Vegetarian Diets Flex Their Muscles in New Research
New Diet Beats Drugs for People with Diabetes
PCRM and Georgetown University doctors have found that a vegetarian diet reduces or eliminates the need for medicines in two-thirds of patients with diabetes, even without exercise. The study was small—with just 11 patients—but the results were dramatically better than those with conventional diets.
"Because of the study," said one participant, "I no longer need medicine for diabetes."
Participants had a dramatic reduction in the amount of sugar in their blood, the standard test for diabetes, and lost a tremendous amount of weight—16 pounds in 12 weeks, on average. The diet was based on grains, vegetables, beans, and fruit, with no calorie limit.
The study was conducted by Andrew Nicholson, M.D., of PCRM, and Mark Sklar, M.D., of Georgetown University, and their colleagues. It appears in the August 1999 issue of Preventive Medicine, a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The study was intended simply as a pilot study, and a larger trial is planned. However, the results were so striking, the researchers released their early findings.
"People with diabetes are at great risk for heart attacks, kidney disease, and even blindness. This new approach fights these risks better than any previous diet," said PCRM president Neal D. Barnard, M.D.
Previous studies had used low-fat, plant-based diets, but all had also prescribed vigorous exercise, so there was no way to sort out the effect of the diet. This was the first study to isolate the effect of diet. In practice, exercise should be combined with diet changes and will accentuate their effect.
"If these findings are confirmed in a larger study, it is strong evidence that a low-fat, vegetarian diet is the treatment of choice for persons with diabetes," Dr. Barnard said.
Nicholson AS, Sklar M, Barnard ND, Gore S, Sullivan R, Browning S. Toward improved management of NIDDM: a randomized, controlled, pilot intervention using a lowfat, vegetarian diet. Prev Med. 1999;29:87-91.
Diet/Drug Combo Rescues High-Risk Heart Patients
A new diet and drug combination rescues patients from life-threatening heart disease without the use of surgery, according to a new 12-year study conducted by Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D., a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic and a member of PCRM's Advisory Board.
The study gave results of 18 patients who had followed the diet/drug regimen at the Cleveland Clinic for 12 years. All had had severe heart disease at the outset. After 5 years, angiographic tests showed signs of reversal of heart disease in most. After 12 years, all but one of the patients were still alive and well.
One patient, Evelyn Oswick, had been told by a previous doctor that her condition was so hopeless all she could do was "go home and wait to die." Now, 14 years later, she is teaching at a local university and frequently goes dancing with her husband. "I realized I wasn't ready to die," she said.
Dr. Esselstyn had become concerned about the limitations of current treatments for heart and cancer patients and became convinced that diet changes could be key.
The diet was vegetarian—no chicken, fish, or other meat, and no dairy products except for nonfat milk or yogurt—because all animal products contain cholesterol, and even chicken and fish hold surprising amounts of fat. But most patients welcomed the change. "I wouldn't underestimate the American people," Dr. Esselstyn said. "By tradition and culture, much of the rest of the planet eats this way. We can, too."
Breakthrough studies by Dean Ornish, M.D., showed that a vegetarian diet, in combination with modest exercise, stress reduction, and smoking cessation, can reverse existing heart disease. The current study shows that results continue over the long term and dramatically cut the risk of later heart attacks.
Dr. Esselstyn is the author of more than 150 scientific publications and is head of the Section of Thyroid and Parathyroid Surgery at the Cleveland Clinic, and associate professor in the Department of Surgery at the Ohio State University School of Medicine. Dr. Esselstyn grew up on a cattle farm in upper New York state but adopted a vegetarian diet after becoming convinced of its health benefits. He won an Olympic gold medal in rowing in 1956. The study was published in the American Journal of Cardiology in August.
Esselstyn CB Jr. Updating a 12-year experience with arrest and reversal therapy for coronary heart disease (an overdue requiem for palliative cardiology). Am J Cardiol. 1999;84:339-341.