Archive for June, 2009

Bug Off

It is summer time and that means most of us will venture outside more often. We play more sports, we garden and we simply enjoy outside cooking and eating during this time of the year. That puts us in contact with pests and in particular the dreaded mosquito. I know the first thing to pop in your head is West Nile Virus.  Many people like to use a pesticide or bug spray to ward of the bugs, the vast majority of these contain a chemical called DEET, and that is bad news. Our own EPA advises that it should not be applied to children under 6 and for adults it should only be applied to clothing not to skin, and then to wash the skin immediately upon returning inside.  This sure doesn’t sound like a healthy idea.  Deet has been linked to neurological symptoms, headache, nausea, dizziness, tremors, muscle and joint pain, memory loss, fatigue, shortness of breath, and in rats has been shown to cause diffuse brain cell death.  It is unlikely that something so potent against other living organisms can really be safe for you to spray on your skin. Botanical products have been shown to be effective but much less so than chemicals like DEET.  This simply means that they need to be applied more often and we have to understand that we may get a bug bite or two during a long evening outdoors.  Options include Neem oil, Cinnamon oil, Cintronella, Vanoline, Lemongrass and Peppermint.

Now about that West Nile virus thing.  Our municipalities are spraying dangerous chemicals into our air rather than directly onto any actual bugs with no regard for possible repercussions. Those repercussions include

  • resistance of the mosquitoes to the pesticides
  • inhalation of pesticides by people and animals
  • maybe most importantly the collateral damage to predator species and birds susceptible to the poison

All of this for a virus that has never been properly identified, isolated or really even proven to exist by the same methods that other heath threats are subjected to. Nobody likes to get mosquito bites but are the preventative measures worse than the irritation of the bite?

Advertisements

Fructose and Semantics – Natural (processed) Born (man-made) Killer (killer)

A current media blitz would have you believe that fructose, specifically high fructose corn syrup (HFCS for short) is not only “healthy in moderation” just like any caloric sweetener but is also chemically the same as table sugar to your body.  Both statements are flat out wrong and misleading.  Sort of like a publicists spin story on a compromising photo of a celebrity that has been splashed across the internet.

First lets get the chemistry out of the way. Your body runs on glucose, a simple sugar.  Fructose is another simple sugar, but here is the shocker, as you can see from the spelling GLUcose and FRUCTose, these two similar simple sugars are not in fact the same thing. Scientists like to name things and whenever new and different things are discovered they get a new name.  So, in fact researchers long ago confirmed that there is a difference between these two molecules and they were given different names. We know when we put glucose into the body certain things happen, a few highlights would be that insulin is released and another hormone called leptin is secreted.  The sugar is then taken into the cells by the insulin and metabolized for energy. Insulin and leptin both signal our brain to stop eating as we have sugar in the blood and therefore any more is excess and thus we are satiated. Many millions of other things happen as well but these two points will help show the case against fructose. When fructose is put into our bodies it is absorbed primarily in the jejunem and processed by the liver never triggering a proportionate insulin release and is readily converted into triglycerides and spurs an increase in LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol).  No leptin is released in response to fructose so with little insulin and no leptin your brain does not know you are full and more calories are consumed than needed. Fructose also raises our bodies levels of uric acid, and lactic acid neither is a good thing to have more of in you blood, this has damaging effects on the heart and kidneys and liver.

One very important fact about fructose in relation to insulin is that it has an effect on the target cells insulin receptors.  It causes a down regulation so when we do consume glucose we have to pump out more insulin.  This is called “insulin resistance” and this directly leads to diabetes syndrome X and other health problems. As to the idea that HFCS is natural and just like table sugar, both are a mix of fructose and glucose, however HFCS is a mix of the two simple sugars, table sugar is sucrose a disaccharide made of 1 glucose bound to 1 fructose. This bonding makes them behave very differently in our body as we have seen. This is not to say sugar is a good thing to consume in any quantity just that sugar would be preferred over HFCS due to the reasons above. If you are consuming predominatly whole, raw, live, fresh foods then you will not have to worry about this as HFCS does not exist in nature, though it is considered and labeled “natural.” It is natural in the sense that it does at some point come from corn but it is heavily processed and modified from the corn starch from which it started. Mind you, it is not a simple extraction process to make HFCS.  The heavy processing and stripping of other nutrients both micro and macro have much to do with making this sweetner such a harmful product.

We are now seeing another fructose sweetener in processed foods and drinks called “crystalline fructose”.  This is really just like HFCS only with the dial turned up to ten.  It can be much worse for you and can even be found with traces of heavy metals and other poisons in it like arsenic and lead. We should also mention that almost all the HFCS in our food supply is made from genetically modified corn. GM corn is a big problem as the Bt toxin (pesticide) in the plant promotes an allergenic response and many more people are presenting with corn allergies these days. The big issue is that once someone develops an allergy to GM corn then they are also allergic to natural organic corn, and since some form of corn is in almost every meal Americans eat, this becomes a big problem (hence so many different reactions to foods). A little bit of anything can generally be accepted by the body and handled while maintaining health but USDA stats show that HFCS consumption has skyrocketed.  Between the years 1970 and 2005 the average American increased their HFCS intake by 10,673%, that is not moderation. Many correlations have been made between this rise and the rise in modern diseases of degeneration like heart disease, cancer and of course diabetes.  Many factors coexist to nutritionally harm us and lead us down the path of disease but nobody can argue that the huge amount of sugar and in particular HFCS has had nothing to do with our nations health issues.  Not even a great publicist.

It’s not candy. It’s candida.

Yeast Reduction Diet: An all too common and frustrating health issue these days is Candida or yeast overgrowth in our bodies. It’s a fungus that steals our nutrients and therefore our energy then leaves us with toxic, even carcinogenic waste material to deal with. Our immune systems have a very hard time dealing with this type of infection because of the cell walls that yeast have; we are underequipped to penetrate those walls. There are a variety of treatments available to combat the yeast and break it down allowing our immune systems to clean out the waste and get rid of the toxic buildup. Those options are for another article, however it is always conducive and sometimes necessary to not only kill the yeast but also alter our diets so that we do not continue to feed the yeast and thus continue the problem. Yeast eat sugar and other small carbohydrates, the simpler and more refined the carbohydrate the more likely it will have an exacerbation effect on the yeast. This can be a variable target to hit as everybody will respond differently to dietary changes and treatment options. Removing all processed sugar, starch, dairy, and alcohol is a great start and one that most people would benefit greatly from. If more strictness is needed for individual cases then even whole foods like fruits and all but the most fibrous of vegetables must be eliminated. This type of restricted diet is obviously not for the long term as many of our most important nutrients are packed most densely in fruits and vegetables, it can however be very useful in eradicating a very pervasive pest and eliminating the symptoms that accompany it.  The typical diet for today is a tough one.  Can’t live with it, can’t live without it!

Glycemic Diet… yes, it really can matter.

The glycemic index is a measure of the effect a carbohydrate has on a person’s blood glucose level in a two hour period. The glycemic index score of a particular food is a number the amount of rise in blood glucose divided by the standard (glucose) and multiplied by 100.  That gives us the number associated with foods on a GI chart. Eating foods with a lower GI should equate to slower absorption, lower blood glucose rise, and a lower insulin release, therefore lower blood lipid counts. For example white bread will have a very high GI and will therefore enter the bloodstream very quickly and cause a sharp spike in insulin response, causing the fabled sugar rush and insulin crash that so many people experience often.  Eating an avocado on the other hand will have a much lower effect on insulin response and therefore a more even energy release.  Repeatedly spiking insulin and stressing our systems has been shown to lead to insulin resistance and eventually to Type II diabetes, and oxidative vascular damage leading to heart disease.  The GI can be used fairly effectively to smooth out the peaks and valleys of the typical American diet and therefore help one prevent some major disease processes.  There are problems with some GI charts and a few issues with the concept itself. First conceptually the charts are not very precise because the GI of a particular food can change due to ripeness, preparation, and processing.  Second everybody is different and we all digest very differently and nowhere in the GI is there a thought about how the food will effect a person over a long period of time.  Certain things seem like a good idea based on GI charts while we know that they are not, like artificial sweeteners and fructose.  There are so many other problems with these sweeteners that no matter how good they appear on the charts they should never be considered healthy. Some foods labeled as high GI (carrots) are actually so good for you that they should be included in almost any healthy diet. So the glycemic index is not perfect, but it can be used as a general tool to effectively to point you in the right direction towards health.  It is easy to se on a GI chart that breads and pastas will have a more negative effect on blood sugar than vegetables and fruits.  Just one more reason to eat all the fresh fruits and veggies that you can!

Food Inc. Heard of it? You Should.

check out the website and view the trailer here.