Monthly Archives: June 2013

Dandelion Salad

Dandelions in Your Salad

Reference:  NYT Sunday Edition

Do you eat salad to get good nutrition?  Sure you do.  You get romaine lettuce instead of that “worthless” iceberg lettuce.   You got an almost 30% boost in antioxidants by doing that.  If you had spinach as your salad, well, your boost was almost 500% over iceberg lettuce.  Those both sound very impressive.

Well, do you ever eat dandelions?  Hmmm.  Maybe your should.  Now that your yard is coming to its wonderful maturity and your dandelions are getting to peak, it’s a great time to go into hunter-gatherer mode and see what your great, great-grandparents had for lunch when the going got tough.  When you eat dandelions, the concentration of phyto-antioxidants if almost 40 fold over that of simple romaine lettuce.

The principle here is a very simple but also very profound one.  In the move to industrial farming, we have focused on the production of quantity and volume.  We have also focused on the visual presentation.  We like our apples to be big and shiny with no blemishes.  We have pushed our soils to produce as much as can be obtained from every acre with the introduction of high concentrations of fertilizers, combined with pesticides to kill any competition.  We look at the bushels per acre that a farmer produces and consider that to be the measure of quality.  Our corn sells by the bushel, or the ton.   The phytonutrients, those essential components of food that provide us with anti-inflammatory effects fall off the radar screen.  Our modern food supply has lost those key ingredients in the rush to “manage” the calories per acre, the shine on the apple, the content of sweet taste.

Now the lights are being turned on.  The micronutrient content in our food turns out to be incredibly important.  The minerals, vitamins and phyto-nutrients or antioxidants are also part and parcel of what constitutes quality.  It’s almost as though we have been making as many computers as we could, but didn’t bother to put in anything but a 4 meg hard drive.  (I think that’s what my original first computer had, in 1981)  Our food is more than quantity, size and beauty.  The amount of anti-oxidants in the food, the amount of minerals, the balance of vitamins, the quantity of omega fats are all variables that are not easily measured, but easily glossed over, and are missed only slowly over a long time.

Our personal nutrition falls off with devastating consequences.  We are missing the means to measure those direct deficits, and their lack takes years to play out.  The only clear picture we have is the epidemiological studies that show better health measures in different populations based on varying consumption, and those are pretty circumstantial.  But the day is coming.

WWW. What will work for me.  I read this article with deep fascination.  I’m determined to buy more dark and colorful vegetables.  I tried heirloom tomatoes last year and loved the extra flavor.  We roasted purple Peruvian potatoes on the grill and they were delicious.  I bought local, just picked strawberries yesterday and they were unbelievably sweeter than the grocery store version.  And then I tried some dandelion leaves.  Well, not that bad.  Need a good olive oil dressing, but edible. And without spray, my yard certainly has a banquet waiting.  Come over, I’ll share.


Pop Quiz

1.  Do you know what the functions of phytonutrients are?

They are best described as the plants “pest control”. They are often brightly colored and have chemical effects that slow down the predation of pests on plants.  We have evolved eating them, but our bodies have a slightly different response – with us they are helpful.

2.  The phytonutrient content of food is easily measured.  T or F

False.  We are still figuring out how to do this.

3.  Our beautiful, big Gala apples are much more nutritious for you than crab apples?  T or F

False.   They may have more calories but dramatically less phytonutrients, minerals and vitamins.

4.  You plan to try a dandelion salad this weekend, right?

True!  (Rinse it off, find leaves that are young and grow in an area that doesn’t get sprayed.)

Don’t Take Calcium!

Calcium, Why You Shouldn’t Take it Anymore

Reference.  Bolland: British Medical Journal 2011

Heart attacks with Vitamin D and Calcium!  Help.  We thought those things were necessary for good health.  Just about everyone thinks they have to take calcium.  The advice is so widespread, and calcium supplementation is so ubiquitous that it’s hard to find someone who isn’t taking calcium.  I’ve taken it for over 10 years.

This study, published two years ago, was a new look at the Women’s Health Initiative data looking at some 37,000 women and combining that data with eight other studies that looked at the issue of calcium and heart attacks.  The meta-analysis of all the studies taken together provided the statistical power to be “significant” and therefore considered scientifically valid.  We take calcium for bone health.  Calcium ends up in coronary arteries instead.  Now, the effect of the calcium seemed to be independent of the use of Vitamin D.   I would think so because the amount of D they were taking was 400 IU.  400 IU of Vit D will raise your blood level about 4 ng if you take it consistently.  It’s the same amount of D you will make on your own with 24 seconds of sunshine in June.  My read is that the D effect is completely unrelated, and indeed, the studies found it to be non connected because it happened to folks with or without the D.  The dose of D was too small to make a meaningful difference.  But the calcium is disturbing.

The net effect was that the extra supplementation of a gram of calcium resulted in 3 less broken bones per thousand women per 5 years, and 6 heart attacks.   Oops.  What does this mean?  It means that taking calcium is not really helpful when you look at it in isolation and combine all its effects. Of course I want less broken bones, but heart attacks kill too.  We get plenty of calcium in our diets.  Force feeding ourselves more is not natural.   In many indigenous societies, calcium consumption is on the order of 20% of what we have in America, with denser bones and fewer fractures.

My interpretation of this study is that it is extremely important and a seminal study.  It indicates the critical importance of understanding all of human physiology.  I was stumped when it came out.  The Vitamin K2 story turns on the lights and gives us a whole new insight.   For calcium to end up in bones, we have to have activated osteocalcin.  Vitamin D stimulates the production of osteocalcin, but it is not activated until we take K2.  Same story with calcium in coronary arteries. We now know that K2 activates matrix GLA protein that effectively chelates calcium and pulls it out of coronary arteries.  This study in the BMJ does not look at Vit K2.  If we did it all over again, and had K2 measures in it, I would hazard the premise that K2 would explain both the extra heart attack and the more broken bones.  We don’t know that for sure, until it’s done.  Hold onto your seat belts. This will be the story of the 2020s.  This is how research moves forward.  A new light gets turned on and we have to reconsider the whole kit and caboodle.

WWW. What will work for me?  Stop taking your calcium.  Did you get that?  Stop.  Yes, I mean stop.  Last week we gave evidence that it’s magnesium you need to supplement with.  Reread the COMB study.  It combines fish oil, D, K2, strontium and magnesium with no added calcium.  Calcium you should get from food.  Eat spinach.  And take K2 (or drink lots of grass raised milk).  No kidding.  No added calcium beyond vegetables and food.

Pop Quiz

1.  When you take added calcium you get how many extra heart attacks per 1000 women every 5 years?  ________


2.  And taking that calcium does prevent broken bones?  T or F


3.  Ratio of heart attacks to broken bones is?

2 to 1

4.  This study

is very significant because Vitamin K2 was included in the study.  T or F

False.  K2 is a whole new ball game and may, in fact, explain the conundrum.

5.  The COMB study gave women added calcium and magnesium from vegetables.   T or F

Backwards.  The COMB study gave magnesium as a supplement and got calcium from vegetables and dairy.

6.  The protective effect of K2 is proven to a level of scientific validity?  T or F

True, is you are willing to accept smaller studies. But we likely will be better served with larger and more complete studies.  For example, this one should be redone, with K2 taken into account.  K2 may explain the whole shebang.

Fasting: The Path to Optimal Health

Fasting: The Path to Optimal Health

Reference:  Brown, British Jr of Diabetes and Vascular Disease, April 2013

No food!   “Help!  I’m gonna die if I can’t get food.”  We all feel a bit of panic when we think about not eating for a meal or two.  But there remains abundant evidence that calorie restriction in many animal models has the effect of prolonging life as much as 30%.  It’s also pretty well known that if you are overweight that your chance of dying from some sort of diabetes/cardiovascular disease is close to 80%.  Changing our “lifestyle”, what we eat and when we eat is also know to be far more effective than taking a pill – on the order of 3-4 times.  That means it’s up to us to devise a strategy to lose weight and change our risk for diabetes.   Unfortunately, the very nature of being overweight means your metabolism is likely more efficient than those who aren’t overweight.

Why is fasting so good?  Is this a new idea?  Well no, it’s not a new idea.  If you look around you will find every religious tradition has some history of fasting.  Muslims take it very seriously with Ramadan, not eating from dawn to sunset for a month.  No change in calories, just a period of no eating.  Catholics restrict meat on Friday (Well, used to!)  But go back a bit further.  If you were a hunter-gatherer, you ate if you hunted.  If the hunt was poor you went hungry.  If you didn’t gather, you didn’t eat.  Fasting has very likely been part of our lifestyle for millennia.  With the advent of Pick-n-Save and the modern grocery store, hunting has been dumbed down to opening the fridge.  Fasting has been part of our environment since time began.  Our organism is designed to miss a meal once in a while.  In fact, it appears that we are better off when we do.  Not missing a meal is the problem.

What does fasting do?  Once you get to about 14 hours of no food, you start kicking in growth hormone.  Growth hormone is your ultimate repair and growth hormone.  Now, many of us eat wheat and dairy as part of our regular diet and those two food categories contains exorphins that are opioid type compounds that cause a bit of withdrawal when we don’t eat them.  That will explain a bit of your discomfort the first two or three times, but after that, it gets easy.  Growth hormone repairs your damage and makes you more youthful.  It reshapes your body, and helps you lose weight.

What’s the best way to intermittently fast?  The first step is to skip supper one day. That makes a 16-18 hour period from lunch to breakfast.  That’s easy. Then, try 600 calorie days once or twice a week.  Have two protein shakes on those fasting days and drink lots of water.  Then, jump in and try every other day fasting – that’s the best because you can eat anything you want on your eating days and be trim, fit and full of energy the rest of the time.  I know two people doing that right now who have some of the best biological markers of wellness going.  Can’t be coincidence.  It fits with the data.

WWW.What will work for me?  I’m putting my toe in.  I’ve skipped a couple of suppers now.  It’s not that hard.  I’m not doing it for weight loss.  Just to see how I feel.  I made it just fine.  Sure saves time on washing dishes.  And sure enough, I slept much better the nights I did it and woke up feeling quite alert and rigorous.  My growth hormone must have kicked in. Try it.

Pop Quiz

1.  Fasting is not dangerous and not normal human behavior.  T or F

False.  It’s very likely the norm – hunter gatherers who don’t hunt, don’t eat.

2.  No one does it!  T or F

False.  Just about every religious tradition has had fasting as part of its tradition.  In our Christian dominant culture, the Bible describes Jesus having multiple fasts, intentionally.  Muslims do it very year in Ramadan.

3.  Fasting is bad for you.  T or F

Decidedly false.  Short, intermittent fasts are actually optimally good for you.  The evidence is abundant that missing a meal here and there kicks in good metabolic changes.

4.   Fasting is the only way to lose weight.  T or F

False. You can go for bariatric surgery or low carbohydrate eating.

5.  If you are overweight, your risk of dying from the complications of diabetes or its complications approach 80%.  T or F

True.  And all that will go away if you get yourself slender.

6.  If you skip supper and go 14 hours without eating, you will get the release of insulin.   T or F

False.  You get the release of growth hormone, your ultimate repair hormone.  Insulin gets released when you pork out on carbohydrates.


L-Carnitine: The Controversy

L-Carnitine: The Controversy

Reference:  Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2013 Nature Medicine  Harvard Review  Huffington Post

What is carnitine?  Easy.  It’s a taxi cab.  It’s a shuttle.  It is the chemical that binds fatty acids and escorts them into the hearts’ mitochondria.  The heart prefers to run on fatty acids so carnitine is an extremely critical ingredient.  In a heart attack it rapidly becomes depleted.  The heart then can’t transport its vital energy source and you go into a terrible spiral of energy failure and death.   That makes it a life saving chemical, poised at the junction of energy production and heart function.

What’s the controversy?  In the journal Nature Medicine this spring was an article published showing a potential link with eating red meat, a rich source of carnitine and atherosclerosis.  It’s all about trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO).   Our guts contain bacteria that change carnitine into TMAO. The level of TMAO correlates with our risk for atherosclerosis.  Hence, the very organ we protect with carnitine becomes vulnerable to the one disease that damages it the most, artery blockage by atherosclerosis.   The more red meat one eats, the higher the level of carnitine, the higher the level of TMAO.  The study in Nature Medicine was well done and suggests a bit of a conundrum.

What we have here is a classic example of conflicting data that leaves us puzzled.  It suggests that eating red meat is dangerous.  That made the news!   Every main stream news media outlet carried the headlines.  I like the analysis in the Huffington Post the most.

The fact is, it’s not that simple.  Recent well-done reviews of many studies comparing causes of heart disease to meat consumption have not shown any connection with saturated fat and artery disease.  It’s not the fat and it’s not the cholesterol.  Hmmm.

So, what is it?   Here is where it gets interesting.  The Nature Medicine article found that vegans didn’t have the same effect.  It appears that the bacteria in our gut depend on what we eat.  We are in relationship with our gut bacteria and each of us have our own unique set, in part based on what we routinely eat.   If you eat red meat regularly, you nourish more bacteria that are programed to make TMAO.  Vegans don’t have those same bacteria.  They also don’t get heart disease.  The researchers even gave antibiotics  to meat eaters whose bacteria were  were making lots of TMAO and sure enough, the TMAO levels plunged.  Then they gave carnitine to vegans and nothing happened.  No TMAO.  So, it may not be the carnitine itself but the combination of all of the above.   And red meat may not be bad clinically anyways.

To top it off, the Mayo Clinic Proceedings looked at all the recent research on carnitine.  People who take it regularly have dramatic reductions in all cause mortality (27%).   Doesn’t sound like poison to me.

WWW. What will work for me?   I’m still taking carnitine.  The Mayo Report is pretty convincing.   I think this is a first class example of a fascinating tidbit that we don’t know how to fit into our everyday world.  The sound byte summary makes it sound dangerous.  I like 27% reduction in all cause mortality.


Pop Quiz

1.  L-Carnitine is a chemical that dissolves fat.  T or F

False.  It is the chemical that transports fat into heart cells where it can be burned into energy.

2.  Heart cells prefer to burn fat for energy.  T or F


3.  The Nature Medicine Study shows that bacteria in meat eaters guts turn l-carnitine into a chemical called TMAO that is strongly linked to causing heart disease.  T or F


4.  Vegans, fed l-carnitine, don’t make TMAO,  T or F


5.   Sounds like some combination of bacteria, canitine, diet, and maybe something else is what’s to blame for heart disease.  T or F

Stay tuned.  Fascinating story

6.  Red meat causes heart disease.  T or F