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Sunscreen Can’t Protect You from This Summer Cancer Risk

June 17, 2015   Dr. Neal Barnard   Cancer, Health and Nutrition, Cancer, Chicken, colorectal cancer, PhIP

Spending hours in the sun without slathering on sunscreen isn’t the only cancer concern to have this summer. Some popular barbecue foods—such as grilled chicken and hot dogs—can increase your risk for several types of cancer.

When meat is grilled, it releases carcinogens known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs), including a compound called PhIP. Studies have linked PhIP with multiple cancers—breast cancer in particular. The Physicians Committee has fought to add warning labels to grilled chicken products and we won a lawsuit against Burger King locations in California. However, there are no governmental regulations in the United States surrounding the consumption or sale of products containing HCAs.

It’s not just grilled meat that can increase cancer risk. Research has connected red and processed meat consumption with cancer. Most notably, eating just one serving per day of processed meat products, like hot dogs and bacon, increases colorectal cancer risk by 21 percent. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, no amount of processed meat is considered safe for consumption.

Fortunately, these risk factors are only found in animal products. Grilling some portobello mushroom caps or veggie skewers can help increase your dietary fiber and potentially increase your lifespan!

So put down the hot dog and pick up the sunscreen! Protect your body from cancer inside and out.

Not sure what to take to the barbecue? Try our grilled peaches with balsamic glaze!
Other recipes available at NutritionMD.org and DropTheDog.org.

Plant-Based Rx: The Future of Health Care?

June 10, 2015   Dr. Neal Barnard   Health and Nutrition, Health Care, Heart Health, International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine, Plant-Based, Plant-Based Rx

Healthful plant-based diets are no longer just a fad or a secret regimen of Hollywood stars. They are now everywhere. From Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and Carrie Underwood, to Kim Williams, M.D., the president of the American College of Cardiology, we continue to hear success stories that inspire fans and patients to follow suit.

From a medical standpoint, study after study shows this approach helps people lose weight, lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol, and stabilize blood sugar. If a pill could do all these things, it would become a blockbuster drug overnight. So why aren’t more physicians prescribing a trip to the grocery store—especially if all the side effects of a dietary intervention are positive? The truth is, less than 25 percent of doctors talk to their patients about the link between disease prevention and diet, nutrition, and exercise. It’s no wonder that nearly 70 percent of our population has at least one metabolic risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

Doctors don’t need a degree in nutrition to help patients improve their diets. Spending just five minutes talking to patients about the importance of moving plant-based fare—vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes—to the center of the plate can yield significant results.

Here are four tips to get started:

  1. Ask your patients if they are aware about the value of a plant-based diet.
  2. Recommend resources where they can learn more. Several leading medical organizations now have consumer-friendly guides for plant-based nutrition.
  3. Schedule a follow-up visit to a dietitian, nutritionist, or weekly cooking class. Meet again in four to six weeks to assess results.
  4. Track biometric risk factors and praise any sign of progress, large or small.

Hosting a weekly after-hours nutrition education class in your office is another effective way to establish a built-in-support system for patients. One instructor—a nurse, dietitian, doctor, or health coach—can teach 15-20 people. It is a model of efficiency!

As more physicians adopt this approach, and as the government integrates a plant-based prescription into its next set of dietary guidelines, slashing dangerous fats and excess sodium along the way, the question reverberating out of exam rooms will likely be “How soon can I get started?”

As health care providers our job is to plant the seed.

Want to learn more about plant-based nutrition and preventive medicine? Test-drive the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart. Physicians can also attend this summer’s International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine: Cardiovascular Disease, which will feature a panel of health care professionals discussing how to implement nutrition conversations into clinical practice.

Three Things You Didn’t Know About Heart Disease

May 28, 2015   Dr. Neal Barnard   Cardiovascular, Health and Nutrition, Heart Health, International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine, Tweet Chat

Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans, causing one out of every four deaths. And according to the CDC, about 735,000 people in the United States have a heart attack every year.

Most people know that chest pain is an indicator of a heart attack—we are all familiar with the theatrical image of a man clutching his chest and collapsing to the ground. However, there’s a lot that people don’t know about heart disease. Here are three little-known facts:

  1. Heart disease can start in utero.

A 2005 study by Dr. Michael Skilton found that some babies in utero have aortal wall thickening, indicating that an increased risk for heart disease can manifest before a baby even leaves the womb.

  1. Back pain or disc degeneration can be a symptom of cardiovascular disease.

Because atherosclerosis reduces blood flow, particularly to certain lumbar arteries, it can contribute to developing a number of back problems. This research was published in 2009 by Leena Kauppila, M.D., Ph.D., out of Helsinki.

  1. With a proper diet, a blocked artery can be unblocked.

The research done by Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., is some of the most talked-about data regarding plant-based diets as a treatment for coronary artery disease. He has shown that a blocked artery can be treated—and cleared—with a low-fat, plant-based dietary intervention.

The authors of these studies will present their work at this summer’s International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine: Cardiovascular Disease. But to get some heart health tips you can implement now, join our tweet chat today at 1 p.m. EST!

To participate, follow #ICNM15 on Twitter.
Not on Twitter? You can join the chat here: www.Twubs.com/ICNM15.

Think Eating Healthy’s a Pain? Diabetes is the Real Pain.

May 26, 2015   Dr. Neal Barnard   Diabetes, Health and Nutrition, Diabetes, Pain, Vegan

Diabetes can affect your quality of life in many ways—but one complication that often goes unmentioned is pain. Diabetic neuropathy commonly manifests as pain and numbness in the legs and feet, but it can damage any of the body’s nerve fibers. While pain is not a visible symptom that can be measured with blood tests or body monitors, it’s very real with limited treatment options. Fortunately, recent research suggests a low-fat, plant-based diet may hold promise for pain relief. According to a new study published by Physicians Committee researchers, a low-fat, plant-based diet may reduce the pain of diabetic neuropathy. Researchers followed 17 adults with previously diagnosed type 2 diabetes and diabetic neuropathy as they transitioned to a low-fat, vegan diet for 20 weeks. Not only did the participants lose weight, but also saw improvements in neuropathy pain and symptoms.

A low-fat, plant-based diet has been shown to provide benefits beyond diabetic neuropathy—it has been shown to be just as effective as commonly prescribed medication in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. By switching to a low-fat, vegan diet, patients with diabetes may lower their blood sugar and HbA1c levels as insulin sensitivity is improved.

With 29.1 million Americans suffering from diabetes, it’s crucial to consider the role of diet in both the treatment and prevention of the disease. If you don’t know where to start, check out the 21-Day Kickstart for three weeks of low-fat, plant-based recipes, as well as a shopping list and daily tips.

For more information, visit PCRM.org/Diabetes.

diabetes graphic

Physician Profile: Robert Ostfeld, M.D., MSc.

May 21, 2015   Dr. Neal Barnard   Cardiovascular, Health and Nutrition, Guest Blog, Heart Health, ICNM, International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine

This physician profile is republished from the Spring 2015 edition of Good Medicine. Dr. Ostfeld will be presenting on a panel at our upcoming conference on the topic of nutrition in clinical practice. To learn more or register for the International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine: Cardiovascular Disease, visit www.ICNM15.org.


Robert Ostfeld, M.D., MSc., director of the Cardiac Wellness Program at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y., and associate professor of clinical medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, will be among the leading physicians and researchers speaking at the Physicians Committee’s International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine: Cardiovascular Disease on July 31 to Aug. 1, 2015, in Washington, D.C.

In this Good Medicine exclusive, Dr. Ostfeld answers questions about the state of heart disease and tips for preventing it.

What is the one thing someone can do today to improve their heart health?

When you go to the supermarket, I suggest you walk straight to the produce aisle. Select whole foods from the sea of green, red, yellow and orange. In my 11-plus years as a practicing cardiologist, outside of emergency surgery for a life threatening problem, I have never seen anything come close to providing the breadth and depth of benefits that eating a whole-food, plant-based diet does. When you eat this way, you bathe your body in nutrients. It is good for your heart, and it may prevent or improve dozens of other medical problems and make you healthier, every second of every day. Give your body the proper fuel and watch it flourish.

If there were a single pill that could improve heart disease, your complexion, erectile function, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, cancer, inflammatory diseases and other problems, would you be interested? It appears that it already exists, in your produce aisle.

What do you think is the No. 1 cause of the escalating heart disease epidemic?

I believe the No. 1 cause of the escalating heart disease epidemic is our toxic Western diet. Across the globe, populations that eat more of a plant-based diet have better health; whereas those that eat more of an animal-based diet do not.1 Accordingly, pathology studies have demonstrated that 65 percent of teenagers in the United States have early signs of cholesterol disease in the blood vessels that feed their hearts with blood.2 And it only gets worse. Heart and blood vessel disease is the No. 1 cause of death for both adult men and women in the United States.3

When we are born, our bodies are turbo engines. A bunch of animal products and processed foods later, we turn our bodies into clunkers. The good news, however, is that it is never too early to live more healthfully, and it is never too late. I have multiple patients in their 70s and beyond who have switched to a whole-food, plant-based diet and have seen profound improvements in their health. You can too!

  1. Esselstyn CB. Is the present therapy for coronary artery disease the radical mastectomy of the twenty-first century? Am J Cardiol. 2010;106:902-904.
  2. Stary HC. Evolution and progression of atherosclerotic lesions in coronary arteries of children and young adults.Arteriosclerosis. 1989;9(1 Suppl):I19-32.
  3. Murphy SL, Xu J, Kochanek KD. Deaths: Deaths: final data for 2010. Natl Vital Stat Rep. 2013;61:1-117.