Dr Aseem Malhotra said a deficiency of protein worsened his mother’s health. She developed serious spinal problems and arthritis and had mobility issues. She eventually died of sepsis following an infection with triggered discitis
Sam Blanchard Health Reporter
Gerry Gajadharsingh writes:
“I don’t know the subject of the interview personally, the cardiologist Dr Malhotra, but he has shared a very personal story regarding his mother’s vegetarianism and her health. It is rare that I read an article and think, I agree with everything that has been said. It is hard when a person adopts a certain diet for religious or ethical reasons to convince them, that from a health perspective maybe their diet is not as healthy as they believe.
We are seeing increasing numbers of people changing their diets to be vegetarian or vegan. This article relates particularly to vegetarians of Asian background who eat that way because of religious beliefs. The patients’ levels of Vitamin B12, iron, Vitamin D and HbA1C (a 3-month glucose marker) are regularly tested for in the NHS, especially in areas of high Asian populations, because more often or not the nutrient levels are found to be low and HbA1C high (showing poor glucose control). Imagine if other blood parameters were routinely tested or a functional interpretation of their blood tests were given?
It’s not only a lack of important micronutrients, but the fact that many of these patients will also have elevated HbA1C, which shows that their consumption of high glycaemic carbohydrates is simply too high, and they are developing insulin resistance or have been formally diagnosed with Type 11 diabetes.
Avoiding animal products comes with some risk, especially in the form of a lack of bioavailable proteins which break down to amino acids, the building blocks of tissue, enzymes (all chemical reactions in the body are controlled by enzymes), some peptide derived hormones (such as thyroxine) and neurotransmitters (such as serotonin, the brains happy hormone).
I think some people can be healthy vegetarians, but it requires a really balanced diet, not just simply avoiding animal products and overconsuming refined and over processed carbohydrates.
Dr Malhotra said being vegetarian does not necessarily mean someone is healthy and India, which has the most vegans and vegetarians of anywhere in the world, has high rates of type 2 diabetes, a condition associated with being overweight.”
An NHS heart doctor has claimed his mother’s vegetarianism contributed to her premature death. Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist, said his mother Anisha’s health deteriorated because she cut meat out of her diet and became weak and susceptible to infection. Anisha, a former GP in Manchester, died in December of sepsis – a complication of an infection – at the age of 68.
Dr Malhotra said that, although she became overweight and unhealthy through eating ‘ultra-processed’ junk food, it was a lack of meat that left her deficient of vitamins and protein which led to her poor spinal health.
Dr Aseem Malhotra says a diet high in processed vegetarian foods contributed to his mother’s frailty because she became deficient in protein and vitamins, leaving her with lower muscle mass and a higher risk of infections.
Dr Malhotra said: ‘Growing up, I witnessed her regular consumption of starchy carbohydrates and ultra-processed snack foods of biscuits, crisps and chocolate’.
‘Even if you take away the rubbish diet, the problem with vegetarianism is you don’t get enough protein and you are at risk of a nutrient deficiency,’
‘With my mum, the fact she didn’t get enough protein was the reason her muscle mass deteriorated and she became frail and vulnerable to infection. ‘That was a crucial aspect to her suffering at the end.’
WHAT DID SHE EAT EACH DAY?
Three cups of tea with three teaspoons of sugar in each
Five or six biscuits
Bowl of lentils
Traditional Indian sweets
Indian vegetarian dish with potatoes
Two to three chapatis
Dr Malhotra said his mother developed high blood pressure while in her 40s and had a brain haemorrhage in 2003.
She also had arthritis as a result of being overweight and her spine became increasingly damaged over time, including repeated slipped discs.
When she died, his mother had discitis – inflammation of the tissue between the intervertebral discs in the spine, triggered by an infection.
Her mobility was further destroyed by sarcopenia, a decline in muscle mass he believes was brought on by a protein deficiency caused by her vegetarianism.
‘For most of her adult life, my mum was vegetarian and significantly overweight.
‘Growing up, I witnessed her regular consumption of starchy carbohydrates and ultra-processed snack foods of biscuits, crisps and chocolate.
‘Our kitchen was flooded with these products.’
Acknowledging it wasn’t vegetarianism which killed his mother directly, Dr Malhotra argues the lifestyle choice isn’t synonymous with health and many people who don’t eat meat damage their bodies in other ways.
Dr Malhotra believes his mother who was vegetarian for religious reasons, suffered from worse health because she didn’t eat meat which could have given her vital nutrients to improve her strength
Dr Malhotra said being vegetarian does not necessarily mean someone is healthy and India, which has the most vegans and vegetarians of anywhere in the world, has high rates of type 2 diabetes, a condition associated with being overweight
Vegetarians still become fat and may also lack the protein, vitamin B12 and iron – meat-derived nutrients – to strengthen their muscles, bones and immune systems, he said.
He gives the example of India, which has more vegetarians and vegans than the rest of the Earth combined, being dubbed the ‘diabetes capital of the world’.
This Dr Malhotra blames on increasing consumption of fatty processed wheat, sugar and vegetable oil products.
And he adds a majority of vegetarians don’t eat healthily – the Indian Dietetic Association found 84 per cent of veggies are protein-deficient, compared to 65 per cent of people who eat meat.
Dr Malhotra added in his column: ‘Sadly, [my mother’s] devout religious faith to avoid consuming animal products, combined with a high starch, high sugar diet, was ultimately to the detriment of her health.
‘I very much hope that her premature and painful death was not in vain and we can learn that much of these ills are preventable.’
Dr Malhotra last year slammed the World Health Organization for telling people to replace butter and lard with ‘healthier’ oils in the New Year.
He said he was ‘shocked and disturbed’ by the advice, which the UN agency listed as a tip to prolong people’s lives.
CAN GOING VEGGIE BOOST YOUR RISK OF HEART DISEASE?
Vegetarian diets are widely touted as a healthier option than eating meat.
But eating a vegetarian diet isn’t always healthy and some may increase the risk of heart disease, scientists said in July 2017.
Experts warned cutting out meat can lead to a higher risk of heart disease – if vegetarians eat lots of refined grains, potatoes and sweets, and indulge in sweetened drinks.
Researchers from Harvard University designed separate diets which focused on plant food with a reduced animal food intake and a vegetarian diet that emphasised the intake of healthy plant foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
They also studied a third which was based on unhealthy diet of less healthy plant foods like refined grains.
The study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.