A GP who battled back to health after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer is launching Scotland’s first ever all-round health improvement course.

Dr Laura Freeman, 36, was inspired to introduce the Complete Health Improvement Program (CHIP) after seeing its success with patients in North America.

The married mother-of-two, who is originally from Glasgow, returned to Scotland with her family earlier this year after spending nearly eight years working in Toronto, Canada.

It was there in 2016, soon after giving birth to her daughter, that she was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer. Her obstetrician had first discovered a lump while she was pregnant.

“Because I was pregnant he left it until after she was born before I had my scan, then I had surgery when she was about six months old,” said Dr Freeman.

“At the same time I also had blood work done and my cholesterol was really high – even higher than some of my patients that I’d be getting into trouble over it. So that was an eye-opener for me. It really was a pivotal moment because I’d thought I was healthy.”

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Dr Freeman made a full recovery, but the experience propelled her to study lifestyle medicine at Harvard University in Boston.

“It was a lot about nutrition, which was amazing because in 18 years of studying and practising medicine, from medical school onwards, I had never been taught about nutrition.

“But it also brought together ideas that you can’t treat the person for a problem in isolation. You’ve got to incorporate things like exercise and stress management and helping people to find purpose and joy and coping skills for all the stressful things we can be faced with.”

Dr Freeman began putting what she had learned into practice herself and with her patients, encouraging them as much as possible to move to a plant-based wholefood diet.

She said: “It wasn’t very long before I started to see these really amazing results. People with diabetes were showing sugar levels coming down to normal. Cholesterol levels were coming down to normal.

“People with vascular disease where they get pain in their leg from walking too far because their vessels are blocked were walking further and having less pain. In people with headaches, they were going away.

“The list is endless, and I just felt ‘something is really going on here’.”

In January, Dr Freeman will launch CHIP, a 12-week course which promotes a plant-based diet alongside exercise, stress management, sleep and mindfulness to improve wellbeing.

The programme was devised in 1986 by Dr Hans Diehl of Pritikin Longevity Centre, a Miami weight-loss resort.

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To date, it has been trialled on around 80,000 participants worldwide, with evidence of sustained reductions in weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure, as well as significant improvements in the risk factors for chronic diseases including Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It has even been shown to cut depressive symptoms.

CHIP has been described by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine as “achieving some of the most impressive clinical outcomes published in the literature”, but until now it has never been offered in Scotland and is rare across the UK.

Dr Freeman hopes to be able to offer it through the NHS eventually, with GPs able to refer eligible patients, but initially CHIP will be run privately through a partnership with Glasgow vegan restaurant, Soul Food Kitchen.

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Participants will pay £499 for the course which includes regular group meetings at Soul Food, blood tests and analysis, a cookbook, access to web-based training and education videos covering key aspects of lifestyle medicine, and a workbook.

“I see my ultimate goal as being able to be in a position where I can reach out to people who can’t afford to pay by making it available through the NHS, or at least at a lower cost,” said Dr Freeman.

“I really, really want this to work because I’m passionate about it. I really believe in it and it would just be wonderful if we could show that Glasgow is not going to be the exception to CHIP.

“This really is holistic healthcare and its proven best practice. Sometimes it can feel a bit overwhelming to people if they think they’ve got to change everything – but doing it through CHIP just makes it really practical.

"When you make one positive change it can be an upward spiral. So if you focus on your sleep and you get that better often you have the energy to exercise more the next day, and if you’re exercising well maybe you don’t feel like eating the junk food.

“None of us are living the perfect life, we’ve all got something we could be working on.”