Vegetarian nutritional medicine is a branch of lifestyle medicine. It utilizes a diet composed of vegetables, whole grains, fruits, legumes and nuts as both a prophylaxis against, and a treatment for, a wide varieties of diseases, including most of the common chronic diseases in the United States and other industrialized nations. Its safety and efficacy has been borne out by both research and clinical experience.
Vegetarian nutritional medicine represents an addition to pharmacotherapy and surgery, not a replacement for them, thus widening the tools available to the physician.
Practitioners prescribe plant-based diets along basic guidelines, which are then individualized for each patient. Therapeutically, plant-based diets are used to treat both the symptoms and etiology of diet-related diseases. When integrating vegetarian nutritional medicine into the patient’s treatment plan, medications should be adjusted according to treatment response.
Physicians should learn the diseases most responsive to prevention and/or treatment with vegetarian nutritional medicine. Some of these include: atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, angina pectoris, essential hypertension, ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke, type II diabetes, obesity, and various neoplastic disorders such as prostate, breast, and colon cancer. Other diseases include cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, diverticular disease, constipation, anorectal diseases such as internal and external hemorrhoids and fissure in ano, and obesity. Physicians should also understand the proper application of vegetarian nutritional medicine in each phase of life, from pregnancy and infancy, to childhood, in adults and in gerontology.
The clinical application of vegetarian nutritional medicine by the physician includes: counseling the patient on his nutritional prescription and explaining its rationale, managing dietary transitions, and monitoring patient compliance.
Vegetarian nutritional medicine also forms a vital element of public health and infectious disease practice. Crowded conditions in large scale animal agriculture facilities, along with the inclusion of antibiotics in the routine daily feed, has resulted in the emergence of strains of multiple resistance bacteria. Emergent strains of influenza also arise each year under such conditions. By prescribing vegetarian nutritional medicine, the demand for animal food products is reduced, thereby reducing the use of antibiotics in farm animals. Patients’ direct exposure to resistant bacteria in meat is also reduced.
Research in vegetarian nutritional medicine includes a wide variety of studies ranging from epidemiological studies to interventional studies. Results are documented by direct patient examination, self reports, laboratory and radiological methods. Research also includes in vitro study of different nutrients.
Education in vegetarian nutritional medicine should begin in medical school with a separate class in the didactic portion and a rotation in the clinical portion of the curriculum. Continuing education is vital to keep up with the latest trends in research and clinical practice.
Vegetarian nutritional medicine is very cost effective, and already some programs have become eligible for insurance coverage. Increasingly, vegetarian nutritional medicine represents “best practice” and is gaining wide acceptance in the medical community.