Food Matters Review

Food Matters” is not an apt name for this film. While there is some talk about the role of diet, much of this film focuses on high-dose vitamin therapy for the treatment of disease. I also question why in a documentary that references the work of well-known plant-based diet advocates like Dr. Dean Ornish, why those well-known advocates aren’t participating in the film.

I’ve loved most of the plant-based diet documentaries that I’ve seen over the last year, such as Forks Over Knives, Vegucated and Chow Down– but I’m finding this one to be totally irresponsible and I’m offended as a health care provider. Of course, one of the experts in this film says on his personal website that the content of his website may offend educated persons, so what do you expect?

There were a number of experts interviewed in this film, but I am taking exception with one in particular. Andrew W. Saul, an orthomolecular medicine specialist, makes claims with which I take serious issue, as I fear they may be construed as advice to well meaning parents of children with serious mental illness. I don’t agree with most of the other experts either, but mental health is my field, so I feel better equipped to talk about that aspect in particular.

Claim #1: Niacin

Saul makes mention of the founder of AA taking high dose niacin (Vitamin B3), and having a significant improvement in mood. Guess what? It’s absolutely true that many people with alcoholism will suffer from vitamin deficiencies. Guess why? Because some people who are alcoholics get almost all of their calories from alcohol, not food. Not only does alcohol not contain niacin, it destroys it in the body. Standard practice in medicine for anyone coming into the hospital acutely intoxicated on alcohol is to… guess what? Give vitamins, IV!

Abram Hoffer, the doctor mentioned in the clip below who originally suggested that niacin cures depression, also believed it to be a cure for schizophrenia. That claim has never been backed up in subsequent studies.

He also mentions an anecdote of a woman whose depression is cured by niacin, and was told by a psychiatrist that the dose (11,500 mg/day) may be unsafe. The family stopped giving it to her, and she became depressed again. No other information. He makes no mention that there was nothing else that could have been responsible. That makes me feel a little uneasy. Could it be that once the vitamins were stopped, she felt like no one cared? Did she have a concomitant mental or medical illness that might make treatment a whole lot more complicated and answers a whole lot less clear? Did she actually have dementia, not depression? Well, we don’t know, because he chose not to tell us.

He also goes out of his way to say that nobody dies from Niacin (and then backtracks and says that one or two people in some years have). He makes no mention of the sucky side-effects niacin may have. But I will. Here’s a list. Better yet, here’s a woman talking about the niacin flush:

Claim #2: SSRIs are bad, vitamins good

Fact: there is a documented risk of increase of suicidal thinking and behaviors in children, adolescents and young adults up to age 24 who have started an SSRI. I’m not trying to hide that from anyone. A recent study also suggests they may not be particularly helpful for mild/moderate depression. I’d rather not expose kids to the risk if there is unlikely to be much benefit. I can’t speak for all providers out there, but I hope they all take that into consideration. (Great summary of the issues here).

On the other hand, it’s also documented that in areas of the US where more SSRIs are used with youth, the lower the suicide rate. Suggesting a kid’s parent just go out and pick up some niacin to treat their child’s depression gives no mental health professional the chance to evaluate this child’s risk for suicide. This movie doesn’t even suggest that psychotherapy would be a more appropriate option.

Psychotherapy is absolutely a valid form of treatment and gives a professional trained in mental health assessment the chance to talk about suicidal feelings with a kid and make an assessment as to risk.

I really encourage you to check out NIMH’s articles on adolescent depression. If you are dealing with depression, please have some mental health professional- a psychiatrist, psychologist, clinical social worker, marriage and family therapist, licensed counselor or psychiatric nurse practitioner involved in your or your child’s care.

The title of this film makes a very important and true statement: food matters. If people were following a healthy plant-based diet in the first place, there would probably be much less in terms health problems of all kinds to begin with. We do have some good evidence that a healthy, plant-based diet can reverse conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. That is not what this film was about.

This film is overtly biased regarding high-dose vitamin therapy for number of conditions. That is not what you get from food- that’s what you get when chemists and manufactures have broken down components from food in order to administer them in a form not intended by nature.

Is that food?

Well, aspirin comes from willow bark- but do you consider that to be a natural remedy for a headache?

The experts in this film do a whole lot of putting down of drug companies, as they exist to make money. I won’t dispute that there’s some shady and outright bad research coming from drug companies. I will say to never underestimate the value of someone’s ego as a motivator for their own claims, either. Just because someone may not get rich off of their claims doesn’t mean they aren’t biased.

Photograph “Veggie Abundance” by Amy Thewamy. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

Photograph “Teen Girl Sitting Near Empty Hospital Bed” by D Sharon Pruitt. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

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7 Responses to Food Matters Review

  1. Larry Sellers says:

    This movie is filled with irresponsible propoganda supported by naturopathic doctors who are basically just trying to draw more attention to their own businesses.

    They claim that “less than 6% of USA trained physicians receive any training in nutrition” which is an outright lie. Considering that nutrition is one of the required courses in ALL accredited medical schools. Theres lots of other really aggregious excerpts of propoganda in this film, too much to count.

    In essence, this film is basically holistic medicine trying to draw more business by putting down scientific medicine. That’s about it in a nutshell.

    • JM, RD, LDN, CDE says:

      Your statement is not factual: “Considering that nutrition is one of the required courses in ALL accredited medical schools.”
      I am a registered dietitian working in a large hospital affiliated with an ivy league university medical school. The school offers no formal nutrition course. At best, the med students receive a couple of nutrition lectures. In fact the vast majority of physicians do not have the opportunity to receive any formal nutrition course during their training. Many patients expect their physicians to be experts in all health-related issues, but nutrition is usually not their area of expertise. Go ahead–ask your own doc!

  2. Steve says:

    I am a Personal trainer, i have taught myself much about nutrition as it MUST form the foundation for my clients results. I personally coach 6 doctors and have changed how they view the role of nutrition on peoples health.
    I now get many referrals from these professionals BEFORE they resort to medicating

    • jodie says:

      If I thought that I could cure my patients’ severe psychotic and mood disorders with nutrition, I would do it. I often counsel my patients about healthier eating, but you have to be a pretty high functioning individual to be able to absorb and put that into practice. I strongly feel that it would be absolute malpractice of the type where someone should lose a license (or worse) if they’re telling a patient with psychosis to eat more greens instead of medicating. When someone’s life is at immediate risk, in Western medicine we stabilize first by whatever means necessary, and then look for a more holistic approach, if that’s feasible. Sometimes it’s not. When you’re dealing with someone who has severe psychosocial stressors (as do most of my patients), it can be a struggle to make even minor changes to habits. We strive for it, but the number one rule in psychiatry is to meet your patients where they are, not where you want them to be.

      If on the other hand you’re talking about an otherwise healthy (mentally, socially and physically) person who is overweight or has high cholesterol or impaired glucose tolerance or is even just feeling a little blue, then yes, trying improved nutrition (and exercise) before medication is an absolutely valid approach.

      • G says:

        To be fair, the interviewees in the movie mainly state that these diseases are preventable with good diet. Of course someone in immediate need needs immediate help.

  3. jodie says:

    I’m removing your comment because it expresses medical advice.

  4. Kellie says:

    I stopped watching this movie about 10 minutes in. When he said that people prioritize paying rent instead of buying super foods I was really turned off of the movie. I understand what he was getting at, but he came across as such a wack job when he said it that I had to stop watching.