Harvard Medical School student used ketogenic diet to reverse life-threatening illness; becomes one of first practitioners accredited by the SMHP
We’ve long been aware of the epidemic of obesity and metabolic disease facing countries across the globe, and of the many ways therapeutic carbohydrate restriction can be used to reverse the devastating effects of both. Unfortunately, the medical community has generally not been receptive to low carb and keto options, and there is no shortage of resistance from outside interests which include processed food companies, pharmaceutical companies, and insurance companies.
Nick Norwitz, PhD, recently became one of the very first practitioners to earn his Metabolic Health Practitioner (MHP) accreditation through the Society of Metabolic Health Practitioners (SMHP), and he plans to be a part of the SMHP’s mission to improve metabolic health around the world through education, training, and support of evidence-based nutritional approaches, including carbohydrate restriction.
Nick, who has quickly become a prominent figure in nutrition science, was valedictorian at Dartmouth, and he went on to earn his PhD at Oxford University in just two years. He is now pursuing his MD at Harvard Medical School.
Nick’s thoughts about nutrition have been shaped by his personal experience. At the age of eighteen, he developed severe osteoporosis, a bone disease that ended his promising distance running career. Nick also developed ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease that caused him to lose 20 percent of his body weight in a matter of weeks.
Solutions for these severe medical conditions were elusive, and he tried nearly a dozen different ‘diets’ before finding his salvation in the ketogenic diet, which reversed the effects of his osteoporosis and colitis.
“It (the ketogenic diet) turned my life around, and it restored hope, where I absolutely had none,” said Nick. “It’s a cliché to say, but I don’t have a better way to express it. I feel it saved my life.”
Nick wants to make it easier for people who find themselves in similar situations to get help.
“I found it, but metabolic medicine shouldn’t be that hard to find,” Nick said. “You shouldn’t have to go to such extreme lengths to discover this, you shouldn’t have to be desperate, it should be an option that’s available to everybody.”
This an objective the SMHP hopes to achieve through its Clinical Guidelines, designed to provide clinicians with a general protocol for implementing therapeutic carbohydrate restriction as a dietary intervention in hospitals or clinics. These guidelines are meant to be applied as a dietary intervention for specific conditions for which carbohydrate reduction has been shown to offer therapeutic benefits.
Nick is concerned by our medical system’s tendency to come up with algorithms that end up being used to treat entire populations at the expense of treating the individual.
Nick referenced a popular quote from Nobel Prize-winning medical researcher and professor Theodore Woodward, who instructed his medical students: “When you hear hoofbeats behind you, don’t expect to see a zebra.” The comment was meant to discourage his students from arriving at an unusual diagnosis when a more obvious one was more likely.
“Maybe being a zebra myself, I disagree,” said Nick. “I think when you hear hoofbeats, you shouldn’t shut off possibilities. Don’t think horse or zebra look around for the damn horse or zebra.”
Nick said the way our medical system prescribes statins is an example of algorithms prevailing over individualized medicine.
“Statins can decrease heart disease risk on the population level. High LDL is associated with negative outcomes, but that says nothing about the individual. I would not look at an individual with an LDL of even 400 or 500, and be like, oh, we need to give you a statin. I’d want to take a deep dive into what’s contributing to that, rather than jumping the gun on the medication. But we treat populations, that’s the way the system is set up. We’re not treating individuals.”
Nick believes the SMHP has launched at the perfect time.
“I get the sense that we’re hitting an inflection point where things are going to take off,” he said. “Right now, the metabolic health space is relatively fractured, and the SMHP can serve as a nucleus and have the gravity to pull all the metabolic practitioners together, nationally and internationally, which will then create more gravity to pull in other health experts, including more nutritionists, dietitians, clinicians and others.”
Nick sees the SMHP accreditation as a feature that will generate a great deal of interest among practitioners and patients alike.
“I think people will become very interested in getting their MHP. I’m going to be very proud to list MHP, after my MD and PhD. I think that’s a really critical label.”
SMHP accreditation certifies that the practitioner has met the SMHP standards of understanding competence in the practice of dietary and lifestyle interventions that address metabolic health. The SMHP has established several pathways leading to SMHP accreditation as a Metabolic Health Professional, all with the right to display the credentials MHP.
Nick is also looking forward to the day when practitioners receive the nutrition information needed to make a measurable improvement in metabolic health around the world.
“You get your MD and you think you’re qualified to speak on matters of nutrition, but guess what? You’re not. You have four hours, tops, of nutrition lecture… and you haven’t learned metabolic medicine. It’s not the doctors’ fault. It should be taught, it’s an education crisis.”
The SMHP has introduced the concept of Continuing Metabolic Health Education (CMHE) credits which will address the need for education practitioners can confidently use in the treatment of metabolic disease. The SMHP also offers many free training modules and videos.
A number of organizations offering CMEs and CEUs have been identified as acceptable to qualify for CMHE credits on a one-to-one basis, unless otherwise specified. A specified number of these credits are required for initial accreditation and then annually on a continuing basis.
“The most remarkable part of my story is that it’s not unique,” Nick said. “The healthcare system isn’t built to address metabolic diseases. For that, we need metabolic medicine rooted in nutrition. My lifelong goal is to help reform the system and educate people.”
Nick says he is interested in pursuing metabolic health and studying neuroscience and gastroenterology at Harvard Medical School. “Medicine is so sub-specialized that people aren’t looking at the whole picture. Whatever I do, I’m going to be looking at the whole patient.”
Nick recently spoke with LowCarbUSA® Founder and SMHP President, Doug Reynolds, for a compelling podcast interview, and he also recently released a YouTube video entitled Nick Norwitz’s Food as Medicine Journey
Practitioners interested in being listed in the SMHP directory should visit the signup page.
The basic listing is free, but practitioners are encouraged to become members, and ultimately pursue SMHP Accreditation, which certifies the practitioner has met the SMHP standards of understanding of concepts and proficiency in practice adopted by SMHP for diet and lifestyle practices that address metabolic health. There are several different pathways to accreditation, including pathways specifically designed for nurses, dietitians, advisers, sports trainers, and nutritionists