NY Times: Michael Pollan on Nutritionism

Hopefully you had the opportunity to read Michael Pollan’s recent article in The New York Times Magazine. In it, he proposes lots of reasons for America’s dietary indiscretions; misinformation, bad science, and the rise of industrialized food, to name a few.

Needless to say, my Fuhrman-senses were tingling. Especially concerning the concept of “nutritionism.” According to Pollan, “The term nutritionism refers to the widely shared but unexamined assumption that the key to understanding food is indeed the nutrient.” Meaning it’s up to scientists to discover the hidden healthful particles (nutrients) in food and then this will help us make informed decisions about which foods appropriately fuel our bodies and give us sustained health. Sounds good, right?

Well, as Pollan explains, historically these types of scientific discoveries—and their good intentions—tend to get mucked up along the way and ultimately become misconstrued. One might even argue bastardized. More from the article:
This is a great boon for manufacturers of processed food, and it helps explain why they have been so happy to get with the nutritionism program. In the years following McGovern’s capitulation and the 1982 National Academy report, the food industry set about re-engineering thousands of popular food products to contain more of the nutrients that science and government had deemed the good ones and less of the bad, and by the late ’80s a golden era of food science was upon us. The Year of Eating Oat Bran — also known as 1988 — served as a kind of coming-out party for the food scientists, who succeeded in getting the material into nearly every processed food sold in America. Oat bran’s moment on the dietary stage didn’t last long, but the pattern had been established, and every few years since then a new oat bran has taken its turn under the marketing lights. (Here comes omega-3!)

By comparison, the typical real food has more trouble competing under the rules of nutritionism, if only because something like a banana or an avocado can’t easily change its nutritional stripes (though rest assured the genetic engineers are hard at work on the problem). So far, at least, you can’t put oat bran in a banana. So depending on the reigning nutritional orthodoxy, the avocado might be either a high-fat food to be avoided (Old Think) or a food high in monounsaturated fat to be embraced (New Think). The fate of each whole food rises and falls with every change in the nutritional weather, while the processed foods are simply reformulated. That’s why when the Atkins mania hit the food industry, bread and pasta were given a quick redesign (dialing back the carbs; boosting the protein), while the poor unreconstructed potatoes and carrots were left out in the cold.

Of course it’s also a lot easier to slap a health claim on a box of sugary cereal than on a potato or carrot, with the perverse result that the most healthful foods in the supermarket sit there quietly in the produce section, silent as stroke victims, while a few aisles over, the Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms are screaming about their newfound whole-grain goodness.
Now if you ask me, Pollan hits the nail right on the head. All this time and money wasted on figuring out which nutrient is going to be today’s fountain of youth. And when one is discovered, food-marketers from across the country just want to know one thing, “How can we use it to make people believe our mass-produced junk food is healthy?” Meanwhile fresh fruits and vegetables are staring us right in the face. Go ahead, let out a little sigh.

If you’re familiar with Michael Pollan’s work you know that he strongly supports a vegetable-based diet for health, disease-prevention, and longevity. So I kind of figured Dr. Fuhrman would agree with him here. And he does for the most part, but, unlike Pollan, Dr. Fuhrman doesn’t feel our grandparents were the best eaters. From the article, here are Pollan’s comments:
The sheer novelty and glamour of the Western diet, with its 17,000 new food products introduced every year, and the marketing muscle used to sell these products, has overwhelmed the force of tradition and left us where we now find ourselves: relying on science and journalism and marketing to help us decide questions about what to eat. Nutritionism, which arose to help us better deal with the problems of the Western diet, has largely been co-opted by it, used by the industry to sell more food and to undermine the authority of traditional ways of eating. You would not have read this far into this article if your food culture were intact and healthy; you would simply eat the way your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents taught you to eat. The question is, Are we better off with these new authorities than we were with the traditional authorities they supplanted? The answer by now should be clear.
Personally, despite this little disparity, I still think Michael Pollan is onto something—something good. For me, it all comes down to filtering out bad information. And yes, that takes steely resolve. You have to differentiate junk science from good science, marketing from the truth, and perhaps most important of all, learn to ignore dangerous reactionary claims. Dr. Fuhrman’s thoughts on Pollan’s piece should help explain where I’m coming from:
I think in the future more and more intelligent people will realize the message is clear. And certainly there will be more and more examples of others parroting a similar message to mine.

Eat less, eat mostly plants, don't eat processed foods. We agree. These are the main points.

I still don't think our grandparents ate too great, so we can do better than ever before with what we know about nutrition today. Too bad there are so many nuts out there confusing this issue, (Atkin's, Weston Price, Zone, Eat For Your Blood Type, Dr. Mercola's Metabolic Typing, Glycemic Index) leading the addicted masses into more and more confusion, so they miss the main points.
Maybe that’s what’s happening? All these fad diets get the press because they fly in the face of conventional thinking. And why not? It’s common knowledge that the standard American diet isn’t working. Don’t believe me? Just look at the obesity rates in this country, or the prevalence of cancer and heart disease. If you read these types of news reports for too long, you’d want to try something radical too!

In Eat to Live Dr. Fuhrman remarks that he doesn’t feel everyone will embrace his vegetable-based diet, mainly because of the influence of outside factors. After all, why meet the problem head on when you can devour an entire box of “enriched” chocolate breakfast cereal or have some doctor write you another prescription? I felt now was an appropriate time to mention this:
The social and economic forces that are pulling our population toward obesity and disease will not be defeated by one book preaching about achieving superior health with nutritional excellence. The “good life” will continue to bring most Americans to a premature grave. This plan is not for everyone. I don not expect the majority of individuals to live this healthfully. However, they should at least make that decision by being aware of the facts rather than having their food choices shaped by inaccurate information or the food manufacturers. Some people will choose to smoke cigarettes, eat unhealthfully, or pursue other reckless habits.

Red Meat, Heart Disease, and Diabetics

Now I’m not a red meat eater, and haven’t been for several years. Why? Well it’s one of those foods, along with bacon, potato chips, and doughnuts that I simply don’t trust. And according to Food Navigator there’s another reason to be suspicious of it—especially if you’re diabetic. New research has determined diabetics who eat lots of red meat increase their risk of heart disease by fifty-percent. Check it out:
The research looked at the effects of red meat and dietary iron intake on the incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD) among the 6,161 women with diagnosed type-2 diabetes enrolled in the Nurses Health Study…

… After adjusting the results for confounding factors such as age and BMI, the researchers report that high intake of heme iron from red meat, poultry and seafood was associated with a significantly increased risk of CHD for these diabetic women.
Issues surrounding red meat are no stranger to this blog. In fact, this past November a new study determined a link between red meat and cancer. Steven Reinberg of HealthDay News was all over it:
"We found that higher red meat intake may be a risk factor for hormone receptor-positive breast cancer among premenopausal women," said lead author Eunyoung Cho, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. "The majority of breast cancer is hormone receptor-positive, and the incidence of hormone receptor-positive tumors has been increasing in the United States," she added.
And let’s not forget this University of San Diego School of Medicine press release claiming milk and red meat contain a unique molecule which promotes diseases. More from the release:
The study’s senior author, Ajit Varki, M.D., UCSD professor of medicine and cellular and molecular medicine, and co-director of the UCSD Glycobiology Research and Training Center, said that although it is unlikely that the ingestion of Neu5Gc alone would be primarily responsible for any specific disease, “it is conceivable that gradual Neu5Gc incorporation into the cells of the body over a lifetime, with subsequent binding of the circulating antibodies against Neu5Gc (the immune response), could contribute to the inflammatory processes involved in various diseases.”
Some other posts worth taking a look at:

Ineffective Anti-Cancer Remedies: Exotic Tropical Fruit Juices

From the January 2006 edition of Dr. Fuhrman's Healthy Times:

Juices and extracts of exotic fruits and vegetables such as mangosteen, gogi berries, Chinese lycium, acia, Siberian pineapple, cili, noni, guarana, and black currant are touted as wondrous super foods with a myriad of health claims. Certainly, eating exotic fruits from all over the globe can add valuable phytochemical compounds with the potential for beneficial effects. I see no reason why these fruits and their juices should not be used as part of a varied diet with a wide assortment of phytonutrients. Broadening our variety of health-supporting nutrients from exotic foods has value in building a strong immune defense against cancer.

The confusion arises when marketers claim that the juices can cure cancer or kill cancer cells on the basis of studies that show that some component in the juice or other part of the plant has been shown to kill cancer cells. Just because a concentrated chemical derived from a food can kill cancer cells in a test tube does not make that food a cure for cancer.

For example, some of the non-tasty parts of these plants have been shown to cause the death of human cancer cells in test tubes. But there have been no experiments with actual cancer patients (or patients with other diseases). It's likely that many exotic fruits are highly nutritious, but there is also the possibility that some of the touted benefits seen in scientific studies arise from the medicinal effects, which are toxic. These medicinal effects are often confused by marketers with the nutritive effects of the fruit.

If something is beneficial against cancer, then one or more of the following conditions must be met:
1. The substance must be a compound that is more toxic to cancer cells than normal cells (similar to chemotherapy, which can shrink cancerous tumors and kill rapidly growing cancer cells because these cells are more sensitive to the effects of poison than normal cells);

2. It must supply nutritive substances that increase the person's defenses against the disease, thereby curtailing the spread of cancer via immunostimulating or immunosupportive means and increasing cancer survival (typically by slowing the spread of cancer);

3. It must have hormonal blocking effects that lessen the effect of the body's endogenously produced hormones that promote the spread of cancer.
When we look at the studies presented on these natural foods, we have to attempt to differentiate between a medicinal (toxic) effect due to a noxious compound in the plant and a nutritive effect due to the phytonutrient content. Promoters of these fruits and juices tend to lump all of the studies together, trying to make their product look like a magical food that can promote wellness and also kill cancer cells. But just because the toxic part of the plant has the ability to kill cancer cells in a test tube does not mean the substance will be an effective agent against cancer.

For example, one reason why I hesitate to recommend noni juice for healthy people is because of its ability to seemingly increase one's energy and to reduce pain. For a product to have such powerful medicinal effects, it must contain natural compounds with toxic properties. As a result, it isn't wise to consume these compounds continually over a lifetime. It is too much like a drug.

Noni juice may be good as an aid for elderly people who lack energy or who regularly experience discomfort. But it is inaccurate to claim that these benefits come from the nutritive components. The drug effects come from the toxic components. Natural substances with strong medicinal effects should be avoided unless you have a medical condition that warrants this type of therapy.

More Bad News for Bones

Well if today’s post about antidepressants and bone-loss wasn’t bad enough, check out this report by HealthDay News. Apparently a new study has found that a certain cancer medication caused bone loss and promoted tumor growth in the bones of mice. Robert Preidt reports:
G-CSF helps restore white blood cell counts after chemotherapy, which can destroy white blood cells. Low levels of white blood cells increase the risk of infection in patients.

In the study, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis gave G-CSF to mice for eight days.

They found that the mice lost bone mass. The rodents also showed increased bone tumor growth when they were injected with cancer cells.

Declining Cancer Rates: A Mom's Perspective

No doubt you read one of the reports talking about the declining cancer rates in the United States, like this one from The Los Angeles TimesCancer Deaths Drop for 2nd Year. Now, is this good news? Well that depends on who you ask. The Cancer Blog has more:
This week has been kind of emotional for me. I'm not going to spend a lot of time writing about me, because I am kind of angry right now. Yesterday, as I was watching the news while getting ready for work, there was a spot that they were talking about how excited they were that deaths from cancer showed a tremendous decrease last year. I agree, it is good news - however, the only cancers they talked about and showed the figures for were ADULT cancers (breast cancer, colon cancer, prostrate cancer, etc). Where are the numbers on childhood cancers? And - until the number is 0, I see no reason to get really excited.

Tomato-Broccoli Power!

Like tomatoes? What about broccoli? Ever eat them together? Well if you have, you’re doing your prostate a service. Because according to a new study eating broccoli and tomatoes together is more effective at protecting against prostate cancer than consuming them separately. Don’t believe me? Robert Preidt of HealthDay News explains:
University of Illinois researchers fed a diet containing 10 percent broccoli powder and 10 percent tomato powder to a group of rats that had been implanted with prostate cancer cells. Other groups of rats received either tomato powder or broccoli powder alone; a supplemental dose of lycopene (the red pigment in tomatoes believed to be an anti-cancer agent); or finasteride, a drug prescribed for men with enlarged prostates. Another group of rats was castrated.

After 22 weeks, the researchers found that the combined tomato/broccoli diet was the most effective at prostate tumor reduction. Of the other treatments, castration was the only one that came close to being as effective.
Now I don’t know about you, but I’ll happily choose tomatoes and broccoli over wearing a cone around my head for two weeks. Ouch! Okay, so the power of tomatoes and broccoli shouldn’t surprise you. After all they’re both in Dr. Fuhrman’s Fab Five:
Greens: Make steamed greens with a cashew butter cream sauce. Kids love it. We blend raw cashews and a few dried onion flakes with some soy milk and make a great sauce for chopped kale or broccoli.

Tomatoes: Tomatoes are a wonderful food in their own class. Whether you consider them a fruit or vegetable, it matters not. Slice them into pita pocket sandwiches. Mash some almond butter with a fork into some tomato sauce to add to the vegetable-tomato-sprout avocado pita pocket. What a great school lunch.
And, let’s not forget Dr. Fuhrman considers tomatoes and broccoli two of the best foods for health and longevity:
Top Seven Foods for Good Health and Longevity
  • Black raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Flax Seeds
  • Green Leafy Vegetables
  • Tomatoes
  • Broccoli sprouts
Oh man, all this talk about tomatoes and broccoli has made me hungry. How about you? Check out this Italian-inspired creation from Disease-Proof Your Child, it certainly packs a tomato-broccoli punch:
Vegetable Lasagna

1 pound firm tofu
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup sesame tahini
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 cups diced carrots
1 medium zucchini
1 medium yellow squash
1 bunch of broccoli, chopped
1 cup unsalted tomato sauce
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 cup chopped scallions
1 package whole-wheat lasagna noodles, boiled per package instructions
1 cup shredded soy cheese.

Blend the tofu, lemon juice, tahini, shredded coconut, nutritional yeast, and parsley in a good processor and put aside. Blend all the vegetables with the tomato sauce and the oregano, Italian seasoning, and scallions to make a thick veggie paste. Place a small amount of sauce in the bottom of a large casserole pan. Make layers of cooked lasagna noodles by spreading tofu mixture on top of the noodles, then another layer of noodles, and then the veggie mix. Put the last layer of noodles on top, sprinkle the shredded soy cheese on the top, cover the top of the dish, and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Serves 4.
And for more on broccoli’s anti-cancer prowess, take a look at this Georgetown University Medical Center press release from last year:
Although the health benefits of eating your vegetables—especially cruciferous ones, such as broccoli—aren’t particularly new, this study is one of the first to provide a molecular explanation as to how eating vegetables could cut a person’s risk of developing cancer, an association that some population studies have found, says the study’s senior author, Eliot M. Rosen, MD, PhD, professor of oncology, cell biology, and radiation medicine at Georgetown’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Can Flaxseed Oil Cause Prostate Cancer?

From the November 2006 edition of Dr. Fuhrman's Healthy Times:

There is no need for flaxseed oil when whole ground flaxseed provides more benefits and no risk. It seems that everyone you ask about flaxseed oil and prostate cancer gives a different answer. And to be fair, this is a complex subject that I will just briefly address here.

Recent studies have suggested that flaxseed oil may contribute to increased prostate cancer risk. Fortunately, there is no need to consume flaxseed oil. The best way to get omega-3 fatty acids is to consume whole flaxseed. Plus, when you consume whole flaxseed, not only do you get the best plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, you also get the richest source of dietary lignans. Lignans are converted by bacteria in the intestinal tract to horomone-like compounds called phytoestrogens that have protective effects against hormone-related cancers such as breast and prostate cancer. In fact, consuming ground flaxseed has been shown to have beneficial properties for prevention and treatment of both breast and prostate cancer.

When you consume the whole seeds, not the oil, the results show significantly reduced growth rate of cancer cells, and increased death rate of cancer cells. Another way to safely and effectively contribute to your omega-3 intake is to eat a few walnuts and lots of leafy green vegetables. When you get your essential fats from whole natural foods, you get powerful disease-fighting nutrients in the process that are not found in oils.

When it comes to omega-3 fatty acids, my recommendation is to consume about one tablespoon of ground flaxseed per day, and forgo the oil. I also recommend a small amount of DHA from a vegan source (about 200 mg per day) to assure nutritional adequacy (but not as your only source of omega-3s).

Not everyone requires DHA, but taking a small dose (not 3000 mg as some have recommended) will assure almost everyone gets an adequate amount, without the negative health risks (including suppression of immune function and risk of hemorrhagic stroke) associated with too much fish or fish oil.

Ineffective Anti-Cancer Remedies: Coffee Enemas

From the January 2006 edition of Dr. Fuhrman's Healthy Times:

The coffee enemas of the Gerson or Gonzolez cancer protocols are examples of treatments that have no documented benefits. While these programs offer patients a diet rich in vegetable juices and healthful organic foods, they also offer a smorgasbord of therapies that have not shown any benefits for cancer patients.

According to Gonzalez, cancerous tumors are collections of abnormal cells. So when therapy causes cell breakdown (necrosis),abnormal molecules of tumor waste are released into the blood, filtered and detoxified by the liver, and excreted through the bile ducts from the liver to the small intestine. The walls of the bile ducts are composed of smooth muscle that caffeine in coffee causes to relax, allowing ducts to "open wide," allowing tumor toxins to pass into the small bowel.

Gonzalez's explanation sounds scientific, but it is inaccurate. First of all, cancer cells are not in themselves toxic. They are harmful to the body because they multiply in a rapid and uncontrolled fashion. When cells die, whether cancerous or not, they do not overwhelm the body with toxins. But even if they did, toxins are excreted directly into the blood from the liver; they do not traverse the bile ducts.

Caffeinated beverages delivered rectally are not health-supporting and cannot detoxify your body any more effectively than rinsing your mouth with them and then spitting them out. At least two deaths have been linked to coffee enemas, attributed to hyponatremia and dehydration. There is also a risk of contamination from unsanitary equipment used to administer enemas. For example, one outbreak of Campylobacter sepsis occurred among clients at a border clinic in Mexico that offered coffee enemas, and an outbreak of amebiasis was also linked to fecal contamination of an enema-delivery system.

Eating for Prostate Health

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

My approach to prostate cancer is dramatically different from the conventional medical approach. It is built on a foundation of preventive nutrition and self-responsibility. Armed with modern science, I have designed a diet that makes it possible for you to virtually cancer-proof yourself by making intelligent choices in your kitchen.

Nutritional excellence, started as early in life as possible, is the only way we will win the war against cancer. As billions of dollars are being wasted on what is called “cancer research,”which would more accurately be called “drug research,” we continue to lose the battle to save lives. The emphasis must be shifted to nutritional education, now.

I advise all men to prevent the occurrence of prostate cancer—and to prevent existing low-grade prostate cancer from becoming aggressive—by adopting my program for nutritional excellence (check out Dr. Fuhrman's Diet Advice for Prostate Health).

If a hard prostate nodule is found during a digital rectal exam (DRE), I recommend that the patient get one year of hormonal treatment for prostate cancer. A hard nodule has a 90 percent chance of being prostate cancer, and there is also an increased likelihood of it being a later stage (higher Gleason score), riskier grade of prostate cancer.

For men who have eaten the Standard American Diet (SAD) for most of their lives, I recommend PSA testing twice yearly after the age of 60 to determine PSA velocity (the rate of increase of PSA over time). If your PSA is increasing at a rate of 2 ng/ml per year (shown to be a sensitive indicator of prostate cancer)1 then short-term hormonal therapy for prostate cancer can be pursued.

If you already have prostate cancer—and a Gleason score of 7 or higher or a palpable nodule identified by DRE—nutritional treatment alone does not offer enough of a guarantee of success. In these cases, a customized hormonal approach makes the most sense and has been shown to be very effective.2 Seek out a doctor well versed and experienced with triple hormonal blockade, who has the willingness and capability to customize a medical regimen for each individual patient. Triple hormonal blockade consists of a LH (luteinizing hormone) agonist, an anti-androgen, and finasteride. This treatment is usually performed for about a year and long-term suppression of cancer growth has been evident in scientific studies.

Quite a few enlightened physicians and urologists agree with the treatment options I describe in this newsletter. They no longer recommend local treatments (such as radiation and prostate surgery) directed at destroying the prostate. Instead, they have become experts in hormonal blockade. However, my approach goes farther than this because I add a nutritional protocol to prevent and treat cancer, which includes most of my general dietary recommendations for excellent health in general.
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Positively False Confidence in PSA Tests

From the July 2005 edition of Dr. Fuhrman's Healthy Times:

The use of the PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test has become widespread in the U.S. Based on results of the test, physicians establish detailed treatment recommendations—which typically involve surgery, radiation, and other invasive techniques—in an attempt to decrease the likelihood of a premature death from prostate cancer.

Prior to the widespread use of the PSA test, prostate cancer was detected only via digital rectal exam (DRE). Digital does not, in this case, refer to modern computer technology; rather it refers to a doctor’s finger, a digit. Unfortunately, once a lump in the prostate is detected via DRE, the prostate cancer is already at a later stage, and any potential benefits of early intervention are reduced. Currently, clinical practice guidelines recommend the use of both DRE and PSA in men over 50 years of age.

Incredible as it may seem, the PSA test does not accurately detect cancer. If you are over 60 years old, the chance of having a prostate biopsy positive for cancer is high, and the likelihood you have prostate cancer is the same whether or not you have an elevated PSA. More and more studies in recent years have demonstrated that prostate cancer is found at the same high rate in those with lower, so-called “normal” PSAs as those with elevated PSAs.1 An interesting study from Stanford University in California showed that the ability of PSA to detect cancer from 1998 to 2003 was only 2 percent. The elevations in PSA (between 2 and 10) were related to benign enlargement of the prostate, not cancer.

Remember, the pharmaceutical/medical industry is big business. Too often, treatments are promoted from a financially-biased perspective, leading to overly invasive and aggressive care without documented benefits.

If you want to have your prostate biopsied, radiated, and cut out, go ahead, but you do not need a PSA blood test first to decide. The PSA test is just an excuse to give men a prostate biopsy.

If you are a male over 60 who has eaten the Standard American Diet (SAD) your entire life, you should assume you have prostate cancer. If you are convinced (and if you are, it won’t be because of anything in the scientific literature) that you will enhance and prolong your life by undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, you might as well get the treatment without even bothering with a PSA test first. If standard treatment actually enhanced the quality of life and extended it, it would make sense to get the treatment before age 50, when your prostate cancer would surely be confined to the prostate. I am not seriously suggesting either of these approaches. But they make more sense than the present standard, especially since populations who get regular PSA tests, compared to populations who do not, show no reduction in prostate cancer-related deaths.2

My recommendations revolve around protecting ourselves from cancer with nutritional excellence, staying as far away from doctors as possible, and enjoying life without medical interference, testing, fear, and futile treatments. However, I recommend nutritional excellence for everybody of both sexes and of all ages, for overall disease protection and for the maintenance of youthful vigor, wellness, and mental acuity as we age. Nutritional excellence is not just for cancer or heart disease prevention or treatment. Continue Reading...

Are the Inuit Healthy?

The Inuit, know anything about them? Personally, I don’t know much, just that they’re Eskimos. So, ever the good student, I decided to do a little Wikipedia search. Sure enough I turned up some interesting information. Here’s the introduction:

Inuit (Inuktitut syllabics, singular Inuk) is a general term for a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic coasts of Siberia, Alaska, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Quebec, Labrador, and Greenland. Until fairly recent times, there has been a remarkable homogeneity in the culture throughout this area, which traditionally relied on fish, sea mammals, and land animals for food, heat, light, clothing, tools, and shelter. Their language, sometimes incorrectly called Inuktitut, is grouped under Inuit language or Eskimo-Aleut languages.

Okay, if animal foods are an integral part of Inuit society, then I’ve got a question. How is their health? What’s the answer? Well, that depends on who you ask. For example, this report was emailed to me by a reader. According to Margaret Munro of The Vancouver Sun a new study links the Inuit’s game rich diet to “remarkable” protection against heart disease and cancer. Take a look:

While accelerating environmental and social meltdown is putting huge stress on Arctic communities, the study of almost 1,000 Inuit in northern Quebec shows the diet rich in game continues to offer remarkable protection, says lead researcher Dr. Eric Dewailly of Laval University.

"The study shows that they still have huge benefit and protection," says Dewailly. He and his colleagues presented the results of the on-going study here yesterday at the annual scientific meeting of ArcticNet, a northern research consortium.

Now this report is troubling, because if you remember from a previous post the Inuit, and other primitive people, aren’t exactly tipping the life-expectancy scale. More on that from Do Primitive Peoples Really Live Longer:

Inuit Greenlanders, who historically have had limited access to fruits and vegetables, have the worst longevity statistics in North America. Research from the past and present shows that they die on the average about 10 years younger and have a higher rate of cancer than the overall Canadian population.1…

…We now know that greatly increasing the consumption of vegetables, legumes, fruits, and raw nuts and seeds (and greatly decreasing the consumption of animal products) offers profound increased longevity potential, due in large part to broad symphony of life-extending phytochemical nutrients that a vegetable-based diet contains. By taking advantage of the year-round availability of high-quality plant foods, we have a unique opportunity to live both healthier and longer than ever before in human history.

So what’s the deal with this report? Or more specifically, is the study flawed? I don’t know, but here’s what Dr. Fuhrman had to say about it:

The research did not show that the Inuits live a long time or are healthy. The statements in the article made conclusions not supported by the research. The research merely was tracking the declining health of the Inuits since the spread of processed junk food among younger people. We can’t look to this group as an example of long-lived healthy people.

Now for all my fellow nerds out there, Dr. Fuhrman also recommended checking out John Robbins’s book Healthy at 100. In it he lists the world’s healthiest people, and surprise-surprise the Inuit didn’t make the cut. From the online table of contents, here is the list:

1. Abkhasia: Ancients of the Caucasus
Where people are healthier at ninety than most of us are at middle age

2. Vilcabamba: The Valley of Eternal Youth
Where heart disease and dementia do not exist

3. Hunza: A People Who Dance in Their Nineties
Where cancer, diabetes, and asthma are unknown

4. The Centenarians of Okinawa
Where more people live to 100 than anywhere else in the world
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Ineffective Anti-Cancer Remedies: Laetrile Amigdalina B17

From the January 2006 edition of Dr. Fuhrman's Healthy Times:

Laetrile is a drug made from a component in bitter almond (or apricot pits) called amygdalin. It can be broken down into glucose, benzaldehyde, and hydrogen cyanide. Laetrile has been marketed as an alternative cancer drug for about 50 years. However, studies in animals and humans have not shown benefits in treating any type of cancer. When it was losing favor as an alternative treatment after multiple studies showed it did not work, the laetrile promoters came up with the idea of calling it a vitamin (B17). Laetrile is still actively promoted on the internet, and stories are circulated about how its value has been suppressed by the medical- drug establishment.

Scientists have tested substances called "Laetrile" in more than 20 animal tumor models as well as in numerous humans and found no benefit either alone or together with other substances. After each negative trial demonstrated its ineffectiveness and its dangers, proponents varied their claims about Laetrile's mechanism of action and therapeutic effects. At first they claimed it could cure cancer. Later, they claimed it could "control" cancer. When the "vitamin" theory was developed, it was touted as a cancer preventive. It also has been claimed to be effective in relieving pain associated with cancer and in facilitating treatment with chemotherapy. Many people, unaware that toxic substances can have stimulating effects, still take Laetrile to prevent cancer. They think because it gives them a temporary "lift" it must be healthy. They are slowly poisoning themselves.

The Mammogram Debate: Cause or Cure?

From the May 2004 edition of Dr. Fuhrman's Healthy Times:

Unfortunately, mammography can be the cause of a woman’s breast cancer. When calculating its supposed benefits, we need to include in the equation the percentage of women whose breast cancer was promoted by the radiation exposure from the mammograms themselves. The younger you are when the mammograms are performed, the greater the risk of radiation-induced cancer.1,2 According to Michael Swift, M.D., chief of medical genetics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, between 5,000 and 10,000 of the 180,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed each year could be prevented if women’s breasts were not exposed to radiation from mammograms.Over a million American women carry the gene for ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T), which makes them unusually sensitive to the ionizing radiation in X rays and five times more likely to develop breast cancer.3

The decision to screen for breast cancer using mammograms should not be made lightly or based solely on emotions. Intuition, hope, and compassion can lead to the conclusion that screening mammograms should save the lives of young women, and it is frustrating that science has demonstrated otherwise. Our desire to help a loved one by “doing something about it” is instinctive. When it comes to breast cancer, the question is not whether to do something or not, but rather what to do about it. It is wrong to instruct patients to depend on mammograms, knowing that they will inevitably undergo the anxiety and frustration of repeated exams, callbacks, biopsies, and unneeded surgeries for nothing but a false sense of security. As caregivers, we need to tell our loved ones and all women that there are proven steps they can take to help prevent cancer from ever developing in the first place. (See Ten Ways to Help Prevent Breast Cancer.)

All the misleading publicity devoted to mammograms undercuts the urgently needed efforts to teach women that dietary and lifestyle changes are their best weapon in the fight against breast cancer. Women are continually urged by doctors, private and government agencies, and the media to undergo mammograms. How much better it would be if the same amount of effort would be put into telling women that those who eat four to five servings of vegetables per day have a 46 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those eating only one to two servings per day, and that women who eat six fruits per day have a 35 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those eating fewer than two fruits per day.4

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The Mammogram Debate: Facts vs. Vested Interests

From the May 2004 edition of Dr. Fuhrman's Healthy Times:

The business of medicine is rarely deterred by facts. The findings of the Danish researchers did nothing to change the position of the American Cancer Society, The American College of Radiology, and the National Cancer Institute. These institutions still support the discredited notion that mammograms “prevent” breast cancer. Mammograms are entrenched in the practice of conventional medicine. The politics and economics within the world of medical policy-making govern the messages that are disseminated to the public. The fact is—at best—mammograms detect, they do not prevent. To use the word prevent in the same sentence as mammograms is a tremendous distortion of reality. The only proven approach to prevention of breast cancer is the adoption of lifestyle modifications that help stop cells from becoming cancerous in the first place.

Controversies in the medical literature rarely reach the public. In the case of mammography, doctors almost never admit to patients that the benefits from mammograms, if any, are marginal at best. This does not mean that some women will not be diagnosed with breast cancer early enough to have a curative lumpectomy. For that woman, the mammogram will have extended her life. However, for every woman whose life is extended, there are almost an equal number who would have lived longer had their breast cancer not been discovered and treated. For those women, the medical treatments will shorten, not lengthen their lives.

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The Mammogram Debate: On the Ship of False Hope

From the May 2004 edition of Dr. Fuhrman's Healthy Times:

On the ship of false hope Mammograms in all age groups are a very poor screening tool. About 5 percent of mammograms are abnormal or suspicious, and of these 80 to 93 percent are false positives that cause unnecessary anxiety and further procedures, including surgery. If that were not enough to question the reliability of mammograms as a diagnostic tool, consider the unfounded reassurance that results from the false negatives that occur in 10 to 15 percent of women who already have breast cancer that will manifest clinically within one year.

In the October 2001 issue of The Lancet, the Nordic Cochrane Centre of Denmark published a follow-up report on its groundbreaking 2000 analysis of the efficacy of screening mammograms in reducing breast cancer death.1 The new report confirmed the earlier findings. After reviewing the seven largest mammography-screening trials, no benefit attributable to mammograms was found for any age group. The new research focused on the ability of mammograms to reduce total mortality because, as stated by the report’s authors, this is the only “reliable” measure of benefit.2

The Danish researchers found numerous flaws in the mammography-screening trials. They found that the studies under review did not tally fatal cases that were misclassified or that were triggered by cancer treatment such as radiotherapy. For example, none of the leukemia deaths and cardiac deaths occurring as a result of chemotherapy for breast cancer and none of the increased cases of fatal lung cancer caused by radiation to the breast during diagnosis and treatment were ever considered in prior studies. Lung cancer is a known late-stage side effect to breast cancer radiation,3 and congestive heart failure is a known late side effect of the cardiac toxicity of chemotherapy.4 The Cochrane researchers found that the studies’ claims that mammograms reduce breast cancer deaths by 25 to 30 percent were invalid, since those investigators did not consider all other deaths related to breast cancer treatments.

The researchers also found that the studies that claimed to show some benefit from mammograms for women in their fifties and sixties were 1) biased in favor of screening and 2) incorrect because they only looked at breast cancer mortality, not all-cause mortality. Based on this highly respected review, The Lancet editors concluded, “There is no reliable evidence from large randomized trials to support screening mammography at any age.”

The recent reassessment of the 2000 Cochrane analysis also confirmed that breast cancer screening with mammograms creates an overuse of aggressive treatments. The authors reasoned that the mammograms detect lots of slow-growing tumors that will never progress to cancer within the patient’s lifetime and classify these as cancer. These account for the mammograms’ so-called “successes.” There are cellular changes that may be histologically cancerous but biologically benign. Carcinoma-in-situ may be treated by bilateral mastectomy even though they do not progress to invasive disease—ever. The flawed studies count these as mammogram successes, when they are not. At the same time, the cancers that are truly invasive are not really caught early enough to make a difference. The patient only appears to live longer because the disease is diagnosed earlier. As stated previously, the same percentage of women are dying at the same ages they were before the widespread use of mammograms. The inescapable conclusion drawn from these carefully performed investigations is that mammograms do not provide a survival benefit in any age group. Those who benefit are balanced out almost equally by those who are hurt.

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The Mammogram Debate: Multibillion Dollar Industry

From the May 2004 edition of Dr. Fuhrman's Healthy Times:

Mammograms have been positioned as the centerpiece of women’s health care, and they are the most prevalent “medicine” delivered to our female population. Women shuffle from their doctors to radiologists and back, and if their mammograms show abnormalities, they are transferred to surgeons for needle biopsies and excisional biopsies. Today’s woman goes to doctors to get yearly mammograms and breast exams with little thought given to the medical literature on these subjects and the shocking facts it reveals. Suffice to say, gynecologists whose practices revolve around giving postmenopausal women estrogen replacement therapy (a disproved and dangerous practice) and ordering mammograms will have little left to do if women become better informed about the risks associated with mammograms.

Mammograms help detect breast cancer, and they help detect it earlier than other diagnostic tools. But in the process, they cause a lot of fear and result in countless unnecessary breast biopsies. In order to uncover cancer and not give false reassurance, radiologists are forced to advise biopsies even when the findings suggest the chance of cancer is small. More than 80 percent of all breast biopsies are negative for cancer.1 In addition, these mammograms with false positive results (sent for biopsy and then found to be negative) occur most frequently in the forty to fifty age range. By the time a woman has nine mammograms between the ages of forty and forty-nine, her chance of having a false positive result that requires her to have a biopsy is 43 percent.2 Nearly half of all women getting mammograms are eventually sent for biopsies to evaluate “suspicious” findings. When a woman with risk factors (such as a family history of breast cancer) gets nine or ten mammograms between ages thirty-five and fifty, her chance of the radiologist finding something suspicious and sending her to get a biopsy that returns negative for cancer rises to 98 percent.

The problems caused by false positives and unnecessary biopsies might be acceptable if the increased use of mammograms saved women’s lives. But it does not appear from the statistics that many lives are being saved by this so-called “early detection.”

Between 1970 and 1990, as more and more women got mammograms at the urging of the medical profession and health authorities, breast cancer rates rose 24 percent. As expected, more cancers were being detected, and they were being detected “earlier.” Five- and ten-year survival rates improved, and it appeared that women were living longer with their cancers. But those figures were misleading. Sadly, the exact same percentage of women still died of breast cancer at the same age as they did prior to the widespread use of mammograms. (See chart below.) Increased use of mammography has accomplished little more than giving an increasing number of women the painful knowledge that they have breast cancer.

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The Mammogram Debate: A Campaign of Fear

From the May 2004 edition of Dr. Fuhrman's Healthy Times:

More than a decade ago, the American Cancer Society recommended that women get a baseline mammogram at age thirty-five, followed by annual screenings beginning at age forty. The campaign to position mammograms as the key weapon in the fight against breast cancer was initiated by the American Cancer Society, with a number of medical groups joining the fray. Instilling fear about breast cancer was a campaign strategy. To achieve this, the American Cancer Society used greatly exaggerated numbers and faulty math to overstate breast cancer risk. They admitted they did this—and continue to do it—to promote mammograms.1 They still trumpet the claim that women face a one-in-eight chance of developing breast cancer during their lifetimes.

Where does this one-in-eight figure come from? It is a cumulative probability derived from adding up all the chances a woman has of developing breast cancer between birth and age 110. Since women do not generally live that long, this figure is not based on reality. More sophisticated risk assessment gives the actual risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer before age sixty as about one in 500. Even women in their eighties do not face a one-in-eight chance of developing breast cancer. For example, at the age of seventy, the risk of developing breast cancer during the next ten years is one in twenty-three. In their zeal to help women, the American Cancer Society and other groups have created an epidemic of fear. Unfortunately, that fear has not been used to direct women to prevent breast cancer—by avoiding the causes of breast cancer. Rather, it has been used to convince women to think that using mammograms to find cancer after it already has developed is their best hope for survival.

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