Sample from the Winter 2006 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

An Interview with Dr. Neal Barnard

Clinical researcher and author Neal Barnard, M.D., is one of America’s leading advocates for health, nutrition and higher standards in medical research. In 1985 Dr. Barnard founded the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). PCRM has since grown into a nationwide group of physicians and lay supporters who promote preventive medicine and address controversies in modern medicine. In this interview, Dr. Barnard discusses his new, groundbreaking research into the effects of a vegan diet

Integral Yoga Magazine: Please tell us about your latest research.

Dr. Neal Barnard: We have reached quite an exciting point. In 2003, we received funding from the National Institutes of Health to look at the effect of a vegan diet on diabetes. The study includes 99 people with type 2 diabetes–the most common form in adults, and which is now increasingly common in children. Half of the participants went on a vegan diet, that is to say it included no animal products, and it was also low in oil and low glycemic-index. The comparison group followed a more typical “diabetes diet.” The way had been paved for this study by earlier studies, including one showing substantial improvement for those participants eating the vegan diet. We found that removing eggs and dairy from the diet was particularly helpful for people with diabetes. We have already presented our results at scientific conferences and we hope to publish the results by the end of 2006.

We also did another study to test a low-fat vegan diet for weight loss. We followed 59 women after menopause and found that, without exercise or calorie-counting, they got better results than with other diets. Of course, we recommend including exercise in one’s life, but for this study we wanted to focus just on the diet. And we found measurable improvement in insulin sensitivity.

IYM: Why do you think you saw a much more positive result from the weight-loss study using vegan diet?

NB: Unlike a typical diet where you wrestle with portions, calories and hunger, with a vegan diet all you have to learn is to set certain things aside. It is easier. With other diets–with a capital “D”–every day you have to roll the stone up the hill and then it’s thrown down and you start again. Anyone who has been on a diet knows how that is and why there is so much “yo-yo” dieting. But eating vegan is like setting your stone down. It’s been a real eye-opener for the participants to see how their blood sugar improves, they lose weight and they feel so much better. It’s like you’ve been driving a car with terrible exhaust and nothing works right. Then one day the mechanic says, “This car takes unleaded, you’ve been using diesel.” Once you start using the right fuel, the car works much better. And our bodies are the same. We’ve been putting in diesel, and we’re made for unleaded!

For our research participants, the issues are half medical and half psychological. Our studies are randomized, so volunteers have a 50% chance of getting one diet or the other. Before the diabetes study, we asked them which diet they would like to be on–recognizing that they could not really choose–assignment was totally random. However, the vast majority wanted the vegan diet. We asked them why, and most told us they had done the more standard diet and it didn’t really help them. Many felt that, if they did not get their diabetes under control, they would need more and more medication and may end up losing their eyesight or their limbs. Would it be worth giving up cheese to save their vision? No question about it. We find there’s a week or so of learning–and a bit of trepidation, perhaps–but they get into it and it’s an easy adjustment.

Read the rest of this article in the Winter 2006 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.