Cardiac surgeon who used carbohydrate restriction to overcome obesity & restore metabolic health is now helping patients avoid heart disease & surgery

Over the past 15 years, thousands of people have found their way onto cardiac surgeon Philip Ovadia’s operating table.

“Far too many of those surgeries could have been avoided,” laments Ovadia, who has recently changed the focus of his career to help people address and improve their metabolic health.

“I see far too many people on my operating table with conditions that should have been addressed already,” said Dr. Ovadia. “Most of these people could have avoided surgery.”

Over the past few years Dr. Ovadia says he has become aware of how important metabolic health is in the development of heart disease and most of the other chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, that have plagued our society.

“This revelation really started for me when I discovered the importance of metabolic health during my own journey,” said Ovadia, who struggled to lose weight since he was young.

“From childhood until the age of 40, I was overweight,” said Dr. Ovadia. “I tried many times to diet, and I always lost weight, but I always put it back and would typically gain even more.”

In 2015, after unsuccessfully trying to lose weight using many different approaches, including Weight Watchers, Dr. Ovadia finally found success using therapeutic carbohydrate restriction (TCR).

“I was at a medical conference, and Gary Taubes was the guest speaker,” Dr. Ovadia recalled. “He delivered an explanation of sugar and carbohydrates as the underlying cause of obesity, and I began reading his books and reducing my carbohydrate intake.”

Dr. Ovadia sustainably lost  more than 100 pounds, and reversed his own pre-diabetes, and realized the generally accepted advice, “to eat less and exercise more” and to cut fat from the diet, had never helped him or most of the patients he treated.

“I treated obese and diabetic people on a daily basis, and I gave them the same advice each time,” said Dr. Ovadia. “I believed this was the correct advice, and I followed it myself.”

Dr. Ovadia’s personal experience led him to focus more of his attention on metabolic health, and the realization that a large percentage of the health problems in our society could be prevented through relatively straightforward lifestyle changes, most importantly involving the foods we eat.

“By improving our metabolic health, we can control our weight and significantly reduce our risk for chronic diseases,” he said. “The list includes heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, and more.”

Dr. Ovadia realized the traditional focus on cholesterol as the single causative agent of heart disease was resulting in many people overlooking steps they could take to improve their health without the need for drugs or surgery.

“I discovered a great deal of science that implicates sugar and insulin resistance, and ultimately poor metabolic health, as central factors in the development of heart disease. And I’ve come to believe that metabolic health is actually more important than cholesterol. They both play a part in the development of heart disease, but I believe poor metabolic health is more often the root cause of most cases of heart disease.”

Through the implementation of lifestyle changes, Dr. Ovadia has helped  patients reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure, eliminate hyperinsulinemia and hyperglycemia, and improve a wide range of markers, including HDL, LDL, and triglycerides. 

Dr. Ovadia’s realization that lifestyle changes can actually restore metabolic health, or prevent metabolic disease in the first place, has led him to open Ovadia Heart Health, a virtual clinic through which he treats patients via teleconference. The practice is focused on educating patients on dietary and lifestyle interventions that address the underlying causes of poor metabolic health.

Dr. Ovadia is currently writing a book called “Stay Off My Operating Table”, due to be released in December, and he will soon be launching a podcast with the same name.

Telling patients to “stay off my operating table,” is not something one would ordinarily hear from a cardiac surgeon, but Dr. Ovadia is hoping to help patients do just that.

“Performing heart surgery certainly has a positive impact on many patients,” he said, “but I’ve come to realize we could be effectively preventing people from needing heart surgery in the first place, and ultimately,  that’s what I’ve chosen to do, as I increase my focus on my metabolic health practice.”

“The reality is that heart surgery doesn’t undo the underlying problem of heart disease,” said Dr. Ovadia, “We’re only treating the end product of it. And by focusing on metabolic health, we can reverse the root cause of the disease.”

According to Dr. Ovadia, improvements in metabolic health can begin to take place relatively quickly once lifestyle changes are made.

“We have good data showing that in as little as 30 days, and certainly by 90 days, you can show very significant improvements in metabolic health,” he said. “The first priority is to stop doing the damage, but then, relatively quickly, you start to see the improvements, and then those will continue to improve over time.”

Dr. Ovadia stresses that these lifestyle changes should not be viewed as short-term fixes, but lifelong solutions.

“One of the most important things I talk to my patients is we’re not putting you on a diet with a short-term goal of losing weight. The goal should be to get metabolically healthy, and maintain your metabolic health, and then most of the other things that people are looking for, whether it’s weight loss, better energy,  mental clarity, or mental healththose things will improve once the metabolic health improves.”

Dr. Ovadia advises his patients to eliminate from their diets the processed foods with large amounts of sugars, and refined carbohydrates combined with manufactured seed and vegetable oils that are intentionally engineered to encourage people to eat more. He also addresses other issues, including satiety, stress, sleep and exercise, to help people find a sustainable path to health.

Dr. Ovadia is a founding member of the Society of Metabolic Health Practitioners (SMHP), and he is a member of the organization’s education and research committees. 

“My hope is that by working to further the narrative around metabolic health and to make therapeutic carbohydrate restriction more accepted within the medical community, I can have a greater impact than just on the individual patients I’m treating.”

The SMHP represents all researchers and practitioners working to improve metabolic health around the world through education, training, and support of evidence-based nutritional approaches, including carbohydrate restriction, as a valid therapeutic option or intervention. 

“One of my goals is to be a bridge within the metabolic health community, so I try and work with and reach out to as many different people as I can,” said Dr. Ovadia. “Ultimately, I think health care needs to be reformed and refocused. We need to focus on keeping people from getting sick, rather than just managing their illness. I’m looking forward to working with the SMHP to explore ways within the larger healthcare community to refocus those efforts.”

Dr. Ovadia is enthusiastic about the role the SMHP will have in providing education to practitioners who are looking to forge a new path in healthcare, and in helping to establish a standard of care that includes carbohydrate restriction as a valid therapeutic option or intervention.

Along those lines, the SMHP has developed Clinical Guidelines that 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.

“I know of many practitioners who have discovered the benefits of carbohydrate restriction for themselves, and they’ve used it to improve their own health, but they’re afraid to introduce it to their patients. I think the SMHP can help practitioners feel more confident in extending this to their patients.”

“Ultimately, the SMHP will help lead an overall shift in health care where there’s a greater focus on preventative efforts.”

Dr. Ovadia sees value in the SMHP’s MHP accreditation process, and plans to pursue accreditation as time permits. “The accreditation is certainly a valuable program, and I think having a way to identify practitioners who have pursued this is a good thing.”

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. Several pathways have been established for SMHP accreditation as a Metabolic Health Professional with the right to display the MHP credentials.

In order for the SMHP efforts to be successful, Dr. Ovadia believes there needs to be a ground-up partnership between patients, physicians and other practitioners. 

“This isn’t going to come from the top down,” he said. “There are a lot of forces in healthcare that work against introducing these concepts. Health care has gone very far down a certain path, and to expect a sudden change in direction is not realistic. It’s going to need to come from the bottom up, and ultimately, it needs to be patients and physicians that partner to demand these changes in order for them to occur on a larger scale. I’m hoping the SMHP can help to do that.”

Ovadia notes there have been positive signs, such as when the American Diabetes Association in 2019 acknowledged nutrition therapy options for adults with diabetes or prediabetes should include low carb approaches. He was discouraged, however, when the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), failed to evaluate low carbohydrate diets as part of the guidelines.

Dr. Ovadia is optimistic that with the growing support of practitioners, the SMHP will be a catalyst for positive change in the coming years.

“My goal is be a bridge within the metabolic health community and work with and reach out to as many different people as I can,” said Dr. Ovadia. “We envision doing great things with the Education and Research committees to reach more people and increase awareness. We are exploring ways within the larger healthcare community to refocus our efforts.”

“We need to realize that most things in medicine are not black and white, and there are many shades of grey and there is room for debate. It’s often said that half of what you learn in medical school is going to be proven to be wrong by the time you finish your careerwe just don’t know which half.”

 

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