Animal Proteins and Virus Triggering Diseases

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How Animal Proteins May Trigger Autoimmune Disease

Although slaughterhouse workers with the most poultry exposure appear to suffer the greatest excess mortality (see Poultry Exposure Tied to Liver and Pancreatic Cancer), increased risk of death from cancer is also found in other slaughterplant workers. This research goes back decades and shows higher cancer rates in butchers, slaughterhouse workers, meat cutters, and those working in meat processing plants.

The increased risk for meat industry workers in developing and dying from cancer “may be due to animal-to-human viruses or antigenic stimulation through chronic exposure to animal protein.” Cancer-causing virus exposure could also help explain why those who eat meat have higher cancer rates. There’s even a retrovirus associated with cancerous fish tumors, which has been speculated as the cause for increased cancer rates in American seafood workers.

Growing up on a livestock farm is associated with higher rates of blood-borne cancer, lymphomas and leukemia. Worst, though, is growing up on a poultry farm, which is consistent with chicken consumption being most closely tied to these cancers. Eating a quarter of a chicken breast daily is associated with a doubling or tripling of risk for these cancers (see EPIC Findings on Lymphoma). Growing up on a farm raising only plant crops, however, is not associated with blood-borne cancers.

What about growing up with dogs and cats? See Pets & Human Lymphoma and Are Cats or Dogs More Protective for Children’s Health? You still probably shouldn’t eat them, though (see Foodborne Rabies).

Researchers are finally able to start connecting the dots. High levels of antibodies to avian leucosis/sarcoma viruses and reticuloendotheliosis viruses in poultry workers provide evidence of infectious exposure to these cancer-causing poultry viruses. The highest levels were found not in the eviscerators, or gut-pullers, or those that hang the live birds, but among the line workers that just cut up the final product.

In an attempt to narrow down which diseases were associated with which meat, researchers tried separating out those in pig slaughtering and pork processing. “One of the primary sources of concern in using pig organs and tissues as transplants in humans is the fear of introducing zoonotic infections” from animals. We’re concerned about what’s called PERV transmission, the pig-to-human transmission of porcine endogenous retroviruses, raising theoretical concerns about cancer, immunological, and neurological disorders. However, we don’t need to get a pig transplant to be exposed. PERVs are also found in blood, so people exposed to pig blood may be exposed to the virus.

The main finding unique to the pork study (profiled in my video Eating Outside Our Kingdom), which was not found in beef and sheep processing, was the significant excess of deaths “from senile conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.” It reminds me of all those poor pork brain extraction workers. You think your job is bad? How would you like to work at the “head-table”? Well, that doesn’t sound so bad until you learn it’s where, through the “unbridled use of compressed air in the pursuit of maximum yield of soft tissue,” they remove the brains of severed swine heads.

In one study, researchers noted that as the line speeds increased, “the workers reported being unable to place the skulls completely on the brain removal device before triggering the compressed air, causing greater splatter of brain material.” The aerosolized “mist of brain” is suspected to be the cause of dozens of cases of inflammatory neurological disease in workers who started with symptoms as mild as pain, tingling, and difficulty walking, and ended up so bad that doctors had to put them in a coma for six weeks because of unrelenting seizures.

At first researchers thought it was a brain parasite, but now it’s known to be an auto-immune attack triggered by the exposure to aerosolized brain. A similar mechanism has been blamed for meat proteins triggering inflammatory arthritis in people eating meat. By eating fellow animals, we are exposed not only to fellow animal diseases, but to animal tissues that our body may mistake as our own. This may be one advantage to eating a more plant-based diet. By eating outside of the animal kingdom—dipping into the plant or mushroom kingdoms for supper—not only do we not have to worry about getting something like Dutch elm disease, but we can be reassured by the fact that never has an “auto-immune polyradiculoneuropathy” been blamed on a head… of lettuce.

For more on foodborne illnesses one can contract from fellow animals, see, for example:

Probably the strangest example of this whole concept is the Neu5Gc story. A 7-part video series worth checking out:

  1. Cancer as an Autoimmune Disease
  2. Clonal Selection Theory of Immunity
  3. Clonal Deletion Theory of Immunity
  4. The Inflammatory Meat Molecule Neu5Gc
  5. How Tumors Use Meat to Grow: Xeno-Autoantibodies
  6. Nonhuman Molecules Lining Our Arteries
  7. Meat May Exceed Daily Allowance of Irony

-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.

Discuss

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.


32 responses to “How Animal Proteins May Trigger Autoimmune Disease

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  1. Workers in pork facilities also have dreadful exposure. I believe this is in literature as well. Anyone who watches Lynn Margulis’s video/talk at Oxford would come away astonished at the ability of spirochetes to cooperate with each other for survival. The intense controversy around Lyme disease is a related story. If anyone who reads this has not encountered Stephen Harrod Buhner’s work yet, I highly recommend his books and his video with Lynn Margulis. She was visibly moved by his great presentation. He is one of the best speakers I have ever encountered, utterly off the cuff for an entire day at the National College of Natural Medicine, another resource I highly recommend, in particular their Traditional Roots series of workshops/events.




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  2. I battled -you’ll pardon the expression – fang and claw against giving up animal products in my diet for 50 years. Two years ago the wife convinced to go ‘vegan’. At 70, my health has never been better. Wish I’d quit eating little critters 50 years ago.




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    1. Michael: Welcome to the other side! Thanks for posting your story. This kind of thing really helps other people.

      I wish you a long and healthy life!




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      1. Bruxe-
        It was January of 2012 when my wife decided that we should curtail our diets. (As she pointed out, the only time we got beef with any flavor was when we visited my uncle’s farm. My uncle raised everything without any of the additives that are now so common. )

        I also harken back to a pediatrician who said if you have an overpowering craving for a specific food, you’re probably allergic to that food. That was me and cheese.

        I’ve snored since I was a teenager and for the forty years my wife and I have been married. Within five days of eliminating ALL dairy products from my diet, snoring ceased. When then to what I’ve heard called the Genesis 1:29 Diet:

        “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which [is] upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which [is] the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
        Genesis 1:29 KJV

        We went completely to a plant-based diet, and although I still sneak an occasional cup of coffee -with cream – that’s the only animal” in our diet. Our health is such that our doctor has taken an interest in how we eat, as have several members of his staff.

        If you know someone to whom you’d recommend a vegan program, suggest that give up ALL DAIRY PRODUCTS FOR JUST SEVEN DAYS. Most anyone can handle 7 days. See how they feel after that, then see if they want to pursue going “animal-free”.




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        1. Thanks Michael for being civil and positive. I have given up diary. The only diary thing I really love or an addicted too is chocolate chip or mint chip ice cream and I’m sure as hell not allergic to it … wish I was.

          I’ve tried vegetarian for a few months, and even vegan for two months in the last year just to see what it was like.

          I did not have all these startling results that everyone is talking about anecdotally, and I really question all the sweetness and light people talk about.

          Who knows, maybe it’s psychosomatic? If it works for you, that is fine.

          Now I do on my own eat many more vegetables and don’t really eat much meat now. Everyone once in a while … maybe once a month I’ll go to the Mediterranean restaurant have have a meat platter or fish platter. I don’t feel bad when I do it, I don’t feel bad the next day.

          I eat more veggies because I hope it will help me drop some weight. There are a ton of variables in these discussions and a lot of them are opinion and anecdote … so I don’t expect science to figure this stuff out totally for a very long time.




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    2. wow This is amazing ! I’m a Christian and In The book of Acts God tells us that eating any meat is acceptable. However to refrain from eating the blood. However, due to our current practices of administering hormones and antibiotics to animals etc ( unless organic or grass-fed) I felt it would have its deleterious effects. Eating more of a plant-based diet appeals to me anyways. I think I can do this, maybe having a bit of grass fed / organic meat occasionally. My husband , 75, eats way too much meat, was diagnosed with an auto immune disease and has had bowel issues. I tell him constantly to eat more organic vegetables. And he would do better. It may be difficult to change but I think we’re on the way. thx for this article .




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  3. Hello Dr Greger, thanks for all your informative articles. Reading today’s article got me thinking…is it possible that there is also exposure to infection or parasites through the use of natural thyroid medicines which are derived from pork thyroid? I would like to get off this medicine anyway but don’t know where to begin..




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    1. recycleguru: That’s a tough one to answer. The answer *may* be true (I don’t know), but it’s not saying anything of value. In other words: If you follow the great information on this site, you will see that eating fish is not healthy at all. So, if you were to say that eating a certain kind of beef is as healthy as eating fish…

      I highly recommend you watch some of the videos on this site regarding various forms of meat, including beef and fish. It is quite the eye opener.




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  4. The resolution of these studies just seem so bad. There is nothing that says if people are unhealthy because they eat meat, eat too much meat, do not eat any veggies, and all you have to go on is what people say about themselves in most cases. This is very shaky science, and yet the tone of comments and the attitudes of people are very arrogant and belligerent. It’s almost overkill. Again, I always ask, what is the representation of vegetarians and vegans in the oldest people in the world. Every few weeks or months we see in the news the oldest person in the world that we know of and then at some point they die. Does anyone ever do any kind of studies about these people’s lives as to their health practices, nutrition, exercise, environment, etc?




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      1. Hi Veganrunner … Thanks. No, I had not, but I checked Wikipedia just now:

        ” zeroed in on the cluster of villages with the highest longevity, they drew concentric blue circles on the map and began referring to the area inside the circle as the Blue Zone. Dan Buettner identifies longevity hotspots in Okinawa (Japan); Sardinia (Italy); Nicoya (Costa Rica); Icaria(Greece);and among the Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, California, and offers an explanation, based on empirical data and first hand observations, as to why these populations live healthier and longer lives. … ”

        I think Malcolm Gladwell wrote about Sardinia in his book “Outliers” … and it makes one realize there is a non-nutritional side to all of this too … stress and community and one’s relationship to the world. I think that is very important.

        So much of the world now has been driven by war, economic invasion, corporate tyranny and dog-eat-dog competition that the little areas that have managed to avoid that or rise above it may well have a winning formula as well.




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  5. At age 57 10 years ago I cut out meat and dairy. Since then, I’ve reversed osteoporosis, ‘lost’ arthritis in hand and shoulder, ‘lost’ aortic plaque, lowered my blood pressure and feel way younger today. Apart from the diet change I started weight lifting and working out daily. I finally managed an awesome lipid profile when I cut the fat intake to 10% or less of calories. That was hard but after a week or so I didn’t miss the oils at all. My lucky day when I heard about Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. McDougall. I look to the Okinawan centenarians who ate 80-85% plant carbs, very little meat only on special occasions, and have way less heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimers than those eating a standard American diet. Works for me so I quit the debating society. Thank you Dr. Greger for all your work.




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    1. If you did all these things … how do you know what to attribute what to? If it works, I’m glad you are doing it, but discussing it dispassionately is important to the rest of us who may not have shared your experiences.




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      1. Bruxe exercise is recommended regardless of your diet. JoAnn just so happens to be doing both.

        You seem to really be struggling with your diet. If I am not mistaken you are eating very little animal products. Why the conflict? You must know by your decision to reduce animal products that they are not good for you.

        Do you want to be completely WFPB but are struggling to reach that goal?




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        1. Honestly, if I had to characterize my problem with food it is no control. Whatever I eat I just eat too much of it. If I exercise I eat even more. I could handle about everything else other than that, but that seems to be really difficult.

          I have done it about 3 or 4 times before in my life … not sure how, but was able to distract myself long enough to lose the compulsion to eat everything in sight. Then when i get in a groove I am good. Until I (re)lapse and have one coke or apple pie, or whatever, and then it just tastes so incredibly good that I have a real problem stopping it.

          My brain will mess with me because something tastes so good. Then after a while it doesn’t taste so good or special but I am in a new rut or eating that and it’s hard to break.

          Honestly too, it does not really matter what I eat … is my perception. I try to eat vegen/tarian because the calorie density is lower, but I don’t really believe it will extend my life or keep from getting diseases that I think are based on overeating.

          Not wedded to that idea, it just seems to be the most sensible given the data.

          I am pretty much WFPB, but I do eat meat and do not intend to stop. I try to make small helpings … like for fish a few pieces or sushi or sashimi is good.

          I grow a lot of veggies in my backyard and try to eat them as much as possible – still working on that.

          That’s my goal anyway.

          I still eat stuff like popsicles today because it was hot, or an occasional small apple turnover from Whole Foods, or ice cream.

          For me, I think the problem is a mental one of just unable to change my habits and work certain things out of my diet.




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          1. Overeating is so complicated. I understand that you would be more concerned about that especially if you carry extra weight. That becomes a health concern itself.

            I really enjoy Dr Fuhrman and his book Eat For Health. You might want to pick it up if you haven’t already.




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  6. I was a vegan for over 3 years. I really thought I would feel better and did not. I ate whole foods, no fake vegan processed foods and I ended up with a autoimmune disorder.
    I recently switched to a plant based diet with some grass feed meats. Now I can at least make it through the day and exercise some.




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    1. You know, I had a similar experience. I was fine as a vegan except it was hard to find stuff to eat, and hard to find stuff to eat that I liked as much as regular food, but I could do it. I just did not experience a major turnaround like people are talking about. I did feel better, but that was because I lost some weight which is really hard for me.

      For me I like a little meat. I try to avoid just meat, or lots of meat like a burger or steak, but maybe once a month I might or might not eat a big helping of meat.

      The big difference is once I started I became aware that I really need a lot of veggies and that is what I was missing. The fiber really makes me feel fuller and better.

      I really hate to think this, but I just wonder that anyone who has to make their living off any of this stuff will make up stories of how great it is, almost miracle cures … this is older than the Bible, clearly. There are no miracles.




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  7. Check out information about “blue zones” where people live to age 100 in god health and beyond. One of my favorites is the book Healthy at 100 by John Robbins. Their diets are described. Those populations some of them have ben well studied. It is worth exploring and much better than just taking somebody else’s word on a web site.

    We have been eating mostly plants since May of 2006, eight years now. Our health is better than it was. A few month os not enough time to recover form 50+ years of eating the standard American diet.




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  8. Have you heard of the “Paleo protocol” diet for autoimmune diseases, which suggests that in order to heal these you should avoid certain foods like grains, beans, nuts, nightshade… what do you think of that? Thank you.




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    1. Hila:

      Dr. Greger has addressed the paleo diet in a few videos. This should get you to most of them:
      http://nutritionfacts.org/index.php?s=paleo

      Also, he has addressed grains, beans and nuts in detail. And the result is: eat them. Eat them every day for optimal health / diesase prevention, including autoimmune diseases. And speaking of autoimmune diseases, NutritionFacts also has some specific videos on just those topics. If you want to learn more about any of these topics: beans, grains, nuts and autoimmune diseases, enter those terms in the search box at the top of the screen.




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  9. This comment isn’t really related to this article. I just didn’t know where to ask my question.

    My mother has suffered with Lupus for years (discord and systemic)! Her body hasn’t been responding to the drugs she is on and she isn’t doing so well. The doctors are now talking about putting her on Benlysta (Everything you read about it is followed by “can cause death.”)
    My question is: Have you found any research that suggests a plant based diet could help Lupus? She is a stubborn woman and I need leverage to make my case.
    Also, on top of Lupus she has been diagnosed with: Fibromyelgia, Raynauds syndrome, Non alcoholic fatty liver, and IBS.

    Please please please help me!




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    1. Andria: I’m so sorry to hear about your mom.

      Your story is well known here from the perspective of family members desperately wanting to help their sick loved ones, but the loved ones are not so interested in changing their diet.

      I do not have an answer to your direct question, but I have some thoughts that may be helpful. First, you are right that there does not appear to be any information on this site directly related to lupus. However, Lupus is an autoimmune disease and this site has several pages that address other autoimmune diseases, including MS.
      http://nutritionfacts.org/?s=+autoimmune+diseases

      My thought is: At a minimum, it seems highly likely that a whole food plant based (WFPB) diet could not hurt someone with Lupus. (Not being a doctor or expert, I can’t say that for sure. This is just my conclusion based on the information we have about the other diseases that have been addressed on this site.) And since WFPB is unlikely to hurt and has a good a chance of helping, what is the downside to trying?

      And here is my second thought for you: Having multiple health problems just makes everything worse. What if your mom could fix those other problems outside of the Lupus? Wouldn’t that be worth while right there? And this site has plenty of pages devoted to topics like Fibromyelgia and blood circulation, etc. showing how WFPB does help. (Note: I know that NutrtionFacts has videos on Reynauds, or at least blood circulation if that isn’t mentioned directly. But a search several different ways didn’t turn up those videos. So, I’m not sure how to find them for you. But they are here somewhere!)
      http://nutritionfacts.org/?s=fibromyalgia
      http://nutritionfacts.org/?s=fatty%2Bliver
      http://nutritionfacts.org/?s=%22Irritable+Bowel+Syndrome%22

      Good luck with your situation. I hope you are able to help your mom. But I would also suggest that you be kind to yourself and not put too much pressure on yourself. You can’t force people to change. All you can do is provide information, support and be a good example. Best of luck to you.




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  10. Hello ,I’m posting here as I’m hoping someone could help me find an answer. I m diagnosed with hashimoto. Does boosting my immunity by eating or drinking certain food will make my case worse ? Every doctor I ask ,try to ignore the question while my problem is an immunity issue. Thank you




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  11. Speaking of autoimmune, do you know any specific advice relating to raynauds and/or scleroderma? Any specific foods to eat more of? Or nutrition that may be lacking?




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  12. Hi Leah and thanks for your question. Autoimmune diseases are complex and likely the result of both genetics and environmental triggers, of which diet may be one cause. I would encourage you to discuss with your doctor a trial of an elimination diet in order isolate any potential food triggers. A registered dietitian experienced in this could guide you through the process. I would recommend that you follow a whole food plant based diet without heated oils, eat at least 3-5 cups of green leafy vegetables daily, eat raw and cooked cruciferous vegetables daily and add anti-inflammatory spices spices to your foods such as turmeric, oregano, rosemary, ginger and cinnamon. I hope this helps!




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  13. I’m so conflicted. I’ve been vegetarian since I was a girl (11) when I converted with my family. I just turned 31. I’ve been vegan for 2 years and didn’t notice any differences switching from a vegetarian diet. I’ve mostly eaten whole foods, no faux meat and cheeses and only soy on rare occasions. My health and mind have been declining no matter what special diet (low carb, keto, gluten free) or supplements I took. I was just diagnosed with autoimmune disease, Hashimotos. My antibodies are through the roof. Most of the autoimmune protocols limit alot of my usual sources for protein, and I’m so desperate right now I’ll try almost anything. I’ve Been gaining weight like crazy, my brain is in a constant fog, I’m always tired, my joints and muscles ache…and need to try something different. I am over my ideals, but am seeking advice before I make such a big decision to change my diet, but I hear of many people improving drastically after adding animal protein back to their diets and putting Hashimotos in remission.




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  14. Hi, Yasmin. I am sorry you are suffering, and have not found answers. Without knowing more about your diet and your situation, it is difficult to comment specifically. That said, it may be that your selenium and iodine intakes are insufficient to support healthy immune function. Eating 1 Brazil nut a week can provide enough selenium, and sprinkling dulse flakes on food can help with iodine. Make sure you are getting enough zinc-rich foods, such as sesame seeds, and consider taking a daily 2000 IU vitamin D supplement, if you do not already.
    Autoimmune diseases are about inflammation, and so anti-inflammatory diets are important here. Gluten can play a role for some people, in my experience. It is also important to get anti-inflammatory fats, such as those found in ground flaxseed and/or a good, algae-derived DHA/EPA supplement, and avoid inflammatory ones. Avoid processed foods, which often are made with inflammatory oils. Adding meat to your diet is likely to make it more inflammatory, not less. Focus on colorful fruits and vegetables, especially dark leafy greens and berries. While I know it is difficult to get up and move with joint and muscle pain, exercise is an important part of recovery from autoimmune disease. Move as much as you can, and try to increase that over time. Adaptogenic herbs, such as holy basil, also known as tulsi, and green tea may be useful to you. I hope that helps!




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