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Two vegan doctors have created the UK’s first-ever plant-based healthcare service, which aims to help patients improve their health by embracing a meat-less life.
Dr Shireen Kassam and Dr Laura Freeman launched Plant-Based Health Online (PBHO) earlier this year, with the hope of educating people on “the benefits of whole food plant-based nutrition in preventing and treating chronic disease".
Patients on the platform will gain access to general practitioners (GPs), nutritionists, registered dieticians, personal trainers and health coaches, with the aim of helping them to transition to an overall sustainable lifestyle with the inclusion of a plant-based diet.
There seems to be a demand for the service, with recent research revealing the coronavirus pandemic has fuelled a rise in those turning to plant-based diets.
Around one in five people (18%) in the UK say they have eaten more vegetarian/vegan food since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, with a similar number saying that COVID-19 means it's more likely they'll become fully vegetarian or vegan from now on, according to a survey by Proagrica.
Meanwhile further research by Public Health England of over 5,000 adults, showed that seven in 10 are motivated by the coronavirus pandemic to switch to a healthier lifestyle.
Dr Shireen Kassam, 45, from Hampshire, has been vegan since 2013 and says she and Dr Freeman hit upon the idea for PBHO after realising how many people were looking to find doctors and health professionals that could support them in their decision to adopt a plant-based diet.
"The people who reached out to me were frustrated by the lack of understanding and knowledge from their own healthcare providers about diet and lifestyle and that they were only able to offer conventional allopathic interventions such as pharmaceutical medications," she tells Yahoo UK.
"I myself had also become frustrated in my own work by the high level of chronic illness amongst the patients under my own care. Especially since the knowledge I had gained in recent years pointed to the fact that most of these chronic illnesses could be eliminated by adopting healthy lifestyle habits, including a plant-based diet."
When the pandemic hit the UK in March 2020, Dr Kassam says it became clear that those individuals with underlying chronic illnesses were suffering the most.
"It motivated me to try and provide a new way of delivering healthcare, especially since the NHS was now in crisis mode and only dealing with emergencies.
"I had just come across Plant Based Telehealth in the US and thought it was a fabulous concept.
"Laura immediately came to mind as the person who could develop such a service in the UK as she had already started her own lifestyle medicine clinics in Scotland.
"From there it did not take us long to hatch a plan and start our work together on this project."
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Laura Freeman, 37, from Glasgow, has been vegan since 2016, deciding to go plant-based some months before being diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer, a treatable form of the disease.
"I also had bloodwork around this time which showed high cholesterol," she tells Yahoo UK. "It did not take me long to find the compelling research behind a whole food plant based diet and its connection to reducing cancer risk and lowering cholesterol levels - amongst many other benefits."
After overhauling her own diet, Dr Freeman says she started to discuss the evidence with her patients and it did not take long to see success.
"I was amazed to see my patients reducing their blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes medications for example. It has transformed my medical practice whereby I now, wherever possible, take a nutrition and lifestyle first approach to the management of my patients.
"I can’t imagine practising medicine now any other way," she adds.
Prescribed medications should only be reduced with the support of your doctor.
According to the British Dietetic Association: "Well balanced plant-based diets, that are also low in saturated fat, can help you manage your weight and may reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. However, as with any diet, plant-based nutrition needs to be planned."
Watch: This vegan junk food chef makes fast-food favourites without harming animals.
Dr Kassam says the main difference between PBHO and other medical services is that PBHO's dietary approach is more focused on increasing the amount of whole plant foods in the diet while minimising the consumption of meat, eggs and dairy as much is possible.
"This is because a whole food plant based diet is one that is not only optimal for human health but is also sustainable for the health of the planet," she explains.
But they are keen to point out that the service isn't just for vegans.
"It’s a service for everyone who wants to improve their personal health, the health of their family members and of course the health of the planet," Dr Kassam says.
"We will support our patients to make the best choices they can when it comes to healthy eating without insisting on an all or nothing approach whilst always encouraging them to be as plant-based as possible."
The duo believe their new healthcare service could make a particular difference during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
"The pandemic has really highlighted the extent of chronic illness in our society and how vulnerable these illnesses make us to threats such as new viruses," Dr Kassam explains.
"It was clear early on that COVID-19 was more severe in those with underlying heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cancer.
"With many of these diseases being preventable and even reversible using a diet and lifestyle approach, there is an urgency to bring lifestyle medicine into clinical practice."