Arteries of Vegans vs. Runners

Arteries of Vegans vs. Runners
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The carotid arteries of those eating plant-based diets appear healthier than even those just as slim (long-distance endurance athletes who’ve run an average of 50,000 miles).

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

We know from the work of Doctors Ornish and Esselstyn that switching to a plant-based diet can reverse heart disease, open up arteries—in some cases, without drugs, without surgery. But, because our first symptom of heart disease may be our last—sudden cardiac death—it’s best not to wait until atherosclerosis progresses that far.

To predict the risk of dying from a heart attack, sure, we can measure risk factors, such as cholesterol levels and blood pressure. But, wouldn’t it be nice to actually see what’s going on inside our arteries, before it’s too late? Well, our imaging technologies are so good now that we can. But, the required dose of radiation delivered to the chest is so high that a young woman getting just a single scan, for example, may increase her lifetime risk of breast cancer and lung cancer by between around 1 and 4%.

Our carotid arteries, though, which connect our heart to our brain, come close enough to the surface in our necks that we can visualize the arterial wall using harmless sound waves with ultrasound. Okay, so, how do the arteries of those eating plant-based diets compare to those eating the Standard American Diet? Researchers found some vegans, and found out.

Here’s the Standard American Diet group. This is the thickness of the inner wall of their carotid arteries, where the atherosclerotic plaque builds up—considered a predictor of “all-cause and cardiovascular mortality.” That same inner layer was significantly slimmer in vegans—but, so were the vegans themselves! Those eating the Standard American Diet were, on average, overweight, with a BMI over 26, while the vegans were a trim 21—that’s 36 pounds lighter, on average.

So, maybe the only reason those eating meat, eggs, and dairy had thickened arterial walls was because they were themselves overweight; maybe, the diet per se had nothing to do with it directly. To solve the riddle, one would have to find a group still eating the Standard American Diet, but as slim as a vegan.

To find a group that fit and trim in our society, they had to use long-distance endurance athletes—who ate the same crappy American diet, but ran an average of 48 miles per week for 21 years. You run almost two marathons a week for twenty years, you can be as slim as a vegan—no matter what you eat. So, where do they fall on the graph? Both the vegans and the conventional diet group were sedentary—less than an hour of exercise a week.

The endurance runners were here. So, it appears if you run an average of about a thousand miles a year, you can rival some couch potato vegans. Doesn’t mean you can’t do both, though, but it may be easier to just eat plants.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to CoolmikeolNukamariLisaclarkeMarcos Vasconcelos Photographymassdistraction, and Rob Swatski via flickr; Christina Lohmeyer und Sasa Ilic (SUNBEAM VISION OHG) via Wikimedia; and bb4life_911 via Photobucket. Thanks to Ellen Reid for her image-finding expertise, and Jeff Thomas for his Keynote help.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

We know from the work of Doctors Ornish and Esselstyn that switching to a plant-based diet can reverse heart disease, open up arteries—in some cases, without drugs, without surgery. But, because our first symptom of heart disease may be our last—sudden cardiac death—it’s best not to wait until atherosclerosis progresses that far.

To predict the risk of dying from a heart attack, sure, we can measure risk factors, such as cholesterol levels and blood pressure. But, wouldn’t it be nice to actually see what’s going on inside our arteries, before it’s too late? Well, our imaging technologies are so good now that we can. But, the required dose of radiation delivered to the chest is so high that a young woman getting just a single scan, for example, may increase her lifetime risk of breast cancer and lung cancer by between around 1 and 4%.

Our carotid arteries, though, which connect our heart to our brain, come close enough to the surface in our necks that we can visualize the arterial wall using harmless sound waves with ultrasound. Okay, so, how do the arteries of those eating plant-based diets compare to those eating the Standard American Diet? Researchers found some vegans, and found out.

Here’s the Standard American Diet group. This is the thickness of the inner wall of their carotid arteries, where the atherosclerotic plaque builds up—considered a predictor of “all-cause and cardiovascular mortality.” That same inner layer was significantly slimmer in vegans—but, so were the vegans themselves! Those eating the Standard American Diet were, on average, overweight, with a BMI over 26, while the vegans were a trim 21—that’s 36 pounds lighter, on average.

So, maybe the only reason those eating meat, eggs, and dairy had thickened arterial walls was because they were themselves overweight; maybe, the diet per se had nothing to do with it directly. To solve the riddle, one would have to find a group still eating the Standard American Diet, but as slim as a vegan.

To find a group that fit and trim in our society, they had to use long-distance endurance athletes—who ate the same crappy American diet, but ran an average of 48 miles per week for 21 years. You run almost two marathons a week for twenty years, you can be as slim as a vegan—no matter what you eat. So, where do they fall on the graph? Both the vegans and the conventional diet group were sedentary—less than an hour of exercise a week.

The endurance runners were here. So, it appears if you run an average of about a thousand miles a year, you can rival some couch potato vegans. Doesn’t mean you can’t do both, though, but it may be easier to just eat plants.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to CoolmikeolNukamariLisaclarkeMarcos Vasconcelos Photographymassdistraction, and Rob Swatski via flickr; Christina Lohmeyer und Sasa Ilic (SUNBEAM VISION OHG) via Wikimedia; and bb4life_911 via Photobucket. Thanks to Ellen Reid for her image-finding expertise, and Jeff Thomas for his Keynote help.

Nota del Doctor

Did I say heart disease reversal? If you didn’t know there was a way to treat heart disease without getting your chest cracked open, then my blog post Heart disease: there is a cure is a good place to start.

For more on the radiation risks associated with diagnostic procedures, see Cancer Risk from CT Scan Radiation and Do Dental X-Rays Cause Brain Tumors?

Carotid artery wall thickness is what was measured in the study I profiled in Eggs vs. Cigarettes in Atherosclerosis.

Another comparison between athletes and plant-eaters can be found in Is It the Diet, the Exercise, or Both? It compares cancer-fighting abilities with a similar result. So you know what test they’re talking about, see my “prequel” video: Ex Vivo Cancer Proliferation Bioassay. For weight loss, diet also provides more control: Diet vs. Exercise for Weight Loss.

None of this is to disparage exercise, which is critical for a variety of important reasons: immunity (see Preserving Immune Function in Athletes with Nutritional Yeast), breast health (see Exercise & Breast Cancer), and brain protection (see Reversing Cognitive Decline). So, diet and exercise, not or exercise. My physical activity comes from walking while I work: Standing Up for Your Health.

Not all studies have shown vegans have superior arterial form and function, though. Find out why in my next video, Vitamin B12 Necessary for Arterial Health.

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

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