I’ve heard a lot of rumors flying back and forth through the grapevine about healthy lifestyle diets, and obviously there are some claims that are more true than others. I’ll take my best stab at being your guide through the “Loch Ness of Vegan-Vegetarian myths” and see if we can’t catch some of the red herring shaped ones before they get too big.
1) Vegans and vegetarians don't get cancer:
Vegans and vegetarians are big supporters of the sanctity of life. However, there are a few exceptions, like cancer. Cancer can go die in a fire. However, the issue of cancer is no laughing matter. I’m certain you know plenty of people who either died, survived or are currently battling cancer. It is painful for the victim and stressful for the family and friends, not to mention the financial burden, so as you read this section I hope you recognize that I’m not trying to be insensitive.
There is a prevailing thought that a vegan and vegetarian diet turns cancer into a three-week-old kitten on a rugby field, but this is hardly the case. There are a lot of places that Cancer can pop up in the body and each advance at various levels of aggression. Sometimes a plant based diet is not enough and chemical treatment is the only alternative. Statistically speaking, vegans and vegetarians have a similar risk of cancer compared to non-vegan vegetarians in the short term. However, in the long-term vegans and vegetarians begin to pull away from the pack. The meta study from Veganhealth.org says, “It took 14.9 years of follow-up before a statistically significant difference developed” (1).
I have come to accept that there are some unanswered contributors to one’s health that we can’t always account for. In August 2016, after returning to Korea from the US, I came down with the strangest sickness I’ve ever had. My skin dried up like a prune, my feet began to peel, I was coughing so hard that I would throw up and my energy plummeted. I reached rock bottom at a point where I would sleep at my desk during lunch and skip meals because I couldn’t keep the food down. My health tanked so fast it made a whooshing sound as it went by. I went from running 20km a week to about 5km a month to finally no exercise at all. Despite being on a plant based diet, abstaining from alcohol and other drugs I was still very sick. I had to consult a doctor.
They tested my blood, urine and stool for everything. They did more to my fluids and samples than they do to make hot dogs edible. They looked for chemical imbalances, vitamin deficiencies, mineral deficiencies, viruses, parasites, unicorns, depleted uranium… I mean everything! All of it came out negative. They said I was normal, which left me feeling angry and disappointed. I began to feel anxious about going out and a little bit paranoid as to what was causing these oddities. I started to ask myself if it could be cancer, which as many of you know is a scary question.
After about 10 weeks of struggling with this, my husband had enough. I had been so caught up with my own sickness that I didn’t really think about how it was affecting him. He held my hair while I vomited, he kept encouraging me to exercise, even tried to do yoga with me. Once. He was just as angry, frustrated and emotionally drained as I was. Desperate to be able to do something to help the suffering I was going through, he bought an air purifier for our house. The first night we used it, I slept for 10 hours straight. Usually I would wake up once to vomit, sometimes a second time to dry heave, but that first night was the best sleep I had in months. Since then each one of my symptoms has improved drastically and it appears that it was an air quality problem. I want to share my story because I was in the best condition. I kept a strict plant based diet but for all my cardio and salads I was suddenly cold-cocked by something I still have no good answer for.
The human body, though miraculously made, is still baffling science. For example, in late 2014 Dr. Jonathon Kipnis, et all, discovered a connection between the brain and the immune system that prompted Kevin Lee, the chair of Department of Neuroscience at the School of Medicine, to say “They’ll have to rewrite the textbooks” (2). This bag of flesh we live in is hardly a closed book.
I recall reading an article written by Kim Sheridan, who shared her grief in regards to the passing of her husband Dr. Sheridan, who was a huge advocate for veganism (3). Her story moved me to tears. I felt empathy for her and as a married woman myself, I can understand the magnitude of her pain. What caught me the most in her article was the mockery she and her husband received after the diagnosis and even worse, after the loss of her beloved. Maybe it is human nature to desire to see someone fail, but I don’t recall reading anywhere that vegans are immortal. We’re just better at avoiding death like calls and texts from a psychotic ex-boyfriend. At best our lifestyle gives us better building blocks for the body which makes us live longer and have better resistance to illnesses, but it’s hardly a magic pill. There will always be other factors that can’t be accounted for and we can’t have answers to everything. Life is permanently set to hard mode, and the best way of dealing with that is to face it head on with a cool head and an open mind.
People die. Whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian or meat eater, try not to be the one everyone wants to see buried.
to be continued... part 2