Fight chronic disease by moving the battlefield from hospital to the kitchen


Dr. Roger Greenlaw told Peoria physicians that new public policy and emerging science are creating unique opportunities to help patients prevent, arrest and reverse chronic disease.

Multiple factors from new government regulations to emerging scientific research are creating a “perfect storm” that will sweep into American kitchens, bringing a new approach to cooking, eating and fighting chronic disease. People willing to embrace the changes will see personal results not only in improved health but improved bank balances as well.

That was part of the message brought to Peoria by Dr. Roger Greenlaw, retired gastroenterologist and emeritus professor at University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford who spoke here in January at UnityPoint Health-Methodist and Illinois Central College North as part of an ongoing educational series “Cook Well . . . Eat Well . . . Live Well.”

Emerging science is showing that food can be a more powerful tool for treating, reversing and preventing disease than the arsenal of expensive pharmaceutical drugs advertised every day directly to consumers on television, Greenlaw said, noting that the Affordable Care Act is making it possible for the first time to shift dollars from expensive pharmaceutical disease treatments to disease prevention and reversal.

Talking only about food and diet to prevent disease is short-sighted, he said. The research is in; food and diet can actually reverse disease.

In fact, the title of his presentation at ICC was “Food as Medicine: Type II Diabetes Prevention and Reversal.”

“Reversal can occur over weeks and months,” he said. “We are experiencing an epidemic of obesity and related diseases. The evidence shows we can turn that around rapidly with a vegan diet.”

Diet can reduce cholesterol more effectively than expensive drugs, he said, and drugs treat only symptoms, not causes.

“The diseases of western culture run in a pack of chronic diseases, and we are like lemmings running into the sea,” he said. “The cost of care is off the map. We can’t afford to continue to pay. Once we commit people to medication, they remain on medication forever. These unnecessary costs are consuming our budget.”

Greenlaw believes a confluence of three factors has created a “perfect storm” for change: public policy changes under the Affordable Care Act; new, emerging science showing food and lifestyle medicine can prevent and reverse disease; and the rise of public awareness.

“We are learning from the Big Pharma playbook,” he said. “They do direct marketing to consumers. We can market the power of self-care on a grassroots level. We can go to work sites, community groups, families, churches and schools. We can counter Big Pharma with education.”

Cost shifting means even employed people with health insurance are paying more for health care costs, creating an economic incentive to either prevent disease or reverse disease. In addition, corporations are now able to save money by promoting employee health and shifting their share of premiums onto employees who refuse to make lifestyle changes.

“Now is one of the most exciting times to be in health care,” Greenlaw said. “Every company in America has a disease care budget that is big and getting bigger. Now, we can shift some of those dollars from disease care to disease reversal and prevention and at the end of one year, companies can save money. With the new ACA, this is the first time ever we can do that. We don’t take this message to the human resources departments of companies but to the chief financial officers.”

Greenlaw helped bring the Complete Health Improvement Program (CHIP) to Rockford to teach about the health benefits of a vegan diet. CHIP, formerly named the Coronary Health Improvement Project, focuses on disease prevention and reversal.

“These lifestyle changes can turn diabetes around within six weeks,” he said, noting that 80 percent of medical schools in the United States now teach lifestyle medicine.

“Now the wind is at our back, and we’re tacking upstream.”

Greenlaw said 75 percent of medical care costs in this country are devoted to chronic disease and that percent is increasing. Conventional medicine treats the disease but not the root cause of disease. Our expenditures are two times what other countries spend but our outcomes are worse.

When diet and exercise are changed to treat one disease, the changes reverse or prevent other diseases, he said. The spectrum of inflammatory diseases linked to lifestyle includes obesity, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, cardiac disease and arthritis among others.

“Treat one and we treat them all,” he said. “When the budget for chronic disease becomes available for therapeutic lifestyle changes, disease becomes preventable, arrestable and reversible. If I treat irritable bowel syndrome in a holistic way, diabetes is decreased.”

Old dietary guidelines suggested fat consumption should be below 40 percent of total calories. That changed to 30 percent and then 20 percent, but it is at 10 percent that measurable health improvements are most evident, Greenlaw said.

He told Peoria physicians about one of his patients, a 70-year-old woman who complained about her multiple medical conditions and depression. She could no longer work, had trouble walking and was paying hundreds of dollars each month for medications for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, colitis, and other ailments. She was unwilling to attend the CHIP program because she said she couldn’t afford the $300 fee. Frustrated, Greenlaw finished the appointment and was leaving the exam room when he turned to ask the patient what it was she actually wanted.

“I want to be able to visit my grandchildren,” she said.

That comment stopped Greenlaw in his tracks. He turned around, sat down and asked her why she couldn’t visit her grandchildren. She told him that after paying for her medications, she couldn’t afford to travel. Together they analyzed the cost of her pharmaceuticals, and he reviewed with her the highlights of the CHIP program. She
agreed to follow the guidelines. Ultimately, she was able to lose weight, eliminate the need for most of her medications and get a part-time job. She felt better, spent less on medicine and had enough money to visit her grandchildren.

For people unsure how to start taking charge of their own health, Greenlaw recommends three documentaries: “Forks Over Knives,” “Super Size Me,” and “Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare.” For books, he recommends “The Spectrum,” by Dean Ornish.

“We have an opportunity we never had before,” Greenlaw said. “We need to help individuals learn about this new emerging science.”

Clare Howard

Clare Howard is the editor of the Community Word. She can be reached at

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