Other Health Benefits
Dr. Neal Pinckney
Changing to a low fat vegetarian diet and practicing regular aerobic exercise is vital to reversing heart disease, but the benefits don't stop there. Many other common health problems are more closely related to diet and fitness than was previously believed. While you're lowering your heart attack risk, you are extending the length and quality of your life in other ways.
Cancers are not all alike and the reasons we get some types of cancer are not fully understood. Much has been learned in recent years about how cancer cells grow and how the body tries to fight them. As the body of information grows, diet is being recognized as a major factor affecting the immune system and the way the body deals with cancer. Some types of cancer are linked to diet, including breast, prostate, intestinal, colon and some skin cancers. In countries with low fat and high fiber consumption, such cancers are rare. Not only does low fat, high fiber consumption help in preventing heart disease, but it is important in how well the body works to prevent free radicals from damaging cells, believed to be the origin of many cancers. Foods containing beta- carotene and vitamin C are rich in antioxidants that defend against free radicals. Many green, leafy vegetables have cancer fighting components. Studies also show that these lifestyle changes have brought about improvement in people already diagnosed with some kinds of cancer.
Diabetes used to be thought of as a disease of the obese. While being overweight increases the risk, it is not the only factor. The major type (95%) of diabetes is called adult-onset or non-insulin dependent diabetes (also called Type 2). Insulin injections are not always required for control of adult onset diabetes. A rarer form of diabetes, childhood-onset, occurs when there isn't enough insulin and injections or oral medications are usually required. Both types are related to high levels of blood sugar. In adult-onset diabetes, the body has insulin, but it isn't as efficient in helping cells accept sugar for energy conversion.
The pancreas makes the insulin needed to balance the sugar in the blood. If the cells can't get energy from blood sugars, they get it from body fats, but this can cause chemical imbalances that affect metabolism and many other functions. The effects of diabetes make it difficult for the body to recover from injury and minor infections, and can result in the amputation of an arm or leg, loss of eyesight or even death. Diabetics are more susceptible to strokes, cancer, high blood pressure, heart attacks, kidney failure, gout, blindness and gangrene.
The lifestyle recommendations made here for lowering heart disease risk apply to preventing and fighting diabetes. The intake of simple carbohydrates (sugar) must be carefully controlled, but some physicians are not aware that an increased intake of complex carbohydrates can be beneficial in treating diabetes, perhaps because they group all carbohydrates together. Following these nutrition and exercise suggestions and giving more attention to limiting fruits and other simple carbohydrates usually has a positive effect in controlling diabetes, often allowing people to lower or discontinue medication. (A caution for insulin users: when beginning these lifestyle changes, improvements can begin so rapidly that it is advisable to test yourself at least four times a day and to adjust your dosage accordingly.)
Allergies often are even more related to what we eat than other factors we are led to believe is their origin. People who suffer a runny nose and stuffed head often blame it on pollen or other airborne pollutants. Many of these symptoms go away after changing to a very low fat vegetarian diet. One of the most common food allergies is to dairy proteins and lactose (a sugar found in milk). As many as 95% of some ethnic groups have lactose intolerance, yet most consume milk, cheese or yogurt daily. A common benefit reported by many Healing Heart support group participants is the relief from allergies they had suffered for years.
Arthritis and diet are related, but it seems not all physicians are aware of this link. Recent research studies have established a clear relationship between diet and arthritis. Ironically, gout is a much like arthritis, and doctors often tell gout patients that diet is an important part of getting relief. If you have arthritis, write down the type and the frequency of pain (or restriction of movement) for a few days before you start the recommended lifestyle changes, then see if these remain a few weeks later. One Healing Heart group member who came to reduce high cholesterol, emotionally wrote her name on the chalkboard during the fifth week, announcing that she was now able use her hands to write and do things that hadn't been able to do for over 15 years. She told the group that regardless of her cholesterol, she would continue her new eating habits for the rest of her life, if only for the arthritis relief.
Osteoporosis is a loss of bone mass that affects nearly 20 million people in the U.S. alone. As the bone loses minerals, especially calcium, it becomes weak and brittle. Over a million bone fractures each year are blamed on osteoporosis. When this condition has progressed far enough, the weight of the rest of the body alone can cause bones to break apart without any other force or injury. Although osteoporosis is considered a hazard of getting older, it does not have to be part of the aging process. Women from western industrialized countries are particularly susceptible to osteoporosis, since they consume high amounts of dairy products and other proteins. In women, the effects begin after age 40 and become much greater after menopause. Estrogen therapy can slow osteoporosis down, but not reverse it. Men also can have osteoporosis, but it is usually much less severe and doesn't become apparent until the mid-seventies. Only proper diet and weight-bearing exercise can stop osteoporosis and actually increase bone mass as we get older.
Skin problems, such as acne, are diet related in most people. Dr. Terry Shintani, a physician with an advanced degree in nutrition, advises a low fat vegetarian diet. He announced on his radio program that most of the people with acne who started this diet had clearer skin in weeks. The typical diet of teenagers, burgers and fries, pizza and other high fat fast foods, aggravates their skin condition. Applying expensive ointments over irritated skin can help hide blemishes and reduce infection, but healthier nutrition will often clear skin more quickly and permanently.
Constipation is a common complaint, clearly evident from the large variety of laxatives on sale at any drug store. When elimination is difficult or infrequent a number of problems can occur. The exertion can cause varicose veins, hemorrhoids, bowel and colon irritation and hernias. One of the most common places where people suffer strokes is in the bathroom, straining against constipation. No animal products contain dietary fiber, which is needed to assure the easy passage of waste. Adopting the dietary recommendations in this book should relieve constipation. Eating the recommended servings of vegetables, whole grains, beans and other legumes, and fresh fruit and drinking plenty of water will usually eliminate constipation and end the need to take fiber supplements or laxatives.
Looking at all the many health benefits of the lifestyle changes recommended here, it may sound as though these changes will cure just about anything. Obviously they won't, but there are more than enough advantages in this lifestyle to give almost anyone good reasons to start the program. This is not magic. The guidelines are based on published scientific studies accepted after careful review. The recommended lifestyle can not only result in reversal of coronary artery disease and reduced heart risk factors, but can help your entire body function at its most efficient level, making a difference in health, energy and longevity.