Thursday, 3 May 2012

Why meatless diets can be deadly

Anyone who still believes a diet of sprouts and beans is healthy should hop on the next flight to India, where they can get a firsthand look at the ravages of the vegetarian lifestyle.

Trust me -- you'll be back in the steakhouse in no time.

India just so happens to be one of the most vegetarian-friendly nations on the planet, thanks in part to their worship of cows. And a new study finds that the nation's plant-eaters -- up to 42 percent of the population -- are paying a hefty price for shunning the heifers.

When researchers studied 300 vegetarian patients at Hiranandani Hospital for a year, they were stunned to find that 70 percent of them were either suffering from heart disease or were at high risk of heart attack.

The reason was pretty simple: Nearly all of the patients were badly deficient in vitamin B12, an essential nutrient found in meat. That deficiency caused a surge in levels of homocysteine -- a much better marker of heart risk than cholesterol.

The high homocysteine levels led to atherosclerosis -- hard, narrow arteries that make the heart work overtime and put the patient at risk for heart attack and stroke.

Dr. Shashank Shah presented the study at the International Federation for the Surgery of Obesity and Metabolic Disorders in Los Angeles. He said that most vegetarians are so badly deficient in B12 that they need injections to correct their levels.

"Those who are at risk shouldn't delude themselves by simply popping a pill," he said.

Even Indians who do eat meat are at risk, says Dr. Shah, because they typically don't eat enough B12-rich foods such as beef, liver and fish.

Of course, I've only been saying this since the Beatles were hanging around with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi -- so none of this is surprising to me. After all, the answer has been there for anyone willing to look. Despite its cow-happy, leaf-eating population, India's leading cause of death is the same as it is here -- heart disease.

The answer is pretty simple: Heart health begins with what you eat.

And if you eat the wrong things, whether it's a vegetarian Indian diet or a carb-happy Western one, it'll end there too.

WC Douglas MD