MY REMINDER OF THE FRAGILITY OF HEALTH AND LIFE...
In early March 2009, a "spontaneous" carotid artery dissection occurred in my forty-year old husband. The interior lining of one of his carotid arteries, which is a major vessel that supplies blood to the brain, tore. Three pseudo-aneurysms developed and he was in the hospital for about a week, as doctors proactively prevented a stroke. Needless to say, this was pretty traumatic.
From meeting my husband, you would think that he's strong and healthy: he's of a healthy weight, active, happy, all his medical stats are healthy. Within the past few years however, a couple of other seemingly random, relatively serious health issues arose. Each time, the doctors said it was just bad luck... that he's an otherwise healthy guy. In my opinion, the collective series of events cannot be due to simply bad luck.
HOW INFORMED ARE DOCTORS IN SEEING THE BIG PICTURE?
Through my experiences with my husbands doctors, who are all excellent, I noticed each specialist was very focused in just his/her specialized area of the body and no one was thinking about the bigger picture: Is there a common denominator? Is his body communicating that something he's doing is not working well for his health? I want us to pay attention to the relatively less serious messages (my husbands alive after all!) so that we can prevent having to experience even more serious messages from his body.
When I asked my questions to each doctor, no one really had an answer and no one suggested further exploration. The best guess I got from the doctors was that he may have a genetic predisposition for vascular issues (although there's no family history of this), but, further exploration was not deemed worthwhile. From what I gather, it's because not much can even be done if the explanation is that there is an underlying vascular disease. The doctors recommendation would remain the same with or without this information.
Until recently, only 7% of all medical schools had a required course on nutrition.
In 1985, the United States National Research Council funded an expert panel report that investigated the quantity and quality of nutrition education in U.S. medical schools. The committees findings were clear: The committee concluded that nutrition education programs in U.S. medical schools are largely inadequate to meet the present and future demands of the medical profession. This situation is dangerous. Nutrition training of doctors is not merely inadequate; it is practically nonexistent. In 1985, the National Research Council report found that physicians receive, on average, only 21 classroom hours (about 2 credits) of nutrition training during their four years of medical school. The majority of the schools surveyed actually taught less than 20 contact hours of nutrition. By comparison, an undergraduate nutrition major at Cornell will receive 21-40 credit hours of instruction, or about 250-500 contact hours; registered dietitians will have more than 500 contact hours.
It gets worse. The bulk of these nutrition hours are taught in the first year of medical school, as part of other basic science courses.
TAKING OWNERSHIP OF MY FAMILY'S HEALTH
I was left with questions: do I just listen to these top-tiered experts and accept that my husbands series of unusual health events is a result of bad luck, or do I explore what controllable variables may have influenced these events and what controllable variables may help to prevent future events. My key objective is to maximize the quality of my husband's life for as long as possible. My daughter and I need that. Also, if there's a genetic predisposition for vascular issues, then, as a mother, what can I do to help position my daughter to have the strongest health possible?
The authors of a major review on diet and cancer, prepared for the U.S. Congress in 1981, estimated that genetics only determines about 2 - 3% of the total cancer risk.
For years, Ive been interested in finding a top-tiered Western-trained doctor who has a holistic approach to health, but have not found one in NYC. Since my husband's carotid artery dissection, I've been desperate to find this guidance. Not knowing where else to turn, I turned to books that were authored by established scientists and doctors.
LEADING AUTHORS THAT IVE IDENTIFIED SO FAR
In this arena of Western-trained doctors or scientists that have a holistic approach to health, a handful of figures stand out as being highly regarded and / or popular:
Dr. T. Colin Campbell. Dr. Campbell is the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University and Project Director of the China-Oxford-Cornell Diet and Health Project. The China Study, to which it is commonly referenced, was the culmination of a 20-year partnership of Cornell University, Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine. It is the most comprehensive study of health and nutrition ever conducted.
For more than 40 years, T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. has been at the forefront of nutrition research. Dr. Campbell received his master's degree and Ph.D. from Cornell, and served as a Research Associate at MIT. He spent 10 years on the faculty of Virginia Tech's Department of Biochemistry and Nutrition before returning to the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell in 1975 where he presently holds his Endowed Chair (now Emeritus).
The China Study is a must-read! It contains a wealth of information that would benefit everyone.
Joel Fuhrman, M.D. is a board-certified family physician who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional and natural methods. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, provides nutritional education to other physicians, and is a guest lecturer at Cornell University Graduate Program in Human Nutrition. He is the author of Disease-Proof Your Children, Eat to Live: The Revolutionary Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss and Fasting and Eating for Health: A Medical Doctors Program for Conquering Disease.
Disease-Proof Your Child is a must-read for all parents! I still dont know what role dairy and animal protein should play in my daughter's diet, but Dr. Fuhrman addresses my questions with the familiarity of hundreds of scientific studies that are discussed in The China Study. I will be investigating further but Disease-Proof Your Child was very helpful.
John Robbins. Widely considered to be one of the world's leading experts on the dietary link between the environment and health, John Robbins is the author of a number of best-selling books such as Healthy at 100, The Food Revolution, Diet for a New America, and the widely acclaimed Reclaiming Our Health Exploding the Medical Myth and Embracing the Source of True Healing.
The only son of the founder of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream empire, John Robbins was groomed to follow in his fathers footsteps, but chose to walk away from Baskin-Robbins to seek a life he found more rewarding.
He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and received a Masters Degree from Antioch College.
Andrew Weil, M.D. Combining a Harvard education and a lifetime of practicing natural and preventive medicine, Dr. Weil is an internationally-recognized expert for his views on leading a healthy lifestyle, his philosophy of healthy aging, and the future of medicine and health care.
Approximately 10 million copies of Dr. Weils books have been sold, including the national bestsellers Spontaneous Healing, 8 Weeks to Optimum Health, Eating Well for Optimum Health, The Healthy Kitchen and Healthy Aging. He also is the Director of Integrative Health & Healing at Miraval Life in Balance Resort.
SOME FASCINATING FINDINGS
Analyzing not just his own animal studies and the massive human study in China, Dr. Campbell sought out the findings of other researchers and clinicians. The findings were some of the most exciting of the past fifty years. They showed that heart disease, diabetes and obesity can be reversed by a healthy diet. Other research shows that various cancers, autoimmune diseases, bone health, kidney health, vision and brain disorders in old age (like cognitive dysfunction and Alzheimers) are convincingly influenced by diet. Most important, the diet that has time and again been shown to reverse and/or prevent these diseases is a whole foods, plant-based diet.
From the China Project that Dr. Campbell led and later wrote about in The China Study, some of the findings, published in the most reputable scientific journals, show that:
I have been fascinated by all that Ive been reading and astonished that I wasn't more familiar with this discussion earlier. I think some, if not all, of the authors above should be required reading for everyone -- doctors, parents, even high school students. I'm going to give my pediatrician a copy of so that I can consider her informed thoughts.
What has changed within me is a sense of empowerment over the health of my family. The empowerment does not come from feeling that I now have answers but it comes from feeling that my perspective has been broadened and I am now more aware of what I do not know. As a result, I have more informed questions than ever. There is a lot I cannot control, but, in the meantime, as we have been incorporating some more informed changes into our diet, we have felt remarkable changes in energy and in other areas. Although I'm not trained in medicine and science, all that Ive been reading -- which is radically different than what I grew up hearing -- makes a lot of sense to me.