heather katcher, registered dietician pcrm
heather katcher, RD
c- And so I was reading a little bit of information on the Veg Society and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to get a little bit about background information and so I didn't really realize in our previous conversation that you were a Registered Dietician and that you had all of these other studies going on and so I thought it would be kind of interesting to talk a little bit about your background and some of where your research has been up to this point.
h- Ok...do you want me to talk about it or?
c- Yeah, yeah.
h- Oh ok um ok well I guess before I came here I did two other research studies one was with poly-cystic ovary syndrome and that is a condition where women have high testosterone levels and its often associated with lower fertility rates so its um its something thats also growing in terms of the number of women that are diagnosed. Um and so I was looking to see if diet could have an effect on women with this condition. And we were looking at how different diets affected hormone levels and we were showing that by eating um a really high fiber meal with loads of carbs that raised blood sugar levels really high something you'd be really nervous about with diabetes it kept testosteron levels for a lot longer. Um so, and then the other meals that we tested that were a lot lower in glycemic index and sugar levels um it just had a much shorter level in testosteron levels and went back down so it really was the first study to show that diet could have an effect on hormone levels just after one meal in women. Um and this is a condition that we know that diet effects because women, when they lose weight, their condition improves a lot of times so with that -that's really a new study-that's one thing that I did. And the other study was looking at whole grains and how they could affect weight loss and that was a study with women that were men and women that were at risk for heart disease. Um and we put them on a weight loss diet either with avoiding whole grains completely or having all of their grain servings from whole grains so like three-six servings per day and we showed that both groups lost weight pretty well, and that the group that ate the most whole grains also happened to have the most um they lost the most belly fat so they had the greatest reduction in fat percentage in their abdominal area. Um so that was something that um got a lot of media attention because people are always concerned about belly fat and what could we do to target that area, so that was something new and obviously needs to be followed up on but that was basically what happened in that study.
c- And so that was the one, was this part of your thesis that you did at Penn State and then you also did something at Tulane or were those part of the same study because I was kind of a little bit confused when I was reading up on that study.
h- Sure I didn't do any research when I was at Tulane so those two studies were done at Penn State.
c- Oh ok. Because I think I had read something and maybe Tulane was just writing about that study and so I
h- Hm hm.
c- I knew that was from Penn State and I was just wondering if those were just two different one. And I think this kind of goes along with when people hear about the new diet or I think we have talked about Atkins previously, but seeing that there are obvious ways that you can get around it and so I think that these studies are really helping to, to show that.
h- Yeah laughs, as long as they don't confuse everyone. But yeah, Tulane did just um picked up on it while I was there. I had this friend who use to work in journalism and she had mentioned it to them and so they just picked it up so that's how that happened.
c- Oh ok. So now I guess just going over the vegan acne study, it just culminated correct—or or it started in August and it finished in last month?
h- Hm hm correct.
c- And so I think that I had read somewhere that the results and anything that came out of that will probably be available in April of next year. Um, but I thought that we could just go over briefly again a little bit about that study too just to piggy-back off of some of these other studies that you have done too that relates to health and diet.
h- Sure. Well we did the study um after Dr. Bernard, who's the director here, just did a review of studies on diet and acne and there seemed to be some suggestion that a low fat vegan diet could be helpful. Um so some studies have shown that people who drink the least dairy have less acne. That was an indicator. Um there's other studies that show that more indigenous populations so that have really healthy diets you know and haven't turned to McDonald's and fast food yet so um cultures eating a pretty healthy diet have low levels of acne and once they do Westernize, they they have acne starting to develop. So that just gave us some sense that diet could be affecting acne. And then most recently there was a study showing that a low-glycemic index diet helped treat acne and that means that um the diet was low in sugar and high in fiber so people were choosing hi-whole grains and brown rice and lots of fruits and vegetables and grains and beans. So, so that combined with the study showing that dairy might have an affect we sort of put together to see if a vegan diet could be helpful for acne um and that's completely new.
c- And so this is something that never really has been researched before, correct?
h- Not specifically for a vegan diet, correct.
c- But so in terms of things that maybe would affect acne were there any other studies as it relates to diet that had been done?
h- Really the low glycemic index one that I told you that is one of the most well done studies. Then a lot of them are just comparing people with acne and without acne and seeing what's different. And some things that have been shown are dairy or like sugar intake. Um, and those are the main things. A lot of the studies show no affect. But there really are not a whole lot of studies out there.
c- Yeah, I'm just going back to health class back in high school and a lot of the things they tell you are if you eat a lot of sweets or if you eat greasy foods—things like fast food and chips. But the dairy-
h- Hm hm.
c- the dairy I think is an interesting concept because I never really saw that association until this study happened.
h- Hm hm.
c- And so I think that that is just a really interesting thing that maybe dairy is a cause.
h- Yeah, I think that for greasy foods is something that a lot of people think affected acne especially with something like Westernization but in any sort of research it hasn't shown to really have an affects. The same for chocolate as well.
c- And so for this study you would bring in people uh like nutritionists and people to give things like seminars to participants to show them ways to cook and also the VegDC guide which we had mentioned.
h- Hm hm.
c- As a way to kind of get the participants to see how the diet works. So was there any sort of feedback now that the study has ended from the group that maybe they would like to try and continue the diet and eat more—not necessarily completely vegan as a way to kind of guide the way that they eat—things like meals—I know because I am vegan that sometimes you don't always have time
h- Hm hm.
c- because you are on the go to buy all these fresh vegetables and fruits, but I wonder if you noticed any of that or if any of the participants had said anything about it.
h- That's hard to tell. Especially going (laughs) right into Thanksgiving after, but a lot of people said that they did like what they were doing and wanted to continue with it maybe not a hundred percent but at least keep a lot of the changes that they made and I don't have any other way of confirming it other than that. That several people said that they did like it, um of course you're going to have your people who just missed eating steak all time time (laugh) so I won't say it was universal but there were it was pretty variable some people said they loved it completely and wanted to keep it a hundred percent. A lot of people said they wanted, they felt they made a lot of changes and they wanted to keep at least some of them, and then there were people that just uh I got the impression just wanted to go back to the way they were eating before.
c- Especially with the holidays thats probably one of the most important things that they keep in mind I think that is one of the times when people really look forward to being around family and eating a lot of food.
h- Yeah, I think the biggest thing with this study and our other studies that we've done which is more like weight loss and diabetes like those are pretty serious health conditions and we know that sticking with a vegan diet is going to help so if these people didn't see an affect with their diet with acne they were otherwise healthy and they dont have any other reason to keep it. Um we really didn't talk about ethical issues or environmental issues um for the most part so we really stresses health and if they haven't seen an affect on their skin they didn't have any other reason to um do it for their health then they might not have been as motivated to stick with it than some people in our other studies.
c- Yeah. And I think also it's a little hard because when you—in all of these studies that you've done, you're really putting a lot of trust into the participants
h- Hm hm.
c- because you know you don't know whether or not when they go home that they're sneaking in a few things here and there and so I guess it's just relying on people and um that's how research works I assume so.
h- Pretty much. I mean it's also a lot on them you know this is a really good opportunity to see for themselves if this diet could help them and so we basically gave them (laughs) as much motivation as possible to do it a hundred percent. Um but, like you said, we'll never know and um so we can assume. Laughs.
c- Yeah and I think this is something you had mentioned in terms of the products they can use that was very strict in terms of um making sure that they weren't using anything that had things that could have improved their skin. So I mean again in that type of situation aside from diet you don't know whether or not they are using these products or not either so.
h- Exactly. I think that another thing we came across is that a lot of people stopped their medications for the study and so initially their acne was getting worse instead of better. Um I don't know if the data shows that but just the impression we were getting was we actually were (laughs) had a lot more to um a lot more acne to deal with once we got into the study because it was initially getting worse. Um so that was just an issue for us thats a tough decision to know what's the best thing to do for research all the time but
c- Um and I guess just piggy-backing off of that last statement, um I think you've already talked about when somebody sees something and they think that this might be a good avenue to start a new research project but um how exactly do you begin research on a particular study or how does something come about that maybe you say maybe this hasn't been investigated or has and we should go back into it.
h- Yeah, I mean there's a lot of factors I mean most importantly is if there is a really important question that needs to be answered. So in this case we thought there was. Um and then there's a lot of logistics involved. Like for an acne study, you need to have a dermatologist, and when this all started there was a dermatologist that was really interested in this and wanted to work on it so it was like all of the pieces were coming together um because there are a lot of questions that need to be answered, but like you know if you're interested like I use to do poly-cystic ovary syndrome and if you don't have an (laughs) ultrasound machine or something you can't do much about it. So, um, so it's a matter of what is the question that needs to be answered, is there interest in it and is it something that can be done. And so those are just some things.
c- And, it seems like you have had a lot of people in that regard-to make sure that there are a lot of people that are involved then.
h- Hm hm. Yeah.
h- We do, yeah.
c- And also again just looking at a little bit about your background it just seems like you've written or been a part of a lot of major research studies that deals with these health outcomes and the role of nutrition. And so was there any study that surprised you in some way maybe something came out of the study you didn't really intend to be a factor?
h- Ummm, I think the, for this study I mean we really haven't even looked at the results yet. Can I say something about other research that I've come across?
c- Yeah. It seems just looking at some of the things that you've done that there are so many things that you've had your hands in, so anything—it can be any of the studies you have dealt with or even if you weren't a part of it but you knew something that maybe came out of it that was a little bit surprising.
h- Uh I guess this wouldn't be necessarily surprising but I think that since I've really started working in this office I mean the most exciting studies to me have been the ones on heart disease and showing that diet could reverse it. Um and those are Dean Ornish's and Caldwell Esselstyn's study that um basically since went vegan they cut out fat from their diet and just one added a hundred percent and then basically were able to stop really deadly conditions but um and people who really had less than a year to live and were able to go on to live at least twelve years or more and actually cut down on the plaque that was blocking their heart art arteries so um thats the most exciting research that I've seen. Not necessarily mine but just something that really just impacts how I view nutrition.
c- And uh as a Registered Dietician, is there anything besides some of these research projects that you've done um that you necessarily do and you are a part of the Physicians Research for Responsible Medicine.
h- Hm hm.
c- And so are you I guess, do you provide—I guess I just want to know more about what a Registered Dietician does.
h- Sure. Well I guess I am not a typical Registered Dietician, in that I don't do counseling for a living, but um I guess what I do on the side is um which is pretty recent is become an instructor with the Cancer project which is another non-profit that's affiliated with us that um teaches nutrition and cooking classes around the country and so it talks a lot about how diet is related to cancer but then tells-shows people how they can cook healthy and delicious meals um that could help with cancer survival or cancer prevention and also weight loss, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure. And so that is something that I've been real excited about as a dietician to be involved in.
c- And this is more recently?
h- Uh this is starting in November I think.
c- Oh. Ok
h- Oh uh, yeah, I guess November was a long time ago(laughs)—last November. Laughs.
c- Oh so, I was about to say, like a month ago?
h- Yeah (laughs) It feels like just yesterday I guess. But it's ok.
c- And how long have you been in DC?
h- Uh almost two years.
c- Almost two years and so that project started about a year ago and so what exactly did you do as soon as you got to DC? When you came to DC did you automatically become part of the Physicians Committee? I just heard about it because a co-worked of mine actually now works there.
h- Oh, who's your co-worker?
c- Margaret Murray, I worked with her for a film festival and now she's, I'm not sure if she is doing something with marketing or how that came about but I know that she's working there now she just started about a month ago.
h- Oh. She must have just started this week. I know that there were three new people that just started so she was one of them.
c- Yeah, and I had never really heard about it before and I was thinking wow, I didn't even know that I had been talking to someone before that is actually a part of that.
h- laughs. Yeah, um this is the first, I basically moved here for this job so um I didn't do anything in DC before that.
c- So just talking about the work that you have been doing for the past year and I know it is hard to tell because you just completed one study, but do you have any plans for personal studies or anything that maybe you are thinking about?
h- Well, what we are planning right now is uh we had done an earlier study with Geico um their corporate office, their headquarters in Chevy Chase so we are working with them to design a really large study that would um look at a vegan nutrition program at all of their, at least most of their offices around the country. So that is what we are gearing up for right now.
c- Geico the insurance company?
c- Oh, ok. I was like- I was a little confused because I wasn't sure if I heard you correctly. But that seems, that's actually very interesting, that corporations are actually wanting to do this now.
h- Yeah its huge I mean they know they could save a lot of money through it (laughs) so it's the main motivation but um so we're trying to see if this program can save them money for healthcare costs.
c- So they want to try and implement it in places that they have that people work at. I guess I am just not understanding.
h- Yeah um like in the directors of the organization so like for Geico would be like Human Resources
they, they think this is something that could make their employees a lot healthier so they want to offer it in their offices. If employees are healthier they're going to get more work done. They are going to be at the doctor less um and just have better quality of life um and their employees may get more promotions too so it's just something that is just a win-win situation for them.
c- This sort of reminds me of when they were talking about incorporating, especially in 9-5 cubical based jobs,
h- Hm hm.
c- Like free gym memberships
c- and um I think there was this place, not sure where this was, but they got rid of all their vending machines and they started to make more healthful foods available for their employees, and so I think that it is interesting now that these bigger corporations are latching on to that, and so I'd be interested to see where that goes to, that seems like it has a lot of potential.
h- Yeah, yeah we're really excited about it. So, you're right it's exactly along those lines of employee health.
c- And so I guess for any study this can apply, but how long do you think that it takes—from the planning, to the conducting, to the data and the review—how long does it generally take for something like that to finish?
h- Well, that definitely depends on how long the study is. That, I mean honestly, I'd say easily, like two-three years. It's just that there's so much involved in terms of planning and recruiting and conducting the study and doing analysis and then writing papers so it's a really long process so much longer than you would think.
c- And so given that, if a study has already been done, but maybe the results were kind of hit-or-miss, or there is a new way to approach it, if another study came up, um that maybe is completely different do you think a researcher would be more inclined to go and repeat the study or do you think they would be more inclined to start something completely different?
h- So you're saying if like I did a study and, or if someone published results that were really exciting would I want to follow up on it or would I say well they already did maybe I should do something else?
c- Yeah, yeah.
h- Um. I think that I mean in research so much depends on funding and where the interest lies. where the money lies and if someone shows results that are really exciting and um its a hot area, and then there's also money out there to do similar research, then people are going to want to follow up on it. Um that's something you see, um I guess you saw a lot with Atkins, and a lot with fish oil, especially just wanting to keep um seeing if these results could happen or if to do almost an identical study but do just in a slightly different population like a vegan diet helps weight loss, well now can it help diabetes, so its almost like do a similar study but jut tweak it just a bit so that it is different.
c- Yeah, I guess I am just interested in this total juxtaposition how the vegan diet can help with some of these factors versus something like the Atkins, which is completely opposite of that. And so I am not completely sure the type of research that has been done with Atkins, I don't really follow up on it.
h- Hm hm.
c- I think that it is interesting that there is so much of like a broad spectrum that research could take in terms of nutrition and health. So it is just interesting to see what the Physicians Committee has been doing, recently because I feel like there are a lot of good studies that are out there.
h- Yeah and I mean the research is pretty separate Physicians Committee I mean there is so much that they are doing outside of research so that is just one component of what is going on here.
c- Um I dont know if this has ever come up or if this is even important but there has been a lot of talk about both Genetically Modified Organisms in terms of GMO crops and then also this issue of organic farming and the health benefits and things like that and I was wondering if that is anything that you know of or if you have ever heard of any research around any of those?
h- Um. For organic crops, I guess it depends I mean I guess most people would agree that it is better to eat foods without pesticides (laughs) on it than with pesticides so generally in terms of the question of should we go organic well it would be really good to if you have them available and can afford to do it so I think that question is pretty straightforward. Um nutrition-wise people are always saying well is organic food more nutritious but that seems to be something that different studies show different results and um could go either way.
c- Yeah I think one of the important things that come out of that too is maybe if it's not so much a nutrition factor
h- Hm hm.
c- I think that it also goes back to the environment
c- And so I think that that has been where it has been left out because people are just so worried about whether or not if it's healthy or not. They're not really thinking about well what does organic mean in terms of how the crops are grown, so I was just wondering your thought on it is all.
h- Yeah you're that's definitely true.
c- Yeah. And then finally my last question is just as always, what is your favorite color?
h- laughs. I think it's white maybe—laughs, I think that might be what I said last time.
c- You're favorite color is white. OK. Well Heather it is always a pleasure to talk with you. I guess just keep me updated either via email or whatever about some of the things you are doing because I do think that it is interesting. I was only aware of that one study and looking into it further it just looks like you've done a lot with all of these other studies and so I'd be interested to see where it takes you in the future.
h- Thank you. Yeah, when are you expected to be done with your school?
c- Um I actually finish in May and my thesis show will be the last week of March, first week of April, so when all of that comes together I will of course send you an um flier/invitation for that. I will probably have an opening reception the first week of the show.
h- Huh huh.
c- Alright thank you so much.
h- Great, thank you good luck.
heather katcher, RD