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.

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