Good science requires that theories conform to the evidence; if evidence that contradicts a theory emerges–even a single piece of evidence–then scientists are obliged to come up with a different theory. But in the case of the lipid hypothesis for heart disease, contradictory evidence is given the status of “paradox.” The theory is never abandoned, just promoted with more vigor. The latest “paradox” emerged from a study carried out in Japan. Researchers followed 3731 Japanese men and women aged 35 to 89 years from 1984 to 2001. Food intakes were determined from a 24-hour food diary at the beginning of the study. During the following 15 years, 60 deaths from cerebral infarction (stroke) occurred. A high intake of animal fat and cholesterol was significantly associated with a reduced risk of death from stroke (Stroke 2004;10:1161-01).
Can’t Be Done
The New York City School District has hired chef Jorge Leon Collazo to make school meals fed to 1.1 million students look good, taste good and be good for them. Collazo has classic chef training and understands the importance of presentation; his parents were Cuban so he knows the appeal of ethnic foods. He also recently lost 35 pounds on the Atkins diet. Unfortunately, he won’t be allowed to serve Atkins-style meals to the students. According to the New York Times, “Because childhood obesity is on the rise, the meals will be relatively lowfat but not necessarily low in carbohydrates” (May 27, 2004). Lowfat meals that are also good for you and taste good? Can’t be done.
Statins for MS?
With a view to expanding the market for one of the world’s most profitable classes of drugs–statin drugs for cholesterol lowering–scientists are now promoting them as a treatment for multiple sclerosis. In a recent clinical trial, MRI tests showed a decrease in the number and volume of new lesions in MS patients treated with statins (Lancet Neurol 2004 Jun;3(6):369-71). However, a member of the THINCS group (The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics) reports that a colleague involved in multiple sclerosis research found that there is little correlation between the severity of lesions as measured by MRI scans and neurological function in MS. The Lancet report makes no mention of this fact.
“Disturbingly low” levels of vitamin D are showing up in a number of populations, particularly in children, the elderly and women, according to recent studies. Pediatricians are seeing an increasing number of children with rickets, a bone disorder caused by vitamin D deficiency. Rickets is most common in African-American children and in breast-fed babies because, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics “breast milk contains little of the vitamin.” It contains little of the vitamin because breast-feeding mothers are following the USDA dietary guidelines and not eating foods that provide vitamin D during the critical lactation period–demonized foods like lard, bacon, butter and egg yolks. Officials propose to solve the problem they created by prescribing vitamin D supplements for children (Washington Post, May 21, 2004). It’s not just the bones that suffer from misguided official dietary advice. Vitamin D contributes to the health of more than 30 different tissues, from the brain to the prostate. It helps regulate growth, the immune system, blood pressure, the production of insulin and the nervous system. Multiple sclerosis is associated with low levels of vitamin D.
More PC Conclusions
An intriguing title in a 2002 paper published in a Swedish medical journal caught our eye: Porridge breakfast–a prescription for weight loss. We asked Dr. Ravnskov to look at the paper and summarize the results. He reports that this was an uncontrolled experiment on 19 adipose individuals who ate fiber-enriched oatmeal porridge every morning for six months. Seven of them reduced their weight by a mean of 2.3 kg and the rest increased their weight by a mean of 2.2 kg. The authors, a medical student and a specialist in general medicine, concluded that porridge was an effective way of losing weight. “I wonder how they succeeded in getting their paper published?” asks Dr. Ravnskov. The title of the paper may be misleading, but the study, for all its faults, actually indicates something very interesting: some people can lose weight on a diet that contains whole grains, while others definitely gain. What investigators should now be looking at is the biological differences between the two groups.
A Bad Investment
The biotech industry–which engages in genetic manipulation of microorganisms to produce pharmaceutical drugs–began in the mid-1970s when scientists spliced genes into bacteria to produce human proteins. Since that time, stock-market investors have put almost $100 billion into the industry. The cumulative losses since that time amount to more than $40 billion, with larger and larger losses every year. “Biotechnology is the people’s lottery,” says one investor. “It’s like the ultimate roulette game. If you hit it, the returns are astronomical.” But there have been few hits. Amgen had profits of $2.3 million in 2003; Genetech, the next largest biotech company, had $563 million in earnings but a net loss of $3.2 million. Many of the early leaders in the field have since gone bankrupt. Early in the industry’s history, biotech pioneers argued that genetic engineering could cut short the years-long testing process that traditional pharmaceuticals must go through. But new biotech drugs generally take 10-15 years to win approval, a period similar to that of other drugs, and the cost of biotech research is huge. Biotech stocks are very volatile, soaring or plunging with announcements of FDA approval or trial failures. It’s a risky business and current trends indicate more and more difficulty in raising capital for start-up companies. We predict that very shortly investors will recognize that biotech is basically a quick way to lose money. We look forward to the day when there will be only one sure choice for enterprising individuals who want to make money (not riches but certainly a decent living) and also help others–grass-based farming.
While the news focus has been on rising gasoline prices–which rose 34.8 percent from a year ago–the biggest commodity increase has been in the price of milk–a 71.3 percent jump over the last year. A gallon of milk now sells for $4.18 per gallon (more than many of us are paying farmers directly for grass-fed raw milk) and economists are predicting that prices will continue to rise. Rising prices are hurting cheesemakers and other food manufacturers who use milk products. One candy maker reports that butter costs have doubled since last year and whipping cream is up 50 percent. Industry analysts provide many reasons for the increase: declining herd size and declining numbers of farms; the ban on the import of Canadian cows, making it difficult to replace downer cows; the high cost of feed; and lowered milk production due to short supplies of Monsanto’s rBGH. (The official reason for the latter is production problems at Monsanto; the word on the street is that the FDA has told Monsanto to phase out production because of high rates of bone cancer in cows given the bioengineered hormone.) What we are really seeing is the beginning of the end for the industrial milk production system. Output is declining and costs are rising. The only long-term solution is local, grass-based milk production.
American consumers spent $163 billion on pharmaceutical drugs in 2003, the vast majority of which were prescription drugs. Just 50 years ago the two biggest sellers were the over-the-counter drugs Bufferin and Geritol, for headaches and constipation. Now people are taking drugs for more serious problems, or in hopes of warding off the diseases of old age. As James Gorman of the New York Times puts it: “More people shift to the pill-taking life every year, to the delight of pharmaceutical manufacturers.” The biggest category of sales is drugs for the central nervous system, including painkillers and antidepressants, which total $37 billion; next comes cardiovascular drugs including statins to lower cholesterol, at a total of $23 billion; coming in third are drugs called proton pumps for digestive problems (heartburn, gastritis, ulcers, Crohn’s disease, etc.). Other drugs include those for baldness, incontinence, sexual performance, the effects of menopause, Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis (New York Times, April 6, 2004). The President’s Council on Bioethics recently addressed the phenomenon of widespread drug use with a report entitled Beyond Therapy: The Pursuit of Happiness. Some may call it the “pursuit of happiness” but we call it the slippery slope. Only optimal nutrition results in the kind of vibrant, pain-free good health that confers happiness on our later years.
Even if you don’t take prescription drugs, you can still get them in your food. We already have cholesterol-reducing sterols added to margarines and spreads. Now Coca-Cola has introduced cholesterol-reducing orange juice. Minute Maid Premium Heart Wise provides a full gram of sterols per 8-ounce serving. Investigators at Maastricht University in the Netherlands looked at the effect of these sterols on human blood. They found that approximately 1.4 percent of the plant sterol sitosterol in the blood was oxidized–oxidized sterols are thought to be harmful. This may not seem like much but it is actually 140 times greater than the 0.01 percent oxidized cholesterol normally seen in the blood (J Lipid Res 2001;42:2030-2038).
Overdosing on Water
One of our themes over the years has been the superiority of lacto-fermented beverages to plain water for quenching thirst. Traditional peoples knew better than to drink a lot of water when working in the hot sun–they drank fermented drinks made from grains, tubers or fruit. But western athletes are urged to drink as much water as possible when working out. In particular, marathon runners and military personnel have been told that all weight lost during prolonged exercise is due to fluid loss, that sensations of thirst underestimate fluid needs and that high water intake can do no harm. The result has been an increase in a condition called hyponatremic encelaphalopathy in which sodium in the blood is reduced to the point where the brain swells. Hundreds of cases have occurred, with at least seven reported deaths (British Medical Journal, July 19, 2003). Of course we need fluids when engaging in physical exercise in the out-of-doors, but it should not be plain water, and we should let our sense of thirst be our guide.
The T Word
“Elderly people suffering from the early stages of a leading cause of blindness can worsen the condition by eating the fatty foods often found in processed baked goods. . .” So begins an article in the Wall Street Journal on macular degeneration (December 9, 2003). Referring to a study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology, the article referred several times to “fatty foods found in processed baked goods” without ever mentioning the T word–trans fats. In the five-year study of 261 patients with at least some vision loss, the risks that the disease would progress more than doubled among those with diets highest in “fatty processed baked foods” compared with those on lowfat diets. The study found that diets rich in meat and dairy also heightened the risk, but not by as much as processed baked foods. Of course this would mean mostly commercial lowfat dairy and processed meats. Those who ate plenty of fish and nuts reduced their risk of the disease progressing–hard to see how this jibes with the study conclusion that those on lowfat diets fared the best, because nuts are very high in fat.
The city and surrounding areas of Aligarth in the state of Uttar Pradesh currently has the highest rate of polio in India–eleven cases detected during a one-year period. Health workers are pushing vaccinations with a vengeance, but Indian women are resisting. “With polio vials in hands, one could see [health workers] chasing families and force-feeding the children amid protests from mothers and grandmothers” (Indian Express, June 3, 2003). Scenes of children being force-fed vaccines to the protests of the women were repeated many times. Residents believe the vaccine causes impotency and other side effects worse than the disease. Health workers believe that the vaccine is the only way to “wipe out the deadly virus.” In Wise Traditions Fall 2002, we reported on the connection between pesticides and polio. The author, Jim West, did a search for us and found evidence of alarmingly high levels of DDT and other pesticides in the vegetables, fruits and milk in Delhi and many other areas of India, including Uttar Pradesh. Aligarth also has very high levels of industrial pollution. If polio is caused by industrial chemicals and not a virus, then the instincts of the Indian mothers are correct, and vaccines will only put their children more at risk.
Research funded by the Department of Defense has indeed found a direct connection between certain pesticides and brain damage. The $1.5 million study found a connection between neurological disorders like ADD and Parkinson’s with organophsophates, the main class of chemicals found in agricultural and household pesticides, as well as nerve gases like Sarin. Researchers found that organophosphates inhibited the activity of a specific gene (therapathy target esterase) which lets the brain control body movement. It does not take a great leap of logic to understand how such pesticides in large amounts can cause infantile paralysis (polio). The Defense Department funded the study to learn more about the role of organophosphates in chemical weapons. In other words, the same chemicals that are being used to attack people in war are being sprayed on our food.
And these chemicals are definitely on our food. In May 2002, the consumer watchdog group Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports, analyzed pesticide data collected by government agencies and conducted their own tests. They discovered that 90 percent of eight different fruits and 12 different vegetables had pesticide residue on them. Another analysis of vegetables conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that apples had 32 different pesticides on them, peaches and strawberries 28, green beans 26, red raspberries 24, potatoes 20, spinach 17, celery 14 and grapes from Chile 11. You can lower your exposure to pesticides by eating organic foods, but not avoid them completely. Consumer Reports found that one-quarter of organic foods have some pesticide residues. This information was reported, surprisingly, in the National Enquirer (July 15, 2003).
Chewing the Fat
A wonderful story in the New York Times reports on a unique social gathering in which guests did a taste test of eleven kinds of bacon, “an unexplored area of connoisseurship” (January 21, 2004). Journalist Linda Lee served hand-rubbed bacon smoked by specialists in Culpepper, Virginia, Danish slab bacon, shoulder bacon from Missouri, nitrate-free bacon from Niman ranch and peppered bacon from Wisconsin. Comments ranged from “earthy, fatty, brisketlike” to “a bacony bacon.” The real question, says Lee, should be, “Is there such a thing as bad bacon?” One interesting fact: Bacon sales increased 45 percent from 1999-2000.