Dr. Barnard's Blog

The Physicians Committee

Prevent Cancer by Banning Bacon and Nixing Nicotine

November 20, 2013   Dr. Neal Barnard   cancer, colorectal cancer, processed meat


The American Cancer Society’s annual Great American Smokeout takes place this week, shifting the public’s focus toward cancer prevention. Cigarettes are an easy target, since their link to cancer is well-publicized, and the vast majority of smokers already want to quit.Prevent Cancer by Banning Bacon and Nixing Nicotine But despite the drop in smoking, cancer rates are still high. So we need to go several steps further. The next culprits are processed meat products, such as bacon, hot dogs, and deli meats. Just as tobacco attacks the lungs, processed meats attack the digestive tract. The World Cancer Research Fund says the link between processed meat and cancer is so strong that it should be avoided completely. The EPIC study results published earlier this year show that eating processed meat is linked with a 44 percent increased risk of death. A recent study from the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that colorectal cancer survivors who consume large amounts of processed meat are at a 29 percent higher risk of death from general causes and a 63 percent higher risk of death from heart disease. While tobacco products have been the object of labeling efforts designed to maximize risk awareness, processed meat products have gone under the radar. Mayor Bloomberg just signed new legislation raising the legal purchasing age of cigarettes from 18 to 21. If he and other politicians truly have their constituents’ health in mind, they will make the same efforts to label and restrict the purchase of hot dogs and other processed meat products. But consumers certainly don’t have to hold out for a new law to can the cigarettes, scrap the bacon, or share a healthful recipe with some friends. Positive change can happen anytime—so start now and help lead the cultural shift towards better health.

“Free Birds” Are All for Going Bird-Free

November 1, 2013   Dr. Neal Barnard   animal products


The movie Free Birds is running wild in theaters all across the country today. The storyline follows Reggie, a turkey trying to save his loved ones by traveling through time to keep turkey off the Thanksgiving table. And that is a good idea, because a poultry-free Thanksgiving can save more than just Reggie, Jake, and Jenny—taking turkey off the menu will also prevent your loved ones from high cholesterol and heart disease this holiday season.Bird-Free Thanksgiving

Turkey is not a healthful food, even before being slathered in butter and lumpy gravy. When your sibling and cousin each grab a drumstick—sans basting or gravy—they’re getting more than 55 percent of their daily maximum cholesterol intake. Thanksgiving is a time when people frequently overindulge, and two drumsticks puts you well into the cholesterol danger zone.

Turkey also contains at least one secret ingredient Grandma didn’t plan on: feces. Nine out of 10 ground turkey products are contaminated with fecal bacteria and E. coli. In addition, 81 percent of turkey meat contains antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Turkeys are routinely fed arsenic, despite attempts to ban the arsenic-laced feed in favor of consumer safety. With plenty of meatless holiday recipe plans available, make yours a bird-free Thanksgiving.

Blood and Guts on Capitol Hill

October 25, 2013   Dr. Neal Barnard   other


This week on Capitol Hill, the Physicians Committee, a former military doctor, and Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson led a demonstration showcasing the latest groundbreaking military trauma training. Human-based simulators—featuring lifelike skin, anatomically correct organs, breakable bones, and realistic blood flow—are designed to create an accurate and realistic experience, something that an anesthetized pig and or goat simply cannot.

The Cut Suit, worn by an actor, recreates the emotional stressors of a combat experience providing real-time feedback. Seeing a soldier on the ground, writhing in pain and calling out for help, illustrates the difference between working on a “conscious casualty” and an anesthetized animal. Video of the Cut Suit in Action WARNING: THIS VIDEO MAY BE GRAPHIC AND DISTURBING

The scenarios were so realistic that at least two people stood and left the room during the demonstration. Afterward, congressional staffers got up close and personal with the simulators, even participating in several “surgical procedures.” Better training for our soldiers means more lives saved on the field. As these extremely advanced training methods continue to gain congressional support, they will replace animal methods—to everyone’s benefit.

Dick Cheney: Plant-Based Diets Can Prevent a Medical Odyssey

October 18, 2013   Dr. Neal Barnard   heart disease


Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s new book, Heart: An American Medical Odyssey, describes his harrowing 30-year battle with heart disease, including five heart attacks and having to say goodbye to his family when he feared he would die from the disease. His excellent team of physicians and surgeons has provided him lifesaving medical care and he is on the mend. But I wrote to him today and asked that as he promotes his book he let people know that adopting a plant-based diet can prevent and reverse heart disease and the traumas he and his family endured.

Oct. 18, 2013

Dear Former Vice President Cheney,

I’m happy to hear your excellent team of physicians and surgeons has provided you lifesaving medical care and that you are finally on the mend from your five heart attacks and 30-year battle with heart disease. Surgery saved you, but others can avoid that fate. As you promote your new book, Heart: An American Medical Odyssey, please let people know that adopting a plant-based diet can prevent and reverse heart disease. It’s something millions of Americans need to do for themselves—and their loved ones. Nearly 8 million people in the United States have had a heart attack, and 800,000 people die each year from heart disease. But a recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who improved their eating habits the most after a heart attack had a better chance of surviving. A diet lowest in red and processed meat products and highest in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables lowered the risk of death from heart disease by 40 percent, compared with no dietary changes. I hope you’ll consider making some of these changes to maintain—and likely improve—your current heart health. But it’s not only your heart that will benefit. A plant-based diet doesn’t only help people suffering from heart disease—countless studies show that it fights obesity, diabetes, cancer, and dementia, to name a few diseases. And vegetarian diets just help you live longer. A new study by Dean Ornish, M.D., found that men who adopted a low-fat, plant-based diet, may slow the aging process. So do it for yourself. But also do it for your family and friends, who have suffered with you and would ultimately grieve your untimely loss from heart disease or any cause. The American Heart Association says that caregivers who devote themselves to their loved ones to the exclusion of their own needs become ill, and that caregivers who experience mental or emotional strain have a 63 percent higher risk of death than noncaregivers. There’s also a financial toll. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that families who experience heart disease deal with medical bills, lost wages, and decreased standard of living. I’ve enclosed a copy of my book 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart which explains the many health benefits of adopting a plant-based diet. It also includes a three-week meal plan and recipes.

Please let me know if I can offer you any other guidance. I hope you try a plant-based diet for your health. If not for yourself, do it for someone you love.

Neal Barnard, M.D.
President Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
5100 Wisconsin Ave, Ste. 400
Washington, DC 20016

Fecal Chunks in Pork: The Other Contaminated Meat

September 20, 2013   Dr. Neal Barnard   animal products


The USDA is moving forward with its plan to cut the number of meat inspectors at pig slaughterhouses nationwide, despite reports of increased fecal contamination from facilities currently testing the program. Similar guidelines are currently in place at dozens of chicken processing plants, resulting in fewer inspectors examining a greater number of carcasses at faster speeds for visible fecal matter.

Physicians Committee Five Worst Contaminants in Chicken Inforgraphic

The new pork inspection pilot programs have exhibited substandard health monitoring with a greater incidence of fecal contamination in meat products. It doesn’t take a safety inspector to know that feces harbors a number of potentially dangerous bacteria, including both E. coli and listeria.

The Physicians Committee has previously examined the various contaminants in chicken and found the results alarming. Please see the infographic (click to enlarge) for more details on the Five Worst Contaminants in Chicken.

Considering all the health and safety risks, the best course of action for consumers is to leave the meat on the grocery shelves. (And sanitize your shopping cart while you’re at it.) Pick up a box of lentils instead and make a spicy curry or some hearty lentils burgers. Your cholesterol (and your unscathed intestines) will thank you.

And if neither nutrition nor foodborne illness is enough to set off your alarm bells, here’s a quote out of yesterday’s Washington Post from a representative of the inspectors union: “Tremendous amounts of fecal matter remain on the carcasses… Not small bits, but chunks.”


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