A DOC­TOR IN THE HOUSE

Dr Ran­gan Chat­ter­jee, the star of Doc­tor In The House, is a GP with a dif­fer­ence. He be­lieves that lifestyle in­ter­ven­tions can solve most (if not all) the chronic dis­eases we’re try­ing to fight with med­i­ca­tion – even mental ill­nesses such as de­pres­sion.

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Dr Ran­gan Chat­ter­jee helps fam­i­lies change their di­etary habits to im­prove their mental health

The premise of the doc­u­men­tary se­ries on the BBC called Doc­tor In The House will res­onate with any­one who has been in and out of their GP’s of­fice in un­der 10 min­utes. It ex­plores a sim­ple ques­tion: what would hap­pen if GPs had more time with their pa­tients? The no­tion def­i­nitely struck a nerve with Dr Ran­gan Chat­ter­jee, who had long sus­pected that the tra­di­tional doc­tor-pa­tient in­ter­ac­tion was not quite cut­ting it. ‘I al­ways got this nag­ging sense that I was just man­ag­ing dis­ease or just sim­ply sup­press­ing peo­ple’s symp­toms,’ he says. The turn­ing point came when his six-mon­thold son nearly died while the fam­ily was on hol­i­day in France. His son had a fit and, af­ter try­ing fruit­lessly to re­vive him, they rushed him to hospi­tal.

‘That night he had two lum­bar punc­tures be­cause they thought he might have menin­gi­tis,’ says Dr Chat­ter­jee. The real cause was a low level of cal­cium in his blood caused by a low level of vi­ta­min D. ‘My son nearly died from a pre­ventable vi­ta­min de­fi­ciency,’ he says, ‘and his fa­ther, a doc­tor, knew noth­ing about it.’

Dr Chat­ter­jee started read­ing up on it, ap­ply­ing his new knowl­edge to help his fam­ily and his pa­tients. ‘I started ad­dress­ing the root cause of their prob­lems rather than sim­ply sup­press­ing their symp­toms,’ he says. The re­sults were stag­ger­ing, prompt­ing him to audition for the TV show that ex­plored this same tech­nique.

In ev­ery episode of Doc­tor In The House Dr Chat­ter­jee moves in with a dif­fer­ent fam­ily for a month at a time, get­ting to know ev­ery­one and tak­ing an in-depth look at the way they live, their eat­ing and sleep­ing habits and their daily ac­tiv­i­ties. Some fam­ily mem­bers have been strug­gling with health prob­lems such as type-2 di­a­betes, menopause, headaches, joint pain, gut prob­lems, stress and back pain for years – but Dr Chat­ter­jee is not there to pre­scribe med­i­ca­tion; his treat­ment plan is to help them im­ple­ment lifestyle in­ter­ven­tions. ‘I be­lieve GPs need to learn more about a func­tional medicine ap­proach, as well as nu­tri­tional sci­ence,’ he says. ‘We don’t get taught this stuff at med­i­cal school and

we don’t know how to en­gage peo­ple in be­havioural change.’ Be­ing healthy, he main­tains, is not as dif­fi­cult as most peo­ple think. ‘I al­ways tell pa­tients that most health­care takes place in the home. It is based around what you put on a plate and how you use your feet.’

Many of Dr Chat­ter­jee’s eat­ing tips are in keep­ing with a low carb diet plan – he speaks out in par­tic­u­lar against ‘beige food’ and ‘empty carbs’ such as piz­zas, dough­nuts and bread, and notes that eat­ing ‘a whole-food diet con­tain­ing a lot of fresh pro­duce, oily fish, qual­ity red meat, nuts and seeds’ can bring about changes in your health that are both swift and sig­nif­i­cant, as he has seen first-hand.

When it comes to chronic dis­eases you need to look at the root cause. One in five peo­ple will be af­fected by de­pres­sion at some point in their lives. ‘What is de­pres­sion?’ he asks. ‘There’s no blood test for de­pres­sion. There’s no scan for de­pres­sion. De­pres­sion is sim­ply the name that we give to a col­lec­tion of symp­toms.’

Many cases of de­pres­sion, says Dr Chat­ter­jee, are as­so­ciated with chronic in­flam­ma­tion. ‘This hap­pens when your body thinks it is un­der con­stant at­tack.’ Ac­cord­ing to re­search by King’s Col­lege Lon­don, pa­tients with de­pres­sion who had high lev­els of in­flam­ma­tion in their bod­ies did not re­spond to an­tide­pres­sants. ‘It sort of makes sense, doesn’t it, be­cause an an­tide­pres­sant is de­signed to raise the level of a chem­i­cal in your brain – but what if the cause of your de­pres­sion is ac­tu­ally com­ing from your body?’

What causes this in­flam­ma­tion? ‘Well, your diet plays a part; your stress lev­els play a part; chronic sleep de­pri­va­tion; phys­i­cal in­ac­tiv­ity; a lack of ex­po­sure to the sun, which gives you vi­ta­min D; dis­rup­tions in the gut mi­cro­biome… If we never ad­dress the cause, we’ll never get rid of dis­eases,’ he says.

On his blog, Dr Chat­ter­jee also quotes a land­mark editorial pub­lished in the prestigious med­i­cal jour­nal The Lancet. ‘Although the de­ter­mi­nants of mental health are com­plex,’ it reads, ‘the emerg­ing and com­pelling ev­i­dence for nu­tri­tion as a cru­cial fac­tor in the high preva­lence and in­ci­dence of mental disor­ders sug­gests that diet is as im­por­tant to psy­chi­a­try as it is to car­di­ol­ogy, en­docrinol­ogy, and gas­troen­terol­ogy.’

Food, writes Dr Chat­ter­jee, is ‘a very un­der­utilised weapon in our ar­moury’ when it comes to fight­ing dis­ease. ‘“What are you eat­ing?” is the ques­tion I ask ev­ery pa­tient who walks through my door. For mental health, the nu­tri­ents you put in your mouth have a pro­found im­pact on your brain.’

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