Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Eeek! Snakes on a Plate!

How the Latest Health “Solutions” Are Like a Comedy Turned Scary!
By James J. Gormley
its-a-mad-mad-mad-mad-world126967837995133 When I was a kid, one of my “absolute favorite” movies was Stanley Kramer’s madcap 1973 comedy, It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World.

When I first saw it on CBS in 1978, I loved the antic chaos, the slapstick stunts and the total zaniness of the movie --- hard to not be a sillifest when you have the likes of Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney and Jonathan Winters, to name only a few of the comedic greats who graced the celluloid of this film.

What does this have to do with health freedom or health politics? Well, unfortunately: plenty.

In fact, America seems to be in the midst of an unprecedented convergence of varied and sundry strange health “solutions” that are no less wacky than Kramer’s cinematic masterpiece but, unfortunately, not funny … and also rather horrific.

Here are a couple of the latest “strange but true” ideas that would be laughable if they weren’t attracting widespread media attention --and even some supporters!

Food from cloned cattle or cloned meat grown in vats
According to Spence Cooper in a
blog post on  “Recent news reports indicate some U.S. cloned cattle have been created from the cells of dead animals […] And since the U.S. approved cloning over two years ago, you may have already grilled a cloned steak this summer from beef cells extracted from a dead carcass.”

Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in January 2008, the alleged purpose of using the technology would be to improve the taste or “quality” of meat and milk that we all consume every day. Because of the cost of cloned cows ($15-20,000 a cow), it is predicted that the offspring of cloned animals will be used (or consumed), not the clones themselves.

Small consolation that. When even the farmers are against something like this, you know it must be really bad. In a written statement at the time, the National Farmers Union said: “Consumers have the right to know if the food they feed their families comes from a cloned animal.”

In addition to ethics, the “right to know” is really what it boils down to: labeling and for consumers being able to make informed choices as to whether they are buying food from clones, cloned offspring, GMOs or what have you, although labeling will most likely not be required.

As I wrote in a Nutrition Industry Executive article, in December 2006, entitled “The FDA’s Strange New World,” the FDA had begun campaigning for cloned animals as early as 2001. In the January-February 2001 issue of FDA Consumer, an FDA writer enthused: “Transgenics can turn animals, such as cows, sheep and goats, into pharmaceutical factories.” Gee, isn’t that a reassuring dream?

“Should there be any limits as to how far we as a species can go in manipulating the fabric of life?” I asked in Better Nutrition magazine back in October 1997. “Or should we, like Dr. Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s nightmare, proceed with the ultimate arrogance that nature is not only up for our unlimited exploitation but for our boundless tinkering, as well?”

mcstatin image Statins with that burger?
In a paper that ran in The American Journal of Cardiology,   Dr. Darrel Francis and colleagues from Imperial College London (U.K.) suggest that giving out statin drugs to people at fast-food restaurants will help reduce heart disease risks caused by the fat-drenched meals.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF), which funded the study, is none too pleased with the suggestion of the “MacStatin” that the authors propose. In a BHF blog post by Dr. Mike Knapton, the foundation says:

“Promoting a pill for junk food would lead us towards medicalizing a huge swath of our population when really people need to take more responsibility for their own health.”
In the Cardiology article, the authors write: “We envisage a future in which fast food restaurants encourage a holistic approach to healthy eating. On ordering an unhealthy meal, the food will arrive labeled with a warning message […] and on the tray, next to the ketchup, will be a new and protective packet, ‘MacStatin,’ which could be sprinkled onto a Quarter Pounder or into a milkshake.”


If that represents a “holistic approach,” then I imagine the authors have a bridge to sell me, or to themselves.

Gormley Take-Away: I envisage a future in which food is food --- not grown in Franken-vats or derived from cloned animals or plants or spiked with statin drugs or any other pharmaceutical. I hope that we all can work toward such a tomorrow and that we can leave the comedies and fright-fests to the movie makers, not on our plates.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Setting the Record Straight About Dietary Supplements

By James J. Gormley

Pick up any newspaper, snap on the radio, glance at the TV --- and you’re sure to be hit by the latest “news” about dietary supplements: how they don’t work, how they’re all tainted with contaminants and laced with pharmaceuticals; and how their manufacturers are out to get us!

The truth, however, is far more reassuring than the headlines make out. google ds search Go ahead, Google “dietary supplements” with the name of any of the big networks or newspapers, anything from ABC News to the Chicago Sun-Times or CNN, you name it.

I did: and in top search listings for seven of the country’s leading newspapers and five of its major networks, nearly 70% of the coverage is skeptical and cautionary about dietary supplements.

In fact, if we were to believe mainstream media, not since 1866, in Liberty, Missouri, when the James-Younger Gang’s Wild West rampage of robberies and mayhem began, did we see such a lawless frontier as we supposedly have today in the dietary supplement marketplace.

We know, though, that the Wild West ended in 1890 and that over-the-counter drugs (not supplements) are actually the successors of the Traveling Medicine Show patent medicine tradition.

Real Dangers, Supplements Benefits Overlooked
In fact, our self-appointed guardians of public health (whether wielding Senatorial powers or using a journalist’s pen) almost always forget to discuss those tablets and capsules that are profoundly dangerous and largely toxic: prescription drugs. Each year, prescription drugs injure approximately 2.2 million and kill at least 100,000 Americans.

With about 33,000 dietary supplements on the U.S. market, it’s no surprise that with today’s nutritionally bankrupt diet there were 192 million Americans using supplements, a number that is expected to keep growing.

According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), “These products are intended to be used as supplements to, not substitutes for, a well-balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.” In addition to wanting to provide a basic nutritional “insurance policy” offered by a multivitamin, people take nutritional supplements for a variety of health-promoting reasons.

In a survey conducted by Yankelovich Partners and commissioned by the Natural Products Association, seven out of 10 Americans take supplements because they make them feel better.

So, if supplements are so popular, and good for us, why, we ask, are they getting such a bum rap? Good question.

Feeding the undeservedly bad reputation is a confluence of several factors, including: historically poor government enforcement against a small number of fringe operators; general misunderstanding of how well-regulated the dietary supplement industry actually is; and media feeding frenzies related to high-profile cases that have little, or nothing, to do with the dietary supplement industry, aside from actually showing the regulations effectively working.
Facing Facts
Whenever I hear the term, I invariably think of Warner Oland, in those 1930s-era Charlie Chan movies saying, “You must face facts.”

Sometimes I wish we could bring Oland back (minus the political incorrectness) so Chan could face the bad guys — or in this case the purveyors of untruth — with all of the bald-faced facts that our panel touched on.

But that can’t happen, so it’s up to all of us to be myth-busters on a daily, or weekly or monthly basis — so that one day our guardians of public health will have no choice but to acknowledge what we already know: the power and promise of safe dietary supplements that are produced by a responsible, well-regulated dietary supplement industry: in other words, the facts.

It’s time that conventional researchers begin to design studies that build on vitamin research of the last 50 years rather than attempt to poke holes in what we already all know: vitamins promote health, reduce disease and help people live longer … and better.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Germ Hysteria

By James J. Gormley

If you ever were in a hospital awaiting surgery, have you had a nurse or doctor shake your hand while wearing rubber gloves?

I have. It’s one of the least comforting, while most impersonal and sterile, human exchanges that I have experienced.

Are germs today that much more rampant than when I worked on medical-surgical units in a New York City hospital between 1984 and 1988? In those days, latex gloves were only routinely worn when unconscious, geriatric or injured patients were being changed and when actual medical or surgical procedures were being performed.

America’s obsession with germs has certainly grown since then, however, as we have seen with how popular culture has been gripped by microbial madness.

In 1995, two major killer germ movies were released, Twelve Monkeys (a sci-fi thriller in which 99 percent of the Earth’s population has been wiped out by an unknown and deadly virus) and Outbreak, a modern-day fright flick about the Ebola virus.

Following the anthrax scare and the September 11 attacks in the US in 2001, at least two books came out the next year capitalizing on our fears: Killer Germs: Microbial Disease that Threaten Humanity and Secret Agent: The Menace of Emerging Infections.

If you add these dark visions to the real rise of antibiotic-resistant bugs, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, surely there are reasons for concern: real and imagined.

Now while I would not want to dispute the critical importance of the development of the Germ Theory of Disease that was discovered and developed by such scientists as Semmelweiss, Pasteur, Lister and Koch, I am greatly concerned that modern society has apparently transformed our view of germs—those we have always lived with and newer varieties to which we have inadvertently given rise—into an “us vs. them” paradigm, a War on Germs version of the War on Terror (not to even mention those cases in which these wars overlap).

With today’s ubiquitous latex gloves and viral spread of potent hand sanitizers, our evolutionary relationship with germs has been, it seems, left behind … or sanitized away. So has common sense, apparently, along with it the simple virtue of the type of vigorous hand-washing (with good old soap and water) that was always encouraged by our parents and grandparents.

Mark Morford once wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that our nation’s desire to create a sterile world is fraught with larger health and social risks.

He quoted Slate’s Kent Sepkowitz as arguing that, “far from not cleaning, cooking and irradiating our food well enough and far from not ensuring we have the correct FDA precautions, we as an over-pampered culture are probably not getting enough nasty buggy, immune-system-boosting microbes in our diet, in our meats, in our mouths.”

Morford spoke of the true dangers behind an “alarmist, germophobic mindset that insists on sanitized, overcooked ultra-safe bleached-out everything then grows and mutates and extends well beyond the toilet and the kitchen and the backyard and the human gut, straight into human experience as a whole, resulting in one horribly bland, edge-free, prefab life.”

He has a point.

Perhaps a better approach would be to seek germ balance, or bacterial balance, acknowledging that all of life operates with, and within, a series of processes that are constantly in flux — whether we are talking about probiotics and pathogenic bacteria, proper immune response and excessive immune response (which we call allergy, asthma, etc.) or good germs on our skin and the germs that we would much prefer be transient visitors.

What is clear is that almost every global effort to sanitize ourselves and our world has created real and potential health consequences: whether antibiotic resistance and probiotics’ destruction through over-prescription of antibiotics, unwanted byproducts through food irradiation or toxins through the breakdown of certain hand-sanitizer ingredients.

As an arguably enlightened society, we have a unique opportunity to offer solutions which are informed by a more balanced view of health and ecological (including microbial) balance and not feed into the various hysterias that currently plague us.
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