The missing link in medical school

What your doctor doesn’t know about nutrition CAN hurt you

With the first edition of my medical textbook Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine that was published 24 years ago (now in its 6th edition), I quickly discerned that a natural approach to medicine was and remains a hugely popular consumer health movement.

It’s a movement driven by Americans who are voting with their feet and their pocketbooks to take their healthcare business elsewhere—outside of the crony-corporatist mainstream medical establishment largely controlled by big pharma, big government, and medical specialty organizations and societies.

Of course, nutrition remains the keystone of most natural approaches to health. And yet, starting in medical school, doctors have a woefully inadequate understanding of human biology, diet, and nutrition.

In fact, as modern western biomedicine has circled the globe, it’s become a worldwide problem. A new research analysis found that “nutrition is insufficiently incorporated into medical education,” regardless of country, setting, or year in school.

As a result, most doctors are unable to guide their patients to true health because they know nothing about it. And that’s truly a global health hazard.

I’ll tell you more about this analysis in a moment. But first, let’s look at the reasons why doctors remain so persistently ignorant of nutrition…and what you can do about it.

No nutrition leadership from the medical establishment

I was recently interviewed by a smart and seasoned journalist for Time magazine for the lead article in a special issue on natural medicine.

(I have a special fondness for Time because the co-founder, Henry Luce, established a program to send graduate students to work and study in Asia. I was in the second group of Luce Scholars, and got my first introduction to what’s called “alternative” and natural medicine in the U.S. that way.)

The reporter asked me where the medical and healthcare leadership is coming from in natural approaches to medicine. I responded frankly: There’s no leadership from the medical establishment at all.

In fact, the medical research funding organizations—like the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—had to be dragged kicking and screaming to actually start doing the research they all demand on alternative/complementary medicine years ago, and only because Congress appropriated funds conditional on them doing it.

It reminds me of when I was director of the College of Physicians, and then Thomas Jefferson University Hospital Center for Integrative Medicine in Philadelphia. My senator from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter, was chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. I convinced him to budget funds for the NIH to study bioenergetics (a clear common denominator among natural approaches).

But the good senator told me that NIH didn’t want the funds because “they don’t believe in bioenergetics.”

And if that weren’t bad enough, there’s the problem with medical specialty organizations, too…

I used to meet with former Congressman Ron Paul, who, like his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), is a physician.

The Pauls, and others, believe that medical specialty societies practice illegal restraint of trade when it comes to not allowing doctors to offer certain kinds of care to their patients. They believe that federal anti-trust legislation should be employed to stop these abuses.

I’ve often reported about some of the worst medical specialties—the ones that actually pose a danger to your health due to their persistent ignorance of basic human diet and nutrition. (For more about one of my least favorite medical specialties—cardiology—see last month’s issue.)

Which leads me to the study I mentioned earlier…

Half of medical students flunk a basic “nutrition 101” quiz

Researchers in Australia, New Zealand and The Netherlands analyzed 24 studies on the nutrition knowledge (or lack thereof) among medical students, as well as students’ skills and confidence about counseling patients on diet, nutrition, and health.1

Eleven of the studies were from the U.S., seven from Australasia, four from Europe, and one each from Africa and the Middle East—making this truly a global analysis of nutrition education.

Researchers found that medical students don’t think their education has adequately equipped them in nutrition, nor positioned them to gain additional knowledge in nutrition.

In fact, in one study, 50 percent of medical students flunked a basic “nutrition 101” exam—but that didn’t prevent them from graduating and being turned loose on patients.

Some of the blame went to medical school faculty’s lack of interest and expertise in nutrition. And while researchers found a modest positive effect from new curriculum initiatives, they still concluded that “despite the centrality of nutrition to healthy lifestyles, medical students are not supported to provide high-quality, effective nutrition care.”

The sad truth is that even though most doctors are ignorant of nutrition, they’re still expected to provide nutrition recommendations and care to their patients. So this ignorance actually makes them dangerous to our health.

Not to mention that decades of misdirected government dietary recommendations (formulated with doctors’ “expertise”) have clearly contributed to our modern epidemics of diabetes and heart disease…and potentially cancer and dementia as well.  New research shows most of their dietary recommendations were tragically all wrong, all along.

How you can be a leader in your own healthcare

After reaching such conclusions, the researchers had some recommendations about how to enhance nutrition education in medical schools:

  • The medical education industry should commit to making nutrition education compulsory in medical training.
  • Those responsible for medical education need to establish nutrition competencies to provide benchmarks for nutrition knowledge and skills.

But who’s going to step up and do that? If we’re looking for “leadership” from the crony corporatist academic-government-medical complex, I’m afraid that would be the blind leading the blind.

I saw that firsthand when I last attended a meeting of the American Association of Medical Colleges in Washington D.C., ten years ago. I was part of a delegation, led by former Dean Arthur Rosenberg of the University of Pennsylvania, including medical faculty, alumni (me), and students.

We went to protest the proposal from big pharma that they pay millions of dollars to each medical school to add even more education and training about the use of prescription drugs. But, of course, there was no word about nutrition.

It reminded me of an ancient proverb, as recounted in a story by H.G. Wells: “In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” Clearly, when it comes to true healthcare from many doctors, the consumer is king…and the mainstream remains blind.

The bottom line is that you need to find ways to avoid nutritionally ignorant medical care, which, sadly, is all around us. Dr. Bernard Lown, a cardiologist who won the Nobel Prize for demonstrating the benefits of fewer treatments for heart patients, calls it “avoidable care.”

Fortunately, there’s plenty of scientific evidence on natural approaches to health—including diet and nutrition—that allow you to be your own leader in your own consumer movement for safe and effective natural health and healing.

Indeed, my Insider’s Ultimate Guide to Outsmarting “Old Age” is a good place to start. This online learning tool focuses on simple, common-sense strategies for staying vibrant, youthful, and healthy well you’re your 70s, 80s—and beyond.

To learn more, or to enroll today, click here or call 1-866-747-9421 and ask for order code EOV3W201.

And in the meantime, continue tuning into my Daily Dispatch e-letter and Insiders’ Cures newsletter to continuously stay in the know, and to help take control of your own health.


1“Nutrition in medical education: a systematic review.” Lancet Planet Health. 2019 Sep;3(9):e379-e389.