Unable to obtain government protection against the artificial sweetener aspartame, consumers are striking back with lawsuits. The most recent is a $350 million class action racketeering lawsuit filed in the United States District Court in San Francisco on September 15, 2004. NutraSweet Corporation and the American Diabetes Association are among those charged. According to the press release on the case: “On or about September 8, 2004 an affidavit was signed describing the initial third world studies and the health hazards of aspartame. These studies conducted in 1983/4 by the J. D. Searle Company were translated to English from Spanish by a translator in 1984. The ‘double blind’ studies showed conclusive evidence that aspartame caused severe health problems and even death to the exposed study group. According to the affidavit, the doctor directing the studies has been missing since the approval of aspartame in 1984. The affidavit also describes how the affiant was directed by J. D. Searle officials to destroy all records of the studies, including field notes and/or translations possessed by the affiant. The affiant described in detail how the translations were forwarded upon completion to J.D. Searle corporate offices in Illinois.” Other lawsuits include three filed by the National Justice League in April, 2004 in three separate California courts. The defendants include Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Bayer Corporation, the Dannon Company, William Wrigley Jr. Company, Walmart, ConAgra Foods, Wyeth, Inc., the NutraSweet Company and Altria Corporation (parent company of Kraft Foods and Phillip Morris). These lawsuits charge the defendants of engaging in unlawful acts of knowingly and intentionally using the neurotoxic aspartame as a sugar substitute while knowing that exposure to aspartame causes many symptoms and diseases, such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, lupus, diabetes, Lyme disease, attention deficit disorder, panic disorder and depression.
The biggest worry for the food industry is not lawsuits, however, but a change in public consciousness, specifically the emergence of “greater public awareness about the dangers of poor diet and obesity.” Dr. Steve Bratman of the U.S. compares the condition to an eating disorder and has given it the label “orthoexia,” from the Greek word ortho, meaning straight and correct. Sufferers of this new disease “become so concerned with eating only the healthiest and purest products–those low in sugar, fat and salt and free from artificial additives–that they avoid most foods found in supermarkets and end up starving themselves,” according to a November, 2004 article in the Brisbane, Australia Courier-Mail. The article quotes Catherine Collins of the British Dietetic Association who says that women from 25 to 40 years of age are particularly prone to becoming over-obsessed with eating healthily. “We are seeing much more of this sort of food penance now and it is very worrying,” she says. “. . . the idea that by changing your diet you can prevent yourself from getting any disease is ridiculous.” Adds Dr. Bratman: “Like other eating disorders, the issue is with obsession.”
Statins and Stroke
Several of our readers report that their doctors advise them to take the cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins in order to protect themselves from stroke. We asked Dr. Ravnskov’s THINCS email list group whether any studies have looked at the relationship between statins and stroke. We learned that in several reasonable prospective trials in which strokes were monitored in patients who had suffered a heart attack and subsequently received statins, the chance of having an ischemic (thrombotic or spasm) stroke was modestly reduced by about 25 percent relative risk reduction. For hemorrhagic stroke, statins provided no benefit. Some trials showed fewer nonfatal strokes but an increase in fatal stroke. In the recent PROSPER trial, statins provided no stroke benefit for those over age 70–an important observation since this is the age group at highest risk of stroke.
We have often described how proponents of the cholesterol theory of heart disease deal with contradictory evidence–not by chucking the whole thing in the garbage where it belongs but by assigning it to the category of paradox. An “American paradox” has emerged from a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2004;80:1175-84). Using coronary angiography, researchers looked at the progression of buildup in the arteries in 235 postmenopausal women with established coronary heart disease. They found that a greater saturated fat intake was associated with less progression of coronary atherosclerosis, whereas carbohydrate intake was associated with more progression. But don’t look for these startling findings to be reflected in government dietary policy anytime soon; an editorial in the same issue explains away the politically incorrect test results with all sorts of statistical mumbo jumbo.
More Trans Problems
While the food industry is desperately trying to prevent consumers from returning to traditional saturated fats, a new study reveals more bad news about the industry’s substitute, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil containing trans fatty acids. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Harvard Medical School and the University of Washington looked at red blood cell membrane trans fatty acids as a biomarker of dietary intake, along with indications of inflammatory conditions. They found that higher levels of trans fatty acids are strongly associated with systemic inflammation in patients with heart disease (Am J Clin Nutr, 2004;80(6):1521-1525). This finding has bearing on research showing that C reactive protein (CRP), a blood marker indicating levels of inflammation in the body, is strongly correlated with proneness to heart disease (NEJM 2002 Nov 14;347(20):1557-1565). The medical community has used this fact to promote statin use with ever more vigor, as these cholesterol-lowering drugs do tend to lower CRP. But we’ve yet to hear spokespersons denounce consumption of trans fatty acids as a better way to protect the heart.
More Statin Problems
A new look at the effects of statin drugs on cognitive function should give pause to anyone thinking of taking them. Researchers looked at the learning ability of patients taking a low dose of simvastatin compared to controls (Am J Med 2004 Dec 1;117(11):823-9). Using tests called Elithorn Mazes, researchers looked at the level of improvement when patients take the test several times. The time for solving a puzzle of some kind was improved by 16 percent in the control group whereas the statin group showed no improvement. The difference, together with the differences in a few other tests, was highly significant, meaning that a considerable number of statin-takers were unable to learn anything from the first test. The researchers tried to explain away the results by stating that “The observed treatment effects were quantitatively small and were primarily manifest not as an absolute decline in performance but as a failure to improve upon repeat posttreatment testing.” In a THINCS group report, Dr. Uffe Ravnskov describes the results somewhat differently: “Consider that this result was achieved in a study comparing only 189 statin-treated patients with 94 controls after only six months and on the lowest simvastatin dose used in clinical practise. Translated to the U.S. population, it means that millions of people may have become unable to learn from perevious experiences due to their cholesterol-lowering treatment.”
Vitamin D Studies
Several important studies published during 2004 highlight the importance of vitamin D, especially for the elderly. In one, vitamin D supplementation reduced the risk of falls in the elderly by more than 20 percent (JAMA 2004 Apr 28;291(16):1999-2006); another found that low serum vitamin D concentrations were associated with higher incidence of periodontal disease in individuals over 50 years of age (Am J Clin Nutr 2004 Jul;80(1):108-113); another found that good vitamin D status is associated with improved muscle strength in both active and inactive ambulatory persons over 60 years of age. In women over 60, vitamin D protects against colon cancer (Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2004 Sep;13(9):1502-8). Vitamin D protects against breast cancer in women of all ages. One study found that women with the lowest vitamin D intake were four times more likely to develop breast abnormalities than women with the highest intake (Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2004 Sep;13(9):1466-72). Researchers are finding that serum levels of vitamin D should be at least greater than 20 ng/ml, with maximum improvement at 50 ng/ml. Dr. Reinhold Veith, a prominent vitamin D researcher in Canada, recently found that vitamin D improves depressive symptoms (Nutr J 2004 Jul 19;3(1)8). He compared doses of 600 IU and 4,000 IU and found that taking 4,000 units per day helped depressive symptoms the most, resulting in all subjects achieving levels greater than 40 ng/ml. One way that vitamin D works is by increasing serotonin levels in the brain.
Are Fat Cells Our Friends?
Once considered passive and inert, fat cells are emerging as “extraordinarily dynamic, complex and influential entities that affect a staggering array of crucial bodily functions.” Scientists have discovered that fat is at the center of a very complex hormonal system and now refer to it as our body’s largest endocrine organ. Fat produces hormones like estrogen (especially after menopause when production from the ovaries declines), signals to the brain and other organs how much energy the body has available, controls the flow of energy into and out of the cells, and instructs the muscles when they can burn fat. Fat can invoke an inflammatory response when necessary, cause blood vessels to constrict and make blood clots form. What new research about fat tells us is that while it is not good to be overweight, neither should we be too thin. Fat is vital to survival and nature has created a complex system of overlapping feedback loops that make it very difficult to override the body’s imperative to store energy (Washington Post, July 11, 2004).
Can Drinking Water Make You Fat?
Dr. Barry Durrant-Peatfield of the UK has proposed the startling theory that drinking water can make you fat–fluoridated water, that is. “There is no doubt that fluoride is enzyme disruptive and one thing it affects is thyroid hormones. As a result of this disruption, people can finish up with partial under-activity of the thyroid gland.” According to Dr. Durrant-Peatfield, fluorine can replace iodine in the body, leading to thyroid problems and weight gain. He believes that children may be particularly susceptible to obesity if their mothers drank fluoridated water while pregnant. He notes that UK obesity levels are highest in the West Midlands, the only area in England now fluoridated (Sunday Mercury, July 11, 2004). Since fat takes over for the ovaries in the production of estrogen at menopause, perhaps fat compensates for a decline in thyroid function in a similar way.
CSPI at it Again
We have described in these pages (Fall, 2003) how Michael Jacobson and Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) engineered the changeover from healthy fats like beef tallow and coconut oil to trans fats in fast food. Although CSPI now admits that trans fats are indeed bad news, they still pursue their anti-saturated fat agenda. Their latest target is Newman’s Own, which uses palm oil in many of its products. Jacobson says that statements like “widely used in Europe as an alternative to partially hydrogenated oils” on Newman’s labels are “designed to make consumers believe palm oil is healthy” when “in fact, palm oil is high in saturated fats, which promote heart disease” (www.cspinet.org/new/200408041.html). Jacobson also lashed out at palm oil in an article in Family Circle (1/18/05), while urging consumers to use tub margarines instead of butter. “Protect your heart by staying away from anything partially hydrogenated and minimize your consumption of palm oil and other saturated fats,” he says, and then follows with a statement in parentheses: “Interestingly, fully hydrogenated oil does not contain any of that nasty trans fat,” without realizing the irony. Full hydrogenation creates saturated fats! Jacobson also defends aspartame as “probably safe. . . . There’s no foundation to claims floating around the Internet that aspartame causes everything from Alzheimer’s disease to multiple sclerosis” (Nutrition Action Healthletter, May, 2004).
Some Good News
Sometimes it seems that there’s just no escape from a poisoned world, but scientists in Australia have found that bacterial enzymes can reduce organophosphate residues in land and water by 90 percent. “We believe that there’s a bacterium for practically every organic pollutant,” says Dr. Robyn Russell of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO). CSIRO says that fruits and vegetables that have been sprayed with pesticides can also be treated with biodegrading enzymes to remove residual chemicals (EarthVision Environmental News, February 1, 2002).
The Year in Vitamin A
A number of important studies on vitamin A–our favorite vitamin–were published in 2004. Interestingly, almost all took place in foreign countries.
Several had to do with hormonal and reproductive health. Researchers in Israel found that supplementation of iron and vitamin A induced growth acceleration and expressions of puberty in constitutionally delayed boys just as well as treatments with testosterone (Clin Endocrinol (Oxf) 2004 Jun;60(6):682-7). In girls, supplementation with vitamin A improved hormone patterns, according to research carried out in England (J Reprod Med 2004 Jan;49(1):41-51). Researchers in Japan found that vitamin A ameliorated the sperm-destroying effects of bisphenol A (Cell Tissue Res 2004 Jan;315(1):119-24).
More research confirms the ability of vitamin A to enhance immune function, modulate inflammation and protect against cancer. Researchers in Norway confirmed the fact that vitamin A enhances the proliferation of T cells (Biochem Soc Trans 2004 Dec;32(Pt6):982-4). Japanese scientists found that vitamin A significantly inhibits various markers of inflammation (Eur J Pharmacol 2004 Aug 30;497(3):335-42). Scientists in Sweden found that vitamins A and D (but not vitamins E and K) decreased cell number in pancreatic cancer cell lines (Scan J Gastroenterol 2004 Sep;39(9):882-5). In another study, this one carried out in France, vitamin A reduced the carcinogenic effects of a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids on the colon (Nutr Cancer 2004;48(1):28-36).
In a similar vein, several studies have shown that vitamin A protects against chemicals and pesticides. A study carried out in the Slovak Republic found that vitamin A (along with vitamin E) reduced the harmful effects of a carcinogenic chemical called N-Nitrosomorpholine (Mutat Res 2004 Jun 13;560(2):91-9). American researchers found that the same combination of vitamins A and E protected against oxidative stress caused by exposure to dioxin (Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol 2004 Sep;95(3)131-8).
Vitamin A is critical to neurological function. Researchers in London found that it plays a role in the production of DHA, necessary for optimal visual and neural development and function (Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2004 Dec;71(6):383-9). Japanese researchers found that vitamin A plays a key role in preventing the deposition of amyloid structures in brain cells, which is a feature of Alzheimer’s disease (Exp Neurol 2004 Oct;189(2):380-92). Swiss researchers found that vitamin A improves iodine efficacy in children, thus protecting against goiter and hypothyroidism. A healthy thyroid gland is critical to neurological function. Researchers in China found that vitamin A is involved in the maturation of regions of the forebrain in mice at a developmental time that corresponds with the second trimester of gestation in humans (Biol Psychiatry 2004 Dec 15;56(12):971-80).
Vitamin A is also critical to the health of the digestive tract. Researchers in Israel found that vitamin A deficiency caused deleterious effects to the lining of the small intestine, leading to reduced digestion and absorption (Eur J Nutr 2004 Aug;43(5):259-66).
One study, this one in the U.S., explored the theory that high levels of dietary vitamin A might have a negative effect on the bones; but researchers found little evidence of an increased risk of hip or all fractures among older women with higher intakes of vitamin A (Osteoporos Int 2004 Jul;15(7):552-9).