Doctor: Heart health starts at table

A speaker coming to the city will address coronary health and what you can do about it.

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WALLA WALLA -- To move forward in the treatment of chronic disease means stepping back about 150 years.

And that means eating food as it is grown, simply prepared. What it does not mean is starvation, explained Dr. Hans Diehl. "We teach people how to eat more of the right foods and weigh less."

Diehl is the director of the Lifestyle Medicine Institute in California and founder of the Coronary Health Improvement Project, most commonly referred to as the CHIP program. The heart researcher will be in Walla Walla Valley from Tuesday through Saturday to present free classes to students, health-care providers and the general public. His visit is part of Walla Walla General Hospital's cardiac education effort for National Heart Health Month.

Bringing the renowned speaker, author and visionary to Walla Walla has been in the works for a long time, said Kristi Spurgeon Johnson, marketing director for the hospital. Not only does he speak all over the globe about his program, which has reached its 25th year, but he has the numbers to back up his message. More than 50,000 people have graduated from Diehl's lifestyle education program.

Study results released last month in the American Journal of Cardiology showed that 5,000 people who followed Diehl's plan lost weight, dropped high blood pressure levels, saw cholesterol levels decrease and diabetes and depression rates fall, all without medication and it's side effects -- or the cost, the researcher pointed out. "And some of those were from Walla Walla."

His initial program has been tweaked over the years and has a new name, with the same initials. The "Complete Health Improvement Program" now addresses the risk factors that accompany diseases such as diabetes, certain adult cancers, hypertension and obesity.

All chronic, all lifestyle-based and all beyond the control of any doctor, Diehl pointed out.

"When it comes to chronic disease, we can only do our best as physicians to alleviate the symptoms, but we have no cure."

There is no magic pill or potion to resolve years of damage from damaging nutritional choices, he added. "The best we can do is patch our people. We are stuck with 'catch-up medicine' to a large extent."

The prescription is for people to become intelligently involved in attacking the cause of the diseases. "These include a simpler diet, daily exercise, no smoking and learning to cope with stress."

Patients are not alone in needing a new perspective, Diehl said. "Doctors do not receive nutrition education in medical school. But that is changing because the national boards are changing and that's what medical schools begin to teach. Just this year (board exams) introduced nutritional questions."

When that sort of metamorphosis is in the air, "you have a revolution in turning chronic diseases around in a curative fashion. When it comes to that ... simpler food plus exercise will always trump the application of high tech medicine to these diseases. That's where we are today. Same thing with genetics -- lifestyle trumps genetics every time. You can turn the genes off with diet."

America's perception of what's healthy is largely influenced by powerful food industry lobbies, Diehl said. "And supported by the USDA with food subsidies. We are dumping the food we cannot sell into the school system, and it is largely saturated fat, sugar and cholesterol."

It's a message others are putting in the forefront, Spurgeon Johnson noted. "We see more and more a focus on a healthy lifestyle and on good food choices. There are television shows -- like Jaime Oliver's 'Food Revolution' -- that cover this very thing.

"What's so wonderful about Dr. Diehl is that he's been doing this for several decades. It's not a fad or a quick change plan, it's something that's been researched and implemented over and over again."

Diehl's presentations in Walla Walla will all be free, but the CHIP program that will follow, starting at WWGH on Feb. 15, is a serious cost and commitment, she said. "Last year, we started to think about what we could do to help people really gain a healthy lifestyle and one of the things we came up with was hosting the CHIP program. Then we decided to see if we could really make it a big deal and kick things off with seminars by Hans Diehl himself, who is an entertaining, well-known speaker and educator. And this next week he's finally coming."

Registration for the CHIP class is available at General Hospital.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

IF You Go

Wednesday -- "The Power of the Plate," noon, at Walla Walla General Hospital's auditorium. The session features research about food choices.

Thursday -- "Forks Over Knives: The New Intelligent Self-Care," 8 a.m. is specifically for business leaders and human resource staff. Reservations are suggested for this event. Walla Walla General Hospital auditorium.

Thursday -- "Eat More and Weigh Less," 7 p.m., at Walla Walla General Hospital.

Feb. 11 -- College Place Village Church, 715 S.E. 12th St., College Place. A full day of seminars is planned. For more information about the church presentations call 525-0882.

For general information go to wwgh.com or call 525-0480.

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