Food hospital – Episode 6 This is carefully designed as a feel-good show but it regularly has the effect of making me feel if –not bad then certainly angry and appalled. This week the trigger was the case of Kate, a woman in her 30s who had suffered for nearly ten years with a nasty arthritis-type condition called ankylosing spondylitis. The joints of your neck and spine gradually become stiffer and more painful as the cartilage that separates the bones is slowly destroyed. Already Kate was having difficulty turning her head from side to side or up and down and could only move a bit from the waist. Doctors classify ankylosing spondylitis as untreatable and prescribe painkillers which come with their own risk factors, such as a raised risk of heart attacks and damage to the stomach and guts.
The good news story was that by putting Kate on a “controversial” diet that can be found on the internet – a hint that it is probably unreliable – her condition was greatly improved within just six weeks. The number of seriously painful episodes that had been running at four a week was dramatically reduced to two in six weeks. The diet involved cutting down her starch intake, the theory being that a bacteria found in the gut that fed on starch was producing a chemical that damaged cartilage in the spine. Less starch, less of the harmful bacteria. So far so good. The outrageous part came when I did a very quick internet search for ankylosing spondylitis and starch. Among the hits was a very sensible and cautious paper done by a researcher at King’s College in London setting out the links between the disease and the bacteria and describing a couple of small trials of cutting back starch that found benefit.
The conclusion was that it was worth investigating further. What was shocking was that the paper was dated 1996. So for at least 15 years, and quite likely longer, the official line had been that that there was nothing to be done, when all the time there was a plausible and promising treatment. Maybe not a cure but something of benefit with none of the side effects constantly taking painkillers. Maybe even, if started early enough, it could halt the damage to cartilage. But these and dozens of other questions – who benefits, is there a need to compensate for the fact that many friendly gut bacteria rely on starch for food, are there other approaches that could target the bacteria – have never been answered because there is no effective system for developing any promising cures that don’t involve a patent.
It is a constant complaint and the only solution is that we need to stop relying exclusively on multinational medicine. To find out how you can prevent, reverse or ease symptoms of arthritis read my book Say No to Arthritis. And Kate’s story wasn’t the only one to throw up the same issue. Anne was a post-menopausal women who had been plagued by twenty or more hot flushes a day for years. For a while she had been helped by taking HRT but she had had to stop because a possibly cancerous oestrogen positive lump had been found on her breast. So the doctor had nothing else to offer. The food doctors’ remedy – go on a diet that includes a lot of plant based oestrogen such as soy – is very familiar – unlike the low starch one. But the principle is the same. The information has been out there for years. In fact if the doctors had wanted to provide maximum help they could have also recommended trying several herbs such as black cohosh and replacing some of the other nutrients that decline with age such as vitamins B and C. But even information about the basic phytoestrogen diet is denied to many women in the same position.
Instead when hormone replacement is no longer an option (and bioidentical hormones would be preferable to HRT) are simply told – You’ll just to put up with the hot flushes because they will eventually pass. To learn the nutritional approach to the menopause you can read my book Balance Your Hormones. Just as taxpayers have to cough up to keep the banks profitable, so patients have to suffer, not because there is nothing out there to help but because the treatments are not profitable enough to develop and promote.