And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which [is] upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which [is] the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” Genesis 1:29.
World-renowned figures as diverse as philosophers Plato and Nietzsche, political leaders Benjamin Franklin and Gandhi, and pop icons Paul McCartney and Bob Marley have all advocated a vegetarian diet. Science is also on the side of vegetarianism. Multitudes of studies have demonstrated the remarkable health benefits of a vegetarian diet.
Vegetarian is defined as avoiding all animal flesh, including fish and poultry. Vegetarians who avoid flesh, but do eat animal products such as cheese, milk, and eggs, are ovo-lacto-vegetarians (ovo = egg; lacto = milk, cheese, etc.). The ranks of those who abstain from all animal products are rapidly growing; these people are referred to as pure vegetarians or vegans. Scientific research shows that health benefits increase as the amount of food from animal sources in the diet decreases, so vegan diets are the healthiest overall.
Vegetarian diets—naturally low in saturated fat, high in fiber, and replete with cancer-protective phytochemicals—help to prevent cancer. Large studies in England and Germany have shown that vegetarians are about 40 percent less likely to develop cancer compared to meat-eaters.1-3 In the United States, studies of Seventh-day Adventists have shown significant reductions in cancer risk among those who avoided meat.4, 5 Sim-
ilarly, breast cancer rates are dramatically lower in nations, such as China, that follow plant-based diets.6 Interestingly, Japanese women who follow Western-style, meat-based diets are eight times more likely to develop breast cancer than women who follow a more traditional plant-based diet.7 Meat and dairy products contribute to many forms of cancer, including cancer of the colon, breast, ovaries, and prostate.
Harvard studies that included tens of thousands of women and men have shown that regular meat consumption increases colon cancer risk by roughly 300 percent.8, 9 High-fat diets also encourage the body’s production of estrogens, in particular, estradiol. Increased levels of this sex hormone have been linked to breast cancer. A recent report noted that the rate of breast cancer among premenopausal women who ate the most animal (but not vegetable) fat was one-third higher than that of women who ate the least animal fat.10 A separate study from Cambridge University also linked diets high in saturated fat to breast cancer.11 One study linked dairy products to an increased risk of ovarian cancer. The process of breaking down the lactose (milk sugar) into galactose evidently damages the ovaries.12 Daily meat consumption triples the risk of prostate enlargement. Regular milk consumption doubles the risk and failure to consume vegetables regularly nearly quadruples the risk.13
Vegetarians avoid the animal fat linked to cancer and get abundant fiber, vitamins, and phytochemicals that help to prevent cancer. In addition, blood analysis of vegetarians reveals a higher level of “natural killer cells,” specialized white blood cells that attack cancer cells.14
Beating Heart Disease
Vegetarian diets also help prevent heart disease. Animal products are the main source of saturated fat and the only source of cholesterol in the diet. Vegetarians avoid these risky products. Additionally, fiber helps reduce cholesterol levels15 and animal products contain no fiber. When individuals switch to a high-fiber, low-fat diet their serum cholesterol levels often drop dramatically.16, 17 Studies have demonstrated that a low-fat, high-fiber, vegetarian or vegan diet combined with stress reduction techniques, smoking cessation, and exercise, or combined with prudent drug intervention, could actually reverse atherosclerosis—hardening of the arteries.18, 19 Heart diets that include lean meat, dairy products, and chicken are much less effective, usually only slowing the process of atherosclerosis.
©2007 Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine; all rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.
To be continued …
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- Chang-Claude J, Frentzel-Beyme R, Eilber U. Mortality patterns of German vegetarians after 11 years of follow-up. Epidemiology 1992;3:395-401.
- Chang-Claude J, Frentzel-Beyme R. Dietary and lifestyle determinants of mortality among German vegetarians. Int J Epidemiol 1993;22:228-36.
- Phillips RL. Role of lifestyle and dietary habits in risk of cancer among Seventh-day Adventists. Cancer Res (Suppl) 1975;35:3513-22.
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- Giovannucci E, Rimm EB, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA, Ascherio A, Willett WC. Intake of fat, meat, and fiber in relation to risk of colon cancer in men. Cancer Res 1994;54:2390-7.
- Willett WC, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA, Rosner BA, Speizer FE. Relation of meat, fat, and fiber intake to the risk of colon cancer in a prospective study among women. N Engl J Med 1990;323:1664-72.
- Cho E, Speigelman D, Hunter DJ, Chen WY, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA, Willett WC. Premenopausal fat intake and risk of breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst 2003;95:1079-85.
- Bingham SA, Luben R, Welch A, Wareham N, Khaw KT, Day N. Are imprecise methods obscuring a relation between fat and breast cancer? Lancet 2003;362:212-4.
- Cramer DW, Harlow BL, Willett WC. Galactose consumption and metabolism in relation to the risk of ovarian cancer. Lancet 1989;2:66-71.
- Araki H, Watanabe H, Mishina T, Nakao M. High-risk group for benign prostatic hypertrophy. Prostate 1983;4:253-64.
14. Malter M, Schriever G, Eilber U. Natural killer cells, vitamins, and other blood components of vegetarian and omnivorous men. Nutr Cancer 1989;12:271-8.
- Sacks FM, Castelli WP, Donner A, Kass EH. Plasma lipids and lipoproteins in vegetarians and controls. N Engl J Med 1975;292:1148-52.
16. Barnard RJ, Inkeles SB. Effects of an intensive diet and exercise program on lipids in postmenopausal women. Women’s Health Issues 1999;9:155-61.
- Barnard ND, Scialli AR, Bertron P, Hurlock D, Edmonds K, Talev L. Effectiveness of a low-fat vegetarian diet in altering serum lipids in healthy premenopausal women. Am J Cardiol. 2000;85:969-72.
18. Ornish D, Brown SE, Scherwitz LW. Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? Lancet 1990;336:129-33.
19. Esselstyn CB Jr, Ellis SG, Medendorp SV, Crowe TD. A strategy to arrest and reverse coronary artery disease: a 5-year longitudinal study of a single physician’s practice. J Fam Pract. 1995;41:560-8.