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Preventing lifestyle diseases with a plant-based diet

  1. Welfare diseases have been the number 1 cause of death in the Netherlands for many years. In 2015, 45,716 people died from cancer and 39,300 people from cardiovascular disease. Many other lifestyle diseases also cause many fatalities every year, such as diabetes and COPD. These diseases are called lifestyle diseases, because they mainly occur in countries with a Western diet with a lot of animal proteins and fats, processed foods and alcohol in combination with little exercise. Scientists have been researching the causes and prevention of lifestyle diseases for decades. Many of these studies show that the risk of lifestyle diseases is greatly reduced with a plant-based diet of plenty of vegetables, fruit, legumes, fiber-rich grains, nuts and seeds.

​​Lifestyle diseases: strong link with Western lifestyle

  1. ​​Cancer and cardiovascular disease are directly associated with a 'Western' lifestyle. In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the alarm in a report in which the organization predicted that the number of worldwide cancer cases would rise to nearly 25 million per year by 2035 if people did not change their lifestyle. Important risk factors mentioned by the WHO are smoking, obesity, an unhealthy diet with little fruit and vegetables, lack of exercise, alcohol consumption and unhealthy air.

Vegetarians and vegans are less likely to develop lifestyle diseases

  1. In 2012 Karger published an analysis of various studies into the risk of cancer in vegetarians. Seven studies were combined in this analysis, with a total of 124,706 participants. It showed that vegetarians have an 18% lower risk of cancer than non-vegetarians. The risk of cardiovascular disease was found to be 12 to 16% smaller with a vegetarian diet. In this study, other factors (such as smoking, alcohol consumption, exercise, and obesity) have been neutralized.

Vegans: even fewer cancer cases

  1. Another study from Loma Linda University that same year found that vegans further reduce their risk of lifestyle diseases. For example, female vegans are 34% less likely to be affected by breast, ovarian and cervical cancers.

Health Effects of a Plant-Based Diet

  1. In 2015 Dr. Michael Greger published the book How not to die? about the preventive and healing effects of a plant-based diet. The book quotes from a very extensive number of studies and devotes a separate chapter to each lifestyle disease. 132 pages of the 545 pages are devoted to notes and references. Dr. Greger's conclusion: a plant-based diet substantially reduces the risk of lifestyle diseases and that effect is visible very quickly. So it's never too late to forgo meat and processed foods. Greger refers in his book to a lot of scientific research into the health effects of vegetables, fruit and herbs. He is still collecting new research on the Nutrition Facts website. There are many videos and podcasts to be found there, classified by nutrients and diseases of affluence.

Genetic traits?

  1. Dr. Greger also shows that genetic traits are only responsible to a very limited extent for an increased risk of lifestyle diseases. For example, it turns out that Japanese people who have moved to the United States quickly run the same risk of colon cancer or pancreatic cancer, for example, as Americans. This means that they have a much higher risk of cancer than fellow countrymen who continued to live in Japan.

A plant-based diet also has healing and inhibitory effects

  1. The good news is that it's never too late to start a plant-based diet. Dean Ornish and Elizabeth Blackburn published a study in 2013 into the growth of the enzyme telomerase through a healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegetables. Telomerase is an enzyme with restorative properties that has been associated with longer life. They found that a vegan diet at three months was good for changes in 500 different genes, amplifying the 'good' genes and weakening the 'bad' ones. In this way, not only did participants' blood pressure and cholesterol levels improve, but also the growth of cancer cells was inhibited and people got rid of their diabetes.

Breast cancer inhibited by vegan diet

  1. The same study showed that in women with breast cancer who followed a vegan diet, the growth of new cancer cells was inhibited after just two weeks. This means that our body has a strong recovery and healing capacity, as long as we help it with the right nutrition.

What does a plant-based diet consist of?

  1. Simply put, plant nutrients form the basis. That means several servings of (fresh) vegetables per day, at least two pieces of fruit and a lot of legumes (beans, lentils and peas) and whole grains (such as wheat, rye, spelled, brown rice). Nuts and seeds are a good source of fat. A plant-based diet does not have to be completely vegetarian or vegan. Every improvement counts and small amounts of extra vegetables seem to have a big effect.

Other factors

  1. Besides nutrition, other factors play a role in reducing the risk of lifestyle diseases. The most important thing is to quit smoking. Lung cancer is by far the most common cancer and in 90% of cases the cause is smoking or second-hand smoke. Other important factors are sufficient exercise and little alcohol. And finally: happiness. With a plant-based diet you can significantly reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, but it does not exclude the development of lifestyle diseases.

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