I graduated from medical school in January 2020. Long before starting to study to be a doctor, I had become interested in how diet and health are related, with a particular interest in the paleolithic diet. I think this was borne primarily out of my strong interest in evolution and biology – it just made sense that the diet humans were evolutionarily adapted to over the course of millions of years would also be the diet that is healthiest for us.
During my five and a half years of medical training, a few things became clear to me. First, while doctors receive a lot of training in how to deal with medical emergencies, they are taught extremely little about how to avoid chronic disease and maximize long term health, and much of what they are taught is wrong. Over those years, I think I received a total of three lectures about nutrition. In other words, three hours during five and a half years were spent learning about how to avoid chronic disease in the first place.
One of those lectures, during the last few months before graduating, struck a very strong chord. The lecturer showed a powerpoint slide, and said, “this is your bible. This is what you are going to tell people.”
Here’s what was on that list:
- Eat more fruit and vegetables.
- Eat more fish.
- Eat more whole grain cereals.
- Eat less sugar.
- Eat less saturated fat.
- Eat less salt.
- Eat low fat dairy.
- Eat less meat.
Since I have a strong personal interest in nutrition, and have spent a lot of time going through the science, I knew that at least half of the advice on that list was complete nonsense, not supported by the scientific evidence. And yet we were being told that this was our “bible”. Just the word chosen showed clearly that this was not science we were being taught, it was religion.
Another problem with medical school is that we were taught what to do in different situations, but we were rarely given any nuance in terms of the probability of success, or size of benefit, of a treatment. For example, we were taught that, after someone has a heart attack or a stroke, they should be prescribed a statin. But we were never told what that would really mean for the patient. How much longer could they expect to live?
I decided that, after graduating, I would start a blog about health and medicine, to try to get the truth out as much as possible, both to patients and to colleagues in the medical profession. Apart from helping others, it would also allow me to delve deeper in to many of the topics I hadn’t been taught in medical school.
Anyway, three days after graduating, I started working in the Emergency Room of one of the hospitals in Stockholm. For the next few months I was too busy to think further about my blog idea. And then, just a few months in to my new job, came covid.
It came suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere. One day it was something happening far away, in other countries, in Italy and South Korea, and China. The next it was everywhere. For a while, it felt like every single covid test I ordered came back positive. I even had case where a patient came in with a nose bleed, and for some reason someone decided to take a nasal swab to test for covid. The test came back positive.
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that the Emergency Room was being overwhelmed, because that would be false. I went from seeing eight or more patients per shift to seeing two or three. While a very large proportion of the patients were covid positive, there were in total many fewer patients than usual. All the usual suspects in the Emergency Room were gone.
Official statistics bear this out. They show, for example, that hospital admissions for heart attacks in Stockholm were down 40% during the spring covid peak. Presumably people were choosing to stay home rather than go to the hospital and risk getting covid. And presumably this was resulting in unnecessary deaths – indirect deaths, not due to the virus itself, but rather due to the hysteria surrounding the virus.
This continued for about a month, and then the covid patients started to disappear. More and more of the tests came back negative. I noticed that the official statistics were telling the same story. From mid-April until early August there was a continuous decline in the number of people dying of covid in Sweden.
I follow the medical literature quite closely, and there seemed to be a clear consensus among the experts at that point that covid was not a seasonal virus. Putting these two pieces of data together, the decline in deaths and the lack of seasonality, I figured that we must have reached the point of herd immunity in Sweden. I was surprised that it came so quickly, but if both suppositions were true, then nothing else could explain what we were seeing in the data.
I figured that, if this was the case, then the virus could not possibly be anywhere near as deadly as it was being portrayed in the media. Only 6,000 people had died, out of a population of 10 million, and the pandemic was over. So it seemed.
I was given a few weeks holiday in late July, and with more time on my hands, I decided to start the blog that I had been planning for several months. Around this time I had a conversation with my mother, who follows the mainstream news media closely, about covid. I hadn’t been following the news myself, but had rather been going straight to the source for my information, looking at the official statistics and the scientific studies, and it became clear that we had very different world views in relation to covid.
From my perspective, based on my experience in the hospital, and what was being shown in the official statistics and scientific studies, it was clear that covid was no worse than a bad flu, of the kind seen several times per century. It was certainly nowhere near as bad as the horrific 1918 flu pandemic, which is estimated to have killed 3% of the world’s population, and which was particularly dangerous to young people. And yet covid was frequently being compared to that pandemic in the media.
By summer, it was clear that covid was nowhere near as bad as had initially been feared. In Stockholm a large field hospital had been erected to deal with the expected deluge of covid patients, but it never had to take a single patient. And yet, the reaction from media and governments seemed more in line with a global ebola outbreak than a bad flu.
I realized that my mother was typical of most people, who were getting their news from the mainstream sources, and so I decided to write an article about it on my new blog. After writing the article, I sent it to Malcolm Kendrick, a British doctor I admire, who had written a couple of very skeptical articles about covid, in order to see what he thought about it. He liked it so much that he asked if he could re-post it on his website.
I had a feeling that the article might generate some interest, but it immediately went viral. In less than two weeks, my blog had received half a million visits. The Spectator newspaper in the UK contacted me and asked to reprint my article, as did several other newspapers and blogs. And multiple TV and radio channels asked to interview me.
It was clear that there was a huge hunger for an alternative view of the pandemic to that being presented in mainstream media. At the same time, I had only just started the blog, and it wasn’t really a blog about covid. My main interest is in what people can do to maintain their long term health, and that is what I want my blog to be about. So, although I wrote the odd article about covid over the next few months (mainly because I kept getting a large number of e-mails from people asking me about my opinion on different things to do with covid), I tried to focus on the other things, that I personally think are more important and interesting over the long term.
Then came autumn, and with it the second wave. Considering that the consensus among the “experts” was that covid wasn’t seasonal, I was surprised, again. “Non-experts”, like Ivor Cummins, who had said all along that covid was acting in a seasonal manner and would be back in autumn, were right. And with the second wave came a renewed wave of hysteria that was in many cases worse than the first time around.
In Sweden, that was certainly the case. The Swedish government struck a much more alarmist chord the second time around, even though it was clear that the first wave had been much worse, at least in terms of the number of people dying. And even though there was now robust evidence that the fatality rate was much lower than had been believed initially, and increasing evidence that the fear mongering and lockdowns during the first wave had done much more harm than good, there were renewed calls for even stricter measures. Just as with the official dietary guidelines, the mainstream response to covid started to feel more like it was based on religion than on science.
Amid the renewed hysteria, I was contacted by a publisher here in Sweden, who asked me to write a book about covid, to get a more nuanced and scientifically sound view out in to the public arena than was being presented in mainstream media. I’ve now been working on that book for a few months, and I’m currently putting the finishing touches to it. It will be out in the early part of 2020, in English and Swedish, and my hope is that it will contribute to changing the way the world thinks about covid.
Let’s hope 2021 ends up being a saner year than 2020.