Dr. Burkitt’s F-Word Diet

Dr. Burkitt’s F-Word Diet
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The famous surgeon Denis Burkitt suggests an explanation for why many of our most common and deadliest diseases were rare or even nonexistent in populations eating plant-based diets.

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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.

The famous surgeon Denis Burkitt is better known for his discovery of a childhood cancer now known as Burkitt’s lymphoma than for his 1979 international bestseller, Don’t Forget the Fibre in Your Diet.

“Anyone asked to list the twenty or more most important advances in health made in the last few decades would be likely to include none of what [Dr. Burkitt] considered to be among the most significant.” What was the #1 most important advance in health, according to one of the most famous medical figures of the 20th century? The fact that “Many of the major and commonest diseases in modern Western culture are universally rare in third-world communities, were uncommon even in the United States until after World War I,” yet are now common in anyone following the Western lifestyle.” So, it’s not genetic; they’re lifestyle diseases, which means “they must be potentially preventable.”

Those eating the Standard American Diet have high rates of all of these diseases. Here are two examples. Similar rates of disease to the ruling white class in apartheid Africa, whereas the rates in the Bantu population were very low. These native Africans ate the same kind of Three Sisters diet of many Native Americans—a plant-based diet centered around corn, beans, and squash. In fact, it was reported that cancer was so seldom seen in native Americans a century ago that they were “considered practically immune” to cancer. But, what is meant by “very low” rates among rural Africans? 1,300 autopsied over five years in a Bantu hospital, and less than ten cases of ischemic heart disease, our #1 killer. 

Their rates of heart and intestinal disease was similar to poor Indians, whereas wealthier Indians who ate more animal and refined foods were closer to those in Japan—until they moved to the U.S,. and started living like us. And, you can do similar charts for all the other so-called Western diseases, which Burkitt thought related to the major dietary changes that followed the Industrial Revolution—a reduction in healthy plant foods (the sources of starch and fiber), and “a great increase in consumption of animal fats, salt, and sugar.”

His theory was that it was the fiber. “[N]one of these diseases [including our #1 killer] are common “in communities where large, soft stools are customarily passed.” His thought was that all of these major diseases may be caused by a diet deficient in whole plant foods—the only natural source of fiber. Fiber? In a survey of 2,000 Americans, “over 95% [of graduate school-educated participants and health care providers] weren’t even aware of the daily recommended fiber intake.” Doctors just don’t know.

“If a floor is flooded as a result of a dripping tap, it is of little use to mop up the floor unless the tap is turned off. The water from the tap represents the cause of disease, the flooded floor the diseases filling our hospital beds. Medical students learn far more about methods of floor mopping than about turning off taps, and doctors who are specialists in mops and brushes can earn infinitely more than [do] those dedicated to shutting off taps.”

And the drug companies sells rolls of paper towels, so patients can buy a new roll every day for the rest of their lives. To paraphrase Ogden Nash, modern medicine is “making great progress, but [just] headed in the wrong direction.”

Preventive medicine, is, frankly, bad for business.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to maliasfeserc and misterbisson via flickr. Cartoon used with the kind permission of Dan Piraro. 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.

The famous surgeon Denis Burkitt is better known for his discovery of a childhood cancer now known as Burkitt’s lymphoma than for his 1979 international bestseller, Don’t Forget the Fibre in Your Diet.

“Anyone asked to list the twenty or more most important advances in health made in the last few decades would be likely to include none of what [Dr. Burkitt] considered to be among the most significant.” What was the #1 most important advance in health, according to one of the most famous medical figures of the 20th century? The fact that “Many of the major and commonest diseases in modern Western culture are universally rare in third-world communities, were uncommon even in the United States until after World War I,” yet are now common in anyone following the Western lifestyle.” So, it’s not genetic; they’re lifestyle diseases, which means “they must be potentially preventable.”

Those eating the Standard American Diet have high rates of all of these diseases. Here are two examples. Similar rates of disease to the ruling white class in apartheid Africa, whereas the rates in the Bantu population were very low. These native Africans ate the same kind of Three Sisters diet of many Native Americans—a plant-based diet centered around corn, beans, and squash. In fact, it was reported that cancer was so seldom seen in native Americans a century ago that they were “considered practically immune” to cancer. But, what is meant by “very low” rates among rural Africans? 1,300 autopsied over five years in a Bantu hospital, and less than ten cases of ischemic heart disease, our #1 killer. 

Their rates of heart and intestinal disease was similar to poor Indians, whereas wealthier Indians who ate more animal and refined foods were closer to those in Japan—until they moved to the U.S,. and started living like us. And, you can do similar charts for all the other so-called Western diseases, which Burkitt thought related to the major dietary changes that followed the Industrial Revolution—a reduction in healthy plant foods (the sources of starch and fiber), and “a great increase in consumption of animal fats, salt, and sugar.”

His theory was that it was the fiber. “[N]one of these diseases [including our #1 killer] are common “in communities where large, soft stools are customarily passed.” His thought was that all of these major diseases may be caused by a diet deficient in whole plant foods—the only natural source of fiber. Fiber? In a survey of 2,000 Americans, “over 95% [of graduate school-educated participants and health care providers] weren’t even aware of the daily recommended fiber intake.” Doctors just don’t know.

“If a floor is flooded as a result of a dripping tap, it is of little use to mop up the floor unless the tap is turned off. The water from the tap represents the cause of disease, the flooded floor the diseases filling our hospital beds. Medical students learn far more about methods of floor mopping than about turning off taps, and doctors who are specialists in mops and brushes can earn infinitely more than [do] those dedicated to shutting off taps.”

And the drug companies sells rolls of paper towels, so patients can buy a new roll every day for the rest of their lives. To paraphrase Ogden Nash, modern medicine is “making great progress, but [just] headed in the wrong direction.”

Preventive medicine, is, frankly, bad for business.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to maliasfeserc and misterbisson via flickr. Cartoon used with the kind permission of Dan Piraro. Thanks to Ellen Reid for her image-finding expertise and Jeff Thomas for his Keynote help.

Nota del Doctor

More on this incredible story in One in a Thousand: Ending the Heart Disease Epidemic. How do we know that diet was the critical factor? Because when we place people stricken with these diseases on plant-based diets, in some cases their disease can be reversed (Our #1 Killer Can Be Stopped). In fact it was the work of Burkitt and others in Africa that led to the disease reversal work of pioneers like Nathan Pritikin (Engineering a Cure).

So if our major and commonest diseases are a result of lifestyle, why don’t more doctors practice lifestyle medicine? See: Lifestyle Medicine: Treating the Causes of Disease. How can we inspire change in the profession? I’ll take a stab in my next video, Convincing Doctors to Embrace Lifestyle Medicine.

More on fiber:

And for more of the scoop on poop:

So what’s the answer? How much fiber should we shoot for? Our evolutionary past may give us a hint: Paleolithic Lessons.

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

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