Be Informed - inform yourself
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without
interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
― United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
A lot of what we think we know about health and medicine springs not from intellectual rigour, but
from intellectual laziness. Which is why I encourage people to do their research. To be informed and
not base their health and well-being in ignorance.
How often, when young, did I hear the cliché, “Ignorance is bliss.” And how often I hear it from clients,
especially with regard to their health, who would rather not know whether their ill-health signs and symptoms
are actually something serious or not.
But sadly, nothing could be further from the truth! Ignorance is not bliss. Truth is bliss. Knowledge is power
and liberates us and to offer a Biblical quote, from Christ, “You will know the Truth, and the Truth will set
you free.” (John 8:32)
Being informed is gaining wisdom, and wisdom is the personal scalpel you use to cut off what is false from
what is correct.
You cannot heal what you conceal.
You need to face it, embrace it, and if necessary, replace it.
Where and how you get your information, your education, your news, and form your knowledge, determines, to a large extent, what you ultimately end up believing about the world around you.
What you are originally taught or learn is determined by your parent(s), governments, the EU, the education system, teachers, advertising and the media in general, and increasingly social-media in particular though often sound-bites are not the best way to be fully informed. As sound bites, they miss not only the melody, the accompaniment, but always the whole orchestral piece.
If someone heads off to University, their medical world view is influenced almost entirely by the politics, programmes, and people of the establishment where they study. In Scotland this means that few doctors will have available to them automatically, studies in nutrition and health. Some Scottish universities recently confirmed when I asked them, that in a five year programme as little as two hours is devoted to nutrition. Yet we expect those same doctors to discuss our nutritional needs, advise on diet, and increasingly to pronounce on nutrition and obesity.
Is it any wonder many doctors still do not see nutrition (ie food) as medicine and yet for 2,200 years, until 1805, medicine was practised exclusively according to the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (460-377 BC), the founding father of natural medicine? He taught that the most important principle of medicine must be to respect nature’s healing forces, which inhabit each living organism. In other words, honour the natural healing abilities of the body – mind system. Hippocrates considered illness a natural phenomenon that forced people to discover the imbalances in their health. In other words, a sign or symptom was trying to tell you something, and not to be rushed to be treated with creams, dissolved with medications, or chopped out as modern medicine would do.
Hippocrates strongly believed in good food and connected the course of any ailment to poor nutrition and bad eating habits. He stressed, “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food” advice that, to this day, has not lost its validity, except it seems within our NHS.
In 20 years of living with a diagnosis of diabetes Type 2, the only advice I have had regarding food is to get plenty exercise, eat carbohydrates, avoid fat, and reduce my calories – guidance which is so strongly discredited these days yet is still commonplace in the NHS. Even when I asked for it, I received no nutritional advice yet all calories are not created equal and overdoing the carbohydrates is ill-advised as we now see with the low carbohydrate high fat (LCHF) eating approach.
One size sound-bites do not fit all and that advice is as dangerous as it is foolish.
In the case of my younger sister, who died from stage 4 breast cancer in 2015, much of the medical information and treatment she received was limited, outdated, and we were almost forbidden from even raising the issue of complementary approaches such as the use of nutrition or cannabidoil (CBD or medical marijuana.) Yet chemotherapeutic drugs we discovered during our own research had only a 5% likelihood of effectiveness yet we were told the drugs were good drugs! The information she was given by an oncologist was to eat as much as possible, anything and everything, ice-cream, cakes, desserts, lots of carbs. She already had diabetes and candidiasis and within days was suffering with glucose levels that had gone awry and recurrent thrush infections. It was clear her immune system was not coping, inflammation was rife yet even when we asked we got no nutritional information and the food when she was hospitalised was not geared to her medical conditions yet the hospital was able to provide specialist meals for Hindus, Muslims, coeliacs, and so on.
With urgency, we set to, to do our own nutritional research and training.
So we need to understand that the people we often hold in some regard only know what they only know. And you too, whether private or professional, only know what you only know.
Ask a friend for advice on the best diet for you and what you are likely to get is their biased perspective based on their own attitudes to diet
If your favorite newspaper or TV channel is biased towards the bio-medical model of health then you are unlikely to get any positive coverage of the honest truth about complementary and alternative, functional, integrative medicine.
So when it comes to informing yourself on matters relating to your health, well-being, and
wellness, it is first and foremost your responsibility to do the research. It is your responsibility
not to just swallow what others tell you and believe all you are told and read. It is your
responsibility to be discriminating. If your doctor suggests medication, don’t just cave in and
say “yes” without knowing what you are saying “yes” to.
It is acknowledged that you may be impeded through inability or lack of access to libraries and
internet in easily obtaining up to date information. But can you give someone trustworthy a
clear idea of what you are looking for and ask them to find out for you?
Prepare and ask questions - it is your life
How wide is your knowledge on this illness, this course of treatment, this procedure etc.
On what is it based? Speculation, a hunch, outdated information, or current evidenced fact?
How biased is it – politically, financially, medically, etc
Is that the only source that exists? On the web, I will usually try to find a minimum of three websites on the topic in question. I’ll compare and contrast the information and if necessary seek further sources.
What other sources could you use to inform yourself?
How reliable are they?
How up-to-date is the information you are discovering? Is it current?
If published by a pharmaceutical company or food company, do they have a vested interested in what they select to tell you?
Are you fully aware of what a treatment is meant to do?
Why is it being recommended in your case?
How are you likely to benefit?
What is involved?
Are you aware of the side effects of any treatment, operation, medication?
What questions remain unanswered?
What doubts do you have?
You can probably think of questions of your own. But at least you know that you will go before medical staff empowered and informed, and this can aid your confidence.
The well informed patient
Well informed patients are on the rise, and so is their ability to stand their ground, to be truly heard, not just talked at, but to be listened to with undivided attention and not whilst a nurse or doctor is multi-tasking on their screen, printing out labels for urine samples, and trying to place a blood pressure wrap almost all instantaneously. We are in the era of empowering patient centred medicine are we not (or supposed to be.)
A year ago the internet was awash with doctors in the UK condemning patient use of the internet to inform themselves of medical conditions. Now in 2018, when the NHS is under stress and time constraints, we are told by government we should consult Dr Google. It's utter hypocrisy - they change their mind when it suits them.
The majority of Web health-seekers tend to be affluent, well-educated and female, which means millions are cut off from the Internet at a time when governments are pushing the health industry to post more information online.
Health content online is often difficult to navigate, and can lead people from mild symptoms to scary and unlikely conditions, so at one level I can appreciate a doctor's concern. There is the danger someone may "misdiagnose" and think they have nothing to worry about, or they go into denial, or the opposite is true, they are so scared they do not reach out for help. But that is no reason to want to stop people from using the internet. And not all websites are useless, full of outdated or erroneous information. Surely a patient must be allowed the courtesy of some intelligence to understand what he or she is reading?
I use the internet to inform myself, to educate myself, to stay up-to-date, to prepare for a consultation but not to diagnose. I think doctor's forget the subtle difference in our reasons for using the website. I also have a strong interest in my health and well-being, what is going in my body and the environment around it and in particular what I can do to take personal responsibility for creating optimal health. You cannot talk of being patient centred, seeking to encourage patients to take more personal responsibility and then come the heavy hand of, "but don't use the internet." For every good, well-informed doctor, there is probably an equally bad and ill-informed one. The world of the Web is no different.
I have had so many consultations in the past two years where medical terms have been cursorily thrown at me in the space of a few minutes and I am expected to understand. It takes me an hour or more, in the comfort and relaxed privacy of my own home, to do my research and inform myself far better than any doctor or consultant has done. Recently a consultant insisted I should have my gallbladder removed but could not explain to my satisfaction, why. After considerable research, I concluded there was no valid reason.
Search engines are aware of the pitfalls of the public trying to self inform and so in an attempt to come up with better answers to specific health questions, Google decided to upgrade its health results in collaboration with Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic.
In 2012, 80 percent of Internet users, or about 93 million Americans, had searched for a health-related topic online, according to a study released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. That was up from 62 percent of Internet users who said they went online to research health topics in 2001, the Washington research firm found.
The Pew researchers asked participants if they had used the Internet to search for at least one of 16 major health topics online, ranging from mental health, immunisations to sexual health information. Most frequently people went online to look up information about
a specific disease or medical problem (63 percent)
a particular medical treatment or procedure (47 percent)
diet, nutrition and vitamins (44 percent)
exercise or fitness information (36 percent).
prescription or over-the-counter drugs (34 percent)
alternative treatments (28 percent)
health insurance (25 percent)
depression, anxiety or stress (21 percent)
a particular doctor or hospital (21 percent).
Staff – and there are exemplary exceptions, you need to stop interrupting patients with your theories and listen to what patients are discovering, thinking and feeling; you may just learn something too. You can only correct any misinformation a patient has if you listen to what they know in the first place. And it’s not about dismissing, attacking, and countering their information – it is about backing yours up with current evidence. And to be honest, the present health paradigm does not allow doctors sufficient time to do this.
I once sat as an advocate with a client during a consultation for potentially serious eye surgery. It was obvious looking at her she was bamboozled by the speed, jargon, medical-speak, and lack of eye-contact of the consultant who was rather disapproving when I asked him if he could go more slowly in plain English. After all, the woman was risking her eyesight. Once home with her in her home, the client and I used the web to call up sites with clear diagrams to show in simple terms what the consultant had been trying to convey.
Patient – you owe it to yourself to ensure you make your own decisions based on the most up to date information from whatever reliable source and not simply swallow what a medical professional tells you, without question. You owe it to yourself if a course of treatment is recommended to take time to research that treatment, its pros and cons, the evidence for it, its success rate, its risks and side-effects, its need to treat rate.
When advocating for patients with HIV I found that quite a few doctors were running with out-of-date information, handing out leaflets clearly printed with a date some eight years earlier when the science of HIV was changing almost weekly. In eight years, rays of hope were emerging in the treatment of HIV, but not according to the doom and gloom of eight year old leaflets.
The reality is – medical staff know much of their information is out of date – like us, they are bombarded by information, misinformation, and conflicting information so I appreciate it can be difficult to stay abreast. Time is at a premium.
But many simply do not like being challenged. They just want to get on with their checklists, rush through their time- limited appointment slots, and not be deviated by an informed patient question or response. Tony Benn, Parliamentarian, once said, "Governments do not want a healthy, intelligent population because they are difficult to control."
Have a look at the date of print on posters and leaflets in your doctor's practice. That may tell you something! If they are out of date, update yourself.
"Today's patients have access to more health care information than ever before. Non-traditional sources of information, namely the Internet and direct-to-consumer advertising, are quickly becoming the norm by which patients learn about their medical conditions and treatment options. At the same time, direct communication between physicians and patients has become more limited, due to the managed care-mandated time constraints on office visits."
Many of the sites I use to inform myself are those run by the NHS, Scottish Government, Scottish Health Alliance, The NHS My Diabetes My way site, BMJ, BMA, specialist charity sites as well as non-mainstream sites. How can staff just dismiss these sites! I’ve even had nurses and doctors condemn certain sites then within seconds admit they have never looked at the sites! I wonder how many have actually viewed the NHS sites where there is a wealth of information.
I asked five separate medical professionals in NHS Forth Valley to make me an official referral to the Centre for Integrated Care in Glasgow - an NHS run facility to which any patient in Scotland can asked to be referred. Each refused claiming it would serve no purpose. When I asked them what they knew of the Centre, each said they nothing about it. How can you possibly ethically and morally deny a patient on the basis of something you know nothing about. And you believe in evidence based medicine!
Government guidelines that advise putting starchy carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, potatoes and rice at the base of a recommended diet are described by Dr. Aseem Malhotra as a “35 year fad that has driven obesity related illness with disastrous consequences for public health”.
Sheila Dillon, Presenter of BBC Radio 4's Food Programme wrote in March 2018 -
Medical students say they currently learn almost nothing about the way diet and lifestyle affect health - and they should be taught more.
They say what they are taught is not practical or relevant to most of the medical problems they see in GP surgeries, clinics and hospitals.
In 2017, NHS GP Dr Rangan Chatterjee showed in his “Doctor in the House” documentary last year, that type 2 diabetes can be diagnosed and reversed within 30 days, a reversal that has proved sustainable. Yet my NHS Forth Valley clinicians won't even discuss this.
David Lawrence Sackett, OC FRSC was an American-Canadian medical doctor and a pioneer in evidence-based medicine, is reported as saying to junior doctors, “half of what you’ll learn in medical school will either be shown to be dead wrong or out of date within five years of your graduation; the trouble is nobody can tell you which half - so the most important thing to learn is how to learn on your own”.
Patients are not the great uninformed to be ignored and patronised any more.
I make a point of following lead writers and medical experts on social media and if necessary will write to ask them to clarify where I have doubt. Not all reply!
The reality is – medical staff know much of their information is out of date – like us, they are bombarded by information, misinformation, and conflicting information so I appreciate it can be difficult to stay abreast especially when their time is at a premium. Many are cry8ing out for training which is more relevant to the bulk of what they meet day in, day out. But many still simply do not like being challenged. They just want to get on with their checklists, rush through their time- limited appointment slots, and not be deviated by an informed patient question or response.
However you have every right to inform yourself, to be as advised as possible, and to avail yourself of as many reputable sources as possible.
We have been spun lies for years on weight loss, cholesterol, statins, diabetes, diet, nutrition and so on. Don’t believe me? Have a look at some of these reputable sites, some of which, run by doctors, have won awards.
The big fat fix with Dr Aseem Malhotra
foodmed.net - how the NHS has got it so wrong on nutrition for diabetics
https://drmalcolmkendrick.org/ - the great cholesterol con