10-Minute Vegetarian: Managing A Chronic Health Condition With A Vegetarian Diet
I have written here before about the benefits of a plant-based diet, which primarily have included prevention of diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and kidney or gallstones. But there is also research that finds that even if you already have certain medical conditions, adopting a vegetarian diet may be helpful in the management of that condition as well.
The most recent research focuses on patients who have chronic kidney disease, or a loss of function of their kidney function. Chronic kidney disease affects about 2 out of every 1,000 people in the United States, with the primary cause of kidney failure being complications from diabetes or hypertension (high blood pressure).
Patients who have a loss of kidney function can slow the progression of the disease with diet, particularly limiting the mineral phosphorus. Normal working kidneys can filter extra phosphorus out of the blood, but in kidney disease this process is inefficient. High phosphorus levels can cause adverse health effects, such as causing calcium to be pulled out of the bone, making them weak.
Phosphorus is prevalent primarily in animal foods, such as dairy products and meat, so the adoption of a grain-based vegetarian diet was studied in a recent study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. The study was small (a total of eight patients), but the researchers found that the adoption of a vegetarian diet for as little as a week led to lower serum (blood) phosphorus levels and a decrease in a factor that helps regulate phosphorus metabolism called fibroblast growth factor 23 (FGF23).
Psoriatic or Rheumatoid Arthritis
You may have read recently that golfer Phil Mickelson had announced the adoption of a vegetarian diet due to psoriatic arthritis, an auto-immune condition that causes pain and inflammation of the joints. While the research is still emerging on the benefits of symptom relief in psoriatic arthritis, there has been considerable research on a similar condition — rheumatoid arthritis.
Because both conditions are inflammatory in nature, foods high in antioxidants can help reduce oxidative stress that may contribute to painful symptoms. These include vegetarian choices such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and even dark chocolate. Also, animal foods such as meat and dairy have been shown to exacerbate the arthritic symptoms in some patients.
A vegetarian diet not only could help with the prevention of diabetes, it may also be useful in controlling glucose in patients who already have the condition. Many may think a diet rich in carbohydrate-based foods would be contradictory in the management of diabetes; however, choosing grains that are whole and unrefined (as opposed to refined flours and sugars) and fresh fruits and vegetables have a positive impact on blood sugar.
Type 2 diabetes is most often found in patients who are overweight, and a well-planned low-calorie vegetarian diet can help with weight loss. The higher intake of plant-based foods can also help to lower some of the heart disease risk factors that occur along with diabetes, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
These of course are not the only chronic conditions in which a vegetarian diet could play a positive role in management of symptoms. Myself, I found positive results with a vegan diet in helping manage painful menstrual cramps, for example. The bottom line: Even if you do not adopt a full vegetarian diet, just making better food choices and avoiding all of the high-fat, high-sugar, and low-nutrient value foods that we often eat out of convenience will go a long way toward both prevention and management of many diseases that commonly affect us today.
This is a part of my ongoing series, 10 Minute Vegetarian. I'm busy, you're busy. We want to be healthy, but we don't have a lot of time. In the 10 minutes it takes you to read this article, you can learn something about the health benefits of the vegetarian diet and how to implement it in your own hectic schedule.