Health & Veganism

What does the research say?

The research on health and veganism may seem mixed.

However, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the human digestive system was not designed for meat consumption and processing, which could help explain why there is such high incidence of heart disease, hypertension, and colon and other cancers amongst meat and dairy eaters. Add to this the plethora of drugs and antibiotics applied as a salve to unnatural factory farming conditions and growing occurrences of meat-based diseases like E. coli and Salmonella, and there’s a compelling health-based case for vegetarianism. Factory-farmed chicken, cow or pig are amongst the most medicated creatures on Earth. 

Up to 60 percent of chickens sold in supermarkets are infected with Salmonella entenidis, which can pass to humans if the meat is not heated to a high enough temperature. Another pathogen, Campylobacter, can also spread from chickens to human beings with deadly results.  In a single year, more than 25 million pounds of hamburger were found to be contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7, which is spread by fecal matter.  The British epidemic of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, which began in 1986 , jumps to beef-eating humans in the form of the always-fatal Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). The CDC reports that an average of 10 to 15 people have contracted CJD from meat in Britain each year since it was first detected in 1994. 

 

And let's not forget that the Covid-19 pandemic started in a wet market.

Certainly, there are unhealthy vegans and unhealthy non-vegans. However, veganism has a long standing history of positive health benefits; carnivorism has a long-standing history of compromised health. We will share some of the studies with you here. Where we are not permitted to share the full journal articles, we will share the abstract summaries. What we will not do is share research here that has been funded by the agricultural- meat and dairy - industry which often results in outcomes favoring the consumption of meat and dairy. The real or perceived biases and conflicts of interest concern us. Note that the general consensus is that vegans (and many non vegans) take extra B12; at least one study suggests extra choline, D3, and zinc; however many vegans do fine paying attention to choline rich foods. We, of course, are biased in favor of compassion as we are both ethical vegans, not environmental or health vegans. Howeverthere is sufficient evidence to conclude that a well-balanced vegan diet, with little supplementation, can yield immense health benefits.

All the research points to the reality that the consumption of meat and dairy brings with it increased risk of heart disease and cancer and other inflammatory disorders.

"Plant-based nutrition has exploded in popularity, and many advantages have been well documented over the past several decades. Not only is there a broad expansion of the research database supporting the myriad benefits of plant-based diets, but also health care practitioners are seeing awe-inspiring results with their patients across multiple unique subspecialties. Plant-based diets have been associated with lowering overall and ischemic heart disease mortality; supporting sustainable weight management; reducing medication needs; lowering the risk for most chronic diseases; decreasing the incidence and severity of high-risk conditions, including obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and hyperglycemia; and even possibly reversing advanced coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes.

The reason for these outcomes is two-fold. First, there are inherent benefits to eating a wide variety of health-promoting plants. Second, there is additional benefit from crowding out—and thereby avoiding—the injurious constituents found in animal products, including the following:

  • Saturated fats: Saturated fats are a group of fatty acids found primarily in animal products (but also in the plant kingdom—mostly in tropical oils, such as coconut and palm) that are well established in the literature as promoting cardiovascular disease (CVD). The American Heart Association lowered its recommendations for a heart-healthy diet to include no more than 5% to 6% of total calories from saturated fat, which is just the amount found naturally in a vegan diet (one consisting of no animal products).

  • Dietary cholesterol: Human bodies produce enough cholesterol for adequate functioning. Although evidence suggests that dietary cholesterol may only be a minor player in elevated serum cholesterol levels, high intakes are linked to increased susceptibility to low-density lipoprotein oxidation, both of which are associated with the promotion of CVD. Dietary cholesterol is found almost exclusively in animal products.

  • Antibiotics: The vast majority (70% to 80%) of antibiotics used in the US are given to healthy livestock animals to avoid infections inherent in the types of environments in which they are kept. This is, therefore, the number one contributor to the increasingly virulent antibiotic-resistant infections of the type that sickened 2 million and killed 23,000 Americans in 2013.

  • Insulin-like growth factor-1: Insulin-like growth factor-1 is a hormone naturally found in animals, including humans. This hormone promotes growth. When insulin-like growth factor-1 is consumed, not only is the added exogenous dose itself taken in, but because the amino acid profile typical of animal protein stimulates the body’s production of insulin-like growth factor-1, more is generated endogenously. Fostering growth as a full-grown adult can promote cancer proliferation.

  • Heme iron: Although heme iron, found in animal products, is absorbed at a higher rate than nonheme iron, found in plant-based and fortified foods, absorption of nonheme iron can be increased by pairing plant-based protein sources with foods high in vitamin C. Additionally, research suggests that excess iron is pro-oxidative and may increase colorectal cancer risk and promote atherosclerosis and reduced insulin sensitivity.

  • Chemical contaminants formed from high temperature cooking of cooked animal products: When flesh is cooked, compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heterocyclic amines, and advanced glycation end products are formed. These compounds are carcinogenic, pro-inflammatory, prooxidative, and contributive to chronic disease.

  • Carnitine: Carnitine, found primarily in meat, may be converted in the body by the gut bacteria to produce trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). High levels of trimethylamine n-oxide are associated with inflammation, atherosclerosis, heart attack, stroke, and death.

  • N-Glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc): This compound is found in meat and promotes chronic inflammation.

 

On the other hand, there are infinite advantages to the vast array of nutrients found in plant foods. Phytochemicals and fibers are the two categories of nutrients that are possibly the most health promoting and disease fighting. Plants are the only source of these nutrients; they are completely absent in animals. Plants contain thousands of phytochemicals, such as carotenoids, glucosinolates, and flavonoids, which perform a multitude of beneficial functions, including:

  • Antioxidation, neutralizing free radicals

  • Anti-inflammation

  • Cancer activity reduction via several mechanisms, including inhibiting tumor growth, detoxifying carcinogens, retarding cell growth, and preventing cancer formation

  • Immunity enhancement

  • Protection against certain diseases, such as osteoporosis, some cancers, CVD, macular degeneration, and cataracts

  • Optimization of serum cholesterol.

 

Fibers found in whole plant foods powerfully support the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and immune systems through multiple mechanisms. Yet more than 90% of adults and children in the US do not get the minimum recommended dietary fiber.

Thus, it can be advantageous for physicians to recommend and support plant-based eating to achieve optimal health outcomes and possibly minimize the need for procedures, medications, and other treatments. Aiming for lifestyle changes as primary prevention has been estimated to save upwards of 70% to 80% of health care costs because 75% of health care spending in the US goes to treat people with chronic conditions. Offering this option and guiding patients through the logistics and their concerns about plant-based eating is a viable first line of therapy in the clinical setting. This article will delineate how best to achieve a well-balanced, nutrient-dense meal plan, define notable nutrient sources, describe how to get started, and offer suggestions on how physicians can encourage and work with their patients who are interested to maintain adherence and enjoy success" (Hever, 2016).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vegan diet reduces neutrophils, monocytes and platelets related to branched-chain amino acids – A randomized, controlled trial

 

American Journal of Epidemiology: Meat and Meat-related Compounds and Risk of Prostate Cancer in a Large Prospective Cohort Study in the United States

Nature: Weight gain over 5 years in 21 966 meat-eating, fish-eating, vegetarian, and vegan men and women in EPIC-Oxford​

Nutrients: Vegan Nutrition for Mothers and Children: Practical Tools for Healthcare Providers

Public Health Nutrition: Hypertension and blood pressure among meat eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians and vegans in EPIC–Oxford

World​ Journal of Gastroenterology: Consumption of red and processed meat and esophageal cancer risk: meta-analysis

International Journal of Epidemiology: Dairy, soy, and risk of breast cancer: those confounded milks

Diabetologia: Meat consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies

Journal of the American Heart Association: Anti-Inflammatory Effects of a Vegan Diet Versus the American Heart Association-Recommended Diet in Coronary Artery Disease Trial

Trends in Cardiovascular Medicine: Plant-based diets and cardiovascular health

Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: Vegetarian, vegan diets and multiple health outcomes: A systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studies​

European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Is a vegan diet detrimental to endurance and muscle strength?

 

Cell Metabolism: Low Protein Intake Is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population​

 

Science Daily summary: New study associates intake of dairy milk with greater risk of breast cancer

The Argonaut: Humans are herbivores

Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics: In Defense of the Vegan Ideal: Rhetoric and Bias in the Nutrition Literature

Journal of the American Dietetic Association: Considerations in planning vegan diets: infants

Frontiers in Nutrition: The Effects of Vegetarian and Vegan Diets on Gut Microbiota

Impact of vegan diets on gut microbiota: An update on the clinical implications

Pandemics and Carnivorism

Wildlife, Exotic Pets, and Emerging Zoonoses

 

Coronavirus should be a wake-up call to our treatment of the animal world

Environmental change and the ecology of infectious disease

Destroying nature unleashes infectious diseases- New York Times

We have to wake up: factory farms are breeding grounds for pandemics

BBC: Coronavirus: Exploiting nature 'drives outbreaks of new diseases'

Halt destruction of nature or suffer even worse pandemics, say world’s top scientists

A Global Strategy for Preventing the Next Pandemic

U.N. Predicts Rise In Diseases That Jump From Animals To Humans Due To Habitat Loss

Our Cruel Treatment of Animals Led to the Coronavirus

We have no one to blame for the Coronavirus but ourselves

Could veganism help us avoid epidemic and pandemic diseases?

 Prediction and Prevention of the Next Zoonosis Pandemic, The Lancet

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Vegan Health has a wonderful resource for health related veganism studies here.