Last night’s TV: The Food Hospital
The first episode of Channel 4’s new health show, was very much out there says Diarmuid Doyle
The love of your life is suffering from a severe dose of man flu. Do you give him?
A. A Panadol
B. A hug
C. A big steaming bowl of penne
D. A kick in the backside and instructions to get into work immediately.
Disappointingly, for those of us who favour medicine, emotional support or tough love in such situations, c is probably the correct answer.
That, at least, is according to The Food Hospital, Channel 4’s latest series on the health of the British nation, which has spent much of the last year treating unhealthy or sick people with food rather than medicine.
The programme represents a major investigation into the role of food not just in our general health but as a weapon that can be used against specific diseases. Amongst the illnesses and ailments being targeted are diabetes, cancer and high cholesterol.
Channel 4 being Channel 4, of course, the first episode last night had to be a bit out there.
It’s never enough on one of the channel’s health programmes that somebody has arthritis – they have to have arthritis in all 14 fingers.
It’s as though programme makers don’t trust viewers to tune in to see somebody with boring ailments like heart disease or breast cancer. They feel obliged to give them elements of 19th century freak shows - bearded ladies, conjoined twins, midgets and the like.
Last night’s bearded lady was an actual bearded lady, if you get my drift.
Twenty-four year old Lauren suffers from PolyCystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a disease caused partly by high testosterone, which leads to cysts on the ovary, weight gain (Lauren was 19 stone at the start of the experiment), bad acne and hairiness.
“I don’t feel very feminine having to shave my face”, said Lauren, who hadn’t been to the doctor for six years. PCOS has no cure, and so she was left in a terrible limbo. As a result, she hardly ever went out, lest people stare at her in the street.
The Food Hospital put her on a 12-week diet of fruit and vegetables, pulses (chickpeas, kidney beans etc) and wholegrain rice, bread and pasta, at the end of which she had shown some progress.
Her weight was down, the cysts seemed to be less present, and she was in better form, confident enough to go to the swimming pool for the first time in 10 years. But the hairiness continued. More investigation needs to be done, even if the initial results were encouraging.
Much more successful was the work done with seven-year-old Harvey, who suffered from intense and prolonged migraines for three years before visiting The Food Hospital.
Medicine had become less effective in dealing with the problem while Harvey had become depressed and withdrawn, communicating mainly through pictures he drew of his head being chopped off.
He was told not to eat full fat milk, citrus fruit or dried fruit, peanuts, chocolate, processed meat or food with additives – a difficult task for any seven-year-old, to which he stuck manfully and which rewarded him with the almost immediate disappearance of his headaches.
Interestingly, when the summer holidays were over and he had to eat school meals again, the headaches returned. His mother had a word with the headmaster, however, and Harvey began eating healthily again.
Harvey’s story was a clear example of food-related medication comprehensively trumping conventional medicine, and made you wonder how much your local gp knows about any of this, other than the general knowledge many of us have about vitamins and protein. Very little, one suspects.
The Food Hospital treated a 21-stone man with Type 2 diabetes, which was about to kill him.
For reasons that needn’t detain us too long, the diabetes had already caused him to be circumcised, but even that painful warning hadn’t altered his behaviour.
He continued to consume 8,000 calories a day, piling on the weight, taunting The Grim Reaper to come and get him.
His case was so urgent that The Food Hospital put him on three meal replacements a day (800 calories in total) to get his weight down. He lost two and a half stone in six weeks and his dangerously high blood sugar went from 8.5 to an acceptable 3.9.
Sometimes, even The Food Hospital had to admit, you don’t need to complicate things. A comprehensive dose of common sense can be enough.