“Switching to a Plant-Based Diet Helped Me Overcome My MS,” Says This Doctor
Saray Stancic, M.D. ran her first marathon in 2010. This coming October, she will walk 25 miles to commemorate the 25th anniversary of her diagnosis with MS. She was supposed to be in a wheelchair by now.
As a young resident, she received a diagnosis that would change her life. "One
day, I woke up in the middle of a call, unable to feel my legs." It led to a series of tests and the devastating news that she had MS. "They told me I could expect to be
wheelchair-bound in 10 to 15 years." This, however, is not what happened.
"I was a young doctor, and so I took all the meds and did all the things my doctors advised and I kept getting worse. Then I read an article about a doctor who had
treated MS patients with diet changes and had amazing results."
She immediately began researching more and eventually that work led Dr. Stancic to adopt a plant-based diet and successfully overcome her chronic condition. She has a collection of canes and crutches in her basement, she says, a reminder of what might have been, had she not taken her own fate into her hands and changed her diet. Now, she is able to manage her condition through lifestyle changes. She believes patients need to be educated about lifestyle interventions, and this education needs to start with doctors and the medical community itself.
Her triumphant story is now the subject of a documentary, Code Blue, which describes why medicine’s most powerful tool is almost never prescribed. She is out to change that.
Nutrition Needs to Be Taught in Med School. Doctors Should Set an Example
The true cause is to change the way the medical community views nutrition, Dr. Stancic says. She is on a mission to get hospitals and doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals of all types to understand the power of a plant-based diet, get fast food and junk out of hospitals, and make nutrition an integral part of medical training.
Dr. Stancic: "They used to let you smoke in hospitals," she points out. "Now that is absurd. Once we knew better we realized this was unacceptable and we banned smoking in health care settings.
Today, unhealthy food is a modern-day cigarette. Having a Burger King inside of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School’s University Hospital in Newark is absurd. I have protested it and collected names in a petition to facilitate needed change. This serves as a bad example for the community of patients, employees, and medical students. "The example starts with the doctor, she adds. "Studies show that if a doctor eats a healthy diet and exercises, they are more likely to counsel their patients on optimal lifestyle," Stancic says.
Here is her inspiring story, and how she is spreading this "healing
message far and wide."
Dr. Stancic: “I am an infectious disease specialist who started my career in the 1990s during the HIV epidemic. As a young woman, I was diagnosed with multiple
sclerosis and I was very ill, taking all these medications and depending on a cane.
As a young resident, I was really struggling.
"Then one day I came across an article about the effect of diet and chronic illness and specifically about their effects on MS, both on risk and outcomes. Dr. Roy
Swank wrote an article in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in 1952
and proposed saturated fat consumption increased the risk of MS. He was looking at the incidence of MS in Norway and saw that those who were consuming a diet high in animal fat had a higher rate of MS. So he started ‘treating’ patients with a low-fat, plant-based diet. He followed 140 patients over 34 years and he found that 95 percent of those who followed the diet remained disability-free.”
"Here I was, a physician at 32 and struggling, and questioned why nutrition and the connection between diet and illness had not been taught to me in medical school.
"This dietary study offered me a glimmer of hope. It wasn't just Swank, but others too, and it wasn't just diet, but exercise and sleep hygiene and stress relief. These lifestyle interventions appeared to be powerful in better managing my MS. Of course, I went to my physician and he didn't think there was any merit in it.”
"So, I had to take my treatment into my own hands and I adopted a plant-based
diet because the overwhelming body of evidence pointed to the fact that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds was the optimal diet not only for MS but for all of us. I responsibly tapered off all my medicines over time while optimizing every aspect of my lifestyle.
“It's been 25 years and I take no medicines and I am physically active every day. On October 11, 2020, I am going to walk 25 miles to commemorate 25 years since my diagnosis. And they told me I'd be in a wheelchair within 10 to 20 years. I
don't even have a cane. I have a collection of canes and crutches in my basement.
I don't need them.”
"My hope is to bring change to an antiquated medical education model.
Doctors are not getting this education which is particularly important in our world today. The rates of obesity, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases are all rising. I am an infectious disease specialist who has evolved into a preventive medicine advocate.
This may be more important than ever before in the current era of the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that those who have the worst outcomes, including death, from COVID-19, are more likely to also suffer from obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. We can prevent 80 percent of heart disease. Isn't it tragic? Every year about 600,000 people die from heart disease and we could save about 480,000 of them.”
"Even the way we train physicians is inhuman. They are on-call 24 hours at a
time so they have no time to eat or sleep and no time to exercise. The hospital setting should be the shining example of an optimally healthy environment. Fast food restaurants within healthcare settings should be unacceptable. How can we serve
food that promotes chronic disease at an institution whose mission it is to heal?”
"We need to change medical school and the hospital's food environment. Our patients in the hospital who are healing and recovering from illness should be fed a
plant-based diet. We can't serve bacon and eggs and buttered pancakes to
someone recovering from a heart attack or heart surgery.”
"You used to be able to smoke in the hospital in the 1960s. Today we know better. Today, we know that these foods are fueling chronic diseases like diabetes,
obesity, hypertension, and heart disease. And those illnesses are fueling the
COVID-19 crisis; this is like a perfect storm, resulting in catastrophic endpoints.
How can you ignore that?”
"We need to change medical school education, to incorporate the value of prevention and lifestyle intervention as an important therapeutic tool. The doctor
who is personally engaged in healthy behaviors is more likely to counsel and
educate their patients on these interventions as well.”
"I work with patients in supporting the adoption of optimal lifestyle choices;
this type of medical practice is called lifestyle medicine. I support them in optimizing the six pillars of optimal health which include diet, exercise, sleep, stress management, avoiding substance abuse, and social interconnectedness. I spend 2 hours with each patient and help them understand they don't have to be hypertensive or obese or have heart disease. We can all make these changes and
in turn, live happier and healthier lives.”
"I also mentor young doctors and help them understand the practice of
lifestyle medicine because we want all physicians in the future to be skilled and
educated on how to offer this all-important intervention to their patients.
"I am not against medication or pharmaceuticals. I think it is an important part of our toolbox. I am an infectious disease specialist; where would we be without antibiotics or antivirals? But many of the chronic diseases we treat with medicines are preventable. Only a sliver of research budgets like at the NIH are allocated for prevention. We need to place more emphasis and value on preventive interventions. While therapeutic advances in medicine are important, we know that prevention is always preferred over cure.”
"In 2010 I ran a marathon. It was an extraordinary moment for me. I am
blessed and hope to spread this healing message far and wide."
“Seven of the top 10 causes of death in America are chronic diseases, two of
which, heart disease and cancer, account for nearly 50% of all deaths.”
"U.S. health care costs are approaching 3 trillion dollars per year with 86% of these dollars going to manage chronic illnesses. Yet, studies tell us that by changing our lifestyle, including diet, physical activity, cigarette smoking, and managing body weight, we can prevent nearly 80% of chronic diseases that gravely compromise our quality of life. We have to change this paradigm."
Here is the trailer Dr. Stancic is spreading this "healing message far and wide."
More Information About Code Blue:
In Code Blue, the doctors who have been interviewed for the movie reads like a Who's Who of plant-based medicine, including:
- Dr. Michael Greger, Physician - general practitioner specializing in clinical nutrition;
- Dr. Shelley Berger, the director of the Epigenetics Institute at the University of Pennsylvania
- Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Former Surgeon at Cleveland Clinic, now director of the Esselstyn Prevent and Reverse Disease Program
- Dr. Vijay Yadav, Neurologist
- the MS who reviewed her most recent MRI in OSHU in Portland Oregon
- Dr. Dean Ornish, Cardiologist
- founder of the Ornish Center, who visited the set of filming at Morristown Medical Center
- Dr. David Katz, Preventative Medicine Specialist
- the founding director of Yale University's Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, and current President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. plant-based advocate
- Dr. Neal Barnard, Physician and Clinical Researcher
- founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and a multiple author of books on the benefits of plant-based eating for health.