Most vegetarians choose to abstain from animal protein for one of two reasons: either it is an ethical choice, or it is a health choice. Personally, I chose to eat a vegetarian diet for about 3 years, then I ate meat for 5 years, now I eat very little animal based foods, although for a very different reason.
I have spent my adult life studying and experimenting with various diets, cleansing programs and health promoting activities. Certainly, it is true that anyone with "soul-intact" should have an ethhical dilema with conventional animal products. However, the rise in products that are free-range, pastured/grass-fed, wild, etc. has increased the ability to be both healthy and ethical. Certainly, for many people, the ethical aspect of vegetarianism can not be swayed - and to them I say: (1) I hope your unique biochemistry is compatible with a carbohydrate based diet (2) I hope you are eating a healthy vegetarian diet and don't end up pale and bloated, and (3) the average person unknowingly consumes a few bugs per year, so you aren't really a vegetarian. Ha! Sorry, but I don't like labels.
Certainly, there are many health aspects of being, or not being, a vegetarian that we could discuss. Whether you have read Skinny Bitch, or the Paleo Diet will most likely determine your eating choices. The successful diet books are well written and very persuasive, so unless you have read many books from differing perspectives, it is difficult to be measured in your choices. But, let's cut through the hours long debate.
If you really want to know if you are eating the right amount of protein for your biochemistry, your unique physical need, you can do a test. Actually, there are several tests you can do, but I'll mention the easiest. Protein breaks dowm into ammonia (NH3) and sulfur compounds, which can be tested in the urine. Testing urinary ammonia requires a few reagents and supplies, but testing urinary sulfate and sulfite only requires test strips (like a urinalysis). Click the above link to order the test strips.
If you are consuming more (primarily animal) protein than your body can detoxify, it will be reflected as elevated urinary sulfur levels. The "so what?" is that ammonia and sulfur when not properly cleared by the body results in a buildup of internal waste.
The symptoms of excessive protein waste include:
- Brain fog (ammonia can result in coma at very high levels)
- Dysbiosis (bacterial overgrowth in the intestines)
- Indigestion and bad breath
- Sluggish circulation
These symptoms may be more pronounced after eating eggs (very high in sulfur), a high protein meal, or food/beverages with added sulfites (wine, dried fruit, commercial shrimp, etc). For a full explanation of foods high in sulfur, click here.
From a health standpoint, what each of us eats should be determined by the unique needs of our individual bodies, not by what you read, or what works for your friend, or what you heard on Dr Oz. The best blanket statement about what human should eat as a species comes from studying human history. Our ancestors, for many, many years before agriculture, ate as hunter-gatherers. Even though the 'paleolithic' diet of animal protein, vegetables and friuts is the information our genetic code evolved with - as individuals, we must weigh elegant theories against our own needs.
The inability of some to handle protein/sulfur may be the result of a genetic error in the Cystathionine Bets Synthase (CBS) or Sulfite Oxidase (SUOX) pathways. Most of us tend to think of our genetics as something that is written in stone, unmalleable. However, most genetic errors are not life threatening, it simply means that your body is ineffecient in some area. The result of a CBS or SUOX genetic error, when unknown, will put unfortunate stress on the body over many years. Eventually, genetic weaknesses contribute to complex degenerative diseases (the kind of diseases conventional medicine does not address well).
When a genetic weakness is combined with a lifetime of poor eating, restless sleep, excessive stress, a lack of exercise and nutrient depleting prescriptions (such as adderal for ADD, although you really may have a protein/ammonia/sulfur clearance inefficiency) - the degenerative process is accelerated.
In the case of the CBS/SUOX genetic error and sulfur metabolism inefficiency the answer is to greatly decrease the consumption of high sulfur foods (animal protein, garlic, onions, broccoli, asparagus - foods that would otherwise be considered very healthy!) and take supplemental Molybdenum (for a complete explanation and more helpful supplements, click the link above). This is a mineral that is used to detoxify sulfur. When a genetic error is unable to manufacture proper biochemical machinery, a cofactor (usually a vitamin or mineral) is needed in greater than usual amounts to override the inefficiency. Unfortunately, most of conventional medicine seems to have forgotten that your biochemistry is dependent upon macronutrients and micronutrients, not drugs.
Progressive biochemical testing can be very complex and quite expensive. Yet for those who choose to (preventive medicine) or have to (conventional medicine provides little answers) go this route, practicing medicine with a focus on biochemical individuality can provide answers and recommendations for the patient and their children. With this individualized perspective generational diseases can finally be controlled, and potentially conquered. That's deep medicine.
However in the case of urinary sulfite and sulfate test strips individualized medicine can be very informative, fairly simple and not too costly.
Let me hear your thoughts and questions,
Hey Mitch! Regarding "what nutrients to balance what genetic error" and how that translates into therapy, we have to ponder how our genetics translate into physiology. Usually the gene will code for a protein, let's say this protein is an enzyme. So if your family trait is to pass along a gene that does not make a good enzyme for converting homocysteine into methionine (the MTHFR enzyme), one way to make this biochemical step more efficient is to either supply the necessary cofactor (vitamin or mineral) or if possible supply a needed molecule further down the biochemical pathway. In this case you would supply the 5-MTHF form of folate (folic acid) or SAMe which is low when this enzyme is inefficient. The bad thing that happens when MTHFR is inefficient is a buildup of homocysteine, which results in a family history of cardiovascular disease.
To answer the question of how this was discovered, for centuries there has been tremendous research into biochemistry and its requisite enzymes and cofactors. Research institutes, progressive laboratories and biochemically oriented institutions are all very good resources. Unfortunately, the nutrient-oriented field of medicine is not attractive as a business model because nature can not be patented for profit. This book (http://www.metametrix.com/learning-center/books) from Metametrix laboratory is awesome and includes citations from research studies. It's expensive, but much of the information can be found on their website. Ralph Moss' information comes largely from hospitals, particularly burn units that have to use nutrition (such as key amino acids) to keep people alive who are in severe catabolic states.
Some resources are:
Posted by: Tim Walsh | December 08, 2011 at 01:13 PM
This is a very well written post with useful points about choosing a diet based on individual need and not the most influential paper, book or diet in one's life at that moment.
To discover the large possibilities of genetic errors seems the challenge here. Do you know how this information of what nutrients to balance what genetic error was discovered and how the therapies were decided? Not that I can answer that question for TCM...too old to know...but I figure there is a traceable history with this format of medicine. Are they based on clinical results or have there been studies we can look at (depending on funding of course)? I believe this is a part of functional medicine's outlook. Where would one go to learn more about functional medicine?
Mitch Harris L.Ac
Posted by: Mitchell Harris L.Ac | December 08, 2011 at 10:48 AM