Food as Medicine

 Food as Medicine | Michael Greger, M.D. 


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Translator: Steven Litrov Reviewer: Lalla Khadija Tigha
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On a personal note,
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this is a picture of me taken around the time that my grandmother
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was diagnosed with end-stage heart disease and sent home to die.
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She already had so many bypass surgeries,
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basically run out of plumbing,
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confined to a wheel chair, crushing chest pain.
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Her life was over at age 65.
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But then she heard about this guy, Nathan Pritikin,
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one of our early lifestyle medicine pioneers,
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and what happened next is actually detailed in Pritikin's biography.
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My grandma was one of the "death's door" people.
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Frances Greger, my grandmother, arrived in a wheel chair.
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Mrs. Greger had heart disease, angina, claudication.
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Her condition is so bad,
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she could no longer walk without great pain in her chest and legs.
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Within three weeks, though,
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she was not only out of her wheel chair,
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she was walking 10 miles a day!
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Here's a picture of my grandma at her grandson's wedding,
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15 years after doctors abandoned her to die.
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She was given a medical death sentence at age 65, but thanks to a healthy diet,
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She was able to enjoy another 31 years on this planet until age 96 --
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(Applause)
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to enjoy her six grand kids including me.
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That's why I went into medicine.
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(Laughter)
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Years later, when Dr. Dean Ornish published his landmark lifestyle heart trial,
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proving with something called quantitative angiography,
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that indeed heart disease could be reversed, arteries opened up,
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without drugs, without surgery,
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just a plant-based diet and lifestyle program,
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I assumed this was going to be the game changer.
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My family had seen it with their own eyes, but here it was in black and white,
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published in some of the most prestigious medical journals in the world,
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yet nothing happened.
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I said, "wait a second."
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If effectively the cure to our number one killer
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could get lost down some rabbit hole and ignored,
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what else might there be in the medical literature that could help my patients,
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but just didn't have a corporate budget driving its promotion?
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Well, I made it my life's mission to find out.
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For those who are not familiar with my work,
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every year I read through
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every issue of every English language nutrition journal in the world
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so busy folks like you don't have to.
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(Laughter)
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I then compile the most interesting, ground breaking, and practical findings
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in new videos and articles I upload daily to my nonprofit site, NutritionFacts.org.
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Everything on the website is free.
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There are no ads and no corporate sponsorships.
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Strictly non-commercial. Not selling anything.
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Just put it up as a public service, as a labor of love,
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as a tribute to my grandmother.
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New videos and articles every day on the latest in evidence-based nutrition.
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What a concept!
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So where did Pritikin get his evidence from?
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A network of missionary hospitals set up throughout sub-Saharan Africa
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uncovered what may be one of the most important medical advance --
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according to one of our best medical figures of the last century,
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Dr. Dennis Burkit --
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the fact that many of our major and commonest diseases
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were universally rare, like heart disease.
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In the African population of Uganda, for example,
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coronary heart disease was almost non-existent.
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Wait a second, our number one killer almost non-existent?
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What were they eating?
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(Laughter)
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Well, they're eating lots of vegetables and grains and greens,
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and their protein almost entirely from plant sources,
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and they had the cholesterol levels to prove it,
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very similar to what one sees in kind of a modern day plant eater.
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You say, "Wait a second."
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Maybe they were just dying early, never lived long enough to get heart disease.
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No. Here's age-matched heart attack rates in Uganda versus St. Louis.
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Out of 632 autopsies in Uganda, only one myocardial infarction.
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Out of 632 age and gender matched autopsies in Missouri,
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136 myocardial infarctions --
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more than 100 times the rate of our leading killer.
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They were so blown away, went back, did another 800 autopsies in Uganda.
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Still just that one small healed infarct; it wasn't even the cause of death.
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Out of 1,427 patients, less than 1/1,000,
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whereas here our disease is an epidemic.
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Atherosclerosis, hardening of arteries, is a disease that begins in childhood.
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By age 10, nearly all the kids raised on the standard American diet
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already have fatty streaks building up inside of their arteries --
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the first stage of the disease.
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These streaks then turn into plaques in our 20s,
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get worse in our 30s, an then can start killing us off.
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In the heart, it's called a heart attack;
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in the brain, the same disease can cause a stroke.
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So if there's anyone here today older than age 10 --
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(Laughter)
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then the question isn't whether or not to eat healthy to prevent heart disease;
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it's whether you want to reverse the heart disease you likely already have,
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whether you know it or not.
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But is that even possible?
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When researchers took people with heart disease,
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put them on the plant-based diet
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eaten by populations that didn't get epidemic heart disease,
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their hope was that we could slow the disease down a bit,
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maybe even stop it.
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But instead something miraculous happened.
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As soon as people stopped eating artery-clogging diets,
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their bodies were able to dissolve some of the plaque away,
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opening arteries, only without drugs, without surgery,
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suggesting the bodies wanted to be healthy all along,
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but weren't never given the chance.
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That remarkable improvement in blood flow to the heart muscle itself
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was after just three weeks of plant-based nutrition.
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The human body is a self-healing machine,
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unless you're sticking it with a fork three times a day.
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Now sure, you can use moderation and hit yourself with a smaller hammer --
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(Laughter)
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but why beat yourself up at all?
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This is nothing new.
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American Heart Journal, 1977, cases like Mr. F.W. here.
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His heart disease was so bad,
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that he couldn't even make it to the mail box.
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He started eating healthier, and a few months later,
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he was climbing mountains, with no pain.
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All right?
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(Laughter)
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Now there are these fancy new classes of anti-angina drugs on the market now.
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They cost thousands of dollars a year,
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but at the highest dose, may be able to extend exercise duration
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as long as 33.5 seconds.
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(Laughter)
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It doesn't look like those choosing the drugs
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are going to be climbing mountains anytime soon.
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(Laughter)
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Plant-based diets aren't just safer and cheaper.
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They can work better since you're treating the underlying cause of the disease.
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Normally I'd go on to cancer and talk about the other 15 leading causes of death,
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talk about how diet may playing a role in preventing, arresting, and reversing
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each of our top 15 killers, but what more do you need to know?
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There's only one diet ever been proven to reverse heart disease
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in the majority of patients: a plant-based diet.
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So any time someone tries to sell you on some new diet, do me a favor,
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Ask them one simple question.
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"Has this diet been proven to reverse heart disease,
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the number one reason me and my loved ones will die?"
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I mean, if the answer is, "No," why would you even consider it?
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If that's all a plant-based diet could do,
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reverse the number one killer of men and women,
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shouldn't that kind of be default diet until proven otherwise?
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The fact it can also be useful to prevent, arrest, and reverse
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other top killers like type II diabetes and hypertension
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would seem to make the case for plant-based eating simply overwhelming.
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Most deaths in the United States are preventable
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and related to nutrition.
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According to the Global Burden of Disease study,
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the largest study of human disease risk factors in history,
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funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,
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the number one cause of death in these United States: it's our diet.
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The number one cause of disability in the United States: it's our diet.
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Now bumping tobacco smoking to number two,
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cigarettes now only kill about a half a million Americans every year,
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whereas our diet kills hundreds of thousands more.
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So if most deaths are preventable, related to nutrition,
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then obviously nutrition is the number one thing
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taught in medical school, right?
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(Laughter)
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I mean, I mean, obviously it's the number one thing
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your doctor talks to you about every single visit, right?
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How could there be this disconnect
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between the science and the practice of medicine?
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Let's do a thought experiment.
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Imagine yourself a smoker back in the 1950s.
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(Laughter)
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Back in the 1950s the average per capita cigarette consumption
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was 4,000 cigarettes a year,
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meaning the average person walking around smoked half a pack a day, on average.
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The media was telling people to smoke.
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Famous athletes agreed, even Santa Claus wanted you to smoke.
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(Laughter)
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I mean, look.
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You want to keep fit and stay slender?
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So, make sure to smoke and eat lots of hot dogs to stay trim,
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and lots of sugar to stay slim and trim.
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A lot better than that apple there. I mean, sheesh, right?
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"Though apples do connote goodness and freshness,"
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reads one internal tobacco industry memo,
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bringing up "many possibilities for youth-oriented cigarettes."
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They wanted to make apple-flavored cigarettes for kids. Shameless.
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"For digestion's sake, you smoke."
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No curative powers claimed by Philip Morris,
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but hey, better to be safe than sorry and smoke.
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"Blow in her face and she'll follow you anywhere!"
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(Laughter)
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"No woman ever says no."
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They're "so round, so firm, so fully packed."
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(Laughter)
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After all, John Wayne smoked them until he got lung cancer and died.
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You know, back then even the paleo folks were smoking.
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(Laughter)
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And so were the doctors.
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Now this is not to say there wasn't controversy within the medical profession.
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Sure, you know, some doctors smoked Camels, but others preferred Lucky's,
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so there was a little disagreement there.
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The leader of the US Senate agreed,
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who would want to give their throat a break?
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"Not a single case of throat irritation."
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How could there be when "cigarettes are just as pure as the water you drink."
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Maybe up in Flint, Michigan.
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(Laughter)
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But don't worry, if you do get irritated,
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your doctor can just write you a prescription for cigarettes.
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This is in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
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So when the AMA is saying smoking, on balance, is good for you;
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when the American Medical Association is saying that,
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where could you turn back then if you just wanted the facts?
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What's the new data advanced by science?
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Well, she was too tired for fun, and "then she smoked a Camel."
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(Laughter)
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Babe Ruth spoke of proof-positive medical science,
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that is when he still could speak before he died of throat cancer.
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You know, if by some miracle back then there was a SmokingFacts.org website
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that could deliver the science directly,
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bypassing commercially corruptible institutional filters,
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you would have known of studies like this.
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This is an Adventist study out of California and published in 1958,
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showing that non-smokers had at least 90% less lung cancer than smokers, right?
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But this wasn't the first.
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When famed surgeon Michael DeBakey was asked why studies back in the '30s
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linking lung cancer and smoking were simply ignored,
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he had to remind people what it was like back then.
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We were a smoking society. It was everywhere.
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It was in the movies, airplanes;
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medical meetings were one heavy haze of smoke.
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Smoking was, in a word, normal.
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OK. So back to our thought experiment.
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If you're a smoker in the '50s in the know, what do you do?
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I mean with access to the science,
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you realize the best available balance of evidence
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suggests your smoking habit— not so good for you.
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So do you change or do you wait?
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If you wait until your doc says, between puffs, to quit, you'd have cancer by then.
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If you wait until the powers that be officially recognize it,
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like the Surgeon General did in the subsequent decade,
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you'd be dead by then.
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It took more than 7,000 studies and the deaths of countless smokers
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before the first Surgeon General's report against smoking came out.
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You'd think maybe after the first 6,000 studies,
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could give people a little heads up or something?
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Powerful industry.
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Maybe we should have stopped smoking after the 700th study, like this.
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As a smoker in the '50s, one on hand, you had society, the government,
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the medical profession itself telling you to smoke.
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And on the other hand, all you had was the science,
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if you're even aware of studies like this.
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All right, let's fast forward 55 years.
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There's a new Adventist study out of California
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warning Americans about something else they may be putting in their mouths.
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Of course, it's not just one study; put all the studies together.
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The mortality from all causes together, many of our dreaded diseases,
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significantly lower among those eating more plant-based diets.
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So, instead of someone going along with America's smoking habits in the '50s,
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imagine you or someone you know going along with America's eating habits today.
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What would you do?
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With access to the science, you realize the best available balance of evidence
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suggests your eating habits are not so good.
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So do you change, or do you wait?
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If you wait until your doctor tells you, between bites, to change,
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it'll be too late.
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In fact even after the Surgeon General's report came out,
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the American Medical Association went on record refusing to endorse it.
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Why? Could it have been because they were just handed the $10 million check
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from the tobacco industry? Maybe.
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(Laughter)
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We know why the tobacco industry was sucking up,
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why the AMA was sucking up to the tobacco industry,
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but why weren't more and more individual doctors speaking up?
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There were a few gallant souls ahead of their time,
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speaking up against industries killing millions,
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but why not more?
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Maybe it's because the majority of physicians themselves
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smoked cigarettes.
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Just like most physicians today continue to eat foods
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that are contributing to our epidemics of dietary disease.
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What was the AMA's rallying cry back then?
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Everything in moderation.
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Extensive scientific studies have proven smoking in moderation, oh, that's fine.
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Sound familiar?
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The food industry used the same tobacco industry tactics,
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twisting the science, misinformation.
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The same scientists were hired,
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paid to downplay the risks of cigarettes and toxic chemicals,
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are the same paid for by the National Confectioners Association
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to downplay the risks of candy,
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and the same paid for by the meat industry to downplay the risks of meat,
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whereas animal foods and processed foods,
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you're killing off at least 14 million people every year.
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So those of us involved in this kind of evidence-based nutrition revolution,
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we're talking about 14 million lives in the balance.
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Maybe, plant-based nutrition
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should be considered as the nutritional equivalent of quitting smoking,
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but how long do we have to wait
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before the CDC says don't wait for open heart surgery;
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to start eating healthier as well.
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Until the system changes,
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we need to take personal responsibility for our health, for our family's health.
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We can't wait until society catches up to the science again
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because it's a matter of life and death.
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A few years ago
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Dr. Kim Williams became President of the American College of Cardiology.
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He was asked in an interview
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why he follows the same diet he recommends to all of his patients,
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a strictly plant-based diet.
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"I don't mind dying," Dr. Williams replied.
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"I just don't want it to be my own fault."



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