Needless Tragedy: Multiple Sclerosis and Jacqueline du Pré

The movie Hilary and Jackie tells the tragic story of a little girl (Jacqueline du Pré) who grew up to be one of the world’s greatest cellists, only to have her musical career and then her life cut short by multiple sclerosis. The truly sickening part of the story is that the importance of diet in arresting the development of that debilitating and sometimes fatal disease had been published long before du Pré started having symptoms of the disease. Tragically, the medical profession is still largely ignoring the role of a strict, low-fat diet in arresting multiple sclerosis.

Photo by amadeusrecord

Scleroderma: Is Food the Cause?

An acquaintance of mine has scleroderma, and she asked me whether scleroderma has anything to do with diet. The answer to that question seems to depend on whom you ask.

People who haven’t bothered to study the scientific literature on nutrition insist that food has nothing to do with scleroderma. Such idiots deserve to be swatted on the snout with a rolled-up medical journal, because they are spreading dangerous nonsense. On the other hand, the scientists who have dedicated their scientific careers to studying the relationship between food and diet say that the autoimmune diseases, including scleroderma, are strongly related to diet.

The rules for avoiding autoimmune disease are simple: don’t eat your relatives, don’t eat too much fat, and make sure you get plenty of vitamin D. If you get an autoimmune disease anyway, get tested for celiac disease and ask a registered dietitian to help you plan an exclusion diet to see if something you are eating is triggering your problem.

Like other autoimmune diseases, scleroderma is common in the same populations that eat a lot of animal-based foods, which means a lot of animal protein and a lot of fat. On the other hand, autoimmune diseases are rare in populations that eat a low-fat, plant-based diet. Autoimmune diseases are also less common in sunny climates, which suggests that vitamin D (the “sunshine vitamin”) plays a role in preventing them. A diet-related illness called celiac disease seems to increase the risk of other autoimmune diseases, probably because it causes “leaky gut.”

Why do I say “don’t eat your relatives”? Why does eating animal protein pose such a risk of autoimmune disease? It all has to do with a simple fact about DNA. The more closely related two species are, the more alike their DNA is, and the more alike their proteins are. The more alike two proteins are, the more easily they can be mistaken for each other by the immune system.

Let’s imagine that you eat some meat and some potatoes. Ordinarily, the proteins from the meat and the proteins from the potatoes would get broken apart into individual amino acids in your digestive system, and from there the individual amino acids get absorbed into your bloodstream. But let’s imagine that you have a problem with your intestine. It leaks a little, so some fragments of protein from the meat and from the potatoes make their way into your bloodstream before they are completely broken down. The immune system may mistake these proteins for a foreign invader and make antibodies against them. Unfortunately, the proteins from the meat look a lot like your body’s own proteins, so the antibodies against them end up attacking some of your own tissue. The proteins from the potato have no “family resemblance” to anything in your body, so any antibodies that you produce against them will probably not attack your own body. So don’t eat your relatives! Eat plants, instead. However, you may have to be a little picky about which plants you eat.

In people with celiac disease, a protein from wheat (or from rye or barley, both of which are closely related to wheat) triggers the immune system to attack the intestine. Celiac disease can cause a wide range of problems, ranging from malabsorption to “leaky gut.” So you’d expect people with celiac disease to be at particularly high risk for an autoimmune disease like scleroderma. As a matter of fact, they are!

Fat in the diet can also be a problem in autoimmune disease. Roy Swank was warning people about this problem this starting in the late 1940s, but he was largely ignored, even though he published his results the world’s most prestigious medical journals. The role of a high-fat diet in causing multiple sclerosis has recently been “discovered” again. Unfortunately, no one can make a fortune from this discovery, so I’m afraid that it will fall back through the “memory hole” yet again.

If you want to put out a fire, the first thing to do is to stop pouring gasoline on it. Likewise, when you get a diagnosis of a disease that is known to be related to diet, stop eating the foods that are known to provoke that disease! In general, a low-fat, plant-based diet has been associated with a low risk of autoimmune disease. However, a few people may have trouble with wheat or some other plant-based food. Consequently, they should consult a registered dietitian for advice about an exclusion diet. People with autoimmune disease should also ask their doctor, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner to monitor their vitamin D levels and test them for celiac disease.

What People Can Achieve by Eating a Low-Fat, Plant-Based 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.

Lose Weight

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. Roy Swank showed that you can stop the progression of multiple sclerosis just by taking the animal products and fat out of the diet. Dr. John McDougall is carrying on this research.

Become Heart-Attack-Proof

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.

Fight Arthritis

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.

Prevent Osteoporosis

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?