Why Whole Plant Based Food?

A brief review with pertinent research

Let’s Get Serious!

… and a bit nerdy 

One third of adults in America are overweight [1]. Obesity in youth has increased three fold over the last 30 years [2]. In the United States we spend more on healthcare than any other nation [3], yet we are ranked 40th amongst the Western industrialized countries in terms of quality of care and mortality rates [4]. We’re paying A LOT as a nation, but we’re not healthier (in fact we’re less healthy comparatively). Where is the disconnect? Consider the following leading causes of death in America, according to the National Vital Statistics Report [5]:

1. Heart Disease*
2. Cancer*
3. Lower Respiratory Disease*
4. Stroke*
5. Accidents
6. Alzheimer’s Disease*
7. Diabetes*
8. Influenza and pneumonia
9. Nephritis Syndromes*
10. Suicides

Here in Utah according to the State Vital Statistics Report from 2012 [6] we differ only slightly with the nation:

1. Diseases of the heart*
2. Malignant Neoplasms (cancer)*
3. Unintentional Injuries (accidents)
4. Cerebrovascular disease (stroke)*
5. Chronic lower respiratory disease*
6. Diabetes*
7. Suicides
8. Alzheimer’s Disease*
9. Influenza and pneumonia
10. Nephritis Syndromes*

(* Strong nutrition linkage)

Considering the top ten causes of death in Utah, of those top ten, seven have a strong link with nutrition, meaning what we eat affects the disease processes. There is an avalanche of research that has been done on this topic. I will attempt to scratch the surface and briefly review the top two causes of death in Utah and the nation, heart disease and cancer.

1. Heart Disease
The number one killer of Americans and Utahans alike. Based on various studies and autopsy data it is now known that from as young as 16 years old, signs of heart disease are present in most Americans [7, 8, 9]. The mechanism and process  of the variety of heart diseases is vast and complicated. In very brief summary most cardiac issues can be linked to or start with damaged endothelial cells which are the very small cells lining every blood vessel in our bodies. When these cells are damaged- hardening, plaque buildup and inflammation occur. It’s been shown that within minutes of one fatty meal of hash browns and sausage, vascular damage is not only present but measurable with ultrasound [10] in healthy young adults. High oil foods damage endothelial cells [11] even in the healthy. Foods highest in fat and oil are animal products including eggs, fish, meat and dairy. High fat foods also include olive oil and coconut oil. Oil is oil is pure fat and will damage endothelial cells [11]. In a fascinating study Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn MD followed 23 men and 1 woman who were diagnosed with severe triple vessel heart disease. They were advised to strictly avoid: oil, fish, fowl, meat and dairy and adopt a whole food plant based diet. Over the 12 year study 6 patients dropped out, among those 6 patients were reported 13 new cardiac events including 1 death. Among the remaining 18 compliant patients no new cardiac events or deaths were reported over the 12 year time period. Not only were there no cardiac events or deaths, imaging studies revealed Dr. Esselestyn successfully reversed these 18 patients’ very severe heart disease with diet [12].

2. Cancer
When considering an extremely complex disease process such as cancer with multitudes of phases of initiation, progression and development in association with nutrition which is also a vastly complex subject, the data I find most compelling is large epidemiological human studies that identify patterns in eating habits in association to cancer rates. However these large studies that identify very solid patterns are not as widely accepted as laboratory studies. Here I will discuss the latter.  In the laboratory the more widely accepted reductionist clinical trials can be done only on animals as most healthy human beings would rather not be given cancer on purpose by scientists. These are important implications when considering the following statement: animal protein is strongly correlated with the initiation and progression of cancer. Casein is the protein found in cow milk and all related products. In the 60’s a study was done with the hopes of proving diets higher in protein would help decrease tumor growth when the subject was exposed to a known carcinogen. Interestingly the results were quite the opposite [13]. When rodents were fed a diet high in the dairy protein casein their tumor rates were higher, when they ate a diet low in dairy protein their tumor growth rates were much lower. This study was repeated by researchers at Cornell University in the 70’s with the same finding [14]. The Cornell team took this idea and published studies throughout the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s [15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20]. They found that even in the presence of exposure to known carcinogens animals who ate a diet high (but very comparable to the standard American diet) in protein had higher rates of tumor growth. In the presence of low protein diets tumor growth was low to none. One iteration of their studies fed rats varying levels of protein from 20% of daily calories to 5% of daily calories (the average American gets 22% to 36% of their daily calories from animal protein).  They found as the percentage of protein was increased and decreased malignant tumors increased and decreased. Essentially they could turn the genes that grew these neoplasms on and off with dietary protein. These thorough researchers also found diets high in plant proteins (wheat, soy) did not have the same tumor growing effect, the diets high in plant protein had lower tumor growth. Other researchers across the world studied the effect of viral onset cancer (HBV) and low vs high animal protein diets with the same result [21, 22] low to no animal protein diets showed to be protective against cancer.

Understanding the extremely STRONG correlation between dietary animal protein and cancer, let’s narrow it down a bit and consider dietary fat and breast cancer. In 1975 a very large study was done spanning 37 countries on the effect of dietary fat and breast cancer [23, 24]. This study found it was not fat alone but animal fat that had a very strong correlation with increased breast cancer cases across the developed world, where plant fat (nuts, seeds) had no discernible correlation. Understanding this means our focus on total fat is misguided, it is the animal fat we should eliminate.

The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Diet is a complex symphony of cause and effect within the human body. In isolation animal fat and protein are problematic and as noted above have been shown to increase cancer risk, whereas whole plant based food is protective against cancer. In a review by The World Cancer Research Fund of 144 studies, it was noted there was  protective effect from cancer in relation to the consumption of whole plant based food [25].

Many similar correlations between the harmful effects of animal foods and the protective effects of plant based foods can be linked to diabetes in adults [26, 27, 28, 29, 30], and children [31, 32, 33, 34, 35]. Cow’s milk is strongly linked to childhood allergies [36], otitis media (ear infections) in children [37], multiple sclerosis [38], and chronic constipation [39] to name a few. Animal products have also been linked with an increase of osteoporosis and hip fracture around the world [40] along with bone density loss [41].

The research showing the list of problems animal foods exacerbate and whole plant based foods help is seemingly endless. It is because of this vast, varied and thorough body of research and those who design, conduct, review and support it (to name a few: Dr. John A. McDougall, T. Colin Campbell PhD, Dr. Caldwell B Esselstyn, Dr. Neal D Barnard, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Douglas Lisle PhD, Jeff Novick MS RD) that Resilient Body Nutrition will work tirelessly to bring this information to people who are ready to commit to improved health and a positive lifestyle change in an easily digestible format.

References

  1. Cynthia L. Ogden, P. D., and Margaret D. Carroll, M.S.P.H. Prevalence of Overweight, Obesity, and Extreme Obesity Among Adults: United States, Trends 1960–1962 Through 2007–2008. (National Center for Health Statistics – Division of Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, 2010).
  2. Cynthia Ogden, P. D., and Margaret Carroll, M.S.P.H. Prevalence of Obesity Among Children and Adolescents: United States, Trends 1963–1965 Through 2007–2008. (National Center for Health Statistics – Division of Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, 2010)
  3. Health Insurance Association of America. Source Book of Health Insurance Data: 1999–2000. Washington, DC, 1999.
  4. World Health Organization. The world health report. “The World Health Report 2000—Health systems: improving performance” Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, 2000
  5. Anderson RN. “Deaths: leading causes for 2000.” National Vital Statistics Reports 50(16) 2002
  6. Houston J., Aschlimann M., Barrett M., Robison C., “Utah’s Vital Statistics, Births and Deaths 2012” Office of Vital Records and Statistics (Table 19, S-20) 2012
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