Project: Health News
Despite being largely preventable by nutrition and lifestyle factors alone, chronic disease now accounts for almost 80 per cent of Australian illness and injury.
This was one of the key messages delivered to more than 550 doctors, scientists, academics, nutritionists and allied health care professionals at the inaugural Science of Nutrition in Medicine and Health Care conference (May).
The conference was hosted by the Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine (ACNEM), CSIRO Food & Nutritional Sciences and the Nutrition Society of Australia (NSA) to represent a growing call for nutrition to be legitimised as medicine.
ACNEM’s CEO Stephen Penman says inappropriate nutrition and smoking are the two largest contributors to chronic diseases including obesity, heart disease, stroke, cancer, respiratory disease and diabetes. They are followed closely by physical inactivity.
“Chronic illnesses are largely preventable, lifestyle‐related conditions of long duration and generally slow progression, resulting in billions of dollars of potentially avoidable healthcare spending and untold personal cost,” Penman says. “In the US, more than half of the ten leading causes of death have been shown to relate to poor dietary practices.”
ACNEM board member Dr Ron Ehrlich (right) says our current health care model is unsustainable and in crisis. “When people present to a doctor with depression, they’re given a prescription for anti-depressants; anti-anxiety drugs for anxiety; anti-inflammatory drugs for inflammation, which means the root cause of the issue is not being addressed,” he says.
“What we are advocating is that medical practices be more patient (not drug) centred and focus on the whole person, their food and lifestyle choices.”
KEY CONFERENCE MESSAGES
1) NUTRITION IS LEGITIMATE MEDICINE
We are what we eat.
“There is so much evidence to show that if we eat well, we are well; but if we’re unwell it’s because we are making poor food choices,” Dr Ron says. The mounting research dates as far back as 1930s in Weston A Price’s study of health across indigenous cultures.
“Weston A Price found that people eating nutrient dense foods full of vitamins, minerals and fat soluble vitamins did not present with tooth decay, had room for all 32 teeth in their mouth and didn’t have any of modern society’s degenerative diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer or arthritis,” Dr Ron says.
2) DOCTORS NEED BETTER NUTRITIONAL EDUCATION
The Australian Medical Council’s (AMC) goals for medical education state that graduates completing basic medical education should understand common condition management strategies that include nutritional therapies.
“GPs are ideally placed to influence patient attitudes and behaviours,” says Penman. “However there is little or no nutritional or environmental medicine education in GP curricula either during registrar training or for continuing medical education and professional development purposes.”
Spokesperson for the Royal College of Australian General Practitioners Dr Ron McCoy, however, says doctors are exposed to nutritional education but it’s integrated across different subjects such as biochemistry and gastroenterology.
The conference called for better education to be available for both medical students and doctors alike.
The emerging science of epigenetics tells us that our environment – food, toxins, radiation, thought patterns – will impact our genes’ ability to express themselves.
“That means that the food we eat has the potential to influence which genes express themselves,” Dr Ron says. “If we eat well, that will express itself in your genes which is incredibly empowering for individuals wanting to take control of their health.”
Professor Michael Fenech, Principal Research Scientist at CSIRO Food & Nutritional Sciences, says the positive impact good nutrition has on our gene expression is also passed on to future generations. “Through nutrition that is properly designed to prevent DNA damage and matched to one’s genetic make-up we can influence not only our own predisposition to disease or illness but also that of our children,” he says.
4) REAL HEALTH OR BIG BUSINESS
Our health care system is the perfect business model for food and pharmaceutical industries. “Eating processed foods creates the problem and then the drug industry comes in to manage it,” Dr Ron says. “It is the perfect business synergy but unfortunately it creates the perfect health storm as well.”
5) RESPONSIBLE PARTNERSHIPS
While doctors need better education, Dr Ron says great individual health is achieved when people stop outsourcing their health and start taking responsibility for it.
“If the only thing you know about your health is your doctors phone number or what you see on TV, then we have a problem,” he says.
Take responsibility today by ensuring the food you eat is natural, unprocessed and nutrient dense.