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The convergence of evidence suggests that an affordable plant-based diet can help prevent and even reverse some of the top killer diseases in the Western world, and can be even more effective than medication and surgery (see also here and here). This could save Medicare billions of dollars, but medical training continues to underemphasize nutrition education (see also here), in part, perhaps, because lifestyle interventions go against the prevailing conventional wisdom. The USDA, in formulating its dietary guidelines, has been accused of both acting with bias and ignoring relevant research (see the McGovern Report). However, the most recent guidelines take a step in the right direction by recommending a shift to a plant-based diet, which Kaiser Permanente, the largest U.S. managed care organization, has moved in the direction of supporting. Lifestyle medicine attempts to find, prevent, and treat the causes of disease (see also here and here). Patients should receive fully informed consent for treatment, meaning they should be informed about all of their options including dietary changes. Doctors report they don’t practice preventative cardiology because they fear their patients won’t change their diet.

The #1 killer in the US – heart disease – was found to be almost nonexistent in populations with diets centered around whole plant foods. Heart disease may be effectively treated with a plant-based diet because food is a package deal (see also here, here, here, here, here). Having “normal” cholesterol levels may be deadly, but can be effectively lowered with a whole foods, plant-based diet containing foods with known benefits. Not only cholesterol, but high blood pressure can also be prevented and reversed with a plant-based diet (see also here and here). Fatty streaks in the arteries of children as young as ten show that heart disease may start in childhood. Chronic diseases can be reversed at an age though, so it’s never too late to start eating healthy.

The arteries of vegans appear healthier than even long-distance endurance athletes and those on low-carb diets. Even independent of saturated fat, animal protein consumption has been associated with heart disease. While switching to a plant-based diet appears to reverse heart disease, this does not mean we can eat recklessly until symptoms appear due to the risk of sudden cardiac death.

A plant-based diet may also help in averting and/or slowing certain cancers (like breast cancer (see also here), prostate cancer, cervical cancer, kidney cancer, colon cancer, as well as BPH, benign prostatic hypertrophy). This is in part because plant foods contain anti-aging, anti-cancer antioxidants (on average 64 times more than animal foods, see also here, here, here, here, here, here), fiber, and phytochemicals, which in some cases can even help repair DNA damage. Even two weeks on a plant-based diet appears to dramatically improve cancer defenses. The blood of those on plant-based diets is more effective at killing cancer cells than those who eat a standard diet even if they exercise strenuously. Angiogenesis inhibitors in plant foods may help prevent cancerous tumors from connecting to a blood supply. Methionine restriction, best achieved through a plant-based diet, starves human tumors of the amino acid necessary for their growth—all while potentially extending our life span. To reduce cancer risk, we can suppress the engine-of-aging enzyme TOR (Target of Rapamycin) by reducing intake of leucine–rich animal products such as dairy products. A plant-based diet can also protect our DNA’s telomeres, leading to delayed onset of age-related diseases and an increased lifespan (see also here).

Lower cancer rates among those eating plant-based diets may be because of lower levels of IGF-1, a cancer-promoting growth hormone, and increased levels of the IGF-1 binding protein due to a reduction animal protein intake. The carnitine in meat may produce the same toxic TMAO that is produced from the choline concentrated in eggs and dairy. Tumors may use the Neu5gc molecule in meat to trick our immune system into producing xeno-autoantibodies to create an inflammatory milieu; the molecule also builds up in atherosclerotic plaques and may also play a role in heart disease. Neu5gc may even cause children to suffer severe E. coli food poisoning from bacteria in the same meat product. Animalistic plant foods like soy may also increase IGF-1 production. It might be best to restrict soy intake to 3-5 servings a day.

Plant-based eating also appears to help with healthy intestinal transit. When it comes to healthy stool shape and size, a plant-based diet may produce the healthiest stools, healthier gut flora (see also here) and lead to consistently larger and more frequent bowel movements—even better than just eating prunes or taking fiber supplements—which may be important for preventing a variety of health problems (e.g. excreting excess estrogen appears to help lower the risk of breast cancer). We can test our ‘peeH’ to see how alkaline-forming our diet is to inspire us to eat more dark green leafy vegetables.

Additionally, plant-based eating may successfully control weight (better than diet pills), prevent and treat type II diabetes (see here and here) and prediabetes (even in children), help prevent an abdominal aortic aneurysm, prevent gallstones, improve cognition, prevent Alzheimer’s disease, prevent age related macular degeneration, cataracts, slow aging, raise childhood IQ, improve body-odor, reduce waist circumference, reduce allergies, reduce abdominal fat, improve sexual problems, lengthen life span by turning back the clock 14 years, cure acne, prevent Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and diverticulosis, prevent and treat kidney stones, prevent hiatal hernias, protect oral health (though be careful brushing after sour fruit), protect against metabolic syndrome, treat multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia (see also here), prevent and treat Parkinson’s disease, ease menstrual breast pain and dysmenorrhea, prevent vaginal infections, treat asthma and eczema, treat cellulite, improve our moods, and cut down on the need for drugs and surgery. Employees who switched to plant-based diets at Geico headquarters lost weight and had an improved mood and productivity (see also here). Plant-based diets also help in the prevention and treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

Centering our diets around whole plant foods involves a reduction in meat and processed food consumption. We should try to get our nutrients (including fiber) in produce not pill form – eating legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, and 9 recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables. It may be helpful to cook some vegetables for optimal absorption.

Eating meat and other animal products is associated with weight gain (even after controlling for calories), a shortened lifespan, and other negative effects (such as premature breast development of young girls). Meat also contains a high amount of saturated fat, associated with impaired blood sugar control. Arachidonic acid in chicken and eggs may cause inflammation, increasing one’s risk for a variety of disorders including mood disturbances thought due to inflammation of the brain. On the other hand, many plant foods (especially potassium-rich foods) appear to reduce inflammation.

Eating low on the food chain may reduce our exposure to dietary antibiotics, and industrial toxins that concentrate in animal fat (a problem multiplied by the feeding of slaughterhouse byproducts to farm animals) that may contribute to multiple diseases. Plant-based diets reduce one’s exposure to mercury and other toxic heavy metals, advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), cadmium, as well as xenoestrogens in fish which may interfere with male fertility, and estrogenic meat carcinogens in cooked meat which stimulate breast cancer cells and may affect fetal development. Luckily, eating plants not only reduces our exposure to these toxins, but also may protect us against subsequent damage. Vegetarians can be exposed to the same carcinogens by consuming eggs, cheese, and creatine sports supplements or through inhalation of cigarette smoke. The cooked meat carcinogen PhIP found in fried bacon, fish, and chicken may not only trigger cancer and promote tumor growth, but also increase cancer’s metastatic potential by increasing its invasiveness. Boiling meat is a way for meat-eaters to reduce the risks associated with eating undercooked or well-cooked meat. The Paleo Diet may increase risk of toxin contamination, DNA damage, and cancer. Plant-based diets can also help lessen greenhouse gas emissions and have a smaller impact on the environment.

So long as animal-products are not consumed regularly, a plant-based diet can detoxify the body of these pollutants. Even just a step towards eating more plant-based might lengthen lifespan. Healthy plant-based diets would also minimize one’s exposure to trans fats, sulfur dioxide (associated with inflammatory bowel disease), heme iron which may increase the risk of cancer, stroke, and heart disease, hormones which increase the likely hood of having twins, and carcinogenic nitrosamines.

Contrary to popular myth, vegans have healthy bones and higher blood protein levels than omnivores. Vegans get more than enough protein. Within a matter of weeks, participants placed on the plant-based diet outlined in Daniel 1:8-16 experienced improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin levels, insulin resistance, and C-reactive protein levels, a marker of inflammation within the body.

Vegans average fewer nutrient deficiencies than average omnivores while maintaining a lower body weight without necessarily losing muscle mass. Those eating plant-based diets may experience enhanced athletic recovery without affecting the benefits of exercise. But there are important nutritional considerations. There are two vitamins not available in plants: vitamins D and B12. There is a serious risk of B12 deficiency (see also here, here, here, here, here) if no supplements or B12-fortified foods are consumed, a particular danger for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and their infants (see also here). It can lead to Vegetarian’s Myelopathy, paralysis, a variety of other problems, thickened arteries, and can shorten one’s lifespan. Two other nutrients to keep an eye on are iodine – which is harmful in too great or too small amounts (it is especially important during pregnancy, and can be found in sea vegetables), and zinc. Also recommended are yeast- or algae-based long chain omega 3 fatty acids. Rare genetic disorders may also require special supplementation. The power of plants is exemplified by the fact that in modern medicine plant compounds form the basis of many critical medications, but better to prevent disease in the first place.


Image Credit: thepismire / Flickr. This image has been modified.

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