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Plant-Based Diets for Metabolic Syndrome

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 and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling 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.

11 responses to “Plant-Based Diets for Metabolic Syndrome

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  1. 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.

      1. 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.

      1. Hey Myk,
        In this study vegan is defined by what a person does not eat “those that eat no
        meat, fish, dairy products or eggs”. We can assume that for every WFPB SOS free eater there are just as many ( I would guess more) junk food vegans. It is quite possible that someone who eats small amounts of animal products could be eating a much higher percentage of whole foods than a lacto-vegetarian for instance.

  2. Its been 3 years since Dr Gregor posted this thread and its gotten almost no responses in reply to Metabolic Syndrome vs WFPB diet. Sorry for replying to this so late but maybe someone will still find my experience with MS useful. Back in 2012/2013 I conducted a one year experiment on myself (n=1) to see how a WFPB diet (Dr McDougall’s MWL Program) might work for me. Well I think the results were pretty miraculous on the one hand but on the other hand I believe they were just typical results that anyone can expect.

    It took me a year to not just slow or stop or reverse my Metabolic Syndrome but to eliminate it completely. You can read my testimonial story here:

    And you can see exactly how I did it in my personal journal which includes full details of everything I did and ate for every single day of that year:

    I dont think you can get better details than this and lots of interesting data can be gleened for those willing to trudge through it all.

    Feel free to ask any questions you like…

  3. There is no evidence that the standard American diet transformed into a vegan version promotes health, as this diet would include Oreo cookies, french fries and soda which will all kill you just as fast as eating chicken breast will and will probably raise your cholesterol levels more and put you at higher risk for metabolic syndrome. All the evidence available and as presented by Dr. clearly shows that an UNPROCESSED vegan diet will reduce your risk of disease and premature death. Vegan and Unprocessed vegan are ENTIRELY different.

    If you don’t have documented celiac disease (very rare) or tested gluten intolerance (not common), why would you miss out on such a high quality plant protein such as gluten?

    If you eat a truly unprocessed WFPB diet (ONLY whole fruits and veggies including beans and nuts) and you still have high cholesterol, you could have familial hypercholestrolemia which is found in about 1 in 250 people in the general population. Best strategy is to see a doctor and get tested. Also, pay special attention to Dr. G’s daily dozen and other food recommendations. As we say: “if you’re reading food labels then you’re in the wrong aisle at the supermarket”. Everything I eat comes from the produce section although I also eat whole frozen fruits, veggies and beans that come in packages.

  4. Hi,

    Thanks for sharing this information. There are some conferences happening in which medical specialty would be Nutrition and here is one of those conferences the conference details are given below.

    American Osteopathic Society of Rheumatic Disease Organizing Congress of Medical Excellence 2.0: 48th Annual Conference of AOSRD and Integrative Health Alliance from Feb 28 – Mar 01, 2020 at Peppermill Reno, Reno, Nevada, USA.

    For more information please follow the below link:

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