Nei Jing and Vegetarianism

There is overwhelming scientific evidence proving the health benefits of a vegetarian diet.  What does the Nei Jing say about animal protein and disease?  The Nei Jing does not make endorse any specific diet.  In fact, meat is recommended as a supplement for one specific case in Ling Shu, chapter nine, along with strongly spiced vegetables.  

Yet, when discussing the serious subject of infectious diseases, or “Heat Diseases,” the Nei Jing is clear.  Su Wen, chapter thirty-one states:  “帝曰:病热当何禁?岐伯曰:病热少愈,食肉则复,多食则遗,此其禁也。” “Huang Di asked, ‘Are there any contradictions for heat disorders?’  Qibo replied, ‘If [the patient] is recovering and eats meat, then the disease will recur; refrain from overeating, these are the contraindications.’”

Eastern and western medical schools teach that the consumption of meat is safe and nutritious.  This assertion is not always true.  Cultural customs play a part in the belief that meat is always beneficial to the body.  While every meat has unique properties according to eastern medicine, they offer little to the body besides protein.  Nei Jing says no meat during Re Bing.  Modern scientific research supports this ancient book yet again.

The general public believes that protein is synonymous with meat, and that meat is the best source of protein.  There has even been a technical distinction made regarding plant and animal protein.  Animal protein is called “high quality,” plant protein is classified as “low quality.”  Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, and author of the China Study, the twenty year research study of nutrition and disease, explains “high and low quality” proteins:

“The proteins of other animals are very similar to our proteins because they mostly have the right amounts of each of the needed amino acids [proteins].  These proteins can be used very efficiently and therefore are called “high quality.”  Among animal foods, the proteins of milk and eggs represent the best amino acid matches for our proteins, and thus are considered the highest quality.  While the “lower quality” plant proteins maybe lacking in one or two of the essential amino acids, as a group they do contain all of them.”

This type of labeling might lead one to think that eating animal products are not only healthy, but also that meat may be the ideal food for humans.  Dr. Campbell goes on to explain that efficiency does not always equal quality, or health.  “This would be well and good if the greatest efficiency equaled the greatest health, but it doesn’t, and that’s why the terms efficiency and quality are misleading.” “…there is a mountain of compelling research showing that, “low quality” plant protein, which allows for slow but steady synthesis of new proteins, is the healthiest type of protein.”

There are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants.  Nutrition from plants can substantially control the adverse effects of noxious chemicals.  Dr. Campbell explains,“the assumption is that meat would be safe if it didn’t have those unnatural chemicals in it.  The real danger of the meat, however, is the nutrient imbalances, regardless of the presence or absence of those nasty chemicals.  Long before modern chemicals were introduced into our food, people still began to experience more cancer and more heart disease when they started to eat more animal-based foods,” (Campbell, p.5).

Diet should be an integral part of any medical treatment.  Nei Jing considers improper diet one of the major causes of disease.  The goal of acupuncture is to create an environment in the body that is conducive for healing; the patient therefore should also create a healing internal environment by consuming food that combats disease.  Eating meat creates an internal environment that allows disease to develop.

Dr. Campbell and his many colleagues’ research over the decades, prove that all animal protein, including dairy and eggs, increase the activities of enzymes that allow carcinogens to damage the DNA of cells, leading to cancer.  Plant protein decreases this effect.  All fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants that boost the immune system and protects the body from free radical damage.  Antioxidants “are only present in animal-based foods to the extent that animals eat them and store a small amount in their own tissues,” (Campbell, p. 92, 93).  Therefore, refraining from all animal protein during “heat diseases” and switching to a plant based diet, provides the body with the nutrients needed to combat disease.

The aspect of not eating too much during “heat diseases” is considered in “Clinical and Diagnostic Laboratory Immunology.”  Volume 9, contains a study by Dutch scientists who found that fasting stimulates the response that tackles the bacterial infections responsible for most fevers.  Volunteers in the study fasted by drinking only water, “Levels of gamma interferon fell slightly, while levels of another chemical messenger, interleukin-4, nearly quadrupled. Interleukin-4 is characteristic of the humoral immune response, in which B cells produce antibodies that attack pathogens lurking outside our cells.”  One of the researchers, Gijs van den Brink of the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam states, “This response is needed to tackle most bacterial infections.”

Modern research proves the wisdom of the ancients.  Eating meat lowers the body’s ability to protect itself from disease, and eating too much food lowers the ability to fight infection, which may result in “heat diseases.”  Another aspect to consider is to eat little to no animal protein on a daily basis and to refrain from overeating in order to prevent “heat diseases.”

The science is overwhelming and “heat diseases” are not the only conditions benefited by vegetarianism.  The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research states that a vegetarian diet will help many common health conditions.

  • Preventing Cancer
  • Beating Heart Disease
  • Lowering Blood Pressure
  • Preventing and Reversing Diabetes
  • Gallstones, Kidney Stones, and Osteoporosis
  • Asthma

While there is no clear endorsement of vegetarianism in the Nei Jing, it does recognize the detrimental effects of the consumption of animal protein.  Consider minimizing animal protein in your diet.

  1. Campbell, T. Colin; Campbell, Thomas M.;  The China Study The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, And Long-term Health
  2. http://www.pcrm.org/health

Published by Raul Ramirez, L.Ac., Ph.D.

Physician, Catch Wrestler, Kickboxer, Vegan, Progressive

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