Since the 1980s, there has been a significant increase within the UK of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
We speak exclusively to nutrition expert Dr Estrelita van Rensburg, co-author with Issy Warrack of new healthy eating guide Eat Well or Die Slowly, about how these metabolic diseases are intrinsically connected to the diets we follow, and why flawed nutritional guidance based on bad science could ultimately be to blame for these worrying public health epidemics.
Q. Your new book provides a science-based guide to metabolic health. Can you explain what metabolic health means, and why it is important?
A. Our metabolism refers to all biochemical reactions in the body. When we are healthy, normal levels for all biomarkers – such as blood sugar, triglycerides, and inflammation markers – are found by using blood tests, as well as having no abnormalities on clinical examination, e.g. normal blood pressure. These parameters define a healthy metabolic state, meaning that there is no underlying chronic metabolic condition which will manifest as disease in one or more of the organs that are affected. It is important to note that we can only claim to be metabolically healthy, as defined above, if we are not using any medication.
Q. What do you think readers will gain most from reading Eat Well or Die Slowly?
Hope. We have all become so accepting of ill health being a normal condition these days. The older we get, the more common it becomes to see family and friends suffering from one or more chronic conditions, such as heart disease, dementia or cancer. We almost expect that it is inevitable that we will also suffer from one or more of these diseases. The book explains how bad science, incorrect national nutritional advice over the last 40 years, and the powerful marketing of processed food and drinks are the reasons why we are seeing an exponential increase in chronic lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, dementia and cancer. It offers simple nutritional advice which will put readers on a sound path to regain or retain metabolic health. I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t want to experience life with stacks of energy, absence of chronic pain, sharp mental focus and a healthy sleep pattern. Do you?
Q. As your book reveals, there has been an explosion in the rates of metabolic diseases in the UK in the last few decades. What do you think is fundamentally behind this rise?
I think there are three reasons for this:
- Flawed nutritional research that started just after the Second World War, blaming saturated fat and cholesterol as the evil duo that cause heart disease.
- What people should eat became a political agenda in the 1970s in the US. In 1977, the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs led by Senator George McGovern made recommendations for the composition of a healthy diet (high-carbohydrate, low-fat), based on the flawed science mentioned in point one. After Congress approved the ‘components’ of a healthy diet, Dietary Guidelines for Americans were published in 1980. Three years later, in 1983, these were adopted in the UK as the ‘Eatwell Guide’. Other English-speaking countries around the globe followed suit, providing the basis for nutritionists, health workers and industry to work from.
- The commercial exploitation of these nutritional belief systems has led to extraordinary profits for the food, drink and pharmaceutical industries in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. ‘Big Business’ has just too much to lose to seriously review the scientific premise on which their products, advertising and lobbying campaigns are based. Governments, public health authorities and the whole of the medical profession are all engulfed in these beliefs.
Q. What would be your key advice for people wanting to become metabolically healthier?
A. As part of our research in writing the book, we came upon a charming little cookbook, ‘Diabetic Cookery Recipes and Menus’, published in 1917 by Rebecca Oppenheimer in New York. Her advice was to eat butter, cream cheeses, meat, poultry, fish, and eggs, and to completely avoid sugar, bread, flour, grains, sweet fruits, and dried fruits. So simple and clear, succinctly-expressed wisdom of the past, which has so sadly been lost since the middle of the twentieth century!
Q. You are a vocal critic of the UK’s national nutritional guidance, as reflected in the Eatwell Guide. Why do you think this advice is flawed, and what needs to be done?
A. As mentioned above, the historically-established guidelines were based on flawed scientific research and opinions, and then ratified by politicians. In the first instance, these guidelines should be scrapped with immediate effect. Secondly, the public should be informed of the well-known principles of a healthy diet underpinning a healthy metabolism. Anybody with a vested interest in the food, drinks, or pharmaceutical industries (employees of these organisations or health care researchers receiving any form of support from the Industry) should not be allowed a national platform to present their biased views, which have confused and prejudiced the public for the past 40 years. People’s health should be put first, not the financial bottom-line of Big Industry and that of their scientific ‘lackeys’ in the medical profession.
Q. Recent scientific research suggests that Alzheimer’s is a metabolic disease. Does that mean that people can reduce the risk of developing dementia through their diet?
A. Absolutely. The most common form of dementia is nothing more than a dietary disease. Most people, including doctors, are not aware that dementia is also called ‘type 3 diabetes’, or ‘diabetes of the brain’. The term was first coined in 2005 by Dr Suzanne de la Monte, a neuropathologist at Brown University, who reported that Alzheimer’s dementia was a form of diabetes.
This information came as a surprise to the medical community, who thought dementia was an unrelated brain disease and not a metabolic disorder. Many patients and their physicians still regard dementia as a mysterious and inevitable disease without any meaningful treatment.
Today, our better understanding of this condition makes dementia a largely preventable disease, within reach for most people, if they are willing to make the correct lifestyle choices.
Q. You originally trained as a medical doctor and specialised in medical virology. How did you come to focus, instead, on nutrition and metabolic health?
A. That is an interesting question. When I first studied medicine, nutrition was not even on my radar. In those days, human nutrition did not form part of the medical curriculum, and my understanding is that even today it is a greatly neglected field in undergraduate teaching. But life caught up with me, especially over the last five years, when I was confronted by illnesses from family members and close friends. I knew that I had to investigate the area of preventative medicine to see what options were available, if any. I never expected my research to go down the road of nutrition, until I discovered how misconceptions and misinformation regarding human nutrition in the mainstream media and medical community are important driving forces in increasing modern-day lifestyle diseases.
Q. You served as a global medical director within the pharmaceutical industry but now criticise the sector for what you see as vested interests to the detriment of the public. Can you explain your position?
A. Yes, it was during this phase of my career that I became aware that the medical profession focused primarily on treating disease symptoms through prescribing medication, rather than finding preventative solutions. This modus operandi is driven by the pharmaceutical industry, which is not interested in primarily understanding disease processes but, rather, how quickly they can develop more treatment options for the most prevalent diseases affecting people in the developed world. It is purely a financial interest, driven by the stock market and their investors. If this wasn’t true, why would they still manufacture more and more diabetic drugs to treat the symptoms of type 2 diabetics, instead of explaining that it is a dietary disease that can be treated or prevented by following a healthy diet?
Q. Heart disease is commonly associated with cholesterol, but your book states that there is no scientific basis for this. How, then, did this connection come to be made, and why do GPs and health bodies still suggest lowering cholesterol to reduce the risk of developing heart disease?
A. In our book, Eat Well or Die Slowly, we briefly discuss the flawed scientific studies of Professor Ancel Keys, from the University of Minnesota, that greatly impacted nutrition-related thinking since the early 1950s. He identified total fat, saturated fat and dietary cholesterol as the culprits of heart disease. Keys and his powerful allies completely marginalised and discredited the research of Professor John Yudkin, at Queen Elizabeth College in London, whose research showed that sugar, not fat or cholesterol, was the prime suspect in the rising epidemics of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.
The powerful pharmaceutical industry took its cue from Keys that cholesterol was an undesirable substance and started developing a ‘target molecule’ which would suppress our body’s capacity to block its own manufacturing of cholesterol – a molecule vital for normal health. The cholesterol-lowering drugs, or ‘statins’ as they became known, were first released on the market in 1987. It has become a very lucrative business, with total global sales on track to reach an estimated $1 trillion this year. The industry achieved this by cleverly manipulating data from clinical trials to portray their results in a very favourable light, fooling many in the medical profession.
As UK cardiologist and author, Dr Aseem Malhotra comments: “If you haven’t had a heart attack, and you don’t suffer from heart disease, taking a cholesterol-lowering statin pill will not prolong your life by one day.”
Q. You are the co-founder of nutritional advice consultancy Wellness EQ alongside your business partner and co-author Issy Warrack. As your book reveals, Issy transformed her health after changing her diet. Can you sum up this transformation and, in brief, explain how she adjusted her diet to bring about this change?
A. Issy led a hectic professional career, never giving diet a second thought. If anything, she followed the standard nutritional advice of the Eatwell Guide. Come 40-plus, in spite of leading a physically active live, things started to change. She put it down to menopause but it was much more than that – low mood, low energy, brain fog, weight gain, acid-reflux, high-blood pressure, insomnia, chronic bowel pain etc. By adjusting her diet, she started to experience change within days: more clarity; the brain fog lifted; within weeks lost weight; had more energy; and her creative side returned. These days she feels like a million dollars, and is living life to the full!
Eat Well or Die Slowly: Your Guide to your Metabolic Health by Dr Estrelita van Rensburg and Issy Warrack is available now on Amazon, priced £7.99 in paperback and £4.99 as an eBook. For more information, visit www.wellnesseq.net/