The contrast between science and clinical practice can be so stark that it is shocking. I just returned from Washington, D.C. and the International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine sponsored by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and the Georgetown University School of Medicine. The first patient I saw in my preventive cardiology clinic after returning from the conference described his 25 year struggle with heart disease including 2 separate bypass operations, numerous stents, and activity severely limited by angina chest pain. He could barely walk to the mailbox without taking a nitro tablet under his tongue despite maximal doses of medications. I asked him my usual questions: Do you know the names Ornish, Esselstyn, Fuhrman, Forks over Knives and other icons of the Food is Medicine movement. In response, I got a blank stare. I asked him if he had ever been advised that he could help heal his life threatening heart disease by changing his food choices. He answered that not a single physician at a number of leading hospitals and universities had ever suggested that. Of course, I reviewed the data and resources to help him make those changes immediately, but the vast gap between proven science and clinical application was shocking.
Back to the conference. Some of the world's leading scientist studying the impact of food choices on health and disease were in D.C. and presented their data. I highlight the work of a few of the speakers that were so impactful.
1. Christina Warriner, PhD. This dynamo of a researcher from Oklahoma has taken on a diet that seems to be on a pedestal: THE PALEO DIET. She has done the archeological research to poke holes so big in the often stated basis for the popularity of the diet: that the introduction of agriculture and grains 10,000 years ago began the decline of our health. She laughed at the idea that there are Paleo Pancakes and Paleo Desserts. She did it all from a science perspective without bias. She has delivered a very popular TED talk that I recommend you watch. While a diet free of processed foods is an excellent goal, she presented data that the archeological and medical benefits of this diet have been overstated and overhyped.
2. Steve O'Keefe MD. This respected medical researcher described the changes his team observed when they studied African Americans and fed them the native diet of South Africa for 2 weeks and then did the opposite to South Africans.
The findings indicated that changing that to a typical American diet is disastrous to the microbiome, the collection of bacteria we live with and coexist with. The risk of cancer skyrockets on the American Western diet. The opposite is true when the standard American diet is replaced by a native one rich in whole plant based foods.
3. Mariana Stern, PhD. This dynamic professor at USC was on the team for the World Health Organization that announced in October, 2015 to major headlines that processed red meats cause, not are associated with, colorectal cancer. The WHO classified this food group as Class 1 carcinogens grouped with smoking and diesel fuel. Many ignore this warning but Dr. Stern pointed out that 50,000 lives a year could be saved by skipping the bacon, salami, pastrami and hot dogs. The Committee for Responsible Medicine has been active in fighting for food sanity in hospitals. I have joined this fight with the only Facebook page that protests bad hospital food choices (Ban Hospital Food Carcinogens, please look it up and hit LIKE).
Many more topics were presented at the conference including data that soy products both help prevent breast cancer and are healing for women treated for this disease. The medical harm of dairy products was also reviewed in detail by Neal Barnard, MD. The patient I met right after the conference highlights the critical need to spread the word that 90 percent of chronic disease like heart disease, cancer, stroke and adult diabetes mellitus can be avoided by intelligent use of the fork and our feet.