WHEN best-selling author, podcaster, GP and TV medical expert Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s six-month-old son nearly died on a family holiday in France, it changed the genial doctor’s approach towards medicine.
“We went on holiday one Christmas to Chamonix. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. I was in the kitchen when my wife called out to me. She had my son in her arms and said, ‘Rangan, he’s stopped moving’. I froze.
“He’d been very phlegmy that day, so I turned him on his front and tried thumping him on his back to clear his airway, as I thought he might be choking, but nothing was happening,” Chatterjee, aged 43, recalls.
They made the hazardous car journey in the snow to hospital.
“When we got there, the medical staff were clearly really worried and put lines in his neck. Essentially, he’d had a convulsion because of low levels of calcium in his blood, which we found out later was secondary to low levels of vitamin D.
“It was pivotal for me, because not only was that the scariest thing to happen to any parent — we didn’t know whether he would make it that night, we thought we might lose him [he was in hospital for five nights] — but ultimately he nearly died from a preventable vitamin deficiency.
“That was hard for me to stomach. I felt a lot of guilt around that because I thought, I’ve been to one of the most prestigious medical schools in Edinburgh, I’ve got an immunology degree, specialist exams, GP exams, with all those so-called ticks, but I wasn’t able to protect my own son from getting really sick from a preventable vitamin deficiency.
“We were completely in shock. It’s just a bit of a blur.”
From that point, Chatterjee set out to find out things he hadn’t learned at medical school.
“Modern medicine saved my son’s life, but they didn’t teach us about the impact of having a vitamin deficiency.
"I became obsessed, I would study nutrition, gut health and microbiology,” he explains.
This all happened a decade ago and inspired Chatterjee’s more progressive approach, tackling the root causes of both mental and physical health problems, rather than just treating them with medication.
His best-selling books — including Feel Better In 5 and The 4 Pillar Plan — are all built around this focus, including looking at lifestyle as a key part of the picture.
Now his latest title, Feel Great Lose Weight, examines how people can adopt long-term habits for lasting weight loss, rather than any formal calorie-counting diet regimes.
It explores the roots of why people gain weight and how using a toolbox of techniques and lifestyle changes — without resorting to crash diets or endless gruelling workouts — can help build a better, healthier relationship with food and lead to sustainable results.
The GP’s career path has at times put him in the media spotlight, first as the host of BBC One’s Doctor In The House. His hit podcast, Feel Better, Live More, attracts more than 1.6 million listeners a month and has welcomed guests including Hollywood star Matthew McConaughey to share thoughts on their physical and mental wellbeing.
His work has been endorsed by the likes of Chris Evans and Fearne Cotton — but he doesn’t have a contacts book full of celebrities and doesn’t let fame go to his head.
“Fearne Cotton invited me to do a Penguin Live event with her about a month ago. I just thought, ‘How does Fearne Cotton even know who I am?’”
His passion to help others with a more whole approach to health and medicine remains at the core of his work: “It never came from the thought that I wanted to be on telly, that I want to be known. I’m not bothered about that. I want to change people’s lives.”
Living in Wilmslow, Cheshire, with his wife Vidhaata — who produces his podcasts — and their two children, now aged 10 and eight, has helped Chatterjee stay sheltered from too much showbiz.
“When I do the school drop-offs, I’m unshaven, in my shorts, and I’ve a nine-year-old car with black gaffer tape keeping the wing mirror on,” he says candidly.
His late father, a consultant at Manchester Royal Infirmary, retired at 58 suffering from the auto-immune disease lupus, and then his kidneys failed and he was on dialysis for 15 years.
Chatterjee became his father’s carer, along with his mother and brother, which is why he moved back to the north-west of England from Edinburgh, he explains.
“Being a carer for my dad was my whole identity,” he reflects.
“I’d be up at five, I’d shower him, shave him, give him breakfast, go to work and nip back at lunchtime to give him lunch. I coped very badly with his death. I just had this big void in my life that I didn’t know how to fill. But it set me off on a journey of self-discovery.
"As an Indian immigrant in the UK, the things he would have been proudest of about me he never got to see.”
While he’s quick to bat away questions about fame, Chatterjee is still medical eye candy to some. He’s been dubbed ‘Dr McDreamy’ — after the fictional surgeon played by Patrick Dempsey in the hit TV series Grey’s Anatomy — and seems a little embarrassed about it.
“If that had happened in my 20s, it probably would have gone to my head. But the goal was never to be on telly or to have a podcast. The goal was to learn more things to help people, more than I’ve ever helped them before.”
He is sometimes recognised when he’s out and about, and people approach him about their symptoms, but Chatterjee says it’s the same for every doctor.
“The fame thing doesn’t feel real to me. My kids don’t care, my wife sure as hell doesn’t care, my best friends don’t care. So I’m not bothered about it.”
He’s remained busy during the pandemic, writing his latest book, still works as a GP one day a week and is adding to his workload with a new weekly wellbeing show on BBC Radio 2 starting today, featuring inspirational guests and a positive musical soundtrack.
As for the future, Chatterjee reflects: “I feel the impact of 2020 is going to bite next year. We’ve been kept apart for so long, I worry about the mental health consequences.
“I’m worried that when the economic pressures bite, on one level we may be on the precipice of a mental health epidemic. But I am an optimist, so the flip-side is l like to think we’ve remembered what’s important this year.
“I’m an optimist, so once we can start returning together and doing things together, I do feel hopeful.”
Feel Great Lose Weight by Dr Rangan Chatterjee is published by Penguin Life.