METI’s Column - Another harmful effect of animal-based diet

By Dr Walter Vermeulen 10 March 2024, 11:00AM

In our previous column, we presented evidence of the harmful effects of the excessive amount of protein that is usually part of the standard animal-based diet that most of our people now consume. In this column, we will focus on another harmful effect of an animal-based diet that typically includes meat, fish, eggs and dairy products.

These products contain excessive amounts of dietary acids, which lead to metabolic acidosis. Metabolic acidosis is a clinical disturbance that -to be understood- requires some basic chemistry terms to be clarified.  The pH of a substance is a measure of how acidic or basic the substance is. Measured on a scale from 0 to 14, pH reflects the concentration of hydrogen ions in a solution. In pure water, which is neutral (neither acidic nor basic), the concentration of hydrogen ions corresponds to a pH of 7.0.

Metabolic acidosis is defined by a pH of less than 7.35 and a low bicarbonate level. The body automatically adjusts when it notices an imbalance in pH. The mechanisms it uses to push the acid-base balance back toward the ideal pH. The process whereby the body corrects this is by making our bones release alkaline materials. Whereas this restores the precise pH level needed to sustain health, it makes the bones brittle by the excess amount of calcium that is released together with carbonates, citrates and sodium. This process weakens the bones, leading to a condition called osteoporosis, which is the cause of increased hip fractures, especially affecting women after menopause.

For the past 20-odd years, numerous scientific studies have reported on this phenomenon making it impossible to refute that the routine consumption of animal products leads to osteoporosis and increased hip fractures. Or as Dr John McDougall once wryly remarked: ‘the chronic overconsumption of dietary acids … essentially causes you to pee your bones into the toilet’! One would have hoped that the evidence -as reported in these medical articles printed in reputable medical journals- would have triggered a change in medical practice, such as recommending consuming more fruits and vegetables to prevent osteoporosis and increased bone fractures. But over a length of time of decades, one is bound to observe that in the medical field, most doctors are reluctant to change the routine treatments they have been used to for years. It reminds me of my personal experience with such a conventional attitude.

In 2002, I suffered a massive heart attack and later was referred to a New Zealand interventionist cardiologist, who inserted a ‘stent’ in one of my coronary arteries. Upon recovery, I asked the doctor’s opinion about a 1998 article I had read, authored by Dr. Dean Ornish and his team, the so-called Lifestyle Heart Trial, which showed that a low-fat vegetarian diet combined with other lifestyle change interventions led to a reversal of coronary artery disease. In comparison, the control group that was told to continue their usual eating habits showed progression of their heart disease.  

Based on this convincing evidence, I asked my cardiologist friend for his opinion.  He advised me that one would need to see similar results in other such trials before he would change his routine advice to his patients on diet.

 It would take me suffering another heart attack, getting four more stents inserted in my coronary arteries and another 10 years of harmful eating habits before the ‘critical’ number of research papers were published that catapulted the whole foods plant-based diet to the forefront as the preferred way to treat non-communicable diseases (NCD) like diabetes, heart disease, chronic kidney disease and cancer.  Yet, even with such mounting undeniable evidence that the WFPB diet if strictly followed can reverse cardio-vascular disease, the routine management of such diseases like osteoporosis still shies away from the plant-based nutritional approach. All we can hope for is that ‘the clock is ticking’ and that eventually a critical mass of doctors will move reputed professional organizations to recommend new guidelines based on the latest research.

As always, we invite you to visit METI’s Healthy Living Clinic at House No. 51 at Motootua (across from the Kokobanana Restaurant) and attend our weekly Health seminar and cooking demonstration that will help you to become acquainted with METI’s whole food plant-based diet. You can call us at 30550.

in response to just one study standing alone that recommends a different approach.

•             Traditional dietary recommendations to renal patients limited the intake of fruits and vegetables because of their high potassium content. However, this paradigm is rapidly changing due to the multiple benefits derived from a fundamentally vegetarian diet.

•             Metabolic acidosis in chronic kidney disease (CKD) is aggravated by the high consumption of meat and refined cereals, increasing the dietary acid load.

•             On the contrary, the intake of fruit and vegetables can neutralize acidosis and its deleterious consequences.

It is well understood that when we keep eating protein after we’ve met our daily requirements, the body seeks to eliminate the excess. The most important way of elimination is through the liver and the kidneys. Excess protein intake takes its toll, even when we are strong and healthy. Research has proven that on average, we lose a quarter of our overall kidney function over 70 years of life, just from consuming a diet high in animal protein. In practical terms, local statistics indicate that about 17% of diabetics present with some degree of kidney impairment. It is the high protein content in the animal-based diet that patients suffering from kidney disease are routinely recommended to consume which further degrades their kidney function.

Luckily, as we have informed the readers in an earlier column, KDIGO the top professional body advising the medical profession on the preferred treatment of diabetes and chronic kidney disease (CKD) has now -since 2020- presented clear guidelines that state: “Patients with diabetes and CKD should consume an individualized diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fiber, legumes, plant-based proteins, unsaturated fats, and nuts; and lower in processed meats, refined carbohydrates, and sweetened beverages.”

KDIGO, which stands for ‘Kidney disease: Improving Global Outcomes’ is an independent organization, originally established in 2003 by the US National Kidney Foundation with the mission to improve care and outcomes of patients with kidney disease worldwide through the development and coordination of clinical practice guidelines. Cornerstones of KDIGO's guideline development process are independent, multidisciplinary, international workgroups composed of top specialists in their field of work and open public review of each guideline. METI in its management of patients with CKD is following these KDIGO guidelines and is obtaining successful outcomes, provided the patients strictly follow the WFPB diet.

By Dr Walter Vermeulen 10 March 2024, 11:00AM
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