Questioning conventional healthcare: advocating for yourself and doing your own research

I saw a post on keto-advocate Dr. Ken Berry’s Instagram page recently that rang true with me. It was a quote from Dr. Marcia Angell: “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine. “

This quote is from Dr. Angell’s review ‘Drug Companies and Doctors: A Story of Corruption‘ which is about big pharma and unethical trends in the medical community in America. It’s a fascinating but terrifying read. Where I live in Canada, we like to think things are in a better state of affairs but I can attest to the presence of lazy doctors (and/or they’re overworked and burned out) and a system of apathy. Conventional medicine looks to treat a symptom. From my own journey to help health issues, and through my own research related to keto and nutrition, I’m realizing that functional medicine with a holistic approach is my preference.

I have found more benefits being my own advocate and researching issues and solutions than talking to doctors or nutritionists. The book Undoctored by William Davis is a good read if you’re interested in all this. But even here I urge caution as this doctor is also selling a product. You need to trust your gut and go with the information that will serve you. Leave behind anything that doesn’t sit well with you.

When I first started a ketogenic lifestyle I came across more nutritional and health information than ever before. It’s amazing how much information is out there if we just want to look for it. And it takes so little effort now to look. Information is at our fingertips in the blink of an eye. All you have to do is go forward with an open mind, yet keep vigilant regarding the quality of the info and credibility of the source. Keep your wits about you and you’ll have a wealth of information in no time. And soon, in the not too distant future, there will be no stigma for Googling symptoms or seeking healthcare info online. In fact, Google has set up its own healthcare division with plans to utilize artificial intelligence to help individuals prevent, detect, and treat health issues.

Technology should be working for us and making our lives better. With a smart phone you can be a citizen scientist, journalist, photographer, writer, travel advisor, etc. So many people are already acclimated to looking for answers online. Need directions? Or product recommendations? Or parenting advice? Google it. There are videos, blogs, forums, reviews, pins, tweets, you name it. The internet has made all our experiences accessible and anyone can share their story or expertise. Plus you can access online teaching, courses, academic writing, library catalogs, and legit sources more readily than ever before.

It used to be that health advice came from controlled clinical trial or study results. These were written in an inaccessible way or with a narrow scope. Results were only available to those privileged ‘in the know’ medical professionals. Which in turn didn’t allow for much analysis or commentary.

But now, the internet provides an abundance of first-hand real-world experiences. We are telling our own stories. And although these accounts are not controlled studies with sound scientific methods they do offer us unprecedented access into others’ experiences with products, techniques, diets, programs, etc. A Reddit discussion becomes a case study, or an article’s comments section offers debate of different perspectives or experiences.

The internet is flooded with citizen science health and nutrition information. Trust me, I know a lot of it is bunk and you’ve got to weed through the garbage to find relevant and credible info. But I do believe group-sourcing and doing your own research is extremely useful. You need to be your own advocate and educate yourself. Doctors and other medical professionals are not all-knowing beings. They are human and fallible just like the rest of us. Our systems are broken so they’re overworked, and there’s too much influence from businesses and those with unethical agendas. Think for yourself and question what you’re told. It might save your life.

Previewing Canada’s new food guide

The other day I saw a news article about the ‘new’ Canada’s Food Guide and it definitely piqued my interest. I’m a public policy nerd and a nutrition nerd so this topic is right up my ally. The Guide is currently in draft form and is expected to be finalized later this year. The document is produced by the Federal Government’s Health Canada organization, was first adopted in the 1940s, and was last updated in 2007. It has long come under fire for being unbalanced and promoting unhealthy food and dubious links to various industries. The guide has actually been criticized for enabling obesity by a federal government senate report because it encouraged consumption of high-sugar foods such as fruit juices. The updates to the Guide are supposed to reflect a more “evidence-based approach” rooted in nutritional and medical science. Additionally, the government consulted with over 26,000 Canadians including small focus groups and larger briefing sessions with health and industry organizations. Until we see the full guide, and its companion site and documents, it will be tough to fully understand its recommendations and whether they align with my personal ‘keto’ lifestyle.

What to expect
But what do we know so far? What can we expect from the new Canada’s Food Guide with respect to government guidance for healthy eating?

First, it seems there has been more input and consideration of more groups of citizens than ever before. Health Canada is trying to address past criticism and include a diverse range of Canadians in their consultations and recommendations. This includes many different ethnic backgrounds, geographic and market availability, and socioeconomic groups.
It’s also of interest to note that Health Canada agreed not to meet in private with food industry or business reps when consulting with this guide re-vamp. This is a huge step in the right direction in my opinion. Public policy has shifted to engagement or consultation models in recent years, as well as needing to be transparent in development and operation. The government has not made an exception to these new principles when preparing the new food guide.

Second, there’s more to the food guide than just making recommendations for what foods to consume and what to avoid. The guide and it’s accompanying website and literature provide resources for meal planning, shopping for food, reading food labels, tips for eating at restaurants, etc. These are all valuable tools and good skills for everyone to develop regardless of whether or not you agree with the guide’s food nutritional recommendations. The guide will also touch on making good food choices for non-nutritional benefits such as reducing food waste, accessibility, and how food choices impact the environment. These are also important things to consider.

Finally, there’s the ‘meat’ (so to speak) of the guide which outlines nutritional guidelines, and speaks to which foods you should and should not consume. The guide starts with three guiding principles, of which the top two are about guiding what to eat: 1) Foods and beverages to encourage; 2) Foods and beverages to limit or avoid; 3) Knowledge and skills (such as planning, cooking, and preparation).

Nutritional recommendations
So far, the buzz about the new guide seems to circle around changes in recommendations for meat and dairy products. Specifically, shade is thrown on red meat which has the beef industry worried. Plant-based protein, and fruits and vegetables in general, are the shining stars of the guide. Non-saturated fats will be championed, including promoting consumption of avocados, nuts, and seeds, instead of saturated fats as found in butter, cheese, whole milk dairy products, meat, and coconut oil. An opinion piece by a group of physicians and dietitians was published by the Calgary Herald which essentially summed up conventional widespread health and nutrition expectations that eating less animal products and more plant products will be good for everyone’s health. An piece via CBC News presented the counter argument continuing with the old guide’s failings of promoting a low-fat, high carbohydrate foods will not help anyone.

My preliminary opinions
All I can say at this point in time is that I’m inclined to think the new guide doesn’t go far enough to provide recommendations to help Canadians stay healthy, and prevent or deal with metabolic diseases. I’m all for recommendations to eat less processed foods and cook at home with responsibly-sourced and sustainable food. And the consultations, and choice to try to avoid industry and political influence, are noble efforts in the right direction. As an individual, you can chose whether you wish to eat according to the food guide but it’s important to consider the guide’s impact as a piece of policy throughout the country. Schools, hospitals, and other institutions will take their cue from the guide and only offer what it recommends to the most vulnerable in our society. Government recommendations impact industry, products we can buy, and our society itself. These guidelines will be part of the foundation information taught to future generations of children, and those training in medicine and nutrition. And as we’ve seen, science and evidence is developing rapidly regarding nutrition but the wheels of government tend to move slowly. Nutrition is like a moving target but since we’re unlikely to get a new food and nutrition guide anytime soon I hope they hit closer to the that target this time around.