To wrap up the month of May we have Dr Peter Romero giving us the insights on all things health, turning vegan, and alternative medicine. It’s very interesting to hear from a doctor who is very progressive and and open to preventative and holistic health. We wish all doctors could think this way! In any case, let’s jump straight into this interview and hear about how the Western Medicine side are thinking.
Can you tell us a little about your background and how you decided to get into medicine?
I was born in Coffs Harbour in 1958 and lived on a small farm in Bonville growing up. I attended a local 3 teacher primary school and then public high school. I had appendicitis aged11 and that and a wish to do something to help others and have an interesting job made me decide to be a doctor at age 12. I started medicine before my 18th birthday and graduated from Sydney University before my 23 birthday. I spent 4 years residency at Westmead Hospital where I decided that rural general practice was what I wanted to do. I am now in my 32nd year of private practice in Nelson Bay.
Western Medicine has obviously come a long way in accepting the more alternative and Eastern forms of medicine, but where do you think the future of Western Medicine will go?
That may be an assumption from talking to me. I am not sure that it has become all that more accepting overall. Western medicine on the face of it tries to adopt the “Scientific Approach” for treatment. Unfortunately it is all about the treatment of disease and not about health promotion. In general we treat a society that believes that we can cure a lot more than we can, and believes there must be a pill for everything. For example, many smokers with emphysema can’t believe there is no cure.
Yes it seems the difference between Western and Eastern medicine is treating symptoms versus finding the cause respectively! There’s definitely room to grow in Western medicine for looking to be more preventative rather than reactive.
Do you think there’s a place for doctors to be suggesting these more alternative methods of healing to patients such as certain dietary changes or mindfulness and meditation exercises to help with anxiety and depression?
YES. 70% of the disease we treat is caused by lifestyle. Poor diet ( despite everyone believing the contrary), lack of exercise, being overweight (2/3 of the population), plus stress, poor rest and sleep, are all lifestyle factors contributing to 70% of diseases. Most people do not realize that diet, lack of exercise and stress are responsible for much of the depression and anxiety that we experience. Type 2 Diabetes and Ischaemic Heart Disease are increasing exponentially and are totally preventable with lifestyle changes. We can be doing this work as doctors to work to heal this rather than just give another pill.
70% is such a big number! It almost seems like we’re trying to make ourselves sick with all those areas you mentioned! What relationship do you see doctors having with holistic health coaches in the future? I.e. is it congruous and work in unison or is it more at odds with each other?
Many fail to appreciate there is a continuum from optimal health through to only fair health before the onset of disease. I am frustrated that so many settle for mediocre instead of aiming for abundant health. Many wait for a crisis before valuing their health. Society needs re-education. Doctors can help but so few listen from my experience. I am hoping for more prevention. I value holistic health coaches but too few in society do. Doctors will go on treating disease much of which could have been prevented. Health coaches can provide information and motivation in that preventive health sphere.
It’s definitely something that I think many health coaches can relate to in that frustration of settling for mediocre health. That’s a great way to put the relationship between doctors and health coaches – one of complimenting each other but there is a long way to go before Western medicine as a whole accepts the role that health coaches play! They’re not all as forward thinking and prevention focused as you.
We understand that you’re a vegan going on almost four years now? What made you decide to make that change and what differences have you seen in your health from it?
Prior to switching to an almost completely “Plants as grown” diet almost 4 years ago I was semi- vegetarian (remember that beer and chips is vegan but not healthy!). I then read “The China Study” and watched the DVD “Forks over Knives” and then became involved in the CHIP- Complete Health Improvement Program. I lost 5 kg without limiting food volume and got a whole lot more energy and felt younger with less aches and pains.
There is so much information out there now on what the benefits are of cutting out animal protein and you just listed some great sources there. It’s all well and good to read something or watch a documentary on WHY we should do it, but it’s HOW to make the switch that often trips people up. What would be your top tips for someone trying to start a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle? How do you make the change sustainably?
There are 2 ways; see which works for you. The easiest seems to be “Double the Good and Halve the Bad” and just keep taking steps in the right direction. The other is just “Jump in the Deep End”. Although this seems more radical it takes 21 days for our taste buds to change. Get a coach or attend a program. Involve a friend, keep a diary. Involve exercise and meditation at the same time so you are making changes on the whole rather than just your diet.
Ok so finally, what is your most important advice to your patients who are looking to improve their overall health?
Lots of fruit and vegetables; 5 serves may not be enough.
Move; the more the better. Find something you can enjoy.
Sorry that’s 2 but they are both so important!