Low-Fat, Plant-Based Diet Helps Prevent Skin Cancer

Every summer, we hear lots of advice to use sunscreen and wear hats and so on to help us avoid skin cancer. No one ever bothers to tell us that eating a low-fat, plant-based diet also helps to prevent skin cancer.

This article, which was published in 1994 in the New England Journal of Medicine, studied the effect of a dietary change (a switch to a lower-fat diet) on people who had had at least one non-melanoma skin cancer. The people who switched to a lower-fat diet were less likely to get new precancerous lesions. A follow-up study published in 1998 showed that they were also less likely to get skin cancers.

A proper diet might also help reduce the risk of melanoma, which is the most deadly form of skin cancer. Eating too much polyunsaturated fat increases the risk of cancer in general and melanoma in particular. People who drink too much alcohol and don’t eat enough vegetables are also at higher risk for melanoma.

Photo by Joe Shlabotnik

Varicose Veins Result From Constipation, Not From Pregnancy

If you do an Internet search on varicose veins, you’ll probably find lots of articles that claim that the cause of this condition is complicated or mysterious. Pregnancy is usually cited as a risk factor. Yet Denis Parsons Burkitt found that varicose veins were practically nonexistent in Uganda, even though many of the women in Uganda had borne many children.

The people in Uganda, like many other populations in the Third World, were eating an extremely high-fiber diet based on unrefined starches and vegetables. As a result, they produced large, soft stools that were easy to pass. In contrast, Europeans and Americans tend to eat a low-fiber diet with a lot of processed foods and dairy products. As a result, their stools were small, hard, and difficult to pass. The pressure that is generated within the body when people try to pass these hard pellets can cause serious damage, including diverticulosis, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, hiatal hernia, and uterine prolapse.

In other words, your varicose veins spell out “I’ve been constipated” in swollen purple letters. How embarrassing!

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

We’ve Known Since the 1930s: Fatty Diets Cause Insulin Resistance

This graph shows the glucose tolerance test results of a healthy person on a high-fat test diet as opposed to a high-carb diet. Notice that he had lower, more stable blood sugar levels after eating a high-carb diet!

Low-carb gurus have been telling people that insulin resistance, which is the underlying cause of type 2 diabetes, results from eating too much carbohydrate. Yet scientists have known since the 1930s that the problem can be provoked by a high-fat diet and reversed by a starchy, low-fat diet. You can read the research for yourself here.

This work was done in the 1930s. How long will it take before the low-carb gurus hear about it?

French and Japanese Paradoxes

By now, you’ve certainly heard about the “French Paradox,” a dream that entered American consciousness in 1991, when it was described on the television program 60 Minutes. According to this dream, drinking red wine will protect you from heart disease, even if you eat lots of high-fat, high-cholesterol food. Although the risk of heart disease was lower in France than in Britain, the difference was not due to some magical properties of wine. It was due partly to under-reporting of coronary artery disease as a cause of death and partly due to a time-lag effect. It takes a while for a fatty diet to clog up your arteries, and the French hadn’t been eating as much fat as the British had been eating for as long as the British had been eating it. These explanations had been published in the British Medical Journal in 1999. You can read the article for free here.

If you want to eliminate your risk of heart attack, not just decrease it a little, you’d eat a low-fat, purely plant-based diet.

Alcoholic beverages, including wine, can have several effects that influence a person’s risk of dying of a heart attack. Winos who die of cirrhosis of the liver often have amazingly clean arteries. That’s because their liver lost the ability to make cholesterol. Even moderate intake of alcoholic beverages can have several effects on coronary artery disease. The antioxidants in some alcoholic beverages, including wine, could prevent LDL cholesterol from becoming oxidized, and thus could help reduce the buildup of atherosclerotic plaque. Of course, you could get these same antioxidants from plant foods that haven’t been fermented. Alcohol can also thin the blood, and thus help to decrease the chance of a fatal heart attack or ischemic stroke. On the other hand, it would increase the risk of a fatal hemorrhage. I haven’t seen any convincing evidence that adding any form of alcohol to a low-fat, plant-based diet would provide any health benefits.

The French paradox turned out to be a myth. However, there are some Japanese paradoxes that are real. One involves cigarette smoking. The other involves obesity and diabetes.

Japanese smokers are less likely than American smokers to get lung cancer. This is called the Japanese Smoking Paradox. Some people think that it’s because Japanese are smoking safer cigarettes or have some magical protective genes. The more rational explanation is that the Japanese have been eating less fat and animal protein and more vegetables than Americans have been eating. Eating the traditional Japanese diet, as opposed to the standard American diet, helps to protect people against many kinds of cancer, not just lung cancer.

Another paradox involves Japanese children. Over the past few decades, Japanese children have been getting fatter, and the incidence of type 2 diabetes among Japanese children has been going up. This has been happening even though their calorie intake hasn’t increased significantly. They have been eating a lot more fat and animal protein. In other words, they’ve been getting a smaller percentage of their calories from carbohydrates, which were mainly in the form of white rice. So why do the low-carb gurus keep telling me that we need to eat more fat and less carbohydrate? Is this another paradox? If so, what should we call it?

Lessons From Slavery: Malnutrition and Rickets Stunt Children’s Growth

Here’s an interesting article about research that attempted to figure out exactly why Black children’s growth was so badly stunted in the 19th century United States. It concluded that most of the stunting was due to general malnutrition. The growth of some dark-skinned children, especially in the northern states, could also have been limited by shortages of vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin.

To Cure Obesity, “Eat Less Fat and More Starch”

Here’s an interesting article about the Pima Indians of Arizona.

For about 2000 years, the Pima had been growing corn, beans, and squash on irrigated land in Arizona. As a result, their traditional diet was high in starch and fiber and low in fat (~15% by calorie). After white settlers diverted the Pima’s irrigation water, the Pima had to fall back on the lard, sugar, and white flour supplied to them by the U.S. government. After World War II, the Pima adopted a diet that closely resembles the standard American diet. It is low in fiber and gets about 40% of its calories from fat. As a result, they have horrifically high rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes. In contrast, their blood relatives in Mexico who have kept more or less to their traditional diet have relatively low rates of obesity and diabetes.

Some low-carb gurus have tried to twist the Pima’s story into a justification for eating less carbohydrate and more fat. In reality, it provides strong encouragement for people to eat more starch and fiber and a lot less fat.

Pigs are a “mixing vessel” for new strains of flu

The influenza viruses that circulate during an ordinary flu season are bad enough. But every so often, a new and more dangerous strain of influenza virus starts circulating. The worst strains of flu are hybrids of ordinary flu viruses with strains that don’t normally infect human beings. Some researchers believe that the dangerous new strains of flu arise when unrelated strains of flu virus meet and swap genes in domestic pigs.

There are two basic ways in which a new strain of the flu can get started. One is through ordinary mutation. Influenza viruses mutate incredibly fast because their genes are in a single strand of RNA. Without the “backup copy” that you find in double-stranded DNA, they can’t use their host cell’s proofreading equipment to find and correct copying mistakes in their genes. Here’s a technical explanation, for people who like math. It explains why influenza viruses mutate about 300 times faster than poliovirus and even about 10 times as fast as HIV.

Normally, an unstable genome would be a bad thing. That’s because most mutations are harmful to the virus itself. A virus with an unstable genome would tend to die out unless it reproduced itself in large numbers very quickly and had the ability to recombine with related viruses. But under those circumstances, the genetic instability turns into an advantage! It enables the virus to stay one step ahead of the host’s immune system. We can get the flu again and again because the flu that’s going around this year is a little bit different from the strain that went around last year. The antibodies we made last year aren’t a perfect match for this year’s flu.

The very worst flu strains are the ones that are radically different from the ones that had been going around in earlier years. They can infect more people and cause a more serious illness. These pandemic flu strains seem to represent a combination of genes from different strains of flu: some ordinary human flu strains plus some unfamiliar type of flu that normally infects wild birds. That’s why there’s been so much hysteria lately about “avian flu.” Pigs seem to be a perfect “mixing vessel” for new and deadly strains of flu, such as the “swine flu” that caused millions of deaths at the end of World War I.

Preventing future flu pandemics would be simple. All we have to do is stop raising domestic poultry and domestic swine. At the very least, the use of antiviral drugs in agriculture should be banned. Otherwise, they will no longer be useful against flu.

Ask the California State Senate to Require Nutrition Education for MDs

The California State Senate is considering legislation to require doctors to learn about nutrition if they want to keep their license to practice medicine. Yes, state legislatures can do that! Here’s the text of SB 380. If you live in California, ask your state senator to support it. If you don’t live in California but have friends in California, ask them to ask their state senator to support it.

In a hearing about this legislation, John McDougall, MD, said,

The joke is that a doctor and his secretary know the same about nutrition unless she is on a diet, in which case she knows more. … If you correct what’s making people sick, they get well.

The California Medical Association opposes the measure. Of course they do. Their representative suggested that ophthalmologists and orthopedic surgeons don’t need to get this training. She’s somehow ignoring the fact that our major causes of new cases of blindness and vision loss are diabetes, macular degeneration, and cataracts, all of which are strongly linked to diet. Ophthalmologists should know this. The joint diseases that cause people to end up getting a knee replacement are largely dietary. Orthopedic surgeons should know this. The CMA hasn’t made sure that they learn it. The state government can demand that doctors learn it if they want to keep their license.

It would be in the best interest of the people of California for their doctors to get proper training in nutrition. Therefore, the California legislature should use its power to regulate the medical profession to insist that doctors get this training. That’s why the state governments were given the power to regulate the medical profession to begin with!

Watch the testimony here.

Photo by JasonDGreat

Dietary Therapy for Ankylosing Spondylitis

When people get sick, the cause is usually their genes or something in the environment or some combination of the two. For many of our common autoimmune diseases, the cause is probably a combination of genes and diet.

In 2001, a German medical journal published a case study of a patient who had a double dose of the gene that increases people’s risk of getting ankylosing spondylitis, a form of inflammatory arthritis that attacks the spine. He’d been sick for about 10 years and had gotten little relief from all the drugs and other treatments he’d tried. Nevertheless, he started feeling dramatically better within a matter of days after starting a purely plant-based diet. When he went back to eating meat again several weeks later, his symptoms flared up again. When he went back to eating a purely plant-based diet, his condition improved so much that he was able to stop taking most of his medication.

Yes, I know that this is just a case study, but its results are consistent with the results of other kinds of clinical studies and they make sense in terms of the biology. In that context, a case study like this, which shows that a simple and generally beneficial intervention can produce such dramatic improvements, should inspire someone to do a large, well-designed clinical trials. Sadly, when I went to www.clinicaltrials.gov to see what kind of research was being done on ankylosing spondylitis, I found lots and lots of drug studies but no dietary studies. How can researchers justify giving people powerful and dangerous drugs before finding out whether the problem can be solved in a matter of days with a simple change in diet?

Photo by planetc1