Spotlight: All I Want For Christmas Is Lifestyle Medicine

Marc Braman, MD, MPH
ACLM Executive Director / Past President

As awareness of Lifestyle Medicine slowly increases, we at ACLM are seeing a steady increase in the number of inquiries of all types wanting Lifestyle Medicine.  Many of these requests are from patients or family members of patients struggling with major health challenges and not able to find skilled, knowledge health care professionals in evidence-based Lifestyle Medicine.  Some are from health care students or residents, struggling to find some training somewhere in the existing system that relates to treating the causes of disease as the basis of treatment.  And of course, there are the professional inquiries, both those in clinical practice seeking to provide better, more effective care to their patients, as well as those in academic and teaching settings.  There is also activity on the organizational level with pioneering professionals on various continents coming together to lay the foundations for Lifestyle Medicine professionally globally.

Christmas is a time for reflection, family, stories, and gifts.  So in our Christmas edition of Lifestyle Medicine In Action we share stories of the hunger and need for Lifestyle Medicine.  And the “gifting” opportunity that exists.

Patient Pleas

Let’s start with patients.  Patients are really what it is all supposed to be about anyway, right?  Unfortunately, health care has largely forgotten about the patient.  There is so much pushing and jostling for position and “turf” and dollars in health care these days.  Patients are bounced around like pinballs in a crazy game controlled by others.  We see and hear this very clearly in the pleas for help we receive at ACLM.

One of the recent cases was one I got more personally involved in.  A lady on one coast was calling (over and over) on behalf of her sister who lived in the central U.S.  Her sister was in a lot of pain, the doctors she was seeing and all the multitude of medications she was taking were not helping her.  The story was that the doctors told her, after many tests, that “every vein in her body was plugged” -- I understood this to mean that she had severe diffuse vascular disease: cardiac causing pain and limited function, peripheral with claudication, etc, etc.  The lady had seen one of the documentaries related to Lifestyle Medicine and was desperately seeking to find someone somewhere in the middle part of the country that could help her sister.  She wasn’t finding anyone.

We did our best to help her locate an ACLM member or find some other solution.  I believe she eventually made connections with one of the ACLM Advisors in a way that was going to help address her sisters problems.

I find it very strange that with such an expensive health care system patients can’t find anyone who can use cause-correction effectively, and have to suffer and die needlessly.  It is also strange that our system largely precludes such care by not paying for Lifestyle Medicine while paying very large amounts for symptom management.

Here is an inquiry from one lady who gave us permission to share her story (we have abbreviated her name and city anyway).  It illustrates that challenges that people face in trying to implement Lifestyle Medicine well, and sort out evidence-based health care from non-evidence-based care:

My name is CP. I live in XYZ, Nevada and am 37 years old.
Everything in Forks Over Knives makes perfect sense to me, and I have lived as a vegan before. Yet, when I try now, I do not do well--bloating, low energy, hypoglycemic reactions, etc...
I currently seem to be doing well on an adrenal supportive diet I am following from a book by Dr. Berg but I hate that I feel so good on it as it is a lot of animal products.

I have been dealing with health issues since I was 17 (IBS, Candida, mold poisoning, allergies, environmental illness, chemical sensitivity, acne, low adrenals, sluggish thyroid, depression, etc...) I have tried the normal alternative treatments you are probably familiar with since Western medicine told me my symptoms were in my head long ago.

I do well. I have two children, volunteer at my church as the director and main teacher of Sunday school--as well as chanting and singing, and I work as a birth doula and assistant midwife.
I would love some help to figure out why I do not react well to a whole plant based vegan diet (I do limit greatly any candida aggravating foods as well as try to juice a lot so I can keep the grains and beans more limited due to their seeming bloating affect on me). I must be doing something wrong and/or missing something.

It would be expensive to travel to Oregon and difficult on my children. My hope is that because I already know a lot and am willing to get any blood work you need, you could consult me over the phone.

Thank you so much!

Other stories are of people with ulcerative colitis, renal failure, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple health conditions on many medications wanting to change their lifestyle and reduce their medications and live long and well.  They need medical guidance.  They need a comprehensive, correct-the-cause-based approach to care.  They can’t find anything but rapid-prescribing physicians with no time or apparent interest in helping them achieve health.  It is heart breaking, and frustrating for both them and us here at ACLM.

The Passionate Public

Let’s not forget the public -- or at least those with a moderate or greater interest in health.  There have been a plethora of health-related documentaries in recent years.  So much so, that I have read reviews by professional reviewers bewailing having to review “another health documentary”.  This is both indicative of public interest and arouses further public interest.  Many of the patient inquiries (and a few professional ones) are traceable to one or more of these health documentaries.  It is interesting that when you go to many of their websites, they have functions and content about a “movement”.  The problem is that there has been no professional “nidus” to serve as the base for such a movement.  Hopefully ACLM can be that “nidus.”

“The Young Are Restless”

It is often the young who are the pioneers of change.  They still have their ideals.  They still remember why they went into medical school or other health care programs.  They have not yet become overwhelmed or numb-downed with the current dysfunctional system.  They want Lifestyle Medicine!  Some have formed the “Professionals In Training” group within ACLM to represent our younger colleagues and the future of health care.

We get inquiries from medical students, residents, other health care students asking where they can find Lifestyle Medicine elective rotations.  Or asking for guidance on selecting a residency program.  They want to do Lifestyle Medicine but it is not present in the current system.  They have to do what many of us have done and find some traditional residency that is at least friendly to Lifestyle Medicine, and the really good ones actually have something formally in the training agenda.  It is very small usually, but at least it is on the radar.

I so appreciate and resonate with those who won’t be satisfied with a simple reply but insist on talking by phone or having more detailed communication.  They are so desperate to find something better.  The options in the current system seem so bleak to those trying to find a better way.

The Professionals

It is encouraging to hear from those still passionate about better care and striving to provide effective, health-improving care to their patients.  They are the ones who haven’t stopped fighting and succumbed to the status quo like most.  I have a large amount of respect for such professionals, because it requires noble motives deep in their being to try to do better.  “Swimming against the current” is a big understatement.

We have all types of physicians and non-physicians struggling for better health care in practice.  There are Ob/Gyns, Family Practice, Plastic Surgeons, Oncologists, Gastroenterologists, Cardiologists, Pediatricians, etc.  There are nurses, nurse practitioners, dieticians, psychologists, exercise physiologists, etc.

The professionals want professional representation -- they want to be a part of something better -- not just them against “the system.”  They want evidence-based guidelines, training, support.  They want to know how to make a living doing better care (this is a BIG, universal need!).  Some are seeking to incorporate effective, tangible Lifestyle Medicine components into their current practices.  Some would really like to make a complete transition into a total Lifestyle Medicine practice.

On the academic or organizational side we are have very good collaboration with leaders from several continents about formal establishment of Lifestyle Medicine professional representation developing together.  Things are most tangible in Australia and Europe.  We are having insistent request for help, collaboration, resources from Africa and the Philippines.  We have increasing inquiries from professionals in India and the Middle East.  Things are starting to happen in South America.

The Challenge And The Solution

It is hard to have so few resources in the face of such need.  We are unable to effectively respond to all the inquiries we are receiving.  Let us continue to press together, keeping our passion alive of how we went to medical school to positively impact patients lives.  The solution will come.  Let’s give patients, students and professionals what they really want for Christmas -- if not this year, then as soon as possible in the future.  Let’s give them Lifestyle Medicine!