cause was identified and treated.

What would this world be like? I have a dream. This dream involves everyone being aware of the option of sane health care. I’m not so idealistic as to dream that everyone would utilize such a product, but that they knew that it was available and the benefits of it, would be a dream come true for me and it is that dream that drives me to do what I do each and every day.

A friend of mine just visited Tokyo, Japan. He loved his visit and one of the aspects that struck him most was how incredibly clean the city was. He commented: “I’d have eaten off the subway floor!” No doubt a bit of an exaggeration but he makes his point. Add this almost unbelievable cleanliness to the fact that this city positively teems with citizens and you begin to ponder how it happens. I asked him if he saw a lot of people who were responsible for keeping the city clean. (I was thinking of Disneyland where one constantly sees an employee sweeping and cleaning.) His response was no, but rather it seemed an ingrained habit of the people to maintain cleanliness. It’s a bit amazing when you think of it.

My friend continued to say that when he returned to his home in San Francisco he was almost sickened by the dirt of the city in comparison to Tokyo.

Of course this conversation had me quickly leaping to my favorite topic of healthcare and I began to dream my favorite dream – what would happen if we could alter our culture of health along the lines of Japanese cleanliness. While it’s overwhelming to think of “cleaning up” downtown San Francisco, what if everyone suddenly got the idea of keeping their surroundings clean? How long would it take to have a clean city?

Similarly if everyone got the idea of natural healthcare and the importance of lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, how long would it take to have a healthier society? Fortunately this is not a rhetorical question. Some of my personal heroes from the field of Functional Medicine have some very exciting statistics to support my “dream”.

Listen to this from the following clinicians who posted this article a few months ago:

Rescuing Health Reform: Why Doctors Should Practice Lifestyle Medicine
September 15, 2009
Mark Hyman, MD, Dean Ornish, MD, and Mike Roizen, MD


Mark Hyman is Vice Chair of The Institute for Functional Medicine, Dean Ornish is Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and Mike Roizen is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic

Recently, at a small gathering in Martha’s Vineyard, the economist Larry Summers spoke about the nation’s narrow escape from economic depression. Dr. Summers addressed the even larger impending risks to our economy if the costs of health care are not successfully addressed now.
He was asked how we could control these costs without tackling the root causes of the problem. The chronic diseases that affect 160 million Americans account for 78% of our $2.1 trillion in annual health care costs. Lifestyle and environmental factors –our diet, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and chronic stress—are the most important underlying causes of these diseases.
But most believe that doctors don’t “do” lifestyle. Dr. Summers dismissed “lifestyle” as a community and public health issue that was already included in the current plan. He didn’t understand that physicians can and must do lifestyle medicine to effectively treat disease and dramatically reduce health care costs. Lifestyle factors leading to chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer are the domain of doctors and not merely a “public health problem.”

Lifestyle medicine is not just about preventing chronic diseases but also about treating them, often more effectively and less expensively than relying only on drugs and surgery. Nearly all the major medical societies recently joined in publishing a review of the scientific evidence for lifestyle medicine both for the prevention and TREATMENT of chronic disease. http://www.acpm.org/LifestyleMedicine.htm. There is strong evidence that this approach works and saves money. Unfortunately, insurance doesn’t usually pay for it. No one profits from lifestyle medicine, so it is not part of medical education or practice. It should be the foundation of our health care system.

For example, the recent “EPIC” study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine studied 23,000 people’s adherence to 4 simple behaviors (not smoking, exercising 3.5 hours a week, eating a healthy diet [fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and low meat consumption], and keeping a healthy weight [BMI <30]). In those adhering, 93% of diabetes, 81% of heart attacks, 50% of strokes and 36% of all cancers were prevented.

“Prevention” therapies as written into current health care bills are public health and community based wellness initiatives, or payment for early detection of disease with mammograms, colonoscopies and other screening tests. As the Congressional Budget Office recently indicated, early detection without treating the major underlying causes of chronic diseases—our lifestyle choices—may actually add to costs.

While health insurance reform is important, it is insufficient. We must not only change who is covered but also what is covered to include personalized lifestyle medicine if we are to make current treatments more effective and less costly.

When the underlying lifestyle causes are not addressed, medications to treat chronic diseases usually have to be taken for a lifetime. If the causes are addressed, patients are usually able to reduce or stop taking these medications and often avoid surgery (under their doctor’s supervision).


Personalized lifestyle medicine is a high-science, high-touch, low-tech, low-cost treatment that is more effective for the top five chronic diseases than our current approaches. If lifestyle treatments were applied to all patients with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome (obesity), prostate cancer, and breast cancer, then net health care expenditures could be reduced by $930 billion over 5 years, according to analysts from the Cleveland Clinic. This will result in dramatically better health and quality of life.

On August 6, 2009, Senator Ron Wyden [D-OR] introduced new legislation, the “Take Back Your Health” Act (S. 1640) that includes payment for intensive lifestyle medicine as treatments, not just prevention. This legislation has bipartisan co-sponsorship by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA).



So as you can see, not only is this dream shared by others, but it’s a dream that’s validity is already substantiated by research.

Please show your support for this in any way that you see fit, and as always, let me know how I can assist you in any way.

To your good health,

Dr Vikki Petersen
Founder of HealthNOW Medical Center
Co-author of “The Gluten Effect

3 comments:

Ed said...

1) Do you have a source/reference for the lengthy quote?

2) Quote "eating a healthy diet [fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and low meat consumption],"

"whole grains", I imagine that must have made your skin crawl. What do you think about beans? Legumes complete the unholy trinity in the paleo diet (grains, dairy, legumes). From a recent newsletter, "peanuts contain the lectin, peanut agglutinin (PNA), and kidney beans contain the lectin, phytohemagglutinin (PHA)".

Finally note their massive "health-user bias" in the message. Quote "In those adhering, 93% of diabetes..." I think the "In those adhering" should be bolded in large font flashing yellow. The healthy-user bias tells us that anyone adhering to ANY advice, including bad advice, is going to outperform anyone not adhering to any advice, including good advice. Based on the summary, that study is likely heavily compromised.

I share your dream that diet is medicine and could make us healthy (or healthier at least), but I fear that the diet advice being given is not good, or at least not good enough. Their advice coincidentally includes (effectively) reducing fructose, which would have a huge positive effect, and reducing commercially fried food, which again would be very beneficial because of the unhealthy polyunsaturated and trans-fat levels of commercial fry oil.

But whole grains? Beans? Low-fat meat? Lots of seeds and nuts? That's just bad advice. Overall it's like one step forward, 3/4 steps back.

The people in the positions to put forward broad public diet advice are just too ignorant. And they are too personally and politically tied up in their ignorance, they have become willfully ignorant. For this reason I fear that we won't win this round. It will be a long time before we do win.

Joanne at Open Mind Required said...

If I were a typical American, i'd be on statins, anti-inflammatories, and probably anti-depressants. Having once had arthritis in my knees, I'd also be in a wheelchair without any kneecaps.

But through self-education, i've managed to reverse almost all chronic diseases and avoid the acute ones (and I still have my kneecaps). And recently, having given up gluten, the remaining problems are fading.

I have great respect for organizations like yours who remove cause instead of palliate symptoms. I too have a dream.

Naomi Devlin said...

Your heart is in the right place and the diet you prescribe is 100% better than what most people eat today - especially Americans. I'm glad there are people like you out there doing great work and sending the message that food is medicine.

However, I have to agree with Ed that there is a lot of misinformation out there and most of us should be looking back to what our ancient ancestors ate and consuming that will make us much healthier than following the outdated nutritional pyramid that most dietitians still subscribe to.

We all need to eat food that is local, seasonal and cooked from scratch in my case, lots and lots of leaves, vegetables, meat, fish, some nuts and a little fruit and yogurt - anything else is a disaster for us and the planet.

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