The Obesity-Disease Connection

In the opening pages of Eat to Live Dr. Fuhrman makes a point that is often overlooked by the average American dieter:
Obesity is not just a cosmetic issue—extra weight leads to an earlier death, as many studies confirm.1 Overweight individuals are more likely to die from all causes, including heart disease and cancer.
Much of Dr. Fuhrman’s work strives to show people the strong correlation between diet and disease. You know the old adage, you are what you eat. Being overweight doesn’t just mean your favorite outfit is a little snug, it means you’re putting yourself at an increased risk of premature death. More from Eat to Live:
Two-thirds of those with weight problems also have hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, or another obesity related condition.2 It is a major cause of early mortality in the United States.3
Health Complications of Obesity
  • Increased overall premature mortality
  • Adult onset diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Degenerative arthritis
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Cancer
  • Lipid disorders
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Gallstones
  • Fatty infiltration of the liver
  • Restrictive lung disease
  • Gastrointestinal disease
Considering all this, this recent report from The New York Times shouldn’t be all that surprising. New research reveals being obese can make ovarian cancer even deadlier and harder to survive. Nicholas Bakalar explains:
It is well known that obesity is associated with various malignancies, including kidney, throat, breast and colon cancers. Findings about obesity and ovarian cancer have been somewhat less clear, the researchers say, but evidence from previous studies suggests that obesity predicts a worse outcome for ovarian cancer patients as well.

The scientists wanted to know whether excess fat, apart from any other health problems it might cause, had direct effects on tumor growth. They reviewed the medical records of 216 patients at Cedars-Sinai who had surgery for epithelial ovarian cancer. The data included information on height, weight, age and any other diseases. The cause of death was presumed to be cancer related if the patient had advanced recurrent disease at the time of death.

Half the patients had ideal weight, with a body mass index from 18.5 to 24.9, and 8 percent had a B.M.I. of less than 18.5, considered underweight. Twenty-six percent were overweight, with indexes exceeding 25, and 16 percent were obese, with indexes higher than 30.

The overweight and obese differed little from normal and underweight people in age or in health status, except that they had more hypertension and diabetes.

But among patients with Stage III or Stage IV disease, the most advanced stages, those with B.M.I.’s greater than 25 survived disease free for an average of 17 months, compared with 25 months for people with indexes lower than 25.

For each increase of one unit in the index, the researchers found a 4 percent increase in the risk of recurrence and a 5 percent increase in the risk of death.

This “dose response” effect strongly suggests that obesity alone is responsible for the decreased survival time, Dr. Li said.
The results of this research are pretty jarring. It seems like being obese is like dragging around an old refrigerator; it slows you down, makes you uncomfortable, creates its own problems along the way, and makes many other problems worse. Time to ditch the fridge!

Or more importantly what’s in it. Dr. Fuhrman will tell you the typical American diet rich in processed foods, saturated fats, refined sugar, and salt is a one way ticket to obesity, disease, and early death. Back to Eat to Live:
As long as you are eating fatty foods and refined carbohydrates, it is impossible to lose weight healthfully. In fact, this vicious combination of a sedentary lifestyle and eating typical “American” food (high-fat, low-fiber) is the primary reason we have such an incredibly overweight population.
On the other hand he believes the secret to healthy bodyweight, disease prevention, and increased longevity is just the opposite; a plant-based diet comprised of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds:
There is no longer any question about the importance of fruits and vegetables in our diet. The greater the quantity and assortment of fruits and vegetables consumed, the lower the incidence of heart attacks, strokes, and cancer.4
Continue Reading...

Milk: Does It Do A Body Good?

From the January 2005 edition of Dr. Fuhrman’s Healthy Times:

Recent research sheds a very bad light on dairy consumption.

Parkinson’s disease

Recent studies have shown that men who consume more dairy products and who are big milk drinkers have a higher occurrence of Parkinson’s disease.

Honglei Chen, M.D., of Harvard University reported his findings at the annual meeting of the American College of Nutrition (December 2004) and presented a few other studies, one of which was the Parkinson’s Disease Honolulu Study, that showed the same association. The interesting finding was that it was not the fat in milk and dairy that were implicated. Usually, the high saturated fat content of dairy is blamed for its disease risk. But in this case, according to Chen, fat was “out of the picture.” Calcium and added vitamin D also were unrelated. That means something else in dairy is the culprit. The relationship between Parkinson’s and milk consumption has been suspected for decades1 and was first reported by researchers a few years ago. Chen’s and other recent prospective studies have confirmed the earlier, less definitive findings.

Heart disease
A related recent finding is that deaths from heart disease also are strongly associated with milk drinking in adulthood. Of particular interest is that (as is the case with Parkinson’s) the association is with the non-fat portion of milk. Non-fat and skim milk consumption shows the same association as that of whole milk. Researchers found that heart disease death is strongly associated with circulating antibodies against milk. These antibodies are found to bind to human lymphocytes and platelets, thus increasing the likelihood of clot formation. The researchers also concluded that the non-fat aspects of milk have atherogenic effects (plaque-building) both biochemical and immunological, and the simultaneous attack from all these directions explains why milk was found to have such a strong effect on death rate.2

Ovarian cancer
A recent study of 61,000 women found that those who consumed more than 2 glasses of milk per day had twice the risk of serous ovarian cancer than women who consumed fewer than two glasses. The risk of those who drank two glasses a day was double that of women who rarely drank milk.3 Lactose in milk seemed to be the primary culprit. Again this larger study confirms earlier studies with the same findings.
Continue Reading...

New England Journal of Medicine: Overweight Contributes to Mortality

Last year some researchers found that being slightly overweight actually lowered the risk of death. Kenneth Chang reports in today's New York Times that two new, larger studies tell a different tale: being even slightly overweight can increase mortality.
The researchers said the more telling analysis arose when they focused on 186,000 healthy men and women who had never smoked. Among men and women, being overweight raised the risk of death 20 percent to 40 percent compared with normal-weight people, the researchers said...

Researchers have almost universally found that obese people have considerable health risks. But there has been debate over whether someone who is less severely overweight is at a greater risk of illness. Other factors, especially smoking, can complicate analysis of the data. Smoking greatly increases the chances of deadly lung diseases, but smokers tend to weigh less.

“No single study is able to solve a controversy of this magnitude,” Dr. Leitzmann said, but he recommended that anyone overweight “should be looking to lose weight.”

A second study by researchers at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, and Johns Hopkins University looked at 1.2 million Koreans ages 30 to 95 and followed them for 12 years. The researchers looked at 82,372 deaths and correlated them with the body mass index. They found, too, that risk of death and cancer increased in people who were overweight, but not obese.
Both studies have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine. You can read both the American and Korean studies online.

As we have blogged about before, Dr. Fuhrman has long been citing the work of Harvard's Dr. I-Min Lee--who studied nearly 20,000 men over nearly thirty years. She found that you practically can not be too thin: the lightest group of men had the lowest mortality. (Of course, he cautions, there is such a thing as being too thin, which is usually anorexia.)

Chemotherapy: Lots of Side Effects

Dr. Fuhrman has written before about our country’s chemotherapy mentality:
Our technologically-advanced society is suffering from the highest rates of cancer ever seen in human history, rates that are also much higher than in less developed parts of the world. Since 1999, cancer has surpassed heart disease and has become the leading cause of age adjusted mortality for Americans younger than 85. Despite more than a hundred billion dollars in cancer research— invested largely in the development of drug chemotherapy and screening and detection techniques—we have lost the war on cancer. While there has been a slight reduction of cancer-related deaths in the last 25 years, this is largely the result of the decrease in lung cancer deaths that has resulted from a reduction in cigarette smoking during this timeframe. Mortality rates for most cancers have stayed remarkably steady.

Chemotherapy has contributed to the progress made against cancer deaths from fast-growing cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma, testicular cancer, and childhood cancers such as osteogenic sarcoma. But for the major cancers affecting most adult Americans, chemotherapy adds less than one year of disease-free life to those treated.
Here’s more from Dr. Fuhrman’s post:
  • A meta-analysis of chemotherapy for postmenopausal, estrogen receptor-positive women (the largest group of women with breast cancer) pooled the six largest studies to get the most accurate data on survival and complications. Here is what researchers concluded about the group treated with standard chemotherapy: “No significant survival benefit was observed.”1
  • In non-small cell lung cancer (the most common type), the 5- year survival is only about 10 percent. In stage 4, when the cancer has spread to distant sites, the 5-year survival is only 1.6 percent. After looking at multiple studies, it appears that treatment generally results in a very slight improved survival rate at 1 year, but this advantage disappeared at 30 months of follow- up.2
  • Even in small cell lung cancer where chemotherapy has proven effectiveness in life extension, the benefit adds only a few months of life, not years. And during this time the patient can experience serious—even life threatening— side effects from the treatment.
In the last bullet Dr. Fuhrman brings up the issue of side effects, and he’s not alone. A new study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows there are more side effects for using chemotherapy to treat breast cancer than expected. Serena Gordon of HealthDay News reports:
"When we looked at the rates of side effects commonly associated with chemotherapy, we found women experienced more hospitalizations or emergency room visits for these side effects than previous clinical trials would have estimated," said study author Dr. Michael Hassett, a clinical instructor in medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, in Boston.
Gordon reports that researchers made some startling discoveries:
The researchers looked at hospitalizations and emergency room visits in the year following the initial diagnosis for both women who received chemotherapy and those who did not.

Women on chemotherapy were much more likely to visit the emergency room or be hospitalized for any cause than women who didn't have chemotherapy -- 61 percent compared to 42 percent.

Fever and infection were the most common causes women were hospitalized or visited the emergency room. Low blood cell counts were the next most common reason, followed by dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance.

Women who received chemotherapy also had more than $1,200 in additional health-care expenditures related to chemotherapy and more than $17,000 in additional costs for ambulatory care than women who didn't receive chemotherapy.
For women diagnosised with breast cancer Dr. Hassett offers this suggestion:
"Hopefully, women with breast cancer who hear about this study will understand that deciding whether or not to have chemotherapy must be made on an individual basis," Hassett said. "Women should talk with their doctors about both the benefits and risks of chemotherapy. For women with small cancers, the benefits may not outweigh the risks. On the other hand, for women with larger or higher-risk cancers, the benefits usually outweigh the risks."
For more of Dr. Fuhrman's thoughts, check out these previous posts: Re-Examining Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer and Chemo: Not Always the Best Option Continue Reading...

Food Processing Techniques and Obesity

Here’s a concept, processed foods are “toxic” and “addictive.” Sound like something Dr. Fuhrman would say? According to The Scotsman some health experts are becoming more and more leery of manufactured foods. Lyndsay Moss reports:
Professor Robert Lustig, from the University of California, said changes in manufacturing processes were making food "toxic" and "addictive", leading to obesity.

Scotland, along with the rest of the UK, faces a growing health timebomb as more and more youngsters become obese.

Figures show that a third of 12-year-olds in Scotland are overweight and a fifth are obese.

The latest study said food manufacturing processes had created a "toxic environment" that dooms children to being overweight.

Prof Lustig said that the way in which food was now processed, which had changed significantly in the last 30 years, had created an environment in which foods were essentially addictive due to their effect on the hormone insulin.

"In particular, fructose [sugar] - too much - and fibre - not enough - appear to be cornerstones of the obesity epidemic through their effects on insulin," he said.
Dr. Fuhrman has written about the perils of processed foods numerous times. For instance:
Refined Foods Raise Your Cholesterol
All refined sweets are low in nutrients and fiber and are rapidly absorbed. These refined sweets include sugar, honey, corn syrup, molasses and corn sweeteners. They all contain insignificant amounts of nutrients (per calorie) and no fiber. More and more studies offer evidence that the consumption of these sweets and white-flour products are a significant cause of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.1

Beware the High Fructose Corn Syrup
Soft drinks and processed foods are full of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). HFCS is not only fattening, but this inexpensive and ultra-concentrated sugar has no resemblance to real food made by nature. It is another experiment thrust upon our unsuspecting children with unknown dangerous consequences. Besides sugar, corn syrup, and chemicals, these drinks often contain caffeine, an addictive stimulant. Children crave more and more as they get older. By adolescence most children have become soft-drink addicts. It is no surprise that six out of the seven most popular soft drinks contain caffeine. Contrast this high level of sugary “liquid candy” with the meager intake of fresh produce by children and teenagers, and it is no surprise that we have an obesity epidemic beyond all expectations.
Continue Reading...

Ear Infections: To Tube Or Not To Tube

Jane E. Brody of The New York Times takes a look at the conventional medical practice of surgically implanting tubes in the ears of children with persistent ear infections. This old standby seems to be coming under new scrutiny:
The tubes were intended to remain in the ear for up to 14 months. By then, many children outgrow the problem. After age 3 or 4, Dr. Robert Stenstrom of St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver explained, the eustachian tube lengthens and changes position, reducing the risk of middle ear infections and fluid buildup.

Still, after the tubes are removed or fall out on their own, many children need to have them replaced at least once. Each operation involves general anesthesia and the risks it entails.

According to a new long-term study by Dr. Stenstrom and colleagues, when young children were randomly assigned to receive ear tubes or to be treated daily with antibiotics, those with ear tubes suffered greater damage to their eardrums and had, on average, poorer hearing 6 to 10 years after the tubes were removed.

Although the tube design has changed and daily antibiotics are no longer recommended, this controlled clinical trial calls into question whether the benefits of ear tubes outweigh the risks.
In Disease-Proof Your Child Dr. Fuhrman explains feeding children a healthy diet and avoiding dairy products (especially in infancy) is crucial for preventing ear infections:
Babies who drink from a bottle while lying on their backs may get milk and juice into their eustachian tubes, which increases the occurrence of ear infections. Children who are breast-fed for at least a year have been shown to have much fewer infections than those weaned earlier.1
Dr. Fuhrman also condemns continually using antibiotics to remedy ear infections:
Studies also point to the fact that most ear infections early in life are viral, not bacterial.2 The vast majority of ear infections resolve nicely on their own, whether bacterial or viral, without an antibiotic. It is a common practice in this country to treat all ear infections with an antibiotic. Whether bacterial or not, our children get a routine prescription for an antibiotic at every minor illness. This cycle often is repeated many times, which may beget other medical problems in adulthood.
For more on this topic check out an earlier post: Childhood Ear Infections: A Multibillion-Dollar Industry

Continue Reading...

Health Points: Monday

"These companies are playing with the lives of millions and we can't ignore such warnings any more," said Vijay Kumar Malhotra of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party which later staged a walkout over the issue.

"The time has now come to ban both Pepsi and Coke," he said.
Ever wonder what would happen to humans and our legacy if the earth were completely destroyed by a man-made disaster or natural calamity? The Alliance to Rescue Civilization (ARC) has a plan to create a back-up on the moon of all recordable aspects of human civilization, including DNA samples.
Great apes -- chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas -- consistently outperform monkeys and lemurs on a variety of intelligence tests, which proves they're the smartest of nonhuman primates, say researchers who reviewed hundreds of studies.

The findings may help scientists better understand the link between intelligence and human evolution.
The purpose of chickens that glow, is that scientists can track antibody-based therapies that might prove valuable in treating human cancers.

UC Davis Cancer Center Dr. Joseph Tuscano explains that, "One of the problems with modern drugs is that they're not very specific. Even aspirin is not very specific. Antibodies, on the other hand are highly, highly specific meaning that, like an archer's arrow, they can effectively target a disease. Antibody-based therapies are one of the biggest advances in cancer treatment in the last 40 years."

Nutrient Dense Foods Are Key

According to new research low-calorie dieting can allow you to eat more food and ingest less calories. Now, if you read Eat to Live you already know this to be true. The key is to consume large amounts of healthy nutrient-rich plant matter which fills you up, but doesn’t burden you with excess calories. The Reuters report seems to agree:
Using dietary information from 7,500 U.S. adults, researchers found that those who reported eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, fiber-rich grains and other lower-calorie foods typically ate a larger amount of food than their peers who favored richer fare.

Yet they ate several hundred fewer calories a day, while consuming more calcium, iron, potassium and vitamins A, C, B6 and folate.
It all boils down to those fiber-full fruits and veggies:
In general, foods that have a high amount of water and/or fiber, such as fruits and vegetables, also have a low calorie density. Water and fiber add to a food's bulk, but contribute few or no calories.

Sugar, fat and flour, on the other hand, pack on the calories, and calorie-dense foods include chips and other snack foods, nuts, sweets and processed or fatty meats.

So while study participants who filled their diets with low-cal fare ate more food by weight, they ingested fewer calories — an average of 425 fewer among men, and 250 fewer among women.

Research: Lots Of Exercise Slows The Heart

According to HealthDay News the results of a new study are defying the conventional wisdom that exercise doesn’t make the human heart slow down. It seems that extreme exercise can actually tire the heart and slow it by ten percent. Ed Edelson reports:
For the study, Dr. Euan A. Ashley, an assistant professor of cardiology at Stanford University and his colleagues set up shop at the finishing line of an ultra-endurance race called the "Adrenalin Rush," held in the Scottish Highlands. The annual event is grueling even by "iron man" standards, with one or two competitors usually requiring hospitalization after every race.

As athletes crossed the line after 90 hours of biking, climbing, swimming, paddling and rope work, the researchers tested their hearts.

The athletes' average heartbeat had slowed from what was measured before the race, by about 8 percent for athletes who did not carry the ACE fitness gene and 13 percent for those who did carry it.