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Elise on Making Medicine and Lifestyle Choices Work Together

Posted Feb 17 2011 2:59pm

A couple of months ago, I wrote a slightly controversial post about an article I’d read about another blogger who had abandoned the raw diet after a short lived, 100% raw experiment. Her own post was meant to sum up the reasons she explored raw in the first place, and why she believed it wasn’t the right choice for her. My post was meant to address some of the motives I see among the newly raw that I question or wonder about—namely, the idea that raw foods can be a magical cure all.

My friend Elise —hypercool California girl and good friend—had some wonderful comments on that post. I was so impressed that I asked her if she’d consider a guest post for me on the topic of health panaceas, and she said yes. Now, a while later, she and I have finally teemed up to share it.

It goes without saying that I consider Elise a wonderful ambassador of the plant based lifestyle, but I feel particularly lucky to welcome her because she’s also a health care professional. Elise, you’re an inspiration. Thanks for sharing your honest and intelligent thoughts!

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First and foremost, it’s an honor to be writing a guest post for Gena.  She is such an inspiration to me, and I am thrilled to call her a friend.  She’s smart and passionate about raw foodism, yet open-minded and considerate.  Reading each and every one of her posts is a pleasure, and since I’ve met her in real life too, I can assure everyone reading, she’s as personable face to face as she comes across on her blog.  Unfortunately, we are no longer neighbors, as I have left the Upper West Side to return to my native West Coast.

Before I dive right in, allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Elise and I blog about my veganish lifestyle (and other random shenanigans) at Hungry Hungry Hippie .  I am a cardiac nurse, which is why I’m particularly delighted that Gena has decided to join me in the health care realm.  Passionate as I am about food, I’m even more passionate about promoting health.  This passion is meant to be contagious, not offensive, and I want to say outright that my only intent is to generate positive discussion about this topic.

While research based care and scientific studies have led to many advances in the medical field, having professionals with diverse backgrounds is indescribably important.  I can’t stress enough how vital it is to approach patient care with a multi-disciplinary focus.  I know that Gena will be the perfect ambassador for incorporating nutritional health (specifically veganism and raw foodism) into treatment plans due to her non-threatening, knowledgeable, and passionate nature.  If there is one thing I hope to achieve with my blog, it is exactly that:  sharing the veg-friendly lifestyle with others in a non-judgmental way, and showing how beneficial it can be to one’s health.

Notice I said “can be.”  In order to avoid confusion, I want to be very clear now. Eating a plant-based diet is not magic. It’s not going to make you immune to multiple diseases overnight.  I say this half joking, but because there are people who sincerely believe such cure-all answers exist, I am semi-serious.  Case in point: Gena’s post on this article.

I won’t relaunch an entire response of my own because Gena’s eloquent rebuttal (back in October) was damn near perfect (and far nicer than mine would be).  Suffice it to say, I was annoyed that such a ridiculous and poorly researched argument got such face time.  Raw food panacea?  No.  If there were a magic solution to all diseases, I’d be out of business.  I’m not a raw foodist, but I can smell a gimmick a mile away.  And you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to know that there’s a bit of a difference between the treatment plans for acne and cancer.

However, there are certain parts of that blogger’s post that I want to address as a veg*n and as a health care professional.

I am absolutely in favor of diet as a form of disease prevention.

There have been case studies upon case studies showing the link between atherosclerosis and high cholesterol diets.  It’s fact.  Animal products have cholesterol, plants do not.  So why don’t more people add plant-based foods into their diet?  And why don’t more physicians explain this to patients?  It boggles the mind.  I make it a point to educate each and every patient about what exactly a heart healthy diet is and how it is beneficial in lowering cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing the risk of heart disease.  Did you know that cardiac disease is the number one killer in America?  And with a plant based diet it can be largely avoided!!  It is crazy that Americans are not more aware of this.  I treat patients every single day that have NO idea how their food is contributing to their disease process.  That is so sad to me.  Knowledge is power, and I wish I could shout it from the roof top.  The benefits of a veg friendly diet extend beyond cardiac health, too.  Research in diabetes has proven there are ways of stabilizing blood glucose through a plant based diet, thereby reducing and/or eliminating the need for medication. These are just two examples, but when you consider the percentage of the population that it affects, it is inspiring.

Now, to be fair, I realize there are exceptions to this.  Certain people have risk factors that extend far beyond what diet alone can reverse.  But that doesn’t mean diet can’t be a part of the equation in treatment.  It absolutely should be and I truly wish more doctors were in favor of this approach to treatment (in conjunction with whatever else they are prescribing).  So while I’m not disillusioned enough to buy into the fact that eating a raw, vegan diet will keep you free of all diseases, I do think it will keep you out of the hospital as long as possible.  Eating a whole food, plant-based diet is one part of the equation.  Getting in some form of exercise or activity is another part of the equation.  And, in theory, if you can put enough of these parts together, you can eliminate the need for the medication part.  Disease is sometimes unavoidable, but if you act responsibly now, the chances of prevention are definitely greater.  So which form of treatment sounds better, prevention or medication?  It’s a now or never kind of choice, and by not acting, you are in fact choosing the latter.

Things don’t have to be black and white.

Yes, I realize I just posed the question of prevention or medicine as if it was as simple as one or the other.  Hopefully you understand that was to make a point.  In reality, you shouldn’t have to choose either Western medicine or natural remedies.  I am optimistic that adopting parts of both will one day be more main stream, but until then, it’s the responsibility of each and every individual to maintain his/her health (and why not pull from as many philosophies as possible?).  Being proactive now will improve your life in the long run.  And that means using every means possible, whether it’s through a plant-based diet, regular exercise, herbal supplementation, massage therapy, acupuncture or any combination of principles.

In the same vein, dietary choices shouldn’t have to be all or none.  One of the reasons I love Gena’s blog is that she is inclusive in her approach to the raw foods lifestyle.  By promoting the addition of raw food, as opposed to the subtraction of cooked foods, her posts are both encouraging and welcoming.  Diet doesn’t have to be all or none, and I say this as a partial vegan with occasionally high raw phases.  To get the health benefits of plant based foods, you don’t need to go to extreme lengths or adopt an entirely new diet. You just need to know what you are eating.  Like I mentioned earlier, animals have cholesterol and plants do not, but you can make small steps in the veggie direction and still get fantastic results.  And trust me, you will get results.  Anyone who has read The Engine 2 Diet or The China Study can attest to this.  Naturally, there are far more differences between veg*n diets and carnivorous ones than cholesterol alone, but this isn’t a lecture on the nutritional benefits of superfoods like quinoa and kale.  That’s for another time…

Medicine is based on science.

One of the biggest issues I had with the aforementioned blogger’s post , was with her statement that nobody could explain how or why her depression medications functioned.  She made it seem like MDs were simply throwing pills at her without regard to their role in her disease.  I can assure you, there are decades of research and clinical trials that go on before any pharmaceuticals even reach a patient, and they are all based ENTIRELY on physiology and chemistry.  There’s no guesswork about it.  It’s science.  It’s all been proven or else it wouldn’t be used.  The notion that medication would be prescribed for someone without the knowledge of how it works is ridiculous and offends me as a biologist and as a nurse (yes, I have Bachelor’s of Science in both).  This is not how responsible health care providers practice medicine, and it’s not an accurate portrayal of the profession.

[CR note: I, too, tire of everyone getting vitriolic and hysterical about prescription drugs. Sure, I think they’re tossed around by doctors too readily sometimes—for example, I think OBGYNs tend to prescribe birth control without explaining the realities of it, and I think that some doctors prescribe statins before pushing lifestyle change. This is not to be commended. But I also believe that there’s a time and a place for the intervention of pharmaceutical drugs, and favor medical professionals who can negotiate those decisions responsibly.]

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

That sounds pessimistic, but it should be common sense.  If you are looking for the simple solution, you are probably tricking yourself into thinking it’s the right way, when really it’s the easy way.  I don’t mean to sound harsh, but chances are you are not going to find wellness this way.  On the contrary, if you are looking for the healthy solution, then you are on the right track.  This path will probably require more work in the beginning, but over the long term, it’s going to end up being the easier route.  And if it’s an economic thing, you should know that the extra $$ for organic fruit and vegetables is far less expensive than what you will be paying for various medications in the future.  A month’s supply of Lipitor is $300 (go ahead and do the math for a year’s supply…and now factor in whatever other meds you may require too).  Instead of lamenting over your expensive grocery budget (which I admit, can be pretty steep), think of it as an investment in your future.  The price of prevention through diet is a fraction of the cost that your health care could end up being.  I can’t emphasize it enough, a well rounded diet based on wholesome, plant-based foods can be your first line of health care defense, preventing you from even stepping foot in the door of a hospital.  And trust me, hospitals are no picnic.  Beware of grandiose magical claims and cure-all solutions.  If it involves little or no effort, that’s a red flag.

Anyway, I hope this post inspires you to have more faith in both health care and veg*nism, and if nothing else, shows you that the two can work in harmony and don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

As you can see, it bothers me when certain people ruin what could potentially be a successful life decision for someone else.

Thank you Gena for giving me the platform to ramble :)   It’s people like you and readers like yours that are going to be the movers and shakers.  Now go forth and spread the news!

Thank you, Elise!

I’ll be back tomorrow from the other side of midterms. I miss you guys!

xo

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