Color-Blind People May Not Notice That They’re Bleeding!

Unusu­al bleed­ing or dis­charge is one of the clas­sic sev­en warn­ing signs of can­cer. Blood in the stool could be a sign of colon can­cer. It’s also a com­mon sign of diver­tic­u­lo­sis of the colon. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, peo­ple with red-green col­or blind­ness might not notice that they are pass­ing blood with their bow­el move­ments. Here’s an arti­cle about three col­or-blind men who didn’t notice that they were pass­ing blood with their stool. One of them had colon can­cer. Anoth­er had diver­tic­u­lo­sis; he was bleed­ing heav­i­ly but mis­took the blood for diar­rhea. The third patient had bleed­ing from hem­or­rhoids. The men didn’t notice the blood because they can’t see the col­or red. For­tu­nate­ly, their wives saw the blood and had them seek med­ical atten­tion.

Red-green col­or-blind­ness is far more com­mon in men than in women. That’s because men have only one copy of the X chro­mo­some in each of their cells. If one of the genes on their X chro­mo­some is defec­tive, they don’t have a spare X chro­mo­some to serve as a back­up. Women don’t get red-green col­or-blind­ness unless they inher­it a defec­tive ver­sion of the gene from both par­ents. That’s why women rarely get red-green col­or-blind­ness, but even a woman with nor­mal col­or vision can have col­or-blind sons.

For­tu­nate­ly, the intesti­nal prob­lems that these men had are pre­ventable by diet. Colon can­cer is rare in pop­u­la­tions that eat a low-fat, plant-based diet. So are diver­tic­u­lo­sis and hem­or­rhoids, which result from con­sti­pa­tion.

Note: Since I wrote this post, glass­es that cor­rect for red-green col­or­blind­ness have become avail­able!

No, It’s a Low-Fat, High-Fiber Diet That Keeps Gorillas Lean!

A recent arti­cle in the New York Times argued that goril­las stay slim because they eat a high-pro­tein diet. While I’m glad to see some­one else point out that a plant-based diet pro­vides ade­quate amounts of pro­tein, I’m annoyed to see sci­en­tists and jour­nal­ists mis­un­der­stand and mis­rep­re­sent the real sig­nif­i­cance of this fact. It’s as if they haven’t read the basic lit­er­a­ture on nutri­tion and can’t under­stand arith­metic.

Yes, the gorilla’s nat­ur­al diet is high in pro­tein, as a per­cent­age of calo­ries. How­ev­er, the goril­las’ nat­ur­al food tends to be low in calo­ries, because the calo­ries are dilut­ed by water and fiber. Goril­las have to eat an enor­mous amount of food every day to get enough calo­ries. When human vol­un­teers tried to eat a goril­la-style diet for a short peri­od of time to see how it would affect their cho­les­terol lev­els, they had to spend more than 8 hours a day eat­ing, just to get enough calo­ries to keep from los­ing weight dur­ing the tri­al. Goril­las stay slim because of the high fiber con­tent and low fat con­tent of their food, not because of the bal­ance of pro­tein to car­bo­hy­drate in their food!

The biggest dietary chal­lenge for a goril­la, as for any leaf-eater, is to get enough calo­ries. When they eat a rel­a­tive­ly high-pro­tein diet, they just end up con­vert­ing the excess pro­tein to sug­ar and burn­ing it for ener­gy. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, pro­tein is “dirty sug­ar.” Burn­ing pro­tein for ener­gy pro­duces waste prod­ucts such as urea and sul­fu­ric acid.

Peo­ple can stay very slim on a high-car­bo­hy­drate diet, if it is also high in fiber and low in fat. For exam­ple, when Chris Voigt of the Wash­ing­ton State Pota­to Com­mis­sion decid­ed to go on a pota­to-only diet as a pub­lic­i­ty stunt, he fig­ured that he had to eat 20 pota­toes a day. In prac­tice, he found it real­ly hard to eat his entire pota­to ration, because pota­toes are so fill­ing. As a result, he lost a lot of weight. Even when he made an effort to eat his entire pota­to ration every day, he con­tin­ued to lose weight. That’s because a starchy diet improves insulin sen­si­tiv­i­ty and thus revs up your metab­o­lism. Peo­ple who eat starchy diets burn more calo­ries than peo­ple on fat­ty diets. Voigt lost 21 pounds dur­ing his 60-day pota­to diet. His cho­les­terol lev­els, triglyc­eride lev­els, and even his blood sug­ar lev­els decreased!

Accord­ing to the New York Times, Dr. Rauben­heimer claimed that mod­ern soci­eties “are dilut­ing the con­cen­tra­tion of pro­tein in the mod­ern diet. But we eat to get the same amount of pro­teins we need­ed before, and in so doing, we’re overeat­ing.” What non­sense!

Nutri­tion sci­en­tists have known for more than 100 years that human pro­tein needs are mod­est and are eas­i­ly met by any rea­son­able plant-based diet. Also, the soci­eties with the biggest prob­lem with obe­si­ty are also the ones with the high­est pro­tein intake! Mod­ern soci­eties are con­sum­ing too much fat and too lit­tle fiber. Ani­mal foods are a big offend­er, because they con­tain fat but no fiber and usu­al­ly no digestible car­bo­hy­drate. Refined foods are also a big offend­er, because they rep­re­sent the con­cen­trat­ed calo­ries from plants–with the fiber and oth­er whole­some things stripped out.

The take-home les­son from the goril­la sto­ry shouldn’t have been that peo­ple need to eat more pro­tein. It’s that peo­ple need to eat plants. If peo­ple don’t want to spend 8 hours a day eat­ing leafy veg­eta­bles, they can eat some nice, fill­ing pota­toes or oth­er starchy sta­ples along with plen­ty of veg­eta­bles and fruit.

Coronary Artery Disease Is Not a Mental Disorder

Many lay­men and even many doc­tors like the idea that peo­ple can give them­selves a seri­ous phys­i­cal dis­ease just by hav­ing bad thoughts, unpleas­ant feel­ings, or annoy­ing per­son­al­i­ty traits. Yet it’s hard to find any sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence that these psy­cho­log­i­cal phe­nom­e­na have any real effect on health. Nev­er­the­less, the attempt to “psy­chol­o­gize” phys­i­cal ill­ness per­sists.

Although many peo­ple like the idea that their thoughts can influ­ence their health, peo­ple can be amaz­ing­ly resis­tant to the idea that their food choic­es mat­ter. If I were a psy­chol­o­gist, I would use my train­ing to fig­ure out why our doc­tors in the Unit­ed States ignore the over­whelm­ing evi­dence that the stan­dard Amer­i­can diet is the under­ly­ing rea­son for our major caus­es of death and dis­abil­i­ty. I’d try to fig­ure out ways to help peo­ple real­ize that they’re eat­ing their way into an ear­ly grave. I’d try to find ways to help peo­ple improve their diet, so that they can improve their health. Instead, psy­chol­o­gists have been try­ing to prove that coro­nary artery dis­ease is a men­tal dis­or­der. It would be fun­ny if it weren’t so trag­ic!

By the end of World War II, any­one with com­mon sense and access to the sci­en­tif­ic lit­er­a­ture should have real­ized that coro­nary artery dis­ease results from the foods that peo­ple eat, not from the kinds of thoughts and feel­ings that go on in their minds. For exam­ple, heart dis­ease became rare in Nor­way after the Nazis stole their farm ani­mals and the Nor­we­gians had to switch to a low-fat, plant-based diet. Rich, fat­ty foods were also in short sup­ply for the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion in Ger­many dur­ing the war. As a result, Ger­man civil­ians stopped dying of heart attacks, despite all the stress and ter­ror of Allied bomb­ing raids.

After see­ing these data, Nathan Pri­tikin real­ized that heart dis­ease results from the foods peo­ple eat, not from the emo­tion­al stress in their lives. When he got a diag­no­sis of coro­nary artery dis­ease, he cleaned up his own diet and encour­aged oth­ers to do the same.

Nev­er­the­less, Amer­i­cans still clung to the idea that heart dis­ease is a men­tal dis­or­der. First, peo­ple thought that the cause was “emo­tion­al stress.” Then they blamed “type A per­son­al­i­ty.” Then they blamed “pes­simism.” It’s all a crock. Lots of peo­ple in Chi­na had emo­tion­al stress, type A per­son­al­i­ties, and pes­simism. Yet research showed that they weren’t dying of heart attacks, because their aver­age cho­les­terol was shock­ing­ly low by Amer­i­can stan­dards, thanks to their low-fat, high-fiber diet.

Where There’s E. Coli, There’s Poop!

A large and dead­ly out­break of food poi­son­ing in Europe has been linked to a “super-tox­ic” new strain of Escherichia coli bac­te­ria. The out­break seems to be linked to the con­sump­tion of fresh veg­eta­bles. Yet when­ev­er I hear of an out­break of E. coli, I won­der, “Where’s the poop?”

The nat­ur­al habi­tat of E. coli is inside the intestines of warm-blood­ed ani­mals. Since veg­eta­bles are not warm-blood­ed, and they have no intestines, how can they be a source of E. coli? The answer, of course, is that E. coli can sur­vive out­side of their host for a short time. That’s how they can spread from one host to anoth­er. It’s also why “col­iform bac­te­ria counts” are used to eval­u­ate how bad­ly a body of water has been con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed with raw sewage. If veg­eta­bles are spread­ing E. coli, it’s because they’ve been con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed by the drop­pings of a warm-blood­ed ani­mal.

Some strains of E. coli are nor­mal inhab­i­tants of the human intesti­nal tract. How­ev­er, if you find ordi­nary E. coli you might also find oth­er, more dan­ger­ous bac­te­ria and virus­es that can spread from one per­son to anoth­er by the “fecal-oral route,” which is when peo­ple swal­low some­thing that has been con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed by some­one else’s poop.

The E. coli strains that are com­mon­ly found inside human intestines have learned to live inside a human host with­out caus­ing any trou­ble under nor­mal cir­cum­stances. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the E. coli that nor­mal­ly live in the intestines of oth­er kinds of ani­mals, such as cat­tle, can make peo­ple real­ly sick. Even more unfor­tu­nate­ly, E. coli bac­te­ria can swap genes with oth­er strains of E. coli, and even with unre­lat­ed bac­te­ria. Thus, bac­te­ria can learn bad habits from each oth­er. They may learn how to make a dead­ly new tox­in, or how to resist antibi­otics.

If his­to­ry is any guide, this out­break of dead­ly E. coli food poi­son­ing result­ed from the use of fresh ani­mal manure to fer­til­ize veg­eta­bles. Fresh manure is unsan­i­tary. It should nev­er be allowed any­where near food that will be eat­en raw!

Update, 6/6: At first, health offi­cials sus­pect­ed that the E. coli out­break result­ed from raw veg­eta­bles from Spain. Then, sus­pi­cion shift­ed to raw sprouts from an organ­ic farm in Ger­many. Bean and alfal­fa sprouts are a com­mon source of Sal­mo­nel­la and E. coli food poi­son­ing. That’s because they are often grown in moist con­di­tions at a tem­per­a­ture that approx­i­mates human body tem­per­a­ture. How­ev­er, sprouts aren’t fer­til­ized and there­fore should not have come into con­tact with cow manure. The E. coli would there­fore have had to come from con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed seeds, from con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed water, or from one of the work­ers. The own­er of the Ger­man sprout farm insists that there were no ani­mals or ani­mal prod­ucts on site. It’s pos­si­ble, but some­what unlike­ly, for one of the work­ers to be car­ry­ing a dan­ger­ous bovine strain of E. coli. So far, health author­i­ties have been unable to find any evi­dence of the E. coli strain in the sprouts or at the sprout producer’s premis­es. Of course, those tests can’t prove that the E. coli strain was nev­er there. It’s pos­si­ble that the source of the out­break may nev­er be known for sure.

Pho­to by Randy Heinitz

PCRM’s Plate Is Better Than USDA’s

The US Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture has replaced its Food Pyra­mid with a plate and cup graph­ic, which is far bet­ter at con­vey­ing what they think peo­ple should eat. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, USDA is still encour­ag­ing peo­ple to eat meat and dairy prod­ucts, which con­tribute to the risk of heart dis­ease, can­cer, etc.

pcrm_new-4-food-groups-bmpThe Physi­cians Com­mit­tee For Respon­si­ble Med­i­cine has a much bet­ter idea: a plate graph­ic that shows a tru­ly healthy diet. They call it The Pow­er Plate. It encour­ages peo­ple to eat a pure­ly plant-based diet—the sort of diet that has been shown to be opti­mal for human health.

The Plate’s Not Much Better Than the Pyramid

The Unit­ed States Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture has ditched its creepy Food Pyra­mid, which for many peo­ple con­jured up gris­ly images of Aztec human sac­ri­fice.


Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the USDA’s new “plate and cup” graph­ic still pro­vides dead­ly nutri­tion­al advice. It still urges peo­ple to eat far more fat, cho­les­terol, cal­ci­um, and ani­mal pro­tein than is good for them. Thus, it will con­tribute to our major caus­es of death and dis­abil­i­ty in the Unit­ed States, with­out doing much to solve any of our real pub­lic health prob­lems.

myplateThe new “plate and cup” graph­ic is sim­ply a way to com­mu­ni­cate the lessons from the most recent edi­tion of Dietary Guide­lines for Amer­i­cans. Fed­er­al law requires these guide­lines to be reviewed, and updat­ed if nec­es­sary, every five years. The guide­lines are cre­at­ed by a joint com­mit­tee of the USDA and the US Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices, with input from oth­er fed­er­al agen­cies and the pub­lic. The 2010 edi­tion was issued in Jan­u­ary 2011.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the guide­lines are designed to address two nonex­is­tent prob­lems, while fail­ing to help peo­ple avoid or recov­er from our biggest caus­es of death and dis­abil­i­ty. The guide­lines are designed to ensure that Amer­i­cans con­sume “enough” pro­tein and cal­ci­um, even though it’s prac­ti­cal­ly impos­si­ble to find any real human beings who have a true defi­cien­cy of either one. Mean­while, the guide­lines actu­al­ly encour­age peo­ple to eat foods that increase the risk of heart dis­ease, can­cer, type 2 dia­betes, low back pain, osteo­poro­sis, and autoim­mune dis­eases such as arthri­tis and type 1 dia­betes.

Nutri­tion sci­en­tists have known for more than 100 years that human pro­tein needs are eas­i­ly met by any prac­ti­cal plant-based diet, as long as peo­ple are eat­ing enough food to get enough calo­ries. For more than 50 years, they’ve known that all of our com­mon sta­ple plant foods pro­vide enough of all of the essen­tial amino acids. Peo­ple would get plen­ty of pro­tein even if they ate noth­ing but pota­toes; thus, there’s no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for urg­ing peo­ple to eat ani­mal-based “pro­tein foods.”

The “pro­tein foods” that come from ani­mals pose seri­ous health risks. They are devoid of fiber and digestible car­bo­hy­drates. Instead, their calo­ries come in the form of fat and pro­tein. Any over­load of pro­tein stress­es the liv­er and kid­neys. Worse yet, ani­mal pro­teins also tend to pro­mote can­cer, osteo­poro­sis, and autoim­mune dis­ease. The heavy dose of cal­ci­um from dairy foods actu­al­ly seems to increase, rather than decrease, the risk of osteo­poro­sis.

The cur­rent guide­lines also encour­age peo­ple to eat far more fat than is good for them. The cur­rent guide­lines do encour­age peo­ple to eat less sat­u­rat­ed fat, but to replace it with polyun­sat­u­rat­ed fats. The result would be only a slight­ly low­er risk of heart dis­ease, off­set by a high­er risk of can­cer. Most peo­ple should keep their fat intake to 10% or less of calo­ries.

The Dietary Guide­lines for Amer­i­cans do encour­age peo­ple to eat more fruits and veg­eta­bles and to replace refined grain prod­ucts with whole-grain prod­ucts. How­ev­er, they fall far short of telling peo­ple how they can achieve opti­mal health. That’s a scan­dalous fail­ure, con­sid­er­ing how many Amer­i­cans lack health insur­ance and thus have lim­it­ed access to pro­fes­sion­al guid­ance, includ­ing advice from a reg­is­tered dietit­ian.

Like our government’s fail­ure to pro­vide an effi­cient, pub­licly-financed uni­ver­sal health­care sys­tem, the short­com­ings of the Dietary Guide­lines for Amer­i­cans rep­re­sent our government’s fail­ure to “pro­mote the gen­er­al wel­fare.” Instead, our food and health­care poli­cies pro­mote the wel­fare of the pow­er­ful cor­po­ra­tions that finance our elec­tions and whose lob­by­ists stalk the halls of Con­gress.

These prob­lems have per­sist­ed for decades. They are not going to solve them­selves. These prob­lems will be solved only if health activists work to elect Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and Sen­a­tors and a Pres­i­dent who care far more about human beings than about cor­po­ra­tions and if health activists pro­vide such pres­sure dur­ing the “pub­lic com­ment” phase for the next edi­tion of the guide­lines that USDA will have no choice but to serve the Amer­i­can peo­ple instead of the food indus­try.