Another great documentary to watch:
If you’re anything like me, the “C” word leaves you trembling. But today there is very good news to report: Research suggests you can improve your odds of never getting cancer and/or improve your chances of recovering from it. Not with a drug or surgery, although those methods might be quite effective. This is all about the power on your plate, and it’s seriously powerful.
A 2012 analysis of all the best studies done to date concluded vegetarians have significantly lower cancer rates. For example, the largest forward-looking study on diet and cancer ever performed concluded that “the incidence of all cancers combined is lower among vegetarians.”
That’s good news, yes. But what if we’re looking for great news? If vegetarians fare so much better than meat-eaters, what about vegans? Is that an even better way to eat? We didn’t know for sure until now.
A new study just out of Loma Linda University funded by the National Cancer Institute reported that vegans have lower rates of cancer than both meat-eaters and vegetarians. Vegan women, for example, had 34 percent lower rates of female-specific cancers such as breast, cervical, and ovarian cancer. And this was compared to a group of healthy omnivores who ate substantially less meat than the general population (two servings a week or more), as well as after controlling for non-dietary factors such as smoking, alcohol, and a family history of cancer.
Why do vegans have such lower cancer risk? This is fascinating stuff: An elegant series of experiments was performed in which people were placed on different diets and their blood was then dripped on human cancer cells growing in a petri dish to see whose diet kicked more cancer butt. Women placed on plant-based diets for just two weeks, for example, were found to suppress the growth of three different types of breast cancer (see images of the cancer clearance). The same blood coursing through these womens’ bodies gained the power to significantly slow down and stop breast cancer cell growth thanks to just two weeks of eating a healthy plant-based diet! (Two weeks! Imagine what’s going on in your body after a year!) Similar results were found for men against prostate cancer (as well as against prostate enlargement).
How may a simple dietary change make one’s bloodstream so inhospitable to cancer in just a matter of days? The dramatic improvement in cancer defenses after two weeks of eating healthier is thought to be due to changes in the level of a cancer-promoting growth hormone in the body called IGF-1. Animal protein intake increases the levels of IGF-1 in our body, but within two weeks of switching to a plant-based diet, IGF-1 levels in the bloodstream drop sufficiently to help slow the growth of cancer cells.
How plant-based do we need to eat? Studies comparing levels of IGF-1 in meat-eaters vs. vegetarians vs. vegans suggest that we should lean toward eliminating animal products from our diets altogether. This is supported by the new study in which the thousands of American vegans studied not only had lower rates of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, but significantly lower cancer risk as well.
This makes sense when you consider the research done by Drs. Dean Ornish and Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn; they found that a vegan diet caused more than 500 genes to change in only three months, turning on genes that prevent disease and turning off genes that cause breast cancer, heart disease, prostate cancer, and other illnesses. This is empowering news, given that most people think they are a victim of their genes, helpless to stave off some of the most dreaded diseases. We aren’t helpless at all; in fact, the power is largely in our hands. It’s on our forks, actually.
Most of us agree that action needs to be taken to address climate change, but when it comes to moving to a meat-free diet to drastically reduce emissions, suddenly we’re not so keen, writes Ruby Hamad.
The cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said, “It is easier to change a man’s religion than his diet.” It is also, apparently, easier to change the entire world’s energy production.
Earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report, “Mitigation of Climate Change”, citing fossil fuels as the biggest source of emissions, with coal, oil, and natural gas the major culprits.
However, the panel also implicates animal agriculture, noting that“changes in diet and reductions of losses in the food supply chain, have a significant, but uncertain, potential to reduce GHG emissions from food production.”
Seventy per cent of agricultural emissions come directly from livestock – and about 37 per cent of total worldwide methane emissions – and it is clear that moving away from animal products is not just potentially significant but downright necessary.
The IPCC findings come hot on the heels of another study, “The importance of reduced meat and dairy consumption for meeting stringent climate change targets”, published in the April edition of Climate Change.
The study’s lead author argues that targeting the fossil fuel industry alone is insufficient because “the agricultural emissions … may be too high. Thus we have to take action in both sectors.”
In 2010 a UN report, “Priority, Products, and Materials” concluded that, “A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”
That report puts agriculture’s global emissions at 14 per cent, and while not giving an exact figure, the researchers warn that “animal products, both meat and dairy, in general require more resources and cause higher emissions than plant-based alternatives”. Subsequent research suggests emissions from livestock and their by-products may be much higher (even as high as 51 per cent). Even if we err on the side of conservatism and stick to the lower UN figure, it still indicates that agriculture is responsible for more emissions that all means of transport combined.
No one who cares about the threat of climate change is ignorant of the importance of renewable energy and a reduction in energy use. So why do we still have our collective head in the sand about the need to change our diet?
In an impassioned tirade against Earth Day (April 22), which he dismisses as emblematic of “the culture of progressive green denial”, The Nation’s Wen Stephenson calls for radical action, namely, “physically, non-violently disrupting the fossil-fuel industry and the institutions that support and abet it … Forcing the issue. Finally acting as though we accept what the science is telling us.”
I don’t know what Stephenson’s food habits are but, ironically, in a piece railing against denialism, he does not mention meat consumption once. It is rather extraordinary how we acknowledge the need to address climate change and then carry on with those very activities that are causing the damage in the first place.
While some media outlets do report on the link between animal agriculture and global warming, they also undermine the urgency by featuring stories on, for example, how to include bacon in every meal – including dessert. TV channels flog reality shows glorifying high levels of meat consumption, and fast food outlets compete to see who can stuff the most meat and cheese into a single, fat-laden item.
All as scientists warn of the need to move away from dependency on animals as a food source.
When those of us who are concerned by the devastating effects of animal agriculture raise the issue, somehow the focus shifts from saving the planet to respecting personal choice, as if the choice to eat certain foods is sacrosanct.
We have to compromise our personal preferences every day in the interests of public safety. Smoking prohibitions, speed limits, alcohol restrictions, even initiatives promoting recycling and “green” household products all affect our choices.
But, for some reason, requesting people reduce their consumption of meat is taken as a personal affront to their very being. Humans have been eating animals for so long, and in such large quantities, we think we are entitled to their bodies, regardless of the consequences.
Clearly, our dependence on fossil fuels has to change but it is quite remarkable that we actually consider restructuring our entire energy system as an easier and more viable undertaking than simply altering our food habits.
The Guardian’s food writer Jay Rayner unwittingly demonstrates this in his reaction to a University of Aberdeen study that found a worldwide adoption of a vegan diet would reduce CO2 emissions by a massive 7.8 gigatonnes. But, rather than take this on board, Rayner chooses instead to shrug his shoulders, declare that “the world is not going vegan any time soon” and condemn “self-righteous vegans” for “making airy proclamations about the way forward when [they] have no power whatsoever to make it happen”.
But why don’t we have the power to make it happen?
Even if we don’t all go completely vegan, surely the takeaway is that everyone should eat less meat and more plants, and not just on Meatless Mondays?
It’s easy to point the finger only at fossil fuels because this requires no major personal sacrifice. We can pin all the blame on big corporations, demand policy change, and then feel good about ourselves by declaring on Facebook that we are against dredging the Barrier Reef and we don’t support fracking.
But meat is different. Meat means we have to change. It means we have to sacrifice something we enjoy, something we believe we are entitled to. And most of us simply aren’t willing to compromise that entitlement, so we pretend that the idea of a worldwide shift to a plant-based diet is simply too ridiculous to contemplate. That’s if we even acknowledge the crisis at all.
So we sign petitions and attend demonstrations. Some of us even drive less, take shorter showers, and use eco light bulbs. But nothing it seems, not even the looming threat of environmental catastrophe, could compel a significant number of us to simply change our diet.
Ruby Hamad is a Sydney-based writer and filmmaker. View her full profile here.
Expert claims creatures experience pain in the same way humans do – and should be treated better
- A scientist claims that fish have the same intelligence as other vertebrates
- Fish have good memories, build complicated structures and show behaviour seen in primates – as well as feeling pain like us, he said
- Expert claims fish welfare and fishing techniques should be reconsidered
- It is the latest claims in a debate surrounding how fish respond to stimulus
Fishing may not seem like such a relaxing sport anymore, as scientists claim to have found that fish feel pain, just like humans.
One researcher believes fish have the same intelligence as other animals and consequently, people should care more for their welfare.
Flying in the face of what is considered popular opinion, he added fish have good memories and exhibit behaviour seen in primates, such as building complicated structures like specially-shaped sandcastles, as well as using tools.
Fishing (pictured) may not seem like such a relaxing sport anymore, as scientists have found that fish feel pain just like humans. Researchers claim that fish also have the same intelligence as other vertebrates and consequently, people should care more for their welfare
DEBATE: CAN FISH FEEL PAIN?
In 2003, scientists from Edinburgh claimed to have found the first conclusive evidence of pain perception in fish.
They discovered 58 receptors in the heads of rainbow trout responded to electric and chemical shocks.
When the scientists injected bee venom into the lips of some fish, they found they demonstrated a rocking motion – similar to that seen in mammals.
‘The trout injected with the acid that were also observed to rub their lips onto the gravel in their tank…these do not appear to be reflex responses,’ said Dr Lynne Sneddon.
She added the study ‘fulfils the criteria for animal pain.
But plenty of scientists disagree and argue that just because fish respond to a stimulus, they do not necessarily compute it as pain.
Some argue that fish simply do not have the neuro-physiological capacity to be aware of pain, and that their reactions are measured according to human criteria.
Last year, scientists from Wisconsin said fish do not have a brain system or enough sensory nerve receptors to experience suffering.
While fish may struggle to get free, the scientists say this does not mean they are in pain.
Instead, they show ‘little effect’ from injuries and toxins that would leave humans in agony.
Associate Professor Culum Brown of Macquarie University in Australia, said fish have very good memories, live in complex social communities where they keep track of individuals and can learn from one another.
They develop cultural traditions and can even recognise themselves and others.
Professor Brown said the primary senses of the fish are ‘just as good’ and in some cases better than that of humans.
The level of mental complexity that fish display is on a par with most other vertebrates, while there is mounting evidence that they can feel pain in a manner similar to humans.
While the brains of fish differ from other vertebrates, fish have many comparable structures that perform similar functions.
Professor Brown believes that if some comparable animals are sentient, fish must be considered to be so, too, and therefore their welfare needs should be reconsidered.
‘Although scientists cannot provide a definitive answer on the level of consciousness for any non-human vertebrate, the extensive evidence of fish behavioural and cognitive sophistication and pain perception suggests that best practice would be to lend fish the same level of protection as any other vertebrate,’ he said.
The level of mental complexity that fish display is on a par with most other vertebrates, while there is mounting evidence that they can feel pain in a manner similar to humans. Fishing hooks are pictured
An expert said that fish (pictured) have very good memories, live in complex social communities where they keep track of individuals and can learn from one another. They develop cultural traditions and can even recognise themselves and others
‘We should therefore include fish in our ‘moral circle’ and afford them the protection they deserve.’
While the implications of the research could have a big impact on the fishing industry, fish are also used in a similar way to mice in scientific research, so lab conditions would have to be reviewed too.
Professor Brown thinks there is little public concern about the creatures’ wellbeing as many people only think of the animals as pets or food, and do not give them credit for being conscious and intelligent.
A recent study has found that crayfish feel stress in the same way that humans do and can be similarly calmed down using drugs.
This is the first time that clear signs of anxiety – normally associated with more complex forms of life – has been observed in a spineless species.
Another study has shown that crayfish (pictured) feel stress in the same way humans do, and can be similarly calmed down using drugs
In a study released last week, researchers explained that anxiety is different from fear, which is an emotion that even the simplest animals show.
They built a specially-constructed maze to put the lobster-like creatures under pressure and found that their levels of brain chemical serotonin rose.
Injecting crayfish with the neurotransmitter was enough to make them anxious, but they could be calmed down with another drug called Chlordiazepoxide (CDZ) which is also used to treat humans.
Dr Daniel Cattaert, from the University of Bordeaux said: ‘[Our results] emphasise the ability of an invertebrate to exhibit a state that is similar to a mammalian emotion.’