Drugs & the Demise of the Rice Diet

Drugs & the Demise of the Rice Diet
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What is the contemporary relevance of Dr. Kempner’s rice and fruit protocol for the reversal of chronic disease?

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During his career at Duke, Dr. Kempner treated more than 18,000 patients with his rice diet, which was originally designed as a treatment for kidney failure and out-of-control high blood pressure at a time when those diagnoses were like a death sentence. Patients who at that time would have died in all other hospitals had a reasonable chance of survival if they came under Kempner’s care.

The results were so dramatic that many experienced physicians suspected him of falsifying data, because he was reversing terminal diseases with rice and fruit–diseases understood to be incurable by the best of modern medicine at the time. Intensive investigations into his clinic vindicated his work, which other researchers were then able to replicate.

Kempner was criticized for his lack of controls, meaning that when patients came to him, he didn’t randomly allocate half to his rice treatment and put the other half on conventional therapy to see which group did better. Kempner argued that the patients each acted as their own controls. For example, here’s a patient before the rice diet. The medical profession threw everything they had at him, and his blood pressure was still as high as 220 over 160, whereas normal is considered more like around 120 over 80, which is where the rice diet took him. Had he not been given the rice diet, it’s true his pressure might have been even lower: zero over zero, because he’d likely be dead. The “control group” in Kempner’s day had a survival expectancy estimated at six months. To randomize patients to conventional care would be to randomize them to their deaths.

One can compare those who stuck to the diet, though, to those who didn’t. Here’s a chart showing the survival of the 70 sickest of the sick who showed up in their clinic. Of those who started the rice diet but then stopped it within a year, five lived and 19 ended up dead. For those who made it a year but then gave up the diet, instead of a 80% chance of dying, they had more like 50/50, a flip of the coin. But of those who stuck with the program, 90% lived to tell the tale.

Beginning in the late 1950s, drugs became available that effectively reduced blood pressure and hypertension, leading to a decreased demand for the rice diet. What conclusions can we draw from this all but forgotten therapy for hypertension? Not only was it the first effective therapy for high blood pressure; it may be equal to or more effective than our current multi-drug treatments.

This causes one to speculate on the current practice of placing patients on one drug, then another, and perhaps a third, until the blood pressure is controlled, with lip service advocacy of a moderate reduction in dietary sodium, fat, and protein intake, while the impressive effectiveness of the rice–fruit diet, which is able to quickly stop the leakage from our arteries, and lower increased intracranial pressure, reduce heart size, reverse the EKG changes, reverse heart failure, reduce weight, and markedly improve diabetes is ignored!

So should we return to the Kempner protocol of starting with the most effective therapy, saving drugs for patients who fail to respond, or who are unable or unwilling to restrict their diet? Look, today many people follow a vegetarian diet as a choice, which is similar to what Kempner was often able to transition people to. After their high blood pressure was cured by the rice diet, patients were often able to gradually transition to a less strenuous dietary regime without added medications and with no return of the elevated blood pressure.

So if the Kempner sequence of a strictest of strict plant-based diets to a more sane plant-based type diet offers the quickest and best approach to effective therapy, why isn’t it still in greater use? The powerful role of the pharmaceutical industry in steering medical care away from dietary treatment to medications should be noted. Who profits from dietary treatment? Who provides the support for investigation, and the funds for clinical trials? There is more to overcome than just the patients’ reluctance to change their diet.

What Kempner wrote to a patient in 1954 is as true then as it is now 60 years later: “drugs can be very useful if properly employed and used in conjunction with intensive dietary treatment.” However, high blood pressure with all its possible complications of heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, and blindness, “is still treated very casually, a striking contrast to the attitude towards cancer.” Since patients, physicians, and the chemical industry prefer the taking, prescribing, and selling of drugs to a dietary treatment inconvenient to patient and physician, and of no benefit to the pharmaceutical industry, the mortality figures for these diseases still remain rather appalling. Despite hundreds of drugs on the market now, high blood pressure remains the #1 cause of death and disability in the world, killing off nine million people a year, and diet treats the underlying cause. As Dr. Kempner explained to a patient, “If you should find a heap of manure on your living room floor, I do not recommend that you go buy some Air-Wick and perfume. I recommend that you get a bucket and shovel and a strong scrubbing brush. Then, when your living room floor is clean again,” then fine, feel free to freshen things up once the underlying cause has been removed.

As the great physician Maimonides said about 800 years ago, any illness that can be treated by diet alone should be treated by no other means.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Chris Potter via Flickr.

During his career at Duke, Dr. Kempner treated more than 18,000 patients with his rice diet, which was originally designed as a treatment for kidney failure and out-of-control high blood pressure at a time when those diagnoses were like a death sentence. Patients who at that time would have died in all other hospitals had a reasonable chance of survival if they came under Kempner’s care.

The results were so dramatic that many experienced physicians suspected him of falsifying data, because he was reversing terminal diseases with rice and fruit–diseases understood to be incurable by the best of modern medicine at the time. Intensive investigations into his clinic vindicated his work, which other researchers were then able to replicate.

Kempner was criticized for his lack of controls, meaning that when patients came to him, he didn’t randomly allocate half to his rice treatment and put the other half on conventional therapy to see which group did better. Kempner argued that the patients each acted as their own controls. For example, here’s a patient before the rice diet. The medical profession threw everything they had at him, and his blood pressure was still as high as 220 over 160, whereas normal is considered more like around 120 over 80, which is where the rice diet took him. Had he not been given the rice diet, it’s true his pressure might have been even lower: zero over zero, because he’d likely be dead. The “control group” in Kempner’s day had a survival expectancy estimated at six months. To randomize patients to conventional care would be to randomize them to their deaths.

One can compare those who stuck to the diet, though, to those who didn’t. Here’s a chart showing the survival of the 70 sickest of the sick who showed up in their clinic. Of those who started the rice diet but then stopped it within a year, five lived and 19 ended up dead. For those who made it a year but then gave up the diet, instead of a 80% chance of dying, they had more like 50/50, a flip of the coin. But of those who stuck with the program, 90% lived to tell the tale.

Beginning in the late 1950s, drugs became available that effectively reduced blood pressure and hypertension, leading to a decreased demand for the rice diet. What conclusions can we draw from this all but forgotten therapy for hypertension? Not only was it the first effective therapy for high blood pressure; it may be equal to or more effective than our current multi-drug treatments.

This causes one to speculate on the current practice of placing patients on one drug, then another, and perhaps a third, until the blood pressure is controlled, with lip service advocacy of a moderate reduction in dietary sodium, fat, and protein intake, while the impressive effectiveness of the rice–fruit diet, which is able to quickly stop the leakage from our arteries, and lower increased intracranial pressure, reduce heart size, reverse the EKG changes, reverse heart failure, reduce weight, and markedly improve diabetes is ignored!

So should we return to the Kempner protocol of starting with the most effective therapy, saving drugs for patients who fail to respond, or who are unable or unwilling to restrict their diet? Look, today many people follow a vegetarian diet as a choice, which is similar to what Kempner was often able to transition people to. After their high blood pressure was cured by the rice diet, patients were often able to gradually transition to a less strenuous dietary regime without added medications and with no return of the elevated blood pressure.

So if the Kempner sequence of a strictest of strict plant-based diets to a more sane plant-based type diet offers the quickest and best approach to effective therapy, why isn’t it still in greater use? The powerful role of the pharmaceutical industry in steering medical care away from dietary treatment to medications should be noted. Who profits from dietary treatment? Who provides the support for investigation, and the funds for clinical trials? There is more to overcome than just the patients’ reluctance to change their diet.

What Kempner wrote to a patient in 1954 is as true then as it is now 60 years later: “drugs can be very useful if properly employed and used in conjunction with intensive dietary treatment.” However, high blood pressure with all its possible complications of heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, and blindness, “is still treated very casually, a striking contrast to the attitude towards cancer.” Since patients, physicians, and the chemical industry prefer the taking, prescribing, and selling of drugs to a dietary treatment inconvenient to patient and physician, and of no benefit to the pharmaceutical industry, the mortality figures for these diseases still remain rather appalling. Despite hundreds of drugs on the market now, high blood pressure remains the #1 cause of death and disability in the world, killing off nine million people a year, and diet treats the underlying cause. As Dr. Kempner explained to a patient, “If you should find a heap of manure on your living room floor, I do not recommend that you go buy some Air-Wick and perfume. I recommend that you get a bucket and shovel and a strong scrubbing brush. Then, when your living room floor is clean again,” then fine, feel free to freshen things up once the underlying cause has been removed.

As the great physician Maimonides said about 800 years ago, any illness that can be treated by diet alone should be treated by no other means.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Chris Potter via Flickr.

Doctor's Note

For background on this amazing story, see Kempner Rice Diet: Whipping Us Into Shape.

Kempner would be proud that there is now a whole field: Lifestyle Medicine: Treating the Causes of Disease

This reminds me of the role statin cholesterol-lowering drugs have played in seducing people into the magic bullet approach, but as with all magic it appears to mostly be misdirection:

So in this day and age What Diet Should Physicians Recommend?

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