Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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Category: Diet & Nutrition

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know

HRT is all over the news again. This, from Newsday:

“Statistics from a major study revealing that rates of the most common form of breast cancer dropped dramatically between 2002 and 2003 are being greeted with applause and skepticism as the medical and advocacy communities digest the news.”

Yes, it’s a tough one to chew. In brief, cases of estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer (which accounts for nearly 3/4 of breast cancer cases) dropped dramatically from 2002 to 2003. This was the same time that several key studies, including a famous government-funded study (the Women’s Health Initiative), found that hormone replacement therapy (or HRT), particularly that derived from mares – in drugs like Prempro and Premarin – was linked to a significant increase in breast cancer risk.

It makes sense. Estrogen is a powerful hormone and using it in drug therapy has been and continues to be a risky proposition. A dramatic drop in estrogen-receptor breast cancer cases, occurring in tandem with the much-publicized discontinued use of HRT by millions of women, isn’t something I think the drug industry or medical community ought to be stumped by. These are highly-trained, intelligent individuals, and frankly, I think the situation is quite clear. What’s to digest? In one year – the same year in which Prempro saw its sales cut by half – breast cancer rates dropped by over 7%; for women over age 50, the rate was 12%.

This is why it is so important to be critical of any drug therapy that is recommended to us, especially for treating health matters that are either part of aging or can be prevented or better addressed through lifestyle choices. Blood pressure pills and cholesterol-lowering pills and arthritis prescriptions can help, but as we see with the HRT scandal (and last year’s Vioxx and Celebrex disasters), there are always side effects. There are always unintended consequences.

This doesn’t mean you ought to toss your medications if there is a legitimate need for them; but arm yourself with knowledge, be ruthlessly critical of everything that anyone recommends to you, and consider whether there are safer, more natural alternatives. The alternatives are often not as easy in the short term, but they’re certainly easier than painful and even fatal side effects down the road.

[tags] HRT, hormone replacement therapy, estrogen, breast cancer, estrogen receptor positive, Premarin, Prempro, Newsday, drug side effects, pharmaceuticals [/tags]

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Corn Is Not a Vegetable

Check out a recent post in the Diet & Nutrition section by junior apple Annie B. She writes to tell us about a recent adventure to Boston Market, where she overheard two well-meaning ladies order the “healthy vegetable plate” of mashed potatoes, corn, and mac ‘n cheese. Hmm. We’re a little concerned about that meal being thought of by anyone as a “vegetable” plate. Potatoes, maybe. But macaroni and cheese is definitely not a vegetable. It’s fat (processed cheese) and refined starch (white pasta). But we’re most upset about corn. Friends, corn is not a vegetable. It’s not. We are perplexed as to when corn entered the American dietary lexicon as a veggie, because it’s a grain – and a really unhealthy grain at that. Corn is the most sugary, starchy, empty grain there is. You’re better off with white rice – seriously. (Not that we recommend eating a lot of white rice, because brown rice is higher in fiber and protein.) In fact, we hate corn. Now, we’re not talking about the occasional corn on the cob at the family BBQ. That’s probably not going to hurt anyone. But corn should not make up the veggie section of your meal plate, because it’s a high-glycemic sugarfest. In sum: corn is not a vegetable, and it’s a worthless grain. And yet, miraculously, it forms the basis of the American diet. The most maddening thing about all of this is that corn is the #1 ingredient in just about every processed food and fried food. How, you ask? Well, we have a lot of excess corn sitting around every year (mostly because the government still subsidizes corn farmers). What to do? A few decades ago, people figured out that turning corn into oil was really cheap and profitable. Never mind that corn oil is terrible for you when used in cooking: trans fat city, and no Omega-3’s! Yet corn oil, and its trans-fat twin, hydrogenated corn oil, are in everything. Take a look at just about any food in the middle aisles of your grocery store. Yep, corn oil. If it doesn’t have corn oil, it will have corn syrup. Sometimes both. Even worse is the corn sweetener situation. High fructose corn syrup is really, really cheap, which is great for food manufacturers. And it’s sweeter than sugar. What food manufacturer is going to say no to that? They won’t – not unless you tell them enough is enough. HFCS goes into soda, sports drinks, kids’ snacks, candy, and breakfast cereals, to name just a few items. The HFCS lobby has a really, um…colorful brown website (we can’t think of anything nice to say about it) that makes a big deal about how nutritious corn syrup is and how it’s the backbone of the American Diet. Seriously, is that something you want to be bragging about? With diabetes now a runaway epidemic, and corn syrup registering off the charts on the old insulin-response meter? Maybe the HFCS lobby lives in an … Continue reading “Corn Is Not a Vegetable”

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Thursday’s Thought Fuss

WORKER BEES’ DAILY BITES

Drug-Eluting Stents Elude Trouble…for Now

An FDA panel is not really concerned that drug-eluting stents might cause serious blood clots. There are two kinds of stents: those that elute and those that do not. The latter are simple metal devices used to prop open arteries that are gunked up. The former release drugs and are far more popular. In fact, drug-eluting stents make up 90% of stents sold, which means about $6 billion a year in profits for the medical device industry.

So, the news* that they might kill more than they should (remember, the FDA accepts a relative number of “oops” when approving a drug) is not making Big Pharma happy. Over at the Motley Fool, they’re surmising that the FDA will probably let it all slide. Poor Pfizer just lost torcetrapib, so maybe it’s a little bit of a pity party. At any rate, ateriosclerosis, which stents address, is almost entirely preventable with a good diet and daily exercise. Something to think about. Apples?

Will I Miss Out If I Never Eat a Kumquat?

Junior Apple Jessica B. wants to know if we need variety in our diets, after all. Good question, Jess (can we call you Jess?). That does seem to be one of the hallowed tenets of friendly nutritionists everywhere. It’s right up there with 8 glasses of water daily and flail-away-at-the-cardio-machine.

What we want to know is: what do we really know? For all of human history, people ate locally, seasonally, and their variety was often limited. Evidence indicates that cave-dudes and cave-ettes didn’t really struggle much with things like obesity and diabetes. As long as they weren’t wiped out by the latest glacier or wild boar attack, people were reasonably healthy on diets that centered around one or two fiber sources, some type of greens (anything from kelp in Japan to moss in Siberia), and a protein source or two (fish in New Zealand, reindeer in Finland). What do you all think about the variety debate? Get thee to the forum!

[tags] variety, drug-eluting stents, FDA, Pfizer, pharmaceuticals, pharmacology, torcetrapib, ateriosclerosis [/tags]

* UPDATE MAY/24/07: news article updates latest drug-eluting stent issue. We’ve replaced the old article with the most up-to-date news.

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We Take the Sting Out

Worker Bees’ Daily Bites

1) Taco Bell’s Fourth Meal Campaign – where they’re advising you to revisit mealtime late at night – is suddenly wrought with a lot of potential for humor in bad taste…and terrible puns. We’re not going to stoop to such low standards, but you can bet someone in the blogosphere will. And all because of scallions – scandalous. Clickativo. Good job, Big Agra. Way to win one for the team.

2) The intersection of morality judgments, motherhood and drugs: the debate over breast-feeding continues. The UK reports epidural drugs induce a desire in the mother to breast-feed; depending on when the drugs are given, there may be some unhealthy side effects; and doctors have concerns about another side effect: guilt in mothers who cannot breast-feed. Clickativity.

3) And the kids up at Evergreen U in Washington weigh in (sorry) on the whole Chicago-foie-gras-New-York-trans-fat fracas, which is apparently beginning to turn into a multi-city competition. Will Los Angeles (if it even notices) be the next to ban an unhealthy food? (What, no more white rice in the sushi?). Will Dallas come down on BBQ sauce? Will we start talking about “bootleg” buffalo wings? “Hooch” hamburgers? You know what the unintended consequences are of banning stuff people love: you get organized crime and mob syndicates. You’d think Chicago, of all cities, would remember that one.

Myspace, blogs, cell phones: the infrastructure exists, people. Soon we’ll see 14-year-old boys pelting city headquarters with ketchup packets on their way to deliver forbidden French fries to suburban housewives whose stressed-out husbands just have to have the hooch. Or not. Hey, we know this is absurd, but isn’t it absurd to live in a country where obesity is so out of control, cities actually ban certain foods?

The Evergreen U article suggests posting menu information instead of trying to tell people what to eat. That’s really logical and reasonable (one of the Worker Bees grew up a stone’s throw from Evergreen, and gosh, are they thoughtful people up there). But while it’s a nice idea, this food problem is way past logical. As Mark questioned last week in his musings on relative gluttony, would people really pay attention to the menu information? No one wants to be told what to do, but let’s face it, gluttony is the backbone of the American diet. So here’s the clickativity. Discuss, Apples!

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A Word on Cheese ‘Food’

Well, a few dozen words, which apparently still can’t compete with the number of ingredients required to make cheese “food”. When a food producer has to state the obvious, I get concerned. I start thinking about lobbies, factories, manufacturing, chemicals, and processes – things that sounded fun on the Jetsons but have disturbing consequences in reality.

Maybe I’m easily entertained, but I get a real kick (more pain than humor, actually) from “foods” I see in the grocery store. Some days, I can’t even make it through the center aisles – it’s just too much. But even the dairy case can be a minefield of scientific stupefaction for which no chemistry refresher course could possibly prepare me. Case in point: cheese food.

When did the food supply become about food products instead of food? When did it become acceptable to label something meant for human ingestion as a “cheese food”? What’s next: milk food, beef food, and perhaps food food?
I grew up in Maine: lots of trees, animals, mountains, farms. I grew up with the knowledge that cheese was something that came from milk after some fairly simple processing. Something about Miss Moppet and curds and whey. These days, cheese “food” comes from a factory and includes things like “anhydrous milkfat”. Google at your own risk. And schools feed it to our kids, meanwhile, and feel good because there’s calcium in it!

It’s a mass-produced, centralized, chemical-laden world of cheese food we live in, Apples. I encourage you to be vigilant about eating only fresh foods that don’t need descriptions like “process” or “product” or, as if we should eat something that comes with a reminder, “food”.

Here’s some clickativity from a less-perplexed soul who took the time to explain exactly what goes into cheese “food”. Read at your discretion.

[tags] lobbies, factories, manufacturing, chemicals, processed food, mass production, cheese food, anhydrous milkfat, strange food ingredients, dairy [/tags]

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Be a Better Butternut

SMART FUEL

Why eat “I’ll have diabetes with that” spuds when you can eat mellow, healthy butternut squash?

This delicately-flavored squash typically comes cubed in the produce section. It’s also a popular soup puree. And it sure beats other starchy vegetables in the nutrition department. One serving gives you half your daily vitamin C requirement and 450% of your vitamin A requirement! At 80 calories per cup (compared to 100 for a small potato), with little impact on your blood sugar, butternuts are just better! You can mash, bake, puree, slice, and dice to your heart’s content.

[tags] butternut squash, low-carb pasta, glycemic index [/tags]

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