Resveratrol: Another Assumption Called Into Question

It’s tempting to do so, but whenever we attribute large health benefits (such as prevention of heart disease) to a single nutrient, the complexity of our physiology eventually calls the assumption into question.

Resveratrol, a substance found in the skins of red grapes, has become quite famous in recent years as the purported explanation for the apparent health benefits of moderate amounts of red wine. New research indicates that this assumption may be premature, and perhaps entirely mistaken.

From WebMD:

Resveratrol — a substance found in red wine, grapes and chocolate — may not add years to your life, and it doesn’t appear to reduce the risk for heart disease or cancer either, according to new research.

“When it comes to diet, health and aging, things are not simple and probably do not boil down to one single substance, such as resveratrol,” said study lead researcher Dr. Richard Semba, a professor of ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

The findings also cast doubt about taking resveratrol supplements, he said.

“Perhaps it brings us back again to rather tried and true advice of diet — Mediterranean-style — and regular aerobic exercise for healthy aging,” said Semba.

The report was published May 12 in the online edition of JAMA Internal Medicine.

Red wine and chocolate have been shown to have beneficial effects on health, and these benefits were attributed largely to a single substance — resveratrol. Resveratrol has been credited as being responsible for the so-called “French paradox,” in which even a diet high in cholesterol and fat can be healthy if it is accompanied with red wine, the researchers explained

UN Panel Urges Global Move Toward Meat and Dairy-Free Diet

This is from the UN Environmental Programme. It’s a fair reading of the available data, which indicates that changes in two sectors, animal agriculture and the burning of fossil fuel, are the keys to avoiding catastrophic climate change. This report goes public in the week that the world also surpassed the 400 ppm level of CO2.

This is a major health policy issue, ultimately dwarfing those that absorb more of our attention at the moment.

A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change, a UN report said today.

As the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050,  western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable, says the report from United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management.

It says: “Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”

Professor Edgar Hertwich, the lead author of the report, said: “Animal products cause more damage than [producing] construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals. Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as [burning] fossil fuels.”

 

U.S. Compares Poorly to Europe on Agricultural Safety Policies

In Mother Jones, Tom Philpott flags seven food-related substances or procedures that are banned in Europe but allowed in the United States.

Here are the first three, and it doesn’t really look any brighter after that:

 1. Atrazine Why it’s a problem: A “potent endocrine disruptor,” Syngenta’s popular corn herbicide has been linked to a range of reproductive problems at extremely low doses in both amphibians and humans, and it commonly leaches out of farm fields and into people’s drinking water.

What Europe did: Banned it in 2003.

US status: EPA: “Atrazine will begin registration review, EPA’s periodic reevaluation program for existing pesticides, in mid-2013.”

2. Arsenic in chicken, turkey, and pig feed Why it’s a problem: Arsenic is beloved of industrial-scale livestock producers because it makes animals grow faster and turns their meat a rosy pink. It enters feed in organic form, which isn’t harmful to humans. Trouble is, in animals guts, it quickly goes inorganic, and thus becomes poisonous. Several studies, including one by the FDA, have found heightened levels of inorganic arsenic in supermarket chicken, and it also ends up in manure, where it can move into tap water. Fertilizing rice fields with arsenic-laced manure may be partially responsible for heightened arsenic levels in US rice.

What Europe did: According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, arsenic-based compounds “were never approved as safe for animal feed in the European Union, Japan, and many other countries.”

US status: The drug giant Pfizer “voluntarily” stopped marketing the arsenical feed additive Roxarsone back in 2011. But there are still several arsenicals on the market. On May 1, a coalition of enviro groups including the Center for Food Safety, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit demanding that the FDA ban them from feed.

3. “Poultry litter” in cow feed

Why it’s a problem: You know how arsenic goes inorganic—and thus poisonous—in chickens’ guts? Consider that their arsenic-laced manure is then commonly used as a feed for cows. According to Consumers Union, the stuff “consists primarily of manure, feathers, spilled feed, and bedding material that accumulate on the floors of the buildings that house chickens and turkeys.” The “spilled feed” part is of special concern, because chickens are often fed “meat and bone meal from dead cattle,” CU reported, and that stuff can spill into the litter and be fed back to cows, raising mad cow disease concerns.

What Europe did: Banned all forms of animal protein, including chicken litter, in cow feed in 2001.

US status: The practice remains unrestricted. US cattle consume about 2 billion pounds of it annually, Consumers Union’s Michael Hansen told me last year.

Causing Our Children’s Illnesses by Starting Solid Foods Too Soon

When we forget the basics of natural healthcare, we and our children suffer the consequences. Feeding solids too early in a child’s life appears to lead to allergies and other problems as well.

Disturbingly, this is often done on the advice of ill-informed doctors:

Many mothers in the U.S. start infants on solid foods — including peanut butter, meat, and french fries — earlier than experts recommend, and half of them do so with their doctor’s support, according to new research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study found that 40.4 percent of U.S. mothers interviewed from 2005 to 2007 said they introduced solid foods to infants before they were 4 months old — that represents an increase of about 29 percent from earlier studies, the researchers reported today in the journal Pediatrics.

Introducing solids early may increase the risk of some chronic diseases, the authors noted, including diabetes, obesity, eczema, and celiac disease.

 

 

U.S. Allows Chemicals in Food That Are Illegal Elsewhere

One more reason to read ingredient lists and not to trust the safety of listed items that aren’t actually recognizable foods.

Why the difference? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration would not provide a representative for an interview, but in past statements to the media and on its website the agency has presented a variety of reasons for allowing controversial chemicals in food, ranging from a lack of resources for research to assurances that the substances are safe in small doses.

In the case of BVO, the agency has allowed “interim” use of the ingredient since 1970, pending additional toxicological tests. Asked why it has not addressed the interim status in more than 40 years, the agency cited a need to “maximize its resources” and said addressing the issue is “not a priority for the agency at this time.”

“FDA’s mission is first and foremost to protect public health by ensuring that foods are safe and properly labeled,” the agency said in a statement, contending that science-based implementation of federal law has helped make the U.S. food supply “the safest in the world.”

Unsatisfied with these kinds of answers, activists and public health watchdogs have urged the FDA and food makers to halt the use of various chemicals until safety can be fully determined. Food companies, they note, have reformulated their products for other countries — including members of the European Union, China, Australia, Japan and India — but seem reluctant to change their products in the U.S. until they must.”

Flaxseed Helpful for Hypertension

From a report delivered at this week’s American Heart Association conference:

LOS ANGELES — Adding flaxseed to the diets of patients with peripheral arterial disease (PAD) resulted in large drops in blood pressure (BP) of around 10 mm Hg systolic and 7 mm Hg diastolic after six months, according to the results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled study.

“This reduction of SBP and DBP after administration of dietary flaxseed is the largest decrease in BP ever shown by any dietary intervention,” said Dr Delfin Rodriguez (University Hospital Holguin, Cuba) speaking here today at the American Heart Association 2012 Scientific Sessions. Such reductions would be expected to result in around a 50% fall in the incidence of stroke and a 30% reduction in MI, he added.

Rodriguez explained that the trial, FLAX-PAD, was conducted in PAD patients because they happened to have a clinic for the disease in their center and, as around 75% of PAD patients have concomitant hypertension, “it was an easy population to study.”

Subgroup analyses of only the PAD patients with hypertension showed a greater reduction in SBP, of about 15 mm Hg, in these patients than in the study population as a whole and a similar reduction in DBP, he noted.

“Flaxseed represents a particularly attractive strategy for controlling hypertension in economically disadvantaged communities and countries, and its BP-lowering effects compare favorably with those of antihypertensive drugs and lifestyle modifications, such as a low-salt diet and weight loss,” he noted.

Rodriguez said that he and his colleagues chose to study flaxseed because animal studies have shown it has antiatherogenic, anti-inflammatory, and antiarrhythmic effects and may reduce circulating cholesterol and trans-fatty acid levels.

Worldwide, Obesity Now a Greater Problem Than Hunger

The only exception is sub-Saharan Africa. A world in which people have struggled for milliennia against having too little has now become one in which most now face a different problem — having too much, or at least too much of the wrong things.

From a CNN report on a new study published in The Lancet:

The report revealed that every country, with the exception of those in sub-Saharan Africa, faces alarming obesity rates — an increase of 82% globally in the past two decades. Middle Eastern countries are more obese than ever, seeing a 100% increase since 1990.

“The so-called ‘Western lifestyle’ is being adapted all around the world, and the impacts are all the same,” Mokdad said.

The health burden from high body mass indexes now exceeds that due to hunger, according to the report.

And for the first time, noncommunicable diseases like diabetes, stroke and heart disease top the list of leading causes of years spent sick or injured.

“All these problems are tied to obesity,” Mokdad said. “We’re even seeing a large percentage of people suffering back pain now. If we could lower the obesity rates, we’d see the numbers of noncommunicable diseases and pain decrease as well.”

People are living longer than projected in 1990 — on average, 10.7 more years for men, and 12.6 more years for women. But for many of them, the quality of life during those years is not good. On average, people are plagued by illness or pain during the last 14 years of life, according to the study.

Researchers credit advances in medical technology for longer lives.

“We’ve figured out how to keep the person who suffered a stroke alive, but then they’re living disabled for years afterward. That’s not the quality of life that person expected, ” Mokdad said.

In Western countries, deaths from heart disease are down 70%. However, the number of people diagnosed with heart disease is increasing at alarming rates.

Noncommunicable diseases are a global challenge of “epidemic proportions,” according to Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization.

In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly last year, she said NCDs are a “slow-motion disaster” that eventually could break the bank.

Dispelling Soy Myths

Two articles on soy appear in today’s Huffington Post. Neal Barnard, MD, sums up the evidence clearly and accurately, with aptly chosen scientific references to support his assertions, while Joseph Mercola, DO, takes a different approach.

From Dr. Barnard:

Soybeans are handy. Aside from the traditional foods they bring us — edamame, tofu, tempeh, and many others — they transform into tasty substitutes for milk, yogurt, ice cream, bacon, burgers, and sausage. With no animal fat, cholesterol, or sensitizing animal proteins, they side-step the problems that animal products can cause. Cow’s milk, for example, is linked to Type 1 diabetes and anemia in children and increases the risk of prostate cancer in men. Hamburgers are linked to heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer. Soy-based milks and burgers help you skip all this. But soy has other huge benefits you may not know about.

Among the other well-documented effects of soy products is that they boost survival in breast cancer patients (contrary to an oft-repeated set of false claims) and lower cholesterol levels.

Read Dr. Barnard’s entire article for a further debunking of soy mythology.

Milk, Particularly Skim Milk, Associated with Acne

In a finding that contradicts longstanding claims by the American Dairy Council, the Harvard Nurses health study has found an association between milk, particularly skim milk, and acne.  The most likely explanation is the hormone content in the milk, which is present in both organic and conventional milk.

From the accompanying editorial in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology:

“The papers…from the Harvard School of Public Health establish an association between milk consumption and acne. But how could milk cause acne? Because, drinking milk and consuming dairy products from pregnant cows exposes us to the hormones produced by the cows’ pregnancy, hormones that we were not designed to consume during our teenage and adult years. It is no secret that teenagers’ acne closely parallels hormonal activity…So what happens if exogenous hormones are added to the normal endogenous load? And what exactly is the source of these hormones? Consider that, in nature, milk is consumed from a mother, whether human or bovine, until weaning occurs. Normally, the mother then ceases lactation before the next pregnancy occurs—so that consuming milk from a mother pregnant with her next offspring is not a common occurrence. We’ve all seen nature films of animals chasing their offspring away to encourage weaning at the appropriate time. Further, in nature the offspring consumes only the milk of its own species—but both of these natural rules are broken by humans. Viewed objectively, human consumption of large volumes of another species’ milk, especially when that milk comes mainly from pregnant cows during the human’s normally post-weaned years, is essentially unnatural.”