COVID-19 teaches lessons for the future of modern medicine - opinion

Modern medicine missed an opportunity to teach people how to make their bodies resistant to diseases.

 Demonstrators attend a protest against government measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Berlin, Germany, December 11, 2021 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Demonstrators attend a protest against government measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Berlin, Germany, December 11, 2021
(photo credit: REUTERS)

It’s been almost two years since COVID-19 made its appearance on the world stage. It has caused pain and sorrow, and we had to get used to a brand new way of life. The things we have taken for granted in the past aren’t that way anymore. The simple acts of visiting family or taking trips have, at times, been impossible.

But modern medicine has once again missed a great opportunity to educate the public at large on how to make our bodies resistant to catching diseases, and if we do catch it, keeping the severity at bay.

We have been so wrapped up with masking, distancing, sanitizing our hands and, of course, vaccinating, that we have overlooked what might be the single most important factor in warding off this virus and disease in general. 

When the pandemic first hit, I remember seeing an interview on Fox News with an epidemiologist. The anchor asked him what his prediction was for the United States. His answer was shocking but prophetic.

He told the questioner that he sees a very severe problem in the US simply because of the obesity epidemic. It took me a few minutes to digest his answer, but of course! Overweight and obese people have compromised immunity and, therefore, the body’s ability to fight disease is compromised. 

A Clalit health worker fills a syringe with the COVID-19 vaccine at Cinema City in Jerusalem. (credit: CLALIT HEALTH SERVICES)
A Clalit health worker fills a syringe with the COVID-19 vaccine at Cinema City in Jerusalem. (credit: CLALIT HEALTH SERVICES)

A study that was released this past August examined the diets of frontline health care workers in six different countries and how that diet affected their vulnerability to COVID-19. Those who ate a whole food plant-based diet, meaning they were primarily eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, lentils and some nuts and seeds, were 73% less likely to get moderate or severe COVID.

The next best category were those who were pescatarians, that is a similar diet but liberal in fish consumption, and they reduced their risk by 59%. What these results are actually telling us is that the better we take care of our immune systems, the better our immune system will take care of us.

Another study titled the “COVID Symptom Study,” a study of 600,000 subjects, showed a 41% lower risk of getting moderate or severe COVID on a whole food plant-based diet and a 9% lower risk of getting any COVID at all.

But wait! I heard the recommendations about masks and vaccines. I understand the government-imposed lockdowns. I even heard about not smoking. But my health care provider never told me that my diet can make such a big difference to my outcome if I do get the virus. Why not?

This question leads us to discuss the biggest downfall of mainstream medicine. Yes, our doctors save lives every day. And look how far we’ve come – infectious diseases were once the main killer in our population. Antibiotics largely put that problem at bay. Our trauma care has saved life after life after accidents and other traumatic injuries. 

When I was a young child, children who heard the word leukemia knew there was no solution to extend their lives. With all this being said, the medical establishment has come up short in the treatment of chronic diseases that now permeate Western society.

We have more drugs, procedures, surgeries and ways to take images than ever in our history,but we are also ravaged by increasing disease, illness, sickness and premature death. The idea that we can treat type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure and Western cancers like we treat a strep infection in the throat is a dead end. It’s not working and we are not curing chronic illness. At best, we manage the symptoms of disease, but we don’t eradicate it.

I’ve heard medical professionals scoff at curing type 2 diabetes and reversing heart disease with lifestyle changes, yet the research speaks for itself. Study after study, thousands and thousands of them have showed the effectiveness of lifestyle medicine over pharmaceuticals and in conjunction with them when appropriate.

Some of these studies are epidemiological and observational in nature. Other are laboratory studies and many are the gold standard randomized control studies. And many are on huge population samples done over decades. Dr. T. Collin Campbell’s works proving the effects of diet on cancer were done over a period of more than 30 years, and to prove his hypotheses, he invoked every type of research possible. (See his book: The China Study, revised edition.) 

It was as far back as 1990 that Dr. Dean Ornish showed in his five-year randomized trial that heart disease can be reversed through lifestyle. This study was published in the most prestigious medical journal, The Lancet. His combining of a whole food plant-based diet (WFPB) together with stress management techniques and some minimal exercise reduced and eliminated atrial plaque.

The control group ate the recommended diet of the American Heart Association and those participants mostly got worse while the Ornish program group got better and better. It took only three months for their quality of life to substantially change and the angiography done after the five years was of coronary arteries extremely clean and healthy. This is not achievable with drugs.

This study was replicated by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn at the Cleveland Clinic 10 years later and the initial participants are all doing great 20 years later with the exception of one who passed on from unrelated causes.

In his study, he was given participants whose cardiologists had told them there was nothing else to do and to prepare for the end of life. His study was published in the Journal of Family Medicine. Although other diets have been shown to slow the progression of diseases, none have shown a reversal in this way. 

So, if this is the case, why is heart disease the number one or two killer in the West? It should have been virtually eliminated by now. But the odds are, your cardiologist isn’t familiar with this research, and thus you are being denied the ideal way to heal.

Study after study shows lifestyle medicine’s ability to prevent and in many cases reverse type 2 diabetes, arthritis, high cholesterol, Western cancers, high blood pressure and many autoimmune diseases.

We now have multiple cases in which diseases like lupus, rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and many more have their symptoms greatly improved or eradicated. And lifestyle medicine doesn’t have the horrible side effects some medications have. Its side effects are more energy, more stamina, longer life and most importantly, great quality of life. 

It’s been almost 50 years since Nathan Pritikin, not a medical doctor, opened his first wellness center in California. As Dr. Michael Greger likes to tell it, they wheeled his grandmother in, having been given a death sentence by her cardiologist (one year to live). A few weeks later she walked out and proceeded to walk 10 miles many days each week and lived another 30 years. 

The principle of lifestyle medicine, all proven time and again is to eat a mostly WFPB diet, get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise daily (moderate walking is just fine), don’t abuse substances like tobacco and alcohol, get 7-9 hours of good restorative sleep each night and learn how to manage your stress.

Yes, there are a few other things to do, but this, by itself will decrease your chance of early mortality by 85%, according to these studies.

This is what we need to learn from this pandemic. We need to understand that it is us, each and every one of us, who must take charge of our health. It’s not up to your doctor or other health care providers. It’s up to us.

Those of us in lifestyle medicine are here to help you. There are now over 8,000 physicians who are members, many of them now board-certified, of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. This is the future of medicine and it will enable us to switch from sick care to real health care and – add hours to our days, days to our years and years to our lives.

The writer is a health  and wellness coach and personal trainer with 23 years of professional experience. He is a graduate of the eCornell University Certificate course on Plant Based Nutrition for preventing and reversing illness. Alan is director of The Wellness Clinic. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at US Line: 516-568-5027.