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Plant-Based Diets for Metabolic Syndrome

June 4, 2013 by Michael Greger M.D. in News with 4 Comments

Metabolic syndrome, also known as syndrome X, is a medical disorder characterized by the so-called “deadly quartet”: abdominal obesity, high fasting blood sugars, high triglycerides, and high blood pressure. Metabolic syndrome can set people up for liver disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. It’s been estimated to afflict about a quarter of the American population. How do we stop it and how can we prevent it?

Well, if it has to do with obesity, the level of fat in the blood, and high blood pressure then that would seem like a job for plant-based nutrition. In my 2012-2013 year-in-review presentation Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death I address the role diet may play in preventing, arresting, and reversing our top 15 killers, including many related conditions. We didn’t have data on metabolic syndrome specifically, though, until now.

The results can be seen in my 2-min. video Metabolic Syndrome and Plant-Based Diets. Even after controlling for lifestyle factors such as smoking and exercise, risk was highest in those eating non-vegetarian, intermediate for those eating semi-vegetarian, and lowest in those eating vegetarian, cutting the odds of having metabolic syndrome by more than half.

We see that same step-wise progression towards lower disease risk the more plant-based one’s diet gets with high blood pressurecataractsdiabetes, and obesity.

To maximize benefits it appears we have to move towards maximizing the proportion of plants in our diet, but it’s not all or nothing. Just adding more healthy plant foods to crowd out some of the animal and junk foods in the diet may offer significant protection. For example, consumption of three portions of whole grains a day appears as powerful as high blood pressure medications in alleviating hypertension. An analysis of a bunch of randomized drug trials suggests that taking blood pressure lowering drugs may reduce the risk of getting a heart attack by 15% and the risk of getting a stroke by about 25%, the same benefits attributed to three daily servings of whole grains. Some grains appear to be more protective than others, though. Watch my 2-min. video Whole Grains May Work As Well As Drugs to find out which may work better.

More on refined versus whole grains can be found in Great Grain Robbery and Is White Bread Good For You? Whole grains may in fact extend our lifespan (What Women Should Eat to Live Longer), but what about the phytates in whole grains? See New Mineral Absorption Enhancers Found. And see Antioxidants in a Pinch for how to make your morning oatmeal even healthier.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

Image credit: Tunstall Telehealthcare / Flickr

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Dr. Michael Greger

About Michael Greger M.D.

Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial. Currently Dr. Greger proudly serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States.

View all videos by Michael Greger M.D.

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  • healtheiron

    Plant-based diets provide an excellent defense against the diseases triggered by metabolic syndrome primarily since these healthy diets provide the essential antioxidants lacking in a typical western diet. The healthiest plant-based diets contain little or no meat. And when such diets contain limited meat (particularly red or processed meat), less potentially harmful heme iron is absorbed. When too much iron builds up in anyone having impaired antioxidant defenses (i.e., in those not eating enough plant-based foods), excessive oxidative stress will occur which can accelerate cell, tissue and DNA damage. Excessive oxidative stress can initiate the development of the disease associated with metabolic syndrome. Most affected individuals harbor significant central obesity, which provides abundant lipids for harmful lipid peroxidation and more severe adverse consequences. Those who already have two or more risk factors for metabolic syndrome will generally reduce their risk by increasing their intake of nutrient-dense, plant-based foods, and if their iron stores are elevated,
    reducing their intake of meat and/or by donating blood.

    • Donna Hubbard

      Since red meat is not good and fish is toxic and chicken has bacteria, is it okay to eat canned chicken?

      • Steve Wolf

        Donna, all meat naturally contains chemicals that damage the arterial endothelial cells, resulting in coronary disease. I wish it were otherwise, as the smell of broiling meat still makes me salivate, but unfortunately there’s no eating meat of any kind if you want to protect your heart. The issues about fish toxins and chicken bacteria are secondary. Chicken and fish contribute equally with red meat to coronary disease because they are meat, not because of the secondary problems with them.

  • Donna Hubbard

    Is canned chicken safe to eat?

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