Nutrition as Part of a Lifestyle Medicine Practice
Nutritional counseling and supplementation is a vital component of a Lifestyle Medicine (LM) practice. But it is much more than just prescribing a multi-vitamin supplement for your patients.
Proper nutrition is best achieved through proper diet, knowing what to eat and, just as importantly, knowing what not to eat. The field of nutrition is still in its infancy and there is so much more that will be discovered in the future. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t include nutritional products in your treatment program. By applying what we already know about nutrition to your patients you can greatly improve their health.
In my opinion, the best way to improve the overall health of your patients through nutrition is help your patients improve their diet. By eating more nutritionally dense foods, your patients will have more of the nutrients that they need to stay healthy available in their systems. They may also lose weight as their bodies will be receiving more of the nutrients that they require while ingesting fewer calories. How to get the proper nutrients through diet is where a lot of controversy arises.
Many nutritional purists insist that you much eat only organically raised foods. This includes fruits, vegetables, and meats. While there are definite advantages to eating entirely organic foods, namely the reduced risk of ingesting pesticides and herbicides, increased nutritional values per unit of food, and less risk of genetically modified foods. For the increasing number of people who have a general environmental allergic syndrome eating organic can go along way to resolving their underlying health problems. This a huge part of what Lifestyle Medicine entails when you decide to incorporate this philosophy into your practice.
For the vast majority of the population with no underlying medical condition any improvement in their diet will show some improvement in health, though it may not be readily apparent to either the patient or the doctor. Trying to get your patients to completely change the way that they eat may be a daunting task, and may even be counterproductive. When patients are told that they need to completely change their diet, avoiding most of the foods that they are currently enjoying eating, they may not think that the effort to change is worth it, especially if they feel OK now. In most cases the change of diet will be easier if you attempt to improve your patient’s diets gradually, with some simple changes first, then gradually include more nutritious foods over time.
One of the reasons that I like to improve patient’s diets, rather than just instruct them on which supplements to use is precisely because of our limited knowledge of nutrition. While it may obvious that a certain patient has a specific nutritional deficiency, say calcium for example, the best solution isn’t just to increase their calcium intake. Often the symptoms of a calcium deficiency aren’t because of a calcium deficiency in the diet. It may be due to a lack of vitamin D, it may be due to a lack of absorbable calcium, it may be due to an excessive loss of calcium due to kidney problems.
Most nutrients in nature are available in the proper combinations for the ingesting organism, (people in this case) to receive maximum utilization of the nutrients. Foods that are rich sources of organic calcium—spinach and turnip greens for example, which have organic forms of calcium which are much more readily absorbable, also increase the acidity of the intestines which also increase absorption. Proper diets will also increase the amount of vitamin D which is critical for the proper assimilation and utilization of calcium. There are probably other micro-nutrients that we aren’t aware of that are necessary for proper utilization of calcium.
By contrast, if you just supplement your patient’s diet with an OTC calcium supplement, the source of calcium will typically be calcium carbonate (limestone) which is completely unabsorbable by humans. By supplementing your patient’s diets with worthless supplements, they will not see any results and will lose faith in you as their doctor. The fact that many clinical trials have used unabsorbable supplements in the study have lead to the claim that supplements have little or no value in the human diet.
If you do decide to supplement your patient’s diets, make sure that the products you use are effective. Supplements are a viable and often necessary solution to medical conditions in the short term, but for overall healthy living a proper, nutritionally sound diet is the best solution in the long run. Having knowledge in both areas will allow you to help the most patients in your practice.
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Wednesday, 28 March 2012
posted by Frederick Mayer, DC
I was very pleased that you emphasized a few key points in the article "Nutrition as Part of a Lifestyle Medicine Practice". I offer both nutritional supplements, as well as dietary consultations in my practice and I am also of the opinion that dietary changes are more important than trying to improve overall health using a supplement (especially a synthetic OTC vitamin or mineral). I was not aware that "Lifestyle Medicine" information like this was available on the HNA website. Thank you.
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