Doctor’s Tip: The science supporting plant-based nutrition
It’s important for doctors and lay people to understand the power of food to cause harm or to heal. Most of the chronic diseases that people on a Western diet suffer and die from — obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia, autoimmune diseases, inflammatory diseases, osteoporosis, macular degeneration, and several forms of cancer — are linked to an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise.
In 2016, the U.S. spent $3.2 trillion on health care, and it’s estimated that 70 percent of that money could have been saved if all Americans exercised and ate more fruit and vegetables.
The last two columns discussed why two diets that are currently popular — the ketogenic and the Paleo diets — are not the answer. What science tells us is the answer is a plant-based, whole (unprocessed) food diet with no salt, sugar or added oil. Today’s column summarizes the evidence.
The human genome developed over some 20 million years, as pre-humans gradually evolved from tree-dwelling plant eaters.
Late in the evolutionary process, some humans became hunter-gatherers, but by then most of the current human genome was in place, and many humans continued to subsist primarily by gathering. The jaw and GI structure of humans are those of plant eaters, not meat eaters.
When the blood of meat-eaters is dripped on various types of human cancer cells in the lab, the cancer cells grow faster. When the blood of vegans is dripped on cancer cells, the cancer cells are destroyed. When people are hooked up to arterial monitors in a lab, and are fed various substances, the monitors measure whether their arteries dilate (good) or constrict (bad). Animal products, oil, salt, sugar and refined food make arteries constrict — vegetables, fruit and whole grains cause arteries to dilate.
These are studies where scientists study large populations of people, see what they eat, what diseases they get, and what they die from. The largest such study was The China Study, which found that the people in China who were too poor to be able to afford to eat animal protein didn’t have the chronic diseases — mentioned in the first paragraph — that afflict people on a Western diet. Multiple epidemiologic studies have been done, another famous one being The Blue Zones. They all come to the same conclusions: Daily exercise is important for optimal health and longevity, as is daily intake of a variety of vegetables including legumes; fruit; whole grains; nuts and seeds. Another conclusion common to all these studies is that intake of animal products should be minimal to none.
PREVENTION, TREATMENT, AND REVERSAL OF DISEASE
In the 1940s, before medications to treat hypertension were available, Walter Kempner, M.D. treated people with severe hypertension (called “malignant hypertension”) with a rice-only diet. This diet was obviously boring and lacked many nutrients, but Dr. Kempner proved that avoiding animal products cured severe hypertension.
Nathan Pritikin, an engineer and inventor, proved in the 1950s that heart disease could be reversed with a plant-based diet.
In 1990, Dean Ornish, M.D., proved that advanced heart disease caused by plaque (hardening of the arteries) could be reversed by a plant-based diet.
Later, Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D., proved the same thing. Plant-based nutrition has also been shown in many studies to reverse type 2 diabetes.
Other studies have shown reversal of other chronic diseases such as high cholesterol; inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma; and in some cases even autoimmune diseases such as lupus.
The following quote by Ann Wigmore nicely summarizes the gist of this column: “The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and other medical issues. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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