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  • Anne Mullens

Welcoming Dr. Charles Helm to the IPTN board

We’re excited to announce the addition of a highly regarded BC physician, a champion for therapeutic nutrition and other lifestyle actions, to the IPTN board.

“We warmly welcome Dr. Charles Helm, an award-winning family doctor from Tumbler Ridge, as our newest board member,” said Sean McKelvey, CEO of the IPTN.

McKelvey notes that Dr. Helm’s experience, influence, and eminence mark a new era for the IPTN.

“Charles has had an exemplary career as a BC physician and will help our mission to spread the word far and wide across Canada, especially to other physicians, that changing how and what you eat may put type 2 diabetes into remission and may improve or reverse other chronic diseases,” McKelvey said.

Dr. Helm says he has no illusions about the enormity of the task of building widespread uptake of therapeutic nutrition for chronic disease, but he is excited to help take on the challenge.

“Diet and lifestyle are at the heart of many of our problems in society and healthcare. If a drug existed that had all the known health benefits of therapeutic nutrition, everyone in the world would want to be on it,” said Dr. Helm. “But it takes behavior change, and that is hard work. So, it often gets dismissed.”

Dr. Helm earned his medical degree in South Africa and immigrated to Canada in 1986. Since 1991 he has lived and worked as a family physician in the remote rural community of Tumbler Ridge, in Northeastern BC. Among his many awards, he was named BC Rural Family Physician of the Year in 2016.

Dr. Helm believes strongly in the power of strong primary care for patient outcomes and healthcare sustainability. Not only has he been part of a small, close team of health providers serving the healthcare needs of the approximately 2500 residents and surrounding First Nations in the region, but he has been instrumental in the creation of a vibrant, world-renowned community.

For example, as an avid runner, he cut running trails in the region's rugged mountains and started a half-marathon trail run, The Emperor’s Challenge, that now annually attracts more than 1000 international participants.

In 2002, when his 8-year-old son and a friend discovered a trackway of dinosaur footprints embedded in the rock beside the nearby Flatbed Creek, Dr. Helm became fascinated with all-things palaeontologic, both in Tumbler Ridge and in South Africa.

He helped spur the creation of the Tumbler Ridge Museum to feature the growing dinosaur finds, was instrumental in obtaining the designation of the Tumbler Ridge UNESCO Global Geopark for the region (denoting a protected area of outstanding geologic significance), has made numerous palaeontology finds in BC and South Africa, has written nine books about the region, and has obtained  his PhD in palaeontology in addition to his medical credentials.

His fascination with Tumbler Ridge’s distant dinosaur past and the promotion of improved health and wellness of current day people, are not disparate interests, but share a common thread: the deep connection of geologic heritage and evolutionary biology to the health and wellness of modern day humans.

“There is saying ‘nothing makes sense except in the light of evolutionary biology” and today nothing in health and medicine really makes sense except in the light of what we evolved to eat and how we evolved to live,’ said Dr. Helm.

“Traditional diets, the ones we evolved to eat, are foundational to people’s health. And health is ultimately related to the land and the geology where those people evolved. It is all related.”

This foundational belief is one of the reasons he is keen to help spread the word about how ditching ultra-processed, sugary foods, and consuming a minimally processed, whole foods diet, combined with good sleep and regular exercise, can do wonders for improvement in human health and functioning.

In fact, Dr. Helm has been a key participant in the new IPTN project in Tumbler Ridge, and Port Alberni, to explore the creation of community-based type 2 diabetes remission service using local food-first approaches. (We wrote about that project, funded by Health Excellence Canada in a February 5 blog.)

When 15 or so members of the Tumbler Ridge community held their first meeting earlier this winter, and introduced themselves around the table, Dr. Helm told the others present: “This is probably the most important meeting in the history of this community.”

“I really meant that. By putting effort into services and support that help put diabetes into remission we help prevent the future heart attacks, peripheral vascular disease, eye problems, strokes, amputations, kidney failure. We also may prevent the flood of Alzheimer’s disease that is coming our way.”

While he is now semi-retired and no longer provides daily clinical care to patients in Tumbler Ridge, he is extraordinarily busy. Dr. Helm still acts as a physician consultant to local doctors (such as reading ECGs) and organizes annual medical conferences on polypharmacy, evolutionary biology, and indigenous health. He is a co-chair of the new South Peace Division of Family Practice and on the core team  of the Rural Coordinating Centre of BC, which supports physicians and primary care teams in rural and remote locations of BC.

We are so grateful that Dr. Helm believes in the vision of the IPTN and has come on our board to help us achieve it.



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1 Comment

Apr 23

All the best to Dr. Helm and your team. :)

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