From pharmacy to nutrition-finding the root cause 
 
I took a leap of faith a few years back and chose to leave my job as a community pharmacist. My love of healthcare has never diminished but I’d become frustrated and disillusioned. People were becoming sick and the majority of my time was spent dispensing drugs to manage the symptoms. One drug would become two, then four. Drugs led to side effects which led to more drugs. What struck me was that no-one was tackling the root cause. That felt wrong. There had to be a better way. 
 
Aware of the growing body of scientific data linking western diets and lifestyles to the massive rise in the incidence of chronic degenerative disease I’ve always had an interest in the role of food in health but I lacked the skills necessary to navigate nutritional science and found much of what I read confusing and contradictory. I figured if I was struggling to separate fact from fiction how on earth were the general public managing. I had a duty to learn more. It was time to go back to university and I embarked on an MSc in Nutritional Medicine. 

What I learnt 

My MSc has taught me so much- most importantly that nutritional science is hard. Foods are complex and nothing like the single compounds used in drug research. This makes intervention studies tricky and may be one of the reasons traditionally trained medics find nutritional science hard to navigate, often dismissing it as fluffy. The way science is reported by the media can also lead to confusion. 
 
There are however clear principles of eating that have been shown again and again to help improve chances of remaining healthy. It is true that there’s no ‘one diet fits all’. We all have different genetics, different gut microbiotas and different immune systems and have recently discovered just how individually we respond to certain foods. But until we become better at applying this knowledge we should focus our attention on the principles of healthy eating. 
 
Up until the pandemic 90% of deaths in western countries were linked to cancer, stroke, heart disease, dementia and lung disease. Diseases of diet and lifestyle. Cancer is hugely complex. For some people addressing diet and lifestyle choices may not be sufficient to prevent disease but shouldn’t we do our best to improve our odds? Cancer UK predicts 1 in 2 of us will develop cancer during our lifetime, predicting 40% could be prevented with healthier diets and lifestyles. 

Eating for cancer 

Firstly, I want to encourage everyone to think of dietary choices as cancer protective. 
You can reduce your risk of cancer, support your treatment and help reduce risk of disease recurrence by following these principles. Avoid processed, high sugar, high fat foods and focus on eating whole, colourful, quality foods. Plant foods are key. 
 
I recommend including a wide range of colourful fruits and vegetables. Forget the ‘5 a day’ slogan, which incidentally was not based on solid evidence. Aim for 10 a day and 30 different plant foods a week. Sounds difficult but it’s very doable. 3 portions of fruit or vegetables 3 times a day plus 1 as a snack. Different colours mean you’ll be consuming a variety of vitamins, minerals and protective phytochemicals as well as ranges of complex fibres that all help feed your gut microbiota and support your immune system. Variety and diversity of food ensures better balance of nutrients. 
 
The Mediterranean diet has been shown to be the best at lowering risks of cancer and is a great pattern of eating on which to build your diet. The American National Cancer Institute highlighted 35 plant-based foods that possess cancer preventive properties. These include garlic, onion, turmeric, tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, green tea and pomegranate, berries, herbs and spices. 

Meals over medicines 

The food you eat is the most important health intervention you will ever make. Food is medicine and we need to shout about this. All health professionals need to be better educated and there needs to be a greater emphasis placed on building health to prevent disease. 
 
A number of bright young things are driving this concept forward. Rupy Aujla of The Doctors Kitchen and Nutritank, Bristol are working hard to improve nutritional education in medical schools and slowly driving change within the NHS. So whilst we wait for the NHS to catch up, by sticking to principles of healthy eating you can be happy in the knowledge that you’re doing a great job in protecting and supporting your own health. 
 
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Tagged as: Nutrition
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