We show up in droves at doctors' offices around the nation, asking the man in the white cape to save the day. He's had years of education. He knows what's best. He'll spend real time with us, talk about our lifestyles, habits, and what steps we could take before resorting to medication. He'll even recommend a nutritionist, refer a colleague better suited than he, or suggest a counselor.
Wait, that's not right.
Fifteen minutes after signing in, we're handed a prescription like a lollipop.
Ah, yes, that's how it goes. Most modern doctors treat symptoms, not sources. Unless you're seeing a trained nutritionist or holistic physician, your doctor may be a nutritionally illiterate, over-prescribing fiend. It's not that your average MD doesn't have your best interest at heart; a lack of nutritional education combined with a cracked, pressure-filled pharmaceutical industry has left the nation's most educated stuck and incapable of providing proper treatment.
Which is why...
Your Brain Isn't Getting The Right Nutrition
"Let food be thy… what?"
Chances are, if you're going to a traditional doctor, they're not paying enough attention to your body (and brain's) nutritional needs. Let's look at the stats, shall we?
A whopping 95% of primary care physicians feel that nutrition plays a major role in treating chronic disease. Yay! That's good, right? Yes. Illnesses like diabetes, obesity, fatigue, allergies, asthma, depression, and heart disease respond better to changes in diet than medications.
But… only 6% of primary care physicians say that they routinely refer patients with chronic disease to a dietitian for nutritional counseling. Just because they don't refer you to someone doesn't mean they're not talking to you about nutrition themselves. True. But they're not.
On average, medical students get less than 20 hours of nutritional education: Your doctor has spent less time on dietetics than he has watching both seasons of Orange Is The New Black.
Not my doctor…
You sure? Less than 50% of MD's discuss nutrition with their patients at all, a percentage that seems high considering 12% of primary care physicians feel that they and their colleagues pay either "a great deal or quite a bit of attention to nutrition in the treatment and management of chronic disease." (1)
So, we've established that your doctor is going to save your brain through nutrition. But don't worry, there's a pill for that.
Which brings us to the fact that...
Your Brain is Overprescribed
As mentioned above, most doctors' do want what's best for their patients, but the medical system isn't backing them up. There's pressure to prescribe from psychological warfare-trained pharma reps, not to mention the threat of malpractice if they deny a patient a medication they ask for. None of this is a surprise considering that nearly half of all Americans have used at least one prescription drug in the past month.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not going all Tom Cruise, "Matt, you're glib" on medication. It can be a great, transitory thing to get you to a place where you can recover on your own. Look at it this way: If you break your leg, you don't keep the crutches forever.
Unfortunately, dropping medication isn't as easy as dropping crutches. Say you're depressed. You go to your doctor where you're given: 1. Zoloft, because it's the one that particular doctor's office sells the most. 2. Paxil, because it came with the cutest/most-convincing pharma girl and/or most perks from the pharma company. 3. Prozac, because it was the commercial that resonated with you the most. (Look, both dog and owner are happier now!)
But you're smart. You see the medication as a band-aid. No way I'll be on these long term. Plus, I feel so low, I'll try anything. Yet, as we've seen, you probably aren't given any other recommendations re. therapy, lifestyle changes, or nutritional counseling. Somehow "I'll try anything" is answered with "here's your one option."
After six months, you've built up a tolerance. Another trip to the doctor's office results in an increase in dosage. The process repeats. Before you know it, you're taking a high dose of antidepressants, but you're still feeling shitty. This could be because your brain is resistant to its effects or because "chronic exposure to SSRI antidepressants frequently makes people feel apathetic or less engaged in their lives, and ultimately more depressed." There's no way you can risk ripping the band-aid off: weaning off the drugs seems damn near impossible.
Well, that's depressing. Yes, it is. But you can fix it if you...
You might be mad at your doctor right now. And that's okay, but unless you're willing to morph into Erin Brockovich, you're not going to have much luck disrupting big pharma. Then how do I change this cycle? You don't. You become your own best advisor. You educate the doctor. We no longer live in a world where medical professionals have access to information that we don't.
Create A Different Type Of Office Visit
Right now, things haven't changed because we're just opening our mouths and letting them feed us pills like baby birds with a worm. If we stop and demand nutritional counseling, lifestyle change info, doctors will have to respond. It's idealistic, yes, but the statistics are in our favor. While there are nearly a million doctors in the United States, there's 318 million of us.
Remember, the words at the end of the medication commercials are "consult your doctor." Consult, not let him judge.
(1) Institute for Functional Medicine, Introduction to Functional Nutrition: Clinical Solutions for Addressing the Underlying Causes of Disease - See more here.