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Delete Discussion The Question Of Protein by Dr. Ralph Bircher Benner
"Believe those who seek the truth; suspect those who have found it."
Gide's admonition seems to me nowhere more applicable than in the controversy over protein. In pertinent research literature, which it has been my duty to examine critically and without bias for the last 40 years. I have seen the most respectable kind of work and such a shameful pile of ignorance, much of it written by the most respected authors, as I have never seen in any other scientific field. The conclusions contradict so fantastically that the reader finds himself holding his head in despair. The textbooks, though, naturally don't reflect these contradictions. They merely repeat the results of agreements, and a lot doesn't appear in them for the simple reason that "what may not be must not be!"
First the basic question: "How much protein does a human being need to stay healthy and perform well? What is the daily requirement, the minimum, the optimum, for a standard body weight of 70 kg?"
At the turn of the century, the respected opinions were those of Rubner and Voit: we need 120-160 grams per day. But Chittenden showed in human experiments that best performance and health were possible on 50 grams, and Hindhede set the figure at 30. Forty years later. A. Fleisch, president of the Swiss Wartime Nutrition Commission, wrote in his book Nutritional Problems in Times of Shortage (Basel, 1947) "No quantity in the physiology of nutrition is so uncertain and finds such extreme advocates as the need of the human organism for protein." Today, after a quarter century during which mountains of pertinent research have been published every year, the situation is exactly the same. Or worse.
In Russia, Jakolev set up a minimum requirement of 141-163 grams. Kuhnau saw an optimum of 200. Kofranyi of the Max Planck Institute proved that complete nitrogen balance and performance ability could be maintained on 25 grams, and Oomen and Hipsley found a population that develops not just full health, but magnificent muscular structure and corresponding physical performance, on a mere 15-20 grams. Elvehjem insists that the optimum is near the minimum.
In the meantime, the American Research Council's Food and Nutrition Board agreed on a daily requirement for adults of 70 grams. This number is. in fact, found in their tables. Sherman, a member of the Board, described the way this figure was arrived at. The evidence pointed toward a much lower amount, somewhere a round 35 grams. But if the protein requirement had been set so low, there would have been a public outcry. And so a corresponding "margin of safety" was adopted, and "70 grams" was published. Because the scientific basis for this was non-existent, the word "recommendation" was used instead of "requirement." But who knows how this recommendation came into being? And it was publicly interpreted as the requirement, in fact as the minimum. Thus, not long ago Stranskky and Krucker in the Therapeutische Umschau (Therapeutic Review) expressly listed 70 grams of protein per 70 kg of body weight as the "minimum dosage ... which is indispensable for the maintenance of vital biochemical processes." Sherman had good reason for writing about the "high-protein mentality" of nutritional specialists. It's not unusual for a doctor to prescribe three eggs and yogurt for breakfast, plus meat at each meal, and patients often fear a protein deficiency if they're asked to stay away from meat for a few days.
No less confusing is the matter of evaluating protein quality and whether animal or plant protein is preferable. According to the textbooks, vegetable protein is inferior. At least a third, preferably half, of the protein intake supposedly should be from animal sources, and the public unconsciously thinks "meat" when it hears "animal," though, of course, milk and eggs are also "animal sources." The presumed inferiority of vegetable protein lacks binding scientific proof. If scientists had studied the geography and history of nutrition as well as they conducted their chemistry and animal experiments, they would never have fallen into this dogma. There have been and there are now populations numbering in the millions in various parts of the world, it is known from penetrating research, that have lived and developed enviable health and strength for centuries and even thousands of years on a purely vegan diet.
The quality and requirement of protein depend on several factors, for instance on healing, which can considerably lower the quality of the protein. The usual heating of meats results in a significant decrease in essential amino acids. The same is true of drying and preserving. It probably isn't acceptable to eat raw meat to avoid these degenerations; but eating other raw foods contributes no small amount to reducing the total need for protein.
Raw food decreases the need for protein in yet another way: the usual, everyday diet requires 6-8 grams of protein per day for the synthesis of digestive juices. But raw foods are easily digested, thanks to the enzymic content, thus economizing on digestive enzymes. Vitamin A has a "decisive relationship to protein metabolism." Protein deficiency damage is extensively conditioned by vitamin A deficiency. An everyday diet using margarine is as a rule deficient in vitamin A. It is similar to vitamin K, which like provitamin A is most richly present in fruit and is best assimilated in a raw diet with full-value oil.
We could go on, and repeatedly come back to the central question of protein economy.
Protein economy begins with the feeding of babies. In the early 50s nature failed the test of American medicine. It was found that breast milk contains 60% less protein than the infant needs. A "formula" was created with 2 1/2 to 3 times the protein plus added salt. Today we know that it wasn't nature but Science that flunked: The devastating consequences soon appeared: kidney damage, hyperacidity with osteoporosis, dangerously high phenylalanine and tyrosine content in the blood, poor protein metabolism and increased acceleration with consequent stressful disparity of physical and mental growth. An attempt has been made to transfer advertising concepts of growth and weight gain rates to actual human beings—and it fell through. There was a harmful habituation to the wear and tear of a high-protein diet. The frugal use of protein was not learned. From birth on, the child was being burdened with both "stress conditioning factors" (Selye), high protein and salt. Important developmental phases were shortened by accelerated growth and this, according to Portmann, works against the development of the "super-type" (Wellek), that human type which is most needed in our timer who is not just able to analyze but also grasp the whole of a phenomenon in its form and essence.
To return to stress theory: "It is a matter of experience," wrote A. Fleisch, president of the Swiss Wartime Nutritional Commission, in his book Nutritional Problems in Times of Shortage (Basel, 1947) "that increased protein consumption also lowers the number of calories taken in." The stimulating qualities of protein—especially meat protein—lead to over-estimation and over-consumption, which are not justified by nutritional physiology because they lead to "luxuriant combustion"—an inefficient "burning off" of excess. There must be another, especially stimulating, irritative effect of eating meat above and beyond the irritative effects of excess protein (specific-dynamic effect) and the extractive and general products of roasting. This irritative effect, which has since been isolated, is caused by uric acid, a very strong irritant on the sympathetic nerves. And so in meat we have a strongly hypermetabolizing three- to four-fold irritative effect.
This has contributed to its reputation as "strength food," far above its actual nutritive value. ("Meat broth" means the same as "strength broth" in German.)
Our contemporary situation demands the mobilization of our best powers to overcome the crisis of existence in our culture. I believe we have reasons for reconsidering our use of stimulants, which has become continuous and excessive. Continuous prickling of the ergotropic nervous system, which seems to be a vital necessity in these times, is no sign of strength. It stands in the way of the regenerative work of the trophotropic nervous system. This is the main reason why we renounce all stimulants including meat. Regeneration demands detoxification and metabolic economy. This is also true in athletics, where the last degree of performance must be extracted. This refers not only to alcohol, about which the French learned bitter lessons at two Olympiads, and nicotine and other stimulants—it is just as true of meat, and this is proved by the proportionally unheard-of string of international athletic records set by vegetarians. The advantages show up with special clarity in high mountain exercise. Some typical consequences of conversion to a protein-economical, full-value diet are a 10-20% reduction in oxygen requirement and a 30% lower calorie requirement with correspondingly improved performance, recovery and adaptation ability. I personally was surprised to find this out while climbing 17,343 foot high Ixtacihuatl. Indian populations living at 13,000 feet in the Andes highlands hold stubbornly to their ancient carbohydrate diet "in spite of the well-meaning advice from the!" World Health Organization Council. They race bicycles at that altitude for distances of 150 miles at an average speed of 25 mph. Similarly the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico run 90 miles at seven mph, with no heart expansion or shortness of breath. Experience has taught this highland people to stick to carbohydrates. Even rats that were taken to high altitude's suffered deficiencies in nutritional utilization on a high-protein diet, but not on lower-protein fare. The luxuriant combustion and hypermetabolizing effect of an excess-protein diet occur at sea level too, but they have immediate practical significance in the high mountains.
A further turn was taken in the protein question with the recent rise of amyloidose research. Schwarz, a professor of physiological pathology in Frankfurt, described the storing and slowly destructive effect of the penetration of tissues and organs by amyloid. This is a waxy, fatty protein mixture considered "the most important and perhaps decisive cause of decline with age," in so-called diseases of old age and specifically, atheromatosis. Katenkamp and Stiller called this amyloidosis "extraordinarily pervasive in every kind of deposited tissue."
In amyloidosis must lie the key to healing of those diseases of old age which have previously been casually unclarified. It is clear that amyloid consists exclusively of degenerate protein reduction by productions which could be the result of excess protein. Excess protein must be quickly burned, but cannot be sufficiently eliminated. Amyloid contains rich amounts of the amino acids tryptophane and tyrosine. Five to ten times as much tryptophane and five to seven times as much tyrosine are found in the dry substances of meat as that of vegetable protein sources. It remains to be investigated whether other sulphurous amino acids play a similar role, and what the amyloid situation is among populations living on protein-frugal diets. All the essential amino acids, especially the sulphurous, can cause damage in overdoses, through creation of poisonous substances or other disturbances. On 70 grams of protein a day containing all the essential amino acids, there can be excessive intake of some amino acids. The connection between amyloidosis and excess protein is easily proved by animal experiments. It is produced with special ease in case of high cholesterol intake and intestinal poisoning (pathological microorganisms in the intestines create amyloid-dissolving antigens). Amyloid is created, according to Katenkamp and Stiller, in wrongly nourished mesenchyme cells with increased protein production and formation of "pathologically fine fibrillary sclero-protein"; here we should remember that regeneration of the mesenchyme as well as that of pathological intestinal flora are best accomplished by raw diet.
In this connection it should be mentioned that in investigations at Harvard, an excessive amount of the aromatic amino acid methionine was discovered to favor the formation of nearly insoluble protein bodies, and hardening of the inner surface of the arteries. The human need for methionine, which is found most abundantly in meat, egg and cheese protein, and which is three times as abundant in cow's milk as in breast milk, has been set much too high (at 930 mg/day) by the F.A.O. according to Kofranyl and is actually just 273 mg/day. Excesses of the amino acid tryptophane—which, as mentioned, is seven to ten times more richly present in meat and eggs than in plant sources—are, as proved on radioactive molecules, eagerly consumed by cancer cells, which produce serotonin from it, block tryptophane metabolism, and have been demonstrated to lead to a strong increase in cancer-producing ortho-aminophenols.
Bone atrophy (osteoporosis) is extraordinarily widespread among us; it begins in childhood, is almost considered a normal accompaniment of aging and is conceived as quickly increasing. Extensive scientific literature deals with the possible causes. Wachmann and Bernstein of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University investigated all previous research results in the Lancet and arrived at the considered conclusion that a protein-rich, and especially meat-heavy diet plays the strongest role in the genesis of osteoporosis, more so even than denatured carbohydrates and fats. It is caused when the function of the bone system as a reservoir of basic minerals is continually overstrained. This corresponds to the fact that athletes who eat much meat are especially susceptible to arthrosis. Helas found among 20 professional football players who were observed for 18 years, 100% incidence of ankle arthrosis and 97.5% incidence of knee arthrosis. A negative lime balance is easily produced in experimental animals by increased protein supply, and they then die of disease associated with lime deficiency. The Walker group found in investigation among the Bantu tribe, that on an almost purely plant-source, low-protein diet there were no signs of calcium deficiency and no weakening of the bones.
Further work during recent years makes Ragnar Berg's acid-base theory, once set aside, again pertinent. The eminent importance of potassium and magnesium is emphasized by several authors. These two basic mineral substances are known to be deficient in an everyday diet rich in meat, eggs, cheese, fat, Sugar and grains, but richly present in a full-value diet rich in vegetables and raw foods. One-sided chemical fertilization and refinement detract from these good effects. Also, animal protein-rich diet and alcohol consumption both hinder the absorption of magnesium from the intestine and correspondingly raise the magnesium requirement. The "magnesium deficiency syndrome." which has been prevalent now for 20 years, includes arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, migraine, eclampsia, the leaching of calcium from teeth and bones, liver damage and disturbance of the neuro-muscular vessel system (Holtmeyer).
Strangely enough, the old Haig uric acid theory is also making a comeback. It seemed at one time to have been rendered invalid when no raised uric acid level was found in the diseases listed by Haig, except for gout. But now it has turned out that the reason for this was simply the introduction of new medicines for rheumatism, and that the evaluation of all uric acid tests on blood must be preceded by at least eight days during which anti-rheumatism medicines have been omitted. Uric acid has again assumed a position among the chief factors causing arterial blockage diseases—including rheumatism, kidney disease and cancer, as well as the amyloid formation, discussed above.
Naturally, the kidneys are deeply involved in all the above factors from birth on in the child, and this has been especially true since the early '50s, when protein and salt-enriched baby foods were introduced. No wonder athletic medicine services in the U.S.A have had to treat an extraordinary number of kidney injuries and kidney breakdowns after athletic competitions and that the American Heart Association arrived at the conclusion that "almost all instances of these diseases"—arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure and coronary disease "are significantly related to the kidneys," and that, therefore, "more than half of the population die of kidney disease."
Only two more subjects still deserve a short mention, since they make the protein question particularly topical at this time.
First, environmental pollution. The individual has no or insufficient, effect on changing this situation. But what he can do is to put the defense and detoxification organs of his own organism in the best possible condition first by detoxifying his body, and then by making it more powerfully reactive by dietary economy and raw food. Not everyone can supply himself with unsprayed and rationally fertilized food, but he can and must consider that meat and eggs have been far more contaminated since the 1960s than plant products—a result of conversion to industrial production. Anyone who fully understands the extent to which, for example, meal is treated will certainly forego these products. Besides pesticides, meat is treated with tetracycline, chloramphenicol, estrogen, tranquilizers, preservatives , plus metabolic toxins of the fattening process.
Second, and finally, what Sherman wrote two decades ago now applies to a much greater extent. "Feeding grain and potatoes to animals represents an enormous waste of nutritional production potential; and more than that, every person with a social and international sense of justice must become most deeply conscious of the fact that our excessive meat and egg consumption is a leftover from the times of colonial exploitation habits. If we ourselves do not see the provocative injustice in this situation for poorer classes and peoples, they themselves will certainly feel it with increasing intensity."
This article is reprinted from Dr. Shelton's Hygienic Review. The Review, in turn, reproduced it from The Hygienic Practitioner, the Journal of the British Natural Hygiene Society. Winter, 1974