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A review of 30 years of research has suggested that vegetarians may be at higher risk for heart disease.

by Dr. Alan Christianson — 

New research shows that vegans and vegetarians may be at higher risk for heart disease; how perchlorate affects the thyroid gland; how low-carbohydrate diets affect diabetes; that low fat may not be as bad as we have been told; and that getting a good night’s sleep is a problem for most Americans.

 

Vegans at risk for heart disease

A review of 30 years of research has suggested that vegetarians may be at higher risk for heart disease. Some cardiovascular risk factors, such as Body Mass Index and total cholesterol, are lower in vegetarians than in meat eaters. Yet, strict vegans tend to have a higher risk factor for an elevated homocysteine level due to a lack of vitamin B-12 and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), an essential omega-3 fat.

The vitamin B-12 can easily be supplemented in the vegan diet via sublingual tablets or injections, for those who are more deficient. B-12 is synthesized from non-animal sources. Omega-3 fats are found in both plants and animals, but the most potent heart protective form, EPA, only occurs naturally in animal foods such as fish, fish oil and grass-fed beef.

Some humans can convert plant-based omega-3 fats into EPA, but ironically, many nutrients needed for this conversion are lacking in the vegan diet. I encourage patients who avoid all animal products to undergo tests to determine if they are able to form EPA in their bodies from plant-based omega-3 fats. If they are not, the conversion can usually be helped nutritionally.

Reference: Duo Li. Chemistry behind vegetarianism. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2011: 110104095843036.

 

Why do people get thyroid disease?

Nearly all thyroid disease is caused by an autoimmune reaction to the gland, triggered by a combination of genetic susceptibility and a toxic environment. One of the most common triggers is a chemical called perchlorate, which was the topic of new Environmental Protection Agency legislation in February 2011.

For decades, scientists have fought to have perchlorate monitored and restricted in our water supply. California has already done this and, now, so will the federal government.

Perchlorate occurs naturally in some soils and is also a man-made chemical used in rocket fuel, explosives, fertilizers and fireworks. Because its thyroid-slowing effect is so well known, it was once used as a medicine to slow cases of overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism).

To avoid perchlorate, use only purified water. To remove it from your body, consume 200 mcg of selenium and at least one-half cup of brown rice daily.

Reference: EPA to develop standard for perchlorate. Endocrine Today, posted February 4, 2011.

 

Do low-carbohydrate diets prevent diabetes? It depends.

A group of 40,475 nondiabetic health care workers were tracked for 20 years. Every four years they completed dietary questionnaires and were tracked for the development of type 2 diabetes. Diets low in carbohydrate but high in fat and animal protein showed an elevated risk for type 2 diabetes, especially for diets high in red meat. Low-carbohydrate diets that were higher in vegetable protein showed decreased risk.

Comment: This is just one more study showing that lowering carbohydrates alone will lower diabetes risk. Other well-done recent studies have shown that low-carbohydrate diets are not superior to other diet types in terms of initial weight loss, long-term weight loss or dietary adherence.

Reference: Koning L, Fung T, et al. Low-carbohydrate diet scores and risk of type 2 diabetes in men. 2011 American Society for Nutrition.

 

Low fat may not be that bad

The Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification trial studied a low-fat diet (<20 percent of calories) on disease risks in women. At years 1 and 3, the low-fat diet has shown more lean body mass and less fat mass than the group on the control diet.

Comment: How much protein, fat or carbohydrate we should consume moves up and down based on current trends. In the 1960s and ’70s, low carb was the key to weight loss. Low fat had a good run in the 1980s and ’90s. Balanced diets had a far too brief run in the late ’90s.  Now I think we are starting over. In reality, overall health and weight are best controlled when an appropriate number of calories from a healthy balance of fat, protein and carbohydrate are consumed.

Reference: Carty C, Kooperberg C, et al. Low-fat dietary pattern and change in body-composition traits in the Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial. 2011 American Society for Nutrition.

 

If you are too wired to sleep, try unplugging

Results from a National Sleep Foundation poll released March 7, 2011, found that pervasive use of communications technology in the hour before going to bed hinders sleep. It also found that 60 percent of Americans experience sleep problems most nights. Two-thirds of Americans say they rarely get a good night’s sleep on weekdays. Although the types of devices varied by age groups, a full 95 percent of those polled reported using some type of electronics immediately prior to bedtime.

Comment: Numerous studies have shown that one of the most controllable factors in improving sleep hygiene is avoiding all display screens for at least an hour prior to bedtime. This includes computers, iPads, smartphones, TVs and video-game display units.

Reference: National Sleep Foundation Annual Sleep in America Poll Exploring Connections with Communications Technology Use and Sleep.

 

Alan Christianson, N.M.D., has been practicing in Scottsdale, Ariz., for more than 14 years. He is the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Thyroid Disease. He practices at Integrative Health, along with Drs. Ann Lovick and Phil Wazny. 480-657-0003 or www.integrativehealthcare.com.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 30, Number 2, April/May 2011.

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