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In the most comprehensive study to be conducted into diet and disease, The China Study showed plant-based diets to be associated with decreased risks of developing cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and many other diseases.1
Since the publication of The China Study in 2006, many other studies have shown vegan diets to prevent and treat many of the most common diseases Australians are facing2, as well as being associated with a lower all-cause mortality (ie. higher life expectancy)3.
In 2013, experts recognized this and the Australian Dietary Guidelines were updated to include “vegan diets are healthy and nutritionally adequate… during all stages of the life cycle”.4
Obesity is a risk factor for many illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke, and has never been as prevalent in Australia as it is today.5 We now know that obesity rates in people who have a plant-based diet are markedly lower than in meat-eaters, with the former group having less cholesterol (fat) in their blood.6 For individuals who are already obese and are seeking to lose weight, plant-based diets prove to be more effective and healthier than more traditional low-fat diet strategies.7
“There are two types of cardiologists – vegans, and those who haven’t read the data” – Dr. Kim Williams, MD, president of the American College of Cardiology.
Cardiovascular disease contributes to a huge burden of disease in the Western world, but much of it can quite simply be prevented. While obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD), even without this link, consuming animal products has been shown to be an independent risk factor for CVD. More pressingly, further studies have shown not only are animal products a risk factor for CVD, especially heart attacks, but they can potentiate the disease to an extent that the disease state can essentially be reversed if they are eliminated and a plant-based diet is adopted.8 Even more astoundingly, one study allowed their participants to eat as much as they wanted as long as it was a fully low-fat, plant-based diet, and 82% had regression of their heart disease.9 In a time where coronary artery bypass surgery is the alternative, imagine the economical benefits of simply following a plant-based diet and achieving even better results, not to mention the quality of life benefits to the patient of avoiding such a complex surgery.
In the US there are plant-based clinics that focus on using plant-based regimes to treat and cure CVD. One notable name who had success with this was former President Bill Clinton, who has stated a vegan diet saved his life.
The link between consuming high animal fat diets and developing T2DM has been well established, with many observational studies deducing that a plant-based diet is protective against T2DM.10 But what about treating diabetes? As well as improving blood cholesterol11 and cardiovascular risk factors12 in T2DM patients, amazingly, a plant-based diet is thought to increase insulin sensitivity in an already established disease state, and in practice this translates to reducing patients’ insulin requirements by dramatic amounts – with patients often ceasing to need insulin and other oral medications altogether.13 For a disease otherwise considered to be incurable, these are phenomenal results.
In 2015 the World Health Organisation classified processed meat as a class I carcinogen and red meat as a probable carcinogen14. Animal product consumption has been linked to colorectal, prostate, breast and ovarian cancers. Specifically colorectal cancer has been associated with meat consumption, prostate cancer with dairy and fish consumption, breast cancer with meat and dairy consumption and ovarian cancer with dairy and egg consumption. All links are clear, and many of these disease states have been at least partially reversed by adopting a plant-based diet.15
One of the biggest myths we are taught as children is that we need milk to develop strong bones. In truth, while calcium is important in bone formation, there have been many studies that indicate perhaps dairy sources of calcium are not as good for bone health as previously believed. In one of the largest observational studies to be conducted, the Harvard Nurses Study, those who consumed the most dairy also had the most number of bone fractures.16 This is further supported by studies which show that countries that have the highest rates of dairy consumption have the highest rates of osteoporosis.17 There are many plant-based sources of calcium that do not have the negative health effects of dairy (such as high levels of saturated fats).
There are many autoimmune diseases in which eating animal products has been associated, or plant-based products have been shown to protective. These include hypothyroidism18, hyperthyroidism19, rheumatoid arthritis20 and multiple sclerosis21.
As well as plant-based diets being beneficial in the auto-immune rheumatoid arthritis, they have also shown to reduce symptoms in the degenerative osteoarthritis.22
Even aside from the well-known benefits decreasing dairy consumption has on skin, diets high in fruits and vegetables have been shown to prevent and improve acne.23
Plant-based diets have been linked to better kidney function than diets that contain animal products24, as well as a decreased risk of developing kidney stones.25
Plant-based diets have been shown to help with memory, and as such prevent and reverse dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.15
It has also been shown to reduce the risk26 and help with the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.27
“The China Study” by Dr. T. Collin Campbell
“How Not To Die” Michael Greger, MD
“Vegan For Life” by Jack Norris, RD and Virginia Messina, MPH, RD.
“Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease” by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn
Campbell TC, Campbell TM. The China Study. USA: BenBella Books; 2006. 439 p.
Le LT, Sabate J. Beyond meatless, the health effects of vegan diets: findings from the Adventist cohorts. Nutrients. 2014;6(6):2131-47.
Bamia C, Trichopoulos D, Ferrari P, Overvad K, Bjerregaard L, Tjonneland A, et al. Dietary patterns and survival of older Europeans: the EPIC-Elderly Study (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition). Public health nutrition. 2007;10(6):590-8.
National Health and Medical Research Council (2013) Australian Dietary Guidelines. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council.
Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980–2013: A systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. The Lancet. 384 (9945): 766–781
Ferdowsian HR, Barnard ND. Effects of plant-based diets on plasma lipids. The American journal of cardiology. 2009;104(7):947-56.
Turner-McGrievy GM, Barnard ND, Scialli AR. A two-year randomized weight loss trial comparing a vegan diet to a more moderate low-fat diet. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md). 2007;15(9):2276-81.
Esselstyn CB, Jr., Ellis SG, Medendorp SV, Crowe TD. A strategy to arrest and reverse coronary artery disease: a 5-year longitudinal study of a single physician’s practice. The Journal of family practice. 1995;41(6):560-8.
Ornish D, Brown SE, Billings JH, Scherwitz LW, Armstrong WT, Ports TA, et al. Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease?: The Lifestyle Heart Trial. The Lancet. 1990;336(8708):129-33.
Tonstad S, Butler T, Yan R, Fraser GE. Type of vegetarian diet, body weight, and prevalence of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes care. 2009;32(5):791-6.
Barnard ND, Cohen J, Jenkins DJ, Turner-McGrievy G, Gloede L, Green A, et al. A low-fat vegan diet and a conventional diabetes diet in the treatment of type 2 diabetes: a randomized, controlled, 74-wk clinical trial. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2009;89(5):1588s-96s.
Barnard ND, Cohen J, Jenkins DJ, Turner-McGrievy G, Gloede L, Jaster B, et al. A low-fat vegan diet improves glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in a randomized clinical trial in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes care. 2006;29(8):1777-83.
Lee V, McKay T, Ardern CI. Awareness and perception of plant-based diets for the treatment and management of type 2 diabetes in a community education clinic: a pilot study. Journal of nutrition and metabolism. 2015;2015:236234.
Bouvard V, Loomis D, Guyton KZ, et al. Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat. The Lancet Oncology. Published online October 26 2015
Vegetarian Victoria (2016). Eating Up The World Health. https://vegvic.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Eating-Up-The-World-Health-2016.pdf
Feskanich D, Willett WC, Colditz GA. Calcium, vitamin D, milk consumption, and hip fractures: a prospective study among postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77(2):504–511.
Frassetto LA . Worldwide incidence of hip fracture in elderly women: relation to consumption of animal and vegetable foods. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2000 Oct;55(10):M585-92.
Tonstad S, Nathan E, Oda K, Fraser G. Vegan diets and hypothyroidism. Nutrients. 2013;5(11):4642-52.
Tonstad S, Nathan E, Oda K, Fraser GE. Prevalence of hyperthyroidism according to type of vegetarian diet. Public health nutrition. 2015;18(8):1482-7.
Elkan AC, Sjoberg B, Kolsrud B, Ringertz B, Hafstrom I, Frostegard J. Gluten-free vegan diet induces decreased LDL and oxidized LDL levels and raised atheroprotective natural antibodies against phosphorylcholine in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a randomized study. Arthritis research & therapy. 2008;10(2):R34.
Malosse D. Correlation between milk and dairy product consumption and multiple sclerosis prevalence: a worldwide study. Neuroepidemiology. 1992;11(4-6):304-12
Clinton CM, O’Brien S, Law J, Renier CM, Wendt MR. Whole-foods, plant-based diet alleviates the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Arthritis. 2015;2015:708152.
Melnik B. Dietary intervention in acne: Attenuation of increased mTORC1 signaling promoted by Western diet. Dermato-endocrinology. 2012;4(1):20-32.
Wiwanitkit V. Renal function parameters of Thai vegans compared with non-vegans. Renal failure. 2007;29(2):219-20.
Robertson WG, Heyburn PJ, Peacock M, Hanes FA, Swaminathan R. The effect of high animal protein intake on the risk of calcium stone-formation in the urinary tract. Clin Sci (Lond). 1979;57(3):285–8.
Shah SP, Duda JE. Dietary modifications in Parkinson’s disease: A neuroprotective intervention? Medical hypotheses. 2015;85(6):1002-5.
Baroni L, Bonetto C, Tessan F, Goldin D, Cenci L, Magnanini P, et al. Pilot dietary study with normoproteic protein-redistributed plant-food diet and motor performance in patients with Parkinson’s disease. Nutritional neuroscience. 2011;14(1):1-9.