New study argues that all doctors should be aware of the benefits of plant-based diets for these six health conditions
According to a recent commentary in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, all doctors should be aware of the advantages of a plant-based diet for six different health conditions, including COVID-19, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and weight loss.
“The field of medicine, despite its prominent influence in society, has invested little to promote healthy lifestyle choices,” says the commentary co-authored by Saray Stancic, MD, FACLM, director of medical education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. “The consequence of this is reflected in our ever-rising chronic disease statistics, most notably obesity and diabetes rates.”
The authors claim that medical schools only provide a meager level of nutrition education throughout the course of four years and that this situation is not improved during postgraduate study. They point out that 90 percent of cardiologists who participated in a recent study of over 600 cardiologists said they had not obtained the necessary nutrition education during training.
The commentary accepts that not all doctors need to be nutrition specialists, but asserts that they should at the very least have a basic understanding of the advantages of a plant-based diet for these six conditions, for which they present detailed evidence, including the following:
- Weight loss and maintenance. Those who followed a vegan diet weighed around 9 pounds less than those who did not, according to a study of 70,000 individuals. They also had a lower risk of death.
- Cardiovascular disease. Animal products are high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which are key drivers of cardiovascular disease. But a recent meta-analysis found that those consuming a vegetarian diet decreased LDL “bad” cholesterol by 13 mg/dl. Another analysis found a 24% lower rate of heart disease deaths among vegetarians compared to omnivores.
- Cancer. Adopting healthy habits, such as being active and eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may potentially lower the risk of breast cancer by up to 70%. Furthermore, studies have shown that soy and high-fiber diets lower the risk of breast cancer. Prostate cancer risk is increased by diets heavy in dairy products. Although daily consumption of red and processed meat raises the risk of colorectal cancer, high-fiber diets reduce that risk.
- Diabetes. A Harvard study, which included participants from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, Nurses’ Health Study, and the Nurses’ Health Study II, concluded that those who consumed a plant-based diet could expect a 34% reduction in type 2 diabetes risk.
- Alzheimer’s disease. A study found that those who adhered to the primarily plant-based Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet, which is focused on brain-healthy foods such as green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, beans, berries, nuts, and whole grains, had a 60% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
- COVID-19. Harvard’s smartphone-based COVID-19 study found that in those who consumed a primarily plant-based diet there was a 41% reduction in risk of severe COVID-19 as well as a 9% reduction in infection of any severity.
“It is time for all physicians across the globe to speak to the importance of diet and lifestyle in health,” concludes the commentary, which recommends that physicians do this by counseling patients, assuring hospitals provide healthy menus, lecturing in the community, writing articles, using social media, and providing commentary to media.
Reference: “Six Applications of Plant Based Diets for Health Promotion” by Saray Stancic, MD, Josh Cullimore, MD and Neal Barnard, MD, 26 May 2022, American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.