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6.0 - Nature’s Revenge: Disease
By now I hope that I’ve convinced you that the natural human diet ought not to include any animal products. But if you still need more evidence, maybe a brief trip through the world of American disease will do the trick. In this final section we will touch on some of the main findings affecting a handful of our most common and serious afflictions. This is far, far from exhaustive, and I have deliberately set aside data on a broad collection of illnesses, as well as much of the data that could further buttress the cases I am making here This section is included merely to demonstrate the health benefits of a paradigm shift away from meat and dairy products, and if this is not enough to shock you into action there are many books and journal articles available.
6.1 - Heart Disease
Heart disease is the number-one killer in America. Every single day more than 4,000 Americans will suffer a heart attack, and one third of them will die from it. Those who survive their first often go on to have a second or a third, until it finally does manage to kill them. In total, nearly a million people die each year from heart disease, not counting those killed by dependent complications. But heart disease, the term given to a wide range of disorders afflicting the cardiovascular system, is not remotely an inevitable outcome of old age, and the nonchalance with which we treat it now speaks volumes about the lack of historical perspective informing our health care standards.
Far from being a natural occurrence, heart disease is brought on by – you guessed it – the typical American diet, rich in animal proteins and fats, and far too low in fruits, grains, vegetables, and fibre. Most heart diseases are characterized by the interruption of blood flow somewhere in the body: when the blood supply to the heart is impeded, we call it a heart attack; when the blood flow to the brain is impaired, we call it a stroke. Loss of circulation in other parts of the body can lead to dozens of other problems, from blindness and deafness, to kidney failure and prostate enlargement, to erectile dysfunction. Witness the current craze, and ubiquitous advertising, for Viagra and Cialis. If you told American men that their eating habits made them impotent, would they rethink the macho image given to eating red meat with the evening meal?!
But what causes heart disease? The short answer is cholesterol. The human liver produces about 600 to 800 milligrams of cholesterol every day, which is then used throughout the body to manufacture hormones and cell membranes. Cholesterol is transported through the bloodstream packed into LDLs; these are the “bad cholesterol” factors. LDLs are actually cytotoxic when they contact the smooth walls of your arteries, and they often get stuck along the way; when they stick to the walls we call the resulting build-up plaque. Conversely, when cholesterol is shed by dead cells it is picked up by HDLs and eliminated. HDLs help us to keep down our blood cholesterol levels by picking up loose bits and moving them along.
When plaque builds on the artery walls it causes atherosclerosis, and as the amount of plaque in the arteries grows it obstructs the flow of blood through the body. At first the damage is slight, cutting down on blood-oxygen levels and leading to angina – a sharp pain in the chest that is usually triggered by a spike in blood flow (such as when a person is excited or active). But when the loss of blood to the heart has become more serious, it begins to wreak permanent damage on the heart’s tissues. When a heart attack occurs, a piece of the heart muscle itself has been destroyed!
As we have noted several times now, the human body produces all of the cholesterol it needs, and taking in more through diet is the principal factor in the development of heart disease. The average blood cholesterol level in Americans is 210, which is depressingly close to the average level of 244 found in heart attack patients. Whilst the government’s recommended maximum is still set at 200, most prevention-minded medical professionals now recommend that people keep their cholesterol level below 150. Unsurprisingly, the level found in vegetarians and vegans is very close to this. American vegetarians who still consume dairy products have an average cholesterol level of 161, whereas vegan average 133 – well below the level for preventive care.(18)
Depending on the study – and I have examined data from Germany, Japan, Britain, China, and the United States – one sees that the risk to vegetarians of developing heart disease is 50 to 60% lower than it is for meat-eaters. This gap widens further for vegans, whose saturated fat consumption averages about ten per cent that of the national average. Even more astonishing, it has been shown repeatedly that switching to a vegan diet can actually unclog congested arteries! That’s right: heart disease can be rolled back, simply by eliminating the meat and dairy in our diets and replacing it with the right sorts of plant foods.
A 1990 article details the results of a University of California programme intended to test the impact of diet on heart disease. Patients with plaque build-up significant enough to show up clearly on angiograms were split into two groups. The non-control group was given a low-fat vegetarian diet and then monitored over the course of a year. These patients had an almost immediate decrease in chest pains, and most became completely pain-free. Not only was there a predictable drop in blood cholesterol levels, but fully 82% of these patients showed a measurable reversal of their arterial blockage! The plaque simply broke loose and dissolved. The same could not be said for the control group using the standard treatments, the members of which – almost without exception – saw a worsening of their condition.
But before you think that the absence of cholesterol and fat are responsible for the reverse in heart disease, it should be understood that it is the totality of the vegan lifestyle that produced these results. If a reduction in cholesterol could cure heart disease, the medications that regulate cholesterol would already be able to bring folks back to full health. Rather, it is the combination of reducing heart-disease contributors like animal fat and cholesterol plus the addition of healthy plant-based foods rich in antioxidants and basic nutrients.
The programme for reversing heart disease that was developed by Dean Ornish involves a vegetarian diet which is close to being vegan, half an hour of exercise per day, no smoking, and involvement in some form of stress-reduction routine, such as meditation or a support group. The results that his patients have achieved over and above those achieved through following the regimen published by the American Heart Association are nothing short of remarkable. After five years, patients on the AHA diet see an average increase in arterial blockage of 28%, where Ornish’s patients see an average reduction of eight per cent. Overall, one out of every six patients on the AHA programme achieve some reversal of their atherosclerosis, but fully three out of every four patients on Ornish’s programme see their heart disease roll back.
One early factor in the subsequent progress of heart disease for many Americans is high blood pressure. This disorder, also called hypertension, increases the risk of heart attack and stroke by placing greater strain on the muscles regulating blood flow (i.e., your heart). We measure blood pressure with two numbers. The first, called systolic blood pressure, measures the surge of pressure accompanying every beat of your heart. The second, called diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in between beats, while the heart is resting. The best range is below 120 / 80, with 139 / 89 being normal, and anything at or above 140 / 90 classified as high blood pressure. Your systolic blood pressure increases slowly throughout your life, but a proper diet and sensible lifestyle will slow this down, appreciably increasing your lifespan.
Diet is not the only factor in hypertension, of course; lack of exercise and smoking greatly increase the likelihood of high blood pressure. But the biggest contributor for most sufferers is the sodium content of the American diet, from meats to heavily-processed packaged food. Keeping to a vegan diet will lower the viscosity (thickness) of blood, which alone will act to reduce blood pressure (thinner blood is easier to move through the body). But cutting down on salt intake is the more tangible benefit of the vegan lifestyle, since most of the staple food items are naturally very low in sodium.
A study in Britain compared 115 vegetarians and 115 meat-eaters who closely matched one-another in areas not related to diet. They found that the vegetarians had systolic blood pressure 9.3% lower, and diastolic blood pressure fully 18.2% lower. This is far from unique, and there are studies dating back nearly a century demonstrating the powerful impact of diet on hypertension. And, whereas the diastolic blood pressure of meat-eaters tends to rise over one’s lifetime, the diastolic blood pressure of vegetarians actually decreases in the last decades of life. This can be compared with studies undertaken in Polynesia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Central America, where individuals keeping to a traditional diet showed no increase in blood pressure with age – but where there was an increase in places where canned and processed foods, and refined salt and sugar, had been introduced. Once again, we see that our prosperity does not carry with it a reduced risk of disease, but an increased risk.
6.2 - Cancer
The number-two killer after heart disease is another disease of affluence. Cancer kills more than half a million Americans every year, and more than one million are receiving medical care for cancer on any given year in this country. Cancer, from the Greek karkinoma, is a group of approximately 200 diseases that are characterized by growths that appear in or on the body, and can very often lead to the patient’s death. They can be malignant or benign, i.e., they are not all able to spread and invade other tissues, and we are concerned here mostly with the type that can.
Cancer begins with a single abnormal cell, and from that grows and grows until a noticeable tumour has emerged. Normal cells include a pre-programmed lifespan, and cell-death (and replacement) is a normal part of life functions; but cancerous cells do not have any signals to stop or control their growth. These unmanaged growths can then attack healthy tissues, and eventually subvert a substantial part of your body’s metabolism in order to fuel their own growth. Worse, they can metastasise – or spread via the bloodstream – to other parts of your body, for example, skipping from your lung into your brain. Cancer research now consumes a massive proportion of medical research spending worldwide, and the media keeps obsessing over this search for a ‘cure’. In fact, since about half of all cancer types are currently considered incurable, it might make more sense to focus on prevention rather than cure – but then, there isn’t nearly as much money to be made that way…
This brings us to one aspect of cancer research that gets very little attention: the sharp correlation between the Western diet and the incidence of cancer around the world. Researchers studying cancer were often struck by its geographic focus: certain parts of the world were far more prone to cancer than others. This might seem to imply a genetic component, but this was cast aside after numerous studies looked for it. Parts of China that now eat like Americans get cancer like Americans, and the parts who still abstain from most animal products do not. Japanese figures tell the same story. Peter Cox reprints an age-standardized mortality ratio from colon cancer in his book, showing the Japanese (still living in Japan) at 1.9, but Japanese-Americans at 6.3 – far closer to the 7.9 score for European-Americans. The connexion should be obvious: abandon the traditional Japanese diet and your chances of dying from colon cancer more than treble.
A statistical survey of 41 countries shows the impact of regional diets in very stark terms. Countries where rice, maize, or beans constitute the primary form of nutrition have a noticeable reduction in the frequency of breast and colon cancer versus a world average. Conversely, those countries where meats form a substantial portion of the typical diet have an almost inversely proportional increase in the incidence of both cancers. In fact, a huge number of studies have linked cancer to the American diet. All of the following forms of cancer have been associated with the consumption of animal products, and very often with a corresponding deficiency in plant-based foods: bladder, brain, breast, colon, endometrial, intestinal, kidney, leukemia, lung, lymphoma, oralpharyngeal, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, skin, and stomach. So why do we never talk about the rôle of our diet in cancer prevention?
Environmental factors – including our diet – are the driving force behind cancer, easily edging out genetics. Most cancers are caused or exacerbated by exposure to pesticides and fungicides, radiation, ingested carcinogens, and industrial pollutants. Some of these are outside the reach of your diet, but a majority of them are linked up with what you eat (or smoke). Between 35 and 60% of all cancers are driven by diet, with another 30% coming from tobacco. The remainder are so slight as to be insignificant: three per cent from alcohol, three per cent from radiation, another two per cent from medications – that is, from drugs we were taking to fight another disease – and between one and five per cent from pollution. This imbalance, where almost 90% of the risk from cancer comes from our own choices, points up a distinction we should make between what initiates a cancer, and what promotes it; i.e., exposure to a carcinogen (many of which also come from what we eat) may put you initially at risk of developing cancer, but it is primarily your diet and lifestyle that determine whether or not a cancer will develop from that exposure.
Lifestyle choices bring to light another little-understood factor in cancer development: its possible infectious transmission. That’s right, we have a good many studies now that suggest certain forms of cancer can be taken in through environmental exposure. The National Cancer Institute conducted a survey of slaughterhouse workers in the period 1949 to 1980, and found that lymphatic cancer was nearly three times more prevalent in these workers than in the general population. That study’s conclusions suggested that the persistent exposure to cancer-ridden animals heightened the risk of cancer in the men who worked with them. And before you ask about cancer in animals, it is worth noting that approximately 20% of dairy cows in the United States have leukemia, and nearly all commercially-raised chickens are infected with the leucosis virus. So long as the animals are not killed by cancer before we slaughter them, industry seems not to care one way or the other.
But can we get cancer from eating cancer-infected meat and dairy products? The jury is still out on this, but time (and more research) will tell. Regardless of whether we can take in cancer itself, we can certainly increase the risk of it developing by eating carcinogen-laden foods. Dioxin, for example, which is a long-lived and highly toxic chemical, was identified by a 1998 German study as being responsible for up to 12% of cancers in the West. And the US Environmental Protection Agency has stated that about 95% of our dioxin exposure comes from red meats, fish, and dairy. John Robbins cites a 1999 study that discovered a level of dioxin 200 times greater than the EPA-determined ‘safe’ dose in a serving of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream!
But all of this heightened risk aside, the simple fact is that the engine of cancer is driven by a fruit and vegetable deficiency. No other single factor will have a greater impact on your susceptibility to most forms of cancer. The National Cancer Institute reports that 337 different studies all agree that large consumption of fruits and vegetables will protect against nearly every form of cancer! And it is far from just the vitamins at work, since most studies have shown little or no impact of vitamin supplements on cancer prevalence. What we need are more healthy foods, not pills to make us feel better about relying on junk and fast food as our staple diet. If we want to beat cancer, it seems quite clear that the first step must be to increase our dietary consumption of fresh – preferably raw – fruits and vegetables.
The reason for that lies in the need for a healthy immune system. The body relies on it to fight off infections as well as cancer cells. Without getting into arcane details, the B-cells and T-cells are lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that attack cells that do not belong in your system. Phagocytes are another type of white blood cell, and these are constantly on the look-out for problems that the T-cells and B-cells should target. An improper diet can impact the functioning of phagocytes and T-cells, and diminish the B-cells’ ability to make antibodies. This is just another way to say that a healthy body, i.e., one that gets the right nutrients, is better able to keep us from getting sick, and is better able to fight off cancers and prevent them from developing.
When you think of lung cancer, chances are you picture a heavy smoker – or perhaps an industrial worker – yet almost unmentioned is the positive relevance of diet in averting this deadly killer. One study found that individuals who frequently ate vegetables were between 20 and 60% less likely to contract lung cancer. And a heavy consumption of fruit reduces the risk by 40%. Put them together and you have an explanation for the German study which found lung cancer rates of vegetarian men to be just eight per cent that of the general population.
About 50,000 American women die of breast cancer each year – so many that we now observe ‘breast cancer awareness week’ and a pink-ribbon campaign is raising the disease’s profile nationally. Yet it is estimated that genetic susceptibility accounts for between two to five per cent of the disease total, and diet is hardly ever mentioned. Some basic statistics highlight this unreasonable neglect: breast cancer is three times more prevalent in Italian women who eat a lot of animal products, versus those who do not; it is 4.5 times more likely to occur in Uruguayan women who eat meat regularly, as against those who do not; and the breast cancer rate for meat-eating Japanese women, versus those who seldom or never eat meat, is 8.5 times greater! Charts that are reprinted in The China Study show that as the total animal fat intake increases from country to country so does the incidence of breast cancer. It is possible that breast cancer could be virtually eliminated simply by adopting a healthy, natural diet. So why are we spending billions of dollars on research for drugs to treat this easily-avoided disease? And why is no-one telling our nation’s women to eat better?
Men have their own common killer – prostate cancer. Here are two chilling statistics: men who consume large amounts of dairy products daily are at 70% greater risk of prostate cancer versus the general population; and men who consume soymilk daily are a 70% lower risk of prostate cancer! Low levels of beta-carotene increase prevalence by 45%, and abundant lypocene reduce risk by 45%, and both of these are present at more than sufficient levels in a vegetarian diet. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage reduce risk by another 40%. But as we all know, most American men are far too busy with red meat to take in enough vegetables, and awareness of the impact this priority imbalance has on cancer is next to zero.
As we noted early in this paper, meat products take too long to pass through the large intestines, and some parts never get through at all, staying with you for the rest of your life. This has a direct and powerful impact on colon cancer. Individuals eating poultry four times per week have a 200 to 300% greater risk of colon cancer versus vegetarians. Those eating red meat daily have a 250% greater risk versus vegetarians. Even infrequent consumption spikes the prevalence of colon cancer: eating chicken once per week increases the threat by 55%, and eating beef once per week increases it by 38%. Yet eating a diet rich in legumes will lower the risk by 50%, and taking in a healthy amount of folic acid (a B vitamin) will cut it by 75%. Studies in China and across Africa have also confirmed that a diet high in fibre dramatically decreases the risk of colon cancer. The reason should be obvious but is worth mentioning: more dietary fibre means more healthy bowel movements, and hence less rotting meat left in the colon. Better still is a diet high in fibre and no meat to push through! Failure to heed this simple correlation adds up to another 55,000 American lives lost each year, solely on account of our meat addiction.
Approximately 40% of all new cancer diagnoses in the United States are for breast, prostate, or colon cancer. If we are right, and the single largest factor in the spread of these diseases is a diet inappropriate to our physiology, then there is no excuse not to be talking about this, loudly. If we can prevent even a tiny fraction of that half-million new cancers appearing every year in this country, we need to be talking about this. Otherwise we may be committing a slow and expensive form of suicide.
6.3 - Kidney Stones
Acute renal colic, the term used for the pain involved in moving a kidney stone through the ureter from the kidneys to the bladder, may be one of the most intensely awful feelings experienced by human males; those who have experienced it will never forget. Unfortunately, that means a lot of people: approximately 15% of Americans, mostly men, will experience kidney stones during their lifetime.
Multiple studies have shown that kidney stones are caused by excessive levels of protein in the diet, which affects the way the body manages calcium levels. It is not, as some have thought, merely caused by calcium intake levels, despite the fact that most types of kidney stone are literally formed by calcium concretion. Reducing the dietary intake of calcium can be effective in preventing kidney stones, but only if this involves reducing the normal forms of calcium intake: high-protein dairy products.
An excess of protein in the system over time causes immense strain on the kidneys. It signals the bones to release calcium, which is needed to alkalinize this excess protein in the blood, resulting in an elevated levels of calcium in the urine. This can combine with oxalate, which also enters the system with the consumption of animal protein, to form kidney stones. Charts from long-term studies of animal protein in the UK are reprinted in The China Study, showing a remarkable correlation between rising animal protein consumption and increasing prevalence of urinary calculi, and with increased levels of calcium and oxalate in the blood. The work of W. G. Robertson, one of the world’s leading kidney experts and a researcher who has published more than 100 peer-review articles, has also demonstrated that diet is the main factor in stone recurrence. He has shown that patients who are treated for recurrent stones can solve their problem completely by abstaining from animal proteins.
Further, the emergence of kidney stones has been linked to the presence of free radicals in the body, which suggests that larger doses of antioxidant-containing plant foods will decrease the risk of stone formation. Once again, we can see that not only does an unnatural (meat-based) diet increase the risk of a disease, but that a proper (plant-based) diet actively works to prevent that disease.
6.4 - Diabetes
The United States is home to over seven million diabetics, ten per cent of whom are dependent on insulin injections, and the total number affected is climbing steadily. Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that impacts a body’s ability to process carbohydrates for energy. Our metabolism typically works as follows: we eat something; the food is digested, with the carbohydrates broken down into simple sugars (glucose); that glucose enters the bloodstream, and insulin acts to deliver that glucose to cells, which use it for energy. Some glucose is used immediately to drive the body, while excesses are stored in fat deposits for later use.
The hormone insulin, produced in the pancreas, regulates the level of glucose in the blood by allowing that glucose to enter cells and provide energy. Glucose, or sugar, is our primary energy source; it is produced in plants through photosynthesis and is ingested by humans (and other herbivores) as a carbohydrate. If the operation of insulin is impaired, glucose builds up in the blood, leading to the elevated blood sugar (or hyperglycaemia) experienced by diabetics. This is caused by an excess of fat in the blood, which interferes with the ability of insulin to bind with cell receptors and allow glucose into the cells. Not only does this result in more fat deposits on the body, but the body is forced to rely more on fat stores for its energy, which can lead to diabetic acidosis; without insulin treatments, this can cause coma or death.
The overproduction of insulin, as the body tries desperately to manage its blood sugars, can also lead to hypoglycaemia, or low blood sugar. That overproduction cannot do more than forestall the problems, however. Insulin becomes progressively less effective as the disease develops, and the high levels of insulin can trigger hormonal imbalances (and hence wild mood swings) as well as problems with blood cholesterol and the cardiovascular system as a whole.
As with most health complaints, Americans tend to treat their type 2 diabetes without addressing the problems which caused the disease to develop in the first place, so that the condition tends to worsen inexorably as the patient ages. It is typically assumed that diabetes results from an abnormally low level of insulin production, but this is blatantly false in type 2 diabetes. (Type 1 diabetes is characterized by a lack of insulin production, and is usually triggered by genetic anomalies or damage to the pancreas as through an infection.)
The real culprit in type 2 diabetes is the diminished effectiveness of insulin. In fact, type 2 diabetics generally have plenty of insulin, and often highly elevated levels of insulin, yet still cannot process glucose properly. This is described as insulin resistance, which is characterized by fatigue, dizziness, sweating, headache, memory problems, difficulties with concentration, and mental confusion. These symptoms are the main focus of diabetic medications. However, drugs cannot treat the underlying cause of the disease – a fat-rich diet – which means that diabetics are being condemned to a lifetime of expensive drugs and an impaired lifestyle.
The disease itself, in the sense of elevated blood sugar levels, seldom kills those suffering from it. Instead, complications in the overall health of the patient, which are either caused or exacerbated by diabetes, are to blame for the high death-toll of this rapidly-proliferating disease. For example, diabetes is the leading cause of terminal kidney disease, and increases the risk of stroke and fatal heart attack between two and four times. About 70% of all diabetics have some form of nervous system damage, and more than 70% have high blood pressure. Diabetes is also the leading cause of blindness, and of lower-limb amputation, and increases the risk of gum disease (thus driving up tooth loss).
Let’s look at one of these complications in more detail. We know already that excessive protein in the Western diet places an immense strain on the kidneys. This is important because diabetes itself places a strain on the kidneys, and the combination of this increased workload has frequently led to renal failure. Diabetes is the number one cause of kidney failure nationwide, and accounts for a majority of patients taking dialysis treatments. Once patients have found themselves on dialysis, they are forced to reduce their protein intake in order to keep down the frequency of treatments. Sadly, patients are seldom advised to cut their protein intake before kidney failure occurs. Doing so would dramatically decrease the pressure on a weakening kidney, thus helping to avert failure.
Diabetes is often treated with a diet that is low in carbohydrates and high in fat, such as the Atkins diet. This is sheer lunacy, and neatly inverted; a more sensible approach to diabetes management would focus more on fat intake than sugar intake. Careful research almost a century old, and frequently re-validated, demonstrate conclusively that glucose tolerance improves proportional to the replacement of animal fats with carbohydrates in the diet. Meaning that the carbohydrates which many diets ask you to reduce, on the justification that they are broken down into glucose thus raising blood sugar levels, actually have a positive effect for diabetics. This applies even to alcohol, which has long been considered off-limits for diabetics. It has since been demonstrated that, far from worsening the condition, a judicious and moderate use of alcohol in the diet actually improves insulin sensitivity! This is not to say that diabetics should all start drinking, but it does suggest that – once again – the standard medical ‘wisdom’ is out of step with the scientific evidence.
The diet recommended by the American Diabetic Association is in truth substantially flawed. A recent study conducted by the University of California showed that patients following a low-fat vegetarian diet lost weight much faster than those on the ADA diet, and while vegetarian cholesterol levels dropped substantially, those of patients on the ADA diet actually worsened! A vegan diet can be even more effective: a study in 2006 found that 43% of subjects with type 2 diabetes who kept to a vegan diet for 22 weeks reduced their need to take medications to manage the disease, compared with only 26% of those who followed the ADA diet.
That’s right: switching to a vegan diet may actually begin to correct your diabetes! This is an astonishing validation of recommendations first published in Julian Whitaker’s 1987 book Reversing Diabetes, and that book has since helped hundreds of thousands of Americans to reduce or eliminate their dependence on drugs. More recently, the path-breaking research of Neal Barnard has further bolstered the case for a vegan diet in the treatment of diabetes. Several studies have found that changing over to a starch-based, no-cholesterol, low-fat diet will reduce the insulin requirements of type 1 (childhood-onset) diabetes by 30%. The very same diet will almost eliminate type 2 diabetes, with 75% of patients no longer needing insulin, and 95% no longer needing pills to manage the disease symptoms!
A cursory review of the literature on diabetes turns up a great many supporting facts. For example, taking in sufficient quantities of dietary fibre – which is found only in plant-based foods – significantly decreases the risk of diabetes by lowering glucose levels in the blood. Taking in the wrong kind of dietary iron (i.e., heme iron, which is found in animal products) will increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Studies around the world have shown that the proportion of carbohydrates to animal products is inversely correlated with diabetes incidence. We could go on and on.
Finally, it is worth pointing up two well-known facts: that the risk of diabetes rises dramatically with obesity, and that it is much harder to end up overweight as a vegan. With fully 90% of diabetics meeting the clinical definition of obesity, this approach to treating diabetes can be substantially corroborated by the simple recognition that the weight-gain itself (and the lifestyle that produced it) underlie the whole modus operandi of the disease. The same eating habits that make you fat are the cause of diabetes, and changing those habits will eliminate both problems.
6.5 - Obesity
Do we even need to mention that Americans are the fattest people on Earth? This is an inevitable outgrowth of our combining unprecedented material wealth with a pretty thorough lack of wisdom. We naked apes seem to buy and eat whatever foods are placing in front of us and are made to taste appealing. By taking in huge amounts of zero-nutrient (i.e., junk) foods, and then avoiding physical activity to a greater and greater extent, we are swiftly transforming our society in the most appallingly negative ways. Roughly 40% of the American population is now obese, and if the current rate of increase stayed constant, by 2030 nearly the whole country would be obese.(19)
The simplest explanation for this has nothing to do with body type and genetic destiny, and has everything to do with the kinds of food we eat. Not only do we have the improper animal-based diet this polemic is assailing, but an ever-increasing proportion of our caloric intake comes from heavily processed foods. Joel Fuhrman has observed that fat is a very effective appetite stimulant, and that the more you eat, the more you want to eat. Excess dietary fat, particularly animal fat, and processed, packaged foods (i.e., refined carbohydrates) act in concert to stretch your waistline.
It works like this: Refined foods cause a spike in blood sugar levels, which triggers a surge of insulin from the pancreas to drive the sugar out. That insulin promotes fat storage on the body, and as fat builds up the insulin’s uptake efficiency is diminished, which leaves the sugar levels too high. This results in a vicious feedback loop, with more insulin being pumped out to compensate for its weaker effectiveness, and more fat being packed on because of that greater insulin level in the blood. With processed and refined foods taking up such a massive proportion of the American diet, is it any wonder that we’re all so fat, and that diabetes is now so common?
But it does not have to be this way. Even if we can be fairly certain that the majority of Americans will never care enough to spend the time researching what they are putting on their plate, we could solve much of the problem by adopting two simple rules: do not eat foods for which your body was not designed; and do not eat what isn’t food! If we simply avoided eating foods packed with garbage like high fructose corn syrup or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, and stayed away from animal products, not only would most of our health complaints disappear, but obesity would be as rare as the occasional hormonal imbalance or genetic defect would allow. Almost no-one would be fat. Given that our bodies are made to run on plant foods, we can process such a diet so effectively that most of us would find it pretty hard to pile on the pounds.
Despite the ease with which nature could keep us in shape, 95% of the people who end up obese stay that way, year in and year out, and this in spite of – or perhaps because of – a multi-billion dollar weight-loss business. Are we really going to allow countless companies to profit by our foolishness forever?
6.6 - Escherichia Coli 0157:H7
Better known as E. coli, this is an infectious health problem exclusively related to an animal-based diet. It most often enters the human body through the consumption of contaminated beef (usually hamburger or other ground beef) or through unpasteurized dairy products. As you may recall from the physiology section far above, the human stomach is not nearly acidic enough to kill all of the bacteria we introduce through our food, which means that factory-farmed meat products pose a particular health risk. The Centers for Disease Control report that 200 people contract E. coli poisoning every day in the United States, and several of these individuals die.
It is named for a class of normally-helpful rod-shaped bacteria which inhabit our intestinal tract and aid in digestion. This particular strain of E. coli is different; it attacks the lining of the colon, causing internal bleeding and discomfort. For most, the infection is not overly serious, and some may show almost no symptoms. Others report diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, and bloody stool.
But for a few, particularly children under five years old or persons with a depressed immune system, an E. coli infection can produce a complication called haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS). This is a very serious disease in which red blood cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail, and it can easily end in the patient’s death. Prolonged hospital stays are usually required, and care may involve blood transfusions and kidney dialysis. Most people can recover fully from HUS, but this depends largely upon the patient’s health overall.
The threat of E. coli infection has the meat industry calling for widespread irradiation of animal products, irrespective of the dangers this can introduce itself. It has also become standard practice to encourage the thorough cooking of meat to kill off the bacteria; while this may cut down on the meat-eater’s chances of contracting E. coli, it increases their risk of developing cancer.
6.7 - Alzheimer’s Disease
Speaking of hamburger diseases… Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disorder that progresses through stages of dementia and mental decline, and ultimately results in death. Alzheimer’s has gone from being completely unknown just one century ago, to being one of the most feared diseases afflicting the elderly in America, killing nearly 54,000 each year. The relative youth of this disease is particularly striking, and worth reiterating: there is nothing like it discussed in the medical, religious, or scientific literature prior to the twentieth century. Something appears to have changed to introduce this nightmare into the lives of senior citizens, and a large and growing body of research points to the shift in common Western diets.
In fact, recent and not-so-recent studies agree that a diet high in saturated fats more than doubles your chances of developing Alzheimer’s, whereas those with a very low intake of saturated fat – such as vegans – have a 70% reduction in risk. Not only have elevated levels of blood cholesterol been shown to have a marked effect on Alzheimer’s frequency, but higher intake levels of whole grains, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals found in a vegan diet have been shown substantially to reduce risk factors.
One of the promising correlations to have emerged points to elevated levels of the non-essential amino acid homocysteine as a central factor in determining Alzheimer’s frequency. Homocysteine is a temporary and chemically-reactive substance produced in the body by the transformation of methionine, another amino acid, which is itself found in high concentrations in meat and dairy products. Excessive homocysteine levels have been implicated in several health concerns, from cardiovascular disease to weakened cross-linking of collagen fibres, in addition to increasing the likelihood of Alzheimer’s. Switching to a vegan diet has been shown in some studies to reduce homocysteine levels by as much as 20% in only one week!
Another theory for Alzheimer’s involves the consumption of certain proteins called prions. These are misshapen versions of proteins routinely found in the central nervous system, and when prions come into contact with healthy proteins they deform them in a chain-reaction which steadily decreases the effectiveness of neurological functions. This point, along with the amino acid imbalance mentioned above, should suggest that whilst we may not yet have identified the precise mechanism used in Alzheimer’s, the links to meat and dairy consumption are clear.(20)
Even more intriguing are the potential links between Alzheimer’s and another degenerative condition: Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. It is becoming apparent that many Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia are actually suffering from CJD. An increasing body of evidence ties the specific effects of CJD to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and that disease to ‘Scrapie’, long a scourge to sheep farmers. Each disease attacks the brain in a very similar manner, and is transferred to a new victim through ingesting the meat of diseased cattle. (Kuru, a degenerative disorder once common in cannibal tribes of New Guinea, has a similar pathology.) It is this link which has inspired much of the response to ‘mad cow disease’ (BSE). The reason is simple: American cattle are routinely fed ‘ruminants’ – the leftover bits of other cattle. These herbivores-turned-cannibal are frequently eating diseased cattle, and since they – like us – cannot kill off the bacteria in the meat, they are easy prey to the disease.
The concern over linkage between these diseases is more than justified. It takes many years for the symptoms of CJD to show up, and neither the meat industry nor the United States government are taking sufficient precautions to keep contaminated meat out of the food chain. The USDA did not outlaw the use of so-called ‘downed cows’ until 2003, and studies in the past two years have shown that USDA inspectors still routinely allow these diseased animals to be slaughtered for food.(21) Worse, the USDA tests less than one per cent of slaughtered cows for BSE (as compared with 100% tested in Great Britain and Japan), and actually obstructs the testing of animals at the slaughterhouses, for fear of the economic impact of a panic in the American beef industry. This is a shameful dereliction of responsibility.
6.8 - Osteoporosis
Before we close this section, we’ll look back to a much earlier discussion of healthy calcium levels. There we talked about the part calcium plays in alkalinizing the blood, and pointed especially to the danger of introducing an inappropriate level of dietary protein as this causes the bones to excrete calcium to restore the proper pH levels. When this continues for too long, a condition called osteoporosis results, which is a fancy way of saying that your bones have become too thin and brittle.
Repeated epidemiologic studies of osteoporosis have demonstrated a connexion, not with low calcium intake, but with high levels of calcium loss in urination. Which means that an improper diet leads you literally to piss away your calcium! Grouped roughly in order of their severity, the following dietary factors have been proven to induce calcium loss in this way: animal protein, salt, caffeine, refined sugar, alcohol, nicotine, certain drugs and antacids, and vitamin A supplements.
Studies in China have shown that even with a calcium intake less than half of the American norm, though with almost none of it coming from dairy products, osteoporosis is extremely uncommon – and despite a very high life expectancy, especially amongst women (who are most at risk of osteoporosis in the United States). Uncommon, that is, amongst Chinese who keep to a more traditional diet; populations that adopt a Western diet high in protein and fat report rates of osteoporosis that are essentially identical to that in the West, proving there are no genetic factors involved.
(18) By way of comparison, the average blood cholesterol level in the Philippines is 147, and in Ghana only 128.
(19) For those who care about such things, we’ll note quickly that there are two types of adipose tissue, or body fat, though we need concern ourselves with only one: adipocytes, or white fat cells. Without getting too technical, these are comprised of a large lipid droplet surrounded by cytoplasm, and they contain a semi-liquid material made of triglycerides and cholesterol ester. Your body has these spread in a thin sub-dermal layer, and provided their size and density are kept at a reasonable level they help us with temperature regulation.
(20) For an in-depth exploration, see Murray Waldman’s book Dying for a Hamburger.
(21) A ‘downed’ cow is an animal too sick to walk or stand. Recently the USG initiated the largest beef recall in American history after a hidden camera uncovered the use of diseased cattle in a major California abattoir.
This is article is continued in the next post; find it here.