A young father pursuing his doctorate in chemical engineering at Cornell University in the mid-1990s, Michael Donaldson found himself at a crossroads: To begin a career in biomedical engineering, which he gained an interest in during his undergrad years, or follow natural health medicine? With a father who had been a doctor, Michael felt himself pulled more toward working behind the scenes as a scientist. Originally, this led him to thinking he would follow the path of biotechnology, helping find solutions to disease.
A Turning Point
During the time that Michael was working toward his Ph.D as part of a biochemical engineering research group however, his wife began struggling with pregnancy-related sickness. When she turned toward advice from a nutritionally-minded chiropractor and some real answers, it was then that Michael found himself wondering just how great the connection between nutrition and chronic disease such as cancer and heart disease really is. He started doing his own digging and reading research from the likes of John Robins and T. Colin Campbell. In 1996, this required Michael going to the university library, pulling down the journals and making copies of pages he could take home to read.
"It dawned on me as I kept pouring through the research that the answer is not another drug or pharmaceutical development produced biologically," he said. "So I came to a little bit of a crisis point and thought, which direction am I going to pursue?"
Those biotech innovations are great in emergencies, noted Michael. The protein tissue plasminogen activator, for instance, that is injected when someone is having a heart attack can be life-saving. However, it would be great if people didn't get to the point of needing that in the first place, he said. By promoting a healthy diet and lifestyle, these chronic conditions could be prevented. Thus, rather than continue his work in biological proteins, Michael decided on the other path.
"For me, it seemed like there would be a much greater impact if I chose to work on health," he said."Because if people knew what their options really were, they might make a different choice. If they knew there was an option other than pharmaceuticals and surgery and radiation, they might really choose to change their diet and lifestyle and get much better results."
Finding Genesis 1:29
Some of Michael's graduate work did involve nutrition, though not directly related to people. It was in the midst of his graduate work, as he was continuing to research health, that he was introduced to the midwife who was helping with the birth of his third child. She had a copy George Malkmus' book, "God's Way to Ultimate Health." Borrowing the book, Michael went home and poured through the stories and testimonies, reading about all that was possible when people change their diet and lifestyle.
"That's what's possible when you change your diet and lifestyle."
"They were getting results that were phenomenal compared to everything else," he recalled. "Things were happening there, that weren't being reported other places."
From there, he looked up Hallelujah Acres, applied for a position in the newly opened research foundation and went down to North Carolina for an interview. There, they asked what his research plan would be. From that point, Michael put together a plan and in February 1998, he joined the team as the Director of Research. Finishing up his work at Cornell, Michael and his young family made the move down to North Carolina.
Answering the Big Questions
Ensuring that the dietary guidelines of the Hallelujah Diet were scientifically up-to-date was one of his first tasks. One of the very first questions that Dr. Donaldson proposed when joining the team was, "Are people getting everything they need with the diet alone?"
The research findings that plant-based diets do not contain enough vitamin B12 was not novel news. However, Dr. Donaldson was the first to put this question to the test by studying 54 Health Ministers who had been on the diet for at least two years. Almost 50 percent of the participants showed a vitamin B12 deficiency at the cellular level. This came as quite an eye-opener to the Hallelujah Diet staff, to have to step back and wonder how the Genesis 1:29 could not be perfect.
As Dr. Donaldson explained, it's important to remember that there wasn't always a lack of this vitamin and the plant-based foods that Adam and Eve were consuming have changed greatly. Moreover, it was discovered that vitamin B12 does not come from something that we consume, according to our experts, but rather it is made within the body. Today, the Hallelujah Diet supplement B12, B6, Folate serves an important role in the diet.
"That was a big step for getting the diet safe for everyone," said Michael. "And we've continued to optimize it over time, but that vitamin B12 was the link that was really missing."
The Work Continues
Since then, Dr. Donaldson's research has continued to play an integral part in the Hallelujah Diet. Though the key teachings have not changed, more questions have continued to be answered and the supplements have become more and more important.
"What we're teaching people is self-healing, the healing that's built into the cells already," said Michael. "It's just about providing the right materials, and health will be the result."
Through his work and research, that is the message that Dr. Donaldson works to promote each and every day. He sees every new discovery and study as an intellectual challenge and understands that his research makes a real difference, which is what makes him love going to work every day.
Next month, Dr. Donaldson will host our monthly live webinar series for the March presentation of "Raw Food Lab Webinar."