Lifestyle General Doctor Heal Thyself
Doctor Heal Thyself

Jelinek-George-Prof Nov12-Receiving-the-ACEM-College-Medal-2003Prof George Jelinek recieving the ACEM College Medal

Prof George Jelinek was diagnosed with MS in 1999 and now, 13 years later, he doesn’t have a single symptom. The former UWA Professor of Emergency Medicine would like to pass on a new paradigm to his medical colleagues, one that focuses on an integrated approach to health, healing and well-being. Now based at the University of Melbourne and the Gawler Foundation, he travels the country spreading that message.).

“I don’t tend to focus too much on my own situation. I’m far more interested in those who attend the retreats I run and the thousands of people around the world who follow this approach. It’s an integrated package involving diet, stress reduction, exercise, adequate sun exposure and Omega 3 intake. GPs are ideally placed to be involved in this sort of care,” George said.

“Our data shows that if people really apply themselves they can lead a normal life and not be affected by the usual problems associated with MS. If GPs and their patients get involved in some sort of ‘action plan’ and work together they can actively do something about this condition. Some doctors in the past have found treating MS patients quite depressing. People just got worse and there was nothing you could do about it. Doctors can now focus on a more positive course of action by monitoring Vitamin D levels, prescribing exercise and advising on improved diets. It’s a new paradigm.”

According to George, the dichotomy between ‘traditional’ and ‘alternative’ needs to be redefined.

“This approach offers the best of what’s available – traditional mainstream medicine involving pharmaceuticals plus approaches some people have sidelined as ‘alternative’. It has always struck me as a bit odd labelling exercise and stress reduction as ‘alternative’ or ‘complementary’. I think they’re the basis of good health and that, in many ways, drugs are the ‘alternative’ option. I think we’ve lost our way a bit, but the pendulum’s swinging back as people realise that some medication can cause problems.”

There’s no debating that the message regarding positive lifestyle changes has been around for a long time. George acknowledges that his audience doesn’t have to be persuaded to listen long and hard.

“Conventional medicine does seem to be all about prescribing lap-banding, statins and anti-hypertensives. We’ve got to work out how to motivate people to look after their health properly. Sure, I’ve got a cohort of people with MS who are extremely motivated to do something about their situation. If they don’t, the outcomes can be pretty horrendous and these people are very willing to make lifestyle changes.”

“I have trawled through the medical literature and located the different lifestyle factors that might make a difference to this illness. There’s a coherent science behind it but it’s never been put together. There’ll be one bit in a rehab article and another in an endocrinology journal. As a former editor of Emergency Medicine Australasia I can bring this material together.”

Embracing an improved lifestyle is common sense, but confounding factors muddy the waters.

Jelinek-George-Prof Nov12-Playing-in-the-band-Crocodiles-at-Steves-HotelDr George Jelinek playing with "The Crocodiles"

“The pharmaceutical industry is enormous and it’s very easy for the medical profession to be seduced by their message. Sometimes our main form of education comes from people who’ve got a vested interest in selling their products and that can distort a more realistic perspective on optimal health. The approach these days seems to be if you’ve got risk factors linked with heart disease then you prescribe statins. It should be the other way around – statins should only be used when you can’t do anything about the risk factors.”

“I was listening to a podcast on the MJA website and someone was suggesting that anyone over the age of 50 should be on statins. The argument was that we’d reduce the cardiovascular event rate with a minimal increase in strokes or severe myositis. I thought it was a very odd approach to be weighing up the positive and negative sides of the ledger without addressing what’s causing the problem. I think that underestimates the capabilities of someone dealing with a serious illness.”

There’s a spectrum within MS and some people respond to treatment really well and others are more resistant. The most important thing, George says, is commitment.

“Everyone has their own individual response to this disease. But, in my experience, people who commit to this approach do pretty well. The cohort of doctors who’ve done the course is growing and they’ve had some of the best outcomes. Once they’ve seen the science behind it and how compelling the data is they tend to jump in and stick with it. I haven’t eaten meat or dairy products in 13 years and once you’ve broken the habit it’s pretty easy.”

“GPs are on the frontline and I think the most important thing they can do is give MS patients some hope. A message of inexorable decline is very damaging, so it’s important to tell them that it’s actually possible to stay well.”

ED: Useful references: www.overcomingmultiplesclerosis; www.gawler.org