Is Your Vegan Diet Dangerous?

You don’t have to look far to see the rise in the popularity of veganism. Grocery stores now devote entire sections to plant-based products. Nearly all restaurants offer vegan options, often denoting choices with a “V” on the menu. Impossible Burger got one thing right: it’s impossible to obtain health through fake food. 

Today, nearly 10 million Americans are vegan. And while there may be some merit to their choices, such as avoiding the inhumane practices of factory-farmed meat, there are also some significant health ramifications. In fact, following a vegan diet impacts your hormones and is downright dangerous for your heart. 

What is a vegan diet?

A vegan diet is a dangerous form of vegetarianism that excludes any foods of animal origin. Vegans refrain from eating meat, seafood, eggs, dairy, and any foods that contain animal by-products, including honey. 

So what do vegans eat? In theory, a vegan diet contains only plants such as vegetables, grains, nuts, fruits, and foods made from plants. However, in reality, most vegan diets consist of sugar, processed foods, and gluten. Because the vegan diet eliminates many nutrient-rich foods, most vegans rely on carbohydrates to feel satiated. 

The reasons behind living a vegan lifestyle are vast. Some people choose veganism because they are concerned about animal cruelty. Others believe that it’s a healthier choice. Still, others think that they are aiding in decreasing the world’s carbon footprint. The debate about veganism has become as heated as politics. Unfortunately, many vegans are ill-informed about their choices. 

The nutrition (or lack thereof) of veganism 

There’s no doubt that diets high in vegetables offer incredible health benefits. After all, plants are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and heart-healthy fiber. Vegan diets are typically high in magnesium, folic acid, vitamins C and E, and phytochemicals, all of which benefit the heart. 

Unfortunately, many essential nutrients and antioxidants can not be obtained from a plant-based diet. For example, vitamins B12 and D3 are only found in animal products. Further, zinc exists in higher levels in animal products. Unfortunately, many vegans are deficient in this important mineral because plant phytates can interfere with zinc absorption. 

Plus, a certain type of iron can only be obtained by eating meat. Specifically found in red meat, heme iron is better absorbed than plant-based non-heme iron. As a result, some vegans are prone to anemia.

Studies have found that vegans are also at high risk for iodine deficiency. This essential mineral primarily found in seafood impacts many crucial functions in the body, including the thyroid and the heart. Unfortunately, 80 percent of vegans are deficient in iodine, compared to only nine percent of omnivores.

Some vegans wrongfully assume that all plant-based food is healthy. However, factory-made food will never be as nutritious as real food. Many vegan foods are ultra-processed, designed to mimic animal foods, such as faux bacon and plant-based cheese. As a result, the vegan diet is packed dangerous additives and preservatives. In fact, studies have found that avoidance of animal-based food often results in higher consumption of unhealthy, processed food. 

As veganism has gained in popularity, some parents are adopting the lifestyle for their children. Unfortunately, the long-term ramifications of a vegan diet for children are still unclear. A recent study found that vegan-raised children were shorter and had weaker bones than their meat-eating peers. 

Vegans and the hormone problem 

One of the biggest problems with a vegan diet involves hormones. DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands. DHEA helps produce other hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. In addition to its powerful effects on inflammation, mood, and bone metabolism, DHEA also acts as a potent anti-aging agent. 

DHEA naturally peaks in the mid to late 20s and declines with age. Lower levels of DHEA have been associated with several health conditions, such as depression and sexual dysfunction. In addition, hundreds of studies have linked declining DHEA levels with an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and even death

The main building block for DHEA is cholesterol. Guess what you don’t get from plants? Cholesterol. While the body produces much of the cholesterol needed, dietary intake impacts hormone production. Furthermore, vegan diets are typically high in carbohydrates, leading to blood sugar imbalances. As a result, elevated insulin depresses the adrenal production of DHEA, causing further declining levels.

The heart of the problem with veganism

In the lifespan of humanity, heart disease is a relatively new development. Cardiovascular problems did not become widespread until after the turn of the century, right around the time that industrialized foods came into fashion. 

While some have claimed that a vegan diet is heart-healthy, there is an abundance of evidence that suggests otherwise. For example, an 18-year study of nearly 50,000 people concluded that vegans had a 20 percent higher risk of stroke than meat-eaters. 

In another review of dozens of articles, scientists assert that plant-only eaters have higher risks of blood clots and hardening of the arteries, both of which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. The authors attributed their findings to the lack of omega-3 fatty acids and B-12 vitamins in the vegan diet. The dangerous vegan diet isn’t always the best option.

5 reasons a vegan diet is dangerous

By now, we hope that you see the value in eating a balanced, whole-food diet. However, in case you need more evidence, here are five additional reasons to steer clear of a vegan diet: 

Vegans can suffer from digestive disorders 

Protein plays a vital role in forming and maintaining every cell in your body. This macronutrient, made of amino acids, is essential for heart health. The highest quality protein sources include seafood, meat, poultry, and eggs. 

Since vegans avoid animal products, they often turn to soy proteins such as edamame, tempeh, tofu, and soy protein powder. Unfortunately, soy protein is extremely difficult to digest. In addition, the high levels of phytic acid in soy impair the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals, increasing intestinal permeability and leading to a leaky gut

Vegans can suffer from hormonal problems 

Soy is also packed with phytoestrogens, which can negatively impact the body’s hormone levels. For example, studies have found that men who eat vegan have significantly lower sperm counts than meat-eaters. Soy has also been shown to suppress the thyroid

However, perhaps the most dangerous aspect of soy is that nearly all soy crops in the United States are genetically modified. The FDA admits that 95 percent of soy crops are GMO. Genetically modified crops are dangerous when ingested, destroying the gut’s microbiome and leading to many health problems. 

Vegans have lower heart rate variability

Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential part of any healthy diet. Multiple studies have confirmed the importance of these long-chain fatty acids for health. For example, one study found that people who eat fatty fish at least a few times a week cut their risk of death from a heart attack by approximately 33 percent and cut the risk of coronary heart disease in half.  

The human body can’t make omega-3 fats — they must be consumed through the diet. Two types of omega-3s, DHA and EPA, are primarily found in fish oil. The third type, ALA, can be found in plant oils. The cardiovascular benefits of omega-3s are predominantly due to EPA and DHA, not ALA. 

Because vegans don’t consume animal products, relying instead on vegetable oils, their ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 fats are much higher, which is dangerous for health.  

Heart rate variability is a measure of the amount of time between heartbeats. Not only is fluctuation normal, but it’s a sign of good health. Conversely, low heart rate variability is associated with cardiac disease and cardiovascular-related deaths. 

Omega-3 fats, specifically from fish oils, have been shown to improve heart rate variability. For example, a recent study found that vegans have higher heart rates and lower heart rate variability than their meat-eating friends, likely due to the lack of EPA and DHA in their diets. Therefore, those who follow a vegan diet may be in danger of cardiovascular disease and death.

Vegans may suffer from mental health disorders 

The foods that nourish our bodies have a significant impact on our brain and mental health. Brain function is affected by the nutrients, or lack thereof, that enter our bodies. Healthy food promotes a healthy gut, which speaks directly to the brain through the gut-brain access. 

A significant amount of evidence links diet to psychological health. For example, studies have found that diets high in omega-3s lower anxiety. Further, a 2019 study found that increasing vitamin D consumption significantly reduced the symptoms of depression.  

Multiple studies have also examined the mental health of those following a vegan diet. For example, a recent large 2021 study concluded that vegan diets were related to higher rates of depression and anxiety. 

The exact reasons why vegans suffer from higher rates of mental health disorders are not known. However, there are a few possible causes. First, cholesterol is the precursor for many important hormones, including cortisol. Lower levels of cholesterol may impede the production of cortisol which helps us cope in acutely stressful situations. Alternatively, the lack of B12 in a vegan diet can contribute to anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. 

Since stress is a significant factor in heart disease, poor mental health can increase cardiovascular events. 

Vegans can have elevated homocysteine levels

Vitamin B12 plays many vital roles in the body. Along with folate, vitamin B12 makes red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. It’s also crucial for nerve tissue and brain health. 

Without enough vitamin B12, levels of an artery-damaging compound called homocysteine can begin to accumulate in the body. Elevated homocysteine levels have been linked to cardiovascular disease, brain dysfunction, and weak bones. 

For example, studies have found that vegetable-only eaters have thicker arterial walls than omnivores. Another study found that low levels of vitamin B12 were associated with higher levels of total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides.

There’s no substitute for nature

History has a funny way of repeating itself. But, unfortunately, we don’t always learn the lessons it provides. For example, the advent of industrialized food brought significant health problems to Americans. And here we stand, once again, with a society eating meatless burgers and faux cheese. The vegan diet isn’t just foolish, it could be dangerous.

To those of us who truly understand health, eating an imitation burger pretending to taste like meat seems absurd. Why wouldn’t you just eat the real thing? No matter what, there will never be a healthy substitute for nature. And that’s a good thing.

Next steps

Ditch the vegan diet and incorporate quality, nutrient-dense meat into your diet whenever possible. Your body needs essential vitamins and fats from meat to function properly and support essential systems. If you’re recovering from a vegan diet or simply need a little extra support, check out our CardioOmega supplement abundant in essential omega-3 fatty acids.

Eat Well · Live Well · Think Well 

Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD

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