Archive for the “News and Reviews” Category

I had another topic in mind for tonight’s post, but I would be remiss if I didn’t post a farewell to Dr. Duane Graveline, who I consider a modern medical hero.

I don’t remember exactly how I ended up coming across SpaceDoc.com, a site he created to educate people about the side-effects of statins.  I know it was during the research phase for Fat Head.  I was pretty well convinced by then that cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease, which of course means statins are nearly worthless.  It was only after reading articles by Dr. Graveline that I began to see that statins are worse than worthless.  They cause actual damage to millions of unsuspecting people who are merely following doctor’s orders.

For those of you who don’t know, Dr. Graveline was an M.D., a flight surgeon in the Air Force, and a researcher for NASA.  In other words, the man knew his medical science.  So when he began experiencing strange side-effects after being prescribed Lipitor for his “high” cholesterol, he approached it as science problem.  He went on and off Lipitor a few times and tracked his symptoms.

Those symptoms weren’t pretty.  On two different occasions, his spent entire days in a state of profound confusion, unable to remember, say, anything since before medical school.  Then his memory would return.  The condition is known as global transient amnesia, and as Dr. Graveline discovered when he began investigating, it’s hardly an unknown experience among people on high-dose statins.

It was while reading those accounts that I had a major head-slapping, if-only-I-had-a-time-machine moment.  When my dad was in his late 50s (in other words, around my current age), he had two similar experiences.  He became confused and babbled nonsense.  He couldn’t remember my sister’s name as she talked to him and tried to figure out what the hell was happening to him.  On both occasions he was taken to a hospital … and on both occasions, doctors ran tests and told my mom they couldn’t find anything actually wrong with him.  Then the confusion cleared and his memory came back – exactly what Dr. Graveline experienced.

Naturally, it didn’t occur to any of the doctors examining my dad to ask if he was on Lipitor … which he was, and a high dose at that.  Although I can’t prove it, I’m convinced the Lipitor either triggered or accelerated my dad’s Alzheimer’s.   So instead of spending his well-deserved retirement playing golf, he spent most of it in a home for Alzheimer’s patients.

When my mom was on statins, she experienced nasty muscle and joint pains – which of course her doctor didn’t attribute to the statins.  But I did, thanks to the work of people like Dr. Graveline and Dr. Malcolm Kendrick.  Dr. Graveline, in fact, ended up with permanently damaged muscles as a parting gift from the makers of Lipitor.

The SpaceDoc site is chock-full of research on statins in particular and heart health in general.  I doubt many people in the Fat Head audience need convincing about the dangers of statins, but it’s worth visiting the site anyway just to see how much information Dr. Graveline gathered over the years in his one-man battle to educate an unsuspecting public.

Many of you have emailed or left comments to thank me for sounding the alarm about statins.  Don’t thank me.  Thank Dr. Graveline, who continued fighting the good fight all the way to age 85.  It’s largely because of his fight that some of us respond to “Your cholesterol is high.  We should put you on a statin” with “Doctor, I wouldn’t take a statin unless you held a gun to my head and I was convinced you’d pull the trigger.”

Godspeed, SpaceDoc.

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I was the guest recently on the 2 Keto Dudes Podcast show.  You can listen to the episode here.  I enjoyed talking to the hosts, Carl Franklin and Richard Morris, very much.  They’re both fellow programmers and both have a great sense of humor.  Among other topics of conversation, they had me take an impromptu trivia quiz about McDonald’s.  Turns out there’s lots of McDonald’s trivia I don’t know.

I’ll get back to posting later this week.  We spent much of last week getting preparing to temporarily double the size of the Fat Head household.  Chareva’s parents finally sold their big ol’ property on the outskirts of Chicago and arrived here on Wednesday, along with her brother and sister-in-law.  They’re living with us while searching for their next home somewhere in Franklin.

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A reader sent an email to let me know Fat Head is now available on Amazon Prime.  So if you’re a Prime member (I am and enjoy the huge library of free movies and TV shows) and haven’t seen the film, time to grab that remote.

You may be wondering who Peter Paddon is and why he’s listed as a star.  Apparently the metadata picked up his name from the cast list I submitted to our distributor.  Peter was a co-worker back when I worked for Disney.  I needed someone for that “guy recognizes himself in a newscast about obesity” scene, so I kind of apologetically explained it to Peter.

He laughed and said (in his classy British accent), “Don’t worry about offending me.  I know I’m fat.”  He volunteered to come to work the next day wearing a very recognizable shirt.  We went outside and I videotaped him walking down the street.  Then we found an empty office with a sofa and a TV for the “Holy @#$%, that’s me on the news!” scene.  He made me laugh out loud with the first take, so that’s what ended up in the film.

Cheers, Peter, wherever you are.

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Interesting items from my inbox and elsewhere …

McDonald’s going more McNatural

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it at least twice:  people who blame the country’s health problems on evil corporations who sell us processed foods (Morgan Spurlock comes to mind) have the economic equation backwards.  We don’t buy what corporations produce.  They produce what we’re willing to buy.  Unlike governments, corporations can’t force you to buy a product or service you don’t want (unless they bribe government to apply the force).  The key to getting big producers to sell higher quality food is to 1) demand it, and 2) refuse to buy processed junk.

In earlier posts, I noted that grocery stores like Kroger are selling more local and minimally-processed foods.  Now McDonald’s is responding to slumping sales by going more McNatural, according to an article in The New York Times:

At an event Monday at its headquarters here, McDonald’s announced several changes to its ingredients, including eliminating artificial preservatives from some breakfast foods and Chicken McNuggets, its most popular food item, and removing high-fructose corn syrup from its buns.

Such changes, together with its decision in 2015 to buy only chicken raised without antibiotics used to treat humans, affect almost half of the food on McDonald’s menu, the company said.

The moves are the latest in a series by the company to address changing demands by consumers, who have pushed food companies and restaurants to provide more healthy options and fewer artificial ingredients. It is also an effort to play defense against numerous competitors who promote the quality and freshness of their foods.

Mike Andres, president of McDonald’s U.S.A., said that over the last few years, the company took a hard look at its foods and how they were prepared. The ingredients it was using, like artificial preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup, had good reasoning behind them — but consumers disliked them.

“Why take a position to defend them if consumers are saying they don’t want them?” Mr. Andres said on Monday.

Bingo.  Despite what economic nincompoops think, corporations don’t control the market.  Consumers do.  Doesn’t matter how cleverly McDonald’s advertises foods full of preservatives if consumers don’t want preservatives in their food.

Jessica Foust, director of culinary innovation at McDonald’s, hosted a group of reporters in a test kitchen to show how some of the changes will work in practice.

On the table in front of her were the five ingredients that go into an Egg McMuffin: an English muffin, a large egg, a slice of Canadian bacon, McDonald’s proprietary American cheese and butter — no longer liquid margarine.

Real butter.  In an Egg McMuffin.  The Guy From CSPI is no doubt preparing his “heart attack on a muffin!” routine, but I think most people have wised up to his nonsense.  They want butter, so they’re getting it.

By the way, I bought grass-fed burger patties at Costco this week.  Here’s the ingredients list:

Grass-fed beef, organic onions, sea salt, organic garlic.

Notice that none of these positive developments required new laws or regulations from our overlords in the federal government … who are, of course, busy subsidizing corn to make sure corn-fed beef is still artificially cheap.

Why real food costs more

During my programming marathon, I attended an IT-department event at a local farm.  This is a real farm, you understand, not a mini-farm like ours.  These people have 350 acres and grow everything without pesticides or other chemicals.  They also have a store and event venue on the premises.

I took the farm tour (one of several optional activities for the day) to get a sense of the operation.  After showing us some of what they grow, the co-owner explained why farm-fresh produce tastes so much better:  the produce you buy in grocery stores isn’t bred for flavor.  It’s bred for color and resistance to bruising during shipping.  Grocery-store tomatoes, for example, have skin that’s three times as thick as what these people grow on their farm.  Real food often has blemishes.  Their customers understand that and don’t care if a tomato is uniformly red and pristine.

Here are some shots from the store.

Some of the farm’s best customers are restaurants who cater to the real-food crowd, she explained.  But the feds are making that more difficult.  To protect the public, doncha know, the USDA is requiring producers to keep paperwork that can trace, say, a single tomato served in a restaurant to a single field on a single farm.  If someone gets sick from that tomato, ya see, the USDA needs to run out and inspect that specific field.

All that record-keeping requires staff time, which costs money, which means higher prices.  If you think this regulation is anything other than a behind-the-scenes move by large producers to place a huge financial burden on their smaller, real-food competitors, you have no idea how our political system works.

Here’s the co-owner of the farm showing one of the charts they keep to track what’s grown where.  But that’s just the chart.  The USDA-mandated paperwork itself runs to about 700 pages.  Just how we want our local farmers to spend their time and resources: filling out government forms.

Yes, wheat sensitivity is real

As part of what I call the Save The Grains Campaign, we’ve seen several media articles claiming that negative reactions to wheat are all in people’s heads.  It’s the nocebo effect from books like Wheat Belly, ya see.  People expect to feel bad after eating wheat and so they do, celiac disease is actually rare, blah-blah-blah.

I first gave up bread and other wheat foods because I was cutting carbs to lose weight. That was before Wheat Belly, and I didn’t expect my gastric reflux, psoriasis, arthritis and mild asthma to go away, so there was no placebo effect.  And yet they did go away.  When re-introduced wheat as an N=1 experiment, the ailments came back.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  The connection was clear in my case.  I had a celiac test, which came back negative.  I later read in Wheat Belly that it’s not necessary to have full-blown celiac disease to experience negative reactions to modern wheat.

A study published in the journal Gut says likewise. Here’s part of the abstract:

Wheat gluten and related proteins can trigger an autoimmune enteropathy, known as coeliac disease, in people with genetic susceptibility. However, some individuals experience a range of symptoms in response to wheat ingestion, without the characteristic serological or histological evidence of coeliac disease. The aetiology and mechanism of these symptoms are unknown, and no biomarkers have been identified. We aimed to determine if sensitivity to wheat in the absence of coeliac disease is associated with systemic immune activation that may be linked to an enteropathy.

The researchers gathered people without celiac disease or a known wheat allergy, but who nonetheless said wheat gives them problems, as well as people with celiac and people with no complaints about wheat.  Then the researchers ran various diagnostic tests.  The results and conclusions are described in a Medline article online:

Gluten sensitivity appears to be a real medical problem, and not a figment of the popular imagination conjured up by the gluten-free craze, a new study contends.

Some people suffer changes within their bodies after eating gluten that are separate and distinct from those that accompany either celiac disease or wheat allergy, researchers report.

“We don’t know what is triggering this response, but this study is the first to show that there are clear biological changes in these individuals,” said senior researcher Armin Alaedini. He is an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University in New York City.

Not a figment of your gluten-free imagination.  The effects are real.

The analysis of 80 patients with non-celiac wheat sensitivity found that these people experience an immune response to gluten that’s less focused and more wide-ranging than that found in celiac disease, Alaedini said. These patients were studied alongside 40 people with celiac disease and 40 healthy people in a “control” group.

People with non-celiac wheat sensitivity did not experience an autoimmune reaction. And, they didn’t have T-cells — a specific form of white blood cell — attacking living cells in the body, as occurs in celiac disease, Alaedini explained.

But people with non-celiac wheat sensitivity did show evidence of an acute and systemic immune activation that did not occur in celiac disease, accompanied by signs of cellular intestinal damage.

The results suggest that people with non-celiac wheat sensitivity suffer from a severe immune reaction because microbes and food particles can seep through their weakened intestinal barrier and into their bloodstream, the researchers explained.

Which is why I’ll still toss the muffin from my Egg McMuffin, even if the muffin is slathered with real butter.  My issues with wheat are not in my head.  They’re in my gut.

Former top doc in England stops taking statins … can we call it “stexit”?

Here are some quotes from an article in the U.K. Daily Mail:

The former head of NHS England has revealed he no longer takes statins over concerns about their ‘debilitating’ side effects.

Sir David Nicholson, who retired from his £210,000 a year role two years ago said he had stopped taking the anti-cholesterol drugs because of muscle pain.

Around 7 million Britons take the drugs – and around 7,000 lives a year are thought to be saved by the drugs.

And around a billion colorful eggs are thought to be delivered every spring by a magical bunny.  I have more faith in the bunny at this point.

Sir David, who also has type 2 diabetes, said: ‘I was getting muscle and joint pain. It was getting worse and worse. It was mild to begin with and I kind of thought it was because I was getting old. I stopped taking them for a week and I got better.’

There has, however, been a fierce controversy over the side effects, with some doctors believing they have been under-reported.

Gee, do ya think?  According to studies conducted by statin-makers, side effects are rare.  Meanwhile, nearly everyone I know who’s tried statins has experienced muscle and joint pain.  As I recounted in a 2011 post, most professional athletes prescribed statins quit taking them – because they notice right away if their muscles are affected.  They depend on those muscles for a living.

Instead of dishing out pills, Sir David said GPs should perhaps attempt to change a patient’s lifestyle – particularly diet and exercise.

Dern tootin’ they should.  Now if only we could get doctors and government health agencies to stop thinking a healthy lifestyle means giving up meat and eggs and eating more hearthealthywholegrains!

Keto diet  vs. cancer

Here are some quotes from another article in the U.K. Daily Mail:

A cancer patient told he had just months to live claims giving up carbohydrates has given him nearly two extra years of life.

Pablo Kelly, 27, was told the tumour in his brain was inoperable and chemotherapy was his only chance at survival.

But he decided to reject traditional treatments in favour of a specialist fat-heavy, carb-free diet.

Mr Kelly says he restricts his calories and fasts regularly – while his only source of carbohydrates comes from green vegetables. He does not eat processed foods, refined sugars, root vegetables, starch, breads, or grains. Two years later, he claims this is the reason he has outlived expectations.

Well, I don’t know if it’s necessary to give up root vegetables, but dumping processed foods, sugars and refined grains is the prescription I’d recommend for anyone, cancer or no cancer.  After reading Dr. Jason Fung’s book The Obesity Code, I’m also on board with the fasting.

Now look at how the Wisdom of Crowds effect helped:

Mr Kelly, whose symptoms started with migraines which he chalked down to the summer heat, was eventually diagnosed with cancer in August 2014 at the age of 25. Due to the tumour’s position in Mr Kelly’s brain, he was told it is inoperable.

When doctors offered him radiotherapy and chemotherapy, he decided he didn’t like the idea of a diminished quality of life and opted for the ketogenic diet – which is not recommended by the NHS.

Of course not.  A diet isn’t a drug.

‘The doctors said the only option they could give me was chemotherapy,’ he said.  ‘I did research and I knew there were other options for me that could help.  I was awake til 4am every night trying to find something that could cure it.’

He says it makes ‘total sense’ to him to cut the source of fuel to his brain tumour. ‘It works for epilepsy and diabetes so why should it not work with cancer,’ he said.

And that’s why I’m happy to be living in an age where we can do our own research on the internet and benefit from the Wisdom of Crowds instead of relying solely on what the doctor tells us.

Just a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down …

Remember that song from Mary Poppins?  Apparently, our FDA considers it sound medical advice.  Here are some quotes from an article in Natural News:

The serious issue of overmedicating kids could be about to take on a whole new dimension with the emergence of a new medication known as Adzenys. While kids are generally averse to taking medications, few will turn their noses up at a piece of candy. That is exactly what Adzenys is banking on with its underhanded and potentially dangerous new fruit-flavored amphetamine.

As you can see from the picture atop the article, the new drug looks like gummy bears.  Well, why not?  We’re now selling gummy-bear vitamins to adults.  Because if there’s one message we need to get across to all Americans, it’s this:  everything good for you should taste like candy!

Not that I’m saying ADHD drugs are good for you, of course.  After reading the book Anatomy of an Epidemic a couple of years ago, I’d say the opposite is true of most psychiatric drugs.

The drug recently hit the market, and psychiatrists are voicing concerns that it could serve as another gateway to ADHD drug abuse. Perhaps not surprisingly, the extended-release amphetamine gained FDA approval in January for patients as young as six years old.

University of California San Diego Psychiatrist Dr. Alexander Papp is horrified by the concept, saying that prescribing the drug sanctions “an orally disintegrating amphetamine for kids by the morally disintegrating FDA.”

Oh, come on now.  The FDA morally disintegrated a long time ago.  So did the USDA.  And the NIH.  And the National Cholesterol Education Program.

But man, I’m looking forward to the day we put the feds in charge of our entire health system.  Then they’ll suddenly all become altruists who only want to keep us healthy, and everything will be wunnerful, wunnerful.  I can hear the press conferences already:  “If you like your food, you can keep your food.”

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I was the guest awhile back on Bruno da Gama’s podcast show The Brazilian Health Nut.  You can listen to the episode here.

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I recently wrote a couple of posts explaining that over the years, I’ve revised my explanation of “the alternative hypothesis” from this:

More Carbohydrates => Higher Insulin => Fat Storage

to this:

Damaging Diet => Hormonal Disruption => Fat Storage

It’s not the biologically beneficial rise in insulin after a meal that makes people obese, I said in those posts. It’s chronically high insulin (along with other hormonal disruptions) resulting from a bad diet.

In comments, a few of you suggested I read Dr. Jason Fung’s book The Obesity Code because it expresses similar ideas. Good suggestion. It’s an enlightening and very readable book – meaning it passes my “Aunt Martha” test. Your Aunt Martha could read this book without giving up because she doesn’t want to keep a medical dictionary on her desk.

As I expected, insulin is still front and center in Fung’s explanation of why we get fat. In fact, the book’s cover includes the subhead Why your body’s own insulin is the key to controlling your weight. After citing plenty of research to effectively dismiss the “it’s all about consuming too many calories” explanation of obesity in the early chapters, Fung begins chapter seven like this:

I can make you fat. Actually I can make anyone fat. How? By prescribing insulin. It won’t matter that you have willpower, or that you exercise. It won’t matter what you choose to eat. It’s simply a matter of enough insulin and enough time.

Wait … hasn’t Dr. Fung read on the internet that we mustn’t blame insulin because it’s actually a wunnerful, wunnerful appetite suppressant? Well, perhaps he has … but if so, I’m sure he laughed. He has years of clinical experience with the stuff, as he explains in the book’s introduction:

I’ve often watched patients start insulin treatment for their diabetes, knowing that most will gain weight. “Doctor,” they say, “you’ve always told me to lose weight. But the insulin you gave me makes me gain so much weight. How is this helpful?”

… Like many doctors, I believed that weight gain was caloric imbalance – eating too much and moving too little. But if that were so, why did the medication I prescribed – insulin – cause such relentless weight gain?

Fung answers his own question in chapter seven:

Everything about human metabolism, including the body set weight, is hormonally regulated. A critical physiological variable such as body fatness is not left up the vagaries of daily caloric intake and exercise. Instead, hormones precisely and tightly regulate body fat. We don’t consciously control our body weight any more than we control our heart rates, our basal metabolic rates, our body temperatures or our breathing.

But it isn’t just about insulin. Fung includes chapters on cortisol (which triggers weight gain partly by raising insulin) and other hormones, such as leptin, that are involved in weight regulation.

And insulin isn’t just about how many grams of carbohydrate we consume. As Fung writes in chapter nine:

The carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis, the idea that carbohydrates cause weight gain because of insulin secretion, was not exactly wrong. Carbohydrate-rich foods certainly do increase insulin levels to a greater extent than the other macronutrients. High insulin certainly does lead to obesity.

However, the hypothesis stands incomplete. There are many problems, with the paradox of the Asian rice eater being the most obvious.

… Indeed, many primitive societies that ate mostly carbohydrates have low obesity rates. In 1989, Dr. Staffan Lindeberg studied the residents of Kitava, one of the Trobriand Isands in Papua New Guinea’s archipelago – one of the last places on Earth where people ate a largely traditional diet. Starchy vegetables, including yam, sweet potato, taro and cassava, made up the basis of their diet.

It isn’t foods that raise insulin that make us fat, Fung explains in the following chapters. It’s foods that lead to insulin resistance. Once we become insulin resistant, the entire hormonal system goes out of whack. Fung spends the next few chapters describing the foods that likely make us insulin resistant (sugar being a primary culprit) and how insulin resistance makes us fat.

Insulin resistance is largely about what we eat. But rolling back the effects – and perhaps preventing insulin resistance in the first place – is also about when we eat. That was the most useful message in the book for me, since I’ve already read rather a lot about the effects of foods.

As Fung explains, insulin is supposed to rise after meals. But then it’s supposed to drop and stay low for several hours. Back when few Americans were overweight, that’s what happened — because we ate three meals per day, period. Now we add constant snacking into the mix. When I was shooting interviews for Fat Head, Dr. Eric Oliver, author of Fat Politics, said that while people like Morgan Spurlock want to blame obesity on restaurants for serving larger meals, the real problem seems to be how often we eat between meals. Fung explains why that’s such a problem:

The balance between the fed state (insulin dominant) and the fasted state (insulin deficient) has been completely destroyed. We are now spending most of our time in the fed state.

… We are taught to eat the moment we roll out of bed. We are taught to eat throughout the day and again just before we sleep. We spend up to 18 hours in the insulin-dominant state, with only six hours insulin-deficient.

A lousy diet, of course, makes snacking irresistible. Refined carbs jack up your blood sugar, and your body responds by flooding your bloodstream with enough insulin to give you low blood sugar. If you work in an office, I’m sure you’ve seen exactly what Fung is describing. I see people eat their white-bread sandwiches at noon, and by 3:30 they’re back in the cafeteria, trying to decide if they should raise blood sugar with a candy bar, a bag of chips, or some microwaved popcorn.

Fung describes this as the vicious cycle that leads to insulin resistance. When insulin is too high, too often, cells down-regulate their insulin receptors. Then the body cranks out more insulin to try to lower high blood sugar. Then we get fatter. And hungrier. And snack more often.

Part of the cure is real food, and Fung devotes a good chunk of the book to the topic. But another part of the cure is to dial back insulin resistance through intermittent fasting. As you know, I’m a fan of the Wisdom of Crowds. Fung reminds the reader that in nearly all ancient cultures, periodic fasting was considered a boon to good health. It was part of their wisdom.

In the final chapter, Fung lays out the why and the how of intermittent fasting. Here’s part of the why:

To break the insulin-resistance cycle, we must have recurrent periods of very low insulin levels. But how can we induce our body into a temporary state of very low insulin levels?

We know that eating the proper foods prevents high levels, but it won’t do much to lower them. Some foods are better than others; nonetheless, all foods increase insulin production. If all foods raise insulin, then the only way for us to lower it is to completely abstain from food. The answer we are looking for is, in a word, fasting.

In the rest of chapter, Fung describes the hormonal effects of fasting and dispels the many myths about going without food … such as “it will depress your metabolism.” Interestingly, the research he cites here and in other chapters shows that while living on a low-calorie, low-fat diet will indeed slow down your metabolism, periodic fasting doesn’t. Apparently we’re built for it. Given that paleo man’s hunts weren’t always successful, that makes sense.

Jimmy Moore and Dr. Fung are co-authoring a book titled Fasting Clarity that’s scheduled to be published later this year. I’m looking forward to reading the expanded version of this topic.

In the meantime, The Obesity Code is definitely worth adding to your library of diet and health books.

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