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Vegetarianism Is It the Right Choice?

By Dr. Paul C. Eck and Dr. Larry Wilson



Why Do People Become Vegetarians?

Having been an adamant vegetarian during a five year period in my life, I made a number of observations about my physiology and psychology, as well as that of my peers who have shared the same nutritional conviction.

Why do people become vegetarians? One reason is philosophical. Vegetarianism can seem a choice from a superior level of awareness. Another reason is for digestive benefit. Some people simply have difficulty digesting animal protein due to an adrenal insufficiency.

Vegetarianism is Both A Physical and Emotional Necessity

The two reasons are more related than they appear. We normally think that an individual becomes a vegetarian because of a belief that supports this way of life. However, as I reflect back on my choice, it was born purely out of physical and emotional needs. The philosophy came later as a supportive rationale. I had tremendous difficulty in digesting protein. I did not feel well from eating meat. I became committed to the philosophy of vegetarianism later.

Vegetarians Have A Very Unique Hair Analysis Profile

During my private practice in nutrition, I have observed many vegetarian clients. The most consistent hair analysis profile for a vegetarian is a slow oxidizer with a high copper level together with an inversion of the sodium/potassium ratio.

Aversion to Protein is Biologically Determined

The inability to digest animal protein is extremely common in those individuals with a high tissue copper level and adrenal insufficiency. This aversion or dislike of animal protein can develop into a rationale that it is not acceptable to kill animals for survival. However, it is OK to kill vegetables. There is a gradient established regarding the morality of killing one form of life versus another.

Vegetarianism and Low Levels of Energy, Due Principally to a Copper-Induced Zinc Deficiency

From working with vegetarians, a number of observations were noted. Many vegetarians have a very low energy level. There were, of course, exceptions. This low energy state that plagues many vegetarians, is due, in part, to inadequate protein synthesis or excessive protein breakdown. An adequate protein intake is necessary to enhance or increase thyroid activity. Without sufficient protein, the thyroid is not able to ignite the fuel that transforms food into energy. Additionally, the adrenal glands can become exhausted because a high copper level prevents zinc from being bioavailable, resulting in decreased potassium (glucocorticoid) levels. Even though most vegetarians eat a high vegetarian protein diet, they are unable to retain potassium in the tissues because of a relative zinc deficiency. Optimal potassium levels cannot be maintained in the face of a zinc deficiency. Vegetables and nuts are very low in zinc.

High Prevalence of Anorexia and Loss of Appetite Among Vegetarians

Another observation is that many vegetarians experience difficulty in gaining weight, in many cases, due to lack of appetite. Anorexia nervosa (loss of appetite) is intimately associated with high copper or low zinc tissue levels. The higher tissue copper levels become, generally, the more deficient zinc becomes. Zinc is necessary for one's sense of taste. A general disinterest in food can develop as copper levels increase.

Types Of Food Consumed By Vegetarians

Let us discuss for a moment the types of food consumed by vegetarians. The word vegetarian is used loosely to include chicken but not red meat. The majority of vegetarians consume large amounts of dairy products to increase their protein intake. These dairy products contribute to an even higher calcium level than already exists in the tissues.

Soybeans and legumes are commonly used as a source of protein. However, the availability of the protein in these foods is reduced, due to their relatively high copper content. Soybeans, commonly eaten by vegetarians, are high in copper and can contribute to an even greater copper load in the vegetarian's liver and brain. The liver and brain serve as primary storage organs when copper is taken into the body in excess or is not properly utilized.

To Eat Meat or Not to Eat Meat

The refusal to eat meat by the strict vegetarian is validated by the fact that some authorities consider beef and pork too contaminated with hormones and additives to safely eat. The concern that meat is too contaminated to consume is particularly valid for individuals who have pancreas or liver dysfunctions, or who are prone to tumors or cancer. Lamb is considered to be less toxic than beef, as it is processed without diethylstilbestrol (DES) and other hormones.

Many of the difficulties of protein synthesis in vegetarians are due to pancreatic enzymes and hydrochloric acid deficiencies. The inability to digest protein is principally due to diminished adrenal gland activity. Many vegetarians find it necessary to take enzymes or hydrochloric acid tablets to assist their impaired digestion. However, as adrenal function increases, the dependence upon enzymes and hydrochloric acid tablets is reduced or eliminated.

Specific Dynamic Action of Proteins

Not all types of protein have the same potential for increasing energy levels. This potential is called their specific dynamic action.

Proteins with the highest dynamic action follow in this order:

  • Beef
  • Lamb, Pork, Eggs
  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • Cheese
  • Soy
  • Grains

Removing beef, chicken, lamb, pork, eggs and fish from the diet eliminates foods that contain nutrients helpful for producing energy, enzyme synthesis and building healthy organs and tissues. If maximal health is our goal, we need to consume foods that give us the greatest potential for this achievement.

If one prefers to abstain completely from meat, one should almost certainly supplement their vegetarian diet with zinc.

When Protein Should be Reduced or Avoided

In some conditions, animal protein is contra-indicated, at least for a while. These conditions include cancer, kidney disease, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, liver disease and infections.

The Capability of Utilizing Protein Can be Accurately Measured by the Individual's Sodium/Potassium Ratio.

A sodium/potassium inversion (Na/K ratio less than 2.5:1) on a hair mineral analysis indicates impaired capacity to utilize or synthesize protein. The more severe the inversion, the less protein can be synthesized. The following are general guidelines as to what type and how much protein is indicated for an individual with a sodium/potassium inversion.

Na/K Ratio Percentage of protein in the diet


30% protein, all types acceptable

2.5:1-2.0:1 25% dietary protein, omitting beef and pork and emphasizing lamb, fish, cheese and eggs
2.0:1-1.5:1 20% dietary protein, omitting beef, lamb and pork, emphasizing eggs, fish and chicken
1.5:1-1.0:1 15% dietary protein, emphasizing chicken, low fat cheese and grains
Less 1.0:1 10% dietary protein, emphasizing grains and soy beans

Detoxification programs such as juice fasting, or eating just fruits and vegetables, significantly limit protein intake. These detoxification programs can provide definite benefit and are excellent for short periods. However, they are not for long-term diets. Protein catabolism will occur if dietary protein is restricted for prolonged periods. Protein catabolism, (breakdown) can be a significant problem for self-prescribed vegetarians, who do not fully understand food interrelationships and assimilation factors.


To summarize, the choice of vegetarianism should be based on solid biochemical data, not simply philosophical whims. For some, the adoption of vegetarianism is born out of the digestive distress resulting from an impaired ability to digest protein. For this group of people, digestive enzymes can be of great benefit. They may not be needed once the adrenal glands again are capable of maintaining hydrochloric acid secretion and protein metabolism has again become sufficient to synthesize pancreatic digestive enzymes in adequate amounts to insure adequate digestion.

Other individuals must be vegetarians due to severe health problems such as cancer or liver disease. The goal is that once their health improves, they can expand their protein intake.

Others may choose vegetarianism for religious or philosophical reasons. For those individuals, it is most important for them to understand the effects of their diet on their physiology, as vegetarianism can be good for some people and detrimental for others. Vegetarianism must be based on chemistry, not philosophy, for health to be the result.

A Vegetarian Case History: John

The following case history is of John, an artist vegetarian. He is 35 years old and has a Ph.D. in the fine arts. Artistic creativity is often associated with high copper levels (John's copper reading was 5.9, a normal copper reading is 2.5). High copper individuals are often highly intelligent, sensitive and imaginative. Unfortunately, copper toxicity can also contribute to occasional blurred vision, frontal migraine headaches, digestive complaints and mental depression. John, interestingly enough, had all the good and bad copper characteristics listed above.

John's high copper level was not the total factor in his interest in vegetarianism. His sodium/potassium inversion, (his sodium/potassium ratio is 1.52/1, normal is 2.5/1), coupled with the copper reading, had made vegetarianism biologically imperative. He was not only plagued with high copper symptoms, but experienced sodium/potassium inversion symptoms of occasional chest pains, sinus condition and tension across the shoulders as well.

A High Copper Level Results In The Denaturing Of Protein

Copper, in excess, results in a denaturating (liquification) of protein. A low sodium/potassium ratio is indicative of protein catabolism. The combination of these two factors made John's protein digestion quite inefficient. To relieve the gastric distress from eating heavy protein such as meat, he became a vegetarian, saying he felt better on his non-meat diet, as he no longer experienced the heavy uncomfortable feeling after eating.

A major problem with John's commitment to vegetarianism was his excessive protein loss. The body must have assimilable protein to provide the essential building blocks for muscle tissue, enzymes and vitality. His vegetarian diet on a prolonged basis, together with his high tissue copper level, resulted in a protein deficiency, thus enhancing his tendency to diabetes. John's diabetic trend was indicated by his calcium/magnesium ratio of 15.21:1, (normal calcium/magnesium ratio is 6.67:1). To enhance and stabilize John's thyroid and adrenal function, low fat and protein were indicated in the form of eggs, fish and chicken. Beef and lamb, at that time, were simply too difficult to properly digest. The administration of hydrochloric acid was indicated to increase John's protein digestion and absorption.

Our goal with John's chart was to decrease calcium (his reading was 122, ideal is 40) and to decrease his copper to 2.5 and to re-establish a normal sodium/potassium ratio. These goals were accomplished by administering the minerals manganese, zinc and potassium in proper balance. Potassium lowered a high calcium, manganese elevated a low sodium and zinc lowered a high copper level, all of which were necessary to reestablish John's biochemical balance and hence, health restoration.

Now that John's protein intake has increased and digestion has been improved, his minerals are stabilizing. Due to his better health, his creativity and artistic production have accelerated.

Copyright © 1987 - The Eck Institute of Applied Nutrition and Bioenergetics, Ltd.

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