A leading consultant gastroenterologist, Dr. Anthony O’Connor, has warned that hospital food is bad for your health. Speaking after the annual general meeting of the Irish Medical Organisation, he said that being in hospital is a good time to reinforce healthy eating habits. However patients are regularly served unhealthy meals such as deep fried sausages, chips and salty bacon, even when they are suffering from serious heart problems. It is interesting to see this important issue being raised at last, but it’s really only the tip of the iceberg of a serious lack of regard for the importance of nutrition within the medical establishment.
I am frequently shocked when patients come to the clinic on all sorts of medication for various problems, yet they have never been given any advice about which foods they should eat or avoid, or even been asked about their diet. I have seen people taking statin drugs for high cholesterol (which can be associated with numerous side effects) who tell me they eat fried foods, crisps and chocolate on a daily basis, and were never asked about their diet, or advised to alter it in any way. I have seen people (including young children) with severe digestive problems, taking various medications that make little difference to their symptoms, make a complete recovery when they exclude certain foods from their diet.
The association between diet and both digestive and cardiovascular disease is well known. However, the foods we eat have a far-reaching effect on every aspect of health, and there are few if any conditions that are not affected by our diet. A great deal of research has been conducted in recent years on the effects of diet and psychology, with food intolerances and consumption of artificial additives being linked to all sorts of conditions, such as ADHD, autism, depression and even schizophrenia. It is not proposed that poor diet is the sole cause of these conditions, but that what a person eats has a huge impact on the severity of the symptoms.
Likewise, diet is extremely important in the prevention and treatment of cancer. While it is not sufficient as an alternative to conventional treatment, it can certainly make all the difference when the two are combined. Fresh organic fruit and vegetables, contain various nutrients such as antioxidants and salvestrols, which are deficient in most cancer patients; while a low fat, high fibre diet helps to clear cancer-causing substances from the body. On the other hand, consumption of large amounts of wheat, dairy products, and meat (especially bacon and ham) tends to increase the risk of developing the disease.
Refined sugar is also likely to increase cancer growth, and this fact is well known by the medical establishment, since it is the basis for the PET scan, in which the patient is given sugar that has been radioactively labeled. Since cancer cells feed on sugar, this allows even small tumours to show up on a scan. However, I have seen advice sheets given to cancer patients by hospital-based dieticians, which instruct them to consume high sugar foods, such as ice-cream and lucozade.
There seems to be an obsession with encouraging patients with cancer to put on weight, however this is based on a misconception. People often lose weight because they have cancer: they don’t have cancer because they lose weight, and encouraging them to put on weight by eating sugary and fatty foods will not help their condition. In fact, fat cells are a major source of oestrogen in the body, which is implicated in various types of cancer.
Unfortunately much of this seems to stem from a lack of training in nutrition for doctors, and from a bizarre situation in which the only dieticians who are employed by the HSE are trained on one course, in one college in Dublin. The thousands of nutritionists in this country, many of whom have a more progressive approach to nutrition and health, are not eligible for employment in the health service. However, Mr. O’Connor’s comments show that there are indeed some enlightened individuals within the medical establishment, and hopefully awareness of the importance of nutrition will increase in the near future.
The old saying: “you are what you eat” is absolutely true. A healthy diet, which is appropriate for the individual, will allow that individual to be as healthy as they can be. On the other hand, an unhealthy diet, or one that is not suitable for the person, will invariably lead to ill-health, if not in the short term, then certainly in years to come. Of course it is not always easy to know what type of diet is most appropriate, but seeing a qualified nutritionist can help you to get your health back on track.