Reversing Diabetic Blindness with Diet

Reversing Diabetic Blindness with Diet.jpeg

Though many reported feeling better on Dr. Walter Kempner's rice and fruit diet, he refused to accept such anecdotal evidence as proof of success. He wanted objective measurements. The most famous were his "eyegrounds photographs," taken with a special camera that allowed one to visualize the back of the eye. In doing so, he proved diet can arrest the bleeding, oozing, and swelling you see in the back of the eye in people with severe kidney, hypertensive, or heart disease. Even more than that, he proved that diet could actually reverse it, something never thought possible.

In my video, Can Diabetic Retinopathy Be Reversed?, you can see before and after images of the back of patients' eyes. He found reversal to such a degree that even those who could no longer distinguish large objects were able to once again read fine print. Dr. Kempner had shown a reversal of blindness with diet.

The results were so dramatic that the head of the department of ophthalmology at Duke, where Kempner worked, was questioned as to whether they were somehow faked. He assured them they were not. In fact, he wrote in one person's chart, "This patient's eyegrounds are improved to an unbelievable degree." Not only had he never seen anything like it, he couldn't remember ever seeing a patient with such advanced disease even being alive 15 months later.

The magnitude of the improvements Kempner got--reversal of end-stage heart and kidney failure--was surprising, simply beyond belief. But as Kempner said as his closing sentence of a presentation before the American College of Physicians, "The important result is not that the change in the course of the disease has been achieved by the rice diet but that the course of the disease can be changed."

Now that we have high blood pressure drugs, we see less hypertensive retinopathy, but we still see a lot of diabetic retinopathy, now the leading cause of blindness in American adults. Even with intensive diabetes treatment--at least three insulin injections a day with the best modern technology has to offer--the best we can offer is usually just a slowing of the progression of the disease.

So, in the 21st century, we slow down your blindness. Yet a half century ago, Kempner proved we could reverse it. Kempner started out using his plant-based rice diet ultra-low in sodium, fat, cholesterol, and protein to reverse kidney and heart failure; he actually assumed the diet would make diabetes worse. He expected a 90% carbohydrate diet would increase insulin requirements, however, the opposite proved to be true. He took the next 100 patients with diabetes who walked through his door who went on the rice diet for at least three months and found their fasting blood sugars dropped despite a drop in the insulin they were taking. What really blew people away was this: Forty-four of the patients had diabetic retinopathy, and, in 30% of the cases, their eyes improved. That's not supposed to happen; diabetic retinopathy had been considered "a sign of irreversible destruction." What does this change mean in real life? Patients went from unable to even read headlines to normal vision.

The remarkable success Dr. Kempner had reversing some of the most dreaded complications of diabetes with his rice and fruit diet was not because of weight loss. The improvements occurred even in those patients who did not lose significant weight, so it must have been something specific about the diet. Maybe it was his total elimination of animal protein, animal fat, and cholesterol? Or perhaps it was his radical reduction in sodium, fat, and protein in general? We don't know.

How do we treat diabetic retinopathy these days? With steroids and other drugs injected straight into the eyeball. If that doesn't work, there's always pan-retinal laser photocoagulation, in which laser burns are etched over nearly the entire retina. Surgeons literally burn out the back of your eye. Why would they do that? The theory is that by killing off most of the retina, the little pieces you leave behind may get more blood flow.

When I see that, along with Kempner's work, I can't help but feel like history has been reversed. It seems as though it should have gone like, "Can you believe 50 years ago the best we had was this barbaric, burn-out-your-socket surgery? Thank goodness we've since learned that through dietary means alone, we can reverse the blindness." But instead of learning, medicine seems to have forgotten.

I documented the extraordinary Kempner story previously in Kempner Rice Diet: Whipping Us Into Shape and Drugs and the Demise of the Rice Diet. The reason I keep coming back to this is not to suggest people should go on such a diet (it is too extreme and potentially dangerous to do without strict medical supervision), but to show the power of dietary change to yield tremendous healing effects.

The best way to prevent diabetic blindness is to prevent or reverse diabetes in the first place. See, for example:

Why wouldn't a diet of white rice make diabetes worse? See If White Rice Is Linked to Diabetes, What About China?

For more on the nitty gritty on what is the actual cause of type 2 diabetes, see:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Community Eye Health / Flickr. This image has been modified.

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Reversing Diabetic Blindness with Diet

Reversing Diabetic Blindness with Diet.jpeg

Though many reported feeling better on Dr. Walter Kempner's rice and fruit diet, he refused to accept such anecdotal evidence as proof of success. He wanted objective measurements. The most famous were his "eyegrounds photographs," taken with a special camera that allowed one to visualize the back of the eye. In doing so, he proved diet can arrest the bleeding, oozing, and swelling you see in the back of the eye in people with severe kidney, hypertensive, or heart disease. Even more than that, he proved that diet could actually reverse it, something never thought possible.

In my video, Can Diabetic Retinopathy Be Reversed?, you can see before and after images of the back of patients' eyes. He found reversal to such a degree that even those who could no longer distinguish large objects were able to once again read fine print. Dr. Kempner had shown a reversal of blindness with diet.

The results were so dramatic that the head of the department of ophthalmology at Duke, where Kempner worked, was questioned as to whether they were somehow faked. He assured them they were not. In fact, he wrote in one person's chart, "This patient's eyegrounds are improved to an unbelievable degree." Not only had he never seen anything like it, he couldn't remember ever seeing a patient with such advanced disease even being alive 15 months later.

The magnitude of the improvements Kempner got--reversal of end-stage heart and kidney failure--was surprising, simply beyond belief. But as Kempner said as his closing sentence of a presentation before the American College of Physicians, "The important result is not that the change in the course of the disease has been achieved by the rice diet but that the course of the disease can be changed."

Now that we have high blood pressure drugs, we see less hypertensive retinopathy, but we still see a lot of diabetic retinopathy, now the leading cause of blindness in American adults. Even with intensive diabetes treatment--at least three insulin injections a day with the best modern technology has to offer--the best we can offer is usually just a slowing of the progression of the disease.

So, in the 21st century, we slow down your blindness. Yet a half century ago, Kempner proved we could reverse it. Kempner started out using his plant-based rice diet ultra-low in sodium, fat, cholesterol, and protein to reverse kidney and heart failure; he actually assumed the diet would make diabetes worse. He expected a 90% carbohydrate diet would increase insulin requirements, however, the opposite proved to be true. He took the next 100 patients with diabetes who walked through his door who went on the rice diet for at least three months and found their fasting blood sugars dropped despite a drop in the insulin they were taking. What really blew people away was this: Forty-four of the patients had diabetic retinopathy, and, in 30% of the cases, their eyes improved. That's not supposed to happen; diabetic retinopathy had been considered "a sign of irreversible destruction." What does this change mean in real life? Patients went from unable to even read headlines to normal vision.

The remarkable success Dr. Kempner had reversing some of the most dreaded complications of diabetes with his rice and fruit diet was not because of weight loss. The improvements occurred even in those patients who did not lose significant weight, so it must have been something specific about the diet. Maybe it was his total elimination of animal protein, animal fat, and cholesterol? Or perhaps it was his radical reduction in sodium, fat, and protein in general? We don't know.

How do we treat diabetic retinopathy these days? With steroids and other drugs injected straight into the eyeball. If that doesn't work, there's always pan-retinal laser photocoagulation, in which laser burns are etched over nearly the entire retina. Surgeons literally burn out the back of your eye. Why would they do that? The theory is that by killing off most of the retina, the little pieces you leave behind may get more blood flow.

When I see that, along with Kempner's work, I can't help but feel like history has been reversed. It seems as though it should have gone like, "Can you believe 50 years ago the best we had was this barbaric, burn-out-your-socket surgery? Thank goodness we've since learned that through dietary means alone, we can reverse the blindness." But instead of learning, medicine seems to have forgotten.

I documented the extraordinary Kempner story previously in Kempner Rice Diet: Whipping Us Into Shape and Drugs and the Demise of the Rice Diet. The reason I keep coming back to this is not to suggest people should go on such a diet (it is too extreme and potentially dangerous to do without strict medical supervision), but to show the power of dietary change to yield tremendous healing effects.

The best way to prevent diabetic blindness is to prevent or reverse diabetes in the first place. See, for example:

Why wouldn't a diet of white rice make diabetes worse? See If White Rice Is Linked to Diabetes, What About China?

For more on the nitty gritty on what is the actual cause of type 2 diabetes, see:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Community Eye Health / Flickr. This image has been modified.

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Introducing the Kempner Rice Diet

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt brought us through the Great Depression and World War II. Who knows how history would have been different had he not died in his fourth term as President from a massive stroke. In the following days and months, we learned that Roosevelt had suffered from severe high blood pressure for years. In spite of this, he was on no medications or other treatments. The reason for the lack of treatment is stark and simple: there were none. The state of the art at that time was death. Death, from so-called malignant hypertension--out-of-control high blood pressure--for which, it was thought, there was no remedy. But they were wrong. There was Dr. Walter Kempner and his rice-fruit diet.

A physician-scientist, Kempner trained with the best, fled Nazi Germany and set up shop at Duke, where he began treating malignant hypertension patients with a radical diet consisting of only white rice and fruit, with strikingly favorable results: a rapid reduction in blood pressure, rapid improvement in kidney failure, eye pressure, heart failure and other manifestations of this previously fatal illness.

He figured that if a low salt diet helped with blood pressure, a low protein diet helped with kidney function, and a low fat and cholesterol diet helped the heart, why not take it to its logical conclusion and design a no-salt, no cholesterol diet of almost pure carbohydrate. So, he designed a diet with less sodium than any low-sodium diet, less protein than any low-protein diet, and less cholesterol and fat than any other low-fat diet.

His hope was that it would just stop progression of the disease. Instead, something miraculous happened. In about two-thirds of cases, the disease reversed. There were reversals of heart failure, reversals of eye damage, and reversals of kidney failure. At the time, this was effectively a terminal disease where people just had a few months to live, but with Kempner's rice diet, they got better. In my video Kempner Rice Diet: Whipping Us Into Shape, you can see before and after pictures of the back of people's eyes. They started out swollen, bloody and leaking and then were nearly normal in a matter of months.

After being effectively cured by the diet over many months, many patients could then relax the diet to a more conventional plant-based diet and go on to live a normal, active life. The rice diet may actually drop blood pressures too low, so we have to add back other foods to bring the pressures back up to normal.

An editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine described Kempner's results as "little short of miraculous." Practically speaking, there's probably no more effective diet for obese cardiac patients. The problem, though, is that most physicians lack the extraordinary persuasive powers required to keep the patient eating such a restricted diet.

When Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn presented his study results demonstrating in some cases reversal of near end-stage heart disease with a whole food plant-based diet, the Chair of Cleveland Clinic cardiology department asked, "How can we expect patients to stay on a strict diet like this when we can't even get them to quit smoking?" Just like penicillin drugs don't work at all unless we take them, plant-based diets don't work unless we actually eat them.

The answer may be that the physician must have a zealous belief in the diet and must convey that passion to the patients. For Kempner, to keep his patients on the rice diet, he "brow-beat, yelled at, and castigated them when he caught them straying." And he didn't just browbeat them; he sometimes actually beat them. It came out in a lawsuit in which a former patient sued Dr. Kempner, claiming that he had literally whipped her and other patients to motivate them to stick to the diet.

Reminds me of the famous diabetes physician back in the 1800s, Arnoldo Cantani, who knew the remedy for diabetes was not in the drugstore, but rather the kitchen. To ensure compliance, if necessary, he would lock a patient up in a room for six weeks.

Thankfully, in terms of personality, Dr. Esselstyn is the opposite of Dr. Kempner. He is polite, soft-spoken, gentle and able to keep his patients on track without whipping them. And last but not least, Esselstyn walks the talk, following the diet himself, whereas Kempner died of a heart attack (though at the age of 94). Kempner's work continues on in Durham, where they continue a relaxed version of the diet, allowing actual vegetables.

A year before Roosevelt died, Kempner had already published his miraculous results. It seems highly likely that had the rice diet been "provided to President Roosevelt a year before his death, his disease might have been controlled before his fatal stroke, and that this fatal event could have been averted."


For those unfamiliar with Dr. Esselstyn's work, check out:

Kempner was a lifestyle medicine pioneer. What's lifestyle medicine? See, for example:

For more on Kempner's work, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations--2013: Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, 2014: From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food, 2015: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet, and my latest, 2016: How Not To Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers.

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The Top Four Anti-Inflammatory Spices

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Once in a while I come across a study that's so juicy I have to do a whole video about it (Which Spices Fight Inflammation?).

A group of researchers at the University of Florida, Gainesville and Pennsylvania State set up a brilliant experiment. We've known that ounce per ounce, herbs and spices have some of the greatest antioxidant activities known. But that's only ever been tested in a test tube. Before we can ask if an herb or spice has real health benefits, it is first necessary to determine whether it is bioavailable -- whether the active ingredients are even absorbed. This had never been done, until now.

The researchers could have taken the easy route and just measured the change in antioxidant level in one's bloodstream before and after consumption, but the assumption that the appearance of antioxidant activity in the blood is an indication of bioavailability has a weakness. Maybe more gets absorbed than we think but doesn't show up on antioxidant tests because it gets bound up to proteins or cells. So the researchers attempted to measure physiological changes in the blood. They were interested in whether absorbed compounds would be able to protect white blood cells from an oxidative or inflammatory injury--whether herb and spice consumption would protect the strands of our DNA from breaking when attacked by free radicals. I cover the DNA findings in my video, Spicing Up DNA Protection. They also wondered if the consumption might alter cellular inflammatory responses in the presence of a physiologically relevant inflammatory insult. What does this all mean?

The researchers took a bunch of people and had each of them eat different types of spices for a week. There were many truly unique things about this study, but one was that the quantity of spices that study subjects consumed was based on the usual levels of consumption in actual food. For example, the oregano group was given a half teaspoon a day--a practical quantity that people might actually eat once in a while. At the end of the week, they drew blood from the dozen or so people they had adding, for example, black pepper to their diets that week, and compared the effects of their blood to the effects of the blood of the dozen subjects on cayenne, or cinnamon, or cloves, or cumin. They had about ten different groups of people eating about ten different spices. Then they dripped their plasma (the liquid fraction of their blood) onto human white blood cells in a Petri dish that had been exposed to an inflammatory insult. The researchers wanted to pick something really inflammatory, so they chose oxidized cholesterol (which is what we'd get in our bloodstream after eating something like fried chicken. If oxidized cholesterol is a new concept for you, please check out its role in heart disease progression in my video Arterial Acne). So they jabbed the white blood cells with oxidized cholesterol and measured how much tumor necrosis factor (TNF) they produced in response.

TNF is a powerful inflammatory cytokine, infamous for the role it plays in autoimmune attacks like inflammatory bowel disease. Compared to the blood of those who ate no spices for a week, black pepper was unable to significantly dampen the inflammatory response. What about any of the other spices? The following significantly stifled the inflammatory response:

  • cloves
  • ginger
  • rosemary
  • turmeric

And remember, they weren't dripping the spices themselves on these human white blood cells, but the blood of those who ate the spices. So the results represents what might happen when cells in our body are exposed to the levels of spices that circulate in our bloodstream after normal daily consumption--not megadoses in some pill. Just the amount that makes our spaghetti sauce, pumpkin pie, or curry sauce taste good.

There are drugs that can do the same thing. Tumor necrosis factors are such major mediators of inflammation and inflammation-related diseases that there are TNF-blocking drugs on the market for the treatment of inflammatory diseases such as osteoarthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, and ankylosing spondylitis, which collectively rake in more than $20 billion a year ($15,000-$20,000 per person per year). At that price, the side effects better be hugs and rainbows. But no, the drugs carry a so-called "black box warning" because they can cause things like cancer and heart failure. If only there was a cheaper, safer solution.

The spice curcumin, the yellow pigment in turmeric, is substantially cheaper and safer, but does it work outside of a test tube? There's evidence that it may help in all of the diseases for which TNF blockers are currently being used. So with health-care costs and safety being such major issues, this golden spice turmeric may help provide the solution.

See Antioxidants in a Pinch and How to Reach the Antioxidant RDA to see the extent to which even small amounts of spices can affect one's antioxidant intake.

Another elegant series of "ex vivo" experiments exploring the cancer fighting power of lifestyle changes can be seen in the videos starting with Ex Vivo Cancer Proliferation Bioassay.

Mushrooms (Boosting Immunity While Reducing Inflammation), nuts (Fighting Inflammation in a Nut Shell), and purple potatoes (Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Purple Potatoes) may also reduce inflammation (along with plant foods in general, see Anti-Inflammatory Antioxidants and Aspirin Levels in Plant Foods). In fact so well that plant-based diets can be used to treat inflammatory conditions. See, for example, Dietary Treatment of Crohn's Disease, Diet & Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Potassium and Autoimmune Disease. Animal products on the other hand may increase inflammation through a variety of mechanisms, including endotoxins (How Does Meat Cause Inflammation?), arachidonic acid (Chicken, Eggs, and Inflammation), and Neu5Gc (The Inflammatory Meat Molecule Neu5Gc).

-Michael Greger, M.D

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: jo-marshall (was Jo-h) / Flickr

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What Do Meat Purge and Cola Have in Common?

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In my video, Treating Kidney Failure Through Diet, I profiled research suggesting that the use of a plant-based diet for patients with kidney failure would be beneficial. An important function of our kidneys is to filter out excess phosphorus from our bloodstream, so a decline in kidney function can lead to the build-up of phosphorus in our bodies. This in turn can cause something called metastatic calcification, where our heart valves and muscles and other parts of the body can buildup mineral deposits, eventually potentially resulting in bad things like skin necrosis, gangrene, and amputations. Therefore, controlling dietary phosphorus intake is the lynchpin of successful prevention of metastatic calcification. While both plant foods and animal foods have phosphorus, our bodies seem better able to handle phosphorus excretion from plants, so a plant-based diet may help protect against this dreadful condition.

However, we're beginning to realize that absorbing too much phosphorus isn't good for anyone, even those with healthy kidneys. Having high levels in our blood has been found to be an independent predictor of heart attacks and mortality in the general population, increasing the risk not only of kidney failure, but also of heart failure, heart attacks, coronary death, and overall death. Dietary intake of phosphate is an important matter not just for persons with kidney disease, but for everybody. It's thought to cause damage to blood vessels, to accelerate the aging process, and even, potentially, to hurt our bones by contributing to osteoporosis via a disruption of hormonal regulation. The estimated average requirement of phosphorus is less than 600 mg a day, but the estimated average intake in the United States is nearly twice that. How do we stay away from too much of the stuff?

In the video, Phosphate Additives in Meat Purge and Cola, we can see the different levels of phosphorus in different foods. It looks like many plant foods have as much phosphorus as many animal foods. So why are plant-based diets so effective in treating kidney failure patients? Because most of the phosphorus in plant foods is found in the form of phytic acid, which we can't digest. Therefore, while plant and animal foods may have similar phosphate contents, the amount that is bioavailable differs. In plant foods, the bioavailability of phosphates is usually less than 50%, while the bioavailability of most animal products is up around 75%.

So when we adjust for how much actually gets into our system, plant foods are significantly better. It's like the absorption of heme and non-heme iron: our bodies can protect themselves from absorbing too much plant-based iron, but can't stop excess muscle and blood-based (heme) iron from animals slipping through the intestinal wall (see my video Risk Associated With Iron Supplements).

The worst kind of phosphorus is in the form of phosphate additives (which are absorbed nearly 100%) that are added, for example, to cola drinks. Why is phosphate added to cola? Without the added phosphate, so many glycotoxins would be produced that the beverage would turn pitch black (see my video on Glycotoxins). Thus, cola drinks owe their brown color to phosphate.

Phosphate additives play an especially important role in the meat industry, where they are used as preservatives for the same reason: to enhance a meat product's color. Just like the dairy industry adds aluminum to cheese, the meat and poultry industries "enhance" their products by injecting them with phosphates. If one looks at meat industry trade journals and can get past all the macabre ads for "head dropping robots for the kill floor," you'll see all ad after ad for injection machines. Why? Because of "increased profitability." Enhanced meats have better color and less "purge."

Purge is a term used to describe the liquid that seeps from flesh as it ages. Many consumers find this unattractive, so the industry views phosphate injection as a win-win. When chicken is injected with phosphates, the "consumer benefits through the perception of enhanced quality," and the processor benefits from increased yield because they just pump it up with water and they sell it by the pound. The problem is that it can boost phosphorus levels in meat nearly 70%, a "real and insidious danger" not only for kidney patients, but for us all.

Another toxic addition to alter the color of meat is arsenic-containing drugs fed directly to chickens (see my video Arsenic in Chicken). Carbon monoxide is used to keep red meat red, anthoxanthins keep salmon pink (Artificial Coloring in Fish) and titanium dioxide is used to whiten processed foods (Titanium Dioxide & Inflammatory Bowel Disease). I'm amazed by the risks the food industry will take to alter food cosmetically (more on this in Artificial Food Colors and ADHD).

There are other harmful additives in soda as well (Is Sodium Benzoate Harmful? and Diet Soda and Preterm Birth).

What else is in poultry purge (chicken "juice")? Find out in my video, Phosphate Additives in Chicken.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Images thanks to Michael Scheltgen / Flickr

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4 Things To Help Prevent Most Disease

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Though I was trained as a general practitioner, my chosen specialty is lifestyle medicine. Most of the reasons we go see our doctors are for diseases that could have been prevented. But lifestyle medicine is not just about preventing chronic disease--it's also about treating it. And not just treating the disease, but treating the causes of disease.

If people just did four simple things--not smoking, exercising a half hour a day, eating a diet that emphasizes whole plant foods, and not becoming obese--they may prevent most cases of diabetes and heart attacks, half of strokes, and a third of cancers. Even modest changes may be more effective in reducing cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and all-cause mortality than almost any other medical intervention.

The key difference between conventional medicine and lifestyle medicine is instead of just treating risk factors, we treat the underlying causes of disease, as Drs. Hyman, Ornish, and Roizen describe in their landmark editorial Lifestyle medicine: treating the causes of disease. Doctors typically treat "risk factors" for disease by giving a lifetime's worth of medications to lower high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, and high cholesterol. But think about it: high blood pressure is just a symptom of diseased and dysfunctional arteries. We can artificially lower blood pressure with drugs, but that's not treating the underlying cause. To treat the underlying cause, we need things like diet and exercise, the "penicillin" of lifestyle medicine (See Lifestyle Medicine: Treating the Causes of Disease).

As Dr. Dean Ornish is fond of saying, disregarding the underlying causes and treating only risk factors is somewhat like mopping up the floor around an over-flowing sink instead of just turning off the faucet, which is why medications usually have to be taken for a lifetime. As Dr. Denis Burkitt described, "if a floor is flooded as a result of a dripping tap, it is of little use to mop up the floor unless the tap is turned off. The water from the tap represents the cost of disease, and the flooded floor represents the diseases filling our hospital beds. Medical students learn far more about methods of floor mopping than about turning off taps, and doctors who are specialists in mops and brushes can earn infinitely more money than those dedicated to shutting off taps." And the drug companies are more than happy to sell rolls of paper towels so patients can buy a new roll every day for the rest of their lives. Paraphrasing poet, Ogden Nash, modern medicine is making great progress, but is headed in the wrong direction.

When the underlying lifestyle causes are addressed, patients often are able to stop taking medication or avoid surgery. We spend billions cracking patients' chests open, but only rarely does it actually prolong anyone's life. Instead of surgery, why not instead wipe out at least 90% of heart disease through prevention? Heart disease accounts for more premature deaths than any other illness and is almost completely preventable simply by changing diet and lifestyle, and the same dietary changes required can prevent or reverse many other chronic diseases as well.

So why don't more doctors do it?

One reason is doctors don't get paid to do it. No one profits from lifestyle medicine, so it is not part of medical education or practice. Presently, physicians lack training and financial incentives, so they continue to do what they know how to do: prescribe medication and perform surgery.

After Dean Ornish proved you could open up arteries and reverse our number one cause of death, heart disease, with just a plant-based diet and other healthy lifestyle changes (see Resuscitating Medicare and Our Number One Killer Can Be Stopped), he thought that his studies would have a meaningful effect on the practice of mainstream cardiology. After all, he had found a cure for our #1 killer! But, he admits, he was mistaken. "Physician reimbursement," he realized, "is a much more powerful determinant of medical practice than research."

Reimbursement over research. Salary over science. Wealth over health. Not a very flattering portrayal of the healing profession. But if doctors won't do it without getting paid, let's get them paid.

So Dr. Ornish went to Washington. He argued that if we train and pay for doctors to learn how to help patients address the real causes of disease with lifestyle medicine and not just treat disease risk factors we could save trillions of dollars. And that's considering only heart disease, diabetes, prostate and breast cancer. The Take Back Your Health Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate to induce doctors to learn and practice lifestyle medicine, not only because it works better, but because they will be paid to do it. Sadly, the bill died, just like millions of Americans will continue to do with reversible chronic diseases.

By treating the root causes of diseases with plants not pills, we can also avoid the adverse side effects of prescription drugs that kill more than 100,000 Americans every year, effectively making doctors a leading cause of death in the United States. See One in a Thousand: Ending the Heart Disease Epidemic and my live presentation Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations More Than an Apple a Day and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Punchyy / Flickr

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