An Interview with a Member of the Jewish Veg Advisory Council
The Jewish Veg Spotlight shines on:
Daniel Marcus, M.D.
Have you ever wondered about the connection between health and diet? Dr. Daniel Marcus is a physiatrist who has dedicated his life to learning about and promoting a whole-food, plant-based diet as a medical intervention, and in this interview he sheds light on the power of food.
Dr. Marcus is board certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Pain Medicine, Sports Medicine, and Neuromuscular Medicine, and he has completed a certificate in Plant-based Nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies at Cornell University. After dealing with his own chronic pain issues, he found plant-based eating to be a miraculous solution.
His work now focuses on educating his patients about the importance of shifting to a plant-based lifestyle.
Dr. Marcus lives with his wife and three children in Santa Cruz, California. Inspired by a question from his son, Dr. Marcus joined the Jewish Veg Advisory Council several years ago.
Jewish Veg: What motivated you to go vegan?
My wife was an ethical vegan when I met her, and I then started eating a near vegan diet. My initial interest was mostly related to the environmental impact of animal-based food, but I did not always eat health promoting foods. As I gained an understanding of the “whole-food, plant-based” concepts, I became more disciplined with my choices. I then began to think a lot more about animal suffering, which has also become very important to me.
By my early thirties, I had gained a considerable amount of weight, was suffering from tendon pain, and had other mild health problems. Within about a year, on an essentially 99 percent whole-food, plant-based diet, I began to improve and lose weight. I am now 44, and am the healthiest I have been in my life. I have run three marathons and am currently training for my second ultramarathon. I have also not experienced tendon pain for years.
Jewish Veg: Tell me more about your work as a physiatrist.
My residency training, after medical school, was in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and I then completed a fellowship in Pain Medicine. I mostly take care of people with back pain, neck pain, and other painful syndromes of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. I primarily use a combination of exercise, lifestyle changes, and minimally invasive procedures to reduce pain and improve overall function.
I incorporate nutritional counseling for pain, advocating for a whole-food, plant-based diet. In 2014, I started a program in which I see about 20 patients simultaneously for a two-hour nutritional medical visit.
Jewish Veg: What’s the scientific connection between plant-based eating and pain management?
My experience is that when patients eat more whole, plant-based foods, they have reduced pain and improved overall health. Those who make the most changes have the most improvement. This is supported by the medical literature. This seems to be related to reduced inflammation, improved blood vessel function, altered gene expression, improved gut bacteria, and other factors. Based on my understanding of the science, I feel that I have an obligation to educate my patients about whole-food, plant-based nutrition.
Jewish Veg: Do you have any books, studies, or movies that you think are influential?
I encourage my patients to watch the movie Forks Over Knives and provide them with a “Plant-Based Nutrition Quick Start Guide” made by the Plantrician Project. I have been heavily influenced by T. Colin Campbell Ph.D., author of the book The China Study. I also encourage patients to familiarize themselves with the works of Caldwell Esselstyn M.D., John McDougall M.D., Neal Barnard M.D., Dean Ornish M.D., Michael Greger M.D., and fellow Jewish Veg Advisory Council member, Garth Davis M.D.
Jewish Veg: How long have you been on the Advisory Council of Jewish Veg?
A few years ago, my son told me that there were not many Jewish kids or vegetarians in his school. He asked me if there were any other Jewish vegetarians. We did an online search and found Jewish Veg. We looked at the website and were impressed and excited. I happily made a donation and put in the comments, “I’d love to get involved.” I was contacted by the executive director. We had a great conversation and he asked me to join the Advisory Council.
Jewish Veg: Do you have anything else you want the Jewish Veg audience to know?
Our food choices are linked to the concept of tikkun olam. By choosing a plant-based diet, we improve our health, the health of the planet, and reduce suffering in the world.