Dr. Juan Ochoa, Chief Medical Officer of Nestlé Health Science North America, has had a lifelong passion for the power of nutritional therapy to transform lives. Here’s his story:
Dr. Ochoa, trauma surgeon
I trained as a trauma surgeon a long time ago in Medellin, Colombia, which was the epicenter of essentially a civil war, popularly called the “Drug Wars.” During that time, injuries and trauma were an everyday event. Today, people ask me how real is the Netflix series Narcos and I tell them that I actually think it is quite accurate, except that the violence was a lot worse than even depicted in the series.
Surgery and nutritional therapy
Growing up, my mother worked as a biochemist and my father was a pediatric surgeon, so I almost lived at the medical school and hospital. I actually had my first communion in the hospital. I remember doing rounds with my father when I was very, very young. Viewing every minute as a teachable moment, my father told me the story of how nutritional therapy helped his patients recover from surgery. I was fascinated by the whole idea that you could feed somebody a different type of food and that you could save lives by doing that.
Emphasis on arginine
Throughout my career, I had the privilege of working in labs that were focused on exploring the role of arginine, which is a key ingredient in IMPACT Advanced Recovery® Immunonutrition Drink made by Nestlé Health Science. Arginine is an important amino acid for cells of the immune system, such as T-cells, at certain times of need, when the body is repairing wounds or fighting infections.
Working with top researchers in nutritional therapy, we saw a strong link between arginine and a properly functioning T-cell. What we found was that after surgery or a traumatic injury, the body’s normal levels of arginine are depleted and without it, T-cells simply cannot do their job.
Off to Nestlé Health Science
In 2009, working with other scientists, I came to appreciate that there was good data supporting the benefit of using IMPACT Advanced Recovery® Immunonutrition Drink.1 I felt this product was an underutilized resource for our patients, and that it was time to make surgeons aware of how this IMPACT® product could help their patients.
People say, ‘Eat well’ before surgery. What does eat well mean? More lettuce? People don’t realize there are products like IMPACT Advanced Recovery® Immunonutrition Drink that are specifically formulated to address the unique needs of a patient recovering from surgery!”
So I thought, well, the only way I can achieve that goal is if we work with the Industry. I thought about doing a start-up company to create a similar product, but in the end, it became very obvious to me, why do a start-up when you have a company like Nestlé Health Science?
Magnifying the impact: Strong for Surgery®
One of the things I’m most proud of is how we have been able to partner with the surgical community at large, to spread the word about the power of nutritional therapy to help patients prepare for and recover from surgery. At Nestlé Health Science, we have helped support a number of what are called real-world initiatives. One of my favorites is Strong for Surgery®, started by surgeons at the University of Washington.
Strong for Surgery® is a presurgery regimen implemented across Washington State that includes, among other things, the use of a specialized nutritional formula containing specific immunonutrients including arginine, omega-3 fatty acids and dietary nucleotides. The program is showing a benefit, not only in reducing infections and improving other outcomes, but also in lowering readmission rates and the cost of healthcare.2,3 The Strong for Surgery® initiative is so successful that it has been adopted by the American College of Surgeons, who intend to make it available outside of Washington State.
The nutritional therapy crusade continues
I’m a bit of a crusader when it comes to nutritional therapy. I think my enthusiasm for healthcare comes from my parents. My parents were really, really passionate about their commitment to helping human beings through education and healthcare. I guess it’s like the old saying goes: the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Or given my interest in wine, that the grape doesn’t fall far from the vine.
- Drover JW, et al. Perioperative use of arginine-supplemented diets: a systematic review of the evidence. J Am Coll Surg. 2011; 212(3): 385-399
- Thornblade, Lucas W. M.D. et al. Preoperative Immunonutrition and Elective Colorectal Resection Outcomes. Diseases of the Colon & Rectum, 2017; 60(1): 68-75.
- Banerjee S et al. Effects of arginine-based immunonutrition on inpatient total costs and hospitalization outcomes for patients undergoing colorectal surgery. Nutrition 2017 published on line http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2017.06.002
Strong for Surgery® is a registered trademark of the American College of Surgeons.