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Gains Sprout From Plant-Based Diets

Checks Heart Disease, MS & More

Health benefits of a plant-based diet

By John Salak –   

Apparently, forgive the pun, there are a growing number of substantial benefits to be had from plant-based diets.  

The American Heart Association (AMA), the Medical College of Georgia and the University of Iowa have all chimed in recently to announce these diets can lower the risk of heart disease in younger adults and older women; may help offset high blood pressure among hypersensitive individuals, and perhaps protect people against multiple sclerosis-like symptoms. 

Ultimately, researchers agreed that their combined work underscores the power that nutritional intervention can have on the long-term health of large groups of people suffering from a variety of issues.  

The AMA’s results actually gave plant-based diets a double thumbs up after reviewing data from two different studies. The association found that eating this type of diet during young adulthood lessened the risk of suffering from heart disease later in life. Information gleaned from a separate study revealed that eating more plant-based foods, called the Portfolio Diets, helps lower cholesterol, which is associated with reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women.   

In general, the AMA advocates an extremely balanced diet that emphasizes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, nuts and legumes and non-tropical vegetable oils. It also suggests limiting the intake of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, sweets and sugary drinks. 

This doesn’t mean going vegetarian or vegan. “A nutritionally rich, plant-centered diet is beneficial for cardiovascular health. A plant-centered diet is not necessarily vegetarian,” reported Yuni Choi, Ph.D., lead author of the AMA’s young adult research. “People can choose among plant foods that are as close to natural as possible, not highly processed. We think that individuals can include animal products in moderation from time to time, such as non-fried poultry, non-fried fish, eggs and low-fat dairy.” 

The Medical College of Georgia focused on how these diets can offset the risk of high blood pressure seen in hypersensitive individuals. Its findings were based on studies done on rats that were bred to be hypersensitive through a high-salt diet that could also lead to kidney disease.  

The Georgia study revealed that switching these specially bred rats over to a grain-based diet afforded them protection to hypersensitivity and related kidney damage even when salt was reintroduced to their diets. 

The switch to plant-based diets even helped project mothers and their offspring from developing preeclampsia, which is a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, most often the liver and kidneys.   

“The animal protein amplified the effects of the salt,” said Dr. David L Mattson, a longtime hypertension researcher, at the Georgia Institute. “Since the gut microbiota has been implicated in chronic diseases like hypertension, we hypothesized that dietary alterations shift the microbiota to mediate the development of salt-sensitive hypertension and renal disease.”  

Not to be left undone by the chorus of academic institutions generating research that underscores the benefits of plant-based diets, the University of Iowa reports these diets may help protect people against multiple sclerosis.  

The university’s research reveals that foods high in isoflavone, a phytoestrogen or plant-based compound that resembles estrogen, worked to protect mice against MS-like symptoms. It added, however, that the process only worked when mice had gut microbes capable of breaking down the isoflavones.  

Isoflavones can be found in a range of foods such as soybeans, peanuts, chickpeas and other legumes. The Iowa research team found that these foods helped create a microbiome in mice that was similar to that found in healthy people. Such microbiomes contain bacteria that can metabolize isoflavones. Not surprisingly, mice fed a diet lacking in isoflavones was short on the critical bacteria.  

“Interestingly, previous human studies have demonstrated that patients with multiple sclerosis lack these bacteria compared to individuals without MS,” said Dr. Ashutosh Mangalam, who led the research. “Our new study provides evidence that the combination of dietary isoflavones and these isoflavone metabolizing gut bacteria may serve as a potential treatment for MS.” 

Ultimately, however, Mangalam stressed that the long-term benefits of this type of diet for MS patients are limited unless the critical gut bacteria are present. 

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