Monthly Archives: September 2008

Nuts to You

Nuts to You

Competency #14  Superfoods

Reference: Reference: Second International Symposium on Nut Consumption: Nutrition  Sept 2008 1734S-1762S  Many authors

We’re not eating enough!  The recent “second” international symposium on the consumption of nuts in human nutrition just compiled and reviewed all the literature on nuts and human health.  There were lots of interesting facts.  Only 1/3 of Americans eat any nuts on any given day, and most of that is in the form of snacks.  This is counting peanuts and peanut butter as nut products.   Even with that, the average daily consumption is only 30 grams instead of 45, or an ounce and a half.

First of all:  YOU DON’T GAIN WEIGHT eating nuts.  Despite their being mostly oil and protein with very little carbohydrate, you don’t put on weight.  Lots of studies show that.  Thoughts are: One, nuts make you feel full because of their oils.  Two, your body compensates with the calories and burns a little warmer, using up the energy in metabolizing the calories.  (REE: Resting energy expenditure up 11% over a year) Finally, your enzymes in your gut aren’t all that good at digesting nuts, so you don’t really get all the calories in them.  Their internal fiber is too dense and you only extract part of the calories.  So, what effects do we see?

Heart Disease:  a 35-40% drop in sudden death from cardiovascular disease by eating nuts.  That’s almost as good as fish oil!  This is major news!  They can’t quite put their finger on just what causes that wonderful effect, but the thoughts are that all nuts are loaded with PUFAs and MUFAs.  (Fancy name for good oils: Poly-Unsaturated Fatty Acid or Mono – Unsaturated Fatty Acid).  Or it may be the reduction in inflammation brought about by the tocopherols and phenolic antioxidants.   Almonds have been shown to consistently reduce oxidized LDLs in your blood after a meal rich in white carbohydrates and sugars.  It’s oxidized LDLs that get your arteries in trouble.   Walnuts and almonds have been shown to reduce C-Reactive Protein, another marker of inflammation.  This is all pretty good stuff.

Developing Diabetes:  The Nurses Study (130,000 nurses for over 30 years) shows that nut consumption is strongly associated with less development of diabetes.  Considering that diabetes turns into heart disease, that makes for two reasons to eat more.  No proven effect on fixing diabetes once you’ve got it, but prevention is ok.

Inflammation Reduction.  The above-mentioned effects on reducing inflammation and inflammation’s part in heart disease raises tantalizing questions about cancer prevention. And sure enough, in experimental lab models with tissue culture, the individual antioxidants and oils from nuts do show cancer lowering effects.  So, there’s an area for future research, as there is no current  proven effect in humans through any clinical trials.  The symposium suggested there should be.

WWW: What Will Work for me?  Well, I love peanut butter.  I mean, I LOVE peanut butter.  It’s a great snack.  One tablespoon, no bread, is just plain delicious and makes me feel full for 3-4 hours.  And pistachios…and walnuts….and almonds….Now, if the peanut butter is one of the major brands and has fructose in it, I can’t help but have three tablespoons.  That I will blame on the fructose and how it inspires my inner elephant to rampage and demand more.  But a handful of almonds in my lunch at work lasts me all day and I’m not starving when I come home.  Think about how you can get 1.5 ounces of nuts, five times a week.  35% less sudden death.

Nutritional Science and the Problem of Proof

Nutritional Science and the Problem of  Proof

Competency # 20  Lifestyles of the Long-Lived

Reference: Reference:  Robert Heaney, 2008 Atwater Lecture, J Nutrition 138:1591 Sept 08

Randomized Controlled Trials or RCTs!  “That’s all we accept!”  We claim to be “evidence based” in our science and we wait for RCT’s to guide what we do.   There’s a problem with that in nutritional science.  They don’t work!  If we are waiting for the rigorous standards of RCTs to guide us in where we need to go, we are waiting for Godot.  It will never happen.  Here’s the nugget why.

1.RCTs are designed for NEW drugs introduced to your system.  Nutritional parts of your life are not new, they are key to your living.  They’ve been around since Adam and Eve…You don’t introduce them as much as see whether different levels affect outcomes.  You can’t give protein versus placebo.

2.Short latency versus long latency.  New drugs work in a day or two, if not faster.  That’s easy to measure.  Nutritional components are very long latency in their effect.  If you are short of protein, your body can borrow from your muscles.  If you are short of calcium, you borrow from your bones.  It can takes years to recognize and develop problems.

3.Single effect versus multi-factorial.  An introduced drug can be targeted to work on ONE system.  By definition, nutritional components relate to EVERY cell in your body.  They are so multi-factorial that teasing out what’s ideal and what isn’t is hard.  Vitamin D works on every cell in your body.

4.Then we have the dilemma of making a comparison.  It’s not ethical to intentionally expose people to a suboptimal amount, if you really believe it to be suboptimal.  That means you are left working with a little versus a lot.  What’s the ideal?   It’s hard to tease out.

5.Drugs are designed for SICK people.  Nutrients are for WELL people.   It’s a different audience.  AND: as soon as you see differences between the groups, the positive effect of the treatment has not been accepted as a reason to terminate research, in the same way that negative effects terminate research with drugs.   Dr Heaney stopped his Vit D research when he found a 76% reduction in cancer in the D and calcium group, and was critiqued for it.

There is also confusion about what endpoints we are looking for.  Our labeling of food makes us focus on what we shouldn’t have, like food is your enemy.  Don’t eat too much of this or that, while ignoring what you should eat.  It’s a negative message.  On top of that, our nutritional community puts out literature on what is the very minimum you need to prevent short latency disease.  It’s an odd approach based on the era of vitamin research.  It’s not focused on finding the optimal level that reduces long-term disease.

WWW:  What will work for me?  I’m trying to think about how we add this complexity with nutritional science to our review of what’s new.   I’m looking for what’s optimal, long-term and comparing populations, with a multi-factorial balance.  I think our research will come to that.  Dr. Heaney is a genius! It was his randomized controlled trial (RCT) of Calcium and Vitamin D that found such a huge effect on cancer.

Plastics Can Make You Fat: Bisphenol A is a Problem

Plastics Can Make You Fat:  Bisphenol A is a Problem

Competency # 18:  Environmental Toxins

Reference: Science News; 9/13/2008, Vol. 174 Issue 6, p15-15, Environmental Health Perspectives, August 14th, 2008 (Available at

Ok, so one month ago the FDA issues a preliminary ruling that bisphenol A is not so bad and that we really don’t have to worry so much about it.  The day before, the above report was published, as reported in Science News this week.  Does the right hand know what the left is doing at the FDA?

What is bisphenol?  It’s in plastics.  It’s the chemical you start with to make many plastics, and which helps make plastics softer and more malleable.  It’s in baby bottles, toys, water bottles, soda bottles, plastic bags and even the linings of aluminum cans.  In the study, 93% of Americans had levels of bisphenol found in their blood.  There are many many studies that have reported that BPA is a huge problem.  It’s been known to cause reproductive problems, tumors and asthma in lab animals.

What this study did at the University of Cinncinati with Dr. Nira Ben-Jonathan was take fat tissue from women getting tummy tucks and mammoplasties, fat that would have been disposed of anyway.  They took the live fat tissue and looked at the natural receptors that estrogen and adiponectin bind to.  Estrogen you know.  Adiponectin is a critical hormone that your body puts out to signal between fat cells and the rest of your body.  It helps you feel full after a meal, be more insulin sensitive.  It cuts down on inflammation and thereby helps protect you from heart attacks.  It is made only by fat tissue.  Adiponectin is part of your natural response to food and the more the better.  The more overweight you become, the lower your adiponectin levels, a terrible viscous cycle.

What this study found was that BPA blocks the adiponectin docking site at the levels we have in America today.  Estrogen can also attach to that site.  So BPA is blocking the natural signaling that your body does to properly regulate estrogen effects and metabolism.  By blocking that site, you become more insulin resistant.  That’s called diabetes.  You need higher levels of insulin to respond.  That leads to higher levels of insulin.  That leads to the tendency for your body to be in storage mode instead of burning fat mode.  That means it’s even harder to lose weight because the insulin circulating can’t have an effect, so there is more of it.  Round and round, worse and worse and fatter and fatter.  And all the while you are drinking 8 bottles of water a day from plastic as a way to try and help you lose weight.

This is a problem.  The BPA in our plastics can be part of making us fatter… and more diabetic, and more inflamed, and more heart disease.  All this comes right after our own FDA said they are safe.

WWW:  What Will Work for ME.  I just went to a conference called “Food as Medicine”.  Precisely because of this issue, the conference did not serve one item of food on any plastic.  Every single last beverage we had was in glass or ceramic.  Novel concept.  Drinking a glass of water from a glass.  I didn’t switch after that.  I thought they were a little kinky.  But this article was enough for me.  My tipping point is tipped.  I’m trying to get all my containers to be glass or ceramic.  My fat receptors don’t need any more BPA blocking them.  And just think, this is good for our dear planet.  Think of all the landfills I’m not filling.

Fish Oil and Attention Deficit Disorder

Fish Oil and Attention Deficit Disorder

Competency # 13 Fats: Good Oils

Reference: Lavialle et al, J Nutrition, Sept 2008    Date:  9/08

We know that our brains are composed of approximately 40% omega fatty acids (PUFA: poly-unsaturated fatty acid).  These critical nutritional components come from your diet and are essentially vitamins as we cannot make them ourselves.  We can convert ALA, a plant based omega three fatty acid to DHA, but slowly.  Now, it’s known that omega three fatty acids (n-3 PUFA) are actively involved in modulating the amount of melatonin your pineal gland that you secrete.  That means that the essential fatty acids may also be involved in the normal wake-sleep cycle of our daily lives.  There is also some evidence that locomotors and exploratory behavior is affected by the amount of n-3 PUFAs in your diet.

We also know that in the last 100 years we have been flooded with diets rich in vegetable oils (omega six fatty acids, not omega threes).  The ratio of n-3 to n-6 used to be 1:2, and still is in “primitive” “pre-Western” diets.  In America, the ratio is 1: 20 and in many urban environments rich in “prepared” foods (AKA “junk foods”), the ratio is as high as 1: 50.  That’s a huge change in our nutritional environment.  At the same time, we’ve stopped eating “grass fed” meats or wild meats and have started eating feed lot fed animals that have much lower n-3 fatty acid contents.  Does that change us?

Dr. Lavialle and company took Syrian Hamsters and fed them several different diets either lacking or rich in omega fatty acids.  Then they measured just how much time they spent on their treadmills.  Finally, they measured the amount of DHA in their brains, and the amount of dopamine in the striatum part of the brain, the part that manages your activity center.  Sure enough, a diet deficient in n-3 PUFAs had a 76% decline in the n-3 PUFAs in their brains.  The ratio of AA to DHA was 1.7 in controls, and changed to 8.4.  AA is arachidonic acid, another PUFA that is a precursor to inflammatory messengers, as opposed to DHA, an anti-inflammatory precursor. The deficient hamsters night time melatonin dropped over 52%.  Diet changed the brains of the hamsters.  In addition, the deficient hamsters ran on their treadmills some 85% more (longer and faster).  Finally, they adapted to time shifting some 50% better, suggesting they didn’t have a very good functioning internal clock and could stay awake, or sleep any old time without deep restful sleep in between.  Does this sound like anybody you know?

This is pure basic science.  Hamsters are not humans.  But you can sacrifice a hamster and look in their brains and see the effects of changes in diet.  And you can keep them in a cage and measure their activity precisely in response to those changes.  Their lifespan runs to a couple of months.  They eat whatever you give them.  These are things we can’t do in humans.

WWW: What will work for me?  I take fish oil every day.  This article is another example of proof that our brains depend on the n-3s PUFAs we eat.  Fish oil.  It may not reverse ADD, but it suggests that there is real need to make sure our kids get it.  It’s my belief that the effects probably start in utero.  Pregnant mothers?  Now there is a great field for some research.   Grandma used to give us cod liver oil.  Perhaps she was smarter than we realized.