Dr. Michael Greger is an American physician, author and professional speaker. Here in this talk titled, “More Than an Apple a Day: Preventing Our Most Common Diseases”, he explores and discusses the important role that diet may play in combating the most common diseases. Below is the full transcript….
Dr. Michael Greger, MD
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 number 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 on 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 on 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 5of 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, 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.