Current Health Research News Spring 2007

Things you wish you didn’t know about toxins in the environment

Lord, lighten my (body) burden

Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, in collaboration with the Environmental Working Group and Commonweal, tested 9 volunteers to determine the degree of chemical contamination in their bodies. Researchers found an average of 91 industrial compounds, pollutants, and other chemicals in the blood and urine of the volunteers with a total of 167 chemicals found in the group. The people tested had not worked with chemicals on the job or lived near an industrial facility.

Scientists call this contamination a person’s “body burden.” Of the 167 chemicals found, 76 cause cancer in humans or animals, 94 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 79 cause birth defects or abnormal development. No one knows the dangers of exposure to these chemicals in combination.

For more information:

Catching more than fish

Going fishing? Some fish contain high levels of mercury that may be harmful to an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system. Some seafood contains enough mercury, PCB’s, or other toxins to harm adults. Your risks depend on the amount you consume and the levels of mercury in the fish and shellfish. How to find out? Here are two useful websites: This website lists locations and contamination of specific fish species caught there. This Sierra Club Website has a chart summarizing this information.

Nutritional news

Buying organic: Richer in micronutrients

A recent article in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine surveyed existing literature comparing nutrient content of organic and conventional crops They found that Organic crops contained significantly more vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus and significantly less nitrates than conventional crops. The authors concluded that there appear to be genuine differences in the nutrient content of organic and conventional crops From: Worthington V. Nutritional quality of organic versus conventional fruits, vegetables, and grains. J Altern Complement Med. 2001 Apr; 7(2): 161-73. Here is the pdf link:

Back To the Good Old Days

Researchers have been reporting that organic products have more nutrients than conventional, but there is another twist to the story of nutrients in foods. Conventional fruits and vegetables today have fewer nutrients than those produced 50 years ago. Declining amounts of minerals and vitamins are seen in every food group tested. These changes are attributed to mineral depletion of soil, changes in plant varieties, and loss of soil microorganisms.

A similar study reported in The Food Magazine, compared the nutritional content of meat and milk products, and determined that the mineral content of these foods declined significantly over the past 60 years,

Take home message: What to do? Organic foods, natural foods, local foods, foods in season, home grown foods, and unprocessed foods have better nutritional value. Field finished beef, free-range chickens and eggs, wild game, and omega 3 eggs provide more healthy omega 3 fats. Polyface Farm near Staunton is a leader in the field of sustainable natural products. Organic produce travels, on the average, over a thousand miles from farm to market. So while organic foods may provide higher levels of nutrients when picked, significant nutrient value can be lost in the long shipping and travel times. For this reason fresh local produce, even if not organic, may gain a nutritional advantage over organic crops from distant locations.

To Eat Or Not To Eat, Soy Is The Question

The pendulum on soy has swung from wonderful to terrible very rapidly. What is the truth? Does soy prevent heart disease, bone loss, and menopause symptoms, or does it block thyroid function, increase cancer risk, and not help the heart?

There is conflicting data in the 10,000 plus scientific studies published about soy in the past 15 years. Here are some guidelines from our take on the literature.

  • Great to eat: Fermented soy products such as traditional Asian foods like tempeh or miso, and natto (a fermented soybean paste) are easier to digest, and contain more antioxidants, phytosterols, and amino acids, than other soy foods.
  • Good to eat: Traditional (over several thousand years) whole soy products like soymilk, tofu and edamame are rich in healthy vegetable protein, minerals and isoflavones. They have a mild cholesterol lowering and heart protecting effect. Because the isoflavones function as weak estrogens (1/100 the strength of estrogen hormones) they may relieve menopausal symptoms, and reduce the risk of cancers (breast and ovarian cancer) associated with stronger estrogens, as well as reducing the risk of prostate cancer in men.
  • Questionable to eat: Processed (refined) soy products-concentrates, isolates, texturized soy protein, etc.
  • Avoid eating: Concentrated soy isoflavones, processed as pills (unless specifically indicated for a medical problem) and hydrogenated soy oil (trans fat).

Finally, choose organic soy products that do not use genetically modified soybeans. One or two soy servings per day are generally a healthy part of a balanced diet. And don’t forget all the other healthy legumes and legume foods besides soy: chickpeas and hummus, peas, lentils, and beans in all their many remarkable forms.

A Sweet Deception

In 2004, 180 million Americans bought sugar-free products, and in 2005, low-sugar packaged items were the second fastest growing segment in the “health food” industry, just behind organics. This is an unfortunate deception. Well-intentioned people think they are using something advantageous for their health. In truth they are harming themselves in several ways

  • Artificial sweeteners stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin, lowering the blood sugar and stimulating appetite.
  • Artificial sweeteners maintain your sweet tooth and addiction to sweets.
  • Many food sweetened with artificial sweeteners contain additional starches and actually have more carbohydrates than the usual version of that food.
  • And finally, the jury is still out on the safety of these substances, Aspartamin in particular has not been rigorously tested.

But there is a silver lining; don’t throw away your Nutrasweet yet. The June 2006 Idaho Observer reported:

“Aspartame – The World’s Best Ant Poison” Excerpted from Jan Jensen of WELLthy Choices

“We live in the woods and carpenter ants are a huge problem.”
“So when I read somewhere that aspartame (Nutrasweet®) was actually developed as an ant poison and only changed to being considered non-poisonous after it was realized that a lot more money could be made on it as a sweetener than as an ant poison, I decided to give it a try.”
“I opened two packets of aspartame sweetener, and dumped one in a corner of each of our bathrooms. That was about 2 years ago and I have not seen any carpenter ants for about 9 to 12 months. It works better than the most deadly poisons I have tried. Any time they show up again, I simply dump another package of Nutrasweet in a corner, and they will be gone for a year or so again.”
“As with any poison I recommend wearing gloves and washing any skin areas that come in contact with this poison, and avoid getting it in your mouth, despite anything the labeling may indicate.”

Our comment: If you try this on bothersome insects, let us know your results.

Diet and Cancer

Do Omega 3’s Fatty Acids (fish oil) protect against cancer?

A number of articles have appeared in the Medical Literature in the past several years suggesting that herbs and supplements are not as effective as they are thought to be. Careful review of these articles has shown many to be not only biased in their interpretation but poor science. Nonetheless, the press and the medical journals have given natural products a very negative spin. Let’s look at one in particular.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) released the results of a new review of the several dozen population studies that had collected data both on people’s estimated intake of omega-3 fatty acids and their health status. The authors of this “meta-analysis” came to the conclusion that omega-3 fatty acids are unlikely to prevent cancer.

The intake of omega 3 fatty acids was based on intake of fish. Fish vary greatly in their fat content. Some fish consumed had very little fat. And some of the subjects ate so little fish as to not make a difference in their nutrition. Basing conclusions on diets that included low fat fish and negligible quantities of fish produced results that were not valid.

World renowned fatty acid researcher William E. M. Lands, PhD pointed out shortcomings in the study and noted: “we know much about the ways that marine omega-3s interact with omega-6s at the cellular level; enough to believe that they can inhibit the growth of some common forms of human cancer… particularly the breast and prostate.”

Even the study’s lead author-rheumatologist Catherine MacLean, M.D., Ph.D.-acknowledged in press reports that the data from the 38 studies they examined were not sufficient to rule out the possibility of an association between consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and reduced cancer risk.

What to eat to avoid cancer? What should we eat after recovery from cancer?

Diet and Cancer –
The web site provides an excellent source of information about Nutrition and Cancer.

Supplements: Just Passing Through

Do your vitamins, supplements and medications break down in your digestive tract or pass thru unabsorbed? Pills that have good quality control should be tested for this, but not all products are. Remember that some slow release tablets, such as slow release potassium, have a matrix that is not absorbed and will pass through with the stool. But most pills should not. Consumer Lab has a relatively simple test to determine the dissolution and disintegration of pills. For instructions, go to:

Minor Miracles Department

We all “wannabe” healthy but what makes a baby wallaby healthy? While this may not be a burning question for most of us, the answer tickles me as another example of the rich and complex matrix of Mother Nature. Researchers have found an ingredient in the milk that protects joeys – wallaby babies – from infection in their mother’s pouch until they are old enough to develop antibodies. Wallaby milk is 100 times stronger than penicillin in combating bacteria – and it comes ready-made in a pouch. It could be one of nature’s most potent antibiotics. Here is another illustration of reasons to protect all species, so as not to throw away the parts of our precious natural heritage.


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