Veganism: what if you keep getting ill?



A little bit of vegan controversy... oops.

Currently I am vegan and have been since April 2014. I am not just a dietary vegan but an ethical one too, so I'm very committed to living this way. But for some (the few, not the many) veganism is not quite the cure-all anticipated, despite the well-documented health advantages to the general individual.

For example since going vegan I have had a spike in dental issues including sensitivity and cavities. I have changed my toothpaste numerous times, over the past year and a half, trying to find one that would work better, and at times I have brushed my teeth as often as five times a day because it was so excruciatingly sensitive. I don't eat vegan junk or processed foods - my diet is based on high carbohydrate whole foods. I have googled 'vegan dental health' so many times and tried every trick suggested - including coating my teeth in plant-based fats such as coconut, using straws, and numerous others.

There are, of course, many people who declare that since going vegan their dental health has improved (not declined). This gets me thinking 'what on earth were they eating beforehand?!' I've generally always had an organic whole foods diet, whether eating animal products or not, and rarely touch processed foods. But I've also always had teeth issues anyway despite flossing etc.. They say there is a link between dental health later in life and how long your mother breast-fed - I know mine quit breastfeeding as soon as she possibly could!

Which has left me wondering about my high-fructose vegan diet, rich in natural plant-based sugars. Everything I have tried for my teeth has failed - flossing all the time, mouthwash, x5 brushes, rinsing with water after meals etc.. However I didn't have this issue at all when on a lacto-vegetarian diet, which I kept for over two years very successfully before going vegan. That's only an observation.

They say that dairy does indeed help protect tooth enamel due to the presence of casein, a certain milk protein. Casein is present in almost all animal milks, including human milk, and studies show that it can help prevent tooth erosion with immediate affect. But it has its risks too - it has a strong link to prostate cancer and others.

I am then returned to all the reasons I gave up dairy in the first place. However, in the UK, there is one particular company of note called Ahimsa (I'll leave readers to peruse their credentials) which has surfaced as an option to me. But it certainly re-opens the old 'what does a vegan do about medicine?' debate. I have always treated this as a case-by-case issue, only taking the vaccines I really needed to safeguard my life (for those that do not know, some vaccines are cultured in animal cells - generally pig or egg cells). I know that unless I felt my health was at risk I would not dream of breaking my vegan diet... but that does seem to be the case. And if I do break it, am I really 'breaking' it or am I just a vegan now taking an animal-based medicine? I know how I feel about it, but what do others think? I'm curious.

And to put this into perspective, since going vegan I have actually developed a mild form of macrocytic anaemia and now have a consultant haematologist. Despite having good B12 and folate levels (deficiencies of either can cause this condition), not drinking alcohol and a diet rich in iron, this has happened to my blood. I've been quiet about this because veganism is so important to me. But, at the age of 24, if I lose my teeth before I hit 30... then the issues are starting to stack. I've also lost a lot of body fat which in my case, since I was already really quite slim, hasn't been a good thing - women need a certain amount of body fat to keep reproductively healthy and even this has been a struggle on a vegan diet (for me). I was too determined to plough on through despite even having hair loss due to a lack of fat on my scalp to hold the follicles in place - in other words, even my head was too bony. I have consulted GPs, dieticians, and had blood tests - on paper I'm doing everything right, my weight is fine, but something appears to be going really quite wrong. Now, I usually hover between being 'on weight' or being only very slightly under and I don't have an eating disorder or anything like that - I've just always been of a slim build and I'm pointing this out before people suggest my weight is the issue.

So I have body fat that is too low, bad teeth, and a blood condition. Hmm...

This is not an attack on veganism, which is a diet I vehemently defend. In fact, this isn't any kind of attack. But I'd like to take the opportunity to suggest that not every one can make veganism (the diet) work - however hard they try or want it to work. Really. Here is another such example of a committed vegan who had to change because, for all their efforts, they had B12 issues which were not satisfactorily solved (even by injections) and resulted in permanent nerve damage. Whatever the case, it's always hard to accept - psychologically - for ethical vegans like myself. I'd like to open this conversation because there are some who make themselves really quite unhealthy due to an orthorexic mindset - from raw vegans who get so ill because they continue to eat gazpacho over cold winters without helping to raise their body core temperatures adequately (plenty of examples online).

My advice to anyone would be to go vegan for the planet, for the animals, for the future, and listen to your needs. The vegan diet can be perfectly healthy for all - even babies, pregnant mothers, the elderly - and then again some seem to fail. If it does, only change what needs to be changed to the bare amount - through ethical sourcing - so that you can continue to have as little negative impact as possible. I am reminded that the original definition of veganism is:

Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

'As far as is possible and practicable'. This doesn't mean pushing your body as far as I have. I am an animist, which is what makes my revelation particularly hard, but there have been animists for centuries who weren't vegan. My personal conclusion?

I'm going to be switching to a 6-day vegan diet and taking a small amount of medicinal dairy on the 7th day. I call it 'medicinal', because it is and will be. I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't feel I needed to - to see if my dental health improves, help my body fat, and blood condition (since milk also contains iron). I'm not going to be cooking madly with cheese and cream again but, instead, taking a measured amount of slaughter-free milk just like anyone would with liquid medicine. To begin treating it like food again would be a further ethical regression easily avoided (certainly of the psychological variety). If my health improves that's as far as I'll go; if I need more dairy I can move in small incremental steps toward finding the balance I need. I can even gradually work toward a situation in which I can keep my own dairy animal so that I can guarantee its quality of life and natural insemination, for it's whole life on good land, and the lives of its offspring from which will not be separated. I can continually ask myself how I can best stay healthy and live sustainably in a violence-free way.

If veganism is making you very unhealthy too, despite your efforts and best intentions, I hope you will take a few lessons from me here. Then again do not be put off the vegan diet either - there is no excuse not to try and give it everything you've possibly got.

Let the debate begin!
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Hello again,

I wanted to follow up on my earlier post at the end of which I stated I would consume a little dairy once a week in order to help resolve my dental and blood conditions.

In truth, I failed at this. I have only had medicinal dairy once every other month because I struggled so much with the ethical issues of doing so. Supplementation seems to have failed but I also consider this an unreliable source of nutrition and would prefer to use unprocessed sources. I know not everyone feels this way, but I am as much interested in veganism as I am about what feels most natural.

So I have suffered worse affects than the ones I was trying to solve. In the past week I have suffered from atrial fibrillation (heart arrhythmia) which I believe is related to the elusive macrocytic anaemia I was diagnosed with last year. My hair loss, previously discussed elsewhere on this forum, has also not improved.

All of this might sound off alarms and the reader would be forgiven for thinking I eat a poor vegan diet, but I don't. Or the reader might think that the vegan diet itself is inadequate - but it isn't. Not for the vast, vast majority anyway. I eat a variety of whole foods, I eat at least one raw meal a day, and I'm well educated about what my body needs on a vegan diet. I eat abundantly and do not restrict calories. I am HCLF.

So I'm going to have to really do this properly now (medicinal dairy) and I wanted to make this post because some vegans find it difficult to talk about poor health on a vegan diet. Veganism is still the gold standard but I do not blame people who find a militant vegan diet unsustainable for health reasons - we must realise that whilst it can work wonders on the many not all humans are made alike. And I feel a responsibility to tackle the controversial issues.

I'm still a vegan, but a practicable one. I'm still an advocate. It's still the gold standard. My conclusion: my body sucks.
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I started sprinkling a crushed up calcium tablet on my cereal, but don't seem to need to now. I stay away from citrus fruits because of the acid and since I live in a northern clime I probably don't need them. On the whole I'm trying to eat locally: I read somewhere that you should only eat what is grown in your vicinity and seasonally. So, root vegetables and winter veg to keep you warm in the Winter and salad leaves, tomatoes, etc to keep you cool in the Summer. For fruits, apples, pears and berries. I don't do this all the time, but I try and make the main part of my diet like this. I think it is a lot of trial and error and we have to see what works for each of us at any given moment.
I feel for you with all of this. It must seem like an uphill struggle.
Regarding dental issues I have adopted some new, fairly simple practices. I'm not sure if they will help; you might already be using them. I have a metallic large bore straw I use whenever I enjoy smoothies or juices. The wide bore is to cope with any unblended fruit or kale pieces. This way the liquid spends less time on or near my teeth. I also swish with water after eating to clear away bits caught in my teeth. And finally I use a silicon-free homemade tooth paste, only it's more solid than paste so I cut it into tiny tablets and push one into my brush's bristles before brushing once a day ... yes, only once (at night). The recipe for this can be found with a quick search using the keywords "remineralising toothpaste" ... I think it has coconut oil:baking soda 1:1 and a few drops of peppermint oil. Please check though, as I have difficulty with baking soda, baking powder, bicarb of soda, oh for pete's sake ... my american-english and british-english play havoc with my head over certain terms, this being one of them.
Please take gentle care of yourself. The hair loss would concern me. Maybe now is the time to add more fats back into your diet too? What do you think? Avocado, olives and almonds daily? I imbibe my almonds over night so in the morning they are plump and milky just like when they are young on the tree. Peeling them would lessen the tannin element too, I suspect.
All the best!
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Hi fzjohnson,

No it's not really an uphill struggle so much as it is a mental journey.
Everything you list I have attempted before - my research was rigorous! Thank you for your thoughts, though. It really did come down to an absence of casein and no vegan mineralisation or trick can, in my case, substitute for it.

I do get enough fats and have never cut out the amount of fats that would cause my body harm. Like I said, this thread isn't so much about failing at veganism (I haven't) so much as it has failed my body and I have failed to listen to that happening until more recently. Which is very important, and worth frank and open discussion. In fact, I kind of feel it incumbent upon me to a certain extent to document it. Absolutism is dangerous as well.

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I recall a conversation with an acquaintance following a vegan diet and he mentioned having had problems with the teeth that got resolved after taking vitamin D - 5000UI / day.

Perhaps something to try if you have not done so already.

For the other point about using animal products if required medically: it becomes a survival matter, same as being vegan in the wild and all of a sudden you run out of vegan food, so in that instance the options are: to die or to eat animals.

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Where do you think the calcium in the herbivorous cattles' secretions comes from?

There is more than enough calcium in a vegan diet, so long as you eat enough plants. EAT YOUR GREENS.

The nonsense written about calcium is the same nonsense surrounding protein, B12, iron and all the other magic fairy dusts with which industrial "food" interests sprinkle the issue of nutrition, in order to cloud the self-evident virtues of veganism. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. You do not "need" the flesh of tortured animals or the secretions of their bodies. That is just FUD for the confusion of fools.