The past fortnight has seen two young women who’ve treated their chronic disease with very particular diets hit mainstream headlines. It’s been astonishing stuff.
News of wellness blogger Jess Ainscough’s tragic death tore through the media two weeks ago. Jess had a rare cancer (epithelioid sarcoma) and after undergoing chemotherapy, had declined the only treatment her doctors could offer her (amputation of her arm at the shoulder blade), instead deciding to treat herself with the controversial Gerson Therapy. This therapy – when applied to cancer patients – is based on a fully plant-based diet and involves drinking one glass of fresh raw juice every hour for 13 hours and taking up to 5 coffee enemas a day.
Then this week The Australian newspaper did an expose of mega-blogger and cult Instagrammer Belle Gibson who has claimed to be healing her own brain cancer (and more recently, liver, uterus, spleen and blood cancers, too) via alternative therapies and a healthy diet. The report claimed there is no proof Belle has ever had any form of cancer. Belle apparently admits she may have been misdiagnosed and subsequent news stories reveal a history of unusual and contradictory claims of terminal illness (and identities).
I’m not going to wade in on the ins and outs of the various reports (except to say I’m left very concerned about Belle’s welfare, wherever the truth ends up landing).
There’s a bigger issue to chat about here and that’s the notion of an impressionable public being encouraged to believe food can fix chronic disease.
This has concerned me for some time. And, of course, I’ve had to look at my own role in the palaver (I have an auto-immune disease, quit sugar to try help manage my disease better, and things snowballed from there.) I’m acutely aware of the responsibility I have in sharing food and health information, and information about my own chronic disease, and I get deeply distressed when my message is deliberately (or otherwise) misconstrued in a dangerous (to the general public) way by irresponsible media outlets. These recent developments highlight the need for far more responsibility and professionalism.
Partly to this end I’m going to take this highly charged moment to lay things out nice and clearly:
- Food is not medicine if you’re chronically sick. Chronic illness is rarely curable – it’s, at most, manageable, something I repeat whenever I discuss my journey with autoimmune disease. That said, good, real, unprocessed food is highly effective (actually, non-negotiable) when managing chronic illness.
- Mainstream medicine should not be sidelined. It should be appreciated and incorporated where appropriate, case-by-case. Me, I’m very transparent about the fact I take bog-standard, commercially produced Thyroxin for my Hashimotos condition. It’s what works for me. That said, due to my good eating over the past four years, I’ve been able to manage my disease much better and have reduced the dosage of Thyroxin substantially, with supervision from a bog-standard endocrinologist.
- Food can, however, help prevent disease. And so this is why I do what I do. I want to help as many people as possible maintain their wellness so they don’t go down the autoimmune hell-hole I did (and continue to traverse). There are countless studies that back this measured proposition.
- And eating crappy processed food does lead to disease. There is countless evidence of this, too. Feel free to read this recent study here for starters.
- Changing your diet should be a n=1, gentle experiment… done with care and caution and while bearing in mind that no one diet fits all. I am very careful to emphasise at every turn that “I Quit Sugar”. That is, I gave it a go, based on evidence that was emerging. It worked for me. And now I share information that might help you do the same gentle experiment, should you want to try it out. It’s an invitation, with helpful hyperlinks.
- Ensure you do no harm. Or so goes the Latin-derived medical adage. Fine for me to invite others to try out a way of eating for size. But with that comes responsibility. And this is something I urge anyone in this sphere to take on. Fully. Once a business spawned from my own experiment, I set out to ensure what I was sharing was safe. That when folk came out the other end, bare minimum, they’re not worse off. To this end I researched every facet of my program and two years ago set about conducting a study with a team of scientists and doctors at Sydney University to confirm that cutting sugar out of your diet (for both eight weeks and longer) would not result in any health issues. Indeed our study showed this. Further, Dr Kieron Rooney, who led the study, says: “Yet-to-be-published results tell us that some markers of metabolic health improved, with a subset of beneficial changes persisting up to five months after completing the program. The full report is currently being prepared for submission to a peer-reviewed journal in 2015.”
Take care, take responsibility. And for goodness’ sake, ignore the vapid, rabid media operators who insist on adding kerosene to the flames (of their own fire). Not the right time!