9 out of 10 That Die From it Never Knew They Even Had This Preventable Disease

9 out of 10 That Die From it Never Knew They Even Had This Preventable Disease.jpeg

Diverticula are out-pouchings of our intestine. Doctors like using a tire analogy: high pressures within the gut can force the intestines to balloon out through weak spots in the intestinal wall like an inner tube poking out through a worn tire tread. You can see what they actually look like in my video, Diverticulosis: When Our Most Common Gut Disorder Hardly Existed. These pockets can become inflamed and infected, and, to carry the tire analogy further, can blow out and spill fecal matter into the abdomen, and lead to death. Symptoms can range from no symptoms at all, to a little cramping and bloating, to "incapacitating pain that is a medical emergency." Nine out of ten people who die from the disease never even knew they had it.

The good news is there may be a way to prevent the disease. Diverticular disease is the most common intestinal disorder, affecting up to 70% of people by age 60. If it's that common, though, is it just an inevitable consequence of aging? No, it's a new disease. In 1907, 25 cases had been reported in the medical literature. Not cases in 25% of people, but 25 cases period. And diverticular disease is kind of hard to miss on autopsy. A hundred years ago, in 1916, it didn't even merit mention in medical and surgical textbooks. The mystery wasn't solved until 1971.

How did a disease that was almost unknown become the most common affliction of the colon in the Western world within one lifespan? Surgeons Painter and Burkitt suggested diverticulosis was a deficiency disease--i.e., a disease caused by a deficiency of fiber. In the late 1800s, roller milling was introduced, further removing fiber from grain, and we started to fill up on other fiber-deficient foods like meat and sugar. A few decades of this and diverticulosis was rampant.

This is what Painter and Burkitt thought was going on: Just as it would be easy to squeeze a lump of butter through a bicycle tube, it's easy to move large, soft, and moist intestinal contents through the gut. In contrast, try squeezing through a lump of tar. When we eat fiber-deficient diets, our feces can become small and firm, and our intestines have to really squeeze down hard to move them along. This buildup of pressure may force out those bulges. Eventually, a low-fiber diet can sometimes lead to the colon literally rupturing itself.

If this theory is true, then populations eating high­-fiber diets would have low rates of diverticulosis. That's exactly what's been found. More than 50% of African Americans in their 50s were found to have diverticulosis, compared to less than 1% in African Africans eating traditional plant-based diets. By less than 1%, we're talking zero out of a series of 2,000 autopsies in South Africa and two out of 4,000 in Uganda. That's about one thousand times lower prevalence.

What, then, do we make of a new study concluding that a low-fiber diet was not associated with diverticulosis. I cover that in my video Does Fiber Really Prevent Diverticulosis?

For more on bowel health, see:

What if your doctor says you shouldn't eat healthy foods like nuts and popcorn because of your diverticulosis? Share with them my Diverticulosis & Nuts video.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sean T Evans / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Original Link

9 out of 10 That Die From it Never Knew They Even Had This Preventable Disease

9 out of 10 That Die From it Never Knew They Even Had This Preventable Disease.jpeg

Diverticula are out-pouchings of our intestine. Doctors like using a tire analogy: high pressures within the gut can force the intestines to balloon out through weak spots in the intestinal wall like an inner tube poking out through a worn tire tread. You can see what they actually look like in my video, Diverticulosis: When Our Most Common Gut Disorder Hardly Existed. These pockets can become inflamed and infected, and, to carry the tire analogy further, can blow out and spill fecal matter into the abdomen, and lead to death. Symptoms can range from no symptoms at all, to a little cramping and bloating, to "incapacitating pain that is a medical emergency." Nine out of ten people who die from the disease never even knew they had it.

The good news is there may be a way to prevent the disease. Diverticular disease is the most common intestinal disorder, affecting up to 70% of people by age 60. If it's that common, though, is it just an inevitable consequence of aging? No, it's a new disease. In 1907, 25 cases had been reported in the medical literature. Not cases in 25% of people, but 25 cases period. And diverticular disease is kind of hard to miss on autopsy. A hundred years ago, in 1916, it didn't even merit mention in medical and surgical textbooks. The mystery wasn't solved until 1971.

How did a disease that was almost unknown become the most common affliction of the colon in the Western world within one lifespan? Surgeons Painter and Burkitt suggested diverticulosis was a deficiency disease--i.e., a disease caused by a deficiency of fiber. In the late 1800s, roller milling was introduced, further removing fiber from grain, and we started to fill up on other fiber-deficient foods like meat and sugar. A few decades of this and diverticulosis was rampant.

This is what Painter and Burkitt thought was going on: Just as it would be easy to squeeze a lump of butter through a bicycle tube, it's easy to move large, soft, and moist intestinal contents through the gut. In contrast, try squeezing through a lump of tar. When we eat fiber-deficient diets, our feces can become small and firm, and our intestines have to really squeeze down hard to move them along. This buildup of pressure may force out those bulges. Eventually, a low-fiber diet can sometimes lead to the colon literally rupturing itself.

If this theory is true, then populations eating high­-fiber diets would have low rates of diverticulosis. That's exactly what's been found. More than 50% of African Americans in their 50s were found to have diverticulosis, compared to less than 1% in African Africans eating traditional plant-based diets. By less than 1%, we're talking zero out of a series of 2,000 autopsies in South Africa and two out of 4,000 in Uganda. That's about one thousand times lower prevalence.

What, then, do we make of a new study concluding that a low-fiber diet was not associated with diverticulosis. I cover that in my video Does Fiber Really Prevent Diverticulosis?

For more on bowel health, see:

What if your doctor says you shouldn't eat healthy foods like nuts and popcorn because of your diverticulosis? Share with them my Diverticulosis & Nuts video.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sean T Evans / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Original Link

Optimal Bowel Movement Position

Optimal Bowel Movement Position.jpeg

Compared to rural African populations eating traditional plant-based diets, white South Africans and black and white Americans have more than 50 times more heart disease, 10 times more colon cancer, more than 50 times more gallstones and appendicitis, and more than 25 times the rates of "pressure diseases"--diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, and hiatal hernia.

As I discussed in my Should You Sit, Squat, or Lean During a Bowel Movement?, bowel movements should be effortless. When we have to strain at stool, the pressure may balloon out-pouchings from our colon, causing diverticulosis; inflate hemorrhoids around the anus; cause the valves in the veins of our legs to fail, causing varicose veins; and even force part of the stomach up through the diaphragm into our chest cavity, causing a hiatal hernia (as I covered previously). When this was first proposed by Dr. Denis Burkitt, he blamed these conditions on the straining caused by a lack of fiber in the diet. He did, however, acknowledge there were alternative explanations. For example, in rural Africa, they used a traditional squatting position when they defecated, which may have taken off some of the pressure.

For hundreds of thousands of years, everyone used the squatting position, which may help by straightening the "anorectal angle." There's actually a kink at almost a 90-degree angle right at the end of the rectum that helps keep us from pooping our pants when we're just out walking around. That angle only slightly straightens out in a common sitting posture on the toilet. Maximal straightening out of this angle occurs in a squatting posture, potentially permitting smoother defecation. (I remember sitting in geometry class wondering when I'd ever use the stuff I was learning. Little did I know I would one day be calculating anorectal angles with it! Stay in school, kids :)

How did they figure this out? Researchers filled latex tubes with a radiopaque fluid, stuck them up some volunteers, and took X-rays with the hips flexed at various angles. They concluded that flexing the knees towards the chest like one does when squatting may straighten that angle and reduce the amount of pressure needed to empty the rectum. This idea wasn't directly put to the test until 2002, when researchers used defecography (which are X-rays taken while the person is defecating) on subjects in sitting and squatting positions. Indeed, squatting increased the anorectal angle from around 90 degrees all the way up to about 140.

So should we all get one of those little stools for our stools, like the Squatty Potty that you put in front of your toilet to step on? No, they don't seem to work. Researchers tried adding a footstool to decrease sitting height, but it didn't seem to significantly affect the time it took to empty one's bowels or decrease the difficulty of defecating. They tried even higher footstools, but people complained of extreme discomfort using them. Nothing seemed to compare with actual squatting, which may give the maximum advantage. However, in developed nations, it may not be convenient. But, we can achieve a similar effect by leaning forward as we sit, with our hands on or near the floor. The researchers advise all sufferers from constipation to adopt this forward-leaning position when defecating, as the weight of our torso pressing against the thighs may put an extra squeeze on our colons.

Instead of finding ways to add more pressure, why not get to the root of the problem? "The fundamental cause of straining is the effort required to pass unnaturally firm stools." By manipulating the anorectal angle through squatting or leaning, we can more easily pass unnaturally firm stools. But why not just treat the cause and eat enough fiber-containing whole plant foods to create stools so large and soft that you could pass them effortlessly at any angle?

Famed cardiologist Dr. Joel Kahn once said that you know you know you're eating a plant-based diet when "you take longer to pee than to poop."

In all seriousness, even squatting does not significantly decrease the pressure gradient that may cause a hiatal hernia. It does not prevent the pressure transmission down into the legs that may cause varicose veins. And this is not just a cosmetic issue. Protracted straining can cause heart rhythm disturbances and reduction in blood flow to the heart and brain, resulting in defecation-related fainting and death. Just 15 seconds of straining can temporarily cut blood flow to the brain by 21% and blood flow to the heart by nearly one-half, thereby providing a mechanism for the well-known "bed pan death" syndrome. If you think you have to strain a lot while sitting, try having a bowel movement on your back. Bearing down for just a few seconds can send our blood pressure up to nearly 170 over 110, which may help account for the notorious frequency of sudden and unexpected deaths of patients while using bed pans in hospitals. Hopefully, if we eat healthy enough, we won't end up in the hospital to begin with.

Wondering How Many Bowel Movements Should You Have Every Day? Watch the video to find out!

The "forcing part of your stomach up through the diaphragm into our chest cavity" phenomenon is covered in my video Diet and Hiatal Hernia. The "ballooning of out-pouchings from our colon" is called diverticulosis. There's a video I did about 6 years ago (Diverticulosis & Nuts), but I have some new and improved ones available: Diverticulosis: When Our Most Common Gut Disorder Hardly Existed and Does Fiber Really Prevent Diverticulosis?

More on that extraordinary African data here:

So excited to be able to slip in a plug for Dr. Kahn's work. His brand of "interpreventional cardiology" can be found at www.drjoelkahn.com.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank. This image has been modified.

Original Link

Optimal Bowel Movement Position

Optimal Bowel Movement Position.jpeg

Compared to rural African populations eating traditional plant-based diets, white South Africans and black and white Americans have more than 50 times more heart disease, 10 times more colon cancer, more than 50 times more gallstones and appendicitis, and more than 25 times the rates of "pressure diseases"--diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, and hiatal hernia.

As I discussed in my Should You Sit, Squat, or Lean During a Bowel Movement?, bowel movements should be effortless. When we have to strain at stool, the pressure may balloon out-pouchings from our colon, causing diverticulosis; inflate hemorrhoids around the anus; cause the valves in the veins of our legs to fail, causing varicose veins; and even force part of the stomach up through the diaphragm into our chest cavity, causing a hiatal hernia (as I covered previously). When this was first proposed by Dr. Denis Burkitt, he blamed these conditions on the straining caused by a lack of fiber in the diet. He did, however, acknowledge there were alternative explanations. For example, in rural Africa, they used a traditional squatting position when they defecated, which may have taken off some of the pressure.

For hundreds of thousands of years, everyone used the squatting position, which may help by straightening the "anorectal angle." There's actually a kink at almost a 90-degree angle right at the end of the rectum that helps keep us from pooping our pants when we're just out walking around. That angle only slightly straightens out in a common sitting posture on the toilet. Maximal straightening out of this angle occurs in a squatting posture, potentially permitting smoother defecation. (I remember sitting in geometry class wondering when I'd ever use the stuff I was learning. Little did I know I would one day be calculating anorectal angles with it! Stay in school, kids :)

How did they figure this out? Researchers filled latex tubes with a radiopaque fluid, stuck them up some volunteers, and took X-rays with the hips flexed at various angles. They concluded that flexing the knees towards the chest like one does when squatting may straighten that angle and reduce the amount of pressure needed to empty the rectum. This idea wasn't directly put to the test until 2002, when researchers used defecography (which are X-rays taken while the person is defecating) on subjects in sitting and squatting positions. Indeed, squatting increased the anorectal angle from around 90 degrees all the way up to about 140.

So should we all get one of those little stools for our stools, like the Squatty Potty that you put in front of your toilet to step on? No, they don't seem to work. Researchers tried adding a footstool to decrease sitting height, but it didn't seem to significantly affect the time it took to empty one's bowels or decrease the difficulty of defecating. They tried even higher footstools, but people complained of extreme discomfort using them. Nothing seemed to compare with actual squatting, which may give the maximum advantage. However, in developed nations, it may not be convenient. But, we can achieve a similar effect by leaning forward as we sit, with our hands on or near the floor. The researchers advise all sufferers from constipation to adopt this forward-leaning position when defecating, as the weight of our torso pressing against the thighs may put an extra squeeze on our colons.

Instead of finding ways to add more pressure, why not get to the root of the problem? "The fundamental cause of straining is the effort required to pass unnaturally firm stools." By manipulating the anorectal angle through squatting or leaning, we can more easily pass unnaturally firm stools. But why not just treat the cause and eat enough fiber-containing whole plant foods to create stools so large and soft that you could pass them effortlessly at any angle?

Famed cardiologist Dr. Joel Kahn once said that you know you know you're eating a plant-based diet when "you take longer to pee than to poop."

In all seriousness, even squatting does not significantly decrease the pressure gradient that may cause a hiatal hernia. It does not prevent the pressure transmission down into the legs that may cause varicose veins. And this is not just a cosmetic issue. Protracted straining can cause heart rhythm disturbances and reduction in blood flow to the heart and brain, resulting in defecation-related fainting and death. Just 15 seconds of straining can temporarily cut blood flow to the brain by 21% and blood flow to the heart by nearly one-half, thereby providing a mechanism for the well-known "bed pan death" syndrome. If you think you have to strain a lot while sitting, try having a bowel movement on your back. Bearing down for just a few seconds can send our blood pressure up to nearly 170 over 110, which may help account for the notorious frequency of sudden and unexpected deaths of patients while using bed pans in hospitals. Hopefully, if we eat healthy enough, we won't end up in the hospital to begin with.

Wondering How Many Bowel Movements Should You Have Every Day? Watch the video to find out!

The "forcing part of your stomach up through the diaphragm into our chest cavity" phenomenon is covered in my video Diet and Hiatal Hernia. The "ballooning of out-pouchings from our colon" is called diverticulosis. There's a video I did about 6 years ago (Diverticulosis & Nuts), but I have some new and improved ones available: Diverticulosis: When Our Most Common Gut Disorder Hardly Existed and Does Fiber Really Prevent Diverticulosis?

More on that extraordinary African data here:

So excited to be able to slip in a plug for Dr. Kahn's work. His brand of "interpreventional cardiology" can be found at www.drjoelkahn.com.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank. This image has been modified.

Original Link

Solving a Colon Cancer Mystery

Solving-a-Colon-Cancer-Mystery.jpeg

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, after lung cancer. The rates of lung cancer around the world vary by a factor of 10. If there was nothing we could do to prevent lung cancer--if it just happened at random--we'd assume that the rates everywhere would be about the same. But since there's such a huge variation in rates, it seems like there's probably some external cause. Indeed, we now know smoking is responsible for 90% of lung cancer cases. If we don't want to die of the number-one cancer killer, we can throw 90% of our risk out the window just by not smoking.

There's an even bigger variation around the world for colon cancer. As discussed in Solving a Colon Cancer Mystery, it appears colon cancer doesn't just happen, something makes it happen. If our lungs can get filled with carcinogens from smoke, maybe our colons are getting filled with carcinogens from food. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Limpopo sought to answer the question, "Why do African Americans get more colon cancer than native Africans?" Why study Africans? Because colon cancer is extremely rare in native African populations, more than 50 times lower than rates of Americans, white or black.

It's the fiber, right? The first to describe the low rates of colon cancer in native Africans, Dr. Denis Burkitt ascribed it to their staple diet traditionally high in whole grains and, consequently, high in fiber content. We seem to get a 10% reduction in risk for every 10 grams of fiber we eat a day. If it's a 1% drop for each gram, and native Africans are eating upwards of 100 grams a day, it could explain why colon cancer is so rare in sub-Saharan Africa.

Wait a second. The modern African diet is highly processed and low in fiber, yet there has been no dramatic increase in colon cancer incidence. Their diet today has such a low fiber content because most populations now depend on commercially produced refined cornmeal. We're not just talking low fiber intake, we're talking United States of America low, down around half the recommended daily allowance. Yet colon disease in Africa is still about 50 times less common than in the United States.

Maybe it's because native Africans are thinner and exercise more? No, they're not, and no, they don't. If anything, their physical activity levels may now be even lower than Americans'. So if they're sedentary like us and eating mostly refined carbs, few whole plant foods, and little fiber like us, why do they have 50 times less colon cancer than we do? There is one difference. The diet of both African Americans and Caucasian Americans is rich in meat, whereas the native Africans' diet is so low in meat and saturated fat they have total cholesterol levels averaging 139 mg/dL, compared to over 200 mg/dL in the United States.

They may not get a lot of fiber anymore, but they continue to minimize meat and animal fat consumption, which supports other evidence indicating the most powerful determinants of colon cancer risk may be meat and animal fat intake levels. So why do Americans get more colon cancer than Africans? Maybe the rarity of colon cancer in Africans is not the fiber, but their low animal product consumption.

Although opinions diverge as to whether cholesterol, animal fat, or animal protein is most responsible for the increased colon cancer risk, given that all three have been proven to have carcinogenic properties, it may not really matter which component is worse, as a diet laden in one is usually laden in the others.

I've previously suggested phytates may play a critical role as well (Phytates for the Prevention of Cancer). Resistant starch may be another player. Since native Africans cool down their corn porridge, some of the starch can crystallize and effectively turn into fiber. (This is the same reason pasta salad and potato salad better feed our gut bacteria than starchy dishes served hot.) I touch on it briefly in Bowel Wars: Hydrogen Sulfide vs. Butyrate. Resistant starch may also help explain Beans and the Second Meal Effect. And for even more, see Resistant Starch & Colon Cancer and Getting Starch to Take the Path of Most Resistance.

Fiber may just be a marker for healthier eating since it's only found concentrated in unprocessed plant foods. So the apparent protection afforded by high fiber diets may derive from whole food plant-based nutrition rather than the fiber itself (so fiber supplements would not be expected to provide the same protection). Here are some videos that found protective associations with higher fiber diets:

What might be in animal products that can raise cancer risk? Here's a smattering:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Original Link

Solving a Colon Cancer Mystery

Solving-a-Colon-Cancer-Mystery.jpeg

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, after lung cancer. The rates of lung cancer around the world vary by a factor of 10. If there was nothing we could do to prevent lung cancer--if it just happened at random--we'd assume that the rates everywhere would be about the same. But since there's such a huge variation in rates, it seems like there's probably some external cause. Indeed, we now know smoking is responsible for 90% of lung cancer cases. If we don't want to die of the number-one cancer killer, we can throw 90% of our risk out the window just by not smoking.

There's an even bigger variation around the world for colon cancer. As discussed in Solving a Colon Cancer Mystery, it appears colon cancer doesn't just happen, something makes it happen. If our lungs can get filled with carcinogens from smoke, maybe our colons are getting filled with carcinogens from food. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Limpopo sought to answer the question, "Why do African Americans get more colon cancer than native Africans?" Why study Africans? Because colon cancer is extremely rare in native African populations, more than 50 times lower than rates of Americans, white or black.

It's the fiber, right? The first to describe the low rates of colon cancer in native Africans, Dr. Denis Burkitt ascribed it to their staple diet traditionally high in whole grains and, consequently, high in fiber content. We seem to get a 10% reduction in risk for every 10 grams of fiber we eat a day. If it's a 1% drop for each gram, and native Africans are eating upwards of 100 grams a day, it could explain why colon cancer is so rare in sub-Saharan Africa.

Wait a second. The modern African diet is highly processed and low in fiber, yet there has been no dramatic increase in colon cancer incidence. Their diet today has such a low fiber content because most populations now depend on commercially produced refined cornmeal. We're not just talking low fiber intake, we're talking United States of America low, down around half the recommended daily allowance. Yet colon disease in Africa is still about 50 times less common than in the United States.

Maybe it's because native Africans are thinner and exercise more? No, they're not, and no, they don't. If anything, their physical activity levels may now be even lower than Americans'. So if they're sedentary like us and eating mostly refined carbs, few whole plant foods, and little fiber like us, why do they have 50 times less colon cancer than we do? There is one difference. The diet of both African Americans and Caucasian Americans is rich in meat, whereas the native Africans' diet is so low in meat and saturated fat they have total cholesterol levels averaging 139 mg/dL, compared to over 200 mg/dL in the United States.

They may not get a lot of fiber anymore, but they continue to minimize meat and animal fat consumption, which supports other evidence indicating the most powerful determinants of colon cancer risk may be meat and animal fat intake levels. So why do Americans get more colon cancer than Africans? Maybe the rarity of colon cancer in Africans is not the fiber, but their low animal product consumption.

Although opinions diverge as to whether cholesterol, animal fat, or animal protein is most responsible for the increased colon cancer risk, given that all three have been proven to have carcinogenic properties, it may not really matter which component is worse, as a diet laden in one is usually laden in the others.

I've previously suggested phytates may play a critical role as well (Phytates for the Prevention of Cancer). Resistant starch may be another player. Since native Africans cool down their corn porridge, some of the starch can crystallize and effectively turn into fiber. (This is the same reason pasta salad and potato salad better feed our gut bacteria than starchy dishes served hot.) I touch on it briefly in Bowel Wars: Hydrogen Sulfide vs. Butyrate. Resistant starch may also help explain Beans and the Second Meal Effect. And for even more, see Resistant Starch & Colon Cancer and Getting Starch to Take the Path of Most Resistance.

Fiber may just be a marker for healthier eating since it's only found concentrated in unprocessed plant foods. So the apparent protection afforded by high fiber diets may derive from whole food plant-based nutrition rather than the fiber itself (so fiber supplements would not be expected to provide the same protection). Here are some videos that found protective associations with higher fiber diets:

What might be in animal products that can raise cancer risk? Here's a smattering:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Original Link

Plant versus Animal Iron

Plant versus Animal Iron.jpeg

It is commonly thought that those who eat plant-based diets may be more prone to iron deficiency, but it turns out that they're no more likely to suffer from iron deficiency anemia than anybody else. This may be because not only do those eating meat-free diets tend to get more fiber, magnesium, and vitamins like A, C, and E, but they also get more iron.

The iron found predominantly in plants is non-heme iron, which isn't absorbed as well as the heme iron found in blood and muscle, but this may be a good thing. As seen in my video, The Safety of Heme vs. Non-Heme Iron, avoidance of heme iron may be one of the key elements of plant-based protection against metabolic syndrome, and may also be beneficial in lowering the risk from other chronic diseases such as heart disease.

The data linking coronary heart disease and the intake of iron, in general, has been mixed. This inconsistency of evidence may be because of where the iron comes from. The majority of total dietary iron is non-heme iron, coming mostly from plants. So, total iron intake is associated with lower heart disease risk, but iron intake from meat is associated with significantly higher risk for heart disease. This is thought to be because iron can act as a pro-oxidant, contributing to the development of atherosclerosis by oxidizing cholesterol with free radicals. The risk has been quantified as a 27% increase in coronary heart disease risk for every 1 milligram of heme iron consumed daily.

The same has been found for stroke risk. The studies on iron intake and stroke have had conflicting results, but that may be because they had never separated out heme iron from non-heme iron... until now. Researchers found that the intake of meat (heme) iron, but not plant (non-heme) iron, was associated with an increased risk of stroke.

The researchers also found that higher intake of heme iron--but not total or plant (non-heme) iron--was significantly associated with greater risk for type 2 diabetes. There may be a 16% increase in risk for type 2 diabetes for every 1 milligram of heme iron consumed daily.

The same has also been found for cancer, with up to 12% increased risk for every milligram of daily heme iron exposure. In fact, we can actually tell how much meat someone is eating by looking at their tumors. To characterize the mechanisms underlying meat-related lung cancer development, researchers asked lung cancer patients how much meat they ate and examined the gene expression patterns in their tumors. They identified a signature pattern of heme-related gene expression. Although they looked specifically at lung cancer, they expect these meat-related gene expression changes may occur in other cancers as well.

We do need to get enough iron, but only about 3% of premenopausal white women have iron deficiency anemia these days. However, the rates are worse in African and Mexican Americans. Taking into account our leading killers--heart disease, cancer, and diabetes--the healthiest source of iron appears to be non-heme iron, found naturally in abundance in whole grains, beans, split peas, chickpeas, lentils, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds.

But how much money can be made on beans, though? The processed food industry came up with a blood-based crisp bread, made out of rye flour and blood from cattle and pigs, which is one of the most concentrated sources of heme iron, about two-thirds more than blood from chickens. If blood-based crackers don't sound particularly appetizing, you can always snack on cow blood cookies. And there are always blood-filled biscuits, whose filling has been described as "a dark-colored, chocolate flavored paste with a very pleasant taste." (It's dark-colored because spray-dried pig blood can have a darkening effect on the food product's color.) The worry is not the color or taste, it's the heme iron, which, because of its potential cancer risk, is not considered safe to add to foods intended for the general population.

Previously, I've touched on the double-edged iron sword in Risk Associated With Iron Supplements and Phytates for the Prevention of Cancer. It may also help answer Why Was Heart Disease Rare in the Mediterranean?

Those eating plant-based diets get more of most nutrients since whole plant foods are so nutrient dense. See Nutrient-Dense Approach to Weight Management.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank

Original Link

Plant versus Animal Iron

Plant versus Animal Iron.jpeg

It is commonly thought that those who eat plant-based diets may be more prone to iron deficiency, but it turns out that they're no more likely to suffer from iron deficiency anemia than anybody else. This may be because not only do those eating meat-free diets tend to get more fiber, magnesium, and vitamins like A, C, and E, but they also get more iron.

The iron found predominantly in plants is non-heme iron, which isn't absorbed as well as the heme iron found in blood and muscle, but this may be a good thing. As seen in my video, The Safety of Heme vs. Non-Heme Iron, avoidance of heme iron may be one of the key elements of plant-based protection against metabolic syndrome, and may also be beneficial in lowering the risk from other chronic diseases such as heart disease.

The data linking coronary heart disease and the intake of iron, in general, has been mixed. This inconsistency of evidence may be because of where the iron comes from. The majority of total dietary iron is non-heme iron, coming mostly from plants. So, total iron intake is associated with lower heart disease risk, but iron intake from meat is associated with significantly higher risk for heart disease. This is thought to be because iron can act as a pro-oxidant, contributing to the development of atherosclerosis by oxidizing cholesterol with free radicals. The risk has been quantified as a 27% increase in coronary heart disease risk for every 1 milligram of heme iron consumed daily.

The same has been found for stroke risk. The studies on iron intake and stroke have had conflicting results, but that may be because they had never separated out heme iron from non-heme iron... until now. Researchers found that the intake of meat (heme) iron, but not plant (non-heme) iron, was associated with an increased risk of stroke.

The researchers also found that higher intake of heme iron--but not total or plant (non-heme) iron--was significantly associated with greater risk for type 2 diabetes. There may be a 16% increase in risk for type 2 diabetes for every 1 milligram of heme iron consumed daily.

The same has also been found for cancer, with up to 12% increased risk for every milligram of daily heme iron exposure. In fact, we can actually tell how much meat someone is eating by looking at their tumors. To characterize the mechanisms underlying meat-related lung cancer development, researchers asked lung cancer patients how much meat they ate and examined the gene expression patterns in their tumors. They identified a signature pattern of heme-related gene expression. Although they looked specifically at lung cancer, they expect these meat-related gene expression changes may occur in other cancers as well.

We do need to get enough iron, but only about 3% of premenopausal white women have iron deficiency anemia these days. However, the rates are worse in African and Mexican Americans. Taking into account our leading killers--heart disease, cancer, and diabetes--the healthiest source of iron appears to be non-heme iron, found naturally in abundance in whole grains, beans, split peas, chickpeas, lentils, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds.

But how much money can be made on beans, though? The processed food industry came up with a blood-based crisp bread, made out of rye flour and blood from cattle and pigs, which is one of the most concentrated sources of heme iron, about two-thirds more than blood from chickens. If blood-based crackers don't sound particularly appetizing, you can always snack on cow blood cookies. And there are always blood-filled biscuits, whose filling has been described as "a dark-colored, chocolate flavored paste with a very pleasant taste." (It's dark-colored because spray-dried pig blood can have a darkening effect on the food product's color.) The worry is not the color or taste, it's the heme iron, which, because of its potential cancer risk, is not considered safe to add to foods intended for the general population.

Previously, I've touched on the double-edged iron sword in Risk Associated With Iron Supplements and Phytates for the Prevention of Cancer. It may also help answer Why Was Heart Disease Rare in the Mediterranean?

Those eating plant-based diets get more of most nutrients since whole plant foods are so nutrient dense. See Nutrient-Dense Approach to Weight Management.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank

Original Link

Striving for Alkaline Pee and Acidic Poo

Stool pH and Colon Cancer.jpg

More than 30 years ago, an idea was put forward that high colonic pH promoted colorectal cancer. A high colonic pH may promote the creation of carcinogens from bile acids, a process that is inhibited once you get below a pH of about 6.5. This is supported by data which shows those at higher risk for colon cancer may have a higher stool pH, and those at lower risk have a low pH. There was a dramatic difference between the two groups, with most of the high risk group over pH 8, and most of the low risk group under pH 6 (see Stool pH and Colon Cancer).

This may help explain the 50-fold lower rates of colon cancer in Africa compared to America. The bacteria we have in our gut depends on what we eat. If we eat lots of fiber, then we preferentially feed the fiber eating bacteria, which give us back all sorts of health promoting substances like short-chain fatty acids that have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. More of these organic acids were found in the stools of native Africans than African Americans. More acids, so lower pH. Whereas putrefactive bacteria, eating animal protein, are able to increase stool pH by producing alkaline metabolites like ammonia.

The pH of the stools of white versus black children in Africa was compared. Children were chosen because you can more readily sample their stools, particularly the rural black schoolchildren who were eating such high fiber diets--whole grains, legumes, nuts, vegetables, fruits, and wild greens--that 90% of them could produce a stool on demand. Stuffed from head to tail with plants, they could give you a stool sample at any time, just as easy as getting a urine sample. It was hard to even get access to the white kids, though, who were reluctant to participate in such investigations, even though they were given waxed cartons fitted with lids while all the black kids got was a plate and a square of paper towel.

The researchers found significantly lower fecal pH in those eating the traditional, rural plant-based diets compared to those eating the traditional Western diet, who were eating far fewer whole plant foods than the black children. But, remove some of those whole plant foods, like switch their corn for white bread for just a few days and their stool pH goes up, and add whole plant foods like an extra five to seven servings of fruit every day, and their stool pH goes down even further and gets more acidic. It makes sense because when you ferment fruits, veggies, and grains, they turn sour, like vinegar, sauerkraut, or sourdough, because good bacteria like lactobacillus produce organic acids like lactic acid. Those who eat a lot of plants have more of those good bugs. So, using the purple cabbage test highlighted in my video, Testing Your Diet with Pee & Purple Cabbage, we want blue pee, but pink poo.

If you compare the fecal samples of those eating vegetarian or vegan to those eating standard diets, plant-based diets appear to shift the makeup of the bacteria in our gut, resulting in a significantly lower stool pH, and the more plant-based, the lower the pH dropped. It's like a positive feedback loop: fiber-eating bacteria produce the acids to create the pH at which fiber-eating bacteria thrive while suppressing the group of less beneficial bugs.

It might taken even as little as two weeks to bring stool pH down on a plant-based diet. In a study published in the British Journal of Cancer, a dozen volunteers carefully selected for their trustworthiness and randomized to sequentially go on regular, vegetarian, or vegan diets and two weeks in, a significant drop in fecal pH was achieved eating completely plant-based.

But there are differing qualities of plant-based diets. For example, the two groups followed in the study I mentioned earlier had dramatically different stool pH, yet both groups were vegetarian. The high risk group was eating mostly refined grains, very little fiber, whereas the low risk group was eating whole grains and beans, packed with fiber for our fiber-friendly flora to munch on.

Just as a "reduction of high serum cholesterol contributes to the avoidance of coronary heart disease," a fall in the fecal pH value may contribute to the avoidance of bowel cancer and through the same means, eating more whole plant foods.

More on colon cancer prevention in:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Kitti Sukhonthanit © 123RF.com. This image has been modified.

Original Link

Striving for Alkaline Pee and Acidic Poo

Stool pH and Colon Cancer.jpg

More than 30 years ago, an idea was put forward that high colonic pH promoted colorectal cancer. A high colonic pH may promote the creation of carcinogens from bile acids, a process that is inhibited once you get below a pH of about 6.5. This is supported by data which shows those at higher risk for colon cancer may have a higher stool pH, and those at lower risk have a low pH. There was a dramatic difference between the two groups, with most of the high risk group over pH 8, and most of the low risk group under pH 6 (see Stool pH and Colon Cancer).

This may help explain the 50-fold lower rates of colon cancer in Africa compared to America. The bacteria we have in our gut depends on what we eat. If we eat lots of fiber, then we preferentially feed the fiber eating bacteria, which give us back all sorts of health promoting substances like short-chain fatty acids that have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. More of these organic acids were found in the stools of native Africans than African Americans. More acids, so lower pH. Whereas putrefactive bacteria, eating animal protein, are able to increase stool pH by producing alkaline metabolites like ammonia.

The pH of the stools of white versus black children in Africa was compared. Children were chosen because you can more readily sample their stools, particularly the rural black schoolchildren who were eating such high fiber diets--whole grains, legumes, nuts, vegetables, fruits, and wild greens--that 90% of them could produce a stool on demand. Stuffed from head to tail with plants, they could give you a stool sample at any time, just as easy as getting a urine sample. It was hard to even get access to the white kids, though, who were reluctant to participate in such investigations, even though they were given waxed cartons fitted with lids while all the black kids got was a plate and a square of paper towel.

The researchers found significantly lower fecal pH in those eating the traditional, rural plant-based diets compared to those eating the traditional Western diet, who were eating far fewer whole plant foods than the black children. But, remove some of those whole plant foods, like switch their corn for white bread for just a few days and their stool pH goes up, and add whole plant foods like an extra five to seven servings of fruit every day, and their stool pH goes down even further and gets more acidic. It makes sense because when you ferment fruits, veggies, and grains, they turn sour, like vinegar, sauerkraut, or sourdough, because good bacteria like lactobacillus produce organic acids like lactic acid. Those who eat a lot of plants have more of those good bugs. So, using the purple cabbage test highlighted in my video, Testing Your Diet with Pee & Purple Cabbage, we want blue pee, but pink poo.

If you compare the fecal samples of those eating vegetarian or vegan to those eating standard diets, plant-based diets appear to shift the makeup of the bacteria in our gut, resulting in a significantly lower stool pH, and the more plant-based, the lower the pH dropped. It's like a positive feedback loop: fiber-eating bacteria produce the acids to create the pH at which fiber-eating bacteria thrive while suppressing the group of less beneficial bugs.

It might taken even as little as two weeks to bring stool pH down on a plant-based diet. In a study published in the British Journal of Cancer, a dozen volunteers carefully selected for their trustworthiness and randomized to sequentially go on regular, vegetarian, or vegan diets and two weeks in, a significant drop in fecal pH was achieved eating completely plant-based.

But there are differing qualities of plant-based diets. For example, the two groups followed in the study I mentioned earlier had dramatically different stool pH, yet both groups were vegetarian. The high risk group was eating mostly refined grains, very little fiber, whereas the low risk group was eating whole grains and beans, packed with fiber for our fiber-friendly flora to munch on.

Just as a "reduction of high serum cholesterol contributes to the avoidance of coronary heart disease," a fall in the fecal pH value may contribute to the avoidance of bowel cancer and through the same means, eating more whole plant foods.

More on colon cancer prevention in:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Kitti Sukhonthanit © 123RF.com. This image has been modified.

Original Link