PLANT-BASED DIETS AND CARDIOLOGY
Karina: You're listening to the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast, Episode 56. Dr. Shane Williams joins me to discuss the recent controversy over a study that supposedly found that eating red and processed meats isn't as bad for our health as we previously thought, how Dr. Williams incorporates whole food plant-based eating into his cardiology practice, a few predictors Dr. Williams has noticed of patients who end up making long-term changes in their lives versus those who don't and a lot more.
Hey, welcome to the show. I'm Karina your no-bullshit vegan fitness and nutrition coach and thank you so much for joining me today. Now before I introduce our guest, just so you know, I do have a few more than usual coaching spots available right now. So if you are looking for a friendly kick in the ass to improve your fitness and particularly your strength as well as your plant-based nutrition, right now I have six spots available, so if you want one of them apply really soon because they're going to go pretty fast at karinainkster.com/apply. I just signed up with a new coach myself and this is to train for a really specific kettlebell challenge that I want to do. It's probably going to take me about two years, but it has been awesome having my workouts made for me, having my coach track my progress and check my form and make suggestions and it's all online, which is what I do with my clients.
Also as a side note, I think it's super important that all coaches have their own coaches. So if you're looking to level up your fitness from a vegan standpoint of course, then these six spots are going to go pretty quickly. So you are going to want to apply as soon as you can at karinainkster.com/apply.
Now I'd like to introduce our excellent guest for today, Dr. Shane Williams. Born and raised in Newfoundland, Dr. Williams runs a private practice in Cardiology and Internal Medicine. In 2010 he stumbled across a copy of the book, The China Study written by T. Colin and Tom Campbell, and he was surprised with the amount of nutritional research that existed to support a whole foods plant-based diet to not only prevent but also stabilize, improve and sometimes even reverse many chronic conditions and these include elevated blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, coronary heart disease, and diabetes.
So he began to learn more and more about the science showing the power of nutrition on our health. Since 2010 after changing his own diet and enjoying many health benefits, he has been incorporating nutritional education and training into the care of his clinic patients. Over the years, he has met and learned from a number of world leaders in plant-based nutrition including doctors T. Colin Campbell and Thomas Campbell, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. John McDougall. He's lectured at plant-based conferences, hosted many week-long immersion programs locally as well as a 10 day plant-based immersion summit in the Caribbean with doctors Campbell and Esselstyn, along with other leaders in the field. Dr. Williams considers himself very lucky to have witnessed and continue to witness so many of his patients, often completely turning their health around once they learn about and implement a whole foods plant-based diet. He's passionate about bringing this information to as many people as possible so they too can become empowered to both safeguard and improve their health. When it comes to Dr. Williams favorite meal, sometimes he keeps it really simple like rice and beans, but he does enjoy a Shepherd's Pot Pie from the Forks over Knives website and he says, I can even get my somewhat picky 12 and 16 year old daughters to eat it too. Not an easy achievement sometimes. That's pretty awesome.
So let's get to our interview. Hi Dr. Williams, welcome to the show. Thanks for being here.
Dr. Williams: Thanks for inviting me. It’s nice to be here.
Karina: Well I'm very happy and you know, I'm actually getting to know you along with our listeners. So I would actually love to start by asking you what you do and can you tell us a little bit about your practice and your background? Kind of like the Dr. Williams origin story? That would be fantastic.
Dr. Williams: Oh, sure. Well, I actually originally trained as a Pharmacist and was a registered pharmacist back in my home province in Newfoundland. Then because I'm a sucker for punishment for too much school, I decided to go and do medical school and then do a fellowship in Internal Medicine. Because pain is not enough, I did another three years of a fellowship in Cardiology in Hamilton, Ontario at McMaster. So I came North here to the Muskoka area in this small town Bracebridge and around 2008 thinking that I was going to change the world by the right pill or the optimal procedure, you know, very conventionally trained. After a couple of years of that realizing, gee, all I feel like I'm doing is prescribing pills, and it doesn't seem like anybody's getting better, I'm realizing now the blind spot I had was the impact of lifestyle, especially in nutrition on people's health, which I think most people know that there's a factor. There's an impact, but it's not discussed in medical school as I'm sure you've heard a hundred times. We're trained and the options for treatment must exist amongst the topics that we've been taught because you come out of a quarter-million dollar medical school, student loan and you figure, gee, after a quarter-million dollars, surely they've covered all the important topics. Then you hear about nutrition as sort of as an afterthought. So, that’s how I was programmed, and then around 2010 after a couple of years then of independent clinical practice, just kind of thinking in the back of my mind, I don't know if we're making much of a difference here. I stumbled across a copy of Dr. Colin Campbell’s The China's Study and that's what changed my whole perspective on things, realizing that medications do have a role, but instead of medications playing 70 or 80% of the role and outcomes and food and lifestyle playing 5 or 10%, I've come to realize, I think both in reading the literature on the topic and seeing the changes in my patients in the clinic for the past nearly 10 years realizing that we have this upside down. 20% is what meds will do. 80% is what lifestyle choices predict whether or not you're going to be back and forth in the hospital or you're going to be disabled or whether you're going to die young. So it forced me to change and challenge a lot of my beliefs. Again, I haven't tossed medications completely out as an option, but as most of your listeners who are listening to this concept would realize that this concept of every symptom is met with another prescription is not a very good way to practice healthcare. Unfortunately, that's the kind of a system we're often into. So we need to stand back and look at lifestyle because it plays a way bigger role than we ever expected.
Karina: Absolutely. So you started your practice from a more so-called conventional standpoint and then after a couple of years brought in more focus on lifestyle and nutrition. So what does that actually look like for the work that you do now?
Dr. Williams: So the end of 2010 is when I came across The China Study. I read it and was originally skeptical. I thought this Campbell character was maybe some sort of opinionated journalist or something. I realized, no he's actually professor emeritus of nutritional science with 300 peer-reviewed articles. So I knew okay, he's legitimate and I started looking into the research that he was also referring to in addition to The China Study which he undertook which was an observational study showing a strong correlation between the more animal products you ate, the higher rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and many of the chronic diseases we suffer from as epidemic proportions in the West. So I looked into more of the research that he was pointing out in the book and realized this is bonafide, legitimate and why haven't we been told this?
Why aren’t we incorporating this into our practice? So I changed my diet and in about 10 weeks I lost about 22 pounds. In early 2011 I started mentioning it to patients and over the course of the next three to six months, started seeing tremendous responses in patients who listened to me. Not everybody listened, but the ones who did started seeing very big drops in cholesterol levels, really big improvements in blood sugar control and weight loss that sustained itself. 8, 10, 15, 20 pounds was routine. This was a total game-changer for me because I said to myself, wow, I've been prescribing pills now for more than 10 years and trying to counsel patients to eat better according to the Canada Food Guide and so forth and people just weren't better.
Within three to six months, I noticed a big change with this small change in the advice which is reduce the animal products and get the plant foods up in the diet full stop. The difference was staggering. It was around May or June of 2011. I started thinking to myself, okay, I this is so significant. I think I'm going to have to hire a documentary producer to come into my clinic and start just start filming some video here and interviewing some patients and the ones who are willing to talk about their experiences, because this is significant. I know The China Study was huge but like anything, it's all very good if it's in a book on a shelf, but people need to see it in real life in a clinical practice.
Literally about seven days later, Forks over Knives was released. It still is a mainstay first stop for people when they ask me about plant-based and I say, this is just a rough introduction and explains the very people that inspired me: Colin Campbell and Caldwell Esselstyn at the Cleveland Clinic and the amazing work that he's done with changing people's diets and reversing their heart disease. So this was exactly what we wanted. Eight years later, we still have lots of copies of Forks over Knives on our shelves. It's on Netflix now, but some people still don't have internet in our patient cohort. So we always push that as a first step if you're interested at all, go and look at this because it shows that it is not just a preference or some kind of an ideological thing about the environment or animal rights or hippies or anything else. It's literally strong science that supports a more plant-centered lifestyle and the science is measurable in its benefit.
Karina: Absolutely. Fully agreed. So even though you have all the support and Forks over Knives to show patients, do you ever get pushback? And if yes, what kind? It’s pretty clear now from our standpoint that the research is in line with eating a plant-based diet. But when it comes to your patients, how do you introduce that concept and how do they take it?
Dr. Williams: I guess like people would say who work in hospitals that are working clinics, I do get a skewed vision of the world because, cardiologists, after a while, would think when they go out into the mall that, you see somebody, you think everybody's got heart disease. Well, as it turns out, people do have heart disease but don't know. But another issue is that we see a certain subsection of the population. As it turns out, the majority of people who go see doctors are people who eat poorly, don't exercise, don't get adequate sleep, and don't manage stress well. So that's the common factor where there's a lot of people. 60 and 70 and 80 year olds, I never see them, and it's mainly because those people and their lifestyles have been healthy for years, so they don't end up coming across my Periscope. So that's one thing that I realize. It’s a bias sample that I have. So the other side is that many of these folks come to me with angina, exertional chest pain that disables their life. They can't tie up their shoes, they can't have sex, they can't carry groceries. So they're not feeling well. Many people are having sleep apnea. They're significantly overweight. They're on 8 or 10 prescription medications. They're having side effects. So I have a hook, I guess, of a group of patients, so I can say to them, are you sick of being sick? Are you tired of being on meds because I may not be able to get you off all the meds or you may not be able to, but we can certainly reduce your burden on prescription medications and make you feel a whole lot better if you start paying attention to your food.
I try not to be like some kind of a religious zealot to convert them to my church or something. I just introduce it fairly gently and try not to be pushy because nobody wants to be told what to do. Then you'll have a group of people who will say, no, my diet is fine because everybody thinks your diet is fine. My diet's okay and I'm not interested in learning about food. Then I just gently back away from it and try not to get punched in the face and people have been generally pretty good about it. But there's about 30 to 50% of people who sit up and take notice and say, wow, a cardiologist is talking about this. You mean eating healthier? You have data to show me? I show them the science behind it and I suggest they watch the Forks over Knives documentary and if they're interested in the nitty-gritty, boring, nerdy science, read the China Study. I think is a better book probably to explain the whole concept in terms of regular normal person reading, like not Dr. ish people would like The Starch Solution by Dr. John McDougall. There's a great number of books and other documentaries out there to introduce the concept. And then I just let them go with that and see if they're interested in following it. What we've done at around 2013 was to start small group sessions whereby I bring people together who have high cholesterol or weight problems or high blood pressure, which is a lot of my patients, and offer them a chance to come for one hour per week, for a six week series, where I run a group counseling thing where I introduce different concepts of different angles of this plant-based lifestyle. So one week we'll talk about John McDougall and his work. I'll direct them to watch John's Ted talk, and then we'll talk about certain aspects of his practice that he's run for 50 years and show patient experiences of reversing the blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary disease.
The second week, I talk about Esselstyn. Third week I introduce Neil Bernard and his work on reversing diabetes with plant-based and so forth. So we do a one hour per week, six-week seminar here in the clinic. We also cater a plant-based meal to be brought so people can a plant-based dish just to give them some ideas. We also sell plant-based books here in the clinic, not because I want to get into being a bookseller but I think it's really important in terms of the timing that if I can get somebody revved up about this idea when they're motivated, I want to get the book in their hands right there and there and whatever materials they'll need to help support them. But the real motivation of identifying the patients, it has to be their interest. If I was a salesperson for Mercedes-Benz, I'd have to have a good car to sell and I could sell maybe more cars, but if a guy is not in the market for a car and he wants to buy a bicycle, I'm not going to be able to make something happen that's not meant to happen. If somebody is really resistant to look at their diet or defensive or they have other emotional issues that are more paramount. For example, I've only told a few people this, but a group of people who I find that it doesn't work for, and this is maybe not a very good motivating discussion, but I think it's important to identify folks who maybe have more significant issues than you know, green beans and vegetables, is folks drink that heavy like alcohol consumption high, and folks who are heavy smokers, I find they're very, very difficult in order to motivate to take their diets seriously. Maybe because they're so far into addictive patterns, they're thinking, dude, eating vegetables is not my biggest risk when I'm here smoking two packs a day. I don't know why, but I find that particular group of patients, although we don't, we don't block them from our programs, I find the chances of that person being successfully year from now is very low.
The other group of people who doesn't seem to work to long term is the people who get super excited about the idea at day one, they hear about me and they're my new best friend and they want to buy every book I got and they're all onboard thousand percent, I find those folks who were very kind of very histrionic, very dramatic and Awesome, this is the best thing ever, is three months later they're onto their next biggest thing that they're interested in. I found the most successful predictor for a patient is, yeah, I think there's something here. I'm skeptical, but what you say, because you're telling me give up meat and animal products and I can reverse this disease, I don't know if I believed that bugger, like let's see, I'll give you a chance, but I'm not convinced yet. Just keep your mind open and come to our sessions and we'll see what happens. I don't know if I'm going to be here three months from now. Almost always that particular group of people will be here three years from now on board and eating better. So it's interesting. It's not the group of people who I would have predicted, it's the people who come with a healthy degree of skepticism but are open to the idea that maybe my food is making me sick, but I'm still not convinced yet, prove it to me.
Karina: And the research is so robust that there's really no choice but to prove it at that point.
Dr. Williams: Yeah, exactly. Those who want to learn it and keep their mind open, will learn it. Those who don't want to learn, you can show them a mile of data and if at the end of the day their decision is well, hamburgers are more fun, so I'm going to eat them anyway, I'm not going to convince somebody who doesn't want to hear it.
Karina: Absolutely. It's the same in fitness. Being a strength coach, I also have a skewed sample of people who are on some level unhappy with their situation and they're seeking help for it. Thats a great point actually, that we both have skewed samples of the population. Now my clients are all already interested in veganism or they're already somewhere on the spectrum of plant-based eating. But it's a good point because we're not walking around thinking everyone has heart disease or thinking everyone is super into strength training. Well, maybe we are, but it's not an accurate assumption. So that's a good point about having a skewed sample. Also your point about people having to be ready on their own. People don't like being told what to do and it's not going to be a long term habit change anyways, if it comes from somebody else telling them what to do, I don't think it's going to be a long term behavior change really that's going to lead to results, unfortunately.
Dr. Williams: Nor does fear lead to long term results. I've had people who were of a reasonable level of intelligence, told them about plant-based eating, and they rejected it. They went on to have unstable angina of cardiac arrest in the front door of the hospital, luckily resuscitated back to life, still alive and still eating hamburgers. Some of those people for three months, they'll all do good and then they fall off again. But this one particular person, I’ve got in mind, he never moved, he wasn't motivated to change his diet one bit. Now if that doesn't scare you to death then having a few extra pounds rollout over your belt is probably not going to motivate much of a behavior change in that particular subsection and that personality profile of that particular patient.
II was speaking to Alan Goldhammer last week in Santa Rosa, California. He runs the True North Health Clinic where they do pretty intense water fasting for long periods of time. I was sharing my experience with him that it takes people to be sick often to really want to change their lives, like people are coming to you because they're unhappy. If they're really happy with their excess weight and their blood pressure and all the medications they're taking, that'd be a bad situation because they wouldn't be motivated to change. He said sadly, the person who's more most likely to take on a water fast than to switch to a plant-based diet and turn her life around, are the folks who are suffering the most with severe rheumatoid arthritis, disabling pain, out of control diabetes and high blood pressure. So the sickest people are then people are going to be most motivated to change. That sort of human nature is sad. It's too bad we can’t cut it off before a near catastrophe happens, but the other side of it is sadly I got a lot of people who are unhappy with their health. So that tends to be part of the drivers why it appears that we're as successful as we are is that I’ve got a lot of people who are unhappy.
Karina: So what do you think it is about the people who don't need a health scare like you and me, presumably who care about our health and our diet and exercise without having some kind of a catastrophe happen. So what's different in people who don't need a health scare to care about this stuff?
Dr. Williams: I think that’s a good question, and in fact Alan Goldhammer was saying what their future work is going to be. He said it's not going to be overly politically correct and accepted, is his personality profiling based on the five plus one where the level of agreeableness and all of these parameters to be able to predict which particular personality profiles are likely going to stick with the behavioral change 6, 12, 18 months and longer. He said there's got to be a certain profile that’s going to have a higher rate of success. I made observations in my own clinic, but I don't do personality profiling on people because of course that's considered kind of sort of faux paux in the PC world. But in running programs, it may become a place where it's necessary because we’ve got limited resources, I might only have time to really spend a lot of time with maybe 20 patients a month. So do I really want them to talking to people who we can use all our scientific predictors to say they're not going to change. So should I use my time more effectively amongst people who are going to be predictably much more successful? I mean that raises a lot of ethics, right? I try not to think that way because, even if I’ve got a heavy smoker, he's putting the cigarette out on the front step. He's coming into the cardiology clinic and I'm always been this sort of naive person to say, Hey, he deserves a chance as much as anybody does, so I think he deserves to get the spiel for me about why it's important to quit smoking and let me draw the pictures and show the blood clots and everything else. Then if he sees what I have to say and the data to explain to him, and at the end of that he tells me to go fly a kite. Well I gave him a chance. I’m naive in some ways because I think everybody deserves a chance. I bet you some of these people you would never predict they would change, sometimes they turn out to be our biggest success stories.
Karina: Since this is all hypothetical, maybe if this were instituted, you know, personality testing, maybe more than deciding who gets your help, maybe it would be about changing your approach based on their personality. Maybe they need different ways of presenting information or maybe they need different habit change approaches or something like that. Just kinda thinking out loud on that one.
Dr. Williams: That's actually a very good thought. That's a really important point. Like you say, then can we tailor our approach to their particular strengths or weaknesses or tendencies and their personality traits. It is a fascinating area. We have limited resources with behavioral management. Where can we get our best bang for the buck? Maybe that's where the future of this is. But in the meantime, just trying to get the message out, I recently was asked to speak at the Toronto Veg Food Fest. A friend of mine who runs our website, he was from Toronto and said to me for years, go to Toronto. Now as a Newfoundlander, we're kind of raised to kind of fear Toronto as is just so big, scary and busy.
So this year we decided to go do it, and it was a fantastic experience. They treated me like I was a rock star. I went into this auditorium, there was nobody there an hour before the sound test. I'm thinking, Oh my God. By the time we started the place was chock-full. They really were so amazed to hear a physician talk about lifestyle and food, which is really cool for my ego, but it's also pathetic really, isn't it when you think about it, when I as a physician go out and talk about celery, it's kind of crazy. I hope this changes soon because this is ridiculous. Like it's time for medicine to come to the party. Then we had a Q and A across the corridor of the Harbour Centre in Toronto, and I walked in there and they had this microphone set up and this kind of minimalist, really cool California like room with floor to ceiling glass and about a hundred people were there. I walked in there and I felt like I was a surgeon who had just completed bypass surgery or im the President or something. They were hanging on every word I said, which again was cool. But it was also like, dudes, I want to apologize for my profession to say I'm sorry that you guys are just yearning to hear this from a physician,that your food does make a huge difference. I don't know why the rest of my colleagues, so many of them are tone deaf to this. It doesn't make sense, but we need to stick to our guns and not be too radical and aggressive about it, but just stick to the science, and when controversial science continues to come out in the media to undermine this realize, okay, well who said that and what's their likely agenda? Because the truth, when you see it in patients, maybe, humans will in the end be able to optimally function with minimal amounts of plant or animal-based foods., but generally what any rational person can agree on is keeping those animal-based food proportions in your diet down to the very minimum would be definitely the very maximum way to heal human beings. Once you see it, you can't unsee it, and that's why we get accused of being a bit of a Messiah or a bit of a missionary or a or a disciple of this. It's hard not to get excited because for decades we've pushed pills and people just never got better, like a successful follow up diabetic visit was, okay honey, you're no worse. Okay way to go. Now we have the abilities to improve numbers, get weight down, get people off meds, even reversed their diabetes. We never ever saw that before with medications or even or even a diabetic diet. It just never happened. It's hard not to get excited and almost fanatical about it because the alternative is just so destructive, which is, your wheels are turning with more medications and we're not getting anywhere and possibly we may even be harming a lot of these patients with the number of side effects, many of which we haven't even detected yet. So it was hard not to get very passionate about it.
Karina: Agreed. Because you've seen it firsthand and the patients you see probably have minimal experience with nutrition interventions or eating more plant-based foods. I mean that's why they're seeing you. Right?
Dr. Williams: And there's sick with tons of meds and disabled problems and those again are the group of people just like my fellow Newfoundlanders on average, if you can get those people to change 30%, 50% of their diet, even then you start getting signals that wow, there's a lot to be improved here. Then when you get the eating 70, 80 or more percent plant-based, it is like one of those miracle videos about some kind of divine intervention or religious thing except it's not religion, it's science. It actuallyis measurable and it's really cool and it's very exciting. It's also so sad to see so many people have such a resistance to it and so many groups try to shoot holes in it mainly because of course if you're a pharmaceutical company, if you're a large agribusiness selling animal-based foods and dairy and so forth, this is obviously very bad for business. So I understand the strategy point of view, they as in the status quo, do not want your general population to understand and know this because it is bad for the bottom line. I get it.
Karina: Yeah, it makes sense. There’s always going to be this clash even in the fitness world too, between making money and doing what's best for people. It’s unfortunate that that is how the system works.
Dr. Williams: It is. So we're trying to find a way to do good for people and don't get me wrong, I want our money too. But why can't we walk both lines and so that's my goal.
Karina: Yeah, absolutely. Well I'm super excited for what you're doing and how you're helping patients. We do need more professionals who get the importance of nutrition, especially medical professionals, I would say. I'm hoping that the training and then med school and things like that are slowly moving in the right direction, but I'm not in that world, so I have no idea. I'm hoping that there's going to be more emphasis on prevention and nutrition and not just, Hey, here's some pills. See you later.
Dr. Williams: I think there is. The reason why I was out in California was because we just had the privilege to attend an annual meeting that's been eight years ongoing called the International Plant-Based Medical Conference. It started eight years ago with 80 physicians and now it registers over 1200 physicians of all kinds of specialties. It truly is international where many people were there from Australia, Italy, Portugal, other parts of Europe and so forth, plus the United States and Canada. So a lot of physicians, family, doctors, plus specialists, this is resonating with them and they realize, wow, like this really makes a difference. So I think that it is growing and in fact an employee of True North Health Center, Dr. Michael Clapper within the past year just started a Go Fund Me campaign and raised enough money to allow him to go around to different medical schools and do a series of lectures, which is entitled The Missing Med School Lectures, which are basically the lectures that he felt should have been taught to him when he was a medical student. So him and a number of other physicians are taking initiatives like this. So I think it is definitely changing and like anything, I think the group who are most susceptible or more impressionable are the new trainees before the pharmaceutical companies get to them. When you're bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and you're still a little naive about, like I used to be about, oh pills and procedures are gonna save the world, well, just slow down now junior, and let's show you the science and nutrition, the things that conventional doctors are usually not trained. Let's introduce that to you so that you can combine, yes, there's a role for needles and drugs and prescriptions in certain cases, but don't ignore the biggest impact on whether or not your patient's gonna get sick and stay sick and die young.
So it is definitely changing. I don't think we're being irrationally overly optimistic. Then the change in the Canada Food Guide in January was a Christmas gift that I never expected to get as early as this. When it happened, I felt like as a people now about this recent controversy about this a very poorly done science, suggesting that red meat and processed meat is not as bad as we thought it was. Highly biased in pharmaceutical and just poorly done science. But I knew that that was going to happen, although I never knew that they would be able to get six papers published in a major journal. I'm not very happy with it. Animals of Internal Medicine and their editorial leadership, if I use the word loosely, so I'm not very happy with that.
That's just a testament to how powerful pharmaceutical and food is. So I knew when the Canada Food Guide went and did something very significantly improving the previous guide, like snub dairy once and for all, I knew just like one of the two kids who got a great Christmas gift, the other kid is not really going to be very happy. So I knew there's going to be a big push back. If the ingenuity often of the dishonesty put forward by the dairy and food and pharmaceutical industry, if that could ever be used for good, we could get people to Mars next year. I'm sure we could. They have amazing willingness to do whatever they need to do to get the job done. So the determination and ingenuity is not necessarily a sign, obviously for good intentions and for moral behavior, but you gotta hand it to their tenacity, that's for sure that they do not give up. And you wouldn't give up either. If billions and billions of food money was at stake or drug money, I mean they got a lot to lose. They don't want the general public to be better informed.
Karina: That's very true. And it wasn't this iteration of the Canada Food Guide, one of the first, if not the first to actually not be essentially backed by industry.
Dr. Williams: I think it was.
Karina: I heard something about that it's legitimately research-based, no industry involvement for the first time, which is kind of scary if you think about the previous food guides. Hey, let's go back to this controversy for a second. That was actually the last thing I wanted to ask you about and get your take on. So just to give our listeners a little bit of background here. So the current very timely controversy, so-called, I'm using air quotes by the way around controversy, is some research that came out on red meat and processed meat. It’s making headlines of course, and it’s basically suggesting that we shouldn't be as concerned about red meat or processed meat consumption as was recommended previously. I think this is a meta-analysis though, right? So it's not actually new research. I'm pretty sure it's just compiling existing research and there's a whole bunch of health professionals like yourself, Dr. Williams, who are not on board with this at all and they disagree with the overall conclusion. So I'd love to get more information on your take on this.
Dr. Williams: Well, my take is that this seems to be sort of a replay of a number of years ago. You remember when the journalist released the book, The Big Fat Lie and this all came out of a bunch of meta-analyses that were also poorly done. So the rules of how to combine studies, just standing back before I went to McMaster and learned a little bit about research trials, I'm not a trial expert but learned a little bit about their methods, I used to think why do we need to do any more research? We got hundreds of these different trials done with 20 people, 100 people, 300 people, why don't we just join them all together and even the numbers out? That's how naive I was. I thought that'd be a good idea. But as it turns out, from a methodological point of view, that's hazard and inappropriate because if you have a one trial that has a certain inclusion criteria or rules for how you get into trial and another trial that has slightly different inclusion criteria, you can't then take the apples and the oranges and add them together and do the stats and expect to have a legitimate answer. So it's critically important that the quality of the studies that they're designed appropriately and that the inclusion criteria for each of the studies are identical. Once they go off a little bit, you then can't make conclusions about the study.
So they did this bunch of meta-analysis, joining all kinds of totally disparate, different kinds of studies, join them all together, which basically is going to, in statistical analysis, come out to correlation of nothing. So before you even do the study, you just pick really crappy, poorly connected studies that are not really related, join them all together and guess what? I know what I'm going to get. I'm gonna get really proof of nothing. They applied that to saturated fat, which we know saturated fat data increases cholesterol, that has been known for a hundred years, done with the highest quality studies, studying those, we know the population studies on saturated fat, very clear. And then they do a study that shows up as down and down as up and everything was wrong, but it's a very poor quality study. So basically it should be flushed down the toilet even before it got published, but because it was supported by a number of big-name researchers who were supported by the dairy industry, it got published and it set off this whole thing. Of course, that as John McDougall says, people love to hear good news about their bad habits, right? Like, I joke in my sessions that, that if I wanted to make $1 million next year, I could do the Shane Williams bacon and egg diet and I'd sell 5 or 6 million books, I could retire and I'd be calling you now from Martinique. I could be on totally wealthy just by telling people a bunch of lies that they want to hear. So that's the clickbait, the whole phenomenon of social media is that it doesn't matter what the science shows, If the headline is juicy, I'm going to go after it. So they know that. And this Big Fat Lie book comes out and Time magazine puts a big swirl of butter on their front page because it's attractive, but unfortunately, it's a lie. So the same thing happens with this.
Poorly done meta-analysis studies that are not really well joined. Join them all together and to the researchers credit, although they don't deserve much, they did say, you know, our confidence in this data is weak because we just basically broke so many rules of meta-analysis, however, our self appointed experts on nutrition independent group, by the way, gee, I wonder who's paying their bill. This independent group comes out and says, yeah, you know, maybe the red meat data, even though in our poor analysis shows that it does increase the risk of death, cardiovascular death, premature and all cause mortality because our techniques are poor, our confidence in it is poor, so you know, maybe just forget red meat and processed meat. Maybe it's not so bad after all. It's one of the worst examples of poor science getting mainstream. Again, the general public not to be patronizing or insulting and the way the media spreads it, they're not really in a position to critically analyze what's going on because they're seeing this from Dr. so, and Dr. so and from these significant institutions of higher learning so they trust what the “experts” are saying and that's what makes this so dirty, because these people have a responsibility to spread true information. And on the surface they're not telling a lie but they're leaving people with the impression that they're adding information and dismissing the potential toxicity of red meat and processed meat, which is, there may be lots of things in nutrition we can argue on and are controversial, but that's one of the least controversial topics of all.
So in some ways I think it's been good for this to happen because it's so absurd. It's much the same as, I don't want to get political, but when Andrew Scheer the leader of the Conservative party went into the dairy farmers and basically said, you know, we know that this new Canada Food Guide, which you forgot to say was the only one scientifically based, is hurting your industry, so I promise if I get in as Prime Minister, we'll review the whole food guide, basically kissing their rear ends or promising them quid pro quo if you like. I think that was a very important thing to happen because it was very transparent to show people how he was just a call boy for the dairy industry. That's why I think this is an important thing, even though it's shocking, but I think it was also met with luckily such response by educated people who had no ax to grind to say this is absurd. It should never have been published. This is published by a number of fairly high profile researchers. Shame on you and you should be ashamed of yourself for obviously this is just another piece of propaganda from the dairy and pharmaceutical industries and food industries and you should be ashamed of yourself creating this.
Karina: Well if I hadn't read a review of the study or the study itself, if all I was looking at was headlines, I would think that this was new research, the way it's been presented to the public, Oh this is a new study that came out. It says I don't have to worry about red meat. That’s the first thing. Secondly, I would also have no idea that the researchers themselves had little confidence in their own conclusions because they really weren't doing meta-analysis properly. But you wouldn't know this unless you're actually looking at the literature itself or reading the study from how it's presented to us in the media. We would have no idea about that.
Dr. Williams: Part of the reason why the media is an accomplice in this is because they darn well know from their psychological behavioral analysis, they know that people don't read the second line in the study. Everybody wants it summed up, what's the bottom line? Give me the money shot, busted down conclusion. I haven't got time to look at page five of this study. Just give me the data. So they know that. So I think when the media knows that, morally they have a responsibility if people are only going to read one line for heaven sakes, make that line truthful and accurate, but they don't. So again, I've got my theories of why they don't and I think it's very dirty that they don't. But as a result it only perpetuates the confusion. So it's a perfect setup for mass confusion, deceiving the population and heck no wonder then everybody is so confused. The general public is so confused about what the proper thing is to eat and not eat.
Karina: Yeah, and it's not just information overload, it's also BS overload. You know, where the information is actually untrue, which is very unfortunate.
Dr. Williams: It is. I particularly like one of the studies where they interviewed people about their preferences? They interviewed and basically said, you know, we also did a personal preference survey and we asked people and those who eat red meat apparently really like it and they really enjoy red meat and they don't want to give up red meat because it gives them much pleasure. So when I said, Oh great, and actually the half dozen or so people I've taken care of who snorted cocaine before they had a heart attack, a cocaine-induced heart attack and nearly died, every one of those people really enjoyed cocaine too. They really enjoy cocaine. So should we now do a national access strategy to improve cocaine access to the general population because so many people enjoy it for heaven sakes? It's absurd.
Karina: That is ridiculous. I actually didn't know about that. This is poking even more holes into our already very Swiss cheese looking piece of work.
Dr. Williams: Just with Andrew Scheer’s comments to the dairy industry, dude if you're going to be corrupt, you're gonna have to work at hiding the corruption a little bit better than that. That’s basically middle of the day, going across the counter, gimme all your money Royal Bank. That's not a very astute way to rob a bank these days. You gotta work at that.
Karina: They're really not trying very hard. It's kind of funny actually. It's a good point. Well, Dr. Williams, I feel like we could do many more podcast episodes. What would you like to leave our listeners with? Where can they find you and how can you connect with our listeners?
Dr. Williams: We’ve got a website, Williamscardiology.com where we point out and recommend a lot of the reference we typically use. So if you or a friend who are interested, just like I tell all my patients, get into the, start with watching Forks over Knives, read a book like either the China Study by Colin Campbell or the Starch Solution by Dr. John McDougall. We are located in Bracebridge about two hours North of Toronto, there are people, believe it or not, who drive from Toronto to see us. One couple drove from Ottawa every week for six weeks to attend our seminars. I would go to them and nervously ask was this worth the drive? And they'd say, yes, we'll be back next week, and I'm thinking, okay, this is so exciting, but they loved it. So if you're in the local area, check out our website and contact our clinic and see what programs might be of interest and useful to you guys.
The other thing, what we're in the making is to try and do some kind of an online web-based program because we do have a lot of people say, I do have relatives or friends in BC and we'd love to hear your presentations and get your support. So we're working on a web-based kind of a support program as we speak. This should hopefully launch in the new year.
What I would leave people with is if anybody tells you that food is not important you need to find another bit of advice. I remember one lady who had severe deforming rheumatoid arthritis, morning pain, disabling pain. She changed her diet in three months. She was able to not require anymore methotrexate and steroid injections and she said this to her rheumatologists, look at my joints are amazing. I've got no morning pain. This is a miracle and do you want to know what I'm doing doctor? And the doctor looked at and said, what do you mean what you're doing? Well do you want to know the changes I made? Well what changes did you make, honey? Well, I went to a plant-based diet. He looked at her, highly trained, and looked at a straight in the eyes and said, Oh, we know food has no effect on arthritis. So those are the type of interactions that say, look, my mother, who's a typical traditional Newfoundlander who eats steak and beef and all kinds of animal products, she even says to me, when I go back to visit her, she says, Shane it was really nice for you to come down and visit, but I know now next week when you go back, I'm going to have this big steak and all kinds of fat. But she says, you know, I know after I eat it, my joints are going to be in pain for four days and I'm going to pay for it now. So if she can notice the effect that food has on her joints and arthritis, you're telling me a well-trained rheumatologist can look a patient in the face and honestly say food doesn't matter? So if anybody tells you food doesn't matter to the human illness, you need to wonder what they're smoking in a bad way and you need to show tremendous skepticism towards that because food matters. That's what I would leave people with.
Karina: Absolutely. Agreed. Well, Dr. Williams, it was fantastic speaking with you. Thank you so much for taking the time. I really appreciate it.
Dr. Williams: Nice talking to you, Karina. Let’s connect again and good luck. Thank you.
Karina: Thanks for joining us this episode. Hope you enjoyed today's interview and Dr. Williams, thanks again for speaking with me and sharing your knowledge with our listeners. Access our show notes at Nobullshitvegan.com/056 to connect with Dr. Williams and to learn more about his practice and don't forget that I currently have six coaching spots available, so if you need someone in your corner to level up your strength and vegan nutrition, apply for one of the spots at karinainkster.com/apply. Thanks so much as always for tuning in.
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