Tag Archives: cholesterol

Breast Cancer – Plant Foods are Powerful

breast cancer 6October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to remind women and the men who love them that a plant-based diet is the best diet for both avoiding and battling the disease.

Breast cancer is a very complicated disease but here are just a few of the ways that a veg diet helps. Cancer, including breast cancer, can be caused by toxic chemicals found in the environment, called carcinogens, that greatly concentrate in animal tissue and then get transferred to us when we eat animal-derived foods. Also, other carcinogens called heterocyclic amines, or HCA’s for short, form when meat is cooked. By consuming a plant based diet you can avoid almost all of these dangerous carcinogens. Read more

Losing your mind for the sake of a steak!

Old man forgettingMore and more people worry about getting Alzheimer’s disease and losing their memory. They wonder what’s the best way of preventing it?

They have good reason to worry. There are currently about 5 million people in the US with Alzheimer’s, and it claims the lives of 500,000 people each year. Here in Washington there are about 100,000 people with the disease. Women outnumber men with Alzheimer’s almost 2 to 1.

Alzheimer’s is a disease that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, eventually becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.

The incidence of Alzheimer’s disease rises each year. By 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease may nearly triple, from 5 million to as many as 16 million, if something isn’t done to prevent it.

Alzheimer’s may also be the most expensive disease in America. In 2014, the direct costs to American society of caring for those with Alzheimer’s will total an estimated $214 billion each year. The price tag rises each year. Alzheimer’s will cost an estimated $1.2 trillion by 2050.

Many doctors consider the brain the most complicated and miraculous organ in the body. A healthy brain typically contains 100 billion brain cells and each brain cells interacts with several others this results in about 100 trillion connections!

Just as the brain is complex so Alzheimer’s Disease is as well. It interferes with the operation of the brain cells and their interconnections. Part of the way it does this is by causing plaque-like formations made up of a protein called Beta Amyloid.

Since genetics accounts for only about 5% of cases, scientists are looking hard for the cause or causes of the disease and how to prevent it, especially with lifestyle changes including diet.

According to the most current research, a brain-healthy diet is one that reduces the risk factors of Alzheimer’s such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity and diabetes.

As we know, a healthy vegetarian diet reduces the risks of all these diseases. Therefore, the best diet for preventing Alzheimer’s disease is a vegetarian diet made up of vegetables, whole grains, legumes such as beans, peas and lentils, plus nuts and fruits, which are the most effective foods for reducing the risk of all these diseases.

In fact, one study showed that vegetarians had only half the risk of Alzheimer’s compared with those who were following a meat-centered diet but had an otherwise healthy lifestyle, and long time vegetarians had only one third the risk.

While there are several aspects of a vegetarian diet that may be at work here, recent research has focused one in particular: cholesterol. Medical studies show that even mildly elevated cholesterol significantly raises the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. Cholesterol that’s elevated in mid-life increases the risk of getting the disease in the senior years.

In just the past few months, scientists seem to have discovered just how cholesterol is connected to Alzheimer’s Disease. The latest study showed that “unhealthy patterns of cholesterol could be directly causing the higher levels of amyloid known to contribute to Alzheimer’s, in the same way that such patterns promote heart disease.” said Bruce Reed, lead study author and associate director of the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. What impressed us about this study is that it was done on living people’s brains and confirmed the studies done on lab specimens.

Other studies have highlighted the role of the phytonutrients found in plant foods in keeping the brain healthy. Phytonutrients are special substances only found in plant foods. They provide additional health benefits along with other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber.

So now we know that what’s good for the heart is good for the mind. It seems that the poets were right all along!

Additional tips on avoiding Alzheimer’s include taking vitamin B12 supplements, stopping smoking, drinking only very modest amounts of alcohol, going for walks and keeping your brain active by following your interests and hobbies.

Cardiologist: Put us out of business, by going vegan!

Cardiologist Ken WilliamsDr Kim Williams, the president of the American College of Cardiology, recently proclaimed that cardiologists can put themselves out of business if they just tell their patients to go vegan. He asks “Wouldn’t it be a laudable goal of the American College of Cardiology to put ourselves out of business?”

Following the old dictum “physician heal thyself” Dr Williams first went vegan to treat his own cholesterol problem. His cholesterol has been going up and up, and he found that going on a low-fat meat-centered diet was not enough. He had to go vegan and discover first hand the power of plant foods to treat the most common health problem in America, high cholesterol that leads to heart attacks. After only six weeks his cholesterol dropped down, way down, to where he wanted it.

He found that only when the dietary cholesterol was eliminated from his diet, did he reach a healthy cholesterol level in his blood. He was able to eliminate the cholesterol from his diet by avoiding dairy and animal products. Instead of eating chicken and fish, he started eating vegetable-based meat substitutes, like veggie burgers and sausages made from soy and other plant proteins, plus nuts. He also switched to almond milk from cow’s milk.

He said his enthusiasm for plant-based diets was also based on the medical literature. He cited observational studies of tens of thousands of people, that found that people following vegetarian diets lived longer than meat eaters and had lower rates of death from heart disease, diabetes and other diseases. And he pointed to research carried out by Dr. Dean Ornish, the pioneering cardiologist, who found that patients, who were put on a program that included a vegetarian diet, reversed the coronary plaque build up in their arteries and had fewer heart attacks.

Wanting to apply his research and own experience, he says that he “has made a habit of telling patients who are obese and plagued by metabolic problems like Type 2 diabetes to try eating… less meat. I recommend a plant-based diet because I know it’s going to lower their blood pressure, improve their insulin sensitivity and decrease their cholesterol and so I recommend it in all those conditions.”  And, he even likes to discuss some of his favorite vegan foods with his patients as well. He says that one of his favorites is “an Italian sausage that is hard to distinguish from real meat until you check your blood pressure. I encourage patients to go to the grocery store and sample different plant-based versions of many of the basic foods they eat. For me, some of the items, such as chicken and egg substitutes, were actually better-tasting.”

According to Dr. Dean Ornish, “We tend to think of advances in medicine as a new drug, laser, or surgical device, something high-tech and expensive. Yet, the simple choices we make in what we eat and how we live have a powerful influence on our health and well-being.” The most influential trend in medicine today, growing exponentially, is the emerging field of what is known as “lifestyle medicine” – lifestyle as treatment, not just prevention.

Besides Williams and Ornish, other leading cardiologists have been putting patients on a vegan diet, advocating what amounts to vegetarian nutritional medicine as well. For instance, the Editor in Chief of the American Journal of Cardiology, Dr. William C. Roberts, also proclaimed the vegan diet as best for heart health.

But, don’t feel too bad about putting your doctor out of business. There will still be a few diseases for him to handle. It’s just that now he’s going to have plenty of time in his schedule for recreation! For more information on how a plant-based diet leads the way to a healthy heart see our postings on Spring Clean Your Heart, and Interview with a Cardiologist.

Please note that any changes to diet should only be made in consultation with a medical doctor.

Breast Cancer and Cholesterol – Good News for Vegetarians!

breast cancer 6Doctors have recently found an important clue to solving the problem of preventing and reversing breast cancer. For years they noticed that women taking statin drugs lowered their risk of breast cancer as well, but they didn’t know why. But now the answer has been found, and another advantage that vegetarians have, in lowering their risk for breast cancer, becomes clearer.

Most breast cancers are sensitive to estrogen, which can stimulate their growth. It turns out that as the body metabolizes or breaks down cholesterol so that it can be eliminated, a substance called 27Hydroxycholesterol, or 27HC for short, is produced in abundant amounts. Scientists have now discovered that 27HC acts like estrogen in promoting breast cancer and its spread throughout the body.

This also explains why estrogen-blocking drugs such as Tamoxifen sometimes fail to be effective. It’s because often the person has high cholesterol, which produces high levels of 27HC which promotes the cancer.

The good news is that high cholesterol is something every woman can do something about. Rather than trying to develop a drug to block 27HC, the doctors at Duke University presented a more practical idea for breast cancer patients. That is, they recommended they reduce their cholesterol levels through diet.

Naturally, lowering cholesterol levels through diet modifications may not only help keep levels of 27HC in check, it may also improve risk factors for heart disease. And since research suggests that many breast cancer patients actually die from cardiovascular disease, lowering elevated cholesterol levels through diet is a great choice for heart health as well!

Vegetarians and vegans are at lower risk of breast cancer in the first place and this may be one of the reasons why. In fact, studies show that vegetarians have a much lower cholesterol than average and vegans have levels even lower than that. Added to this are the higher intakes of fruits and vegetables, which have been shown to lower cancer risk as well. It turns out again and again that cutting out meat and other animal products is the best way to eat for so many health considerations.

Beyond Pink Slime

Oh yuk! There’s something called pink slime in hamburgers and we’re feeding it to our kids at school! In response to a large number of grossed out parents and the general public at large, a growing number school districts, restaurants and grocery stores are rapidly removing hamburgers and ground beef which contain pink slime from their offerings. Pink slime is the common term used to describe cuttings and scrapings of meat often taken from the less appetizing parts of the cow and then treated with the harsh chemical ammonium hydroxide to kill the bacteria it usually contains.

While we have no problem with removing pink slime from the burgers, there are much more serious problems with the common hamburger that can’t be so easily fixed, and which harm us much more than just making us hold our noses and saying yuk. Ultimately there is no such thing as safe meat. Meat is loaded with cholesterol and saturated fat, not to mention E. Coli and other pathogens that can cause serious illnesses. Let’s take a look at some of them and ask ourselves why, given the problems they cause, we still have hamburgers on the menus at all.

Topping our list are artery-clogging saturated fat and cholesterol that are found in hamburgers in plentiful amounts. While fat and cholesterol may not sound as objectionable as pink slime, the damage they cause is much worse. It turns out that saturated fat and cholesterol are the culprits behind clogged arteries which in the heart can cause heart attacks, and in the brain can cause strokes. These two diseases are the number one and number three causes of death in America.

Next on our list of burger problems are antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Most farm animals these days are raised on what are known as factory farms. On factory farms, animals are badly crowded together, and overcrowding promotes the spread of disease. To enable farm animals to survive under such harsh and unnatural conditions, farmers must routinely give them antibiotics in their daily feed. The problem is that, with repeated use, all antibiotics become less and less effective because the bacteria develop resistance to it. In one study of meat collected from supermarkets, almost all the bacteria found were resistant to at least one antibiotic, and over half the bacteria tested were resistant to three different antibiotics.

Antibiotics have been haled as the miracle drugs of the 20th century, but they are now under threat. Doctors are frustrated by rising numbers of infections resistant to their arsenal of antibiotics. When these medicines don’t work, patients suffer or even die, and our nation’s health tab also ratchets upward.  Doctors worry that the day may soon come when their prescriptions will no longer work, and we will go back to the old days when infections were rampant and people died from them. 

Rounding out our list are toxic and cancer causing chemicals. Broadly speaking, there are three kinds of toxic chemicals out there that are the most worrisome: those that were deliberately applied in agriculture, industrial chemicals discharged as pollutants, and chemicals directly applied to food or which emerge during its cooking and processing.  When agricultural chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides are applied to crops, or industrial pollutants such as PCBs, dioxins and mercury contaminate the air and water, they wind up being consumed by the farm animals. Other toxic chemicals such as heterocyclic amines or HCA’s are formed when the meat is cooked. Many of these toxic chemicals have been shown to cause serious health problems ranging from birth defects to cancer.

The problem is that the farm animals (and fish which consume polluted algae) store these chemicals in their bodies, especially in the fatty portions, in a process known as bioaccumulation. Day after day, and year after year, the levels of these chemicals build until the animal is finally killed for food. When we eat the animal, we get much of the toxic chemicals they have been storing.

What about the toxic chemicals on the crops themselves, that vegetarians eat directly, you may ask? This is a legitimate concern. However meat often has levels of toxic chemicals 10 times higher than in plant foods, as a result of the animals storing and concentrating them day after day. In fact, most Americans get 90% of their toxic exposure through meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy. 

Just how serious is the problem of toxic chemicals in meat?  According to Oxford University Physician Paula Baillie Hamilton, “We are one of the most polluted species on the planet. Indeed, we are all so contaminated that if we were cannibals our meat would be banned from human consumption.” No wonder cancer has become so much more common in recent times.

 Here in the US, Neal Barnard MD, President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, sums up the overall problem with meat when he says, “Whether it’s pink slime or organic and grass-fed beef, it all leads to obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other life-threatening illnesses.” The pink slime victory shows just how powerful consumers can be when they come together to fight an unsafe product. But it’s hardly the end of the battle. It’s time to face up to the consequences of our meaty diets and move to more healthful ways of eating.

Statin Drugs Boost Type 2 Diabetes Risk

Here’s yet another reason to try a vegetarian diet first, in the ongoing battle against artery-clogging cholesterol. Cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Researchers with the Women’s Health Initiative determined this, after following a group of postmenopausal women for many years. Women taking a statin drug in the beginning of the study had a 48 percent greater risk of developing diabetes, compared with nonusers. This study adds to several others showing a link between statin drugs and increased risk of diabetes.