Picture of Émilie LacharitéÉmilie Lacharité is Digital Content Editor at CMAJ

There is undeniably a modern surge of chronic disease, gut disorders and autoimmune diseases (cancer, Crohn’s, celiac disease, diabetes, lupus, etc.), especially in the Western world. Patients as well as physicians are paying more attention to the influence of external and lifestyle factors, especially nutrition, stress, and physical movement, on health and chronic systemic inflammation. There seems to be a shift towards patient-centered and whole-body medicine (as opposed to organ-driven diagnosis). More and more patients want to move away from the one-disease-one-pill mentality.

This week, until September 15th, there is a very interesting and perhaps lesser-known online event happening called the Evolution of Medicine Summit. 40 health experts (most of them MDs) are sharing their research, experience and observations regarding the important influence of lifestyle factors on overall health.

The opening talk on Monday was by Dr. Joel Evans, board-certified OB/GYN, senior teaching faculty at the Institute for Functional Medicine and Centre for Mind/Body Medicine. Dr. Evans says that medicine has become depersonalized over time with too much focus on specific diseases and pharmacological interventions. He says that conventional medical approaches to chronic conditions are not effective but at the same time, physicians are not equipped to assist patients to make lifestyle changes. According to the CDC, the cost chronic disease is unsustainable. There is a fiscal imperative to find a solution that actually works. He encourages physicians to try some of the non-traditional approaches and experience them first-hand (meditation, acupuncture, elimination diets, stress reduction, farm-to-table food). His Centre for Mind-Body Medicine provides global trauma relief using stress reduction and other techniques in disaster zones. He also argues that reducing stress can improve any chronic condition; or at the very least provide some inner peace as a coping mechanism.

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Dr. Leo Galland, internist and functional medicine specialist, says that physicians need to understand the biochemistry and physiology of nutrition and its impact on disease. We know about microbes as an important trigger of disease but there are also food-based triggers—coffee, gluten, and added sugars are at the top. These triggers can set forth physiological processes that manifest as disease, syndromes, and symptoms (joint and muscle pain, fatigue, digestive problems, etc).

Dr. Alejandra Carrasco, board certified in both family medicine and integrative medicine, also pointed towards food intolerance and stress as triggers for various symptoms and disease; remove the trigger, symptoms diminish or disappear. She says western medicine is not the be-all-end-all. Years of chronic sickness and then a realization she was sensitive to gluten led her to transition into functional medicine. She encourages “living a nourished lifestyle”. Eating the foods our great-grandparents ate and not the boxed, processed, inflammatory products we eat today.

Dr. David Katz, internist, childhood obesity expert, and founding director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, talked about lifestyle as medicine. He reminded us that the number of overweight now outnumbers the number of hungry people on the planet. He says we need to look to the so-called blue zones around the globe, where people live the longest. (Incidentally, National Geographic is currently exploring this same theme in their article The Evolution of Diet: Could eating like our ancestors make us healthier?). Culture is the vehicle, says Dr. Katz, but lifestyle is medicine. And this is in our own hands.

All the experts seemed to point to the same thing: going back to our human roots. We are meant to move all day long, eat food that comes from nature (and not transformed in a factory) and live a simple lifestyle. And when we don’t, our bodies tell us so.

The Evolution of Medicine Summit talks are free until September 15th. Each day, a handful of presentations open for a 24-hour window (from 10am-10am the next day).

Other talks:

  • Gabriel Hoffman, Integrative Nutritionist – Why compliance is outdated in helping patients with chronic disease
  • Terry Wahls, MD – Evolutionary Nutrition: Recovering from MS and Autoimmune Disease
  • Mark Hyman, MD – The Evolution of Medical Paradigm
  • Derrick Desilva, MD – Getting Patients Off Drugs
  • David Perlmutter, MD – The Evolution of Neurology: Gut Brain Connection
  • Mark Menolascino, MD – The Evolution of Endocrinology