Rangan Chatterjee: How to Make Diseases Disappear at TEDxLiverpool (Transcript)

Rangan Chatterjee

Here is the full transcript of Rangan Chatterjee’s TEDx Talk presentation: How to Make Diseases Disappear at TEDxLiverpool conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio: How to make diseases disappear by Rangan Chatterjee at TEDxLiverpool


Rangan Chatterjee – NHS GP

I can make diseases disappear. To be more precise, I can make chronic diseases disappear. You see, chronic diseases are the long-term conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, depression or even dementia. And there is 15 million people in England who have already been diagnosed with a chronic condition; that means looking out amongst you now there’s probably about 250 people in here who have one of these long-term conditions.

Just one of these alone, type 2 diabetes is costing the UK 20 billion pounds every single year and I’m standing here before you’re saying it, I can make these diseases disappear.

See, I’m not a magician and what the Americans call an MD, that’s not a magical doctor. That’s a medical doctor or what I call a mere doctor. You see the reason I can make diseases disappear is because diseases are just an illusion, diseases are not real. In fact, diseases don’t really exist at least not in the way that we think they do.

So 15 years ago, I qualified for medical school and I was wearing — I was full of enthusiasm, full of passion, ready to go out and help people. But I felt like there was something missing, I started as a specialist, I moved from being a specialist to becoming a generalist or GP. And I always got this nagging sense that I was just managing disease or simply suppressing people symptoms.

And then just five and a half years ago came the turning point for me. See, five and a half years ago, my son nearly died. My wife and I, we were on holiday in France and with our little baby boy and she called out to me, said “He’s not moving.” So I rushed there and he was lifeless. I thought he was choking, so I picked him up, I tried to clear his airway. Nothing happened and I froze. She called out to me and my wife said, “Come on, we’ve got to get to hospital.” So we rushed there, we were worried because when we got there he still wasn’t moving. The doctors were worried because they didn’t know what was happening. Then he had two lumbar punctures because they thought he might have meningitis and he stayed in a foreign hospital for three days.

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And what actually transpired was my son had a low level of calcium in his blood that was caused by a low level of vitamin D. My son nearly died from a preventable vitamin deficiency and his father, a doctor, knew nothing about it.

You see, as a parent that is a harrowing experience that never leaves you. But I was a doctor, I was his dad and the guilt has stayed with me and it’s still here today that changes you. So I started reading, I started reading about this vitamin deficiency. And as I started reading I started to learn a lot of science — a lot of science that I did not learn in medical school, a lot of science that I thought: hey, this makes lot of sense to me. So I started applying the science. I started applying it, first of all, on my son, I saw the amazing benefits. So that I started playing it with my patients but do you know what happened? People started getting better, really better.

See, I learned how to resolve the root cause of their problems rather than simply suppressing their symptoms. Just over a year ago, I had the opportunity to make a series documentary for BBC One where I got to showcase this style of medicine. I’m going to tell you about one of the patients — a thirty-five-year-old Dotti, lovely lovely lady but she was struggling with her health, weight problems, joint problems, sleep problems. See, despite Dotti’s best efforts, Dotti was unable to make any sustainable changes.

So I went into Dotti’s house and in the first week I did some blood tests and I diagnosed her with type 2 diabetes. Six weeks later when I left Dotti’s house, she no longer had type 2 diabetes. You see, her disease had disappeared. So health exists on a continuum.

Okay, the top right we’ve got disease, the bottom left we’ve got optimal health and we are always moving up and down that continuum. Take Christmas, New Year, for example, right, we drink too much, we eat too much, we stay up late, we probably start to move up that curve. But if we recalibrate in January and February we start to move that down it again. We get involved in medicine and give you a diagnosis of a chronic disease here but things have been started to go wrong back here.

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See, when I met Dotti, she was up here, she had a disease. You see, you can think of it a little bit like a fire that’s been burning in Dotti’s body for years; it’s getting bigger, it’s getting bigger, it’s finally raging out of control at that point. I can say hey Dotti, you have a disease and I told her that you do have a disease. But what caused it in the first place?

The thing we have to understand is an acute disease and chronic disease are two different things. Acute disease is something we’re pretty good at as doctors, we’re good at this. It’s quite simple. OK, you have something like a pneumonia, that’s a severe lung infection. So when you’re alone you have the overgrowth of some bugs, typically the bacteria. We identify the bacteria, we give you a treatment, typically an antibiotic and it kills the bacteria; bacteria dies and hey presto, you no longer have your pneumonia.

The problem is we apply that same thinking to chronic disease and it simply doesn’t work, because chronic disease doesn’t just happen. You don’t just wake up with chronic disease one day and there’s many different causes of chronic disease. By the time we give you that diagnosis, things have been going wrong for a long, long time.

So when I met Dotti and she had her diagnosis, her blood sugar was out of control, right, because that’s what people say — many people say that type 2 diabetes is a blood sugar problem but they’re missing the point. There is a problem with blood sugar in type 2 diabetes but type 2 diabetes is not a blood sugar problem. The blood sugar is the symptom, it’s not the cause. If we only treat symptoms we will never get rid of the disease.

So when I met Dotti, I said, “Dotti, you’ve got a problem with your blood sugar. Dotti, for the last few years your body is becoming more and more intolerant to certain foods. At the moment, Dotti, your body does not tolerate refined or processed carbs or sugar at all.” She’s got to cut them out.

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So what does that do? It stops pouring fuel on Dotti’s raging fire but then we’ve got to work out, well what started the fire in the first place and what was the fuel that caused it to burn for so long? In most cases of type 2 diabetes, this is something called insulin resistance. Now insulin is a very important hormone and one of its key functions is to keep your blood sugar tightly controlled in your body.

So let’s say you’re the bottom left in optimal health like all of us in here, and you have a breakfast, let’s say, a sugary bowl of cereal, what happens is your blood sugar goes up but your body releases a little bit of insulin and it comes back down to normal. As you move up that curve, you are becoming more and more insulin resistant; that means you need more and more insulin to do the same job. And for all those years before you get anywhere near a diagnosis, that raised level of insulin is causing you a lot of problems. You could give it a little bit like alcohol, the very first time you have a drink, what happens — you have a glass of wine, one or two sets maybe half a glass, you’re tipsy, a little bit drunk and as you become a more seasoned and accustomed drinker, you need more and more alcohol to have the same effect; that’s what’s going on with insulin. You need more and more insulin to have the same effect but that insulin itself is problematic and when the insulin can no longer keep your sugar under control, at that point we say oh, you’ve got a disease, at that point you have type 2 diabetes.

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