Can Oatmeal Reverse Heart Disease?

Can Oatmeal Reverse Heart Disease?.jpeg

Fiber continues to be singled out as a nutrient of public health concern. We're getting only about half the minimum recommended intake on average. There is a fiber gap in America. Less than 3 percent meet the recommended minimum. This means that less than 3 percent of all Americans eat enough whole plant foods, the only place fiber is found in abundance. If even half of the adult population ate 3 more grams a day--a quarter cup of beans or a bowl of oatmeal--we could potentially save billions in medical costs. And that's just for constipation! The consumption of plant foods, of fiber-containing foods, may reduce the risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and obesity as well.

The first to make this link between fiber intake and killer disease was probably Dr. Hugh Trowell. He spent 30 years practicing medicine in Africa and suspected it was the Africans high consumption of corn, millet, sweet potatoes, greens, and beans that protected them from chronic disease. This twisted into the so-called "fiber hypothesis," but Trowell didn't think it was the fiber itself, but the high-fiber foods themselves that were protective. There are hundreds of different substances in whole plant foods besides fiber that may have beneficial effects. For example, the fiber in oatmeal can lower our blood cholesterol levels so that less gets stuck in our arteries, but there also are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant phytonutrients in oats that can prevent atherosclerotic build-up and then help maintain arterial function (see Can Oatmeal Reverse Heart Disease?).

Visionaries like Trowell were not entrapped by the reductionist "simple-minded" focus on dietary fiber and insisted that the whole plant foods should receive the emphasis. Fiber intake was just a marker for plant food intake. Those with the highest fiber intake and the lowest cholesterol were those whose who ate exclusively plant-based diets.

Risk factors like cholesterol are one thing, but can these individual foods actually affect the progression of heart disease, the #1 killer of Americans? We didn't know until 2005. Hundreds of older women were subjected to coronary angiograms, where we inject dye into the coronary arteries of the heart to see how wide open they are. Each participant got an angiogram at the beginning of the study and one a few years later, all while researchers analyzed their diets. The arteries of women eating less than a serving of whole grains a day significantly narrowed, whereas the arteries of women who ate just a single serving or more also significantly narrowed, but they narrowed less. These were all women with heart disease eating the standard American diet, so their arteries were progressively clogging shut. But there was significantly less clogging in the women eating more whole grains, significantly less progression of their atherosclerosis. A similar slowing of their disease might be expected from taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. But do we want to just slow the rate at which we die from heart disease, or do we want to not die from heart disease at all?

A strictly plant-based diet has been shown to reverse the progression of heart disease, opening up arteries back up. Yes, whole grains, like drugs, can help counter the artery-clogging effects of the rest of the diet. Having oatmeal with bacon and eggs is better than just eating bacon and eggs, but why not stop eating an artery-clogging diet altogether?

Oatmeal offers a lot more than fiber, though. See Oatmeal Lotion for Chemotherapy-Induced Rash and Can Oatmeal Help Fatty Liver Disease?

Trowell's work had a big influence on Dr. Denis Burkitt. See Dr. Burkitt's F-Word Diet.

This reminds me of other interventions like hibiscus tea for high blood pressure (Hibiscus Tea vs. Plant-Based Diets for Hypertension) or amla for diabetes (Amla Versus Diabetes). Better to reverse the disease completely.

And for an overview of how whole plant foods affect disease risks, be sure to check out the videos on our new Introduction page!

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: Rachel Hathaway / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Original Link

Can Oatmeal Reverse Heart Disease?

Can Oatmeal Reverse Heart Disease?.jpeg

Fiber continues to be singled out as a nutrient of public health concern. We're getting only about half the minimum recommended intake on average. There is a fiber gap in America. Less than 3 percent meet the recommended minimum. This means that less than 3 percent of all Americans eat enough whole plant foods, the only place fiber is found in abundance. If even half of the adult population ate 3 more grams a day--a quarter cup of beans or a bowl of oatmeal--we could potentially save billions in medical costs. And that's just for constipation! The consumption of plant foods, of fiber-containing foods, may reduce the risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and obesity as well.

The first to make this link between fiber intake and killer disease was probably Dr. Hugh Trowell. He spent 30 years practicing medicine in Africa and suspected it was the Africans high consumption of corn, millet, sweet potatoes, greens, and beans that protected them from chronic disease. This twisted into the so-called "fiber hypothesis," but Trowell didn't think it was the fiber itself, but the high-fiber foods themselves that were protective. There are hundreds of different substances in whole plant foods besides fiber that may have beneficial effects. For example, the fiber in oatmeal can lower our blood cholesterol levels so that less gets stuck in our arteries, but there also are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant phytonutrients in oats that can prevent atherosclerotic build-up and then help maintain arterial function (see Can Oatmeal Reverse Heart Disease?).

Visionaries like Trowell were not entrapped by the reductionist "simple-minded" focus on dietary fiber and insisted that the whole plant foods should receive the emphasis. Fiber intake was just a marker for plant food intake. Those with the highest fiber intake and the lowest cholesterol were those whose who ate exclusively plant-based diets.

Risk factors like cholesterol are one thing, but can these individual foods actually affect the progression of heart disease, the #1 killer of Americans? We didn't know until 2005. Hundreds of older women were subjected to coronary angiograms, where we inject dye into the coronary arteries of the heart to see how wide open they are. Each participant got an angiogram at the beginning of the study and one a few years later, all while researchers analyzed their diets. The arteries of women eating less than a serving of whole grains a day significantly narrowed, whereas the arteries of women who ate just a single serving or more also significantly narrowed, but they narrowed less. These were all women with heart disease eating the standard American diet, so their arteries were progressively clogging shut. But there was significantly less clogging in the women eating more whole grains, significantly less progression of their atherosclerosis. A similar slowing of their disease might be expected from taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. But do we want to just slow the rate at which we die from heart disease, or do we want to not die from heart disease at all?

A strictly plant-based diet has been shown to reverse the progression of heart disease, opening up arteries back up. Yes, whole grains, like drugs, can help counter the artery-clogging effects of the rest of the diet. Having oatmeal with bacon and eggs is better than just eating bacon and eggs, but why not stop eating an artery-clogging diet altogether?

Oatmeal offers a lot more than fiber, though. See Oatmeal Lotion for Chemotherapy-Induced Rash and Can Oatmeal Help Fatty Liver Disease?

Trowell's work had a big influence on Dr. Denis Burkitt. See Dr. Burkitt's F-Word Diet.

This reminds me of other interventions like hibiscus tea for high blood pressure (Hibiscus Tea vs. Plant-Based Diets for Hypertension) or amla for diabetes (Amla Versus Diabetes). Better to reverse the disease completely.

And for an overview of how whole plant foods affect disease risks, be sure to check out the videos on our new Introduction page!

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: Rachel Hathaway / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Original Link

How Much Water Should We Drink Every Day?

How Much Water Should We Drink Every Day?.jpeg

More than 2000 years ago Hippocrates (460-377 BCE) said, "If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health." What does that mean when it comes to water? Water has been described as a neglected, unappreciated, and under-researched subject, and further complicating the issue, a lot of the papers extolling the need for proper hydration are funded by the bottled water industry.

It turns out the often quoted "drink at least eight glasses of water a day" dictum has little underpinning scientific evidence . Where did that idea come from? The recommendation was traced to a 1921 paper, in which the author measured his own pee and sweat and determined we lose about 3% of our body weight in water a day, or about 8 cups (see How Many Glasses of Water Should We Drink in a Day?). Consequently, for the longest time, water requirement guidelines for humanity were based on just one person.

There is evidence that not drinking enough may be associated with falls and fractures, heat stroke, heart disease, lung disorders, kidney disease, kidney stones, bladder and colon cancer, urinary tract infections, constipation, dry mouth, cavities, decreased immune function and cataract formation. The problem with many of these studies is that low water intake is associated with several unhealthy behaviors, such as low fruit and vegetable intake, more fast-food, less shopping at farmers markets. And who drinks lots of water? People who exercise a lot. No wonder they tend to have lower disease rates!

Only large and expensive randomized trials could settle these questions definitively. Given that water cannot be patented, such trials seem unlikely; who's going to pay for them? We're left with studies that find an association between disease and low water intake. But are people sick because they drink less, or are they drinking less because they're sick? There have been a few large prospective studies in which fluid intake is measured before disease develops. For example, a Harvard study of 48,000 men found that the risk of bladder cancer decreased by 7% for every extra daily cup of fluid we drink. Therefore, a high intake of water--like 8 cups a day--may reduce the risk of bladder cancer by about 50%, potentially saving thousands of lives.

The accompanying editorial commented that strategies to prevent the most prevalent cancers in the West are remarkably straightforward in principle. To prevent lung cancer, quit smoking; to prevent breast cancer, maintain your ideal body weight and exercise; and to prevent skin cancer, stay out of the sun. Now comes this seemingly simple way to reduce the risk of bladder cancer: drink more fluids.

Probably the best evidence we have for a cut off of water intake comes from the Adventist Health Study, in which 20,000 men and women were studied. About one-half were vegetarian, so they were also getting extra water by eating more fruits and vegetables. Those drinking 5 or more glasses of water a day had about half the risk of dying from heart disease compared to those who drank 2 or fewer glasses a day. Like the Harvard study, this protection was found after controlling for other factors such as diet and exercise. These data suggest that it was the water itself that was decreasing risk, perhaps by lowering blood viscosity (blood thickness).

Based on all the best evidence to date, authorities from Europe, the U.S. Institute of Medicine, and the World Health Organization recommend between 2.0 and 2.7 liters (8 to 11 cups) of water a day for women, and 2.5 to 3.7 liters (10 to 15 cups) a day for men. This includes water from all sources, not just beverages. We get about a liter from food and the water our body makes. So this translates into a recommendation for women to drink 4 to 7 cups of water a day and men 6 to 11 cups, assuming only moderate physical activity at moderate ambient temperatures.

We can also get water from all the other drinks we consume, including caffeinated drinks, with the exception of stronger alcoholic drinks like wines and spirits. Beer can leave you with more water than you started with, but wine actively dehydrates you. However, in the cancer and heart disease studies I mentioned above, the benefits were only found with increased water consumption, not other beverages.

I've previously touched on the cognitive benefits of proper hydration here: Does a Drink Of Water Make Children Smarter?

Surprised tea is hydrating? See my video Is Caffeinated Tea Dehydrating?

Surprised that the 8-a-day rested on such flimsy evidence? Unfortunately, so much of what we do in medicine has shaky underpinnings. That's the impetus behind the idea of evidence-based medicine (what a concept!). Ironically, this new movement may itself undermine some of the most effective treatments. See Evidence-Based Medicine or Evidence-Biased?

How else can we reduce our risk of bladder cancer? See Raw Broccoli and Bladder Cancer Survival.

What kind of water? I recommend tap water, which tends to be preferable from a chemical and microbial contamination standpoint. What about buying one of those fancy alkalizing machines? See Alkaline Water: a Scam?

It's so nice to have data on such a fundamental question. We have much to thank the Adventists for. You will see their studies cropping up frequently. See, for example, Plant-Based Diets and Diabetes, The Okinawa Diet: Living to 100, and Evidence-Based Eating.

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

How Much Water Should We Drink Every Day?

How Much Water Should We Drink Every Day?.jpeg

More than 2000 years ago Hippocrates (460-377 BCE) said, "If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health." What does that mean when it comes to water? Water has been described as a neglected, unappreciated, and under-researched subject, and further complicating the issue, a lot of the papers extolling the need for proper hydration are funded by the bottled water industry.

It turns out the often quoted "drink at least eight glasses of water a day" dictum has little underpinning scientific evidence . Where did that idea come from? The recommendation was traced to a 1921 paper, in which the author measured his own pee and sweat and determined we lose about 3% of our body weight in water a day, or about 8 cups (see How Many Glasses of Water Should We Drink in a Day?). Consequently, for the longest time, water requirement guidelines for humanity were based on just one person.

There is evidence that not drinking enough may be associated with falls and fractures, heat stroke, heart disease, lung disorders, kidney disease, kidney stones, bladder and colon cancer, urinary tract infections, constipation, dry mouth, cavities, decreased immune function and cataract formation. The problem with many of these studies is that low water intake is associated with several unhealthy behaviors, such as low fruit and vegetable intake, more fast-food, less shopping at farmers markets. And who drinks lots of water? People who exercise a lot. No wonder they tend to have lower disease rates!

Only large and expensive randomized trials could settle these questions definitively. Given that water cannot be patented, such trials seem unlikely; who's going to pay for them? We're left with studies that find an association between disease and low water intake. But are people sick because they drink less, or are they drinking less because they're sick? There have been a few large prospective studies in which fluid intake is measured before disease develops. For example, a Harvard study of 48,000 men found that the risk of bladder cancer decreased by 7% for every extra daily cup of fluid we drink. Therefore, a high intake of water--like 8 cups a day--may reduce the risk of bladder cancer by about 50%, potentially saving thousands of lives.

The accompanying editorial commented that strategies to prevent the most prevalent cancers in the West are remarkably straightforward in principle. To prevent lung cancer, quit smoking; to prevent breast cancer, maintain your ideal body weight and exercise; and to prevent skin cancer, stay out of the sun. Now comes this seemingly simple way to reduce the risk of bladder cancer: drink more fluids.

Probably the best evidence we have for a cut off of water intake comes from the Adventist Health Study, in which 20,000 men and women were studied. About one-half were vegetarian, so they were also getting extra water by eating more fruits and vegetables. Those drinking 5 or more glasses of water a day had about half the risk of dying from heart disease compared to those who drank 2 or fewer glasses a day. Like the Harvard study, this protection was found after controlling for other factors such as diet and exercise. These data suggest that it was the water itself that was decreasing risk, perhaps by lowering blood viscosity (blood thickness).

Based on all the best evidence to date, authorities from Europe, the U.S. Institute of Medicine, and the World Health Organization recommend between 2.0 and 2.7 liters (8 to 11 cups) of water a day for women, and 2.5 to 3.7 liters (10 to 15 cups) a day for men. This includes water from all sources, not just beverages. We get about a liter from food and the water our body makes. So this translates into a recommendation for women to drink 4 to 7 cups of water a day and men 6 to 11 cups, assuming only moderate physical activity at moderate ambient temperatures.

We can also get water from all the other drinks we consume, including caffeinated drinks, with the exception of stronger alcoholic drinks like wines and spirits. Beer can leave you with more water than you started with, but wine actively dehydrates you. However, in the cancer and heart disease studies I mentioned above, the benefits were only found with increased water consumption, not other beverages.

I've previously touched on the cognitive benefits of proper hydration here: Does a Drink Of Water Make Children Smarter?

Surprised tea is hydrating? See my video Is Caffeinated Tea Dehydrating?

Surprised that the 8-a-day rested on such flimsy evidence? Unfortunately, so much of what we do in medicine has shaky underpinnings. That's the impetus behind the idea of evidence-based medicine (what a concept!). Ironically, this new movement may itself undermine some of the most effective treatments. See Evidence-Based Medicine or Evidence-Biased?

How else can we reduce our risk of bladder cancer? See Raw Broccoli and Bladder Cancer Survival.

What kind of water? I recommend tap water, which tends to be preferable from a chemical and microbial contamination standpoint. What about buying one of those fancy alkalizing machines? See Alkaline Water: a Scam?

It's so nice to have data on such a fundamental question. We have much to thank the Adventists for. You will see their studies cropping up frequently. See, for example, Plant-Based Diets and Diabetes, The Okinawa Diet: Living to 100, and Evidence-Based Eating.

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

A Simple Yet Neglected Cure for Childhood Constipation

NF-Feb11 Childhood Constipation and Cow's Milk.jpeg

Back in the 1950s, it was suggested that some cases of constipation among children might be due to the consumption of cow's milk. But it wasn't until 40 years later that it was finally put to the test. We used to think that most chronic constipation in infants and young children was all in their head--they were "anal retentive"--or had some intestinal disorder, but a group of Italian researchers studied 27 consecutive infants who showed up in their pediatric gastroenterology clinic with chronic "idiopathic constipation" (meaning they had no idea what was causing it), and tried removing cow's milk protein from their diet.

Within three days on a cow's milk protein-free diet, 21 out of the 27 children were cured. There were clinical relapsea during two subsequent cow milk challenges, meaning when they tried giving the children back some cow's milk, the constipation reappeared within 24 to 48 hours. The subjects came back after a month and stayed cured, and their eczema and wheezing went away, too! The researchers concluded that many cases of chronic constipation in young children--more than three quarters it seemed, may be due to an underlying cow's milk protein allergy.

Chronic constipation is a common problem in children, for which fiber and laxatives are prescribed. If those don't work, several laxatives at progressively higher dosages can be used, and that still may not work. Five years later, a considerable number of kids are still suffering. In fact, chronic constipation may even extend into adulthood. To cure the disease in just a few days by eliminating cow's milk was a real breakthrough.

But it was an open trial, meaning not blinded or placebo-controlled. We didn't have such a trial until a landmark study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine--a double-blind, crossover study, comparing cow's milk and soy milk. The study enrolled 65 kids suffering from chronic constipation, all previously treated unsuccessfully with laxatives; 49 had anal fissures and inflammation and swelling. The researchers gave them either cow's milk or soy milk for two weeks and then switched it around.

In two thirds of the children, constipation resolved while they were receiving soy milk, and the anal fissures and pain were cured. None of the children receiving cow's milk had a positive response. In the 44 responders, the relation with cow's milk protein hypersensitivity was confirmed in all cases by a double-blind challenge with cow's milk. All those lesions, including the most severe anal fissures, disappeared on a cow's milk-free diet, yet reappeared within days after the reintroduction of cow's milk back into their diets.

This may explain why children drinking more than a cup of milk a day may have eight times the odds of developing anal fissures. Cutting out milk may help cure anal fissures in adults, too. Cow's milk may also be a major contributor to recurrent diaper rash as well.

Why does removing cow's milk treat these conditions? Studies that have looked at biopsy tissue samples in patients with chronic constipation because of cow's milk protein hypersensitivity have found signs of rectal inflammation, suggesting that cow's milk protein was inducing an inflammatory response.

Studies from around the world have subsequently confirmed these findings, curing up to 80 percent of kids' constipation by switching to soy milk or rice milk. A common problem with the studies, though, is when they switched kids from cow's milk to non-dairy milk, the kids could still have been eating other dairy products. That is, they didn't control the background diet...until recently. A 2013 study (highlighted in my video, Childhood Constipation and Cow's Milk, got constipated kids off all dairy products and 100 percent were cured, compared with 68 percent in the New England Journal study.

Isn't this amazing? I just kept thinking, "why didn't I learn this in medical school?" Is the dairy lobby so persuasive that a cheap, simple, safe, life-changing intervention like this remains buried?

Until now!

If you appreciate learning what your child's pediatrician probably never did, please consider making a donation to the 501c3 nonprofit charity that keeps this website going. I don't make a penny off the site, but it does require substantial server and logistics costs.

Make sure to check out tomorrow's video: Treating Infant Colic by Changing Mom's Diet.

Avoiding dairy may be important for infant health too. Watch my 3-part video series:

Then the effects on adolescents and beyond:

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 Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: Melissa Wiese / Flickr

Original Link

Bile Acids and Breast Cancer

NF-Jan19 Breast Cancer and Constipation.jpg

Why do constipated women appear to be at higher risk for breast cancer? The results of a 1989 study out of the American Journal of Public Health suggested a slight increased risk of breast cancer for both decreased frequency of bowel movements and firm stool consistency. Women who had three or more bowel movements a day appeared to cut their risk of breast cancer in half. This could be because constipation means a greater contact time between our waste and our intestinal wall, which may increase the formation and absorption of fecal mutagens--substances that cause DNA mutations and cancer--into our circulation, eventually ending up in breast tissue.

The concept that more frequent bowl movements decrease breast cancer risk dates back more than a century, where severe constipation, so-called "chronic intestinal stasis," was sometimes dealt with surgically. Figuring that the colon was an inessential part of the human anatomy, why not cure constipation by just cutting it out? After the surgery, they noticed that potentially precancerous changes in the breasts of constipated women seemed to disappear.

It would take another 70 years before researchers followed up on the clues by those distinguished surgeons who claimed breast pathology cleared when constipation was corrected. A 1981 study published in The Lancet investigated the relation between potentially precancerous changes in the breast and the frequency of bowl movements in nearly 1,500 women (See Breast Cancer and Constipation). The researchers found that the risk of precancerous changes was four times greater in women reporting two or fewer bowel movements a week compared to more than once daily.

We know that even the non-lactating breast actively takes up chemical substances from the blood. We also know that there are mutagens in feces. It is not unreasonable to suggest that potentially toxic substances derived from the colon have damaging or even carcinogenic effects upon the lining of the breast. Toxic substances like bile acids. Bile acids were first shown to promote tumors in mice in 1940, but subsequent experiments on rats led to the mistaken belief that bile acids just promoted existing cancers and couldn't initiate tumors themselves. However, there is a fundamental difference between the rodent models and human cancer. Rats only live a few years while humans can live dozens, so the opportunity for cancer causing mutations may be at least 30 times greater in humans. We now have at least 15 studies that show that bile acids can damage DNA, strongly suggesting they can initiate new cancers as well.

Bile acids are formed as a way of getting rid of excess cholesterol. Our liver dumps bile acids into the intestine for disposal, assuming our intestines will be packed with fiber to trap it and flush it out of the body. But if we haven't been eating enough fiber-rich whole plant foods, bile acids can be reabsorbed back into the body and build up in the breast.

Carcinogenic bile acids are found concentrated in the fluid of breast cysts at up to a hundred times the level found in the bloodstream. By radioactively tagging bile acids, researchers were able to show that intestinal bile acids rapidly gain access to the breast, where they can exert an estrogen-like cancer-promoting effect on breast tumor cells. This would explain why we see 50% higher bile acid levels in the bloodstream of newly diagnosed breast cancer victims. These findings support the concept of a relationship between intestinally-derived bile acids and risk of breast cancer. So how can we facilitate the removal of bile acids from our body?

Slowed colonic transit can increase bile acid levels. Therefore, to decrease absorption of bile acids, we can speed up the so-called "oro-anal transit time," the speed at which food goes from mouth to toilet, by eating lots of fiber. A diet packed with plants greatly increases bile acid excretion.

Fiber can bind up and remove other toxic elements like lead and mercury as well as cholesterol and bile acids. But plants can bind bile acids even independent of fiber. Vegan diets bind significantly more bile acid than lacto-ovo or non-vegetarian diets even at the same fiber intake, which could explain why individuals eating vegetarian might excrete less mutagenic feces in the first place.

I touched on this in my live presentation From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food, but what I didn't get to discuss is the relative bile acid binding abilities of different foods. I cover that in my video Which Vegetable Binds Bile Best?

What intestinal transit time should we be shooting for? See Food Mass Transit. That may be why Stool Size Matters. Also, How Many Bowel Movements Should You Have Every Day? We can improve speed and size by Bulking Up on Antioxidants and eating lots of whole plant foods (Prunes vs. Metamucil vs. Vegan Diet).

Fiber may also help women remove excess estrogen from their body. See my video Fiber vs. Breast Cancer. For more on the wonders of fiber, see Dr. Burkitt's F-Word Diet.

For more of my latest videos on breast cancer prevention and survival, 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 Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: Photocapy / Flickr

Original Link

We Can End the Heart Disease Epidemic

NF-Nov11 We Can End The Heart Disease Epidemic.jpg

Many of the diseases that are common in United States are rare or even nonexistent in populations eating mainly whole plant foods.

These so-called Western Diseases are some of our most common conditions:

  • Obesity, the most important nutritional disease
  • Hiatal hernia, one of the most common stomach problems
  • Hemorrhoids and varicose veins, the most common venous disorders
  • Colorectal cancer, the number two cause of cancer death
  • Diverticulosis, the #1 disease of the intestine
  • Appendicitis, the #1 cause for emergency abdominal surgery
  • Gallbladder disease, the #1 cause for nonemergency abdominal surgery
  • Ischemic heart disease, the #1 cause of death

These diseases are common in the West, but are rarities among plant-based populations.

A landmark study in 1959 I profiled in my video Cavities and Coronaries: Our Choice, for example, suggested that coronary heart disease was practically non-existent among those eating traditional plant-based diets in Uganda.

"Doctors in sub-Saharan Africa during the '30s and '40s recognized that certain diseases commonly seen in Western communities were rare in rural African peasants. This hearsay talk greeted any new doctor on arrival in Africa. Even the teaching manuals stated that diabetes, coronary heart disease, appendicitis, peptic ulcer, gallstones, hemorrhoids, and constipation were rare in African blacks who eat foods that contain many skins and fibers, such as beans and corn, and pass a bulky stool two or three times a day. Surgeons noticed that the common acute abdominal emergencies in Western communities were virtually absent in rural African peasants."

But did they have hard data to back it up? Yes.

Major autopsy series were performed. In one thousand Kenyan autopsies, there were "no cases of appendicitis, not a single heart attack, only three cases of diabetes, one peptic ulcer, no gallstones, and no evidence of high blood pressure" (which alone affects one out of three Americans).

Maybe the Africans were just dying early of other diseases and so never lived long enough to get heart disease? No. In the video One in a Thousand: Ending the Heart Disease Epidemic, you can see the age-matched heart attack rates in Uganda versus St. Louis. Out of 632 autopsies in Uganda, only one myocardial infarction. Out of 632 Missourians--with the same age and gender distribution--there were 136 myocardial infarctions. More than 100 times the rate of our number one killer. In fact, researchers were so blown away that they decided to do another 800 autopsies in Uganda. Still, just that one small healed infarct (meaning it wasn't even the cause of death) out of 1,427 patients. Less than one in a thousand, whereas in the U.S., it's an epidemic.

If heart disease is so rare in rural Africa, how do the local doctors even know what to look for? Though practically unheard of among the native population, the physicians are quite familiar with heart disease because of all the Westerners that immigrate to the country.

The famous surgeon Dr. Denis Burkitt insisted that modern medicine is treating disease all wrong:

"A highly unacceptable fact--that is rarely considered yet indisputable--is that, with rare exceptions, there is no evidence that the incidence of any disease was ever reduced by treatment. Improved therapies may reduce mortality but may not reduce the incidence of the disease."

Take cancer, for example, where the vast majority of effort is devoted to advances in treatment, and second priority is given to screening programs attempting early diagnosis. Is there any evidence that the incidence of any form of cancer has been reduced by improved treatment or by early detection? Early diagnosis may reduce mortality rates, and medical services can have a profoundly beneficial effect on sick people, but neither have little (if any) effect on the number of people becoming ill. No matter how fancy heart disease surgery gets, it's never going to reduce the number of people falling victim to the disease.

Dr. Burkitt compared the situation to an engine left out in the rain:

"If an engine repeatedly stops as a consequence of being exposed to the elements, it is of limited value to rely on the aid of mechanics to detect and remedy the fault. Examination of all engines would reveal that those out in the rain were stopping, but those under cover were running well. The correct approach would then be to provide protection from the offending environment. However, considering the failing engine as the ailing patient, this is seldom the priority of modern medicine."

Dr. Burkitt sums it up with the analogy of The Cliff or the Ambulance:

"If people are falling over the edge of a cliff and sustaining injuries, the problem could be dealt with by stationing ambulances at the bottom or erecting a fence at the top. Unfortunately, we put far too much effort into the provision of ambulances and far too little into the simple approach of erecting fences."

And of course there are all the industries enticing people to the edge, and profiting from pushing people off.

If all plant-based diets could do is reverse our number one killer, then shouldn't that be the default diet until proven otherwise? The fact that it also appears to reverse other leading killers like diabetes and hypertension appears to make the case for plant-based eating overwhelming. So why doesn't the medical profession embrace it? It may be because of The Tomato Effect. Why don't many individual doctors do it? It may be because lifestyle medicine hurts the bottom line (see Lifestyle Medicine: Treating the Causes of Disease). Why doesn't the federal government recommend it? It may be because of the self-interest of powerful industries (see The McGovern Report). But you can take your destiny into your own hands (mouth?) and work with your doctor to clean up your diet and maximize your chances of living happily ever after.

-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 Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Sinn Fien / Flickr

Original Link

How Probiotics Affect Mental Health

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 How Probiotics Affect Mental Health

Before Thorazine was invented in 1950, mental illness was often treated surgically. In fact, in 1949 the inventor of the lobotomy was awarded the Nobel Prize. Before tens of thousands were lobotomized, however, colectomy was all the rage. There was a theory that bad bacteria in the gut­ was the cause of mental illness. So the cure was to surgically remove the colon. Yes, the surgery killed about one in three–but when they didn’t die, surgeons claimed positive results. Some, for example, bragged that when they resected the colons of schoolchildren as a preventive measure there was a cessation of “abnormal sex practices” like masturbation (which was viewed at the time as a precursor for mental illness later in life). Reminds me of the mastectomies they used to perform for menstrual breast pain (Plant-Based Diets For Breast Pain).

Others, though, suggested a less drastic approach, proposing that one could instead treat this "intestinal putrefaction" by changing the intestinal flora. Indeed, over a century ago there were reports of successfully treating psychiatric illnesses like depression with a dietary regimen that included probiotics. Doctors perceived a connection between depression and “feces deficient in quantity and moisture and very offensive in odor.” Reportedly, after the probiotic regimen not only did people feel better psychologically, but they had their “feces increase in quantity, become softer, and of regular consistency, and the offensive smell diminish….” Concurrent with the probiotics, however, all patients were started on a vegetarian diet—so it may not have been the probiotics at all.

Why might the vegetarian diet alone have improved mood? Check out my videos Plant-Based Diet & Mood and the follow-up Improving Mood Through Diet as well as my serotonin series starting with Human Neurotransmitters in Plants.

This entire field of inquiry remained dormant for about a hundred years, but a new discipline has recently emerged known as enteric (meaning intestinal) neuroscience. Our enteric nervous system—the collection of nerves in our gut—has been referred to as a “second brain” given its size, complexity, and similarity. We have as many nerves in our gut as we do in our spinal cord! The size and complexity of our gut brain is not surprising when considering the challenges posed by the interface. We have a hundred times more contact with the outside world through our gut than through our skin. We also have to deal with our 100 trillion little friends down there. That takes a lot of processing power.

Anyone who’s had butterflies in their stomach knows that our mental state can affect our gut. Studies show that every day stresses can actually affect gut flora populations. An innovative study out of Australia looked at feces scraped from toilet paper used by undergrads during exam week. If you check out my 5-min video Gut Feelings: Probiotics and Mental Health, you can see how many bacteria the undergrads had in their feces before and after the exam. You’ll notice the effect lasted the whole week. Their findings show that our mental state can indeed affect our gut, but can our gut affect our mental state? We didn’t know until recently.

Many suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome complain of gut dysfunction, so researchers tried giving sufferers probiotics to see if their mental and emotional state could be improved and it did appear to help. You can learn more about treating chronic fatigue syndrome in:

What about for healthy people, though? A study entitled “Assessment of the Psychotropic Properties of Probiotics” marked a turning point in our thinking. Researchers found that one month of probiotics appeared to significantly decrease symptoms of anxiety, depression, anger and hostility. Until that study was published, the idea that probiotic bacteria administered to the intestine could influence the brain seemed almost surreal–like science-fiction. Well, science yes, but maybe not fiction. 

Might people suffering from certain forms of mental health problems benefit from a fecal transplant from someone with more happy-go-lucky bacteria? We don’t know, but this apparent ability of probiotics to affect brain processes is one of the most exciting recent developments in probiotic research.

Gut Feelings: Probiotics and Mental Health closes out my 4-part video series on the latest in probiotic science. I started with the two most established indications for their use in Preventing and Treating Diarrhea with Probiotics, then moved onto a more speculative use in Preventing the Common Cold with Probiotics?, and then offered practical advice on how to best take probiotic supplements in Should Probiotics Be Taken Before, During, or After Meals?

What else might our good bacteria be doing for us? They may help with weight control (Fawning Over Flora and Gut Flora & Obesity) and serve up anti-cancer compounds! (Flax and Fecal Flora and Sometimes the Enzyme Myth Is True).

-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 Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image credit: Ana_Cotta / Flickr

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Best Treatment for Constipation

Constipation is a common problem that affects up to 20 percent of the world’s population. Nearly 60 million Americans suffer from chronic constipation, which is particularly a problem in women and the elderly. It is a pathological condition that is often severe enough to disrupt daily activities and derange quality of life. It responds poorly to available medical remedies and may prompt sophisticated and potentially harmful surgical procedures. Despite all this, it is still frequently considered a trivial issue and affected individuals tend to self-medicate either using over-the-counter laxatives or ‘natural’ remedies, none of which had been adequately investigated. Until now. Fiber supplements can be inconvenient, taste nasty, and cause bloating—even choking. Prunes could present a natural, convenient, tasty alternative, but do they work?

A randomized clinical trial of prunes vs. Metamucil was recently published. I present the results in my 4-min video Prunes vs. Metamucil vs. Vegan Diet. Each dot on the graph represents a complete spontaneous bowel movement. You'll notice when you watch the video how many had zero a week. Study participants went from an average of 1.7 a week up to 3.5 on prunes (at least one every other day), then back to baseline when prunes were removed. On Metamucil they got up to 2.8  a week. Not as good as the prunes, and a significantly better stool consistency was also noted when using the prunes, as measured by the famous Bristol Stool Scale.

The researchers concluded that treatment with dried plums resulted in a greater improvement in constipation symptoms than the commonly used fiber supplement. Given their palatability, tolerability, and availability, dried plums should be “considered as a first line therapy for chronic constipation.”

If that’s what adding one plant can do, though, what if all you ate was plants? Vegans are off the charts, averaging 10.9!

For more on optimizing bowel function, see:

-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 Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image credit: Alexander Ekman / Flickr

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Best Dried Fruit For Cholesterol

When I saw there was a paper entitled “Daily Dried Apples Versus Daily Dried Plums: Impact on Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors in Postmenopausal Women,” the first thing I thought was well, was the study funded by the U.S. Apple Association or the International Prune Association? Turns out neither. Just our taxpayer dollars hard at work. Great! So what did they find?

One hundred and sixty older women were randomly assigned to a dried apple group or a dried plum group and followed for a year. A dozen dried apple rings a day or about 8 prunes. As you can see in my 3-min video Dried Apples, Dates, Figs or Prunes for Cholesterol?, within 3 months the apple group experienced a significant drop in cholesterol that stayed down throughout the rest of the study, but no cholesterol benefit in the prune group. Both dried fruit regimens lowered c-reactive protein levels about the same, though dried plums may cause a quicker decrease in inflammation, whereas dried apples may result in a greater decrease overall.

Prunes may not help our cholesterol, but they may improve the health of our skin—see Beauty Is More Than Skin Deep. That’s of course in addition to their customary regularity role, something I address in Prunes vs. Metamucil vs. Vegan Diet.

Twelve apple rings is equivalent to eating about 2 apples a day. They think that the cholesterol-lowering properties of apples may be due to their unique pectin fiber composition, which may increase fecal excretion of bile. Or there may be cholesterol-lowering phytonutrients unique to the apples. Either way, this supports the extraordinary findings detailed in my previous video Dried Apples Versus Cholesterol.

What about dried figs? The California Fig Board did not want to be left out. They put people on 14 figs a day (that’s a lot of figs!) for 5 weeks and… nothing. Daily consumption of figs did not appear to reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol.

Finally, what about dates? Another recent study tested 4 or 5 dates a day for a month and again nothing. The dates did tend to bring down triglyceride levels, though, which is surprising given their sugar content. Studies of the glycemic index of dates found them to have a surprisingly mild effect on blood sugar levels. In Dried Apples, Dates, Figs or Prunes for Cholesterol? I show graphs comparing the blood sugar effects of straight sugar water versus that same amount of sugar, but in date form. More on the sugar content of dates in Are Dates Good For You?, a recipe in Healthy Pumpkin Pie, and my favorite source for dates here.

Dates beat out other common fruits in terms of containing more vitamins and minerals. They’ve even been touted as the “richest source of dietary minerals,” but because they’re dried they have about 5 times more calories than fresh fruits. Thus, in terms of nutrient density, they’re really quite comparable to other fruits. Apples, however, clearly have others beat when it comes to lowering cholesterol.

More on dried fruit can be found in:

Those with asthma may want to choose dried fruits without the preservative sulfur dioxide.

-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 Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image credit: storebukkebruse / Flickr

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