Following Dr. Andrew Abraham’s cancer diagnosis and treatment at age 17, his weight dropped to 100 pounds. He was desperate to find a healthy nutritious drink made with organic ingredients that he knew would help his restore his body back to health. All he could find were meal replacement drinks loaded with the very ingredients he should avoid, such as low quality, highly processed ingredients like corn syrup, genetically modified soy, artificial flavors, hormones and antibiotics. He dedicated his future to creating a product that he would drink himself. His company, Orgain® now makes nutritious beverages for adults and children with real food, organic ingredients designed to help restore health and wellness. As told to Kimberly Lord Stewart
Kimberly Lord Stewart: Your cancer journey speaks to a dramatic gap in the understanding of nutrition, cancer and supporting the body toward a state of wellness. What would you like fellow doctors to know about what you have learned as a patient, a doctor and a business developer of healthy food?
Andrew Abraham, MD: Nutrition plays a critical role in our health, especially in the face of serious illness — something I think my fellow doctors often overlook. Before dealing with cancer and chemotherapy myself, I only knew the basics of nutrition. It wasn’t until I began to read and educate myself on wellness and nutrition that I realized how much there was to learn.
A cancer patient at the young age of 17, I was told to buy nutritional shakes to gain my strength. In between reading books on nutrition, I looked at the bottle I was drinking to see genetically modified soy, high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, preservatives among other potentially harmful ingredients. When I asked my doctor, he agreed that these weren’t great options, but that was all that was available in the form of liquid nutrition. He said, “If you can find something out there that’s better, let me know.” I saw a big hole in the marketplace and felt really compelled to create Orgain, the world’s first organic nutritional shake.
It’s unfortunate that as training physicians, we only get a few weeks of education on nutrition in medical school. Not only is this a disservice to medical professionals, but more importantly for the patient – who can gain tremendous health through the proper nutrition using food as medicine.
When someone is dealing with an illness like cancer, the source of their calories could mean the difference between life and death for many and I truly believe it made all the difference in my own journey with cancer. I went from feeling lethargic and underweight on conventional mainstream products made with artificial ingredients to gaining healthy weight, feeling more energetic and better able to cope with my therapy when I switched to organic, wholesome nutrition.
Now that I’m immersed in the food industry, it has become more clear than ever that a vast majority of our food supply is simply devoid of beneficial nutrition, so it’s important that fellow doctors learn more about what’s lurking in our food and help guide patients to better choices. These choices will not only help consumers feel better in the short term but will help to prevent disease down the line which is really incredible.
KLS: What do you see as the most promising advances in cancer treatments today?
AA: Up until fairly recently, the basic premise of cancer treatment was to remove tumor and kill all cells in the body through chemotherapy with the hope that the cancer cells are being killed and won’t come back. This somewhat blind approach had marginal success. I’m strongly encouraged by advances in molecular therapy, which specifically targets cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed. Focusing on the immune system through immunotherapy as well as innovative vaccinations is probably the most promising of advances that I’ve seen. I’m convinced these new approaches will replace chemotherapy in the near future, which is extremely exciting.
In addition to these treatment advances, I’m encouraged by the fact that nutritional therapy is becoming an important component of cancer care. Top medical institutions like Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Stanford, and MD Anderson are now recommending Orgain to their patients, which speaks volumes to the shift that’s happening in the medical industry where health professionals are seeking out better nutritional options for their patients. There is also a growing body of research that food additives and preservatives are actually proving to be a significant cause for disease.
KLS: Leaving medicine to work solely on Orgain was a big risk. Was there anything you learned in medicine that prepared you for your new role today?
AA: As a physician, my motivation every day was to help people get and stay healthy — and that has carried through to the work I do with Orgain. Everything we do is about inspiring healthy, vibrant lives, which I think I draw from my own experience both as a cancer survivor and a physician.
Practicing medicine, it was a necessity to read the most recent medical journals and constantly stay updated with the most recent treatment modalities and medications. This same kind of constant learning applies directly to my new role as the CEO of Orgain. I spend a vast majority of my time studying new ingredients, new forms of packaging and the ever-evolving role of nutrition in our daily lives. While its a lot of fun, it requires the same constant daily discipline to make sure we are staying ahead of the curve and really pushing the envelope to bring innovative, clean products to the marketplace. I also worked 80+ hour weeks in my medical training and never thought I’d have to put in those kind of hours again, but I’m finding myself putting in the same, if not more hours now, so medicine has definitely helped prepare me for the rigors of my new role – a commitment to providing clean, quality nutrition and making it available to everyone.