Plant-Based Medicine: A New Era
Hippocrates (1867 – 1936) said “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” This quote is more relevant today than ever before and needs greater focus due to escalating risk factors for nutrition–related diseases. Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are but the tip of the iceberg for nutrition and lifestyle-related diseases.
During my medical school education in the 1970s in Fiji, nutrition was an optional subject. Only a few hours were spent on nutrition education; students and teachers alike considered it unimportant. More attention was paid to teaching and learning anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, and other big ‘ologies’ than nutrition, even though lifestyle and nutrition-related diseases were already common.
In those days, patients listened more to doctors than allied health workers, such as physical therapists and nutritionists. Consulting a nutritionist was not a priority and doctors didn’t give detailed advice on nutrition and healthy cooking practices due to their own lack of training and the attitude that nutrition was a minor aspect of treatment. Patients also wanted to believe that the drugs prescribed by doctors were a “quick-fix” for their ailments.
I was one of these uninformed physicians, but fortunately, not for long. When I specialized in diabetes care in 1996, my patients kept asking me about specifics of diabetes control through daily dietary changes. I realized a gap in the National Diabetes Center’s approach to diabetes management. In response, I co-produced a 44-page book called ‘Food and Diabetes’ for people with diabetes; this book contained specific guidelines on how to reduce dietary sugar intake. For example, skipping refined sugar in tea and coffee, and avoiding sugary soda and juices.
About a decade later, my medical and nursing colleagues and I developed a more holistic approach. We designed and deployed a Green Prescription, which prescribed lifestyle changes, but not drugs. We built on New Zealand’s Green Prescription, which promoted physical activity. Our Green Prescription included basic tips on good nutrition, exercise, responsible use of alcohol, avoidance of tobacco products and drugs, and stress relief for all individuals who were deemed to be at risk of diabetes.
Recently, after frequent trips to the U.S., I realized that the situation has been similar in medical schools here. Studies show that most U.S. physicians are inadequately prepared to give useful nutrition advice to their patients.
However, the good news is that some medical training providers are realizing the benefits of treating lifestyle diseases with healthy eating habits, and are teaching medical students nutrition and healthy cooking methods. Over the years, the benefits of whole and natural plant-based foods, consumed in their natural forms, are becoming clearer and more acceptable. The Plantrician Project, for instance, defines a “plantrician” as a physician that understands the role of plant-based foods in health and wellness; these physicians teach medical students nutrition and healthy food preparation. There is also a group of 12,000 physicians called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) that advocates for healthy plant-based nutrition practices to manage nutrition and lifestyle related diseases. The PCRM is a great resource for finding out how plant-based foods can optimize our health and wellness.
Now that the tide is turning, we as consumers and good citizens must be proactive and challenge our health care providers to gather and share knowledge about plant-based medicine. We can help accelerate the shift away from harmful drugs that have many side effects and interactions with other drugs.
So, based on what I’ve shared about this shift toward plant-based medicine, it seems the time has come to seriously consider letting “food be thy medicine” instead of drugs. Share with us at Alchemus Prime what foods you consider your medicine for health and well being. And, be sure to check out our plant-based cookbook: Food of Love.
This post is written by the ever energetic Margaret Cornelius, M.D., (an)altruist at Alchemus Prime.