Vitamin A and Crib Death
Many theories have attempted to explain the mysterious tragedy of crib death or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)– vaccinations, milk allergies, permapress linens, pesticides, formaldehyde outgassing from plastic mattress covers, even babies sleeping on their backs. A study published in Sweden points to another, more fundamental cause–deficiency in vitamin A. Researchers found that SIDS was much more common among children who had not received the supplementation of vitamins A and D that is customary in Norway and Sweden. This effect was statistically significant in Norway and Sweden but not in Denmark, where only vitamin D supplementation is given. The odds ratios remained significant in Sweden when an adjustment was made for confounding factors, including socioeconomic status. Said the researchers: “We found an association between increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome and infants not being given vitamin supplementation during their first year of life. This was highly significant in Sweden, and the effect is possibly connected with vitamin A deficiency” (Acta Paediatr 2003;92(2):162-4).
Meat for the Brain
Scientists in Kenya have found that animal source foods, especially meat products, are consumed by less than 14 percent of children, and usually in small amounts, less than 17 grams (about 1 tablespoon) per day. In a two-year study carried out in a rural area, children received a small portion of either meat, milk or vegetable oil to supplement their usual corn- or bean-based lunches. Children in all three groups gained weight and increased their upper-arm muscle mass compared to classmates who received no supplements. But the children who received the meat supplement also performed significantly better than all the groups on a test of problem-solving ability and fluid intelligence. Although the portion of meat was only 2 ounces per day, it provided 106 percent of a child’s B12 requirement, 68 percent of the zinc requirement and 26 percent of the iron–all nutrients critical to brain function. According to Lindsay H. Allen, director of the US Agricultural Research Service, the results are consistent with earlier observational studies in Kenya, Egypt and Mexico. In fact, Allen went on record as saying that vegan diets are “unethical” and could harm the development of children. “There have been sufficient studies clearly showing that when women avoid all animal foods, their babies are born small, they grow very slowly and they are developmentally retarded, possibly permanently,” she said, adding that animal source foods are superior to supplements. “With pills, it’s very hard to be certain that the quantity of the nutrient is right for everybody and it’s hard to sustain” (nutraingredients.com.news.printNewsBis.asp?id=58215).
Also in China
In a related study, researchers compared the blood chemistry of three groups in urban Beijing, those whose diet was based on fruit and milk, those whose diets contained red meat and those whose diets contained mostly refined cereals. More than 67 percent of subjects in the refined cereals group had low B12 levels, while those consuming fruit and milk had the highest concentrations. The cereals group also had the highest levels of homocysteine, a marker for heart disease (J Nutr 2003 Nov;133(1):3636-42).
Scientific Validation Once Again
Science has once again validated a persistent food tradition, that oysters and other mollusks act as aphrodisiacs. Researchers have discovered that bivalves contain compounds, known as D-aspartic acid and N-methyl-D-aspartate, that stimulate the release of hormones, including testosterone and estrogen, which are involved in sexual arousal and activity. The researchers analyzed the chemical composition of three varieties of clams and a Mediterranean mussel. They did not look specifically at oysters but believe the results may also apply to this legendary aphrodisiac. The results were presented at the American Chemical Society Meeting, held in San Diego in March (my.webmd.com.content.Article.102/106613.htm?printing=true).
Eat Fat Lose Weight
A new study by Temple University School of Medicine provides welcome vindication for Atkins and other researchers who insist that the best way to lose weight is to eat a lot of fat. The study took place in a clinical research center where every calorie eaten and spent was measured. After a week of typical eating, ten obese patients with type 2 diabetes followed a diet that limited carbohydrates to 20 grams per day but allowed unlimited protein and fat. With carbs out of the diet, the patients spontaneously reduced their daily energy consumption by 1,000 calories per day. “When carbohydrates were restricted,” said lead researcher Guenther Boden, MD, “the subjects spontaneously reduced their caloric intake to a level appropriate for their height, did not compensate by eating more protein or fat, and lost weight. We concluded that excessive overeating had been fueled by carbohydrates.” In addition to calorie reduction and weight loss, subjects experienced markedly improved glucose levels and insulin sensitivity as well as lower triglycerides and cholesterol (Am J Clin Nutr 2005 Mar;81(3):611-614). The interesting thing about this study was that the subjects did not consciously try to restrict calories or lose weight, showing that restricting carbs and increasing fat in the diet works better than will power.
More Bad News for Trans Fats
In a cross sectional study of participants in the Nurses’ Health Study, researchers have found that those with the highest trans fat consumption also had higher markers of inflammation. The most significant biomarker, C-reactive protein (CRP), was up 73 percent in those with the highest level of consumption compared to those with the lowest (J Nutr 2005 Mar;135:562-566). Scientists believe that high levels of CRP indicate inflammation in the lining of the arteries and endothelial dysfunction, leading to heart disease. Naturally, manufacturers are scrambling to find substitutes for the ubiquitous trans-laden partially hydrogenated oils. Bayer CropScience, a German firm, has teamed with Cargill of the US to develop a hybrid rapeseed with “desirable oil traits” for producing high oleic rapeseed oil. Archer Daniels Midland has launched a line of trans-free and low-trans oils using an enzymatic inter-esterification technology. US firms Dow AgroSciences, Bunge and DuPont have all launched their own brands of zero- or low-trans fat oils. Of course, the perfect solution is naturally saturated palm oil, rather than highly processed and manipulated polyunsaturated oils. Kraft, for example, is using palm oil for the filling of three trans-fat-free Oreo cookie varieties, a fact that has conventional nutritionists screaming. “This is nuts!” exclaims Jeff Novick, MS, RD, LV/N, Director of Nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa in Aventura, Florida. “All these tropical oils are highly saturated fats. Like butter, cheese, and meat, tropical oils raise LDL cholesterol and clog arteries with plaque, increasing your risk of heart attack” (Pritikin ePerspective, March 23, 2005). Without providing a shred of evidence, Novick asserts that palm oil, although less saturated than butter, tallow or lard, “is full of a type of saturated fat, palmitic acid, which appears to be most conducive to heart disease.”
Butter, Beef, and Eggs
An observant member has sent us the obituary for Jacob Trobe, who died in Haverford, Pennsylvania, at the age of 93. During World War II, Trobe was a representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and among the first relief workers to enter the concentration camps as the war ended. At Bergen-Belsen, which had been freed weeks before any aid groups could arrive, he found rampant typhus and starving, dazed survivors. Without asking his supervisors for permission, he ordered $250,000 worth (a staggering sum in those days) of butter, eggs and cheese from Scandinavia to alleviate the situation. In those days, relief workers knew what sick and starving people needed to recover. He may also have had a few clues on how to eat for a long and active life–in retirement he tracked the evolution of the media business for two decades by conducting television interviews of industry leaders (New York Times, January 30, 2005).
A New Precedent?
Presidential inaugural meals provide grist for reporters who like to speculate on the current zeitgeist. In 1944, Roosevelt’s 2,000 inaugural luncheon guests got chicken salad, unbuttered rolls, unfrosted pound cake and coffee, sparking comments on a culture of parsimony and indiscriminating palates. Reagan’s guests devoured 2.8 million jellybeans, signaling “a return to gaiety and lighthearted consumption patterns.” Observers who expected President Bush’s second inaugural luncheon to follow the USDA dietary guidelines got a surprise from the menu, which was characterized by rich dishes made with real food–scalloped crab and lobster made with heavy cream, roasted Missouri quail with chestnuts and “brined root vegetables” (sounds strangely like lacto-fermented vegetables. . . hmm) and steamed lemon pudding made with butter and eggs, including extra yolks (Washington Post, January 19, 2005). Reporters have a right to speculate on whether such delicious food signals a new precedent of healthy eating in America, or is simply another privilege reserved for the oligarchy, with USDA-guideline lowfat commodity-based meals reserved for the masses.
Speaking of Dietary Guidelines, a group of four food and wine staffers at the San Francisco Chronicle took upon themselves the following mission: “Spend two weeks following the US government’s new dietary guidelines, glow smugly with the virtue and newfound health, then report on the findings.” After 14 days of chickpeas, skim milk, soy milk, rice cakes, kale and carrot sticks, the intrepid group discovered that they all felt “constrained and deprived.” Blake Gray, one of the participants summed it up: “I miss the pure pleasure of choosing the food that sounds most delicious and savoring each morsel without wondering what kind of oil it was cooked in. If I have to give some years off my life for this pleasure, I’m willing to do it–if only I knew in advance how many years I’m forfeiting.” The group also found that following the guidelines was very difficult to do, requiring the help of calorie, fat and sodium lists to figure out whether they could have an additional piece of cheese or a cookie for dessert; and while the guidelines did steer them away from junk food, they found it difficult to reach their vegetable and grain quota. One participant observed that it was hard to “round people up for a nice meal of chick-pea stew,” noting that she felt more isolated, with the world looking “a bit bleak.” In short, hiding behind a pile of platitudes against processed foods, the guidelines offer a useless plan for real people living in the real world who want to eat real food (San Francisco Chronicle,
ruary 16, 2005).
The new dietary guidelines have put more emphasis on whole grains. In an ad that appeared in the January 10, 2005 New York Times, General Mills proclaims “Now Every General Mills Cereal Is Made with Whole Grain.” That means that you can now eat Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Golden Grahams, Lucky Charms, Rice Chex, Cocoa Puffs, Trix and Total, and serve them in school breakfast programs, and conform to government guidelines. The ad implies that these cereals will help you “manage weight” and improve heart health. In the same vein, Kellog’s advertises Pop-Tarts in the email publication of the School Nutrition Association: “Serve something kids, moms and school administrators love. Pop-Tarts deliver more vitamins and minerals with less fat than many breakfast items. For school breakfasts, Pop-Tarts pass every test.”
The USDA food guidelines–for your health, or the health of the bottom line?
Our Friend Cholesterol
If your doctor is pressuring you to take drugs or stop eating butter in order to lower your cholesterol, be sure to tell him or her about the study that appeared in the February 2005 Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (Vol 53, pages 219-226). Researchers evaluated 2277 senior Americans, aged 65 to 98, 21 percent of whom were taking cholesterol-lowering drugs. Over a period of three years, lower total cholesterol and lower LDL-cholesterol (the so-called “bad” cholesterol) were associated with a greater risk of dying. Use of cholesterol-lowering drugs seemed to lower this association, but did not abolish the elevated risk of death. This study confirms a similar finding from the Honolulu Heart Program, that those who had low levels of cholesterol over 20 years had a higher risk of dying from all causes (Lancet 2001;358:351-55). And if your pediatrician is pressuring you to lower your child’s cholesterol by denying traditional foods like eggs, butter and whole milk, be sure to tell him or her about a study published April 1, 2005, in the American Journal of Epidemiology (Vol 161, No 1, pages 691-699). Investigators looked at cholesterol levels and psychosocial development in 4,852 children, ages 6 to 16 years. Non-African-American children with low cholesterol (less than 145 mg/dl) were almost three times more likely to have been suspended or expelled from schools than those who had higher cholesterol levels. The authors concluded that low total cholesterol “may be a risk factor for aggression.”
Death by Margarine
In Holland, people with “high” cholesterol or one of the 588 other risk factors for heart disease get a prescription for a cholesterol-lowering drug and advice to buy Unilever’s Becel Pro Aktiv, a margarine containing cholesterol-lowering plant sterols. Nurses offer cholesterol tests in the supermarket next to the margarine shelves while the Dutch heart association promotes Becel with scaremongering TV commercials. This is a fairytale deal between Uniliver, the Dutch heart association and Dutch health insurers (who pay for the margarine!), one that could well happen in the US. In a letter to Dr. Uffe Ravnskov’s THINCS group, W. M. Nimal Ratnayake, PhD, of Health Canada explains just why plant sterols are so dangerous. Stroke-prone rats fed sterols hyperabsorb these compounds leading to increased rigidity of red blood cells and drastically reduced life span. Humans prone to hemorrhagic stroke have similar abnormalities in the red blood cells (Clin Exp Hypertension 1980;2:1009-1021). Furthermore, hemorrhagic stroke occurs at higher rates in persons with low levels of cholesterol (Irbarren, JAMA, 1995).
Scientists have discovered a novel role for cholesterol, one that explains why low cholesterol is linked to cancer and many other diseases. Cholesterol in cell membranes appears to anchor a signaling pathway linked to cell division and cancer. “Cell signals have to be tightly controlled,” says Dr. Richard GW Anderson, chairman of cell biology at UT Southwestern Medical Center and head of the study. “If the signaling machines do not work, which can happen when the cell doesn’t have enough cholesterol, the cell gets the wrong information, and disease results.” Every cell in our body is surrounded by a membrane composed of fatty acids and containing cholesterol. The cholesterol-containing regions of the cell membrane are more rigid than the other areas and play a critical role in organizing signaling machinery at the cell surface. The correct arrangement of signaling modules in these domains is vital for communication inside the cell and is dependent on proper levels of cholesterol (Science, March 4, 2005).
In yet another example of hyped results, researchers have announced that “intensive lipid lowering [with a statin drug] beyond currently recommended levels provides significant additional clinical benefits in patients with coronary heart disease.” Citing the results of the Treating to New Targets (TNT) trial, Dr. John LaRosa, a tireless proponent of getting everybody’s cholesterol as low as possible, made the announcement at the American Cardiology’s annual scientific session, held in Orlando, Florida, March 2005. Dr. Eric Topol, who runs theheart.org, which is funded by AstraZeneca, a maker of cholesterol-lowering drugs, was even more emphatic: “There isn’t any question left at this point that we should be more aggressive.” However, a cold look at the study results reveals nothing to crow about. Researchers followed 10,000 patients who were given either a low or high dose of the popular cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor. Total mortality was identical in the two groups–5.6 percent in the low-dose group and 5.7 percent in the high-dose group. The high-dose group had slightly lower mortality from coronary heart disease but higher mortality from other causes (N Engl J Med 2004;350:1495-504). LaRosa dismissed the higher levels of noncardiovascular mortality in the high-dose group–as well as several cases of reported side effects–as due to chance and suggested altering the current cholesterol recommendation to one that calls for even more aggressive lipid lowering. One independent commentator has suggested that TNT refers to Twisting Natural Truths!