GoVeg: Auto-immune diseases affect millions of people worldwide. What are they?
Dr. Xu: When a person has an auto-immune disease their immune system is out of whack. Our immune system’s task is to produce a response to antigens (foreign bodies and toxins) that may threaten our health. With an auto-immune disease the immune system responds to antigens or proteins that are part of the body and do not pose a threat. An example is Type 1 diabetes where the immune system destroys insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Essentially the body is fighting itself.
GoVeg: Are auto-immune diseases on the increase?
Dr. Xu: Yes. There are many examples but I can give you one example from China. A recent study found that 50% of nurses at a hospital in Guangzhou were suffering from thyroid conditions. Such an incidence is unprecedented and far too high to be a freak result. Most thyroid problems are the results of auto immunity in which the thyroid gland is attached to one’s own antibodies.
GoVeg: Do auto-immune diseases respond to a plant based diet?
Dr. Xu: Yes, very well. In fact a low fat plant based diet is likely the only cure for thyroid problems and liver diseases. This is because a plant based diet leads to helpful probiotic bacteria forming in the digestive system.
On the other hand eating meat and dairy leads to harmful bacteria forming in the gut.
GoVeg: You use the word ‘gut’. Does ‘leaky gut’ have anything to do with auto-immune diseases?
Dr. Xu: Many scientists believe that all auto-immune diseases start with a leaky gut. What happens is that bad bacteria damages the permeability lining of the gut. This then causes substances to ‘leak’ into the bloodstream. This can lead to the immune system ‘fighting back’ by initiating an immune response. Sometimes a foreign antogin is too similar to our own molecules, which causes a cross reaction. This is the body fighting itsel. It also causes allergies where the body fights things that it shouldn’t.
GoVeg: Can you briefly say something about each of these auto-immune diseases and how to manage them? Lupus and Ankolysing Spondalitis.
Dr. Xu:Lupus is a disease where the body attacks antogins in the person’s cell nuclei.Because every cell has a nucleus, Lupus causes inflammation everywhere in the body. There is strong anecdotal evidence that a low fat vegan diet is highly effective in overcoming Lupus. Essentially, if the person stops eating meat and dairy they foster beneficial bacteria and stop nurturing harmful bacteria in their gut, subsequently their “leaky gut” get fixed. When self harming stops, the body can begin to self heal.
The incidence of Ankolysing Spondalitis could be as high as 1%. Studies have found that Ankolysing Spondalitis patients have elevated levels of antibodies against a type of bacteria in the gut. Apparently the bacteria got into the blood stream through a leaky intestinal barrier. So the first thing remains the same. The person must stop eating animal and fatty products that are feeding bad bacteria in the gut, which cause the leakiness. The extra complicating factor with Ankolysing Spondalitis is that the antigen bacteria is thought to feed on starch, therefore a starch-free diet could help reduce the symptom.
GoVeg: So if animal products are out and starches such as potatoes and beans are out, how does someone with Ankolysing Spondalits get their energy while healing?
Dr. Xu: First of all if they are hungry they should eat whatever they can. I would also recommend a few tablespoons -say 3 to 5- of ground flax seed every day for extra energy. It is quite safe to eat in those amounts. A leafy greens and fruit smoothie with the seeds is a good way to have them.
GoVeg: Thank you very much for your time. Can we talk to you in future if our readers have other health issues to discuss?
Dr. Xu: No problem.
We began these interviews with Dr Xu by asking him to discuss the meaning of health generally. He said that health is self healing and that our bodies will self heal as long as we are not ‘self hurting’ through diet and bad habits.
We followed up by asking Dr Xu about the role of diet in particular health conditions that seem to be on the rise- type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer and auto-immune disease. In all cases, Dr Xu explained, the adoption of a low fat plant based diet was essential to maximizing the body’s ability to self heal.
Dr Xu, who has a PHD in Physiology, has been working for PCRM since 2010, firstly in Clinical Studies, now on the Kickstart China Program (21 Day Vegan Kickstart). He travels widely in China to educate people on the importance of a low fat plant based diet.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine was founded by Dr Neal Barnard in the USA. After he graduated as a medical doctor in the 1980s, Neal Barnard’s work acquainted him with things that shocked and worried him- the use of dogs in medical experimentation was one. Another was the fact that many other doctors he met smoked and ate meat even though they knew both were unhealthy. It seemed to him that the medical industry needed more compassion and also needed to be more thoughtful about the causes of ill-health, rather than just treating the symptoms.
Dr Barnard started PFRM to practice medicine with compassion. It had two aims:
1. To support plant based eating with evidence based research
2. To fight against the use of animals in experiments in medicine and other fields.