The other day I listened to the umpteenth podcast with Chris Kresser, who has recently published the book “Unconventional medicine“, on how the modern western medical system is broken and how he thinks we can improve everyone’s health with a more holistic model. I’m about to order the book, which is of particular interest to me as a doctor.
I am one of few in today’s healthcare world. A medical doctor who has experience and insights into the “alternative health” world, which includes things like more emphasis on diet, activity, lifestyle and supplementation, as well as alternative therapies themselves. I understand the scepticism and antagonism of the medical side, because I have seen way too much nonsense and pseudoscience in alt-medicine and the ways that can harm people. But I can also understand the same feelings people have about conventional medicine, because of seeing the way the current healthcare model is “sick-care” not “healthcare” and how we fail at treating things like chronic disease (the bane of the modern world). I also see how both systems are vital and necessary, and if only they could combine and work together in a progressive way (holla at functional medicine), we could be saving way more lives, and ending huge amounts of suffering.
I’m not practising functional medicine yet as I’m still in training in the conventional realm, but in my various hospital jobs, as well as a 4 month GP post, I’ve encountered a few patients who asked about or were keen on some ‘alternative’ to conventional medicine. I was able to encourage them where appropriate, dispel any myths, and educate them on details (for example advising people that the best way to replenish vitamin D is via sun exposure, or that as diabetics they should reduce refined carbs and vegetable oils, with a focus on more whole foods).
I’ve also seen the various ways other doctors have handled the above, some wholly positive, some not. Mainly, I’ve seen docs respectfully acknowledge the patient was seeing someone on the alt side, or practising their own lifestyle/diet, but not offer comments or opinions, mainly I guess because most doctors don’t know much about nutrition/lifestyle management, acupuncture, herbs or whatever. I have a few memories of what I thought were negative responses. I remember a time as a medical student sitting in on a GP clinic; a patient perhaps in his 50’s came in regarding some medical issue I cant remember, and proudly showed the doc his new fitness tracker (a Jawbone Up actually; I remember because at the time I had also recently bought one). He was saying how good it was that it tracked steps and also sleep. The doc just made a slightly sarcastic comment about how it was more like obsessive OCD behaviour. That irked me at the time, because here was a patient (an IDEAL patient if you ask me) who was taking control and being an active participant in his own health, and instead of encouraging it, the doctor dismissed it as being ‘overly obsessive’. It’s a broken medical system if this is the norm (and sadly, it is, but thankfully there are exceptions). On a more positive note, I also have a fond memory while filing medical notes at my part-time job (also during medical school) of seeing a letter written by a consultant pain specialist about how he’d recommended Chris Kresser’s book “The Paleo Cure” for diet and lifestyle information. A consultant knowing how food and lifestyle can positively improve chronic pain, AND pointing the patient in the correct direction! I also remember the lecture by a consultant psychiatrist who told us that when a patient with mild depression presents, he first gives them an exercise plan, then sees them in a few weeks, only moving onto medication if this potent lifestyle intervention was not effective enough.
I’m glad there are doctors practising a more holistic approach to treating chronic disease, but we’re still a long way behind positive collabaration and healthcare change. I think we will get there, because the importance of changing how we treat chronic disease is becoming more and more evident. Just as an example, Pfizer recently halted alzheimers drug research, because NEWSFLASH; treating neuro-degenerative disease with pharmaceuticals ain’t that effective. There’s also more evidence coming out that challenges our standard pathogenesis model which assumes that Alzheimer’s is caused solely by amyloid and tau plaques building up in the brain. It seems that the best cure in this case really is prevention, and studies like the MIND diet, and this small study looking at lifestyle intervention offer hope that there ARE ways to get on top of this crisis. And this is why I’m so passionate about HEALING and helping people have truly optimised health, despite the obstacles in my way as a conventional doctor. I’m really glad to be part of these amazing functional medicine/paleo/primal/biohacking communities that are paving the way forward!