Nutrition was rarely discussed when Andrew Freeman, MD, FACC, FACP, was training in his cardiology fellowship. And his experience is not unique. A recent survey of about 1,000 cardiologists found that 90% received minimal nutrition education.
“When I started my practice, I was good at diagnostics and prescribing medicine,” says Dr. Freeman. “But many of my patients were dependent on pills and not getting better.”
So he started learning about how a plant-based diet, in addition to standard medical treatment, could help his patients fight heart disease. Then about 6 years ago, after months of research, his life changed personally and professionally.
“I had a cheeseburger for dinner,” remembers Dr. Freeman. “Then I finished reading The China Study that night and started a vegan diet the next day.”
Within a few months, he lost 35 pounds, and his health improved so much that he received a rebate following his next life insurance physical. He soon began recommending a plant-based diet to all of his patients.
“For the first time in my career, I was awestruck by my patients’ improvements,” says Dr. Freeman. “One patient who was suffering from heart failure, diabetes, and overweight was off most of his medications within about 6 of starting a plant-based diet.”
He gives patients a packet of materials with literature including the Physicians Committee’s Vegetarian Starter Kit, a guide to local plant-based eating, and recommendations for documentaries such as Forks Over Knives.
“The No. 1 question from patients is about diet,” says Dr. Freeman. “First, I ask my patients for permission to be critical of their diets. Then we have a patient-centered discussion that takes into account their values, culinary skills, socio-economic situation, and other factors.”
Dr. Freeman also helped launch a 9-week intensive cardiac rehab program in partnership with National Jewish Health and Saint Joseph Hospital that follows the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine™ approach. Two times a week patients participate in 1 hour of exercise; 1 hour of learning about a plant-based diet, which includes a meal; 1 hour of stress relief; and a 1-hour support group.
On Saturdays, Dr. Freeman hosts Walk with a Doc, a weekly walk open to all members of the community, which includes Tai chi, a healthy snack, and often discussion of a plant-based diet.
“We’re at a tipping point,” says Dr. Freeman, whose hospital now serves plant-based meals in the hospital lounge. “I even persuaded a Colorado cattle rancher to start a plant-based diet.”
Andrew Freeman, MD, FACC, FACP, is the director of clinical cardiology, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness, and an associate professor of medicine at National Jewish Health in Denver, CO. He is also a founder and co-chair of the American College of Cardiology’s Nutrition & Lifestyle Work Group.
Dr. Freeman will present “Heart Failure and Plant-Based Diets: A Cure?” at the Physicians Committee’s 6th annual International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine on August 10, 2018, in Washington, D.C. Learn more about ICNM and register at PCRM.org/ICNM.
Photo from here, with thanks.