Nutrition and Medicine Meet in San Diego

Nutrition and Medicine Meet in San Diego

By Kory Waschick and Gretchen Schisla

Designing the website for the International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference  (PBNHC) spoke to the heart of what we believe in at Enrich: educating people about healthy lifestyles. The synergy began when we first met Susan Benigas, the founder of the Plantrician Project — our shared vision grew from there.

September 2014, Coronado Island, San Diego

A significant event, 400 doctors, medical practitioners and health coaches from 15 countries gathered to hear from leading experts and learn about the preventive and disease-fighting capabilities of whole food, plant-based nutrition — backed by medical research. We attended PBNHC because, for us, plant-based eating has touched both our professional and personal lives. The fact that it has finally piqued the medical field’s attention is such great news. Imagine the impact when more physicians and medical practitioners integrate this powerful information into their practices!

Registration for the conference began on a Wednesday afternoon, on beautiful Coronado Island in San Diego. Because Enrich co-sponsored the event, we set up a table so that attendees could learn more about our experience in the food and wellness space. A kick-off dinner featured our first whole food, plant-based meal — one of many more to come. But the highlight of our conference experience was the invaluable knowledge we gained. 

Why is whole food, plant-based nutrition important?

Many medical experts have devoted their life’s work in scientific research and medical practice to study and prove that choosing a whole food, plant-based diet (with no animal products or processed foods, and limited sugar, salt and oil) is significant in the intervention and prevention of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, renal disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis and many forms of cancer.

How do we make FOOD the population’s health tool?

Doctors are increasingly interested in providing their patients with the tools to take responsibility for their own health, but most aren’t trained about the power of food and nutrition in medical school. More and more, they seek to educate patients about how proper nutrition can play a role in disease prevention. As obesity and diabetes rates rise in America, other countries imitate us by eating our Standard Western Diet. Their rates are also increasing, and the globalization of illness spreads. We must change the way we think about disease.

If I become plant-based, where will I get my protein?

The general public is holding onto beliefs and is often misinformed about optimum protein sources in food. Some of the problems with present day nutrition include: 1) that protein consumption is over-emphasized; and 2) that protein from meat is considered higher value, while protein from plants is not understood. Research studies like The China Study show that certain casein levels in animal products feed pre-cancerous conditions within the body, whereas soy and wheat protein do not.

Notable PBNHC conference faculty

Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Thomas M. Campbell (authors of The China Study), Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., (author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease ), Dr. Dean Ornish (Founder and President of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute), Dr. Michael Greger, Dr. Doug Lisle, Dr. John McDougall and Dr. Scott Stoll, to name a few.

Each day was jam-packed with speakers, knowledge, delicious food and plenty of networking. Some of the speakers that stood out to us were:

Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., MD

We always love hearing Dr. E speak! We already knew that arteries can get clogged very easily when eating the Standard Western Diet filled with meat, dairy and oil and that it leads to heart disease. But, what we also found interesting was that arteries in the brain can do the same (atherosclerosis). He presented compelling data that these clogged arteries impede oxygen and blood flow, leading to mini-strokes that are virtually undetectable, unless you are actually scanning for them. Those mini-strokes can have a strong link to Alzheimer’s disease. Learn more on his website.

Michael Greger, MD

Learning that the American Dietetic Association (ADA) has taken a strong stand, and stated that there are no good or bad foods, was pretty unreal. Dr. Greger presented many article excerpts, illustrating how this has been exploited by the food industry. Years ago, the tobacco industry did the same thing, stating that smoking wasn’t bad per se, only “excess” smoking caused problems. It took five decades to link tobacco with cancer, which took a huge toll on human health. Big Food is similar — Dr. Greger was very passionate about how we shouldn’t wait, now is the time to stop the damaging effects that the Western Diet has on our lives. While the ADA is devoted to “improving the nation’s health,” they promote a series of nutrition fact sheets which industry sources can write themselves for a $20k contribution. This “sponsored” information about healthy eating seems to come from all the wrong places (like Wendy’s and Coca-Cola, just to name a few). It was truly a presentation of food for thought. His site NutritionFacts.org is packed with more information. 

Phil Tuso, MD, FACP

Dr. Tuso went in great depth about how salt, sugar, cholesterol and fat pretty much make us the equivalent of walking time bombs. Arteries get clogged and heart attacks happen. Even if you exercise every day, but you still put a lot of these things in your body, you’re not safe — nutrition is the key.  Endothelial cells (EC’s) live in the lining of our blood vessels, and are the “super hero” healing and protector cells. As healing cells, they stabilize and dissolve clots and lower blood pressure. As protector cells, they keep fat and cholesterol from entering the blood vessel wall. White blood cells usually come to the rescue, but they can’t clean it all up — this stress is what causes heart attacks. When unhealthy foods are eaten, they injure your EC’s, and your blood no longer flows smoothly. A whole food, plant-based diet can strengthen your EC’s, and prevent and reverse heart disease. Dr. Tuso premiered a short, animated film at the conference that put a fun spin on this very topic. He also started a social movement to Save Your Endothelial Cells.

Dean Ornish, MD

Dr. Ornish’s presentation addressed the importance of making lifestyle changes, starting with the individual, to discussing the global impact. His 36 years of clinical research demonstrates the power of comprehensive lifestyle changes, specifically regarding the reversal of heart disease, reduction of prostate and breast cancer risk, control of diabetes and changing gene expression. We’ve been told that we can’t ‘change our genes’ and that we’re predisposed to diseases that our family members have had, but Dr. Ornish’s current research shows that the gene expression can ‘turn on’ disease preventing genes and ‘turn off’ genes that promote cancer and heart disease. One study showed that gene expression of 501 genes was beneficially affected in just 3 months of following a whole food, plant-based diet. His research also indicated that lifestyle changes can reverse aging by lengthening telomeres, the ends of our chromosomes which control aging. Dr. Ornish stated that globally, more people are dying today of chronic disease that they are of AIDS, TB and Malaria combined. Although this is hard information to take in, he offered many steps we can take to improve our health and live vital lives. Learn more with his books and on his website.

Scott Stoll, MD

Dr. Stoll co-founded the PBNHC conference after recognizing the critical need to empower and educate healthcare professionals on the role of a whole food, plant-based diet in healing and disease prevention. As the keynote speaker, he set a positive and inspiring tone, addressing why a plant-based diet is the best recommendation for diabetes patients. In his talk, current statistics were staggering. One in particular stood out: in India, 25% of a family’s income is spent on management of this disease. Dr. Stoll’s research on epigenetics (the study of heritable changes that are not caused by changes in the DNA sequence) was also very interesting — pointing out the differences between key positive influencers (polyphenols, B vitamins, exercise, stress reduction, parental diet) and negative influencers (sugar, alcohol, saturated fat, precessed foods and paternal diet.) Dr. Stoll’s passion and deep commitment to helping his patients along a path towards good health and well-being left a strong impression. Learn more in his book, Alive, and on his website.

We felt fortunate to be around so many people who were passionate to learn about the substantial benefits that whole food plant-based nutrition can have. Transforming healthcare is an uphill battle — many of the conference faculty have been trying to impart change for decades. This movement is finally getting the attention it deserves, and the PBNHC conference is providing the perfect platform for its acceleration.