White-Coat Awe vs. The Wisdom of Crowds

      155 Comments on White-Coat Awe vs. The Wisdom of Crowds

A few years ago, I read a book titled How Doctors Think.  The author (a doctor) described the case of a woman who was rail-thin and complained that eating made her feel sick.  She went from doctor to doctor, at least one of whom suggested she was anorexic and needed to see a shrink to get over it.  Some of the doctors instructed her to eat more pasta, bread and other grain foods to get her weight up.

[Wait … grain foods cause weight gain?  Does the USDA dietary committee know that?  Anyway …]

A dozen or so doctors later, one finally thought to test her for celiac disease.  Bingo.  Eating had been making her sick because she was eating the foods people with celiac disease should never eat – on the advice of doctors.  She was rail-thin because even when she did choke down a meal, she wasn’t absorbing nutrients very well.  Yet doctor after doctor never suspected celiac as the cause of her condition – and their advice was making her worse, not better.

As I mentioned in a recent post, Dr. William “Wheat Belly” Davis told me over dinner that his next book will explain how to protect yourself against bad advice from doctors – in part by leveraging the Wisdom of Crowds.  I’m currently reading a pre-release copy of Dr. Malcolm Kendrick’s upcoming book Doctoring Data, in which he explains the statistical funny business employed to promote drugs and procedures few of us actually need.  That book includes a chapter titled Doctors can seriously damage your health.

I’m sensing a trend here.  The doctor-as-god attitude held by so many people in previous generations is on its way out – shown the door in part by doctors who are dismayed by the ignorance and incompetence of their colleagues.  (I almost used the word peers instead of colleagues.  Sadly, Drs. Davis and Kendrick have few peers.)  But plenty of non-doctors are hastening the trend by the simple act of offering non-medical advice that actually works.

Here’s an example: a co-worker at BMI told me his wife used to get frequent migraines.  Half a dozen doctors could only suggest different drug therapies, none of which worked very well.  But at a dinner party one night, a friend of a friend suggested she try giving up wheat and other grains.  So she did.  That was the end of her history with migraines.

As my co-worker put it to me, “I’m glad she finally found the answer.  But why did we have to hear about it from some Joe Schmoe at a party?  Why didn’t we hear about it from one of her doctors?”

They didn’t hear about it from any of his wife’s doctors because doctors can’t pass on what they don’t know.  I seriously doubt these doctors were being dishonest or sneaky.  They were simply following the guidelines of the medical establishment – which for the most part views diseases as bad things that just sort of happen and then must be treated with drugs, surgeries, or medical devices.  If you’d rather identify and remove the root cause of a disease, you’re more likely to find an answer in the crowd.

Here’s another example from within the family:  Chareva’s aunt happened to mention in an email that her husband was suffering from neuropathy.  She wasn’t asking for advice, because at the time she was unaware of Fat Head and our interest in diet and health.  With the aunt’s permission, I’ll tell the rest of the story through portions of emails we all exchanged.  (I’ve changed their names.)

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Actually, I am fine, Chareva.  John, however, is not.  He has been diagnosed with Severe Nerve Damage (Neuropathy), and after FIFTEEN Specialists and too many tests to count, has been told that there isn’t anything they can do for him.  His present neurosurgeon … formerly from Mayo Clinic in Rochester … will try two surgeries for his hands and lower spine, but no one has any word of hope for us.  The last two years have turned into a nightmare.  He uses a Rollator Walker now, but we may be graduating into one of those Scooter chairs soon.  We just don’t know.

Thanks for asking…
Charlotte

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Try eliminating all gluten from his diet. Wheat, oats, barley, rye. Especially wheat. It’s insidious – lurking in almost everything – so read labels. We’ve been grain-free for a couple of years and all sorts of little health issues have cleared up.

We spent a week with Dr. Davis, author of Wheat Belly, last year on the Low-Carb Cruise. (Tom was one of the guest speakers).  I also spent an hour talking to a woman who also suffered from neuropathy. She is a nurse. She went to countless doctors and none of them were any help. She eliminated grains from her diet and the pain stopped.

Google ‘neuropathy’ and ‘wheat’ and see what pops up.

Please try it for two weeks and see if it helps.

Love you,
Chareva

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Chareva…thank you for the FIRST sensible suggestion I’ve had from anyone here…or anywhere else!

I’m going to check out the link you sent me … and I guess I am NOW our Gluten-Free Dietician … at least for a couple of weeks.  I’ll let you know how it works out.

Thank you SO MUCH for caring, Dear Niece!

Love you, too, dear girl!
Charlotte

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This has been VERY interesting, Niece!  This morning, I just threw out TEN of John’s favorite cereals!  Glad you warned me about the “wheat” because in every one of those bad boys the wheat was hidden near the bottom of the list of ingredients.

This is so amazing … I’ve known about celiac disease and gluten difficulties for years (friends & co-workers who turned their lives around) … I just never put that together in John’s case.  AND, NEITHER DID ANY OF THOSE DOCTORS he has seen!

The really good news is that (and this is only 5 days since you wrote!) he is telling me he’s actually FEELING better already.  He has more energy.  And he is walking better, and his balance is starting to improve.  Is that possible, to see changes this soon?  I hope so … because THAT is what is keeping on this change of diet.

Thank YOU so much for your suggestions and ideas.  I’ll keep you posted.

Love,
Charlotte

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Charlotte,

That is great news. And yes, it CAN happen in a short amount of time. There are a slew of books and blogs written by people who have given up wheat and their lifelong illnesses have cleared up.

Tom wanted me to pass this on to you: Avoid processed vegetable oils at ALL COST (vegetable oil, corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil). They also produce inflammation.  We eat butter, olive oil, coconut oil and bacon grease. Coconut oil and omega3 fish oil actually reduce inflammation. Good stuff.

Tom recommends two books:

Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint (what you should be eating and why).

Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis (a cardiologist).

Outstanding news. Keep us posted.

Love,
Chareva

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Chareva…

Three more improvements.  Two weeks ago, we were in the office of John’s neurosurgeon for another consult…and the dr. asked John to stand up for him.  John tried … but couldn’t do it!  This morning, he showed me that he can NOW stand up easily … and went around “trying it out” on several other chair heights!

He also showed me that his balance is even BETTER than it was a few days ago.  He can stand and move around, and not “totter,” the way he used to.  ALSO … he is now walking with a MUCH more erect posture than he has in months!  Up until this change in his diet, he would walk all bent over his cane, and said he couldn’t stand up, or he would fall over.

Today is just one week since you first suggested gluten-free.

We are FINALLY feeling some hope, thanks to you two.

Love you, too, dear!
Charlotte

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Chareva & Tom …

I just had to share:  very early this morning, John told me that he can now make a complete fist with his right hand, and an almost-there fist with the left one.  He hasn’t been able to do that for almost two years!

Also, he told me that yesterday, he “just noticed” that the pain in his shoulder that’s given him a LOT of pain for the last six months is now completely gone!  (Several of his doctors told him it was either arthritis … OR bursitis…OR more neuropathy … OR, “hell, we don’t know!”)  They gave him shots, Lidacane-treated patches, more painkillers.  In 2-1/2 weeks on this diet, the pain is gone.

Can you tell how excited we are feeling?  Chareva, my dear niece, we owe you & Tom a big one!

Hugs,
Charlotte

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Sorry it was such a long and painful journey, Charlotte.  Once I dug into the research for my documentary and my blog, I lost of a lot of respect for the medical profession.  I’ve met some outstanding doctors who look for causes instead of merely treating the symptoms, but sadly they’re a minority.

Cheers to you and John.  Keep us posted on his progress.

Tom

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Hey, Tom!

Did you read about Dick Van Dyke’s “mysterious” neurological disease he’s been fighting for 7 years?  He’s done all the tests that John had … catscans, MRIs, spinal tap, and, I’m sure lots of EMGs.  They all test-out “healthy,” so the doctors are saying the exact same thing John’s doctors did:  “We don’t know what this is or what caused it.”  In HIS case, his symptoms seem to be extreme fatigue, and what he calls “a banging in the head when I lie down.”

Any of this sound familiar?

John continues to get better … and STRONGER … every day.  He, too, suffered from that “fatigue,” but he tells me now that he can feel his stamina coming back.  It’s a real relief for him, because he’s getting a lot of new customers for his custom tile furniture, and now he knows he can keep up with the orders.

Thanks to you guys.

Love to you both,
Charlotte

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Tom …

Your movie arrived today, and we are looking forward to watching it this weekend.

Today, we cancelled the surgery that was scheduled for next week for John’s hands (actually involving “unpinching” a nerve in his elbow) because his hands are getting better, and the surgeon had told us that this was what he called “a Hail Mary” procedure, and couldn’t promise much of anything.  THIS from a dr. we actually like & respect (he’s formerly from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and VERY respected in the field of neurosurgery!)  John talked to the dr. himself, and although he was kind & unfailingly polite, he made NO comment when John told him about his change of diet & how much it’s helping.  Typical, isn’t it?

Much love,
Charlotte

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Yes, the doctor’s reaction was typical.

Grains?  We don’t know nuttin’ ’bout grains birthin’ no diseases!

Years of debilitating pain, fifteen specialists, no answers — except a suggestion for a “Hail Mary” surgery that might not work.  Then they found an answer because Chareva’s aunt happened to mention her husband’s condition in an email, and Chareva happens to be married to me, and I happen to have read Wheat Belly as part of my work as a health blogger.  I’m the Joe Schmoe in the crowd who had an answer.

That’s why “white-coat awe” is (I hope) a fading phenomenon.  Back in the days when information didn’t flow quickly and freely within a worldwide crowd, doctors could get away with having no answers, or even with wrong answers.  It’s not going to be so easy anymore.

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155 thoughts on “White-Coat Awe vs. The Wisdom of Crowds

  1. Jim Butler

    I believe that one of the major issues, not just with medicine, but with society in general, is that we have lost/given up on the entire concept of “critical thinking”. We don’t teach it, and the effects of that are present everywhere, whether it be medicine, climate research, or political analysis.
    I’ve been diagnosing things (mostly electronics, from missile systems to computers to cars) for roughly 45yrs now. The complete lack of ability when it comes to rational thought/logic/critical thinking is just astounding, and is directly related to the scientific method, which people also seem to have forgotten. For a hypothesis to be VALID, it must fit ALL of the symptoms. If your car won’t start, it’s not because the tire is flat.
    There have been countless articles discussing this, mostly as it pertains to medical students.
    I really believe this is likely to be the Number 1 issue facing society…the dumbing down of our citizens.

    Reply
  2. Jim Butler

    Btw…a quick follow-up note on Celiac Disease.
    Having been recently diagnosed, the first thing I did was to eliminate gluten that day. The second was to plunge head first into reading/studying everything I could find regarding the disease.
    For those that aren’t familiar, Celiac, or CD, is NOT a gluten allergy. While many people suffer from exactly that, an allergic reaction to wheat/gluten, Celiac is an auto-immune disease. In other words, not something you can take Benadryl for 🙂
    The most recent study I read was out of Italy, roughly 2wks ago. They stated that approx. 17% of people that suffer from CD have actually been diagnosed. It’s one of the most MISdiagnosed diseases out there. This is largely due to a broad range of symptoms, as many of us here can attest to, and the list of symptoms has grown as the awareness of the disease has grown, MOSTLY due to the wisdom of crowds.

    Before my diagnosis, I was quite familiar with lchp diets, and some may remember that I’ve posted here before regarding my weight loss and my success with that so far (265 down to 220). I’ve said to friends many times over the past few years that the two worst things people put in their bodies are wheat and sugar. However, if I’d been “good” for 2-3wks, and wanted to have a “cheat day”, no big deal. Sure, it’ll stall my weight loss for awhile, but come Monday, I’ll get back to it, easy-peasy.
    Once diagnosed, I spent a week being constantly confronted with things like driving by Dunkin Donuts and being hit with the realization that I could never have another Dunk’s Donut for the rest of my life. Same with good beer, homemade bread, Aunt Annie’s Pretzels, etc etc. The list went on and on.
    My thoughts during this phase were “Wheat is probably not good for you, but it will kill me.”
    After having dealt with this for awhile now, I’ve modified that thought, and now tell people this:
    Wheat is killing everyone…it just kills some of us faster.

    That usually prompts a pretty lively discussion 😉

    Reply
  3. Jim Butler

    I believe that one of the major issues, not just with medicine, but with society in general, is that we have lost/given up on the entire concept of “critical thinking”. We don’t teach it, and the effects of that are present everywhere, whether it be medicine, climate research, or political analysis.
    I’ve been diagnosing things (mostly electronics, from missile systems to computers to cars) for roughly 45yrs now. The complete lack of ability when it comes to rational thought/logic/critical thinking is just astounding, and is directly related to the scientific method, which people also seem to have forgotten. For a hypothesis to be VALID, it must fit ALL of the symptoms. If your car won’t start, it’s not because the tire is flat.
    There have been countless articles discussing this, mostly as it pertains to medical students.
    I really believe this is likely to be the Number 1 issue facing society…the dumbing down of our citizens.

    Reply
  4. Jim Butler

    Btw…a quick follow-up note on Celiac Disease.
    Having been recently diagnosed, the first thing I did was to eliminate gluten that day. The second was to plunge head first into reading/studying everything I could find regarding the disease.
    For those that aren’t familiar, Celiac, or CD, is NOT a gluten allergy. While many people suffer from exactly that, an allergic reaction to wheat/gluten, Celiac is an auto-immune disease. In other words, not something you can take Benadryl for 🙂
    The most recent study I read was out of Italy, roughly 2wks ago. They stated that approx. 17% of people that suffer from CD have actually been diagnosed. It’s one of the most MISdiagnosed diseases out there. This is largely due to a broad range of symptoms, as many of us here can attest to, and the list of symptoms has grown as the awareness of the disease has grown, MOSTLY due to the wisdom of crowds.

    Before my diagnosis, I was quite familiar with lchp diets, and some may remember that I’ve posted here before regarding my weight loss and my success with that so far (265 down to 220). I’ve said to friends many times over the past few years that the two worst things people put in their bodies are wheat and sugar. However, if I’d been “good” for 2-3wks, and wanted to have a “cheat day”, no big deal. Sure, it’ll stall my weight loss for awhile, but come Monday, I’ll get back to it, easy-peasy.
    Once diagnosed, I spent a week being constantly confronted with things like driving by Dunkin Donuts and being hit with the realization that I could never have another Dunk’s Donut for the rest of my life. Same with good beer, homemade bread, Aunt Annie’s Pretzels, etc etc. The list went on and on.
    My thoughts during this phase were “Wheat is probably not good for you, but it will kill me.”
    After having dealt with this for awhile now, I’ve modified that thought, and now tell people this:
    Wheat is killing everyone…it just kills some of us faster.

    That usually prompts a pretty lively discussion 😉

    Reply
  5. Josh

    This grain thing is all very interesting. But, what I want to know about is using gin soaked raisins to relieve arthritis pain. Any crowd wisdom about that?

    Reply
    1. Galina L.

      As a person dealing with allergies most of my life (now a very small issue due to a LC diet and being a gluten-free), I would say that you have no business consuming any alcohol, and raisins are good for nothing. You have a very serious autoimmune condition. Besides gluten, grains and alcohol, avoid chocolate, strawberries, hot and spicy food, smoked meat and fish, tomato-based souses. Aspirin and painkillers are bad for allergies. Opt out from flu shots . especially when you have a flare.

      Reply
  6. Josh

    This grain thing is all very interesting. But, what I want to know about is using gin soaked raisins to relieve arthritis pain. Any crowd wisdom about that?

    Reply
    1. Galina L.

      As a person dealing with allergies most of my life (now a very small issue due to a LC diet and being a gluten-free), I would say that you have no business consuming any alcohol, and raisins are good for nothing. You have a very serious autoimmune condition. Besides gluten, grains and alcohol, avoid chocolate, strawberries, hot and spicy food, smoked meat and fish, tomato-based souses. Aspirin and painkillers are bad for allergies. Opt out from flu shots . especially when you have a flare.

      Reply
  7. Firebird

    I just left a debate on Google +. A nutritionist posted tips on staying lean over Christmas. Among the recommendations were to eat whole wheat crackers and add protein loaded foods like almond butter and Greek Yogurt. Well, I pointed out that there was not enough protein in almond butter or Greek yogurt and that grains are not good for you. Then a doctor chimed in (does it matter that both the nutritionist and the doctor are female?) and basically agreed with the nutritionist and disagreed with me on the grains and protein.

    I brought up doctors vs. wisdom of crowds and pointed out that the difference between them and me was the piece of paper they have hanging on their walls. I opted out of the conversation when the doctor began her diatribe with, “Actually….”

    Reply
  8. TMA

    Hi Tom,

    Great post as always. I am a doctor and I agree with the general point you are making wholeheartedly. I know many of my colleagues wrongly dismiss the importance of diet, or think too little about root causes of conditions and just try to treat things with medications.

    That said, I’m going to play devil’s advocate a little bit.

    First, if you think that the majority of patients are just waiting for a discussion about diet from their doctor, let me tell you that you are sadly mistaken. I happen to be very interested in diet (thanks in large part to your work), and I always try to broach diet, stress and lifestyle issues with patients, but Tom, the truth is that many many people do not want to hear about it. Many people immediately brush off any talk of diet by saying “I eat very healthy” or “I know what to eat.” They will not consider that any aspect of their health could be due to poor diet, not even their weight, let alone other vaguer symptoms. I have given book suggestions, blog suggestions etc, and they often fall on deaf ears. So while many doctors may fail on this count, I think there is also just a general unawareness in our society of the effects diet can have. Yes, it does extend to doctors, but it is not limited to doctors.

    Second, the criticism being levied that doctors just want to prescribe medications is partly true but it is not the whole story. Many patients come to me asking for medications for weight (which I would never prescribe) or other medications they have heard about or seen ads for. There is a growing segment of the male population who honestly believes that if they feel tired, the first thing they should ask is if their testosterone is too low. Questions about sleep are seen as impertinent. This is the general mentality in our American society that there is a pill for everything. Patients can be quite demanding when they believe a pill exists that can alleviate their symptom and they feel I am depriving them of it.

    This mentality may come from Pharma, and I am not absolving doctors, but to suggest that patients really do not want medications? Please. If only.

    Reply
    1. Galina L.

      It is the public attitude toward diets to blame, and patients and doctors are society members. Most people I know who care about health claim that they eat “clean”, “watch what they eat”, “practice portion control”, all of it is pretty useless when it comes to getting results.

      Reply
  9. Paula

    Just thought I’d include one more story of how making a dietary change can make a difference. Nearly a year ago I was noodling around on Facebook and saw a quiz Dr. Davis had put up on his Facebook page. Honestly, I don’t even remember now what it contained, but you can guess (the problems that come from eating wheat). I was already wheat-free at that point, but decided to “share” it for the benefit of anyone I was friends with that might have issues I wasn’t aware of. It turns out that my own sister had gotten up that very morning in a state of desperation. She’d been having very serious gastrointestinal problems for some time that were only getting worse. The night before she had had to end a date early because of the intense pain and discomfort she was in and spent a good part of the night crying in the bathroom, afraid that she was literally nearing a point where she wouldn’t be able to leave the house!

    She saw my post that morning and immediately called me. She knew my husband and I were doing some kind of “diet”, but since she wasn’t looking to lose weight she’d never really paid attention to what we were doing. We had a very long talk and I insisted she take the time to get on Dr. Davis’ page and READ READ READ.

    That very day she gave up wheat and within six weeks she was completely relieved of all symptoms. She STILL tells me all the time how miraculous this one dietary change has made to her life. Oh, and she lost twenty-two pounds she didn’t even think she needed to lose!

    She sent me a text last week because she had allowed herself some wheat during this holiday season. The text read, “WHEAT IS EVIL!! EVIL!!” LOL!

    Reply

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