“More Than an Apple a Day:
Preventing Our Most Common Diseases” In my annual presentation last year, I ran through the 15 leading causes of death, exploring the latest science on the role diet may play in preventing, arresting, and even reversing some of our top 15 killers. Or, if you remember actually, our top 16 killers, since side effects from prescription drugs kill an estimated 106,000 Americans every year. The sixth leading cause of death may actually be doctors… And that’s just from adverse drug reactions. Add in medical mistakes, which the Institute of Medicine estimates kills at least 44,000 Americans every year, and that brings doctors, up to here. Throw in some hospital-acquired infections, and we’re talking maybe 187,000 Americans dead every year, and millions injured by medical care. Even preventive medicine kills… in its own way. The best way to avoid the adverse effects of medical and surgical tests and treatments is not to avoid doctors, but to avoid getting sick in the first place. So this year I thought I’d run through the top dozen reasons people visit their physicians to highlight some of the latest research in hopes of moving me down the list of common killers. The #1 primary disease diagnosis at office visits is a respiratory disease, like a common cold. Most Americans report between 2 and 3 colds a year. This year, I featured evidence suggesting that simple water gargling is effective to prevent upper respiratory tract infections. This virtually cost-free modality would appreciably benefit people. But that’s the problem, right? It’s cost-free. Nobody makes any money off of it. That’s why you’ve probably never heard of this research. Whenever there’s a new drug or surgical procedure, right, you can be assured people will know about it because there’s a profit motive; there’s a corporate budget driving the promotion. That’s why you’ll never see an ad on TV for broccoli. Nor for simple water, even though water may actually improve cognitive performance in school children, for example, because most kids end up at school in a state of mild dehydration. If you randomize kids to get a cup of water, you can improve their ability to think in school. Not with Ritalin or some new drug, but just plain water. Think how much drug companies could make if they could just sell sugar pills, but tell kids to take the fake pill with a cup of water. It’s like using exercise to treat ADHD. Effective, but we won’t hear about it because you can’t put it into a pill bottle for your stockholders. And exercise can also improve immunity and decrease illness rates from respiratory infections. We’re talking about a 25 to 50% reduction in sick days. Name one drug or supplement that can do that. And it doesn’t take much. Let kids run around for just 6 minutes and you can boost the number of immune cells in their blood stream by more than a third, in just 6 minutes! At the other end of the life cycle, exercise may help prevent age-related immune decline. Sedentary women in their 70s have about a 50% chance of getting an upper respiratory illness every fall season. But walk a half-hour a day and you may cut your risk down to 20%. And the runners in the group got it under 10. Looks like exercise can make our immune system like 5 times more effective. Now while regular physical activity improves immune function and lowers respiratory infection risk, sustained and intense exertion can have the opposite effect, forming a so-called J-shaped curve relationship. As you go from inactive to active, your infection risk declines, but hardcore athletes that overtrain
may increase their risk of infection. How do you prevent that? Marathon runners consuming the equivalent of a teaspoon of nutritional yeast a day may not only cut respiratory infection risk in half but result in decreased confusion, fatigue, tension, anger — and my favorite — increased vigor… thanks to nutritional yeast. Yeast are one-celled fungi. What about multicellular fungi, mushrooms? If you split people into two groups, half eat their normal diet, and half eat their normal diet with cooked white button mushrooms every day for a week, no change in the control group. But after a week of mushrooms, antibody secretion jumps 50% and even stayed up there for a week after they stopped. Lots more detail in the video. I just want to touch some of these areas. Mushrooms technically aren’t in the plant kingdom, so in theory the healthiest diet may not just be a plant-based diet, but a plant and fungus-based diet, though that sounds even less appetizing, I’m afraid. But who wouldn’t want 50% more antibodies? Well, millions suffer from auto-immune diseases, whose immune systems may be a bit too active already, so might eating healthy make things worse by boosting their immune function further? No. Those who eat healthy appear protected from autoimmune diseases, given the extraordinary rarity of most autoimmune diseases among those following a traditional plant-based diet, for example. Before they Westernized their diet, not a single case of multiple sclerosis was diagnosed among 15 million people. What about treating autoimmune diseases with a plant-based diet? Well, even a semi-vegetarian diet was found to successfully treat Crohn’s disease, better than any other intervention. The “best result in relapse prevention.” And Crohn’s is an autoimmune disease, right? So what about treating MS with diet? The most frequently prescribed drug for multiple sclerosis is beta interferon, which can make you feel lousy, costs $30,000 a year. But hey, it may be worthwhile if it actually worked. We learned last year that it does not seem to prevent or delay long-term disability. And so that leaves chemo drugs like mitoxantrone that causes irreversible heart damage in 1 out of every 8 people who go on the drug, and treatment-related acute leukemia. It causes leukemia in nearly 1% of the people who take it. But hey, MS is no walk in the park. If only there was some simple, safe, cheap, side-effect free solution that also just so happened to be the most effective treatment for MS ever described. Dr. Roy Swank, who we lost at age 99, distinguished neurologist, over 170 scientific papers published, but let me just cut to the chase. He found that “in all probability, MS is caused largely by the consumption of saturated animal fat.” Now he thought it was the sludging of the blood caused by even a single meal high in saturated fat that may clog some of the little capillaries that feed our nerves. But now we know animal fats have all sorts of adverse effects such as inflammation, so who knows what the actual mechanism may be? Regardless, the results Dr. Swank published remain the most effective treatment of multiple sclerosis ever published in the peer reviewed medical literature. In patients with early stage MS, 95% were without progression of the disease 34 years later after adopting his low saturated fat dietary program. To date, no medication or invasive procedure has ever even come close to demonstrating such success. Doesn’t cost $30,000 dollars; doesn’t give you leukemia—and works better! Neurological problems are second on the list, but tend to be more common conditions like headaches. Feel free to check out my videos on treating migraine headaches, for example, by rubbing lavender essential oil on the upper lip. And hot sauce in the nose for cluster headaches? Believe me, it’s better than having cluster headaches. I’ve talked about both preventing and treating Parkinson’s with a plant-based diet since it’s one of our leading killers, but the most common movement disorder isn’t Parkinson’s. It’s what’s called “essential tremor,” affecting 1 in 25 adults over 40, and up to 1 in 5 of those in their 90’s, making it one of the most common neurological diseases. In addition to the potentially debilitating hand tremor, there can be other neuropsychiatric manifestations such as difficulty walking, as well as various levels of cognitive impairment. What causes it? Well, there’s group of neurotoxins that produce tremor called beta carboline alkaloids. Harmane is one of the most potent of these tremor-producing neurotoxins. You expose people to these chemicals and they develop a tremor; you take it away, the tremor disappears. Well, what if you’re exposed long-term? Well, this recent study found that those with essential tremor have much higher levels of this toxin in their bloodstreams
compared to those without the tremor. How did they get exposed to it? Primarily through meat: beef, chicken and pork — and fish actually. So if this potent, tremor-producing neurotoxin is concentrated in cooked muscle foods, is meat consumption associated with a higher risk of essential tremor? Men who ate the most meat in this study had 21 times the odds of essential tremor. Just to put that in context, you go back to the original studies on smoking and lung cancer, smoking was only linked to at most 14 times the odds, not 21. That’s like a 2,000% increase in odds for this disabling brain disease. Next on the list is circulatory diseases, the number one killer of men and women. Among populations who ate plant-based diets, MS was almost non-existent. What about heart disease? Last year, the International Journal of Epidemiology reprinted a landmark article from the 50’s that started out with a shocking statement. “In the African population of Uganda, coronary heart disease is almost non-existent.” Our number one cause of death almost nonexistent? What were they eating? Plantains and sweet potatoes, other vegetables, corn, millet, pumpkins, tomatoes and, “green leafy vegetables are taken by all.” And their protein almost entirely from plant sources, and they had the cholesterol levels to prove it, similar to modern-day plant eaters. Maybe the Africans were just dying early from other diseases and so never lived long enough to have a heart attack? No. Here’s age-matched heart attack rates in Uganda vs. St. Louis. Out of 632 autopsies in Uganda, one myocardial infarction. Out of 632 Missourians —same age and gender distribution— 136 myocardial infarctions. More than 100 times the rate of our #1 killer. In fact they were so blown away they did another 800 autopsies in Uganda, and still just that one small healed infarct, meaning it wasn’t even the cause of death, out of 1,427 patients. Less than 1 in a thousand. Whereas in the U.S., it’s an epidemic. This is a list of diseases found commonly here, and in populations that live and eat like the US, but were rare or even nonexistent in populations eating diets centered around whole plant foods. These are among our most common diseases, like obesity. Hiatal hernia, one of the most common stomach problems. Hemorrhoids and varicose veins,
our most common venous disorders. Colorectal cancer, the #2 cause of cancer death. Diverticulosis, the #1 disease of the intestines. Appendicitis, the #1 cause of emergency abdominal surgery. Gallbladder disease, the #1 cause of non-emergency abdominal surgery. And ischemic heart disease, our commonest cause of death here, but a rarity among plant-based populations. Heart disease is a choice, like cavities… If you look at the teeth of people who lived over 10,000 years before the invention of the toothbrush, they pretty much had no cavities. Didn’t brush a day in their lives, never flossed, no Listerine, no Waterpik… yet no cavities, because candy bars hadn’t been invented yet. So why do people continue to get cavities when we know they’re preventable though diet? Simple! Because the pleasure people derive from dessert may outweigh the cost and discomfort of the dentist chair. And that’s fine! Look, as long as people understand the consequences of their actions, as a physician what more can I do? If you’re an adult and you decide the benefits outweigh the risks for you and your family, then, you know, go for it. I certainly enjoy the occasional indulgence. I’ve got good dental plan. But what if instead of the plaque on your teeth, we’re talking about the plaque building up in your arteries? Another disease that can be prevented by changing your diet. Then what are the consequences for you and your family? Now we’re not just talking about scraping tarter any more. Now we’re talking life and death… The most likely reason most of our
loved ones will die is heart disease. It’s still up to each of us to make our own decisions as to what to eat and how to live, but we should make these choices consciously, educating ourselves about the predictable consequences of our actions. Atherosclerosis, hardening of the arteries, begins in childhood. By age 10, the arteries of nearly all kids have fatty streaks—the first stage of the disease. Then plaques start forming in our 20s, get worse in our 30s, and then can start killing us off. In our heart, it’s a heart attack. In our brains, it’s a stroke. In our limbs, it can mean gangrene. And in our aorta, an aneurism. If there is anyone in this audience over the age of 10 years of age, the question isn’t whether or not to eat healthy to prevent heart disease; it’s whether or not you want to reverse the heart disease you already have. Ornish and Esselstyn proved you can reverse heart disease with a plant-based diet. But you don’t have to wait for your first heart attack to unclog your arteries. We can start reversing our heart disease right now. We can start reversing the heart disease in our kids tonight. How do we do it? According to the Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Cardiology this year, the only risk factor required for these atherosclerotic plaques, our number one killer, is cholesterol, elevated LDL, so called “bad” cholesterol in our bloodstream. To drop our LDL cholesterol, we need to drop our intake of three things: trans fats, saturated fats, and dietary cholesterol. Trans fats increase our risk of heart disease, sudden death, diabetes — basically found only one place in nature, and that’s animal fats. The food industry, however, found a way to synthetically create these toxic fats by hardening vegetable oil in a process called hydrogenation, which rearranges their atoms to make them act more like animal fats. Currently nearly half of America’s trans fat intake comes from animal products. According to the USDA, cheese, milk, yogurt, burgers, chicken fat, turkey meat, bologna, hot dogs contain up to between 1 to 5 % trans fats naturally. They also found small amounts of trans fats in non-hydrogenated vegetable oils due to the refining process. Is getting a few percent trans fats a problem though? The most prestigious scientific body in the United States, the National Academies of Science, concluded that the only safe intake of trans fat is zero, because any incremental increase in trans fatty acid intake increases coronary heart disease risk. Trans fat intake, irrespective of source — hydrogenated junk food or animal fat — may increase cardiovascular disease risk. And because trans fats are unavoidable–in ordinary non-vegan diets– getting down to zero trans fats would require significant changes in the patterns of dietary intake for most Americans. One of the authors of the report, the Director of Harvard’s Cardiovascular Epidemiology Program, famously explained why, despite this, they didn’t recommend a plant-based diet: “We can’t tell people to stop eating all meat and all dairy products,” he said. “Well, we could tell people to become vegetarians,” he added. “If we were truly basing this only on science, we would, but it is a bit extreme.” Wouldn’t want scientists basing anything on science now, would we? No… Avoiding saturated fat means basically avoiding dairy, chicken, cake and pork. And avoiding cholesterol means avoiding animal products in general, especially eggs. The American Egg Board is a promotional marketing board appointed by the U.S. government whose mission is to increase the demand for egg and egg products on behalf of U.S. egg producers. Now because the board is overseen by the federal government, if an egg corporation wants to dip into the 10 million dollars they set aside every year for advertising, they’re not allowed to break the law with those funds. What a concept. Now this leads to quite revealing exchanges between the egg corporations and the USDA on what the egg industry can and cannot say about eggs. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act I was able to get my hands on some of those emails. Do ya wanna see ’em? Of course, a lot of what I got looked like this… “Please note a number of items about our Salmonella crisis support module…” Any questions? Or even better, entire sheets of paper that literally just said this… [Please consider the environment before printing this email]
That was the whole sheet of paper. Our tax dollars hard at work. But check this out. This is some egg company trying to put out a brochure on healthy snacking for kids. But because of existing laws against false and misleading advertising, the head of the USDA’s poultry research and promotion programs reminds them that you can’t couch eggs or egg products as being healthy or nutritious… See, the words nutritious and healthy carry certain connotations — you know, that food’s actually good for you. But because eggs have the amount of cholesterol that that they do, not to mention the saturated fat, the words healthy and nutritious are problematic when it comes to eggs. This is the USDA talking! Now since you can’t say eggs are a healthy start to the day, the USDA suggests satisfying start. Can’t call eggs a healthy ingredient, but you can call it a recognizable ingredient. Can’t truthfully say eggs are good for you. By law, the egg industry “needs to steer clear of words like healthy or nutritious.” For a food to be labeled healthy under FDA rules, it has to be low in saturated fat — eggs fail that test — and less than 90mg of cholesterol per serving — even half an egg fails that. Not only is the industry barred from saying eggs are healthy, they can’t even refer to eggs as safe. “All references to safety must be removed.” Remember, this is the USDA talking. Why? Because more than a 100,000 Americans are Salmonella-poisoned by eggs every year. Instead of safe, you can call eggs fresh, the USDA marketing service suggests. But you can’t call eggs safe. You cannot say eggs are safe to eat. Can’t say they’re safe. Can’t even mention safety. Can’t say they’re healthy. All “references to healthfulness must be deleted” as well. Wait a second. Not only can eggs not be called healthy, they can’t even be called safe? Says who? Says the United States Department of Agriculture. I love the Freedom of Information Act. Musculoskeletal and connective tissue disorders are next. You know, I always assumed cholesterol drugs were the leading class of drugs prescribed; it’s actually pain-killers though for conditions like fibromyalgia, a syndrome suffered by millions that can be dramatically improved with a variety of plant based diets, in fact, producing some of “the most impressive results” to date. I’ve already covered both diabetes and depression as two of our leading causes of death last year. Pap smears for early detection of cervical cancer, a common reason for a doctor’s visit. Cervical cancer is now considered a sexually transmitted disease, caused by a sexually transmitted virus, called HPV. Most young women these days contract HPV, but most don’t get cervical cancer because their immune systems are able to clear away the virus. 70% of women clear the infection within one year, and more than 90% within two years— before the virus can cause cancer, unless you’re immunocompromised or something. Well, if that’s the case, maybe those with particularly strong immune systems might clear the virus even faster. That’s what may be behind this study that found that women eating vegetarian appeared to have significantly lower infection rates with HPV, one of many studies reporting lower risk of HPV infection among those eating plant-based diets. So, for example, if you take a bunch of women with cancer-causing strains of HPV infecting their cervix, and retest at 3 months and 9 months, while analyzing their diets, what do you find? Higher levels of vegetable consumption may cut the risk of HPV persistence in half, doubling one’s likelihood of clearing this cancer-causing infection. And “higher” levels just meant like two or more servings a day. This may help explain these important new findings this year. Vegan woman have significantly lower rates of all female cancers combined, including cancer of the cervix. So even though it’s a virus that’s causing the cancer, a healthy diet may still reduce the risk. In the same way that fermented pickles, kimchi, and sauerkraut foster the growth of good bacteria by maintaining an acidic environment, so does the human vagina. The normal pH of one’s vagina is that of tomato juice. Once it starts creeping up to that of coffee though, an overgrowth of bad bacteria can take hold and cause bacterial vaginosis, which affects an astounding 29% of American women, making it the most frequent cause of vaginal complaints. It’s commonly diagnosed with the so-called whiff test, where the doctor literally takes a whiff of the vaginal discharge, smelling for the characteristic fishy odor. Why is it so common? Well, it’s thought that high fat intake, particularly saturated fat — remember: dairy, chicken, cake and pork— may increase vaginal pH, thereby increasing the risk of bacterial vaginosis. So now that we know… “The next steps ahead includes sharing these findings with OB/GYNS and general practitioners, as well as increasing the awareness of the general community as to the importance of optimal nutrition to prevent infections of the genital tract, reduce associated disease, and maintain reproductive health.” What might saturated fat do to the reproductive health of men? A recent Harvard study found that increasing saturated fat intake just 5% was associated with a 38% lower sperm count. But why? I’ve talked about the role of the so called xenoestrogens, these endocrine disrupting chemicals, these pollutants that build up in animal fat. But, you know, male fertility is more than just about sperm count, the number of sperm, but how well the sperms work. More about that in my video “Male Fertility and Diet.” When it comes to male reproductive health though, this is what doctors hear about the most. Erectile dysfunction is present in up to 30 million men in the U.S., and approximately 100 million men worldwide. Wait a second. The U.S. only has about 5% of the world’s population, yet up to 30% of the impotence? We’re number 1! Who cares though? We’ve got red, white, and blue pills, like Viagra. The problem is pills just cover up the symptoms of vascular disease and don’t do anything for the underlying pathology. Erectile dysfunction and coronary artery disease can be thought of as two manifestations of the same disease, right, inflamed, clogged and crippled arteries. 40% of men over 40 have erectile dysfunction, 40 over 40, placing them at nearly 50 times the risk of suffering a cardiac event like sudden death, nearly a 5,000% increase in risk, leading the latest review to ask is there any risk greater? And we used to think of erectile dysfunction in younger men, in their 20s and 30s, as psychogenic in origin— meaning it’s all in their heads. But now were realizing it’s more likely the early signs of vascular disease. A man with erectile dysfunction — even if they have no cardiac symptoms — should be considered a cardiac patient until proven otherwise. The reason even young men should care about their cholesterol level is that hardening of the arteries can lead to softening of the penis later in life. Cholesterol level now can predict sexual functioning into the future. Just got to keep eating crap because you can pop some pills? All the Viagra in the world may not help your sex life after a stroke. The take-home message is a simple, a simple equation: ED stands for early death. It’s survival of the firmest. The enzyme that Viagra-like drugs muck with is primarily found in two places actually in the body: the erectile tissue of the penis, and the retinas of the eyes. That’s why the FDA FDA encourages people to stop taking drugs like Viagra, and call a doctor right away if you experience sudden loss of vision, if, of course, you can still find your phone. Which brings up the next group of primary diagnoses: injury and poisoning, which includes adverse drug side effects. Next comes skin complaints. Any hope for cellulite? Well, check out the video, but basically researchers compared a meat-free, egg-free diet of mostly vegetables, grains, beans, fruits and nuts to the conventional diabetic diet. And the veg group lost more weight, even though they were forced to eat the same number of calories, yet still lost more weight. Lost more waist—got slimmer. Lost more cholesterol, more subQ fat, and more abdominal fat, more belly fat, — and it’s the subcutaneous fat that makes up cellulite. And those with sensitive skin should give flax seeds a try. Next up is digestive issues. Though there is an International Prune Association keeping us all apprised of the latest prune news from around the world, in the U.S., the California prune board successfully pressured the FDA to change the name of prunes to dried plums, which evidently evokes more of a positive, fresh fruit goodness image, in hopes of attracting their target audience, women. Of course, it might actually help if they included one or two of them on their board, but… The name change was in hopes of “de-emphasizing” its connections with digestive regularity issues. Why sell yourself short, though? Randomized clinical trial: prunes vs. Metamucil. Nearly 60 million Americans suffer from chronic constipation. Here’s the study subjects at baseline. Each dot is a complete spontaneous bowel movement. Note how many people had zero bowel movements per week at baseline. But an average of 1.7 a week, which went up to 3.5 on prunes— a bowel movement every other day at least. Better than Metamucil. So they conclude dried plums should be considered first line therapy for chronic constipation. But if that’s what adding one plant to our diet can do, what if all you ate was plants? Off the charts! Vegans, it turns out, are just regular people. I also cover other digestive conditions, such as irritable bowel, chronic indigestion. But what about… cancer? A half million Americans are expected to die this year from cancer, equal to five jumbo jets crashing every day. The number of Americans who die from cancer each year is more than all the deaths in all the wars in U.S. history combined. And this happens every single year. A tumor cannot grow, though, without a blood supply. Currently, it is believed that a tumor can’t get bigger than the ball at the tip of a pen without a blood supply, which indicates that angiogenesis — angio means vessel — so the genesis, the creation of new blood vessels is critical to tumor growth. Each one of us has cancer cells in us right now. But they can’t grow without getting hooked up to a blood supply. So tumors diabolically release angiogenic factors, chemicals that cause new blood vessels to sprout into the tumor. The most important one is called V.E.G.F., vascular endothelial growth factor. But we can suppress VEG-F with Veggies. Many of the phytonutrients we know and love in tea and spices and fruit and berries and broccoli and beans can block cancer’s stimulation of new blood vessels. Given the power of plants, one might speculate that the foundation of an anti-angiogenic approach to cancer might be a whole food vegan diet. How else can we starve cancer? Forty years ago, a landmark paper was published showing that many human cancers have what’s called absolute methionine dependency, meaning normal cells thrive without the amino acid, methionine, but cancer cells need it or they die. What does cancer do with methionine? Well, tumors use methionine to generate gaseous sulphur-containing compounds that specially trained diagnostic dogs can actually pick up. There are mole-sniffing dogs that can pick out skin cancer. There are breath-sniffing dogs that
can pick out people with lung cancer. Pee-sniffing dogs that can diagnose bladder cancer. And yes, you guessed it, fart-sniffing dogs for colorectal cancer. Doctors can now bring their lab to the lab. A whole new meaning to the term “pet scan.” Don’t encourage me. Chemo companies are fighting to be the first to come out with these methionine-depleting drugs, but since methionine is sourced mainly from food, a better strategy may be to lower methionine levels by lowering methionine intake, right? Eliminating high methionine foods for both cancer growth control and life-span extension. So where is methionine found? Particularly chicken and fish. Milk, red meat, and eggs have less. But if you really want to stick with lower methionine foods, stick with plants: fruits, nuts, veggies, grains and beans. In other words, in humans, methionine restriction may be achieved through a predominately vegan diet, making methionine restriction “feasible as a life extension strategy.” So do people who eat beans live longer? Legumes — beans, split peas, chickpeas and lentils — may be the single most important dietary predictor of survival in older people around the globe, whereas a bean-free diet may actually increase the risk of death. It is now eight years since the famous Ornish study was published, suggesting that 12 months on a strictly plant-based diet could reverse the progression of prostate cancer. Wait a second. How were they able to get a group of older men to go vegan for a year? They home delivered prepared meals
to their door, figuring, you know, men are just so lazy they’ll just eat
whatever’s put in front of them, right? But what about out kind of in the real world? Well, realizing that you can’t even get men diagnosed with cancer to eat a measly five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, researchers tried settling on just trying to change their A to V ratio: the ratio of animal to vegetable proteins. And indeed were successful in cutting the ratio in half at least, from about 2 to 1 animal to plant,
to kinda like half vegan, 1 to 1. How did they do? Well, a part-time plant-based diet appeared to slow down the progression of their cancer. But what Ornish got though was an apparent reversal in cancer growth. The cancer biomarker PSA didn’t just, you know, rise slower thanks to a healthy diet, but actually trended down, which could be an indication of tumor shrinkage. So the ideal animal to plant ratio may be closer to zero. If there’s just no way grampa’s going vegan, and we just have half-measures, what might be the worst A and the best V? Well, eggs and poultry may be the worst, respectively doubling, and potentially quadrupling, the risk of cancer progression. Harvard researchers found twice the risk eating less than a single egg a day; quadruple the risk eating less than a single serving of chicken or turkey. And if you could only add one thing to your diet? Cruciferous vegetables. Less than a single serving a day of broccoli or Brussels sprouts, or cabbage, cauliflower or kale cut the risk of cancer progression in half. One serving. A similar result was found for breast cancer survivors, less than a single serving a day cut the risk in half of the cancer coming back. This Women’s Healthy Eating and Living Study was undertaken in 3,000 breast cancer survivors to determine if a plant-based, low-fat, high-fiber diet could influence breast cancer recurrence rates and survival? Imagine you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. In fact, an estrogen receptor negative tumor, which normally means twice the death rate, unless you eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and walk 30 minutes, 6 days a week. The “high” vegetable, fruit, and physical activity really should be in quotes. I mean you could eat five servings of fruits and veggies in a single meal, and certainly walk more than like, you know, two miles a day. But imagine for a second you have just been diagnosed. Imagine sitting in that chair in the doctor’s office as your doctor breaks the news. Imagine how you’d feel at that moment. Let it sink in. But there’s a new experimental treatment that can cut your risk of dying in the next few years from over 16%, down to just 4%. To quadruple their survival rate many women would re-mortgage their home to fly to some quack clinic in Mexico, would lose all their hair to chemo, but most, apparently, couldn’t stand the thought of eating broccoli, and cutting down on meat. Maybe someone should start cooking meals for the women, too. The only reason Ornish and colleagues were able to get away with treating cancer with a vegan diet alone — no chemo, surgery, radiation — is because prostate’s a slow growing cancer and patients with early disease can kind of be placed in a holding pattern. So if you’re not going to do anything but watch-and-wait, you might as well test out a dietary intervention. Are there other cancers like that we can test out plants on? Esophageal cancer is not the cancer to get. Most die within months of diagnosis, but the development of esophageal cancer is this multistage process. You start out with a normal esophagus, the tube that runs from your mouth down to your stomach. Starts out fine. Then precancerous changes start to take place, then localized cancer starts to grow, then eventually it spreads, and you die. But because of this well-defined, kind of stepwise progression of the cancer, researchers jumped on it as a way to test the ability of berries—the healthiest fruits— to reverse this process. A randomized phase 2 clinical trial of powdered strawberries. Six months of eating the equivalent of a pound of fresh strawberries a day, and the progression of disease was reversed in 80% of the patients. At the beginning of the study, none had a normal esophagus. But by the end of the study, most lesions either regressed from moderate to mild, or disappeared completely. From moderate to mild…… Or from mild to gone. By the end of the study, half of those on the high dose strawberry treatment walked away disease free: 52.7% cured. A drop in tumor markers: before, and after. All because of just strawberries. Cellular proliferation before, and after, strawberry treatment. Same story with black raspberries and oral cancer. Most patients’ lesions improved, including complete clinical regression. Now you see it. Now you don’t. A turning back on of tumor suppressor genes. So even though it may have been something like tobacco that caused the cancer, diet can still affect progression. But this kind of treasure remains berried— no pun intended— because nobody profits. Nobody, that is, except the hundreds of thousands of people that die every year from these horrific cancers. And finally, infections. After the common cold, the most common infection is of the urinary tract. We’ve known for decades that it’s bacteria creeping up from the rectum that caused bladder infections, but only recently did we figure out where this rectal reservoir of bladder-infecting E.coli was coming from: chicken. We now have proof of a direct link between farm animals, meat, and bladder infections. Solid evidence that urinary tract infections can be a zoonosis, bladder infections as an animal-to-human disease. The best way to prevent bladder infections is the same way you best prevent any type of infections: by not getting infected in the first place. Can’t you just use a meat thermometer and cook the meat thoroughly? No, because of cross-contamination. We’ve known for decades that you give someone a frozen chicken to prepare and cook in their own kitchen as they normally would, a multitude of antibiotic resistant E. coli jumps from the chicken into the gut of the volunteer—even before eating it! This jump happens after the bird is prepared, but before any meat was eaten. So not only did it not matter how well the chicken was cooked, it doesn’t even matter if you eat any! It’s the bringing it into the home and handling it. Within days, the drug resistant chicken bacteria had multiplied to the point of becoming a major part of the person’s gut flora. The chicken bacteria was like taking over. What if you’re really careful in the kitchen though? “The effectiveness of hygiene procedures for prevention of cross-contamination from chicken carcasses in the domestic kitchen.” They went into five dozen homes, gave them each a chicken and asked them to cook it. After they were done cooking, there was bacteria from chicken feces— campylobacter, Salmonella — both serious human pathogens — everywhere: on the cutting board, utensils, on their hands, on the fridge handle, cupboard, oven handle, doorknob. This was before they cleaned up. What about after cleaning? Still pathogenic fecal bacterial everywhere. And this was just regular retail chicken bought at the super market. It’s not like the researchers like inoculated the chickens with bacteria. They just come prepackaged from the store with pathogens. Obviously people don’t know what they’re doing in the kitchen. So they took another group of people, gave them specific instructions. “After you cook the chicken, you have to wash everything with hot water and detergent.” They were told specifically: wash the cutting board, knobs on the sink, the faucet, the fridge, the doorknobs, everything. OK. And the researchers still found disease-causing fecal matter chicken bugs everywhere. Fine. The last group. This time they were going to insist that people bleach everything. The dishcloth, immersed in bleach disinfectant and then they sprayed the bleach on all these surfaces. Let the bleach disinfectant sit there for five minutes, all right? And they still found campylobacter and Salmonella on some utensils, the dishcloth, the counter around the sink, and the cupboard. Definitely better, but still, unless our kitchen is like some biohazard lab, the only way to guarantee not leaving infection around your kitchen is to not bring it into your house in the first place. Now the good news is it’s not like you eat chicken once and you’re colonized for life. In this study the chicken bacteria only seemed to last about 10 days before your good bacteria could kind of muscle it out of the way. The problem is, though, that most families eat chicken more than once every 10 days, so they’d be constantly re-introducing these pathogens into their systems. What if you already have a urinary tract infection though? For example, can cranberry juice treat bladder infections? Find out in my video, “Can Cranberry Juice Treat Bladder Infections?” Of course, eating chicken can give you regular food poisoning, too. When foodborne pathogens were ranked last year to figure out which was kind of the worst, #1 on their list was Salmonella, the leading cause of food poisoning related hospitalization, and the #1 cause of food-infection related death. Yet it remains legal to sell Salmonella-contaminated chicken in the supermarket. It all goes back to a famous case in 1974, when the American Public Health Association sued the USDA, saying wait a second; you can’t put a stamp of approval on meat contaminated with our leading foodborne killer. What could the USDA possibly say in meat’s defense? They pointed out that, look, there’s Salmonella infections linked to dairy and eggs, too, so since there are numerous sources of contamination it would be unjustified to single out the meat industry. That’s like the tuna industry saying, yeah, there’s no reason to put, you know, label levels of mercury on tuna cans because people could get exposed to eating a thermometer, too! OK… The DC Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the meat industry position, arguing you can allow potentially deadly Salmonella in meat because, and I quote, “American housewives normally are not ignorant or stupid, and their methods of preparing and cooking food does not ordinarily result in Salmonella poisoning.” That’s like saying, “Oh, minivans don’t need seatbelts because, you know, soccer moms don’t ordinarily crash into things.” To this day it’s legal to sell Salmonella contaminated meat. Anyways, there we have it, the top dozen reasons people seek medical care, mostly for diseases that could have been prevented. And then, rather than treating the underlying cause of the disease, typically, doctors treat risk factors for disease such as giving a lifetime’s worth of medications for, you know, high blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol. But think about it. High blood pressure is just a symptom of diseased dysfunctional arteries. Sure, you can take drugs every day for the rest of your life to artificially lower your blood pressure, but that’s not treating the root cause. “Disregarding the underlying causes and treating only risk factors is somewhat like mopping up the floor around an over-flowing sink instead of just turning off the faucet.” But drug companies are more than happy to sell you a new roll of paper towels every day for the rest of your life. When the underlying lifestyle causes are addressed, many people stop taking medications, can avoid medication, avoid surgery. We spend billions cracking people’s chests open. Rarely does it actually prolong anyone’s life. In contrast, how about, oh, wiping out about 90% of heart disease? Think about it. Heart disease accounts for more premature deaths than any other illness, and is almost completely preventable by changing diet and lifestyle. And those same changes can prevent or reverse many other chronic diseases as well—the same dietary changes! So why don’t more doctors do it? Well, one reason is doctors don’t get paid for it. No one profits from lifestyle medicine, so it’s not part of medical education or practice. Presently physicians lack training and financial incentives. So they continue to do what, you know, what they know how to do: prescribe medication, perform surgery. After Dean Ornish proved you could reverse our #1 cause of death, heart disease, open up arteries without drugs, without surgery, just a plant-based diet and other healthy changes, he thought that his studies would have a meaningful effect on the practice of mainstream cardiology. After all, a cure for our #1 killler? But, he admits, he was mistaken. He realized physician reimbursement is a much more powerful determinant in medical practice than research. Reimbursement over research. Not a very flattering portrayal of the healing profession. But hey, if doctors won’t do it without getting paid, let’s get them paid. So Dr. Ornish went to Washington, arguing that, look, if we train and pay for doctors to learn how to help patients address the real causes of disease with lifestyle medicine and not just treat disease risk-factors, we could save trillions— and that’s just talking heart disease, diabetes, prostate, and breast cancer. The Take Back Your Health Act was introduced into the U.S. Senate to induce doctors to learn and practice lifestyle medicine not only because it’s better, works better, but here’s the critical factor: physicians will be paid to do it. The bill died, just like millions of Americans will continue to do from reversible chronic diseases. We have known for at least a decade that the leading causes of both premature death and persistent misery in our society are chronic diseases that are, in turn, attributable to the use of our feet (exercise), forks (diet), and fingers (smoking). Feet, forks, and fingers are the master levels of medical destiny for not just thousands of people on any one occasion, like a tsunami or earthquake, but the medical destiny of millions upon millions, year after year. We, as doctors, as a medical profession have known — Ornish published 23 years ago. But we have not managed to care… writes the Director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center. At least, not care enough to turn what we know into what we routinely do. Were we to do so, we might be able to eliminate most heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and cancer. But saving millions is just a number. He asks doctors to forget the bland statistics of public health, and ask yourself if you love someone who has suffered a heart attack, stroke, cancer, or diabetes. Now imagine their faces, whisper their names. Recall what it felt like to get the news. And while you’re at it, imagine the faces of others like you and me, imagining beloved faces — look around the room. Now imagine if 8 out of 10 of us wistfully reflecting on intimate love and loss, on personal anguish, never got that dreadful news because it never happened. Mom did not get cancer; dad did not have a heart attack; grandpa didn’t have a stroke; sister, brother, aunt, and uncle did not lose a limb or kidney or eyes to diabetes. We are all intimately linked in a network of personal tragedy that need never have occurred. Which leads to what he is asking doctors to do about it: put a face on public health every chance you get. When talking about heart disease and its prevention, or cancer, diabetes, ask your audience to see in their mind’s eye the face of a loved one affected by that condition. Then imagine that loved one among the 80% who need never have succumbed if what we knew as doctors were what we do. Thank you.