How to Treat Dry Eye Disease Naturally with Diet

Oct 31 Dry Eyes copy.jpeg

One of the most common eye disorders, dry eye disease, causes irritation or discomfort, and can decrease functional vision, sometimes causing a dramatic deterioration in the quality of life. About five million Americans over age 50 suffer from moderate-to-severe dry eyes, and tens of millions more have mild or episodic manifestations of the disease, at a cost of more than $50 billion.

In terms of treatment, there are several drops and drugs that can help. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars on things like artificial tears, but currently there is no therapy available to actually fix the problem. If drugs don't work, doctors can try plugging up the outflow tear ducts, but that can cause complications, such as plugs migrating and eroding into the face, requiring surgical removal. Alternatively, surgeons can just cauterize or stitch up the ducts in the first place.

There has to be a better way.

What about prevention? Dry eyes can be caused by LASIK surgery, affecting about 20-40% of patients six months after the operation. With a million LASIK procedures performed annually, that's a lot of people, and sometimes the long-term symptoms can be severe and disabling.

There's a long list of drugs that can cause it, including antihistamines, decongestants, nearly all the antidepressants, anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, anti-Parkinson's drugs, beta-blockers, and hormone replacement therapy, as well as a few herbal preparations.

In the developing world, vitamin A deficiency can start out as dry eyes and then progress to becoming the leading cause of preventable childhood blindness. Vitamin A deficiency is almost never seen in the developed world, unless you do it intentionally. There was a report in the 1960s of a guy who deliberately ate a vitamin A-deficient diet, living off of bread and lime juice for five years, and his eyes developed vascularization and ulceration of the cornea, which you can see (if you dare) in my Treating Dry Eye Disease with Diet: Just Add Water? video. That was better than what happened to an unfortunate woman who was the member of a cult and tried to live off of brown rice and herbal tea: Her eyes literally melted and collapsed.

There are also a couple case reports of autistic children who refused to eat anything but French fries or menus exclusively comprised of bacon, blueberry muffins, and Kool-Aid, and became vitamin A deficient. A case in the Bronx was written up as vegan diet and vitamin A deficiency, but it had nothing to do with his vegan diet--the kid refused to eat vegetables, consuming only potato chips, puffed rice cereal with non-fortified soymilk, and juice drinks. "His parents lacked particular skill in overcoming the child's tendency to avoid fruits and vegetables."

A plant-based diet may actually be the best thing for patients with dry eye disease, those who wear contact lenses, and those who wish to maximize their tear secretions. People with dry eyes should be advised to lower protein, total fat, and cholesterol intake, and do the following:

  • increase complex carbohydrates;
  • increase vitamin A content (by eating red, orange, yellow, and dark green leafy vegetables);
  • increase zinc and folate intake (by eating whole grains, beans, and raw vegetables, especially spinach);
  • ensure sufficient vitamin B6 and potassium intake (by eating nuts, bananas, and beans);
  • ensure sufficient vitamin C intake (by eating citrus);
  • eliminate alcohol and caffeine;
  • reduce sugar and salt intake; and
  • consume six to eight glasses of water per day.

We know dehydration can cause a dry mouth, but could dehydration cause dry eyes? It may seem kind of obvious, but evidently it was never studied until recently. Is the answer to just drink more water? We know that those suffering from dry eye are comparatively dehydrated, so researchers figured that tear secretion decreases with progressive dehydration just like saliva secretion decreases and gives us a dry mouth. And indeed, as one gets more and more dehydrated, their urine concentrates and so does the tear fluid. But one can reverse that with rehydration, raising the exciting prospect that improving whole-body hydration by getting people to drink more water might bring relief for those with dry eyes. The researchers recommend eight cups of water a day for women and ten cups a day for men.


Find more on the importance of proper hydration in my How Many Glasses of Water Should We Drink a Day?, Does a Drink Of Water Make Children Smarter?, and Can Dehydration Affect Our Mood? videos.

To learn more on other topics related to eye health, check out:

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: Neil Wilkie via Flickr. This image has been modified.

Original Link

How to Treat Dry Eye Disease Naturally with Diet

Oct 31 Dry Eyes copy.jpeg

One of the most common eye disorders, dry eye disease, causes irritation or discomfort, and can decrease functional vision, sometimes causing a dramatic deterioration in the quality of life. About five million Americans over age 50 suffer from moderate-to-severe dry eyes, and tens of millions more have mild or episodic manifestations of the disease, at a cost of more than $50 billion.

In terms of treatment, there are several drops and drugs that can help. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars on things like artificial tears, but currently there is no therapy available to actually fix the problem. If drugs don't work, doctors can try plugging up the outflow tear ducts, but that can cause complications, such as plugs migrating and eroding into the face, requiring surgical removal. Alternatively, surgeons can just cauterize or stitch up the ducts in the first place.

There has to be a better way.

What about prevention? Dry eyes can be caused by LASIK surgery, affecting about 20-40% of patients six months after the operation. With a million LASIK procedures performed annually, that's a lot of people, and sometimes the long-term symptoms can be severe and disabling.

There's a long list of drugs that can cause it, including antihistamines, decongestants, nearly all the antidepressants, anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, anti-Parkinson's drugs, beta-blockers, and hormone replacement therapy, as well as a few herbal preparations.

In the developing world, vitamin A deficiency can start out as dry eyes and then progress to becoming the leading cause of preventable childhood blindness. Vitamin A deficiency is almost never seen in the developed world, unless you do it intentionally. There was a report in the 1960s of a guy who deliberately ate a vitamin A-deficient diet, living off of bread and lime juice for five years, and his eyes developed vascularization and ulceration of the cornea, which you can see (if you dare) in my Treating Dry Eye Disease with Diet: Just Add Water? video. That was better than what happened to an unfortunate woman who was the member of a cult and tried to live off of brown rice and herbal tea: Her eyes literally melted and collapsed.

There are also a couple case reports of autistic children who refused to eat anything but French fries or menus exclusively comprised of bacon, blueberry muffins, and Kool-Aid, and became vitamin A deficient. A case in the Bronx was written up as vegan diet and vitamin A deficiency, but it had nothing to do with his vegan diet--the kid refused to eat vegetables, consuming only potato chips, puffed rice cereal with non-fortified soymilk, and juice drinks. "His parents lacked particular skill in overcoming the child's tendency to avoid fruits and vegetables."

A plant-based diet may actually be the best thing for patients with dry eye disease, those who wear contact lenses, and those who wish to maximize their tear secretions. People with dry eyes should be advised to lower protein, total fat, and cholesterol intake, and do the following:

  • increase complex carbohydrates;
  • increase vitamin A content (by eating red, orange, yellow, and dark green leafy vegetables);
  • increase zinc and folate intake (by eating whole grains, beans, and raw vegetables, especially spinach);
  • ensure sufficient vitamin B6 and potassium intake (by eating nuts, bananas, and beans);
  • ensure sufficient vitamin C intake (by eating citrus);
  • eliminate alcohol and caffeine;
  • reduce sugar and salt intake; and
  • consume six to eight glasses of water per day.

We know dehydration can cause a dry mouth, but could dehydration cause dry eyes? It may seem kind of obvious, but evidently it was never studied until recently. Is the answer to just drink more water? We know that those suffering from dry eye are comparatively dehydrated, so researchers figured that tear secretion decreases with progressive dehydration just like saliva secretion decreases and gives us a dry mouth. And indeed, as one gets more and more dehydrated, their urine concentrates and so does the tear fluid. But one can reverse that with rehydration, raising the exciting prospect that improving whole-body hydration by getting people to drink more water might bring relief for those with dry eyes. The researchers recommend eight cups of water a day for women and ten cups a day for men.


Find more on the importance of proper hydration in my How Many Glasses of Water Should We Drink a Day?, Does a Drink Of Water Make Children Smarter?, and Can Dehydration Affect Our Mood? videos.

To learn more on other topics related to eye health, check out:

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: Neil Wilkie via Flickr. This image has been modified.

Original Link

Heart of Gold: Turmeric vs. Exercise

Sept 5 Heart of Gold copy.jpeg

The endothelium is the inner lining of our blood vessels. Laid end-to-end, endothelial cells from a single human would wrap more than four times around the world. And it's not just an inert layer; it's highly metabolically active. I've talked before about how sensitive our endothelium is to oxidation (The Power of NO) and inflammation (The Leaky Gut Theory). If we don't take care of it, endothelial dysfunction may set us up for heart disease or a stroke. Are we ready to heed our endothelium's early warning signal?

If it's all about oxidation and inflammation, then fruits and vegetables should help. And indeed it appears they do. Each daily serving of fruits or vegetables was associated with a 6% improvement in endothelial function. These fruit- and vegetable-associated improvements in endothelial function are in contrast to several negative vitamin C pill studies that failed to show a benefit. It can be concluded that the positive findings of the fruit and vegetable study are not just because of any one nutrient in fruits and veggies. Rather than searching for the single magic bullet micronutrient, a more practical approach is likely to consider whole foods. Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption is likely to have numerous benefits due to synergistic effects of the plethora of wonderful nutrients in plants.

Exercise helps our endothelial cells, too, but what type of exercise helps best? Patients were randomized into four groups: aerobic exercise (cycling for an hour a day), resistance training (using weights and elastic bands), both, or neither. The aerobic group kicked butt. The resistance group kicked butt. The aerobic and resistance group kicked butt, too. The only group who didn't kick butt was the group who sat on their butts. Our endothelium doesn't care if we're on a bike or lifting weights, as long as we're getting physical activity regularly. If we stop exercising, our endothelial function plummets.

Antioxidant pills don't help, but drug companies aren't going to give up that easy. They're currently looking into anti-inflammatory pills. After all, there's only so much you can make selling salad. For those who prefer plants to pills, one of the most anti-inflammatory foods is the spice turmeric. Researchers in Japan recently compared the endothelial benefits of exercise to that of curcumin, the yellow pigment in turmeric and curry powder. About a teaspoon a day's worth of turmeric for eight weeks was compared to 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise a day.

Which group improved their endothelial function more? The group who did neither experienced no benefit, but both the exercise and the curcumin groups significantly boosted endothelial function. The researchers reported: "The magnitude of the improvement achieved by curcumin treatment was comparable to that obtained with exercise. Therefore, regular ingestion of curcumin could be a preventive measure against cardiovascular disease" at least in postmenopausal women, who were the subjects of this study. "Furthermore, [their] results suggest that curcumin may be a potential alternative treatment for patients who are unable to exercise."

Ideally, we'd both eat curcumin and exercise. One study looked at central arterial hemodynamics. Basically, if our endothelium is impaired, our arteries stiffen, making it harder for our heart to pump. Compared to placebo, we can drop down the pressure with turmeric curcumin or exercise. However, if we combine both, then we really start rocking and rolling, as you can see in the chart about 4 minutes into my video Heart of Gold: Turmeric vs. Exercise. The researchers conclude that these findings suggest that regular endurance exercise combined with daily curcumin ingestion may reduce the pressure against which our hearts have to figh. We want both healthy eating and exertion for our endothelium.


This entry is a follow-up to Turmeric Curcumin vs. Exercise for Artery Function.

Endothelial dysfunction is at the heart (pun intended) of many of our deadliest diseases. Pledge to save your endothelial cells and check out some of these other videos about the effects of food on our endothelial function:

For more on the concept of nutrient synergy, see Garden Variety Anti-Inflammation and Cranberries vs. Cancer.

Regardless what you do or don't eat, exercise is critical:

I must have dozens of turmeric videos by now, but here are a few to get you started:

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

Heart of Gold: Turmeric vs. Exercise

Sept 5 Heart of Gold copy.jpeg

The endothelium is the inner lining of our blood vessels. Laid end-to-end, endothelial cells from a single human would wrap more than four times around the world. And it's not just an inert layer; it's highly metabolically active. I've talked before about how sensitive our endothelium is to oxidation (The Power of NO) and inflammation (The Leaky Gut Theory). If we don't take care of it, endothelial dysfunction may set us up for heart disease or a stroke. Are we ready to heed our endothelium's early warning signal?

If it's all about oxidation and inflammation, then fruits and vegetables should help. And indeed it appears they do. Each daily serving of fruits or vegetables was associated with a 6% improvement in endothelial function. These fruit- and vegetable-associated improvements in endothelial function are in contrast to several negative vitamin C pill studies that failed to show a benefit. It can be concluded that the positive findings of the fruit and vegetable study are not just because of any one nutrient in fruits and veggies. Rather than searching for the single magic bullet micronutrient, a more practical approach is likely to consider whole foods. Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption is likely to have numerous benefits due to synergistic effects of the plethora of wonderful nutrients in plants.

Exercise helps our endothelial cells, too, but what type of exercise helps best? Patients were randomized into four groups: aerobic exercise (cycling for an hour a day), resistance training (using weights and elastic bands), both, or neither. The aerobic group kicked butt. The resistance group kicked butt. The aerobic and resistance group kicked butt, too. The only group who didn't kick butt was the group who sat on their butts. Our endothelium doesn't care if we're on a bike or lifting weights, as long as we're getting physical activity regularly. If we stop exercising, our endothelial function plummets.

Antioxidant pills don't help, but drug companies aren't going to give up that easy. They're currently looking into anti-inflammatory pills. After all, there's only so much you can make selling salad. For those who prefer plants to pills, one of the most anti-inflammatory foods is the spice turmeric. Researchers in Japan recently compared the endothelial benefits of exercise to that of curcumin, the yellow pigment in turmeric and curry powder. About a teaspoon a day's worth of turmeric for eight weeks was compared to 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise a day.

Which group improved their endothelial function more? The group who did neither experienced no benefit, but both the exercise and the curcumin groups significantly boosted endothelial function. The researchers reported: "The magnitude of the improvement achieved by curcumin treatment was comparable to that obtained with exercise. Therefore, regular ingestion of curcumin could be a preventive measure against cardiovascular disease" at least in postmenopausal women, who were the subjects of this study. "Furthermore, [their] results suggest that curcumin may be a potential alternative treatment for patients who are unable to exercise."

Ideally, we'd both eat curcumin and exercise. One study looked at central arterial hemodynamics. Basically, if our endothelium is impaired, our arteries stiffen, making it harder for our heart to pump. Compared to placebo, we can drop down the pressure with turmeric curcumin or exercise. However, if we combine both, then we really start rocking and rolling, as you can see in the chart about 4 minutes into my video Heart of Gold: Turmeric vs. Exercise. The researchers conclude that these findings suggest that regular endurance exercise combined with daily curcumin ingestion may reduce the pressure against which our hearts have to figh. We want both healthy eating and exertion for our endothelium.


This entry is a follow-up to Turmeric Curcumin vs. Exercise for Artery Function.

Endothelial dysfunction is at the heart (pun intended) of many of our deadliest diseases. Pledge to save your endothelial cells and check out some of these other videos about the effects of food on our endothelial function:

For more on the concept of nutrient synergy, see Garden Variety Anti-Inflammation and Cranberries vs. Cancer.

Regardless what you do or don't eat, exercise is critical:

I must have dozens of turmeric videos by now, but here are a few to get you started:

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

How to Design a Misleading Study to Show Diet Doesn’t Work

How to Design a Misleading Study to Show Diet Doesn't Work.jpeg

A study out of the University of North Carolina found no association between dietary fiber intake and diverticulosis. They compared those who ate the highest amount of fiber, 25 grams, to those who ate the smallest amount, which was three times lower at only 8 grams. Finding no difference in disease rates, researchers concluded that a low-fiber diet was not associated with diverticulosis.

The university sent out a press release entitled: "Diets high in fiber won't protect against diverticulosis." The media picked it up and ran headlines such as "High-fiber diet may not protect against diverticulosis, study finds." It went all over the paleo blogs and even medical journals, publishing such statements as an "important and provocative paper...calls into question" the fiber theory of the development of diverticulosis. Other editorials, though, caught the study's critical flaw. To understand this, let's turn to another dietary deficiency disease: scurvy.

Medical experiments on prisoners at Iowa State Penitentiary showed that clinical signs of scurvy start appearing after just 29 days without vitamin C. Experiments on pacifists during World War II showed that it takes about 10 mg of vitamin C a day to prevent scurvy. Imagine going back a few centuries when they were still trying to figure scurvy out. Dr. James Linde had this radical theory that citrus fruits could cure scurvy. What if an experiment was designed to test this crazy theory, in which sailors were given the juice of either one wedge of lemon or three wedges of lemon each day? If a month later on the high seas there was no difference in scurvy rates, one might see headlines from printing presses touting that a low-vitamin C diet is not associated with scurvy.

Well, a wedge of lemon only yields about 2 mg of vitamin C, and it takes 10 mg to prevent scurvy. They would have been comparing one vitamin C-deficient dose to another vitamin C-deficient dose. No wonder there would be no difference in scurvy rates. We evolved eating so many plants that we likely averaged around 600 mg of vitamin C a day. That's what our bodies are biologically used to getting.

What about fiber? How much fiber are we used to getting? More than 100 grams a day! The highest fiber intake group in the North Carolina study was only eating 25 grams, which is less than the minimum recommended daily allowance of about 32 grams. The subjects didn't even make the minimum! The study compared one fiber-deficient diet to another fiber-deficient diet--no wonder there was no difference in diverticulosis rates.

The African populations with essentially no diverticulosis ate diets consisting in part of very large platefuls of leafy vegetables--similar, perhaps, to what we were eating a few million years ago. They were eating plant-based diets containing 70 to 90 grams of fiber a day. Most vegetarians don't even eat that many whole plant foods, although some do. At least vegetarians tend to hit the minimum mark, and they have less diverticulosis to show for it. A study of 47,000 people confirmed that "[c]onsuming a vegetarian diet and a high intake of dietary fiber were both associated with a lower risk of admission to hospital or death from diverticular disease." They had enough people to tease it out. As you'll see in my video Does Fiber Really Prevent Diverticulosis?, compared to people eating a single serving of meat a day or more, those who ate less than half a serving appeared to have a 16% lower risk and pescatarians (eating no meat except fish) had a risk down around 23%. Both of these results weren't in and of themselves statistically significant, but eating vegetarian was. Vegetarians had 35% lower risk, and those eating strictly plant-based appeared to be at 78% lower risk.

As with all lifestyle interventions, it only works if you do it. High-fiber diets only work if they're actually high in fiber.

There's more great information in my video Diverticulosis: When Our Most Common Gut Disorder Hardly Existed.

This reminds me of an ancient video I did: Flawed Study Interpretation.

People commonly ask Do Vegetarians Get Enough Protein?, but maybe they should be more concerned where everyone else is getting their fiber. Ninety-seven percent of Americans don't even reach the recommended daily minimum.

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: Yoshihide Nomura / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Original Link

How to Design a Misleading Study to Show Diet Doesn’t Work

How to Design a Misleading Study to Show Diet Doesn't Work.jpeg

A study out of the University of North Carolina found no association between dietary fiber intake and diverticulosis. They compared those who ate the highest amount of fiber, 25 grams, to those who ate the smallest amount, which was three times lower at only 8 grams. Finding no difference in disease rates, researchers concluded that a low-fiber diet was not associated with diverticulosis.

The university sent out a press release entitled: "Diets high in fiber won't protect against diverticulosis." The media picked it up and ran headlines such as "High-fiber diet may not protect against diverticulosis, study finds." It went all over the paleo blogs and even medical journals, publishing such statements as an "important and provocative paper...calls into question" the fiber theory of the development of diverticulosis. Other editorials, though, caught the study's critical flaw. To understand this, let's turn to another dietary deficiency disease: scurvy.

Medical experiments on prisoners at Iowa State Penitentiary showed that clinical signs of scurvy start appearing after just 29 days without vitamin C. Experiments on pacifists during World War II showed that it takes about 10 mg of vitamin C a day to prevent scurvy. Imagine going back a few centuries when they were still trying to figure scurvy out. Dr. James Linde had this radical theory that citrus fruits could cure scurvy. What if an experiment was designed to test this crazy theory, in which sailors were given the juice of either one wedge of lemon or three wedges of lemon each day? If a month later on the high seas there was no difference in scurvy rates, one might see headlines from printing presses touting that a low-vitamin C diet is not associated with scurvy.

Well, a wedge of lemon only yields about 2 mg of vitamin C, and it takes 10 mg to prevent scurvy. They would have been comparing one vitamin C-deficient dose to another vitamin C-deficient dose. No wonder there would be no difference in scurvy rates. We evolved eating so many plants that we likely averaged around 600 mg of vitamin C a day. That's what our bodies are biologically used to getting.

What about fiber? How much fiber are we used to getting? More than 100 grams a day! The highest fiber intake group in the North Carolina study was only eating 25 grams, which is less than the minimum recommended daily allowance of about 32 grams. The subjects didn't even make the minimum! The study compared one fiber-deficient diet to another fiber-deficient diet--no wonder there was no difference in diverticulosis rates.

The African populations with essentially no diverticulosis ate diets consisting in part of very large platefuls of leafy vegetables--similar, perhaps, to what we were eating a few million years ago. They were eating plant-based diets containing 70 to 90 grams of fiber a day. Most vegetarians don't even eat that many whole plant foods, although some do. At least vegetarians tend to hit the minimum mark, and they have less diverticulosis to show for it. A study of 47,000 people confirmed that "[c]onsuming a vegetarian diet and a high intake of dietary fiber were both associated with a lower risk of admission to hospital or death from diverticular disease." They had enough people to tease it out. As you'll see in my video Does Fiber Really Prevent Diverticulosis?, compared to people eating a single serving of meat a day or more, those who ate less than half a serving appeared to have a 16% lower risk and pescatarians (eating no meat except fish) had a risk down around 23%. Both of these results weren't in and of themselves statistically significant, but eating vegetarian was. Vegetarians had 35% lower risk, and those eating strictly plant-based appeared to be at 78% lower risk.

As with all lifestyle interventions, it only works if you do it. High-fiber diets only work if they're actually high in fiber.

There's more great information in my video Diverticulosis: When Our Most Common Gut Disorder Hardly Existed.

This reminds me of an ancient video I did: Flawed Study Interpretation.

People commonly ask Do Vegetarians Get Enough Protein?, but maybe they should be more concerned where everyone else is getting their fiber. Ninety-seven percent of Americans don't even reach the recommended daily minimum.

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: Yoshihide Nomura / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Original Link

How to Design a Misleading Study to Show Diet Doesn’t Work

How to Design a Misleading Study to Show Diet Doesn't Work.jpeg

A study out of the University of North Carolina found no association between dietary fiber intake and diverticulosis. They compared those who ate the highest amount of fiber, 25 grams, to those who ate the smallest amount, which was three times lower at only 8 grams. Finding no difference in disease rates, researchers concluded that a low-fiber diet was not associated with diverticulosis.

The university sent out a press release entitled: "Diets high in fiber won't protect against diverticulosis." The media picked it up and ran headlines such as "High-fiber diet may not protect against diverticulosis, study finds." It went all over the paleo blogs and even medical journals, publishing such statements as an "important and provocative paper...calls into question" the fiber theory of the development of diverticulosis. Other editorials, though, caught the study's critical flaw. To understand this, let's turn to another dietary deficiency disease: scurvy.

Medical experiments on prisoners at Iowa State Penitentiary showed that clinical signs of scurvy start appearing after just 29 days without vitamin C. Experiments on pacifists during World War II showed that it takes about 10 mg of vitamin C a day to prevent scurvy. Imagine going back a few centuries when they were still trying to figure scurvy out. Dr. James Linde had this radical theory that citrus fruits could cure scurvy. What if an experiment was designed to test this crazy theory, in which sailors were given the juice of either one wedge of lemon or three wedges of lemon each day? If a month later on the high seas there was no difference in scurvy rates, one might see headlines from printing presses touting that a low-vitamin C diet is not associated with scurvy.

Well, a wedge of lemon only yields about 2 mg of vitamin C, and it takes 10 mg to prevent scurvy. They would have been comparing one vitamin C-deficient dose to another vitamin C-deficient dose. No wonder there would be no difference in scurvy rates. We evolved eating so many plants that we likely averaged around 600 mg of vitamin C a day. That's what our bodies are biologically used to getting.

What about fiber? How much fiber are we used to getting? More than 100 grams a day! The highest fiber intake group in the North Carolina study was only eating 25 grams, which is less than the minimum recommended daily allowance of about 32 grams. The subjects didn't even make the minimum! The study compared one fiber-deficient diet to another fiber-deficient diet--no wonder there was no difference in diverticulosis rates.

The African populations with essentially no diverticulosis ate diets consisting in part of very large platefuls of leafy vegetables--similar, perhaps, to what we were eating a few million years ago. They were eating plant-based diets containing 70 to 90 grams of fiber a day. Most vegetarians don't even eat that many whole plant foods, although some do. At least vegetarians tend to hit the minimum mark, and they have less diverticulosis to show for it. A study of 47,000 people confirmed that "[c]onsuming a vegetarian diet and a high intake of dietary fiber were both associated with a lower risk of admission to hospital or death from diverticular disease." They had enough people to tease it out. As you'll see in my video Does Fiber Really Prevent Diverticulosis?, compared to people eating a single serving of meat a day or more, those who ate less than half a serving appeared to have a 16% lower risk and pescatarians (eating no meat except fish) had a risk down around 23%. Both of these results weren't in and of themselves statistically significant, but eating vegetarian was. Vegetarians had 35% lower risk, and those eating strictly plant-based appeared to be at 78% lower risk.

As with all lifestyle interventions, it only works if you do it. High-fiber diets only work if they're actually high in fiber.

There's more great information in my video Diverticulosis: When Our Most Common Gut Disorder Hardly Existed.

This reminds me of an ancient video I did: Flawed Study Interpretation.

People commonly ask Do Vegetarians Get Enough Protein?, but maybe they should be more concerned where everyone else is getting their fiber. Ninety-seven percent of Americans don't even reach the recommended daily minimum.

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: Yoshihide Nomura / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Original Link

Plant versus Animal Iron

Plant versus Animal Iron.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

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

Image Credit: Sally Plank

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Plant versus Animal Iron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

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

Image Credit: Sally Plank

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Best Foods for Acid Reflux

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Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is one of the most common disorders of the digestive tract. The two most typical symptoms are heartburn and regurgitation of stomach contents into the back of the throat, but GERD is not just burning pain and a sour taste in your mouth. It causes millions of doctor visits and hospitalizations every year in the United States. The most feared complication is cancer.

You start out with a normal esophagus. If the acid keeps creeping up, your esophagus can get inflamed and result in esophagitis. Esophagitis can transform into Barrett's esophagus, a precancerous condition which can then turn into adenocarcinoma (a type of cancer). To prevent all that, we need to prevent the acid reflux in the first place.

In the last three decades, the incidence of this cancer in the US has increased six-fold, an increase greater than that of melanoma, breast, or prostate cancer. This is because acid reflux is on the rise. In the United States, we're up to about 1 in 4 people suffering at least weekly heartburn and/or acid regurgitation, compared to around 5% in Asia. This suggests that dietary factors may play a role.

In general, high fat intake is associated with increased risk, whereas high fiber foods appear to be protective. The reason fat intake may be associated with GERD symptoms and erosive esophagitis is because when we eat fatty foods, the sphincter at the top of the stomach that's supposed to keep the food down becomes relaxed, so more acid can creep up into the esophagus. In my video Diet & GERD Acid Reflux Heartburn, you can see a study in which researchers fed volunteers a high-fat meal--a McDonald's sausage and egg McMuffin--compared to a low-fat meal (McDonald's hot cakes), and there was significantly more acid squirted up in the esophagus after the high-fat meal.

In terms of later stages of disease progression, over the last twenty years 45 studies have been published in the association between diet and Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancer. In general, they found that meat and high-fat meals appeared to increase cancer risk. Different meats were associated with cancers in different locations, thoughj. Red meat was more associated with cancer in the esophagus, whereas poultry was more associated with cancer at the top of the stomach. Plant-based sources of protein, such as beans and nuts, were associated with a significantly decreased risk of cancer.

Those eating the most antioxidant-rich foods have half the odds of esophageal cancer, while there is practically no reduction in risk among those who used antioxidant vitamin supplements, such as vitamin C or E pills. The most protective produce may be red-orange vegetables, dark green leafies, berries, apples, and citrus. The benefit may come from more than just eating plants. Eating healthy foods crowds out less healthy foods, so it may be a combination of both.

Based on a study of 3,000 people, the consumption of non-vegetarian foods (including eggs) was an independent predictor of GERD. Egg yolks cause an increase in the hormone cholecystokinin, which may overly relax the sphincter that separates the esophagus from the stomach. The same hormone is increased by meat, which may help explain why plant-based diets appear to be a protective factor for reflux esophagitis.

Researchers found that those eating meat had twice the odds of reflux-induced esophageal inflammation. Therefore, plant-based diets may offer protection, though it's uncertain whether it's attributable to the absence of meat in the diet or the increased consumption of healthy foods. Those eating vegetarian consume greater amounts of fruits and vegetables containing innumerable phytochemicals, dietary fiber, and antioxidants. They also restrict their consumption of animal sources of food, which tend to be fattier and can thus relax that sphincter and aggravate reflux.

GERD is common; its burdens are enormous. It relapses frequently and can cause bleeding, strictures, and a deadly cancer. The mainstay of treatment is proton pump inhibitor drugs, which rake in billions of dollars. We spend four billion dollars on Nexium alone, three billion on Prevacid, two billion on Protonix, one billion on Aciphex. These drugs can cause nutrient deficiencies and increase the risk for pneumonia, food poisoning, and bone fractures. Thus, it is important to find correctable risk factors and correct them. Known correctable risk factors have been things like obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption. Until recently, though, there hadn't been studies on specifically what to eat and what to avoid, but now we have other correctable factors to help prevent this disease.

For more on GERD, see: Diet & Hiatal Hernia, Coffee & Mortality, and Club Soda for Stomach Pain & Constipation.

I also have a video about esophageal cancer, detailing the extraordinary reversal of the kinds of precancerous changes that lead to the devastating condition--with nothing but strawberries: Strawberries versus Esophageal Cancer.

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: PDPics / Pixabay. Image has been modified.

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