Red Meat, Vitamin B2 Deficiency, and Parkinson Disease

Recently, someone in my family got a diagnosis of Parkinson disease, which is the same disease that Michael J. Fox has. So naturally I searched the medical literature to see if there was a dietary angle to the disease. There is, and it’s very exciting! Removing red meat from the diet and correcting a vitamin B2 deficiency might prevent Parkinson disease, and it might even help reverse some of the effects of the disease. This would actually change the course of the disease, whereas all doctors can do at present is treat its symptoms.

How I Searched the Medical Literature

I went to and clicked on MeSH Database. Then I typed Parkinson disease in the search box and clicked on Go. One of the results was Parkinson disease. I clicked on that and selected the subheading “diet therapy” and added that to the search box. Then I clicked on Search PubMed.

What I Found

One of the articles that I found pointed out that Parkinson disease is far more common in elderly people in Europe and North America than it is in elderly sub-Saharan Black African, rural Chinese, and Japanese people. In other words, it’s far more common in people who eat a lot of meat than in people who eat a heavily plant-based diet.

Another interesting article suggested that Parkinson disease might result from two separate problems related to diet and nutrition (High doses of riboflavin and the elimination of dietary red meat promote the recovery of some motor functions in Parkinson’s disease patients. C.G. Coimbra and V.B.C. Junqueira. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, 36: 1409-1417, 2003). The first problem is an overload of iron from eating too much red meat. The second is some problem in the way the body handles riboflavin (vitamin B2). To put these ideas to the test, the researchers tested 31 consecutive Parkinson disease patients who entered their clinic. Every single one of them had abnormally low levels of vitamin B2 in their bloodstream, even though they were eating food that should have provided enough vitamin B2. In comparison, only 3 out of 10 patients with other neurodegenerative diseases had a vitamin B2 deficiency. The Parkinson patients were also big red meat eaters. The researchers told the Parkinson disease patients to stop eating red meat and to take 30 mg of riboflavin three times a day.

The patients who followed this advice regained some of their lost motor skills. Mildly afflicted patients became completely asymptomatic, and even some of the more severely afflicted patients improved a lot. These findings were dramatic and exciting, and this article should have lit a fire under the researchers who are studying Parkinson disease. Here was a simple, cheap, and safe dietary modification that addressed the actual cause of the disease, and could even reverse some of its effects.

Unfortunately, people tend to discard the results of dietary studies out of hand, partly because these studies can’t follow the same format as a drug trial. For example, you can’t “blind” people to what they’re eating, so there’s never a “placebo control.” Also, some people become totally unhinged if they hear that the foods they like aren’t good for them. Predictably, someone wrote in a truly idiotic critique of the study (Comments of H.B. Ferraz et al. ) The authors’ response was withering. They said things like “By searching the current medical literature, Ferraz and associates might readily become familiar with countless preliminary studies which have been subsequently confirmed by larger and better controlled research” and “The citations made by Ferraz and associates demonstrate that they have completely missed our point, even though it was clearly emphasized even in the title of our study.” What a smack-down!

Ferraz and coworkers were worried that if people stopped eating red meat, they might end up with a protein deficiency. Well, where do gorillas get their protein? If a diet without red meat provides enough protein for a 500-pound silverback male gorilla, it should provide enough for a human being. And what would be the harm in testing Parkinson disease patients for riboflavin deficiency? Why aren’t Ferraz and coworkers worried about the possibility that we’re missing an opportunity to stop Parkinson disease in its tracks?

Collards with Peanut Sauce and Mashed Potatoes

This meal takes a basic idea from the British Isles, namely mashed potatoes served with cooked greens, and gives it an African and Asian twist. Even people who aren’t keen on greens might like them if they are served piping hot and with a spicy peanut sauce! To balance the color and textures, it’s nice to serve carrot sticks with this meal. Fresh fruit is good for dessert.

Mashed Potatoes
Peel and dice about 5 medium potatoes, or as many as you think you’ll eat. Make plenty, you can save the leftovers for the following day. Boil the potatoes until they are tender, then drain and mash. You can use a little bit of the potato cooking water to dilute the peanut sauce.

Collards with Peanut Sauce
2 small onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced.
1 t ground coriander
1 t ground cumin
1/8 t ground cloves
1 pound of collard greens or kale, carefully rinsed and shredded
3 T chunky peanut butter
1 T molasses

Stir-fry the onions in the bottom of a dry soup pot until well browned. Add a little bit of water every so often if they start to stick. Add the garlic and fry for another minute. Stir in the spices with about a cup of water. Add the greens and let the water come to a boil. Cover tightly and reduce the heat, to let the greens steam until they are tender. Then combine the peanut butter and molasses with a bit of the water from the potatoes. Stir it into the greens, then serve along with the mashed potatoes.

Gorillas and People Can Get Scurvy, Rats Can’t

All Species’ Nutritional Needs Are Not Created Equal

Back in the Age of Exploration, the sailors on long sea voyages often died of scurvy. Yet the rats on the ship stayed perfectly healthy. So did the ship’s cat. The sailors quickly recovered their health if they could get some fresh fruit or vegetables to eat. The hard part was finding some form of fresh fruit or vegetable that could be stored on board without spoiling. Eventually, the British Royal Navy figured out that citrus fruit worked well, which is why British sailors came to be called “limeys.” Bean sprouts or alfalfa sprouts would also have worked, but nobody thought to try them.

The mystery of why people can get scurvy, and rats can’t, wasn’t solved until the 20th century, with the discovery of vitamin C, which is found in fresh fruit and vegetables but not in the bread (“hardtack”) that the sailors were being fed. Human beings, along with gorillas and other apes and monkeys, have lost the ability to make their own vitamin C. Guinea pigs have the same problem. In nature, primates and guinea pigs rarely get scurvy, because their natural diet includes plenty of fresh plant material.

Although rats need to have vitamin C in their bodies, they can make their own supply. They don’t have to get it from their food, as people, other primates, and guinea pigs must. That’s why vitamin C is considered to be an essential nutrient for human beings—and for gorillas—but not for rats.


William Nile Endicott and Penny, in front of a stand of sunchokes!
William Nile Endicott and Penny, in front of a stand of sunchokes!

“Jerusalem Artichokes” Are Neither Artichokes Nor From Jerusalem

A few years ago, I couldn’t be at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving, so I gave them a package of sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes). I told them that sunchokes were an authentic food from the native peoples of Massachusetts, and would therefore have been among the foods that Massasoit’s people would have shared with the Pilgrims back in 1621. I told my parents that they could eat the sunchokes or save them for planting in the spring. If they planted them, they’d end up with great huge sunflowers whose blossoms supposedly smell like chocolate. Both of my parents are avid gardeners, so my dad planted the sunchokes, and you can see the results in the photograph.

My parents ended up with a huge harvest of sunchokes, which has gotten bigger year by year. My dad waits until after a killing frost to dig them up. That makes them sweeter.

My dad just gave me a 5-gallon bucket of sunchokes, so I’m going to be adding sunchokes to a lot of recipes over the next few weeks. They’re tasty, and they’re really good for you. One sunchoke fancier even argues that they helped him cure his type 2 diabetes ( For a British friend of mine, sunchokes are “comfort food,” because he ate them when he was a little boy during World War II.

Some people complain that sunchokes give them gas. Other people say that this isn’t a real problem if you start with only a small portion, to give your system a chance to adjust. My system is already accustomed to an extremely high-fiber diet, which is probably why I never have a problem with sunchokes, or even with beans.

Sunchokes are easy to prepare. You don’t have to remove the skin, just scrub them very well to remove any dirt and grit. Then you can slice them and serve them raw in salads or a vegetable platter. (You can dip them in vinegar or lemon juice to keep them from turning brown if you are serving them raw.) You can also roast or boil them like potatoes.

Sunchokes are easy to grow. But once you plant them, they’ll keep coming back, sort of like Jason in the Friday the 13th movies. I’ve been told that the only way to eradicate them completely from a patch of ground is to let some pigs loose there. So think carefully before you plant sunchokes!

“Salad Deficiency” Causes Ulcerative Colitis in Gorillas

It’s Probably an Important Cause of Ulcerative Colitis in Humans, As Well.

“Ulcerative colitis” means open sores in the large intestine, which is also called the colon. This condition can cause severe abdominal pain and cramping as well as bloody diarrhea. The “leaky gut syndrome” that results can cause joint pain and make the person feel sick all over.

Wild gorillas eat an extremely high-fiber diet, consisting mainly of leaves. Captive gorillas that were fed a low-fiber diet were prone to severe ulcerative colitis. The same thing might be happening in people with ulcerative colitis.

High-fiber vegetables and fruits have several beneficial effects on the large intestine:

  • Fiber absorbs water and keeps the material inside the intestines nice and soft.
  • Fiber makes everything go through faster, which means that the wall of the intestine gets less exposure to harmful substances, such as bile acids and free ammonia.
  • High-fiber fruits and vegetables provide important nutrients and antioxidants that are good for the health of the intestines, as well as the rest of the body.
  • Bacteria in the large intestine ferment some of the fiber, releasing short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate, which is the favorite fuel of the cells that line the large intestine. On a low-fiber diet, those cells could starve to death.

Are Researchers Barking Up the Wrong Tree?
When I looked up what clinical trials were being done on ulcerative colitis (, I found lots of trials of drug treatments, some trials of “probiotics” (bacterial cultures), a few trials of surgical treatments, and even a few trials of psychotherapy and hypnosis. There were some studies in which people receive butyrate in high-colonic enemas. There were even some trials in which people were fed mare’s milk or fish. Apes don’t milk mares or catch fish, so why would anyone imagine that people would have to do that to keep their intestines healthy?

In other words, there were 224 clinical trials involving all sorts of drugs and surgery and so on, but no clinical trials trying the obvious therapeutic approach, which is a change to a healthy diet. We know that a low-fiber diet causes ulcerative colitis in gorillas, which have a digestive system almost identical to our own. We also know that eating wheat products can cause bloody diarrhea in a tiny minority of the population. So why isn’t anyone doing research about how to counsel people to solve this problem by correcting their diet? Here’s a link to a description of a simple yet healthful exclusion diet:

If you want your colon to be healthy, you have to feed it properly. If you already have ulcerative colitis or any other problem with your intestines, ask your doctor to refer you to a registered dietitian (RD) for dietary advice.

How Much Protein Do Gorillas Get From Eating Leaves?

More Than Enough for a Human Being, and Even More Than Enough for a Pig!

Here’s a rather dry and technical article that describes the amount of “available protein,” as opposed to “crude protein,” in the foods that wild mountain gorillas eat.

The mountain gorillas in this study were getting more than enough protein, mainly because they were eating so many leaves. Although leaves are low in calories, a substantial proportion of those calories comes from protein. If gorillas eat enough leaves to get enough calories, the protein takes care of itself. A leafy diet is so rich in protein that the gorillas can afford to snack on some low-protein fruit.

Why Do Leaves Make Up So Much of a Wild Gorilla’s Diet?

Because Gorillas Are Big.

“Large mammalian herbivores, according to accepted ecological theory, may be expected to feed on abundant, low quality food as a result of the relationship between their body size, metabolic requirements, and gut capacity. … Abundant low quality food means nonreproductive plant parts, i.e., stems and leaves, because fruit and flowers are too ephemeral to provide a regular source of food in bulk for large animals. So, large herbivores ought to be folivorous in a broad sense, and usually are.”

In other words, big plant-eaters mainly eat leaves.

Quick Cauliflower and Potato Curry, Jasmine Rice, Apple and Fennel Salad

This is a quick and easy recipe for entertaining. The extra turmeric is good for you, and it gives the potatoes and cauliflower an appealing yellow color, which looked good with the red tomatoes. I served it with white rice and some parsley for garnish. For the salad,  I had some fennel left over from the day before. The feathery greens from the fennel bulb dressed up the salad, and were tasty. I also had some carrot cake left over from the day before for dessert.

Quick Cauliflower and Potato Curry
2 onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
About 3 medium potatoes, diced
Nearly half a head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
Parsley or kale for garnish

Stir-fry the diced onions in a dry skillet (no oil) until they are very brown. You can add a little bit of water from time to time if they start to stick. Add the minced garlic and fry that for about 30 seconds. Then add about 3 cups of water and the potatoes, cauliflower, and diced tomatoes. Add the spices. Cover and simmer until the potatoes and cauliflower are tender. Serve with rice. Garnish with parsley or kale.

It’s hard to give an exact quantity for the potatoes and cauliflower, because their sizes vary, and some skillets are bigger than others. If I fill my skillet with vegetables, it yields about 6 servings.

Because we had company, I wanted to serve a particularly tasty kind of rice, so I made white jasmine rice according to the package directions. I made more than I needed, because I would be eating the leftovers for lunch the following day. Jasmine rice is a naturally fragrant rice variety from Thailand. I didn’t have any brown jasmine rice, so I used white. Basmati rice, brown or white, would also have worked well.

Apple and Fennel Salad
Fresh lettuce, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 sweet red apple, cored and diced
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
1 stalk of fennel, diced
Fennel greens for garnish
Dressing made from roughly equal proportions of balsamic vinegar, honey, and prepared mustard, sprinkled with thyme

Roasted Autumn Vegetables with Mushroom Gravy, Apple Salad, and Carrot Cake

I put this meal together because the roasted vegetables and the carrot cake are both baked at 350 degrees. I prepare the vegetables and put them in the oven, then make the carrot cake. While the carrot cake is baking, I have time to make the mushroom gravy and the salad. Then I have time to tidy up the kitchen and set a nice table.

I don’t give measurements here, because the vegetables vary in size anyway. I just keep chopping up vegetables until I have a big serving for each person. I used about half of the bulb of fennel, so I’d have some left over for salads over the following few days. I also saved all the feathery leafy bits of the fennel for use in garnishing salads.

Roasted autumn vegetables
1 bulb of fennel
Potatoes with nice skin, scrubbed
Parsnips, peeled
Several cloves of garlic, peeled
1 red onion, peeled
1 c water or vegetable stock

Cut up the vegetables into small chunks and place them in a baking dish. Mix the herbs into about half a cup of water or stock, with about a tablespoonful of balsamic vinegar. Pour over the vegetables. Put it in on the bottom rack of the oven and turn the oven on and set it to 350 degrees.

Carrot cake
After you put the vegetables in the oven, make the carrot cake. I used Mary McDougall’s recipe for raisin carrot cake (, except that I added a half teaspoon of cardamom and I substituted a gluten-free all-purpose flour for the whole-wheat flour. Put the cake in the oven on the middle rack. When you put the carrot cake in the oven, stir the vegetables and add the rest of the water and herbs.

Apple salad
While the vegetables and cake are baking, chop up a very sweet red apple, some celery, and some raw Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), if you have them. Toss them with a raspberry-flavored vinegar and serve on a bed of lettuce. The vinegar keeps the apples and sunchokes from turning dark before you serve them. If your apples aren’t overly sweet, you could add a little bit of the sweetener of your choice to the vinegar before mixing it with the apples.

Mushroom gravy
Stir-fry a chopped onion over medium heat in a dry pan until the onion is very brown. Then add two cloves of minced garlic and fry for another minute or so. Then add 2 cups of water and ½ chopped fresh mushrooms or a handful of dried mushrooms. Let it simmer slowly until you are about ready to serve the vegetables. Then combine ¼ cup of cornstarch with another cup of water. Mix thoroughly, then stir it into the boiling mushrooms. Keep stirring until it is thickened. You can adjust the amount of water and cornstarch until you get the desired volume and consistency. Serve the gravy over the roasted vegetables.