If it’s a prescription you want then Dr David Ryde is probably not your man. This vegan GP built a career out of saying no to bottles of ‘jollop’. He prefers giving advice – and it has dramatically changed people’s lives
There were some 35,000 general practitioners in Britain when Dr David Ryde MB,BS, FRCGP was practising and none wrote out fewer prescriptions than he. The UK’s lowest prescribing doctor had discovered that diet was the answer to many health problems, not pills and potions.
He first became vegetarian as a 12-year-old but it didn’t stop him becoming captain of athletics, swimming and rugby at school. When he became a doctor he went back to meat eating – well, if meat provides first class protein and plants provide second class, we have to go for the best, he was told by other doctors.
It wasn’t until the late 70s that the little boy’s stored memories of pigs being driven into a slaughterhouse reawoke and David gave up meat again – quietly, without fuss and without telling his patients. Soon afterwards he went vegan.
His belief that animal products were related to much ill health was instinctive but then scientific literature started to appear which confirmed it. It gave David the confidence to be more outspoken and he started lecturing on diet and health.
He talked to both vegetarians and meat eaters and a simple observation gave him the courage to begin prescribing changes in diet instead of potions – jollop as he calls them. His vegetarian audiences were invariably slimmer than the meat eating ones.
By advising people to go vegan and helping them to make the change, David Ryde was successfully treating angina and other heart conditions, high cholesterol levels, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, strokes and even rheumatoid arthritis.
One of the most remarkable outcomes came after his retirement in 1993. Working as a locum to keep his hand in, he saw a patient, an ex headmaster, whose history included three heart attacks and a quadruple by-pass, leading to his retirement at the age of 48. He was almost entirely wheelchair bound and had accepted that the rest of his life would be fuelled by a battery of medicines.
David Ryde asked him the unthinkable: “Have you ever thought of trying to control your condition through diet?” The headmaster looked at David as though he was crazy but he listened – and eventually acted, adopting a vegan diet and limiting salt to two grams a day. Six months later David heard that he had given up all medication and no longer used his wheelchair. The man’s regular doctor was disinterested in the reasons. “He just mentally switched off,” says David. “When I explained that it was a vegan diet which was responsible I could almost hear him thinking – ‘another lunatic…’.”
He treated an overweight Rabbi who had a serious heart condition but then lost touch with him. A year or more later, he read a report in The Vegan headlined ‘How Dr Ryde Changed My Life’. The Rabbi had walked from Lands End to John O’Groats, run a marathon, cycled around Britain and had taken up backpacking as a hobby!
When David’s own receptionist had severe headaches, David felt it was better she consulted another doctor. The diagnosis was high blood pressure and medication for life. Iris asked David to help and he encouraged her to institute a vegan regime. She did and her blood pressure almost halved and her energy levels shot up.
When Iris returned to the original doctor he was delighted with her improvement – until she told him the reasons. He then accused her of eating a stupid diet and insisted she take the pills or get out. She didn’t and did.
“Compared to meat eaters, long term vegans live on average six years longer and spend about one fifth of the time in hospital over the age of 60”, insists David Ryde. “The truth is that most people eat two to three times more fat and protein than they need and we’re just beginning to discover that animal protein may be as damaging to health as fat and cholesterol. The medical establishment just doesn’t want to know. They automatically resist any new advances.
“I believe that In 1991, the American Dietetic Association produced a report virtually urging people to go vegetarian and it sent the US Government into shock. So much of agriculture is dependent upon livestock that such a change would wreck the US economy, they said. The report never appeared.”
David Ryde has himself experienced the lethargy of officialdom. The DHSS invited him to London to discuss his low prescribing and excellent outcomes. He explained his simplicity of approach and asked what they intended to do. “Absolutely nothing”, was the answer.
You couldn’t get a better example of veganism than Dr. David Ryde. A keen sportsman, he has been official doctor to all the World Jewish Games, he is an honorary life member of the British Association of Sport and Medicine and he was a county athlete and rugby player. He has been medical adviser to several national sports teams and served on the medical sub committee of the British Olympic Association for 15 years. He is now 70 and still extremely active.
He is currently in healthy retirement in Oxford with his wife Marian. Three of their four children are either vegetarian or almost vegan while the fourth ‘eats anything that moves’. “But she’ll change”, says David, “She’ll change.”