Color-Blind People May Not Notice That They’re Bleeding!

Unusual bleeding or discharge is one of the classic seven warning signs of cancer. Blood in the stool could be a sign of colon cancer. It’s also a common sign of diverticulosis of the colon. Unfortunately, people with red-green color blindness might not notice that they are passing blood with their bowel movements. Here’s an article about three color-blind men who didn’t notice that they were passing blood with their stool. One of them had colon cancer. Another had diverticulosis; he was bleeding heavily but mistook the blood for diarrhea. The third patient had bleeding from hemorrhoids. The men didn’t notice the blood because they can’t see the color red. Fortunately, their wives saw the blood and had them seek medical attention.

Red-green color-blindness is far more common in men than in women. That’s because men have only one copy of the X chromosome in each of their cells. If one of the genes on their X chromosome is defective, they don’t have a spare X chromosome to serve as a backup. Women don’t get red-green color-blindness unless they inherit a defective version of the gene from both parents. That’s why women rarely get red-green color-blindness, but even a woman with normal color vision can have color-blind sons.

Fortunately, the intestinal problems that these men had are preventable by diet. Colon cancer is rare in populations that eat a low-fat, plant-based diet. So are diverticulosis and hemorrhoids, which result from constipation.

Note: Since I wrote this post, glasses that correct for red-green colorblindness have become available!

No, It’s a Low-Fat, High-Fiber Diet That Keeps Gorillas Lean!

A recent article in the New York Times argued that gorillas stay slim because they eat a high-protein diet. While I’m glad to see someone else point out that a plant-based diet provides adequate amounts of protein, I’m annoyed to see scientists and journalists misunderstand and misrepresent the real significance of this fact. It’s as if they haven’t read the basic literature on nutrition and can’t understand arithmetic.

Yes, the gorilla’s natural diet is high in protein, as a percentage of calories. However, the gorillas’ natural food tends to be low in calories, because the calories are diluted by water and fiber. Gorillas have to eat an enormous amount of food every day to get enough calories. When human volunteers tried to eat a gorilla-style diet for a short period of time to see how it would affect their cholesterol levels, they had to spend more than 8 hours a day eating, just to get enough calories to keep from losing weight during the trial. Gorillas stay slim because of the high fiber content and low fat content of their food, not because of the balance of protein to carbohydrate in their food!

The biggest dietary challenge for a gorilla, as for any leaf-eater, is to get enough calories. When they eat a relatively high-protein diet, they just end up converting the excess protein to sugar and burning it for energy. Unfortunately, protein is “dirty sugar.” Burning protein for energy produces waste products such as urea and sulfuric acid.

People can stay very slim on a high-carbohydrate diet, if it is also high in fiber and low in fat. For example, when Chris Voigt of the Washington State Potato Commission decided to go on a potato-only diet as a publicity stunt, he figured that he had to eat 20 potatoes a day. In practice, he found it really hard to eat his entire potato ration, because potatoes are so filling. As a result, he lost a lot of weight. Even when he made an effort to eat his entire potato ration every day, he continued to lose weight. That’s because a starchy diet improves insulin sensitivity and thus revs up your metabolism. People who eat starchy diets burn more calories than people on fatty diets. Voigt lost 21 pounds during his 60-day potato diet. His cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and even his blood sugar levels decreased!

According to the New York Times, Dr. Raubenheimer claimed that modern societies “are diluting the concentration of protein in the modern diet. But we eat to get the same amount of proteins we needed before, and in so doing, we’re overeating.” What nonsense!

Nutrition scientists have known for more than 100 years that human protein needs are modest and are easily met by any reasonable plant-based diet. Also, the societies with the biggest problem with obesity are also the ones with the highest protein intake! Modern societies are consuming too much fat and too little fiber. Animal foods are a big offender, because they contain fat but no fiber and usually no digestible carbohydrate. Refined foods are also a big offender, because they represent the concentrated calories from plants–with the fiber and other wholesome things stripped out.

The take-home lesson from the gorilla story shouldn’t have been that people need to eat more protein. It’s that people need to eat plants. If people don’t want to spend 8 hours a day eating leafy vegetables, they can eat some nice, filling potatoes or other starchy staples along with plenty of vegetables and fruit.

Coronary Artery Disease Is Not a Mental Disorder

Many laymen and even many doctors like the idea that people can give themselves a serious physical disease just by having bad thoughts, unpleasant feelings, or annoying personality traits. Yet it’s hard to find any scientific evidence that these psychological phenomena have any real effect on health. Nevertheless, the attempt to “psychologize” physical illness persists.

Although many people like the idea that their thoughts can influence their health, people can be amazingly resistant to the idea that their food choices matter. If I were a psychologist, I would use my training to figure out why our doctors in the United States ignore the overwhelming evidence that the standard American diet is the underlying reason for our major causes of death and disability. I’d try to figure out ways to help people realize that they’re eating their way into an early grave. I’d try to find ways to help people improve their diet, so that they can improve their health. Instead, psychologists have been trying to prove that coronary artery disease is a mental disorder. It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic!

By the end of World War II, anyone with common sense and access to the scientific literature should have realized that coronary artery disease results from the foods that people eat, not from the kinds of thoughts and feelings that go on in their minds. For example, heart disease became rare in Norway after the Nazis stole their farm animals and the Norwegians had to switch to a low-fat, plant-based diet. Rich, fatty foods were also in short supply for the civilian population in Germany during the war. As a result, German civilians stopped dying of heart attacks, despite all the stress and terror of Allied bombing raids.

After seeing these data, Nathan Pritikin realized that heart disease results from the foods people eat, not from the emotional stress in their lives. When he got a diagnosis of coronary artery disease, he cleaned up his own diet and encouraged others to do the same.

Nevertheless, Americans still clung to the idea that heart disease is a mental disorder. First, people thought that the cause was “emotional stress.” Then they blamed “type A personality.” Then they blamed “pessimism.” It’s all a crock. Lots of people in China had emotional stress, type A personalities, and pessimism. Yet research showed that they weren’t dying of heart attacks, because their average cholesterol was shockingly low by American standards, thanks to their low-fat, high-fiber diet.

Where There’s E. Coli, There’s Poop!

A large and deadly outbreak of food poisoning in Europe has been linked to a “super-toxic” new strain of Escherichia coli bacteria. The outbreak seems to be linked to the consumption of fresh vegetables. Yet whenever I hear of an outbreak of E. coli, I wonder, “Where’s the poop?”

The natural habitat of E. coli is inside the intestines of warm-blooded animals. Since vegetables are not warm-blooded, and they have no intestines, how can they be a source of E. coli? The answer, of course, is that E. coli can survive outside of their host for a short time. That’s how they can spread from one host to another. It’s also why “coliform bacteria counts” are used to evaluate how badly a body of water has been contaminated with raw sewage. If vegetables are spreading E. coli, it’s because they’ve been contaminated by the droppings of a warm-blooded animal.

Some strains of E. coli are normal inhabitants of the human intestinal tract. However, if you find ordinary E. coli you might also find other, more dangerous bacteria and viruses that can spread from one person to another by the “fecal-oral route,” which is when people swallow something that has been contaminated by someone else’s poop.

The E. coli strains that are commonly found inside human intestines have learned to live inside a human host without causing any trouble under normal circumstances. Unfortunately, the E. coli that normally live in the intestines of other kinds of animals, such as cattle, can make people really sick. Even more unfortunately, E. coli bacteria can swap genes with other strains of E. coli, and even with unrelated bacteria. Thus, bacteria can learn bad habits from each other. They may learn how to make a deadly new toxin, or how to resist antibiotics.

If history is any guide, this outbreak of deadly E. coli food poisoning resulted from the use of fresh animal manure to fertilize vegetables. Fresh manure is unsanitary. It should never be allowed anywhere near food that will be eaten raw!

Update, 6/6: At first, health officials suspected that the E. coli outbreak resulted from raw vegetables from Spain. Then, suspicion shifted to raw sprouts from an organic farm in Germany. Bean and alfalfa sprouts are a common source of Salmonella and E. coli food poisoning. That’s because they are often grown in moist conditions at a temperature that approximates human body temperature. However, sprouts aren’t fertilized and therefore should not have come into contact with cow manure. The E. coli would therefore have had to come from contaminated seeds, from contaminated water, or from one of the workers. The owner of the German sprout farm insists that there were no animals or animal products on site. It’s possible, but somewhat unlikely, for one of the workers to be carrying a dangerous bovine strain of E. coli. So far, health authorities have been unable to find any evidence of the E. coli strain in the sprouts or at the sprout producer’s premises. Of course, those tests can’t prove that the E. coli strain was never there. It’s possible that the source of the outbreak may never be known for sure.

Photo by Randy Heinitz

PCRM’s Plate Is Better Than USDA’s

The US Department of Agriculture has replaced its Food Pyramid with a plate and cup graphic, which is far better at conveying what they think people should eat. Unfortunately, USDA is still encouraging people to eat meat and dairy products, which contribute to the risk of heart disease, cancer, etc.

pcrm_new-4-food-groups-bmpThe Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine has a much better idea: a plate graphic that shows a truly healthy diet. They call it The Power Plate. It encourages people to eat a purely plant-based diet—the sort of diet that has been shown to be optimal for human health.

The Plate’s Not Much Better Than the Pyramid

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.

myplateThe 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.