My talk at NUIG VegSoc (condensed video version)

My talk at NUIG VegSoc (condensed video version)


I recently gave a talk to the NUIG Vegan Society
about some thoughts on the teaching of nutrition in medical school and some other stuff, but
like an eejit I didn’t have my mic switched on so the recording I took of the talk is
unusable. Instead, the following will be a condensed
version of the talk adapted to a video format. I started off by asking how many vegans were
in attendance, and of those how many thought their health was going to suffer as a result
of going vegan, so I suppose that’s the first thing I’ll ask you guys, comment below whether
or not you’re vegan and if you are, why, and especially if you thought the decision was
going to negatively impact your health. The reason I bring it up is because I, myself
was in that camp. So a little backstory first, though my own
vegan story isn’t very unusual – I watched the documentary ‘Earthlings’, was absolutely
horrified by what I had seen and immediately went vegan that day. But the reason I bring it up is because I
thought my health was going to suffer as a result – you hear all this scary stuff about
protein and B vitamins and subacute combined degeneration of the spinal cord and all the
rest. And the thing is I wasn’t actually completely
nutritionally illiterate at baseline at the time – I already had some knowledge from a
gym bro weight training type perspective, and I had always taken a passing interest
in the subject anyway. So of course, inevitably I began investigating
what exactly these negative health consequences I was in for were going to be. And I remember distinctly that this was one
of the first papers I came across – the 2009 position paper from the American Dietetics
Association, stating that appropriately planned vegan diets are healthful and nutritionally
adequate for all stages of life, including pregnancy and lactation. And more than that, not only can plant-based
diets be nutritionally adequate, but I quickly discovered that they can actually LOWER your
risk of disease instead of increasing it, including some of our top killers like heart
disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. And even more amazingly, we can even reverse
some of our most common chronic diseases with a healthy enough diet, including heart disease,
early-stage prostate cancer and type II diabetes. Even just education and encouragement to move
along the spectrum from the standard Western diet to one focusing more on whole plant foods
can remarkably improve risk factors for these same chronic diseases, such as high blood
pressure. These results were far more impressive than
any other intervention I had learned about thus far. I was under the impression that these diseases
were mostly down to genetics, and that the best we could hope to do is to manage their
effects with drugs and surgery, with inevitable disappointing results. You might bypass a clogged coronary artery
and provide a period of relief only to have the graft itself eventually clog up, or pursue
a “watchful waiting” attitude towards pre-cancerous prostate lesions leaving men in a constant
state of anxiety and uncertainty and very often eventually maimed in the most intimate
ways following prostate surgery, or eternally battle the labile blood sugars seen in type
II diabetes with an ever-increasing complex regimen of injections and pills, a universally
losing battle with patients often developing kidney disease, going blind and requiring
amputations. And of course risk factors can be controlled
with drugs too, but like other medical interventions they always come with a list of side-effects
and very often provide extremely underwhelming and disappointing results for a huge cost. These conventional interventions are nothing
like what we can do with whole foods, plant-based nutrition. So as you can imagine, I was furious! How had I managed to make it this far through
medical school without learning about this stuff? The opening up of clogged, atherosclerotic
coronary arteries, getting off insulin in just 2 weeks of eating right, the reversal
of essential hypertension with no side-effects – why were these not the first things they
taught us? We have the ability to prevent, treat and
cure these common, debilitating and deadly chronic diseases much more effectively, without
the side-effects or huge costs of conventional treatments. But I just want to clarify something here
– it’s not the doctor’s fault that the practice of medicine is based around prescribing drugs
and surgery – we simply aren’t taught about the power of diet and lifestyle! It took a medical student randomly stumbling
across a vegan documentary with a curious enough mind to investigate the health effects
of the diet to discover this stuff. Other than that, I would have graduated without
ever learning this amazing power we have over our health destiny. Yet doctors are considered by the public to
be among the most trusted sources for nutrition-related information, second only to registered dietitians
and nutritionists. And make no mistake, this lack of training
in nutrition for medical students is absolutely the norm. In a survey of EU medical schools, of the
schools that returned the survey some did not require any nutrition training at all,
and those that did only required an average of 24 hours of nutrition education, and you
can bet that there was some serious sampling bias here. And this number actually appears to be trending
down. The situation in Ireland? Of the two schools out of our six that responded,
both reported that nutrition education is not required. Just to put this in perspective, basic medical
education in the EU, including Ireland must consist of no less than 5500 hours of contact
time. So at best, the medical education of doctors
in the EU is less than 0.5% nutrition-related. And that would be fine if less than 0.5% of
deaths and the diseases we treat were nutrition-related, but according to the Global Burden of Disease
study, which offers the most rigorous analysis of risk factors ever published, dietary risks
are the number 1 risk factor for death globally, and nutrition-related risk factors dominate
our leading causes of death. So for 2017, almost 11 million deaths were
due to direct dietary risks, and diet contributed to 10s of millions more. So that’s less than 0.5% of our time spent
learning about nutrition, yet it is the number 1 risk factor for death and contributes to
many, many more. So why this huge disconnect? Briefly, there has been a failure of health
care and medical education to adapt to the transition from acute disease as the dominant
health problem to chronic disease. So until this adaptation occurs, drugs- and
surgery-centred medicine is likely to persist. At this point I wanted to switch gears and
provide my audience, which consisted primarily of college students, with something a little
more positive, so if you’re watching this now and are in college yourself with exams
looming, this may be of benefit to you, too. In the spirit of being one of the most-trusted
sources for nutrition-related information, I’m going to give you some actionable nutrition
advice right now. A plant-based diet can support optimal brain
health and functioning, but I’m going to suggest a few foods you might want to specifically
focus on to gain an edge in your exams! In this double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled,
crossover trial on college students, 2 servings of walnuts for 8 weeks appeared to significantly
improve inferential reasoning. Might be worth adding some walnuts to your
diet over the next few weeks! There is promising evidence as well that anthocyanins
and other flavonoids found throughout the plant kingdom but especially in berries offer
a cognitive boost with both long-term and acute use, concludes this systematic review. A healthy serving of blueberries on the morning
of your exam may also give you an edge! And dark green leafies appear to boost cognitive
performance through a variety of mechanisms, including their high nitrate content and the
carotenoid phytonutrients lutein and zeaxanthin that they contain. So maybe something like a green berry smoothie
with a handful of walnuts for breakfast over the next few weeks might just be the fuel
you need to have your best set of exams ever! So that was my talk to NUIG VegSoc, thanks
for watching and I hope you found it informative! Feel free to leave any questions or comments
you have in the comments section below. That’s it for now guys, talk to ye next time! Sláinte!

12 thoughts on “My talk at NUIG VegSoc (condensed video version)

  1. How did you think dropping animal products would affect your health?

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  2. Excellent video and information Dr. Harrington. The big problem of this medical education and nutrition disconnect should be made aware to all indeed. Definitely thanks for the tips and references. I'm very glad that that medical student watched Earthlings.

  3. It's great to see so a young doctor so we'll informed. There needs to be a new generation to maintain and expand the message and not get drawn into the keto nonsense.

  4. Wow, very interesting talk! I learn a lot from your videos Dr. H. I enjoyed hearing about the walnut study. 🥜 🌱

  5. It was purely youtube and health for me, so I was plant based. I didn't even see my first vegan documentary until I was 1 year in and no real footage of the animal agriculture industry. And to this day I have not seen Earthlings and I refuse to watch it and the only condition in which I will is me trying to show a non vegan on the brutality of such an industry.

    I oficially went vegan for health, but when I did see some slaughterhouse foootage that is what made me strictly vegan. I didn't realise how it works. As far as my mind was concerned death was a funeral. I knew animals had to die but you can never know the full picture before seeing another beings throat slashed open. That's an image I had never thought about, make any argument you want, it's messed up on any level and there's no justifying it. When you see something that's wrong you just know. You don't need anyone else to tell you.

    If eating animals was necessary or healthy I wouldn't have tears rolling down my face when I see them getting mistreated. Could you imagine how dumb our evolution had to be if we actually had to eat something we feel sorry for killing? That would be the dumbest evolutionary process for survival, and biology isn't that dumb.

    So thinking about it, it's no surprise that a whole foods plant based diet prevents disease and improves health.

    You shouldn't need to learn to not care about something if you were meant to consume it. People can argue all they want, it's a learned process.

    Right now what I'm learning is to have much less of a confrontational approach and instead focusing on my journey and telling that way, so instead of a "you do this and this and here's the result" it's a "I never knew this and this" and really paying attention to other people's point of view no matter how mean and aggravating they are trying to be, just a very earthly approach. Instead of a you vs me one.

    There's being right and there's being effective. I've learned this from a podcast called "Food for Thought", just one of the nicest people, and her method is way better than mine.

    I'm just glad that info got to me, thanks to youtubes algorithm and VGs approach.

  6. Vegan FOR my health 😁 I have PPMS. Diagnosed 3years ago. Doctors told me there was nothing I could do on my own. The last 3 months have been the best since I went 100% wfpb vegan.

    Yes what I see is that most medical doctors know so little unless they are researching it themselves.

    I will eat more walnuts,😉

  7. it's a pity that nutrition is not more highlighted at medical school
    but I guess it is changing. I'm vegan for health and animals to boycott the terrible industrial meat farming.

  8. Just today someone told me that if I'm vegan and eating just fruit as I am, I'm going to be sick.
    I've been vegan for 4 years now and eating fruits, vegetables, seeds, starches and legumes. I'm always interested in nutrition and continuously improving my diet. People know so little about nutrition. I talked about iron with a cardiologist. He didn't know anything about heme and non heme iron!

  9. I agree with everything except your saying that it's not the doctors' faults that they are so ignorant.

    Clinicians are let loose on society, and handsomely paid, on the basis that they take responsibility for their actions. They fail miserably to do this. Every single person I know who has been treated by a GP or consultant in the past year has been either disastrously misdiagnosed, given unnecessary and sometimes life-changing interventions or been prescribed drugs which were both useless and harmful.

    I have come across clinicians who were unable to distinguish between a pulmonary embolism and a kidney infection, or between pregnancy and ovarian cancer. One friend was recently subjected to a pointless cystoscope and ultrasound for suspected bladder cancer – the actual cause was oxalate crystals caused by too many beet leaves. The GP was too dim to ask him about his diet, obviously. A relative was subjected to seven unnecessary colonoscopies and CT scans – and two years of worrying – because his oncologists – at a major UK cancer centre in the UK – didn't understand that the metabolism of CEA is affected by liver function and that not all alcoholics are truthful about their drinking.

    This is a brilliant channel. It's good to see that you aren't a typical clinician.

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