Despite the mad rush to Paleo and Atkins over the past couple of decades, research continues to quietly and consistently confirm the many health benefits of plant-based diets.
The benefits aren’t trivial either. We’re talking about the heavy hitters: Preventing the diseases that kill the most people. Namely, heart disease and cancer.
Today, these two diseases kill millions of people. They are, in fact, the leading causes of death. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, heart disease killed 614,348 people in the U.S. in 2013. And Cancer killed 591,699 people in the U.S.
Together, this adds up to 1,206,047 people in the U.S. alone in 2013.
Alright, there are lots of arguments about grass-fed and all that. But let’s just stay focused here. We’re talking about reducing deaths from cancer and heart disease with a change of diet.
Veg diets and deaths from cancer and heart disease
There have been many, many large population studies on diet and heart disease, and diet and cancer over the past three decades.
This is evidenced by the fact that medical researchers from Italy’s University of Florence conducted a meta-analysis of studies that compared veggie diets to omnivore diets and found no less than 96 studies.
Yes, that is a lot of studies. The sheer volume of research allows medical researchers to come to clear conclusions.
The research found that plant-based diets – vegan or vegetarian – resulted in reduced body mass index levels, reduced total cholesterol, reduced LDL-cholesterol, and reduced glucose intolerance as compared to omnivore diets.
But the bigger news this meta-analysis found was that deaths from heart disease are reduced by 25 percent in those who eat a plant-based diet compared to omnivore diets. And deaths of any cancer are reduced by 8 percent for plant-based eaters.
Furthermore, the reduction of cancer risk was greater among vegans, who saw a 15 percent decline in deaths from cancer compared to omnivore diets.
Yes, plant-based dieters still get cancer and heart disease
There are many causes for cancer and heart disease outside of diet. These relate to air pollution, chemical exposure, water contaminants as well as pesticide residues in our foods.
But the good news is that a plant-based diet would save over 153,000 people per year from a heart attack or stroke. And a plant-based diet would save between 47,000 and 71,000 Americans every year from cancer – depending upon whether it was a vegetarian or vegan diet.
And that’s just in the U.S.
But this isn’t all. As I illustrate in my book, The Ancestors Diet, millions more lives could be saved with a plant-based diet, when considering other diseases, including Alzheimer’s, diabetes and many others.
I would also have to add that if the plant-based diet is done right – as I propose in my book, we’d also be talking way more lives saved to heart disease and cancer.
Plant-based diet beats American Heart Disease diet for children with heart disease
As you may know, more and more American children are developing heart disease. This is evidenced by the significant increase in metabolic syndrome among children. Not only are more than a third of our children overweight or obese. High blood pressure, high levels of artery inflammation and cholesterol issues are only a few of the markers that kids are increasingly illustrating heart disease risk among children.
Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic wanted to test how a plant-based diet would fare against the American Heart Association’s heart-healthy diet. So they tested 28 obese children between 9 and 18 years old.
For four weeks, half the children consumed a plant-based vegan diet. The other half ate the American Heart Association diet for the four weeks.
After the four weeks, the children who ate the plant-based diet had significantly better heart disease marker scores compared to the AHA diet children. Their blood pressure was lower. Their LDL-cholesterol levels were lower. Their weight was less and their waist circumference was less.
These changes were significant. We’re talking about 6.4 mm Hg less systolic blood pressure. And 13 mg/dL less in LDL-cholesterol. And over 3 kilos (over 6.5 pounds) of weight loss.
Yes, the AHA diet was beneficial as expected. Four of the children on the AHA diet saw significant changes to their heart disease markers. But more than double that amount – nine children – saw significant changes in their heart disease markers in the plant-based diet group.
The plant-based group of children also had lower insulin levels and lower levels of inflammation markers such as C-reactive protein. Again, these changes were also significant.
Michael Macknin, M.D. from the Cleveland Clinic discussed the research results:
“As the number of obese children with high cholesterol continues to grow, we need to have effective lifestyle modifications to help them reverse their risk factors for heart disease. We’ve known that plant-based diets are beneficial in adults in preventing and possibly reversing heart disease. This study shows that the same may be true in children too, though more studies are needed. Cardiovascular disease begins in childhood. If we can see such significant improvements in a short four-week study, imagine the potential for improving long-term health into adulthood if a whole population of children began to eat these diets regularly.”
Dinu M, Abbate R, Gensini GF, Casini A, Sofi F. Vegetarian, vegan diets and multiple health outcomes: a systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studies. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2016 Feb 6:0.
Macknin M, Kong T, Weier A, Worley S, Tang AS, Alkhouri N, Golubic M. Plant-based, no-added-fat or American Heart Association diets: impact on cardiovascular risk in obese children with hypercholesterolemia and their parents. J Pediatr. 2015 Apr;166(4):953-9.e1-3. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2014.12.058.
Medical News Today. Plant-based diet may reduce obese children’s risk of heart disease. Feb 16, 2015.
Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.