Western Medicine: Still Stuck in the 20th Century

Origins

well.org (2014)

Film Review

In brief, Origins is a film about saving the planet by improving your diet and lifestyle. The filmmakers assert that a healthier diet will enable people to think more clearly about the imminent crises confronting civilization. While I totally disagree with the premise – I don’t believe real change is possible without confronting corporate corruption and growing inequality – I liked the film. It offers the clearest explanation yet of the fundamental role of the microbiome* in human health and the rhizophere** in plant health.

Western medicine, as currently practiced, has become totally obsolete owing to its inability to view the human body as a holistic integrated unit. The end result is that roughly half of us are in really poor health. While I disagree with the premise of the film, I’m willing to concede that many of us aren’t healthy or fit enough to tackle major social or political change.

A secondary premise of the film is that we need to fundamentally rethink the way we use technology – mainly because we’re systematically poisoning ourselves through air pollution and toxic endocrine disruptors that mimic estrogen in our bodies. This heavy estrogen effect is a major factor in an epidemic of breast, prostate and other cancers, as well as infertility, obesity and anxiety/depression.

My favorite part of the documentary concerns the microbiome, which turns out to be primary source of our immunity. Owing to the overuse of antibiotics in medicine and agriculture (in livestock feed), most of us have experienced a mass extinction of our intestinal bacteria. This, in turn, plays an even bigger role than toxic chemicals in diseases triggered by inflammation, such as obesity, cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and autoimmune illnesses.

Origins goes on to stress the importance of vaginal birth and breast feeding in establishing a healthy microbiome in infants and the avoidance of antibiotics, antibiotic soaps and commercial household cleaners and toxic chemicals in keeping it that way. Letting kids play in the dirt is another important source of beneficial bacteria. As are are fermented foods and fresh (unprocessed) chemical free foods.

I was also pleased to see the filmmakers brutally debunk the low fat, high sugar, high carbohydrate diet*** Food Inc and western medicine have been trying to sell us for the last fifty years. This is the number one reason half of Americans suffer from “diabesity” (aka metabolic syndrome), even though many of them may not realize it yet.

To their credit, thousands of doctors (according to filmmakers) are taking their patients off GMO foods, resulting in rapid relief of allergies, chronic illnesses and infertility.

I was also pleased to see the comparison filmmakers make between the soil rhizosphere and the gut microbiome. While we’ve been destroying our intestinal bacteria with antibiotics, Food Inc has been systematically destroying essential soil bacteria with pesticides, herbicides and GMOs.

Citing a recent UN study, Origins explodes the myth that GMO technology is the only solution to world hunger. According to the UN, we could double current crop yields in ten years simply by switching to organic farming methods that restore the health and integrity of our soil.

Ignore the background music (I hate documentaries with soppy background music). It’s worth putting up with for the excellent section on diet.


* Microbiome, as defined in this film, refers to the millions of intestinal bacteria that are essential to healthy digestion and immunity.

** The rhizosphere is the narrow region of soil that is directly influenced by root secretions and associated soil microorganisms.

***For a great book summarizing the research that debunks the low fat diet, see Why the Low Fat Diet Makes You Fat and Gives You Heart Disease, Cancer and Tooth Decay

The Sugar Conspiracy

The Secrets of Sugar

By Fifth Estate (2014)

Film Review

The Secrets of Sugar is a Canadian documentary about the conspiracy by the sugar industry and processed food companies to conceal the damaging effects of sugar on human health. For decades, the medical establishment has led us to believe that our intake of animal fat is responsible for soaring rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. It turns out the real culprit all along is sugar (see The Big Fat Surprise).

Investigators have uncovered industry documents going back to the 1950s linking excess sugar intake with health problems. In 1972, researcher John Yudkin published the book Pure, White and Deadly about research linking sugar to heart disease. The response by the food industry was a vicious campaign to portray Yudkin as an incompetent quack. This, in turn, led to a thirty-year shutdown of institutional funding for research into sugar’s health effects.

For me, the film’s most shocking revelation was the immense amount of sugar hidden in so- called “healthy” processed foods, such as yoghurt, oatmeal, soup and Healthy Choice frozen dinners. In one segment, a former industry scientist nicknamed “Dr Bliss” explains the importance of the “bliss point,” the quantity of added sugar that makes you crave a particular product.

A close look at product labels suggests they are designed to confuse consumers about the actual sugar content of foods. Meanwhile like the tobacco industry, Food Inc spends billions of dollars lobbying against government (and UN) recommendations for a maximum daily sugar intake and clearer food labeling laws.

For years, doctors and dieticians have been telling us that sugar is bad because of all the “empty” calories. New research indicates sugar acts as a poison, inflicting direct damage on the liver and brain via its impact on insulin production. In addition to studies implicating high sugar intake in obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, others point to its role in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease and polycystic ovarian disease.

Industry scientists interviewed in the film manifest the same “blame the victim” mentality as the tobacco industry. They maintain the responsibility lies with the consumer to choose whether to eat sugar – or to smoke. The filmmakers counter that healthy choices are impossible without good information.

The film follows an obese couple over three weeks, who achieve significant weight loss, as well as reductions in cholesterol and triglycerides, simply by eliminating all processed foods from their diet.

Also posted in Veterans Today

Why the Low Fat Diet Makes You Fat (and Gives You Heart Disease, Cancer and Tooth Decay)

The Big Fat Surprise

The Truth About Animal Fat: What the Research Shows

The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet lays out the scientific case why our bodies are healthiest on a diet rich in saturated fat from animal products. Analyzing study after study, Nina Teicholz leaves no doubt that the number one cause of the global epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease is the low fat high carbohydrate diet doctors have been pushing for fifty years.

Blaming the Victim

My initial reaction on learning how the low fat diet became official government policy was to feel ripped off and angry. For decades, the medical establishment has been blaming fat people for being obese, portraying them as weak willed and lacking in self control. It turns out the blame lay squarely with their doctors, the American Heart Association (AHA), the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Congress and the food manufacturers who fund the AHA (Proctor and Gamble, Nabisco, General Foods, Heinz, Quaker Oats and Corn Products Refining Corporation) for foisting a diet on them that increases appetite and weight gain.

The law fat diet is based on a “theory” put forward in the 1950s that heart disease was caused by elevated cholesterol levels – and a few deeply flawed epidemiological studies. In other words, the low fat diet is a giant human experiment the medical profession conducted on the American public while attempting to prove that saturated animal fats cause heart disease. Fifty years of research would show the exact opposite: not only do low fat high carbohydrate diets increase the risk of cardiac death, but they’re also responsible for a myriad of other health problems, with obesity and diabetes being the most problematic.

The studies Teicholz cites also debunk the myth that animal fat increases the risk of breast and colon cancer.

Heart Attacks Rare Prior to 1900

Coronary artery disease and heart attacks were virtually unknown prior to 1900. When Ancel Keys, the father of the low fat diet, began his anti-fat crusade in the 1950s he claimed that industrialization and an improved standard of living had caused Americans to switch from a plant based diet to a diet that was higher in animal fats. This was total rubbish. Prior to 1900, Americans had always eaten a meat-based diet, in part because wild game was much more plentiful in North America than in Europe. Early cookbooks and diaries reveal that even poor families had meat or fish with every meal. Even slaves had 150 pounds of red meet a year, which contrasts unfavorably with 40-70 pounds of red meat in the current American diet.

What changed in the twentieth century was the introduction of cheaper vegetable fats into the American diet, starting with margarine and Crisco in the early 1900s.

Keys was also responsible for the theory, again without research evidence, that high cholesterol levels cause heart disease. This was also rubbish. Fifty years of research negates any link between either total cholesterol or LDL* cholesterol and heart disease. In study after study the only clear predictor of heart disease (in study after study) is reduced HDL. The same studies show that diets high in animal fats increase HDL, while those high in sugar, carbohydrates and vegetable oils reduce HDL.

Teicholz also discusses the role of statins (cholesterol lowering drugs) in this context. Statins do reduce coronary deaths, but this is due to their anti-inflammatory effect – not because of their effect on cholesterol.

Researchers Silenced and Sidelined

For decades, researchers whose findings linked low fat diets with higher rates of heart disease, cancer, stroke and tooth decay were systematically silenced and sidelined. As frequently happens with doctors scientists who challenge the powerful health industry, their grants were cut off and, in some cases, their careers destroyed.

For fifty years, the medical establishment simply ignored the growing body of research linking the high sugar/carbohydrate component of the low fat diet to heart disease, as well as those linking vegetable oils to cancer. Vegetable oils oxidize when cooked, leading to the production of cancer causing compounds such as aldehyde, formaldehyde and 4-hydroxnonene (HCN). Unsurprisingly diets in which vegetable oils (other than olive oil) are the primary fat are linked with an increased incidence of cancer. Several studies overseas have found high levels of respiratory cancer in fast food workers exposed to superheated vegetable oils.

The Atkins Diet

The Big Fat Surprise includes a long section on the Atkins diet, a popular high fat/protein low carbohydrate weight reduction diet in the 70s and 80s. The use of a high fat low carbohydrate diet for weight loss dates back to 1862 and was heavily promoted by Sir William Osler in his 1892 textbook of medicine. According to Teicholz, recent controlled studies totally vindicate Dr Robert C Atkins, who was ridiculed as a dangerous quack during his lifetime. They also debunk claims that high levels of protein in the Atkins diet cause kidney damage. In addition to being perfectly safe, controlled studies show it to be extremely effective for weight loss and treating diabetes.

The USDA and AHA Quietly Reverse Themselves

As Teicholz points out in her conclusion, the nutrition researchers who blindly pursued their anti-fat campaign – and politicians and corporate funders who supported them – have done Americans an immense disservice by creating a virtual epidemic of obesity and diabetes.

A few years ago, the tide began to turn, largely due to the 29,000 subject Women’s Health Initiative launched in 1993. In 2013, the USDA and AHA quietly eliminated fat targets from the dietary recommendations. Because they made no real effort to publicize their change of heart, many doctors are still giving their patients the wrong dietary advice and hounding them about their cholesterol levels.

Dump the Skim Milk

The take home lesson from this book is that it’s virtually impossible to eat too many eggs or too much red meat, cheese, sausage and bacon. Americans (and their overseas English-speaking cousins) need to dump the skim milk and margarine down the sink because whole milk and butter are better for you. People need to go back to cooking with lard, bacon drippings and butter. Cooking with vegetable oils can give you cancer.

Anyone with a weight problem needs to totally eliminate sugar and carbohydrate (the Atkins diet recommends less than half a slice of bread a day).

And if your doctor hassles you about your cholesterol tell him or her to read this book.


*LDL (low density lipoprotein) is referred to as “bad cholesterol” due to its alleged link to heart disease. HDL (high density lipoprotein) or “good cholesterol” appears to provide some protective effect against heart disease.

Also published at Veterans Today

Income Inequality: The Real Cause of Poor Health

epigenetics

Contrary to popular belief, the primary determinant of your lifelong health status and life expectancy has nothing to do with your weight, fitness level and whether you smoke. According UW epidemiologist Dr Stephen Bezruchka, the most important determinant of your adult health status is your mother’s income level when you were born. Lifestyle factors (including smoking) only account for 10% of illness.

More than fifty years of epidemiological research bear this out. Yet it’s only in the last decade scientists have learned why this is – thanks to the new science of epigenetics. The term refers to changes in gene expression caused by external influences.

The stress of poverty causes an increase in maternal stress hormones, which causes variations in the way genetic code is transcripted into proteins and enzymes. These, in turn, can predispose the fetus to insulin resistance, obesity and immune problems, as well as emotional instability and mental illnesses.

The Link Between Income Inequality and Poor Health

The most important research finding, according to Bezruchka, is a more pronounced effect in societies plagued by income inequality. Study after study bears this out. In other words, a poor person’s health will be worse in a society with a wide gap between its rich and poor residents.

The US, which has the most extreme inequality, is near the bottom of the charts for indicators that measure a nation’s overall health. In life expectancy (according to the CIA), the US ranks 50th, just behind Guam. In infant mortality, it ranks 174th, between Croatia and the Faroe Islands.

A Mindset Driven By Social Service Cuts

In Sick and Sicker, Dr Susan Rosenthal notes a 30 year trend for policy makers – both conservative and liberal – to make sick people “take responsibility” for their illnesses. Epidemiological studies – as long as scientists have been doing them – have always shown a correlation between poverty and poor health. Even in Dicken’s time, it was taken for granted that the undernourished poor people living in cold, damp, overcrowded tenements were far more prone to illness than their middle class counterparts.

Rosenthal believes this shift to a “blame the victim” mentality has been deliberate – to justify aggressive social service cutbacks (by both Republicans and neoliberal Democrats like Clinton and Obama) that came into fashion with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980.

The Role of Oppression and Exploitation in Illness

Although the link between poverty and inequality is unequivocal, epidemiologists have yet to explain why the effect is poor pronounced with extreme income inequality. Bezruchka puts it down to people in egalitarian societies looking after one another. I like Rosenthal’s explanation better. She relates it to high levels of oppression and exploitation in societies with extreme income disparity.

She points out that minimum wage workers aren’t just poor. They also work in exploitive, arbitrary and often punitive job settings which they feel powerless to change. Enduring this massive stress on a daily basis takes an enormous toll on the human body and psyche.

photo credit: AJC1 via photopin cc

Intestinal Bacteria and Chronic Illness

bacteria

(This is the second of 2 posts about a possible link between intestinal bacteria, obesity, and other chronic illnesses.)

The most enlightening article I’ve seen about micrbiota (gut bacteria) research is an April 2013 article from Mother Jones. It explores the possibility that insulin resistance (see previous post) is actually an “inflammatory” process caused by the production of “endotoxin” by unhealthy gut bacteria.

The Major Health Implications of Dysbiosis

Owing to a doubling of obesity rates since 1980, this strikes me as a reasonable hypothesis. The mass marketing of antibiotics by Big Pharma, Food Inc (in livestock feed), and Monsanto (in genetically modified organisms) has led to epidemic levels of dysbiosis (a derangement in gut bacteria) in the industrialized world. In addition to skyrocketing obesity rates, the developed world has also experienced a significant increase in other dysbiosis-related conditions, including cancer, diabetes, and degenerative and autoimmune disease. It would also explain why children born to obese mothers (we acquire gut bacteria from our mothers) are more likely to suffer from asthma, attention deficit disorder, and autism.

The article cites research from the University of Washington showing that foods high in saturated fats and sugar promote the growth of endotoxin-producing inflammatory bacteria. Endotoxin, in turn, causes inflammatory damage to the the hypothalamus, the brain’s appetite center. When this occurs, people lose the ability to feel full and eat to excess.

The Mother Jones article also references studies in which volunteers improved their insulin sensitivity, as well as losing weight, by reducing their level of “inflammatory” bacteria. They accomplished this by consuming diets rich in fermented foods containing healthy, anti-inflammatory bacteria.

Most interesting of all are studies showing that bariatric (weight loss) surgery helps some patients and not others depending on their ability to grow a healthier microbiota (gut bacteria colony) following their procedure.

The Care and Feeding of Intestinal Bacteria

After suffering a sudden onset of so-called “irritable bowel” syndrome 20 years ago, I have a strong personal interest in dysbiosis. The Sydney GI specialist I consulted says the only effective treatment for most IBS sufferers is to re-establish a healthy microbiota.

The end of the article offers a number of suggestions how to accomplish this. The bottom line is to consume a diet rich in 1) fermented foods with live bacterial cultures and 2) complex carbohydrate and fiber-rich foods these organisms thrive on. Studies show that treatment with whole foods is always preferable to taking probiotics. Fermented foods contain literally thousands of strains of bacteria that work collaboratively with one another. Probiotic capsules, in contrast, contain a dozen strains at most and are likely to be destroyed by stomach acid

Examples of helpful fermented foods include sauerkraut (only if it’s made via fermentation), miso (fermented soybean paste), kefir (a fermented drink), and some yoghurts. To ensure the bacterial cultures are live, it’s best to ferment these foods yourself or get them from a reliable health food store. It’s also essential to check the label to make sure they aren’t pasteurized (pasteurization kills bacteria).

The foods these bacteria like to munch on include onions, garlic, potatoes, bananas, yams, apples, oranges, whole grains, Jerusalem artichokes, legumes and cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower).

Looking after the new bacteria in my intestine is almost like having a new pet to care for. I can already tell from my symptoms which foods they really like: yam, cooked apples, and avocado. Luckily I’m pretty keen on them myself.

photo credit: www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca via photopin cc

 

The Politics of Obesity

obesity

(This is the first of two posts exploring possible links between intestinal bacteria, obesity, and other chronic illnesses.)

Obesity Has Social and Political Causes