Do Doctors Know Enough About Nutrition?

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

In “Teaching Doctors about Nutrition and Diet,” Pauline W. Chen, M.D. explores the disparity between inadequate nutrition training in medical schools and the need for nutritional awareness in prevention and management of chronic diseases. Noting that “the most important public health measure for any of us to take may well be watching what we eat,” Dr. Chen discusses a possible solution to the barriers most physicians currently face in providing their patients nutritional counseling: Nutrition in Medicine.

A fully developed online nutritional program, Nutrition in Medicine is offered free of charge to medical students by the University of North Carolina, and is a series of interactive multimedia instruction modules covering topics such as nutrition and dietary supplements for the elderly, cancer nutrition at the molecular level, and pediatric obesity. Also offered to practicing physicians, the Nutrition in Medicine programs may eventually help doctors earn required continuing medical education credits.

The Need for Nutritional Training in Medical Schools

When it comes to preventing and treating cancer, heart disease and diabetes, diet and proper nutrition are the most profound weapons. Unfortunately many doctors have not been educated in these areas, and must learn on their own. Conferences are a good place for doctors to start continually receiving nutritional training. For example, the American College of Nutrition offers a major conference once per year and publishes the Journal of the American College of Nutrition bimonthly.

The number-one intervention doctors employ, i.e. the “go-to plan” learned in med school, is pharmaceutical therapy, and the majority of doctors lack adequate awareness of healthier alternative options. Every doctor understands that when s/he prescribes diuretic therapy, the patient must supplement with potassium and magnesium to make up for loss of these nutrients through excessive urination. However, many doctors are not aware that most other, if not all, pharmaceutical drugs also cause enormous nutrient depletion and /or mitochondrial toxicity, and lead to further deterioration and weakening of the immune system.Very common over-the-counter drugs like aspirin, for example, deplete folic acid. Birth control pills can cause vitamin-B deficiencies. Statins interfere with the normal biochemical pathways of CoQ10. The list goes on and on.

Knowing the long term effects of pharmaceutical therapies on the body is just one reason to learn about nutrition. Another obvious reason is to be able to identify which foods and spices help prevent certain degenerative diseases, and which foods contribute to illness: the antioxidants, flavonoids and carotenoids in multicolored fruits and vegetables, for example, are some of the best deterrents against cancer and heart disease.

Reference: Chen, Pauline. “Teaching Doctors about Nutrition and Diet.” New York Times September 16, 2010.

© 2010 HeartMD Institute. All rights reserved.

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One Comment

  1. Ramon Cabiling

    on June 7, 2018 at 3:24 pm

    I enjoyed reading this article. Upon reflecting on what I read, several questions come to mind.

    First, would consuming a whole foods, plant based regimen to either prevent disease, or curb disease once it happens, be different for people with different health concerns? For example, you have 5 people; one person has stage 4 breast cancer, another person completed chemo for stage 3 Hodgekins lymphoma, another person is recovering from mild stroke, another person has just been diagnosed with non alcoholic fatty liver disease, and the fifth person struggles with low energy/adrenal stress/low thyroid – would these 5 people be on 5 different plant based ways of eating, or would they very much consume the same organic-local fruits/vegetables/nuts/seeds/whole grains – to help them heal?

    Second, you mention several sources medical professionals can go to regarding learning about nutrition and adapting it to their practice. Do you have resources health coaches or lay people interested in nutrition to help others, can go to, to learn what foods/herbs/beverages address particular health challenges and attain optimal health?

    Third, considering how top soil depletion has eroded the nutrient density/quality of organic whole foods, what role would supplements play in helping people improve health, or achieve optimal health? What should a complete and effective supplement include on its nutritional label and information section? Why do some nutritional supplements contain preservatives, binders and fillers, while others don’t? Are there any supplements you recommend which don’t contain preservatives, binders or fillers? Supplements tend to have daily value information on nutrients; however, are there any supplements out there that have optimal value information on these nutrients? If so, where can I go to find them?

    Fourth, do you have a functional nutrition program to address the health needs of toddlers, children and animals?
    Fifth, do you have information on pursuing functional nutrition as an educational pursuit and career choice? What educational programs can lay people pursue, to learn more about functional nutrition’s role in helping people heal and cleaning up the environment? What specific career choices would completion of these educational programs lead to?

    Sixth, are there any local functional nutrition organizations, meet up groups, or volunteer programs I can connect to and join in my city? (I live in Long Beach, CA). I live in LA County, California.

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