Imagine a group of physicians’ forming a professional organization to support the practices of diet, exercise and clean habits, rather than medications and surgery, for the treatment of diseases. That group just had its 3rd annual meeting in Southern California (Ontario) and it ended with all attendees full of optimism. Medical doctors and research scientists from as far away as France came to share their knowledge during this 4-day symposium. This professional meeting was unique in that there were no sponsors from industry. No speakers were paid for by the pharmaceutical companies. No booths from the food industries were present. No free dinners or theater tickets were given out by drug-sellers. And not a single free vitamin-supplement sample was to be had. Most importantly, all of the presentations were oriented toward helping patients with lifestyle interventions. Scientifically-backed tools for the prevention, treatment, and management of disease were shared with medical doctors, dietitians, nurses, along with health professionals from every discipline.
Lifestyle Medicine interventions include diet (nutrition), exercise, stress management, smoking and alcohol cessation, along with many other non-drug modalities. Among the members of this college there is almost universal agreement that the right diet for the treatment of chronic diseases—like obesity, type-2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, osteoporosis, gastrointestinal ailments, and many forms of cancer—is based on plant foods. The practice of lifestyle medicine saves surgery and drugs for the last resort in most cases, and usually requires the reduction and discontinuation of medications prescribed before the lifestyle intervention began.
What is the American College of Lifestyle Medicine?
The American College of Lifestyle Medicine is the first national professional society for clinicians who focus on the cause and cure of common chronic diseases. The college provides leadership, education, and assistance to members.
Originally the membership was limited to medical doctors and health professionals who held doctorates in health-related fields (doctorate in nutrition, doctorate in public health, etc.). However, during this meeting the board of directors created a new classification called associate members which will include many certified health professionals with an interest in lifestyle medicine, such as dietitians, exercise physiologists, nutritionists, and nurses.
Hopes for the American College of Lifestyle Medicine
During this symposium I found myself among enthusiastic, like-minded, talented health-professionals. Everyone seemed to understand the serious harm being caused to people by our present health care system, which is dominated by pharmaceutical and device companies. By working as a group, the members of ACLM can gain greater attention and resources can be dedicated to solving serious problems.
(The following thoughts are mine and not to be misinterpreted as those of ACLM.)
The college can train medical doctors, dietitians, nurses and other health care professional in the practice of lifestyle medicine. These people will then hold a special title; for example, “a lifestyle medicine dietitian.” This title will help patients and referring doctors understand the kind of care that will be provided by this professional.
With the strength behind the ACLM, governing bodies of health professionals can be influenced and legislation can be proposed to state, local and federal governments. Changes could be made, such as:
The possibilities are as limitless as are the problems that need to be resolved in order to give people a fair chance for a healthy life.
The ACML can encourage health insurance companies to increase reimbursement to doctors for educating patients about healthier living. Doctors can be rewarded for stopping or reducing medications rather than prescribing for the slightest questionable indication. Eliminating unnecessary surgery or recommending less aggressive treatment when appropriate can become a financial incentive for the doctors.
An effective public relations arm of the ACLM can enable its members to comment on every newsworthy headline, providing the public with the diet and lifestyle point of view.
Scientific research relevant to the welfare of people rather than the profits of industry can be sponsored and/or financed by the ACLM.
Highlights of the Meeting
A complete schedule of the meeting can be found at http://www.lifestylemedicine.org/sympschd.html.
The opening address was given by me (John McDougall, MD). I originally turned down the opportunity to make this presentation because I was concerned that my strong feelings about the failings of standard medical care and my enthusiastic endorsement of a low-fat vegan diet might not set an appropriate tone for the meeting. Further encouragement from the organization’s president, John Kelly, MD, caused me to accept the leadoff lecture. Fortunately, I was “preaching to the choir” for the most part. In scientific, but easy to understand, terms, I explained why the present approach of treating chronic diseases with medications, surgery, and radiation cannot possibly succeed. My hour and a half talk focused on treatments for hypertension, diabetes, heart surgery and breast cancer. A DVD of this talk can be purchased from us for $6 plus $10 S&H (Priority Mail)
John Abramson, MD, author of the national best selling book Overdo$ed America, was the keynote speaker. He told me that he now spends a good share of his time working on lawsuits involving heart disease deaths from the arthritis drug, Vioxx. Considerable research and writing of his now focuses on the overuse of statins to lower cholesterol. According to Dr. Abramson we spend twice as much as other countries on health care in the USA, yet we have one of the lowest healthy life expectancies. Between 2000 and 2005 health insurance costs went up 73%, yet premature death increased at the same time. He believes 1/3 of the health care performed in the USA is unnecessary or harmful.
Dr. Cyril Kendall, PhD from the University of Toronto discussed his finding on people following a diet that was similar to that of apes, eating plant foods all day long. Benefits included weight loss along with cholesterol reductions rivaling those achieved with powerful statin drugs.
Dr. Michael de Lorgeril, MD, PhD was our after banquet speaker. He is the primary investigator of the Lyon Heart Study—a study showing reduction of heart disease by following the Mediterranean Diet. In the past, many of my colleagues have told me that the Lyon Heart study was the turning point for them—allowing them for the first time to believe diet does have something to do with disease. Dr. de Lorgeril focused on the importance of fruits and vegetable. Unfortunately, he also made a big push to add oils, like fish oil and olive oil, to a heart-healthy, Lyon diet. I asked him if he was worried about aggravating the epidemic of obesity in America and Europe by adding all that extra oil. He told the audience that he was a cardiologist concerned about heart disease deaths and not obesity.
The closing presentation was also given by me (John McDougall, MD) on “Diet and Multiple Sclerosis” with a subtitle of: “Are doctors capitulating to the pharmaceutical industry? Again?” No one questions my enthusiasm or knowledge—they only wonder whether I could become a bit more diplomatic.
The next ACLM meeting is tentatively scheduled to be held early fall of 2007.