Peter Beats Crohn's Disease
If you know anyone with Crohn's disease, please have them read this.
I have known Peter, his wife Bobbie, and their daughter Laurel for many years, as our daughters played softball together. After my cardiac arrest and the realization that it was caused entirely by the standard American diet, I mentioned to Peter that I had switched to a whole-food plant based diet to eliminate heart disease. He said that he had been eating a plant-based diet for years for a different reason. In Peter's own words, listen as he describes his needless suffering and ultimate victory over this dibilitating disease.
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s in the 1970’s at age 20, primarily in my ileum and appendix. I was advised at the time by a series of different gastroenterologists and Crohn’s specialists that the recommended treatment was a low-fiber diet – mostly meat, dairy and eggs, avoid fruit, no whole grains, only soft cooked vegetables. Of course I now know that made things worse, and I ultimately ended up in the hospital intensive care with a non-functioning bowel and two emergency surgeries over a period of four months (ruptured appendix and obstructed ileum). I had suffered with this disease since my mid teens but had never been correctly diagnosed until age 20 when its damage reached a crisis. I continued to have debilitating bouts of Crohn’s symptoms, and lived in a continuous fog of dysfunctional digestion.
A couple years later I came across a doctor that suggested the opposite: no dairy, and lots of high fiber, low-fat plant-based food. I tried it and it worked like magic. The fog lifted. I was “cured”, and I’ve stayed with this diet ever since, with no recurrence for the past 30 years. At the time of this doctor’s advice, I was also beginning to make the correlation myself, that a high-milk intake resulted in prompt onset of acute symptoms. But milk was so pervasive in my diet that I rarely had a milk-free period for comparison. Based on my personal experience, I am 100% certain that diet (especially milk) caused my Crohn’s disease. My dramatic cure gives me continuing motivation to stay with the dairy-free, high-fiber diet.
About 10 years later, another doctor who thought perhaps I never really had Crohn’s and had been misdiagnosed asked for the medical reports and photos from my earlier surgeries. He had the pathology reports analyzed in light of the newest definitions of Crohn’s, and confirmed that I did indeed unquestionably have classic Crohn’s disease.
In my case, milk seems to be the chief culprit, the milk protein in particular. This is different from “lactose intolerance”, which is the sugar component of milk. I have problems with yogurt, cheese, lactose free milk, etc. that are touted as low in lactose, because these are very high in milk proteins.
For the past 30 years I haven’t eaten milk, cream, ice cream, cheese, yogurt, nor baked goods made with milk or cream (waffles, pancakes, cakes …). We make pancakes at home using soy milk, but I can’t eat them at a restaurant or from a packaged mix. Even vitamin pills with dry milk powder added as filler will set off intestinal distress. I religiously read ingredient labels. When I inadvertently eat something I didn’t know contained milk, I feel the intestinal effects within about 15 minutes.
My reading of Crohn’s disease research corroborates my experience. There seem to be at least one-third of Crohn’s cases that are related to dietary milk intake. Low-fat and high-fiber can help another large fraction of cases. I’m dumbfounded that my doctors didn’t (and still don’t) know this, because there was already research showing this before then. There does also seem to be a smaller fraction of intractable Crohn’s disease that isn’t helped as much by diet, but I think it is likely a small minority of cases.
By the way, the doctor that advised me to switch to the dairy-free diet was my girlfriend at the time, who had a remarkable talent for insightful diagnoses. Her recommendation probably saved my life.
At first I feared that avoiding milk might provide inadequate calcium intake, based on the advertising that makes you think milk consumption is essential for preventing osteoporosis. I took calcium supplements at first, but after studying the research I concluded that the supplements were of dubious benefit and potential harm. I have since recognized that calcium is readily available in plant-based foods, and needn’t be an issue. More important are sunshine and exercise.
As I began to cure my Crohn's by eliminating dairy and switching to mostly whole-grains, I sought confirmation in the diet research publications. My big "ah ha!" moment and the primary source of my enlightenment was from a 1980's vegetarian cook book:
Laurel's Kitchen, by Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, & Brian Ruppenthal (1976 & 1986)
It includes a well-written section in the back with 130 pages of scientific research-based discussion of diet and nutrition, and presented the same benefits of a plant-based diet, included preliminary results from the China study, and similar conclusions that were reinforced by later publications of The China Study, John McDougall, and others. See the Wikipedia entry:
It was partially the inspiration for the name of my daughter, whom you know.
It is interesting that much of my comfort level with this diet was reinforced by my later experience working and living in undeveloped countries and eating their normal diet, in Africa, Indonesia, and South America. I gained personal experience with swaths of the human population who rarely or never eat cow’s milk, don’t eat much meat, but are healthy, strong, and energetic. In the tropics especially, a hot climate without refrigeration makes milk an impractical food. Most dramatic was my stay in tropical Mozambique, where tsetse flies make it impossible to raise cattle. The rural people there don’t consume milk. But most dramatically, the elderly women have postures as straight, strong, and upright as a child’s. If you listen to American medical recommendations, you would think this is impossible without consuming large quantities of milk daily. The difference, though, is that people in Mozambique are very poor and don’t drive cars or even horse carts; they walk every day, everywhere they go, usually many miles, young and old alike. I occasionally saw bicycles, but because of the muddy roads, most everyone walks. They also eat lots of greens, a mainstay of their diet, along with millet, cassava, mangos, peanuts, and local fresh seafood.
And then there were the “primitive” indigenous Indians of the Amazon rain forest with whom I lived for a while. They found the thought of consuming cow’s milk to be disgustingly repulsive and un-natural: “Cow’s milk is for baby cows … not for people.” They couldn’t be persuaded to try the stuff. After that, I realized that a milk-free existence was perfectly natural and enjoyable, and I haven’t missed it since.
In America, though, milk is ubiquitous, and it is challenging to find any place that serves anything without cheese, milk, or cream. Milk is so pervasive that there is no control experiment: most people consume dairy every meal (not to mention the Starbuck’s lattes), so there’s no way to compare a statistically significant group of people who’s diet is milk free. Even “vegetarian” menus usually include large doses of cheese, and “vegan” selections are scarce.
The only way to stick to a dairy-free, high-fiber, low-meat diet is to make my own food at home from scratch. It’s a lot more work, but it’s quite delicious, really. And it helps that Bobbie is a great cook!
Thank you for your efforts to broadcast this diet information to a wider audience. If I had known or been given better diet advice, I would have avoided the surgeries and would have had a much happier, healthier experience in college and as a young adult.