Physicians May Be Missing Their Most Important Tool

Physicians May Be Missing Their Most Important Tool
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What might happen if nutritional excellence were taught in medical school?

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Most deaths in the United States are preventable, and related to nutrition. Given that the #1 cause of death and the #1 cause of disability is diet in this country, surely nutrition is the #1 thing taught in medical school. Sadly, that is not the case.

Nutrition receives little attention in medical practice, and the reason may stem, in large part, from the severe deficiency of nutrition education at all levels of medical training, writes a group of prominent physicians. After all, a whole foods plant-based diet low in refined carbs and animal products has been proven to reverse heart disease, for example–our #1 killer–and confer potent protection against type 2 diabetes and cancer–two other leading killers. So, how has this knowledge affected medical education? Medical students are still getting less than 20 hours out of four years on nutrition, and even most of that has limited clinical relevance. Thirty years ago, only 37% of medical schools had a single course in nutrition. According to the last national survey, that number has since dropped to 27%, and it gets even worse after they graduate.

Here is the official list of all the requirements for those specializing in cardiology. You have to perform 50 stress tests, participate in at least 100 catheterizations, etc., but nowhere in this 34-page list of requirements is there any mention of nutrition. Maybe they leave that to the primary care docs? In the official 35-page list of requirements for internal medicine doctors, not a single mention of nutrition.

There are no requirements for nutrition before medical school either. Instead, those who want to be doctors need to take things like calculus, organic chemistry, and physics, most of which are irrelevant to the practice of medicine. So, why are they required? Mainly to “weed out” students. But shouldn’t we be weeding out based on skills a physician actually uses? The pernicious and short-sighted nature of this process of selection becomes evident when one realizes that those qualities that may lead to success in some premedical organic chemistry course, like a brutal competitiveness or unquestioning, meticulous memorization, are not necessarily the same qualities we need in competent clinicians.

How about requiring a course in nutrition instead of calculus, or ethics instead of physics?

Despite the neglect of nutrition in medical education, the public considers physicians to be among the most trusted sources for nutrition-related information. But if doctors don’t know what they’re talking about, they could actually be contributing to diet-related disease. To stem the surging tide of chronic illness in the United States, physicians need to become part of the solution.

Yes, there’s still much to learn about the optimal diet, but we don’t need a single study more to take nutrition education seriously—immediately. It is the low-hanging fruit of health care. We have had the knowledge we need for some time; what we need now is the will to put it into practice. By emphasizing the powerful role of nutrition, we could dramatically reduce suffering and needless death.

For example, the Million Hearts Initiative. Each year more than two million Americans have a heart attack or stroke; so, our government launched a Million Hearts Initiative to prevent one million of the ten million heart attacks and strokes that will occur in the next five years. But, “Why stop at a million?” a doctor asked in response. We already have all the information we need to eradicate atherosclerotic disease, our #1 killer, which is virtually nonexistent in populations who consume plant-based diets. Some of the most renowned cardiovascular pathologists in the world have stated that we just need to get our cholesterol low enough to not only prevent the disease, but reverse it in more than 80% of patients, opening up arteries without drugs and surgery, stabilizing or improving blood flow in 99% of those who choose to eat healthy and clean up their bad habits, essentially eliminating their risk of having a heart attack even in the most advanced cases of heart disease.

Nevertheless, these concepts are not even taught in medical school. Instead, the focus is on cutting people open, which frequently provides only symptomatic relief because you’re not actually treating the cause of the disease. The solution, then, is to fix medical education. Knowledge of nutritional excellence can help physicians annihilate the world’s leading killer.

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 Retama via Wikimedia Commons.

Most deaths in the United States are preventable, and related to nutrition. Given that the #1 cause of death and the #1 cause of disability is diet in this country, surely nutrition is the #1 thing taught in medical school. Sadly, that is not the case.

Nutrition receives little attention in medical practice, and the reason may stem, in large part, from the severe deficiency of nutrition education at all levels of medical training, writes a group of prominent physicians. After all, a whole foods plant-based diet low in refined carbs and animal products has been proven to reverse heart disease, for example–our #1 killer–and confer potent protection against type 2 diabetes and cancer–two other leading killers. So, how has this knowledge affected medical education? Medical students are still getting less than 20 hours out of four years on nutrition, and even most of that has limited clinical relevance. Thirty years ago, only 37% of medical schools had a single course in nutrition. According to the last national survey, that number has since dropped to 27%, and it gets even worse after they graduate.

Here is the official list of all the requirements for those specializing in cardiology. You have to perform 50 stress tests, participate in at least 100 catheterizations, etc., but nowhere in this 34-page list of requirements is there any mention of nutrition. Maybe they leave that to the primary care docs? In the official 35-page list of requirements for internal medicine doctors, not a single mention of nutrition.

There are no requirements for nutrition before medical school either. Instead, those who want to be doctors need to take things like calculus, organic chemistry, and physics, most of which are irrelevant to the practice of medicine. So, why are they required? Mainly to “weed out” students. But shouldn’t we be weeding out based on skills a physician actually uses? The pernicious and short-sighted nature of this process of selection becomes evident when one realizes that those qualities that may lead to success in some premedical organic chemistry course, like a brutal competitiveness or unquestioning, meticulous memorization, are not necessarily the same qualities we need in competent clinicians.

How about requiring a course in nutrition instead of calculus, or ethics instead of physics?

Despite the neglect of nutrition in medical education, the public considers physicians to be among the most trusted sources for nutrition-related information. But if doctors don’t know what they’re talking about, they could actually be contributing to diet-related disease. To stem the surging tide of chronic illness in the United States, physicians need to become part of the solution.

Yes, there’s still much to learn about the optimal diet, but we don’t need a single study more to take nutrition education seriously—immediately. It is the low-hanging fruit of health care. We have had the knowledge we need for some time; what we need now is the will to put it into practice. By emphasizing the powerful role of nutrition, we could dramatically reduce suffering and needless death.

For example, the Million Hearts Initiative. Each year more than two million Americans have a heart attack or stroke; so, our government launched a Million Hearts Initiative to prevent one million of the ten million heart attacks and strokes that will occur in the next five years. But, “Why stop at a million?” a doctor asked in response. We already have all the information we need to eradicate atherosclerotic disease, our #1 killer, which is virtually nonexistent in populations who consume plant-based diets. Some of the most renowned cardiovascular pathologists in the world have stated that we just need to get our cholesterol low enough to not only prevent the disease, but reverse it in more than 80% of patients, opening up arteries without drugs and surgery, stabilizing or improving blood flow in 99% of those who choose to eat healthy and clean up their bad habits, essentially eliminating their risk of having a heart attack even in the most advanced cases of heart disease.

Nevertheless, these concepts are not even taught in medical school. Instead, the focus is on cutting people open, which frequently provides only symptomatic relief because you’re not actually treating the cause of the disease. The solution, then, is to fix medical education. Knowledge of nutritional excellence can help physicians annihilate the world’s leading killer.

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 Retama via Wikimedia Commons.

Doctor's Note

I’ve previously addressed how doctors tend to know less than they think they do about nutrition. No surprise, given most medical schools in the United States fail to provide even a bare minimum of nutrition training, with mainstream medical associations actively lobbying against additional nutrition training.

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