The Food Safety Risk of Organic versus Conventional

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The stated principles of organic agriculture are "health, ecology, fairness, and care," but if you ask people why they buy organic, the strongest predictor is concern for their own health. People appear to spend more for organic foods for selfish reasons, rather than altruistic motives. Although organic foods may not have more nutrients per dollar (see my video Are Organic Foods More Nutritious?), consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Food safety-wise, researchers found no difference in the risk for contamination with food poisoning bacteria in general. Both organic and conventional animal products have been found to be commonly contaminated with Salmonella and Campylobacter, for example. Most chicken samples (organic and inorganic), were found to be contaminated with Campylobacter, and about a third with Salmonella, but the risk of exposure to multidrug-resistant bacteria was lower with the organic meat. They both may carry the same risk of making us sick, but food poisoning from organic meat may be easier for doctors to treat.

What about the pesticides? There is a large body of evidence on the relation between exposure to pesticides and elevated rate of chronic diseases such as different types of cancers, diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and ALS, as well as birth defects and reproductive disorders--but these studies were largely on people who live or work around pesticides.

Take Salinas Valley California, for example, where they spray a half million pounds of the stuff. Daring to be pregnant in an agricultural community like that may impair childhood brain development, such that pregnant women with the highest levels running through their bodies (as measured in their urine) gave birth to children with an average deficit of about seven IQ points. Twenty-six out of 27 studies showed negative effects of pesticides on brain development in children. These included attention problems, developmental disorders, and short-term memory difficulties.

Even in urban areas, if you compare kids born with higher levels of a common insecticide in their umbilical cord blood, those who were exposed to higher levels are born with brain anomalies. And these were city kids, so presumably this was from residential pesticide use.

Using insecticides inside your house may also be a contributing risk factor for childhood leukemia. Pregnant farmworkers may be doubling the odds of their child getting leukemia and increase their risk of getting a brain tumor. This has lead to authorities advocating that awareness of the potentially negative health outcome for children be increased among populations occupationally exposed to pesticides, though I don't imagine most farmworkers have much of a choice.

Conventional produce may be bad for the pregnant women who pick them, but what about our own family when we eat them?

Just because we spray pesticides on our food in the fields doesn't necessarily mean it ends up in our bodies when we eat it, or at least we didn't know that until a study was published in 2006. Researchers measured the levels of two pesticides running through children's bodies by measuring specific pesticide breakdown products in their urine. In my video, Are Organic Foods Safer?, you can see the levels of pesticides flowing through the bodies of three to 11-year olds during a few days on a conventional diet. The kids then went on an organic diet for five days and then back to the conventional diet. As you can see, eating organic provides a dramatic and immediate protective effect against exposures to pesticides commonly used in agricultural production. The study was subsequently extended. It's clear by looking at the subsequent graph in the video when the kids were eating organic versus conventional. What about adults, though? We didn't know... until now.

Thirteen men and women consumed a diet of at least 80% organic or conventional food for seven days and then switched. No surprise, during the mostly organic week, pesticide exposure was significantly reduced by a nearly 90% drop.

If it can be concluded that consumption of organic foods provides protection against pesticides, does that also mean protection against disease? We don't know. The studies just haven't been done. Nevertheless, in the meantime, the consumption of organic food provides a logical precautionary approach.

For more on organic foods:

For more on the infectious disease implications of organic versus conventional, see Superbugs in Conventional vs. Organic Chicken. Organic produce may be safer too. See Norovirus Food Poisoning from Pesticides. Organic eggs may also have lower Salmonella risk, which is an egg-borne epidemic every year in the US. See my video Who Says Eggs Aren't Healthy or Safe?

More on Parkinson's and pesticides in Preventing Parkinson's Disease With Diet.

Those surprised by the California data might have missed my video California Children Are Contaminated.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

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Should Pregnant Women Drink Cow’s Milk?

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Foods of animal origin in general naturally contain hormones, but cow's milk may be of particular concern. The hormones naturally found even in organic cow's milk may have played a role in studies that found a relationship between dairy products and human illnesses, such as acne, certain cancers and male reproductive disorders. Milk consumption has also been associated with an increased risk of early puberty and endometrial cancer in postmenopausal women, but "hormonal levels in food could be particularly dangerous in the case of vulnerable populations, such as young children or pregnant women. To this critical population, even a small hormonal intake could lead to major changes in the metabolism."

If you check out my video Why Do Vegan Women Have 5x Fewer Twins, you can see that children are highly sensitive to sex steroids. Because their levels of sex steroids are very low, even a small variation would account for a major change in the total activity of the involved hormone. Because no lower threshold for estrogenic action has been established, caution should be taken to avoid unnecessary exposure of fetuses and children to exogenous sex steroids, even at very low levels.

In the AMA's Pediatrics Journal, the Chair of Boston Children's Hospital's Obesity Prevention Center along with the chair of Harvard's nutrition department questioned dairy industry recommendations that children should drink three glasses of milk a day. Dairy milk evolved to promote the growth of grazing animals at high risk for predation when small, so they needed to put on a few hundred pounds quickly in the first few months of life.

The consequences of lifetime human exposure to the growth factors in milk have not been well studied. "Milk consumption increases serum concentrations of insulin-like growth factor 1, which is linked to prostate and other cancers. In addition, modern industrial methods maintain dairy cows in active milk production throughout their pregnancies, resulting in a milk supply with high levels of reproductive hormones."

Pregnant cows excrete significantly higher levels of sex steroids into their milk than non-pregnant cows. The subsequent consumption of such dairy products from pregnancy results in additional consumer exposure. And it's not just dairy. Although dairy products are an important source of hormones, other products of animal origin must be considered as well. All edible tissues of animal origin contain estrogen. This may explain why, in a study of over a thousand women eating plant-based diets, vegan women have a twinning rate that is one fifth that of vegetarians and omnivores.

Twin pregnancies are risky pregnancies, with much higher complication rates. Many parents and physicians underestimate the negative consequences of multiple pregnancy, but "women with a multiple pregnancy face greater risks for themselves and their infants." Twin babies may be ten times more likely to die at birth. To avoid these complications, the research team writes, "women attempting conception should avoid milk and dairy products."

Minimizing dairy, our nation's #1 source of saturated fat may be a good idea for dads too: Dairy Estrogen and Male Fertility.

What about the endocrine-disrupting xenoestrogens--how do they compare with the natural hormones in our food supply? That was the topic of my video Estrogen in Meat, Dairy, and Eggs.

Then once they're born, best to stick to human milk:

Then as young children, dairy can sometimes cause another problem: Childhood Constipation and Cow's Milk

Here's a selection of other pregnancy-related videos:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations--2013: Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, 2014: From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food, 2015: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet, and my latest, 2016: How Not To Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers.

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Is Monsanto’s Roundup Pesticide Glyphosate Safe?

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GMO soy has been found to be contaminated with pesticide residues (see Are GMOs Safe? The Case of Roundup Ready Soy), but are these levels anything to worry about? I explore this question in my video Is Monsanto's Roundup Pesticide Glyphosate Safe?.

Researchers out of Norway described the amount of pesticide residues found in GMO soy as high compared to the maximum allowable residue levels. The legal limit for glyphosate in foods had been set at 0.1-0.2 mg/kg; so these exceed the legal limits by an average of about 2000%, whereas organic and conventional non-GMO soy both had none.

So what did Monsanto do? Did the industry ditch the whole GMO thing, go back to using less pesticides so that residue levels wouldn't be so high? Or, they could just change the definition of high. What if they could get authorities to raise the maximum residue level from 0.1 or 0.2 up to 20? Then the residue levels won't look so high anymore. And this is exactly what they did. The acceptance level of glyphosate in food and animal feed has been increased by authorities in countries that use Roundup-Ready GM crops. In Brazil, they went up to ten, and the U.S. and Europe now accept up to 20. In all of these cases, the maximum residue level values appear to have been adjusted, not based on new evidence indicating glyphosate toxicity was less than previously understood, but pragmatically in response to actual observed increases in the content of residues in GMO soybeans--otherwise it wouldn't be legal to sell the stuff.

What evidence do we have, though, that these kinds of residues are harmful? For 12 years we've heard that Roundup interferes with embryonic development, but that study was about sea urchin embryos. For 14 years we heard that Roundup may disrupt hormones, but that's in mouse testicles.

Blogs will dish about concerning new studies implicating Roundup in male fertility, but if we look at the study, it's about rat testicles. Some blogs cite studies with disturbing titles like "prepubertal exposure alters testosterone levels and testicular shape," but they're talking about puberty in rats, though that doesn't make as catchy a blog title.

Why not use human tissue? Women are having babies every day--why not just experiment on human placentas, which would otherwise just get thrown away? In 2005, researchers did just that. And despite all the negative effects in rodents, glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup didn't seem to have much of a toxic effect on human cells even at high doses, or have much effect on a hormone regulating enzyme, leading Monsanto-funded reviewers to conclude that regardless of what hazards might be alleged based on animal studies, "glyphosate is not anticipated to produce adverse developmental and reproductive effects in humans."

But pure glyphosate isn't sprayed on crops, Roundup is, which contains a variety of adjuvants and surfactants meant to help the glyphosate penetrate into tissues. And indeed when the study was repeated with what's actually sprayed on GMO crops, there were toxic and hormonal effects even at doses smaller than the 1 or 2% concentration that's used out on the fields.

Similar results were found for other major pesticides. It took until 2014, but eight out of nine pesticide formulations tested were up to one thousand times more toxic than their so-called active ingredients, so when we just test the isolated chemicals, we may not get the whole story. Roundup was found to be 100 times more toxic than glyphosate itself. Moreover, Roundup turned out to be among the most toxic pesticides they tested. It's commonly believed that Roundup is among the safest, though, an idea spread by Monsanto, the manufacturer. However, this inconsistency between scientific fact and industrial claim may be attributed to the huge economic interests involved.

What is glyphosate? Check out: Are GMOs Safe? The Case of BT Corn.

It's the dose that makes the poison, though. Do we have evidence that the levels of Roundup chemicals not only found on crops, but also in our bodies after eating those crops actually have adverse effects? That's the subject of the video: GMO Soy and Breast Cancer.

Commercial interests can have a corrupting effect on the science of nutrition and hold sway over institutions that are supposed to operate in the public interest. See for example:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine

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Is Insecticidal GMO Corn Safe?

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Recently the prominent science journal Nature editorialized that we are now swimming in information about genetically modified crops, but that much of the information is wrong--on both sides of the debate. "But a lot of this incorrect information is sophisticated, backed by legitimate-sounding research and written with certitude," adding that with GMOs, "a good gauge of a statement's fallacy is the conviction with which it is delivered."

To many in the scientific community, GMO concerns are dismissed as one big conspiracy theory. In fact, one item in a psychological test of belief in conspiracy theories asked people if they thought food companies would have the audacity to be dishonest about genetically modified food. The study concluded that many people were cynical and skeptical with regard to advertising tricks, as well as the tactics of organizations like banks and alcohol, drug, and tobacco companies. That doesn't sound like conspiracy theory to me; that sounds like business as usual.

We must remember there is a long legacy of scientific misconduct. Throw in a multi-billion dollar industry, and one can imagine how hard it is to get to the truth of the matter. There are social, environmental, economic, food security, and biodiversity arguments both pro and con about GMOs, but those are outside my area of expertise. I'm going to stick to food safety. And as a physician, I'm a very limited veterinarian--I only know one species (us!). So, I will skip the lab animal data and ask instead: What human data do we have about GMO safety?

One study "confirmed" that DNA from genetically modified crops can be transferred into humans who eat them, but that's not what the study found, just that plant DNA in general may be found in the human bloodstream, with no stipulations of harm (See Are GMOs Safe? The Case of Bt Corn).

Another study, however, did find a GMO crop protein in people. The "toxin" was detected in 93 percent of blood samples of pregnant women, 80 percent of umbilical cord blood samples, and 69 percent of samples from non-pregnant women. The toxin they're talking about is an insecticidal protein produced by Bt bacteria whose gene was inserted into the corn's DNA to create so-called Bt-corn, which has been incorporated into animal feed. If it's mainly in animal feed, how did it get into the bodies of women? They suggest it may be through exposure to contaminated meat.

Of course, why get GMO's second-hand when you can get them directly? The next great frontier is transgenic farm animals. A genetically modified salmon was first to vie for a spot at the dinner table. And then in 2010, transgenic cows, sheep, goats and pigs were created, genetically modified for increased muscle mass, based on the so-called mighty mouse model. Frankenfurters!

But back to children of the corn and their mothers. When they say it's a toxin, it's a toxin to corn worms, not necessarily to people. In fact I couldn't find any data linking BT toxin to human harm, which is a good thing since it's considered one of the few pesticides considered so non-toxic that it's sprayed on organic fruits and vegetables.

For more on on the public health implications of genetically modified crops, see:

I did a similar "controversial issue" video series on gluten. See:

For those interested in the genetic engineering of livestock, I published a few papers myself on the topic:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

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Dietary Estrogens and Male Fertility

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In my video, The Role of Diet in Declining Sperm Counts, I discussed the association between high saturated fat intake and reduced semen quality. But what's the connection? One of the most recent papers on the topic found that a significant percentage of the saturated fat intake in the study was derived from dairy products. Residues of industrial chemicals may bioaccumulate up the food chain into animal fat, and some of these lipophilic (fat-loving) chemicals may have hormone-disrupting abilities.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency performed a national survey of persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic pollutants in the U.S. milk supply (highlighted in my video, Dairy Estrogen and Male Fertility). The EPA team noted that since milk fat is likely to be among the highest dietary sources of exposure to these pollutants, it's important to understand the levels in the dairy supply. The team tested milk from all over the country and found a veritable witches brew of chemicals. They estimate that dairy products alone contribute about 30% to 50% of our dioxin exposure. And "like dioxin, other toxic pollutants tend to be widely dispersed in the environment, bioaccumulated through the food chain and ultimately result in low-level contamination in most animal fats."

This may explain higher pollutant concentrations in fish eaters. Xenoestrogens like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are associated with the fats of fish or animal flesh and cannot be fully removed by washing and cooking, and so can accumulate in our fat, too. Xenoestrogens are chemicals with demasculinizing or feminizing effects. But even in a non-polluted world, animal foods also have actual estrogen, which are unavoidable constituents of animal products. All foodstuff of animal origin contains estradiol, which is at least 10,000-fold more potent than most xenoestrogens. Dietary exposure--meat, dairy products and eggs--to these natural sex steroids is therefore highly relevant, as the hormones in these animals are identical to our own.

Estrogens are present in meat and eggs, but the major sources are milk and dairy products. By drinking a glass of milk, a child's intake of estradiol is 4,000 times the intake of xenoestrogens in terms of hormone activity. Modern genetically-improved dairy cows can lactate throughout their pregnancy. The problem is that during pregnancy, estrogen levels can jump as much as 30-fold.

Cheese intake has specifically been associated with lower sperm concentration, whereas dairy food intake in general has been associated with abnormal sperm shape and movement. Lower sperm concentrations by themselves may just represent a potential suppression of sperm production due to higher estrogen levels, but abnormal shape and movement suggests that dairy intake may be implicated in actual direct testicular damage.

While milk products supply most of our ingested female sex steroids, eggs are a considerable source as well, contributing about as much as meat and fish. This could be expected, as eggs are produced directly in the hens' ovaries.

Meat may also contain added hormones. In the U.S. anabolic sex steroids may be administered to animals for growth promotion, a practice banned in Europe twenty-five years ago. A study in New York found progressively lower sperm counts associated with processed meat consumption. However, similar studies in Europe after the ban found the same thing, so it may not be the implanted hormones, but rather a consequence of other meat components, such as the saturated fat raising cholesterol levels.

We've known for decades that men with high cholesterol levels show abnormalities in their "spermiograms": decreased sperm concentration, about a third of the normal sperm movement, and half the normal sperm shape. Twenty-five years later, we're finding the same thing. In the largest study to date, higher blood cholesterol levels were associated with a significantly lower percentage of normal sperm. Cholesterol was also associated with reductions in semen volume and live sperm count. These results highlight the role of fats in the blood in male fertility, and should be of concern given the rising prevalence of obesity and cholesterol problems. Although a healthier diet may be associated with healthier sperm counts, cholesterol-lowering statin drugs do not seem to help.

What about the phytoestrogens in soy? See The Effect of Soy on Precocious Puberty.

More on hormones in dairy in:

Neurotoxic chemicals in the dairy supply have been blamed for neurological conditions as well. See my video Preventing Parkinson's Disease with Diet.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

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Preserving Male Reproductive Health With Diet

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In 1992 a controversial paper was published suggesting sperm counts have been dropping around the world over the last 50 years. However, this remains a matter of debate. It's notoriously difficult to determine sperm counts in the general population for obvious reasons. If you just go ask men for samples, less than 1 in 3 tend to agree to participate.

Finally though, a study of tens of thousands of men studied over a 17-year period was published. It indeed found a significant decline in sperm concentration, about a 30 percent drop, as well as a drop in the percentage of normal looking sperm. Most sperms looked normal in the 90's, but more recently that has dropped to less than half. This may constitute a serious public health warning.

Semen quality may actually be related to life expectancy. In a study of more than 40,000 men visiting a sperm lab during a 40-year period, they found a decrease in mortality was associated with an increase in semen quality, suggesting that semen quality may therefore be a fundamental biomarker of overall male health. Even when defective sperm are capable of fertilizing an egg, creating a child with abnormal sperm may have serious implications for that child's future health.

What role may diet play? I profiled a first-of-its-kind Harvard study suggesting that a small increase in saturated fat intake was associated with a substantially lower sperm count, but not all fat was bad. Higher intakes of omega-3's were associated with a more favorable sperm shape. This may help explain why researchers at UCLA were able to improve sperm vitality, movement, and shape by giving men about 18 walnuts a day for 12 weeks. Walnuts have more than just omega 3's, though. They also contain other important micronutrients. In a study of men aged 22 through 80, older men who ate diets containing lots of antioxidants and nutrients such as vitamin C had the genetic integrity of sperm of much younger men.

The antioxidants we eat not only end up in our semen, but are concentrated there. The amount of vitamin C ends up nearly ten times more concentrated in men's testicles than the rest of their bodies. Why? Because sperm are highly susceptible to damage induced by free radicals, and accumulating evidence suggests that this oxidative stress plays an important role in male infertility. So, more fruits and vegetables and perhaps less meat and dairy, but the Harvard data were considered preliminary. They studied fewer than 100 men, but it was the best we had... until now.

A much larger follow-up study, highlighted in my video, The Role of Diet in Declining Sperm Counts, found that the higher the saturated fat intake the lower the sperm count, up to a 65 percent reduction. These findings are of potentially great public interest because changes in diet over the past decades may be part of the explanation for the recently reported high frequency of subnormal human sperm counts. In any case, the current findings suggest that adapting dietary intake toward eating less saturated fat may be beneficial for both general and reproductive health.

Why is high dietary intake of saturated fat associated with reduced semen quality? What's the connection? Sex steroid hormones in meat, eggs, and dairy may help explain the link between saturated fat intake and declining sperm counts. That's the subject of my video, Dairy Estrogen and Male Fertility.

More on male infertility in my videos Fukushima and Radioactivity in Seafood and Male Fertility and Diet.

Diet also has a role to play in sexual dysfunction:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

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Why Would Eating Fish Increase Diabetes Risk?

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In the past two years, six separate meta-analyses have been published on the relationship between fish consumption and type 2 diabetes. The whole point of a meta-analysis is to compile the best studies done to date and see what the overall balance of evidence shows. The fact that there are six different ones published recently highlights how open the question remains. One thread of consistency, though, was that fish consumers in the United States tended to be at greater risk for diabetes.

If we include Europe, then fish eaters appeared to have a 38% increased risk of diabetes. On a per serving basis, that comes out to be about a 5% increase in risk for every serving of fish one has per week. To put that into perspective, a serving of red meat per day is associated with 19% increase in risk. Just one serving per day of fish would be equivalent to a 35% increase in risk. But why might fish be worse than red meat?

Fish intake may increase type 2 diabetes risk by increasing blood sugar levels, as a review of the evidence commissioned by the U.S. government found. The review found that blood sugars increase in diabetics given fish oil. Another possible cause is that omega 3's appear to cause oxidative stress. A recent study, highlighted in my video, Fish and Diabetes, found that the insulin producing cells in the pancreas don't appear to work as well in people who eat two or more servings of fish a week. Or it may not be related to omega 3's at all but rather the environmental contaminants that build up in fish.

It all started with Agent Orange. We sprayed 20 million gallons of the stuff on Vietnam, and some of it was contaminated with trace amounts of dioxins. Though the Red Cross estimates that a million Vietnamese were adversely affected, what about all the servicemen who were exposed spraying it across the countryside? Reports started showing up that veterans exposed to Agent Orange appeared to have higher diabetes rates than unexposed veterans, a link that's now officially recognized.

These so-called "persistent organic pollutants" are mainly man-made industrial chemicals and are among the most hazardous compounds ever synthesized. They include dioxins, PCBs, and certain chlorine-containing pesticides, all of which are highly resistant to breakdown in the environment.

Initially condemned for their deleterious effect on reproductive function and their ability to cause cancer, there is now a growing body of evidence showing that exposure to these pollutants leads to metabolic diseases such as diabetes. This is a breakthrough that "should require our greatest attention."

For more on the role industrial pollutants may play in our diabetes epidemic, see Diabetes and Dioxins and Pollutants in Salmon and Our Own Fat.

More on the changing views surrounding fish oil supplements in Is Fish Oil Just Snake Oil?

Other foods associated with diabetes risk include processed meat and eggs. See Bacon, Eggs, and Gestational Diabetes During Pregnancy and Eggs and Diabetes, while Indian gooseberries and flaxseeds may help (Amla Versus Diabetes and Flaxseed vs. Diabetes).

Other videos on how polluted our oceans now are include:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

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Exploiting Autophagy to Live Longer

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Thanks to advances in modern medicine, we are living longer lives, but we're doing it by lengthening the morbidity phase. In other words, we live longer, but sicker, lives (see my video: Americans Are Live Longer, but Sicker Lives). So, traditional medicine increases the number of old people in bad health. Ideally, though, we'd extend lifespan by slowing aging to delay the onset of deterioration, rather than extending the period of deterioration.

That's exactly what a new compound appears to do. It sounds like science fiction. A bacteria in a vial of dirt taken from a mysterious island creating a compound that prolongs life. And not in the traditional medical sense. Researchers in a study profiled in my video, Why Do We Age?, called it rapamycin--named after the bacteria's home, Easter Island, which is known locally as Rapa Nui. Rapamycin inhibits an enzyme called TOR, or "target of rapamycin." TOR may be a master determinant of lifespan and aging. The action of TOR has been described as the engine of a speeding car without brakes.

Rather than thinking of aging as slowly rusting, a better analogy may be a speeding car that enters the low-speed zone of adulthood and damages itself because it does not and cannot slow down. Why don't living organisms have brakes? Because they've never needed them. In the wild, animals don't live long enough to experience aging. Most die before they even reach adulthood. The same used to be true for humans. For example, just a few centuries ago, average life expectancy in London was less than 16 years old.

Therefore, living beings need to grow as fast as possible to start reproduction before they die from external causes. The best evolutionary strategy may be to run at full speed. However, once we pass the finish line, once we win the race to pass on our genes, we're still careening forward at an unsustainable pace, all thanks to this enzyme TOR. In our childhood, TOR is an engine of growth, but in adulthood, it is the engine of aging. "Nature simply selects for the brightest flame, which in turn casts the darkest shadow."

Sometimes, though, even in our youth, our bodies need to turn down the heat. When we were evolving, there were no grocery stores; periodic famine was the norm. So sometimes even young people had to slow down or they might never even make it to reproductive age. So we did evolve one braking mechanism: caloric restriction. Caloric restriction may extend lifespan mainly through the inhibition of TOR.

When food is abundant, TOR activity goes up, prompting the cells in our body to divide. When TOR detects that food is scarce, it shifts the body into conservation mode, slowing down cell division and kicking in a process called autophagy, from the Greek auto meaning "self," and phagy meaning "to eat." Autophagy essentially means eating yourself. Our body realizes there isn't much food around and starts rummaging through our cells looking for anything we don't need. Defective proteins, malfunctioning mitochondria, stuff that isn't working anymore, and cleans house. Clears out all the junk and recycles it into fuel or new building materials, renewing our cells.

So caloric restriction has been heralded as a fountain of youth. The potential health and longevity benefits of such a diet regimen may be numerous, but symptoms may include dropping our blood pressure too low, loss of libido, menstrual irregularities, infertility, loss of bone, cold sensitivity, loss of strength, slower wound healing, and psychological conditions such as depression, emotional deadening, and irritability. And you walk around starving all the time! There's got to be a better way, and there is. Check out my video Caloric Restriction vs. Animal Protein Restriction.

More tips for preserving youthful health:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

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How Long to Avoid Fish Before Conception?

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Mothers' increased consumption of fish before and during pregnancy leads to increased exposure to both mercury and the long-chain omega 3 DHA. Mercury may negatively affect brain development in one's unborn baby, whereas DHA may stimulate brain development. However, the negative effect of mercury appears to outweigh the beneficial effect of DHA for most species of fish (see Mercury vs. Omega-3s for Brain Development).

Unfortunately, women of childbearing age appear less aware and knowledgeable about this problem than other women, despite FDA and EPA campaigns to inform every OB/GYN and pediatrician in the country about the potential risks of mercury in fish.

Since mercury sticks around in the body, women may want to avoid fish with high levels of mercury for a year before they get pregnant, not just during pregnancy. The rationale for avoiding fish for a year before pregnancy is because the half-life of mercury in the body is estimated to be about two months. In a study I profile in my video How Long to Detox from Fish Before Pregnancy a group of researchers fed subjects two servings a week of tuna and other high mercury fish to push their mercury levels up, and then stopped the fish. Slowly but surely their levels came back down (see the video for the graph). I know a lot of moms are concerned about exposing their children to mercury containing vaccines, but if they eat even just a serving a week of fish during pregnancy, the latest data shows that their infants end up with substantially more mercury in their bodies than if they were injected with up to six mercury-containing vaccines.

Given the two-month half-life of mercury, within a year of stopping fish consumption our bodies can detox nearly 99% of the mercury. Unfortunately the other industrial pollutants in fish can take longer for our body to get rid of. Certain dioxins, PCBs, and DDT metabolites found in fish have a half-life as long as ten years. So getting that same 99% drop could take 120 years, which is a long time to delay one's first child.

The fact that we can still find DDT in umbilical cord blood decades after the pesticide was banned speaks to the persistence of some pollutants. There's a shortcut for moms, but it's The Wrong Way to Detox.

What effects do these other pollutants have? Well, high concentrations of industrial contaminants are associated with 38 times the odds of diabetes--that's as strong as the relationship between smoking and lung cancer! Isn't diabetes mostly associated with obesity though? Well, these pollutants are fat-soluble, so "as people get fatter the retention and toxicity of persistent organic pollutants related to the risk of diabetes may increase." This suggests the shocking possibility that obesity "may only be a vehicle" for such chemicals.

Now the pollutants could just be a marker for animal product consumption, which may be why there's such higher diabetes risk, since more than 90% of the persistent organic pollutants comes from animal foods. And indeed, in the U.S. every additional serving of fish a week is associated with a 5% increased risk of diabetes, which makes fish consumption about 80% worse than red meat. PCBs are found most concentrated in fish and eggs (Food Sources of PCB Chemical Pollutants), which may be why there are lower levels of Industrial Pollutants in Vegans. This may also help explain the remarkable findings in Eggs and Diabetes.

More on the risks of mercury can be found in these videos:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Tatiana Vdb / Flickr

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Preventing Bacterial Vaginosis With Diet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preventing Bacterial Vaginosis With Diet

In the same way fermented pickles, kimchi, and sauerkraut foster the growth of good bacteria by maintaining an acidic environment, so does the human vagina. The normal pH of one’s vagina is that of tomato juice. However, once it starts creeping up to that of coffee, an overgrowth of bad bacteria can take hold and cause bacterial vaginosis, which affects an astounding 29 percent of American women, nearly 1 in 3. That makes it the most frequent cause of vaginal complaints among younger women. It’s commonly diagnosed with the so-called "Whiff Test," where the doctor takes a whiff of the vaginal discharge, sniffing for the characteristic fishy odor.

The fishy odor is a consequence of a compound of decay called putrescine, which is also found in certain foods. More about these “biogenic amines” in:

Traditional risk factors for bacterial vaginosis include douching, which has also been associated with a wide range of problems. With no demonstrable benefits and considerable evidence of harm, douching should be strongly discouraged. Medical professionals need to clearly explain to women that the vagina is naturally self-cleaning.

Nasal douching, though, is another matter entirely. See The Risks and Benefits of Neti Pot Nasal Irrigation and my answer about the “brain-eating amoeba.”

Recently, poor nutrition has been added to the list of risk factors for bacterial vaginosis. Women appear more likely to get bacterial vaginosis if they have lower circulating levels of phytonutrients like vitamin C and beta carotene in your bloodstream—indicating a lower intake of fruits and vegetables. In recent years, though, the field of nutrition has shifted toward examining overall dietary scores as opposed to single nutrients, because it has become recognized that nutrients are not consumed in isolation. To help consumers eat healthier foods, nutrient-rich food indices have been devised. Using these indices, researchers have found that the more nutrient rich one’s diet, the lower one’s apparent risk for bacterial vaginosis.

Why might a healthier diet improve vaginal health? Researchers suggest that high fat intake, particularly saturated fat may increase vaginal pH, thereby increasing the risk of bacterial vaginosis. As you can see in the associated video Bacterial Vaginosis and Diet, most saturated fat in the American diet comes from dairy, desserts, and chicken. The researchers conclude: “The next steps ahead include sharing these findings with gynecologists, obstetricians, and general practitioners, as well as increasing the awareness of the general community to the importance of optimal nutrition… to prevent infections of the genital tract, reduce associated disease, and maintain reproductive health.”

More on the detrimental effects of saturated fat in videos such as:

More on vaginal health in Treating Genital Warts With Green Tea and more on achieving maximum nutrient density in Calculate Your Healthy Eating Score.

What about male reproductive health? See Male Fertility and Diet.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / Flickr

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