Here are just a few of your stories about how transition to a vegan diet improved your health. We'd love to expand this section so please send us your story to veronika(@)viva.org.uk
I have suffered from two main health problems during my life, rheumatoid arthritis and being overweight. The first, rheumatoid arthritis was diagnosed at just 18 months. I have spent much of my life taking drugs, attending physiotherapy and hydrotherapy just to stay mobile. During 'flare-up' periods I needed help even to get out of bed and yet at quiet periods I was able to walk reasonable distances and even take part in aerobics classes.
My other health problem was being overweight, this was partially due to restrictions in mobility but also poor nutrition. I became a vegetarian aged thirteen but replaced meat with cheese. Later on in my life, having my daughter made me really 'look' at our diet and change it to include plenty of fruit and vegetables. Going vegan was not as difficult as we thought it would be. We learnt to cook new things and found replacements for our favourite foods. A major benefit for me and totally unexpected has been the considerable reduction in pain from my arthritis, so much so that I no longer need any medication. It's fantastic but I can't help but feel annoyed that despite all medical evidence no doctor or specialist ever passed this information on to either myself or my parents. I had a happy childhood but there were things I missed out on - climbing trees, riding a bike - and I'm left with deformed joints. I can't help but wonder, would it have been a different story if I'd stopped having dairy as a child?
Jay, 43, Cornwall
In my late thirties I began to get wheezy and chesty. I also had a near-constant cold. I was prescribed a brown ‘preventer’ inhaler and a blue ‘reliever’ inhaler, both of which I used regularly.
I always considered myself to be fit; I had run regularly during my twenties, a few injuries and niggles meant that I slowed down in my thirties but I still hiked, walked the dogs, etc., and so thought I was quite active. My wife and I had been vegetarian for years then but she made the decision to go vegan. I’ll admit that I wasn’t very supportive initially, I didn’t understand veganism and why she wanted to do something so ‘extreme’.
She didn’t try to influence me, knowing that it would likely have the opposite effect, but I ate all of the meals she cooked and so my dairy intake naturally decreased. I also glanced at the odd Viva!life magazine strategically placed around the house. I then came across a series of books about long-distance running Born To Run by Christopher McDougall, Eat & Run by Scott Jurek, and Finding Ultra by Rich Roll. Suddenly a vegan diet wouldn’t just allow me to run; it would help me to run.
Everything quickly came together – an understanding of the animal ethics, an understanding of the environmental impact I was still having, the happy realisation that far from having a restricted diet we were eating better food than we had in years, and the knowledge that this could all support me to get back to running. That was three years ago. I started slow, one mile – three miles – five miles, a 10k. After a year I was doing half marathon distances. In April this year I ran the Paris marathon with my wife (her first marathon and she couldn’t run a mile the previous year), in May I ran the Classic Quarter in Cornwall – 44 miles around the hilly coastal path. I have just signed up for the Transvulcania ultramarathon – a 74km run with a 8028m accumulated elevation. My goal is to eventually run the 170km Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc.
I haven’t used my inhalers at all since around six months after becoming vegan! I don’t consider myself to have asthma any more.
After being diagnosed, I became a typical example - fat around the middle, high BMI, high cholesterol and high blood sugar. I had no energy, would cough a lot despite not smoking and didn't sleep well. But then I heard about the vegan diet. After just four weeks on the diet, my blood pressure started to fall towards normal levels. All my blood readings were approaching or within normal ranges. After eight weeks on a vegan diet, I lost 1.7 stone. Four months later, I’m no longer obese and my blood results show I’m no longer diabetic. I feel fitter, I sleep well, I wake up more quickly even without coffee and I've stopped the coughing probably because I stopped drinking milk. I continue to enjoy the diet and my new way of life. Thank you again, Viva!, for your work and your help.
Maria Callaway, 27, West Sussex
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in January 2016 after months of pain, fatigue and toilet issues let's say, amongst many other debilitating symptoms, then was later diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a widespread pain condition, and my life was turned upside down by the prospect of these life-long incurable diseases. I had always had a ‘normal’ and typical ‘healthy, balanced’ diet and was informed that it is believed that a wide range of factors can possibly cause the diseases; viruses, trauma, genetics, and I was told I had actually developed Crohn’s a few years previous. I was shocked that I had been living with a life altering disease for years and had just ignored my body, as many people do. I eventually quit my job, spent months in bed and on the toilet, as well as hospital waiting rooms, and I was scared of what my future held.
I immediately stopped eating red meat after my diagnoses because of my higher risk of colon cancer and because it became an excuse to actually start aligning my morals and love for animals with my actions - and I noticed a change in some of my symptoms, which caused me to look further into nutrition and then started my journey into veganism. Crohn’s is a difficult disease to manage, as being a disease of the gut, I couldn’t initially eat lots of fruit or vegetables because they wreaked havoc in my extremely inflamed body. I gradually removed all the known inflammatory foods, basically meat, dairy and processed sugar, and as my inflammation levels reduced I gradually started introducing more and more plant-based whole foods and was able to refuse steroids and other prescription pain medication that I was due to be given.
Two years on, I have by no means ‘cured’ my disease (yet); it still exists within my body and some days I am reminded of that. However, I have gone from someone who was scared to leave the house and in tremendous daily constant pain, to someone who sometimes forgets that I have a chronic condition; from someone who, as a meat-eater, had severe vitamin deficiencies such as B12, vitamin C and vitamin D to someone who occasionally takes supplements but seems to be able to absorb everything I need from my diet; and most importantly from someone who was scared of my future to someone with renewed hope. From all that I have learnt from science and personal experience I am desperate to share the joys of plant based living with those with illnesses and those who have not yet developed any, and I often wonder how well and strong my body could have been if I had never been conditioned to eat meat.
Late teens is an important time in social development when dating is the done thing but in my case irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) made me feel really uncomfortable and embarrassed in social settings. When I started work, I had to ask to be excused more than is reasonable. On a night out to the pub I'd constantly be running to the toilet for no reason but IBS. That was my life day in day out.
I became vegetarian at around the age of twenty for moral reasons. The situation remained the same with regards to IBS. I did not receive any medical advice to rectify the problem. My diet was varied - anything as long as it was vegetarian suitable. The constant discomfort made me ask myself what could be the cause? Was it the drink? No, IBS persisted even when I avoided alcohol. Could it be due to stress? I was prone to anxiety, but when I was completely contented in life IBS still persisted. Resignedly, it was something I just had to live with...
...until, at about age 28, I took the logical step for a vegetarian and became vegan. I hadn't reckoned on there being a bonus health benefit in store. However, when I became vegan the irritable bowel syndrome was cured, it stopped completely! There was no regime before as nothing seemed to improve the situation. I still don't have a regime except that I am vegan. I can only conclude therefore, that eliminating dairy from my diet solved the problem of my IBS. I am 37 now and since the day I became vegan approximately ten years ago I have not experienced an irritable bowel, which looking back is quite remarkable.
Adrian, 73, UK
I went vegetarian in 1972 and vegan in 2000. Since those early days I have noticed my health improving to an astonishing level of fitness. I am 73 years young and cycle between 8 and 16 miles a day depending on the weather and time available as I grow flowers for the bees in my front garden and organic vegetables in my back garden. I do two sessions of intermediate yoga each week for one and a quarter hours each time. I do energetic ceroc dancing three evenings a week and dance almost continuously for two hours. Last July I attended the 50+ Show at Olympia and in the six hours I was there I climbed their nine metre [28 feet] climbing tower 115 times. The only reason I stopped was that they kicked us out at 4:30pm. I hope to beat my record this year. Not bad for a senile citizen eh?
At the age of just 19 my son was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. His whole colon was inflamed. He was usually in agony and we had to work out what foods suited him best. With our choice of food, health drinks and milk powder shakes, recommended by his GP, he managed to live a reasonably healthy life. But he suffered frequent attacks. Stress affected him badly and if he was stressed, his visits to his GP became very frequent. At work, it was remarked on how often he needed to visit the toilet and when eating out, at the end of the meal he would often disappear to the toilet. It was very upsetting to see that he could not lead a normal life and he was so young. He often said he felt he would need surgery, as it would be better than all the pain he was suffering.
Ten years later he became interested in vegetarianism and watched a video a vegetarian at work had recommended. That changed his whole way of thinking and he went vegetarian. However, very shortly after that he realised the whole scale of things and became vegan. He has now been vegan for a year and has never been healthier. He never feels overfull or bloated, is a good weight, feels healthy and has more energy, but most importantly and amazingly, the colitis seems to have disappeared. He takes no medication, no supplement drinks or powders and follows a wholefood plant-based diet.
I would recommend anyone suffering with ulcerative colitis to try a vegan diet and see if they can see the benefits as my son did. It is such a horrible and debilitating illness to live with and very little help or advice is given regarding food.
Rewind a couple of years, and you would see me not leave my bedroom without a thick layer of makeup on because of very bad acne.
Every day a new volcanic, puss-filled spot would be on my face which I would proceed to cover in foundation and powder just to leave bumps on my face - but at least the redness was gone, right? The tension they caused left me a lot of pain, leaving me taking days off college. Along with the acne, I've always had relatively bad eczema; my arms and legs sometimes covered in dry skin and scabs. You can only imagine how self-conscious this leaves a 17-year-old who is trying to fit in! When I moved to university and consequently out of the family home, I started cooking all my our food and was finally able to go vegan. I saw an instant change. My chronic acne left and was replaced by the occasional small pimple. My eczema, which I'd been dealing with since I was born, stopped.
I was finally able to wear skirts without thick black tights and go out bare-faced. Going vegan gave me freedom. Although acne and eczema aren't life-threatening, they made me isolated and different to other people. Doctors have given me so many different potential 'remedies' for my skin issues, and they barely had any effect. Not one of the healthcare professionals had even mentioned trying a different diet of any sort, and all of a sudden this relatively simple change had improved everything. I went vegan for animals and the environment, but the improvement to my skin is a huge bonus.
In 1981, I was a 33 year-old mature student at Imperial College, South Kensington. I attended an animal rights meeting in one of the university’s lecture theatres and it inspired me to go vegetarian. I was going to convert to vegetarianism in stages: processed meat, then red meat, then white meat, then fish. But I did it in one fell swoop. I was living in Ealing, West London, at that time, and discovered a health food shop that stocked meat-substitutes. At the same time that I gave up meat and fish, I decided to try to cut down on dairy because I knew that there was just as much cruelty in this industry as there is in livestock production. My children, who were born in 1988 and 1992, were brought up as vegetarians (their mother was also vegetarian).
In 2014, I finally gave up on cheese and eggs. I believe that the tipping point for my decision was seeing hundreds of horrific images of animal cruelty on Facebook. I just knew that I wanted no further part in the abuse of so-called “farm animals”. In my opinion, one of the driving forces behind the recent growth of veganism is the information that people can obtain from social media websites. It’s impossible to ignore the truth when it’s there right in front of your eyes.
One of the personal benefits to me of going vegan three years ago is that I have lost two and a half stone in weight. It happened without me making any effort. The upshot of the weight loss is that (a) I no longer need medication for type 2 diabetes and my blood test results (blood glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides, HbA1c, etc) are all back in the normal range and (b) I no longer suffer with heartburn or acid reflux!
Carl Griffiths, 33, Tamworth
Going vegan helped me to lose over six stone of fat, get fitter and stronger than I have ever been in my life.
I'm so full of energy now! It's led me on a life-changing path, from someone sitting on the sofa getting fatter and sicker, to a person that's now training to become a Personal Trainer so he can help other people and will be entering his first Strongman competition later on in the year.
All of this because I watched Cowspiracy on Netflix and went from there. The only thing I now regret is not going vegan sooner. It's the best thing I ever did and it's changed my life for the better.
Angela, 51, London
I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis (an inflammatory, immune driven condition) in 2013. I went from someone healthy and fit to being fatigued continually and not being able to hold a pen properly – it hurt too much. I had 2 months sick from work.
The worst though was the fatigue – from the condition and from all the drugs and painkillers. I survived like this for two years, but kept reading to find out what I could do. I was on five different drugs including an injection one which dampened my immune system to the condition but I caught continual colds and had cold sores all of the time.
I had been vegetarian for the animals for some time but after research, realised that that dairy was almost certainly contributing directly to my inflammatory arthritis. At this point I decided to become vegan as a natural progression as much as for my health.
Soon after I felt confident enough to try herbal remedies and withdrew from my ‘conventional’ drugs and within a few months of becoming vegan I was off all drugs except for CBD oil and was practising yoga again. I was discharged from my rheumatology specialist in April 2016 and in May 2016 hiked 100k for charity in less than 24 hours. I feel better than I ever did – I have so much energy and I no longer take two hours after waking up to mobilise my limbs, which would stiffen overnight. I have absolutely no doubt that becoming vegan was the missing piece to my health and I am told how well I look al the time from those who saw me at my most sick. Not causing suffering to others has stopped my own suffering - I feel that completes a circle of care.
I was 21 years of age when I went vegan. I had been supporting various animal charities and campaign groups since 16 years of age and the more I learnt the more I realised being vegetarian wasn't enough, I needed to do it properly I needed to go vegan. It was potentially a difficult time, Easter was coming up, and at that time dairy free Easter eggs didn't exist! But I gently asked family to buy me carob bars from the health food shop so I didn't feel I was missing out.
The first benefit I noticed was my skin. My teenage and then adult acne cleared up despite plaguing me all through my later school years. I then lost weight and became the perfect weight for my height - I went from a size 14 down to a 12 fairly quickly despite not dieting, then fairly soon after that down to a size 10. I have been vegan for 20 years and stayed at a size 10 for a long time then gradually went down to an 8 and my weight stayed steady.
I experimented with food over the years, trying Indian, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, raw, hummus, olives, pittas, different types of soups, vegan cheese, different salads and dressings, different desserts... the list was endless. Anything labelled vegan, I tried and found I liked it. There's very little I found that I didn't like. It opened up new horizons, not less. I can honestly say that I don't miss anything and I enjoy trying new things. The market has increased steadily coming on in leaps and bounds and now there is literally a vegan version of everything. People are intrigued by it.
I'm always happy to talk to people about it and they seem genuinely interested. I never force it down their throats, I let them ask me. I have also bought things for people to try and they are pleasantly surprised how good vegan food can be. I'm so glad I did it. I originally became vegan for animal welfare reasons and it’s the number one reason still but I am grateful for the health benefits I know what I need and I balance out my diet, I never used to think about it before. I don't like junk food so I don't eat it. It's great that more people are becoming aware and embracing it.
I suffered with terrible migraines since I was 10 years old and they made my life a misery at times. After endless trips to the doctor and some time in hospital for tests I found a bit of relief with medication.
However, when I stopped eating meat, (at 27) I had no attacks for five years, even after I came off the medication. The migraines eventually did return, but are now very rare, maybe one or two attacks a year and they aren’t as debilitating as they once were.
I've heard of other people also getting relief and seen a few websites mentioning it. Unfortunately, it’s not a magic bullet, as I have lots of vegetarian and vegan friends who are still afflicted. However, a vegetarian or vegan diet provides great relief for some folks. Anyone who tells me they suffer from migraines, I always recommend they try a plant-based diet.
Sharon Roberts, 53
I have fibroids and they had been annoying for a couple of years but not big enough to operate on. I went meat-free last February and felt better in myself and lost a bit of weight but think I probably overcompensated with cheese through the summer. I went on holiday in September and the day I was travelling I was in agony, doubled up in pain trying to pack my case. Then, I was unable to even sit comfortably on the plane.
I had read about the link between oestrogen and flaring fibroids so thought I needed to ditch dairy. I had a bit of feta whilst in Greece but on retuning I gave it up completely. I thought I'd give it eight weeks and see how it went. I can say I haven't had pain since September and had plenty of comments on how well and how much slimmer I look. Also in the meantime I've learnt about animal agriculture and planet health. There's no going back! I also feel my arthritic knees are benefiting but that could just be a result of weight loss.
I was diagnosed with moderate asthma when I was 10. I first had the blue reliever inhaler and then needed the brown preventer inhaler later, as I my symptoms got worse in the autumn and winter. I became a vegetarian when I was 15. I didn’t want to eat meat anymore because of the cruelty involved! Dairy and eggs for me, as that was ok, no one was killing the hens or cows…..were they?! Thirty years later I started to become more educated on the horrors of the dairy and egg industries. I had been buying free-range eggs and organic milk, I thought I was a saint! I then realised that these industries were just as cruel as the meat industry and I could no longer turn a blind eye to the horrors I was seeing online.
I became vegan on January the 1st 2015. I just changed overnight. Within a few months I noticed such a difference in my breathing and realised I wasn’t using my blue inhaler. I am no longer called to have an annual asthma review at my doctor's each year, as there is no need. I don’t have asthma!
I wish I had realised earlier what an impact going vegan would have on my health but more importantly to me, the animals who are so abused. There is so much help and support about and wonderful recipes and ideas online. Like most vegans, my only regret is not going vegan sooner. I have never eaten such a wide variety of delicious and flavoursome foods. I am even having a go at making my own nut cheeses and chocolates! I may not have entered the world as a vegan, but I will most certainly be leaving it as one!