Since I resumed a primarily whole foods plant-based vegan diet in late 2022 many people may have wondered how it has affected my psoriasis.
In Chapter 12 (page 159) of Powered By Plants I presented evidence indicating that a protein intake of 0.8 g/kg per day is sufficient for both people eating plant based diets and athletes. Nevertheless, in 2013 I aimed to consume a higher protein diet, hedging my bets based on claims that people involved in resistance training need or at least would benefit from such protein intake to build and maintain muscle mass. To illustrate how one could consume a strictly plant-based diet providing protein at 1.6 g/kg/d, I included Table 12.4 which presented the foods that I had consumed on one day in October of 2013:
When I initially resumed a primarily whole foods plant-based vegan diet in late 2022, I continued to aim to consume a high protein diet providing 1.2–1.6 g/kg protein daily. As I had done previously, to achieve this high protein intake I consumed large portions of legumes and legume products, including tofu, tempeh, texturized soy protein, and pea and soy protein powders. On a typical day I would consume 1-2 cups of soy milk, 1-2 cups of whole beans, peas or lentils daily, and often included 8 ounces of tofu, wheat gluten or texturized soy protein, and/or 1-2 ounces of pea or soy protein.
Advocates of high animal protein diets typically claim high protein diets are harmless and certainly have no impact on skin health. However, there is considerable evidence that high animal protein diets do harm the kidneys. I developed lower limb edema after several years on a high animal protein diet, and reversed it by removing animal protein from my diet.
According to the Western 'scientific' research I cited in my article about how I reversed foot swelling (lower limb edema), plant protein is less harmful if not harmless in large doses, so despite the fact that this over-emphasis on beans and bean products caused me some digestive grief, consisting of gas and bloating, I ate a high plant protein diet because I believed I needed or benefitted from the extra protein.
As this proceeded, during the first 5-6 months, the psoriasis in my ears got much worse. This didn't really surprise me because it had gotten worse during my previous time eating a vegan diet high in plant protein (see below). I just hadn't figured out what about my whole foods plant-based diet was causing the condition to deteriorate, and I had no intention of returning to eating animals.
During this time I completed my yoga teacher certification and began studying Ayurveda for a certification course. I had previously studied Ayurveda but not with the focus required for this certification (which I completed). Ayurvedic medicine recommends a vegetarian diet in accord with the ethical principle of ahimsa (non-harming, non-violence, non-aggression), but recognizes that to support good health, one's diet must be adjusted to fit one's individual constitution. According to Ayurvedic medicine, there exist three basic constitutional types, each dominated by one of three doshas:
Click here for a questionnaire to enable you do determine your dosha. I have a strong vata dosha component to my constitution, and, since legumes aggravate vata (wind), they are not recommended for people like myself.
About this time, Tracy and I received a gift of books on macrobiotics. I studied, practiced and taught macrobiotics for about a decade prior to getting distracted into animal-based diet ideologies. During that decade I even worked for a year as a live-in macrobiotic cook for a couple in Seattle, Washington, and published one article on macrobiotic cooking in Vegetarian Times:
I also published several articles on macrobiotic theory and practice in Macrobiotics Today.
I also met my first wife, Rachel Albert, through our mutual interest in macrobiotics. Rachel wrote three macrobiotic cookbooks. Anyway, upon receiving the gift of books, many of which I had already read years ago, I took the opportunity to re-read some of them.
This reminded me that according to principles of macrobiotic medicine, excess dietary protein from any source can cause various diseases, particularly skin diseases. When one consumes excess protein the liver and kidneys have to deal with excretion of the excess nitrogen, sulfur, and acids produced from the de-amination of the unused amino acids. The toxic wastes get circulated in the blood, affecting all tissues until they are finally excreted by the kidneys. Since the kidneys can only excrete these wastes at a limited rate, the excess builds up in the blood, then the skin as the body tries to excrete the wastes through the skin. Since the skin also has a limited ability to excrete these wastes, they gradually build up in the skin, which causes the skin to malfunction, producing common skin diseases such as eczema, acne, and psoriasis, to name a few.
During this time I was also taking a medical I Ching class for people involved in Taoist health care and longevity arts. Friends in the class reminded me that, according to Taoist medicine, the ears represent the kidneys. There are several empirical reasons for this relationship, among them being the fact that the external ears resemble the kidneys, but this article is not an explanation of the empirical foundations of Chinese medicine. My classmates further reminded me that the fact that I have had psoriasis in my ears and along the urinary bladder channel on my scalp indicates that the root of the skin disorders in those locations was in my kidneys, and that the associated itching represents the influence of internal wind.
The most important point here is that although I knew these Oriental medical principles, by virtue of having a master of science in Oriental medicine (MSOM), and national board certification in Oriental medicine, and I regularly applied them in my clinical practice as a Oriental medicine provider, I had for years ignored them in my attempt to understand my own skin disease. This resulted from my unconsciously internalizing the ignorant perspective held by advocates of Western culture and 'science' that Oriental medicine is unscientific. Although trained to practice Oriental medicine, and abundantly aware of the irrationality and failures of Western 'medicine,' at least with regard to understanding prevention and treatment of degenerative diseases, like all other members of 'Westernized' societies I have been deeply programmed to believe that the Western way of thinking is supreme, and it has been difficult to break out of this programming because it is constantly reinforced by both conscious and unconscious agents of the Western 'scientific' and cultural paradigm.
When these learning experiences enabled me to integrated my knowledge of the complementary Ayurvedic, Oriental medicine and macrobiotic principles, it became clear that these traditional medical theories could, unlike Western 'scientific' medicine, clearly explain why my psoriasis occurred in its characteristic pattern and got worse on a high plant protein diet:
This explained why my psoriasis had gotten worse when I ate a whole foods plant based vegan diet the last go-round. As shown above, that time also I ate large amounts of legumes and soy products daily, and consumed excessive amounts of water. Further, my diet contained very large amounts of fruits and relatively low amounts of whole grains. Even during my macrobiotic days I had typically eaten 1-2 cups of beans or a similar serving of tofu or tempeh daily, except during periods that I had done a more restricted healing diet, when my skin had improved. I had just failed to notice that restricting protein-rich plant foods had improved my skin. Like so many others, I have been programmed by the purveyors of animal protein to be irrationally obsessed with and worried about getting enough protein and essential amino acids, resulting in consuming way more than my body can detoxify, whether I was eating animals or not.
After these realizations, I cut my total plant protein intake down to about 0.8 g/kg per day, which is the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) and above the estimated average requirement (EAR) of 0.65 g/kg per day (more about this below). I did this by reducing legume and legume product intake dramatically. Whereas I previously ate 1-2 cups of whole legumes daily, now I don't even eat legumes every day, when I do eat them I typically eat less than half a cup, and I typically consume only the most digestible beans, namely aduki, mung, garbanzo (chickpea), black soy, lentils, and green or yellow peas. Whereas I previously consumed 8 ounces of tofu on most days, now I only have tofu once or twice weekly and generally not more than 4 ounces at a time. Whereas I previously consumed 28-56 g (1-2 scoops) of soy or pea protein isolate nearly every day, now I rarely have either, and if I do, I generally have only 8-15 g (one or two tablespoons) at a time. Now I get most of my protein from whole grains.
Further, whereas I previously consumed 1-2 liters of water or beverages on top of my food intake, I now reduced beverages to 1-2 cups daily, unless true thirst calls for more. I get plenty of water from the whole plant foods that I eat.
As a result, I have seen significant improvement in my skin.
For reference, here's a collage of photos of the lesion in my left ear, which was almost always the worst, after my last 5+ years on a vegan diet, and during my hypercarnivore daze:
As shown, although the hypercarnivore iterations produced some modest improvements, the ear still cracked and peeled. Now that I have much better results (shown below) eating a lower adequate protein whole foods plant based diet, I think that the improvements I had after switching to an animal-based diet were not due to replacing plant foods with animal protein and fat, but because 1) I cut out legumes altogether, thereby avoiding their drying and wind-inducing effects, and 2) I had a lower total fluid intake putting less stress on my kidneys.
On the next slide, the left photo shows the same left ear when I was on an animal-based high-protein high-fat diet in 2021, while the right photo shows the same ear after 10 months without animal products; during the first 7 months I ate a high-protein whole foods plant-based diet, and the lesions actually got worse; but after only about 3 months on a normal 10-15% protein, 10-15% fat vegan macrobiotic diet and drinking according to thirst, the skin is better than ever.
The skin integrity and tone are far better in 2023.
Here's the right ear comparison.
Notice that there was significant flaking inside the right ear in 2021 when I took the photo on the left, when I was eating a high-protein, high-fat, meat, dairy, and fruit diet, along with an excess of fluids from coffee and other beverages. All of that is gone in August 2023. Three months of eating a vegan macrobiotic diet with a total protein intake similar to the RDA and drinking fluids only when thirsty did wonders.
Further, when I was eating that hypercarnivore diet, I also had the lower limb edema, another sign of compromised kidney function. The body is one whole integrated unit; when there is a problem in one place in the body, that problem will be reflected throughout the body, typically in tissues that are related embryologically. If any part of your body is sick, your whole body is sick.
These photos show my scalp psoriasis over the past 6+ years.
As shown, between April 2017 and February 2022 there was not improvement; if anything, it was worse (larger flakes, more itching) in 2022, after 5 years on an animal-based diet, than it was in April 2017. Therefore, I expect this will change slowly if at all. I am unsure how much change I have seen in this since reducing my total protein intake; I've only sustained this for a few months. Tracy says I don't scratch the area nearly as much as I did previously. I notice less itching and less skin flaking onto my shoulders, and from the photos I have taken it seems the flakes may be somewhat smaller.
According to macrobiotic medicine, this flaking is a result of my body doing its best to deal with large excesses of protein and fat I previously consumed. Skin is composed of protein and fat. Shedding skin is therefore shedding of excess protein and fat, a direct external sign that one is consuming excess protein and fat. Since I consumed amounts of protein and fat that exceeded the amount I could discharge through normal elimination channels (perspiration, expiration, urination, defecation, growth and activity) for many years, some of the excess has accumulated in specific areas, and my body has resorted to pushing the excess out through the skin. Basically this particular area has accelerated exfoliation.
Accordingly, although I am no longer eating a large excess protein daily, I can expect to continue discharging the excess protein and fat that has built up in my skin through shedding some excess skin for some unknown period of time. To facilitate recovery of normal skin function I have resumed daily dry skin brushing to exfoliate skin all over my body. This increases over my entire skin surface, taking some of the pressure off the most congested area on my scalp.
Almost no-one in modern industrialized nations is suffering from a protein deficiency, yet almost everyone is worried about getting enough protein. People who engage in resistance or endurance training are especially prone to such worry, despite decades of research showing that trained athletes do not have elevated protein requirements and can meet their needs without any special focus on protein-dense foods. Athletes simply eat more food, and, so long as they eat whole foods, they will consume all the protein they need in proportion to their energy expenditures. This has been proven by dozens of research projects, except those funded by enterprises seeking to market high protein animal foods or protein supplements.
As I wrote in Powered By Plants, many well-controlled experiments have determined that humans generally require only about 0.65 g/kg bodyweight as protein, and that 0.8 g/kg bodyweight will cover the needs of 98 percent of the population. The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences has stated:
“Available evidence does not support recommending a separate protein requirement for individuals who consume complementary mixtures of plant proteins.”[pages 661-62]
On this basis the average 70 kg (154 lb.) man or 55 kg (121 lb.) woman consuming a plant-based diet would require only 56 g or 44 g of daily dietary plant protein, respectively. Given that a 70 kg physically active male will expend and consume about 3000 kcal daily, he needs no more than 10% of his energy intake as protein. Studies show that vegans eating varied diets based on cooked foods typically consume 13% of calories as protein. A male consuming 3000 kcal per day with 13% from protein would consume 98 g of protein, amounting to 1.4 g/kg.
Further, the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies found no compelling evidence for a higher protein requirement for physically active individuals, and stated:
“In view of the lack of compelling evidence to the contrary, no additional dietary protein is suggested for healthy adults who undertake resistance or endurance exercise.”[page 661]
Here are the receipts:
Thus our obsession with protein, particularly animal protein, has no scientific basis. Rather, it is instilled and perpetuated by relentless marketing campaigns of those involved in producing high-protein animal products and supplements.
Despite getting correct information decades ago, it took me decades to break free of this myth. I still have to be on guard against falling for it again. Hopefully my experience will help others avoid that waste of time.
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