We recently spoke with Dustin Rudolph, AKA The Plant-Based Pharmacist. A board certified pharmacist, you may be surprised to hear Dustin believes the key to health comes “in the form of a grocery list and not a prescription.”
That’s right: a pharmacist telling you ditch the pills. Is he trying to put himself out of business? Kind of. In his book The Empty Medicine Cabinet: The Pharmacist’s Guide to the Hidden Danger of Drugs and the Healing Powers of Food, Dustin explains how he became a pharmacist to help people, but "in spite of all the well-meaning intentions of both doctors and patients” modern medicine didn’t seem to work.
Let’s have a look at the numbers from the book. “Over four billion prescriptions were filled in the US alone in 2011. And as a nation, we spent over $2.7 trillion in healthcare in the US in that same year (nearly double per person what other developed nations spend on their citizens).” Yet, despite these figures, Americans continue to get fatter and sicker.
But it’s not all gloom and doom. Dustin’s message to the reader (and his patients) is optimistic: “You are in charge and can take control of your own life. You don’t need to feel doomed. This is a hopeful, empowering message and a promise only you can fulfill.” Enter a whole foods, plant-based diet.
In our interview, Dustin explains how nutrition science led him to question the power of the prescription pad. He also offers advice for those looking to embrace lifestyle medicine as a safer, cheaper, more effective way to address, treat, and even reverse chronic illness.
Q: What made you decide to become a pharmacist?
A: Believe it or not, I made the career decision of wanting to become a pharmacist in the fourth grade. Yes, I was just a little squirt when I decided I wanted to be like Todd. I grew up in a small town in Southeast Montana called Baker. We had a total of one doctor and two pharmacists in the whole town. Todd was my family's pharmacist. I loved Todd. He was always smiling and very friendly when we came to visit, plus he wore that pristine white lab coat behind the counter when doing his work helping people. Everyone who went to see Todd loved him, so I aspired to be like him when I grew up.
As luck would have it, I just so happened to enjoy math and science as I got into junior high, high school, and later, college. I was intrigued by the human body and loved helping people. This made pharmacy a perfect fit for me, at least as I saw things at that time in my young academic career. Since graduating, I've found out that the more pills people take the more miserable and sick they are. I find this disheartening, and it's not what I set out to do in my career as a healthcare practitioner. During pharmacy school, I learned nothing about health and nutrition. It wasn't until eight years into my pharmacy career that I found out about the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle. When I found out that food could be used as medicine AND was more effective, safer, and less costly than medication to combat the majority of chronic illnesses I was instantly hooked on this new concept. Now, I still practice as a full-time clinical hospital pharmacist, but I do a lot of work to help educate people outside my pharmacy career to use food as their medicine and leave the pills as a last resort.
Q: What are some of the most common complaints/illnesses that you see in your work? Are many of the illnesses avoidable or curable by eating a plant-based diet?
I work full time in hospital pharmacy. I see the healthcare crisis as it hits the front door of the hospital. This includes everything from heart attacks, stroke, seizures, autoimmune disease flare-ups (Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, etc.), diabetic comas, broken bones due to accidents and/or osteoporosis, diverticulitis, cancer, infections like pneumonia or cellulitis, dementia, acid reflux, constipation, and the list goes on and on.
Most all chronic illnesses are avoidable, and can even be halted or reversed using a whole foods, plant-based diet and lifestyle. I would say at least 70%-80% of these chronic medical conditions would fit into this category. Don't get me wrong; there will always be a need for modern medicine. A few conditions above like seizures and broken bones fit this description. For the most part though, we would avoid a lot of heartache and pain in this country if everyone would be open to eating a healthy, plant-based diet and incorporate a few other healthy lifestyle changes into their daily routine like exercise and smoking cessation.
Q: A number of our customers struggle with a transition to a plant-based diet - what advice do you have for them?
Take one small step at a time in this case. I understand many people cannot go from years or decades of eating a Standard American Diet to eating a plant-based diet overnight. It took me a year to transition completely to this lifestyle.
A great place to start transitioning is to find alternatives to dairy products. There are many plant-based milks out there to replace cow's milk. These include almond milk, cashew milk, soy milk, rice milk, etc. There are quite a few plant-based cheeses becoming available too that can be used as transition foods until you don't miss the taste of cheese. Based on the scientific data, I consider dairy the most harmful food group on the face of the planet. It should be the first to go in anyone's diet. This is what I recommend doing out of the gate.
Q: Why did you start eating a plant-based diet?
I adopted a plant-based diet after reading The China Study by T. Colin Campbell. This book discusses the positive health impact of eating a whole foods, plant-based diet. I'm naturally interested in health and science since I'm a medical professional. After reading the evidence provided in this book and then going on to read several other similar books, I couldn't help but adopt this life-saving diet.
I didn't have any major health problems being in my early 30s at the time, but I also didn't want to end up with heart disease, diabetes, and cancer as many of my family members had. I did benefit health wise in that my migraine headaches decreased in frequency. I’ve been getting migraines since I was 10 years old. I went from three to four per month to one every month or two. My cholesterol numbers also improved, with my total cholesterol dropping approximately 20-30 points into the low 100s. Overall, I have more energy and feel fantastic on this diet!
Q: Do you have any suggestions for parents who are trying to encourage their kids to eat a plant-based diet?
Start kids as early as possible on this diet. Children naturally move towards plant foods once they are weaned off of breastfeeding (or formula feeding) onto pureed veggies and fruits. Remember the pureed peas and sweet potatoes in those tiny little baby jars you ate when you were a kid? You don't start a 6-month old on steak and lobster right after giving up their bottle. You start them on pureed fruits and veggies. So just keep going with this and continue them on healthy, plant-based foods.
Children's taste buds will prefer healthy fruits and veggies the more they eat them, and the sooner you start them down this path. If they are already on a typical Standard American Diet of chicken nuggets and French fries then you may have to shake their routine up a bit and work through the "no's" of serving them fruits and veggies for the first time. But it will be worth it in the end because you could literally be saving their life years down the road.
I suggest two wonderful resources to parents who want to help their kids adopt a plant-based diet. They are the following websites that are run by mothers who have been there, done that with their children - My Plant-Based Family and Vegalicious.
Q: What is your greatest fear?
Losing the people I love the most prematurely in life due to an unforeseeable accident or event, whether it's because they die prematurely or I die prematurely. We are all given only so much time on this Earth. Spending that time with those we love is so precious and having this taken away prematurely is a fear that I think many people share with me. Taking care of yourself with your health by leading a healthy lifestyle can go a long ways in preventing unnecessary medical tragedies, but even if you do this tomorrow is never promised. I try to make the most of my time spent with loved ones when I get these opportunities. I've learned to do this the older and wiser I get. You can always replace material things in life, but you can never replace your time.
Q: Do you have a philosophy of life by which you live?
Yes! My father always preached to us three boys to "be a good person" as we make our way through this world. He said that goes no matter what we do or how successful we become in life. He still reminds us of this all the time today. It resonates with me every time I hear him say it. So I do my best to live by this philosophy. Do unto others as you would like have done unto you. Be generous and kind. Be compassionate and caring. Never let greed, fame, or power dictate how you behave and act in this world. Remember to stay humble and be gracious in everything you do in life. And spend your life serving others. These are the things I strive to do every single day. I'm not a perfect human being, but I always go back to what my father asked of his three sons, which is to "be a good person" in life.