Why changing your diet could be a lifesaver
Wednesday 24th June 2015 @ 16:49 by Anon Anonon

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‘Local boy come good’ Dr Aseem Malhotra is presently carving out a reputation as a hard hitting health campaigner around the globe.

Originally from Tameside, educated at Manchester Grammar and Edinburgh University, the London-based consultant cardiologist is spokesperson of the Academy of the Medical Royal Colleges’ Obesity Group and advisor of the National Obesity Forum.

To many he will be a familiar face appearing regularly on Sky TV and the BBC among other networks around the world, commenting on numerous and varied health issues.

Few locally however might know he is in fact from Ashton.

Back home in Tameside before jetting off to Italy to make an investigative documentary about how the Mediterranean diet could literally be a life saver for us all, he was invited to be this year’s guest speaker at the West Pennine Local Medical Committee AGM.

Published recently in the Washington Journal, Dr Malhotra has embarked on a worldwide health awareness campaign about the importance of diet even over exercise.

He has already made a name for himself highlighting the dangers of added sugars in all sorts of foods, not least those drinks aimed at the mass market and in particular children, battling the increasing scourge of obesity particularly in our young, and calling on the food industry to make significant changes.

In front of an assembled audience of local GPs at The Village in Ashton he pulled no punches in delivering his hard hitting health message.

“We have an epidemic of misinformed doctors and misinformed patients,” was his opening statement.

Why? This he said was down to biased funding of research, funded because it is profitable rather than beneficial for patients, biased reporting in medical journals, biased patient pamphlets, biased reporting in the media, commercial conflicts of interest, defensive medicine, and a failure to teach doctors how to comprehend and communicate health statistics.

His audience was mostly stunned into silence, although most knew what to expect.

Although talking to a select group of regional GPs, his talk was as relevant, if not more so, for the average man in the street (plus present and future patients everywhere).

Which was his very point.

He supported his assertions with equally hard-hitting medical evidence from around the world.

From the US cardiologist in America who was jailed for ordering $19m of unnecessary investigations and procedures, to a medical paper that had shown unnecessary stenting in heart patients which was costing US health care $2.4 billion a year.

“There is a large and accepted body of evidence that stenting in stable coronary artery disease does not improve prognosis. It does not prevent a heart attack, it does not prolong life,” stated Dr Malhotra.

“Yet research and trials reveal 88 per cent of patients believed they were having the procedure for that very purpose.”

Interestingly when asked, more than 40 per cent of cardiologists said they would still perform the procedure even if they knew there were absolutely no benefits.

He added that former US President George Bush had apparently even received a coronary stent after a routine check up, despite having no symptoms whatsoever.

These were all examples of a culture to continually do more and where the predominant belief was that ‘more is better’ and of technological drives to meet patient’s ever growing expectations.

In his own field of work he spoke of other examples of procedures that had been followed for decades to assist heart patients, all at great cost and which were now shown to have had no benefit for heart patients at all.

His conclusion was that there was a real need for greater transparency with patients, especially with the introduction of new technologies and that naturally there would be huge savings for the health service as a result.

He quoted Jack Weinberger: “Getting beyond the ‘more is better’ assumption will require a national debate on the limitation of medicine’s power to heal and cure and on the quality of care at the end of life.”

An inability to understand health statistics was acceptable among patients trawling the internet, he stated, while incorrect reporting of statistics in the media was less forgivable, but could happen with dire consequences.

But doctors’ very understanding of health statistics could be (understandably) confused too, with the result this could lead to over treatment.

Statistics can mislead without actually lying and miss-matched framing in medical journals exaggerated the benefits and underplayed the harms of treatments, procedures and medicines, maintained the doctor.

“Over emphasis on medical treatment also detracts us from addressing lifestyle changes which is very much my area of interest and very much related and linked to our culture of over treatment,” he said.

“We know that 60 per cent of the adult UK population is now overweight or obese and perhaps more disturbingly one in three children is now in the same category by the time they leave primary school.

“If we do nothing, 90 per cent of the UK adult population by the year 2050 will be overweight or obese.

“Currently the NHS is spending around £6bn a year just on obesity alone and perhaps what is of greater concern is the cost of diabetes.

“The cost to the NHS and economy in terms of lost productivity because of Type 2 diabetes has been put at £20bn per year, and that is set to double in the next 20 years.”

Globally, according to The Lancet, quoted Dr Malhotra, poor diet now causes more disease and death than physical inactivity, smoking, and alcohol combined.

Dietary changes can have quicker results than believed, particularly for those at risk of coronary heart disease.

Dietary changes might take one to three years to have real effects, but in fact even within months the benefits can become apparent, he stated, significantly reducing the risk of death.

Just as stopping smoking – and the prevention of passive smoking – has had huge and well reported benefits – so too can a change in diet.

Mediterranean diet

A lengthy trial has revealed that a Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body and within months of changes the risk of heart attack, stroke or death has been significantly reduced.

Extra virgin olive oil and nuts are among the foods to hold the key.

In fact, one medical paper suggested that if the whole of the American population were to increase their consumption of nuts by one portion extra a week, that would prevent 90,000 deaths from heart attack and stroke in one year.

“The most powerful coronary intervention tool we have is the Mediterranean diet,” concluded Dr Malhotra.

“This is data from tens of thousands of people with randomised controlled trials. So why is it that most people do not know this?

“Because we have held back this information in health care. We have sequested it. This information is there, and its so valuable.

“When everyone in the room knows, the doctor, the nurse, the porter, the receptionist and the patient – when they all know the Mediterranean diet is the most powerful coronary prevention tool that we have, that is when we have real transparency, accountability and that’s when you can provide the best quality of health care, which we are lacking at the moment.”