Are You Eating Your Medicine?

Vickie Morrish Posted by Vickie Morrish on 10 Jan 2018 / Comments

Are you eating your medicine? If not, perhaps you need a visit to The Doctor’s Kitchen. On Monday 4th December, Dr Rupy Aujla – author of The Doctor’s Kitchen (pictured above) –  visited Kings College Nutrition and Dietetics Society. Here’s what he had to say on how to keep healthy, one bite at a time.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Or, so the saying goes. But while the common apple alone isn’t a wonder cure for all diseases (sorry), there is an element of truth in this old adage. Because when it comes down to it, what you put in your mouth is actually one of the most important health decisions you make on a daily basis.

Rupy came to lifestyle medicine after a personal revelation. Newly qualified and working hard on the wards at busy Basildon Hospital, Rupy endured repeated episodes of heart palpitations. Again and again he experienced atrial fibrillation, often for hours at a time. And the trouble was, there was no clear trigger or cause – except for fatigue and a stressful lifestyle. Eventually Rupy was offered cardiac ablation in order to correct these episodes, but instead of the invasive procedure, he decided to try something else: a complete overhaul in his lifestyle. During a 12-month period, Rupy changed his diet, practiced meditation and deep breathing, and regulated his sleeping patterns. What started as 2-3 episodes of scary palpitations a week, soon reduced to a more reassuring 0, and while it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what happened to make this change, to Rupy it seemed as though his body needed time to self-heal.

Now as a practicing GP, Rupy introduces what he’s learnt from his own experiences into his consultations – and to great effect. Rather than focusing on a specific disease and its pharmacology, he’s having conversations with patients about breakfast, sleep patterns and stress-relieving techniques to integrate medicine with lifestyle for a more holistic approach to health.

There’s a place for medicine on our plate. Nutrition intersects in all specialties, from mental health and respiratory medicine, all the way through to surgery, where better nutritional status is associated with improved outcomes [1].  And the fact is, some of the most common conditions are preventable simply by changing what we put in our shopping baskets. In the UK, 1/3 of adults of are prediabetic, a statistic that’s projected to shoot up over the next 10-15 years. But while the prediabetic patient can change their blood sugar levels before full-blown diabetes sets in, there is often no lifestyle intervention until the official diagnosis is made. And by this point, the damage is already done; diabetes has arrived, and all of its baggage can have severe implications on quality of life [2].

Not only is lifestyle medicine better for patient satisfaction, it’s also cost-effective for the health service as a whole [3]. Public Health England estimates that problems relating to poor diet, drinking and smoking cost the NHS more than £11bn every year – with chronic conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes and smoking-related bronchitis, at the forefront. By intervening before these diseases set in, we can save money and significantly improve the quality of life for patients.

Rupy recognises the import of lifestyle medicine for both patients and society as a whole. So where next? He already has a thriving social media scene, where he uses Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to educate the public about healthier life choices. He implements lifestyle medicine practices into his GP consultations, and he’s just brought out his first book – The Doctor’s Kitchen – which promises to supercharge health with delicious everyday recipes. But Rupy’s ambitions are bigger. He wants a new branch of medicine to be taught at medical schools across the country: culinary medicine.

Culinary medicine is the marriage of nutritional advice and practical cooking skills. It’s already been implemented in Tulane Medical School, USA, as a compulsory part of its medical school curriculum. Future doctors learn hands-on training at the school’s dedicated kitchen, and taught to actively combine culinary and medical knowledge to treat disease. We know that many new UK doctors feel ill-equipped to meet the growing needs of lifestyle-related diseases due to a lack of nutritional knowledge [4]; a module in culinary medicine, then, would elevate the ability of doctors to dispense lifestyle advice, as well as drugs. Rupy is spearheading the culinary medicine movement in the UK, and he has plans to create an accredited course with the Royal College of General Practitioners.

Looking at the big picture, Rupy wants the medical curriculum to reflect the growing role of nutrition in a world of growing waistlines and lifestyle-related conditions. He wants modern doctors to feel better equipped to treat diseases with diet, and for patients to feel empowered in taking control of their health. Ideally, Rupy dreams for every GP surgery across the country to be furnished with a community kitchen, so patients can learn where to source food from and how to cook it healthily and sustainably in a community atmosphere.

Hippocrates said the famous phrase “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” long before any conversations about doctor-repelling apples arose. Eating healthily to combat disease and maintain health has been around at least since the ancient Greeks, so it isn’t exactly new. What is new is our need to to consider the role of food in modern times, where there’s an epidemic of lifestyle-induced illnesses that it can help treat.