I was having a conversation with a friend the other day and somehow we got on to the issue of what I ate. I started eating whole foods plant based with no oil just 10 months ago. Having told this person come out with the fact that I now only need to take 2 meds instead of 6, that my joints had stopped aching, my weight had normalised, my diabetes risk had disappeared and my asthma had gone away, there was a flicker of interest.
But quickly that same person opined that when you die is a matter of luck. And then we went on to talk about something else. Well that set me thinking. I don’t seem to remember studies that said it was just luck how long you live at all! I seem to recall longevity is multifactorial – diet, exercise, social interaction, income, gender and many others.
So let’s just cover diet. And I will look just at the big studies.
- Adventist Health Studies The Loma Linda city, east of Los Angeles in California, provides a perfect selection of participants to study because they are Seventh Day Adventists whose diets can be easily categorised according to what proportion animal products are in their diet and then they can be compared with the average Californian. The Los Angeles Times says those people in Loma Linda live almost a decade longer than the rest of us. According to Wikipedia:
“The first major study of Adventists began in 1960, and has become known as the Adventist Mortality Study. Consisting of 22,940 California Adventists, it entailed an intensive 5-year follow-up and a more informal 25-year follow-up.
“…[The] Adventist Mortality Study (1960–1965) did indicate that Adventist men lived 6.2 years longer than non-Adventist men in the concurrent American Cancer Society Study and Adventist women had a 3.7-year advantage over their counterparts. These statistics were based on life table analyses.”
Specifically, comparing death rates of Adventist compared to other Californians:Death rates from all cancers was 40% lower for Adventist men and 24% lower for Adventist women.
But a bigger study the Adventist Health Study 2 was started in 2002 and included 96,000 Seventh Day Adventists in US and Canada, headed by Dr Gary Fraser. The study population is 25 percent African-American and half vegetarian. They were over 30 and all spoke English. Here is what it found:
Vegetarian Adventist men live to an average of 83.3 years and vegetarian women 85.7 years — 9.5 and 6.1 years respectively, longer than other Californians.
– Vegans are, on average, 30 pounds lighter than meat eaters.
– Vegans are also five units lighter on the BMI scale than meat-eaters.
– Vegetarians and vegans are also less insulin resistant than meat-eaters.
– Lean people are also more likely to exercise regularly, eat plants, and avoid cigarettes than overweight people, suggesting that numerous factors are boosting the overall health of these participants.
– Pesco-vegetarians and semi-vegetarians who limit animal products, but still eat meat once a week or so, have “intermediate protection” against lifestyle diseases.
When it came to death rates per 1000 person years the vegan group did the best at only 5.40, the lacto-ovo vegetarians had 5.61, the pesco-vegetarians had 5.33, the semi-vegetarians had 6.16 deaths and the non-vegetarians had 6.61 deaths.
A meta-analysis of 95 studies covering 2 million people was published in early 2017 by Dr Dagfinn Aune. He said eating 10 servings of fruit and vegetables a day or 800 gram, would result in a 15% drop in the risk of premature deaths. It lengthens your life. That would be 7.8 million premature deaths prevented every year. Unfortunately the WHO only recommends 400 gm a day, but US recommends 650-800 gm a day. Dr Aune said this study was bad news for the supplement industry. See https://academic.oup.com/ije/article/46/3/1029/3039477
The EPIC /PANACEA study, a multicentre, prospective cohort study of ten European countries with over 500,000 in it, conducted from 1992 and 2000 found that:
- If you ate 5 servings of fruit and veges a day it would give you 4 years extra
- If you didn’t smoke you get another 5 years
- If you do moderate exercise you get 3 more years
- Do all of these and you get 10 healthy years
- If you take away alcohol as well, you get 14 years.
But only 3% do it!
The Harvard Nurses Health Study conducted over 35 years had 275,000 participants. The first study was started 1976, the second started in 1989 and was led by Dr Walter Willett, and the third Sept 2016. Walter Willett more recently led the EAT-Lancet study which is about diet and climate change. Between them these studies have made major contributions to our knowledge about diet and health. .
There will be others, but these are a few of the major ones.