How A Vegan Diet Can Benefit Your Musculoskeletal Health
Charles Clare, Co-founder and Chief Technician of Cell Regeneration shares the story of his journey to veganism and how it can benefit your musculoskeletal health
Why I first became vegan
Back in December 2013, a friend suggested a new year challenge: go vegetarian for January. Not being a particularly adventurous cook, I liked the idea of undertaking a dietary challenge and evolving from the meat and veg staple meals I had got into a routine of.
Some years previously I had attended a gig where the band merchandise also had leaflets on the dairy and egg industries. I recollect thinking at the time (with no plans whatsoever!) that “should I become a vegetarian?” Then I thought, If i’m taking this step, then I don’t see why I wouldn’t extend it and go vegan! So, back to 2013 and being asked to go vegetarian for a month, I extended it to veganism.
So, January 2014 brought a new chapter in my life. I found some nice-looking recipes, planned my meals and got stuck in. As the weeks passed I found it more challenging, as the meals were becoming repetitive and somewhat boring. However, I began to notice positive changes in my health, energy levels and weight. These improvements kept me on track, motivating me to find more recipes and seek support from vegan friends. The month ended and so did the challenge. I retained some of my favourite recipes, but otherwise went back to my usual repertoire.
The following January, I repeated the challenge, this time with my girlfriend joining me. That month I spent time researching the health benefits of veganism, as well as sourcing media that focussed on animal welfare, and the environmental impact of animal agriculture. This information led me to deciding to remain vegan once my ‘Veganuary #2’ was over, and my girlfriend (after a bottle of wine and a wobble or two!) agreed.
Over the last 6 years that I have been vegan, I have seen how much more accessible and acceptable this choice has become. Almost every chain restaurant offers plant-based options, and most towns in the UK have a vegan venue. Supermarkets now have comprehensive ‘free from’ sections in addition to the myriad of products which are ‘accidentally vegan’ such as marmite, starburst and party rings.
Health benefits of veganism
Being vegan can be extremely healthy and provides many health benefits including lower risk of developing high blood pressure, less risk of certain cancers, lower rates of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Vegans are more likely to eat more nutrients compared to a standard western diet including antioxidants, fibre, magnesium, folate, potassium and Vitamins A, C and E.
Our joints are amazing but we put them through a lot. One way to help them is by maintaining a healthy weight.
For every pound we weigh, there is four pounds of pressure exerted on the knees in normal daily activity – so an overweight person can really improve the impact on their joints if they lose weight.
There have been a number of different studies that have shown that a vegan diet is more effective for weight loss than other diets. In 2013, the GEICO study recruited 291 participants to take part in a randomised controlled study to see if eating a low-fat vegan diet would result in weight loss and reduced cardiovascular risk in 18 weeks. The vegan group had daily B12 supplements, weekly meetings led by a dietician and were encouraged to favour low GI foods. The control group didn’t have meetings and made no dietary changes. This resulted in the vegan group eating more fibre and less fat, saturated fat and cholesterol than the control group. The vegan group lost on average 9.5lbs compared to the control group losing 0.2lbs. As well as the weight loss, blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels improved, amongst other benefits. (1)
Another study looked at participants with type 2 diabetes and compared a low-fat vegan diet to a diet based on the American Diabetes Association (ADA) over 22 weeks. Pairs were randomly assigned and made to follow one or the other diet. The vegan diet had no restrictions on calories, portion size or carbohydrates, the ADA followers were to reduce calories by 500-1000 calories per day. Both groups got a daily B12 supplement, alcohol was allowed but restricted and all participants had weekly meetings. Despite only one group being told to reduce calories, both groups reduced them by about 400 per day. Both groups consumed less protein and fat, and the vegan group consumed 152% more carbohydrate than the ADA group. Over the 2 weeks both groups lost weight, but the vegan group lost on average 12.8lbs which was 134% more than the ADA average. All other levels checked were better in the vegan group. (2)
It isn’t just weight loss that improves from a vegan diet. The symptoms of OA may be reduced by adopting a vegan diet. One study carried out by Michigan State University College of Human Medicine studied 40 patients between 19 and 70 years of age with OA. Half ate a whole food plant-based diet (WFPB) and half their normal diet. Just 2 weeks in, the vegan group saw significant pain reduction. Weight loss is a factor but also those eating WFPB have higher serum levels of omega-3 than omnivores and those that eat fish. Normal western diets which consume animal protein are high in arachidonic acid which becomes metabolised into proinflammatory prostaglandins – nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs work by limiting this metabolism. Plant based omega-3 metabolises and produces anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. (3)
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Another study from the Turku University College of Human Medicine did a small study of patients with RA. One group was put on a raw vegan diet, the other continued their regular diets. A month later their gut flora was measured, and the vegan group had changes associated with better outcomes for those suffering with RA. (4)
Animal protein consumption can result in immune complex developments in the bloodstream which can become lodged, resulting in inflammation, and damage can occur overtime. It is thought that this might be responsible for many autoimmune and chronic inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis. (5)
We all get told as children that to get strong healthy bones we must drink lots of milk as it is full of calcium. Is this true? Maybe not. Don’t get me wrong, calcium is the most common mineral in bones, but do we need dairy to get what we need?
The Harvard Nurses’ Health Study was a 12-year study looking at over 77,000 women and found no evidence of higher intakes of milk or calcium from food sources reduced fracture rates. (6)
In 2006, the University or Surrey did a cross sectional study of five age and sex cohorts looking at bone mineral density related to fruit and vegetable intake and found higher fruit and vegetable intakes may have positive effects on bone mineral status in both younger and older age groups. (7)
In Sweden, a study was done to see if high milk consumption is associated with mortality and fractures in both women and men. They concluded that high milk intake was associated with higher fracture incidence in women. (8)
There have also been links between countries that consume the most dairy having higher osteoporosis rates.
If calcium levels are low, then dark leafy greens are a great source.
General Musculoskeletal Health
Eating animals and animal products are high in LDL, which is the bad cholesterol and fat. This can lead to atherosclerosis, clogging of the arteries. As well as the linked health issues that are widely known about, there are musculoskeletal problems too.
There have been correlations between atherosclerosis and knee osteoarthritis (9), wrist and hand osteoarthritis. (10)
With Veganuary upon us, it is a good opportunity to reduce your consumption of animals and animal products and see if it helps you with your pain management.
Here are some links to useful resources for further information:
Benefits of being vegan:
Environment – https://www.cowspiracy.com/
Animal Rights – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMwtRMdfhFo
The Vegan Society - https://www.vegansociety.com/
YouTube is also full of informative videos from people like:
Mic The Vegan
Avant Garde Vegan
The Happy Pear
Vegan Black Metal Chef