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Be vegan, live longer

Becoming a vegetarian can be one of the life-changing decisions one can make. In last week’s column, we wrote about the travails a vegetarian usually encounters in a predominantly carnivorous society. But at the end of the day, most vegetarians appear convinced it’s the right way to eat; and such conviction is worth enduring all the challenges that come with it.

One religious group which has incorporated its health teachings in its doctrines is the Seventh Day Adventists (SDAs). Members of the church are encouraged to eat a well-balanced plant-based diet. Meat is generally avoided; and to make up for their protein requirements, they eat legumes, whole grains, nuts, fruits and a lot of vegetables.

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Most SDAs are vegans (they eat no animal products at all), while some are lacto-ova vegetarians (they eat eggs and dairy foods). Probably among the most health-conscious people I know, SDAs don’t smoke, drink alcohol and use “mind-altering substances.”

Some people have the misconception that vegetarian dishes are not pleasing to the palate. One can have a pleasant surprise when one tries the healthy and delicious vegetarian dishes at the Healthy Bites restaurant at the Adventist Medical Center Manila (AMCM) in Pasay City.

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Kudos to AMCM president Dr. Bibly Macaya and head of communications and marketing Pastor Abdul Rajagukguk, for converting the place to one of the frequented vegetarian gourmet restaurants in the city. The cozy ambiance of the place no doubt adds to its popularity. Its interiors were personally designed by no less than the wife of the president, Lani Macaya.

Increased average life spans

One of the big incentives for vegans is the increase in the average life spans, as noted among those who generally adhere to a plant-based diet. This is well supported by the series of researches in the Adventist Health Study (AHS), conducted among SDAs in Loma Linda, California, which compared them to other Californians.

Based on the AHS, on average Adventist men live 7.3 years and Adventist women 4.4 years longer than other Californians.

The first major study in the AHS was started in 1960, and was known as the Adventist Mortality Study. The researchers followed 22,940 Californian Adventists closely for five years, and this was extended to 25 years at the end of the study.

The initial study showed an increase in life span by 6.2 years in Adventist men and 3.7 years in Adventist women. These statistics were based on a stringent life table analyses.

The researchers looked at the specific death rates from various causes and reported lower cancer rates, as follows:

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  • Death rate from all cancers was 60 percent lower for Adventist men and 76 percent lower for Adventist women;
  • Lung cancer was lower by 21 percent;
  • Colorectal cancer lower by 62 percent;
  • Breast cancer lower by 85 percent;
  • Coronary heart disease lower by 66 percent in Adventist men, and 98 percent for Adventist women.

A follow-up study called the Adventist Health Study 1 (AHS 1) was conducted from 1974 to 1988, involving approximately 34,000 Californian Adventists aged over 25. Expanding the initial mortality (death rate) study, the purpose of this follow-up was to find out which components of the Adventist lifestyle protected them against cancer and other diseases, and extended their life spans.

These were the findings in the second study:

  • Five simple health behaviors the SDAs have been generally practicing for more than 100 years (not smoking, eating a plant-based diet, eating nuts several times per week, exercising regularly and maintaining normal body weight) appeared to be responsible for the increase in their life spans up to a maximum of 10 years.
  • Reducing consumption of red and white meat is associated with the decrease of colon cancer.
  • Eating legumes has a protective effect against colon cancer.
  • Eating nuts several times a week reduces the risk of a heart attack by up to 50 percent.
  • Eating whole wheat bread instead of white bread reduces nonfatal heart attack risk by 45 percent.
  • Drinking five or more glasses of water a day may help reduce circulatory diseases by 50 percent.
  • A high consumption of tomatoes reduces the risk of prostate cancer in men by 40 percent.
  • Drinking soy milk more than once daily may also reduce prostate cancer by 70 percent.

Another study that was published earlier this year is the Adventist Health Study 2 (AHS-2), which began in 2002. It increased the number of Adventists being followed by up to 125,000 SDAs outside of California; and the researchers analyzed the links between lifestyle, diet and disease among the broader base of SDAs in America and Canada. This study is being funded by the National Cancer Institute.

Study findings

These are some of the findings:

  • Vegans had much lower chances of being overweight or obese, or having the so-called Metabolic Syndrome (hypertension, diabetes, abdominal obesity, increased blood triglycerides, low good cholesterol or HDL).
  • Vegans have lower cancer rates similar to what was seen in AHS 1.

“The balance of scientific evidence seems to implicate red meat and processed meat as being linked to a higher risk of colorectal cancer, whereas a diet rich in fiber—not fiber supplements—is linked with lower risk,” the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Michael Orlich, said during a media briefing. “The vegans, lacto-ovo vegetarians and pescovegetarians (fish plus plant-based diet) in our study all avoid red and processed meat and eat an increased amount of a variety of whole plant foods.”

In AHS 2, the least at-risk of the vegetarian groups were the pescovegetarians, or vegetarians who eat fish. The authors reported that they were 43 percent less likely to develop cancer. However, Dr. Gary Fraser, principal investigator for the main AHS 2 and a coauthor to all AHS 2 substudies, cautioned against making the conclusion that everyone should eat more fish.

He clarified that the main message of the study is to avoid all meats, as the study showed that all vegetarians as a group did better than the nonvegetarians. “Thus from this paper alone what one can really say is that replacing meats with vegetables, nuts, legumes and fruits will most likely decrease risk of colorectal cancer,” he advised.

There can be no more question that a plant-based diet does not only make one feel good, but actually increases one’s longevity by reducing one’s risk of developing cancers, heart disease and other top killers. However, translating this to actual practice is the big challenge which all of us have to take for our own good.

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TAGS: Diet, findings, Health, SDA, Statistics, Studies, the Seventh Day Adventists, Vegan, vegetarian
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