Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Going Veg - From A Pharmacist's Perspective


I was sitting in my podiatrist's office one day back in February 2009 waiting to see the doctor about my plantar fasciitis.  This was only my second or third trip to see Dr. Sal and little did I know that it would change the entire course of my life.  It just so happened that the health care debate in the U.S. was heating up right around this time and a copy of Time magazine was sitting in Dr. Sal's waiting room with an article on this very topic.

This was perfect to pass the time as I was always looking for information and different points of views on the subject.  As a pharmacist this topic really touches home to me because the health and wellness of others is my passion and its the reason I get up every morning and do what I do.  So I started reading away but before I could finish my name was called by the nurse.  It was my turn!  Isn't it funny how excited we get when our name is finally called in a doctor's office?  Anyway, I brought the article into the exam room and continued to finish it while waiting for the doctor to enter.

When Dr. Sal walked in he greeted me with an energetic smile and asked how I was doing.  He noticed I was reading and asked how the magazine was treating me.  I said "Great!  I was just reading up on all this health care stuff going on."  This in turn led into a very interesting and enlightening discussion as the two of us medical gurus went back and forth on the whole debate.  And then Dr. Sal hit me with it... "You know regardless of what legislation is put forth regarding health care it will never really get to the heart of the matter."  I was a little confused and not quite sure what he meant by that but very curious as to what was to come next.


Our discussion continued as Dr. Sal explained how we needed to get healthy as a nation first if we were ever going to tackle our health care crisis.  He asked me if he'd ever given me his reading list and I said, "No, not yet.  What books are on it?".  Dr. Sal had four books on that list and being the slow reader that I am I asked him if I were only to pick 1 of the 4 books to read which one should I pick?  He replied, "The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell.  Definitely The China Study.  It should be mandatory reading before any med student is allowed to graduate medical school."

And so began my journey towards a plant-based diet as I read Dr. Campbell's research in the field of science and nutrition that spanned his career of over 40 years.  I was honestly quite stunned to find out that the vast majority of all the medical problems that we face in this country were directly linked to the foods we grew up on - meat, dairy, eggs, and processed foods.

This was not an easy pill to swallow for a couple of reasons.  First off, I grew up in rural Montana where farming, ranching, fishing, and hunting were the cultural norms for everyone around me.  We all lived off of a diet of meat and potatoes.  After all this is what real men ate as many would say back in my beloved home state.  My grandpa even had a small farm with chickens on it and I'd help him gather up all the eggs whenever I went to visit him.

So there I sit with Dr. Campbell's work in front of me telling me these very things were the reason why so many people were suffering from a myriad of chronic diseases happening all over the industrialized world.  Are you kidding me?!  I was a bit taken aback to say the least.  But there must be something to this I thought because of what I had seen in my own family over the years.  My grandfather (the one with the chicken farm) had died due to heart disease and also suffered from high blood pressure and diabetes.  One of my grandmothers was just starting to develop signs of Alzheimer's disease while the other one had severe congestive heart failure and could no longer take a simple stroll around the block without completely losing her breath.  My mother, little brother, and I had all suffered from migraine headaches for years.  And my father was recently having his cholesterol readings come back high.  I certainly didn't want to continue on the same path but could a simple change in the foods I eat prevent my genetic makeup from getting the best of me?

The second reason this plant-based diet approach sounded so far-fetched is due to the schooling I had gone through.  Pharmacy school is extremely demanding and full of more information than you could possibly ask for.  Biology, chemistry, physics, calculus, statistics, ethics, english, literature, economics - you name it we learned it.  For six straight years I had been bombarded with a vast amount of knowledge on diseases and the best ways to tackle them.  The power of the prescription pad was ingrained into my head.  There was no mention of any other way to "fix" our medical problems.  At least I can't remember any mention about using a grocery list along with our forks, knives, and spoons to prevent and reverse heart disease, diabetes, strokes, cancer, arthritis, etc.  We had been taught to practice evidence based medicine and had learned some very state of the art approaches to combat these diseases.

With this knowledge my classmates and I would embark on our careers with high hopes of curing people of their aches and pains and illnesses.  We would do this one prescription at a time and throw in some counseling for our patients so they understood what to do and not to do with each medication.  But my patients never really got better.  They just kept coming back to me with more and more prescriptions.  I eventually switched from retail to hospital pharmacy.  That was a real eye opener as I now saw the worst of the worst.  Patient medication lists routinely contain 10-15 different meds or more.  I wasn't just seeing my patients struggle to get better but watching them suffer and die now.  Once again there I sat with Dr. Campbell's book in hand telling me that all those fancy procedures and medications are for the most part ineffective.  I probably wouldn't have believed this but for the fact that all of Dr. Campbell's work was evidence based.  And evidence based is exactly how I had been trained to think and approach sickness all throughout pharmacy school.

I have since personally changed to a 100% plant-based diet and read many more works by highly respected physicians in the field of health and nutrition - Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. Neal Barnard, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr. and many others just to name a few.  I've learned just how powerful the simple act of eating fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts & seeds can go in terms of preventing and reversing a majority of the chronic diseases we suffer from in our culture.  I've experienced the benefits of a plant-based diet first hand as I've seen an increase in energy, a loss of a few pounds and my love handles, a marked decrease in the frequency of my migraine headaches, and better blood work.  I'll share with you my blood tests below so you can see just how powerful a change in the foods I ate made a difference.  And all of this was without any cholesterol lowering medications.


I'll also point out that my protein level stayed the same and is in the normal range of 6.6-8.7 gm/dl.  This is often the first question I get from many people when they learn that I avoid all meat, dairy, and eggs.  Plenty of protein is found in plant-based foods and it's actually a lot kinder to your kidneys and doesn't pose the cancer risk that animal-based proteins do.

This all may sound very profound and hard to believe and I don't blame you if this is the case.  I was thinking the very same thing just a few years ago.  Every culture throughout the world has certain foods that are handed down from generation to generation.  We've grown up eating these foods, enjoying their tastes, and being told that they will make us big and strong.  We've grown up in a culture in the U.S. where some really amazing and expensive high tech advancements in the medical field get all the attention and glory.  We've grown up in a culture where the most highly esteemed and respected physicians are the ones who make the most money and are classified as a specialist in what they do.  We've grown up in a culture that puts a high value on instant gratification and results.  We've grown up in a culture where the family dinner is served out of fast food bags instead of the oven.  But what if all of what we've grown up on is making us sick, financially broke, and having to spend the last 2 to 4 decades of our life wishing we could feel better, do more, and suffer less?  Doesn't this look like the America that we live in right now?  And wouldn't a few simple changes in how we make out our grocery list be worth it if it meant living longer and leading a healthier, happier, and more active life well into our 80's and 90's?

It's not easy to change the ideals you grew up on and the habits that you've formed over the years.  But I guarantee you this - It's worth it!  You are the only one, however, who can decide what is best for you and your family.  I truly believe that all of us share the desire to remain in good health now and well into our future.  Sometimes it just takes a little help in understanding the how's and why's along with an open mind in learning what we have to do to get there.  So may the story of this small town boy who grew up in the midst of Montana farmland later to become a pharmacist and health advocate be the Dr. Sal that comes along in your life to help you be the best that you can be.  It is with this final thought that I invite you to give a plant-based diet a try and may you never look back as you experience all the same benefits that so many others have experienced before you.  Best of luck to you and if you need more information on this topic then feel free to visit my website.

Because there's not a pill in the world that can provide you the vibrant health that you're looking for...  Go Veg!  It really can change your life!



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5 comments:

  1. Wow. This is one great article, Dustin. I have wondered how to got to where you are right now. I am going to Barnes today to get that book-my neighbor has read it twice and she's told me again and again to buy it. I feel like we eat healthy in our family, but as I read this I realize we have some serious changes to make. John and I were just saying last night how tired we are- every single day...just exhausted. Now some pieces of the puzzle may be coming together?
    Thank you so much Dustin- your last paragraph really hit me between the eyes. There's so much truth in it. Keep up the great work!

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  2. Great write up, Dustin! I love hearing everyone's vegan story, and yours is quite unique! I'm sure many people can relate to it in some way.

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  3. This day and age people turn to prescription pads too easily, and for this very reason I'm highly grateful for you sharing your insight here. It's rare we get the opportunity to candidly listen to the pharmacist's perspective, and while I realize you don't speak for all pharmacists, I certainly wish there were more out there like you.

    I'm optimistic that more and more people will turn to preventative measures, like switching to a plant-based diet to reverse, or at least diminish the effects of illnesses, for the very reason you noted -- prescription drugs aren't working. The more plant-based diets (and their benefits) are discussed, the more likely people will listen. So let's keep talking :)

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  4. What about reduction of Triglyceride? Shouldn't they be high for hair production?

    Thanks, Bjorn

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  5. What a great post, Dustin.
    I wonder if you would consider being interviewed for my website or write a guest post about your experience. I get about 700-1000 visitors a day ( most of whom are on the fence about the plant-based diet) who could greatly benefit from an example like yours.
    Love your website!
    Olga

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