Category Archives: Nutrition

Signs that the Medical Establishment may be Starting to get Healthy Eating by Greg Feinsinger M.D.

In the 1940s Dr. Walter Kempner proved that severe hypertension could be reversed by diet. Over 25 years ago Dr. Dean Ornish, and later Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, proved that our biggest killer—heart disease—can be reversed by plant-based, whole food nutrition with avoidance of salt, sugar and added oil. But unfortunately, the medical field is bound by tradition; doctors are paid well to do procedures but not for counseling; and physician training and practice are unduly influenced by the pharmaceutical and food industries. As a result, the power of food to prevent and reverse disease has been neglected by traditional medicine.

Finally, there are some hopeful signs that this may be changing. Dr. Kim Williams, who was recently the president of the American Collage of Cardiology, decided to go plant-based a few years ago, after reviewing several different diets. When people asked him why, he said “I don’t mind dying so much, but I don’t want it to be my fault.”

The American Heart Association publishes the respected medical journal “Circulation.”  In the June 5th issue there is an article titled “Medical Nutrition Education, Training and Competencies to Advance Guideline-Based Diet Counseling by Physicians.”  The article notes that “training physicians to provide diet and nutrition counseling as well as developing collaborative care models to deliver nutrition advice will reduce the health and economic burden of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease to a degree not previously recognized.” It goes on to note that “despite evidence that physicians are willing to undertake this task and are as credible sources of diet information, they engage patients in diet counseling at less than desirable rates and cite insufficient nutrition knowledge and training as barriers to carrying out this role…These data align with ongoing evidence of large and persistent gaps in medical nutrition education and training in the United States…”

The American Family Physician journal is getting on board as well. The June 1st edition contained an article titled “Diets for Health:  Goals and Guidelines,” which reviewed the pros and cons of various diets that are touted as being healthy. The article points out that plant proteins are preferable, and cites the health benefits of fruits and vegetables, legumes (beans, lentils, chick peas), whole grains, healthy fats and spices. In a high-lighted box titled “What is New on This Topic:  Diets For Health,” the article notes:

  • Large, prospective cohort studies show that vegetarian diets reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes mellitus, and that vegan diets offer additional benefits for obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”
  • “Eating nuts, including peanuts, is associated with decreased cardiovascular disease and mortality, lower body weight, and lower diabetes risk.
  • “In a prospective cohort study, consumption of artificially sweetened beverages increased the risk of type 2 diabetes…”

Of course, Drs. Esselstyn, Fuhrman, Greger, McDougall, Barnard and others have been telling us these things for years—this information really isn’t new. What’s new is that the medical establishment is finally listening.

At my 50th medical school reunion in Denver last month, graduating medical students told me they still aren’t being taught much about nutrition or prevention. But maybe this will finally change, and in the near future medical students will learn that health isn’t all about pills and procedure—that inexpensive, low-tech lifestyle changes can prevent and reverse many of the chronic, costly diseases that afflict so many Americans.

 

How to Avoid Blood Cancers by Greg Feinsinger M.D.

There are basically 3 types of blood cancer: leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

  • Leukemia involves propagation of mutant white blood cells in the bone marrow. Normal white blood cells fight infection but leukemia cells lose this function. Furthermore, they crowd out normal red and other types of white blood cells in the bone marrow. Around 52 thousand cases of leukemia occur in the U.S. annually, and 24 thousand people die from it.
  • Lymphoma involves mutation and propagation of another type of white blood cell—lymphocytes. The most common type is non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, of which there are 70 thousand cases diagnosed in the U.S. every year, with about 19 thousand deaths.
  • Myeloma involves plasma cells—white blood cells that produce antibodies. Some 24 thousand Americans are diagnosed with myeloma every year, resulting in 11 thousand deaths.

Treatment of blood cancers has variable results, with the greatest success being childhood leukemia, which now has a 90 percent ten-year survival rate. As with other diseases, prevention is best. In his book “How Not to Die,” Dr. Michael Greger reviews foods associated with decreased blood cancer risk. As discussed in the last several columns, what we eat don’t eat can lower the risk of many types of cancer. Dr. Greger says that studies have shown that “the greatest protection appeared to be against blood cancers.”

  • Sulforaphane* is a strong cancer-fighting micronutrient present in cruciferous vegetables—arugula, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, horseradish, kale, mustard greens, radishes, turnip greens, and watercress. Sulforaphane kills human leukemia cells in the lab, and studies have shown that high daily dietary cruciferous intake decreases the risk of lymphoma.
  • In a Mayo Clinic study, people who ate 5 or more servings of green, leafy vegetables a week had a 50 percent lower incidence of lymphoma compared with those eating less than 1 serving a week.
  • There is preliminary evidence that turmeric can slow or stop pre-myeloma changes in humans.
  • Acai berries have been shown in the lab to be effective against leukemia cells, although studies proving that they prevent leukemia in living humans have not been done yet. Of course, Big Food jumped on the favorable lab evidence—beware of “superfood” supplements and shakes, which have not been proven to have any benefit.

Dr. Greger also cites certain foods that increase the risk of blood cancers:

  • People who grow up on poultry farms and workers in the poultry industry are at higher risk for blood cancers. Eating poultry regularly also increases risk. The cause is thought to be certain viruses that cause cancer in poultry and probably in humans (we don’t know for sure yet).
  • Exposure to cattle and pigs has been associated with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and eating them may prove to increase risk of lymphoma although again, we don’t know for sure yet.

*In order for sulforaphane to be released from cruciferous vegetables, an enzyme called mycrosinase is necessary, and this enzyme is inactivated by cooking. One strategy you can use is to eat some raw cruciferous veggies, such as cauliflower or broccoli, before you eat cooked cruciferous veggies—that way microsinase is available to release the sulforaphanes in the cooked veggies. A second strategy is to chop or blend cruciferous veggies at least 40 minutes before you cook them, which allows mycrosinase to do its job. A third strategy is to add mustard or horseradish to cooked cruciferous veggies (mustard greens and seeds, and horseradish, come from cruciferous vegetables and contain mycronase). Frozen cruciferous vegetables are flash-heated prior to freezing, to prolong shelf life—so frozen cruciferous vegetables need to be considered “cooked.”

How to Avoid and Survive Breast Cancer (by Greg Feinsinger M.D.)

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, after skin cancer. Every year about 230,000 women in this country are diagnosed with breast cancer, and 40,000 die from it. Mammograms and self-breast exams supposedly lead to early detection, but in reality, this is “late detection” because breast cancer has been present for years—up to 4 decades– by the time it is diagnosed. Some of the 2-billion cells in our bodies are always mutating. We evolved to eat plants, and plants contain micro-nutrients that destroy these mutant cells before they propagate– animal products lack this ability.

Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D. is one of the two doctors (Dr. Ornish was the other) who proved that plant-based, whole food nutrition with no salt, sugar or added oil reverses heart disease.  Dr. Esselstyn, now in his 80s, started out as a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic decades ago. He was operating on young women who presented with breast cancer, and the treatment back then was radical mastectomy—a very disfiguring operation. Dr. Esselstyn started looking for a way to prevent breast cancer and found out that populations who ate a plant-based diet had an extremely low rate of breast cancer.

If you are a woman and want to do everything you can to prevent breast cancer, read the chapter on breast cancer in Dr. Greger’s book “How Not to Die,” and search breast cancer on his website NutritionFacts.org. If you are a breast cancer survivor, read “The Cancer Survivor’s Guide, Foods That Help You Fight Back!” by Neal Barnard, M.D. Following are some of the points made in these two books:

  • In 2014 the World Health Organization upgraded its classification of alcohol to “a definitive human breast carcinogen.”  The culprit is acetaldehyde, a toxic breakdown product of alcohol. Dr. Greger notes that the skin of grapes used to make red wine contains a compound that “may help cancel out some of the cancer-causing effects of the alcohol.”
  • Melatonin, the “sleep hormone,” appears to have a protective effect against breast cancer. Melatonin levels are lowered by bright lights including computer and TV screens during pre-bedtime hours and by eating meat (for unknown reasons). Eating vegetables raises melatonin levels (again, for unknown reasons).
  • Excess estrogen increases breast cancer risk, and women need to be hesitant about taking post-menopausal hormones (“bio-identical hormones” have not been proven to be any safer). Body fat produces estrogen, and therefore people who are overweight are at increased risk for breast cancer.
  • Diets high in saturated fat from added oil (coconut oil has the most), meat, dairy products and eggs increase breast cancer risk.
  • Regular exercise such as brisk walking for an hour a day lowers the percentage of body fat, and for that and other reasons exercise lowers breast cancer risk.
  • Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are carcinogens produced by cooking beef, pork and other meat—and fish and poultry– at high temperatures, such as roasting, pan frying, grilling and baking. According to Dr. Greger, PhIP,  “one of the most abundant HCAs in cooked meat, was found to have potent estrogen-like effects, fueling human breast-cancer cell growth.”
  • Lignans are phytoestrogens that “dampen the effects of the body’s own estrogen” according to Dr. Greger. Lignans are particularly plentiful in flaxseeds, and are also found in berries, whole grains and dark, leafy greens. Flaxseed has even been shown to reduce breast cancer tumor growth. Antibiotics kill health-promoting gut bacteria which are important in activating lignans.
  • According to Dr. Greger, some studies have shown a link between high cholesterol levels and breast cancer risk, thought to be due to our bodies “using cholesterol to make estrogen or to shore up tumor membranes to help the cancer migrate and invade more tissue.” Using statins to lower cholesterol does not decrease breast cancer risk.
  • Fiber, which is found only in plant foods, helps remove estrogen via the GI tract and lowers breast cancer risk. For every 20 grams of fiber intake per day, there was a 15 percent lower risk of breast cancer in several studies.
  • Apple peels contain a compound that activates a breast tumor-suppressor gene.
  • Cancerous stem cells may be why breast cancer can sometimes recur years after apparently successful treatment. Sulforaphane, a component of cruciferous vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower), “suppresses the ability of breast cancer stem cells to form tumors” according to Dr. Greger. Cooking destroys the enzyme that activates sulforaphane so some cruciferous vegetables should be eaten raw (or eat some raw ones before eating cooked cruciferous vegetables).
  • Soybeans contain weak phytoestrogens (phyto = plant) called isoflavones, which attach to estrogen receptors in breast tissue, preventing stronger estrogens from attaching, thereby lowering breast cancer risk. It is thought that high soy intake is why the incidence of breast cancer is low in Asian women. If you are a breast cancer survivor, you should know that according to Dr. Greger, “women diagnosed with breast cancer who ate the most soy lived significantly longer and had a significantly lower risk of breast cancer recurrence.”

 

Glycemic Index Aside, this Doc Goes Vegan

Dr. David Jenkins is a Canada Research Chair in nutrition, metabolism and vascular biology, a professor in the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto, and scientist at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital. In addition, he is the first Canadian recipient of the Bloomberg Manulife Prize for the Promotion of Active Health.

Dr. Jenkins is a frequent subject of worldwide news, particularly in Canada, but recent reports have more to do with his change of mind than his list of accolades. Dr. Jenkins, who also happens to be the lead architect of the glycemic index, announced recently that his personal lifestyle of choice is plant-based. Though his research inspired some of the most famous diets in the U.S.—Atkins, The Zone and South Beach to name a few—he is now stepping into the arena himself, by proposing a global revolution in the way we eat.

For his reasons why, and an overview of Canadian perspectives on plant-based nutrition, check out this article from Toronto’s Globe and Mail.

Dietary Guidelines Go Mainstream

In 2015, for the first time in modern industrial agriculture, the government may advise Americans to take most red meat off the table. The possibility has ignited heated front page debates, heavy lobbying in Washington, and a 30-day extension for public comment. CLICK HERE to read the guidelines

Many of us have never been quite aware of the legislation, much less ready to forage through fields of federal commentary.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, developed jointly by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, have been published every five years since 1995. A federal advisory committee releases recommendations early each year and then opens a forum for public comment. Ultimately, each new of set of Guidelines forms the basis of all federal food, nutrition education, and information programs over the next five years.

As Fox News proclaims “The Return of the Egg,” CNN, CBS, and Time Magazine are not far behind. Each cast their own opinions, backed by their own pundits, on how Americans will digest federal advice to cut meat, add veggies, and stop worrying about big bad cholesterol scares.

Google any one of them for the latest, or check out a fairly well balanced overview in the Pittsburgh Post-Gasette: