Path To Health – Changing Medical Practice

We are pleased to introduce to you Dr. Charles Ross.  Dr. Ross is a DO, and he stepped up to be our very first Guest DO Blogger!  We think you will find that he has some really good ideas around helping not only Doctors, Student Doctors, Residents, and support staff to eat healthy, but most importantly how to help the community find wellness through a plant based diet.
Dr. Ross has a short autobiography at the end of this article, and has also generously included his personal contact information.  Don’t forget to join us again next week, when Dr. Ross will provide feedback to a community blog written by a woman who has found a way to survive eating healthy on a very small budget, due to living on social security disability.
The NorthWest Osteopathic Medical Foundation hopes you enjoy this blog.  Feel free to leave comments or questions!

Path to Health – Changing Medical Practice

Now is the time to address the problems, the solutions, and the barriers to reversing the increase in chronic disease that is destroying individual lives and placing an enormous economic burden on our health care system. One would have to be very near sighted to not visualize the increasing size of our population. Check out the statistics at the Center for Disease Control and you will see the trend toward obesity is frightening. About 2/3 of our adult population is overweight and 1/3 of these are obese and this problem is worsening. Along with this increasing weight gain, there is an increase in the number of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes (one out of four adults), and other chronic illnesses. I believe that this trend should be considered a public health problem…not just an individual problem.
In the latter part of the 20th century, increasing weight gain was felt to be due to the lack of will power by the individual. Advice given was to “eat smaller portions” or “exercise more” or “go to a counselor and figure out what is troubling you and leading to overeating”. While there may be some truth in each of the above attempts as constructive advice, the other very significant influences were largely ignored. Let’s look at some of these other factors.
Our food supply has been significantly altered (see data below from USDA food review) the values below represent the average amount ingested per person comparing 1900 with 2010

Sugar5 lbs/yr77-100 lbs/yr
Oils/Fats4 lbs/yr74 lbs/yr
Cheese2 lbs/yr30 lbs/yr
Fruits/Veggies131 lbs/yr11 lbs/yr
Soft Drinks053 gallons/yr
Fiber60+ gm/day14 gm/day

Our level of activity has been drastically reduced: TV  1900 = 0   2010= 4 hours/day.
Sitting at a desk has become much more common, and a generally sedentary lifestyle has been promoted by our transportation and work systems. Watch TV for 6 hours a day and lose 4 years of your life!   The cultural influence on our health has been understated.
Food addiction is increasingly being recognized as playing a major role in our current health crisis. Food companies, in their striving for increased profit, have adjusted the sugar, fat, and salt content to the “bliss” point—the point that makes us crave and want to eat more so we will buy more. Food pornography ads are plastered all over billboards, the internet, TV and other media. Is it any wonder that we are constantly craving food even as we are overeating?
But there is more to this story. We may be over eating calories because of the high calorie density foods that are promoted by our society, but we are still undernourished when it comes to the nutrient density of our foods. Nutrient density has decreased 40-60% since 1900. What is this nutrient density? It is the vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and micronutrients that we all need to truly be adequately nourished and satisfied. These elements boost our immune system to keep us healthy and may fight off cancer. These come from eating a variety of foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Let’s focus on the solution to reverse the current disease trends.
You might have heard about the Blue Zones in the world. Several years ago, National Geographic asked Dan Buettner to find the longest lived and healthiest populations in the world. He found five places that had populations that lived into their 90’s and 100’s by 10 times the number of people of other world populations. His book is titled The Blue Zones. This book lists 9 lessons for living longer.   As it turns out, these Blue Zones have several things in common… A 95% whole food plant based diet, moving throughout the day, and social support.
Check out the video, Forks Over Knives, and you will discover that deaths from cardiovascular disease in Denmark declined dramatically when the Nazi’s invaded the country and took all the animals for their own use. The Danes lived on plants during the war resulting in a sharp decline in their cardiovascular death rate. When the Nazi’s were defeated and animals returned to Denmark…the cardiovascular death toll began to rise again. Finland must have considered this when it chose to subsidize berries instead of the dairy industry. The drop in cardiovascular deaths and all-cause mortality was dramatic (See Greger video Berries for Dairy).
Dean Ornish MD, about 25 years ago, showed that coronary artery clogging could actually be reversed through diet, exercise, and stress management. This study was confirmed using just a whole food plant based diet, without added oil, by Caldwell Esselstyn MD at the Cleveland Clinic. As a matter of fact…. the only way of eating that has actually been shown to reverse the clogging of coronary arteries has been whole food plant based. You will find no other diets including Atkins, Paleo, Grain Brain, Wheat Belly, South Beach, or Zone that have demonstrated heart disease reversal. All the other diets may demonstrate weight loss, but not reversal of heart disease. So with the number one killer in our society being heart disease…wouldn’t it make public health sense to promote a whole food plant based diet for our whole population?
Think about it a bit more…we have 1600 people in the US dying every day from heart disease that is caused by our lifestyle choices…that is more than most terrorist attacks. Why are we not more upset about this?
What is the death rate from cardiovascular disease in a country that is almost totally plant based like Uganda?  It’s 1 death from an MI (heart attack) in 10,000 people.  So what would your food choice be if you had concerns about heart disease?  And we have not yet discussed the benefits of whole food plant based lifestyle on diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, chronic inflammatory diseases, or happiness!
So, if the goal is to reduce health care expenses or improve the health of our population, we need to focus our attention on helping people make health giving choices.  That is happening at the grass roots level with the free health improvement education classes that have been attended by about 700 people in the Roseburg area over the last four years.  The stories of improved health are so inspiring!  Improvement in health, and reduced health care expenditures, have occurred not because people are now more compliant with taking their medications or pills.   In fact, they are reducing the amount of pills that have only been treating symptoms of disease.  Pills have side effects for many people.   Reducing pills and procedures that are just treating symptoms has the further benefit of reducing side effects.  
So let us stop taking the focus away from the real path to health that focuses on helping people make healthy lifestyle changes.  Rather than encouraging people to take their medicine by spending more money on techy gadgets or more provider visits…isn’t it time to encourage every person to become educated so they can discard the misinformation that is killing them?
My Personal Story
I was taken by surprise….I had not thought about changing my life. For 35 years I had been practicing as an osteopathic physician…first in family practice and then in emergency medicine. I thought that I had been keeping current on the medical literature and tried to be the best physician I could be. I thought that I was healthy…but I was wrong!
Almost six years ago my life changed. I had been thinking about retirement. I was 63 with my retirement plan funded, walking most every day and sometimes playing singles tennis, eating what I thought was healthy, and feeling well. Then Sanjay Gupta MD changed my life. His program on CNN was titled “The Last Heart Attack”.   In that program he reviewed a study at the Cleveland Clinic by Caldwell Esselstyn MD. The study is detailed in the book by Esselstyn titled, “How To Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.” We listened intently as this study of 18 people with end stage heart disease (who keep having heart attacks, stents, and bypasses in spite of maximal medical treatments; five of them had been told they would not live another year) were placed on a whole food plant based diet consisting of about 10% total daily fat, no processed foods, and no animal products. All these 18 people were still alive at the end of 12 years and many had angiographic documented opening up of their arteries (actual reversal of their coronary artery clogging).
I doubted that I would be one of the people who might be helped. Besides I loved my ice cream every night. I loved my cheese pizza, I loved my eggs. I loved my chicken and fish and French fries. So when my wife asked me, “should we try this for ourselves?” My first thought was, “No way! If you cannot eat foods that you enjoy, then what is the sense in living?” After a moment of contemplation, I thought about my wife whose father died of his first heart attack at age 42, whose mother had already had a cardiac bypass procedure, and whose younger brother had also been bypassed. My wife was due for her cardiac event soon. I love my wife and thought, “Maybe I could do this for one month….if it worked out well…my wife could keep eating just plants and I would eat what I liked.” So I told her we could do this for one month to see what happened.
Our first month was exciting. The taste of food was not so exciting for the first several weeks (it took a while for our taste buds to change). But I was never hungry for one day. I ate as much as I wanted…just no animal products or refined plant products (like sugar and oils). My cravings to eat every sweet thing brought into the emergency department stopped the first week. After one month, my cholesterol level had dropped to 148 from a baseline of about 230-240. And my weight was down 10 pounds without performing any additional exercise. When I saw those values I was so excited that I jumped up and down. I actually felt healthy and I began to think, “Maybe I will be one of those 8 out of 10 people who will be able to prevent my heart attack even though I have had an elevated cholesterol level”.
So my cholesterol level is now down to 135 almost 6 years later. I take no pills (you might know that the third leading cause of death in our country is doctor prescriptions). I am 20 pounds lighter. I am happy as a doctor and as a person. After that first trial month, I could not stop talking to everyone I met about the success my wife and I were having just by altering our food choices. Over the next year, about 4 people who listened to me and decided to give it a go lost weight, reduced pills in their life, or just felt better. At that time, I decided to leave emergency medicine and start a practice of lifestyle medicine in Roseburg, OR.
Over the last 4 years, I have been teaching classes helping people transition from the standard American diet (SAD) to whole food plant based. My first class 3 people showed up. Two of these 3 had significant success. The next class 20 people came. Then 40…then 80….then 130. We had to split the class into two days. But now about 4 years later almost 700 people have attended these classes. They attend not because the classes are free but because they are losing weight or reducing the pills in their life or just feeling better. Roseburg has been selected as a Blue Zone Project Site.
So my life is now changed. Personal benefits include…. I love what I eat more than what I used to eat, with the SAD lifestyle I had before….and I am healthier…no longer worry about having a heart attack. Professional benefits include….previously when I was prescribing pills my chronic patients never got well as I was just treating symptoms. Once I discovered the benefits for myself, I could share this with passion to any who would listen…and now I am getting the reward of testimonials from people whose lives have been changed with such inspiring stories! My patients now have hope…and I now actually have hope for everyone who comes to classes. I used to dread having to see patients who I could not help. Now I can help most everyone or at least show them a path to health I did not know before. I am so happy now both as a physician, and as a person. And I wish the same for everyone.

What can you do?

Look to the science of nutrition, become mindful of your food choices, and practice until you get the health goal you wish to achieve. Changing your lifestyle is like learning to play a new sport like tennis or learning to play a musical instrument. These take practice and a good teacher or coach can be a real asset in developing your skill level. Check out the resources listed and best of health to you all.
If you are the least bit engaged after reading the above and wish to pursue more information on this topic…..I have listed a number of resources below….
If you like to read, then consider the following…
How Not To Die by Michael Greger MD—the best single resource of evidenced based nutrition in one book
How To Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell Esselstyn MD
Proteinaholic by Garth Davis MD
Whitewash by Joseph Keon—Why dairy is not so healthy
The Cheese Trap by Neal Barnard MD
The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner
Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss-How the food industry has altered our foods
Eat To Live by Joel Fuhrman MD
The China Study by T. Colin Campbell PhD
The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress Free Living by Amit Sood MD—put this at the top of your list
If you use the internet, then consider the following…  Best evidenced based nutrition science site in the world…check it out and you will not be sorry. This site is totally transparent and I have asked every medical student who has ever rotated with me to find something wrong with this site and over the last 4 years not one issue or problem.   A 21 day kick start program at this site along with many valuable resources like handouts and educational videos  A great site for support. Best site for recipes from around the world.   Another great site for recipes   Support for whole food plant based lifestyle. I was just introduced to this site and it looks really good.
If you like to watch movies, then consider the following….
Forks Over Knives
What the Health
If you like to attend classes…
Find a CHIP (complete health improvement program) near you.
The classes I started are called THIP (total health improvement program). They are free to anyone and can be found online at Actually Dr. Heidi Beery in Roseburg deserves the credit for putting these classes online and UC VEG in Roseburg is currently maintaining.  Click on the Class Content and you can for free view each of the classes. Check this out…it is a very good site.
And if you just want to talk on the phone or email me about this…
Call me at 541 680-0361
Email me at

Best of health to you all,
Charlie Ross DO
Lifestyle Medicine


  1. Hi Charlie,
    My husband and I have been doing a plant based diet for awhile. We both loved cheese and figured out how to satisfy that longing for that specific taste with our own “cheese spread” using tofu, nutritional yeast and spices.We have been doing great till last month with multiple deaths in our family and now with one of Oregons fire about 5 miles from us. We used food to comfort us. Needless to say the food wasn’t of the best choices. I can attest that it may satisfy your taste, but you sure don’t feel that well after eating non plant based foods or eating processed foods.We are back to healthy eating.
    Enjoyed your class back a couple years ago. Keep up the blog.

  2. Thank you Dr. Ross for such a great blog!

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