From DON SANDERSON
[Don's article is well worth the time invested in reading it... -DS]
A problem I have with most articles appearing on the internet is they give little evidence of serious investigation, even when I agree with their premises. Of course, the issues are so complex and we mostly have so little time and background that we must defer. So, it isn’t surprising that telling counter arguments can be presented in response. In fact, I agree with the conclusions of both of these specific articles, but have reached them by what surely most would regard as heroic investigations by a layman. I’m a bulldog when an issue is important to me and won’t let loose until I understand at least how difficult the topic really is. Ok, I have a doctorate in mathematics and physics, so I’m unafraid of science. I’ve also had a longstanding interest in the biological sciences, much deeper it turns out than in my majors, which I chose for the job prospects.
I have Addison’s Disease, an inherited autoimmune disorder that disrupts adrenal gland production of the cortisol hormone. Cortisol is involved in many of the body’s functions, so before it was recognized, I began to seriously fall apart. In an attempt to find a solution, we went to a dozen widely-esteemed specialists over a period of about a dozen years before, at nearly my last breath, we found the one who made the diagnosis. The disorder has a wide variety of seemingly unrelated symptoms and the specialists were only interested in those few relevant to their area and couldn’t see the forest for the trees, which is not unusual. The problem was and is easily handled by taking hormone replacements. Funny, Addison’s is described in every medical physiology text, so those physicians could hardly claim ignorance. Anyhow, along the way, we became very distrustful of medical science.
Maybe nearly thirty years ago, we stumbled on Ancel Keys’ book on what they christened the Mediterranean diet. It seemed to make sense to us. At the time, we were both buried in Silicon Valley employment and long commutes and failed to investigate further. In fact, Keys’ low saturated fat/low meat arguments swayed and continue to sway nutritional and medical sciences. So, we bought in and restricted our animal protein consumption to occasional skinless chicken breasts and fish. To get enough protein, we began to consume inordinate amounts of tofu and soy milk. Of course, we were also eating quite a lot of carbohydrate fillers, pasta, rice, bread, and so forth.
My weight had began increasing shortly after I began taking cortisol replacement, which was about the time we began Keys’ so-called Mediterranean diet. One of Addison’s symptoms is radical weight loss, so I began the diet skinny. Then, we escaped to Kauai, planted an extensive tropical fruit orchard and, in due course, opened a deli/bakery with me as head baker/cook. I must brag; my breads, pastries, and baked desserts were wonderful as were those super-sweet tropical fruit. We in due course lost the business and our home and decided we couldn’t make a living there, so we returned to the mainland, San Diego. By the time we left Kauai several years later, my weight had soared 70 lbs in spite of regular exercise and concern with calories.
After we arrived in San Diego, I became intent of solving this problem. I was now retired and had the time. Maybe thirty years earlier I had stopped smoking and filled the addiction with eating. At that time, I also gained many pounds. I stumbled on a high protein diet, cut out the carbs and filled it with meat. And, I rapidly lost weight and kept it off for many years, in fact until we began Ancel Keys’ Mediterranean Diet. Oh ho! In a San Diego bookstore, I selected several diet books, particularly the one by Dr. Atkins. It seemed to make sense, as Keys’ had, but nutritionists were warning that it was actually deadly. With the earlier diet, my health had actually improved, so I had personal experience, though not much, otherwise. I now could explore and wanted to understand better before jumping.
UUSD, with its world-class medical school, was close by. I got a card for the medical library, purchased several medical texts, and discovered that there is a searchable on-line directory of medical research abstracts. I started, it appeared, working on another doctorate. Generally, one can only understand nuts-and-bolts medical research articles if you are somewhat knowledgeable of biochemistry, so my purchases included three gigantic biochemistry texts, two of which concentrated on nutritional biochemistry – I had previously attended an organic chemistry course. Vegan physician Andrew Weil has written that, while every physician is required to take a biochemistry class in medical school, few remember anything about it. I strongly suspect this is true for nutritionists as well. I wonder how they are keeping up in their fields, when the number of medical and nutritional research articles published each year is immense. My guess: most aren’t.
The medical research literature and those biochemistry books backed up Atkins’ in spades, which makes me wonder what Dr. Weil is reading. They also threw cold water on the Heart specialists preaching on cholesterol and the American Diabetes Association recommendations. So, we stepped off in space and began a serious low carbohydrate diet. The weight melted away. More interestingly, when my blood lipids and sugar were checked, they were both A+. They have remained so to this day. My recent medical annual checkup duplicated earlier one’s in that I passed every test high. I had the stomach flu one day this past year. Otherwise, I can think of no other sickness instances in several years.
In fact, our current diet is not just low carb. We eat lots of fresh vegetables and non-tropical fruit. Medical surveys indicated that those who consume more cheese and nuts, other than soy, peanut, and cashew, are healthier; we enjoy lots of both. Yogurt has always come with recommendations; we drink kefir made from raw milk instead. We rely on olive oil and lard as cooking fats. In spite of eating many eggs from our own flock, our cholesterol ratings are A+ and HDL readings unbelievably high. We depend entirely on locally produced meats and vegetables.
In recent years, I’ve found another stack of evidence. I’ve followed my ancestry back several lines for more than two centuries, in some cases for over three. I’ve collected both birth and death dates for many going way back. Almost all of them were farmers. While some died early from accidents and childbirth, lifespans of sixty, seventy, and eighty years or more were customary; some made it into their nineties. Their lives were hard; they produced most of their food, and medical care as we think of it didn’t exist until recently. Their diets were very much like the one we are presently following. What was good enough for them, ….
Anyhow, I later found out that Keys’ research was nonsense. Those who were healthiest around the European Mediterranean consumed lots of fatty pork and/or lamb and cheeses – think salami. At the time, the French were demonstrating even better health statistics. French farmhouse cooking is, or was then, essentially identical in basic ingredients if far more sophisticated in combining them than our ancestors’. Pretty much that is what we’ve followed since.
Following is an appendix, what I shall call the chamber of horrors, describing a little of what I dug out in San Diego and subsequently. Please differ with them, if you will, but I insist you back up your arguments with the research data both pro and con. Don’t be afraid if the evidence appears different than what you desire to find.
Modern diets have several bugbears, the first revolves around the consumption of excessive carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are chains or trees of sugar molecules and are digested as simple sugars. It is easy to consume too much carbohydrates because side effects include the production of endorphins associated with feelings of wellbeing. The more consumed, the happier. I’m a cookie monster example; eat one cookie and the whole works are in danger – so, I very seldom do so. Given our obesity epidemic, some have proposed declaring sugar, and hence necessarily carbohydrates, illegal drugs that are more addictive and more detrimental to health than smoking or alcohol. Agribusiness would, of course, vigorously resist and be backed up by their toadies the FDA, USDA, and professional nutritionist organizations.
The unhealthy result of habitually eating excessive carbs has been given a name in the reviewed medical literature: metabolic syndrome X. Symptoms are many:
- insulin resistance, hyperglycemia, hyperinsulinemia, glucose intolerance; other diabetic symptoms such as failing sight;
- hypertension, elevated systolic blood pressure during submaximal exercise, rapid heart beat;
- dyslipidemia, beginning with hyper levels of triglycerides;
- central obesity and other Cushingoid symptoms – Cushing’s Disease is the opposite of Addison’s in that too much cortisol is produced;
- an elevated chronic inflammatory response;
- increased chronic secretion of noradrenaline and adrenaline, resulting in feelings of fight-or-flight;
- accelerated atherosclerosis, resulting in coronary heart disease and stoke, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease are common accompaniments.
An acute phase inflammatory response occurs in response to a bacterial- or virus-caused disease – and stress. The disease itself doesn’t produce the resulting sickness feelings, the immune response does. When an immune response becomes chronic, illness feelings become customary without obvious disease cause. Inflammation causes cortisol levels to rise, which normally suppresses it so that it doesn’t get excessive. In metabolic syndrome X situations, this no longer works and cortisol levels continue to rise to chronically excessive levels. Cushingoid symptoms follow. These include:
- increased blood sugar through gluconeogenesis independent of carbohydrate consumption – stress alone can make you fat;
- osteoporosis and high serum calcium – cortisol interferes with the bone rebuilding process but promotes bone resorption;
- muscle and liver wastage;
- inhibition of normal pituitary and hypothalamus functions including depressed sex, thyroid, and growth hormone secretions; decreased basal metabolic rate;
- arthritis, stunted growth, and vision impairment;
- inhibition of leptin appetite-control effects;
- central (waist) obesity, moon face;
- peptic ulcers and other digestive system disorders;
- degeneration of the lymphatic vesicles and organs including the spleen and thymus; loss of thymus function allows T lymphocytes loose that may become autoimmune;
- loss of memory, anxiety, exaggerated fearfulness, depression, increased incidence of suicide.
The feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin normally appears to promote carbohydrate satiety. Cortisol, however, suppresses serotonin secretion. Low serotonin levels can have amazing effects:
- obsessive-compulsive disorder, impulsive or risky and possibly violent behavior, hostility, and melancholic depression, which includes feelings of apathy, social withdrawal, helplessness, and generally what immunologists are beginning to recognize as sickness behavior that can result from acute (and chronic) inflammation; symptoms of primary fibromyalgia syndrome.
Obese individuals typically have low serotonin levels. One study found that over 95 percent of suicides’ brains have deficiencies in serotonin. Other researchers examined the spinal fluid of murderers in Finland and discovered that those individuals also had abnormally low levels of serotonin. How many psychiatrists are interested in diets do you guess?
There are other downsides to inordinate carbohydrate consumption. One particularly is worth mentioning. Cancer cells typically have a reduced number of mitochondria and manufacture almost all of their energy by means of anaerobic or extra-mitochondrial metabolism nearly entirely from glucose. Anaerobic energy production is only about a tenth as efficient as aerobic production, so growing cancer cells require large amounts of glucose. They depend on high carbohydrate diets, but you’ll probably never find a cancer specialist who is interested in your diet.
The atherosclerosis connection is more complicated. Excessive blood sugars that aren’t used for energy production are converted to saturated fatty acids. These are in turn released in the blood packaged as triglycerides attached to low density lipoproteins (LDL) and deposited in adipose, fat, cells. LDLs are created specifically for this purpose – the more fats, the more LDLs. You don’t have to eat fats to get fat. In fact, there is evidence that almost all the saturated fats normally eaten are converted to energy by the liver, which relies entirely on fats for energy. It seems not to utilize polyunsaturates for this purpose. LDLs also transport cholesterol and there lies an interesting story. Polyunsaturated fatty acids, those Omega 6s and Omega 3s that Keys recommended, are normally associated with carbohydrate sources and are also transported as triglycerides attached to LDLs. It is true we need some few to construct cells, but the modern diet has gone overboard. These fats are easily oxidized, become rancid both in the bottle and in the body. An LDL carrying an oxidized fatty acid is stuck; no cell will take it. So, the body sends out macrophage cells to clean up, but they also can’t digest rancid fats. They die and become plastered as soft plaque on arteries. Since they also happen to be carrying cholesterol, in their ignorance physicians blamed it for the problem. No, the problem lies with excessive consumption of polyunsaturated oils, mostly vegetable oils. True, you can restrict carbohydrates and avoid excessive polyunsaturated oils, as some heart specialists recommend, but most of us really prefer the carb/oil combination – fries or chips anyone? Incidentally, no definitive relationship has been found between saturated fat consumption and heart disease.
I carried out this search over several years until I was satisfied with the results. The solid evidence for all I’ve told you exists in spades in the journals. True, many are only stepping their toes in metabolic syndrome X waters, but central obesity, diabetes type II, and atherosclerosis are endemic; metabolic syndrome X is endemic, in this society. Ask any physician, though I’d bet few have ever heard of metabolic syndrome X or have related those symptoms to diet. Clearly, metabolic syndrome X is the ultimate multi-symptom disorder, which loses the specialists almost every time.
I haven’t dwelt with the soy issue and will only note that the FDA declared soy generally safe for human consumption over the strong opposition of their scientists – who had the evidence otherwise. The underlying problem is female hormone emulation. In fact, hormone emulators, specifically female, are endemic throughout our petrochemically saturated environment – there is a lot of shocking evidence here. Where has the EPA been? I read a review of a recent research report in which scientists reported that they had found excessive obesity throughout many animal populations, both domesticated and wild, including fish. Of course, excessive female hormone exposure interferes with reproduction. Does that indicate you can’t be healthy on a vegan diet? Not at all, if the B12 and sufficient balance protein issues can be resolved.
For us, given the above findings, our bottom line is a diet consisting nearly entirely of locally produced meats, mostly grassfed, cheeses, eggs, raw milk, lots of locally grown leafy green vegetables and fresh fruit, walnuts and almonds for snacks, and a modicum of low glycemic carb sources such as waxy potatoes and sourdough whole grain, mostly mixed seed, breads made by us from local flours. With rare exceptions, all these originate in Mendocino County – some from adjoining counties. We surely must depend upon salt, spices, teas, and such to be imported. We avoid anything that smacks of agribusiness, organic or not and certainly any of those processed, prepared, and packaged monstrosities organic or not. We also strenuously attempt to avoid those gardening, cleaning, “health”, workshop, and other products that have been implicated as containing hormone emulators. Close to the Earth simplicity is our watch phrase. Our own lives demonstrate this diet works, at least for us. Yes, it is more expensive than the agribusiness supermarket diet and requires thought to find and cultivate sources.
The percentage Americans spend on food is the lowest in the world. The obvious reason is the U.S. government’s heavy subsidization and regulatory support of grain- and vegetable oil-producing agribusiness, which in turn depends upon subsidized petroleum. Of course, cheap grain-fed and antibiotic- and hormone-saturated factory-produced meats don’t resolve the problem. Consequently, the increasing many of those of us who are approaching poverty levels depend upon those products. Add stress to the mix and there is our society’s sickness.