Animal Protein Linked to Death, Twice

This short article introduces a study that was done on two “very large American study populations[:] …female nurses and male health professionals…” The crux? “[T]hose that consumed the most animal protein compared to plant protein had a higher risk of death, particularly cardiovascular disease.” Its pretty convincing, and its pretty credible, though still leaves a lot of questions. Just because I’m curious about diet, and eating meat, I added some more info that I personally have found, which also correlates meat eating with heart disease, and arthritis as well as posing other risks to the kidney, gout and liver.

Now, first off, the article. Is the source credible? The article, published on the website of the Center for Nutritional Studies, or CNS, references a study done by several researchers in the medical field hailing from, predominantly, the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, as well as the Division of Gastroenterology, Massachusetts General Hospital, the Harvard Medical School, Boston, and other well-reputed institutions. The article was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine, in October 2016. Pretty credible.

The organization, CNS, which summarized and introduced the research to the public via their website, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Ithaca, NY. It was founded by Thomas Campbell, MD – co-founder and clinical director of the University of Rochester’s Program for Nutrition in Medicine – who has a prolific career in research, himself. His website contains a quick bio of his life’s work – it’s impressive to say the least. I’ll take the summary and the research as solid, and keep a keen and healthy skepticism, still.

Now to investigate the study: Interestingly, the finding was only addressing those who already had a “lifestyle risk factor” (e.g. smoking, physical inactivity). Why they would do this? It would make sense to me if this was intended to make the study’s results more dramatic – in other words it makes the participants a little bit more vulnerable to their diets’ impact, affecting margins in the results.

What did they find? The article states:

“Breaking it down into specific foods, researchers found that when 3% of energy from plant protein was substituted for an equivalent amount of processed red meat protein, there was a 34% lower risk of death.”

Now, I am curious what exactly is “processed red meat protein” – is a steak considered processed? What is non-processed red meat protein? A cow? Let’s go with that. As to the data, is this 3% finding true all things equal? If one person is eating 60% red meat in their diet, and another is eating only 3%, then will a substitution of 3% plant protein still have a 34% lower risk of death?

For some clarity, I looked here: The article explains that researchers did control many factors in order to “isolate the sole effect of dietary protein.”

The article explains:

“researchers controlled for: age, intake of different types of fat, total energy intake, glycemic index, and intake of whole grains, fiber, fruits and vegetables, smoking, body mass index, vitamin use, physical activity, alcohol intake, history of high blood pressure.”

This is all to say that researchers “statistically eliminated many of the beneficial components of plant-based diets to try to isolate the sole effect of dietary protein and still found an effect.” My question from above still remains, however. Does “total energy intake” account for how much of that energy comes from animal protein? In other words, how did the control of animal vs. plant protein work? I didn’t find the answer, but we can still conclude that meat raises the risk of disease, regardless it seems.

An elaboration on the point:

“When data was adjusted only for age, total energy and fat intake, those consuming the most plant protein were found to have 33% reduced risk of death, 40% reduced risk of cardiovascular death, and 28% reduced risk of cancer death.”

Why is this the case? I’ve read up on this a little bit to add some thoughts:

Paul Bragg and his daughter Patricia released a book titled Hi-Protein Vegetarian Health Recipes, in which they investigate various cultures of vegetarianism and makes some great arguments about eating meatless diets. Don’t know Bragg? Maybe your parents do; Paul died in the 70s at 95 and Patricia is well-lived (which is the point I might add!), so they’ve been around for a while. My point is that they’re pretty credible. Just to add, I’m sure just about every health food store from the West Coast to the East Coast of the US (and likely Canada too) carry his and his daughters “Bragg” products – mainly apple cider vinegar and liquid aminos; even Hannafords sells their stuff – and that’s just a testament to the pervasiveness of the Bragg’s brand in mainstream culture.

In the Braggs’ Recipe book, Patricia additionally explains about the toxins contained in meat. Specifically, Uric acid and saturated fats, though she does cite “other toxic materials…” as well. She states simply: “These toxins help bring on heart disease, arthritis, gout, kidney and liver trouble” (2). To what extent this has been reported and tested I don’t know. I want to know more. Regardless, they add lots of facts and anecdotes that will convince you vegetarian is a great way to go. If you’re interested, I can bring the book in to let anyone take a look. Its great.

Hope we can all figure out if there are any redeeming reasons to eat meat – I mean it tastes good, right? I guess just eat what tastes good – but try to eat more veggies, man! (Not just to save the planet, but to save yourself too)!

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