Mad Cow Madness
All sorts of misinformation surround news reports on the first case of mad cow disease in the US: that it’s contagious, that it’s caused by animal part feeding and that it causes a disease called Creutzfeld Jakob in humans. But one positive benefit of the furor is the light it has cast on feeding practices for young dairy cows. Looking for a culprit, journalists have revealed that on large dairy farms in the US and Canada, calves are separated from their mothers within 24 hours of birth and shipped off to specialized feedlots. Like all mammals, calves need animal protein to grow normally so their are fed a milk substitute and protein pellets until they are about 3 months old, when they are mature enough to digest cellulose and absorb protein on their own (Washington Post 12/28/2003). The protein supplements, made from the remains of cattle and other ruminant livestock, are thought to carry the infectious agent that causes mad cow disease. The research of Mark Purdey in the UK indicates that other elements of animal feeding are a more likely cause–such as citrus peel cake loaded with pesticides or soy-based feed containing high levels of manganese. Another positive outcome of the mad cow scare is action taken by the USDA to ban the entry of diseased animals into the food supply–a measure opposed by the beef and dairy interests that should have been passed years ago. This measure poses a serious threat to the income of large dairy operations, who profit by selling the carcasses of diseased cows (as many as 200,000 per year). But the only long-term solution to the problem of mad cow disease is to facilitate direct farm sales of meat and milk products, thereby taking beef and dairy farming out of the hands of corporations and giving it back to small pasture-based farms.
Health officials are proposing various measures to combat an epidemic of flu that has claimed the lives of several children and sickened thousands across the country, one of which is flu shots designed to protect against last year’s viruses. District of Columbia health officials have outdone their colleagues in other states in the futility of their countermeasures by issuing 10,000 bottles of Purell hand sanitizer and 10,000 packs of facial tissues! “Prevention is always key,” says Department of Health Director James A Buford. “Because of low vaccine supplies, we are stressing basic hygiene as a proven tool to fight against the spread of communicable diseases such as influenza” (Washington Post 12/24/2003). We have reached such a point in the decline from common sense that our health officials have no better advice to give than to wash hands frequently–nothing about building up the immune system with good nutrition, nothing about avoiding those components of the food supply that inhibit the body’s natural disease-fighting mechanisms. And since our health officials can provide no useful advice for protecting our children, we will do so in their stead: avoid sugar, avoid processed foods, eat plenty of butter, make soups with real bone broths, and supplement with cod liver oil and coconut oil.
An outbreak of hepatitis has caused the death of three people and sickened hundreds in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. The likely cause–green onions imported from Mexico and served in Chi-Chi’s restaurants. The FDA has advised consumers to either avoid green onions or cook them; but the agency has not required that all green onions be pasteurized–nor, for that matter, that pasteurization be mandated for raspberries, strawberries, cantaloupe, watermelon, alfalfa sprouts, lettuce, tomatoes, parsley, basil, cilantro, cole slaw, hamburger, hot dogs, chicken, turkey, oysters or clams, all of which have caused outbreaks of food-borne illness. Mandatory pasteurization is reserved uniquely for milk, the only food to carry its own protection against pathogens in the form of friendly bacteria.
A news item celebrating the 85th anniversary of Frigidaire’s electric refrigerator lists the contents of the fridge, then and now. In 1918–bottle of fresh whole milk, eggs, lard, cream, churned butter, homemade lemonade, homemade cottage cheese, apple butter, homemade jelly, fresh meat. Today: gallon of reduced-fat pasteurized (or ultrapasteurized), homogenized milk, eggs, fat-free margarine, flavored nondairy creamer, sports drinks, squeezable yogurt, colored ketchup, bagged salad, ice cream, frozen dinners. In other words, in 1918 Americans ate real food including plenty of animal fats; today Americans eat mostly processed food and the animal fats have disappeared. The biggest change has been in milk consumption patterns. In 1945, Americans consumed nearly 41 gallons of whole milk per year, compared to only 8 gallons per person today. Consumption of lower fat milks was 15 gallons in 2001, up from 4 gallons in 1945 and 6 gallons in 1970 (Nutrition Week, 8/25/03). The change reflects more than 30 years of constant industry propaganda against animal fats as well as greatly increased intake of soft drinks, which have largely replaced milk in the diets of children. A recent study found that 51 percent of the average American child’s daily liquid intake is made up of sweetened beverages, which is one of the reasons that obesity is steadily increasing (American Journal of Public Health, September 2002). And Coca-Cola and other large beverage companies have found ways to put the sweeteners in milk, with new flavored and carbonated milk drinks aimed at teenagers. Some of these drinks will also contain caffeine. Schroeder Co. has introduced caffeinated milk drinks in three flavors–Straight Up Strawberry, Chocolate Shock and Mean Mocha Cappuccino which will contain as much sugar and caffeine as a can of regular Coke (Wall Street Journal, 6/9/03). Other trends: Between 2000 and 2002, consumption of soy-based foods rose over 30 percent and consumption of candy and gum increased over 24 percent. Americans consume 34 teaspoons of added sugars per day and 10 servings of grains (Demographics, July/August 2003).
Gorgeous, curvaceous Mexican actress Salma Hayek eats “everything they tell me not to” but still doesn’t have a single gray hair on her head at age 37 (Globe, 12/2/2003). Her favorite food: bugs. She explains, “We have crickets, and then the ant’s eggs and then we have these worms. . . you fry them. You don’t eat them together, you eat them separately and they go in seasons. You fry them and then you put them in a tortilla and you put some guacamole in the tortilla. . . . If you fry anything, it tastes good, but they’re really delicious. The bugs are incredible.” Another favorite in Mexico is cricket. In Oaxaca, Mexico, you can buy fried crickets on the town’s main square. Plans by McDonalds to open two outlets in Oaxaca have sparked a debate about real food. “Real food is not frozen meat,” says Jacqueline Garcia, 24, who runs Tonita’s, a food stand in Oaxaca’s old market. “It’s fresh cheese and crickets. Fast food’s unnatural. The people who make it are incompetent. And McDonalds belongs in the United States, not in our zocalo [town square]” (New York Times, 8/24/2003). Meanwhile in Venezuela, Pemon Indian villagers are enjoying a bumper crop of fire ants or bachaco, a highly nutritious addition to their largely vegetarian diet. Eaten raw or boiled, bachaco are a seasonal treat consumed with spicy sauce, bread made of manioc and kachiri, a slightly alcoholic pink drink made out of manioc and purple sweet potatoes (CNN.com, 9/28/2003).
Just as insects occupy an important niche in the diets of many Latin American cultures, so do fried lamb’s intestines in Turkey and Greece. Sold mostly at stalls in bazaars and on city streets, the intestines are fried in oil, seasoned with cumin and red pepper and folded into toasted bread to make a sandwich called kokorec (pronounced ko-ko-retch). EU bureaucrats in Belgium take a dim view of the Turkish delicacy, ordering a ban on the sale of sheep organs and parts. But consumers have rallied to the defence of kokorec with songs, tee-shirts and protests. The EU is considering a revised ban on lamb organs that will affect only adult animals, not the young lamb used for the dish. “The Turks will always want their kokorec,” explains Mr. Tokoz, a street vendor who sells miles and miles of intestines each year at his shop in Istanbul’s main bazaar. The flavor of kokorec is described as “surprisingly subtle and tasty.” When Turks feel a craving for kokorec, “they will go to great lengths to satisfy it” (New York Times 6/24/2003).
Vitamin A and the Bones
Establishment nutritionists warn against including too much vitamin A in the diet, citing studies showing a correlation between levels of vitamin A in the bloodstream and the risk of fractured bones. For example, a study of more than 2,300 middle-aged Swedish men found that risk of any type of fracture was 64 percent higher in those with the most vitamin A in the blood. For hip fractures, the risk was increased by 147 percent (New England Journal of Medicine, 1/23/03). But the total number of fractures over 30 years was only 266–about 3 fractures per thousand men per year–so the differences in fracture occurrence for various groups is actually very small. These figures may simply reflect the fact that people who consume lots of vitamin A are more physically active and more likely to end up in situations in which fractures occur–such as skiing. A study of more appropriate design looked at eighty healthy men aged 18-58 years who were randomly assigned to receive 25,000 IU per day of vitamin A or a placebo for six weeks. Compared with the placebo group, there was no significant change in the vitamin A group in various markers of bone formation and resorption (Journal Nutrition, 2002;132:1169-1172). In animal studies only enormous doses of vitamin A–equivalent to 7 million IU per day–induce bone disease, whereas amounts on the order of 100,000 IU per day do not affect bone health.
Vitamin D and the Bone
Warnings about vitamin D are similar to those about vitamin A–that too much is bad for the bones. Blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25 OHD) above 50 nmol/L are said to put one in the danger zone. To test this theory, investigators at Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska gave 500 mg oral calcium to participants with vitamin D pretreatment to bring blood levels up to 86.5 nmol/L. A second test was done with no pretreatment and mean serum concentrations at 50.5 nmol/L. Calcium absorptive performance at 50 nmol/L was significantly reduced relative to that at a mean level of 86 nmol/L. Their conclusion: the current reference range of 50 nmol/L is too low for optimal bone health (Journal of the American College of Nutrition 22(2);142-146 (2003). Translated into laymen’s terms this means that it is wise to supplement with cod liver oil both winter and summer. Fish oils won’t do–they do not contain much vitamin D. Only fish liver oils provide the kind of supplemental amounts we need to be healthy.
A Debilitating Condition
Researchers at the Center for Research and Reproduction at the University of Virginia are looking into the causes of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a condition that can lead to the growth of facial hair in women. Minor hair growth in women is an inconvenience but heavy growth is an anguishing, debilitating condition. About 20-30 percent of women with PCOS have the more severe form. There are two leading theories on what causes the syndrome: an abnormality in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus that tells the ovaries to produce too much testosterone, or a problem with the ovaries that makes them produce too much male hormone. Women with the syndrome produce about twice the amount of testosterone as other women. The fact that the hypothalamus is probably involved provides a clue to the root cause of PCOS–MSG and other excitotoxins in the food supply that disrupt the normal function of the hypothalamus, causing it to send the wrong signals to the ovaries. Lack of vitamin A is another culprit, as vitamin A is needed for every step in the metabolic pathway from cholesterol to estrogen. Trans fatty acids interfere with appropriate hormone production. The researchers at U VA plan to spend years studying the problem but meanwhile we urge women with this condition to implement the following simple steps: take high doses of cod liver oil and completely avoid processed food.
Declining Birth Rate
According to an article in the Portland Press Herald, spotted by an astute member, in the US “the percentage of premature and low birth weight babies climbed [in 2002], continuing the rise of recent years.” And birth rates continued their decline, from 16.7 per 1,000 people in 1990 to 14.1 in 2001 and 13.9 in 2002. In Europe, demographics experts are predicting that Europe’s population will shrink by more than 90 million people in the next 5 years; Italy is expected to lose a quarter of its current population by 2050. Such trends have not occurred since the 14th-century Black Death. Experts cite record levels of contraceptive use plus the fact that many couples are waiting longer to have their first child. But there are other, more serious causes: infertility among those couples who want to have children, general poor health disrupting the procreative instinct, and greatly increased rates of babies with problems–from low birth weight to birth defects–which discourage couples from having more children. Dr. Price and his colleagues predicted this trend over 60 years ago.
Here’s one we all could have predicted–children and teenagers are now the targets of cholesterol-lowering diets and drugs. Worried parents are taking their healthy children to pediatric cardiologists who duly put them on diets that deny them eggs, butter, whole milk and meat, while prescribing cholesterol-lowering margarines like Take Control and Benecol, soy foods and “high-fiber” foods like oat bran, oatmeal, beans, barley and fruit. If dietary changes don’t bring cholesterol levels down, the children get medications–resin powders for children and statins, including Lipitor, for adolescents. Some doctors have objected, but Peter Kwiterovich, director of the lipid center at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore says ignoring high cholesterol in children is taking a chance with their hearts later in life. “I think every child should have their cholesterol measured and be assessed for obesity, at a minimum, and then appropriate interventions come into play.” Marc Jacobson, head of the center for atherosclerosis prevention at Schneider Children’s Hospital in New York and a member of the American Academy of Pediatric’s nutrition committee agrees. Children, he says “definitely should be screened, and they definitely should be treated if found to be at high risk” (Washington Post, 12/2/2003). No one has described the results of cholesterol-screening in children better than Dr. Uffe Ravnskov: “At best, emphasis on lowering cholesterol in children will create families of unhappy hypochondriacs, obsessed with their diet and blood chemistry. At worst, it will have profound and unfortunate effects on the growth of children . . .”
Cholesterol and Memory
Cholesterol-lowering measures may also have profound and unfortunate effects on their minds. A recent study found that increasing levels of LDL- and total cholesterol are associated with beneficial effects on memory in middle-aged women (J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 2003;74:1530-1535). The researchers warned: “Possible cognitive effects of cholesterol reduction should be considered in future studies of lipid-lowering agents.” But the prescription-happy pediatric cardiologists aren’t exercising the same caution, blithely ratcheting down cholesterol levels in children with no thought as to how such measures will affect their neurological development or their ability to reach adulthood with all their mental facilities intact.
The industry insists that genetically modified foods are safe, and the FDA has ruled that they are no different from conventional crops, but insiders obviously know otherwise.The top five insurers in Great Britain recently declared that they will not provide insurance for the genetically modified crop industry. “Genetically modified foods are among the riskiest of all possible insurance exposures that we have today,” said Robert Hartwig, chief economist for the Insurance Information Institute, an industry trade association in New York. “And there’s a good reason. No one company knows where this path of genetically modified foods is ultimately going to take us in terms of either human health or environmental contamination” (http://www.wired,cin.news.medtech/0,1286,61096.html).