Slows down ageing
You may well have seen some of the 70-year-old beauties following a raw vegan diet and looking decades younger than the number on their birth certificates. If you haven’t, be sure to check out Annette Larkins, Mimi Kirk and Karyn Calabrese for some serious inspiration! But these are just anecdotal examples; is there any science to back these anti-ageing properties up?
Telomeres are the caps seated on the end of our chromosomes, responsible for protecting them against unravelling. Elizabeth Blackburn proposed that we can determine a person’s health and potential lifespan by looking at their telomeres. Initially this was believed to be genetically determined at birth and not subject to change. However, Dr Dean Ornish who was familiar with this work, believed differently and measured the before and after telomere lengths of 30 men with low-risk prostate cancer put on a vegan diet and lifestyle program for three months. In just 90 days, telomere length was increased by 29%. (Ornish, Lin, et al. 2008)
Oxidative stress plays a large role in photo-aging, as well as chronic disease development. Animal products are a potent cause of oxidative stress due to heme iron, Advanced Glycation End Products and heterocyclic amines. Antioxidants, conversely, reduce the damage that oxidative stress can cause in the body. The average plant food contains a staggering 64x more antioxidants than the average animal food.
It’s also interesting to note that Dan Buetner’s work on the Blue Zones, looking at the areas of the world where the most centenarians were based, they had one thing very much in common: a diet rich in plant foods. Of every Blue Zone community, the longest living discovered were the Seventh-Day Adventist vegans of Loma Linda, California.
You’re not going to be immortal on a plant based diet, and I can’t promise you you’ll never get sick. However, your chances of living a long and healthy life, and beaming with vibrancy from the inside are far greater when you’re nourishing your body with these beautiful antioxidant-rich plant foods and leaving the stressful animal products off your plate.
One of the most commonly reported benefits of a plant based diets are the striking difference you will notice to your digestion. Since fibre is only found in plant foods, with the emphasis on animal foods in the diet, most Western people are reaching less than half the minimum amount of fibre they should be consuming. This leads to many problems such as constipation, diverticulosis and may also be one link to the increased propensity of meat eaters to colon cancer. Most vegans will tell you they never experience any trouble going to the bathroom. Despite eating huge amounts of ultra-nutritious beans, perhaps the single largest dietary predictor of longevity (Darmadi-Blackberry et al., 2004), most find any bloating or flatulence they used to experience becomes a thing of the past. Some people briefly encounter this when they first begin eating these new fibre-rich foods, but give it a couple of weeks at most, and your body will thank you tremendously and flatulence will become a distant memory.
When you change to a plant based diet, your gut microflora shifts, (Tuohy, Conterno, Gasperotti, & Viola, 2012) not only promoting the desire and enjoyment of the new nourishing foods you’re introducing but also having amazing benefits on your body’s natural defences, and even mental health. (David et al., 2014);(Forsythe, Sudo, Dinan, Taylor, & Bienenstock, 2010)
In fact, even serious conditions such as Crohn’s Disease have been proven to be massively improved on a plant based diet. One study putting people on a diet of less than one serving of meat a week kept 92% of them in remission after two years, as opposed to the control group who ate whatever they liked and ended up with only 25% remaining in remission. (Chiba et al., 2010) Just imagine the results we would see if we eliminated animal products entirely and added in 100% anti-inflammatory plant foods!
One of the most incredible changes I’ve personally noticed has been a tremendous increase in energy. This benefit has been widely reported amongst athletes, who’ve noticed incredible improvements in stamina and strength since changing to this way of eating. Just check out Ultraman Rich Roll for a bit of corroboration on this point. Now, it is vital to stress that this benefit will only come if you’re eating a well-balanced plant-based diet that is meeting your nutritional and caloric needs, but with a little bit of work in perfecting your diet, the rewards are so well worth it.
Before changing to a plant based diet my energy levels were pretty pitiful, and I would get run down and sick very often. The difference is staggering and, with very rare exceptions, my stamina is now incredible.
So how does the science explain this? Animal protein is extremely taxing on the body to digest and requires a huge amount of energy; whilst we are able to do it, it’s not the optimum food for us when we look at our physiology. When we give our digestive system a break it frees up a ton more energy we can put to much better use.
Another reason behind the commonly reported increased energy levels is that we usually get more nutrition, not less. Most vegans are far more aware than the average person about what they need to be eating, since they are constantly questioned on where they’re getting their (fill in protein, iron, zinc, calcium, or any other nutrient you like) from. When was the last time a meat eater was asked this question? Consequently, we often end up learning a lot more about nutrition and end up with a far better diet than we might do otherwise. Vegetarians and vegans actually get higher fibre, magnesium, calcium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, thiamine, riboflavin and folate, on a diet lower in, and in the case of vegans absent of, cholesterol. (Farmer, Larson, Fulgoni, Rainville, & Liepa, 2011)
As mentioned in Part One, vegans have lower levels of inflammation in their body, as assessed by C-Reactive Protein. This has a knock-on effect in many areas of the body and benefits a huge range of conditions from heart to disease to arthritis to depression.
My own personal experience with this is in the difference I saw to my early-onset arthritis when I first began heading down this path. My arthritic pain at age 23 was around a 9/10, and it was relentless. If you haven’t experienced this yourself it’s not something I would wish on anyone, particularly on anyone at such an early stage of their life. When I first cut meat out of my diet a year or so later I noticed the pain fall to around a 5/10, which was a tremendous improvement. Removing all animal products my pain all but disappeared after a few weeks. It comes and it goes, but I would say the highest it regularly reaches is a 2/10 now.
I’m certainly not the only person who’s experienced this transformation; many clinical trials have confirmed the same thing. One 2015 study, for instance, concluded that a whole-foods, plant-based diet “significantly improves self-assessed measures of functional status among osteoarthritis patients”. (Clinton, O’Brien, Law, Renier, & Wendt, 2015) Futhermore, Dr John McDougall has extensive experience working with Rheumatoid Arthritis patients, and states that those with moderate to severe conditions should typically expect to see dramatic improvement through diet in under a month, with many experiencing a total cease of symptoms. (McDougall, Bruce, Spiller, Westerdahl, & McDougall, 2002)
So how does this work?
As we’ve learnt previously, plant based diets significantly lower inflammation biomarkers within the body. Whilst reasons for this are wide, one compound believed to be related is Neu5Gc, a compound found exclusively in animal products, not made by humans, and incredibly inflammatory within the body. (Varki, 2010)(Varki, n.d.) Likewise, endotoxins, that remain even after the bacteria found in meat is destroyed through cooking, are also believed to trigger inflammation. (Erridge, 2011)
Plant foods, on the other hand, are also full of antioxidants, which help to reduce inflammation and have been proven to reduce the symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis. (Hänninen et al., 2000)
Another commonly noted change is a pervading sense of calm through the body. Now, I’m not going to pretend things don’t stress me out, or that I’m constantly walking around in a stoned-like state- that just wouldn’t be true. However, I’ve noticed a much greater sense of calm and happiness since putting exclusively plant foods into my body.
Explanations for this come from an energetic angle, and from a scientific one. Much as we don’t like to think of it, the last thing animals experience before they die is fear (terror might be a more apt word), and frankly, chances are a lot of suffering up to that point. Many people believe that when we put the energy of dead animals into the body, we are ingesting that fear and suffering and it affects us on a cellular level. If this is too airy-fairy for you, science has its own answers: when meals containing meat are consumed, it actually prompts a release of cortisol. Studies show that after consumption of a meal high in animal protein, cortisol levels in the blood are almost doubled a half hour after. (Slag, Ahmad, Gannon, & Nuttall, 1981) Conversely, after a vegetarian meal stress levels are shown to fall. (Gibson et al., 1999) Also, as mentioned previously, the gut microbiome of vegans has a preferential composition to that of those eating animal products. It’s been proven that the link between the gut and mood is incredibly powerful. (Forsythe et al., 2010)
To conclude, if you look at our physiology, despite what we may have needed to do to survive over the years in certain climates and at certain times of year and areas of lesser abundance, our bodies are designed for plants, not animals.
For a point of reference: We hear repeatedly that we have canine teeth, but in fact our teeth on closer examination are far more similar in appearance to that of a frugivore. We have small mouth openings, blunt canines, large, flattened incisors, flattened molars and big salivary glands. This in contrast to the physiology of an omnivore with large mouths, sharp fangs, short and pointed incisors, blade shaped molars, and small salivary glands. Our jaws move side to side like frugivores or herbivores to chew, rather than those of omnivores or carnivores which move up and down. Our saliva is very different from an omnivore or carnivore; alkaline rather than acidic and our stomach acid is far weaker than their’s. Our digestive tract is very different too: our intestines are 9 times the length of our body, in sharp contrast to a carnivore whose are 1.5-3x the length of their body, or an omnivore at 3x body length. Carnivores’ complete digestive process takes 2 to 4 hours, omnivores’ 6 to 10 hours, and ours’ 12 to 18 hours. Meat was simply not meant to sit there clogging up our digestive tract. These are just some of the obvious points of difference in our physiology. We should also ask ourselves how hungry we feel when we look at a live animal moving around and how strong our desire to pounce on it and start gnawing on it is? As opposed to the salivation we feel when we look at a strawberry. This should be a very strong indication to us to what our natural diet is.
All we are doing when we turn to a plant based diet is no longer filling our unleaded car with diesel. When we stop putting things into our body that it doesn’t know what to do with, we allow it to heal and return to its natural state of homeostasis. In a world as polluted and stressful as ours, wouldn’t we be wise to give our body the best possible chance to thrive? In a world with as many opportunities as ours, don’t we want to be as well, as energetic and live as long as possible to take full advantage of all the amazing possibilities we have? I know I certainly do.
ARTICLE @ MILLA BROOKS (PLANT BASED HEALTH COACH)
Find Milla on instagram @millabrookseatsplants
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