Monday, December 27, 2010

Food Fights: Yogurt

For quite some time, I have been telling my patients that the food industry falsifies information to sell their junk. One of the biggest offenders is the yogurt industry. While yogurt, originally a porridge-like gruel concocted by Russian peasants, is very healthy, in its modern incarnation, it is not. The latter is redolent with preservatives, food colorings, high fructose corn syrup and worst of all, dairy (that is another fight for another day.) The original yogurt, which you may prepare yourself, had milk that was not full of antibiotics and hormones. The negative effect of dairy’s foreign proteins like insulin, was mitigated by the fermentation process, driven by friendly bacteria.

Now, Dannon, has been disciplined by the FTC for making false claims in their advertisement. Specifically, their probiotic content is not even close to being therapeutic for the gut and for immune system issues. A conference of Gastroenterologists in Salt Lake City determined that we would have to ingest 100 servings of Dannon or Activia to get any benefits (the same goes for other brands of yogurt.) can you imagine the diarrhea you would have, then?

Another false claim is that yogurt helps you lose weight. The measly study they quote was bought and paid for the yogurt industry itself, thereby raising legitimate suspicion. Furthermore, said study at the University of Tennessee, included only 34 people on 500 Kcal diets plus yogurt. The results have been widely dismissed by clear-thinking scientists who realize that you could eat dirt and lose weight on 500 Kcal/day.

There is a whole lot more fermenting under the surface in our food industry and their claims, often allowed by secret deals with our government. In practical terms, do not believe the ads you see about processed food. By the way, do you ever see commercials about whole food? If you want to know more, read FOOD POLITICS by Dr Nestle (what a name…)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas, Magic, and Health

We may have reached that sad time in my daughter’s life when she stops believing in Santa Claus. Last Christmas she put us on notice that my handwriting on her presents was suspiciously similar to Santa’s. Her passage away from magic may have been accelerated by Miley Cyrus and her bong. Still, as a father, I will try to keep her from throwing the baby out with the bath water: she and all of us do well to keep some magic in our lives. I am convinced it is best to live our feet firmly planted on the ground and with our head in the clouds. After all, “where there is no vision the people perish.”

Aristotle said that poetry and fiction are more truthful and reliable than science and facts. I feel he meant that so-called science is always influenced by subjective beliefs and the money of those who pay for it. Then, “objectivity” is unquestioned and vital emotional issues and beliefs of those preaching those facts are ignored, whereas fiction and poetry take full account of those subjective forces, without apologizing or hiding their impact. Besides, fiction/poetry is flexible and amenable to change as we grow and learn. A good poem may address reality more eloquently and clearly than a complicated essay by a stuffy, egocentric and over-intellectualized professor.

None of these ramblings mean that we ought to get rid of science and objectivity. I am only talking about a balance between both of them. Einstein seemed to agree. He is often quoted saying that in order to solve today’s problems, we need to stop thinking in the same worn out ways that have led us into the very problems we struggle with. Considering Arthur C. Clark’s statement in the same breath adds more credibility to these far-out statements; he famously wrote that what we may not understand and call magic today is tomorrow’s science.

Of course, the “balance” point is going to be different depending on the person. I have tried to balance the feminine magic or “lunacy” with the masculine logic and the intellect by alternating my reading between fiction and non-fiction. I love literature; it has inspired me and modulated my scientific reading into a blend that I am comfortable with, a whimsical balance that often allows me to see facts in a new and fresh light. This perspective may be lacking in over intellectualized people who dismiss novels, and, yes, magic. The fact that half of the graduates from the Georgia Institute of Technology are musicians comes to mind.

Right now I am reading FALL OF GIANTS by Ken Follet, a spellbinding fictionalized story about WWI. Tell me, how many of us will sit to read a factual account of that terrible war that shaped our modern world? Before that I read OBAMA’S WAR: I had to force myself to read such a micro-managed view of that issue. Such reductionism leaves me cold; I feel it also alienates most readers who might be remotely interested. Of course, eggheads loved the book…

So, accompanied by my favorite date, my 10-year old Cosette (named after LES MISERABLES’ Jean Valjean’s daughter,) I have watched Harry Potter, NARNIA, and TRON in 3-D, the latter on the planetarium’s gigantic screen. Hopefully, Cosette will retain a love of magic and “that which cannot be explained.” Therein lies most of reality, as the movie THE MATRIX proposes. Interestingly, many physicists feel there is enough evidence to support the view that we, that is, our minds and our imagination create the reality we have in front of us. This is the “observer effect,” taken to the next level in the book THE UNIVERSE SOLVED[1] and many others.

So, when you run across magic and/or the works of angels, genies, druids, astrologists, alchemists, fairies, gnomes, visionaries, etc, don’t be too quick to dismiss them. Rather, enjoy the possibility that our reality is only an illusion, a trick we play on ourselves as we struggle as spirits in a materialistic world, a world we designed to improve ourselves and our ability to care, unconditionally, for one another. Therein we find health, peace and what matters most. Merry Christmas!

[1] Book Jim Elvidge; Alternative Theories Press, 2007

Monday, December 13, 2010

Vitamin D Controversy

After a flurry of articles singing the praises of vitamin D, we are now seeing the expected backlash of reports urging caution in supplementation. This is as science should behave. As always, I expect “truth” to be found somewhere in the middle. So, if you rushed to supplement high doses of vitamin D and now you are running to dump it in the garbage, slow down.

First of all, the articles questioning supplementation above the old and inadequate doses of 400-800 IU a day are very few compared with the hundreds of studies in the past 5 years that have recommended doses closer to 1,000-5,000 IU a day. The studies urging caution tend to be poorly designed and their endpoints not clear, like the one study looking into “frailty.”

Second, we need to question the motivation of those who find supplementation in general to be unnecessary. Often, they have a pharmaceutical agenda that has labeled anything nutritional as alternative. Interestingly, they don’t see anything wrong with adding chemical products (drugs) to our body, but they cast aspersions at natural products that are already found in our food.

And guess what people end up BUYING when they are nutritionally compromised? Drugs. Besides, the studies questioning vitamin D look at disease issues, not optimal health, a concept rather foreign to BIG PHARMA. And perhaps not unrelated, a pharmaceutical version of vitamin D3 (D2, already a pharmaceutical product, is not as effective) is about to appear on the market. It will be more likely prescribed to those with low levels of vitamin D….

About a third of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D; most of them live too far north to soak up good rays. By the way, Sun exposure for 15 minutes produces 20,000 IU of vitamin D. Will we have to tell people to stay out of the Sun for that long to avoid toxicity? It turns out most scientists beholden to BIG PHARMA would not know much about rare vitamin toxicity reactions if it bit them in the rear.

Still, history has shown that supplementation, like anything else, falls into a “U” curve, meaning that not enough may be as bad as too much. It is in the middle ranges that we find moderation. Let that be a guiding principle as we struggle with supplementation, and with politics and ideologies. In the meantime, it is most prudent to visit a practitioner who is able to check one’s vitamin D3 levels in the blood yearly and keep them around 50-80 with supplementation, as recommended by the Vitamin D Council. Unfortunately, the amount supplemented does not translate into standard blood levels, due to genetic variance in the way we activate vitamin D in our kidneys. Only with such close monitoring we will know for sure whether a given dose is safe for you. Otherwise, we will be guessing and making statements that reflect one’s biases on this matter.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cancer? Take 2 Aspirins and Call Me in the Morning

You have probably heard that aspirin now lowers the risk of several cancers. This is all well and good. Unfortunately, the researchers in the Lancet study did not elaborate like an Integrative Physician or any common sense person would. Surely you agree that the fact that aspirinan anti inflammatoryworks, then it follows that cancer, is an inflammatory disease, a fact Dr. Virchow taught over a 100 years ago in Austria.

So, the logical question, then, should be whence the inflammation causing the DNA mutations that leads to cancer?

You may remember the cover issue of TIME magazine, January 6th this year; it made it clear that genetic mutations, or epigenetic changes due to inflammation and oxidation, are caused by environmental and nutritional problems. In fact, the New England Journal of Medicine and many other august medical journals have shown that cancers are 85% due to environmental issues. And, the 1931 Nobel Prize was awarded to Dr. Warburg for showing that refined sugar diets increase the risk of cancer. So, if we were to clean up our environment and eat better diets, we would prevent more than 2/3 of cancers.

Or, you could take the aspirin, and, as cautioned by the Lancet researchers, you may end up with a hole in your stomach due to its side effects, which could also include bleeding and kidney problems.

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