Strategic Nutrition Research Program Update
The Physicians Committee’s Strategic Nutrition Research Program’s goal is to promote the health benefits of a plant-based diet and combat the increase in biased, industry-funded nutrition research that confuses consumers and often leads to poor dietary choices. Your support is providing critical support to keep this effort moving forward and I am pleased to present this update on the program’s recent progress.
We currently have six studies in various states of completion: four meta-analyses, one clinical trial, and one report. We have recruited two accomplished scientists to join our team of nutrition experts and have recently purchased state-of-the-art equipment to measure the impacts of a plant-based diet on health in new and exciting ways.
First, let me remind you what is at stake.
Nutrition-related health problems take an enormous toll in the United States. and much of the rest of the world. Two-thirds of North Americans are overweight, and one in three born since 2000 will develop diabetes. Heart disease and cancer remain leading killers. In addition to their human cost, these problems also exact a financial toll, with U.S. annual healthcare expenditures now at $3 trillion.
Many common health problems have their roots in diets based on animal products. Currently, Americans eat one million animals per hour, and meat and dairy consumption is rapidly increasing in developing countries, notably China and India, with major consequences for animals and the environment. There is an urgent need to change dietary practices.
In order to change policy, change press coverage, change behavior, and ultimately save human lives, animal lives, and the environment, we have now launched a new research effort. Through a strategically planned series of clinical trials and meta-analyses, we are building a solid foundation of research on the power of plant-based diets that is needed by the public, the press, physicians and other medical professionals, and governmental policymakers.
We envision national nutrition policies being transformed, health professionals putting the power of nutrition to work, and the public shifting its eating habits in favor of plant-based diets as a result of the completion of high-quality research on plant-based diets that provides answers to important health questions. Success will mean far fewer animals being killed and consumed; every one percent drop in meat consumption saves 100 million animals each year. It will also mean continual improvements in human health and environmental health.
We have pursued this vision through a funding mechanism supporting research studies on plant-based diets and disseminating their findings.
Over the last 18 months, we have raised $716,214.67 in dedicated funds to support our Strategic Nutrition Research Program. After staffing up, purchasing vital, new equipment, and completing two initial studies, we are prepared to transform the state of nutrition research for years to come, and save many lives.
Hana Kahleova, MD, PhD
Director of Clinical Research
Dr. Kahleova is a medical doctor with specialties in internal medicine, endocrinology and diabetes, and with a PhD in human physiology and pathophysiology, She has extensive training in diabetes and metabolism, with a research focus on dietary prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes.
“I enjoy exploring the pathophysiologic mechanisms that are involved in nutritional treatment of type 2 diabetes. I have experience working with diabetic participants. In previous studies, I have collaborated with experts in magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy, measuring the volume of subcutaneous, visceral, hepatic, inter- and intramuscular fat. The current application builds logically on my prior work. The vision and clearly stated goals of PCRM are in line with mine, so being a Director of Clinical Research at PCRM is more than just a job for me. It is my passion.”
Eric Feigl-Ding, PhD
Contract Staff (Meta-Analyses)
Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding is an epidemiologist, nutritionist, health economist, and faculty member at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health. In non-profit work, he is the founder and Executive Director of Toxin Alert, Chief Health Economist & Director of Epidemiology for Microclinic International, and was the former founder of the Campaign for Cancer Prevention.
He has published in leading journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association, The Lancet, and Health Policy. His 100+ publications have received 17,000 external citations (H-Index 44). He is Principal Investigator of several randomized trials of health interventions in the U.S. and abroad. His competitively awarded projects as PI/CEO/Director have received over $10 million in funding.
"I'm excited to be working with PCRM on improving evidence based synthesis of the most cutting edge nutrition data. PCRM is an organization with passionate researchers who all believe in the mission to improve the state of the science around nutrition and public health.”
The Physicians Committee has two studies currently that have been submitted for publication.
Cholesterol and Vegetarian Diets Review (Barnard Levin Yokoyama)
We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies and clinical trials that have examined associations between plant-based diets and plasma lipids.
Of the 8,385 studies identified, 30 observational studies and 19 clinical trials met the inclusion criteria (N = 1,484, mean age 48.6 years). Consumption of vegetarian diets was associated with lower mean concentrations of Total Cholesterol (TC); Low density lipoprotein (LDL) ; and triglyceride (−6.5 and 5.8 mg/dL, p = 0.092 and p = 0.090), compared with consumption of omnivorous diets.
Industry and Cholesterol (Blaire Long)
Submitted in November 2016
Funding from the egg industry influences research on cholesterol, according to investigations by Neal Barnard, MD, M. Blaire Long, MD and Jennifer Pierce. The researchers assessed studies and reviews related to the effects of diet, specifically egg consumption, on dietary cholesterol. The objective was to see if the rise in the number of studies that reported the effects of egg consumption on blood cholesterol levels over the last few decades corresponded with an increase in industry-funding for those studies. The reviewers identified observational or intervention trials and reviews that reported blood cholesterol concentrations and egg and egg product intake. The authors tracked funding sources by decade from the 1950s through the 2010s, and observed an increase in the number of overall studies funded by industry. Among those studies with blood cholesterol and egg consumption as a key objective, that percentage rose even further. The authors suggest policymakers and physicians remain cautious of research funded by industry as their influence grows.
The following studies are in various planning stages, and we are currently on track to meet our projected submission dates.
Dairy & Fractures Review (Ding)
Projected Submission Date: April 15, 2017
Meat Consumption & Diabetes Review (Kavitha Barua)
Projected Submission Date: May 1, 2017
Animal Protein, Diabetes, and Coronary Heart Disease Review (Ding)
Projected Submission Date: May 15, 2017
TEF Metabolism (Barnard)
Projected Submission Date: March 1, 2018
We know that a plant-based diet is beneficial for weigh loss, but this study will explain the mechanisms of the beneficial effects of a plant-based diet on body weight. We will measure how a plant-based diet increases thermic effect of food and metabolism after a meal.
In order to better measure results and increase the value of our studies to medical professionals, we have purchased new, state-of-the-art equipment. In early 2017, the Physicians Committee began a randomized, controlled trial that aims to determine whether the weight reduction that results from a plant-based dietary intervention is caused, in part, by altered postprandial (after eating a meal) metabolism. Participants who are overweight or obese follow a low-fat, plant-based diet for 16 weeks, and the study will measure changes in postprandial metabolism and insulin sensitivity. This new research study is being conducted in our Washington, DC, research suite.
Research Equipment: Four pieces of equipment will be used to measure metabolic body composition in this weight-loss study: one iDXA machine and three Quark RMR machines.
- The Lunar iDXA measures fat and the distribution of fat in the body. A participant lies on the exam table and the machine scans him with no discomfort, giving researchers a clear peek inside the body. The cost is $82,000.
- The Quark RMR is a machine that measures indirect calorimetry to allow accurate estimation of Resting Energy Expenditure (REE) in a non-invasive way, through the measurement of oxygen consumption (VO2) and carbon dioxide production (VCO2). A participant breathes normally with a hood placed comfortably over her head. This method does not require a mouthpiece or facemask and is more comfortable for obese patients. The cost is $28,000 per machine. Three machines are needed for a total of $84,000.
The research equipment is housed in a special suite adjacent to the Barnard Medical Center. The lifespan of this medical equipment will last beyond the upcoming research study; the equipment will be used similarly for a diabetes research study planned for 2018 and can be utilized regularly by the Barnard Medical Center clinicians to diagnose and treat patients.
That’s where we stand – on the precipice of major change. With our new staff expertise and equipment, and with your support, the Physicians Committee is positioned to make incredible progress in our effort to transform the American diet and save millions of lives.
Thank you again for your critical support of this work.
Neal Barnard, M.D.