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September 4, 2012: Did Michael Clarke Duncan's vegetarian diet contribute to his death?

Originally posted on this blog.

Michael Clarke Duncan, the actor famous for his portrayal of John Coffey in the Green Mile, died today from complications of a heart attack he had suffered back in July. I liked Duncan. He seemed like a nice guy. I didn't know that he had been a vegetarian for the last couple of years of his life, since 2009. He even did a spot for PETA promoting vegetarianism, stating how much better he felt after eliminating meat from his diet. This, of course, made me like him even more.

Once I found out about his vegetarianism, I thought it would be interesting to check if there were any anti-vegetarian agitators out there who would conclude that not eating meat was somehow responsible for his death... and of course there were. I'm not going to provide links to their sites because I don't want to give them extra traffic. Basically though, to sum up, the veggie haters once again pulled out one of their favorite cards, the "soy products damage the thyroid gland" card, concluding that Duncan's vegetarian diet could have affected his thyroid, which, in turn, could have weakened his heart. If that weren't enough, they also somehow ridiculously linked his heart problems to a lack of testosterone (also from deadly soy - beware!). Of course they said nothing about the many other people who died today from heart problems caused by a TRULY unhealthy diet, a meat-based diet high in saturated fat, but hey, I guess they just forgot. They also didn't mention the common-sense fact that no matter what you eat, a balanced diet is key. They must have forgotten that as well.

First and foremost, I'm pretty sure that Michael Clarke Duncan's vegetarianism did not play any role in damaging his heart. His heart attack (as all heart attacks) could have been caused by a variety of things - his diet throughout his whole life, a congenital defect, the consequences of over-exerting himself, - the list goes on. Vegetarianism and especially veganism are diets that generally lower one's blood pressure and cholesterol. These are diets that are, more often than not, low in saturated fat, one of the worst culprits in heart disease. In fact, many doctors often ask patients who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or related heart problems to cut down on their meat intake. One would have to be pretty misguided to actually think that vegetarianism would CAUSE these problems. On a personal note, I don't eat meat and avoid most animals products, run 10 km three times a week and work out the other days. Weak heart? I think not.

So what about soy affecting the thyroid? This, just like the above-mentioned idea about soy raising estrogen levels isn't backed up by any strong evidence. Anyone who uses this as an argument doesn't really know what they're talking about. Here is a good collection of questions and answers regarding soy consumption. All that aside, there are tons of vegetarian food options apart from soy. Not everything in a vegetarian diet is soy-based, and we don't even know how much soy Duncan ate.

To sum up: Michael Clarke Duncan didn't die because he didn't eat meat. Don't let the peanut gallery make you believe that vegetarianism is unhealthy. And one last thing, rest in peace, Mr. Duncan. Thank you for making your last years ones of empathy and compassion.

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