Monthly Archives: January 2010

Why eating fish could be bad for you

If you look other places online, you will find that most health experts recommend that people eat fish.  They are loaded with nutrients that are beneficial for a lot of things.  In particular, they have omega-3 fatty acids in them.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a class of fats that are essential for human beings.  When I say essential it means that they must be obtained from diet.  We cannot synthesize them from other fats that already exist in our body.  They have been shown to have many heath benefits  to them.  Some are listed below.

  • Reduce varicose veins
  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Reduce blood triglycerides
  • Reduce heart attack rates
  • Improve cholesterol levels
  • Reduce cardiac arrhythmias
  • Reduce depression
  • Reduce the risk of stroke
  • Protect you from cancer
  • Reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
  • Reduce the risk of dementia
  • Increased immunity

All of these health benefits have been documented by studies.  I routinely recommend that my patients eat fish and take fish oil supplements.  If that’s the case, then how in the world could eating fish be bad for you?

The problem with eating any old fish is that many fish we consume are farmed.  Farmed fish are grown in large tanks and fed diets full of grain designed to fatten them up very quickly.  When fish are fed grain, they consume large amounts of another fatty acid.  This fatty acid is called omega-6.  While this fatty acid is also essential, in large amounts it can be dangerous.  It is the precursor of all of the inflammatory enzymes in the body.  Farm raised fish, therefore are actually pro-inflammatory! (For the dangers of inflammation see one of our earlier posts.)  Inflammation is behind many human diseases including heart disease and cancer.

What you must do is eat wild fish.  When you buy fish from the meat counter at your grocery store, they always delineate what fish are farmed and what are wild.  Always buy wild fish.  These fish are the ones that will have all of the protective benefits for your health that you are looking for.  The farmed fish may actually be detrimental to your overall health in the long run.  Any fish that you buy in the freezer section is almost always going to be farmed as well.  Always buy fresh fish and always buy wild.

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Too much TV may mean earlier death

A recent study has confirmed what seems like a logical assertion.  Watching too much television shortens life spans.  The study was quite large so we can reasonably assume the results are legitimate.  The study looked at 8,800 adults without any history of heart disease.  They followed these people for more than 6 years.

Compared to those who watched less than two hours of TV per day, people who watched four hours or more were 80 percent more likely to die from heart disease and 46 percent more likely to die from any cause. All told, 284 people died during the study.

For each additional hour spent rotting in front of the television, the likelihood of developing heart disease went up 18%!  That’s not all.  The likelihood of dying went up 11%.  The study was recently published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

These statistics were consistent even after the authors of the study calculated in other risk factors such as age, cholesterol levels and whether or not the participant smoked.

The obvious association is that the more a person watches TV, the less likely they are to be exercising.  While this is true, it is not the television itself that is the problem.  When they compared people who actually did exercise, they found that even they had an increase chance of dying over participants who watched TV two hours or less per day.  The authors attributed this to the fact that TV was replacing the other activities that must occur in a home if you are not watching TV.  These activities include walking from room to room to do chores, for example, or walking up and down the steps to do the laundry.  These things appear to have a beneficial and cumulative effect on health.

This study was conducted in Australia where the estimated time watching television daily is 3 hours.  In the U.S. the average person watches 5 hours of television. Assuming a person sleeps 8 hours, that leaves only 11 hours left in the day that the average American has to be active.  That’s not a lot if you take into consideration that most Americans work at sedentary jobs as well.

People also eat more when they are sitting and watching TV.  What people usually snack on is the processed, high carbohydrate food.  This further complicates the problem.  The bottom line is that exercising is very important, but you must also avoid activities that force you to sit too much.  Keep your TV viewing to no more than 3 hours per day.

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Autism and the Vitamin D Link

In addition to the current epidemic of vitamin D deficiency, say another epidemic—an epidemic of autism—was upon our children? What if the autism epidemic began at the same time the epidemic of vitamin D deficiency began? What if both epidemics had worsened in unison? What if one theory explained all the unexplained facts about autism? What if both epidemics had the same root cause: sun avoidance? What if both were iatrogenic, that is, medical advice to avoid the sun had caused both epidemics? Be warned, what follows is not light reading—autism is not a light disease.

Austism Statistics

Does The Vitamin D Theory Best Explain Autism?

The theory that vitamin D deficiency, during pregnancy or childhood, causes autism is just a theory. However, the theory has a plausible mechanism of action, explains all the unexplained facts about autism, subsumes several other theories, implies simple prevention, and is easily disprovable—all components of a useful theory. A genetic lesion (abnormality) in some component of the vitamin D system—a lesion vitamin D’s unique pharmacology could overcome—would explain why monozygotic (identical) twins are highly affected while fraternal twins are not. Varying brain levels of activated vitamin D during later life would explain why some identical twins get severe disease while others are barely affected. Falling vitamin D levels over the last 20 years due to sun-avoidance explain autism’s rapid increase in incidence during that same time. The very different effects estrogen and testosterone have on vitamin D metabolism may explain why boys are much more likely to get it than girls are. Lower vitamin D levels in blacks may explain their higher rates of autism. The vitamin D theory has tenable explanations for all the epidemiological features of autism.

What’s The Risk of Going In The Sun?

The window of opportunity to affect brain development is limited. Time is of the essence if the vitamin D theory of autism is correct. Ask yourself, what is the risk of taking your autistic child outside to play in the sun? What’s the risk of pregnant women sunbathing for a few minutes every day? Children always played in the sun before the epidemic of autism; your pregnant grandmother spent time in the sun as well. Physicians considered that sunshine was healthy before the sun-scare, that is, before autism became an epidemic.

via Autism | Vitamin D Theory of Autism.

Dr. Court’s Comments

If you have a child or know someone who has a child with Autism, you should read the above article in its entirety.  It is well written and backed by great scientific evidence, but it is too long to post on this blog.  The information you can get from http://www.vitamindcouncil.org is priceless.  They have a lot of great information on why we as a society are deficient in vitamin D and why that is causing a host of health problems.

I routinely test the serum levels of vitamin D in my patients.  I have yet to see someone who is at optimal levels when they start treatment.  My educated guess as to how many people are deficient in vitamin D when they start care is about 50%.  I have also never seen a blood test of a patient with vitamin D toxicity.  Our problem, as a society, is that we have been scared into believing the sun is bad and that it will cause cancer.  So, when we go outside, we lather up in sunscreen which prevents us from burning, but also prevents the synthesis of vitamin D.  Vitamin D is simply not available in the diet in large enough amounts to be beneficial.  I am not suggesting we all go out and burn ourselves outside in the sun.  That is not healthy either.  You should get outside and get some sun – 20-30 minutes per day in the summer, without sunscreen on. In my opinion everyone must supplement with vitamin D in the winter months.  There is no other way to get it in the winter.

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Six Meaningless Claims on Food Labels

Food labels are often very misleading.  As if there wasn’t enough erroneous information out there to confuse the public.  Below is an article describing the most common misleading claims from the food industry.  The report was put together by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Consumer Ally columnist Mitch Lipka points to the 158-page “Food Labeling Chaos” report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest that identifies several misleading labeling tactics used by food companies. Here are six common but misleading claims included in the C.S.P.I. report.

Lightly-sweetened: Cereal packages often contain the phrase “lightly sweetened” to suggest less sugar. The Food and Drug Administration has regulations concerning the use of “sugar free” and “no added sugars” but nothing governing the claims “low sugar” or “lightly sweetened.” “Whether Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats Bite Size is lightly sweetened should be determined by federal rules, not the marketing executives of a manufacturer,” says the C.S.P.I. report.

A good source of fiber: A number of food marketers now claim their products are a good source of fiber, but C.S.P.I. notes that often the fiber doesn’t come from traditional sources — whole grains, bean, vegetables or fruit — known to have health benefits. Instead, food makers are adding something called “isolated fibers” made from chicory root or purified powders of polydextrose and other substances that haven’t been shown to lower blood sugar or cholesterol.

Strengthens your immune system: Through “clever wordsmithing,” food companies can skirt F.D.A. rules about health claims and give consumers the impression that a product will ward off disease, notes the C.S.P.I. report. Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice claims to “strengthen your immune system with a daily dose of vitamin C.” Green Giant offers an “immunity blend” of frozen vegetables. Nestle’s Carnation Instant Breakfast says it contains “Antioxidants to help support the immune system.”

Made with real fruit: Often the “real fruit” is found in small quantities and isn’t even the same kind of fruit pictured on the package. Tropical fruit flavored Gerber Graduates Fruit Juice Treats show pictures of fresh oranges and pineapple. But the main ingredients are corn syrup, sugar and white grape juice concentrate. Betty Crocker’s Strawberry Splash Fruit Gushers don’t contain strawberries — just pear concentrate.

Made with whole grains: Many products make a whole grain claim even though they often contain refined flour as the first ingredient and the amount of whole grains are minimal. The C.S.P.I. reports that the package of Keebler’s Townhouse Bistro Multigrain Crackers boasts they are made with “toasted whole wheat,” but the ingredient label shows the crackers contain more sugar than whole wheat.

All natural. Although the F.D.A. has issued several warning letters to firms making misleading “all natural” claims, the agency has never issued formal rules about the term, C.S.P.I. says. As a result, some products containing high fructose corn syrup claim to be “all natural.” One example is Minute Maid Premium All Natural Flavors Berry Punch. “Though glucose and fructose certainly occur in nature, the chemical conversions of cornstarch should not be considered natural,” writes C.S.P.I.

via Six Meaningless Claims on Food Labels – Well Blog – NYTimes.com.

Dr. Court’s Comments

Here’s is my suggestion to people when they ask me how they are to tell if something is good for you or not.  What you should do is shop around the edges of the grocery store.  Here you can find fruits, vegetables, nuts, meats and dairy among other things.  Skip those middle isles.  If it’s in a box, be careful about what your eating.  Many times it is filled with preservatives and other chemicals to make it stay fresher and taste better, longer.

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Forget cutting out salt, go low-carb!

A recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine compared two diet programs for weight loss.  The first group ate a low calorie, low fat diet combined with the weight loss drug Alli.  The other group was put on a low carbohydrate diet that restricted their carbohydrate intake to no more than 20 grams per day.

The results showed that both groups lost weight.  The group on the low fat, low calorie diet combined with Alli lost about 8.5% of their body weight.  People in the low carbohydrate group lost about 9.5% of their body weight.  Statistically, this was determined to be roughly equal.

The low carbohydrate group, however, had an extra benefit.  They were able to significantly lower their blood pressure.  There was no change in blood pressure for the group on the low fat diet and Alli.  Plus, patients using Alli in the study were more likely to report gas, bowel incontinence, and diarrhea than those in the low-carb group.

While the drug makers of Alli will point out that both groups were able to effectively lose weight, I say why take a drug that has potential side effects when there are other ways to lose weight.  Plus, the low carbohydrate group was able to lower their blood pressure, something that the group taking Alli cannot say.

The evidence continues to mount that low carbohydrate diets are not only safe but much more effective for losing weight and improving other parameters of health.  Low fat diets, while effective for losing weight in the short term, are notorious for people rebounding and gaining their weight back.  Low carbohydrate diets have been shown to be easier to stick to and without the rebound phenomenon.

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Warning! Don’t Take Another Drug Until You Read How You’re Being Conned…

Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to become thinner, more porous and break more easily. Osteopenia is different from osteoporosis — it is a slight thinning of bones that occurs naturally as women get older and typically doesn’t result in disabling bone breaks.

Osteopenia is a condition that only recently started to be thought of as a problem that required treatment. Until the early 1990’s, only a handful of people had even heard of the word. But osteopenia has transformed from a rarely heard word into a problem that millions of women swallow pills to treat.

The term “osteopenia” was never originally meant to be considered as a disease — it was a research category used mostly because some thought it might be useful for public health researchers who like clear categories for their studies.

But in 1995, a man named Jeremy Allen was approached by the drug company Merck. The pharmaceutical giant had just released a new osteoporosis drug called Fosamax. Since osteoporosis is a serious problem that affects millions of women, the potential market for Fosamax was enormous. But the drug wasn’t selling well.

Allen persuaded Merck to establish a nonprofit called the Bone Measurement Institute. On its board were six of the most respected osteoporosis researchers in the country.

But the institute itself had a rather slim staff: Allen was the only employee.

In 1997 the institute and several other interested organizations successfully lobbied to pass the Bone Mass Measurement Act, a piece of legislation that changed Medicare reimbursement rules to cover bone scans. More and more women got bone density tests (at Merck’s urging), and the very existence of the word “osteopenia” on a medical report had a profound effect.

Millions of women were worried by the diagnosis. And when clinicians saw the word ‘osteopenia’ on a report, they assumed it was a disease. Merck did not disabuse them of the notion.

There are no long-term studies that look at what happens to women with osteopenia who start Fosamax in their 50’s and continue treatment long-term in the hopes of preventing old-age fractures. And none are planned.

via Warning! Don’t Take Another Drug Until You Read How You’re Being Conned….

Dr. Court’s Comments

This never fails to amaze me that pharmaceutical giants can actually get conditions that have literally almost not risk associated with them to be classified as disease.  According the the British Medical Journal, counterpart to our Journal of the American Medical Association,  the strongest risk factor for fractures in women is falling, not osteoporosis. What is very interesting is that vitamin D has been shown to reduce falls in elderly women, but you don’t hear about that on the nightly news.

Here is a quote from the very study that shows osteoporosis drug use is overstated and exxagerated.

What the drug makers do is argue that the effect of treating pre-osteoporosis (osteopenia) and osteoporosis is similar. This move to treat pre-osteoporosis raises serious questions about the benefit-risk relationship for low-risk individuals and about the costs of medicalizing and potentially medicating an enormous group of healthy people.

It is clear that these drugs are dangerous.  I am not suggesting that they do not benefit a small portion of the population who have moderate to severe osteoporosis.  The problem is that most people are not told about conservative ways to treat their thinning bones.  These include things like calcium, vitamin D and vitamin K supplementation.  They also include weight bearing exercise.  The drug companies would have you believe they benefit everyone. The pharmaceutical companies manipulate research, congress and the public to get their agendas passed and they do it so carefully that these things become “fact” when, in reality, there is little evidence that what they state is real.

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Go to Taco Bell to lose weight?

You’ve probably seen the ads on TV.  Taco Bell is advertising their new “Drive Thru Diet.”  They name it the Drive Thru Diet while they put small, unreadable disclaimers at the bottom of the commercial that it’s not actually a diet and that you should exercise, count calories and watch your fat intake if you want to lose weight.  I agree with them on two points; people should exercise and what they are advertising is not a diet.  Counting calories and watching fat intake are wrong, but that’s another story.

What people need to get out of their heads is that a calorie is a calorie and that counting calories will keep you healthy.  Too many dieticians, nutritionists and physicians will tell you that as long as what you are eating is low calorie,  you will be healthy.  This couldn’t be further from the truth for one simple reason.  Eating food is a hormonal process and it your body responds to different foods with varying levels of hormone.  One hundred calories of puffed pastry has a totally different response in your system than does 100 calories of high quality protein and vegetables.

Let’s put it this way: you can have 2000 calories today.  Would you rather consume those 2000 calories in cupcakes or in grilled chicken and mixed vegetables (assuming you wanted to be healthy)?

It is not hard to see that a calorie is not a calorie when we look at it that way.  I’ve got news for all the health experts out there – there are a lot of low calorie foods that are not good for you!  Just look around the supermarket in the “diet” isle.  It is filled with low calorie foods filled with synthetic chemicals, preservatives and loaded with processed carbohydrate.  It is unbelievable what people view as healthy sometimes.

“Fast food in and of itself is not at all necessarily a problem or insult for developmentally mature or healthy adults,” said Dr. Peter Pressman, an internist with the Navy Medical Corps in Jacksonville, Fla. “If the caloric input — regardless of composition — is not excessive, there’s no inherent physiologic evil.”

The quote above might be the most ridiculous statement ever made by a health professional.  Did he forget the physiology and biochemistry he was required to take to graduate school?  And I can guarantee he took both multiple times, I had to.  To make such a statement is irresponsible and sends the wrong message to the public, that as long as you eat low calorie food you will be fine.  The quality of the calorie counts as well!


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