“Cardiovascular disease is a toothless paper tiger that need never exist. And if it does exist, it need never progress. It is a food-borne illness. Change your food, change your life.”
It’s almost hard to believe that rewind even just a few years ago and when somebody mentioned the word “vegan” it might have conjured up a mental image of someone malnourished, on the verge of dying from iron and protein deficiencies. Thanks to films such as What The Health and Food Choices, vegan bodybuilders, athletes, celebrities, vibrant social media stars and doctors, these misconceptions are rapidly being dispelled, and the incredible possibilities for good health ready to be enjoyed on a strictly plant-based diet are becoming public knowledge.
There are many valid reasons why someone might want to become vegan aside from the health benefits. The staggering cruelty and environmental degradation inherent in the animal agriculture industry being just two of them. It is important to keep in mind that whilst it’s wonderful to be vegan for these reasons alone, some of the products that are by definition “vegan” are not necessarily health-promoting and a high consumption of these will not lead to the kind of benefits spoken about in the scientific literature; just to clarify, you won’t drop four dresses sizes and reverse diabetes with a diet consisting of Oreos, French fries and onion rings. The benefits waiting for you are those accrued by a balanced diet of unprocessed, wholefood plant based foods, such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. With that in mind, let’s get started on the myriad of health benefits waiting for you.
Helping you achieve your perfect, healthy weight.
Obesity is a MASSIVE problem. According to the World Health Organization, worldwide obesity has tripled since 1975. In 2016, over 1.9 billion adults were overweight, with over 650 million obese. (“WHO | Obesity and overweight,” 2017) This issue is not to be taken lightly, since aside from the very real social and physical tolls obesity can take on somebody’s life, it greatly increases the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. (Pi-Sunyer, 2009)T In fact, according to a highly esteemed publication in the journal Public Health Nutrition, after tobacco use, being overweight or obese appears to be the most important avoidable cause of cancer in Western populations. (Key et al., 2004)
So, what does going vegan have to do with any of this? Well, many studies have shown that the more unprocessed plant foods and the less animal foods we consume, the more our weight reaches a healthy level. Let’s look at a few of them. For starters, the National Health Examination and Nutrition Survey is the largest study of what we eat; when researchers applied very advanced statistical analysis to this data, they saw a clear relationship between meat consumption and weight gain. Before you yell out that BMI is a bad indicator of obesity because of all those muscly meat eaters, this took into account waist circumference, as well as weight. (Wang & Beydoun, 2009)
The Adventist Health Study is a really fascinating tool we have at our disposal to look closely into the impact that meat and dairy consumption has on people. The Seventh-day Adventists are taught to treat their bodies like temples, and they share similar healthy lifestyle habits, such as abstinence from drinking alcohol, coffee and smoking, and enjoying regular moderate exercise. However, they comprise a variety of meat-eaters, pescatarians, vegetarians and vegans. Even their meat-eaters eat a very modest amount of meat compared to most of contemporary Western society. This allows us to nicely look at people who share most healthy lifestyle habits but differ in animal protein consumption and has become a gold mine for health researchers. In this long-term study of 73,308 people, it was found that the less animal protein they ate, the lower their BMI. In fact, vegans were the ONLY group that on average fell into the normal range of BMI. The greatest difference was between the vegan and the meat-eating group; after adjustment for age, sex, and race, the mean BMI for vegans was 23.6, and 28.8 for non-vegetarians. True of every dietary group, as the animal protein consumption rose, so did the mean body mass. (Tonstad, Butler, Yan, & Fraser, 2009)
The exciting outcome of this knowledge is that when we apply a wholefoods plant based diet, weight commonly falls considerably to a healthy level, effortlessly, and at a sustainable rate. Unlike the unsustainable yo-yo diet culture, this is a lifestyle that not only doesn’t involve calorie counting, but is enjoyable and easy enough to sustain that you don’t see the rebound effect of falling off and piling the weight straight back on. Not only will you not experience the headaches, constipation and fatigue associated with high-protein, low-carb fad diets (Freedman, King, & Kennedy, 2001) but as you’ll see further on, its side effects are all welcome ones. This was demonstrated in the scientific literature in the BROAD Study, where a randomized control trial in New Zealand took overweight and obese adults and put them on a wholefoods plant based diet with B12 supplementation. Participants were allowed to eat as much food as they want and were not obliged to engage in any exercise regime. Researchers concluded “To the best of our knowledge”, that their research achieved greater weight loss at 6 and 12 months than any other trial that does not limit energy intake or mandate regular exercise. (Wright, Wilson, Smith, Duncan, & McHugh, 2017)
Slaying the risk of heart disease.
Heart disease is so prevalent in our society that we often assume it’s a normal part of ageing. It isn’t, and it doesn’t have to be. Vegans have many advantages when it comes to conferring good heart health. We have lower cholesterol (Yokoyama, Levin, & Barnard, 2017), lower inflammation (Sutliffe, Wilson, de Heer, Foster, & Carnot, 2015), and lower hypertension (Alexander, Ostfeld, Allen, & Williams, 2017).
According to Dr Caldwell Esselstyn who has documented his clinical reversal of heart-disease using diet, “Cardiovascular disease is a toothless paper tiger that need never exist. And if it does exist, it need never progress. It is a food-borne illness. Change your food, change your life.”
What diet did Dr Caldwell Esselstyn use to reverse heart disease in his patients? A plant based, no animal protein diet of course! Without exercise or stress management components to his regime, the dietary changes were enough to show reversal of heart disease. (Esselstyn, 2001). To see incredible angiogram images documenting these changes have a look at Dr Esselstyn’s website: http://www.dresselstyn.com/site/study03/.
Dr Dean Ornish did similar work, though he also incorporated exercise and stress management. Dr Ornish followed patients with heart disease measured by cardiac catherization; half were randomized into a control group receiving the usual lifestyle advice given to heart patients, whilst the other half were put on a very low-fat (10% or less of calories) vegetarian diet, and instructed to perform moderate exercise and practice stress management. After 7 years, 71% of these latter group had stuck to the regime and had experienced an 8% improvement in the narrowing of the vessels, whilst the control group experienced the usual 28% worsening of their vessels. (D Ornish et al., 1998) How many people in our society do you think know that heart disease can actually be clinically reversed?!
Outside of the world of clinical trials, vegans do have a lower incidence of heart disease: a meta-analysis of studies done in UK, Germany, California, USA, the Netherlands and Japan, concluded that there was a 29% decreased risk of heart disease and stroke in people consuming plant-based diets over non-vegetarians. (Huang et al., 2012) So if plant based diets have been demonstrated clinically to be able to reverse heart disease in most cases, why are vegans still getting any heart disease and how can we lower our risk even further? Stay tuned for future articles to find out.
Protecting you from cancer.
It’s unusual to meet anybody who isn’t scared of the C-word. However, I’m here to offer you comfort. Perhaps, the most comprehensive review of the scientific literature on lifestyle prevention of cancer, by an unbiased panel of the best-regarded experts in the world, acknowledged encouragingly that only a small percentage of cancer is genetic, and that most can be prevented by lifestyle and other environmental improvements. (Kanker & Fonds, 2007)
Wholefood plant based diets have been shown to be highly protective against some of our most common cancers; including colon, breast and prostate. Here is not the place to go into mountains of detail over the mechanisms at play here, but if your curiosity is prompting you to do further research, the main components in an animal-protein heavy diet that lead to cancer progression include: hormones, 60-80% of which come through our dairy consumption (Hartmann, Lacorn & Steinhart, 1998); heme iron (Bastide, Pierre, & Corpet, 2011); IGF-1 (Kaaks, 2004)(Key, 2011);and heterocyclic amines (Zheng & Lee, 2009).
For those interested in exploring further, additional mechanisms by which animal product consumption promotes cancer, include Carnitine, Choline and TMAO; reduction in protective bowel bacteria; increased levels of methionine which feed cancer cells division; acidosis related to an animal-protein heavy diet; hormones ingested when we consume animal proteins which particularly fuel breast and prostate cancers; chemicals used in slaughterhouses; and thermoresistant viruses. Additionally, an animal-protein-heavy diet doesn’t leave substantial room on the plate for all the protective phytonutrients which are contained within plant foods.
So how is the science reflected in the stats?
Large studies in England and Germany showed that vegetarians were about 40 percent less likely to develop cancer compared to meat eaters. (Thorogood, Mann, Appleby, & McPherson, 1994)(Chang-Claude, Frentzel-Beyme, & Eilber, 1992) (Chang-Claude & Frentzel-Beyme, 1993)
The Adventist Health Studies, overall, showed significant reductions in cancer risk among those who avoided meat. (Barnard, Nicholson, & Howard, 1995) One Adventist Study found that vegetarians developed significantly less colon, prostate and bladder cancer than meat eaters. Legumes and fruits were specifically found to be protective against pancreatic cancer. (Fraser, 1999) Egg consumption was correlated with colon cancer in men and women (Snowdon & Phillips, 1985); as is milk consumption with prostate cancer.
Vegan women in the Adventist study had a 29% lower rate of female reproductive cancers . (Le & Sabaté, 2014)
The EPIC Study shows higher levels of lymphoma in chicken eaters (Rohrmann et al., 2011)
The EPIC-Oxford study showed that for lymphatic cancers including leukemia, multiple myeloma and lymphoma, a vegetarian or vegan diet is highly protective. (Key et al., 2009)
A seven-year study of 190,000 Hawaiian residents found that those who consumed the most meat, specifically processed meat, were 50% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those who ate the least. (Nöthlings et al., 2005)
A 2007 meta-analysis irrefutably confirmed a link between consumption of all meats and kidney cancer. (Faramawi, Johnson, Fry, Sall, & Yi, 2007)
The NIH-AARP study found significantly heightened risks (ranging from 20% to 60%) for oesophageal, colorectal, liver and lung cancers, when comparing individuals in the highest to those in the lowest quintile of red meat consumption. (Cross et al., 2007)
The scientific rationale for choosing a vegan diet is overwhelming, and will become even more clear to you once I explain, in future articles, the mechanisms by which animal products wreak havoc and promote cancer growth in the human body.
Lowering the risk and potentially reversing diabetes
Most people think that diabetes is caused by carbs. That’s the narrative we’ve adopted in society, and it’s not doing us much good as despite binging on exorbitant amounts of protein whilst concurrently trying to cut carbohydrates, numbers keep growing! Some people seem to deny that diabetes has much to do with diet at all. Who can forget the harrowing opening scene of What the Health when the chief scientific and medical officer for the American Diabetes Association is asked about the link between diet and diabetes, and he stuns us by refusing to discuss the subject?
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that Type 2 diabetes has everything to do with diet. We even have incredible doctors such as Dr John McDougall and Dr Gabriel Cousens using plant foods to completely reverse it in alarmingly short amounts of time. A quick watch of ‘Simply Raw’, which can be found on youtube, will leave you in no doubt that this is a diet of disease, as you see Dr Cousens’ patients put on to a raw vegan diet, turned around in under a month.
Contrary to popular belief, carbohydrates don’t cause diabetes. If we look at studies around the world, the finger points to meat consumption:
EPIC Study: 521,000 people from ten countries were followed for twelve years. Researchers concluded that meat, especially processed meat, including bacon, is significantly associated with the development of Type 2 diabetes, and fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with decreased diabetes development. Glucose and fructose consumption was actually correlated with less diabetes (InterAct Consortium et al., 2013)(InterAct Consortium, 2014)) Replacing just 5% of saturated fats in the diet with fructose, risk of diabetes was reduced 30%. (Ahmadi-Abhari et al., 2014)
The Seventh-Day Adventists: Due to their extremely modest consumption of meat even amongst those who identify as meat-eaters, and other healthful lifestyle habits, Seventh-Day Adventists much lower diabetes rates than the rest of the US. However, researchers found those who ate meat at all, were over 2.5 times more likely to develop diabetes than those who didn’t. (Tonstad et al., 2009) This held true even when controlling for weight, showing that meat consumption was still correlated with diabetes even when weight wasn’t gained from it.
The relationship between processed meat consumption and incidence of diabetes was assessed from eight prospective cohort studies of 327,391 people. In a pooled analysis of the data, for every 50g serving of processed meats, there was a staggering 51% higher risk of diabetes. (Micha, Michas, & Mozaffarian, 2012)
So how can this possibly true? How can it be meat and not carbohydrates that cause the insulin resistance and high blood sugars seen in Type 2 diabetes?
When we eat meat, we are eating protein and fat. Believe it or not, animal protein is very insulinogenic (Holt, Miller, & Petocz, 1997), blocks fat mobilization from the cell and causes consumed fat to enter the cell. (Lara-Castro & Garvey, 2008) Insulin resistance is actually due to fat toxicity to the muscle cell. (Anderson et al., 2015)
One of the main factors leading to this collection of fat in the muscle is inflammation, causing damage to the muscle cells and resulting in fat accumulation. (Coletta & Mandarino, 2011) This can be through the acidosis of a high animal protein diet (Sebastian, Frassetto, Sellmeyer, Merriam, & Morris, 2002) and also from the bacteria that comes part and parcel with the animals when we eat them. Whilst bacteria itself may be destroyed by cooking meat, the endotoxin produced by the bacteria is stored in the muscle of the animal. The saturated fat from the meat causes the endotoxin to be absorbed into the body and our immune system sets off a state of inflammation. (Erridge, Attina, Spickett, & Webb, 2007)
Stress hormone responses associated with eating meat also lead to high sugar levels and inflammation. As we’ll see further in Part 2 of this article, meat consumption leads to higher levels of cortisol and C-reactive protein. Cortisol actually impairs insulin sensitivity, raises blood sugar, and is considered an independent risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. (Adam et al., 2010) C-Reactive protein, a key biomarker of inflammation in the body, has also been independently associated with diabetes. (Nanri, Moore, & Kono, 2007)
Protecting you from Endometriosis, PCOS, PMS and hormone-dependent cancers.
Whether we’re eating animal products, with or without added growth hormones, when we take in animal protein we inescapably also take in steroid hormones. These greatly influence the progression of hormone-dependent cancers, lead to early menarche, and worsen rampant female reproductive disorders such as endometriosis and PCOS.
1 in 10 women suffer from endometriosis; and those who have experienced it will tell you it’s an incredibly painful and debilitating condition. In endometriosis, endometrial tissue is found in parts of the body it shouldn’t be, and wreaks havoc with us. This proliferation of the endometrium is initiated by estrogen and so endometriosis risk factors include both higher levels of circulating estrogen, (Skibola, Curry, Vandevoort, Conley, & Smith, 2005) and prolonged estrogen exposure. (Giudice, 2010). Unsuprisingly then, we find animal products, which come laden with exogenous estrogens are associated with endometriosis.
Dairy is in fact, responsible for a whopping 60-80% of dietary estrogen, (Hartmann, Lacorn & Steinhart, 1998) and its near-absence in the diet of Japanese women is reflected in both their extremely low levels of circulating estrogen and, consequently, one of the lowest rates of breast, endometrial and ovarian cancers in the world. (Skibola et al., 2005)
Female reproductive diseases and disorders are also linked to xenostrogens (chemicals that mimic estrogen in the body) such as dioxins, 95% of which come from animal products. (Magliano, Loh, Harding, Botton, & Shaw, 2014) These are strongly implicated in the disease progression of endometriosis. (Sourial, Tempest, & Hapangama, 2014)
So what does science say on the practical application of plant-based dietary practices for endometriosis? One publication looking at two case-control studies comprising 1008 women, half of whom suffered endometriosis, half of whom didn’t, found that comparing high to low consumption of red meat, there was a 2x greater likelihood of suffering endometriosis. This study also compared the top third green vegetable consumption to the bottom third, revealing a 70% lower chance of endometriosis. Making the same comparison for fresh fruit consumption, the results were 40% lower. These results make the case for less meat, more fruit and veggies very clear. (Parazzini et al., 2004)
A low-fat vegan diet was also assessed for its efficacy in reducing period pain in women without endometriosis; it was found that mean sex-hormone binding globulin concentration rose 19% which would help bind to any excess estrogens floating around the body. This study showed “significant reductions in menstrual pain duration, pain intensity, and duration of premenstrual symptoms related to concentration, behavioural change, and water retention.” Who doesn’t want to experience less PMS?! (Barnard, Scialli, Hurlock, & Bertron, 2000)
It is also worth mentioning that according to The Adventist Health Study, when comparing their vegans to non-vegetarians, vegans had a 29% lower incidence of female cancers. It is worth remembering that the Seventh-Day Adventist meat-eaters consume very little animal foods compared to the general population, and also adhere to other health-promoting lifestyle factors, making this a very significant difference. It is also interesting to note that compared to non-vegetarians, vegetarians actually had a slightly increased incidence of female cancers, probably due to an increased consumption of dairy products, which as we learnt are the most prominent source of estrogen in the diet. (Le & Sabaté, 2014)
For the gentlemen reading this, vegan diets have been successfully used to stop the progression of prostate cancer. (Dean Ornish et al., 2005)
To conclude, hopefully this has given you an insight into just some of the incredible health benefits that await you on a wholefood, plant-based diet. To be continued in Part 2.
ARTICLE @ MILLA BROOKS (PLANT BASED HEALTH COACH)
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