Food & Nutrition

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t-shirt with writingI want to get some Juno-inspired T-shirts printed up for researchers that say “What other kind of shenanigans can I get into?” Seriously. I cannot believe the stuff that gets published in medical journals these days. I don’t know which is the scarier possibility: that the researchers are really so poorly trained that they consistently violate the most basic principles of medical research (that you probably learned in your 8th grade science class), or that they are so dishonest that they intentionally and blatantly lie about their results.

A prime example of this is an article that came across my newsfeed a couple of days ago. The headline read “High fat diet during pregnancy leads to severe liver disease“. I’m always very, very suspicious when I see articles like this because of my previous experience evaluating such studies. All too often researchers make basic (and frankly, inexcusable) mistakes like lumping all fat types together (i.e. combining saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat, although the two fatty acids have completely different effects on human physiology).

I didn’t have time to review the study and write about it, so I emailed Chris Masterjohn, a researcher pursuing a PhD in Nutritional Sciences with a concentration in Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition at the University of Connecticut. Chris has a blog called The Daily Lipid where he writes about the benefits of saturated fat and the dangers of polyunsaturated fat. Turns out Chris had seen the article on ScienceDaily too and was planning to write a critique. Here’s what he wrote. I encourage you to check out his blog, and also his website, both of which have some great information about the health benefits of cholesterol and saturated fat.

According to a recent article on ScienceDaily, scientists have discovered that mothers who eat too much saturated fat during pregnancy will give their future child severe fatty liver disease once he or she becomes an adult.

The use of words in this article like “mother,” “child,” and “adulthood” suggests that the researchers performed some type of scientific research in humans. In fact, ScienceDaily goes so far as to claim that the researchers were studying the consumption of high-fat diets during “a woman’s pregnancy.”

Nowhere in the article do the authors inform the reader that the research was performed in mice. This is the first time I have ever read of a mouse referred to as a “woman.”

The most egregious distortion of the study, however, comes from one of the researchers himself:

Professor Christopher Byrne, with colleagues Dr Felino Cagampang and Dr Kim Bruce, of the University’s School of Medicine and researchers at King’s College London, conducted the study, funded by the BBSRC. Prof Byrne explained: “This research shows that too much saturated fat in a mother’s diet can affect the developing liver of a fetus, making it more susceptible to developing fatty liver disease later in life. An unhealthy saturated fat-enriched diet in the child and young adult compounds the problem further causing a severe form of the fatty liver disease later in adult life.”
Really, “saturated fat” causes liver disease? This stands in surprising contrast to other rodent studies showing that saturated fat prevents liver disease:

  • A 1995 paper in the journal Gastroenterology lauded “dietary saturated fatty acids” as “a novel treatment for alcoholic liver disease” after showing that substitution of saturated palm oil for polyunsaturated fish oil reduced alcohol-induced liver damage.
  • A more recent paper published in the Journal of Nutrition 2004 showed that saturated fat from MCT oil (medium-chain fats similar to those in coconut oil) and beef tallow reduced alcohol-induced liver damage when substituted for polyunsaturated corn oil. In fact, they replaced 20 percent, 45 percent, or two-thirds of the corn oil with saturated fat and found that the more saturated fat they used, the greater the protective effect.
  • An even more recent paper published in the journal Hepatology in 2005 found that rats fed corn oil readily developed liver damage when fed over a quarter of their calories as alcohol, but rats fed saturated cocoa butter were virtually immune to liver damage when consuming the same amount of alcohol.
  • A 2007 study published in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism found that although corn oil-based high-fat diets can induce non-alocholic fatty liver disease in rodents, long-term feeding of high-fat diets based on coconut oil or butter cannot.

So how is it that “saturated fat” wound up causing liver disease in the offspring of these mice?

If we look at “supplementary table 1,” we find that the “saturated fat” used in this study was mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. In fact, 22 percent of the fat on the low-fat diet was saturated, while only 15 percent of the fat on the high-fat diet was saturated!

That means that less than seven percent of the calories from the “unhealthy saturated-fat-enriched diet” actually came from saturated fat.

The “unhealthy saturated fat-enriched diet” actually contained 44 percent of its fat as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and almost twenty percent of its total calories as PUFA. This is in great excess of the PUFA consumption seen even in the Standard American Diet (SAD), loaded in processed PUFA-rich vegetable oils.

Apparently “saturated fat” consumed during a “woman’s pregnancy” leads to liver disease once the “child” reaches “adulthood” only when the “saturated fat” is the highly polyunsaturated kind one would find in corn oil and the “woman” is a light, fluffy critter no one would ever mistake for a human.

What can we learn from this study? Perhaps that we can never trust the news account of a research study. Unfortunately we cannot even trust the quotes in those news account taken from the researchers themselves.

butterYes, yes, I’m supposed to be on sabbatical but sometimes I just can’t resist. A Swedish study recently published in the International Journal of
Environmental Research and Public Health
found that eating fruits and vegetables didn’t lower the risk of coronary heart disease… unless said fruits and vegetables were consumed with high-fat dairy products!

Why would this be? The answer is simple biochemistry. Many of the vitamins and micronutrients in food are fat-soluble, which means they cannot be absorbed without the presence of adequate fat. That means that if you eat fruits or vegetables without fat, you’ll absorb only a fraction of the nutrients you would absorb if you ate them with fat.

Tara Parker-Pope, the health columnist for the Wall Street Journal, wrote an article about this some time back. She actually gives the ratios of nutrient absorption with and without accompanying fat.

She reports on a study of the nutrient absorption from fat-free salsa with and without extra fat:

For the salsa study, 11 test subjects were first given a meal of fat-free salsa and some bread. Another day, the same meal was offered, but this time avocado was added to the salsa, boosting the fat content of the meal to about 37% of calories. In checking blood levels of the test subjects, researchers found that the men and women absorbed an average of 4.4 times as much lycopene and 2.6 times as much beta carotene when the avocado was added to the food.

And here’s a study with and without avocado:

The first salad included romaine lettuce, baby spinach, shredded carrots and a no-fat dressing, resulting in a fat content of about 2%. After avocado was added, the fat content jumped to 42%. When the salad was consumed with the avocado, the 11 test subjects absorbed seven times the lutein and nearly 18 times the beta carotene. Lutein is a carotenoid found in many green vegetables and is linked with improved eye and heart health.

Another study done a few years ago at Ohio State University showed that salad dressing with oil brings out the best in a salad when compared to no-fat, low-fat dressings.

When the seven test subjects consumed salads with no-fat dressing, the absorption of carotenoids was negligible. When a reduced-fat dressing was used, the added fat led to a higher absorption of alpha and beta carotene and lycopene. But there was substantially more absorption of the healthful compounds when full-fat dressing was used.

Consuming adequate amounts of fat with fruits and veggies is especially true in the case of children. Vitamins and micronutrients are crucial for proper physical and mental development. Without adequate fat in the diet, children are literally starved of these nutrients.

Parents will often be very worried if their toddler doesn’t like vegetables. But Dr. Tom Cowan, a practitioner of functional medicine in San Francisco, CA, counsels such parents not to be too concerned about vegetable intake in the first few years of a child’s life. It’s far more important to ensure that the child is getting adequate saturated fat. What’s more, most parents find that if they slather some butter on the veggies they’re serving, their kids actually like them!

So, next time you eat broccoli or feed it to your kids, remember to add a big pat of butter! And have some full-fat cream with those strawberries while you’re at it.

roast beefYou might have seen an article in your newspaper or online touting a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine that “strongly” linked red meat consumption with cancer and an increased risk of death. Heck, how could you miss it? Google shows 547 new articles about the study, and it was mentioned in just about every major newspaper in the U.S.

(That’s not an accident, by the way. It’s an intentional attack by the tyrannical meat-hating scientific majority, the same folks who brought us the “cholesterol causes heart disease” and “saturated fat is bad for you” myths.)

Trouble is – as is so often the case – the study is deeply flawed. In fact, anyone with training in research methodology might find themselves wondering “where’s the beef?” after they read it. In the end it’s just another piece of worthless propaganda parading as medical research. It tells us a lot more about the biases and motives of the researchers, and the incompetence of the media reporting on it, than it does about the effect of red meat consumption on human health.

Here are my “top 10″ reasons to ignore this study and continue to eat your grass-fed, organic red meat:

  1. It was an observational study. Observational studies can show an association between two variables (i.e red meat consumption and death), but they can never show causation (i.e. that eating red meat caused the deaths). A simple example of the difference between correlation and causation is that elevated white blood cell count is correlated with infections. But that doesn’t mean elevated white blood cell counts cause infections!
  2. The relative risk reduction (RRR) was slightly over 1.0. Most researchers don’t pay attention to an RRR under 2.0, due to the notorious difficulties involved with this type of research.
  3. Two articles were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition at around the same time that directly contradicted these results. The first study pooled data from 13 studies and found that risk of colorectal cancer was not associated with saturated fat or red meat intake. The second study found that there was no difference in mortality between vegetarians and meat eaters.
  4. The authors didn’t adequately control for other dietary factors known to increase morbidity and mortality. As another commentator pointed out in her analysis of this study, “Americans get their “cancer causing” red meat served to them on a great big white bun with a load of other carbohydrates (soda, chips, fries) and inflammation-causing n-6 vegetable oils (chips, fries, salad dressings) on the side.” It’s more likely (based on other studies, including the two mentioned above) that the increase in deaths was caused by the junk food surrounding the red meat and not by the meat itself.
  5. The basis of measurement is a “detailed questionnaire”. Questionnaires about one’s diet are always error prone as remarkably few people remember accurately what they eat on any given day, let alone over a period of years. Furthermore, most people lie about what they actually eat, especially now that proper diet has been given a quasi-religious significance and eating poorly is equated with being morally inferior.
  6. Check out this quote from the Archives of Internal Medicine study:

    “Red meat intake was calculated using the frequency of consumption and portion size information of all types of beef and pork and included bacon, beef, cold cuts, ham, hamburger, hotdogs, liver, pork, sausage, steak, and meats in foods such as pizza, chili, lasagna, and stew”.

    In other words, even those people who ate things like hot dogs and hamburgers (with buns made of refined white flour), and who ate pizza (on refined white flour crusts) were included in the ‘red meat’ group. Also, those who ate processed or cured meats, such as ham, bacon, sausage, hot dogs, or cold cuts (with possible nitrates) were included in the ‘red meat’ group. And those who ate prepared food (with unknown additives and preservatives) such as pizza, chili, lasagna, and stew were also included in the ‘red meat’ group. Therefore, this study does absolutely nothing to prove that red meat, and not these processed and highly refined foods, is the culprit.

  7. The quality of the meat consumed in the study was not taken into account. Highly processed and adulterated “factory-farmed” meats like salami and hot dogs are lumped together with grass-fed, organic meat as if they’re the same thing. It’s likely that very little of the meat people ate in the study was from pasture-fed animals. Factory fed animals are fed corn (high in polyunsaturated, omega-6 fat), antibiotics, and hormones, all of which negatively impact human health.
  8. We don’t know anything about the lifestyles of the different study groups. Were they under stress? Did they lose their jobs? Did they have other illnesses? Did they live in a toxic environment? All of these factors contribute significantly to disease and mortality.
  9. We don’t know if the people in the study ate more sugar, processed food, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, additives or fast food – all of which are known to cause health problems.
  10. We don’t know if the people who ate more red meat were better off financially than the people who ate less red meat, and thus had more exposure to the “medical industrial complex” – which, as you know from my previous article, kills more than 225,000 people per year and is the 3rd leading cause of death in this country.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

Me? I’m gonna go have a big, juicy, grass-fed steak.

Further recommended reading

  1. Meat and Mortality. A great critique of the study by Dr. Michael Eades, author of Protein Power.
  2. More on Meat & Sustainability. A Challenge to Environmentalists.
  3. The Red Scare. Another insightful analysis over at Mark’s Daily Apple.

devolutionResearch by an Iowa State University scientist due to be published this month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins) may lessen brain function.

The results of the study show that drugs that inhibit the liver from making cholesterol may also keep the brain from making cholesterol, which is vital to efficient brain function.

“If you deprive cholesterol from the brain, then you directly affect the machinery that triggers the release of neurotransmitters,”, said Yeon-Kyun Shin, the lead researcher. “Neurotransmitters affect the data-processing and memory functions. In other words – how smart you are and how well you remember things.”

Cholesterol is abundant in the tissue of the brain and nervous system. Myelin, which covers nerve axons to help conduct the electrical impulses that make movement, sensation, thinking, learning, and remembering possible, is over one fifth cholesterol by weight. Even though the brain only makes up 2% of the body’s weight, it contains 25% of its cholesterol.

We now know that the formation of synapses, or connections between neurons, is directly dependent on the availability of cholesterol.

The formation of these synapses are what give us the ability to remember and learn. The benefits of sleep for memory formation and learning are in part a result of increased cholesterol synthesis during sleep.

“If you try to lower the cholesterol by taking medicine that is attacking the machinery of cholesterol synthesis in the liver, that medicine goes to the brain too. And then it reduces the synthesis of cholesterol which is necessary in the brain,” said Shin.

This study is yet another strike against statin drugs, which have numerous side effects and are not effective in reducing mortality for the vast majority of the population. Please see my recent article, The Truth About Statin Drugs, for more on why statins are probably not a good idea for you and your loved ones.

codI’ve received several questions about the safety of cod liver oil (CLO) since the Vitamin D Council warned consumers about the ingestion of CLO due to concerns about potential vitamin A toxicity in their November bulletin.

Sally Fallon, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, recently wrote a letter to members clarifying the issues raised by the Vitamin D council and exonerating cod liver oil.

If you’re having second thoughts about the health benefits of CLO, please read this and pass it on to anyone you know who currently takes or is considering taking cod liver oil.

————————–

Dear Members,

We are obliged to issue another official statement on cod liver oil after the November bulletin of the Vitamin D Council, which contains “an unprecedented warning about the ingestion of cod liver oil and resultant vitamin A toxicity.”

The warning accompanies a report on a review article co-authored by Dr. John Cannell, head of the Vitamin D Council, and fifteen other researchers, entitled “Cod Liver Oil, Vitamin A Toxicity, Frequent Respiratory Infections, and the Vitamin D Deficiency Epidemic” in the November issue of Annals of Otology, Rhinology and Laryngology.

NO PROOF THAT VITAMIN A IS TOXIC
Most of this paper is a review of studies showing the benefits of vitamin D in protecting against various illnesses, including respiratory infection. THIS PAPER DOES NOT PRESENT ANY INFORMATION WHATSOEVER INDICATING THAT COD LIVER OIL IS TOXIC, and, in fact, admits that vitamin A can significantly reduce the incidence of acute lower respiratory tract infections in Third World children.

A portion of the review article is an attempt to explain why a 2004 study providing 600 to 700 IU of vitamin D and 3,500 IU of vitamin A in the form of cod liver oil and a multivitamin failed to meaningfully reduce upper respiratory tract infections when studies from the 1930s found that cod liver oil could reduce the incidence of these infections by 30 to 50 percent. The authors of the recent commentary suggested that the older studies were more effective because cod liver oil in the 1930s contained much more vitamin D. They suggested that modern cod liver oil is low in vitamin D because the deodorization process removes the vitamin while manufacturers fortify the oil with only a fraction of the original amount. As an example, they cited cod liver oil made by Nordic Naturals, advertised as containing only “naturally occurring vitamins A and D,” which has only 3 to 60 IU of vitamin D per tablespoon but between 150 and 12,000 times as much vitamin A.

This conclusion is essentially the same as the conclusion reached by the Weston A. Price Foundation and the research of Chris Masterjohn; we have continually pointed out that vitamins A and D work together and that without vitamin D, vitamin A can be ineffective or even toxic. We do not recommend Nordic Naturals regular cod liver oil or any brand of cod liver oil that is low in vitamin D. But it is completely inappropriate to conclude from this 2004 study that cod liver oil is toxic because of its vitamin A content. Similar reviews could be put together showing the benefits of vitamin A and cod liver oil in numerous studies, including the studies from the 1930s. Obviously the solution is to use the type of cod liver oil that people took in the 1930s, which did not have most of the vitamin D removed by modern processing techniques.

Our recommendations for cod liver oil brands can be found here.

Healthy Skeptic note: I recommend either high-vitamin cod liver oil or fermented cod liver oil from Green Pasture and Wolf River Naturals.

VITAMIN A DOES NOT ANTAGONIZE VITAMIN D
The Vitamin D Council report claims that the vitamin A in cod liver oil is excessive and antagonizes vitamin D by inhibiting the binding of its active form to DNA and thus preventing its ability to regulate the expression of vitamin D-responsive genes.

Vitamins A and D are both precursors to active hormones that regulate the expression of genes. The body possesses certain enzymes that convert each of these in a two-step process to their active forms: vitamin A is converted to retinal and then to active retinoic acid while vitamin D is converted to calcidiol and then to active calcitriol. While directly consuming either retinoic acid or calcitriol would be unnatural, consuming vitamins A and D, together, as in cod liver oil, is perfectly natural. The enzymes involved in these conversions are responsible for producing incredibly powerful hormones and are therefore highly regulated.

In order for vitamin D to activate the expression of its target genes, it must bind to the vitamin D receptor (VDR) and then combine with the retinoid X receptor (RXR), which is activated by a particular form of vitamin A called 9-cis retinoic acid. RESEARCHERS FROM SPAIN RECENTLY SHOWED THAT VITAMIN D CAN ONLY EFFECTIVELY ACTIVATE TARGET GENES WHEN ITS PARTNER RECEPTOR IS ACTIVATED BY VITAMIN A.

In the ABSENCE OF VITAMIN A, molecules called “corepressors” bind to the VDR/RXR complex and PREVENT vitamin D from functioning.

The molecular biology of 9-cis¬ retinoic acid, however, is extremely complex, and this has led to some confusion. The RXR and its activator 9-cis retinoic acid partner up not only with the vitamin D receptor, but also with the receptors for steroid hormones, thyroid hormone, and most other nuclear receptors. In fact, if enough 9-cis retinoic acid is present, RXRs will even partner up with themselves. Ordinarily, this versatile form of vitamin A is gradually derived in small amounts from the larger pool of all-trans retinoic acid as needed. When scientists add large amounts of 9-cis retinoic acid to isolated cells, then, it may cause effects that smaller amounts naturally produced in the cell would not cause.

Researchers have shown, for example, that 9-cis retinoic acid interferes with the ability of vitamin D to stimulate the production of osteocalcin, a vitamin K-dependent protein involved in organizing the mineralized matrix of bone. This may have been because the excessive amount of 9-cis retinoic acid caused RXRs to pair up with themselves and thereby made these receptors unavailable to vitamin D. When scientists incubate cells with activated vitamin D and all-trans retinoic acid, ordinarily the source of 9¬-cis retinoic acid in the cell, the two hormones stimulate the production of osteocalcin with remarkable synergy.

More information on the interactions between vitamins A and D can be found in these articles:

Vitamin K2

Does Vitamin A Cause Osteoporosis?

Vitamin D Safety

The Spanish research demonstrating the necessity of 9-cis¬ retinoic acid for the functioning of the vitamin D receptor can be found here, and here:

PLANT FOODS ARE NOT A GOOD SOURCE OF VITAMIN A
In the December Vitamin D Council newsletter, Dr. Cannell further claims that consuming preformed vitamin A is “unnatural” and that the body highly regulates the conversion of carotenoids found in vegetables to vitamin A as needed. However, the enzymes that convert carotenoids to vitamin A are less critically maintained because they are unneeded when preformed vitamin A is provided in the diet-as it usually is. They are therefore, like the enzymes that convert essential fatty acids in plant oils to their elongated and desaturated forms, subject to variations in genetics, circumstantial health, and dietary and environmental influences.

Many factors can interfere with the conversion of carotenoids into vitamin A including thyroid problems, liver problems, diabetes and genetics. Babies and children convert carotenes very poorly if at all.

The statement that preformed vitamin A is unnatural is ludicrous in the light of what we know about traditional diets. The chief source of calories in the traditional Inuit diet, for example, is seal oil, which Weston Price found to be higher in vitamin A than cod liver oil. Fish heads, extremely rich in vitamin A, are a staple in the Japanese diet. Many cultures consume liver, often in high amounts-yet the authors of the review paper imply that liver is toxic. Tell that to the Frenchman enjoying his foie gras, the Englishman consuming liver and onions, or the South Sea Islander who submits to great danger to obtain shark liver for men and women, in order to ensure healthy children. The truth is that pre-formed vitamin A is more plentiful in traditional foods than vitamin D, yet politically correct nutrition insists that we must obtain vitamin A through the laborious process of converting carotenes.

More information on the conversion of carotenoids to vitamin A can be found in this article and this one: (see the section “Vitamin A Vagary”).

COD LIVER OIL IN PREGNANCY
The Annals paper does not cite any studies showing toxic effects from cod liver oil, but Dr. Cannell cites one study in his December newsletter associating intake of cod liver oil with hypertensive disorders during pregnancy. Users of cod liver oil in this study had about twice the intake of vitamins A and D as non-users and eight times the intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. The study found the most robust association with long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which were associated with lower risk between 0.1 and 0.9 grams per day and higher risk above 0.9 grams per day. The authors suggested that the association with high blood pressure might be related to oxidative stress caused by a high intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids.

The abstract of the study can be found here:

The new Annals article offers nothing new to incriminate cod liver oil. It provides a well-written argument that vitamin D intakes need to be higher and incriminates only highly processed modern cod liver oils that have inadequate amounts of this critical nutrient. We recommend only high-vitamin cod liver oils that provide abundant vitamins A and D without an excess of polyunsaturated fatty acids.

THE COD LIVER OIL PUBLIC HEALTH INITIATIVE
As we pointed out in our last update on cod liver oil, during the first half of the century, cod liver oil was the focus of a worldwide health initiative. Parents were urged to give cod liver oil to their children by doctors, by government officials, by teachers and principals in schools, and even by their ministers in churches. A large portion of adults in America born before the Second World War received cod liver oil as children and this practice contributed to a high level of health, intelligence and physical development in those lucky enough to receive it. In many European countries, children received a daily ration of cod liver oil, especially during the war years. In the UK, for example, the government issued cod liver oil to all growing children until the early 1950s.

What has led to the demise of this obviously beneficial practice? Cod liver oil is a food; it can’t be patented, it can’t be created in a laboratory; it can’t create millions for the drug companies. So interest in this wonderful superfood has naturally waned. But if you are basing your dietary habits on the principles of healthy nutritional diets, don’t hesitate to include cod liver oil-our recommended brands of cod liver oil–as a healthy and natural food source of critical vitamins so lacking in modern diets.

Sally Fallon, President
The Weston A. Price Foundation

recommended links

  • Wolf River Naturals: a great place to purchase Blue Ice High Vitamin and Fermented Cod Liver oil.  Wolf River Naturals also sells Dr. Ron’s line of additive-free supplements, which is my favorite line and one of the few supplement companies I trust.

brainFrom a brief article at Barry Groves’ Trick and Treat blog:

Scientists at the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford, have discovered that going veggie could be bad for your brain – with those on a meat-free diet six times more likely to suffer brain shrinkage.

The study involved tests and brain scans on community-dwelling volunteers aged 61 to 87 years without cognitive impairment at enrolment, over a period of five years. When the volunteers were retested five years later the medics found those with the lowest levels of vitamin B12 were also the most likely to have brain shrinkage. It confirms earlier research showing a link between brain atrophy and low levels of B12.

Vegans are the most likely to be deficient because the best sources of the vitamin are meat, particularly liver, milk and fish.

This study confirms other findings, covered in Trick and Treat, which shows that overall human brain sizes have reduced by an average 11% since we adopted an agricultural diet based on cereal grains rather than the meat-based diet of our Palaeolithic ancestors.

Vogiatzoglou A, et al. Vitamin B12 status and rate of brain volume loss in community-dwelling elderly. Neurology 2008; 71(11): 826-32.

vegetable oilEasy! Just follow Dr. Steinberg’s recent recommendations.

Dr. Daniel Steinberg, author of “The Cholesterol Wars”, has just issued new recommendations proposing that “proposing that aggressive intervention to lower cholesterol levels as early as childhood is the best approach available today to reducing the incidence of coronary heart disease.”

In a review article published in the August 5, 2008 issue of the American Heart Association journal Circulation, Steinberg and his colleagues stat that “with a large body of evidence proving that low cholesterol levels equate with low rates of heart disease, “…our long-term goal should be to alter our lifestyle accordingly, beginning in infancy or early childhood” and that “…instituting a low-saturated fat, low-cholesterol diet in infancy (7 months) is perfectly safe, without adverse effects…”

I don’t know whether to scream or cry when I read this stuff. Or both. Why? Because Dr. Steinberg’s dietary recommendations – if embraced by parents – are sure to increase the risk of heart disease and cause developmental problems in the children unfortunate enough to adopt them.

Let’s take a closer look at each part of the article on ScienceDaily.com describing the new recommendations and see if Steinberg’s claims make any sense.

According to Steinberg, progress has been made in the treatment of coronary heart disease in adults with cholesterol lowering drugs like statins. However, while studies show a 30% decrease in death and disability from heart disease in patients treated with statins, 70% of patients have cardiac events while on statin therapy.

Progress in treating heart disease? What progress? Heart disease is the #1 cause of death in the U.S. today. In the early part of the 20th Century, heart disease was relatively unknown. I would hardly call that progress.

As for statins, please refer to my previous article “The Truth About Statin Drugs” for a more accurate appraisal of the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of statins. In short, statins don’t reduce the risk of death in 95% of the population, including healthy men with no pre-existing heart disease, women of any age and the elderly. While statin drugs do reduce mortality for young and middle-aged males with pre-existing heart disease, the benefit is small and not without significant adverse effects, risks and costs.

For example, in the six largest studies done on statins and mortality to date, the absolute risk reduction ranged from -0.3% to 3.3%. In two of those studies, statins actually increased the risk of death. In an analysis of this data, the UK Medical Research Council determined that even if you were in the 5% of the population that statins benefit, you’d have to take a statin for 30 years at a cost of $42,000 just to add nine months (best case) to your life.

Even that scenario is entirely hypothetical, because statins cause cancer in lab animals. Although this hasn’t been shown in humans to date, the window between exposure to a carcinogen and development of cancer can be as long as 25 years for humans. Since no one has been on statins for that long, there is still reason to believe that they might have the same effect in humans that they do on animals.

Progress? I don’t think so.

In fact, they propose that lowering low-density lipoproteins (the so-called “bad cholesterol”) to less than 50 mg./dl. even in children and young adults is a safe and potentially life-saving standard, through lifestyle (diet and exercise) changes if possible. Drug treatment may also be necessary in those at very high risk.

“Bad cholesterol”? That’s so 1975. It is well accepted even within the mainstream scientific community today that normal LDL cholesterol (so-called “bad cholesterol”) is not a risk factor for heart disease. Instead, it is the oxidation of the polyunsaturated fatty acid in the membrane of the LDL particle (when the level of antioxidants in the diet is insufficient to protect them) that contributes to heart disease.

Therefore, the only LDL cholesterol that could be called “bad” is oxidized LDL.
And what promotes oxidation of the LDL particle? Eating polyunsaturated fat (found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds and in almost all processed food). Of course, these are exactly the fats the American Heart Association has promoted as “heart-healthy” for decades.

In addition to promoting oxidation of LDL particles, polyunsaturated fats contribute directly to atherosclerosis and heart attacks. 75% of arterial plaque is made up of unsaturated fat, of which 50% is polyunsaturated (only 25% is saturated). The greater the concentration of polyunsaturated fat in the plaque, the more likely it is to rupture. Such ruptures, and the ensuing blood clots that form, are a primary cause of heart attacks.

Another well-established cause of heart disease is inflammation. Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, which constitute a large percentage of caloric intake for most Americans, are known to promote inflammation. Indeed, excess linoleic acid (LA) in the diet from vegetable oil has been shown to contribute directly to heart disease.

So, the notion that saturated fat “clogs arteries” and causes heart attacks is totally false. It is actually polyunsaturated fat – the so-called “heart-healthy fat – which has those effects.

If people’s lives weren’t at stake the irony of such a situation might be almost funny. As it stands it’s one of the great public health tragedies of modern times.

And what about the notion that eating cholesterol raises cholesterol levels in the blood? It turns out to be false – and Steinberg even admits as much in his own book. There are two parts of the hypothesis that cholesterol causes heart disease. The first part, called the “diet-heart hypothesis”, is that eating cholesterol in the diet raises cholesterol levels in the blood. The second part, called the “lipid hypothesis”, holds that high cholesterol levels in the blood cause heart disease.

We’ve already addressed the “lipid hypothesis” above. As for the “diet-heart hypothesis”, Steinberg clearly states in his book that there is little evidence to support it. Tightly controlled egg-feeding studies have shown that eating cholesterol only raises cholesterol levels in about 30% of the population (”hyper-responders”).

However, these same studies showed that egg consumption led to an increase in “light, fluffy LDL” that was actually protective against heart disease. Why? Because these large, buoyant LDL particles are protected against oxidation.

Finally, what about saturated fat? Does it cause heart disease as Steinberg suggests? Once again, the evidence squarely contradicts Dr. Steinberg’s claim. In 22 of 26 published studies there was no significant relationship between saturated fat intake and either coronary or all-cause mortality. Among the studies that Dr. Steinberg failed to mention in his book or in his recent recommendation:

  • Rose, et al. (1965): Replacing animal fat with corn oil for two years lowered serum cholesterol by 23 mg/dL but quadrupled cardiac and total mortality.
  • Sydney Diet-Heart Study (1978): Replacing animal fat with vegetable fat for five years lowered cholesterol by five percent but increased total mortality by 50 percent.

What’s more, in the few studies where saturated fat restriction did reduce deaths from heart disease, deaths from cancer, brain hemorrhage, suicide & violent death went up! In his book The Great Cholesterol Con, Anthony Colpo concludes:

“If saturated fats caused even a portion of the damage for which they are frequently blamed, their negative effects should be readily and repeatedly demonstrable in controlled clinical trials. However, after excluding the results of the poorly designed and sloppily conducted northern European studies, it quickly becomes apparent that there does not exist a single tightly controlled trial which shows that saturated fat restriction can save even a single life.”

There are two more claims made by Dr. Steinberg that I need to address.

“lowering low-density lipoproteins to less than 50mg/dL even in children and young adults is a safe and potentially life-saving standard.”

As stated above, there is absolutely no evidence that lowering LDL protects against heart disease. More than 40 trials have been performed to see if cholesterol lowering can prevent heat attacks. When all the results were pooled together, just as many died in the treatment groups as the control groups.

But what is most disturbing to me about Steinberg’s statement is the idea that lowering LDL to such unnatural levels is a “safe and potentially life-saving standard”. Cholesterol is a vital substance in our bodies. 50% of all cell membranes are made up of cholesterol; it is a precursor to sex hormones which govern fertility, reproduction and sexual development; it is an antioxidant that helps prevent free radical damage; and it is needed particularly by infants and children to ensure proper development of the brain and nervous system.

In fact, evidence in adults shows that low cholesterol levels can be dangerous and even life-threatening:

  • Low cholesterol is associated with increased total mortality in elderly people.
  • Framingham (1987): “There is a direct association between falling cholesterol levels over the first 14 years and mortality over the following 18 years.” In other words, as cholesterol fell death rates went up.
  • Honolulu Heart Program (2001): “long-term persistence of low cholesterol concentration actually increases the risk of death. Thus, the earlier the patients start to have lower cholesterol concentrations, the greater the risk of death.”
  • J-LIT (2002): The highest death rate was observed among those with lowest cholesterol (under 160mg/dl); the lowest death rate was observed with those whose cholesterol was between 200-259mg/dl.

Low cholesterol has also been associated with increased rates of cancer, depression, violent and aggressive behavior, and suicide.

With that in mind, how could anyone possibly claim that reducing cholesterol to extremely low levels in children is “safe”?

“Drug treatment may also be necessary in those [children] at very high risk.

I’m not even sure where to start with this one, except to recommend that people like Dr. Steinberg be prosecuted for making such unfounded, irresponsible and dangerous recommendations.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:

“Also, data supporting a particular level of childhood cholesterol that predicts risk of adult CVD do not exist, which makes the prospect of a firm evidence-based recommendation for cholesterol screening for children elusive.

It is difficult to develop an evidence-based approach for the specific age at which pharmacologic treatment should be implemented. . . . It is not known whether there is an age at which development of the atherosclerotic process is accelerated.”

Which is to say there is no evidence suggesting that cholesterol levels in kids are a risk factor for adult heart disease.

Furthermore, as we have already discussed, cholesterol is absolutely essential for brain development. Lowering brain levels of cholesterol in children, whose brains are still developing at a rapid rate, could have dire consequences.

Surely Dr. Steinberg must be aware of this? There is nothing controversial about the role of cholesterol in brain development. You can find this information in any physiology or biochemistry textbook. So why – especially in light of the lack of evidence linking cholesterol to heart disease in kids – is he suggesting that we give statins to children?

I really have no idea. In all likelihood Dr. Steinberg means well and believes he’s acting in the interest of our children. But I cannot understand how a respected medical doctor and researcher could overlook such an elementary and important fact and ignore the weight of scientific evidence.

We’ve all heard the saying “when all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” When someone like Dr. Steinberg has invested so much of their life and energy into the theory that cholesterol causes heart disease, I guess it’s hard to let it go.

tofu mealA study recently published in Human Reproduction demonstrated that intake of soy foods significantly reduces sperm counts in men.

The study is especially significant because it is the largest study in humans to examine the relationship between semen quality and phytoestrogens (plant compounds that can mimic the physiological effects of the endogenous hormone, estrogen).

Dr. Jorge Chavarro of the Harvard School of Public Health and his colleagues found that men who ate the most soy food had 41 million sperm per milliliter less than men who did not consume soy products. The normal sperm concentrations for men ranges between 80 and 120 million/ml.

The association between soy food intake and sperm concentrations was even stronger in men who were overweight or obese, and 72% of study participants were. They also found the relationship between soy foods and sperm concentration was strongest in men with “normal or high” sperm counts.

Animal studies have linked the high consumption of isoflavones with infertility, but until now there has been little evidence of this effect in humans. Isoflavones are plant compounds with estrogen like effects and are found mainly in soybeans and soy-derived products.

What is particularly revealing is that the men in the highest intake group (who had the largest sperm count reduction) had a mean soy food intake of only half a serving per day. This is equivalent to having one cup of soy milk or one serving of tofu, tempeh or soy burgers every other day!

I don’t know about you, but I happen to know quite a few people who consume a lot more soy than than that on a regular basis. Sadly, many of them are children whose parents innocently believe that soy products are “healthy”. This is not their fault, of course; this erroneous and dangerous message has been aggressively promoted in the mainstream media for decades.

If the effect of such moderate servings of soy on adult males is so significant, what effect might soy foods have on developing boys who have not yet reached sexual maturity?

“Early puberty (caused by consuming soy products) may increase a boy’s chances of developing testicular cancer later in life, because it means longer exposure to sex hormones,” said University of North Carolina researcher Marcia Herman-Giddens. Congenital abnormalities of male genital tracts are also increasing. Recent studies found a higher incidence of birth defects in male offspring of vegetarian, soy-consuming mothers.

What about babies? Preliminary studies indicate that children given soy formula go through puberty much earlier than children who were not fed soy products. A 1994 study done in New Zealand revealed that, depending on age, potency of the product, and feeding methods, infants on soy formula might be consuming the equivalent of up to 10 contraceptive pills a day. By exposing your baby to such large amounts of hormonal-like substance, you are risking permanent endocrine system damage (pituitary gland, pineal gland, hypothalamus, thyroid, thymus gland, pancreas, ovary, testis, adrenal glands).

Dr Chavarro speculates that the increased estrogenic activity caused by consumption of soy foods may have an adverse effect on the production of sperm by interfering with other hormonal signals. This effect could be strengthened further in overweight and obese men because men with high levels of body fat produce more oestrogen than slimmer men, leading to high overall levels of oestrogen in the body and reproductive organs.

If you’re wondering how soy continues to be so widely accepted and aggressively promoted as a “health food” in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I recommend reading The Whole Soy Story by Kaayla Daniel, PhD, CCN. You can read introduction to this eye-opening book here.

The history of soy products and their designation as a “health food” is particularly revealing, as Daniel points out:

Early soy food promotion in America aimed at two specific markets—vegetarians and the poor—soy milk and soy cereals for Seventh Day Adventists, Bac-O-Bits and meat extenders for the budget conscious. But there was a lot of soy to sell and these markets were limited. There was so much to sell because the market for processed foods had experienced explosive growth since the 1950s—and most processed foods contain soy oil. The industry found itself saddled with a waste problem, the leftover sludge from soy-oil manufacture which it could either dump or promote. The exigencies of corporate life naturally chose profit-seeking over disposal and that meant expanding the market, finding more ways to use soy ingredients in processing and convincing more people to pay money for soy-based imitation foods.

“The quickest way to gain product acceptability in the less affluent society,” said a soy-industry spokesperson back in 1975, “. . . is to have the product consumed on its own merit in a more affluent society.” Thus began the campaign to sell soy products to the upscale consumer, not as a cheap poverty food, but as a miracle substance that would prevent heart disease and cancer, whisk away hot flashes, build strong bones and keep us forever young. Soy funds for research enlisted the voices of university professors who haplessly demonized the competition—meat, milk, cheese, butter and eggs.

Soy is one of the “Big Four” cash crops in the U.S. and the funds for its marketing are enormous:

“Farmers pay a fee for every bushel of soybeans they sell and a portion of every dollar spent on Twinkies, TV dinners and the thousands of other processed foods that contain soy in one form or another, ultimately go towards the promotion of the most highly processed foods of all—imitation meat, milk, cream, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, candy bars and smoothies made from soy.

All soybean producers pay a mandatory assessment of one-half to one percent of the net market price of soybeans. The total—something like eighty million dollars annually—supports United Soybean’s program to “strengthen the position of soybeans in the market place and maintain and expand domestic and foreign markets for uses for soybeans and soybean products.”

And of course, these advertising dollars are largely responsible for creating the erroneous notion that highly processed soy foods are “healthy”:

“A survey of March 2004 health magazines reveals five-and-one-half pages of ads for products containing soy in Alternative Medicine (two of which promote soy as a solution to the problems of menopause); five-and-one-half pages in Vegetarian Times; and five pages in Yoga Journal. The ads that keep today’s health-oriented publications afloat aim at mainstream, not alternative, culture: soy milk ads feature faces of smiling children; high-protein bars create expressions of ecstacy on upside-down models; and a hostess who serves chocolate-covered soy nuts is the toast of her party.”

However, in spite of advertising and popular belief, processed soy products are not health foods. Because of their estrogenic effects, they act more like drugs in the body than foods. And as we all know, drugs can be extremely dangerous when taken irresponsibly and without indication. Millions of men, women and children around the world are “drugging” themselves daily with soy products, and the tragic irony is that this is done in the name of “health”.

Keep in mind that tofu, tempeh and soy milk are not the only sources of soy. In fact, almost all processed food has soy in it, in the form of soy oil, soy lecithin, soy flour or soy protein. Everything from your favorite corn chips to hamburger buns to mayonnaise is likely to contain a substantial amount of soy.

The most sensible approach, then, is to eliminate processed soy products from your diet and dramatically reduce or eliminate your consumption of processed food (of course there are many other reasons to do this – soy is just one).

A small amount of miso or natto or other fermented soy product as a condiment every now and then is probably not harmful. But those are not the soy products Americans tend to eat.

For more information about the dangers of soy products, please see my recent article called The Soy Ploy.

steak and veggiesA study was just published in the New England Journal of Medicine on July 17th comparing the effectiveness and safety of three different weight loss diets. 322 moderately obese subjects were assigned to one of three diets: low-fat, restricted-calorie; Mediterranean, restricted-calorie; or low-carbohydrate, non-restricted calorie.

The rate of adherence to the study diet was 95% at year one and 85% at year two. Among the 272 participants who completed the intervention, the mean weight losses were 3.3 kg for the low-fat group, 4.6 kg for the Mediterranean-diet group, and 5.5 kg for the low-carbohydrate group.

Perhaps more significantly, the relative reduction in the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL was 20% in the low carbohydrate group while only 12% in the low-fat group. Among the 35 subjects with diabetes, changes in fasting plasma glucose and insulin levels were more favorable among those assigned to the Mediterranean diet than among those assigned to the low-fat diet.

Unfortunately, the bias against saturated fat and animal products that is still so prevalent in the mainstream (in spite of the lack of evidence to support it) prevailed in this study. The research team advised those following the low-carb diet to “choose vegetarian sources of fat and protein” and moderate their consumption of saturated fats and meat.

This suggests that the low-fat dieters may have consumed a substantial portion of their calories as fat in the form of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Excess intake of omega-6 fatty acids contributes to a host of problems including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer; but even more relevant to this study and its results is the fact that omega-6 fatty acids can cause increased water retention. And as everyone knows, increased water retention equals increased weight.

This certainly causes me to wonder how much more dramatic the results of this study might have been if the low-carb subjects were encouraged to significantly restrict their consumption of omega-6 fats (which cause water retention, and thus weight gain) and replace them with saturated fats (which do not cause water retention). What is remarkable is that in spite of the consumption of omega-6 fats, the low-carb group still lost more weight than both the low-fat and Mediterranean groups. That’s a strong endorsement for the benefits of a low-carb diet for weight loss.

The low-carb and Mediterranean (to a lesser degree) diet also had other benefits beyond promoting weight loss and improving cholesterol measures. The level of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein decreased significantly only in the Mediterranean and ow-carb group, with the low-carb group again showing the greatest decrease (29% vs. 21%). C-reactive protein is a measure of inflammation that has been positively correlated with heart disease in recent studies. Once again, one must wonder if the reduction would have been even greater in the low-carb group had the subjects been told to restrict their intake of omega-6 fats, which are known to promote inflammation.

Another interesting finding is that although caloric intake was only restricted in the low-fat and Mediterranean diet groups, the low-carb group also ended up eating fewer calories during the diet. Many people who follow a low-carb, high protein/high fat diet find that they spontaneously eat less because additional protein, and in particular fat, leads to greater levels of satiety (satisfaction).

One limitation of the study is that it relied on self-reported dietary intake (this is true of almost every dietary study except those performed in tightly controlled conditions, such as an inpatient facility). However, the study was somewhat unique in that it was conducted in a workplace at a research center with an on-site medical clinic. It also had several other strengths. The drop-out rate was exceptionally low for a study of this kind; all participants started simultaneously; the duration was relatively long (2 years); the study group was relatively large; and the monthly measurements of weight remitted a better understanding of the weight-loss trajectory than other studies.

corn kernelsThis week I’d like to bring your attention to three articles I came across on the web which illustrate the utter madness of mainstream medicine and nutrition.

The first article, “Beware of New Media Brainwashing About High Fructose Corn Syrup“, appeared on Mercola.com, a health advocacy site run by Dr. Joseph Mercola which I recommend. I agree with Dr. Mercola on most things, and even when we don’t agree the differences are relatively minor.

In his article Mercola warns consumers that The Corn Refiners Association is spending $20 to $30 million dollars on an advertising campaign to “rehabilitate” the reputation of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), claiming that the product is “no worse for you than sugar.”

HFCS is now the #1 source of calories for children in the U.S., a staggering fact when research has clearly linked HFCS to obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, high triglycerides, liver disease and more. On top of that, HFCS is almost always made with genetically modified corn.

Head on over to Mercola.com to read the rest of the article and learn why you and your children should be avoiding HFCS as much as possible. HFCS is found primarily in processed foods (in everything from hamburger buns to soda), so if you follow my general recommendation of eating a whole-foods diet you should have no trouble avoiding it.

The second article, “8-Year-Olds on Statins? A New Plan Quickly Bites Back“, was published in the New York Times on July 8. It describes new guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending that statin drugs be prescribed to kids as young as 8 years old!

While some doctors applauded the idea (which is incomprehensible to me), others were “incredulous”. Why are they incredulous? Because there is absolutely no evidence suggesting that treating children with statins will prevent heart attacks or reduce mortality from heart disease. Furthermore, there are no data on the possible side effects from taking statins for 40 or 50 years. Since statins have caused cancer in several animal studies, there is no reason to assume that this is not a risk in humans – especially with such long-term use of the drugs.

If you’re not familiar with the dangers of statin drugs, I suggest you read my recent article “The Truth About Statin Drugs“. Not only are statins nowhere near as effective as claimed, they have serious adverse effects and risks – including death.

What’s more, statins have been neither studied nor approved for use with children. In other words, the American Pediatric Association wants to perform an uncontrolled experiment with statin drugs and our children. This is completely unacceptable in light of what we already know about these drugs.

This is yet another obvious example of how the massive conflicts of interest in the medical field, which I described in a previous article, cloud the judgment of otherwise well-meaning physicians and health organizations.

Head over to the New York Times to read the rest of the article.

The third article, “Popular Fish, Tilapia, Contains Potentially Dangerous Fatty Acid Combination” which appeared on ScienceDaily.com, revealed that farm-raised tilapia has very low levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and, even worse, very high levels of omega-6 fatty acids.

This is particularly troublesome because tilapia has become one of the most highly consumed fish in the U.S. (mostly due to its low price), and that trend is expected to continue through 2010.

Researchers have found that tilapia has higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids than doughnuts. That’s scary.

The health risks of excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids in the diet are well established. In short, they are significant contributors to both inflammation and oxidative damage in the body. Inflammation and oxidative damage are major risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and many other diseases.

Wild-caught oily fish, on the other hand, contain a favorable ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids and may actually protect against inflammation and oxidative damage?

So what’s the problem with tilapia, you ask? The problem is that they are raised on a “fish farm” where they are fed inexpensive corn-based feeds which contain short chain omega-6 fatty acids that the fish convert and store in their tissues. While this practice has kept the price of tilapia low, it has also transformed it into a toxic food.

Repeat after me: fish don’t eat corn. Fish don’t eat corn. Fish don’t eat corn.

(Cows don’t normally eat chicken parts, gummi bears and garbage, either; but they do in commercial feedlots where most of the meat in the U.S. is produced. I’ll save that for another day, though.)

What all of these articles share in common is 1) further evidence of the rampant conflicts of interest in our medical care system, 2) the complete lack of an objective, independent regulatory body that can protect consumers from the malfeasance of Big Pharma and Big Agrobusiness, 3) the general departure from common sense and traditional wisdom when it comes to health care and nutrition.

It’s absolute madness.

tropical paradiseIn the last two weeks alone three articles have appeared in the scientific press about new studies reporting on vitamin D’s many crucial roles in the body. Along with promoting strong bones, a healthy immune system and protection against some types of cancer, recent studies suggest vitamin D can treat heart failure, protect against heart attacks and reduce the risk of death from both cardiovascular and overall causes.

Back in April I wrote an article called “Throw Away Your Sunscreen” about the protective effects of exposure to sunlight against melanoma. Despite conventional wisdom that tells us to avoid sun exposure at all costs, it turns out that the vitamin D our bodies synthesize when exposed to UV light is a first line of defense against developing melanoma.

In an article published on June 9 in Archives of Internal Medicine, scientists reported that low levels of vitamin D are associated with a higher risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack) in men. The study showed that rates of cardiovascular disease-related deaths are increased at higher latitudes and during the winter months, and are lower at lower altitudes.

In an article published in the July issue of the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology, on June 12, researchers found that vitamin D directly contributes to cardiovascular fitness. In fact, University of Michigan pharmacologist Robert U. Simpson, Ph.D. thinks it’s apt to call vitamin D “the heart tranquilizer”. Simpson and his team discovered that treatments with activated vitamin D prevented heart muscle cells from hypertrophy, a condition in which the heart becomes enlarged and overworked in people with heart failure.

Finally, in a study published on June 23 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, a team of Austrian scientists revealed that low blood levels of vitamin D appear to have an increased risk of death overall and from cardiovascular causes. Harald Donbig, M.D. and his colleagues studied 25-hydroxyvitamin D and 1,25 dihydroxyvitamin D levels in 3,258 consecutive patients (average age 62 years) who were scheduled for coronary angiography testing at a single medical center between 1997 and 2000.

During 7.7 years of follow-up, death rates from any cause and from cardiovascular causes were higher among individuals in the lower one-half of 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and the lowest one-fourth of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D levels. These associations remained when researchers controlled for other factors such as coronary artery disease, physical activity and co-occurring diseases.

So what does all this mean to you? A recent consensus panel estimated that about 50 – 60 percent of older individuals in North America and the rest of the world do not have satisfactory vitamin D status, and the situation is similar for younger individuals. Blood levels of vitamin D lower than 20 to 30 nanograms per milliliter have been associated with falls, fractures, cancer, autoimmune dysfunction, cardiovascular disease and hypertension.

To put it blankly, that means half of all people around the world are deficient in vitamin D and therefore at increased risk for serious and potentially fatal conditions.

Low 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels are also correlated with markers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein, as well as signs of oxidative damage to cells, Donbig’s study revealed. In a previous article, I explained that inflammation and oxidative damage (not cholesterol) are the primary causes of the worldwide heart disease epidemic. Inflammation and oxidative damage are also contributing factors to diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cancer and many other diseases.

So how does vitamin D work its magic? It acts as a potent hormone in more than a dozen types of tissues and cells in the body, regulating expression of essential genes and rapidly activating already expressed enzymes and proteins. In the heart, vitamin D binds to specific vitamin D receptors and produces its “calming”, protective effects.

There are essentially three ways to obtain vitamin D: exposure to UV light, food and supplements. The most effective of all of these methods is exposure to sunlight. Full-body exposure of pale skin to summer sunshine for 30 minutes without clothing or sunscreen can result in the synthesis of between 10,000 and 20,000 IU of vitamin D. At most latitudes outside of the tropics, however, there are substantial portions of the year during which vitamin D cannot be obtained from sunlight; additionally, environmental factors including pollution and the presence of buildings can reduce the availability of UVB light.

In northern latitudes or during winter months when the sun isn’t shining, I recommend taking 1 tsp./day of high-vitamin cod liver oil (Green Pasture or Radiant Life are two brands I recommend) to ensure adequate vitamin D (and vitamin A) intake. You can also eat vitamin D-rich foods such as herring, duck eggs, bluefin tuna, trout, eel, mackerel, sardines, chicken eggs, beef liver and pork. If you follow this approach further supplementation should not be necessary.

Before closing, I must mention (briefly) the issue of vitamin D toxicity. Vitamin D is widely considered to be the most toxic of all vitamins, and dire warnings are often issued to avoid excess sun exposure and vitamin D in the diet on that basis. The discussion of vitamin D toxicity has failed to take into account the interaction between vitamins A, D and K. Several lines of evidence suggest that vitamin D toxicity actually results from a relative deficiency of vitamins A and K.
So, the solution is not to avoid sun exposure or sources of vitamin D in the diet. Rather, it ensure adequate vitamin D intake (through sunlight and food) and to increase the intake (through diet and/or supplements) of vitamins A & K. Stay tuned for a future post on the interaction between vitamins A, D & K and their relevance to human health.

THS recommendations:

  • Throw away your sunscreen. Use coconut and sesame oil if needed, and moderate your exposure to sun to avoid frequent sunburn.
  • Get an hour or two of exposure to sunlight each day if possible. Don’t cover your skin (or your child’s skin) completely when out in the sun.
  • In northern latitudes or during winter months when the sun isn’t shining, take 1 tsp./day of high-vitamin cod liver oil (Green Pasture or Radiant Life are two brands I recommend) to ensure adequate vitamin A & D intake.
  • Eat vitamin D-rich foods such as herring, duck eggs, bluefin tuna, trout, eel, mackerel, sardines, chicken eggs, beef liver and pork.
  • Make sure to eat enough vitamin K. Primary sources in the diet are natto, hard and soft cheeses, egg yolks, sauerkraut, butter and other fermented foods. Make sure to choose dairy products from grass-fed animals if possible.

Suggested Links

  • The Vitamin D Miracle: Is it For Real?
  • From Seafood to Sunshine: A New Understanding of Vitamin D Safety
  • Vitamin D Toxicity Redefined

veggie basket In today’s article we’ll discuss how to prevent heart disease without drugs. If you haven’t already read Part 1 of this series, which examined the problems with statin drugs, and Part 2, which debunks the myth that cholesterol causes heart disease, you might want to do that before reading this article.

Last week I mentioned the INTERHEART study, which looked at the relationship between heart disease and lifestyle in 52 countries around the world. What this study revealed is that approximately 90% of heart disease could be prevented by simple changes to diet and lifestyle.

Let’s just make this crystal clear: 9 out of 10 cases of heart disease are completely preventable without drugs. With sales of statin drugs reaching close to $30 billion this year with Lipitor alone bringing in close to $14 billion, this might come as some surprise. But the pharmaceutical companies are, quite literally, invested in people taking their cholesterol-lowering drugs in spite of the complete lack of evidence that lowering cholesterol prevents heart disease.

In order to understand the changes we need to make to prevent heart disease, we have to briefly examine what causes it. By now you know that the answer is not “cholesterol”. In fact, as I mentioned briefly in last week’s article, the two primary contributing mechanisms to heart disease are inflammation and oxidative damage.

Inflammation is the body’s response to noxious substances. Those substances can be foreign, like bacteria, or found within our body, as in autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. In the case of heart disease, inflammatory reactions within atherosclerotic plaques can induce clot formation.

When the lining of the artery is damaged, white blood cells flock to the site, resulting in inflammation. Inflammation not only further damages the artery walls, leaving them stiffer and more prone to plaque buildup, but it also makes any plaque that’s already there more fragile and more likely to burst.

Oxidative damage is a natural process of energy production and storage in the body. Oxidation produces free radicals, which are molecules missing an electron in their outer shell. Highly unstable and reactive, these molecules “attack” other molecules attempting to “steal” electrons from their outer shells in order to gain stability. Free radicals damage other cells and DNA, creating more free radicals in the process and a chain reaction of oxidative damage.

Normally oxidation is kept in check, but when oxidative stress is high or the body’s level of antioxidants is low, oxidative damage occurs. Oxidative damage is strongly correlated to heart disease. Studies have shown that oxidated LDL cholesterol is 8x greater stronger a risk factor for heart disease than normal LDL.

Since there may be some confusion on this point, I want to make it clear: normal LDL cholesterol is not a risk factor for heart disease in most populations, but oxidated LDL cholesterol is. This points to oxidation as the primary risk factor, not cholesterol. Why? Because when an LDL particle oxidizes, it is the polyunsaturated fat that oxidizes first. The saturated fat and the cholesterol, hidden deep within the core of the lipoprotein, are the least likely to oxidize.

It follows, then, that if we want to prevent heart disease we need to do everything we can to minimize inflammation and oxidative damage.

Top four causes of oxidative damage & inflammation

  1. Stress
  2. Smoking
  3. Poor nutrition
  4. Physical inactivity

By focusing on reducing or completely eliminating, when possible, the factors in our life that contribute to oxidative stress and inflammation, we can drastically lower our risk for heart disease. Let’s take a brief look at each risk factor.

Stress

In the INTERHEART study, stress tripled the risk of heart disease. This was true across all countries and cultured that were studies. The primary mechanism by which stress causes heart disease is by dysregulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis is directly intertwined with the autonomic nervous system, and it governs the “fight-or-flight” response we experience in reaction to a stressor.

Continued activation of this “fight-or-flight” response leads to hyper-arousal of the sympathetic nervous system, which in turn leads to chronically elevated levels of cortisol. And elevated levels of cortisol can cause both inflammation and oxidative damage.

Stress management, then, should be a vital part of any heart disease prevention program. In fact, some researchers today believe that stress may be the single most significant factor in the cause and prevention of heart disease. There are several proven methods of stress reduction, including mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), acupuncture and biofeedback. It doesn’t matter which method you choose. It just matters that you do it, and do it regularly.

Smoking

I assume that you are already well aware of the dangers of smoking, so I won’t spend much time on this one. For the purposes of this discussion, I will point out that smoking as few as 1-4 cigarettes a day has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease by 40%. But smoking 40 cigarettes a day increases that risk by 900%.

So if you smoke and you’re concerned about heart disease – quit.

Nutrition

Over the past century we’ve seen a consistent decline in the consumption of traditional, nutrient-dense foods in favor of highly processed, nutrient-depleted products. The flawed hypothesis that cholesterol causes heart disease has wrongly identified health-promoting foods like meat, organ meats, eggs and dairy products as harmful, and replaced them with toxic, processed alternatives such as chips, white breads, pastries, crackers, cookies, frozen foods, candy and soda.

There are two ways that nutrition contributes to heart disease: too much of the wrong foods, and not enough of the right ones.

The average American gets 57% of his/her calories from highly refined cereal grains and polyunsaturated (PUFA) oils. The #3 source of calories, behind grains and PUFA, is sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Refined grains, polyunsaturated oils and sugar are all major contributors to both inflammation and oxidative damage.

Not only do refined carbohydrates, vegetable oils and sugar contribute to inflammation and oxidative damage, they are also completely devoid of micronutrients that would protect us from these processes. Meats, fruits and vegetables are all high in antioxidants that prevent oxidative damage, and rich in other micronutrients that play important roles in preventing heart disease.

More than 85% of Americans are not getting the federally recommended five servings of fresh fruit and vegetables each day. The intake of dark leafy green or yellow/orange veggies for the average American is equivalent to 18g – one-half of one small carrot. Iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, french fries, orange juice and bananas constitute 30% of fruit and vegetable intake for most Americans.

Many people know that the “Standard American Diet” is extremely unhealthy. But what most do not know is that the so-called “heart-healthy” diet that has been vigorously promoted for decades actually contributes to heart disease! The “heart-healthy” diet is high in refined carbohydrates and polyunsaturated oils, which, as we have seen, cause inflammation and oxidative damage.

On the other hand, saturated fats (which have been demonized by the medical mainstream) such as butter, coconut oil, lard, tallow and ghee are protected against oxidation and possess many other important health benefits. These fats are the ones we need to be eating to protect ourselves from heart disease.

It is extremely important to buy organic meat, eggs and dairy products that come from animals that have been raised on fresh pasture rather than in commercial, factory feedlots. See this article and this one for more information on why this is so essential.

Finally, it must be pointed out that not all “organic” products are healthy. Most packaged food (including organic cereals, crackers, chips and so-called “nutrition bars”) are full of highly refined carbohydrates, sugar, and vegetable oils. And by now, I don’t need to tell you what that means!

So what would a truly heart healthy diet look like, then? Download my Guidelines for Natural Prevention of Heart Disease to find out.

Physical Inactivity

Physical inactivity is likely a major causative factor in the explosive rise of coronary heart disease in the 20th century. During the vast majority of evolutionary history, humans have had to exert themselves to obtain food and water. Even at the turn of the 20th century in the U.S., a majority of people had jobs that required physical activity (farmers, laborers, etc.) Now the majority of the workforce has sedentary occupations with little to no physical activity at all.

Currently more than 60% of American adults are not regularly active, and 25% of the adult population is completely sedentary. People that are physically inactive have between 1.5x and 2.4x the risk of developing heart disease.

On the other hand, regular exercise reduces both inflammation and oxidative damage. Even relatively low levels of activity are protective – as long as they are consistent. A public review at Harvard University showed that 30-minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week decreases deaths from heart disease by 20-30%.

The best strategy for people struggling to find time to exercise is to make it part of their daily life (i.e. riding a bike or walking to work, choosing the stairs over the escalator or elevator, etc.)

When combined, the four strategies listed above will significantly reduce your chances of getting heart disease – without taking a single pill of any kind.

If you already have heart disease, or you are at high risk for heart disease (overweight, high blood pressure, diabetic, etc.), then you may need additional support. See my

Recommended articles

 

Today’s article about the dangers of soy products is from Nourishing Our Children, an organization dedicated to supported learning, behavior and health in children through optimal nutrition. I encourage all parents to visit their website and read the “What Parents Need to Know” section. There is also a downloads section with free guides and briefing books available for download.

soybeansAlthough widely promoted as a health food, hundreds of studies link modern processed soy to malnutrition, digestive problems, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders, immune system breakdown, and even heart disease and cancer. How could soy be linked to all this disease? Because the soybean contains many naturally occurring toxins. All legumes contain toxins but the problem with soy is that the toxins are found in very high levels and are resistant to the traditional ways of getting rid of them.

Long, slow fermentation (as in the traditional production of miso, tempeh and soy sauce) gets rid of the phytic acid and other digestive inhibitors but not the phytoestrogens in soy.

Myths About Isoflavones

One of the most common myths is that soy estrogens (isoflavones) are beneficial for your health. Isoflavones are the estrogen-like compounds occurring naturally in soy foods. They act as the plant’s natural pesticides, causing insects to become sterile. Research has shown that isoflavones can prevent ovulation and stimulate the growth of cancer cells. As little as 38 mg isoflavones per day (less than the amount found in 1 cup of soy milk) can result in hypothyroidism with symptoms of lethargy, constipation, weight gain and fatigue. The isoflavones in soy have been shown to cause reproductive problems, infertility, thyroid disease and liver disease in mice, rats, cheetahs, sturgeon, quail, sheep, pigs and marmoset monkeys.

Traditional Versus Modern Soy Foods

It is important to distinguish between traditional and modern soy foods. In Asia, traditional soy foods were consumed in small amounts, usually as a fermented condiment. Traditional fermented soy foods include miso, soy sauce, tempeh and natto. Tofu was prepared by a precipitation process that gets rid of some of the anti-nutrients, and tofu was often then fermented. Tofu was usually consumed in small amounts in fish broth, which provided lots of compensating minerals and compounds that support thyroid function.

Soymilk underwent a very long preparation process to get rid of anti-nutrients and it was consumed with shrimp or egg yolk, ingredients that helped compensate for the many anti-nutrients that remained. Mostly a food for the elderly, it was sometimes given to nursing mothers but never to growing children.

Problems with Soy Protein Isolate

Modern soy foods are very different. Most are made with soy protein isolate (SPI), which is a protein-rich powder extracted by an industrial process from the waste product of soy oil manufacturing. It is the industry’s way of making a profit on a waste product. The industry spent over 30 years and billions of dollars developing SPI.

Soy Protein Isolate is produced at very high temperatures and pressures. This processing does get rid of some of the anti-nutrients in soybeans, but unfortunately many of the proteins are denatured in the process, including lysine. That is why growing animals fed soy must be given a lysine supplement. In feeding studies, SPI caused many deficiencies in rats. That soy causes deficiencies in B12 and zinc is widely recognized; but the range of deficiencies was surprising.

Although SPI is added to many foods, it was never granted GRAS status, meaning “Generally Recognized as Safe”. The FDA only granted GRAS status to SPI for use as a binder in cardboard boxes. During the processing of soy, many additional toxins are formed, including nitrates (which are carcinogens) and a toxin called lysinoalanine. It was concerns about lysinoalanine in SPI that led the FDA to deny GRAS status for SPI as a food additive.

In spite of all these problems, SPI is the basic ingredient of soy infant formula and the FDA even allows a health claim for foods containing 6.25 grams SPI per serving.

The Dangers of Soy Infant Formula

Infants on soy formula can take in dangerously high levels of soy isoflavones. On a body weight basis, this can mean ten times the level that can cause thyroid suppression in adults after three months, and eight times the level that can cause hormonal changes in adults after just one month.

According to a Swiss report adult women consuming 100 mg isoflavones (about 2 cups of soy milk, or 1 cup of cooked mature soybeans) provide the estrogenic equivalent of a contraceptive pill.

This means for a baby that weighs 6 kg (or just over 13 pounds), 10 mg provides the estrogenic equivalent of a contraceptive pill. Thus, the average amount of soy-based formula taken in by a child provides the estrogenic equivalent of at least four birth control pills. Because babies are more vulnerable than adults to the effects of dietary estrogens, the effects could actually be much greater than that of four birth control pills.

Hence the statement, “Babies on soy formula receive the estrogenic equivalent of at least five birth control pills per day.”

Homemade Baby Formula

For adopted infants, or as a solution for mothers who aren’t physically able to breastfeed or who aren’t able to produce enough milk, we’d like parents to know that there are nutrient dense, homemade Baby Formula Recipes in the book Nourishing Traditions which have been used with great success by parents all over the world since 1995!

Recommended Links

  • Nourishing Our Children
  • Myths and Truths About Soy
  • Soy Alert

egg The persistent myth that cholesterol causes heart disease has scared many of us away from eating eggs on a regular basis. But there is absolutely no research that links egg consumption to heart disease.

A recent review of the scientific literature published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care clearly indicates that egg consumption has no discernible impact on blood cholesterol levels in 70% of the population. In the other 30% of the population (termed “hyperresponders”), eggs do increase both circulating LDL and HDL cholesterol.

You’ve probably been conditioned to believe that anything that raises LDL cholesterol (so-called “bad” cholesterol) should be avoided like the plague. But even the medical mainstream has come to recognize that all LDL cholesterol is not the same. It’s true that small, dense LDL particles have been linked to heart disease. This is primarily due to the fact that they are much more susceptible to oxidative damage than normal LDL cholesterol particles.

However, egg consumption increases the proportion of large, buoyant LDL particles that have been shown to be protective against heart disease. Egg consumption also shifts individuals from the LDL pattern B to pattern A. Pattern B indicates a preponderance of small, dense LDL particles (risk factors for heart disease), while pattern A indicates a preponderance of large, buoyant LDL particles (which protect us from heart disease). This is a good thing.

Eggs one of the most nutrient-dense foods available. One egg provides 13 essential nutrients, all in the yolk (contrary to popular belief, the yolk is far higher in nutrients than the white).

Eggs are an excellent source of B vitamins, which are needed for vital functions in the body, and also provide good quantities of vitamin A, essential for normal growth and development.

The vitamin E in eggs protects against heart disease and some cancers; eggs also contain vitamin D, which promotes mineral absorption and good bone health.

Eggs are rich in iodine, for making thyroid hormones, and phosphorus, essential for healthy bones and teeth.

Eggs are also good sources of antioxidants known to protect the eye. Therefore, increased plasma concentrations of lutein and zeaxanthin in individuals consuming eggs are also of interest, especially in those populations susceptible to developing macular degeneration and eye cataracts.

There’s absolutely no reason to limit your consumption of eggs to three to four per week, as recommended by “heart-healthy” nutritional guidelines. In fact, consuming two to three eggs per day would provide a better boost to your health and protection against disease than a multivitamin supplement. Eggs truly are one of nature’s superfoods.

It’s important, however, to make sure that you buy organic, pasture-raised eggs. Studies show that commercially-raised eggs are up to 19 times higher in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. Unfortunately, almost all eggs sold in supermarkets – even the organic eggs sold at chains such as Whole Foods and Wild Oats – are not truly pasture-raised. To find these eggs, check your local farmer’s market or visit the Eat Wild website to locate a source in your area.

cheeseA study recently published by the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) has revealed that increased intake of vitamin K2 may reduce the risk of prostate cancer by 35 percent. The authors point out that the benefits of K2 were most pronounced for advanced prostate cancer, and, importantly, that vitamin K1 did not offer any prostate benefits.

The findings were based on data from more than 11,000 men taking part in the EPIC Heidelberg cohort. It adds to a small but fast-growing body of science supporting the potential health benefits of vitamin K2 for bone, cardiovascular, skin, brain, and now prostate health.

Unfortunately, many people are not aware of the health benefits of vitamin K2. The K vitamins have been underrated and misunderstood up until very recently in both the scientific community and the general public.

It has been commonly believed that the benefits of vitamin K are limited to its role in blood clotting. Another popular misconception is that vitamins K1 and K2 are simply different forms of the same vitamin – with the same physiological functions.

New evidence, however, has confirmed that vitamin K2’s role in the body extends far beyond blood clotting to include protecting us from heart disease, ensuring healthy skin, forming strong bones, promoting brain function, supporting growth and development and helping to prevent cancer – to name a few. In fact, vitamin K2 has so many functions not associated with vitamin K1 that many researchers insist that K1 and K2 are best seen as two different vitamins entirely.

A large epidemiological study from the Netherlands illustrates this point well. The researchers collected data on the vitamin K intakes of the subjects between 1990 and 1993 and measured the extent of heart disease in each subject, who had died from it and how this related to vitamin K2 intake and arterial calcification. They found that calcification of the arteries was the best predictor of heart disease. Those in the highest third of vitamin K2 intakes were 52 percent less likely to develop severe calcification of the arteries, 41 percent less likely to develop heart disease, and 57 percent less likely to die from it. (Geleijnse et al., 2004, pp. 3100-3105) However, intake of vitamin K1 had no effect on cardiovascular disease outcomes.

While K1 is preferentially used by the liver to activate blood clotting proteins, K2 is preferentially used by other tissues to deposit calcium in appropriate locations, such as in the bones and teeth, and prevent it from depositing in locations where it does not belong, such as the soft tissues.(Spronk et al., 2003, pp. 531-537) In an acknowledgment of the different roles played by vitamins K1 and K2, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) finally determined the vitamin K2 contents of foods in the U.S. diet for the first time in 2006. (Elder, Haytowitz, Howe, Peterson, & Booth, 2006, pp. 436-467)

Another common misconception is that human beings do not need vitamin K2 in their diet, since they have the capacity to convert vitamin K1 to vitamin K2. The amount of vitamin K1 in typical diets is ten times greater than that of vitamin K2, and researchers and physicians have largely dismissed the contribution of K2 to nutritional status as insignificant.

However, although animals can convert vitamin K1 to vitamin K2, a significant amount of evidence suggests that humans require preformed K2 in the diet to obtain and maintain optimal health. The strongest indication that humans require preformed vitamin K2 in the diet is that epidemiological and intervention studies both show its superiority over K1. Intake of K2 is inversely associated with heart disease in humans while intake of K1 is not (Geleijnse et al., 2004, pp. 3100-3105), and vitamin K2 is at least three times more effective than vitamin K1 at activating proteins related to skeletal metabolism. (Schurgers et al., 2007) And remember that in the study on vitamin K2’s role in treating prostate cancer, which I mentioned at the beginning of this article, vitamin K1 had no effect.

All of this evidence points to the possibility that vitamin K2 may be an essential nutrient in the human diet. So where does one find vitamin K2 in foods? The following is a list of the foods highest in vitamin K2, as measured by the USDA:

Foods high in vitamin K2

  • Natto
  • Hard cheese
  • Soft cheese
  • Egg yolk
  • Butter
  • Chicken liver
  • Salami
  • Chicken breast
  • Grond beef

Unfortunately, precise values for some foods that are likely to be high in K2 (such as organ meats) are not available at this time. The pancreas and salivary glands would be richest; reproductive organs, brains, cartilage and possibly kidneys would also be very rich; finally, bone would be richer than muscle meat. Fish eggs are also likely to be rich in K2.

It was once erroneously believed that intestinal bacteria are a major contributor to vitamin K status. However, the majority of evidence contradicts this view. Most of the vitamin K2 produced in the intestine are embedded within bacterial membranes and not available for absorption. Thus, intestinal production of K2 likely makes only a small contribution to vitamin K status. (Unden & Bongaerts, 1997, pp. 217-234)

On the other hand, fermented foods, however, such as sauerkraut, cheese and natto (a soy dish popular in Japan), contain substantial amounts of vitamin K2. Natto contains the highest concentration of K2 of any food measured; nearly all of it is present as MK-7, which research has shown to be a highly effective form. A recent study demonstrated that MK-7 increased the percentage of osteocalcin in humans three times more powerfully than did vitamin K1. (Schurgers & Vermeer, 2000, pp. 298-307)

It is important to note that commercial butter is not a significantly high source of vitamin K2. Dr. Weston A. Price, who was the first to elucidate the role of vitamin K2 in human health (though he called it “Activator X” at the time) analyzed over 20,000 samples of butter sent to him from various parts of the world. As mentioned previously in this paper, he found that the Activator X concentration varied 50-fold. Animals grazing on vitamin K-rich cereal grasses, especially wheat grass, and alfalfa in a lush green state of growth produced fat with the highest amounts of Activator X, but the soil in which the pasture was grown also influenced the quality of the butter. It was only the vitamin-rich butter grown in three feet or more of healthy top soil that had such dramatic curing properties when combined with cod liver oil in Dr. Price’s experiments and clinical practice.

Therefore, vitamin K2 levels will not be high in butter from grain-fed cows raised in confinement feedlots. Since the overwhelming majority of butter sold in the U.S. comes from such feedlots, butter is not a significant source of K2 in the diet for most people. This is yet another argument for obtaining raw butter from cows raised on green pasture.

New research which expands our understanding of the many important roles of vitamin K2 is being published at a rapid pace. Yet it is already clear that vitamin K2 is an important nutrient for human health – and one of the most poorly understood by medical authorities and the general public.

Recommended links

  • On the Trail of the Elusive X-Factor
  • The Vitamin You Need to Prevent Prostate Cancer
  • K2 Associated with Reduced Risk of Coronary Heart Disease

pregnant woman

THS reader Roselle sent in this question:

Is vitamin/mineral supplementation truly beneficial before & during pregnancy for women with a healthy diet?

The first thing I’d like to emphasize is the importance of this question. Adequate maternal nutrition prior to conception and during pregnancy can protect the baby from diabetes, stroke, heart disease, kidney disease and memory loss later in life.

Intuitively, most mothers know that what they eat will have a significant impact on the developing fetus. And traditional cultures have been aware of this for millennia. Special preconception and pregnancy diets have always emphasized foods that are particularly rich in certain nutrients known to promote healthy growth and development. In some cases, these groups provided special nutrients for fathers preparing to conceive as well.

Traditional cultures with access to the sea used fish eggs. Those that consumed dairy products used high-quality milk from the spring and fall when grass was green and rapidly growing. African groups whose water was low in iodine used the ashes of certain plant foods to supply this important element. These foods were always added to a foundational diet rich in liver and other organ meats, bones and skin, fats, seafood and whatever local plant foods were available.

In the Winter of 2007, Chris Masterjohn published a fantastic article called “Vitamins for Fetal Development: Conception to Birth” in the Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts Journal. Masterjohn remarks:

“Although modern science still has much research to accomplish in order to fully elucidate the value of traditional wisdom, it has already confirmed the fact that many of the nutritional factors that we now recognize as the most important to embryonic and fetal development are the same ones emphasized in traditional pregnancy and preconception diets.” (p.26)

What are these nutrients that both modern science and traditional wisdom recognize as essential? Briefly, they include:

  • Vitamin E: originally named “Fertility Factor X” in 1922 because rats could not reproduce without it. Recent research indicates it is almost certainly required for human reproduction.
  • Vitamin A: vitamin A is necessary for the differentiation and patterning of all the cells, tissues, and organs within the developing body. It is especially important for the development of the communication systems between the sense organs and the brain. Vitamin A deficiency during pregnancy has been shown to produce spontaneous abortion in several different species of animals.
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D plays a role in lung development, and protects the newborn from tetany, convulsions and heart failure. Vitamin D probably plays a much larger role in fetal development than currently understood due to its interaction with vitamin A.
  • Vitamin K: relatively little is known about vitamin K’s role in embryonic and fetal development compared to vitamins A & D. However, cases of birth defects that occurred with mothers taking Wafarin (which depletes the body of vitamin K) suggest that vitamin K plays an essential role in the development of proper facial proportions and the fundamental development of the nervous system.
  • DHA: DHA may be necessary for the formation of neurons and for the synthesis of the important brain lipid phosphatidylserine. It is also the precursor to an important compound that protects the neurons from oxidative stress. The fetus hoards DHA from the mother and incorporates it into its brain at ten times the rate at which it can synthesize it.
  • Biotin: biotin is a B vitamin that has also been called “vitamin H”. Researchers have recently discovered that marginal biotin deficiency during pregnancy is extremely common. Biotin deficiency has been shown to cause birth defects in rats. Whether this extends to humans is currently unknown, but there is little reason not to increase biotin intake during pregnancy as a precaution.
  • Folate: the importance of folate during pregnancy is widely known. It is necessary for the production of new DNA, and new DNA is needed for new cells. Adequate folate intake prevents spinal cord and brain defects and increases birth weight. It may also prevent spontaneous abortion, mental retardation and deformities of the mouth, face and heart.
  • Choline: a low intake of choline during pregnancy is associated with a four-fold increased risk of spinal cord and brain defects. Choline plays a direct role in the development of the brain; in particular, for the formation of neurons and synapses.
  • Glycine: the amino acid glycine is “conditionally essential” during pregnancy. This means that while we can normally make enough of it ourselves to meet our needs, during pregnancy women must obtain it from the diet. It is required for protein synthesis in the fetus, and is almost certainly a limiting factor for fetal growth.

Based on the established role of the nutrients listed above, Masterjohn makes the following recommendations:

Nutritional recommendations for preconception and pregnancy

  • Take a daily dose of high-vitamin cod liver oil (available online from Radiant Life and Green Pasture) to obtain 20,000 IU of vitamin A and 2,000 IU of vitamin D, and 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids (roughly 1 3/4 teaspoons per day).
  • Grass-fed animal fats supply vitamins E and K2; palm oil, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and freshly ground grains are also sources of vitamin E; fermented foods (cheese, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, etc.) are also good sources of vitamin K.
  • Biotin can be obtained from liver and egg yolks. Cooked egg whites can be obtained in moderation, and raw egg yolks (from organic, pastured chickens of course) can be added to smoothies and cream to boost biotin status.
  • Folate can be obtained from liver, legumes, beets and greens. Choline can be obtained from grass-fed dairy, egg yolks, liver, meat, cruciferous vegetables, nuts and legumes.
  • Muscle meats and eggs should be used along with skin, bones and gelatin-rich broths to obtain glycine.

The answer to Roselle’s original question largely depends upon what is meant by “a healthy diet”. The low-fat, nutrient-depleted diet that is currently considered to be “healthy” by the medical establishment is likely to be deficient in several key nutrients, particularly the fat-soluble vitamins A, D & K and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA. However, even a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet may need to be supplemented with additional foods or additional servings of foods already in the diet.

Most of these can and should be obtained from local and organic foods. The exception is cod liver oil, which one of nature’s highest sources of vitamins A & D and a rich source of DHA as well. Not all cod liver oil is created alike, however. Most commercial brands contain synthetic vitamin A & D, which are known to be toxic at high doses. Unfortunately, this means you will have to order high-vitamin cod liver oil from a reputable company online. The brands I recommend are Green Pasture High-Vitamin Fermented Cod Liver Oil or High-Vitamin Cod Liver Oil, and Radiant Life Cod Liver Oil.

Finally, I highly recommend obtaining the Winter 2007 “Wise Traditions” journal and reading the full article by Chris Masterjohn. It will eventually be available on the Weston A. Price Foundation website, but it can take up to one year from the original publication time for an article to be posted to the website.

kids shoes
The Healthy Skeptic reader Jessica wrote in with this topic suggestion:

“I like the “what to feed children” idea. But it has to be food they will actually EAT.”

The question of how to nourish our children so they develop into healthy adults is one of the most important questions we can ask. Tragically, the answers that the medical mainstream has come up with have contributed to unprecedented epidemics of childhood disease and endangered the health and well-being of our children.

The numbers of overweight and obese children worldwide are expected to climb dramatically by 2010, according to a study by Youfa Wang, PhD, MD at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. By the end of the decade, 46 percent of children in North and South America are projected to be overweight and 15 percent will be obese. It’s been assumed that U.S. life expectancy would rise indefinitely, but a new data analysis which was published as a special report in the March 17, 2005 issue of New England Journal of Medicine suggests that this trend is about to reverse itself – due to the rapid rise in obesity, especially among children.

Increasing numbers of children are being treated for depression, according to a 2004 study in the British Journal of Medicine. A 1999 report in California from the state’s Department of Developmental Services found that autism had increased by 273 percent from 1987 to 1998. Current estimates for the incidence of autism are as high as 1 in 120. A national review by The Advocacy Institute in 2002 revealed that learning disabilities in children increased by 30 percent from 1990 to 2000.

These studies show that our children are more obese, more depressed, and have more learning disabilities and behavioral problems than ever before. What could be the cause of such a dramatic change?

Although each of these diseases is complex and multifactorial, it is safe to say that diet and nutrition play a significant role in all of them. For example, consider the key nutrients for brain development in children:

Key nutrients for brain development

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Choline
  • DHA
  • Zinc
  • Tryptophan
  • Cholesterol

Many parents probably know that these nutrients aren’t found in the refined carbohydrates, vegetable oils and sugars which form the bedrock of the standard American diet. Yet many parents may be unaware that even foods widely assumed to be nutritional – including packaged foods commonly described as “organic”, “natural” or “fortified” – are themselves highly processed and stripped of nutritional value, and little better than their “non-organic” alternatives.

So what should we be feeding our children to ensure healthy growth and development? The following “First Steps” recommended by children’s health advocacy group Nourishing Our Children will get you started:

First steps to healthier children

  1. Replace sugar with natural sweeteners like honey and rapadura.
  2. Replace fruit juices with whole, raw milk.
  3. Replace breakfast cereals with non-nitrate bacon, eggs from hens on pasture, whole milk yogurt, homemade kefir, soaked oatmeal or soaked, wholegrain pancakes.
  4. Replace pasteurized dairy products with raw and cultured dairy.
  5. Eliminate all processed soy foods from your household (this includes soy milk, “protein bars” with soy, baked tofu products and all “soy fast food”).
  6. Replace polyunsaturated vegetable oils and trans fats with traditional fats such as butter, olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, lard, and tallow.
  7. Replace processed, convenience foods (boxed, packaged, prepared and canned food items) with fresh, organic, whole foods
  8. Provide a daily dose of high vitamin cod liver oil (with no synthetic vitamins added)

In contrast to the bland, unsatisfying (and dangerous) low-fat diet recommended by medical authorities, kids naturally love the foods in a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet. However, it is true that if they’ve been on a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates for a long time, there will be an adjustment period as they transition away from those highly processed foods.

My suggestion is to take one item on the list above at a time, and be gentle with yourself. It may take a while longer that way to get to where you want to be, but it’s worth the effort! Some of the changes will be more difficult than others. For example, most children (and adults) prefer the taste of saturated fats like butter, cream and whole-fat dairy to low-fat alternatives such as vegetable oil and skim milk – but may not yet have acquired a taste for cod liver oil!

I’ve provided links to some articles below with some helpful ideas on how to encourage even the most finicky eaters to enjoy nutrient-dense foods and some ideas for quick and healthy brown-bag lunch suggestions for parents.

Recommended links

  • Articles on children’s health – Weston A. Price Foundation
  • Feeding Our Children, by Thomas Cowan, M.D.
  • Taking the Icky out of Picky Eaters
  • Foods to Tantalize Toddlers and Preschoolers
  • Packing the Perfect Lunch Box
  • Nourishing Our Children – children’s health advocacy group

Make sure to check out part I of “Why grass-fed is best” for the environmental and ethical benefits of pasture-raised animal products.

In part I we reviewed the environmental and ethical benefits of pasture-raised animal products, along with some general information about why they are more nutritious. In this article, we’ll look more specifically at exactly why grass-fed animal products are superior to commercially-raised alternatives.

Meat

  • Meat from grass-fed animals has two to four times more omega-3 fatty acids than meat from grain- fed animals.
  • When chickens are housed indoors and deprived of greens, their meat and eggs also become artificially low in omega-3s.
  • Eggs from pastured hens can contain as much as 19 times more omega-3s than eggs from factory hens.
  • When ruminants are raised on fresh pasture alone, their products contain from three to five times more CLA than products from animals fed conventional diets. CLA is a fatty acid that has recently been studied as a potent cancer fighter.
  • The meat from the pastured cattle is four times higher in vitamin E than the meat from the feedlot cattle and, interestingly, almost twice as high as the meat from the feedlot cattle given vitamin E supplements.

Milk

  • Unfortunately, 85 to 95 percent of the cows in the United States are now being raised in confinement, not on pasture. The only grass they eat comes in the form of hay, and the ground that they stand on is a blend of dirt and manure.
  • Milk from a pastured cow can have five times as much CLA as a grainfed animal.
  • Milk from pastured cows also contains an ideal ratio of essential fatty acids or EFAs. Studies suggest that if your diet contains roughly equal amounts of these two fats, you will have a lower risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, allergies, obesity, diabetes, dementia, and various other mental disorders.
  • When a cow is raised on pasture , her milk has an ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Replace two-thirds of the pasture with a grain-based diet and the milk will have more than five times the amount of omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s, a ratio that has been linked with an increased risk of a wide variety of conditions, including obesity, diabetes, depression, and cancer.
  • Grassfed milk is higher in beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E. This vitamin bonus comes, in part, from the fact that fresh pasture has more of these nutrients than grain or hay. These extra helpings of vitamins are then transferred to the cow’s milk.

Free-range (pastured) eggs

  • When compared to commercially raised, supermarket eggs, free-range eggs have:
    2/3 more vitamin A
  • 7 times more beta carotene
  • Up to 19 times more omega-3 fatty acids
  • Significantly more folic acid and vitamin B12

Raw dairy products – another step up

The information above should convince you that grass-fed dairy products are superior in every way to dairy products that come from grain-fed cows. Another important distinction to be made is the difference between raw and pasteurized dairy products.

I will be covering this in further detail in a future article, but in short raw dairy products have several significant advantages over pasteurized alternatives:

  • Raw milk is an outstanding source of nutrients including beneficial bacteria such as lactobacillus acidolphilus, vitamins and enzymes, as well as the finest source of calcium available.
  • Pasteurizing milk destroys enzymes, diminishes vitamin, denatures fragile milk proteins, destroys vitamin B12, and vitamin B6, kills beneficial bacteria and promotes pathogens.
  • Raw milk is not associated with any the problems of pasteurized milk, and even people who have been allergic to pasteurized milk for many years can typically tolerate and even thrive on raw milk.

Contrary to popular belief, raw milk is safe to consume. There has never been a pathogen found in the milk of the two largest raw dairy producers in California, Organic Pastures and Claravale. In fact, the USDA has been unable to even find pathogens in the soil at Organic Pastures – which is highly unusual. This is due to the much more stringent standards for sanitation that raw dairies must comply with in order to be licensed to sell their products.

Again, I will cover this in more detail in a future article. Stay tuned!

Although most consumers have heard of grass-fed or pasture-raised animal products, confusion still abounds about what their benefits are and why we should choose them over commercially-raised animal products.

It is important to note that the “organic” label does not have anything to do with whether an animal product is pasture-raised or not. It’s possible, and indeed common, for an organic meat or dairy product to come from cows raised in confinement feedlots. Likewise, it is also common to encounter pasture-raised animal products that do not have the “organic” label. This often occurs when the farm raising the animals is too small to afford the expensive organic certification process. In these cases, if one knows the farmer and his or her practices, it is preferable to choose the non-organic, grass-fed source over the organic, commercially-raised alternative.

Many environmental and ethical objections to eating meat stem from the tremendously destructive and cruel practices of commercial feedlot meat production. When meat and dairy animals are raised in a humane and ecologically responsible manner, these objections (which I entirely agree with in the case of commercial production) are no longer defendable.

In this two-part article I will cover the benefits of pasture-raised animal products. In part I, we’ll examine the environmental and economic benefits, and in part II, we’ll look at the nutritional and health benefits. Information is adapted in part from the Eat Wildwebsite.

Back to the pasture
Pasture-raised animals live on the range where they forage on their native diet. They are not sent to feedlots to be fattened on corn, soy or other grains which they do not normally eat. Pasture-raised livestock are not treated hormones or feed them growth-promoting additives. As a result, the animals grow at a natural pace. For these reasons and more, grass-fed animals live low-stress lives and are so healthy there is no reason to treat them with antibiotics or other drugs.

More Nutritious
A major benefit of raising animals on pasture is that their products are healthier for you. For example, compared with feedlot meat, meat from grass-fed beef, bison, lamb and goats has two to four times more omega-3 fatty acids. Meat and dairy products from grass-fed ruminants are the richest known source of another type of good fat called “conjugated linoleic acid” or CLA. When ruminants are raised on fresh pasture alone, their products contain from three to five times more CLA than products from animals fed conventional diets. Grass-fed meat also has more vitamin E, beta-carotene and vitamin C than grain-fed meat.

Factory Farming
Raising animals on pasture is dramatically different from the status quo. Virtually all the meat, eggs, and dairy products that you find in the supermarket come from animals raised in confinement in large facilities called CAFOs or “Confined Animal Feeding Operations.”  These highly mechanized operations provide a year-round supply of food at a reasonable price. Although the food is cheap and convenient, there is growing recognition that factory farming creates a host of problems, including:

  • Animal stress and abuse
  • Air, land, and water pollution
  • The unnecessary use of hormones, antibiotics, and other drugs
  • Low-paid, stressful farm work
  • The loss of small family farms
  • Food with less nutritional value

Unnatural Diets
Animals raised in factory farms are given diets designed to boost their productivity and lower costs. The main ingredients are genetically modified grain and soy that are kept at artificially low prices by government subsidies. To further cut costs, the feed may also contain “by-product feedstuff” such as municipal garbage, stale pastry, chicken feathers, and candy. Until 1997, U.S. cattle were also being fed meat that had been trimmed from other cattle, in effect turning herbivores into carnivores. This unnatural practice is believed to be the underlying cause of BSE or “mad cow disease.”

Environmental Degradation
When animals are raised in feedlots or cages, they deposit large amounts of manure in a small amount of space. The manure must be collected and transported away from the area, an expensive proposition. To cut costs, it is dumped as close to the feedlot as possible. As a result, the surrounding soil is overloaded with nutrients, which can cause ground and water pollution. When animals are raised outdoors on pasture, their manure is spread over a wide area of land, making it a welcome source of organic fertilizer, not a “waste management problem.”

Make sure to see part II for the nutritional and health benefits of pasture-raised animal products</>

Most health-conscious folks have heard of essential fatty acids (EFAs) by now. It isn’t unusual for a health food store to sell several different brands of fish oils, flax oil and other blends of “essential fatty acids”. We’ve been told that consuming these oils will keep us healthy and protect us from disease.

Today’s nutrition textbooks refer to omega-6 (linoleic) acid and omega-3 (alpha-linolenic) acid as essential components of the human diet, and cite the requirement as something between one and four percent of total caloric intake. When scientists say a nutrient is “essential”, they mean it cannot be synthesized within our bodies from other components by any known mechanism – and therefore must be obtained from the diet.

But are “essential fatty acids” truly essential?

Chris Masterjohn, a PhD candidate in Nutritional Science at the University of Connecticut, has just published a paper which directly challenges the belief that omega-6 linoleic acid and omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid are essential.

His review of the scientific research suggests that omega-6 arachidonic acid (AA) and the omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the only fatty acids that are truly essential – and thus necessary in the diet – for humans. Further, the true requirement for EFA during growth and development (during childhood, pregnancy or recovery from injury and illness) is less than one-half of one percent of calories when supplied by most animal fats, and even less (0.12 percent) when supplied by liver. In healthy adults, the requirement is “infinitesimal if it exists at all.”

So why is this a concern? Excess consumption of linoleate (omega-6 fatty acid) from vegetable oil will interfere with the production of DHA , while an excess of EPA from fish oil will interfere with the production and utilization of AA. So, by consuming an abundance of the oils which are today heavily promoted as “essential” – vegetable oil and fish oil – we are actually reducing the amount of the fatty acids that are truly essential – DHA & AA.

Finally, it must be pointed out that EFAs of all types, even the health promoting DHA & AA, are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). PUFAs are widely known to contribute to oxidative stress, and oxidative stress directly contributes to many diseases including cancer and heart disease. This is why it is important to restrict our intake of EFAs to as close to the minimum requirement as possible.
Most people are far above this requirement, since vegetable oil is pervasive in the American diet. It’s in just about all processed foods (even the “healthy” ones), fried foods and everything cooked in a restaurant. And many people cook with it at home, without knowing what the dangers are.

The best sources of EFA in the diet are liver, egg yolk and butter from grass-fed animals. Obtaining these foods from pasture-raised animals is important, as they contain significantly higher concentrations of DHA and AA (the truly essential EFAs) and fat-soluble vitamins than their commercial feedlot counterparts.

THS recommendations:

  • Gradually replace all vegetable oils in your diet with healthy traditional fats (which are protected from oxidative stress) such as butter, virgin (unrefined) coconut oil, palm oil, lard and beef tallow.
  • Eliminate (or at least dramatically reduce) consumption of processed and fried foods.
  • Do not take flax oil or fish oil supplements on a regular basis. Cod liver oil is recommended during pregnancy, lactation and childhood to provide extra DHA and to obtain fat-soluble vitamins.

Following these recommendations, along with a nutrient-dense, whole foods based diet low in sugar and rich in essential minerals, should reduce your intake of PUFA to closer to the recommended 0.5 (one-half of one) percent of calories, and ensure adequate intake of the truly essential DHA & AA.

Women who are pregnant or lactating, and perhaps attempting to become pregnant, children, and adults recovering from injury and suffering from chronic, degenerative disease can safely consume up to one percent of calories as PUFA. Studies have suggested that a subset of patients with pre-existing cardiovascular disease also benefit from a moderate dose of fish oil (up to one gram per day); however, in those same studies people with stable angina and with no heart disease at all, fish oil actually increased their risk of heart attack.

Check back here for a future post on what the research has to say about using omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) in the treatment of heart disease.

Make sure to visit Chris Masterjohn’s website, where you can purchase the excellent full report for $15. It’s a worthwhile investment, in my opinion, if you want to get the straight scoop about EFAs and their role in our diet.

(Excerpted from the Weston A. Price foundation Journal: Caustic Commentary – Summer 2007)

Full-fat milk has pretty much disappeared from the public schools—not just in the US, but also in New Zealand, Australia and the UK. In most schools, children have a choice of watery reduced-fat milk or sugar-laden chocolate milk, based on the misconception that the butterfat in whole milk will cause heart disease later in life. So it’s a bit embarrassing when a study comes along showing that whole-fat milk products may help women conceive. Over a period of eight years, Jorge E Chavarro of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston assessed the diets of 18,555 married women without a history of infertility who attempted to get pregnant or became pregnant. During the study, 2165 women were examined medically for infertility and 438 were found to be infertile due to lack of ovulation. The researchers found that women who ate two or more servings of lowfat dairy foods per day, particularly skim milk and yogurt, increased their risk of ovulation-related infertility by more than 85 percent compared with women who ate less than one serving of lowfat dairy food per week (Human Reproduction, online February 28, 2007). Chavarro advises women wanting to conceive to consume high-fat dairy foods like whole milk and ice cream, “while at the same time maintaining their normal calorie intake and limiting their overall intake of saturated fats in order to maintain good general health.” Once a woman becomes pregnant, says Chavarro, “she should probably switch back to lowfat dairy foods.” No one has looked at the effect on fertility of lowfat dairy for the developing fetus and for growing school children. Odds are that infertility due to life-long fat starvation will not be so easily reversed by a temporary return to high-fat dairy foods.

THS COMMENTARY:

This is a perfect example of how mainstream dogma gets in the way of clear thinking. The study unambiguously showed the superiority of whole fat milk products for helping a woman to become pregnant. Yet the author of the study advises women to “switch back to low fat dairy foods” once she becomes pregnant! So, according to this twisted logic, the nutrients in whole fat milk that helped the woman to conceive in the first place will somehow suddenly be harmful to her and her fetus during pregnancy? Isn’t it far more reasonable to assume that those same nutrients that increased the women’s fertility will also support the growth and development of the fetus? In fact, there is plenty of research that supports this common-sense view (stay tuned for a future post on this.)

And Fatter?

Will lowfat milk served in schools not only make our children infertile, but also fatter? That’s the conclusion from a 2006 Swedish study which looked at 230 families in Goteborg, Sweden. Almost all of the children were breastfed until five months and 85 percent had parents who were university educated. Seventeen percent were classified as overweight, and a higher body mass index (BMI) was associated with a lower fat intake—and those on lower fat diets consumed more sugar. A lower fat intake was also associated with high insulin resistance (www.ub.gu.se/sok/dissdatabas/detaljvy.xml?id=6979).

Whole Fat Milk, Lower Weight Gain

In yet another defeat for the lowfat, you-must-suffer-to-lose-weight school of thought, a Swedish study has found that women who regularly consume at least one serving of full-fat dairy every day gained about 30 percent less weight than women who didn’t. The researchers, from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, looked at the intake of whole, sour, medium- and lowfat milk, as well as cheese and butter for 19,352 Swedish women aged 40-55 years at the start of the study. The researchers report that a regular and constant intake of whole milk, sour milk and cheese was significantly and inversely associated with weight gain (that is, those consuming whole-milk products did not gain weight), while the other intake groups were not. A constant intake of at least one daily serving of whole and sour milk was associated with 15 percent less weight gain, while cheese was associated with 30 percent less weight gain (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007;84(6):1481-1488). This wonderful scientific news has not inspired WebMD to remove their guidelines to eating “fabulous foreign foods.” The trick, they say, is to avoid dishes made with coconut milk in Thai restaurants; ghee, beef and lamb in Indian restaurants; and cream soups, cream sauces, béarnaise, creamy dressings, pâté, fatty meats, duck and sausages in French restaurants (onhealth.webmd.com). In other words, enjoy your meal out but not too much.

Conventional dietary wisdom holds that the micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and trace elements) we need from foods are most highly concentrated in fruits and vegetables. While it’s true that fresh fruits and veggies are full of vitamins and minerals, their micronutrient content pales in comparison to what is found in meats and organ meats – especially liver.

The chart below lists the micronutrient content of apples, carrots, red meat and beef 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 general, organ meats are between 10 and 100 times higher in nutrients than corresponding muscle meats.

In fact, you might be surprised to learn that in some traditional cultures, only the organ meats were consumed. The lean muscle meats, which are what we mostly eat in the U.S. today, were discarded or perhaps given to the dogs.

A popular objection to eating liver is the belief that the liver is a storage organ for toxins in the body. While it is true that one of the liver’s role is to neutralize toxins (such as drugs, chemical agents and poisons), it does not store these toxins. Toxins the body cannot eliminate are likely to accumulate in the body’s fatty tissues and nervous systems. On the other hand, the liver is a is a storage organ for many important nutrients (vitamins A, D, E, K, B12 and folic acid, and minerals such as copper and iron). These nutrients provide the body with some of the tools it needs to get rid of toxins.

Remember that it is essential to eat meat and organ meats from animals that have been raised on fresh pasture without hormones, antibiotics or commercial feed. Pasture-raised animal products are much higher in nutrients than animal products that come from commercial feedlots. For example, meat from pasture-raised animals has 2-4 times more omega-3 fatty acids than meat from commercially-raised animals. And pasture-raised eggs have been shown to contain up to 19 times more omega-3 fatty acids than supermarket eggs! In addition to these nutritional advantages, pasture-raised animal products benefit farmers, local communities and the environment.

For more information on the incredible nutritional benefits of liver and some suggestions for how to prepare it, click here.

APPLE (100 g) CARROTS (100 g) RED MEAT (100 g) BEEF LIVER (100 g)
Calcium 3.0 mg 3.3 mg 11.0 mg 11.0 mg
Phosphorus 6.0 mg 31.0 mg 140.0 mg 476.0 mg
Magnesium 4.8 mg 6.2 mg 15.0 mg 18.0 mg
Potassium 139.0 mg 222.0 mg 370.0 mg 380.0 mg
Iron .1 mg .6 mg 3.3 mg 8.8 mg
Zinc .05 mg .3 mg 4.4 mg 4.0 mg
Copper .04 mg .08 mg .18 mg 12.0 mg
Vitamin A None None 40 IU 53,400 IU
Vitamin D None None Trace 19 IU
Vitamin E .37 mg .11 mg 1.7 mg .63 mg
Vitamin C 7.0 mg 6.0 mg None 27.0 mg
Thiamin .03 mg .05 mg .05 mg .26 mg
Riboflavin .02 mg .05 mg .20 mg 4.19 mg
Niacin .10 mg .60 mg 4.0 mg 16.5 mg
Pantothenic Acid .11 mg .19 mg .42 mg 8.8 mg
Vitamin B6 .03 mg .10 mg .07 mg .73 mg
Folic Acid 8.0 mcg 24.0 mcg 4.0 mcg 145.0 mcg
Biotin None .42 mcg 2.08 mcg 96.0 mcg
Vitamin B12 None None 1.84 mcg 111.3 mcg

(Excerpted from the Weston A. Price Journal – “Caustic Commentary”, Fall 2004)

The Top Fourteen

According to government and media health pundits, the top best 14 foods are:

  1. Beans
  2. Blueberries
  3. Broccoli
  4. Oats
  5. Oranges
  6. Pumpkin
  7. Salmon
  8. Soy
  9. Spinach
  10. Tea (green or black)
  11. Tomatoes
  12. Turkey
  13. Walnuts
  14. Yoghurt

This uninspiring list reflects the current establishment angels (anti-oxidants and omega-3 fatty acids) and demons (saturated fats and animal foods).

Our list of the 14 best top foods, foods that supply vital nutrients including the fat-soluble vitamins, looks like this:

  1. Butter from grass-fed cows (preferably raw)
  2. Oysters
  3. Liver from grass-fed animals
  4. Eggs from grass-fed hens
  5. Cod liver oil
  6. Fish eggs
  7. Whole raw milk from grass-fed cows
  8. Bone broth
  9. Wild salmon
  10. Whole yoghurt or kefir
  11. Beef from grass-fed steers
  12. Sauerkraut
  13. Organic Beets

EDIT: If you noticed there are only 13 foods on the list, that’s because I recently removed shrimp due to increasing mercury levels. Thanks to one of my readers for pointing this out.
A diet containing only these foods will confer lifelong good health; a diet containing only the foods in the first list is the fast track to nutritional deficiencies.

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