Don't wait for 7,000 studies to tell you to be healthier - opinion

Even when medical studies point to medical issues, not much is done to resolve them for too long.

 CIGARETTES ON display at a convenience store in Safed carry warnings that smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke and other harm to smokers and their children.  (photo credit: David Cohen/Flash90)
CIGARETTES ON display at a convenience store in Safed carry warnings that smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke and other harm to smokers and their children.
(photo credit: David Cohen/Flash90)

I’m frustrated! 

Why? 

To quote Dr. Michael Greger, the author of the bestselling books How Not to Die and How Not to Diet, “We have the cure, since 1990, there should be no heart disease.” And the evidence is conclusive. 

What happened in 1990? The Lancet medical journal published a landmark study by Dr. Dean Ornish showing indisputably that diet can not only prevent heart disease but it can reverse heart disease. This trial lasted five years and had the most amazing results. 

Yes, as Dr. Greger points out, that should have been the beginning of the end of an epidemic that kills 680,000 people every year in the United States and one in which there is a heart attack every 39 seconds. So, if we have the cure, why is this still the No. 1 or No. 2 killer in every industrialized country? Let’s take a step even further back.

A woman smokes a cigarette as she sits on a bench in Liverpool, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Liverpool, Britain, May 26, 2020 (credit: PHIL NOBLE/REUTERS)A woman smokes a cigarette as she sits on a bench in Liverpool, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Liverpool, Britain, May 26, 2020 (credit: PHIL NOBLE/REUTERS)

Smoking 

Let’s move to a different year – 1964. It was in that year that one of the most dramatic pronouncements in the history of public medicine took place. It was on January 11 of that year that then-US surgeon general Dr. Luther Terry proclaimed that based on 7,000 studies and reports, cigarette smoking is a cause of lung cancer and laryngeal cancer in men, a probable cause of lung cancer in women and the most important cause of chronic bronchitis. 

And so it began. By 1969, cigarette packages required warnings and by 1970, there were no longer advertisements for tobacco on television. As time went on, more negative conclusions were drawn about smoking and ads were cut in other publications. Ultimately, the percentage of Americans smoking dropped from almost half the adult population to the 12.5% of the population today. 

At first glance, this was a great success from the point of view of public health. But let’s look closer. Why did it take 7,000 studies to finally prompt the surgeon general to make this great pronouncement? How many lives could have been saved had this come out after two or three thousand studies? As Dr. Greger points out, shouldn’t that have been enough? Unfortunately, this pattern continues.

We absolutely know how to prevent and reverse heart disease. The same goes for type 2 diabetes. Ten years after Dr. Ornish did his trial, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn did a similar trial with the same fantastic results. In the angiography from one of Dr. Esselstyn’s patients, himself a surgeon, there is an amazing image to see. Dr. Joe Crow finished a surgery and felt a crushing pain in his chest. He was taken to emergency; they found that he was having a heart attack. His left anterior descending artery was blocked, but they were unable to use a stent or do a bypass because of location. 

He did Dr. Esselstyn’s program and 30 months later, the imaging shows a totally repaired artery. The image can be found on Dr. Essestyn’s website or in his book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. One can look at the original angiography of the Ornish trial and additional images from the Esselstyn trial. These images are astonishing.

If we have the cure, for this and other diseases as well, why does chronic disease still ravage the Western world? Why have organized medical societies been so opposed to adding hours of nutrition education in medical school, when poor food choices are now the No. 1 preventable cause of disease in the world?

The global industry for stents is valued at more than $6 billion and for statin drugs more than $16b. How well do they work? The very latest meta-analysis done on the effectiveness of statins is unimpressive to say the least. Published March 14 in JAMA Internal Medicine, this analysis of 21 randomized trials showed only a negligible outcome of preventing all-cause mortality. Stents? A 2019 study done by Stanford and New York universities showed no benefit in heart disease mortality rates among stable patients. Meaning, only used in emergencies can stents be lifesaving. 

Roughly half of bypasses and stents are elective surgery and not used for emergencies. These procedures treat symptoms of disease but don’t address the root causes. Where does this leave us? Nothing will have an impact on our health more than changing to a diet of whole foods and mostly plants. Add to that getting rid of most of the oils in the diet and for sure eliminating processed foods and one can prevent and reverse disease. And you can do a better job than pharmaceuticals and stents.

“No number on a blood test ever gave anyone a heart attack or stroke, but what passes between your lips every day will.”

Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn

Stents do have their place, they do and can save your life, but for the long term and permanent results, the six principles of lifestyle medicine come into play. A plant-strong diet, exercise and activity, a good night’s sleep, don’t smoke, good stress management and good social integration. To quote Dr. Esselstyn, “No number on a blood test ever gave anyone a heart attack or stroke, but what passes between your lips every day will.” 

Back to our original question about sick care and healthcare. Our current system is busy putting out fires but leaving the embers burning. Through drugs (many of which are cytotoxins), surgeries, radiation and various procedures, we can slow the progress of chronic disease or maintain a status quo. 

But modern medicine is engaged in sick care. Healthcare would be to invoke these six principles in lifestyle as first-line medicine, first to prevent illness and then to be used in conjunction with minimal use of drugs and surgeries when necessary. Let us finally create a society that does not spend too much time waiting in doctor’s offices, waiting for appointments, suffering the toxic side effects of many drugs and suffering with disabilities from diseases that are highly preventable and in most cases, reversible. 

Remember the 7,000 studies needed for the world to come out against smoking cigarettes? I’ll let you in on a well-kept secret. There are already well over 3,000 studies already out there on the harmful effects of highly processed foods (chips, cakes, cookies, jarred sauces, bottled dressings, pop-in-the-toaster foods, refined foods, etc). Are you going to wait until 7,000? I hope not.

There is ample evidence to greatly reduce or eliminate the consumption of animal proteins including dairy and eggs. Americans are eating seven times the amount of these foods as they did 90 years ago. They are ingesting 33 kg. of oils a year per person compared to the 6 kg. they consumed in 1920. Enough! 

The healthcare revolution has already begun. Some medical schools are now adding more nutrition education and more doctors are learning about and using lifestyle medicine. In 1903, Thomas Edison said, “The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.” Don’t wait for more statistics. Eat lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and some nuts and seeds – every single day. 

Get moving! Put this into practice now and live a healthy, happy and productive life. It will “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.” 

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. He is director of The Wellness Clinic and can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at [email protected] US Line: 516-568-5027.