Lately, many people have been claiming that fish is health food. The American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association urge people to eat fish. Yet if people follow that advice, they’ll still be at risk for heart disease and diabetes and they might increase their risk for cancer. The omega 3 fatty acids in fish oil can end up in the fatty deposits that clog people’s arteries. Like other fats, they promote insulin resistance. Also, eating too much omega 3 fatty acid could promote cancer by suppressing the immune system.
Capsaicin, which is the chemical that puts the heat in hot chili peppers, may encourage some kinds of cancer cells to commit suicide; but capsaicin doesn’t seem to have the same effect on healthy cells. This is just one of many ways in which chemicals that are found naturally in plants (phytochemicals) could have an anticancer effect.
Cancer isn’t just one disease. It’s a group of unrelated diseases that all result from the same sort of problem: cells behaving badly. Cancer cells don’t become the kind of cell that they’re supposed to become, and they keep dividing to make new cells long after they were supposed to stop. Sometimes, they travel through the body and settle down in places where they’re not supposed to be. All of these problems result from something going wrong in the cell’s genetic material. Either some genes have been damaged or the switches that are supposed to turn the genes on and off have been stuck in the wrong position. This problem can get started if a cell’s genes are damaged by exposure to radiation or to cancer-causing (carcinogenic) chemicals, such as those in tobacco smoke. The first line of defense against cancer is to reduce the body’s exposure to radiation and other carcinogens.
Even after a cell has gone rogue, the body has several levels of defenses that could stamp out the cancer before it is ever noticed. The first is a self-destruct mechanism that is built into the cell’s genetic instructions. This self-destruction, which is called apoptosis or programmed cell death, causes the cell to break apart into tidy fragments that are quickly and easily devoured by white blood cells. In contrast, when cells die as a result of trauma, they make a mess by spilling their contents into the surrounding fluid.
Programmed cell death plays an important role in sculpting the embryo during early development. If cells are in the wrong place at the wrong time, they get a signal to commit suicide. That’s why most people aren’t born with webbed fingers and toes. Even in a healthy adult, tens of billions of cells undergo programmed cell death every day. Programmed cell death is a natural body process that is supposed to stay in a healthy balance. If too many cells die, the result is tissue shrinkage (atrophy). If too many cells fail to commit suicide, then abnormal cells such as cancer cells can get out of control.
Programmed cell death is a complicated process that can involve several different pathways and that can be stimulated or suppressed by many different signals. However, the end result is always the same: enzymes called caspases are activated, and they break down the protein structures inside the cell. Some kinds of cancer cells fail to undergo programmed cell death because they have a deficiency of or defect in one of their caspases. These cells may need a little extra encouragement to undergo programmed cell death.
Researchers have reported that capsaicin inhibits the growth of colon tumors. Theoretically, capsaicin could have antitumor effects in other parts of the body because it is easily absorbed from the intestine and carried throughout the body by the bloodstream. One study showed that capsaicin promotes programmed cell death in a particular type of liver cancer cells. Another study showed a similar effect in breast cancer cells.
The first line of defense against cancer is to avoid radiation, carcinogenic chemicals, and the viral infections that are known to cause cells to become malignant. The second line of defense is to eat a low-fat, high-fiber, plant-based diet, which acts in several different ways to prevent cells from becoming malignant and to suppress the growth of tumors. The promotion of programmed cell death by hot peppers is just one of the ways in which a plant-based diet could help to suppress cancer.
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.
The 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.
A friend of mine just forwarded me an e-mail that makes all sorts of amazing claims about asparagus. It starts out with this heart-warming tale:
My Mom had been taking the full-stalk canned style asparagus that she pureed and she took 4 tablespoons in the morning and 4 tablespoons later in the day. She did this for over a month. She is on chemo pills for Stage 3 lung cancer in the pleural area and her cancer count went from 386 down to 125 as of this past week. Her oncologist said that she does not need to see him for 3 months.
In other words, they want me to believe that simply adding a few tablespoonfuls of pureed, canned asparagus would provide miraculous benefits for a horrible, lethal illness. I’m not buying it. First, what’s a “cancer count” for lung cancer? White blood cell counts are important in cancers that involve overproduction of white blood cells, but I don’t know of any “cancer count” for lung cancer.
Second, what that e-mail is describing is a drug effect, not the effect of a radical change to a healthy diet. We know that asparagus can make your urine stink, but if it had the kind of power described in that e-mail, it would also have substantial side effects. A lot of people like the idea of “natural” and “herbal” drugs because they have the mistaken idea that such products can have benefits without side effects. However, the reason why so many “natural” and “herbal” products have so few side effects is that they don’t have much of a beneficial effect either. It’s almost a law of nature. Any substance that has the power to exert an effect on the body will produce a mixture of effects: some welcome, others unwelcome. The idea that a few tablespoonfuls of pureed asparagus could have such a powerful effect on the body without causing more problems than stinky urine is simply hard to believe.
Third, the e-mail went on to babble about the “histones” in asparagus, claiming that they have the ability to “normalize” cell growth. Histones are a protein that is found in all of the chromosomes of everything that keeps its chromosomes in a nucleus. That includes all green plants, from the simplest algae to the giant redwood, as well as all animals and fungi. Furthermore, the histones themselves have changed astonishingly little over the course of evolution. That’s usually a clue that they do something vital, but it also means that there’s nothing magical about asparagus. The fact that histones are a protein is another important clue that this e-mail is nonsense. If you take a protein by mouth, your digestive system normally breaks it back down into individual amino acids. Some bigger bits of protein might occasionally make it through to your bloodstream if there’s something wrong with the lining of your intestine, which is why eating animal proteins can provoke autoimmune disorders. However, the efficiency of human digestion means that you normally don’t get any benefit from protein drugs if you take them by mouth. That’s why insulin has to be injected.
A switch from the standard American diet to a low-fat, plant-based diet that strongly emphasizes fruits and vegetables can provide health benefits that might seem magical to the average American. However, it achieves these benefits partly by removing the cause of most of our major causes of death and disability: the overload of fat and animal proteins. You can’t get the same effects by adding an herbal supplement or a few tablespoonfuls of pureed, canned vegetable to a crappy diet.
If you have any chronic health problem, I don’t care what it is, consider making a change in your diet. Often, a simple exclusion diet protocol can help you cure devastating diseases like type 2 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis. It can also make you heart-attack-proof and reduce your risk of cancer. A change to a low-fat, plant-based diet is simple and cheap and has no side effects. If you have any serious health problem, talk to a registered dietitian (look for the “RD” after their name) as well as your doctor before making a change in diet.
The secret to effortless weight loss is to go ape and eat plants. Switch to a high-fiber, low-fat diet based on unrefined starches and lots of vegetables. Eat as much of these foods as you can hold, and you’ll be less tempted to snack on high-calorie junk food.
Stop Multiple Sclerosis
Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn took a bunch of patients with advanced coronary artery disease and made them “heart-attack-proof” just by teaching them to eat the right kinds of food.
Cure Type 2 Diabetes
Dr. Neal Barnard proved that a low-fat, plant-based diet is better than the American Diabetes Association’s standard dietary recommendations for controlling type 2 diabetes. Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s patients with type 2 diabetes become “undiabetic” within a matter of weeks if they eat that way.
Dramatically Reduce Your Risk of Cancer
T. Colin Campbell, PhD, a world-famous nutritional biochemist and nutritional epidemiologist, has shown that the more animal-based foods people eat, the higher their risk of cancer. In animal models, scientists could turn the development of tumors on and off just by increasing or decreasing the amount of animal protein in the diet.
Arthritis is not an inevitable consequence of age. It is comparatively rare in societies where people eat a low-fat, plant-based diet. About 70% of people with the most common form of inflammatory arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, can expect dramatic benefits, and often a cure, in less than 4 weeks of diet change. The diet must be followed strictly—medications are reduced and stopped as improvements occur.
Osteoporosis is reversible, if you eat a plant-based diet, get reasonable exposure to sunshine, and get some exercise. Believe it or not, dairy products actually make osteoporosis worse.
Relieve Inflammatory Bowel Diseases
Inflammatory bowel diseases occur almost exclusively in parts of the world where the diet is high in meat and dairy foods, and are rare in countries where people still consume starch-based, almost entirely vegetarian meals.
Avoid Surgery for Gallstones
Gallstones are usually made of cholesterol, and they result when people overload their system with fatty, high-cholesterol foods.
Prevent Varicose Veins, Hemorrhoids, Hiatal Hernia, Uterine Prolapse
All of those disorders result from constipation. When people strain to move their bowels, the abnormally high pressure in the belly can damage the valves in the veins and push various organs out of their normal positions.
Appendicitis and Diverticulosis
The high-protein, low-fiber Western diet is the cause of appendicitis and diverticulosis.
The List Goes On and On
Many other diseases have been shown to be the result of the rich, fatty, low-fiber standard American diet. I should also have listed acne, bad breath, body odor, and erectile dysfunction, along with kidney and liver disease. The sad thing is that many people unwittingly subject themselves to these diseases in their attempt to avoid “protein deficiency,” even though protein deficiency isn’t a real problem in human beings. After all, where do gorillas get their protein?