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A new study is generating a lot of buzz in health circles. While I’m still working on my educational classes (which will go into great detail about general nutrition as well as foods like dairy, meat, grains, and produce), I felt compelled to comment on this study considering all the attention it’s getting.

This was a cohort study which analysed the intake of over 100,000 individuals. The results of the study concluded that those who consumed the most red meat were more likely to die 20% sooner than those who consumed less red meat. The authors of the study concluded:

“Our study adds more evidence to the health risks of eating high amounts of red meat, which has been associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers in other studies”.

Well, there you have it folks, time for me to chuck out all the beef I have in the freezer!

Okay, not quite. Let’s get into the details here. As I mentioned, this was a cohort study, so it was purely observational, and it checked in with participants (via a questionnaire) every 4 years to analyze their diet and general health (and whether or not they died). The end result, as stated, showed that the more red meat you ate, the more likely you were to see an early grave. Does this sound familiar? Why yes, I talked a lot about cohort studies in my article Will Ditching Meat Save You From Disease?. Here are some basic questions that the study fails to address:

What kind of meat was consumed?
Pastured? Organic? Conventional? Burger King?
What was consumed along with the red meat?
What was the health-related lifestyle of these individuals like?

Without these being properly answered, how can it come to the conclusion that it was the meat?  What if the red meat eaters consumed white bread and vegetable oil along with their steak? That would increase their risk of heart disease and cancer. If these same individuals drank a soda at each meal, that would increase their risk of diabetes and obesity. All of these factors will increase the risk for mortality. So hey, where’s the beef?

Ben Coomber sifted through the full study and made some fantastic bullet-points:

  • The people that consumed the least amount of meat did the most exercise, so there was a correlation that the people already looking after themselves presented less disease risk and thus ate less red meat anyway
  • Smoking in the high meat group was almost double
  • % rate of current diabetes was almost double in high meat group
  • The people that consumed the least meat actually had higher cholesterol levels
  • More “healthy” participants consumed a multi-vitamin
  • High bad meat consumers drank 1.5x more alcohol
  • High bad meat consumers consumed nearly 1/2 as much fish indicating 80% lower levels of omega 3 fats
  • Both men and women with high processed meat intake were less likely to exercise, more likely to smoke, have more body fat, eat more calories good and bad in general, eat less fruit and vegetables and drink more, a catch 22 bad lifestyle making you more prone to disease
  • The study showed a correlation that red meat consumption is declining in general, but we are seeing higher rates of disease, so is it the red meat or a multitude of factors that is effecting the rate of disease?
  • So in light of the above the study focused on red meat but reported the people eating the most red meat also had all the other lifestyle factors that lead to disease in the bag!
  • If you consume more processed meat like hot dogs you will be at a high risk of disease
  • The review understands that one of the two pooled studies didn’t differentiate between red meat and processed meat….. epic fail!
  • They appreciate that cuts of meat were hard to quantify and left room for error in terms of things like ham, red meat, rate of processing as it was up to the participant to quantify and tick a box … Hmmm
  • They were unable to assess the impact of fat content in the meat and disease correlation as there were too many variables
  • People consuming processed meats have higher chance of impaired insulin response – a key marker of diseases like diabetes linked to a multitude of other diseases
  • The link to red meat and cancer ACTUALLY seems to come from high temperature cooking which causes carcinogenic materials to be released! So it’s not just red meat but how we cook it
  • The conclusion they made: replace red and processed meat with fruits, vegetables, whole grains etc – so what they are really saying is be healthier. No mention of all the other lifestyle factors that they correlated like exercise, smoking etc etc

Considering all these caveats. would you attach your name to this study? Would you support the conclusions of this study? I’d be embarrassed to associate myself with it, personally, and I’m amazed that these researchers can actually stand by this turd.

It’s poor studies like this that have a dramatic effect on the dietary choices of the public. It only serves to misinform them, and in 20 or 30 years, we’ll hear that the research was wrong all  along. It is very unfortunate that people have to suffer because of bad research.

To get a humorous look at what’s wrong with cohort studies, click here.

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Hey folks!

As you’ve no doubt noticed, my posts went from regular to nonexistent. What gives? Well, it all started on a dark and rainy night 3  days before Christmas. I was doing my regular commute home from work an I was halfway home. I had begun my departure – by bike – from the Staten Island Ferry terminal and as I was pedaling up the hill my bike slipped out from under me and I smacked the pavement. I was unscraped, but I felt a slight pain in my wrist and I figured that I had sprained it. After getting home, I took an old hemp sock and soaked it with the rest of the wood lock oil I had left and then kept attached it to the wound so as to help the sprain. The next day my hand wasn’t looking that great. It was very swollen and it hurt, man! Well, I knew from reading A Tooth from the Tiger’s Mouth that the R.I.C.E. method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) was only half-true. Elevation (to prevent swelling) and rest are good, but compression and ice restrict blood flow to the area. Here’s a copy and paste from the book (much thanks to Simona for typing this out, since my copy of the book is out on loan!)

RICE TREATMENT

The Western treatment for reducing this kind of inflammation is known as “RICE“: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. It is usually recommended that RICE begin in the first 24 hours after the injury.

  • Rest is obvious. Continued activity may further inflame and irritate the injury.
  • Ice contracts the blood vessels in the local area, reducing swelling. It reduces pain and cools the heat of the inflammation. In Western medicine, ice is universally recommended for all kind of inflammation, including that present in chronic injuries. In Chinese medicine, it is almost never used and is considered a culprit in joint injuries that don’t heal properly, because cold causes contraction of the muscles and tends to freeze and congeal the fluids that cause swelling, ultimately preventing their complete re-absorption.
  • Compression limits swelling. Usually an elastic bandage is wrapped around the injured area to compress the tissues, thereby limiting blood flow into the area. This is contrary to Chinese medicine, where such constriction is felt to cause blood to stagnate and congeal above and below the injury. This slow re-absorption into the blood vessels.
  • Elevation involves simply raising the injured part above the level of the heart to let the force of gravity aid in draining excess fluid. This method is also employed in Chinese sports medicine.

CONTRAST BATHS

Once inflammation and swelling are reduced, treatment is directed at restoring movement and circulation to the injured area through gentle movement and exercise. Sometimes after the first 24 to 28 hours of RICE, when the swelling has stabilized, contrast baths (alternating hot and cold baths) are recommended. Contrast baths cause an alternating contraction and dilation of blood vessels in the local area, which serves to pump blood and fluids through the injured tissue. This helps restore normal circulation to the local area.

LIMITS OF RICE TREATMENT

This mechanical approach that Western medicine used to diagnose and treat ankle sprains is useful in many ways similar to Chinese medicine, but beyond RICE, it doesn’t give the athlete many tools to work with in rehabilitating an injury, and it leaves many questions unanswered:

  • Why do some sprains heal while others do not?
  • Why does one athlete quickly shake off an injury and return to his or her sport while another athlete with the same injury is caught in a cycle of chronic pain and re-injury?
  • Why do some fractures and sprains hurt more in damp or cold weather?
  • Why do some injuries become arthritic in later life while others do not?

Fortunately, Chinese medicine provides clear, concise answers to these kinds of questions and offers a host of treatments for different injuries. We will see them later.

I don’t have a conventional Doctor that I see, since I only use Western medicine when it’s an emergency, so I went to my acupuncturist, Dr. Fu Zhang. He gave me a look when he saw how swollen it was and then treated me. A week later I went in for a second treatment to address some nerve compression in the area as well as some pain I was still feeling in a small part of the wrist. After another week, there was no improvement in the pain, so I was forced to get an X-ray. That’s when I was hit with the facts: I fractured my scaphoid. The scaphoid is a small, fickle bone in the wrist. It’s the most common bone affected in wrist injuries (60% I believe) and it’s also a very fickle little bone. Little scaphoid is fickle because it doesn’t get a lot of blood flow and it has a tendency to heal back incorrectly if not adjusted through orthopedic surgery. Guess who went for surgery for the first time in his life? This guy!

Due to this, it’s been difficult to write new articles (my hand is in a cast and it’ll be in a brace for 2 or 3 months after that). There is a silver lining, however. I’ll be using this extra down time to work hard on these nutrition classes I keep talking about in my newsletter (an in-depth discussion of food, food groups, and lots of debunking!). So, bear with the silence here while I heal and I promise that the wait will be worth it. You will notice that within this update, there is some educational material. See what I did there? 😉

Many Americans are consuming less animal products and more plant-based products in response to a growing trend of “vegan for health”. What does the research say about plant-based diets and the health effects of avoiding meat?

The weekend before last at UCLA there was the Ancestral Health Symposium. This hosted lectures from many big names like Mark Sisson, Robb Wolf, Stephen Guyenet, Tom Naughton, and others. Denise Minger, famed slayer of The China Study (not the book, but the actual China-Oxford Cornell study), hosted a lecture entitled How to Win an Argument With a Vegetarian.

Despite the name, this was not a series of silly talking points that one can read from to “shut up” that vegetarian/vegan that disagrees with them (the name was inspired from a popular post on VegSource entitled How to Win an Argument With a Meat Eater). Throughout the 40 minute talk, Minger introduces the big names in the plant-based diet community that always come up as the definitive proof that a “whole food, plant-based diet” (WFPBD)  is the singular way to good health.

You will find all these individuals are interconnected, and you’ll commonly see one name be mentioned by the other (since they all belong to the vegan front-group, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)). If you shop at Whole Foods, you have likely already heard of them:

  • Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn
  • Dr. Neal Barnard
    • President of Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (a group purporting to be a body of physicians and health experts giving out the best science in nutrition and health). He has had success in treating individuals with diabetes.
  • Dr. T. Colin Campbell
    • Author of the best-selling book The China Study, which claims that animals products correlate with cancer. He is also the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University.
  • Dr. Dean Ornish
    • Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California. Known for his lifestyle intervention trials where he has combined a very low-fat vegan diet with lifestyle suggestions to reverse heart disease.
  • Dr. John McDougal
    • Launched a successful vegan and vegetarian program in some hospitals and has a food line that is sold in grocery stores.
  • Dr. Joel Fuhrman

Minger outlined the studies done by these gentlemen, which they say is the definitive proof that a WFPBD is better than anything else and the proof therefore that meat and other animal products are bad for your health and are the trigger for modern disease.  Here is a shortened version of what they espouse and what kind of diet they recommend:

  • Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn
    • Very low-fat, vegan diet. Reduce and eliminate sugars, refined and processed foods, and extracted oils.
  • Dr. T. Colin Campbell
    • Low fat, vegan diet. Reduce and eliminate sugars, refined and processed foods, and extracted oils.
  • Dr. Neal Barnard
    • Low fat vegan diet. Reduce and eliminate sugars, refined and processed foods, and extracted oils. He also suggests avoiding fried starches like potato chips and french fries.
  • Dr. Dean Ornish
    • Very low-fat, vegan diet. Reduce and eliminate sugars, refined and processed foods, and extracted oils. Ornish offers his patients lifestyle suggestions, help to stop smoking, and extra support when they need it. Patients may consume fish oil.
  • Dr. John McDougal
    • Low fat, high carb vegetarian or vegan diet. Reduce and eliminate sugars, refined and processed foods, and extracted oils. His patients also eliminate fruit juices.
  • Dr. Joel Fuhrman

Other than a lack of animal products, what else do you notice? That’s right, they all advocate a healthy lifestyle, no sugar, no white flour, no polyunsaturated vegetable oils, and no processed foods. So, let me get this straight: if you remove the smoking, and drinking, sugar and flour, processed foods and vegetable oils, sedentary lifestyle, and lastly the meat, then by God it must’ve been the meat that was the biggest culprit! Wait, what?

According to these gentlemen:

  • Smoking and drinking is the same as eating a steak, an egg, or drinking full fat milk
  • The standard American diet is a valid comparison to a healthy omnivorous diet
  • Factory farmed animal products are just the same as pasture-based animal products

Am I the only one that sees some funny math here? How can it be that a steak or an egg is equivalent to smoking or eating processed food? It’s easy to come to this conclusion when you have a very specific agenda! Of course, “agenda” is a strong word and it’s thrown around a lot, but I know that they have an agenda because for one, Activist Cash has shown how the PCRM has all sorts of connections to animal rights groups, and for two, I’ve been familiar with this group since I was in nutrition school. As a student, Dr. Neal Barnard  gave a lecture while I was there. I also was subscribed to the PCRM’s publications for a few years before I noticed just how much they like to ignore pesky little details. This group likes to blur the lines between pasture-based animal products and those that come from a factory farm. You’ll notice that no studies they have done have  involved healthy meat eaters; only those who follow a standard American diet.

The big problem here of course is that someone following a standard American diet is more likely to smoke, more likely to have a sedentary lifestyle, and you can bet your bottom dollar that they consume lots of processed and refined foods. These are the very things that we know can trigger disease, so then how is it that these men have proven that a WFPBD is superior to all other diets when what they’ve really shown is that a diet that is plant-based, with no extracted oils, no smoking, no processed or refined foods, and stress reduction bundled together can help reverse modern-day disease. At no point have they proven that solely removing meat was the panacea that worked.

Well, this is true save for one man: Dr. T. Colin Campbell, whose book The China Study is cited by most proponents of the WFPBD community as the definitive proof that animal protein causes cancer. For those that aren’t already familiar with Campbell’s work, his evidence rests upon two separate studies. The first was an epidemiological (observational) study of Chinese people and what they ate. Campbell purports that the study showed that the more animal protein people consumed, the more likely they were to get cancer. The second study was a rat study where Campbell tested the effect of both animal protein and plant protein on rats and the results showed that the rats that ate the plant protein did not get cancer (but the animal protein rats did).

Case closed, right? No, not really; the devil is always in the details, my friends. In regards to Campbell’s epidemiological study (the famed “China study”), there are some glaring issues with the method. All this study did was ask people to mail in a questionnaire about what it is they ate for the period of time that the study was conducted. At no point was the quality of the food questioned, and likewise, there was no attention given to other food and lifestyle habits (sugar? white flour? vegetable oils? stress? smoking?). Regardless, poor controls in the study don’t outright discredit it. This is where Ms. Minger comes in, as she eviscerated the study itself and showed how the study actually pointed to a greater correlation between wheat and cancer, rather than meat consumption, and there are many other glaring issues that she beautifully exposed.

Next up, in regards to the rat study, this was also seriously flawed. In fact, the way the study was designed really makes one wonder if Campbell was purposely making the study flawed to get the results he wanted (that meat is bad and plant protein is divine). The rats were given powdered casein as the representative of the “meat group”. They weren’t given real meat, or milk, or eggs, or any whole food animal product. Instead, they were given a powdered protein isolate that I can assure you I wouldn’t touch with a 10 ½ ft pole! Really, I am not surprised that feeding rats powdered casein gives them cancer, not at all. In addition to the casein being removed from the vitamins and fatty acids that are naturally found with it, it’s quite likely that the source came from conventional milk which is potentially cancerous when treated with growth hormones. It really begs the question: why hasn’t Campbell followed up on this study with better controls?

Interestingly, Dr. Chris Masterjohn analyzed Campbell’s rat study, and surprise: the data does not match the conclusions! I also have to ponder as to how casein can be cancerous if it is contained in every animal milk, including humans? Ms. Minger brought this up in her critique of  Campbell’s study, and in his response, he completely ignored this. Why?

Finally, it’s important to understand that there is a stark difference nutritionally between grass-fed milk and powdered casein. Let’s compare a whole food animal protein to powdered casein:

Raw milk from grass-fed cows:

  • CLA (conjugated linolenic acid)
  • Vit A, D, & K2
  • Omega 3
Powdered casein from conventional dairy:

  • rBGH (growth hormones)
  • No vitamins or minerals

CLA and vitamins A & D are known cancer killers, so as you can see, a high quality whole food source makes a big difference! Likewise, rBGH and A-1 beta casein can trigger cancer. Coincidence?

In conclusion, it’s obvious that these men have not proven that the animal products are what cause disease. I’ve seen the studies, and I’m just not convinced. If someone removes processed and refined foods and adopts a healthy lifestyle, then of course there will be a dramatic difference in their health. In science, you must isolate specific factors in order to come to specific conclusions. If one must prove that meat or milk are bad, then it’s not as simple as just removing them. As I mentioned previously, all these men have shown is that a diet free of animal products, sugar, white flour, processed and refined food, and extracted oils, along with positive lifestyle changes, can help to prevent and reverse disease. They have never tested these same protocols with animal products; they’ve only compared it to the standard American diet (which we all know is no good for a variety of reasons).

In reality, as I had shown in the table previously, animal products (when coming from an ideal source; not sugar covered, soybean oil-drenched garbage) contain specific nutritional factors that help to prevent cancer. It is only in the last 100 years that we’ve seen a rapid increase in disease. Go figure, since we eat away from home more, have a less active lifestyle, are under more stress, eat more garbage (factory farmed animal products, sugar, white flour, processed and refined foods, polyunsaturated vegetable oils), smoke more, and have a less fulfilling life as a whole.

So is a WFPBD really the panacea for modern disease? If it is, there’s no evidence to show it. Likewise, this complete lack of evidence and poorly designed studies really calls into question the credibility of these men from the PCRM that crow the loudest about how a WFPD (and only a WFPD) will cure all that ails you. One must be left to ponder: if these men are so well-educated and have such an illustrious background, why the heck can’t they design a proper study that truly comes to the conclusions that they claim it does? Unless of course, they are only interested in coming to those conclusions first, and designing their studies to come to this conclusion all along…

Outside of the PCRM and their biases, there are still studies that have shown that a meat-free diet is healthier. If you look at these studies, you’ll find a clear pattern: vegans and vegetarians generally have better lifestyle habits than the average meat-eater (this goes back to what I was saying before about comparing someone with a healthy lifestyle to one with an unhealthy lifestyle). Last year a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine compared a low-carb Atkins diet with a low-carb “eco-Atkins” (a meat free low carb diet). The study showed that the individuals on the “eco-Atkins” had lower mortality and heart disease, while the regular Atkins was associated with a higher incidence of these. Is this the definitive proof that meat is bad? Far from it! In this study, the “eco-Atkins” group had a healthier lifestyle; no wonder they were healthier! A Polish study published last year showed that vegans and vegetarians are much more likely to engage in healthy lifestyle habits like less smoking and drinking and less processed foods (well, except for the veggie burgers that are giving many of them thyroid disease). Again, this goes back to what I was mentioning before: is it accurate (or even honest) to compare two individuals, one whom has a healthy lifestyle, and the other who doesn’t, and base the results solely off of what their diet is like? No, no it is not.

But what about when both omnivore and herbivore have a similar lifestyle? A study Minger mentioned in her discussion was this one from Taiwan. It compared vegetarian and non-vegetarian Buddhist monks who had a similar diet (except one didn’t eat meat). I like that this was done on Buddhist monks since that means that stress levels should be about the same. Stress is a disease trigger that is often ignored. Getting back to the study now, the results showed that it was the vegetarian Buddhists that had the higher risk of heart disease.

Is it time for the PCRM to eat their words? I think so. Really, there isn’t a single study that I know of that has compared health-conscious meat eaters with health-conscious vegetarians and has found that the meat eaters were just dropping like flies from disease. I think the Taiwanese study is especially interesting because all the individuals involved ate a similar cultural diet. Over at Minger’s site Raw Food SOS, she has a lengthy article discussing heart disease and the evidence that shows that ditching meat won’t save your arteries.

Since the beginning of time, humans have consumed meat and animal products. It’s taken thousands of years now for this animal-based diet to start giving us epidemics of heart disease, cancer, and obesity. But gosh, what about 200 years ago when we weren’t consuming nearly as much garbage (and before the invention of polyunsaturated vegetable oils, packaged processed foods, growth hormones, factory farming, epic stress levels, and super-sized soda)? You guessed it! There wasn’t an epidemic of these problems. Really, Dr. Weston A. Price demonstrated very clearly in numerous populations that when we eat nutrient dense animal foods, cut out the junk, and follow nourishing traditions, we have great health, and we even keep all our teeth!

(A very special thanks to Ms. Minger for her fantastic lecture and article that helped to inspire this post!)