More on Vitamin A
The ongoing Nurses’ Health Study, a project of Walter Willett’s research group at Harvard University, has found an association of hip fractures with vitamin A consumption. The results were widely published, along with implications that women should avoid liver and other vitamin A-rich foods. But there were a few flaws in the protocol. The study relied on dietary recall data–which is notoriously inaccurate. Furthermore, the results were extrapolated from a questionnaire designed to prove that eating animal protein in any form increased the risk of fractures, a theory that has been disproven. Although the study seems to implicate natural vitamin A from food, rather than synthetic vitamin A used in supplements added to processed foods like margarine and breakfast cereals, an earlier Swedish study found the opposite–that hip fracture incidence was associated with increased consumption of synthetic vitamin A added to food. Sweden is one of the few countries where synthetic vitamin A is added to milk (Annals of Internal Medicine 1998;129:770-778). The highest incidence of osteoporotic fractures occured in women whose consumption of synthetic vitamin A was unusually high. Similar results are reported in animals given large doses of the “purified crystalline forms” of the vitamin. This is yet another example of the axiom that synthetic vitamins can have the opposite effect from vitamins naturally occurring in food–remember that Weston Price consistently found that people who consumed large amounts of vitamin A had strong bones. So don’t let the Willett study keep you from taking your cod liver oil. In fact, a study of healthy centenarians found that these long-lived peoples were characterized by high levels of vitamins A and E in the bloodstream (Free Radic Biol Med 2000 Apr 28:1243-8). Said the authors: “. . . healthy centenarians show a particular profile in which high levels of vitamin A and vitamin E seem to be important in guaranteeing their extreme longevity.”
That humans cannot rely on carotenes in plant foods for adequate vitamin A is a frequently occurring theme in the pages of this magazine. Ongoing research provides additional proof. Studies led by the Agricultural Research Service during the past five years have found significant differences in beta-carotene uptake and conversion by physically similar volunteers. About half of the 45 volunteers participating in the study didn’t take up much beta-carotene at all and about half of the volunteers didn’t form much vitamin A from the beta-carotene they did absorb (Agricultural Research, March 2001). Similar results were obtained by researchers at the USDA Western Human Nutrition Research Center, who found that only about half those studied converted significant amounts of beta-carotene (Am J Clin Nutr 2002;75:900-7). They also noted that the vitamin A activity of beta-carotene is surprisingly low in women, and that the carotene in fruit, grains and oils is a more effective source of vitamin A than the carotene in dark green leafy vegetables.
Mammogram Madness Continues
Consider that in 1965, the British Journal of Cancer published the first study indicating that medical x-rays are a cause of breast cancer. According to Dr. John W. Gofmann, the relevant exposure to medical x-rays in causing breast cancer is the cumulative total dose (www.x-raysandhealth.org). Consider also that doctors are instructed to handle breasts very carefully when doing manual exams so as not to cause any cysts or encapsulated tumors to break open and spread. Now consider that yearly mammograms subject women to painful pressure on their breasts and to a large cumulative total dose of x-rays. When these facts are carefully considered, it comes as no surprise that an independent panel of experts found insufficient proof that mammograms can prevent breast cancer deaths (New York Times, 1/24/02). In fact, the suspicion is that regular mammograms have actually contributed to the huge increase in breast cancer cases over the last twenty years. The expert panel report caused a stir but no change in official policy. In February of this year, Tommy G. Thompson, Secretary of Health and Human Services announced that women will still be urged to get regular mammograms starting at age 40.
The latest ultra-hyped therapy for metastatic breast cancer is high-dose chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants. Thousands of women have undergone the horrendous suffering this procedure entails on the promise that it will improve their chances of survival. The American Society of Clinical Oncology has now revealed that a key study pointing to the effectiveness of this therapy was based on faked data that suggested the procedure was more effective than it actually is. The author of the original study, Dr. Werner Bezwoda, was fired from his post at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in 1999 after revelations that he had faked data in a preliminary report of another study on the use of high-dose chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant in patients where the malignancy had spread to lymph nodes. Bezwoda’s fraudulent data “was a linchpin in the ensuing wave of support for the treatment. . . and helped entice many women into undergoing the treatment.” But now that the original study has been proven fraudulent, will the painful procedure be abandoned? Not at all. Several large trials on the bone-marrow-transplant therapy are underway. According to the Society, “women should undergo the procedure only if they are enrolled in a clinical trial” (Los Angeles Times, 4/27/2001).
New Guidelines, More Patients
The “New Cholesterol Guidelines” have turned tens of thousands more healthy people into patients, “eligible” for cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. When a correspondent asked the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) why there were no open meetings required for the development of the new standards, and why the New Guidelines were not published in the Federal Register, he received the following amazing reply: “. . . the guidelines for cholesterol management released on May 15, 2001 were developed by a panel of experts–the Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III [ATP III])–convened by the National Cholesterol Education Program, an educational program coordinated by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The ATP III panel is not an advisory committee to the NHLBI but rather a group of recognized experts providing their scientific judgement about cholesterol management to clinicians. The panel’s recommendations for clinicians are based on a thorough review of the scientific evidence by the panel. The guidelines developed by the ATP III are not regulations and health professionals are not required to follow them.” The “recognized experts” include Drs. Grundy, Hunninghake, McBride, Pasternak, Stone and Schwartz, all of whom have received consultant fees from the producers of statin drugs.
New Cholesterol Test, More Patients
Atherotech, Inc., a leading cardiodiagnostic company, has announced the completion of a private offering of $11.5 million in financing to be used to further the “rapid widespread adoption of the company’s VAPTM (Vertical Auto Profile) cholesterol test as the new standard of care in cholesterol risk assessment.” The test “detects 50% more people at-risk for heart disease than the traditional cholesterol panel.” According to a company press release, “The VAP Test is available in 43 states, and we expect another stellar year in 2002 as physicians convert to the VAP Test to comply with the recently released NCEP ATP III guidelines.” You can visit the company’s website at www.atherotech.com.
More Grumpy Patients
Scientists have identified low testosterone as the cause of “Irritable Male Syndrome,” the grumpy, noncommunicative, moody male that makes life miserable for his wife and family (Examiner, 3/26/2002). With the New Cholesterol Guidelines and the new VAP cholesterol test, families can expect more exasperating behavior in their menfolk– because testosterone is made out of cholesterol. When you lower cholesterol with lowfat diets and statin drugs, you lower the base material from which testosterone is made. The results can be tragic for all involved, as chronic low cholesterol levels lead to depression and irrational anger. The whole cholesterol story adds up to an incredible phenomenon–drug companies promoting a dangerous drug as though it were government policy, new guidelines and new tests to convince the majority of US adults that they need to lower their cholesterol, and then the tragic consequences–black moods, sudden anger, hell on earth. . .
The press has been quick to publicize a new study showing that “Teen Vegetarians Healthier Than Meat-Eaters.” What did the researchers deem to be “healthier?” The vegetarian teens had lower intakes of fat, including saturated fat, and ate more vegetables. (Never mind that the vegetarians “drank more diet soda and caffeine,” reflecting the desire of most of the teenagers to keep weight off.) There was no front page coverage for a study showing that animal protein consumption is associated with greater bone density in the elderly (Am J Epidemiol 2002;155:636-644), nor for a study showing that blood homocysteine levels are higher in vegetarians than in meat eaters (J Nutr 2002 Feb;132(2):152-8), implying that vegetarians are more at risk for heart disease. And, finally, steak lovers will be pleased to learn that researchers in Lyon, France, found that processed meats were linked to colon cancer but consumption of fresh (unprocessed) red meat does not raise the risk of colon cancer (www.msnbc.com/news/591170.asp).
Bringing the Processing to the Farm
The Island Grown Farmers Cooperative of Lopez Island, located off the coast of Washington state, has received USDA approval for a Mobile Meat Processing Facility that will slaughter and package locally produced beef, lamb, pigs and other meat. The mobile unit will bring processing right to the farm and also will supply locally produced meat products to the community. The project was the result of cooperation between several private and government agencies. Funding came from USDA Rural Development, US Forest Service and private donors. This is a landmark event that paves the way for similar projects in rural communities throughout the US–and rings the first bell for the demise of the centralized meat packing industry. For further information, contact the San Juan County Food Processing Center (360) 468-3723.
Milk in the News
Some recent studies have put milk–even commercial milk–in a good light. One found that consumption of dairy products was inversely associated with the incidence of insulin resistance syndrome, a major risk factor for type-2 diabetes (JAMA, 2002;28781-2089). Another found that milk, particularly fermented milk, is protective against colon cancer (Carcinogenesis, March 2002 23(3):477-483). Most interesting to us, however, was a study showing that children who grow up on a farm and drink “farm milk” are less likely to suffer from allergies and asthma (American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine 2001;164:1829-1834). Farm children, of course, are more likely to drink raw milk, but the article makes no mention of the “r” word.
The National Dairy Council publishes a newsletter entitled Dairy Council Digest, which featured an article entitled “Good Science: Its Role in Setting the Record Straight” in its October 2001 issue. Keys to identifying “bad science” include “promising a quick fix, dire warnings of danger from a single product, claims that sound too good to be true, simplistic conclusions from complex studies, recommendations based on a single study, lists of good and bad foods, statements refuted by reputable professional organizations, studies that are not peer reviewed, and studies that ignore differences among individuals or groups.” We thought good science had to do with determining the truth, not conforming to the agendas of “reputable” professional organizations. And if good science isn’t about determining good and bad foods, why are there so many studies ongoing to determine what we should and shouldn’t eat? The Dairy Council list seems suspiciously aimed at consumer groups like the Weston A. Price Foundation, which provide study interpretation and explanation that help consumers make healthy dietary choices– most of which do not please the American food industry, including the dairy industry.
Junk Science Supports Junk Food
Scientists at the University of Rochester Center claim that preservatives used in soft drinks, ice cream and other foods prevent tooth decay. When the preservatives are combined with fluoride, they prevent cavities, they say. Researchers divided rats into four groups, giving them either fluoride, benzoate, both or neither. The rats who received neither fluoride nor benzoate had an average of 16 cavities on their teeth after three weeks. Those given fluoride had two cavities and there were no cavities at all in rats given fluoride and a high dose of benzoate. (Were the rats receiving benzoate still alive? Did they have any teeth at all?) “The decline in tooth decay seen over much of the 20th century pretty well matches the increase in soft drink consumption,” says Professor William Bowen, head of the study. “In the United States, soda consumption is up to an average of two cans a day per person. That’s a lot of benzoate.” But Bowen says we shouldn’t rely on sodas to prevent tooth decay. “There may be a more structured way to take advantage of this, such as putting these preservatives into toothpaste” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/health/newsid_705000/705512.stm).
The US House of Representatives has introduced legislation to establish mandatory labels on all food products containing genetically engineered (GE) ingredients. If passed, the thousands of foods on our supermarket shelves, with ingredients from soy, corn, canola and other genetically modified ingredients, will carry a special label. There is no evidence that these foods are safe for the environment or public health because the Food and Drug Administration does not currently require safety testing or labeling. The food and agriculture industries are adamantly opposed to labeling.
And now for the good news. A recent survey of consumers found that 70 percent thought Americans were obsessed with fat in the diet and that the government (including “reputable professional organizations”?) should not tell people what to eat. More than a quarter thought that lowfat foods took the pleasure out of eating (Journal of the American Dietetic Association, January 2001).
More Good News
One of our members reports that a major organic food purveyor, Diamond Organics, has decided to remove soy milk and refined oils from all pastry recipes. Responding to our member’s complaint, Jasch Hamilton, founder of the company, reports that they are now using real butter. Here’s proof that just a few activists can make a real difference.