Special Series: Plant-Based Health?

The Ancestral Health Society of New Zealand is a broad church of health professionals, scientists, and interested laypersons, who are firmly of the belief that there is no single way to live a healthy and vibrant life.  Indeed, taking nutrition and diet as an example, each member of the Society follows their own path, with some eating low carb, others low fat diets.  Some eat a diet dominated by vegetables, while others eat a diet dominated by meat.  Some members are very endurance exercise focused with their physical activity, adding some strength work to their weekly schedule.  While others use weight training as the mainstay to their physical activity and add a small amount of cardiovascular exercise to their strength training base.

Despite each member achieving very good health by slightly different means (though we all still have things to work on), we all tend to agree on some common (ancestral) principles of health.  We all agree on the importance of looking after our circadian rhythms, and by extension, our natural light and darkness exposures, and our sleep.  We all agree on the importance of strong, real-world, face-to-face social connections and support – part of the reason the Society exists in the first place.  We all agree on the importance of maintain strong bodies through weight-bearing exercise and the application of additional loads, such as weight lifting, to build and maintain good muscle and bone structure in a world where it is otherwise increasingly difficult to do so (as we engineer our environment for more human frailty).  We also all agree that humans cannot be healthy without a healthy environment, and that the current levels of degradation to our environment – plastic waste, waterway and ocean pollution, biodiversity loss, etc – are unsustainable, and if not addressed very soon, humans will become the major casualty of their own success.

With respect to nutrition, a core principle we all agree on is the inclusion and importance of animal protein to human health and wellness, whether we are talking physical health, such as muscle and bone strength, mental health, such as resilience to depression and anxiety, women’s reproductive health, child health, growth, and development, the list is long.  Over the past few years, those members of the Society who work directly with patients (GP’s, Urgent Care/ED specialists, psychologists, dietitians/nutritionists, osteopaths, and naturopathic practitioners), have all noted an increase in health issues with those patients who have eschewed animal protein from their diet, under the guise of eating vegan, plant-exclusive, or, as is commonly referred to now, plant-based diets.

In these “plant-based” populations, each of us has noted an increase in the numbers suffering from anxiety and depression (and seeking medication for such issues), increases in women (and increasingly men and young children) suffering from iron deficiency anaemia, some to the point of requiring blood transfusions, increasing vitamin deficiencies, such as B12 and retinol, severe bone fractures from low-energy falls and impacts (that should not otherwise cause such injuries), increases in reproductive health issues, including infertility and amenorrhoea, hair falling out, impaired immunity, and a general decrease in physical health and function.  Individually and collectively, we hold a growing concern for the long-term health of our communities and society.

There is growing pressure to adopt such diets, often under the guise of concerns for animal welfare and/or environmental issues such as global warming.  Our Society shares such concerns but believes important parts of the conversation are being missed, or worse, deliberately missed out.  Individuals are making decisions that will have significant, if not severe, repercussions on their health, and that of their children and families, often not having or understanding all of the information (or being outright misinformed).  Young women, for example, are often shunning animal foods, with almost no consideration given to alternative sources of protein and micronutrition, simply to conform, on the face of it, to the current trends of not eating meat.  Worse, not eating meat has become the new restriction amongst those with disordered eating patterns.

Over the coming weeks and months, members of AHSNZ, as well as invited guests, will offer their professional perspectives and observations relating to some of the above issues, as well as discussions in their areas of expertise and interest, with the aim of adding more balance to some of the current discussions often headlined by the catch cry “stop eating meat”.  Our aim is not to convince those who don’t wish to be convinced, but rather help those who are trying to make an informed decision regarding theirs and their family’s diet and health.

NB: We understand that this is a highly emotive and triggering topic for some.  Due to the often aggressive nature with which some people respond to such discussions, comments will not be enabled.  Anyone sending the Society abusive or threatening messages via our contact page will be immediately blocked, and where necessary, such threats will be reported to the New Zealand Police.