Health Problems with the Standard Western Diet

There is a strong correlation between the Standard Western Diet, which is high in animal fats and low in fibre, and the incidence of the afflictions listed below. The typical consumer of meat and dairy products is essentially digging his grave with his teeth!

In contrast, those who follow a good vegetarian diet can expect to minimise their risk of suffering from any of these ailments.

Please note, what follows is not merely the opinion of the author but a presentation of the findings of numerous scientific studies, many carried out by nutritionists/epidemiologists/etc. of the highest calibre. Please refer to the Reading Material for details.

Omnivores: read on - if you dare!!

Avoiding Arthritis

Brow-beating Blood Pressure

Curtailing Cancer

Conquering Constipation

Dodging Diabetes

Getting to Grips with Gallstones

Helping Heart Disease

Looking at Leukaemia

Overcoming Osteoporosis

Shunning Salmonellosis

Avoiding Arthritis

Many elderly, and not-so-elderly, people experience terrible pain in their joints and their fingers may become swollen and twisted. So much so, that they can't even button a coat! Conventional medicine prescribes large doses of anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and indomethacin and scoffs at the idea that arthritis is related to diet. However, some medical researchers investigated this heresy and discovered that rheumatoid arthritis sufferers who changed to a lactovegetarian diet had less pain and greater functional ability after a few months. Another heretical study of rheumatoid arthritics involved one week of fasting followed by three weeks on a pure vegetarian /vegan diet. After this short time, 60% of the participants said they felt less pain and greater mobility of the joints. (A vegan diet includes fruits, vegetables, grains, pulses, seeds, and nuts - but no meat, fish, eggs or dairy products.)

These results are not surprising, since meat and dairy products contain arachidonic acid, which can promote inflammation when converted to prostaglandin and leukotrienes in the body. So, for best results, a rheumatoid arthritis sufferer would do well to remove meat and dairy products from his/her diet. In some parts of the world, old people, for example, among the Hunzas of the Himalayas, who have worked hard all their lives are essentially free of arthritis because they eat foods that are low in fats and cholesterol, moderate in protein, and consume a minimal amount of processed and junk foods.

Brow-beating Blood Pressure

Hypertension, which is the medical term for high blood pressure, is one of the key factors in the development of heart and cerebrovascular disease and can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Unfortunately, people who consume the Standard Western Diet which includes meat, fish, and dairy products, face an inevitable increase in blood pressure as they grow older. And, in the United Kingdom, one third of all deaths that occur in people under 65 years of age are due to hypertensive causes. The usual medical response to hypertension is, more often than not, simply to prescribe drugs to lower blood pressure without tackling the underlying cause which is an unhealthy cardiovascular system. Although these drugs do bring down blood pressure, they can induce side effects such as fatigue, listlessness, increase in blood cholesterol levels, impotence in males, and decreased or total loss of sexual interest in females.

Wouldn't if be much better to change your diet and lower blood pressure without the nasty side effects?

Studies of people with low blood pressure throughout their lives have shown that they share certain characteristics: their diets are low in fats, cholesterol and salt, and high in fibre. These people are not genetically favoured because when they take on diets high in saturated fat, cholesterol and salt, their blood pressure levels shoot up to match the norm. High blood cholesterol levels and high blood pressure levels go hand in hand. The liver manufactures cholesterol from saturated fats. Saturated fats are present in meat, fish and dairy products. If you want to reduce your blood pressure level (without the nasty side effects associated with drugs) and improve the health of your cardiovascular system, you should reduce your consumption of meat, fish and dairy products. Salt, of course, also raises blood pressure, so avoid salty foods. (Cheese is one of the saltiest foods you can eat.)

Curtailing Cancer

Back in 1981, eminent epidemiologists Richard Doll and Richard Peto completed a massive report on the causes of cancer. The report admitted that although not all cancers could be identified or avoided, from the amassed evidence some of the causes of cancer were identifiable and avoidable. Here's a table that shows what they estimate the main risk factors to be, together with their best estimate of the percentage of total cancer-caused deaths attributable to them:

Factor responsible               Percentage
for Cancer                       of all Deaths
Diet                             35
Tobacco                          30
Infection                        10
Reproductive & Sexual Behaviour   7
Occupation                        4
Alcohol                           3
Geophysical Factors               3
Pollution                         2
Food Additives                    1
Industrial Products               1
Medicines & Medical Products      1

'Diet' is at the top of the list and, since our 'diet' is what we choose to eat, if we stop eating those foods that prove, upon investigation, to have a high correlation with diet-related cancer, we can significantly reduce our chances of suffering from those cancers.

Guess what? Further research about cancer mortality in different countries (for example, the United States and Japan) showed that there is a clear relationship between the amount of animal protein in the national diet and the incidence of certain types of cancer mortality. The same linear relationship showed up between total fat consumption and cancer, and animal fat consumption and cancer. Suggestions that certain nations were genetically more predisposed to contract cancers irrespective of diet were quashed when studies of Japanese immigrants in the United States revealed a three-fold increase in their risk of contracting colon cancer when they adopted the Standard American diet.

Basically, more meat means more cancer.

Conquering Constipation

Constipation is the passage of hard stools, usually with some discomfort or pain. The most common cause of constipation is a diet low in fibre. Although laxatives are often used to move the bowels when the stools have become stuck, eventually they only serve to irritate the bowels.

The only effective method to conquer constipation (without nasty side-effects) is to change to a diet low in fat and high in fibre.

Fibre is available in abundance in fruits, vegetables, unrefined grains, pulses, seeds, and nuts - it's what makes plant foods chewy.

There in no fibre in meat, fish, eggs and dairy products!

Meat, in particular, is a very dense food, high in calories, and fills you up quickly. So much so, that you no longer feel like eating bulkier plant foods. Meat therefore not only contains no fibre in itself; it displaces high fibre foods, thereby minimising fibre intake in two ways.

A good vegetarian diet provides enough fibre to ensure that constipation and related complaints like haemorrhoids, varicose veins, hiatal hernia, and diverticulosisis are not a problem. For best results, minimise or eliminate eggs and dairy products from your diet also.

Dodging Diabetes

When working properly, the pancreas secretes insulin in response to sugar in the blood in order to keep blood sugar levels within a certain range. Sufferers from maturity onset diabetes mellitus, as distinct from juvenile onset diabetes mellitus in which the pancreas secretes little or no insulin, need insulin injections, not because their pancreas isn't secreting enough but because their insulin is not doing its job. Without medication their blood sugar levels would skyrocket out of control.

A common cause for the malfunction of the diabetic's own insulin is the high level of fat in their blood. So, reducing the intake of dietary fat, particularly saturated fat, can make a significant difference to the life of the diabetic because it lowers the fat concentration in the blood and allows their own insulin to do its job. Several studies have borne this out. A high percentage of diabetics who adopted a low-fat high-fibre diet discontinued their medication within a matter of weeks. Dispensing with medication also means dispensing with the serious side effects - diabetic pills more than double the risk of heart attack and sometimes cause anaemia, jaundice and skin rashes.

Across the world, diabetes is rare or non-existent among peoples who stick to eating grains, vegetables and fruits. If these same people, like, for example, the inhabitants of Nauru, just west of the Gilbert Islands in the Pacific ocean, switch to a rich meat-based diet, their incidence of diabetes zooms.

In general, vegetarians have a much lower risk of developing diabetes than meat-eaters.

Getting to Grips with Gallstones

The more cholesterol in the diet, the more will be present in the gallbladder fluids, and it is here that cholesterol solidifies into gallstones. There is now evidence to associate the occurrence of gallstones with a high-meat, low fibre diet. Experimenters in Oxford, England, found that meat-eaters were 2.5 times more likely to develop gallstones than non-meat-eaters.

A low-fat, high-fibre (vegetarian/vegan) diet protects against the occurrence of gallstones.

Helping Heart Disease

Your arteries carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body. If they are healthy, they have smooth inside walls and blood passes through freely. Sometimes, though, fatty streaks appear on the inner wall. Gradually, the streak grows and it can become a hard mass of fatty tissue. This erodes the wall, reduces the elasticity of the artery, narrows the passageway, and interferes with the flow of blood. The fatty tissue is called "atheroma", a large mass of this is called "plaque" and the name of the disorder, atheroschlerosis, means, literally, "hardening from atheroma". The disorder is commonly know as "hardening of the arteries".

When these plaques grow large enough, they rupture, releasing their fatty contents into the artery to form a clot. These clots may clog up the already narrowed arterial passageway, and thus entirely prevent blood flow through the artery. If a coronary artery is blocked in this way, the supply of blood to the heart is stopped, and the result is a heart attack. In the same way, if an artery feeding the brain is blocked, the result is a stroke.

Basically, heart attacks and strokes are the end result of a gradual process of accumulating fatty deposits in the arteries supplying blood to the heart and brain.

So, what causes atheroschlerosis? The Korean War provided some of the first evidence that atheroschlerosis was rooted in our dietary intake of saturated fat and cholesterol. Medical researchers who autopsied American soldiers killed in that war - their average age was twenty-two - discovered that more than 77% of them had arteries clogged by fatty deposits, while the arteries of the Korean soldiers of similar age showed no such damage. The hypothesis that the differences in the soldiers' arteries might be due to genetic predisposition rather than differing diets was quashed when a large group of Korean soldiers were put on the U.S. Army diet. They quickly developed high blood cholesterol levels - a sure sign of developing atheroschlerosis.

These findings indicated that meat, fish, dairy products and eggs were implicated in the development of heart disease because they are high in saturated fats and the only sources of cholesterol.

The International Atheroschlerotic Project, a world-wide study carried out during 1963 to 1965, revealed that people who lived in areas where saturated fat and cholesterol consumption was high had significantly more atheroschlerosis, more heart attacks, and more strokes. In 1970, the results of a massive seven-country study were published. This study analysed the role of diet in heart disease and involved 12,770 men in Finland, Greece, Italy, Holland, Yugoslavia, the United States, and Japan. The study found high correlations between the amount of saturated fat in a people's diet, their blood cholesterol levels, and their death rate from heart disease. Of the seven countries, Finland and the United States of America had the highest consumption of animal products, the highest consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol - and the highest death rate from heart disease.

So, it's quite clear that by eating a diet that is rich in animal fats we can significantly increase our risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. This begs the question: if you reduce or eliminate your consumption of meat, fish, dairy products and eggs, will you also reduce your chances of dying of a heart attack or stroke?

Low fat, low cholesterol? Fortunately, many studies have shown that you can lower your blood cholesterol by reducing or eliminating your intake of animal fat, and further studies have shown that in so doing, you will reduce your likelihood of having a heart attack or stroke. Let's have a look at some of the evidence.

Back in 1964, American heart specialist Dr. Paul Dudley White visited the Hunzas of Kashmir, to investigate claims that these people lived to ripe old ages without any heart disease. He tested blood pressure levels, blood cholesterol levels, and took electrocardiogram traces, but found no trace of atheroschlerosis, even in twenty five men he examined who were over ninety years of age. Dr. White concluded that there was a causative correlation between the Hunzas' diet, which was almost pure vegetarian (vegan), and their amazing lack of heart disease.

A twelve-year study (1959 - 1971) involving two mental hospitals near Helsinki, Finland investigated the effect on patients of replacing animal fats in their diet with vegetable fats. For the first six years, the patients in one hospital were fed a diet low in animal fats, high in vegetable fats while the other hospital catered for the normal diet. For the second six years, the diets were reversed, with the first hospital reverting to the normal diet, and the second hospital eating the low animal fat diet. During the experimental period, the average serum cholesterol level of the patients on the low animal fat diet dropped by 15% and the deaths due to coronary heart disease were halved! As one researcher wrote:

"Although we do not yet have absolute proof for dietary prevention of coronary heart disease, there is strong evidence for its effectiveness, and its safety."

Clearly, saturated animal fat is connected with the development of heart disease, but it is not the only factor. Nevertheless, the meat industry have isolated this factor and promote the idea of eating lean meat. The logic goes like this: if you eat lean meat, then you'll get all the benefits of vegetarianism, without actually going vegetarian!

It doesn't work like that. In the first place, a consumer is likely to buy fatty meat and meat products thinking they are lower in fat than they really are. Secondly, there are many factors working together that make a vegetarian diet intrinsically healthy. For example, lean-meat eaters miss out on vitamin E which is a "biological antioxidant" and can probably protect us against atheroschlerosis.

Is atheroschlerosis reversible? Yes, a rigorously followed vegetarian diet can actually reduce the blockages in our clogged-up arteries!

In 1990, a ground-breaking paper was published in The Lancet in which scientists proved irrefutably that a vegetarian diet - without the assistance of medicines or drugs - could be used to regress coronary heart disease. The study was made up of an experimental group and a control group with members being assigned randomly to either group. Both groups had their coronary artery lesions carefully measured at the start of the study, and after one year.

Members of the experimental group were asked to eat a low-fat vegetarian diet, consisting of fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains and soya bean products. The only animal products allowed were egg white, and one cup of low-fat milk or yoghurt daily. Caffeine was disallowed and alcohol intake was minimised. The diet contained 70-75% of calories as complex carbohydrate, 15-20% as protein, and only 10% from fat. Relaxation was encouraged, and patients had to exercise for three hours a week.

One year later, atheroschlerosis had worsened in two thirds of the control group (on a normal diet). But for 18 of the 22 patients in the experimental group, the blockages in their arteries had reduced in size, resulting in increased blood flow to the heart. And the more severe the blockage, the greater the improvement.

This regression was not entirely due to a lowering of cholesterol because other studies had shown that among patients taking cholesterol-lowering drugs only a minority showed reversal. The study leader, Dr. Ornish, believes that nutritional factors other than fat and cholesterol play a part in heart disease. Vitamin A (beta-carotene) together with other antioxidants plentiful in a vegetarian diet may play a role in preventing and reversing atheroschlerosis.

Looking at Leukaemia

Leukaemia is the name given to any of several types of cancer in which there exists a disorganised proliferation of white blood cells in the bone marrow, where all blood cells are formed. The over-production of leukaemia white blood cells impairs the production of red blood cells, platelets, and normal white blood cells. This can lead other organs, such as the liver, spleen, lymph nodes, testicles, or brain to stop working properly as they are infiltrated by the leukaemia cells. Both the acute and chronic leukaemia's, and other types of tumours of the blood, bone cells and lymph tissue, cause about 10% of all cancer deaths and about 50% of all cancer deaths in children and adults under 30 years of age.

Is leukaemia infectious? Although such a notion is commonly dismissed as nonsensical, there is incontrovertible scientific evidence that shows that cancers are transmissible both within species and between species. Indeed, one type of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is thought to be caused by a virus similar to the AIDS virus.

Back in 1911, an experiment demonstrated that tumours taken from one chicken and implanted in another infected the second chicken with a cancerous growth. Later, in 1936, another experiment demonstrated that breast cancer could be transmitted between mice via a virus present in the milk of lactating mice. Scientists at the University of Glasgow recently discovered a feline leukaemia virus in cats. Indeed, just like us, the animals we eat suffer from various forms of cancer, sometimes caused by a virus. Here are a few examples:

The author of one US report, published in Basic Life Science in 1982, stated:

Virtually all commercial chickens are heavily infected with leucosis virus. Since the tumours induced are not grossly apparent until about 20 weeks of age, this is not economically as important as is the Marek's disease virus, which induces tumours by 6-8 weeks or age. Bovine leukaemia virus is widespread in commercial dairy herds; more than 20% of dairy cows and 60% of herds surveyed in the USA are infected.

This begs the question: Do I increase my risk of contracting leukaemia or other cancers by eating meat or by being exposed to food animals or their produce?

The hypothesis that viruses can cross the species barrier and infect humans was tested in a study paid for by the US National Cancer Institute which examined the health of slaughtermen - those people with the most exposure to infected animals. The study monitored the health of almost 14,000 slaughtermen over a period of 30 years (1949 to 1980) and found that abattoir workers were nearly three times more likely to die from Hodgkins's disease that the general population. (Hodgkin's disease is a cancer of the lymphatic system.) The study concluded:

The excess risk was observed only in abattoir workers and seems to be associated with the slaughtering of cattle, pigs and sheep... Thus, the excess risk seems to be in keeping with a postulate of an infectious origin for these cases, as no other occupational exposure could adequately explain this occurrence.

Here's some further evidence from various studies:

The foregoing evidence suggests that cancers in animals may be transmitted to human beings, particularly to those in certain occupations. It makes sense to minimise your risk of contracting these cancers by avoiding the handling and eating of animal flesh.

Overcoming Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is defined as the loss of protein matrix tissue from the bone, causing it to become brittle and easily fractured. Bone gradually becomes thinner as a person grows older, but post-menopausal women are particularly prone to osteoporosis because their ovaries no longer produce oestrogen hormones, which help maintain bone mass. Other causes of osteoporosis include removal of the ovaries; a diet deficient in calcium; certain hormonal disorders; and prolonged immobility. It's also more common in heavy drinkers and smokers.

The link between calcium deficiency and osteoporosis first hit the headlines in 1984, when the United States National Institute of Health recommended that women should increase their calcium intake to prevent it. Demand for calcium supplements suddenly hit the roof, since 25% of 65 year old women in the US have osteoporosis.

Because meat contains almost no calcium, it was left to the dairy industry to seize the opportunity for increased sales. Soon, we all learnt that:

  1. Osteoporosis is caused by lack of calcium in the diet.
  2. Milk contains lots of calcium.
  3. Therefore, drink gallons of milk to avoid osteoporosis.

Sounds plausible? Maybe, but it doesn't work like that. A large intake of dairy produce will not safeguard you against osteoporosis. Nevertheless, many people are consuming dairy products and calcium supplements in the belief that they can, thereby, avoid this crippling condition.

Let's look at some facts:

The Eskimo population has the highest dietary intake of calcium in the world (more than 2000mg daily, mainly from fish bones), yet they also have the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world!

According to the findings of the China study (which involved the collection of 367 detailed facts about the diet and lifestyle of 6,500 participants across China, from 1983 onwards), 'most Chinese consume no dairy products and instead get all their calcium from vegetables. While the Chinese consume only half the calcium Westerners do, osteoporosis is uncommon in China.'

These facts contradict the simplistic propaganda of the dairy industry, so what's the truth of the matter? A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1988 reveals the answer. The scientists involved used a technique called direct photon absorptiometry to compare the bone mass of vegetarians and meat-eaters. They studied 1,600 women and found that:

Comparing the nutrient intake of the two groups revealed that the vegetarians' advantage wasn't due to increased calcium intake. The real reason for the difference in bone mineral loss was explained by nutritionist Nathan Pritikin in the March 1981 issue of Vegetarian Times in which he said:

African Bantu women take in only 350mg of calcium per day. They bear nine children during their lifetime and breastfeed them for two years. They never have calcium deficiency, seldom break a bone, rarely lose a tooth. Their children grow up nice and strong. How can they do that on 350mg of calcium a day when the recommendation is 1200mg? It's very simple. They're on a low-protein diet that doesn't kick the calcium out of the body... In our country, those who can afford it are eating 20% of their total calories in protein, which guarantees negative mineral balance, not only of calcium, but of magnesium, zinc and iron. It's all directly related to the amount of protein you eat.

In fact, several factors explain the difference in bone loss between vegetarians and meat-eaters:

What you can do to reduce your risk of suffering from osteoporosis

Shunning Salmonellosis

Salmonellosis is a bacterial infection derived from contaminated animal products. Symptoms of the disease are: nausea, diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, fever, and, sometimes, vomiting and chills. Unfortunately, the disease can be fatal for the aged, the ill, and infants.

Although it's hard to estimate how many animal carcasses are contaminated with salmonella, in the case of chicken, estimates have ranged from 25% to 80%. Not only chicken flesh, but eggs also may be contaminated. In general, it is advisable to avoid foods that contain raw egg (such as home-made mayonnaise, ice cream, and mousses).

In most cases of food poisoning, contaminated meat or poultry is the root cause. While it's usually the cook who gets the blame, the problem wouldn't arise if the meat wasn't grossly infected with salmonella bacteria in the first place.

Avoiding the prospect of being poisoned by contaminated animal products is another good reason for adopting a good vegetarian diet!

Return to Home Page

This page was last updated on 03 October 2000