Dr Laura Davies M.D. is a medical physician and PhD candidate in the field of neuroimmunology. She has been following paleo principles since May 2012 and has converted her family to this lifestyle with drastic improvements in all health markers. She is determined to help spread the paleo philosophy to the medical community in the hopes that we can significantly improve the health of all patients.
Many of you in the paleo community may feel exasperated by your physician. Whether they are a general practitioner or a specialist, it is highly likely that they have never heard of the paleo diet and are not aware of its benefits. This lack of knowledge can be frustrating for a patient who has made steps to improve their health by adopting this lifestyle, but is then told by their physician that “saturated fat is unhealthy”, “grains are an important part of the recommended diet”, “milk is necessary for strong bones” or insert any nutritional myth here that has been the standard recommendation. Your doctor’s intentions are good, but unfortunately their recommendations are based on what they were taught in medical school and what the official guidelines say (in particular the USDA food guide, which is far from what we know will bring us good health).
If you find yourself in this situation, where your doctor is completely behind on the nutritional research, take advantage of the opportunity to spread the knowledge you have gained to your physician. The best way to do this is show them the significant progress you have made by following paleo lifestyle principles, whether that be blood pressure readings, improved blood glucose management, weight loss, decrease in skin/auto-immune flare-ups or any other marker of health. If your doctor sees the health improvements you have made, it may just inspire them to read more about it and maybe even apply it to other patients with similar conditions. If they are interested, you could recommend your favourite paleo book (I would recommend “Practical Paleo” by Diane Sanfilipo or “The Paleo Answer” by Dr Loren Cordain) or blog or podcast, where they could gather more information. You can also provide the references for scientific articles provided at the end of this post. The biggest mental obstacle for your doctor will be the amount of saturated fat in the paleo diet, as they have been taught since the 1960’s that saturated fat is bad for cardiac health. This has been proven false in the scientific literature, but this research has been slow to spread as this idea is so deeply entrenched. Ultimately, the paleo lifestyle is about eating real, whole foods, and minimizing toxins; a philosophy that is hard to argue with as a medical professional.
This is how I feel we will make real changes in nutritional recommendations; this is a bottom-up movement and by improving our health and showing our doctors just what can be done with proper nutrition, we will eventually make progress.
If, on the other hand, your doctor is unwilling to work with you or accept your dietary wishes, then finding another doctor is necessary. It is important to have a doctor that listens to you, and works with you in a mutual relationship in order to come up with the most effective treatment plan for your medical issues. If this is not the case, it is time to move on. This, however, can be very difficult as there is a shortage of doctors, which is why I would initially recommend trying to work with your doctor. If you would like to find a paleo friendly physician, you have 3 options at the moment:
3.) Networking with friends or through blogs to find information on doctors in your area.
I hope most of you have good relationships with your physicians, and need not worry about the issue; a good doctor-patient relationship can be such an important factor in finding the right treatment strategy for you.
Sapone, A. et al. Spectrum of gluten-related disorders: consensus on new nomenclature and classification. BMC Medicine. 2012 10:13.
Mente A, et al. A systematic review of the evidence supporting a causal link between dietary factors and coronary heart disease. Arch Intern Med. 2009 Apr 13;169(7):659-69.
Siri-Tarino PW, et al. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Mar;91(3):535-46.
Paleo diet research:
Carrera-Bastos P, Fontes Villalba M, O’Keefe JH, Lindeberg S, Cordain L. The western diet and lifestyle and diseases of civilization. Res Rep Clin Cardiol 2011; 2: 215-235.
Frassetto LA, Schloetter M, Mietus-Synder M, Morris RC, Sebastian A. Metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009 Aug; 63(8):947-55.
Cordain L. Saturated fat consumption in ancestral human diets: implications for contemporary intakes. In: Phytochemicals, Nutrient-Gene Interactions, Meskin MS, Bidlack WR, Randolph RK (Eds.), CRC Press (Taylor & Francis Group), 2006, pp. 115-126.