I remember when I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. The waiting room was packed.
The Endocrinologist spent barely ten minutes with me which included a diagnosis of Hypothyroidism, mentioning Hashimoto’s in passing, and resulted in me walking out with a prescription for Synthroid.
By the time I got home, I had to call the office back and ask what the doctor meant by Hashimoto’s.
It also took five years for me to finally learn about the connection between eliminating gluten to help improve an autoimmune condition.
I know that medical doctors don’t discuss nutrition during treatments.
But I can only imagine what my life would be like if I knew sooner about the connection between nutrition and disease, and didn’t have to spend those five years suffering from migraines and bowel issues.
I’m sure my situation is all too common.
Why do most medical doctors not address nutrition with their patients? Why don’t doctors spend more time during appointments addressing root cause healing with nutrition?
The Toll of America’s Unhealthy Food Habit
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), unhealthy diets contribute to approximately 678,000 deaths a year in the United States.
These poor choices in diet, nutrition, and lifestyle contribute to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, stroke, and other chronic diseases. (3)
Combine this with health care costing Americans on average $8,900 “out-of-pocket” per person per year, and we have an epidemic on our hands.
According to the Trust for America’s Health, if obesity trends were lowered by reducing the average body mass index (BMI) by only five percent, then Americans could save $158 billion over the next 10 years. (3)
Eating nutrient dense foods, maintaining a healthy weight, and partaking in physical activity are key factors in helping to prevent chronic disease.
We should be at a point where we know that healthy lifestyle habits including good nutrition and exercise help to prevent disease, right?
And at a minimum, shouldn’t we expect that our doctors understand this concept and want to help educate us during our visits? So why is it this is not the standard of care?
What happens if you ask your doctor about the latest diet craze? Or what about those superfoods you see on TV commercials? There are two major reasons why doctors do not discuss nutrition with their patients.
Two Reasons Why Doctors Don’t Discuss Nutrition with Patients
The first reason is due to the lack of training in medical school.
Most doctors spend four years completing their undergraduate degree, four years in medical school, plus at least three years in residency.
This equates to approximately 40,000 hours that students spend training to become a Medical Doctor. (2)
According to Martin Kohlmeir, a research professor in nutrition at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, “an estimated 50 to 80 percent of chronic disease, including heart disease and cancer, are partly related to or affected by nutrition.”
Yet, in a 2015 study that Kohlmeir oversaw, he found that “71 percent of four-year medical schools did not require at least 25 hours of nutrition education and fewer than 20 percent didn’t even require one nutrition course.” (1)
These hours are decreasing. Another study conducted at UNC in 2009 found that 27 percent of medical schools met the minimum standard of nutrition training compared to 38% in 2004.
In a study from the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 94 percent of internal medicine interns feel they should be responsible to discuss nutrition with their patients, but only 14 percent feel confident doing so. (2)
Dr. Madiha Saeed, MD, author of the #1 Amazon bestseller The Holistic Rx: Your Guide to Healing Chronic Inflammation and Disease agrees.
“Doctors get very little nutrition education in medical school. To make matters worse, in residency, doctors get almost no training in nutrition and limited stress management.
Doctors know that the root cause of chronic disease is inflammation but aren’t taught to address the root cause of inflammation, only how to ‘band-aid’ symptoms.”
To be fair, this failure isn’t the fault of the doctors. Medical schools don’t teach more nutrition in their courses because they teach what gets tested on the boards. (1)
Even so, you would think that in 11 years and 40,000 hours, medical schools would want our doctors to be better educated on nutrition as it relates to disease prevention.
The second reason why doctors don’t focus on nutrition and lifestyle for disease prevention is due to time and financial constraints and mandates.
Federal government programs have created laws, regulations, policies, payment systems, and oversight that adds to the overall cost of health care in America. (4)
Because of these changes, doctors must spend more time documenting the results of the patient’s appointment. (5)
Spending time with a patient discussing nutrition and prevention is not lucrative for doctors. (1)
According to Reid Blackwelder, President of the American Academy of Family Physicians, “the fee-for-service payment model rewards doctors who see patients in bulk.” (6)
Dr. Saeed elaborates, “Family physicians have to see 110 patients a week just to pay their bills. With 10-15 minute appointments (at the most), it’s difficult to take the time to address the root cause of the patient’s illness.”
Thankfully, the Tide Is Changing
There is hope. Schools like Boston University, Stanford, Texas Tech, Tufts, Tulane, UNC, and Vanderbilt are working to integrate more nutrition education in their curriculums. Stanford and Tulane have even created teaching kitchen classrooms. (1)
Additionally, the American Society for Nutrition is working to centralize nutrition-related research and recommendations for any medical school wishing to expand their program.
The Gaples Institute helps to educate doctors recently out of medical school on the basics of nutrition and how to incorporate more in their practice. (1)
However, Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University, has her doubts.
According to Nestle, “Even though the efforts at medical schools are significant, what’s really needed is for the reimbursement system to encourage preventive health care, and diet should be covered by licensing examinations and viewed as standard medical practice. Until then, we are talking about Band-Aids. (1)
It’s a Work in Progress
Until the situation improves, patients should additionally seek advice and treatment from alternative practitioners who can address root cause healing with nutrition being one of the tenants.
Dr. Sandra Scheinbaum is the founder of the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy.
During her interview in the Mystery Symptom Master Class, she explains:
“Functional medicine addresses chronic illness. It looks underneath the hood and asks why? What’s driving these conditions? And then rather than jumping to a medical intervention, drugs or surgery, to instead look at the role of diet and lifestyle.” (7)
Different kinds of alternative practitioners who address nutrition may include Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.), Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (N.D.), or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.). In addition, you can also seek out a certified health coach or nutritionist.
Dr. Sean Woods, D.C., and founder of Panacea Nutritionals, adopted nutrition in his chiropractic practice to expand the healing opportunities for his patients.
“Nutrition can be used several ways to help someone overcome illnesses and disease. The best way is through changing to a diet high in fruits and vegetables to ensure the body gets plenty of vitamins and minerals in their whole form.
The key to finding health through nutrition is to use it to create health and not to treat symptoms, these are two very different things.”
Medical doctors have their place in medicine, and you should continue your treatment.
But if your nutrition concerns aren’t being addressed or if you feel like you need more time with your doctor, then you should seek out additional treatment with an alternative practitioner.
This amazing guest post was written by Holly Bertone, PMP, and CEO of Pink Fortitude! You can check out their website here!
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