The Plant Rx

Your resource for a plant-based diet

Archive for January, 2011

How does a plant-based diet prevent disease? A short lesson

Posted by Jenn on January 31, 2011


There is an ever-growing mountain of evidence substantiating the numerous health benefits that a plant-based diet provides.

This colorized scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of red blood cells in an artery shows a layer of endothelial cells (beige) surrounded by muscle (pink). by: Steve Gschmeissner / Photo Researchers Inc.

Peer-reviewed medical paper after peer-reviewed medical paper published in the most well-respected of journals have shown that a plant-based diet free of meat and dairy products is the single most powerful tool we have at our disposal to prevent and fight disease.

Not only can heart disease and diabetes be prevented but the disease progression can be stopped and reversed. If that wasn’t enough there is a multitude of research showing how the consumption of a plant-based diet’s can prevent cancer, dramatically reduce cancer recurrence rates, reduce cognitive impairment as we age (Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia) and reduce osteoporosis in addition to a myriad of others. This being the case, how exactly does something as seemingly simple and low-tech as one’s diet manage to do these things?

The short answer is this: via a gas called nitric oxide which is produced by our endothelial cells.  The problem with this very brief explanation is that most people have never heard of nitric oxide, much less endothelial cells. Consequently, that probably isn’t going to help most people understand how the very important the daily decision to eat a plant-based diet is able to accomplish such incredible feats.

What the heck are endothelial cells? and what the heck is Nitric Oxide (NO)? and how do they accomplish the mammoth task of keeping us healthy?

Endothelial cells are the thin single-layer of cells that line the interior surface of all blood vessels.  They are the cells that come in direct contact with blood flowing through our cardiovascular system.  A “healthy” endothelium can be best described as having like a Teflon coating on the vessels’ inner walls; this non-sticky quality enhancing the flow of blood.  An “unhealthy” endothelium, by contrast, acts like Velcro, grabbing white blood cells, platelets and cholesterol and packing them against the inner wall of the blood vessels narrowing them = causing the vessels to thicken over time, thereby inhibiting the flow of blood. This accumulation of “material” leads to the formation of  what are called atherosclerotic “plaques”.

healthy vs unhealthy endothelium

A healthy endothelium is not being covered by any plaque and therefore has the ability to release many beneficial substances into the blood stream.  An unhealthy endothelium  eventually narrows and thickens and resultantly loses flexibility.  The vessels can no longer expand as they should when the heart pumps blood through them. Pumping blood into stiff arteries containing plaque increases resistance to blood flow causing the heart to work harder. Your blood pressure must increase to pump the same volume of blood through these vessels.

That being said, what then determines the overall health of our endothelial cells that make up our endothelium? In other words what makes our endothelium non-stick or sticky?

That is where Nitric Oxide (NO) comes in. Remember, a healthy endothelium is able to release many beneficial substances into our blood stream.  (Note: we are born with a very healthy endothelium which means until we create an environment in which plaques are created, our vessels are healthy, slick and without plaque)  Nitric oxide is one of these substances.  Nitric oxide has a number of important functions.  One of its primary functions according to Dr. Louis J. Ignarro, the 1998 Nobel Prize winner in Medicine,

“…is to help keep the arteries and veins free of the plaque that causes stroke and to maintain normal blood pressure by relaxing arteries, thereby regulating the rate of blood flow and preventing coronaries (heart attacks)”.

He goes on to explain that,

“Nitric oxide is the body’s natural cardiovascular wonder drug”.

NO accomplishes this by controlling muscle tone of the blood vessels which directly impacts blood pressure control, inhibiting the aggregation of platelets and other particulate such as cholesterol and white blood cells.

Other functions worthy of note include: facilitation of proper kidney function, aiding in the transmission of messages between nerve cells, helping the immune system fight  viral, bacterial and parasitic infections as well as tumors, peristalsis, regulating inflammation, lowering of cholesterol levels and penile erection. Let’s discuss one of these functions in more detail to illustrate.

For example, erection of the penis during sexual excitation is mediated by NO release from the endothelial cells lining the blood vessels of the penis.  The NO release from the endothelial cells cause the blood to pool in the adjacent blood sinuses producing an erection.  Thus, if NO cannot be produced (or produced in sufficient amounts) as the result of a damaged endothelium, then an erection cannot occur. This is why difficulty getting or maintaining an erection is indicative of impending or active heart disease (= ample accumulation of plaque).  If you are currently experiencing impotence, it would be a very good idea to see your doctor such that he or she can discern the cause.

How a poor diet results in poor erections

Causes of endothelial damage  and resultant plaque formation:

  • Smoking – it decreases good cholesterol (HDL) and increases bad cholesterol (LDL) that damages your endothelial cells. Further, nicotine directly damages endothelial cells and the carbon monoxide from cigarette smoke damages the endothelium too.
  • A high fat, high cholesterol diet (particularly animal fat from meat and dairy products; plants do NOT have cholesterol) – LDL directly damages endothelial cells.
  • A diet low in fiber content (animal products do NOT contain any fiber) – High fiber foods absorb bile salts that your body uses in digestion.  Your liver manufactures bile from cholesterol.  Thus, high fiber foods are a natural way to reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol.
  • Diabetes – When blood sugars are beyond the normal range it causes oxidative stress to the endothelial cells resulting in damage to them.
  • Being overweight or obese – Fat cells store vitamin D and vitamin D inhibits vessel calcification (plaques eventually get harder as a result of calcification). Thus, losing weight or being at a healthy weight keeps the vitamin D in your system allowing for utilization thereby preventing plaque calcification. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Alzheimer's Disease, Cancer Prevention, Cholesterol, Dementia, Depression, Diabetes, Heart Disease, In the Media, Inflammation, Stroke, Women's Health | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Preventing Breast Cancer: A plant-based diet

Posted by Jenn on January 30, 2011


Awareness is the key to breast cancer prevention. If you have a family history of breast cancer, it is essential that you have regular medical tests and mammograms. Don’t omit to check your breasts every month. Breast Self Examination can help in early detection of cancer. Women who have their children while in their mid-thirties run added risk of developing breast cancer. Breastfeeding the child reduces the risk of developing breast cancer.

Read on to find out how you can make dietary and lifestyle changes to prevent breast cancer.

Preventing breast cancer

  • It is essential to maintain healthy body weight; with BMI less than 25. With extra fat tissue, you run the increased risk of estrogen circulating in the body. Women with higher body weight are more predisposed to breast cancer.
  • Consequently a regular fitness regimen would aid in maintaining ideal body weight. This could help keep cancer at bay. Moderate aerobic activity boosts body’s protection against breast cancer.
  • Studies have shown a definite correlation between high intake of dietary fat and incidence of breast cancer. Keep away from saturated fats and trans-fats. Monounsaturated oils have tremendous cancer-fighting properties. Enrich your diet with nuts and seeds that provide selenium. Add Omega-3 fats and soy products. Lowering the fat intake can go a long way in helping you maintain good body weight. Lowered fat intake also helps in reducing the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
  • Your diet must contain many servings of breast cancer prevention foods – from broccoli and cabbage to brussel sprouts and dark leafy greens. Go in for carrots and berries and don’t omit the cruciferous vegetables. Avoid foods with high glycemic index and instead opt for whole grains, beans and legumes. Eat fruits high in phytochemicals, fiber and antioxidants. Include carotene-rich food such as mango, spinach, pumpkin, sweet potato, yams, chili peppers and greens.
  • Limit alcohol intake to not more than a drink of wine, beer or liquor a day. Increased alcohol intake has been linked to increased risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Certain types of breast cysts are known to increase the chance of breast cancer. Avoid Hormone Replacement Therapy as far as possible.

Source: http://www.targetwoman.com/articles/preventing-breast-cancer.html

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YumUniverse.com ‘s Interview of yours truly…

Posted by Jenn on January 25, 2011


http://www.yumuniverse.com/2011/01/21/the-plant-rx-plant-based-health-study-interview-with-dr-jenna-taylor/

Visit Heather Crosby’s YumUniverse to read the full interview (Link Above).


The Plant Rx Plant-Based Health Study: Interview with Dr. Jenna Taylor – By: Heather Crosby of YumUniverse.


If you do one thing for yourself and your health today, please take 10 minutes to read the following interview with Dr. Jenna Taylor, founder of The Plant Rx.

Jenna is an inspiring woman who is currently conducting a very important 60-day plant-based diet study, in which participants (StephanieNikkiVanessaMegan,John and Jax and Amber) will be changing their diets from either a Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) or a Vegetarian Diet, to a Plant-based (Vegan) diet for 60 days. Dr. Taylor and her team will be measuring the participants changes in health, both quantitatively and qualitatively—and in an effort to be as transparent as possible, all test results will be published at ThePlantRx.com.

Dr. Taylor’s perspectives not only as a physician, but as a vegan, are invaluable, and I am looking forward to sharing more of her progress and efforts to share the benefits of a plant-based diet with YU.

One of the most important things she said during our interview is that “[physicians] have been subjected to the same programming as you and I were and just like lots of other people out there, they still believe it. That being said, this is why it is imperative for people to be in charge of their own health. Ask questions, read, research, etc. No one is going to care more about you, than you do.”

Amen, sister.

– – –
YU: So, you have had some pretty significant personal results from adopting a plant-based diet. Tell us a little more about that.

Dr. T: I have and I didn’t expect any of them. Everything about transitioning toThe Plant Rx has been a positive, pleasant surprise. I was in very good health from a medical perspective, but I had no idea the harm that I was potentially causing my body.

You see, we practice what I call “reactionary” medicine in the United States. We don’t go to the doctor unless something is wrong. The problem with this approach is that many of us feel just fine until our mid-thirties, early forties or even longer. We don’t see what is happening on the inside of our bodies and our health system isn’t set up help us look at those things before that. In my case, the only “real” health issue I struggled with that I was aware of was Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). I didn’t think that it had anything to do with my diet as I had kept food logs and couldn’t identify any “trigger” foods so to speak. I would have episodes about once a month and the pain would be so terribly excruciating that I would literally pass out because my body could not tolerate it. Since adopting The Plant Rx diet I have not had one episode. Further, my cholesterol numbers got significantly better, I felt better—more energy, better sleep and I lost some weight too.

YU: What health goals do you have set for the future? Any issues you are dealing with now that you feel confident will go away eventually?
Dr. T: I feel great right now. I am rarely sick and the only issue I need to find a solution to is my poor posture while typing on my laptop! I plan on taking care of myself the way that I think we should practice medicine, preventatively. We need more of a focus on overall wellness in addition to The Plant Rx. This includes things like regular exercise, meditation and strong interpersonal relationships.

YU: How do you personally stay on track? Share some favorite tips (ie: travel, busy schedules, budget, dining out).
Dr. T: Planning ahead. The one thing that I wish I would have known when I transitioned was to always plan ahead because you will inevitably find yourself in a situation with little to no options for eating. For me, this means always keeping snacks with me. I make sure I have stuff at work and even a few things in the car. L.A. traffic is not kind to a hungry vegan at times!

At home, I cook on the weekends. I’m single, so cooking every night doesn’t make sense and I’m usually too tired by the time I get home from work and just want something, anything, as long as it’s immediate. Thus, I cook on the weekends and make enough to have left overs for my lunch that week and I freeze some of it so I can easily have something for times when I’m away for the weekend and don’t have the time to cook. Also, while I would prefer to have fresh organic fruits and veggies in the house, that isn’t really feasible all the time so I do buy a lot of frozen fruits and vegetables. Dining out can be a challenge, but I live by the “be creative” rule. I look at it this way, the worst case scenario is that the restaurant folks think I am difficult and weird when ordering, maybe my friends even will too, but that’s ok because I’m not going to get heart disease. I can live with that trade-off!

YU: What are your favorite plant-based meals?
Dr. T: For my Plant Rx I make super yummy pasta fagliole, chili and lentil loaf. My all-time favorite Plant Rx is a wheatberry curry casserole. The recipe as written should have chicken in it but I leave out the chicken and add more veggies.

YU: Are you eating any new foods now that you didn’t before (ie: quinoa, superfoods)?
Dr. T: Yes! I had never eaten quinoa or pomegranates, which are two of my favorites now. I also found out about this stuff called liquid aminos from Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn’s book. I love it and use it in a bunch of different things.

Click here to read the rest of the article at: YumUniverse.com

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Plant-Based Health Study has officially Kicked-off!

Posted by Jenn on January 15, 2011


Last night the participants and I had our official kick-off meeting at the Terranea Resort in Palos Verdes, CA.  We had a great time and participants are enjoying their very first day on their newly adopted plant-based diet. Make sure you click on the “Plant-based Health Study” page/tab to meet our participants and see their initial (baseline) lab results! Then, visit their individual pages to follow them throughout their journeys and give them support.

Pictures from the event:

Stephanie, Jenna, Christian, Megan and Matt

Discussing the Study over some drinks

Megan & Matt

Christian & Jenn

Vanessa, Megan , Matt and John

Stephanie and Megan

John & Jax

Stephanie & Jenn

Nikki, Vanessa, Megan, Matt and John

Jenn & Christian

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Press Release: Doctors Sue USDA, HHS for Ignoring Healthy Alternative to MyPyramid

Posted by Jenn on January 10, 2011


This news release is from PCRM.org 

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.

Petition Says Agencies Failing to Offer Americans Nutritionally Sound Guideline

WASHINGTON—A nonprofit physicians organization is suing two federal agencies for ignoring a healthier alternative to the confusing MyPyramid nutritional diagram, despite skyrocketing obesity and diabetes rates.  

In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine says the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services violated federal law by failing to respond to a PCRM petition offering a simple, plant-based alternative, the Power Plate, to MyPyramid.

“We are asking the government to protect the average American, not special agribusiness interests,” says PCRM nutrition education director Susan Levin, M.S., R.D. “MyPyramid is confusing, and it recommends meat and dairy products despite overwhelming evidence that these foods are unnecessary and unhealthy. Research shows the Power Plate is a better choice, and it’s simple enough that a child could follow it.”

Since the first Food Pyramid was introduced nearly two decades ago, obesity and diabetes have become commonplace. About 27 percent of young adults are now too overweight to qualify for military service, and an estimated one in three children born in 2000 will develop diabetes.

To address the worsening epidemics of obesity and diet-related diseases, the lawsuit says that USDA and HHS should exercise their joint authority under the National Nutrition Monitoring & Related Research Act to withdraw the MyPyramid diagram and adopt the Power Plate food diagram and dietary guidelines.

The colorful, user-friendly Power Plate graphic is based on current nutrition research showing that plant-based foods are the most nutrient-dense and help prevent chronic diseases. The graphic depicts a plate divided into four new food groups: fruits, grains, legumes, and vegetables. There are no confusing portion sizes and food hierarchies to follow; the Power Plate simply asks people to eat a variety of all four food groups each day. A website, ThePowerPlate.org, offers more information on plant-based diets.

For a copy of PCRM’s legal complaint or to schedule an interview with Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., contact Vaishali Honawar at 202-527-7339 orvhonawar@pcrm.org.

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.

URL:  http://www.pcrm.org/news/doctors_sue_usda_hhs_ignoring_healthy_alternative_mypyramid_110106.html

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Plant-based Study starts in 10 days! Preparations are underway…

Posted by Jenn on January 5, 2011


Baselines are being determined (lipid profiles, CBC, Blood Chemistry,carotid ultrasounds, BMI) this week and the beginning of next with our kick off meeting happening at the end of next.  The first official day of the study is Saturday, January 15th.  I am posting all of our participants Bios and baseline measurements on the “Plant-based Health Study” page.  Each participant will also have their own page in which they will blog about their transition to a plant-based diet, their adjustment to it and their progression from day 1 through Day 60 (the study’s endpoint).  A mid-point assessment will be made at day  30 and a final at day 60.   The same parameters will be measured each time. Have Questions? Want to know more? Just ask us!

Click here to go to the study home page!

Jenna, Vanessa, Ana and Eddie

Stephanie, Jenna & Vanessa

Vanessa"s blood draw

Blood Draw

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Bill Clinton Adopts a Plant-based diet (Video)

Posted by Jenn on January 3, 2011


Worth the encore! A must watch.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Posted in Cholesterol, Heart Disease, In the Media | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Rich Roll–> Plant-Strong: Let’s Get Things Started!

Posted by Jenn on January 3, 2011


(Source: http://www.richroll.com/2009/07/30/plant-strong-lets-get-things-started/)

In the wake of my recent article for CNN, I have received hundreds of e-mails from people all over the world wondering how I could train for and be competitive at an event like Ultraman on a diet entirely devoid of animal products. The queries ranged from curious wonderment to outright disbelief. Some called me irresponsible or even unrealistic. Some even called me a liar. No meat? No dairy?!? That is impossible!

No, it is not impossible. Not only is it possible, I suggest that in some cases, and for some people, it just might be advisable.

Just so we are clear — I am not a doctor. I’m not a registered nutritionist. But I have done my homework. And instituting a plant-based diet has made an unbelievable difference in my life. I believe it is the future. But please know that I am only here to share my personal experience, not to proselytize. Always consult your physician or registered dietician / nutritionist before implementing any drastic changes. Begin slowly, and be patient. This is not an overnight miracle — it is a long-term life changing plan that should be embraced as an ongoing “process” rather than a “destination” with an end point.

I realize that conventional wisdom suggests that one MUST eat meat and dairy if you want not only optimal wellness but also if you want to train and race at your peak, build muscle, and recovery properly. I respectfully disagree, at least when it comes to me. Maybe its the punk rocker that lives deep down inside me, but part of the past two years have involved taking this notion head on and putting it to the test. Turning it on its head. I think my personal transformation and Ultraman results speaks for itself.

In response to all the questions, this is the first in many posts in which I will share what I do and what has worked for me as I endure 20 – 30 hour training weeks in preparation for my second Ultraman World Championships, all while simultaneously working full-time and being a husband and a father.

First off, if this subject interests you at all, I suggest checking out a few books that are incredibly informative on the subject, two of which are written by incredible endurance athletes I respect tremendously:

THRIVE: by professional Ironman athlete, ultra-runner and friend Brendan Brazier. This book is a cornucopia of great scientifically backed information on not only overall wellness but also on performance nutrition on a plant-based diet. It is pretty fascinating.

THE ENGINE 2 DIET: by my buddy and former pro triathlete and All-American swimmer Rip Esselstyn. Currently a fireman, Rip put his fellow fire-fighters on an all plant-based diet, sat back and watched their cholesterol levels and weight drop in dramatic fashion. Its a great read and if macho firemen can become converts, you know this is not for sissies. This book is lighting up the best-seller charts — you might have caught Rip in one of his many TV appearances on shows like Good Morning America and the Today Show, among others.

PREVENT AND REVERSE HEART DISEASE: By Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Rip’s father and renown cardiologist. Dr. Esselstyn has conducted the longest-running study, with the most impressive results, of any study in which heart disease has been arrested and reversed. By instituting a low-fat plant-based diet for his patients, Dr. Caldwell has actually and very dramatically reversed heart disease in countless patients. The before and after angiograms are nothing short of astounding.

REAL FOOD DAILY COOKBOOK: I am lucky in that I live near a fantastic vegan restaurant Real Food Daily, among others. Plus my wife is a unbelievale vegan cook. But if you are not in LA and don’t have a wife like mine, no worries — you can get the RFD cookbook, which has great recipes for everything from nachos to burgers to amazing desserts, all vegan. Read the rest of this entry »

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Parkinson’s Disease and a Plant-Based Diet

Posted by Jenn on January 2, 2011


The nature of Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease (PD) afflicts about one to one and one-half million people in the United States (Tanner 1992). PD is a progressive neurological disorder that results in the death of dopamine-producing cells in the brain. Loss of dopamine affects movement, both of skeletal muscle and the smooth muscle of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This can result in slow, shuffling gait, resting tremor, and/or slowed peristalsis. Individuals with PD may experience frequent falls (Dolinis et al., 1997; Northrid ge et al., 1996), d ifficulty handling cooking and eating utensils, and such GI-related problems as slow stomach emptying, gastroesophageal reflux, and chronic constipation (Jost WH, 1997; Edwards et al, 1993; Edwards et al., 1994; Byrne et al., 1994).

Nutrition-related problems

Individuals with PD have been found to have a higher incidence of bone thinning and fractures than age-matched control groups (Ishizaki et al., 1993; Kao et al., 1994; Taggart, et al., 1995; Revilla et al., 1996; Koller et al., 1989; Johnell et al., 1992, Sato et al., 1997). Loss of the olfactory sense and sense of taste are frequently present (Huttenbrink, 1995; Hawkes et al., 1997), along with xerostomia (dry mouth) (Clifford and Finnerty, 1995), and sometimes loss of appetite (Starkstein SE, 1990). These, along with other factors, may contribute to the high rate of unplanned weight loss in this population (Markus et al., 1993; Davies et al., 1994; Beyer et al., 1995).

There are also indications that B vitamin deficiencies may be of concern, although the causes are not clearly understood. In 1979, Bender et al. reported the possibility that users of levodopa-carbidopa (Sinemet, Sinemet CR, a medication used to treat the symptoms of PD) could be at risk for both niacin and vitamin B6 deficiencies. Long-time users of levodopa-carbidopa have since been found to have increased levels of serum homocysteine (Kuhn et al., 1998, Muller et al., 1999), implicating vitamins B6, folate, and B12. In attempts to determine the etiology of PD, Hellenbrand et al. compared the dietary habits of patients vs. a control group; patients were found to have consumed significantly less niacin than controls (Hellenbrand et al. 1996). In a more recent Swedish study researchers note that consumption of niacin-containing foods appeared to reduce risk for PD (Fall et al., 1999). Finally, in an unpublished study, pellagra was discovered in several patients using levodopa-carbidopa (Iacono et al.). Thus, patients could have increased risk for vascular disease, pellagra, and other conditions resulting from deficiencies of B vitamins.

Constipation is very common due to the disease and/or to the medications used to treat PD (Jost, 1997; Jost and Schrank, 1998; McIntosh and Holden, 1999). Chronic constipation can raise the risk for fecal impaction (Sonnenberg et al., 1994) and colon cancer (Jacobs and White, 1998; Will et al., 1998), therefore, safe methods of controlling constipation are desirable.

Furthermore, PD brings with it a food-medication interaction that has been generally under-addressed by dietetics professionals. Levodopa, the primary medication used to treat PD, competes with the five large neutral amino acids for carriers, both in the gut and at the blood-brain barrier (Lieberman, 1992). Thus, levodopa absorption is effectively blocked if taken with meals.

How can a vegetarian or plant-based diet be of help to people with PD?

While research has failed to conclusively show a link between diet and PD, nevertheless, fiber, nutrients found particularly in plants, and protein, are excellent reasons to choose among the various vegetarian and plant-based eating plans. Animal foods are often high in protein and lack fiber. Plants in general have a high proportion of carbohydrate, with moderate amounts of protein. Plants also contain fiber and many phytochemicals, which animal products do not.

Fiber. A plant-based diet is generally richer in fiber, which can alleviate constipation, and thereby reduce risk for fecal impaction and colorectal cancer. In a pilot study, McIntosh and Holden found that while 21 out of 24 patients reported frequent constipation, analysis of three-day food diaries showed that 18 patients reported intake of fewer than 25 grams of dietary fiber daily. Education in the need for greater fiber intake, and its benefits to health, is necessary for PD patients. Additionally, a high-fiber eating plan may promote bioavailability of levodopa. Astarloa et al. found a correlation between a diet rich in insoluble fiber and plasma levodopa concentration, and postulate that the improvement of constipation may have a positive effect upon levodopa availability (Astarloa et al., 1992). While there is no research as yet on benefits of a vegetarian diet for people with PD, nevertheless, a vegetarian or plant-based diet may have special significance for people with PD.

Unplanned weight loss. To combat weight loss, patients must consume more calories. Yet delayed stomach emptying, if present, may require moderate use of fatty foods, while those using levodopa may need to control their use of protein. Such restrictions sometimes necessitate small, frequent meals and snacks, and a diet high in carbohydrates. A vegetarian diet adapts very well to such an eating plan, as it can be both high in carbohydrates and low in fat, whereas animal foods are often high in fat.

Chewing/swallowing difficulty. Patients in mid-to-late stages of PD may experience difficulty chewing food, and/or moving the tongue to position food properly for swallowing. The normal esophageal peristalsis may be slowed, resulting in choking. While a swallowing evaluation should be performed, along with education in safe swallowing techniques, it should be noted that plant foods may be easier to chew than many meats; plant foods also can be chopped, mashed, or pureed easily to provide the best consistency for the individual’s needs while retaining valuable fibers and phytochemicals.

Nutrients. Plant foods are rich in magnesium and vitamin K, important to bone health. This should be emphasized, as PD patients, due to the nature of the disease, may be prone to falls (Ishizaki et al., 1993; Kao et al., 1994; Taggart, et al., 1995; Revilla et al., 1996; Koller et al., 1989; Johnell et al., 1992, Sato et al., 1997), and therefore more susceptible to fractures (Dolinis et al., 1997; Northridge et al., 1996). Good sources of calcium and vitamin D must be highlighted, also, as there may be a greater need for these in this population; in a controlled study, Sato et al. found increased incidence of vitamin D deficiency and reduced bone mass in individuals with PD (Sato et al., 1997).

A vegetarian or plant-based diet can provide excellent amounts of the B vitamins (with the possible exception of B12), especially folate; and education regarding need for B vitamins is important. The vegan patient may need to use a supplement of vitamin B12, and in fact, if deficiencies are suspected, a B complex may be required, at least temporarily. It should be noted that large amounts of vitamin B6 (over ten mg per day) may reverse the effects of levodopa; therefore, supplements should be taken with meals, with levodopa taken at least 30 minutes prior to meals, to avoid this food-medication interaction.

Protein-levodopa interactions. As stated before, protein breaks down in the gut to individual amino acids, with which levodopa must compete for carriers across the intestinal wall. For this reason, patients must take levodopa at least 30 minutes prior to meals or snacks. As the disease progresses, individuals often begin to experience fluctuations in their response to levodopa, resulting in the “on-off” phenomenon, a condition wherein a dose of levodopa wears off before the next dose is due. Without levodopa, the individual may be able to move only very slowly, or not at all, and is effectively disabled. Read the rest of this entry »

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