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From: "Steve Harris" <>
Subject: Re: Vegetarianism Debunked:  The Myths of Vegetarianism
Date: Wed, 11 Jul 2001 05:25:26 -0600

From: "KP Patel" <>
Subject: Vegetarianism Debunked:  The Myths of Vegetarianism
Date: Monday, July 09, 2001 2:14 AM


>Stephen Byrnes, ND,RNCP

>This version published in the Townsend Letter for Doctors &
>Patients,July 2000.

>Bill and Tanya sat before me in my office in a somber mood: they
>had just lost their first baby in the second month of pregnancy.
>Tanya was particularly upset. "Why did this happen to me? Why
>did I miscarry my baby?" The young couple had come to see me
>mostly because of Tanya's recurrent respiratory infections, but
>also wanted some advice as to how they could avoid the heartache
>of another failed pregnancy.

>Upon questioning Tanya about her diet, I quickly saw the cause
>of her infections, as well as her miscarriage: she had virtually
>no fat in her diet and was also mostly a vegetarian. Because of
>the plentiful media rhetoric about the supposed dangers of
>animal product consumption, as opposed to the supposed health
>benefits of the vegetarian lifestyle, Tanya had deliberately
>removed such things as cream, butter, meats and fish from her
>diet. Although she liked liver, she avoided it due to worries
>over "toxins".

>Tanya and Bill left with a bottle of vitamin A, other
>supplements and a dietary prescription that included plentiful
>amounts of animal fats and meat. Upon leaving my office, Tanya
>looked at me and said ruefully: "I just don't know what to
>believe sometimes. Everywhere I look there is all this low-fat,
>vegetarian stuff recommended. I followed it, and look what
>happened." I assured her that if she and her husband changed
>their diets and allowed sufficient time for her weakened uterus
>to heal, they would be happy parents in due time. As they left,
>I shook my head in disbelief and concern: I knew they were
>not the only ones.


What a doofus this Byrnes guy is!  And just when I was prepared to give some
of the better naturopaths the benefit of the doubt.

Here this young couple come to him, and he proceeds to make them think that
their "mostly vegetarian" diet has been so low in vitamin A as to cause
infections and a "weakened uterus." Another guilt trip laid on couple who
don't deserve it (miscarriages in the second month of pregnancy are very
common, and so are respiratory infections; both are often nonspecific
medical problems and certainly aren't clearly diet-related in the Western
world). And if that's not enough, he THEN sends them out to get pregnant
while taking vitamin A, a known mutigen at the kinds of doses typically
found in vitamin A supplements (women should not take more than 10,000 I.U.
pre-formed vitamin A (retinol) while pregnant).

So why does this Byrnes person think that a "mostly vegetarian" diet can
cause a young yuppie couple to be deficient in vitamin A? Well, not for very
good reasons. We have to go further into the article to find his reasoning,
and it's not pretty. Here is what he has to say:

>MYTH #4: The body's needs for vitamin A can be entirely obtained
>from plant foods.

>Vitamin A is only found in animal products. Plants do contain
>beta-carotene, a substance that the body can convert into
>vitamin A. The impression given by some vegetarian sources is
>that beta-carotene is just as good as vitamin A. This is not

>First, the conversion from carotene to vitamin A can only take
>place in the presence of bile salts. This means that fat must be
>eaten with the carotenes to stimulate bile secretion.
>Additionally, infants and people with hypothyroidism, gall
>bladder problems or diabetes either cannot make the conversion
>or do so very poorly. Lastly, the body's conversion from
>carotene to vitamin A is not very efficient: it takes 4-6 units
>of carotene to make one unit of vitamin A. What this means is
>that the sweet potato (containing about 25,000 units of beta-
>carotene) you just ate will only convert into about 4,000 units
>of vitamin A (assuming you ate it with fat, are not diabetic,
>and do not have a thyroid or gall bladder problem) [16].


First of all, Byrnes seems to have no idea that "units" of beta-carotene are
ALREADY corrected for the human body's imperfect conversion of this
substance to retinol. One International Unit of "vitamin A activity" is set
equal to 0.6 micrograms beta-carotene, or 0.3 micrograms of retinol. The
reason for this is that the 2:1 ratio is what is required in human feeding
trials to raise serum retinol levels by a given amount. The average person
who eats 25,000 I.U. of beta carotene gets 25,000 I.U. of vitamin A.

Second, while beta carotene absorption and conversion is less in people with
thyroid problems and bile duct obstruction, these illnesses do NOT as a rule
result in vitamin A deficiency. Whether they do in vegetarians is not, so
far as I can tell, known. Until somebody reports it, it remains a nice
theory (one which doesn't apply to this poor yuppie couple in any case). I
resist the idea that a vegan diet causes vitamin A stress and append two
studies of vegans which find that they have better than average vitamin A
blood levels.  I have been able to find NO studies reporting vitamin A
shortages in vegans. Where are they? There are multiple studies (for
example) reporting B12 shortages in vegans, and Byrnes quotes some of them
himself. Why does he not then quote some vitamin A studies to back up his
contention that vegetarianism per se causes vitamin A shortage, and (more to
the point) miscarriage?

Finally: Is vitamin A shortage a problem in 3rd world countries?  It is, but
the reasons for it are unclear. Feeding high carotinoid foods to children at
risk does raise their vitamin A levels, particularly if problems with
intestinal parasites are taken care of. However, it is exclusively a problem
of the lowest socioeconomic classes in the 3rd world, and NONE of this has
anything to do with Westerners who have enough money to have the luxury of
consulting a naturopath, or buying vitamin A pills.  In short, we're just
seeing garden-variety bad medical advice here. It's incredible that this
Byrnes brags about it in print, and my opinion of the Townsend Letter
remains unchanged (it's a foo-foo new-age rag for people who have way too
much time, money, and anxiety, and who deserve what they get when they

>About the Author:
>Stephen Byrnes, ND, RNCP, enjoys robust health on a diet that
>includes butter, cream, eggs, meat, whole milk, cheese, and
>offal. He is the author of Healthy Hearts: Natural Medicine for
>Your Ticker and Digestion Made Simple (Whitman Books; 2000).


Be afraid.



Ann Nutr Metab 1995;39(6):334-9

Selected vitamins and trace elements in blood of vegetarians.

Krajcovicova-Kudlackova M, Simoncic R, Babinska K, Bederova A, Brtkova A,
Magalova T, Grancicova E.

Research Institute of Nutrition, Bratislava, Slovakia.

Selected vitamin (A, C, E, beta-carotene) and trace element (selenium,
zinc, copper) levels were estimated in the blood of 67 vegetarian
nonsmokers aged 34-60 years. The average period of lacto- or
lacto-ovovegetarianism was 6.2 years. The results were compared with
those of 75 nonvegetarians of the same age and living in the same region.
Vegetarians had significantly higher plasma levels of essential
antioxidants: vitamin C, beta-carotene, and vitamin A. A significantly
higher molar ratio vitamin E/cholesterol indicates a more effective
protection especially of low-density lipoproteins against peroxidation.
Oxidation of low-density lipoproteins represents one of the key factors
in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. The molar ratio vitamin E/total
lipids was significantly higher in plasma of vegetarians, demonstrating a
more effective protection of polyunsaturated fatty acids against
peroxidation.  Vegetarians had significantly higher plasma levels of
selenium and similar levels of zinc and copper when compared to
nonvegetarians. These trace elements are important for the activity of
antioxidant enzymes. The results document a beneficial effect of
vegetarian nutritional habits on antioxidative parameters and thus on the
reduction of cardiovascular diseases and cancer risk.  Reactive products
of oxygen metabolism and subsequent toxic products of lipid peroxidation
play an important role in the etiology of these diseases.

PMID: 8678468 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

J R Soc Health 2000 Jun;120(2):117-24

Micronutrient intakes in a group of UK vegans and the contribution of
self-selected dietary supplements.

Lightowler HJ, Davies GJ.

Nutrition Research Centre, School of Applied Science, South Bank University,

Micronutrient intakes and the contribution of self-selected dietary
supplements were investigated in 26 vegans, comprising 17 non-supplement
users (NSU) and nine supplement users (SU), consuming their habitual
diet. Micronutrient intakes were estimated using a four-day weighed
record and the contribution of self-selected dietary supplements was
assessed according to the manufacturers' declarations on the packaging.
Mean daily intakes from food sources were similar in NSU and SU. Dietary
supplements significantly increased intakes of riboflavin (p < 0.05),
niacin (p < 0.05), folate (p < 0.01), vitamin A (p < 0.05) and vitamin D
(p < 0.05). The mean daily contribution of dietary supplements ranged
from 7-1640% of the reference nutrient intake (RNI). Intakes of vitamin
B12 and selenium (Se) were below the appropriate lower reference nutrient
intake (LRNI) in 80% and 65% of NSU respectively. After supplements, 33%
of SU remained below the LRNI for vitamin B12 and 33% below the LRNI for
Se. Some vegans who took supplements were not taking certain
micronutrients in amounts sufficient to meet the RNIs but were taking a
mix of micronutrients, some of which they needed and others which they
did not need. Some vegans who did not take supplements had a potential
need for the addition of supplements to their diets. Advice on the
appropriate usage of dietary supplements for those on a vegan diet is

PMID: 10944887 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Am J Clin Nutr 1995 Dec;62(6):1221-7

Antioxidant status in long-term adherents to a strict uncooked vegan diet.

Rauma AL, Torronen R, Hanninen O, Verhagen H, Mykkanen H.

Department of Clinical Nutrition, University of Kuopio, Finland.

Antioxidant status was investigated in 20 Finnish middle-aged female
vegans and in one male vegan who were following a strict, uncooked vegan
diet ("living food diet"), by means of a dietary survey and biochemical
measurements (blood concentrations of vitamins C and E and beta-carotene,
and the activities of the zinc/copper-dependent superoxide dismutase and
selenium-dependent glutathione peroxidase). Values were compared with
those of omnivores matched for sex, age, social status, and residence.
Antioxidant supplementation was used by 4 of 20 female vegans and by 11
of 20 control subjects. Based on dietary records, the vegans had
significantly higher intakes of beta-carotene, vitamin E, vitamin C, and
copper, and a significantly lower intake of selenium than the omnivorous
control subjects. The calculated dietary antioxidant intakes by the
vegans, expressed as percentages of the US recommended dietary
allowances, were as follows: 305% of vitamin C, 247% of vitamin A, 313%
of vitamin E, 92% of zinc, 120% of copper, and 49% of selenium. Compared
with the omnivores, the vegans had significantly higher blood
concentrations of beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E, as well as
higher erythrocyte superoxide dismutase activity.  These differences were
also seen in pairs who were using no antioxidant supplements.  The
present data indicate that the "living food diet" provides significantly
more dietary antioxidants than does the cooked, omnivorous diet, and that
the long-term adherents to this diet have a better antioxidant status
than do omnivorous control subjects.

PMID: 7491884 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Int J Food Sci Nutr 1998 May;49(3):173-9

The plasma beta-carotene response to a single meal of carrots in Guatemalan

Bulux J, Quan de Serrano J, Perez R, Rivera C, Solomons NW.

Center for Studies of Sensory Impairment, Aging and Metabolism (CeSSIAM),
Hospital de Ojos y Oidos Dr. Rodolfo Robles V, Guatemala City.

Plasma samples were obtained before, and 8 and 24 h after the ingestion
of an ad libitum amount of cooked carrots by 23 school children from a
peri-urban community in Guatemala City. The single-meal consumption of
cooked carrots ranged from a low 122 g to a high of 961 g (mean: 370.5
+/- 237.2 g; median:  268.4 g). The measured beta-carotene content of the
carrots was 10.1 mg per 100 g of edible portion; therefore, the range of
intake of beta-carotene was 12.4 to 97.0 mg (mean: 37.4 +/- 24 mg;
median: 27.1 mg). Changes in plasma beta-carotene levels at 8 h ranged
from a decrement of -0.32 mumol/l (-16.98 micrograms/dl) to an increment
of 0.79 mumol/l (42.44 micrograms/dl), with a mean of 0.11 +/- 0.24
mumol/l (5.97 +/- 12.82 micrograms/dl). Changes at 24 h were less
dramatic than those at 8 h. A regression of the 8-h changes in plasma
beta-carotene on the amount of carrot carotene consumed (corrected by
body weight) had an r-value of 0.12. Baseline levels of plasma retinol
were poor predictors of the plasma beta-carotene response with this
sample size (r = 0.10). The magnitude of the plasma response to
beta-carotene from carrots appears to be lower than that observed with
pure, powdered, crystalline carotenes; moreover, the variability of the
post-carrot response seems to be greater--and its association to dosage
appears to be weaker--than with the pharmacological beta-carotene.

PMID: 10616657 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Eur J Nutr 1999 Feb;38(1):35-44

Plasma concentrations of carotenoids in healthy volunteers after
intervention with carotenoid-rich foods.

Muller H, Bub A, Watzl B, Rechkemmer G.

Federal Research Center for Nutrition, Institute of Nutritional Physiology,
Karlsruhe, Germany.

AIM OF THE STUDY: The present study was conducted to investigate changes
in the plasma concentration of carotenoids and carotenoid oxidation
products, vitamin A, alpha- and gamma-tocopherol, and ubiquinone-10
during a dietary intervention trial with 23 male healthy volunteers.
METHOD: A two week carotenoid depletion period was followed by a daily
consumption of 330 mL tomato juice (40 mg lycopene), then by 330 mL
carrot juice (15.7 mg alpha-carotene and 22.3 mg beta-carotene), and then
by a 10 g spinach powder preparation (11.3 mg lutein and 3.1 mg
beta-carotene) served with main meals for two weeks, respectively.  Blood
samples were collected in the morning after an overnight fasting and
carotenoids, vitamin A, tocopherols, and ubichinone were analyzed by
reversed-phase HPLC. RESULTS: During the tomato juice intervention,
plasma concentrations of trans- and cis-lycopene increased 3-fold
compared to the depletion period. Lycopene oxidation products could be
demonstrated in plasma and were significantly elevated compared to
control (p < 0.001). After two weeks of carrot juice consumption,
alpha-carotene and beta-carotene concentrations increased 8.6- and
3.2-fold, respectively. Finally, during the spinach consumption period
the lutein concentration increased 2-fold, while the beta-carotene
concentrations were still elevated 2-fold. CONCLUSIONS: The moderate
change in dietary habits, e.g., the consumption of 330 mL of
carotenoid-rich vegetable juices caused significant changes in the plasma
carotenoid concentrations, indicating a high bioavailability of
carotenoids from these processed vegetable products. The changes in
plasma carotenoid concentrations reflected the carotenoid composition of
the consumed foods.  However, particularly during the tomato juice
intervention period the occurrence of lycopene oxidation products and
cis-lycopene isomers in plasma was eminent.  The formation may be due to
antioxidant reactions of lycopene in the organism.

PMID: 10338686 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Eur J Clin Nutr 1997 Nov;51 Suppl 4:S39-45

Identification and production of local carotene-rich foods to combat
vitamin A malnutrition.

Solomons NW, Bulux J.

Center for Studies of Sensory Impairment, Aging and Metabolism, Guatemala
City, Guatemala.

OBJECTIVES: To address, with respect to improvement of human vitamin A
status by dietary approaches, the three theoretical postulates that: 1)
the most practical and economical manner to increase the amount of
dietary vitamin A available to low-income persons in low-income nations
is through plant sources of provitamin A carotenoids; 2) there will be
constraints and limitation to the efficiency of a given intervention
approach related to behavioural, cultural, biological and botanical
considerations; and 3) the nature of these constraints and limitations
must be understood, and then overcome where possible, to maximize the
impact of such interventions on the vitamin A status of developing
country populations.  CONCLUSIONS: We review how local plant sources of
provitamin A that would be acceptable for the at-risk populations and
outline six settings and scenarios for the processing of carotene-rich
foods: 1) cooking for hygiene; 2) long-term preservation; 3) compacting
to reduce volume; 4) formulation for specific consumers; 5) improving
bioavailability and bioconversion; and 6) to increase 'value added' in
commerce. We describe our experiences in Guatemala (with sweet potato
flakes), and those of others in the Caribbean, the African Sahel, and
East Africa (with solar-drying for preservation of a variety of plants),
and in Sri Lanka (with leaf concentrates) in promoting increased
carotene-rich food intake, and the lessons learned from their
evaluations. This overall approach to combatting endemic hypovitaminosis
A in developing countries is evaluated within the constraints of: 1) the
volumes of plant-based foods required to satisfy vitamin A requirements;
and 2) the controversy over the true bioconversion efficiency of
provitamin A from plant sources into the biologically-available active

Publication Types:
Review, tutorial

PMID: 9598793 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

From: "Steve Harris" <>
Subject: Re: Vegetarianism Debunked:  The Myths of Vegetarianism
Date: Wed, 11 Jul 2001 12:24:41 -0600

"Mike Coleman" <> wrote in message
> "Steve Harris" <> writes:
> > From: "KP Patel" <>
> > >Stephen Byrnes, ND,RNCP
> > >About the Author:
> > >Stephen Byrnes, ND, RNCP, enjoys robust health on a diet that
> > >includes [...] offal.
> This in itself makes me wonder if the article isn't just an elaborate troll.
> --Mike

No, probably just a guy who eats liver. Or even an Englishman who eats cow
kidneys and stomachs, or a Scot who eats sheep lungs.

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