Alcohol enemy of plant-based diet

By Dr. Walter Vermeulen. 13 November 2022, 3:00PM

In previous columns we have focused on lifestyle changes that are necessary to maintain or regain health, especially if we want to reverse non-communicable disease (NCD) conditions like Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and others. 

And so, we have touched on the need to adopt a whole food plant based (WFPB) diet, but in addition, to regularly exercise, to control your stress levels and maintain supportive social bonds and to stay away or quit tobacco use. 

In this column we will focus on how to tackle alcohol use. From times immemorial humanity has been drinking alcoholic beverages, but that is not a valid argument for its use: weapons have also been around for a long time, but we wouldn’t want to advocate for their use! 

As far as alcohol is concerned it is generally not excluded from the WFPB diet but we urge patients to limit their intake to one or two ounces of alcohol a day, which is equivalent to one or two cans of beer or glasses of wine. At the same time, we urge patients with heart or kidney disease or cancer to stay away from alcohol all together. That is because alcohol has direct, toxic effects on the muscle of the heart. 

As far as the link with cancer is concerned, the possible association between the consumption of alcohol and excessive mortality from cancer has been reported in medical journals for more than a hundred years. In men, alcohol causes mostly head and neck cancers, and gastrointestinal cancers, whereas it’s mostly breast cancer in women. Yeah, but isn’t that just among heavy drinkers? No. 

In the case of breast cancer, “All levels of evidence show…a risk relationship between alcohol consumption and the risk of breast cancer, even at low levels of consumption.” “Alcohol has been shown to increase sex hormone levels,” like estrogen, which may increase breast cancer risk. 

So then, if the evidence is there, why don’t we exclude alcohol all together from the WFPB diet?  Because eating such a diet may help modulate that risk. Indeed, alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer, but “a fiber-rich diet [may have] the opposite effect.” 

Eating more whole plant foods may be able to “ease the adverse effects” of alcohol. As a protection against breast cancer, “Fiber [abundant in the WFPB diet appears to] bind the female hormone, estrogen, in the colon” and help flush it out of the body. Wouldn’t that be a marvellous publicity stunt when beer manufacturers would add to their labels: 

‘We urge consumers to follow the WFPB diet for extra protection’! Additional evidence for the protection provided by the WFPB diet is the observation that people in all Blue Zones (areas in the world where there is an unusual amount of centenarians) regularly consume one or two glasses of wine a day. But as Dan Buettner, the National Geographic Fellow, who studied the ‘Blue Zones’ quipped: ‘And no, you can’t save up all week and have 14 drinks on Saturday!’ 

The beneficial effects of wine are linked to the phytochemical named resveratrol that is found in the skins of red grapes (but it is also found in other foods like peanuts, removing the excuse for having to drink wine!) But the other benefit of consuming a moderate amount of alcohol comes from having a meal with friends at the end of the day, reducing stress, which we have identified earlier to be good for overall health.

So, while we cautiously allow a moderate amount of alcohol to be consumed, there is no place for excessive or ‘binge’ drinking. Such behaviour cannot be considered a healthy lifestyle! Even the advertising for alcoholic drinks includes the advice to consume these drinks responsibly (which implies to be moderate in alcohol consumption). 

In the meantime, we invite you to visit METI’s Healthy Living Clinic at House No. 51 at Motootua (across from the Kokobanana Restaurant) and become acquainted with METI’s whole food plant based diet and Lifestyle Change program. Or call us at 30550. Learning how to follow these Programs might be your ‘game changer’!


By Dr. Walter Vermeulen. 13 November 2022, 3:00PM
Samoa Observer

Upgrade to Premium

Subscribe to
Samoa Observer Online

Enjoy unlimited access to all our articles on any device + free trial to e-Edition. You can cancel anytime.