Dementia and Cholesterol
Manufacturers of statins, and their cohorts in the media, are blithely promoting these cholesterol-lowering drugs to ward off Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. A good example is a February 8, 2007 article appearing in the British paper The Daily Mail. The authors of “Diet high in cholesterol can trigger onset of Alzheimer’s” warn about studies showing that “eating lots of foods containing saturated fats, such as butter and red meat, can boost levels of proteins in the brain linked to dementia,” and that “large amounts of harmful cholesterol are found in foods high in saturated fats such as red meat, butter, cheese and offal such as liver and kidneys.” These dire warnings are not based on studies of humans eating red meat and butter—an online search for red meat or butter plus Alzheimer’s yields nothing—but are based on research in which rats are given large amounts of purified cholesterol. The article cites “…growing evidence that taking cholesterol-lowering statins makes people less likely to develop Alzheimer’s later in life.” No reference is provided for this remarkable statement, remarkable given the many published reports of statin-induced cognitive decline. More sobering news comes from the Honolulu-Asia Aging study. Researchers followed over 1000 Japanese-American men over a 40-year period, starting in 1965. They found that cholesterol levels in men with dementia and, in particular, those with Alzheimer’s, had declined at least 15 years before the diagnosis and remained lower than cholesterol levels in men without dementia throughout that period. Their conclusion: “A decline in serum total cholesterol levels may be associated with early stages in the development of dementia” (Arch Neurol 64:103, 2007).
Chinks in the Statin Dike
“Trends in mortality from coronary heart disease have not effectively changed since statins were approved in the United States… ” This damning statement appeared in the International Journal of Cardiology, February 21, 2007. The authors state categorically that the “beatification” of statins as miracle drugs is not justified. “Changes in lifestyle should be considered the cornerstone of cardiovascular prevention… Adherence to healthful lifestyle has been shown to be associated with reductions in the rates of coronary disease, diabetes in women and mortality in elderly. Patients with major lifestyle problems enrolled in recent statin trials were given only drugs, and no statin has ever been compared with a non-atherogenic lifestyle and shown to be superior or additive.” The authors also note that studies on statin drugs minimize and under-report the side effects. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, a talk program called Radar has caused a furor in medical circles. The program zeroed in on statin side effects and included interviews with author Dr. Uffe Ravnskov and colleagues from The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics (THINCS), who challenged the dogma that high cholesterol causes heart disease on prime time TV. According to the Dutch Cardiology Society, the program’s assertions have caused “great unrest among patients.” Wybren Jaarsma, chairman of the Society, writes that many colleagues have faced questions from patients over whether they should “continue care that has been scientifically shown to be effective and necessary… . You must continue taking prescribed cholesterol medication,” he declares. Establishment physicians have refused invitations to debate the subject on air. Instead, Dutch doctors are calling for restrictions on television programs that they claim “deliberately use matters of patient safety to boost viewing figures.” Such calls for censorship are a sure sign of a sinking ship.
Whole Fat Milk and Fertility
Full-fat milk has pretty much disappeared from the public schools—not just in the US, but also in New Zealand, Australia and the UK. In most schools, children have a choice of watery reduced-fat milk or sugar-laden chocolate milk, based on the misconception that the butterfat in whole milk will cause heart disease later in life. So it’s a bit embarrassing when a study comes along showing that whole-fat milk products may help women conceive. Over a period of eight years, Jorge E Chavarro of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston assessed the diets of 18,555 married women without a history of infertility who attempted to get pregnant or became pregnant. During the study, 2165 women were examined medically for infertility and 438 were found to be infertile due to lack of ovulation. The researchers found that women who ate two or more servings of lowfat dairy foods per day, particularly skim milk and yogurt, increased their risk of ovulation-related infertility by more than 85 percent compared with women who ate less than one serving of lowfat dairy food per week (Human Reproduction, online February 28, 2007). Chavarro advises women wanting to conceive to consume high-fat dairy foods like whole milk and ice cream, “while at the same time maintaining their normal calorie intake and limiting their overall intake of saturated fats in order to maintain good general health.” Once a woman becomes pregnant, says Chavarro, “she should probably switch back to lowfat dairy foods.” No one has looked at the effect on fertility of lowfat dairy for the developing fetus and for growing school children. Odds are that infertility due to life-long fat starvation will not be so easily reversed by a temporary return to high-fat dairy foods.
Will lowfat milk served in schools not only make our children infertile, but also fatter? That’s the conclusion from a 2006 Swedish study which looked at 230 families in Goteborg, Sweden. Almost all of the children were breastfed until five months and 85 percent had parents who were university educated. Seventeen percent were classified as overweight, and a higher body mass index (BMI) was associated with a lower fat intake—and those on lower fat diets consumed more sugar. A lower fat intake was also associated with high insulin resistance (www.ub.gu.se/sok/dissdatabas/detaljvy.xml?id=6979).
Whole Fat Milk, Lower Weight Gain
In yet another defeat for the lowfat, you-must-suffer-to-lose-weight school of thought, a Swedish study has found that women who regularly consume at least one serving of full-fat dairy every day gained about 30 percent less weight than women who didn’t. The researchers, from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, looked at the intake of whole, sour, medium- and lowfat milk, as well as cheese and butter for 19,352 Swedish women aged 40-55 years at the start of the study. The researchers report that a regular and constant intake of whole milk, sour milk and cheese was significantly and inversely associated with weight gain (that is, those consuming whole-milk products did not gain weight), while the other intake groups were not. A constant intake of at least one daily serving of whole and sour milk was associated with 15 percent less weight gain, while cheese was associated with 30 percent less weight gain (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007;84(6):1481-1488). This wonderful scientific news has not inspired WebMD to remove their guidelines to eating “fabulous foreign foods.” The trick, they say, is to avoid dishes made with coconut milk in Thai restaurants; ghee, beef and lamb in Indian restaurants; and cream soups, cream sauces, béarnaise, creamy dressings, pâté, fatty meats, duck and sausages in French restaurants (onhealth.webmd.com). In other words, enjoy your meal out but not too much.
Atkins Diet Wins Out
In a major study comparing popular diets, a group of overweight women trying the Atkins low-carbohydrate diet plan lost more weight (10 pounds versus about 6) than women following three other plans, the LEARN lowfat diet patterned after government dietary guidelines, and the Ornish very lowfat, mostly vegetarian diet, and much more (10 pounds versus 3.5) than women following the Zone diet, a high-protein, restricted-carbohydrate plan. The weight loss occurred in spite of the fact that the Atkins dieters did not follow the guidelines very well, consuming far more carbs than allowed on the plan JAMA. 2007; 297:969-977. According to Christopher D. Gardner, assistant professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the study’s lead author, who actually discourages the Atkins diet, “… there’s something to the low-carb thing that’s intriguing. Cutting back drastically on simple carbohydrates is clearly a step in the right direction to helping people lose weight.” Other markers, such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels, were similar or better among Atkins dieters, in spite of the fact that these diets contained about 30 percent of calories as saturated fats, triple the recommended amount. The results have proponents of lowfat diets muttering and sputtering. “Once the weight-loss stops, the effect of saturated fat would be negative,” said James O. Hill, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado at Denver. “There is no magic combination of fat versus carbs versus protein,” says Alice Lichtenstein of Tufts University. “It doesn’t matter in the long run. The bottom line is calories, calories, calories.” And finally, from Dean Ornish himself: “It’s a lot easier to follow a diet that tells you to eat bacon and brie than to eat predominantly fruits and vegetables… I’m concerned that this study may cause people to forgo eating a healthy diet for one that’s actually harmful for them.”
“It’s not unusual for Dee McKinsey to have three cans of Coke before she leaves the house each morning for her job as the regional director of boards and volunteerism at the American Cancer Society in Chicago.” So writes John Schmeltzer in an article revealing the increase in soda consumption with breakfast, published in the Chicago Tribune (January 15, 2007). According to a survey carried out by NPD group, a consumer research firm, breakfast consumers in restaurants order a soft drink with their breakfast 15.1 percent of the time, compared with 7.9 percent of the time in 1990. Among those eating breakfast at home, 2.4 percent consumed a soft drink with their morning meal in 2006 compared with 0.5 percent in 1985. The numbers are similar for diet sodas. This trend is not just occurring among the uneducated. Megan Hebenstreit, age 24, a law student at Indiana University in Indianapolis, “drinks Diet Coke early in the day because she can, now that she’s gone away to school. ‘My mom did not allow Coke in the morning when we were growing up,’ she said. ‘They had it in the dining hall, and it was easy to get.'” Stephen Shapira, a former Accenture consultant, who is now a motivational speaker and owner of the consulting company 24/7 Innovation, reports, “I find the first Diet Coke in the morning is so refreshing.” Brent Curry, a vice president with Hill & Knowlton, Inc. consumes two Diet Mountain Dews in the morning, carrying an extra one with him on the train to work. It’s obvious from the language used that these beverages have an addictive effect. It would be interesting to survey the soda-with-breakfast consumers ten years from now to compare their state of health with that of the general population, or to find out whether they are even still alive.
Mother Nature Knows Best
We have often commented on the counter productivity of suppressing fever. A study published in the journal Surgical Infection (2005 Winter; 6(4):369-75) provides scientific validation to the practice of allowing a fever to run its course. Patients admitted to a trauma intensive care unit were randomized into “aggressive” and “permissive” groups. The aggressive group received a fever-reducing drug and a cooling blanket; the permissive group received no treatment unless body temperature exceeded 40 degrees C. There were 131 infections in the aggressive group (out of 961 patients) and 85 infections in the permissive group (out of 751). More important, there were seven deaths in the aggressive group and only one death in the permissive group. Just one more piece of evidence that Mother Nature knows best or, as Dr. Price put it, “Life in its fullness is Mother Nature obeyed.”
You Heard It on Animal Planet
A recent episode on the popular television show Animal Planet tracks a young polar bear as he makes his way in the world. The bear’s first catch is a seal, and he immediately eats the organ meats. Then he goes after the fat, carefully biting it away from the bones. “Luckily, he doesn’t have to worry about his cholesterol,” says the narrator, which begs the question of why we should worry, since humans are omnivores, like the bear. According to the narrator, the bear abandons the muscle meat “for the birds and less talented hunters.” Why? We learn that the fat requires no energy for digestion and is metabolized into water, which is in scarce supply in the Arctic. The meat, on the other hand, requires a lot of energy to digest and will leave the bear listless and dehydrated. Something to think about as we impose lowfat diets on our omnivorous children.
Weston Price describes the consumption of dried potatoes in the high Andes Mountains. Now, several websites describe the production of chuno and tunta, two South American dried potato products that are processed during the sub-zero temperatures at night followed by bright sunshine and drying winds during the day. The freshly dug potatoes are washed without damaging the skin and laid out on straw for the necessary exposure to the frost. As soon as they are thawed in the sunshine, they are trampled bare-footed so as to leave the skins intact, but allowing the cells to rupture, causing the fluid to run. For chuno, the process leaves the potatoes as hard as rock so they can be stored indefinitely. They were prepared by adding water. A month’s ration of nutritious dried llama meat and chuno weighed only about twenty pounds. Preparation of tunta begins in a similar fashion but includes soaking in a pond for about two months, followed by a period of sun-drying. The product readily disintegrates into a fine, white flour, frost-proof, capable of indefinite storage and highly portable.
Tropical Fruits Win Out
In late 2006, the Environmental Working Group released their latest report on the average pesticide content of common fruits and vegetables. Key findings from the Environmental Working Group’s latest study are as follows:
- The six fruits that consistently have the lowest levels of pesticide residues are all tropical fruits—avocados, pineapples, mangoes, kiwi, bananas and papaya.
- The six vegetables that consistently have the lowest levels of pesticide residues are onions, sweet corn, asparagus, sweet peas, cabbage, and broccoli.
- The seven fruits that consistently have the highest levels of pesticide residues are peaches, apples, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears and grapes that are imported from outside the United States and Canada, so it’s best to only buy organic versions of these fruits.
- The five vegetables that consistently have the highest levels of pesticide residues are sweet bell peppers, celery, spinach, lettuce and potatoes. Organic celery, spinach, lettuce and potatoes are widely available, sweet bell peppers much less so they’d be a first choice to grow in your garden.