Why Plant-Based Nutrition?

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

Dr Scott Stoll is one of the driving forces of the International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference. He and his 2 co-founders, Tom Dunnam and Susan Benigas, hold a grand vision; one that, in fact, was first put into words at the beginning of the 20th century by the brilliant inventor Thomas Edison:

“The doctor of the future will give no medicine but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”

Judging by the passion and energy with which Dr Stoll and his colleagues are approaching this gargantuan task, “the future” may come sooner than many of us have feared. Let’s hope so!

Dr Stoll’s presentation at the PBNHC followed directly on Professor T. Colin Campbell’s, which I reported on in last week’s blog, and it elegantly illustrated one of the 6 key principles of nutrition that Campbell outlined:

The nutritional effects of a whole food, plant-based diet (WFPBD) are broad and rapid.

The topic Dr Stoll chose to focus on was vasculopathy – disorders of blood vessels, in all their many forms. You simply can’t understand blood vessel disorders without comprehending the structure and functions of endothelial cells. Endothelial cells, or ECs, are the cells that line our blood vessels. If you laid them end-to-end, they would circle the Earth twice, and laid side-by-side they cover the surface area of 6 tennis courts.

Their major function is to produce the gas nitric oxide, which acts like Teflon on a non-stick pan – it keeps all the components of the blood flowing freely, instead of adhering to the blood vessel wall. When ECs are not functioning correctly, the blood vessel wall becomes more like Velcro, causing blood components to stick to it, and initiating an atherosclerotic plaque.

As Dr Stoll pointed out, the consequences of EC dysfunction are many and varied, and the different names given to all these conditions obscure the common origin that they spring from. For example, EC dysfunction causes:

  • Chronic low back pain. 77% of patients with severe long-term nonspecific low back pain were found to have lumbar and/or middle sacral arteries that were occluded by atherosclerotic plaque (the end result of EC dysfunction).
  • Rotator cuff injury. Almost all sufferers of this painful and frustrating shoulder condition were found to have atherosclerosis in the arteries supplying the bones, tendons and muscles of the shoulder girdle.
  • Erectile dysfunction. Two-thirds of men with clinically significant coronary artery disease also have ED, but the signs and symptoms of ED typically appear 2-3 years before any symptoms of coronary artery disease show up. That’s why urologists are now referring to ED as ‘the canary in the coal mine’.
  • Peripheral vasculopathy. Many sufferers of this condition have a genetic polymorphism called Glu298Asp, which affects the activity of the enzyme that ECs use to synthesises nitric oxide.
  • Diabetic neuropathy. This painful condition, which costs up to US$20 000 per year to manage, is caused by damage to nerves that’s driven largely by EC dysfunction.
  • Alzheimer’s disease. While amyloid plaques have long been the focus of Alzheimer’s research, Dr Stoll described how the ‘2 hit hypothesis’ has largely taken over: Alzheimer’s begins with artery damage, caused by EC dysfunction, and then amyloid beta deposits occur at the site of injury.

So what can we do to prevent or reverse the conditions caused by EC dysfunction? Stop injuring our arteries with:

  • Animal products (which contain EC-damaging saturated and trans fats, advanced glycation end-products [AGEs], and a host of chemical toxins that bioaccumulate up the food chain);
  • Refined carbohydrates and vegetable oils (which induce oxidative stress);
  • Salt (which causes EC damage and arterial stiffness even if it doesn’t raise blood pressure), and of course
  • Cigarette smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, one of the most potent agents of EC damage yet discovered.

In place of all that toxic food, we should fill our plates with EC-nurturing green leafy vegetables (more on that when I summarise Dr Caldwell Esselstyn’s presentation in a couple of weeks) and other colourful vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and small amounts of nuts and seeds – especially omega 3-rich seeds such as flax, chia and hemp.

How long does it take to work? In the case of diabetic neuropathy, pain relief can occur in as little as a couple of days – even in diabetics who have been heavily medicated and in terrible pain for years! Switching to a plant-based diet restores endothelial function in the penile artery so rapidly that erectile function can be restored in just weeks. The rewards of going plant-based appear much more rapidly and reliably than any benefits gained from medications… and the only ‘side-effects’ are positive ones such as weight loss, increased energy, more attractive skin, lower cholesterol and blood pressure.