As mentioned yesterday, the national health report card has just been released by the NIH. My fellow Americans, we did not make the honor roll. We are not number one. (Though there’s a roll, all right.)
Here’s how America scored in some major subjects:
Heart disease: 685,000 deaths (down about 10% from 1980)
Cancer/tumors: 556,000 deaths (up about 35% from 1980)
Diabetes: 74,000 deaths (triple the 1980 rate)
Things that killed people in 1980 – like cirrhosis, accidents and the flu, are way down. But preventable diseases like diabetes, some types of cancer, heart disease and cardiovascular conditions are way up.
- Obesity is up – a lot. In the 1960s, that rate was about 44%; it’s now over 66%. Click here for the kid stats.
- You might be surprised: heart disease killed more women last year than men. Take care of those arteries, ladies!
- Also worth considering: the millions of deaths, bad reactions and side effects of drugs used to treat all these conditions. Can’t we do better?
What all this means:
It’s tempting to feel a little pessimistic, but a lot of this news is actually good. That’s right, good!
We don’t have to worry too much about clean water or adequate food or – even with the big mess health care is in right now – access to a doctor. There’s a lot to fix in this country, but the good news is that we’re blessed with a lot of options and advantages.
Most of the diseases and health issues facing Americans are things that are preventable with a few basic lifestyle changes: things like eating less, cutting out sugar, eating more vegetables every day, quitting smoking, getting exercise, taking supplements that limit free radical damage, and avoiding stress.
While these things are challenges and there are a lot of choices to weigh, the important thing is that we have choice. That, in itself, is a blessing.
So, choose to be healthy! Health, to the extent you can control it, is nothing more than good choices (because you can’t help genetics or luck). So always be making a better one.
THE LATEST PLAY IN THE STATISTICS GAME
We’ve all seen the ads touting dairy as a weight-loss aid. Every granola bar, breakfast cereal and block of cheese now brags about it. Welcome to yet another entertaining quarter in the ongoing Statistics Game. Dairy is a big topic and there are several studies we’re going to take a look at today. And by take a look, I mean tear apart.
As far as I’m concerned, “da-iry” hasn’t done anything great with the place (though the ad campaigns are always cute). The aliens can have it. We’d all be a lot better off without the so-called Wonder Tonic – and we’d lose weight a lot faster.
It is true that calcium plays a role in fat metabolism (a small role – more on that in a moment). But it’s also true that calories play a role in getting fat. Reducing calories from any source is going to help you lose weight much more effectively than simply drinking milk instead of, say, soda or juice. For one thing, milk has almost as much sugar as a glass of Coke (yes – check the labels). For another, milk is hardly nature’s perfect food for humans. Cow milk is nature’s perfect food for…cows. I realize that’s controversial, but it’s true. And relying on calcium for your weight-loss goals is like relying on vitamin C-enhanced Seven Up for your antioxidant needs.
I love a good slice of cheddar as much as the next guy and gal, but there’s no way any responsible health care practitioner should ever recommend making dairy a part of a healthy diet, much less a weight-loss plan. Hey, if you’re living on potato chips and pizza, a glass of milk might be a step up. I set the bar a little higher, and I hope you do, too.
Dairy, in limited amounts, isn’t something I worry too much about. I don’t think it’s an ideal human food, especially since most of us lack the enzyme needed to digest it and essentially force ourselves to become accustomed to the stuff. But you could do worse than the occasional dollop of cottage cheese or scoop of sugar-free yogurt, especially if you favor organic dairy. (Which, by the way, you should: regular dairy is typically full of antibiotics, hormones, and contaminants like pus. Yum.)
Enter dubious study #1.
Though Major Moo (the dairy industry) paid for six clinical studies – yes, they funded their own studies – the main one is what I’m calling the Tennessee Two Pounder. The University of Tennessee loves Major Moo, and Major Moo loves T. U. The lead researcher in the study was astounded by the amazing benefits of dairy, which he discovered after
being paid millions of dollars conducting the study. For a few million, I can be amazed by just about anything, but I still wouldn’t be amazed by the results he got: a mere two pounds on the “it’s not a dairy diet” dairy diet.
When this whole Major Moo campaign started last year, I was pretty suspicious. I don’t conduct my own studies of my supplement line for a reason: it’s unethical and no matter how honest a businessperson might be, you simply can’t help looking for more than might be there. Two pounds is not amazing. It is not impressive. You can lose two pounds by skipping dinner for two nights (really).
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (a group of 5,000+ docs and 100,000 other health-minded folks) has sued Major Moo this fall for what it says are grossly misleading ads. Major Moo spent over $200 million on six clinical trials and a slew of ads recommending 24 ounces of milk every 24 hours. Though Major Moo is insistent that they’re not pushing a “dairy diet”, the PCRM says the ads are misleading, that plenty of people have actually gained weight (that part’s true) by following the 24/24 recommendation, and the actual studies are suspect, anyway.
Note: PCRM promotes vegetarianism – I don’t – but I think they’re right on the money with this issue.
Enter dubious study #2.
It just gets better. Another dairy-funded study says that mice consuming dairy in lieu of other foods lost weight faster. That makes sense, but it’s not because dairy is a magic food. Dairy is what I call a “dense” nutritional food. It’s easier to cut calories if you’re satisfied, and dairy is a rich food. However, this particular study left me saying “Whaaaa?” The report on the study carefully explained the mice, the milk, the parameters. And then, at the end, the researchers (remember, funded by Major Moo) announce that low fat milk is the best bet for losing weight. The entire study focused on calcium’s role in weight loss, and the conclusion was about something else entirely.
This kind of bait-and-switch is a big problem in the world of studies. Hey, maybe low-fat milk is better (I personally don’t think so, because it is higher in sugar and is more refined than regular milk). But the study’s conclusions were illogical and misleading.
Enter dubious study #3.
A retrospective study in Seattle found that people who consumed higher levels of calcium gained less weight as they aged than people who didn’t eat much calcium: 10 pounds versus 15 pounds. Fine. I personally wouldn’t brag about my product causing only slightly less weight gain, but that’s me. Here’s what gets me: after accounting for exercise, diet and lifestyle habits, the actual role of calcium in this number was only 3%. Three percent. That means 97% of the weight gain was related to everything but calcium.
I do have a degree in biology. I’ve spent 25 years researching and developing health supplements. The statistical significance standard of 15% is right up there with the Hippocratic Oath. 3% is not significant. It is not even meaningful. So I’m perplexed at this quote from a doctor analyzing the study:
“While calories consumed, exercise and metabolism account for 97 percent of the fluctuations in body weight, calcium explains about a 3 percent variability of body weight in U.S. adults,” said Robert P. Heaney, who studies the effects of calcium at Creighton University in Nebraska. “Three percent isn’t bad.”
He’s right; three percent isn’t bad. It’s just pointless.
1) Yes, calcium helps with fat metabolism – a bit. Other things – like cutting calories – work better and retrain the body more effectively.
2) Lots of foods and supplements have calcium. Milk has a lot, but it also has a lot of sugar and calories. It often comes loaded with antibiotics, hormones and contaminants. It’s not an ideal food for most humans.
3) Look for significant changes when trusting a new study.
4) Don’t immediately trust new studies…when the outcome benefits whoever paid for them.
I don’t know whether to laugh or cringe at the bizarre-but-true existence of the Heart Attack Grill. Call it vulgar, call it wasteful, call it offensive – but someone’s eating there. A lot of someones. And I guarantee you they’re not healthy.
The Heart Attack Grill: the restaurant that so prides itself on inducing heart problems, the burgers have names such as “Double Bypass”. Of course, as John Stossel points out, no idiotic unhealthy venture would be complete without scantily-clad “nurse” waitresses. (Because if you’re going to infuriate the health experts, you might as well offend the better-smelling half of the population, too. The bizarre American intersection of fast food meat and female objectification – didn’t these guys learn anything in college? Did they go to college?). Everyone knows I’m no big fan of the food police. Also, I fully admit to a love affair with salad rivaled only by Popeye. But, considering the fact that millions of people every year are tragically affected by easily-prevented heart attacks (and the fact that a half-million die), this kind of gloating stupidity concerns me, if only because these men may be reproducing.
BUT NOT NEARLY AS EFFECTIVELY AS HEARTBURN PILLS
A large-scale study out of Britain has reported that taking popular heartburn medications like Tagamet and Pepcid AC can seriously increase your risk of bone fractures, because the drugs block calcium absorption.
Check out the article – here’s the clickativity.
Of course, the
pill pushers contrarians say that a simple calcium pill can offset the damaging effects of heartburn medications. That’s classic – needing a second pill to address problems caused by the first pill, which is unnecessary in the first place.
An easy fix for heartburn is avoiding foods that cause it. Getting daily exercise, drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol are also good ways to avoid heartburn.
Each year, about 300,000 older Americans break a bone, and 60,000 of them will die from the injury.
Heartburn medications are a $10 billion-a year cash cow.
And surprise, surprise: Ole’ Denmark did a heartburn study last year but reported that heartburn medications are, wouldn’t you know, perfectly safe. I keep trying to give the motherland the benefit of the doubt, so I would like to cast doubt on this new British study, but seeing as how it was funded by the U.S. government and GlaxoSmithKline, I have to say, something is rotten in Denmark.
A doctor weighs in on the HRT-cancer connection. The controversy isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.
I recommend reading the whole interview if this is an area of interest for you. What caught my attention is the subtle pro-drug stance the interview appears to take, while simultaneously bringing out revealing facts like the following:
Q. Was it a surprise to learn that estrogen and progestins can cause breast cancer?
A. We’ve known there is a cause and effect with hormones and breast cancer since 1896.
On the plus side, the article effectively details the pathology of breast cancer, explaining the difference between estrogen and progesterine’s effects in lay terms. If you’ve found the issue confusing, give this article 10 minutes of your time. The article also fairly points out that the “entire epidemiology” of breast cancer shifted when HRT was introduced and again when it was found to be dangerous.
My concerns regarding current HRT therapies, however, remain:
1) The cancer-hormone connection has long been known.
2) The body was not designed to handle artificial hormone interference with the natural regulatory processes that come with aging. That’s not my opinion; that’s fact. Start tinkering with the body and all kinds of things can happen. Of course, I recommend other, natural therapies to combat aging-related issues (including menopause): exercise, sensible supplementation, and sound dietary choices. We’ll get into those in detail soon.
3) The entire tone of the interview is what I find so offensive about the medical industry: if one drug doesn’t work, hey, take another! Subtle though it is – again, the article does promote plenty of helpful information – it’s clear that mainstream medical practitioners are loathe to “call out” even the most pressing health scandals, evidently preferring to tread lightly lest they offend the pharmaceutical suits. Of course, five or ten years from now, everyone will be talking about the dangers of HRT without hesitation, but for now, it’s a politically-correct parade.
The icing on the cake: after discussing the various issues surrounding HRT, the interview brings up the issue of osteoporosis (since many women took HRT to address this health condition) and suggests alternative drugs as the solution. It’s par for the course for Big Pharma.
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