Food. The Forgotten Medicine

I was so lucky to squeeze a ticket at the sold out ‘Food. The Forgotten Medicine’ conference held by The College of Medicine. It was the first of its kind to be held by the college and judging by the full 300 capacity seminar room with people sitting in the stairwells, there was huge interest.

I couldn’t possibly write about every talk given but the full programme can be found here and I encourage you all to look up all the brilliant speakers. I had a clinic in the morning, so I missed the talks from big hitters including Prof Tim Spector of King’s College and Dr Weil who has cultivated himself as one of the pioneers of lifestyle medicine in America. Luckily I managed to make Patrick Holden’s talk on the importance of food sourcing.

The former head of the soil association and a farmer by trade, Patrick is in a perfect position to comment on how farming practices should change to encourage soil diversity. After decades of intensive farming our soil biome (which gives rise to nutrient density in plants and therefore has an effect on human wellbeing) has been rapidly depleted. What he has always advocated involves reducing grain production (mostly grown to feed livestock) and adopting more free-range practices. You can find out more about his campaign to increase biodiversity at sustainablefoodtrust.org

The Q&A debate largely focused on the use of GM produce and the response from the panel appeared recognise the correlation of endocrine disrupting chemicals (found in commercial farming chemicals) and adverse health outcomes (tumours, birth defects, hormonal imbalance) but accepted that this doesn’t necessarily mean causation. The panel unanimously called for further research in this field, but the general tone appeared to be one of avoidance of pesticide use and a return to organic farming practices.

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We heard from Prof Annie Anderson about the process of getting the right messages to the public. I particularly liked the use of cardboard cut outs of local GPs strategically positioned in the grocery section of supermarkets and the drive to tag “#HealthyShelfie” on social media! I’ll definitely be getting involved in that!

Dale Pinnock did a great live demo, cooking up a salmon and coconut lentil dish. He reminded me of why I started the Doctors Kitchen in the first place. It’s easy to trivialise food into lists of what we should and shouldn’t be eating. But to get the information to the public requires motivation, guidance and inspiration of how to get these fantastic ingredients onto your plate daily!

Dr Ali is an interventional cardiologist who highlighted to multitude of diet plans available to consumers and the poor example we give patients in hospital kitchens. His campaign to change hospital cafeteria food is compelling and I hope to follow up with him on that at a later date!

Prof Robert Thomas, Oncology consultant at Addenbrokes succinctly reminded us of why we were here. To reduce the burden of chronic disease and cancer. Bringing attention to polyphenols in food really resonated with me, especially the study looking at the use of turmeric to reduce chemotherapy related arthritis. It was encouraging to see an academic of such high regard embracing food in such an emotive specialty. Dr Clare Shaw promoted a fantastic resource
www.livebetterwith.com for cancer patients, reminding us of the simple actions we take for granted that can be a huge struggle for sufferers.

We heard from CCG Calderdale, investing in schools, encouraging children to grow their own vegetable patches, develop cooking skills and attend farmers markets. I truly believe re-establishing that lost connection between us and food is what will drive a health informed population and reduce chronic disease in the UK. Patient champion Carrie Grant (of BBC’s fame Academy) highlighted the non-uniformity amongst the medical community in embracing food through her experience as an IBD patient.

I left feeling inspired yet overwhelmed at the huge task ahead of us. Conventional medicine has come a huge step toward a better model of care. It’s up to us, the practitioners, to put the knowledge that has existed for generations into practice using innovative methods.

How better do you think we as doctors could drive this movement?

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