Combating Illness Through Diet Change

The Magic Pill: Combating Illness Through Diet Change

Directed by Robert Tate (2017)

Film Review

Although this documentary was made two years before the COVID19 pandemic, it offers a highly plausible reason why COVID19 mortality rates are much higher in patients with obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. Given that most patients with these conditions are still eating a low fat diet high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods.

Citing both archeological and research evidence, the filmmakers maintain that modern day humans have evolved (over 100,000 generations)* to flourish on a hunter gatherer diet high in animal fats and fresh fruits and vegetables.

They believe the hunter gatherer diet for is probably most similar to the modern ketogenic (high fat, low carbohydrate diet). Many pediatricians are successfully treating with refractory epilepsy with a ketogenic diet. Likewise a number of oncologists are using it as an an adjunct to cancer chemotherapy.

Unfortunately this high fat, low carbohydrate diet is the exact opposite of the low fat, high carbohydrate diet (aka the Food Pyramid) most Western doctors and public health officials continue to recommend for their patients. According to growing research evidence, this diet is largely responsible for an epidemic of obesity, type II diabetes, hypertension, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s (which many diet researchers refer to as type III diabetes).

The film follows a dozen patients with a myriad of health problems (including obesity, diabetes, asthma, autism, arthritis, autism, seizures, recurrent respiratory infections, and early dementia) who switch to a ketogenic diet. Amazingly all their medical problems either resolve or improve dramatically after only 10 weeks. Even the two autistic children are markedly calmer and exhibit a big increase in verbal interaction.

The filmmakers also follow 11 Yoingu (a northern Aboriginal tribe) women experiencing similar chronic medical conditions. After only two weeks they, too, experience significant improvement when they abandon their high carbohydrate Western diet for more traditional foods. Prior to adopting the Western diet in the 1940s, the Yoingu were extremely healthy and rarely suffered from chronic illnesses.


*Evidence of tool making suggests there were ancient human living in China 2.1 million years ago https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/07/early-humans-left-africa-250000-years-earlier-than-thought/564896/

Anyone with a public library card can view the film free at Kanopy. Type Kanopy and the name of your library into your search engine.

 

25 Years Among the Poorest Children in America

Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-five Years Among the Poorest Children in America

by Jonathan Kozol

Crown Publishers (2012)

Book Review

Unlike Kozol’s prior books, which focus on the abysmal condition of inner city schools, Fire in the Ashes follows the families of specific children Kozol has befriended and their disastrous living conditions. The families he describes are either those he encountered at the Martinique Hotel homeless shelter in midtown Manhattan or those he met through an after school program at St Ann’s Episcopal Church in Mott Haven.

With a media annual income of $17,000 for a family of five, Mott Haven is the poorest neighborhood in the South Bronx and the poorest congressional district in the US. Official unemployment (which doesn’t count those who have given up and quit looking) is 14%.

The book poignantly describes the brutal living conditions the children and their families confront, including chronic malnutrition, chronic asthma (from asbestos and incinerators), sexual exploitation of mothers by shelter guards, grooming by gangs and drug dealers, untreated parental mental illness, repeated episodes of homelessness and overcrowded classrooms and schools (many of which have lost funding to private charter schools).

Kozol follows the children of eight African American and Hispanic families from primary school through adulthood, as they struggle with social service and educational systems that have virtually abandoned them.

Some of the children he befriends graduate from high school (and even college) and end up in long term employment. Others drop out and are swallowed up by the criminal justice system. In each case, the children who succeed do so because someone (a teacher, social worker, pastor or Kozol himself) offers financial assistance to ensure they received the educational support they needed.

Although Kozol (with the help of readers and supporters) has set up an Education Action Fund to assist students from desperately poor racially segregated neighborhoods like Mott Haven, he argues against this type of individual intervention as a long term solution.

The real answer, he maintains, is to provide public schools in neighborhoods like Mott Haven, with the best educational funding (instead of the worst), the smallest classes (at present most classes have over 30 pupils), and the best prepared and best paid teachers (instead of the least experienced, most poorly paid).

The Forgotten Victims of Hurricane Harvey

Houston After Hurricane Harvey

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

This documentary examines the plight of Houston’s poor and minority communities a month after Hurricane Harvey. As with Hurricane Katrina, they have fared much worse than Houston’s well-to-do. Many have been left homeless after flood waters contaminated with raw sewage, lead, arsenic and benzene rendered public housing facilities uninhabitable. Despite the 20 billion dollars of federal assistance Houston has received post-Harvey, former public housing residents are getting no help in being rehoused.

Houston’s environmental justice movement has spent years fighting the oil, gas and chemical plants adjacent to their schools and neighborhoods. Routine aerial emissions of benzene and other toxic chemical are already responsible for high rates of asthma and cancer. Located in a flood plain, oil/gas and chemical storage tanks and public housing facilities are subject to annual flooding.

Environmental justice activists are demanding a significant proportion of the $20 billion in disaster aid go to better flood protection. At present Houston’s sea walls only protect against a 15 foot surge. In 2008, Hurricane Ike produced a 25 foot surge. A surge of that size will flood multiple oil, gas and chemical storage tanks, releasing their toxic contents and producing the biggest environmental catastrophe in history.

The Federal Campaign Against Local Healthy Food

Farmageddon

Directed by Kristin Canty (2011)

Film Review

Farmageddon (unrelated to the book Farmageddon) tells the story of a deliberate campaign by federal and state regulatory agencies to harass small family farmers and buying cooperatives.

Kanty begins by briefly outlining the major food safety problem which has accompanied the boom in industrial farming and agrobusiness in the US. Instead of addressing the unhygienic conditions factory farmed animals are raised in (with animals being confined in small cages and pens with their own feces , Congress has imposed an array of useless regulations on all food production and processing.

These regulations allow the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct warrantless raids on small family farms and private coops. The film tells the story of various families who have been raided at gunpoint by federal and state SWAT teams – often where no or only minor infractions have occurred. Most face confiscation of their animals, product and equipment, as well as destruction of their livelihood.

Many of the raids relate to raw milk production. The latter has proven health benefits in asthma, eczema and allergic rhinitis – due to to beneficial bacteria and enzymes that are destroyed when milk is pasteurized.

The laws regulating raw milk vary from state to state – in California you can buy it at supermarkets but can’t sell yogurt or cheese made from raw milk. In some states you can only buy it at the farm gate. In others it’s illegal to sell it at all. Although it’s legal in all states for farmers and farm cooperatives to produce raw milk for their own consumption, the film depicts SWAT teams shutting down several farms and coops for doing so.

In no instance, were any of the confiscated products found to be contaminated by pathogenic bacteria. This is the implicit guarantee you get from sourcing food locally from farmers you know and trust: no  farmer selling milk that makes people sick will stay in business. The source of supermarket food, in contrast, is extremely difficult to trace.

The message that comes across loud and clear in this film in this film is that food regulations created by the FDA and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) are written by agrobusiness. The latter are clearly threatened by growing consumer demand for locally produced, unprocesssed, organic food. These regulations clearly serve the interests of Food Inc rather than the public.

Saving Your Child from an Over-Sanitized World

let-them-eat-dirt

Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Your Child from an Over-Sanitized World

By B. Brett Finlayy and Marie-Claire Arrieta

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (2016)

Book Review

Let Them Eat Dirt is a down-to-earth parental guide to the latest research about the role of intestinal bacteria in preventing obesity, diabetes, autism, schozophrenia, depression, anxiety, asthma, eczema, allergies, autoimmune illness, inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome. The book also provides a lot of practical suggestions for parents seeking to promote healthy gut bacteria in their kids.

Most research points to the avoidance of antibiotics during pregnancy and the first few months of life as being most important in preventing the gut-relaed illnesses described above. In addition to recommending that expectant mothers take probiotics and give them to their infants, the authors also emphasize the importance of vaginal birth and breast feeding in transferring maternal gut bacteria to the infant. Where C-section can’t be avoided, they recommend inoculating a newborn with a swab from the mother’s vagina.

Let Them East Dirt also provides numerous tips on increasing the diversity of gut bacteria to maximize immunity. In infants and children, this is done by exposing them to a wide variety of foods and indulging their natural urge to get dirty and put things in their mouths. Finlay and Arrieta believe children are biologically programmed to engage in these behaviors to increase gut bacteria diversity.

In discussing the science behind their recommendations, they point out that only 100 species of bacteria cause human illness, out of a total of 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bacterial species on the planet. They also discuss the essential role “friendly” bacteria play in training the human immune system, as well as the devastating health consequences of disrupting this process through antibiotic overuse.

The part of the book I found most helpful gives useful suggestions for ways parents can work with pediatricians to safely minimize antibiotic use in their kids.

Buyer Beware: Are Americans Systematically Poisoning Themselves

cosmetics

The US has the worst record in the industrialized world for regulating toxic chemicals. Thanks to the stranglehold powerful corporate lobbies have on Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), millions of Americans may be systematically poisoning themselves with common household products, toiletries and cosmetics.

At present, Americans are at highest risk from endocrine disruptors found in soft plastic and most commercial cleaning and beauty products. These are chemicals that mimic estrogen and other hormones in their effect on the human body. Many epidemiologists believe they are linked to the current epidemic of breast cancer, premature puberty, birth defects, and both male and female infertility. What many people forget is that cancer was an extremely rare condition prior to World War II and the appearance of hundreds of synthetic chemicals on the scene.

The dangerous phalates and bisphenyl-A found in plastic water bottles, pacifiers, and baby toys have been fairly well publicized (I hope.). There seems to be less public awareness that nearly all commercial shampoos, hand and body lotions, deodorants, toothpaste, and sunscreen contain preservatives that function as estrogen-like endocrine disruptors. The US bans only eight of these compounds. In contrast the EU bans more than 1,000.

In addition to causing harm to people who use them, these toxic endocrine disruptors accumulate in waterways when they’re flushed down the drain. Indigenous populations in both the third world and the Arctic are found to have hundreds of these toxic chemicals in their blood stream and breast milk even though most of them have never even heard of Right Guard or Colgate toothpaste.

Parabens: the Worst Offenders

One of the worst offenders is the paraben class of compounds (mostly found as methyparaben or PABA), which is used as a preservative in nearly all commercial toiletries. The second most common is triclosan, found in numerous so-called antibacterial products, including the following:

  • Neutrogena Deep Clean Body Scrub Bar
  • Lever 2000 Special Moisture Response Bar Soap, Antibacterial
  • CVS Antibacterial Hand Soap
  • Dial Liquid Soap, Antibacterial Bar Soap
  • Softsoap Antibacterial Liquid Hand Soap
  • Cetaphil Gentle Antibacterial Cleansing Bar
  • Clearasil Daily Face Wash
  • Clean & Clear Oil Free Foaming Facial Cleanser
  • Dawn Complete Antibacterial Dish Liquid
  • Ajax Antibacterial Dish Liquid
  • Colgate Total Toothpaste
  • Right Guard Sport Deodorant
  • Old Spice Red Zone, High Endurance and Classic Deodorants
  • Vaseline Intensive Care Antibacterial Hand Lotion

Toxic Nanoparticles

Even less well publicized are potentially toxic “nanosized” particles present in many popular sunscreens and so called “natural” mineral foundations. (See 2010 Friends of the Earth study and recent article by Terence Newton linking nanoparticles with DNA damage and cancer.)

Nanoparticle containing skin products are strictly regulated in the UK and Europe, where laws require mandatory safety testing and labeling. In the US, the FDA, which has known for nearly a decade that common sunscreens contain ingredients that accelerate the growth of skin cancer cells. Yet they still refuse to act on this information.

Nanoparticles are absorbed into the blood stream through skin damaged through eczema or psoriasis, a major health concern as mineral foundations are specifically marketed to women to conceal unsightly dermatitis. Some studies show that mineral foundation powders are inhaled into the lungs during application. Others suggest that nanoparticles penetrate healthy skin.

Not only are these substances totally unregulated in the US , but due to lax labeling laws, 80 percent of sunscreens that claim to be free of nanoparticles are found, on testing, to contain them.

Hair Dyes

Over fifty million American women, as well as an increasing number of men, dye their hair on a regular basis. Many start in early adolescence, resulting in cumulative, lifelong exposure to some extremely toxic substances:

  • Phenylenediamine (PPD) – present in over two-third of chemical hair dyes and by far the most toxic. Linked (in animals) to damage of the immune and nervous system, skin, liver and kidneys. Banned in France , Germany , and Sweden and use “restricted” in Canada .
  • Resorcinal – classified by the European Union as a harmful skin and eye irritant and dangerous to the environment.
  • Ammonia – irritant to skin, eyes, and respiratory system (can cause asthma).
  • Peroxide – potential toxic effects on eyes, nervous and respiratory (can cause asthma) system. Can cause DNA damage, possibly leading to cancer. Banned in cosmetic use in Japan and use “restricted” in Canada.
  • 4-ABP – linked to cancer

Many so-called “natural” hair dyes also contain some PPD, but in lower concentrations. As with other toiletries and beauty products described above, checking labels is essential, or better still doing a little Internet research to find a safer alternative.

Dangerous Chemicals in Household Cleaners

AIR FRESHENERS – usually contain methoxychlor, a pesticide that accumulates in fat cells, as well as formaldehyde, a highly toxic, known carcinogen, and phenol, a common culprit in contact allergies.

CARPET AND UPHOLSTERY SHAMPOO – commonly contain perchlorethylene, a known carcinogen, and ammonium hydroxide, a corrosive, extremely irritable to eyes, skin and respiratory passages.

DISHWASHER DETERGENTS (number one cause of household poisoning) – commonly contain highly concentrated dry form of chlorine, which leaves a residue on dishes that accumulates with each washing and is absorbed into hot food.

FURNITURE POLISH contain petroleum distillates, which can cause skin and lung cancer and nitrobenzene, linked with low sperm counts, anemia and liver, kidney, lung and eye damage.

LAUNDRY detergents contain the following chemicals (which remain as residue in clothes, as well as being released into waterways):

  • Petroleum distillates (aka napthas) – linked to cancer, lung damage and inflammation (can cause asthma) and damage to mucous membranes.
  • Phenols – linked with damage to nervous system, heart, blood vessels, lungs (can cause asthma) and kidneys.
  • Nonyl phenol ethoxylate – endocrine disruptor banded in Europe, owing to link to breast cancer, premature puberty and low sperm counts.
  • Optical brighteners (convert UV light wavelengths into visible light, making clothes appear whiter without making them cleaner) – toxic to fish and can cause allergic reactions when exposed skin is later exposed to sunlight.
  • Phosphates (banned in many states) – contribute to water “dead zones” by stimulating algae growth that depletes oxygen needed for fish and other animal life.
  • Sodium hypochlorite (household bleach) – highly toxic chemical which reacts with organic materials in the environment to form carcinogenic and toxic compounds that can cause reproductive, endocrine and immune system disorders.
  • EDTA (ethylene-diamino-tetra-acetate) – chelating agent that biodegrades poorly and can re-dissolve toxic heavy metals in the environment, allowing them to enter the food chain.

OVEN CLEANERS – contain highly toxic and corrosive lye and ammonia with fumes that can damage the respiratory system (especially of small children and pets) and which leave residue that is vaporized when the oven is turned on.

TOILET BOWL CLEANERS contain hydrochloric acid, a highly corrosive irritant which can damage skin, eyes, kidneys and liver; and hypochlorite bleach, a corrosive irritant that can damage eyes, skin and respiratory tract.

 

photo credit: Nikita Kashner via photopin cc

Corporate Food is Bad for You

Chicago lights

Chicago Lights Urban Farm

 (This is the 1st of  2  posts about dramatic changes that are occurring in food production and marketing, as well as consumer food choices.  Part I addresses the conscious shift many consumers have made over the past decade to locally grown organic food.)

Various studies reveal that as many as 20% of Americans make the conscious choice to eat organic food. Those who make the switch from corporate, industrially produced food do so for a variety of reasons. The main ones are cost, health and ethical concerns. Cost is a big consideration for low income families. In an economic depression accompanied by spiking food prices, growing your own fruits and vegetables or purchasing them from a grower at a farmers’ market can save families literally thousands of dollars a year.

Ironically the economic crisis has one silver lining in inner cities, as neighborhoods organize to create urban orchards and gardens on vacant, foreclosed land. An example is Chicago Lights Urban Farm, which supplies fresh produce for the once notorious Cabrini Green subsidized housing complex. This is the first access to fresh produce in decades for many inner city residents – thanks to the mass exodus of supermarket chains in the eighties and nineties.

Health issues linked to industrial agriculture are the second biggest reason people choose locally grown organic food over the standard corporate options. The growing list includes a number of debilitating and fatal illnesses linked with endocrine disruptors (estrogen-like molecules) in chemical herbicides and pesticides; contamination with infectious organisms; severe allergies, immune problems and cancers associated with GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and nanoparticles; type II diabetes related to growth hormones fed to US cattle and the proliferation of superbugs like MRSA (methcillin resistant staphylococcus aureus) linked to antibiotics routinely fed to factory farmed animals.

Endocrine Disruptors and Food Borne Pathogens

At the moment the biggest concern for health advocates is the epidemic of breast cancer and infertility linked to the growing presence of endocrine disruptors in our water supply and food chain. Breast cancer currently affects one out of eight women, and sperm counts in American men are among the lowest in the industrialized world. However the infectious organisms arising from factory farming methods and lax regulation of slaughter facilities are also responsible for a growing number of health problems. Infectious organisms linked with severe illness and death include the prion carried by cattle that causes Creuzfield Jakob disorder (aka Mad Cow Disease); campylobacter, salmonella and pathogenic E coli from the fecal contamination associated with overcrowded livestock pens and inadequate regulation of slaughterhouse hygiene; and Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis (MAP), an increasingly common organism linked to a big spike in Crohn’s disease. Lax US food regulation and inspection regimes are worrying enough. Adding to all these concerns is the vast amount of supermarket food imported from third world countries where food production is totally unregulated.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

GMO-related health issues are another reason more and more consumers are going organic. Unlike New Zealand and most of Europe, which ban GMOs, in the US 88% of corn, 93% of soy, 90% of canola (used in cooking oil), 90% of sugar beets (the source of half of US sugar) are genetically modified. Moreover thanks to the millions Monsanto spends lobbying to block product labeling laws, the majority of US shoppers have no way of knowing whether supermarket foods contain GMOs. Knowledgeable consumers are especially angry about the so-called “Monsanto Protection Bill.” This was a clause inserted in a recent continuing budget resolution that virtually guarantees Monsanto immunity against lawsuits for GMO-related health problems and environmental damage.

Nanoparticles

The latest food controversy involves the presence of untested nanoparticles in processed foods. Nanoparticles are submicroscopic particles the food industry adds to foods and packaging to lengthen shelf life, to act as thickening agents and to seal in flavor. As You Sow, NRDC and Friends of the Earth, first raised the alarm about five years ago regarding the nanoparticles used in cosmetics. They were mainly concerned about studies which showed that inhaled nanoparticles cause the same kind of lung damage as asbestos and can lead to cancer. More recently the American Society of Safety Engineers has issued warning about research showing that nanoparticles in food pass into the bloodstream, accumulate in organs and interfere with metabolic process and immune function.

Environmental and Psychological Benefits

Aside from cost and health concerns, an increasing number of consumers eat locally produced organic food for ethical and environmental reasons. In doing so, they are consciously opting out of an insane corporate agriculture system in which food is transported halfway around the world to satisfy an artificially created demand for strawberries in the winter. They are joining food localization initiatives springing up in thousands of neighborhoods and communities to increase options for locally produced organic food. As they reconnect with local growers to start farmers’ markets (the number in the US is 3,200 and growing) and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiatives*, they find they are simultaneously rebuilding fundamental community ties their grandparents enjoyed.

Many farmers’ markets serve the additional function of a key gathering place for friends and neighbors. As you can see from the following video:

*Community Supported Agriculture is an alternative, locally-based economic model of agriculture and food distribution, in which local residents pre-subscribe to the produce of a given plot of farmland and take weekly delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables and free range/organic meat, eggs, raw milk, etc.

photo credit: crfsproject via photopin

Originally published in Dissident Voice