Should Cancer Patients Avoid Raw Fruits and Vegetables?

Should Cancer Patients Avoid Raw Fruits and Vegetables?.jpeg

Back in the 1960s, a patient isolator unit was developed for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Because our immune system cells were often caught in the friendly fire, up to 50% of cancer patients died of infections before they could even complete the chemo because their immune systems had become so compromised. So, a bubble boy-like contraption was developed. The patient was shaved, dipped in disinfectant, rinsed off with alcohol, rubbed with antibiotic ointment into every orifice, and placed on a rotating regimen of a dozen of the most powerful antibiotics they had. Procedures were performed through plastic sleeves on the sides of the unit, and everything in and out had to be sterilized and passed through airlocks. So, the patient wasn't allowed any fresh fruits or vegetables.

People went crazy cooped up in these bubble-like units, with 38% even experiencing hallucinations. Fifteen years later the results were in: it simply didn't work. People were still dying at the same rate, so the whole thing was scrapped--except the diet. The airlocks and alcohol baths were abandoned, but they continued to make sure no one got to eat a salad.

Neutrophils are white blood cells that serve as our front line of defense. When we're immunocompromised and don't have enough neutrophils, we're called "neutropenic." So, the chemotherapy patients were put on a so-called neutropenic diet without any fresh fruits and vegetables. The problem is there's a glaring lack of evidence that such a neutropenic diet actually helps (see my video Is a Neutropenic Diet Necessary for Cancer Patients?).

Ironically, the neutropenic diet is the one remaining component of those patient isolator unit protocols that's still practiced, yet it has the least evidence supporting its use. Why? The rationale is: there are bacteria in salads, bacteria cause infections, immunocompromised patients are at increased risk for infections, and therefore, no salad. What's more, they were actually glad there aren't any studies on this because it could be way too risky to give a cancer patient an apple or something. So, its continued use seems to be based on a ''better safe than sorry'' philosophy.

The problem is that kids diagnosed with cancer are already low in dietary antioxidants, so the last thing we should do is tell them they can't have any fresh fruit or veggies. In addition to the lack of clinical evidence for this neutropenic diet, there may be some drawbacks. Restricting fruits and vegetables may even increase the risk of infection and compromise their nutritional status.

So, are neutropenic diets for cancer patients "reasonable prudence" or "clinical superstition"? Starting in the 1990s, there was a resurgence of research when greater importance was placed on the need to "support clinical practice with evidence."

What a concept!

Three randomized controlled trials were published, and not one supported the neutropenic diet. In the biggest study, an all-cooked diet was compared to one that allowed raw fruits and veggies, and there was no difference in infection and death rates. As a result of the study, the principal investigator at the MD Anderson Cancer Center described how their practice has changed and now everyone is allowed to eat their vegetables--a far cry from "please don't eat the salads" 31 years earlier.

Today, neither the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nor the American Cancer Society support the neutropenic diet. The real danger comes from pathogenic food-poisoning bacteria like Campylobacter, Salmonella, and E. coli. So we still have to keep patients away from risky foods like undercooked eggs, meat, dairy, and sprouts. At this point, though, there really shouldn't be a debate about whether cancer patients should be on a neutropenic diet. Nevertheless, many institutions still tell cancer patients they shouldn't eat fresh fruits and veggies. According to the latest survey, more than half of pediatric cancer doctors continue to prescribe these diets, though it's quite variable even among those at the same institution.

Why are doctors still reluctant to move away from the neutropenic diet? There are several reasons why physicians may be hesitant to incorporate evidence-based medicine into their practices. They may have limited time to review the literature. They'd like to dig deep into studies, but simply don't have the time to look at the evidence. Hmm, if only there was a website... :)

Bone marrow transplants are the final frontier. Sometimes it's our immune system itself that is cancerous, such as in leukemia or lymphoma. In these cases, the immune system is wiped out on purpose to rebuild it from scratch. So, inherent in the procedure is a profound immunodeficiency for which a neutropenic diet is often recommended. This has also had never been tested--until now.

Not only did it not work, a strict neutropenic diet was actually associated with an increased risk for infection, maybe because you don't get the good bugs from fruits and vegetables crowding out the bad guys in the gut. So not only was the neutropenic diet found to be unbeneficial; there was a suggestion that it has the potential to be harmful. This wouldn't be the first time an intervention strategy made good sense theoretically, but, when put to the test, was ultimately ineffective.

Unfortunately, there's an inertia in medicine that can result in medical practice that is at odds with the available evidence. Sometimes this disconnect can have devastating consequences. See, for example, Evidence-Based Medicine or Evidence-Biased? and The Tomato Effect.

The reason it is so important to straighten out the neutropenic diet myth is that fruits and vegetables may actually improve cancer survival:

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: Sally Plank

Original Link

Should Cancer Patients Avoid Raw Fruits and Vegetables?

Should Cancer Patients Avoid Raw Fruits and Vegetables?.jpeg

Back in the 1960s, a patient isolator unit was developed for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Because our immune system cells were often caught in the friendly fire, up to 50% of cancer patients died of infections before they could even complete the chemo because their immune systems had become so compromised. So, a bubble boy-like contraption was developed. The patient was shaved, dipped in disinfectant, rinsed off with alcohol, rubbed with antibiotic ointment into every orifice, and placed on a rotating regimen of a dozen of the most powerful antibiotics they had. Procedures were performed through plastic sleeves on the sides of the unit, and everything in and out had to be sterilized and passed through airlocks. So, the patient wasn't allowed any fresh fruits or vegetables.

People went crazy cooped up in these bubble-like units, with 38% even experiencing hallucinations. Fifteen years later the results were in: it simply didn't work. People were still dying at the same rate, so the whole thing was scrapped--except the diet. The airlocks and alcohol baths were abandoned, but they continued to make sure no one got to eat a salad.

Neutrophils are white blood cells that serve as our front line of defense. When we're immunocompromised and don't have enough neutrophils, we're called "neutropenic." So, the chemotherapy patients were put on a so-called neutropenic diet without any fresh fruits and vegetables. The problem is there's a glaring lack of evidence that such a neutropenic diet actually helps (see my video Is a Neutropenic Diet Necessary for Cancer Patients?).

Ironically, the neutropenic diet is the one remaining component of those patient isolator unit protocols that's still practiced, yet it has the least evidence supporting its use. Why? The rationale is: there are bacteria in salads, bacteria cause infections, immunocompromised patients are at increased risk for infections, and therefore, no salad. What's more, they were actually glad there aren't any studies on this because it could be way too risky to give a cancer patient an apple or something. So, its continued use seems to be based on a ''better safe than sorry'' philosophy.

The problem is that kids diagnosed with cancer are already low in dietary antioxidants, so the last thing we should do is tell them they can't have any fresh fruit or veggies. In addition to the lack of clinical evidence for this neutropenic diet, there may be some drawbacks. Restricting fruits and vegetables may even increase the risk of infection and compromise their nutritional status.

So, are neutropenic diets for cancer patients "reasonable prudence" or "clinical superstition"? Starting in the 1990s, there was a resurgence of research when greater importance was placed on the need to "support clinical practice with evidence."

What a concept!

Three randomized controlled trials were published, and not one supported the neutropenic diet. In the biggest study, an all-cooked diet was compared to one that allowed raw fruits and veggies, and there was no difference in infection and death rates. As a result of the study, the principal investigator at the MD Anderson Cancer Center described how their practice has changed and now everyone is allowed to eat their vegetables--a far cry from "please don't eat the salads" 31 years earlier.

Today, neither the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nor the American Cancer Society support the neutropenic diet. The real danger comes from pathogenic food-poisoning bacteria like Campylobacter, Salmonella, and E. coli. So we still have to keep patients away from risky foods like undercooked eggs, meat, dairy, and sprouts. At this point, though, there really shouldn't be a debate about whether cancer patients should be on a neutropenic diet. Nevertheless, many institutions still tell cancer patients they shouldn't eat fresh fruits and veggies. According to the latest survey, more than half of pediatric cancer doctors continue to prescribe these diets, though it's quite variable even among those at the same institution.

Why are doctors still reluctant to move away from the neutropenic diet? There are several reasons why physicians may be hesitant to incorporate evidence-based medicine into their practices. They may have limited time to review the literature. They'd like to dig deep into studies, but simply don't have the time to look at the evidence. Hmm, if only there was a website... :)

Bone marrow transplants are the final frontier. Sometimes it's our immune system itself that is cancerous, such as in leukemia or lymphoma. In these cases, the immune system is wiped out on purpose to rebuild it from scratch. So, inherent in the procedure is a profound immunodeficiency for which a neutropenic diet is often recommended. This has also had never been tested--until now.

Not only did it not work, a strict neutropenic diet was actually associated with an increased risk for infection, maybe because you don't get the good bugs from fruits and vegetables crowding out the bad guys in the gut. So not only was the neutropenic diet found to be unbeneficial; there was a suggestion that it has the potential to be harmful. This wouldn't be the first time an intervention strategy made good sense theoretically, but, when put to the test, was ultimately ineffective.

Unfortunately, there's an inertia in medicine that can result in medical practice that is at odds with the available evidence. Sometimes this disconnect can have devastating consequences. See, for example, Evidence-Based Medicine or Evidence-Biased? and The Tomato Effect.

The reason it is so important to straighten out the neutropenic diet myth is that fruits and vegetables may actually improve cancer survival:

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: Sally Plank

Original Link

How Much Nutrition Education Do Doctors Get?

How Much Nutrition Education Do Doctors Get?.jpeg

In the United States, most deaths are preventable and related to nutrition. Given that the number-one cause of death and the number-one cause of disability in this country is diet, surely nutrition is the number-one subject taught in medical school, right? Sadly, that is not the case.

As shown in my video, Physician's May Be Missing Their Most Important Tool, a group of prominent physicians wrote in 2014 that "nutrition receives little attention in medical practice" and "the reason stems, in large part, from the severe deficiency of nutrition education at all levels of medical training." They note this is particularly shocking since it has been proven that a whole foods, plant-based diet low in animal products and refined carbohydrates can reverse coronary heart disease--our number-one killer--and provide potent protection against other leading causes fof death such as cancer and type 2 diabetes.

So, how has medical education been affected by this knowledge? Medical students are still getting less than 20 hours of nutrition education over 4 years, and even most of that has limited clinical relevance. Thirty years ago, only 37 percent of medical schools had a single course in nutrition. According to the most recent national survey, that number has since dropped to 27 percent. And it gets even worse after students graduate.

According to the official list of all the requirements for those specializing in cardiology, Fellows must perform at least 50 stress tests, participate in at least 100 catheterizations, and so on. But nowhere in the 34-page list of requirements is there any mention of nutrition. Maybe they leave that to the primary care physicians? No. In the official 35-page list of requirements for internal medicine doctors, once again, nutrition doesn't get even a single mention.

There are no requirements for nutrition before medical school either. Instead, aspiring doctors need to take courses like calculus, organic chemistry, and physics. Most of these common pre-med requirements are irrelevant to the practice of medicine and are primarily used to "weed out" students. Shouldn't we be weeding out based on skills a physician actually uses? An important paper published in the Archives of Internal Medicine states: "The pernicious and myopic nature of this process of selection becomes evident when one realizes that those qualities that may lead to success in a premedical organic chemistry course...[like] a brutal competitiveness, an unquestioning, meticulous memorization, are not necessarily the same qualities that are present in a competent clinician."

How about requiring a course in nutrition instead of calculus, or ethics instead of physics?

Despite the neglect of nutrition in medical education, physicians are considered by the public to be among the most trusted sources for information related to nutrition. But if doctors don't know what they're talking about, they could actually be contributing to diet-related disease. If we're going to stop the prevailing trend of chronic illness in the United States, physicians need to become part of the solution.

There's still a lot to learn about the optimal diet, but we don't need a single additional study to take nutrition education seriously right now. It's health care's low-hanging fruit. While we've had the necessary knowledge for some time, what we've been lacking is the will to put that knowledge into practice. If we emphasized the powerful role of nutrition, we could dramatically reduce suffering and needless death.

Take, for example, the "Million Hearts" initiative. More than 2 million Americans have a heart attack or stroke each year. In 2011, U.S. federal, state, and local government agencies launched the Million Hearts initiative to prevent 1 million of the 10 million heart attacks and strokes that will occur in the next 5 years. "But why stop at a million?" a doctor asked in the American Journal of Cardiology. Already, we possess all the information needed to eradicate atherosclerotic disease, which is our number-one killer while being virtually nonexistent in populations who consume plant-based diets. Some of the world's most renowned cardiovascular pathologists have stated we just need to get our cholesterol low enough in order to not only prevent--but also reverse--the disease in more than 80% of patients. We can open up arteries without drugs and surgery, and stabilize or improve blood flow in 99% of those who choose to eat healthily and clean up their bad habits. We can essentially eliminate our risk of having a heart attack even in the most advanced cases of heart disease.

Despite this, medical students aren't even taught these concepts while they're in school. Instead, the focus is on cutting people open, which frequently provides only symptomatic relief because we're not treating the actual cause of the disease. Fixing medical education is the solution to this travesty. Knowledge of nutrition can help doctors eradicate the world's leading killer.

I've previously addressed how Doctors Tend to Know Less Than They Think About Nutrition, which is no surprise given most medical schools in the United States fail to provide even a bare minimum of nutrition training (see Medical School Nutrition Education), with mainstream medical associations even actively lobbying against additional nutrition training.

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: Sally Plank

Original Link

How Much Nutrition Education Do Doctors Get?

How Much Nutrition Education Do Doctors Get?.jpeg

In the United States, most deaths are preventable and related to nutrition. Given that the number-one cause of death and the number-one cause of disability in this country is diet, surely nutrition is the number-one subject taught in medical school, right? Sadly, that is not the case.

As shown in my video, Physician's May Be Missing Their Most Important Tool, a group of prominent physicians wrote in 2014 that "nutrition receives little attention in medical practice" and "the reason stems, in large part, from the severe deficiency of nutrition education at all levels of medical training." They note this is particularly shocking since it has been proven that a whole foods, plant-based diet low in animal products and refined carbohydrates can reverse coronary heart disease--our number-one killer--and provide potent protection against other leading causes fof death such as cancer and type 2 diabetes.

So, how has medical education been affected by this knowledge? Medical students are still getting less than 20 hours of nutrition education over 4 years, and even most of that has limited clinical relevance. Thirty years ago, only 37 percent of medical schools had a single course in nutrition. According to the most recent national survey, that number has since dropped to 27 percent. And it gets even worse after students graduate.

According to the official list of all the requirements for those specializing in cardiology, Fellows must perform at least 50 stress tests, participate in at least 100 catheterizations, and so on. But nowhere in the 34-page list of requirements is there any mention of nutrition. Maybe they leave that to the primary care physicians? No. In the official 35-page list of requirements for internal medicine doctors, once again, nutrition doesn't get even a single mention.

There are no requirements for nutrition before medical school either. Instead, aspiring doctors need to take courses like calculus, organic chemistry, and physics. Most of these common pre-med requirements are irrelevant to the practice of medicine and are primarily used to "weed out" students. Shouldn't we be weeding out based on skills a physician actually uses? An important paper published in the Archives of Internal Medicine states: "The pernicious and myopic nature of this process of selection becomes evident when one realizes that those qualities that may lead to success in a premedical organic chemistry course...[like] a brutal competitiveness, an unquestioning, meticulous memorization, are not necessarily the same qualities that are present in a competent clinician."

How about requiring a course in nutrition instead of calculus, or ethics instead of physics?

Despite the neglect of nutrition in medical education, physicians are considered by the public to be among the most trusted sources for information related to nutrition. But if doctors don't know what they're talking about, they could actually be contributing to diet-related disease. If we're going to stop the prevailing trend of chronic illness in the United States, physicians need to become part of the solution.

There's still a lot to learn about the optimal diet, but we don't need a single additional study to take nutrition education seriously right now. It's health care's low-hanging fruit. While we've had the necessary knowledge for some time, what we've been lacking is the will to put that knowledge into practice. If we emphasized the powerful role of nutrition, we could dramatically reduce suffering and needless death.

Take, for example, the "Million Hearts" initiative. More than 2 million Americans have a heart attack or stroke each year. In 2011, U.S. federal, state, and local government agencies launched the Million Hearts initiative to prevent 1 million of the 10 million heart attacks and strokes that will occur in the next 5 years. "But why stop at a million?" a doctor asked in the American Journal of Cardiology. Already, we possess all the information needed to eradicate atherosclerotic disease, which is our number-one killer while being virtually nonexistent in populations who consume plant-based diets. Some of the world's most renowned cardiovascular pathologists have stated we just need to get our cholesterol low enough in order to not only prevent--but also reverse--the disease in more than 80% of patients. We can open up arteries without drugs and surgery, and stabilize or improve blood flow in 99% of those who choose to eat healthily and clean up their bad habits. We can essentially eliminate our risk of having a heart attack even in the most advanced cases of heart disease.

Despite this, medical students aren't even taught these concepts while they're in school. Instead, the focus is on cutting people open, which frequently provides only symptomatic relief because we're not treating the actual cause of the disease. Fixing medical education is the solution to this travesty. Knowledge of nutrition can help doctors eradicate the world's leading killer.

I've previously addressed how Doctors Tend to Know Less Than They Think About Nutrition, which is no surprise given most medical schools in the United States fail to provide even a bare minimum of nutrition training (see Medical School Nutrition Education), with mainstream medical associations even actively lobbying against additional nutrition training.

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: Sally Plank

Original Link

Medical Care: The Third Leading Cause of Death

NF-Nov10 Why Prevention is Worth.jpg

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but a pound isn't that heavy. Why change our diet and lifestyle when we can just wait and let modern medicine fix us up? In my video The Actual Benefit of Diet vs. Drugs, I noted that patients tend to wildly overestimate the ability of cancer screening and cholesterol-lowering medications to prevent disease. Surveyed patients report they were told the truth about how little they'd benefit, 90% said they wouldn't even bother.

The reason we should eat healthier, rather than just counting on a medical technofix, is that we may hold this same overconfidence for treatment, too. In a massive study of more than 200,000 trials, researchers discovered that pills and procedures can certainly help, but genuine, very large effects with extensive support from substantial evidence appear to be rare in medicine. Further, large benefits for mortality--making people live significantly longer--are almost entirely nonexistent. Modern medicine is great for acute conditions--broken bones and curing infections--but for chronic disease, our leading causes of death and disability, we don't have much to offer. In fact, we sometimes do more harm than good.

In my Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death presentation, I noted that side-effects from prescription drugs kill an estimated 100,000 Americans every year, making medical care the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. There are another 7,000 deaths from getting the wrong medicine by mistake and 20,000 deaths from other errors in hospitals. Hospitals are dangerous places. An additional 99,000 of us die from hospital-acquired infections. But can we really blame doctors for those deaths, though? We can when they don't wash their hands.

We've known since the 1840's that the best way to prevent hospital-acquired infections is through handwashing, yet compliance rates among healthcare workers rarely exceeds 50%, and doctors are the worst, as highlighted in my video Why Prevention is Worth a Ton of Cure. Even in a medical intensive care unit with a "contact precautions" sign, signaling a particularly high risk patient, less than a quarter of doctors were found to wash their hands. Many physicians greeted the horrendous mortality data due to medical error with disbelief and concern that the information would undermine public trust. But if doctors still won't even wash their hands, how much trust do we deserve?

We could go in for a simple operation and come out with a life-threatening infection, or not come out at all. 12,000 more die from surgeries that were unnecessary in the first place. For those keeping score, that's 225,000 people dead from iatrogenic ("relating to medical care") causes. And that's mostly just for patients in a hospital. In an outpatient setting, side-effects from prescription drugs send millions to the hospital and result in perhaps 199,000 additional deaths. This is not including all those non-fatally injured (such as the case where doctors accidentally amputated the tip of a man's penis. Oops).

These estimates are on the low end. The Institute of Medicine estimated that deaths from medical errors may kill up to 98,000 Americans. That would bump us up to 284,000 dead. Even if we use the lower estimate, the medical profession constitutes the third leading cause of death in the United States. It goes heart disease, cancer, then... me.

One respondent pointed out that it was misleading to call medicine the third leading cause of death since many of those we kill also had heart disease or cancer. It's not like doctors are out there gunning down healthy people. Only people on medications are killed by medication errors or side-effects. You have to be in the hospital to be killed by a hospital error.

To which I respond: Exactly.

That's why lifestyle medicine is so important. The most common reasons people are on drugs and in hospitals is for diseases that can be prevented with a healthy diet and lifestyle. The best way to avoid the adverse effects of medical care is to not get sick in the first place.

For more background on how scandalous our handwashing history has been, see my Q&A: What about Semmelweis and medicine's shameful handwashing history? It's truly an unbelievable story.

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: Portal PBH / Flickr

Original Link

Do You Meet the Simple Seven?

NF-Oct6 How Many Meet Simple Seven.jpeg

In public health school, you learn there are three levels of preventive medicine. Primary prevention would be like trying to prevent someone at risk for heart disease from getting his or her first heart attack. Secondary prevention is when you already have the disease and are trying to prevent your second heart attack, and tertiary prevention is like cardiac rehab, where you're just trying to reduce the complication rates. A fourth level was suggested in 2000, quaternary prevention, trying to reduce the damage from all the drugs and surgery from the first three levels. But people seem to forget about a fifth concept, introduced by the World Health Organization back in 1978, termed primordial prevention, which is being embraced by the American Heart Association's 2020 strategic impact goals.

Primordial prevention was conceived as a strategy to prevent whole societies from experiencing epidemics of the risk factors. The corresponding strategy at the individual level is to prevent the development of risk factors. Instead of trying to prevent someone with high cholesterol from getting a heart attack, why not prevent them from getting high cholesterol in the first place?

So the American Heart Association came up with the simple seven, featured in my video, How Many Meet the Simple Seven?. These health behaviors or factors include not smoking, not being overweight, being "very active" (defined as walking at least 22 minutes a day), eating a few fruits and veggies, having below average cholesterol, normal blood pressure, and normal blood sugars.

Their goal was to reduce heart disease deaths by 20% by 2020. Why so modest an aim? An improvement of 25% was deemed "unrealistic," and 15% was considered insufficient, so they decided on 20. If 90% of risk can be thrown out the window by engaging in simple lifestyle modifications, why is just 25% considered unrealistic? To understand, one must realize just how bad our diets have gotten.

The most common reason patients give for not complying with a cholesterol-lowering diet may be the presumption that they're already eating healthy and so don't need to change. But if you look at the status of cardiovascular health in U.S. adults, only about 1% of Americans have a bare minimum of healthy eating behaviors, such as five-a-day fruits and veggies, eating beans, whole grains, drinking less than three cans of soda a week, etc. What percentage of Americans hit all seven of the simple seven? 14,000 men and women were surveyed, and most had two or three, but hardly any had all seven simple health components. Just how low a prevalence was having seven out of seven? Only about 1 out of 2,000 Americans had all seen factors intact. And the one they were missing the most was diet.

Unfortunately unhealthy behaviors extend into the medical profession. Just like smoking doctors are less likely to tell their patients to stop smoking, and couch potato docs are less likely to push exercise, or things like more fruits and vegetables; we need to role-model healthy behavior. This greatly enhances our credibility and effectiveness. Gone are the days of traditional authority when the fat physician, dropping cigarette ash down his gravy-stained vest, could credibly prescribe a change in behavior.

So What Diet Should Physicians Recommend? Watch the video!

Lifestyle medicine, the use of diet and lifestyle changes to prevent and treat disease, cannot only be cheaper and safer, but also more effective. See, for example:

I've previously noted just how sad the Standard American Diet is in Nation's Diet in Crisis. See how you compare: Calculate Your Healthy Eating Score.

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.

Original Link

Why Do Heart Doctors Favor Surgery and Drugs Over Diet?

NF-June2 Fully Consensual Heart Disease Treatment.jpg

When he was a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr. published a controversial paper in the American Journal of Cardiology, highlighted in my video, Fully Consensual Heart Disease Treatment, noting that heart bypass operations carry significant risks including the potential to cause further heart damage, stroke, and brain dysfunction. Angioplasty isn't much better, also carrying significant mortality and morbidity, and often doesn't work (in terms of decreasing the risk of subsequent heart attack or death). "So," he writes, "it seems we have an enormous paradox. The disease that is the leading killer of men and women in Western civilization is largely untreated." The benefits of bypass surgery and angioplasty "are at best temporary and erode over time, with most patients eventually succumbing to their disease." In cancer management, we call that palliative care, where we just kind of throw up our hands, throw in the towel, and give up actually trying to treat the disease.

Why does this juggernaut of invasive procedures persist? Well one reason he suggests is that performing surgical interventions has the potential for enormous financial reward. Conversely, lack of adequate return is considered one of the barriers to the practice of preventive cardiology. Diet and lifestyle interventions lose money for the physician.

Another barrier is that doctors don't think patients want it. Physician surveys show that doctors often don't even bring up diet and lifestyle options because they assume that patients would prefer to be on cholesterol-lowering drugs every day for the rest of their lives rather than change their eating habits. That may be true for some, but it's up to the patient, not the doctor, to decide.

According to the official AMA Code of Medical Ethics, physicians are supposed to disclose all relevant medical information to patients. "The patient's right of self-decision can be effectively exercised only if the patient possesses enough information to enable an informed choice. The physician's obligation is to present the medical facts accurately to the patient." For example, before starting someone at moderate risk on a cholesterol-lowering statin drug, a physician might ideally say something like:

"You should know that for folks in your situation, the number of individuals who must be treated with a statin to prevent one death from a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke is generally between 60 and 100, which means that if I treated 60 people in your situation, 1 would benefit and 59 would not. As these numbers show, it is important for you to know that most of the people who take a statin will not benefit from doing so and, moreover, that statins can have side effects, such as muscle pain, liver damage, and upset stomach, even in people who do not benefit from the medication. I am giving you this information so that you can weigh the risks and benefits of drugs versus diet and then make an informed decision."

Yet, how many physicians have these kinds of frank and open discussions with their patients? Non-disclosure of medical information by doctors--that kind of paternalism is supposed to be a thing of the past. Today's physicians are supposed to honor informed consent under all but a very specific set of conditions (such as the patient is in a coma or it's an emergency). However, too many physicians continue to treat their patients as if they were unconscious.

At the end of this long roundtable discussion on angioplasty and stents, the editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Cardiology reminded us of an important fact to place it all in context. Atherosclerosis is due to high cholesterol, which is due to poor dietary choices, so if we all existed on a plant-based diet, we would not have even needed this discussion.

The lack of nutrition training in medical school is another barrier. See, for example, my videos Doctors' Nutritional Ignorance and Doctors Know Less Than They Think About Nutrition.

Shockingly, mainstream medical associations actively oppose attempts to educate physicians about clinical nutrition. See my 4-part video series:

  1. Nutrition Education Mandate Introduced for Doctors
  2. Medical Associations Oppose Bill to Mandate Nutrition Training
  3. California Medical Association Tries to Kill Nutrition Bill
  4. Nutrition Bill Doctored in the California Senate

For more on why doctors don't make more dietary prescriptions, see my video The Tomato Effect, Lifestyle Medicine: Treating the Cause of Disease, and Convincing Doctors to Embrace Lifestyle Medicine.

Heart disease may be a choice. See Cavities and Coronaries: Our Choice and One in a Thousand: Ending the Heart Disease Epidemic.

-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: Leandro Ciuffo / Flickr

Original Link

The Reversal on Fish Oil

NF-Feb26 Is Fish Oil Just Snake Oil?.jpg

Are the purported benefits of fish oil supplementation for the prevention and treatment of heart disease just a "fish tale"? Thanks to recommendations from organizations such as the American Heart Association that individuals at high risk for heart disease ask their physicians about fish oil supplementation, fish oil has grown into a multibillion dollar industry. We now consume over 100,000 tons of fish oil every year.

But what does the science say? A systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, highlighted in my video Is Fish Oil Just Snake Oil? looked at all the best "randomized clinical trials evaluating the effects of omega-3's on lifespan, cardiac death, sudden death, heart attack, and stroke." The studies told the subjects to either eat more oily fish or to take fish oil capsules. What did the study find? Overall, the researchers found no protective benefit for all-cause mortality, heart disease mortality, sudden cardiac death, heart attack, or stroke.

What about for those who already had a heart attack and are trying to prevent another? Still no benefit. Where did we even get this idea that omega 3's were good for the heart? If we look at some of the older studies, the results seemed promising. For example, there was the famous DART trial back in the 80s involving 2,000 men. Those advised to eat fatty fish had a 29% reduction in mortality. Pretty impressive--no wonder it got a lot of attention. But people seemed to have forgotten the sequel, the DART-2 trial. The same group of researchers, and an even bigger study (3,000 men). In DART-2 "those advised to eat oily fish and particularly those supplied with fish oil capsules had a higher risk of cardiac death."

Put all the studies together, and there's no justification for the use of omega 3s as a structured intervention in everyday clinical practice or for guidelines supporting more dietary omega-3's. So what should doctors say when their patients follow the American Heart Association advice to ask them about fish oil supplements? Given this and other negative meta-analyses, "our job as doctors should be to stop highly marketed fish oil supplementation in all of our patients."

I've previously discussed fish oil supplements in the context of risks versus purported cardiovascular benefits:

But if the benefits aren't there, then all one is left with are concerns over the industrial pollutants that concentrate in the fish fat (even in distilled fish oil, see Is Distilled Fish Oil Toxin-Free?).

These same contaminants are found in the fish themselves. This raises concern for adults (Fish Fog), children (Nerves of Mercury), and pregnant moms:

-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 Christian Oterhals / Flickr

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Understanding Lifestyle Medicine From the Heart

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I talk a lot about numbers and statistics, but as the Director of Yale's Prevention Research Center Dr. David Katz put it in an editorial in the American Journal of Health Promotion, to reach doctors, our fellow colleagues, maybe we need to "put a human face on it all."

We have known, for at least a decade that the "leading causes of both premature death and persistent misery in our society are chronic diseases that are, in turn, attributable to the use of our feet (exercise), forks (diet), and fingers (cigarette smoking). Feet, forks, and fingers are the master levels of medical destiny for not just thousands of people on any one occasion but the medical destiny of millions upon millions year after year."

We as doctors, as a medical profession have known--Ornish published his landmark study 25 years ago (See Our Number One Killer Can Be Stopped). "We have known, but we have not managed to care," writes Dr. Katz. "At least not care deeply enough to turn what we know into what we routinely do." Were we to do so, we might be able to eliminate most heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and cancer.

But saving millions of lives is just a number. He asks doctors to:

"forget the bland statistics of public health, and ask yourself if you love someone who has suffered a heart attack, stroke, cancer, or diabetes....Now imagine their faces, whisper their names. Recall what it felt like to get the news. And while at it, imagine the faces of others like you and me imagining beloved faces. Now imagine if eight out of ten of us wistfully reflecting on intimate love and loss, on personal anguish, never got that dreadful news because it never happened. Mom did not get cancer; dad did not have a heart attack; grandpa did not have a stroke; sister, brother, aunt, and uncle did not lose a limb or kidney or eyes to diabetes. We are all intimately linked, in a network of personal tragedy that need never have occurred."

Which leads to what he is asking doctors to do about it: put a face on public health every chance you get. "When talking about heart disease and its prevention--or cancer or diabetes--ask your audience to see in their mind's eye the face of a loved one affected by that condition. Then imagine that loved one among the 80% who need never have succumbed if what we knew as doctors were what we do."

"Invoke the mind's eye," he advises, and "then bring a tear to it." (See Convincing Doctors to Embrace Lifestyle Medicine).

I think I've only profiled one other editorial (Ornish's Convergence of Evidence), but this one really struck me, so much so I used it to close out my live presentation, More Than an Apple a Day: Combating Common Diseases.

Why don't more doctors practice lifestyle medicine? Two theories are offered in The Tomato Effect and Lifestyle Medicine: Treating the Causes of Disease.

For more on the power of our day-to-day choices, see:

-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 and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Maia Weinstock / Flickr

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Don’t Forget Fiber

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The famous surgeon Denis Burkitt is better known for his discovery of a childhood cancer now known as Burkitt's lymphoma than for his 1979 international bestseller, Don't Forget the Fibre in Your Diet.

Anyone asked to list the twenty or more most important advances in health made in the last few decades would be likely to include none of what Dr. Burkitt considered to be among the most significant. What was the number one most important advance in health according to one of the most famous medical figures of the 20th century? The discovery that "Many of the major and commonest diseases in modern Western culture are universally rare in third-world communities, were uncommon even in the United States until after World War l" yet are now common in anyone following the Western lifestyle. So it's not genetics--they're lifestyle diseases (See Dr. Burkitt's F-Word Diet). This means they must potentially be preventable.

Those eating the standard American diet have very high levels of a long list of diseases--such as heart disease and colon cancer--that were similar to the rates of disease in the ruling white class in apartheid Africa. Conversely, the rates in the Bantu population were very low. These native Africans ate the same three sister diets of many Native Americans, a plant-based diet centered around corn, beans, and squash. In fact, it was reported that cancer was so seldom seen in American Indians a century ago they were considered practically immune to cancer--and heart disease. What are "very low" rates? 1300 Bantus were autopsied over five years in a Bantu hospital and maybe one case of ischemic heart disease, the West's number one killer.

The Bantu's rates of heart and intestinal disease is similar to poor Indians, whereas wealthier Indians who ate more animal and refined foods were closer to those in Japan--unless they moved to the U.S. and started living like us. You find similar trends for the other so-called Western diseases, which Burkitt thought were related to the major dietary changes that followed the lndustrial Revolution: a reduction in healthy whole plant foods--the source of starch and fiber-and a great increase in consumption of animal fats, salt, and sugar. His theory was that it was the fiber. He believed all of these major diseases may be caused by a diet deficient in whole plant foods, the only natural source of fiber.

Fiber? In a survey of 2,000 Americans, over 95% of graduate school-educated participants and health care providers weren't even aware of the daily recommended fiber intake. Doctors don't even know. How much fiber should we shoot for? The Institute of Medicine recommends 38 grams for men 50 years and younger and 30 grams for men over 50 years. Women 50 years and younger should get 25 and those older than 50 should get 21 grams. But these levels are just the minimum. I recommend we look to our evolutionary past for more clues on fiber intake. See my video Paleolithic Lessons.

One analogy Dr. Burkitt used is this: "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 cause of disease, the flooded floor 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 than those dedicated to shutting off taps." And the drug companies is more than happy to sell us rolls of paper towels, so patients can buy a new roll every day for the rest of their lives. To paraphrase Ogden Nash: modern medicine is making great progress, but just headed in the wrong direction.

How do we know that diet was the critical factor? Because when we place people stricken with these diseases on plant-based diets, their disease can be reversed (Our Number One Killer Can Be Stopped). In fact it was the work of Burkitt and others in Africa that led to the disease reversal work of pioneers like Nathan Pritikin (Engineering a Cure).

More on fiber:

And for more of the scoop on poop:

-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: Rachel Hathaway / Flickr

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