Why is the Science of Nutrition Ignored in Medicine? | T. Colin Campbell | TEDxCornellUniversity


Translator: Katrin R.
Reviewer: Rosa Rey As I was introduced,
my topic is about nutrition. A big, big topic, a word, a concept, an idea that we’ve all spoken about
from time to time. But in reality, it seems to me that we haven’t been able
to find very much consensus about what that word really means. So, I want to share with you
some of the stuff that I’ve learned in the last 60+ years with many students
and colleagues and others. Honest question concerning,
What is nutrition? And what is the right kind of food to eat
in order to get the best possible health? Let me start out with a big idea. It’s one that has sort of
come to me over the years that I think is worth saying. Namely, nutrition, when done right, can create more health than all the pills
and procedures combined. I know that’s a big startling idea
but I really mean that. If we do it right,
if we eat the right food, we get away from drugs, we can be healthy. So, there’s a problem, basically, and this is the problem
I wanted to address here. Nutrition is not taught
in medical schools. There’s not a medical
school in the United States that properly teaches nutrition –
hardly at all in many of them. Secondly, among the 130 or so
medical specialties – which is a sort of procedure
by which physicians are reimbursed for services – of the 130 medical specialties
that we now have, not one is called nutrition. So, here’s a problem. Here are the professionals
who are supposed to be offering us their services in the area of health care, and not been taught the one subject that is the most important,
in my view, of all. And secondly, even if they did know
something about it and they got some training, they’re not really going to be able
to get reimbursed for services. Therein lies some of the problem
with the fact that some people, many people in this country, have difficulty understanding
what this question is really all about. Of course, as I mentioned,
the public is massively confused. That’s one of the reasons, and it needs to be solved because there’s so much
to offer, actually. It’s very difficult to know,
quite frankly – and I think you would agree with this, that one of the problems
with this issue is about confusion – it’s very difficult to know
for the average person whether another claim,
on radio, TV, conversations or whatever, it’s very difficult to know
how valid that claim may be. And I’m sure many of you know
that claims are all over the map and quite in contrast with each other. So, as I look back over the years
I have been involved in this, I’ve sorted out a couple of ideas, that if we stick to these two ideas alone, we’ll get to that sort of land
that I’m talking about where so much health could be created. First of all, eat whole foods. Whole foods, not the individual nutrients
and food fragments within them. And by that, I mean
no nutrient supplements. We’ve done a lot of research
on nutrient supplements; it’s a huge industry,
multi-billion dollars a year. Fifty percent of the population
uses nutrient supplements as a means to nutrition. I’m not talking about that. Nutrients taken out of the food,
out of the context, do not do exactly the same thing
for the most part that they do when they are in food. And secondly, there are fragments
taken out of even plants, incidentally, and I’m referring to plants
as a good form of nutrition. Even the stuff taken out of plants,
like oil, sugar, if you will, maybe it’s the right
kind of food, in a sense, but when you take it out
and use it separately, we get a different response
in what we do, generally speaking, than the whole food. This is another idea to keep in mind:
plants provide all the protein we need. That’s somewhere around
8-10% of total calories. Turns out, if you look at the literature
more carefully, that’s enough. We do not need to eat animal foods
to get the animal protein. Plants have all the protein
we need to have. So, just those two ideas. Whole foods, obviously meaning plants
because we don’t need animal protein, animal foods to go along with that. That combination really works. Now, my career started,
as I said, many, many years ago, and I happened to come across an idea
when I was working in the Philippines, helping to co-ordinate a national program
to feed the malnourished children where, in fact, our efforts were intended to actually make sure
these children got enough protein – even good quality protein,
animal protein, if you like. And I saw something that
sort of didn’t exactly agree with that, and we are not getting onto these details,
but it led to this question: animal-based protein,
which was my background, did not look to be as good
as it was touted to be. So, we organized a study. As we started to look into this question, Is protein as good as what we think it is,
as I had thought it was? Here is one little display
of some information among hundreds of things like this. Cancer, we all tend to agree,
starts with a gene being mutated. It’s happening more or less all the time
in some of our cells. So, it starts with a gene mutation,
normal cell to a cancer cell. As a result of it starting with a gene, if we have a cancer gene,
we will have cancer, right? That leads to some suggestions: we should get analyzed
for genetic background and this and that. But, in my view,
cancer is not a genetic disease, even though that’s the most
highly touted maxim, if you will, of the cancer industry. Here’s what happens. This is an experimental animal study
that we used much in my career early on. It started as a mutated gene, and we followed the progression
of the early cancer over the first twelve weeks. If we fed lower levels of protein, 5% – remember I said 8 to 10%
is fine, is good enough – so, we start with 5% and we feed the animals who had
the mutated gene 5% of protein, we get no cancer. If we feed them, on the other hand,
the higher levels of protein, 20%, we get lots of cancer. So, here is a striking difference
between 5 and 20%. But then we went to the next question. We wanted to know what would happen if we just switched
the diet back and forth between 5% and 20%. So, starting with 20%, the first three weeks
the cancers are growing. These are precancerous
lesions, if you will. Switching to 5% turns it off; 20%, we turned it back on again; 5%, it turns it off. That was striking at that time,
it still is today for a lot of people, because if we assume that cancer
is all coming from genes and if you have the genes
you will get cancer, maybe if you don’t, you won’t. In this particular case, what we are showing
is that nutrition is important. So it leads to this idea here:
we may have cancer genes, all of us, whether we were born with them or whether they were created
in our lifetime, they’re sort of hanging around, they remain basically silent
until they are nourished. So, it puts the onus then on the question concerning nutrition
being the cause of cancer, not genetics. We think of nutrition
in a very simplistic way. We tend to think of individual nutrients
doing their individual things. We value foods according to how much nutrients it has –
this, that or something else. Most of our thinking about nutrition
is focused on individual nutrients. In reality, it turns out –
and this is just one thought – it turns out the amount
of nutrients we consume, let’s say in a spoonful
or cupful or whatever, we can know how much is there in theory, but that has little relationship to how much nutrients there may be
at the functional site, wherever that may be in the body. So, the amount we are consuming here has almost nothing to do,
quantitatively speaking, with the amount that’s operating
in the functional site. Which raises a question. There’s a lot going on
between here and there, and it’s sort of an activity, a bunch of activities
that’s very, very complex. And then, individual nutrients, when they are examined
for their activities, generally, we think of –
this is the way it tends to get taught – this nutrient causes this response and here is the mechanism
by which it works. That’s the way we tend to think, and that’s the way cause and effect
relationships often happen. It turns out that, in our hands,
the protein turned on the cancer; I wanted to know what was the mechanism by which it worked. Which enzyme? Which transport mechanism
or what have you might be working? That’s the basis for the entire
drug industry in large measure. If we see something going wrong
and we want to solve the problem, we want to know what the mechanism is. So, maybe we can make
a chemical to block it if we wish, or enhance it, whatever the case might be. It turned out in our hands: the protein caused cancer,
but not by one mechanism, every time we looked for a mechanism,
in a sense, we found one. It got up to about ten or so, and in a couple of those mechanisms, not only was the protein
turning on the process, it was actually attenuating or minimizing
the effect of those processes that tend to protect us. So, the high-protein diet was actually sort of getting
the whole bucketful of mechanisms working together like a symphony
to create a response. It was a very exciting idea. Again, it shows some degree of complexity, which I would suggest is really important
in this consideration. And then this leads us to the idea
that nutrients work best in whole foods, as I mentioned before. It worked best in whole foods; you take them out
to work with them individually, it’s altogether different oftentimes. Sometimes they work sort of the way
you expect them to do, but it’s not necessarily
a life-style practice. So those three observations are pointed
to a different philosophical concept regarding what nutrition is. It’s not a function
of individual nutrients and adding up these effects; it’s all of them
basically working together. When we consume the foods,
animal-based foods, in order to get that good protein
we heard so much about, what that tends to do is to displace
the consumption of the foods that we otherwise should be consuming. So, when we look at the totality
of the food effect on the various disease processes, it’s not just one thing working,
be it protein or anything else, it’s the combination,
the presence of those nutrients, as opposed to the lack of those things
that are not there. Now we know, we’ve got good evidence for this,
and not generally known, that kind of diet
we heard from our grandmothers, “Eat your vegetables
and so forth and so on, and prevent future disease.” Not sure we paid
a lot of attention to that, especially when we were young – we figured out we’ll get a solution
to that problem when it comes. But in reality, now we know,
and this is not yet published very well, namely: the kind of diet
that actually prevents future problems, when it’s done right, actually can be used
to treat existing problems. So now we have altogether
a new paradigm, if you will. Instead of relying on single chemicals, be they drugs or whatever else,
to correct the problem, now we can simply look
at this kind of food to sort of do it. And it happens very quickly, within ten days, two weeks or so, you can see remarkable changes occur in sort of biochemistries, if you will. Once we get to thinking about food
as a means of treatment, we’re in a different territory. There’s something
really meaningful in that case because you can see the results so fast. There’s a lot of people now doing this. As a result of some of the work we did
with some of my colleagues, this is now being tried by people, and many of you here, I think,
probably would agree with that: you switch, you got a problem,
you can see the results very quickly without side-effects. Why is nutrition not taken seriously
by the medical profession? As I said before, it’s not. It needs to be taken seriously. Medicine, or the practice of medicine, whether we’re doing
research or practicing, is what I call reductionist. We’re looking at one thing at a time; we’re looking at just this disease –
not some other disease – just this disease. We’re looking at usually
just one antidote, this drug or that nutrient, if you will, and also, at the same time, we’re thinking about
one mechanism at a time. And so, medicine
is a reductionist process, that’s what our system is: it’s highly reductionist. We now know we have a lot of problems
with that approach. Things are not working like they should; there’s a lot of evidence to show that. It’s also very, very expensive. And if we are going to rely
on that highly technical philosophy to keep us well, we need third party care, namely the doctors or others. In contrast, nutrition,
when everything is working together, as it is simply, as I suggested, it’s working basically comprehensively; it’s not working one mechanism, all of these seem
to be changed the same way and the same direction
to create the same response. That’s a very exciting concept. That, in turn, leads us to just wonder, What kind of foods should we eat
to get that effect. And that’s first-person health care. All of a sudden now,
the locus of control comes back to us. What we need to do is just do it, and in that way, we can actually eliminate a substantial proportion
of pharmaceuticals for our treatment or other pills and procedures. And finally, I want to ask the question: Why is nutrition not taken seriously
by the nutrition science community? You probably thought
that they are taking it seriously. I’m not sure they are. I’ve been in that community,
let’s say, for a very, very long time. We have problems. And the sense is is that
the problems are largely related to too much corporate
interference and control. Whether it’s coming in the form of money
that may be supplying the funding, which sort of tethers us to that idea, or whether it’s coming
from our participation with corporate sections on the outside. Not that we shouldn’t; we need to do that,
we need to have this relationship. That’s not the issue. But the corporate influence is such now that we keep falling back
on pills and procedures, looking at things very specifically. We’re losing track; we’re not getting the essence
of what we can learn from nutrition. So, this happens also
at the level of policy. I spent about 20 years
on national policy development, where we attempted
to translate the latest science into something we can tell the public. And once again,
it’s a very complex process. But the center of that interaction is again falling back on looking
at things in a very, very fine way. And so, in the whole process,
whether in practicing medicine, in policy development, or doing research, which we did a lot of that,
just focusing on one thing at the time, we are losing track
of what really matters. And so, we’re doing that –
I would suggest to use a tough word: our system is corrupted, it’s seriously corrupted
from top to bottom, and we’re all part of it. And what we really need to do
is to do it right and make people well because the cost to this society
at large is huge. The cost of health care
being the highest per capita of any country in the world. Let’s redesign nutrition –
I call it Nutrition Renaissance. I’m almost in a position of throwing away
what we have done in the past, gather the whole idea, and then use it again to actually
help to explain, basically, cancer. And I would argue
that we are in a position now to take the evidence we now have and just go forward and do that. Thank you very much.

Daniel Yohans

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