January 2010 Health in the News Archive
NYC Mayor Bloomberg launches war on salt
January 26, 2010
New York City is launching a campaign to cut New Yorkers' sodium intake by one-fifth over five years. The NYC Health Department is spearheading the National Salt Reduction Initiative, which will cajole food manufacturers to voluntarily cut sodium content 20 to 25 percent by 2014. Some 26 other cities, states and organizations, including the American Medical Association, back the campaign.
The initiative is modeled on a program enacted in the United Kingdom to lower sodium in 85 food categories. It resulted in a 9 percent drop in sodium consumption over nine years.
New research published in the New England Journal of Medicine calculated that if Americans reduced their salt intake by half a teaspoon a day, the nation would save up to $24 billion a year in health care costs, a move more cost-effective than using medications to lower blood pressure in all persons with hypertension.
Table salt, which accounts for a minuscule amount of a person's salt intake, is not targeted. Between 75 to 80 percent of a typical person's daily sodium intake comes from processed and restaurant foods.
"We very much believe we share a common goal with New York City," said Juli Mandel Sloves, a spokeswoman for Campbell Soup Co.
She added, however, "The recommendations proposed are laudable but very aggressive."
She noted that the sodium in Campbell's soups was cut 50 percent from its 1980s level. "To lower it another 20 percent is a challenge," she said.
The initiative is voluntary -- meaning there will be no fines or bans for non-compliance.
"There's a certain arrogance when the New York City Health Department is setting policy for the rest of the country," said Lisa Roman, spokesperson for the Salt Institute. "These are decisions that should be made personally."
Dr. Grout's Comment:
But you can't make a personal decision about how much salt to eat when it saturates everything around you. At Olive Garden, a meal of chicken parmigiana, one breadstick, salad with house dressing and raspberry lemonade totaled 5,735 milligrams of sodium, according to the New York Times.
Some 80 percent of the salt we consume comes from processed and restaurant foods. The American Medical Association recommends 500 to 2,000 milligrams per day.
Some New Yorkers consider Mayor Michael Bloomberg's actions to be an overstep of government power. But because heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses are rampant, and because government watchdog agencies have refused to act, we increasingly see people working at the city level to curtail smoking, trans fats, soda, and now salt.
When there is a low level of salt in foods, you can control how much salt you eat by simply picking up a shaker and adding salt. Better yet, you can control what kind of salt you get.
Not all salt is the same. The stuff you get out of a typical shaker is an industrial product. It has been heated and refined, the trace minerals removed. This product is nowhere to be found in nature; it is unfriendly to the body.
Nature did not design sodium as a stand-alone item; she packages it with essential trace minerals. Natural salt is unrefined and contains those trace minerals. Examples are Celtic salt and Himalayan salt. Sodium is one of the primary electrolytes in the body. All four cationic electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium) are available in unrefined salt.
Without salt, we die. We need salt for digestion, adrenal function, cellular metabolism, and brain development.
Our bodies contain 3 internal oceans that require frequent mineral replenishment of many trace elements, the kind found in unrefined salt: blood plasma, lymphatic system, and the extracellular fluid that bathes every living cell. Trace elements found in minute quantities in unrefined sea salt work together to assure and maintain proper function of these systems. Sodium is the major electrolyte outside the cells, and potassium is the major electrolyte inside the cells. These two elements work together to maintain fluid balance, transmit nerve messages and control muscle contractions. Unrefined salt contains potassium, refined salt does not.
The salt controversy needs to get around to the fact the amount of sodium in the diet is less important than the ratio of sodium to potassium, and the nature of the salt itself.
CBS News demonstrates BPA danger from canned foods
January 22, 2010
CBS News correspondent Kelly Wallace conducted a personal experiment on the Early Show. She ate a sandwich made from canned tuna, which consumer groups have found to contain BPA. Shortly afterwards, she had her blood drawn. For the next two days, Wallace tried to live a BPA-free life, avoiding all foods in cans or plastic containers. Then she had her blood drawn again. Her serum samples were shipped to the lab of University of Missouri professor Fred Vom Saal.
Vom Saal told Wallace, "The first set of blood that you gave us had high levels of Bisphenol A in it. It's over five times higher than what we find on average in women in the United States."
However, after her BPA-free diet, Vom Saal said her levels were much lower than average.
Wallace asked, "How convinced are you that elevated levels of BPA in people's bodies can lead to cancers, heart disease, obesity and early puberty?"
He replied, "I and other colleagues of mine at an NIH (National Institutes of Health) meeting said, with a very high level of confidence, we think Bisphenol A is a threat to human health."
Last week, the Food and Drug Administration modified its position on the safety of BPA. "We have some concern, which leads us to recommend reasonable steps the public can take to reduce exposure to BPA," said Joshua Sharfstein, FDA's deputy commissioner.
The FDA had long maintained that BPA is safe, relying largely on two studies funded by the chemical industry. The agency was faulted by its own panel of independent science advisers in 2008, which said its position on BPA was scientifically flawed because it ignored more than 100 published studies by government scientists and university laboratories that raised health concerns about BPA. Recent data found health effects even at low doses of BPA -- lower than the levels considered safe by the FDA.
The chemical industry, which has been fighting restrictions, said Friday's announcement was good news because the FDA did not tell people to stop using products containing the chemical.
Dr. Grout's Comment:
CBS News has been doing some interesting reporting lately. Last fall, for example, they reported that the CDC had inflated the number of swine flu cases and that they had no good reporting system in place. Now CBC is pushing the envelope with the BPA issue in which the FDA has stubbornly sided with the chemical industry.
Let's also credit CBS for putting the focus on the fact BPA is in the lining of cans, not just plastic bottles.
The scientific evidence has been accumulating for a decade. Bisphenol A was discovered to be a synthetic estrogen in the 1930s. A new study just published in the journal PLoS ONE provides the most compelling evidence so far that BPA exposure is dangerous to the cardiovascular system. And a few months ago, another study linked BPA exposure to erectile dysfunction.
Canada declared BPA a toxin and banned it from baby bottles in 2008. Because the FDA has failed to act, Senator Dianne Feinstein and others submitted a bill that would block BPA from all food and drink packaging. BPA is one of the world's highest production volume chemicals, with over 6.4 billion pounds produced annually, and it more than 90 percent of Americans have detectable levels in their bodies.
Antidepressant drugs are riskier than we thought
January 20, 2010
A new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that women who reported taking an antidepressant drug had increased risk for stroke and increased risk for death relative to women not taking antidepressants.
The Women's Health Initiative (WHI) of the National Institutes of Health followed postmenopausal U.S. women for up to 15 years. The large sample size in and of itself makes this study highly credible.
Health risks were observed across different categories of antidepressants and were not confined to the older tricyclic antidepressants. One reason newer selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants (such as Prozac) are prescribed so widely is that they are viewed to be medically benign. However, when SSRIs were examined separately, they also had increased risk for stroke and death. SSRIs were associated with double the risk for fatal hemorrhagic stroke and one-third higher risk of mortality from all causes.
According to the commentary in the journal, "The findings, in the largest cohort of women yet studied, provide additional warning that antidepressant therapy may in fact be detrimental with respect to stroke and total mortality in this demographic population."
Dr. Grout's Comment:
The Neuroscience 2009 conference last October presented new research showing that the cause of depression has been long oversimplified, thus drugs designed to treat it aim at the wrong target. The drugs are like arrows shot at the outer rings of a bull's eye instead of the center.
This new research quashes two long-held dogmas: one, that stress is generally a major cause of depression, and two, that an imbalance in neurotransmitters in the brain triggers depressive symptoms. Those beliefs were the basis for developing drugs currently used to treat depression.
Researcher Eva Redei used microarray technology to isolate and identify the specific genes related to depression in lab rats. She found 254 genes related to stress and 1275 genes related to depression, with an overlap of only five genes between the two. "This finding is clear evidence that at least in an animal model, chronic stress does not cause the same molecular changes as depression does."
Redei found strong indications that depression actually begins further up in the chain of events in the brain. The biochemical events that ultimately result in depression actually start in the development and functioning of neurons.
"The medications have been focusing on the effect, not the cause," she said. "That's why it takes so long for them to work and why they aren't effective for so many people."
The frontal lobe is key to depression because it isn't usually working right. We can increase the brain's processing speed by increasing neural connections with HEG (hemoencephalography), and then exercise the brain to teach it to make new connections.
Depression can absolutely devastate your health, sometimes even more so than eating trans fats, sugars, and fried foods. According to Stephanie Reese, PhD, co-founder and Clinical Director of BrainAdvantage™, "The allopathic mindset that pharmaceutical drugs are the treatment is outdated. BrainAdvantage surpasses that. We can permanently change brain function in ways that are cost effective, non-invasive, powerful, and long-lasting."
Obesity rates may have peaked in America
January 18, 2010
The number of obese Americans may have maxed out, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The numbers indicate that obesity rates have remained constant for at least five years among men and for closer to 10 years among women and children — long enough for experts to say the percentage of very overweight people has leveled off.
But obesity is still epidemic. Americans are still among the heaviest on the planet, with 68% of adults overweight or obese, more than double the percentage 30 years ago.
Dr. William H. Dietz of the CDC said the data probably reflected increased awareness of the obesity problem, especially among women, "who buy food, prepare it and see it, and they're making changes for themselves that they're also making for their kids." He also cited a reduction in "less healthful foods" at school.
On the other hand, Dr. David Ludwig, director of the Optimal Weight for Life Program at Children's Hospital Boston, said the plateau might just suggest that "we've reached a biological limit" to how obese people could get. When people eat more, he said, at first they gain weight; then a growing share of the calories go "into maintaining and moving around that excess tissue," he continued, so that "a population doesn't keep getting heavier and heavier indefinitely."
Furthermore, Dr. Ludwig said, "it could be that most of the people who are genetically susceptible, or susceptible for psychological or behavioral reasons, have already become obese."
Dr. Grout's Comment:
A recent study forecast life expectancy for a typical 18-year-old from 2005 through 2020. Growing body mass index rates suggest that that teen would have a reduced life expectancy of 1.02 years. One year less may not sound like a big deal, but that statistic does not reflect the years of suffering from degenerative diseases prior to death. Obesity is major risk factor for heart disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
The adult obesity rate has generally been climbing since 1980, when it was 15 percent. The entire adult population has grown heavier, and the heaviest have become much heavier in the last 25 years.
Most doctors readily agree that cutting out high fructose corn syrup would help the obesity epidemic significantly, but we have yet to see the CDC or the American Academy of Pediatrics or other such group come out against it.
Genetically modified food issue goes to U.S. Supreme Court
January 16, 2010
The U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear the case of Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, marking the first time a case about the risks of genetically engineered crops will come to the highest court.
Monsanto modified alfalfa seed to be immune to the herbicide Roundup. The Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a lawsuit in 2006 on behalf of a coalition of non-profits and farmers who wished to retain the choice to plant non-GE alfalfa. The lower courts ruled the USDA had illegally approved it. Monsanto pushed to have the case heard in the Supreme Court.
"This is truly a ‘David versus Goliath' struggle, between public interest non-profits and a corporation bent on nothing less than domination of our food system," said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the CFS. "That Monsanto has pushed this case all the way to the Supreme Court, even though USDA's court-ordered analysis is now complete, and the U.S. government actively opposed further litigation in this matter, underscores the great lengths that Monsanto will go to further its mission of patent control of our food system and selling more pesticides."
A federal district court had required the Department of Agriculture to undertake an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) assessing the impacts of the crop on the environment and on farmers; the first time the U.S. government had ever undertaken such analysis for any GE crop. The court permitted farmers that had already planted to continue, but halted any further planting pending the agency's re-assessment. That the EIS was required is not in dispute; the legal issue is only the scope of relief while USDA analyzed the impacts of the crop for the first time.
In October 2009 Monsanto asked the Supreme Court to hear further arguments. In response, the Center and the U.S. government separately opposed that request the following December.
Alfalfa is the fourth most widely grown crop in the U.S. and a key source of dairy forage. It is the first perennial crop to be genetically engineered. It is open-pollinated by bees, which can cross-pollinate at distances of several miles, spreading the patented, foreign DNA to conventional and organic crops. Such biological contamination threatens the livelihood of organic farmers and dairies, since the U.S. Organic Standard prohibits genetic engineering.
Dr. Grout's Comment:
That last paragraph speaks volumes. The primary crops already subject to genetic engineering are soy, corn, canola, and cotton. Alfalfa is unique because it is pollinated by bees which can travel miles.
In May of 2009, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine called for a moratorium on GE foods. The British Medical Society had called for a ban on the introduction of GE crops and food a decade earlier, in no small part because the GE issue received so much more press coverage in Europe. In December 2009, the American Public Health Association formally opposed the use of Monsanto's bovine growth hormone "rBGH", a genetically engineered variant of the natural growth hormone produced by dairy cows.
It will be interesting to see how Justice Clarence Thomas eventually rules on this case; he is a former Monsanto attorney.
A more potent flu shot coming for seniors
January 12, 2010
The FDA rushed approval for a new influenza vaccine designed specifically for people 65 years of age and older.
It is called Fluzone High-Dose, manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Inc. It is formulated so that each 0.5 mL dose contains a total of 180 micrograms (mcg) of influenza virus hemagglutinin (HA) which is made up of 60 mcg of each of the three influenza virus strains. That is several times stronger than the regular seasonal flu formulation.
"As people grow older, their immune systems typically become weaker," said Karen Midthun, M.D., acting director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. "This is the first influenza vaccine that uses a higher dose to induce a stronger immune response that is intended to better protect the elderly against seasonal influenza."
The FDA press release says, "As expected, because of the higher HA content, non-serious adverse events were more frequent after vaccination with Fluzone High-Dose compared with Fluzone. Common adverse events experienced during clinical studies included pain, redness and swelling at the injection site and headache, muscle aches, fever and malaise. The rate of serious adverse events was comparable between Fluzone High-Dose and Fluzone."
As part of the accelerated approval process, the manufacturer is required to conduct further studies to verify that the Fluzone High-Dose will decrease seasonal influenza disease after vaccination. The vaccine will be available in the fall of 2010, ahead of the next flu season, said Sanofi Pasteur, the company's vaccine unit.
Dr. Grout's Comment:
In 1989, just 15 percent of seniors received flu vaccines. Today, more than 65 percent are persuaded to roll up their sleeves. Flu-related fatalities aren't dropping any, according to official estimates.
Flu shots simply aren't that effective at preventing flu. And they are preserved with thimerosal, which is mercury, a significant neurotoxin. This new vaccine also contains formaldehyde. You remember the toxic trailers from Hurricane Katrina where victims had breathed formaldehyde. Just as some people's genes make them unable to excrete mercury quickly, some people have the genes for poor metabolism and detoxification of formaldehyde. So increasingly, the question is asked if there can be any safe standards for mercury and formaldehyde. The risk isn't worth the benefit.
The better defensive strategy is to maintain strong levels of vitamins D and C. How many of those seniors in nursing homes expose themselves to sunshine every week?
Genetically modified corn determined to be toxic
January 4, 2010
A new study just published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences conclusively demonstrates the toxicity of three genetically modified corn varieties from Monsanto, according to the Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering (Criigen, based in Caen), which participated in the study.
The report says, "Our analysis clearly reveals for the 3 GMOs new side effects linked with GM maize consumption, which were sex- and often dose-dependent. Effects were mostly associated with the kidney and liver, the dietary detoxifying organs, although different between the 3 GMOs. Other effects were also noticed in the heart, adrenal glands, spleen and haematopoietic system. We conclude that these data highlight signs of hepatorenal toxicity, possibly due to the new pesticides specific to each GM corn. In addition, unintended direct or indirect metabolic consequences of the genetic modification cannot be excluded."
Caen and Rouen University researchers, as well as Criigen researchers, based their analyses on the data supplied by Monsanto to health authorities to obtain the green light for commercialization, but they draw different conclusions. According to Professor Séralini, the health authorities based themselves on a reading of the conclusions Monsanto has presented and not on conclusions drawn from the totality of the data. The researchers were able to obtain the formally confidential documentation following a legal decision.
"For the first time in the world, we've proven that GMOs are neither sufficiently healthy nor proper to be commercialized. ... Each time, for all three GMOs, the kidneys and liver, which are the main organs that react to a chemical food poisoning, had problems," indicated Gilles-Eric Séralini, an expert member of the Commission for Biotechnology Reevaluation, created by the EU in 2008.
"Monsanto's tests, effected over 90 days, are obviously not of sufficient duration to be able to say whether chronic illnesses are caused. That's why we ask for tests over a period of at least two years," explained one researcher. Consequently, the scientists demand a "firm prohibition" on the importation and cultivation of these GMOs.
Dr. Grout's Comment:
This is extremely important to our health because an estimated 85 percent of all corn grown in the United States has been genetically modified.
The companies that make genetically modified seeds have a lot of clout. This new study was not sponsored by industry, and to date, the mainstream American media has ignored it. GM issues receive more coverage in Europe.
But increasingly, the American medical community is speaking out against GM food. In December, the American Public Health Association (APHA) formally opposed the use of growth hormones in beef and dairy production by calling for a ban on the use of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) in dairy cows and a slate of growth hormones in beef cattle.
APHA is the oldest and largest association of public health professionals in the world, representing 50,000 professionals nationwide. APHA's resolution follows an official position statement released last year by the American Nurses Association opposing rBGH.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated that over 42 percent of large dairy operations in the United States inject their cows with rBGH, a synthetic hormone that induces cows to produce more milk. APHA's resolution asks the FDA to ban the use of rBGH and growth-promoting beef hormones, and recommends that hospitals, schools and other institutions – especially those who work with children – serve food produced without these hormones. The resolution also supports product labelling for consumers to make informed purchasing decisions.
"For too long, regulators have looked the other way while industrial beef and dairy operations use hormones recklessly," said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. "APHA's resolution against this practice sends a clear signal that public health, not industry convenience, should guide U.S. food policy."
Health Canada proposes to put a drug into French fries and chips
January 4, 2010
Cooking foods at high temperatures - particularly deep frying as happens with French fries and potato chips - produces a compound called acrylamide that has been linked to cancer in animals and possibly people. Health Canada is proposing to put an anti-cancer drug in fried foods.
The agency is suggesting removing the requirement for a prescription to administer the enzyme asparaginase, except when it is injected into leukemia patients as a treatment. That way, food companies could include small amounts of the drug in their products. Evidence suggests that asparaginase lessens the production of acrylamide by as much as 90%.
The enzyme is destroyed in cooking so would have no impact on people consuming the food, said Varoujan Yaylayan, associate professor with McGill University's food-science department. "It has been used quite effectively on an experimental basis," he said. "It appears to work."
The acrylamide issue has preoccupied food manufacturers as they brace for the possibility of regulations that could limit levels of the chemical or ban it outright. California actually sued French fry and chip makers over the question, with several agreeing last year to reduce the volume of acrylamide in their goods.
Manufacturers of the anti-cancer drug fully support the move. Health Canada is accepting feedback on the idea for 75 days, and could implement it in six to eight months.
Dr. Grout's Comment:
The Health Canada agency staffers have had way too much spiked eggnog. We have reached epidemic levels of obesity and cancer – in fact, more people will die of diabetes than cancer. This is the antithesis of preventive healthcare.
And the "link" between acrylamide and cancer in humans is tentative. Tests have found that consuming the chemical increases the risk of some cancer in rodents. Evidence of its effect on humans who eat it in food is less clear, though, with some research linking it to cancer but most studies finding that the levels people eat would have no carcinogenic effect.
According to Center for Science in the Public Interest, a one-ounce serving of Cheerios has about 7 micrograms of acrylamide, and a six-ounce serving of French fries has about 60 micrograms of acrylamide.
When I tell patients not to eat fried foods, it is because I am more concerned about trans fats, empty calories, and the genetically modified oils used to cook so many of these fried foods. Better that Health Canada would recommend outlawing the use of GM vegetable oils.
Healthcare "prevention" deemed costly
January 2, 2009
The LA Times reports that researchers at Tufts and the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston looked at 279 studies analyzing the cost-effectiveness of various preventive measures, and found the majority of preventive interventions cost society as a whole more money than treatment would.
For men at high risk of heart disease, taking aspirin costs less than the treatment they might need without it. One-time colonoscopies for men in their early 60s is another cost-saver, compared with the price of treatment some would need if their colon cancer wasn't caught early.
But in another example, prescribing cholesterol-busting drugs such as statins is very costly, because not all of the people taking them would go on to have expensive health problems without the medications. In a 2007 paper, researcher Louise Russell at the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers estimated that the cost of cholesterol medication ranged from $85,000 to $924,000 per healthy person per year, depending on the population targeted.
The U.S. spends 8% to 9% of its healthcare dollars on prevention, according to the Altarum Institute, a nonprofit health research organization headquartered in Ann Arbor, Mich. Three-quarters of American voters supported increasing spending on preventive care in a poll last May funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America's Health.
Dr. Grout's Comment:
The problem here is the definition of preventive medicine. Someone's definition of preventive medicine as it applies to heart disease is a prescription for statins. That is a good answer for the pharmaceutical industry as it boosts their bottom line, but statins are a poor solution for the human body. Medication side effects are the #4 leading cause of death in the U.S. annually (JAMA 1998). Cholesterol screening fails to identify about 50 percent of the people who have heart attacks in the United States each year, because their total cholesterol is either normal or only moderately elevated. Screenings sell pharmaceutical drugs, but they do little to address the underlying causes of heart disease.
We recently saw new guidelines for less mammography screening for women under 50. Why? Basically, the screening drives a lot of business for biopsies which too often turn out to be a false alarm.
Prevention is not screening. Screening too often is merely a way to drive people to medical interventions of some sort. Real prevention starts with education. Prevention 101 is about food since what we eat puts fuel in our body several times a day and can even change the way our genes are expressed. Prevention 201 is about our environment. More and more studies demonstrate that environmental toxins build up in our bones and tissues and this body burden chips away at health. In many people, this warehousing of heavy metals, pesticides, plastics, etc., will cause chronic inflammation. In some people, that will result in heart disease. Based on the growing number of educated comments I see on the internet, I think this is the kind of prevention most people had in mind when answering last year's poll about spending on prevention.
Screenings we have. What we do not have is a working economic model for educating the public. Policy makers, who spend our tax dollars, too often put the heavily lobbied interests of the food and drug industries ahead of our health.