Diet and disease are connected, doctor contends |

Diet and disease are connected, doctor contends

John Colson

Dr. Jeffrey Bland spoke Monday, during the Aspen Center for Integrative Healths fifth annual symposium, You Bet Your Life.Mark Fox/The Aspen Times

Arthritis, diabetes and heart disease are not the “silo diseases” they have historically been considered, with little or no relation to one another or to other “systemic” physical maladies, according to a doctor who spoke in Aspen earlier this week.The three ailments, along with cancer, Alzheimer’s and other chronic maladies, are linked to one degree or another with various types of inflammation that regularly afflict the human body, said Dr. Jeffrey Bland, a corporate leader in the field of “nutritional medicine.”And the best way to avoid critical complications from inflammation, he said, is to eat “the best medicine” – good food, scientifically selected to target to specific physical problems, as well as improve general well-being. Bland was speaking at the fifth annual Aspen Center for Integrative Health symposium, where the group’s mission is “to educate doctors and health care professionals, patients, and the public on validated integrative healing therapies, on cutting-edge prevention programs, and on the effects of the environment on health.”The list of speakers was assembled under the topical headline, “You Bet Your Life,” because, as described in the symposium literature, “Every day we literally bet our lives on a myriad of choices we make – to do, or not to do, things that affect our health and longevity.”

As a medical student in the mid-1960s, Bland rejected the traditional view that arthritis, diabetes and heart disease could only be treated using established medical practices that did nothing to study the underlying cause of the ailments, but simply treated the symptoms. Rather, Bland started a company dedicated to educating physicians about the benefits of preventative medicine at a corporate campus in Gig Harbor, Washington.His company, Metagenics, employs 160 people, nearly a third of whom are clinical researchers working in what he termed “cross-functional” ways to combine their knowledge and to open lines of communication between different scientific disciplines.Bland said one thing scientists recently have found is that there are some cultures without high “inflammatory potential,” meaning people are not exposed to the kinds of stress, food and other factors he believes leads to inflammation and chronic disease. And these cultures, he said, actually have lower rates of heart disease, arthritis and diabetes.Bland contends that different kinds of food send different “messages” to the cells in a body concerning how to act and react.”Food is information. We are receivers of that information,” he declared, with the warning, “We may have broken the signal of food.”

He believes many diseases are caused more by environmental factors than by genetic predisposition. For example, only 80 percent of women with the so-called “breast cancer gene” actually develop breast cancer.”What about those other 20 percent,” he asked rhetorically, answering his own question by suggesting that breast cancer, like other chronic diseases, might be brought about by human habits and behaviors.Bland said the causes of these kinds of diseases should be viewed as “mechanisms,” and that such factors as diet are a big part of what drives these mechanisms.”The age of the diagnosis is coming to an end,” he said, referring to the practice in which doctors diagnose a disease as though it were standing alone, in isolation from other diseases or causative factors, and treat it in a similar way.Instead, we are moving toward the view that diseases are caused by “mechanisms” that can be detected and altered, and that chronic diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, dementia and heart disease could come from common causes, and could be treatable with common curative regimens.

He cited one case in which a woman was treated for rheumatoid arthritis by putting her on a special “Mediterranean diet” that, among other things, excluded wheat. It turned out, after the treatment regimen had been completed and tests conducted, the woman had an allergy to gluten, a component of wheat. As a result of the treatments, the woman lost weight, the swelling of her joints was reduced and her range of motion was increased.Another patient complained of excessive weight gain, high blood pressure, heartburn and abdominal bloating, along with “generalized fatigue.” By changing his diet, the man lost weight, his other symptoms improved and the chronic pain he experienced in his left knee disappeared.Bland noted that if he told these stories to an audience of traditional doctors, the first question would be, “What drugs did you use?”But, he stated, “We didn’t use drugs, we used the best medicine,” a dietary regimen that he said sends “cool down” messages to the cells, reduces inflammation and improves a range of bodily functions.John Colson’s e-mail address is

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