Choosing to Have a Normal Blood Pressure

Oct 5 Blood Pressure copy.jpeg

For the first 90% of our evolution, humans ate diets containing less than a quarter teaspoon of salt a day. Why? Because we ate mostly plants. Since we went millions of years without salt shakers, our bodies evolved into salt-conserving machines, which served us well until we discovered salt could be used to preserve foods. Without refrigeration, this was a big boon to human civilization. Of course, this may have led to a general rise in blood pressure, but does that matter if the alternative is starving to death since all your food rotted away? But where does that leave us now, when we no longer have to live off pickles and jerky? We are genetically programmed to eat ten times less salt than we do now. Even many "low"-salt diets can be considered high-salt diets. That's why it's critical to understand what the concept of "normal" is when it comes to salt.

As I discuss in my video High Blood Pressure May Be a Choice, having a "normal" salt intake can lead to a "normal" blood pressure, which can help us to die from all the "normal" causes, like heart attacks and strokes.

Doctors used to be taught that a "normal" systolic blood pressure (the top number) is approximately 100 plus age. Babies start out with a blood pressure around 95 over 60, but then as we age that 95 can go to 120 by our 20s, then 140 in our 40s, and keep climbing as we age. (140 is the official cut-off above which one technically has high blood pressure.) That was considered normal, since everyone's blood pressure creeps up as we get older. And if that's normal, then heart attacks and strokes are normal too, since risk starts rising once we start getting above the 100 we had as a baby.

If blood pressures over 100 are associated with disease, maybe they should be considered abnormal. Were these elevated blood pressures caused by our abnormally high salt intake--ten times more than what our bodies were designed to handle? Maybe if we ate a natural amount of salt, our blood pressures would not go up with age and we'd be protected. Of course, to test that theory you'd have to find a population in modern times that doesn't use salt, eat processed food, or go out to eat. For that, you'd have to go deep into the Amazon rainforest.

Meet the Yanomamo people, a no-salt culture with the lowest salt intake ever reported. That is, they have a totally normal-for-our-species salt intake. So, what happens to their blood pressure on a no- or low-salt diet as they age? They start out with a blood pressure of about 100 over 60 and end up with a blood pressure of about 100 over 60. Though theirs is described as a salt-deficient diet, that's like saying they have a diet deficient in Twinkies. They're the ones, it seems, who are eating truly normal salt intakes, which leads to truly normal blood pressures. Those in their 50s have the blood pressure of a 20-year-old. What was the percentage of the population tested with high blood pressure? Zero. However, elsewhere in Brazil, up to 38% of the population may be affected. The Yanomamos probably represent the ultimate human example of the importance of salt on blood pressure.

Of course, there could have been other factors. They didn't drink alcohol, ate a high-fiber and plant-based diet, got lots of exercise, and had no obesity. There are a number of plant-based populations eating little salt who experience no rise of blood pressure with age, but how do we know what exactly is to blame? Ideally, we'd do an interventional trial. Imagine if we took people literally dying from out-of-control high blood pressure (so called malignant hypertension) where you go blind from bleeding into your eyes, your kidneys shut down, and your heart fails, and then we withhold from these patients blood pressure medications so their fate is certain death. Then, what if we put them on a Yanomamo level of salt intake--that is, a normal-for-the-human-species salt intake--and, if instead of dying, they walked away cured of their hypertension? That would pretty much seal the deal.

Enter Dr. Walter Kempner and his rice and fruit diet. Patients started with blood pressures of 210 over 140, which dropped down to 80 over 60. Amazing stuff, but how could he ethically withhold all modern blood pressure medications and treat with diet alone? This was back in the 1940s, and the drugs hadn't been invented yet.

His diet wasn't just extremely low salt, though; it was also strictly plant-based and extremely low in fat, protein, and calories. There is no doubt that Kempner's rice diet achieved remarkable results, and Kempner is now remembered as the person who demonstrated, beyond any shadow of doubt, that high blood pressure can often be lowered by a low enough salt diet.

Forty years ago, it was acknowledged that the evidence is very good, if not conclusive, that a low enough reduction of salt in the diet would result in the prevention of essential hypertension (the rising of blood pressure as we age) and its disappearance as a major public health problem. It looks like we knew how to stop this four decades ago. During this time, how many people have died? Today, high blood pressure may kill 400,000 Americans every year--causing a thousand unnecessary deaths every day.


I have a whole series of videos on salt, including Sprinkling Doubt: Taking Sodium Skeptics with a Pinch of Salt, The Evidence That Salt Raises Blood Pressure, Shaking the Salt Habit and Sodium & Autoimmune Disease: Rubbing Salt in the Wound.

Canned foods are infamous for their sodium content, but there are no-salt varieties. Learn more with my video Canned Beans or Cooked Beans?. Cutting down on sodium is one of the ways we could be Improving on the Mediterranean Diet. Beyond heart health, reducing salt intake could also help our kidneys (How to Treat Kidney Stones with Diet) but if you cut down on salt, won't everything taste like cardboard? See Changing Our Taste Buds.

For more on hypertension, see How to Prevent High Blood Pressure with Diet, How to Treat High Blood Pressure with Diet, and How Not to Die from High Blood Pressure. What if you already eat healthfully and still can't get your pressures down? Try adding hibiscus tea (Hibiscus Tea vs. Plant-Based Diets for Hypertension) and ground flaxseeds (Flax Seeds for Hypertension) to your diet, and, of course, make sure you're exercising regularly (Longer Life Within Walking Distance).

Dr. Kempner and his rice diet are so fascinating they warrant an entire video series. Check out Kempner Rice Diet: Whipping Us Into Shape, Drugs and the Demise of the Rice Diet, Can Diabetic Retinopathy Be Reversed?, and Can Morbid Obesity be Reversed Through Diet?.

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:

Original Link

Choosing to Have a Normal Blood Pressure

Oct 5 Blood Pressure copy.jpeg

For the first 90% of our evolution, humans ate diets containing less than a quarter teaspoon of salt a day. Why? Because we ate mostly plants. Since we went millions of years without salt shakers, our bodies evolved into salt-conserving machines, which served us well until we discovered salt could be used to preserve foods. Without refrigeration, this was a big boon to human civilization. Of course, this may have led to a general rise in blood pressure, but does that matter if the alternative is starving to death since all your food rotted away? But where does that leave us now, when we no longer have to live off pickles and jerky? We are genetically programmed to eat ten times less salt than we do now. Even many "low"-salt diets can be considered high-salt diets. That's why it's critical to understand what the concept of "normal" is when it comes to salt.

As I discuss in my video High Blood Pressure May Be a Choice, having a "normal" salt intake can lead to a "normal" blood pressure, which can help us to die from all the "normal" causes, like heart attacks and strokes.

Doctors used to be taught that a "normal" systolic blood pressure (the top number) is approximately 100 plus age. Babies start out with a blood pressure around 95 over 60, but then as we age that 95 can go to 120 by our 20s, then 140 in our 40s, and keep climbing as we age. (140 is the official cut-off above which one technically has high blood pressure.) That was considered normal, since everyone's blood pressure creeps up as we get older. And if that's normal, then heart attacks and strokes are normal too, since risk starts rising once we start getting above the 100 we had as a baby.

If blood pressures over 100 are associated with disease, maybe they should be considered abnormal. Were these elevated blood pressures caused by our abnormally high salt intake--ten times more than what our bodies were designed to handle? Maybe if we ate a natural amount of salt, our blood pressures would not go up with age and we'd be protected. Of course, to test that theory you'd have to find a population in modern times that doesn't use salt, eat processed food, or go out to eat. For that, you'd have to go deep into the Amazon rainforest.

Meet the Yanomamo people, a no-salt culture with the lowest salt intake ever reported. That is, they have a totally normal-for-our-species salt intake. So, what happens to their blood pressure on a no- or low-salt diet as they age? They start out with a blood pressure of about 100 over 60 and end up with a blood pressure of about 100 over 60. Though theirs is described as a salt-deficient diet, that's like saying they have a diet deficient in Twinkies. They're the ones, it seems, who are eating truly normal salt intakes, which leads to truly normal blood pressures. Those in their 50s have the blood pressure of a 20-year-old. What was the percentage of the population tested with high blood pressure? Zero. However, elsewhere in Brazil, up to 38% of the population may be affected. The Yanomamos probably represent the ultimate human example of the importance of salt on blood pressure.

Of course, there could have been other factors. They didn't drink alcohol, ate a high-fiber and plant-based diet, got lots of exercise, and had no obesity. There are a number of plant-based populations eating little salt who experience no rise of blood pressure with age, but how do we know what exactly is to blame? Ideally, we'd do an interventional trial. Imagine if we took people literally dying from out-of-control high blood pressure (so called malignant hypertension) where you go blind from bleeding into your eyes, your kidneys shut down, and your heart fails, and then we withhold from these patients blood pressure medications so their fate is certain death. Then, what if we put them on a Yanomamo level of salt intake--that is, a normal-for-the-human-species salt intake--and, if instead of dying, they walked away cured of their hypertension? That would pretty much seal the deal.

Enter Dr. Walter Kempner and his rice and fruit diet. Patients started with blood pressures of 210 over 140, which dropped down to 80 over 60. Amazing stuff, but how could he ethically withhold all modern blood pressure medications and treat with diet alone? This was back in the 1940s, and the drugs hadn't been invented yet.

His diet wasn't just extremely low salt, though; it was also strictly plant-based and extremely low in fat, protein, and calories. There is no doubt that Kempner's rice diet achieved remarkable results, and Kempner is now remembered as the person who demonstrated, beyond any shadow of doubt, that high blood pressure can often be lowered by a low enough salt diet.

Forty years ago, it was acknowledged that the evidence is very good, if not conclusive, that a low enough reduction of salt in the diet would result in the prevention of essential hypertension (the rising of blood pressure as we age) and its disappearance as a major public health problem. It looks like we knew how to stop this four decades ago. During this time, how many people have died? Today, high blood pressure may kill 400,000 Americans every year--causing a thousand unnecessary deaths every day.


I have a whole series of videos on salt, including Sprinkling Doubt: Taking Sodium Skeptics with a Pinch of Salt, The Evidence That Salt Raises Blood Pressure, Shaking the Salt Habit and Sodium & Autoimmune Disease: Rubbing Salt in the Wound.

Canned foods are infamous for their sodium content, but there are no-salt varieties. Learn more with my video Canned Beans or Cooked Beans?. Cutting down on sodium is one of the ways we could be Improving on the Mediterranean Diet. Beyond heart health, reducing salt intake could also help our kidneys (How to Treat Kidney Stones with Diet) but if you cut down on salt, won't everything taste like cardboard? See Changing Our Taste Buds.

For more on hypertension, see How to Prevent High Blood Pressure with Diet, How to Treat High Blood Pressure with Diet, and How Not to Die from High Blood Pressure. What if you already eat healthfully and still can't get your pressures down? Try adding hibiscus tea (Hibiscus Tea vs. Plant-Based Diets for Hypertension) and ground flaxseeds (Flax Seeds for Hypertension) to your diet, and, of course, make sure you're exercising regularly (Longer Life Within Walking Distance).

Dr. Kempner and his rice diet are so fascinating they warrant an entire video series. Check out Kempner Rice Diet: Whipping Us Into Shape, Drugs and the Demise of the Rice Diet, Can Diabetic Retinopathy Be Reversed?, and Can Morbid Obesity be Reversed Through Diet?.

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:

Original Link

Reversing Diabetic Blindness with Diet

Reversing Diabetic Blindness with Diet.jpeg

Though many reported feeling better on Dr. Walter Kempner's rice and fruit diet, he refused to accept such anecdotal evidence as proof of success. He wanted objective measurements. The most famous were his "eyegrounds photographs," taken with a special camera that allowed one to visualize the back of the eye. In doing so, he proved diet can arrest the bleeding, oozing, and swelling you see in the back of the eye in people with severe kidney, hypertensive, or heart disease. Even more than that, he proved that diet could actually reverse it, something never thought possible.

In my video, Can Diabetic Retinopathy Be Reversed?, you can see before and after images of the back of patients' eyes. He found reversal to such a degree that even those who could no longer distinguish large objects were able to once again read fine print. Dr. Kempner had shown a reversal of blindness with diet.

The results were so dramatic that the head of the department of ophthalmology at Duke, where Kempner worked, was questioned as to whether they were somehow faked. He assured them they were not. In fact, he wrote in one person's chart, "This patient's eyegrounds are improved to an unbelievable degree." Not only had he never seen anything like it, he couldn't remember ever seeing a patient with such advanced disease even being alive 15 months later.

The magnitude of the improvements Kempner got--reversal of end-stage heart and kidney failure--was surprising, simply beyond belief. But as Kempner said as his closing sentence of a presentation before the American College of Physicians, "The important result is not that the change in the course of the disease has been achieved by the rice diet but that the course of the disease can be changed."

Now that we have high blood pressure drugs, we see less hypertensive retinopathy, but we still see a lot of diabetic retinopathy, now the leading cause of blindness in American adults. Even with intensive diabetes treatment--at least three insulin injections a day with the best modern technology has to offer--the best we can offer is usually just a slowing of the progression of the disease.

So, in the 21st century, we slow down your blindness. Yet a half century ago, Kempner proved we could reverse it. Kempner started out using his plant-based rice diet ultra-low in sodium, fat, cholesterol, and protein to reverse kidney and heart failure; he actually assumed the diet would make diabetes worse. He expected a 90% carbohydrate diet would increase insulin requirements, however, the opposite proved to be true. He took the next 100 patients with diabetes who walked through his door who went on the rice diet for at least three months and found their fasting blood sugars dropped despite a drop in the insulin they were taking. What really blew people away was this: Forty-four of the patients had diabetic retinopathy, and, in 30% of the cases, their eyes improved. That's not supposed to happen; diabetic retinopathy had been considered "a sign of irreversible destruction." What does this change mean in real life? Patients went from unable to even read headlines to normal vision.

The remarkable success Dr. Kempner had reversing some of the most dreaded complications of diabetes with his rice and fruit diet was not because of weight loss. The improvements occurred even in those patients who did not lose significant weight, so it must have been something specific about the diet. Maybe it was his total elimination of animal protein, animal fat, and cholesterol? Or perhaps it was his radical reduction in sodium, fat, and protein in general? We don't know.

How do we treat diabetic retinopathy these days? With steroids and other drugs injected straight into the eyeball. If that doesn't work, there's always pan-retinal laser photocoagulation, in which laser burns are etched over nearly the entire retina. Surgeons literally burn out the back of your eye. Why would they do that? The theory is that by killing off most of the retina, the little pieces you leave behind may get more blood flow.

When I see that, along with Kempner's work, I can't help but feel like history has been reversed. It seems as though it should have gone like, "Can you believe 50 years ago the best we had was this barbaric, burn-out-your-socket surgery? Thank goodness we've since learned that through dietary means alone, we can reverse the blindness." But instead of learning, medicine seems to have forgotten.

I documented the extraordinary Kempner story previously in Kempner Rice Diet: Whipping Us Into Shape and Drugs and the Demise of the Rice Diet. The reason I keep coming back to this is not to suggest people should go on such a diet (it is too extreme and potentially dangerous to do without strict medical supervision), but to show the power of dietary change to yield tremendous healing effects.

The best way to prevent diabetic blindness is to prevent or reverse diabetes in the first place. See, for example:

Why wouldn't a diet of white rice make diabetes worse? See If White Rice Is Linked to Diabetes, What About China?

For more on the nitty gritty on what is the actual cause of type 2 diabetes, see:

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: Community Eye Health / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Original Link

Reversing Diabetic Blindness with Diet

Reversing Diabetic Blindness with Diet.jpeg

Though many reported feeling better on Dr. Walter Kempner's rice and fruit diet, he refused to accept such anecdotal evidence as proof of success. He wanted objective measurements. The most famous were his "eyegrounds photographs," taken with a special camera that allowed one to visualize the back of the eye. In doing so, he proved diet can arrest the bleeding, oozing, and swelling you see in the back of the eye in people with severe kidney, hypertensive, or heart disease. Even more than that, he proved that diet could actually reverse it, something never thought possible.

In my video, Can Diabetic Retinopathy Be Reversed?, you can see before and after images of the back of patients' eyes. He found reversal to such a degree that even those who could no longer distinguish large objects were able to once again read fine print. Dr. Kempner had shown a reversal of blindness with diet.

The results were so dramatic that the head of the department of ophthalmology at Duke, where Kempner worked, was questioned as to whether they were somehow faked. He assured them they were not. In fact, he wrote in one person's chart, "This patient's eyegrounds are improved to an unbelievable degree." Not only had he never seen anything like it, he couldn't remember ever seeing a patient with such advanced disease even being alive 15 months later.

The magnitude of the improvements Kempner got--reversal of end-stage heart and kidney failure--was surprising, simply beyond belief. But as Kempner said as his closing sentence of a presentation before the American College of Physicians, "The important result is not that the change in the course of the disease has been achieved by the rice diet but that the course of the disease can be changed."

Now that we have high blood pressure drugs, we see less hypertensive retinopathy, but we still see a lot of diabetic retinopathy, now the leading cause of blindness in American adults. Even with intensive diabetes treatment--at least three insulin injections a day with the best modern technology has to offer--the best we can offer is usually just a slowing of the progression of the disease.

So, in the 21st century, we slow down your blindness. Yet a half century ago, Kempner proved we could reverse it. Kempner started out using his plant-based rice diet ultra-low in sodium, fat, cholesterol, and protein to reverse kidney and heart failure; he actually assumed the diet would make diabetes worse. He expected a 90% carbohydrate diet would increase insulin requirements, however, the opposite proved to be true. He took the next 100 patients with diabetes who walked through his door who went on the rice diet for at least three months and found their fasting blood sugars dropped despite a drop in the insulin they were taking. What really blew people away was this: Forty-four of the patients had diabetic retinopathy, and, in 30% of the cases, their eyes improved. That's not supposed to happen; diabetic retinopathy had been considered "a sign of irreversible destruction." What does this change mean in real life? Patients went from unable to even read headlines to normal vision.

The remarkable success Dr. Kempner had reversing some of the most dreaded complications of diabetes with his rice and fruit diet was not because of weight loss. The improvements occurred even in those patients who did not lose significant weight, so it must have been something specific about the diet. Maybe it was his total elimination of animal protein, animal fat, and cholesterol? Or perhaps it was his radical reduction in sodium, fat, and protein in general? We don't know.

How do we treat diabetic retinopathy these days? With steroids and other drugs injected straight into the eyeball. If that doesn't work, there's always pan-retinal laser photocoagulation, in which laser burns are etched over nearly the entire retina. Surgeons literally burn out the back of your eye. Why would they do that? The theory is that by killing off most of the retina, the little pieces you leave behind may get more blood flow.

When I see that, along with Kempner's work, I can't help but feel like history has been reversed. It seems as though it should have gone like, "Can you believe 50 years ago the best we had was this barbaric, burn-out-your-socket surgery? Thank goodness we've since learned that through dietary means alone, we can reverse the blindness." But instead of learning, medicine seems to have forgotten.

I documented the extraordinary Kempner story previously in Kempner Rice Diet: Whipping Us Into Shape and Drugs and the Demise of the Rice Diet. The reason I keep coming back to this is not to suggest people should go on such a diet (it is too extreme and potentially dangerous to do without strict medical supervision), but to show the power of dietary change to yield tremendous healing effects.

The best way to prevent diabetic blindness is to prevent or reverse diabetes in the first place. See, for example:

Why wouldn't a diet of white rice make diabetes worse? See If White Rice Is Linked to Diabetes, What About China?

For more on the nitty gritty on what is the actual cause of type 2 diabetes, see:

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: Community Eye Health / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Original Link

Optimal Bowel Movement Frequency

Optimal Bowel Movement Frequency.jpeg

Lasting for 3,000 years, ancient Egypt was one of the greatest ancient civilizations--with a vastly underestimated knowledge of medicine. They even had medical subspecialties. The pharaohs, for example, had access to dedicated physicians to be "guardian[s] of the royal bowel movement," a title alternately translated from the hieroglyphics to mean "Shepherd of the Anus." How's that for a resume builder?

Today, the primacy of the bowel movement's importance continues. Some have called for bowel habits to be considered a vital sign on how the body is functioning, along with heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. Medical professionals may not particularly relish hearing all about their patients' bowel movements, but it is a vital function that nurses and doctors need to assess.

Surprisingly, the colon has remained relatively unexplored territory, one of the body's final frontiers. For example, current concepts of what "normal" stools are emanated primarily from the records of 12 consecutive bowel movements in 27 healthy subjects from the United Kingdom, who boldly went where no one had gone before. Those must have been some really detailed records.

It's important to define what's normal. When it comes to frequency, for example, we can't define concepts like constipation or diarrhea unless we know what's normal. Standard physiology textbooks may not be helpful in this regard. One text implies that anything from one bowel movement every few weeks or months to 24 in just one day can be regarded as normal. Once every few months is normal?

Out of all of our bodily functions, we may know the least about defecation. Can't we just ask people? It turns out people tend to exaggerate. There's a discrepancy between what people report and what researchers find when they record bowel habits directly. It wasn't until 2010 when we got the first serious look. In my video, How Many Bowel Movement's Should You Have Everyday? you'll see the study that found that normal stool frequency was between three per week and three per day, based on the fact that that's where 98% of people tended to fall. But normal doesn't necessarily mean optimal.

Having a "normal" salt intake can lead to a "normal" blood pressure, which can help us to die from all the "normal" causes like heart attacks and strokes. Having a normal cholesterol level in a society where it's normal to drop dead of heart disease--our number-one killer--is not necessarily a good thing. Indeed, significant proportions of people with "normal bowel function" reported urgency, straining, and incomplete defecation, leading the researchers of the 2010 study to conclude that these kinds of things must be normal. Normal, maybe, if we're eating a fiber-deficient diet, but not normal for our species. Defecation should not be a painful exercise. This is readily demonstrable. For example, the majority of rural Africans eating their traditional fiber-rich, plant-based diets can usually pass without straining a stool specimen on demand. The rectum may need to accumulate 4 or 5 ounces of fecal matter before the defecation reflex is fully initiated, so if we don't even build up that much over the day, we'd have to strain to prime the rectal pump.

Hippocrates thought bowel movements should ideally be two or three times a day, which is what we see in populations on traditional plant-based diets. These traditional diets have the kind of fiber intakes we see in our fellow Great Apes and may be more representative of the type of diets we evolved eating for millions of years. It seems somewhat optimistic, though, to expect the average American to adopt a rural African diet. We can, however, eat more plant-based and bulk up enough to take the Hippocratic oath to go two or three times a day.

There's no need to obsess about it. In fact, there's actually a "bowel obsession syndrome" characterized in part by "ideational rambling over bowel habits." But three times a day makes sense. We have what's called a gastrocolic reflex, which consists of a prompt activation of muscular waves in our colon within 1 to 3 minutes of the ingestion of the first mouthfuls of food to make room for the meal. Even just talking about food can cause our brains to increase colon activity. This suggests the body figured that one meal should be about enough to fill us up down there. So maybe we should eat enough unprocessed plant foods to get up to three a day--a movement for every meal.

I know people are suckers for poop videos--I'm so excited to finally be getting these up! There actually is a recent one--Diet and Hiatal Hernia--that talks about the consequences of straining on stool. Hernias are better than Bed Pan Death Syndrome, though, which is what I talk about in in my video, Should You Sit, Squat, or Lean During a Bowel Movement?

Here are some older videos on bowel health:

For more on this concept of how having "normal" health parameters in a society where it's normal to drop dead of heart attacks and other such preventable fates, see my video When Low Risk Means High Risk.

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 Frequency

Optimal Bowel Movement Frequency.jpeg

Lasting for 3,000 years, ancient Egypt was one of the greatest ancient civilizations--with a vastly underestimated knowledge of medicine. They even had medical subspecialties. The pharaohs, for example, had access to dedicated physicians to be "guardian[s] of the royal bowel movement," a title alternately translated from the hieroglyphics to mean "Shepherd of the Anus." How's that for a resume builder?

Today, the primacy of the bowel movement's importance continues. Some have called for bowel habits to be considered a vital sign on how the body is functioning, along with heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. Medical professionals may not particularly relish hearing all about their patients' bowel movements, but it is a vital function that nurses and doctors need to assess.

Surprisingly, the colon has remained relatively unexplored territory, one of the body's final frontiers. For example, current concepts of what "normal" stools are emanated primarily from the records of 12 consecutive bowel movements in 27 healthy subjects from the United Kingdom, who boldly went where no one had gone before. Those must have been some really detailed records.

It's important to define what's normal. When it comes to frequency, for example, we can't define concepts like constipation or diarrhea unless we know what's normal. Standard physiology textbooks may not be helpful in this regard. One text implies that anything from one bowel movement every few weeks or months to 24 in just one day can be regarded as normal. Once every few months is normal?

Out of all of our bodily functions, we may know the least about defecation. Can't we just ask people? It turns out people tend to exaggerate. There's a discrepancy between what people report and what researchers find when they record bowel habits directly. It wasn't until 2010 when we got the first serious look. In my video, How Many Bowel Movement's Should You Have Everyday? you'll see the study that found that normal stool frequency was between three per week and three per day, based on the fact that that's where 98% of people tended to fall. But normal doesn't necessarily mean optimal.

Having a "normal" salt intake can lead to a "normal" blood pressure, which can help us to die from all the "normal" causes like heart attacks and strokes. Having a normal cholesterol level in a society where it's normal to drop dead of heart disease--our number-one killer--is not necessarily a good thing. Indeed, significant proportions of people with "normal bowel function" reported urgency, straining, and incomplete defecation, leading the researchers of the 2010 study to conclude that these kinds of things must be normal. Normal, maybe, if we're eating a fiber-deficient diet, but not normal for our species. Defecation should not be a painful exercise. This is readily demonstrable. For example, the majority of rural Africans eating their traditional fiber-rich, plant-based diets can usually pass without straining a stool specimen on demand. The rectum may need to accumulate 4 or 5 ounces of fecal matter before the defecation reflex is fully initiated, so if we don't even build up that much over the day, we'd have to strain to prime the rectal pump.

Hippocrates thought bowel movements should ideally be two or three times a day, which is what we see in populations on traditional plant-based diets. These traditional diets have the kind of fiber intakes we see in our fellow Great Apes and may be more representative of the type of diets we evolved eating for millions of years. It seems somewhat optimistic, though, to expect the average American to adopt a rural African diet. We can, however, eat more plant-based and bulk up enough to take the Hippocratic oath to go two or three times a day.

There's no need to obsess about it. In fact, there's actually a "bowel obsession syndrome" characterized in part by "ideational rambling over bowel habits." But three times a day makes sense. We have what's called a gastrocolic reflex, which consists of a prompt activation of muscular waves in our colon within 1 to 3 minutes of the ingestion of the first mouthfuls of food to make room for the meal. Even just talking about food can cause our brains to increase colon activity. This suggests the body figured that one meal should be about enough to fill us up down there. So maybe we should eat enough unprocessed plant foods to get up to three a day--a movement for every meal.

I know people are suckers for poop videos--I'm so excited to finally be getting these up! There actually is a recent one--Diet and Hiatal Hernia--that talks about the consequences of straining on stool. Hernias are better than Bed Pan Death Syndrome, though, which is what I talk about in in my video, Should You Sit, Squat, or Lean During a Bowel Movement?

Here are some older videos on bowel health:

For more on this concept of how having "normal" health parameters in a society where it's normal to drop dead of heart attacks and other such preventable fates, see my video When Low Risk Means High Risk.

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

How to Treat High Blood Pressure with Diet

How to Treat High Blood Pressure with Diet.jpeg

High blood pressure ranks as the number-one risk factor for death and disability in the world. In my video, How to Prevent High Blood Pressure with Diet, I showed how a plant-based diet may prevent high blood pressure. But what do we do if we already have it? That's the topic of How to Treat High Blood Pressure with Diet.

The American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend lifestyle modification as the first-line treatment. If that doesn't work, patients may be prescribed a thiazide diuretic (commonly known as a water pill) before getting even more meds until their blood pressure is forced down. Commonly, people will end up on three drugs, though researchers are experimenting with four at a time. Some patients even end up on five different meds.

What's wrong with skipping the lifestyle modification step and jumping straight to the drugs? Because drugs don't treat the underlying cause of high blood pressure yet can cause side effects. Less than half of patients stick with even the first-line drugs, perhaps due to such adverse effects as erectile dysfunction, fatigue, and muscle cramps.

What are the recommended lifestyle changes? The AHA, ACC, and CDC recommend controlling one's weight, salt, and alcohol intake, engaging in regular exercise, and adopting a DASH eating plan.

The DASH diet has been described as a lactovegetarian diet, but it's not. It emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy, but only a reduction in meat consumption. Why not vegetarian? We've known for decades that animal products are significantly associated with blood pressure. In fact, if we take vegetarians and give them meat (and pay them enough to eat it!), we can watch their blood pressures go right up.

I've talked about the benefits to getting blood pressure down as low as 110 over 70. But who can get that low? Populations centering their diets around whole plant foods. Rural Chinese have been recorded with blood pressures averaging around 110 over 70 their whole lives. In rural Africa, the elderly have perfect blood pressure as opposed to hypertension. What both diets share in common is that they're plant-based day-to-day, with meat only eaten on special occasion.

How do we know it's the plant-based nature of their diets that was so protective? Because in the Western world, as the American Heart Association has pointed out, the only folks getting down that low were those eating strictly plant-based diets, coming out about 110 over 65.

So were the creators of the DASH diet just not aware of this landmark research done by Harvard's Frank Sacks? No, they were aware. The Chair of the Design Committee that came up with the DASH diet was Dr. Sacks himself. In fact, the DASH diet was explicitly designed with the number-one goal of capturing the blood pressure-lowering benefits of a vegetarian diet, yet including enough animal products to make it "palatable" to the general public.

You can see what they were thinking. Just like drugs never work--unless you actually take them. Diet never work--unless you actually eat them. So what's the point of telling people to eat strictly plant-based if few people will do it? So by soft-peddling the truth and coming up with a compromise diet you can imagine how they were thinking that on a population clae they might be doing more good. Ok, but tell that to the thousand U.S. families a day that lose a loved one to high blood pressure. Maybe it's time to start telling the American public the truth.

Sacks himself found that the more dairy the lactovegetarians ate, the higher their blood pressures. But they had to make the diet acceptable. Research has since shown that it's the added plant foods--not the changes in oil, sweets, or dairy--that appears to the critical component of the DASH diet. So why not eat a diet composed entirely of plant foods?

A recent meta-analysis showed vegetarian diets are good, but strictly plant-based diets may be better. In general, vegetarian diets provide protection against cardiovascular diseases, some cancers, and even death. But completely plant-based diets seem to offer additional protection against obesity, hypertension, type-2 diabetes, and heart disease mortality. Based on a study of more than 89,000 people, those eating meat-free diets appear to cut their risk of high blood pressure in half. But those eating meat-free, egg-free, and dairy-free may have 75% lower risk.

What if we're already eating a whole food, plant-based diet, no processed foods, no table salt, yet still not hitting 110 over 70? Here are some foods recently found to offer additional protection: Just a few tablespoons of ground flaxseeds a day was 2 to 3 times more potent than instituting an aerobic endurance exercise program and induced one of the most powerful, antihypertensive effects ever achieved by a diet-related intervention. Watermelon also appears to be extraordinary, but you'd have to eat around 2 pounds a day. Sounds like my kind of medicine, but it's hard to get year-round (at least in my neck of the woods). Red wine may help, but only if the alcohol has been taken out. Raw vegetables or cooked? The answer is both, though raw may work better. Beans, split peas, chickpeas, and lentils may also help a bit.

Kiwifruits don't seem to work at all, even though the study was funded by a kiwifruit company. Maybe they should have taken direction from the California Raisin Marketing Board, which came out with a study showing raisins can reduce blood pressure, but only, apparently, compared to fudge cookies, Cheez-Its, and Chips Ahoy.

The DASH diet is one of the best studied, and it consistently ranks as US News & World Report's #1 diet. It's one of the few diets that medical students are taught about in medical school. I was so fascinated to learn of its origins as a compromise between practicality and efficacy.

I've talked about the patronizing attitude many doctors have that patients can't handle the truth in:

What would hearing the truth from your physician sound like? See Fully Consensual Heart Disease Treatment and The Actual Benefit of Diet vs. Drugs.

For more on what plants can do for high blood pressure, see:

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

How to Treat High Blood Pressure with Diet

How to Treat High Blood Pressure with Diet.jpeg

High blood pressure ranks as the number-one risk factor for death and disability in the world. In my video, How to Prevent High Blood Pressure with Diet, I showed how a plant-based diet may prevent high blood pressure. But what do we do if we already have it? That's the topic of How to Treat High Blood Pressure with Diet.

The American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend lifestyle modification as the first-line treatment. If that doesn't work, patients may be prescribed a thiazide diuretic (commonly known as a water pill) before getting even more meds until their blood pressure is forced down. Commonly, people will end up on three drugs, though researchers are experimenting with four at a time. Some patients even end up on five different meds.

What's wrong with skipping the lifestyle modification step and jumping straight to the drugs? Because drugs don't treat the underlying cause of high blood pressure yet can cause side effects. Less than half of patients stick with even the first-line drugs, perhaps due to such adverse effects as erectile dysfunction, fatigue, and muscle cramps.

What are the recommended lifestyle changes? The AHA, ACC, and CDC recommend controlling one's weight, salt, and alcohol intake, engaging in regular exercise, and adopting a DASH eating plan.

The DASH diet has been described as a lactovegetarian diet, but it's not. It emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy, but only a reduction in meat consumption. Why not vegetarian? We've known for decades that animal products are significantly associated with blood pressure. In fact, if we take vegetarians and give them meat (and pay them enough to eat it!), we can watch their blood pressures go right up.

I've talked about the benefits to getting blood pressure down as low as 110 over 70. But who can get that low? Populations centering their diets around whole plant foods. Rural Chinese have been recorded with blood pressures averaging around 110 over 70 their whole lives. In rural Africa, the elderly have perfect blood pressure as opposed to hypertension. What both diets share in common is that they're plant-based day-to-day, with meat only eaten on special occasion.

How do we know it's the plant-based nature of their diets that was so protective? Because in the Western world, as the American Heart Association has pointed out, the only folks getting down that low were those eating strictly plant-based diets, coming out about 110 over 65.

So were the creators of the DASH diet just not aware of this landmark research done by Harvard's Frank Sacks? No, they were aware. The Chair of the Design Committee that came up with the DASH diet was Dr. Sacks himself. In fact, the DASH diet was explicitly designed with the number-one goal of capturing the blood pressure-lowering benefits of a vegetarian diet, yet including enough animal products to make it "palatable" to the general public.

You can see what they were thinking. Just like drugs never work--unless you actually take them. Diet never work--unless you actually eat them. So what's the point of telling people to eat strictly plant-based if few people will do it? So by soft-peddling the truth and coming up with a compromise diet you can imagine how they were thinking that on a population clae they might be doing more good. Ok, but tell that to the thousand U.S. families a day that lose a loved one to high blood pressure. Maybe it's time to start telling the American public the truth.

Sacks himself found that the more dairy the lactovegetarians ate, the higher their blood pressures. But they had to make the diet acceptable. Research has since shown that it's the added plant foods--not the changes in oil, sweets, or dairy--that appears to the critical component of the DASH diet. So why not eat a diet composed entirely of plant foods?

A recent meta-analysis showed vegetarian diets are good, but strictly plant-based diets may be better. In general, vegetarian diets provide protection against cardiovascular diseases, some cancers, and even death. But completely plant-based diets seem to offer additional protection against obesity, hypertension, type-2 diabetes, and heart disease mortality. Based on a study of more than 89,000 people, those eating meat-free diets appear to cut their risk of high blood pressure in half. But those eating meat-free, egg-free, and dairy-free may have 75% lower risk.

What if we're already eating a whole food, plant-based diet, no processed foods, no table salt, yet still not hitting 110 over 70? Here are some foods recently found to offer additional protection: Just a few tablespoons of ground flaxseeds a day was 2 to 3 times more potent than instituting an aerobic endurance exercise program and induced one of the most powerful, antihypertensive effects ever achieved by a diet-related intervention. Watermelon also appears to be extraordinary, but you'd have to eat around 2 pounds a day. Sounds like my kind of medicine, but it's hard to get year-round (at least in my neck of the woods). Red wine may help, but only if the alcohol has been taken out. Raw vegetables or cooked? The answer is both, though raw may work better. Beans, split peas, chickpeas, and lentils may also help a bit.

Kiwifruits don't seem to work at all, even though the study was funded by a kiwifruit company. Maybe they should have taken direction from the California Raisin Marketing Board, which came out with a study showing raisins can reduce blood pressure, but only, apparently, compared to fudge cookies, Cheez-Its, and Chips Ahoy.

The DASH diet is one of the best studied, and it consistently ranks as US News & World Report's #1 diet. It's one of the few diets that medical students are taught about in medical school. I was so fascinated to learn of its origins as a compromise between practicality and efficacy.

I've talked about the patronizing attitude many doctors have that patients can't handle the truth in:

What would hearing the truth from your physician sound like? See Fully Consensual Heart Disease Treatment and The Actual Benefit of Diet vs. Drugs.

For more on what plants can do for high blood pressure, see:

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

What Happened to the Rice Diet?

What Happened to the Rice Diet?.jpeg

During his career at Duke, Dr. Walter Kempner treated more than 18,000 patients with his rice diet. The diet was originally designed as a treatment for kidney failure and out-of-control high blood pressure at a time when these diagnoses were essentially a death sentence. Patients who would have died in all other hospitals had a reasonable chance for survival if they came under Kempner's care.

The results were so dramatic that many experienced physicians suspected him of falsifying data, because he was essentially reversing terminal diseases with rice and fruit, diseases understood to be incurable by the best of modern medicine at the time. Intensive investigations into his clinic vindicated his work, however, which other researchers were then able to replicate and validate.

Kempner was criticized for his lack of controls, meaning that when patients came to him he didn't randomly allocate half to his rice treatment and put the other half on conventional therapy. Kempner argued that the patients each acted as their own controls. For example, one patient, after the medical profession threw everything they had at him, still had blood pressure as high as 220 over 160. A normal blood pressure is considered to be around 120 over 80--which is where Kempner's rice diet took him. Had the patient not been given the rice diet, his pressures might have been even lower, though: zero over zero, because he'd likely be dead. The "control group" in Kempner's day had a survival expectancy estimated at 6 months. To randomize patients to conventional care would be to randomize them to their deaths.

We can also compare those who stuck to the diet to those who didn't. In one study, of those who started the rice diet but then stopped it within a year, 80% died. For those who made it a year but then gave up the diet, instead of an 80% chance of dying, they had about a 50% chance, a flip of the coin. Of those that stuck with the program, 90% lived to tell the tale.

Beginning in the late 1950's, drugs became available that effectively reduced blood pressure and hypertension, leading to a decreased demand for the rice diet. What conclusions can we draw from this all-but-forgotten therapy for hypertension? Not only was it the first effective therapy for high blood pressure, it may be equal to or more effective than our current multi-drug treatments. See Drugs & the Demise of the Rice Diet.

This causes one to speculate on the current practice of placing patients on one drug, then another, and perhaps a third until the blood pressure is controlled, with lip-service advocacy of a moderate reduction in dietary sodium, fat, and protein intake. At the same time, the impressive effectiveness of the rice-fruit diet, which is able to quickly stop the leakage from our arteries, lower increased intracranial pressure, reduce heart size, reverse the ECG changes, reverse heart failure, reduce weight, and markedly improve diabetes, is ignored.

Should we return to the Kempner protocol of starting with the most effective therapy, saving drugs for patients who fail to respond or who are unable or unwilling to restrict their diet? Today many people follow a plant-based diet as a choice, which is similar to what Kempner was often able to transition people to. After their high blood pressure was cured by the rice diet, patients were often able to gradually transition to a less strenuous dietary regime without adding medications and with no return of the elevated blood pressure.

If the Kempner sequence of a strictest of strict plant-based diets to a saner plant-based type diet offers the quickest and best approach to effective therapy, why isn't it still in greater use? The powerful role of the pharmaceutical industry in steering medical care away from dietary treatment to medications should be noted. Who profits from dietary treatment? Who provides the support for investigation and the funds for clinical trials? There is more to overcome than just the patient's reluctance to change their diet.

What Kempner wrote to a patient in 1954 is as true now as it was 60 years ago:

"[D]rugs can be very useful if properly employed and used in conjunction with intensive dietary treatment. However, the real difficulty is that Hypertensive Vascular Disease with all its possible complications--heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, blindness--is still treated very casually, a striking contrast to the attitude toward cancer. Since patients, physicians, and the chemical industry prefer the taking, prescribing, and selling of drugs to a treatment inconvenient to patient and physician and of no benefit to the pharmaceutical industry, the mortality figures for these diseases are still rather appalling."

Despite hundreds of drugs on the market now, high blood pressure remains the #1 cause of death and disability in the world, killing off 9 million people a year. A whole food plant-based diet treats the underlying cause. As Dr. Kempner explained to a patient, "If you should find a heap of manure on your living room floor, I do not recommend that you go buy some Air-Wick [an air freshener] and perfume. I recommend that you get a bucket and shovel and a strong scrubbing brush. Then, when your living room floor is clean again, why, you may certainly apply some Air-Wick if you wish."

As the great physician Maimonides said about 800 years ago, any illness that can be treated by diet alone should be treated by no other means.

For background on this amazing story, see Kempner Rice Diet: Whipping Us Into Shape. He would be proud that there is a whole medical specialty now: Lifestyle Medicine: Treating the Causes of Disease.

This reminds me of the role statin cholesterol-lowering drugs have played in seducing people into the magic bullet approach, but as with all magic it appears to mostly be misdirection:

Check out a couple of my recent overview videos for more on this topic: How Not to Die from Heart Disease and Taking Personal Responsibility for Your Health.

In this day and age, What Diet Should Physician's Recommend?

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 / Flickr. Image has been modified.

Original Link

What Happened to the Rice Diet?

What Happened to the Rice Diet?.jpeg

During his career at Duke, Dr. Walter Kempner treated more than 18,000 patients with his rice diet. The diet was originally designed as a treatment for kidney failure and out-of-control high blood pressure at a time when these diagnoses were essentially a death sentence. Patients who would have died in all other hospitals had a reasonable chance for survival if they came under Kempner's care.

The results were so dramatic that many experienced physicians suspected him of falsifying data, because he was essentially reversing terminal diseases with rice and fruit, diseases understood to be incurable by the best of modern medicine at the time. Intensive investigations into his clinic vindicated his work, however, which other researchers were then able to replicate and validate.

Kempner was criticized for his lack of controls, meaning that when patients came to him he didn't randomly allocate half to his rice treatment and put the other half on conventional therapy. Kempner argued that the patients each acted as their own controls. For example, one patient, after the medical profession threw everything they had at him, still had blood pressure as high as 220 over 160. A normal blood pressure is considered to be around 120 over 80--which is where Kempner's rice diet took him. Had the patient not been given the rice diet, his pressures might have been even lower, though: zero over zero, because he'd likely be dead. The "control group" in Kempner's day had a survival expectancy estimated at 6 months. To randomize patients to conventional care would be to randomize them to their deaths.

We can also compare those who stuck to the diet to those who didn't. In one study, of those who started the rice diet but then stopped it within a year, 80% died. For those who made it a year but then gave up the diet, instead of an 80% chance of dying, they had about a 50% chance, a flip of the coin. Of those that stuck with the program, 90% lived to tell the tale.

Beginning in the late 1950's, drugs became available that effectively reduced blood pressure and hypertension, leading to a decreased demand for the rice diet. What conclusions can we draw from this all-but-forgotten therapy for hypertension? Not only was it the first effective therapy for high blood pressure, it may be equal to or more effective than our current multi-drug treatments. See Drugs & the Demise of the Rice Diet.

This causes one to speculate on the current practice of placing patients on one drug, then another, and perhaps a third until the blood pressure is controlled, with lip-service advocacy of a moderate reduction in dietary sodium, fat, and protein intake. At the same time, the impressive effectiveness of the rice-fruit diet, which is able to quickly stop the leakage from our arteries, lower increased intracranial pressure, reduce heart size, reverse the ECG changes, reverse heart failure, reduce weight, and markedly improve diabetes, is ignored.

Should we return to the Kempner protocol of starting with the most effective therapy, saving drugs for patients who fail to respond or who are unable or unwilling to restrict their diet? Today many people follow a plant-based diet as a choice, which is similar to what Kempner was often able to transition people to. After their high blood pressure was cured by the rice diet, patients were often able to gradually transition to a less strenuous dietary regime without adding medications and with no return of the elevated blood pressure.

If the Kempner sequence of a strictest of strict plant-based diets to a saner plant-based type diet offers the quickest and best approach to effective therapy, why isn't it still in greater use? The powerful role of the pharmaceutical industry in steering medical care away from dietary treatment to medications should be noted. Who profits from dietary treatment? Who provides the support for investigation and the funds for clinical trials? There is more to overcome than just the patient's reluctance to change their diet.

What Kempner wrote to a patient in 1954 is as true now as it was 60 years ago:

"[D]rugs can be very useful if properly employed and used in conjunction with intensive dietary treatment. However, the real difficulty is that Hypertensive Vascular Disease with all its possible complications--heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, blindness--is still treated very casually, a striking contrast to the attitude toward cancer. Since patients, physicians, and the chemical industry prefer the taking, prescribing, and selling of drugs to a treatment inconvenient to patient and physician and of no benefit to the pharmaceutical industry, the mortality figures for these diseases are still rather appalling."

Despite hundreds of drugs on the market now, high blood pressure remains the #1 cause of death and disability in the world, killing off 9 million people a year. A whole food plant-based diet treats the underlying cause. As Dr. Kempner explained to a patient, "If you should find a heap of manure on your living room floor, I do not recommend that you go buy some Air-Wick [an air freshener] and perfume. I recommend that you get a bucket and shovel and a strong scrubbing brush. Then, when your living room floor is clean again, why, you may certainly apply some Air-Wick if you wish."

As the great physician Maimonides said about 800 years ago, any illness that can be treated by diet alone should be treated by no other means.

For background on this amazing story, see Kempner Rice Diet: Whipping Us Into Shape. He would be proud that there is a whole medical specialty now: Lifestyle Medicine: Treating the Causes of Disease.

This reminds me of the role statin cholesterol-lowering drugs have played in seducing people into the magic bullet approach, but as with all magic it appears to mostly be misdirection:

Check out a couple of my recent overview videos for more on this topic: How Not to Die from Heart Disease and Taking Personal Responsibility for Your Health.

In this day and age, What Diet Should Physician's Recommend?

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 / Flickr. Image has been modified.

Original Link