The “ice bucket challenge” has gone viral. Participants either dump ice water on their heads or donate to charity—or both. How it started is not exactly clear, but this year, the main beneficiary has been ALS research.
Unfortunately, donors may not be aware that a great deal of ALS research funding is being spent on attempts to create animals with genetic mutations that produce symptoms that mimic ALS. Animal experiments like these are not just bad for animals. They have not resulted in effective treatments. Part of the reason may be that many of the mutations targeted by researchers only account for 5-10 percent of all ALS cases. The failure of translation of results from animal experiments to human patients has been a huge source of frustration. The result is a waste of time, resources, and money.
And it’s the patients who pay the toll: Ninety percent of drugs that appear useful in animals do not work—or prove unsafe—when tested in people. And half the drugs that are approved are later withdrawn or relabeled for adverse effects not detected by animal tests.
But there is a better way. There are exciting advances in human-relevant medical research that are giving scientists insight into the etiology, prevention and treatment of disease. In ALS research, for example, scientists are now studying motor neuron cells derived from the skin cells of patients with the disease. This technique has led to the discovery of how certain genetic mutations interfere with the ability of motor neurons to function normally—an effect never observed in mouse models of ALS.
Focusing research dollars on new technologies like these—that are directly relevant to human patients—will pave the way to gaining a better understanding of how ALS and other diseases occur, and will hopefully lead to effective treatments.
So if you would like to participate in an ice bucket challenge, please direct your donations to a charity that focuses on relevant and progressive nonanimal research methods.
Compassionate Care is one organization that provides a variety of resources for those affected by ALS and their families—and Compassionate Care does not fund research on animals.
Let’s put animal experiments on ice and support only ethical, effective research.
The Physicians Committee is calling out Arby’s for misleading its 263,000 Twitter followers. The company’s recent #meatcraft tweets claimed that “Protein is better in meat form.” The truth is that animal protein is linked to several diseases, while plant protein is not. To protect public health, the Physicians Committee has filed a legal petition asking the Federal Trade Commission to halt this deceptive messaging:
Meat is high in cholesterol and saturated fat and many studies have found that meat consumption is linked with premature death from a variety of causes. In fact, processed meat products—like the deli slices found on Arby’s sandwiches—are so strongly linked with colorectal cancer that no amount is considered safe for consumption. Despite the known cancer risk, Arby’s has stated via Twitter, “If you’re not eating bacon, you’re not doing it right.” Arby’s messaging perpetuates the myth that meat is the pinnacle of protein—when that’s just not true. Lentils have 17.9 grams of protein per cup. Split peas have 16 grams. Both of these protein sources are high in fiber and completely free of cholesterol and saturated fat. Tell Arby’s that you don’t appreciate its nutritional misinformation by retweeting @PCRM’s tweet or sharing the image below!
In January, Physicians Committee doctors and dietitians filled the National Institutes of Health to present our recommendations to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Staring down representatives from the meat and dairy industries, we made a solid case for the inclusion of plant-based diets in the guidelines. And you know what? They listened.
During the advisory committee’s recent meeting, subcommittee members emphasized the importance of reducing meat consumption and switching to plant-based diets for both health and environmental sustainability.
While we still have to wait till Fall 2015 to learn the advisory committee’s final recommendations, doctors around the country are recognizing the importance of plants over pills. In 2013, Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health plans, sent out a nutritional update to physicians, urging health care providers to recommend a plant-based diet to their patients. Kim Williams, M.D., the next president of the American College of Cardiology, penned a blog for MedPage Today explaining why he went vegan and how recommending a vegan diet has helped his patients.
Individuals have also seen success in seeking out plant-based diets themselves. CNN recently profiled Benji Kurtz, a 37-year-old entrepreneur from Atlanta who lost 100 pounds—while improving his blood pressure and cholesterol levels—by researching and following a plant-based diet. Celebrities like Beyoncé and JLo have tweeted, Instagrammed, and blogged about their meatless meals, providing inspiration to their millions of fans and pushing plant-based diets into the pop culture spotlight.
Going forward, if the dietary guidelines committee resists the influence of meat and dairy lobbyists and follows the recommendations of health care professionals, then more people may see success like Mr. Kurtz or Dr. Williams’ patients. In the meantime, let’s all keep publicizing the science, sharing vegan recipes, and boosting this public shift toward support for vegan diets. Maybe 2015 will be the year that the government, doctors, and celebrities all find one thing they can agree on: Plant-based is best.
Interested in viewing a webcast of the fourth meeting of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Committee? Click here.
"When I have a kid who says ‘I love kale!’ that’s a big deal." That’s what Robert Groff, principal of New York City’s P.S. 244, The Active Learning Elementary School, told congressional staffers at a recent Physicians Committee event on Capitol Hill. But soon it won’t be such a big deal, thanks to the work TALES and other schools are doing to make healthy school lunches the new norm.
Groff knows that kids will love vegetables and legumes—and won’t miss mystery meat—if food service directors just give them a chance. He noted the positive changes—including added energy and lower BMI—in his students after the school moved to an all-vegetarian menu. And the statistics support him.
In the New York City 2012-13 school year, 21 percent of public school students were overweight or obese. But that statistic is changing, and severe obesity in New York City public school students has decreased. Some officials credit this to healthful school lunch menu changes, acknowledging that providing kids with fruit instead of fruit snacks—and beans instead of burgers—can make a huge difference in their health.
Groff is not alone in revolutionizing school lunches. Broward County’s program manager for nutrition education and training Darlene Moppert, chef Anne Cooper (aka the Renegade Lunch Lady from Boulder, Colo.), and many other school food administrators are dedicated to providing healthful lunches for their students. For the past 10 years, the Physicians Committee has presented the Golden Carrot Award to school food service directors who perform exceptional work providing healthful school lunches. Just a decade ago, it was difficult to find schools offering low-fat, plant-based options. But as more and more administrators realize that providing kids nutritious meals has positive effects lasting long after the lunch bell rings, it’s getting harder to pick a single winner!
Despite the school lunch food fight going on in Congress, there is something we can all do to highlight the good results that come from subbing fruits and veggies for hot dogs and hamburgers. Do you know a school food service director who has gone above and beyond to champion students by helping his or her school serve low-fat, high-fiber meals? Nominate the director for our 2014 Golden Carrot Award! Applications are due by Aug. 15. Learn more and submit an application.
The bacteria implicated in Crohn’s disease may be in your shower, and you can thank the meat industry for it. Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis is common in cattle, and when transmitted to humans, it is believed to cause Crohn’s disease. In the journal Pathogens, researchers at Lancaster University in the U.K. report that agricultural runoff sends the bacteria into rivers and streams and ultimately into public water supplies, often taking up residence in pipes and showerheads and vaporizing as showers are turned on. It was detected in 10 percent of samples tested.
Running a shower for a few minutes before getting in will wash away some of the accumulated bacteria. Avoiding the raising of animals for food products would dramatically reduce the risk of infectious diseases in human populations.
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Congress: Be Cool with a Dairy-Free Ice Cream Social - June 7, 2018
Reduce Cancer Risk with Plant-Based Foods - June 1, 2018
Tackling MS with a Plant-Based Diet: Saray Stancic, M.D. - April 24, 2018
Moby Calls on USDA to Focus SNAP on Healthy Foods - April 10, 2018
Don’t Let Hot Dogs Strike You Out This Baseball Season - March 29, 2018