Getting Gut Flora
While public health officials are urging pasteurization, sterilization, irradiation and other strong measures to kill bacteria dead, scientists are accumulating evidence that bacteria are essential to human and animal life, especially those that populate the gut. The typical gut contains about 750 trillion bacteria, which not only help us digest our food, but support the immune system, ward off pathogens and fight allergens. The western diet and heavy use of antibiotics can create havoc in the gut by killing off large populations of the good guys. After dismissing the notion of good bacteria as some kind of alternative quackery, doctors are now prescribing probiotic pills to help patients with digestive disorders and infections that result from antibiotic use. Sometimes they suggest commercial yoghurt (Newsweek, January 10, 2006). But few in the scientific world are recommending the probiotics that kept our flora healthy for millions of years—traditional lacto-fermented foods and raw milk.
The slide into madness that started with the anti-saturated-fat agenda reached its lowest point in December when the Illinois State Board of Education proposed rules that would ban whole milk from school lunches (Associated Press, December 10, 2005). Under the new rules, cartons of whole milk, which have a high fat content, would be considered junk food, but baked Cheetos and 1-ounce bags of baked potato chips would not. Whole milk flunks three of the major guidelines now used to assess whether a food is healthy or not: calories from fat exceeding 35 percent (except for nuts and seeds), calories from saturated fat exceeding 10 percent and total calories exceeding 200 for an individual package. Of course, whole milk could be packaged in tiny cartons, like the baked potato chips, but the crazy logic that allows junk food in small packages does not seem to apply to real foods like whole milk. Besides, the dairy industry makes more profit on skim milk (because they can sell the butterfat separately in high-value foods like ice cream) and chocolate milk—which school children are now consuming by the gallon.
Starting January 1, new food labels must indicate the presence of eight allergen groups—tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, peanuts, soybeans and wheat—although the public may not see allergens listed immediately as the FDA is allowing companies to continue to use labels that were made before 2006. (Cynical question: did this allowance prompt a flurry of label making just before the end of the year?) These new regulations mean that if a processed food contains whey protein or powdered skim milk, the word “milk” must appear on the label; if it contains hydrolyzed protein or soy protein isolate in the fine print, the word “soy” must be clearly indicated on the label (Wall Street, Journal, December 28, 2005). Consumers are due for a shock when they see how many foods contain soy—from chocolate candy to bread to orange juice. Surprisingly, no special labeling is required for corn, to which many consumers have serious allergies. Is this omission simply an oversight, or evidence of the extreme power of the soft drink industry, which doesn’t want to list a major allergen on every bottle of soda pop containing high fructose corn syrup?
Now that the cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins have become the treatment of choice for heart disease, scientists are looking at just how much they can lower levels of LDL cholesterol (the so-called “bad” cholesterol) without actually killing the patient with the treatment. The Treating to New Targets (TNT) Study, published in 2004, found that high doses of statins improved cardiovascular disease outcomes slightly but resulted in higher numbers of deaths from other causes. In the Incremental Decrease in End Points Through Aggressive Lipid Lowering (IDEAL) study, published in the November 16, 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers did not even find a benefit to cardiovascular disease from aggressive cholesterol lowering, although they were able to tease “reduced risk when certain secondary outcomes (composite end points of any coronary heart disease event)” from the data, In an editorial on the IDEAL trial, published in the same issue of JAMA, Dr. Christopher Cannon repeats the dogma that for LDL-cholesterol, “lower is better for preventing MI stroke, need for cardiac procedures and death,” but hints at problems with the study when he calls for careful monitoring of “adverse effects” and even pursuit of “new avenues of treatment.” That’s because total mortality was higher in the high-dose statin group and, of even more concern, almost all of the participants reported some kind of side effect from the treatment—with almost half of the participants in each group suffering a serious adverse effect. Dr. Uffe Ravnskov points out other flaws in the study: only 20 percent of the study group was female in order to conceal the bad effects of statins on women; fully 79 percent of the subjects took aspirin, a serious confounder; the authors used the criteria of relative risk to exaggerate any marginal benefits; and, finally, the authors did not address current research indicating that low LDL-cholesterol is actually a risk factor for heart disease and that LDL lowering can be detrimental. It all points to the fact that cholesterol lowering as a treatment for heart disease is less than ideal.
Please Pass the Liver!
Today’s dietary gurus tell us that we must eat vegetables and fruit to obtain vitamins and minerals. Per Magnuson, an astute member from Sweden, points out that fruits and vegetables cannot compare in nutrient levels with animal foods, especially nutrient-dense animal foods like liver. Here’s what we came up with as a way of assessing the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables versus meat and liver. Note that every nutrient in red meat except for vitamin C surpasses those in apples and carrots, and every nutrient—including vitamin C—in beef liver occurs in exceedingly higher levels in beef liver compared to apple and carrots.
In spite of poor results in statin studies, the National Health Service in Britain is now offering “cholesterol-busting” statin “wonder drugs” free to “smokers, the overweight, elderly people and others at high risk of heart attacks and strokes” (TimesOnLine, January 25, 2006). The agency wants to double the number of people taking statins in the UK, from 1.8 million to 3.4 million per year, claiming that the increase will save 10,000 lives per year from heart disease and may also reduce the risks of breast, colon and prostate cancer, ease the symptoms of arthritis and even prevent sepsis. No mention in the press reports of side effects. Must be a lot of money involved.
Pass the Cod Liver Oil
Yet there is a nostrum that protects against cancer, arthritis and infection—without side effects—and that is old fashioned cod liver oil. We have recently learned of evidence that cod liver oil offers excellent protection against coronary artery disease as well. One study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, October 1986, looked at the effect of cod liver oil on the development and progression of coronary artery disease in swine. The animals were subjected to coronary balloon abrasion and fed an atherogenic diet for eight months. Analysis of sections of the coronary arteries revealed significantly less disease in the animals fed cod liver oil compared to controls. Furthermore, blood markers for heart disease were significantly reduced in the cod liver oil-fed swine. Blood markers were similarly reduced in swine fed cod liver oil according to a subsequent study published in Circulation, October 1987.
A team of scientists from the University of Pennsylvania is working on a series of cancer-fighting vaccines which introduce what is considered a pathogen—Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium found in milk, cheese and other dairy products—into the bloodstream. In a scientific study published in the Journal of Immunology (September, 2005), the researchers presented evidence of the cancer-fighting properties of a live modified Listeria cancer vaccine that successfully eradicated several types of rapidly growing cancers in mice. “Modified Listeria vaccines harness the power of the immune system against this infectious agent, and then direct it to successfully attack cancer cells,” says a spokesman for the vaccine. “The vaccines teach the immune system to mount a specialized, targeted response that is lethal to cancer” (www. advaxis.com). But instead of a vaccine, which may contain harmful materials like mercury, MSG and formaldehyde, why not introduce Listeria monocytogenes into the body the way our ancestors did, by drinking raw milk?
Liver failure is on the increase, chiefly caused by an overdose of acetaminophen, the active ingredient in painkillers like Tylenol. Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle analyzed data on 662 consecutive patients treated for acute liver failure at 22 US tertiary care centers between 1998 and 2003. During that time, the annual percentage of acute liver failure cases due to acetaminophen rose from 28 percent to 51 percent. Among the 275 cases determined to be acetaminophen-related, 48 percent were unintentional overdoses, 44 percent were suicide attempts and intent was unknown in 8 percent. People with chronic pain, depression and those who abuse substances including alcohol are particularly at risk for unintentional overdose. According to investigators, the range between an effective dose of acetaminophen and a dangerous one is relatively narrow. Consistent use of as little as 7.5 grams per day may be hazardous. One extra-strength Tylenol tablet contains half a gram of acetaminophen. A 1998 rule in the UK restricting over-the-counter sales of acetaminophen to 16 grams led to a 30 percent reduction in hospital admissions for acute liver failure related to the drug. France limits sales to 8 grams (Hepatology, December 2005). Once again, a nourishing traditional diet, one that includes plentiful amounts of vitamins A and D, protects against pain and depression, making pain-killers unnecessary. And when pain killers must be taken, saturated fats protect the liver to a considerable extent.
Consumers who have taken steps to remove fluoride from their drinking water need to be aware of another source—ProFume, a new fumigant for food handling facilities. Dow Chemicals, manufacturers of ProFume, found residues of 754 parts per million of fluoride anion in powdered eggs. Their petition to the USDA to permit a maximum of 900 ppm of fluoride anion residue in powdered eggs was granted in July, 2005. Concentrations of fluoride in toothpaste range from 1000-1500 ppm. To reconstitute one egg requires one tablespoon of powdered eggs, which would contain a lot more fluoride than toothpaste. Toothpaste containing fluoride must carry a warning label: “Keep out of reach of children under 6 years of age. If more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away.” Don’t expect any such warning on foods containing powdered eggs—or grains or other ingredients likely to be fumigated—any time soon.
Avian Flu–Hyper-Threat or Hoax?
The newspapers are dishing out warnings of impending doom from an epidemic of avian flu, along with propositions for draconian solutions—ranging from mass inoculations to wholesale slaughter of wild birds. With so much hyperbole in the media, it is hard to figure out just where the truth lies. The conventional view names wild birds as the culprit, especially wild ducks and geese, which infect domestic birds via their droppings. Other theories include feeding of poultry feces to farmed fish to boost nutrients for the organisms that farmed fish feed on, a common practice in Asia, and use of pesticides and other harmful compounds in confinement poultry operations, which would explain outbreaks in the birds and also in the workers who handle them. Of course, the most likely explanation is simply filthy, overcrowded, stressful conditions in confinement operations— which are just as filthy, overcrowded and stressful in Asia as they are in the US. This was the private opinion of government veterinarians who looked into an outbreak of bird flu that decimated confinement poultry operations in the Shenandoah Valley a couple of years ago–some 1000 tractor trailer loads of dead birds were hauled away. The industry disagreed, claiming that the culprit was poultry in pasture-feeding operations (such as those raised in Joel Salatin’s famous farm close by), whose infected droppings were somehow picked up by wild birds and then dropped on the poultry houses in the Shenandoah! Many commentators maintain that avian flu poses no threat at all, pointing out that in eight years, fewer than 70 persons have died of avian flu, compared to 250,000 deaths per day from other causes, and 10,000 deaths yearly in the US from human flu strains. The Asian strain of bird flu has never been found on the North American continent, and the strains of bird flu that have been found on the North American continent to date have never been known to cause death in humans. Furthermore, the Asian strain of bird flu is not very transmissible from person to person, with only one documented case so far. Most at risk are poultry workers in Asia, Russia and China. Yet the American papers are full of scare stories, citing a recently released United Nations report that the coming bird flu pandemic might kill up to 150 million people. The solution proposed, namely mass vaccinations, especially for children and the elderly, has no scientific justification. (In fact, many observers blamed the flu epidemic of 1918, which killed 30 million people, on the mania for giving vaccinations in the military.) According to a recent article in The Lancet (October 1, 2005), a systematic review of all previous studies testing flu vaccines reveals that they not effective in preventing the flu, “influenza-like illness” or pneumonia in the elderly. As for vaccinating children, an article published in The Lancet (February 26, 2005) analyzed every available reference on the subject. The authors included 14 randomized controlled trials, eight cohort studies, one case-control study and one randomized controlled trial. They found only two small studies that assessed the effects of influenza on hospital admissions and not a single study that assessed reductions in mortality, serious complications or even community transmission of the disease. The other conventional treatment, the anti-viral drug Tamiflu, is also problematic as it is quickly losing its efficacy due to overuse for the common flu. But even if avian flu is a legitimate threat (some groups are even claiming that the whole thing is a hoax perpetrated by the American poultry industry and their agents in the US government to get rid of foreign competition), there is no need to panic. Many elements of a traditional diet are protective of even the most virulent strains. Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, for example, confer immunity according to a study carried out in Korea. Gelatinous bone broths, cod liver oil and coconut oil are also protective. A homeopathic flu preparation called Oscillococcinum is available, which, interestingly, is made from the heart and liver of duck!