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Reversal of Chronic Disease Risk Even Late in Life

A hundred years ago, the New York Times reported on a rather sophisticated study for the time: 4,600 cases of cancer appearing over a seven year period, suggesting that the increased consumption of animal foods was to blame. A century later, the latest review on the subjects concluded that mortality from all causes put together, ischemic heart disease, circulatory, and cerebrovascular diseases was significantly lower in those eating meat-free diets, in addition to less cancer and diabetes. 

I’m surprised they found such significant results given that people in these studies typically didn’t stop eating meat until late in life. For example, in the largest study done up until recently, up to a third of subjects ate vegetarian for less than five years, yet they still ended up with lower rates of heart disease whether they were under 60 or over 60, normal weight or overweight, used to smoke or never smoked; those that had stopped eating meat had lower risk, suggesting that decades of higher risk dietary behavior could be reversed within just years of eating healthier.

If you look at countries that switched from eating traditional, more plant-based diets to more Westernized diets, it may take 20 years for cancer rates to shoot up. It takes decades for most tumors to grow. For example, if you look at Asia, their dietary shift was accompanied by a remarkable increase in mortality rates of breast, colon, and prostate cancers. The same thing can be shown with migration studies. Men moving from rural China to the U.S. experience a dramatic increase in cancer risk, but tumors take time to grow.

So it’s remarkable to me that after most of a lifetime eating the standard Western diet, one can turn it around and reverse chronic disease risk with a healthier diet, even late in the game… as discussed in my video, Never Too Late to Start Eating Healthier.

So, “should we all start eating vegetarian?” asked an editorial that accompanied the results from the largest study ever published on Americans eating plant-based diets, which found vegetarian diets to be associated with lower all-cause mortality, meaning those who started eating vegetarian live, on average, longer lives. This analysis included so-called semi-vegetarians, who ate meat at least once a month (but no more than once a week), so it’s not yet clear how harmful eating meat a few times a month is. What we can all agree on, though, is that we should limit our intake of junk food and animal fat, and eat more fruits and vegetables. Most authorities will also agree that diets should include whole grains, beans, and nuts. Instead of fighting over whose diet is the best, it’s time to acknowledge these common features of diets associated with less disease, and instead focus our attention on helping patients avoid the intense commercial pressures to eat otherwise.

How amazing the human body is if we just treat it right! For more on lifestyle medicine, see: 

So please don’t allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good. Any movement we can make towards improving our diet can help. Though the earlier the better: See Heart Disease Starts in Childhood and Back in Circulation: Sciatica and Cholesterol.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations—2013: Uprooting the Leading Causes of DeathMore Than an Apple a Day2014: From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food, 2015: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet, and my latest, 2016: How Not To Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers.


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.

51 responses to “Reversal of Chronic Disease Risk Even Late in Life

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  1. I’m one of those who started late in life (around 70) – out of ignorance, that’s when I “discovered” Dr. G’s work. Wish it had been earlier – maybe I would have avoided prostate surgery.

    I’m now 73 and hopefully I’m healthier. I have dropped 20 lbs. with no effort at all – it just happened. A good sign.

    1. 16 years ago, when I was a meat eating meat head, I thought I enjoyed food. After adopting a WFPB diet, I realize that there were only two foods I really liked, fat and refined sugar, for the most part. Now I can’t think of a whole plant food that I don’t adore magnitudes more. And I’m 80 pounds lighter and in better shape than I was at age 16.

  2. vitamin B6 and folic acid, in their methylated forms in supplements, have been suggested to me to include while taking my vitamin B12 due to problems i have with methylation. Cyanocobalamin form of B12 does nothing for me, and only time i benefit from B12 is when it is in animal food, and i want to go vegan. SO…………my question, is supplemental B6 and folic acid in these special forms safe to take? I have read that folic acid can be issue, and excess B6 causes nerve damage.

    Thanks, anyone.

    1. Hi, Ellie. I am a volunteer here at NF. I am not sure what you mean when you say that you only benefit from B12 when it is in animal food. How do you know this? Some sources indicate that methylcobalamin may be more effective than cyanocobalamin. Here is what Dr. Greger has to say about vitamin B12. and folic acid . With regard to vitamin B6 toxicity, as long as you are not taking more than the Tolerable Upper Intake of 100 mg/d, it is safe to take. The damage you mention has been noted at doses of 200 mg/d or more. I hope this helps!

    2. Both B6 and folate are widely distributed in plant foods. Folate, the natural form of the synthetic product, folic acid, is named for the foliage, or leafy greens it was first found in. It’s also abundantly found in beans, peas and lentils. A good amount of B6 is also found in abundance in many vegetables, in legumes and in some fruits and sunflower seeds.Normally there is no reason to supplement with either. You can also try Methylcolbalamin instead of the cheap form of B12. Going vegan has resulted in a wonderful improvement in my health. I hope you’ll be able to make the transition also. The best of luck to you, Ellie.

      1. I was surprised to find that some green leafy vegetables have very little folate. Spinach has a lot, swiss chard doesn’t. Lentils and beans often help fill my requirements, as do asparagus and broccoli.

          1. I really wish pizza were a good source of folate… though some pizza crusts might be fortified with folic acid and some brands of nutritional yeast are fortified with folic acid (you can substitute nutritional yeast for cheese).

    3. If you take methylcobalamin (MECbl), it’s important to also supplement with adenosylcobalamin (AdCbl). This is because these are the two active forms of Vitamin B12 (cyancobalamin). Both MeCbl and AdCbl are essential and have distinct metabolic fates and functions. MeCbl is primarily involved along with folate in creating new blood cells, whereas deficiency of AdCbl disturbs the carbohydrate, fat and amino-acid metabolism, and therefore interferes with the formation of myelin.

      As a side note, methyl B12 has been used to treat B12 deficiency, Alzheimer’s disease syndromes, protects the nerves and promotes nerve conduction in diabetic neuropathy. It has been shown to improve visual function [17], rheumatoid arthritis [18], Bell’s palsy, and sleep-wake rhythm disorder [19, 20].

      1. Julie, thanks for the link to the PubMed article on AdCbl–I’ve never heard of it before today! I’ve taken methylcobalamin for the past few years, but my homocysteine level has continued to creep up despite a very clean WFPB, SOS-free diet, plenty of exercise and decent sleep. I tested negative for the MTHFR mutation, don’t drink coffee, and have no other known risk factors except age (early 50s). Would you say that it’s better to take cyanocobalamin because both components are present? If one takes AdCbl separately, do you have any info on dosing? Thank you for shedding light on AdCbl!

      2. Vitamin B12 is called cobalamin (not cyanocobalamin). Cyanocobalamin is synthetic (man made). According with wikipedia., methylcobalamin is partially converted to adenosylcobalamin.

        “Methylcobalamin that is ingested is not used directly as a cofactor, but
        is first converted by MMACHC into cob(II)alamin. Cob(II)alamin is then
        later converted into the other 2 forms, adenosylcobalamin and
        methylcobalamin for use as cofactors. That is, methylcobalamin is first
        dealkylated and then regenerated. [3] [4] [5]

        One author says it is important to treat vitamin B12 deficiency with hydroxocobalamin or cyanocobalamin or a combination of adenosylcobalamin and methylcobalamin, and not methylcobalamin alone.[6]”

        1. So, there’s a conflict between source [6] – which is the one Julie cited – and the others. Wonder who is right. Vegans, without supplementation, will become deficient, so the issue seems particularly relevant to them.

  3. Dr. Greger has done wonderful contribution to humanity by making people aware of nature’s potential role in health with a scientific explanation. But I wonder why he looks so weak ! There is always something you can add to knowledge supported by evidence based info.

    1. VIJAY MANOCHA: Dr. Greger walks 17 miles a day and looks strong and healthy to me. Interesting that you see something completely different than I see.

        1. James Carpenter: I agree, 17 miles *is* a lot. Dr. Greger is famous for his walking/treadmill desk. He even gives interviews while walking on his treadmill. While I could be miss-remembering, I thought I remember Dr. Greger saying that he is up to 17 miles a day on that treadmill.

          Original reports was around 14 miles, I think. But then he got better and faster at walking while he worked.

          Wish I could do a treadmill desk! I do have a standing desk, though, and it is a great help.

          1. hmm, Vijay may have picked up on something…the electric treadmill! …’an increase in blood sugar when walking on a treadmill.Treadmills, you see, are electrical devices that emit electrical pollution. But interestingly, even the physical exertion of walking on the treadmill did not make up for the blood sugar spiking effect of the EMFs emitted by the treadmills. Despite the exercise, in other words, type-3 diabetics experienced significant spikes in blood sugar when walking on the treadmill…'[True, Dr G’s health is great, but those sneaky EMFs are still bombarding every Gregerian cell.]
            ‘Dirty electricity is bad for everyone’
            As well,the same angle & position of the flat treadmill, for hours&hours, results in some muscles&tendons being ‘locked’, while the opposing ones are lax, resulting in gait imbalance& musculoskeletal/nervous system misalignment/impingement… unless of course, Dr G gets regular osteopathic manipulation or structural integration –just $.02 worth from an old mechanic

    2. When I went WFPB, I lost a lot of extra useless pounds. My friends who hadn’t seen me in a while said “oh, you look so skinny!” It’s all relative … I’m stronger now than ever … all muscle :-)

    3. I got to hear and see Dr. Greger in person recently. He radiates energy! I was exhausted and in awe just by hearing his presentation and the knowledge of the harrowing schedule he maintains. Weak is certainly not the term that would occur to me. I’m hopeful that like some of the older people who haven’t followed a whole food plant based diet for most of their lives, I’ll develop some small portion of that strength.

  4. I am 74 and enjoy overall excellent health with moderate exercise and focus on healthy eating. I do eat meat in limited quantities, mostly our of convenience or lack of alternatives, here in Thailand. I enjoy Dr Greger and his videos and blogs but also read others like Mercola, McDonald etc. Am I the only one confused by suggestion of supplements and what can be eaten and what can’t? I am a simple guy trying to do the right thing with no medical background but getting down into the weeds can be very confusing. I believe a wide range of information is important in order to get the best info but it can be very confusing at times.

  5. I’m 59 and have been eating a WFPB diet for 2+ years. Lost 85 pounds and feel great. Thank you Dr. Greger and the crew at I’m following a combination of Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen, the Adventist Diet (Blue Zones) and the Hippocrates Heath Institute diet with lots of sprouts and juices. Still undecided on the “truth” about juicing. I agree with Dr. Greger’s thumbs down on fruit juices, but what about “green” juices made of mixes of things like kale, cucumber, celery, sprouts, etc.? By removing the fiber, the argument is you give your digestive system a rest while easily absorbing the nutrients. Brenda Davis RD seems to support this notion. Can you do a video on this topic?

    1. Dr G has already done a video on green smoothies

      And one on why juicing is about more than just removing the fibre. Is this helpful?

      In any case.I am not sure that there is any evidence that the digestive system needs or benefits from “a rest”. Is there anything besides some (perhaps debatable) reasoning to justify this claim?

      As a personal comment, I tend to run a mile when somebody wants to tell me “the truth” about anything. Or reveal “the secret” of this, that or the other. These claims are widely used marketing techniques. I am not saying that everybody who makes these claims is necessarily a charlatan or crank but most charlatans and cranks make such claims.

      Neither science nor scientists claim to know “the truth”. Science is about accurate and reliable information. Personally, I would choose evidence over someone’s truth or secret every day

      1. Hi – re: debatable evidence that the digestive system needs a rest. . .let me suggest you look into the work of Dr. Valter Longo, Ph.d., U of California – Davis. He is the Director of the Longevity Institute in the Dept of Gerontology. He has performed decades worth of research on the mechanisms and benefits of fasting in yeast, mice, and now humans. There is a huge amount of information on this subject from him much of which you can find on YouTube where he talks about his research. What he has found is that fasting does a whole lot for the entire body. Even 12 hrs in a day – shrinking the eating window to 8-12 hrs/day – is helpful for the body. Additionally he has found that 4-5 days of fasting does even more. His research has found that when fasting the entire body goes into what he describes (for simplicity) a ‘hibernating type state”. He has further found that when the body is this hibernating state it also cleans out lots of cellular debris. Additionally, the body also destroys its own immune cells, . the older T-cells of the immune system. What he has further shown is that when re-feeding begins the body will grow itself new immune cells and jump-start the immune system. He has performed clinical trials with oncologist to show that this type of fasting is helpful and supportive to cancer patients as the chemo is administered during the fasting period when the body’s own cells are hibernating. The cancer cells continue to gobble anything in site which includes the chemo. While in hibernation the body is protected while the chemo does its job. Then, when refeeding begins, the body jumpstarts its immune cells further acting on the cancer. Oncologists are just now learning about this approach and are allowing cancer patients to use it.
        Dr. Longo is a plant-based eater who does add fish to his diet and fasts about twice per year for his own health and longevity. He has also discovered that one does not need to water fast for the 3-4 days for health or cancer support but can eat a small amount of food, just enough to keep the body in the fasted state but make it easier to perform in real life. The caloric count is approx. 1,000 calories the first day with roughly 700 the rest of the days and is made up of plant-items with certain macro-nutrient content (fats, carbs, proteins). Very low protein I might add.
        The USDA is supportive of this work allowing clinical trials. He is doing clinical trials all over the world.
        I encourage you and everyone on this site to look into Dr. Long’s work if they are interested.
        Here is a Youtube (11 mins) on his research from 2015:

        Here are some publications he has authored.
        Fasting vs dietary restriction in cellular protection and cancer treatment: from model organisms to patients[20]
        Fasting Cycles Retard Growth of Tumors and Sensitize a Range of Cancer Cell Types to Chemotherapy[21]
        Fasting and cancer treatment in humans: A case series report[22]
        Prolonged Fasting Reduces IGF-1/PKA to Promote Hematopoietic-Stem-Cell-Based Regeneration and Reverse Immunosuppression[23]
        Low Protein Intake Is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population[24]

        Dr. Longo has labs in Italy as well as at UC-Davis.

        1. Thanks GE. I agree that Longo’s work is very interesting and important. Thank you also for the links.

          However, Karl was not talking about fasting when he was writing about giving the digestive system a rest. His comment was “By removing the fiber, the argument is you give your digestive system a rest while easily absorbing the nutrients.” In other words, you are taking in the same or perhaps even more calories only without fibre.

  6. A woman who was vegetarian was diagnosed with a disease that doctors say cannot be cured. She added meat to her veggies and is living free of symptoms now, doing very well.

      1. She quit eating wheat and dairy and all she eats now are fruits, vegetables and meat/fish. Her name is Dr. Terry Wahls, diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. She was in a very bad shape, practically sitting in a recliner that was suspended in air because of pain. She now bikes. Look her up. Some other female doctors also tried the diet and are doing good too. Trust me, meat is not your enemy. When my daughter started being sick when she became teenager I also started adding more meat to her diet, more vegetables and fruits and whatever it was its gone.

        1. Terry Wahls seems to be making a lot of money from this story of hers. She certainly has a lot of things for sale in her online shop.

          I prefer solid evidence to the claims and anecdotes of people selling books and related products. Especially when you consider the huge range of scientific evidence documenting harmful effects from meat consumption, why would any rational person choose to ignore hard evidence in favour of the personal testimony of yet another medical entrepeneur?

  7. I am curious. I have been a raw vegan for over a decade. And I have been a subscriber for a few months now. I have seen that Dr. Greger recommends Vitamin D supplements and EPA/DHA supplements. Considering he is a vegan, what supplements does he recommend that are pure vegan.
    Thank you,
    Dr. Ellen

  8. Last week a friend proposed to me a nutritional supplement made from deer placenta stem cells by the name of purtier. I have not found any research online on this particular supplement, and seeing as it’s damn expensive, I would like to ask your expert opinion on this particular supplement before opening my purse. Is it healthy to take? Are there any risks? is it just quackery?

      1. hi thea, thanks for your prompt response. I showed it to my friend and their response was that the supplements were the stem cells which were extracted and grown and not the actual “meat tissues”, hence there was no risk of heavy metal toxins etc.

        I was trying to find any research articles on deer stem cells and this is what I found so far…

        I know that Chinese traditional medicine has always highly regarded deer antler blood to be a highly effective natural medicine, so it goes to follow that deer placenta stem cells would be a healthy supplement to take too.

        my hesitation lies in the fact that not only is is super expensive, but also that I haven’t found (or at least do not know where to find any literature on) any medical research on the efficacy of ingestation of enteric coated bioactive stem cells. hence the plea for gregor’s expert analysis on this particular topic….

        1. Hi – my understanding of stem cells is that they need to be injected as eating stem cells would not survive the stomach/intestinal processes of digestion. Stem cells, are, after all, just a cell subject to the same digestion of any cell that one eats. I would ask the person selling you these to provide scientific studies – research – that proves they survive digestion.
          My own opinion, also, is that using stem cells from a completely unrelated species – deer rather than human – is asking for trouble. Think about it – people who harbor foreign tissues (like liver, kidney transplants, etc.) for example have to take anti-rejection drugs the rest of their lives. Why would your body take in stem cells from a deer?
          Sounds dubious beyond belief to me. – just my opinion.

          1. the pills themself are enteric-coated, meaning that the stem cells bypass the diestive process in the stomach and get absorbed in the intestines.


            yes, the whole deer/human thing is puzzling to me. hence the query on medical research/opinion to dr greger.

            in regards to why our bodies would take in stem cells from a deer… aren’t stem cells supposed to be adaptive?

    1. On stem cells?

      “In the meantime, here are five ways you can increase your body’s production of stem cells right now…

      Practice Tai Chi. This ancient Chinese martial art has been practiced for over 3,000 years. But only recently have scientists realized that this self-paced system of slow, gentle stretching can increase your number of stem cells in your body as you get older.2 These stem cells, called CD34 cells, are produced deep in your bone marrow.

      Eat blue-green algae. Blue-green algae is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. There are two kinds, spirulina and a variety known as AFA. Researchers at the University of South Florida found that the AFA variety can greatly increase the production of human stem cells in bone marrow.3 AFA is available as a supplement or a powder and can be found online. I recommend 800 mg a day.

      Eat more seaweed. Seaweed contains an important molecule called fucoidan. This compound increases the release of adult stem cells into the bloodstream.4 It also helps mobilize those stem cells so they can travel to the parts of the body that need repair and renewal. Fucoidan is found primarily in brown seaweed and makes a delicious salad. You can also purchase supplements online. I suggest 400 mg a day.

      Add carnosine. I recommend getting 1,000 mg of carnosine every day. Grass-fed, pasture-raised meat is the best way to get carnosine from food. A typical 7-ounce serving of beef has about 250 mg of carnosine. If you can’t get enough by eating red meat, I recommend you supplement with natural L-carnosine. Take 500 mg twice a day.

      Fast for two days every six months. Periodic calorie restriction — no food for two days every six months — kills older, damaged stem cells and generates new ones.5 This is a technique I’ve used for years to jumpstart the healing and rejuvenation process.

      To Your Good Health,

      Al Sears, MD”

  9. I stumbled onto a plant based diet after being diagnosed with cancer in my 50s. I wanted to do something while waiting for the second opinion and the inevitable surgery, so I just stopped eating meat. I intended to do that up until the surgery, but within a week I noticed that my 15 years of back arthritis (AS) had disappeared. Within two weeks I noticed that I had not had any caffeine nor had I wanted any. On top of that I realized that I had not had a “low energy” moment for weeks where I would have been motivated to get a cup of coffee. I realized through all this that what I eat (it is not just a calorie count) made a huge difference and did so quickly (and after researching chose to monitor my cancer — and four years later was told it was no longer an issue). I also want to add that some years earlier, after 20 years of lower back pain, that after sleeping on the floor for a week my back pain disappeared and has been gone ever since The bottom line seems to be that the body can respond very quickly, and positively, to an appropriate change. I am now fully convinced that “getting old” is as much about our habits as it is about our nature and so I’m planning to live to be an active fully functional centurion (100+ years old) through diet (wfpb) and exercise (running, strength training, meditation, etc.) as well as keeping up on any new insights that come out of people like Dr Greger, Dr Campbell, etc.

    1. Bruce,

      Right on…..glad to hear of your very postitive changes. What would you have said to your doc had he/she told you to change your diet ?….this is a rhetorical question, just one that should have been offered as part of your health care. Dr. Alan Kadish Moderator for Dr. Greger

      1. Alan,

        I was open to the idea (as I quit eating meat based upon my own general knowledge), but what made the difference was:

        When the Mayo clinic years earlier diagnosed my participation in our family legacy of ankylosis spondylitis (the arthritis I mentioned) they told me that I had the marker, a reported family history of it, the reported pain, not yet any spinal damage, that it would only get worse with age, and that I could eventually get prescription painkillers when I needed them. If they had only added “and some people have good results by changing to a plant-based diet” then it would have been perfect. I had gone to the Mayo Clinic because I thought I would get the best advice there and was open to all suggestions — but it didn’t happen. It was the disappearing arthritis, within a week, that convinced me that food had an impact that I needed to understand.

  10. It is in reversing possible diseases later in life where certain supplements come into play. As an example…glucosamine.

    The bottom line is that glucosamine supplementation lowers human mortality

    Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate have already been shown in a large epidemiological study to lower overall mortality and reduce cancer risks – a 5-year study of 77,719 elderly residents of Washington State. We found several publications based on different analyses of data based on this population.


    For most of the supplements we examined, there was no association with total mortality. Use of glucosamine and use of chondroitin were each associated with decreased mortality.”

    Both of these papers were done on the same group of 77,719 people. We note that this is as great an effect as combining vegan diet and fish consumption! We find this quite surprising. Glucosamine appears to have a comparable or greater effect on mortality reduction and lifespan extension than Metformin, Rapamycin, 2DG, Veganism, and Resveratrol in nematodes and rodents.

    RESULTS: Persons reporting use of glucosamine + chondroitin on 4+ days/week for 3+ years had a non-statistically significant 45 % lower Colorectal Cancer risk than non-users

    Epidemiological evidence exists that glucosamine and chondroitin supplementation reduces inflammatory biomarkers.

    Glucosamine supplementation may be protective against lung cancer.

  11. Dear Dr.Greger,
    I am using the WFPB diet for three years now but still suffering from Neuropathy and Arthritis (in dutch arthrose). Is it possible to give advise how to treat these diseases ?

    1. Hi Jelle, I am a volunteer for Dr. Greger. I am glad that you have been consuming a whole food, plant-based diet, but I am sorry to hear about your ailments. My suggestion would be to be to take your whole food plant-based diet to the next level. Most of us have a few things that we eat that our bodies could benefit from keeping out of the diet. Several common examples are added oils in products or for cooking, processed gains, added sugars, or added salt. Trying to omit oils, added salts, and added sugars entirely from the diet can be a way to take your diet to the next level, if you cannot already. Attempt to buy only whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables, but also 100% whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

    2. Jella,

      Have you had your physician check your (MMA) Methylmalonic Acid levels ?( This is the sensitive test for B-12 levels in tissue and also have you done some deeper testing for both your methylation pathways and genetics ? You might want to try to decreased or eliminated the nightshade veggies…..seems old fashion but sometimes it’s another input causing of the arthritis symptoms. Because neuropathy has multiple causes including issues with exposures, vascular considerations and a host of other potentials, please see a physician .

      Dr. Alan Kadish Moderator for Dr. Greger

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