Dr. Padma Garvey
The plant-based Doctor Mom
Nov 24, 2018
The Downsides to Iron Supplements
After the United Nations was developed in the 1950s, one of its most important missions was to improve maternal and infant health. In many developing countries and even in parts of the United States, anemia was a serious problem. The common causes for anemia in mothers and children back then were intestinal infections with tapeworms and malnutrition. It is important to keep in mind that the traditional diets of these developing countries w...ere naturally rich in vitamins, minerals, and iron. Foods like green leafy vegetables, lentils, and even cumin seeds are rich in iron. So mothers and children were not suffering from iron-deficiency anemia because their natural diets were poor. Rather, they were suffering from iron-deficiency anemia because of poor sanitation and lack of food.
Efforts to increase iron included iron-fortification of processed foods, like cereals and grains. In addition, mothers and children were given oral iron supplements. The United States began recommending that many processed foods be fortified with iron. In addition, birth control pills sometimes have iron added to them and pregnant mothers are told to consume prenatal vitamins with iron.
The problem is that iron supplements do not contain the form of iron found naturally in plants. Iron in supplements and fortified foods is “free” iron whereas iron in plants like spinach is “bound” iron. Free iron causes damage to DNA, including the DNA in our colon cells. Studies have shown that such free iron may increase one’s risk for colon cancer. In addition, the bad bacteria in our guts can use the free iron more readily than the good bacteria in our guts. Studies have shown that ingestion of free iron alters our gut microbiome from a beneficial pattern to a pathogenic one. A pregnant woman’s gut microbiome is crucial in determining her developing baby’s microbiome. Alterations in gut micobiomes can set the stage for a host of problems like autoimmune diseases, food allergies, and obesity.
Chronic ingestion of iron supplements should be discouraged. We should recommend that patients eat a diet rich in green leafy vegetables, lentils, sweet potatoes, etc.
Heart Disease in African Ugandans and Indians in Uganda in 1959 Says Everything About Diet
Dr. Michael Greger was a speaker at a conference I attended. He always gives an amazing talk. One of the things he always brings up is that coranary heart disease, the number one killer of African Americans was nonexistent in Ugandans in the 1950s. At that time, the traditional diet of African Ugandans consisted of lots of green leafy vegetables, millet, corn, yams, etc. They ate very little... meat and no dairy. I think the fact that there was no heart disease in African Ugandans is an amazing testament to the role diet plays in chronic condition.
An Asian Indian doctor asked a question during the conference regarding the high rates of diabetes and coronary heart disease among middle class Indians. This caused me to do some research and I uncovered an amazing study that was published in the Lancet in 1959. The article starts by acknowledging a fact that coronary heart disease was nonexistent in African Ugandans but accounted for 43% of deaths after the age of 30 in Indian males living in Uganda at the time and 9% of deaths after the age of 30 in Indian females living in Uganda at the time. The authors found that the African Ugandan diet consisted of 18% fat while the Indians in Uganda were eating a diet consisting of 30-45% fat. The fat in the Indian diet was coming from cooking oil, yogurt, milk, and butter/ghee. In addition, the Indians were consuming mostly refined grains.
As I have said many times, this was a revelation that I came to in my own family, that we ate too much fat in the form of oils and animal dairy. Most Indians feel that being a vegetarian is protective in and of itself. It is not. In order to address the high rates of diabetes and heart disease in the Indian community we must eliminate or drastically cut out as much oil as possible. We must eat whole grains. We must eliminate animal dairy consumption.
Your Diet and Hospital- Acquired Super Bugs
I have begun to view our association with antibiotics as a torrid, love affair. It was brief; it was exciting while it lasted; but in the end we will be left devastated. I use to think antibiotic resistance was something we could fix or eliminate. Now I see it as battle we had lost from the very beginning. Antibiotic resistance has been around for a long, long time and many of our current health problems are due to the slow burn of the antibiotic age. While we may have eliminated major causes of death from acute infections that plagued us in the past, we have only replaced them with chronic conditions that might be linked to overuse of antibiotics and with infections from multi-resistant super bugs. Scientists have actually analyzed the bacteria from epidemics as far back as the 1920s and found that those bacteria contained the genes for resistance to antibiotics that had even been discovered yet. About 6 months after penicillin was first used, reports of penicillin-resistant bacteria were in the medical journals in 1940.
Bacteria have ALWAYS been several steps ahead of us in this game. What this means for us in our everyday lives is that we need to harness our own internal forces. Bacteria are powerful but so is a healthy immune system. Eating a low fat, whole grain, plant-based diet is the safest and most effective way to nurture our own good bacteria as well as our immune systems. This is especially important for people in hospitals. Hospitals are filled with bacteria, many of which are resistant to antibiotics. Some of these resistant bugs are due to overuse of antibiotics in patients but many of these bugs are from the meat and dairy that is served on the hospital tray. The vast majority of antibiotics used today are used on animals for consumption. If you or a loved one is in the hospital, then opt for a plant-based diet. This has no side-effects, causes no harm, may actually decrease your exposure to resistant bacteria, and may actually encourage some good bugs to grow in your gut.
The Only Diet EVER Shown To Reverse Heart Disease
As far back as 1990, Dr. Dean Ornish published the first study ever to show complete reversal of heart disease plaques without the use of any medicaitons, but utilizing a plant-based diet. What should have been a game changer right then and there in the management of heart disease and stroke was actively forgo...tten by medical schools, doctors groups, and pharmaceutical companies. Despite the fact that a plant-based diet is still the only diet ever shown to reverse heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends a lesser diet, called the DASH diet. It was felt that it would be too much to ask of people suffering from heart disease, stroke, angioplasties, peripheral artery disease, erectile dysfunciton, dementia, crippling medical bills, and complications from medications. We tell patients that there is no moderate amount of smoking, no moderate amount of alcohol in pregnancy, no moderate amount of not wearing your seatbelt. I think people should know what is the BEST way to avoid or reverse a chronic health problem. The indvidual can then decide how moderate an amount of their atherosclerosis they want to experience.
The Connection Between Meat and Vaginal Infections and Urinary Tract Infections
Bacterial vaginosis, vaginal yeast infections and UTIs are a big problem. A healthy vagina has lots of bacteria called lactobacillus. The lactobacillus produces lactic acid which prevents yeast and bacteria like Ecoli from overgrowing in the vagina. The lactobacillus also produces hydrogen peroxide which prevents the overgrowth of bacteria like gardnerella. Animal carcasses are washed with solutions of lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide (even organic meat) by the meat industry as a way of decreasing bacterial contamination. But doing this encourages the growth of bacteria that are resistant to lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide. When you eat the meat, these lactic acid resistant and hydrogen peroxide resistant bugs colonize your gut and vagina. Your body's natural defense mechanisms against these types of bugs no longer works. By eliminating meat consumption, you can, in fact, prevent your recurring vaginal infections and UTIs.
Diseases of Affluence
The notion that most of our chronic medical problems are “diseases of affluence” may be easier for me to understand than some others because I have had the great fortune of seeing how different people have lived in different parts of the world. My parents brought me over to the United States when I was about 5 years old, in 1970. I quickly forgot about life in India. I was growing up with refrigerators stocked with food, milk delivered to our doorstep, packaged chips, candy, and cookies, indoor plumbing, access to hot water and electricity 24 hours a day, and lots of Saturday morning cartoons.
It was five years before I went back to India for a summer visit in 1975. I was a chubby ten year old who had to endure some teasing from relatives who were not accustomed to seeing an overweight child. For me, it was a culture shock on many levels. I was surrounded by all my cousins and we played all day long. No one had a TV. In between playing, we would stop to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. These meals were prepared for by hand with farm fresh ingredients. They were simple but scrumptious and strictly vegetarian. Though my family did consume dairy, it was mostly in the form of yogurt which they made at home. The yogurt was then diluted with lots of water to make it sufficient for the family. Milk was in short supply in India at that time and was rationed. On a very special occasion, someone might have a small box of cookies that all the children shared. At that time there were no fast food restaurants or prepackaged food. No one ate out. No big surprise that between all the playing and all the healthy, low calorie food, I came back to the United States NOT CHUBBY.
Compare this trip to the one I took most recently in 2011. I went back to India with my mother. To my utter shock and dismay I saw the streets lined with fast food restaurants, obesity clinics, and cardiology offices. India has had an economic shift which is a wonderful thing but has come with some unintended consequences. Rates of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity have risen markedly. People eat more fast- food, they eat more restaurant food, more fat, especially in the form of cheese. People are eating more meat as well. This scenario has been played out over and over again in multiple countries. As countries become more prosperous, their citizens eat more calories, more refined foods, more fat, more sugar, and more meat.
Despite these obvious trends, patients are told that carbs are the problem, that too much fruit is bad for you, that oil is heart-healthy, that they are protein deficient, etc. Patients are told to eat more of the very foods that cause diseases of affluence. Now more than ever before, I find myself trying to eat more like my great grandmother (minus the dairy).
Type 2 Diabetes
The conference had a lot of information on diabetes. There have been so many studies done throughout the years showing that a plant-based diet is highly effective in preventing and reversing diabetes. In 2001, the prestigious Banting Lecture which showcases the best research in diabetes every year, was given by Dr. McGarry from the University of Texas. Dr. McGarry’s research proved that the cause of insulin resistance, the cause of prediabetes and diabetes is an accumulation of fat in our cells. This fat accumulation or lipotoxicity blocks our cells from responding to insulin. The problem with elevated levels of glucose in our blood is a SYMPTOM of diabetes not the cause of it. Note all the pharmaceutical treatments and dietary interventions that are promoted focus on the symptom and not the cause.
One of the speakers at the conference was Dr. Hana Kahleova who presented her study that was published in the journal Nutrients Feb 2018. They took two groups of overweight people who are not on a plant-based diet. Half the group was placed on a low fat, vegan diet that was 75% carb, 15% protein, and 10% fat. The other group was not told to change their eating habits. Both groups were instructed not to change their physical activity. Prior to the start of the trial, both groups had their insulin resistance levels measured. After 16 weeks, the following differences were found. The group on the low fat, vegan diet lost 14 pounds, the other group lost no weight. The low fat vegan group had a marked improvement in their insulin resistance whereas the other group did not.
I went on to the American Diabetes Association (ADA) website just to check out what they are recommending. Though it is well hidden on their website, it is widely known that many of the board members of the ADA are from the pharmaceutical industry, the fast food industry, etc. The ADA site is still talking about carb counting, is still making Americans afraid of whole grains. They say we can eat cheese in small amounts but don’t actually say how much. Though diabetics are at high risk for heart disease and need their serum cholesterols to be lower than nondiabetics, the site is still talking about meat that diabetics SHOULD eat. They make it seem like plant-sourced proteins come with the pitfall of carbohydrates even though we know that it is the fat in the diet that is the root cause of diabetes. But the thing that made me angry the most was what they said about dairy. The dairy council has a lot of influence on the ADA. The ADA says that nonfat milk is an excellent source of high quality protein. An 8 ounce glass of nonfat milk has 12 grams of simple sugar in it, accounting for 60% of the calories. Seems strange from a site that is warning people about carbs, including whole grain, high fiber carbohydrates. A baked potato with the skin has just as much protein as an 8 ounce glass of milk. It also has lots of complex carbohydrates and fiber.