Our Paleo Family

How to Interpret Health Advice

I have always loved to read magazines, but lately I’ve become so disenchanted with the biased and leading “health” advice they all have to offer. For months, I’ve been tearing out articles with the intention of writing my rebuttals here, but worried about ruffling feathers. Frankly, I’ve finally hit my breaking point and feel I have to present a balanced view.

My current subscriptions include:

  • Health
  • Good Housekeeping
  • Eating Well (formerly Cooking Light)
  • Southern Living

Over the course of the past year, each of these magazines listed has published what I believe to be misleading health/medical advice, but for this particular article, in order to keep it from reaching the length of War and Peace, I’m going to pick on Health Magazine.

Each time a new issue arrives and I make time to read it, I rip out at least two articles that I believe to be full of out-dated and misleading advice. Unfortunately, this magazine has a much larger circulation that my little blog here, so I’m counting on you to help spread the word. What word is that? Simply that diet and lifestyle factors DO, IN FACT, influence many disease conditions. There are many published, scientific articles attesting to the fact (just search PubMed for something like: Paleo diet and Type 2 Diabetes for one example). But potentially even more importantly are the thousands, perhaps millions of anecdotal (meaning real-life) accounts of people’s lives being absolutely turned around – for the better – by changing to an anti-inflammatory diet, seeking to remove as many toxins from daily life as possible and managing stress and sleep. These are the principles of functional medicine and they are effective.

Yet turn to almost any magazine on the news stand today, even ones in which you would not expect to find health advice, and you are likely to see some author, some with Registered Dietician (RD) credentials, many without, boldly stating that diet and lifestyle are absolutely unproven to have ANY effect.

If I were someone who heard a passing comment that maybe the Paleo diet could help control my Crohn’s disease, then later that day, picked up my favorite magazine and read the words from someone I assumed to be an expert – because you have to be an expert to write a magazine article, right? – tell me that there is no scientific basis for or proof of the diet’s success, I would likely push that thought out of my head.

I hope that my tone is not coming across as angry, but actually, I am pretty angry about this. So I guess I do want to sound angry and sort of preach-y. There is way too much bad science being thrown around these days on very high profile platforms and those of us who know first-hand the power of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle need to spread the word as far and wide as we can.

Let’s break down one example from the latest issue of Health:

From their “Our Doc Will See You Now” column by Roshini Rajapaksa, MD

Question: A naturopath suggested that I go on the candida diet to treat my yeast infections. Is there any science to back the diet up?

Answer: Not really, no. Most yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of a naturally occurring yeast species (called candida albicans) in the vagina, which can lead to itching, burning and white, odorless discharge. Proponents of the candida diet believe that certain foods – including sugar, gluten, alcohol and some dairy – promote the growth of yeast in the body and that by eliminating those foods, you can avoid an overpopulation of candida albicans. But there’s not a whole lot of evidence that the super-strict diet works as a treatment for yeast infections. If you are getting recurrent infections, it’s important to figure out why so you can treat the cause. Your annoying, uncomfortable symptoms may be the result of a weakened immune system or a side effect of a medication you’re taking. They might even be related to an undiagnosed medical condition. An MD can help you get to the root of the problem. And she may actually recommend one aspect of the candida diet: cutting back on sugar. A few small studies have shown that eating less of the sweet stuff might help prevent yeast infections.

Health, April 2019, p. 40

Ok, let’s break this down:

First off, the doctor says, No, there isn’t any science to back up the candida diet. Many readers would stop right there because that was a pretty clear answer. She goes on to say that there’s not a whole lot of evidence to support the diet. The question was, “Is there ANY science to back the diet up?” The doctor answers, “No.” Now she’s saying there’s not a whole lot, which makes me think there is some evidence. Then at the end of the response, the doctor explains that a few small studies have shown that eating less of the sweet stuff may help.

*This reader is already seeing a naturopath so she is likely interested in a natural approach to healthcare. I wish the doctor responding to the question would have done more to support this reader’s preferences. The reader is likely looking for validation of her desire to go the natural route so why not lead with, “Yes, there is some evidence that diet can be effective.”

Secondly, the doctor refers to the candida diet as super strict. Again, very negative and not at all encouraging to a person who is likely suffering. Let’s face it, yeast infections are horrible and if the reader is seeing a doctor about it and writing into a magazine and looking for alternative approaches, it is likely that she is having recurrent infections. She is looking for some hope here and the doctor is not giving it willingly.

On the positive side, the doctor does say that if the reader is having recurrent infections, she should see a doctor. That is true. However, the reader has stated that she is seeing a doctor. So this one’s a mixed bag. I take this part of the doctor’s response as a dig at naturopaths, as if they are not real doctors.

Another positive here is that the doctor indicates there is value in finding the cause of the infections, which could potentially be an undiagnosed medical condition. This is good information. There is MUCH evidence that chronic illnesses are related to inflammation in the body. Inflammation and infections go hand-in-hand. I just wish the doctor would have been more emphatic in this part of her response. And what are some first-line methods of addressing inflammation? Removing inflammatory foods!

My take on this issue: I always go straight to PubMed, the public database of articles published in peer-reviewed journals (these are the gold standard for scientific articles). After a quick search of “candida diet” and “candida diet and yeast,” I didn’t find anything that applied to this issue. Candida is found in the digestive tract normally and overgrowth there can have very negative effects. Regarding vaginal yeast infections, the evidence is more anecdotal, though small studies do exist. For a study to make it to the peer-reviewed journals, they typically must be much larger in scope and those types of studies are very expensive to conduct. The fact is that functional medicine is not receiving the funding it deserves and until that changes, we are not likely to see many large scale studies, which is unfortunate. So where does that leave us? I think there are some reputable sources worth searching. I always start with Mark Hyman, Chris Kresser, Kristi Hughes, and Jolene Brighten, all functional medicine practitioners. There are also organizations and educational institutions that will have useful, reliable information: Bauman College and the Institute for Functional Medicine to name two.

Again, this is simply my opinion, but I feel like the MDs and others responding to questions like this in these big publications and elsewhere, are coming off as very defensive – as if they are needing to defend their jobs against these “natural” docs. My wish is that they would realize we are all on the same side – that of wanting people to feel well. A traditional, Western-trained medical doctor does not receive nutrition training. They are not taught these functional, root-cause methodologies, so they cannot be expected to speak to these issues with authority. But others are trained and experts in this field.

One thing I think functional medicine has to offer that is far and above superior to Western medicine is hope. That was my experience anyway. When I read success story after success story of people healing their autoimmune diseases with diet, I felt hope for the first time in a long time. My doctor had told me that my future would most certainly contain lots of drugs, possibly very serious side effects, such as cancer, and more surgery, ultimately even the removal of my colon. Where’s the hope in that? There is none whatsoever. What functional medicine and the Paleo diet gave me, besides feeling amazingly well, was the belief that I was not trapped under the heavy burden of my disease.

I have one more thing to say here – there is no harm in changing your diet for the better. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would say there is any harm in removing added sugars from your diet. So why not lead with that? Maybe this doctor wants to start with, “No, there is no scientific basis for this diet.” But why not follow that immediately with a big BUT – there is no harm in trying. Instead, she paints a very negative picture of a real, viable option for this reader and offers her zero hope or encouragement and I think that is just wrong.

I have one more article from this same issue of Health magazine that I want to break down, but this post is already very long so I’ll do a part 2 in a couple of days. I’ll give you a preview though: it’s about Type 2 Diabetes and sugar and one person’s declaration that eating too much sugar has NOTHING to do with the onset of diabetes. My jaw literally fell open when I read those words. I can’t wait to dig into this one.

The very last page of this Health magazine contains a list of all the “experts” who contributed to the content in the magazine. There are 35 people listed. Some are MDs, many have websites and practice in various health-related fields. There is one highlighted expert in each issue and for this particular issue, it is Dr. Mark Hyman, Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, founder and director of the UltraWellness Center, and considered one of the pioneers in the functional medicine movement. How can they highlight Dr. Hyman as one of their contributors and absolutely discount functional medicine principles in the actual content of their magazine? It is outrageous to me. It’s irresponsible. It’s poor journalism. 

If you are suffering from candida overgrowth, I encourage you to check these sources first:

I hope you found this post helpful. My parting words are this: read carefully and critically. Trust yourself. If you are confident in the ability of your naturopath, take comfort in that. If your methods of treatment involve removing unnecessary, inflammatory foods from your diet and toxins from your environment then rest assured that those are positive changes no matter what and there is absolutely no harm in trying. If you want or need some more personalized assistance in your healing journey, I’d be happy to talk with you! Just email me at elizabeth@ourpaleofamily.com.

One thought on “How to Interpret Health Advice

  1. Jane

    Well said, Elizabeth. That’s why I depend on you. I had the same thought- defensive.
    Hidden agendas. Thank you.

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