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‘My son nearly died from a preventable vitamin deficiency, and as a doctor, I had been unable to prevent it’
This was the moment where Dr. Rangan Chatterjee, now a 2 x Sunday Times Bestselling Author, host of the number 1 Podcast in the Apple store’s health category ‘Feel Better, Live More’, realised that there was a lot about medicine and health that he still needed to learn.
“As Doctors, we are incredibly well trained to treat acute conditions, such as infections and heart attacks, but chronic conditions require a very different approach. The epiphany I had after that night on holiday in France, as my 6-month-old boy was lying there helpless, and I, a trained professional, even more helpless, was that my training was inadequate for many of the conditions I was seeing.”
The Turning Point
It was the night where everything changed for Dr. Chatterjee, who also stars as the host of BBC’s primetime hit series Doctor In The House. “That’s when the cogs started turning… I had this new sense, or drive, that I hadn’t experienced before, and it wouldn’t go away. This niggling feeling that I wasn’t maximizing my potential as a Doctor”, he says whilst we chat at the book launch for “The Stress Solution“ which has already hit number 1 on Amazon and become his second Sunday Times Bestseller in the past 12 months.
His son did recover and is now a healthy, thriving 8-year-old – but the experience haunted Rangan. “It turned out he had a low level of calcium in his blood caused by a Vitamin D deficiency, and it made me realise that simple things like nutrition and lifestyle had been broadly neglected in my training. Something so simple almost killed him. How many others would experience that?”.
He returned to his practice but he felt, for the first time in his life, an overbearing sense of doubt. “I would go to work, and diagnose patients, giving them prescriptions. But at the end of the day, I felt empty. How many people have I really helped today?” he would ask himself. “At best, 20% of my patients. I was diagnosing conditions and prescribing pills but, mostly, I felt as if I was simply putting a sticking plaster on their symptoms. I knew most of them would return with the same symptoms. Something wasn’t right”.
Rangan was unhappy AND stressed, and for the first time in his life, confused about his life decisions, which if you think about it – is an unusual place for a medical professional who has dedicated their life to helping others, to be.
After speaking with his wife about that feeling that wouldn’t go away, she encouraged him to leave the partnership in his practice, go soul searching, and learn about alternative perspectives on health to see if it sparked any new ideas. “I absolutely couldn’t have done it without her. If I think about how many people hit this crossroads in their life where I was, without the support of someone who believe in them to make a change, to jump into the unknown, they never do it, they just can’t. I have friends like that. We all do. Whereas, she said, ‘I can look after the kids, go follow your heart’.”
He spends a reflective moment on this point. “You know”, he says, pausing, “her family’s background had a huge impact on me. Her family were immigrants who left their country; they’ve built up, and lost wealth, starting up from scratch twice in her lifetime. Her father always had this deeply inspiring point of view, he would say ‘money comes, and money goes, but it doesn’t buy happiness’.
It might sound cheesy, but it was that point of view that gave my wife the confidence to know that for us, happiness for me, was finding a way to fulfill my potential and help as many people as I could. Not money, and not the security of being a GP. And so, with her blessing, I went to America in search of a new way”.
Genetics Load The Gun. Environment Pulls The Trigger.
Rangan enrolled in a course in Minnesota learning about lifestyle medicine and the emerging research on the gut microbiome, which he says was life-changing. “I’d call my wife every night and try to tell her about the course. After a few days she started to answer the phone by saying, ‘let me guess, life-changing?'”. He laughs, reflecting on this point, and explains how when he returned, back to the UK, he started putting into practice everything he’d learned with his patients. And suddenly, many of their ‘diseases’ started to disappear.
He developed his own bespoke model called the “The 4 Pillar Plan“ which he turned into his first bestselling book. He was also enrolled by the BBC to go and live alongside families suffering from unexplained symptoms and chronic conditions, and he would listen to their problems and instead of prescribing medicine would suggest specific, targeted lifestyle and diet changes. Within weeks, ALL of them had vastly improved, and many had complete reversals. He managed to successfully treat conditions such as type 2 diabetes, migraines, insomnia, fibromyalgia, menopausal symptoms, gut problems and mental health problems using his progressive approach.
“We need to think about how we treat diseases completely differently”, he explains, poetically. “Genetics load the gun. Environment pulls the trigger”. He truly believes that most of us are not as predisposed to our outcomes as we had previously thought, and his life’s mission and work is to change the way the medical profession approaches illnesses.
The Wellness Doctor
Of course, he’s not the first to recognise that nutrition and lifestyle are the answer, after all, the entire wellness industry has flourished lately due to this belief. However, it has, until recently, been sneered at by Doctors, so having one that champions this point of view, who speaks so purposely and with direct medical experience, is just the kind of cheerleader this industry has been seeking out. In fact, Dr.Chatterjee is now recognised as being one of the most influential doctors in the UK.
“I’ve actually been really impressed with the response from the medical profession to my way of thinking. Last year, I co-created the highly acclaimed ‘Prescribing Lifestyle Medicine’ educational course, the first of its kind, which has already been delivered to over 500 GPs, Consultant Physicians and other healthcare professionals providing them with a usable framework to apply Lifestyle Medicine principles in clinical practice. Feedback has been incredible and we aim to have trained 1000 doctors by the end of 2019. Such is the demand, that we are now getting multiple enquiries to take this course overseas.”
“My life’s mission is to empower as many people as I can to be the architect of their own health”, tells me. “I’ve done a lot of work on myself, and I want people to know that. I have the same anxieties, sense of doubt and imposter syndrome everyone else does, but by seeking help to unpack my psyche, mental state, and insecurities I’ve been able to break through those barriers. I wish more people would do the same, it’s really, really important”.
As someone, building a holistic brand in wellness focused on the brain, who spends time with psychologists for exactly this reason I couldn’t agree more. The problem, as I point out to Rangan, is the cost of access. This is why he reaffirms “writing these books and releasing weekly podcasts is so meaningful; to have the power to distribute information at a low cost, to give people the tools to take back control of their health”.
So, what’s next?
“Well”, Rangan says with a pondering smile… “I’m only just getting started. I want to help change the industry and boy does it need to change. I am incredibly optimistic that it will. We just need to give it a little more time”.
January 27, 2019 at 12:21PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs