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Would you give your right arm (or leg) for a steak?

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By William M. Mullins, C.P.

The man sitting in my office had just undergone his third amputation in as many years. First, doctors amputated his right foot after a blister refused to heal and gangrene set in. Then, they cut off the leg just below the knee. Now, he had graduated to “AK” (above the knee). He was losing his leg, inch by inch, to “Big Mac attacks.”

As someone who makes prosthetic limbs for a living, I see a lot of tragedy: children who have lost limbs to cancer, motorcycle accident victims, farmers who’ve lost arms in agricultural machinery. But perhaps the most tragic cases of all are the diabetics who’ve essentially cut off their own legs with a knife and fork.

Diabetes has become an epidemic. More than 25 million Americans have diabetes, and more than 230,000 of them die each year from causes related to the disease. It is now the seventh-leading cause of death in the U.S. This November, National Diabetes Month, is the perfect time to do something about it.

Most of my patients have spent a lifetime eating diets rich in animal products loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol, which has left them overweight and suffering from the type-2 or “adult-onset” diabetes that afflicts 90 to 95 percent of diabetics. This form of diabetes usually appears after age 40—think Paula Deen and Aretha Franklin—although it is increasingly being found in younger adults (e.g., Ruben Studdard) and even teens and young children. It is often linked to obesity and inactivity, but even seemingly fit people, such as Tom Hanks, can develop it.

Diabetes can cause heart disease, strokes, blindness, kidney failure and pneumonia. It also leads to nerve damage and poor circulation in the feet and legs, which is where I come in. Limited blood flow makes it hard for sores and infections to heal and can ultimately lead to amputation of a toe, foot or leg. More than 65,000 people have diabetes-related leg and foot amputations each year. Sixty percent of all lower-limb amputations not resulting from trauma occur in people with diabetes. Most diabetic amputees don’t live long—the majority of my patients are dead within nine years of their first amputation.

So how can you stay on your feet and out of my office? Easy: Eat a low-fat, high-fiber, plant-based diet. Recent studies indicate that fat impairs insulin’s ability to function and that blood-sugar levels are under better control when people eat diets that are high in fiber and low in fat.

A study led by Dr. Neal Barnard, author of Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes: The Scientifically Proven System for Reversing Diabetes Without Drugs, showed that 43 percent of diabetics on a low-fat vegan diet were able to cut back on their medications, compared to only 26 percent of those who followed the diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association. A Harvard School of Public Health study suggests that eating red meat and processed meats can increase a person’s risk for type-2 diabetes by as much as 50 percent.

Dr. Barnard encourages diabetics to eat low-fat plant-based foods with a low glycemic index, such as beans, peas, lentils, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, carrots, brown rice, barley, quinoa, whole-grain pasta, bananas, apples, peaches, berries and citrus fruits. He also advises people to avoid added vegetable oils and other high-fat foods as well as refined sugar and flour.

Dietary changes alone can help cut back on the amount of insulin needed—or eliminate it altogether in some cases—and minimize complications. I’ve seen the “complications” of diabetes firsthand, and I want to keep my legs—which is why I’m a vegetarian.

William M. Mullins is a certified prosthetist who lives in Knoxville, Tenn., with his wife and a rescued dog and cat. He wrote this op-ed for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

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Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

November 13, 2013 at 5:24 pm

News flash: Vegetarians live longer than meat-eaters

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By Heather Moore

Health news can be so depressing. Virtually every day, we see discouraging reports about heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. We’re warned that certain drugs can be nearly as harmful as the conditions that they’re meant to treat. We’re reminded that antibiotic-resistant superbugs are spreading like wildfire, and we’re cautioned that childhood obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years. Obesity now kills three times as many people worldwide as malnutrition. There is real cause for concern. But there is also a good reason to be optimistic. In a study published recently, researchers from Loma Linda University in California shared some encouraging news: Vegetarians live longer than meat-eaters.

The findings from the large-scale study—which was funded by the National Institutes of Health—should remind us that we aren’t powerless victims of chronic disease. We can all be healthier just by bypassing the meat counter and opting for plant-based meals.

The researchers tracked more than 73,000 Seventh-day Adventists for nearly six years. They used questionnaires to find out what type of diet the participants ate (many, but not all, Seventh-day Adventists are vegetarian) and then followed up to find out how many of the participants had died and how.

Here’s what they discovered: The vegetarian (and mostly vegetarian) participants—people included in this group ranged from those who didn’t eat any animal-based foods at all to those who ate meat only once a week—were 12 percent less likely to die prematurely than those who ate meat regularly. Those in the vegetarian group were 19 percent less likely to die from heart disease, in particular, and were also less likely to die from diabetes and kidney failure. In addition, they tended to be thinner and have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Although the researchers were quick to note that the vegetarians were more likely to exercise and less likely to smoke or drink in excess, they attributed their findings largely to the participants’ food choices. The researchers weren’t completely sure why a plant-based diet has such a protective effect, but they speculated that it’s because plant foods tend to be higher in fiber and lower in saturated fat.

And unlike meat, which contains high amounts of cholesterol, sodium, nitrates and other unhealthy ingredients, plant-based foods are cholesterol-free and contain phytochemicals and antioxidants that help combat carcinogens and other harmful substances in the body.

Other studies, including a previous one involving about 30,000 Seventh-day Adventists, have also suggested that people who eat wholesome plant-based foods live longer than meat-eaters. Because of these studies, many hospitals and healthcare facilities around the U.S., including Boston Medical Center and St. John’s Well Child & Family Center in Los Angeles, have initiated programs to encourage people to eat more plant-based foods. Medical providers at the L.A. facility, for example, have begun writing “prescriptions” for patients to buy organic fruits and vegetables. By promoting vegan foods, healthcare practitioners hope to help patients maintain a healthy weight and prevent—and sometimes even reverse—deadly diseases.

We can’t predict when or how we’ll die, but we can try to increase our life expectancy and quality of life. Choosing vegan foods rather than meat, eggs and dairy products is a simple way to help ensure that you’ll be with your loved ones—and not in an emergency room—for as long as possible.

Heather Moore is a staff writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

July 24, 2013 at 10:02 pm

Fight cancer with food

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By Jonny Imerman

June 11-17 is Men’s Health Week—a good time for men of all ages to kick-start healthy habits. In my 20s, I survived two bouts of testicular cancer. Since that time, I’ve helped create a one-on-one cancer support organization, Imerman Angels, that connects someone fighting cancer with a person who’s been in the same shoes and survived. It gives me so much joy to give back. However, for years my own body didn’t feel its best. Last year, I went vegan, and I’ve never felt better.

I’m not here to lecture. I ate meat and dairy products for years, so who am I to judge? We cancer survivors should never judge regardless; we’re happy just to be here still. But I hope that by hearing about my experience, you’ll feel a little more empowered to take your health into your own hands.

One of the turning points that helped me decide to go vegan was listening to leukemia researcher Dr. Rosane Oliveira—herself a vegan—from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign speak about how dietary changes can help people lead healthier lives. I learned that research has linked the standard American diet—full of cholesterol and saturated fats—with serious illnesses, including cancer, while vegetarians have been shown to have a much lower cancer risk.

Animal proteins and saturated fats found in meat promote the growth of cancer cells and increase our risk for certain types of cancer. Cornell professor T. Colin Campbell’s China Study concluded that proteins from animal foods are the most cancer-causing substances ingested by humans. The study also found that casein, the primary protein in cow’s milk, “turns on” the growth of cancer cells. A link has even been discovered between dairy products and testicular cancer, which makes me even more confident in my decision to dump dairy.

Vegan foods, in contrast, help fight cancer. A study of men diagnosed with prostate cancer found that a diet rich in plant foods can slow or even halt the progression of the disease. Dark, leafy veggies like spinach and kale and fruits like blueberries are loaded with cancer-fighting antioxidants, and beans, whole grains, and other fiber-rich foods help rid your body of excess hormones that can contribute to cancer growth.

Vegan eating has other benefits, too. Following my treatment, I felt so tired and beaten down—my immune system was rattled. Now, even though I regularly meet and shake the hands of many people, I haven’t been sick once (and for people with cancer, an immune system boost can make all the difference). I feel great, I’m strong in the gym and my energy levels are high.

I also love animals, and it feels good knowing that the food I’m eating doesn’t contribute to their suffering. Another turning point for me was watching the video that Sir Paul McCartney narrated for PETA, “Glass Walls,” which includes undercover video footage showing how animals are slaughtered, suffering and in pain. There seems to be a great synergy between cancer survivors, who value their lives and health so highly because they are lucky to be alive, and people who choose to eat compassionate and healthy vegan foods.

You don’t have to take my word for it about the advantages of eating vegan, though. Try it for yourself. Healthy vegan foods provide all the nutrients that we need, so there’s nothing to lose and plenty to gain.

Jonny Imerman is the founder of Imerman Angels, a nonprofit group that provides one-on-one support to people touched by cancer; http://www.ImermanAngels.org. He wrote this for People for the Ethical Ttreatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

June 14, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Jellyfish—swimmers’ new BFFs?

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By Becky Fenson

Swimming is my passion. I learned to swim when I was 7 years old and have been drawn to the water ever since. I love it all—sprinting, long-distance swimming and everything in between. I once swam the English Channel, and I’ve swum around Manhattan Island numerous times.

But if there’s one thing that will get me out of the water, it’s jellyfish. While most swimmers shun jellies in order to avoid their painful stings—1,800 people were stung by mauve stingers off the coast of Florida over Memorial Day weekend—I’m more concerned about harming the jellyfish. I know that a misplaced stroke can easily damage a jelly’s delicate body. And now there’s another reason to give jellies their space: New research shows that these animals are far more complex than we ever imagined.

As a recent article in the New York Times reported, we now know that box jellyfish possess a complex visual system that allows them to navigate the murky swamps in which they live. Some of box jellies’ 24 eyes—yes, 24 eyes per jelly—are relatively simple and respond to light and shadow. But box jellies also have eyes that are surprisingly similar to our own—with lenses, retinas and corneas—that unerringly point skyward.

Why? In order to find food, box jellyfish need to stay within the tree canopy in the mangrove swamps where they make their homes. If they drift into the open lagoon, they will starve. These jellies look upward for navigational guidance.

Scientists have also discovered that jellies are not merely passive floaters, as was once thought. They dive down to reach still waters when tides start flowing out and also to find water that is salty enough to suit them. They can distinguish between friendly jellies and those who might eat them. When a moon jellyfish is touched by a predator jelly, the moon jelly swims safely away.

Jellyfish also have a centralized nervous system—places in their bodies where neurons cluster to take in sensory information and form an appropriate response. According to jellyfish expert David J. Albert of the Roscoe Bay Marine Biological Laboratory inVancouver, British Columbia, jellies also have brains. In his research paper “What’s on the Mind of a Jellyfish?” Dr. Albert concludes that the answer is “a lot.”

I’m not surprised. Every day, we discover something new about the animals who share our world with us. Research has shown that fish can count and tell time. They are fast learners who think ahead, form complex social relationships and have unique personalities.

Octopuses play, just as dolphins and dogs do, and are often mischief-makers in aquariums. Otto, an octopus in a German aquarium, has been observed juggling the hermit crabs who share his tank. Lobsters recognize individual lobsters, remember past acquaintances and have elaborate courtship rituals.

I began to have empathy for my fellow swimmers—fish and other sea animals—not surprisingly, while in the water. When I lived inSan Francisco, I spent so much time swimming in the bay that eating fish started to feel like eating my friends. Eventually, I decided to leave fish off my plate. Today I am vegan.

As we learn more about other animals, we begin to see that traits we once thought were uniquely human—such as feeling pain, enjoying life and forming close bonds—are shared, even with fish. This summer, as more of us take to the water, I hope that everyone will give at least a little thought to the jellies, fish and other sea animals they encounter. And perhaps some will take it a step further by passing on the seafood special at dinner and trying a humane vegetarian meal instead.

Becky Fenson is a manager for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Fight cancer with your fork

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By Bruce Friedrich

According to a new study, one of the deadliest types of cancer is also one of the most preventable. The World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research found that eating too much meat raises the risk of colorectal cancer and that eating fiber-rich vegetarian foods reduces the risk. What’s more, nearly half (45 percent) of colorectal cancer cases “could be prevented if we all ate more fiber-rich plant foods and less meat.”

This serves as yet another reminder that one of the best weapons in the war on cancer is a fork.

Scientists at Imperial College London conducted the new analysis as part of the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research’s groundbreaking Continuous Update Project (CUP). They found that a person who eats just 3.5 ounces of pork, beef or lamb every day has a 17 percent higher risk of developing colorectal cancer than does someone who eats no meat.

Three ounces of meat is approximately the size of a deck of cards. That’s just one serving size as determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, yet it’s far less than most Americans ingest in one sitting, let alone in one day.

Just about any meat is loaded with the saturated fat that the American Cancer Society believes is linked to cancer of the colon and rectum, but processed meats such as ham, bacon, hot dogs and deli slices carry an even greater risk. According to the CUP report, if a person eats 3.5 ounces of processed meat every day, his or her risk for colorectal cancer increases by 36 percent. The more meat you eat, the higher your risk will be.

Almost as bad as what’s in meat is what’s not in it: fiber. Meat and dairy products have absolutely no fiber at all, while fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains are loaded with it. Fiber helps speed the passage of food through the colon. Meat, on the other hand, tends to hang around and, well, rot.

In my work with PETA, I’ve been researching and writing about vegetarian issues for more than 15 years. And the conclusion of each new nutritional study is nearly always the same. There is overwhelming evidence linking meat to some of our society’s most severe health problems. Conversely, eating vegetarian foods can greatly reduce your risk of developing many of these same diseases—and in some cases, actually reverse them.

For example, according to the American Dietetic Association, vegetarians have “lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease, lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer” than meat-eaters do. The American Cancer Society recommends “choosing most of your foods from plant sources and limiting your intake of high-fat foods such as those from animal sources.”

If we take away anything from such nutritional research, it should be that the best prescription for good health is always prevention. And if making the sensible switch to a vegan diet can so greatly benefit our health—not to mention save animals’ lives—why not at least try it? With summer fast approaching, and with it a wealth of locally grown fruits and vegetables available in farmers’ markets and at produce stands, now is a great time to start eating for life.

Bruce Friedrich is a vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Antibiotic-free or not, meat should be off hospital menus

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By Heather Moore

Serving meat in the hospital is sort of like serving Twinkies at a Weight Watchers meeting. It’s counterproductive, to say the least. But at least patients at Chicago’s Swedish Covenant Hospital will no longer be served meat from animals who were given antibiotics to speed their growth and keep them alive in filthy, extremely crowded conditions. The hospital is one of 300 medical facilities across the U.S. that have pledged to improve the quality and sustainability of the food that they serve, both for the health of the public and the health of the environment. For many hospitals, this includes buying antibiotic-free meats so that they won’t contribute to the spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

It’s a positive step, but it still begs the question, “Why are hospitals serving meat in the first place?”

Antibiotic-free or not, meat is high in cholesterol and saturated fat. According to the American Dietetic Association, vegetarians are less prone to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity than meat-eaters are. Research has shown that meat-eaters are a whopping nine times more likely to be obese than vegans are and that meat-eaters are 50 percent more likely to develop heart disease than vegetarians.

On second thought, if you’re going to eat meat, you might as well be in the hospital. Doctors can just wheel you to the ER when you’re ready for an angioplasty.

Seriously though, medical practitioners can better promote healthy living by encouraging people to eat meat-free meals. For one thing, plant-based foods are cholesterol-free—and they don’t naturally harbor harmful bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella, campylobacter and listeria. By confining animals to cramped, feces-filled factory farms, where these disease-causing bugs flourish, farmers are only increasing the chances that more people will have to endure hospital stays.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, up to 70 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are given to healthy farmed animals—not to sick people. Some of the antibiotics, including penicillin and tetracycline, are also used to treat people. As a result, when people get sick, the antibiotics they’re prescribed don’t always work because their overuse in farmed animals has led to the development of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that antibiotic-resistant infections kill approximately 60,000 Americans every year.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently called antibiotic resistance an “urgent public health issue” and introduced new guidelines for the judicious use of antibiotics in farmed animals. According to Brad Spellberg, an infectious-disease specialist, “We’re in an era where antibiotic resistance is out of control, and we’re running out of drugs and new drugs are not being developed. We can’t continue along the path we’re on.”

But the best way to stay healthy is to not eat meat in the first place, whether it’s antibiotic-free or not. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is now encouraging people to eat a more plant-based diet to help prevent and reverse diet-related diseases. Hospitals should also advise people to make healthy plant-based choices—and they can start by serving wholesome vegan meals on hospital grounds.

Heather Moore is a research specialist for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.GoVeg.com.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

August 25, 2010 at 5:51 pm