The Physician and The Student

Following is written by Dr. Fuhrman's colleague Dr. Steven Acocella, MS, D.C., DACBN, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist, American College of Lifestyle Physicians, and a Diplomat of the American Clinical Board of Nutrition:

A young university pre-med student was called from class one day. It seems that unexpectedly and without warning, or even prior symptoms his dad had collapsed on their kitchen floor and was rushed to the emergency room; his dad had had a major heart attack.


At the hospital several hours later, with his father fortunately in stable condition, the son and his mother spoke about what to do "if dad makes it though this". Anxiously, his mom suggested that the son place a call to her doctor, whom she had been seeing for many years and trusted implicitly. And, this doctor was a cardiologist, so what could be better?

Calling directly from the hospital the son was able to get the doctor on the phone. They spoke at length about his dad's sudden and near fatal heart attack. What the son sought most from this kind hearted and concerned physician was advice and guidance. The son wanted to make sure his dad would recover and would never have to endure such suffering again.

The supportive doctor spoke of all the right medications, tests and about lowering his father's stress level at work. The son remembers learning the word "prognosis" that day. When the son specifically asked about diet (he told him dad had always loved barbeque and bacon) the cardiologist assured him that any connection between heart disease and food is a complete myth and that his dad's diet was fine. The doctor went on to tell the son that even if there was a connection between diet and heart disease it wouldn't help to change anything this late in his father's life. At that time his father was 53 years old. The son appreciatively took the advice from this very successful M.D. and dutifully passed it along to his parents.

Twenty-five years later the dad is still alive. He's 79 years old. In the past 20 years he has remarkably survived 5 subsequent heart attacks and a triple open-heart by-pass surgery! The mom is still alive too. She's 72 years young, but severe obesity has left her totally wheelchair bound. Both his mom and dad remain loyal to and follow the advice of their beloved doctor, even today. Their loyalty is a bit surprising considering each of their own maladies.

Well, at least they're both still alive and the family remains close. And as for the son, he knows a lot more now than he did that day in the emergency room. After completing his Master of Science degree in Human Nutrition he went on to become a doctor. In fact, the son has dedicated his professional career to the prevention and recovery of heart disease and other killers like diabetes and cancer through nutrition. Although he has become vehemently opposed to the brand of advice the kind cardiologist gave him so long ago he still does his best to help his parents with their unfortunate health problems. But sadly, despite the son's successes with his own patients, his parents remain set in their ways; they still recite their beloved doctor's rhetoric every time the concerned son tries to help.

The nice cardiologist on the phone that day in the emergency room was Dr. Robert Atkins, and that concerned son was me.

This is part of a weeklong review of the popular Dr. Atkins high-protein low-carbohydrate diet-style. Throughout the week DiseaseProof will examine:

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Comments (16) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
marguerite - April 3, 2006 11:09 AM

Wow. Even though this information is not new, I continue to be amazed at allegiance for the medical community to the degree of stupidity. It says a lot for the death-grip (literally) that we have on our belief systems. Might want to give some thought to the idea that the only way to create a change is to start at the beginning--give our children the information when they are still children (they are such little sponges). Give Dr. Fuhrman's book, DISEASE-PROOF YOUR CHILD, to everyone you know. Thank you Dr. Acocella

Susan - April 3, 2006 11:34 AM

Dr. Acocella, what did kind Dr. Atkins do to your parents? Hypnotize them? It is amazing they continue to be loyal to a doctor who killed himself from following his own advice.

It must be terribly difficult and painful for you to live in that kind of situation, and I'm sorry to read about it. I am sure you are not alone. Your story is probably similar to many others who have reversed their own disease through nutrition yet can't seem to positively influence their own families.

Helena - April 3, 2006 5:01 PM

I agree with Susan that it must be terrible to see your parents suffer when you know so well how it could have been prevented.

Thanks for this story. I have always wondered why we do not read many more of these stories. I guess most people believe their doctor when s/he says that diet has nothing to do with heart disease. On the other hand: guru's like Dr Mercola have to have clients who have heart attacks as well. Where are they?

Teresa Gaspar - April 3, 2006 6:07 PM

It's amazing how people stick to their beliefs.

I see now what inspired you to study nutrition and become a doctor: love. I sometimes wonder if that is always what is at the root of all motivation.

This story also speaks to how, as much as we love another person, we are separate human beings and each separately determine our life.

Dr. Steven Acocella - April 3, 2006 6:51 PM

Susan and Marguerite - Your comments are very much appreciated - This was a tough article to write. My loving parents are "old school". Unfortunately, like many of us raised in America, they seek out philosophies that justify and protect the long standing addictions to unhealthy foods that resulted from the way they were raised.

The more experience I gain the more readily I can spot the hard-core Atkins devote. Dr. Fuhrman's book on feeding kids right should be required reading for all parents. A copy of Disease Proof You Child should come free with every positive pregnancy test! The superb health that results from nutritional and lifestyle excellence started at a young age will put the Atkins of the world out of business. Thanks to Joel Fuhrman's work I'm doing better than my parents and my kids will better than me, as it should be. But Mom and Dad…that's another story.

Omar Wasow - April 3, 2006 10:04 PM

Dr. Acocella:

Thank you for sharing your painful story. I, too, have close family members with health issues who are resistant to making serious lifestyle changes. I would love to see a discussion here on tips and techniques folks have found work to help loved ones embrace healthier ways of living.

moon - April 4, 2006 12:18 PM

Thank you for exploring this...it will help us learn about the Atkins Revolution and it is also good to know that there are others who have to watch loved ones continue eating what we know is harming them. My parents dutifully take whatever medication is prescribed but will not change their eating.

Rachel - April 4, 2006 1:01 PM

I'm Dr. Acocella's niece, and I'm very proud of him for sharing this story to help others. It's been quite a bumpy road, as we are a close family, and we're thankful that his parents - my grandparents - are still with us, despite the infamous Atkins. It has been and remains extremely difficult for us to see them suffer due to their diet practices, knowing that it could have been avoided.
But, we continue to love them, pray for them, and just eat better.

Mandy - April 4, 2006 2:14 PM

Dr. Acocella...Thank You Thank You Thank You! Reading all the science stuff is great but it's important to remember we're talking about our health. Real people, Mothers, Fathers, Husbands and kids are at stake here. We need more real life stories like this to put a face on the facts. We thank you for your courage to share such a personal expereince. I have printed your story out and and am passing it around at work. It's a story that eveyone can relate to. Thank you, Dr. Acocella

scott - April 4, 2006 2:31 PM

Thanks to the courage of people like Dr. Acocella these stories are finally coming out...' As a doctor myself, I have had many patients that have been "brainwashed" by bad/wrong information. Thank You Dr. Acocella for giving us the truth!

E.C. - April 4, 2006 3:01 PM

Hey, Dr. Atkins..."Cancer, It's What's for Dinner!" Thanks Dr. Steve.

ah - April 4, 2006 7:19 PM

you know I think of my parents when I read this. They did what they THOUGHT was right,practiced moderation, had a vegetable garden, stressed the '4 food groups'-- results: severe osteoporosis w/ mutiple serious compression fractures, a heart attack, prostate cancer that metastasized to bone, and they are HEALTHIER than most of their Peers!!

Dr. Barry Groves - April 8, 2006 10:02 AM

There are several points that this saga points up, and which really need to be addressed.

Let us look at Dr Acocella's story of his father's experience first.

The first thing to realise is that, as any scientist will tell you, a study of one isn't much of a study. And this story really doesn't tell us very much.

Although Dr Acocella's father was apparently advised by Dr Robert Atkins, we have no idea what diet his father was actually following. There is a clue, however, in Dr Acocella's description of his mother's obesity. The fact that she was so obese as to be wheelchair bound, tells us that she, at least, was not following a properly constituted low-carb, high-fat diet. It's likely, therefore, unless his mother made two quite different meals for herself and her husband, that Dr Acocella's father, wasn't either.

This story tells us so little that I think we can discount it as having any worth as a basis for serious debate. Just consider the millions of men and women who have heart attacks yet do not follow Atkins. And consider, on the other side, the cultures such as Inuit and Maasai who eat nothing but fat meat, blood and high-fat milk, yet have no heart disease at all.

There are also many other life events which affect the heart as well as general health of which we are told nothing at all.

medstudent - April 12, 2006 2:01 AM

The Atkins diet may be wrong, but Atkins did not die from it. He fell on ice and hit is head. He never regained conciousness from the coma and died of renal failure. Also, the reports that he was obese were based on the huge amount of fluid he retained because of the renal failure.

Henry Abbott - April 18, 2006 3:12 PM

Dr. Fuhrman has written a pretty lengthy response to many of these comments. You can read it here: http://tinyurl.com/qxkaa

Lynn Cooper - June 20, 2007 9:18 PM

On a low fat diet, following the AHA guidelines to the letter, my triglycerides were 700-1000 and my cholesterol was over 200. Since being on Atkins as a last resort since last january 2, i have lost 16 pounds and my triglycerides are below 200 and my cholesterol is under 160. My blood sugar is so normal that I no longer have any symptoms of diabetes. This diet is delicious- there are tons of online recipes- and it is saving my life. I believe that people who have problems with staying on atkins are the ones who test poorly. It is a life plan. and a very easy one to follow. He allows things like berries and broccoli and we use cauliflower instead of potatoes or rice. My husband has lost 30 pounds, has normal test results, and no longer has sleep apnea. Whatever people say, we will die of those OTHER things if we leave Atkins as a program. Sugar Busters is equally as successful. BarBQ is not okay if it is full of sugar!!! It will take years for people to see that atkins is not the devil. He didn't die of heart disease. Jim Fixx died of a heart attack and he was running at the time. He ate low fat. Big deal. Even the so called Mediterranean diet made me fat and raised my blood sugar. I want to live- and I want to live WITHOUT Lipitor killing my muscles. If following Atkins does that for me, then I will follow it. Because it is saving my life.

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