I am a medical doctor and a qualified Lifestyle Medicine Physician (dipl BSLM/IBLM). I also have a PhD (DPhil) in genetics.
After working for several years at hospitals in Brighton and London I took a career break to focus on my family.
My journey into Lifestyle Medicine began when I started my own family and researched the best choices I could make for them in terms of physical and mental wellbeing. I found that there are a wealth of quality studies showing the staggering benefits, in both the short and long-term, of making positive lifestyle choices. Up until this point I had a very conventional medical approach to health, but once I went back to the science I realised that whilst there is a definite place for pharmaceuticals, these are relatively blunt tools compared with shifting a person’s trajectory away from illness altogether.
I think we would struggle to think of anyone who's own life or that of a loved one has not been affected by illness.
My own father was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in his early 40s. Since my 20s he has suffered multiple heart attacks, had open heart surgery and multiple stents to open up the blood vessels that supply his heart. He has been blind from diabetic eye damage for the past decade which means he has never seen the faces of 3 of his 4 grandchildren. His body has been degrading for decades robbing him of a quality of life, and my mother has been his carer at a time in their lives when they should be enjoying financial stability and quality time with their children and grandchildren. There is no drug treatment that reverses diabetes, but there is very strong evidence that it can be prevented and reversed by making moderate lifestyle changes.
These very same changes reduce the risk of dementia, cancer, strokes, depression and a huge number of other illnesses. I am certain that if we had implemented these changes at the start of his diagnosis my parents' lives would be strikingly different today.
My first foray into Lifestyle Medicine came with helping a family member, who felt he was being sensible, yet couldn't get his diabetes under control. Since he knew my father, the worsening state of his kidneys and eyes were really worrying him. We started by modifying his diet and exercise and within 6 months we reversed his diabetic eye damage and kidney damage. Typically these would have worsened, potentially leading to blindness and dialysis.
Whilst medications deal with symptoms and can slow deterioration, they do not reverse disease. It is one thing to read the theory, but quite another to see the effects on a person‘s life of making such changes.
At this point I realised that this was how I must practice medicine - it is more powerful to truly treat rather than simply obscure the effects of illness.
Every year, our Chief Medical Officer (CMO) produces a report on the state of the health of our nation. Chris Whitty's report for 2020 found that we spend 20% of our lives in poor health- and worryingly this proportion has been increasing.
Having seen what this looks like I would not want it for myself, anyone I care for or anyone at all.
Whilst modern medicine has turned the tide for infectious diseases, maternal and infant mortality and a range of illnesses, it is not the solution for our biggest causes of disability and death anymore. These illnesses- such as heart disease, diabetes, most cancers, dementia, are lifestyle diseases - we don't have to suffer from these diseases and their consequences.
I am fortunate to be a part of the process when people want to take control of the trajectory of their health and happiness. I think there is a grassroots movement within the NHS towards a style of medicine that deals with preventing and reversing disease which is where the real power of health lies. But such cultural changes take time. and I feel too passionate about this style of medicine to wait for that to happen.
Thus 'My Wellness Doctor' was born.
I am delighted you've stopped by to join us on this exciting journey!
My own journey into lifestyle medicine began with my father.
Growing up, I would frequently wake to see my dad on the landing outside my bedroom door at 5AM balancing on his head, pulling faces. This was his daily Yoga practice. Immediately after this he would exercise, meditate, drink green tea and prepare a bowl of porridge, fruit and nuts for his breakfast.
He performed this same routine every day for decades, as a result he had a healthy BMI, low blood pressure and was strong and fitter in his 60’s than I was in my 20’s.
As is often the case, my motivation for a career in medicine was also personal experience. My Nan suffered badly with an autoimmune disorder, Scleroderma that affected the function of most of her organs including her heart which would occasionally fail.
Even now as a GP for over 10 years I find the name; “Heart Failure” an oddity. It’s a diagnosis that always terrifies patients. Heart failure, in most cases results from long term strain in the muscles of the heart, or as a result of heart muscle damage following a heart attack. This leads to a ‘backlog’ in the fluid in the vessels of the body and/or the lungs. Fluid in the body can lead to swollen ankles, fluid in the lungs can lead to breathlessness, particularly when lying down flat and if severe can be life threatening.
As a child I recall vividly my nan struggling to breathe in bed, my mum called her GP who arrived and gave her an injection of a drug (which I now know was a diuretic). I watched it stunned amazement as my nan went from her breathless moribund state back to her usual self within minutes. There was a massive sense of relief and gratitude in the room. I remember thinking that this seemed to be the closest thing to ‘magic’ I had ever seen.
Knowing more about pharmacology of course has lessened the awe. I still feel that medicine has added incredible value to our world. Modern medicine has the power to prolong life and alleviate suffering to a far greater extent than at any point in human history. Western medicine, with its scientific underpinning creates a consistent framework of care that can be practiced by a trained clinician throughout the world. Surgical techniques can mend bones and repair ruptured arteries. Vaccinations have saved countless millions of lives and allowed parents to raise children without the constant fear of a barrage of infective illness.
I wonder though whether we have started to lose our way. Modern medicine often focuses on allowing us to maintain unhealthy lives by targeting the effects of our unhealthy behaviours rather than trying to improve our lifestyles. Taking a statin, will lower our cholesterol and reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, but will not reduce our risks of cancer, diabetes, dementia and poor mental health.
Improving our lifestyles however, will not only reduce cholesterol & cardiovascular disease but will also reduce risks of all chronic inflammatory and degenerative disease and make us feel better, more energised and happier people.
Often people think they have a “good diet doc”, but in fact, although they watch their sugar and salt, and take the dog out for a walk each day this is not enough, given how ubiquitous sugar and salt are, and how stressful modern life can be.
I have spent a greater proportion of my life eating meat, dairy, eggs, junk food, takeaway food, salt, sugar etc. My Fitbit informs me that over a 5 year period I averaged about 5 hours of sleep per night and managed about 6000 steps per day. I am in no position to judge anyone (except perhaps myself, and the Fitbit marketing department ) so I understand when people believe that to change more than this would be “extreme” and “too difficult” (I often hear the phrase: “What’s the point in living longer if life is miserable?”).
Given the new studies coming out, this sentiment is far from the truth and through personal experience consisting of small but consistent steps towards impactful lifestyle changes I have seen first-hand how a transformation is possible.
We may forego the shorterm pleasure of a burger, a doughnut or a pint of milk, but even in the medium term healthy choices such as these, actually make us feel better, more energised, as the addiction wains and we develop healthier habits.
In the long term, a healthier lifestyle allows us to live longer and free from the burden of chronic illness.
How can we compare the simple pleasure of a beef burger with the pleasure of being able to play football with our grandchildren? This is why i don’t agree when i hear people saying that living healthier would make life more miserable.
We must put aside defensive or long-held ideas about how we thought things should be done, and honestly ask ourselves if the way we’ve always done things is really the best way of doing things for ourselves, the world and others.
Welcome to My Wellness Doctor.
I look forward to hearing from you.