The World’s Oldest Clinical Trial Showed the Value of a Vegan Diet!

Clinical trials are a crucial part of the modern scientific method. Yet the earliest recorded clinical trial, which incidentally dealt with food, was conducted around 2600 years ago, in ancient Babylon. There were no scientific journals back then, but we know about the study because it was reported in a book that is revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. I’m talking about the Book of Daniel, which is part of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament.

The Book of Daniel is about the Babylonian Captivity, when Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon conquered Judah and Jerusalem and sent the Jews into exile, in roughly the year 600 BC. During this period, it would have been customary to take some of the sons of prominent people from the conquered lands and hold them hostage in court. This explains how Daniel and several other Hebrews ended up in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. They weren’t there voluntarily. Later on, Psalm 137 described this period as follows:

For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

One of the biggest problems that Daniel and his fellow captives faced in the court of Nebuchadnezzar was the fact that they would have been expected to eat the food that was being served in court. For devout Jews, of course, this was nothing short of blasphemy. To eat the food at court meant that they would be eating meat from animals that had been sacrificed to pagan gods and drinking wine that had likewise been offered to foreign gods. In other words, by eating the food at court, they would be violating their own religion and taking part in the religion of their captors. To refuse to eat the food at court would thus be a risky act of civil disobedience.

Daniel’s challenge was to figure out some way in which he could get permission for himself and the other Hebrews to avoid offending either God or Nebuchadnezzar. He decided that he and his friends should eat only “food that comes from seeds” (i.e., vegetables and fruit and grains and pulses, such as peas) and drink only water. Thus, they would avoid the meat and wine that were ritually unclean because they had been used in rituals for pagan gods. The overseer in charge of Daniel and his friends was reluctant to let them follow this strict diet. He was afraid it would ruin their health, thus landing him in big trouble. So Daniel suggested a simple experiment. He and his friends would eat plant foods and water for 10 days, and afterward their health would be compared with that of the people consuming meat and wine.

According to the Book of Daniel, after 10 days Daniel and his friends looked healthier than the youths who had been eating the king’s food. It also says that they were “fatter,” but it’s more likely that they would have been thinner than the people who were pigging out on “the king’s dainties.” It’s easy to gain too much weight on a meaty diet, but it’s hard to get fat on a starchy, high-fiber diet. However, that small inaccuracy probably resulted from the fact that the study report was published roughly four centuries after the study itself was completed. As a recent article on this study noted, “Daniel perished, then published.” [1] With tongue firmly in cheek, the article also noted that the methodological weaknesses of the study include “probable selection bias, ascertainment bias, and confounding by divine intervention.”

About 2600 years after Daniel’s experiment, a group of researchers in the United States did roughly the same experiment, this time comparing Daniel’s diet with the standard dietary recommendations of the American Diabetes Association, which allows people to eat controlled portions of “the king’s dainties.” [2] This study differed in several ways from the study reported in the Book of Daniel. The modern study involved people with type 2 diabetes, which is a disease that is known to be linked to obesity and a fatty diet. The subjects were randomly assigned to either the Daniel-type diet or the ADA diet. Also, the trial lasted longer than 10 days, to show improvements in the subjects’ glycosylated hemoglobin levels (HbA1c) and to provide a clear picture of how much weight they lost and how many prescription drugs they could stop taking.

I was not at all surprised to see that a diet like Daniel’s was far more effective than the ADA’s standard recommendations at improving the health of people with type 2 diabetes. What surprised me was that the participants were more successful at sticking to the Daniel-style diet. This success probably stemmed from the fact that although people’s food choices were limited, their portions were not. The ADA dietary recommendations are about portion control, which most people can’t achieve. The Daniel diet lets people eat to their heart’s content, while still losing weight.

Reference List
1. Grimes DA. Clinical research in ancient Babylon: methodologic insights from the book of Daniel. Obstet Gynecol. 1995;86(6):1031-1034.
2. Barnard ND, Cohen J, Jenkins DJ et al. A low-fat vegan diet improves glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in a randomized clinical trial in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2006;29(8):1777-1783.

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Clinton’s Heart Problems Really Are a Result of His Diet

Why Won’t More Doctors Tell Their Patients How to Make Themselves Heart-Attack Proof?

Back in 1855, a prominent Baptist preacher told his flock, “A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.” Nowadays, lies can travel even more quickly, thanks to the magic of the Internet. On Friday, February 11, 2010, the Associated Press sent around a news item titled “No cure for heart disease, Clinton’s case shows.” According to the article, former President Bill Clinton has just had more surgery to unclog his coronary arteries. He had a quadruple bypass in 2004, and now he has just had surgery to open up one of the bypasses. According to the Associated Press, Clinton’s cardiologist, Dr. Allan Schwartz, told a news conference, “This was not a result of his lifestyle or his diet.” That’s a lie.

Compare what Dr. Schwartz said with the opinion of Dr. William Castelli, who had been chief of the famous Framingham Heart Study. When an interviewer asked how many heart attacks can we wipe out by changes in lifestyle, Dr. Castelli responded, “All of them. There are five billion people on this earth. Four-billion-plus will never get a heart attack. Why can’t we be like them?” Castelli explained that keeping cholesterol low through eating a healthy diet has added benefits: “Studies from China show that if your cholesterol is low, you won’t get breast or colon cancer or diabetes either.”

To make ourselves immune to coronary artery disease, we simply need to keep our total cholesterol below 150 mg/dL. Castelli explained, “Your cells need cholesterol to make cell membranes and hormones. But when your total cholesterol is over 150—or your LDL [“bad”] cholesterol is over 90—the cells have more cholesterol than they can use and no way to get rid of the excess. They can’t break down or oxidize it, so it starts to pile up as a waxy deposit that will eventually choke the cells.”

Population studies have shown that people who eat a low-fat, plant-based diet are “immune” to coronary artery disease. Even when a population with a high risk of heart disease is deprived of their favorite fatty, animal-based foods, as a result of food rationing during wartime, their risk of heart attack plummets. It comes right back after people resume their old eating habits, so the problem is dietary, not genetic. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn ( has shown that even patients with advanced coronary artery disease can make themselves “heart-attack proof” by switching to a low fat (<10% of calories), plant-based diet.

Bill Clinton’s heart disease could have ended his life and may still do so. One prominent physician has pointed out that bypass surgery does almost nothing to save lives, and he provoked a controversy by arguing that Clinton’s bypass surgery has had a detrimental effect on the former President’s mental functioning. The bypass surgery itself dislodges bits of crud from the major arteries, which then cause tiny blockages (mini-strokes) in the brain. The decline in mental functioning after bypass surgery is so well recognized in medical circles that they have a slang term for it: “pump head.”

Like the sex scandal that led to his impeachment, Clinton’s heart problems result from his indulgence of unhealthy appetites. Articles about Clinton’s heart problems represent a “teachable moment” to tell the American public what a healthy diet really is. Yet once again, this opportunity is squandered.

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