A Physician’s Duty: Understanding Nutrition in the Aetiology of Disease
Diet and Risk Factors for Disease
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO),1 diet is second only to tobacco as a potentially preventable cause of cancer, accounting for up to 30% of cancers in industrialized countries. Thirty percent! The cancer most commonly associated with meat consumption is colorectal cancer, but breast cancer, prostate cancer, and other cancers have also been found to be linked to dietary factors.2-5 Furthermore, in their 2004 paper on “Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health”6, WHO states that “Overall, 2.7 million deaths (per year) are attributable to low fruit and vegetable intake.”
When observing the clinical management of patients with conditions such as stroke, cancer, and heart disease, rarely do I see the patient’s diet being addressed. The management almost always focuses on pharmaceutical intervention. In overlooking the vital role that diet plays in the aetiology of disease, we overlook a valuable tool in aiding our patients’ recovery.
It is important to note that food does not only have the capacity to act as a disease causing agent, but can also be a valuable mode of therapy to treat or prevent disease by acting as a disease-modifying agent, providing anti-inflammatory effects, cancer protective effects, or other beneficial actions that reduce the risk of developing a disease, or even reverse a disease process. For example, there is clear evidence that consuming a plant-based diet confers multiple health benefits to individuals, including a lower risk of developing diseases commonly diagnosed in industrialized countries, such as cancer, cardiovascular, disease and diabetes.7-9
Physician, know thyself
Once physicians understand the essential role of healthy nutrition in the prevention and treatment of disease, we will have tapped into a powerful means of guiding our patients towards better health. It is our responsibility as physicians to accept the deficiencies in our knowledge in any area, including nutrition, and it is up to us to educate ourselves where our medical training has failed to educate us. We would serve our patients well by utilizing in our clinical practice, the knowledge that food can be implicated in the aetiology of disease, and the fact that it can be used to complement current medical therapies in the prevention and treatment of disease.
Aryan Tavakkoli MB BS, MRCP (UK), FRACP, MBAcC, Dip. Phyt., S.A.C. Dip. Vegetarian and Vegan Nutrition (Distinction) is a specialist in respiratory medicine in the UK. Dr. Tavakkoli has written and spoken widely on the topic of diet and its effect on both personal and planetary health. She has lectured in New Zealand and Australia, given interviews for numerous local and national radio shows and newspapers, and been a guest speaker at national rallies.
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