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Where to begin in discussing milk and dairy products?  This is a category of food (along with sugar and wheat) that I strongly suggest to my patients that they avoid in general. The list of health problems associated with dairy is long and well researched but the reasons why are not always clear.

There are entire books written on the problems with pasteurization and the handling of dairy and dairy products. (I imagine I’ll be writing a quite a bit about this topic since dairy products are so ubiquitous yet so harmful.) First there’s the simple observation that humans are the only mammals that continue to consume milk after we’re weaned and we’re the only mammals that drink another mammal’s milk (yes, cats sometimes, but only because we feed it to them). I’m not sure that this fact contributes any scientific reasoning as to why we shouldn’t drink milk but it is an odd fact. Cow’s milk is the number one allergic food in this country. It has been well documented as a cause of diarrhea, cramps, bloating, gas, gastrointestinal bleeding, iron-deficiency anemia, skin rashes, atherosclerosis, and acne and recent evidence suggests links to type I diabetes, heart disease, autism, and schizophrenia. Cow’s milk is also the primary cause of recurrent ear infections in children.

The truth is, like grains, we have only started domesticating cows about 8000 years ago and only started drinking large quantities of milk about 2000 years ago. This is a very short time in terms of human evolution.  Yet there is ample evidence that many early societies have been drinking raw milk without any of the health consequences that we see today.

Weston Price in his journeys observed many indigenous people from Africa to Europe who drank raw milk and were healthy. The Weston Price Foundation has been one of the biggest promoters of drinking raw milk, and it’s true that some people who have problems with pasteurized milk seem to tolerate raw milk just fine. The cows of today however are not the pasture-raised cows that Weston Price observed in the early 1930s.  The majority of dairy cows in America are raised on high-protein, genetically modified soy and corn-based feeds instead of fresh green grass. Instead of free range grazing, they stand in feedlots and manure all day. The living conditions and unnatural feed requires the use of antibiotics to keep them from getting sick and dying. These antibiotics wind up in the milk you and your family drink and are partly responsible for the antibiotic resistance bugs that are becoming prevalent today.

Two components in milk that are problematic for human consumption are lactose and casein.  Lactose is the sugar in milk and approximately 50 percent (up to 90 percent in some Asian and African countries) of the world’s population do not make the enzyme lactase, which is used to break down this sugar.  Those who are lactose intolerant are usually very aware of it because of the gastric distress they experience from ingesting milk products. The other component, casein, is the protein that makes up about 80 percent of cow’s milk. It is these proteins that are greatly affected by pasteurization.  The problems of pasteurization have been known and written about for many years. I found this quote from the British medical journal, Armchair Science in 1938 in which the author states:

“Besides destroying part of the vitamin C contained in raw milk and encouraging growth of harmful bacteria, pasteurization turns the sugar of milk, known as lactose, into beta-lactose — which is far more soluble and therefore more rapidly absorbed in the system, with the result that the child soon becomes hungry again.  Probably pasteurization’s worst offence is that it makes insoluble the major part of the calcium contained in raw milk. This frequently leads to rickets, bad teeth, and nervous troubles, for sufficient calcium content is vital to children; and with the loss of phosphorus also associated with calcium, bone and brain formation suffer serious setbacks.  Pasteurization also destroys 20 percent of the iodine present in raw milk, causes constipation and generally takes from the milk its most vital qualities”

Although pasteurization may kill off harmful bacteria, the process also destroys the friendly bacteria found naturally in milk and drastically reduces the micronutrient and vitamin content.  Pasteurization also transforms the physical structure of the proteins in milk, altering the shape of the amino acid configuration into a protein that is foreign to your body.

It is equally important to consider that reduced-fat, low fat, or fat-free versions of milk are virtually void of metabolically beneficial vitamin D and calcium. These milks are also typically homogenized, a process that keeps the milk from naturally separating. The homogenization process creates a substance known as xanthine oxidase (XO), which is thought to play a role in oxidative stress by acting as a free radical in the body.  When the cream in milk is in its natural state, the fat globules are too large to go through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream. Homogenization changes that by straining the fat through tiny pores under great pressure. This XO attaches to the fat molecules, which have been reduced in size but increased in amount a hundred times and are now small enough to get into the bloodstream and do its damage.  Scientists have discovered that a significant amount of XO is present in areas of hardened and blocked arteries. XO is not present in human milk. In clean, raw cow’s milk, the intestines do not absorb XO.

But what about those cultures that have used raw milk as part of their staple for generations, such as the Maasai in Africa and most of India?  It turns out that in cattle there are two major types of beta casein protein, known as A1 and A2.  In his book The Devil In the Milk, Keith Woodford details the case against a tiny protein fragment known as BCM7, which is released from A1 beta casein.  It is this protein that has been linked to Type 1 diabetes, allergies, autoimmune disease, autism and schizophrenia.

Woodford describes how a mutation occurred about 8000 years ago, changing the structure of the beta casein protein.  This mutation has subsequently been spread throughout in the western world such that the A1 mutation is only in western cows. The breeds of cows in Asia and Africa do not produce this A1 protein, nor do goats, sheep or humans.  Woodford notes that in one animal experiment, one group of mice was fed A2 casein milk and the other A1. None of the mice fed A2 casein got diabetes, but 47 percent of those fed A1 developed the disease. The dairy industry is very aware of the evidence against A1 milk, and there are dairy companies that are producing and marketing only A2 milk.  The bottom line for cow’s milk is that it is not a health food. The exception is butter, which is made from the fat of the milk and contains either none or only trace amounts of lactose and casein. It is for this reason that butter is well tolerated by the general population.

Does this mean you should never eat dairy products? Of course not. A little cheese or an ice cream every now and then is not going to harm anyone. But “every now and then” means just that. It should be included in your diet as a treat, not part of one’s daily diet.

It seems redundant to write about the dangers of artificial sweeteners yet the consumption of sugar substitutes still continues in great quantity. A simple google of the side effects of aspartame turns up more than you would ever want to know about theses poisonous food additives. Aspartame is sold under the brand names Nutrasweet (Monsanto Corp.) and Equal, and since the patent is up it is likely to be sold under many more names. How this chemical got FDA approval is a lesson in political malfeasance involving Donald Rumsfeld (yes- that Donald Rumsfeld) and corporate ties to FDA, best captured in the documentary Sweet Misery, which you can watch free online. Chemically speaking aspartame has three components: phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol (wood alcohol).  Methanol is used in antifreeze, as an industrial solvent and is used in the process of making biodiesel.  Because of its toxicity it is added to industrial ethanol to avoid liquor laws and taxes. It is also found naturally in some foods bound to pectin, which is a fiber that allows methanol to pass through your body harmlessly.   Methanol that is found in aspartame  is not bound to anything and when consumed, gets widely distributed throughout the body including brain, muscle, fat and nervous tissue. It is then metabolized to formaldehyde which enters the cells and binds to the proteins and DNA. Formaldehyde is used as a paint thinner and embalming fluid and is a well-studied toxin.  The EPA has determined that there is no safe level of formaldehyde in your body.  Phenylalanine and aspartic acid are amino acids that in high concentrations are neurotoxic.  The neurotoxic effect of these chemicals can result in headaches, mental confusion, dizziness and seizures. There are in fact over 90 different health side effects associated with aspartame. Currently aspartame is banned for all children’s products on the European Common Market.

The number one selling artificial sweetener is Splenda- a sugar molecule that has had three chlorine molecules added to it through a patented process producing a sugar that does not occur in nature. It was accidentally discovered by a researcher who was trying to come up with a new insecticide. To date there have been no long-term studies done on Splenda (or on aspartame). According to a study from Duke University , Splenda “suppresses beneficial bacteria and directly affects the expression of the transporter P-gp and cytochrome P-450 isozymes that are known to interfere with the bioavailability of drugs and nutrients. Furthermore, these effects occur at Splenda doses that contain sucralose levels that are approved by the FDA for use in the food supply.” In short- don’t eat it.

The primary reason people consume these artificial sweeteners is the mistaken belief that they will help them lose weight, or at least not gain weight. This however does not seem to be the case.  A recent study done at Purdue university concluded that consuming  artificial sweeteners actually increases the odds of gaining weight. The report offers strong evidence that animals fed with artificially sweetened foods actually consumed more calories and gained more weight than animals eating foods flavored with glucose, a natural, high-calorie sweetener. Another reason diet drinks can lead to increased weight gain has to do with the toxicity of artificial sweeteners.  One of the places the body stores toxins is in your fat cells,because fat is a very effective chemical buffer. The fat surrounds the toxin and protects both the fat cell and the rest of your body from the potentially damaging effect of the toxin, until your body is ready to deal with it. Toxins can block your body’s ability to burn fat, causing a resistance to losing weight.

There is no doubt the consuming sugar, in all its forms, is bad for you. However, if you must sweeten your drink, use plain old sugar.  Remember- Friends don’t let friends eat artificial food substitutes.

Our Man Price

“The brother on the left had excellent teeth and [on the right] rampant caries. These boys were brothers eating at the same table. The older boy, with excellent teeth, was still enjoying primitive food of oatmeal and oatcake and sea foods with some limited dairy products. The younger boy, seen to the right, had extensive tooth decay. Many teeth were missing including two in the front. He insisted on having white bread, jam, highly sweetened coffee and also sweet chocolates.”

It’s hard to imagine the typical Italian or Frenchman wondering what to eat.  Here in America so much seemingly contradictory research exists about what to eat, and findings seem to change every year.  From the low-fat craze of the eighties (which, unfortunately, continues today) to the Atkins diet, to The China Study and on and on the question is “What are the right things to eat?”

The problem with modern research is that it starts with a clean slate. Its goal is to find the “one thing” that’ll make us healthier.  The gold standard for science in the double-blind, placebo-controlled study; unfortunately there is no such study for ancient wisdom (or common sense).  Wouldn’t it be great if we could find out what diets were like before our modern world?  Enter Dr. Weston Price (1870-1948) of Cincinnati, Ohio.

In the early 1930s, Price and his wife traveled more than 100,000 miles to study the diets and health of isolated indigenous people in Africa, South America, Australia, Polynesia, Europe, northern Canada, and the Pacific Northwest.  As a dentist, Dr Price was searching for a cause of dental decay and physical degeneration that he observed daily in the patients in his practice. Price wanted to seek out people “who were living in accordance with the tradition of their race and as little affected as might be possible by the influence of the white man.”  Wherever he found them — regardless of race, diet and climate — they were a “picture of superb health”: they had strong physiques, perfect teeth, no arthritis, no tuberculosis, no degenerative diseases, and they were cheerful, happy, hardy folk.

That picture was a radical contrast to other, less isolated groups of the same peoples, who exhibited a catastrophic health decline the closer they got to the “trade foods” produced by industrial society (processed foods grown by synthetic farming methods), in the form of the “white man’s store.”  His worldwide findings clearly showed that dental caries and deformed dental arches, resulting in crowded, crooked teeth, were merely a sign of physical degeneration, resulting from what he had suspected – nutritional deficiencies.  He found it took only one generation of eating industrialized food to destroy health and immunity.  When Dr. Price analyzed the foods used by isolated indigenous peoples he found that they provided at least four times the calcium and other minerals, and at least TEN times the fat-soluble vitamins from animal foods such as butter, fish eggs, shellfish and organ meats.

What I find fundamental in Price’s research is that people ate the foods that were local and in season.  So while the people of the Loetchental valley in Switzerland consumed large amounts of raw dairy products from cows raised in the Alpine pastures, they consumed absolutely no fish.  While the people of Fiji consumed no dairy, the large bulk of their diet came from the sea. Their diets varied because their different geographic locations offered different food resources.

Modern research studies, however, seem to look at a country where the people seem healthier, have lower incidence of heart disease, obesity, etc. and subsequently conclude that we Americans should eat the exact same diet. Thus the Mediterranean diet, the China study (that primarily touts a vegetarian, low animal fat diet), etc.  I would suggest that Dr. Price’s significant scientific contribution was that good health starts with eating whole, unprocessed food that is locally grown and in season.  Though the diets throughout the world varied widely, they did have many things in common:

1.  All groups studied consumed minerals and fat-soluble vitamins from high vitamin butter or from sea foods, cod liver or seal oil, or animal organs with their fat.

2.  Foods were grown on soil that was naturally high in minerals, and no chemical fertilizers or pesticides were used.

3. All food was eaten liberally in the natural season in which it grew.

4.   Sweets (even good, natural sweets) were used rarely or sparingly, only for occasions of ritual, celebration, or special feasting.

5.  In each diet there was some daily source of raw, unaltered protein from sources such as meats, sea foods, nuts, cheeses, eggs, milk, or high quality sprouted seeds. Some sort of sea plant or mineral was a part of most diets. Inland sea deposits were treasured and used thriftily.

6. Each life style was such that people engaged in vigorous physical exercise on a regular basis, either in work, play, dances, games, sports, or hunting and food gathering.

7.  All diets contained some form of fermented food . This would include milk cultures, pickling, and other methods of fermenting.  I recommend people make their own sauerkraut- it’s easy, cheap and a great source of probiotics.

8.  All ate whole foods, not fractionalized parts of foods. They did not remove the fiber content of their natural foods by refining them. Most foods were eaten raw or very gently and lightly cooked.

9.  They all breast-fed their young. Most of them fed special protective foods to their young of child-bearing age in preparation for conception, pregnancy, and lactation. Most of them had some means of spacing the children at least three years apart, to protect the health of the newborns and their mothers.

10.   Last but not least, they were able to instruct their young in these important principles, thereby protecting their genetic heritage. They ate the foods of their ancestors.

For a summary of the diets in Dr. Price’s own words go here.

Good health is our natural state and it begins with what we put in our body.  By paying attention to what our ancestors ate we can reclaim what has been lost through the modern industrial food complex.

I was recently in a restaurant that prided itself on being all organic, gluten and soy free.  The food was  delicious and while I was waiting at the counter I noticed a bottle of  “Wholesome Organic   Agave Nectar” that I assumed they used instead of cane sugars.  Have you ever wondered what agave nectar is and why it’s the sweetener of choice  in so many health conscious stores? I found a great write up about it on the Weston-Price Foundation website that I’ll summarize here.

Agave is a succulent that chiefly grows in Mexico and the southwest.  The plant at one time was traditionally used by native Americans to create a mildly alcoholic beverage known as pulque. This drink first appeared on stone carvings in Mexico around 200 A.D. and is still consumed in some rural areas of central and south America.  They also made a traditional sweetener from the agave sap or juice called miel de agave by simply boiling it for several hours. But, as one agave seller explains, the agave nectar purchased in stores is neither of these traditional foods: “Agave nectar is a newly created sweetener, having been developed during the 1990’s” (http://www.madhavahoney.com/AgaveNectar.aspx).  Agave “nectar”  that is in stores today is not produced form the sap of the plant as the name implies.  It is made form the root bulb which consistds primarily of starch and a complex carbohydrate called inulin.  According to Russ Bianchi, Managing Director and CEO of Adept Solutions, Inc., a globally recognized food and beverage development company,  agave “nectar” and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) “are indeed made the same way, using a highly chemical process with genetically modified enzymes. They are also using caustic acids, clarifiers, filtration chemicals and so forth in the conversion of agave starches (http://www.patentstorm.us/patents/5846333/fulltext.html).”  The result is a high level of highly refined fructose in the remaining syrup, along with some remaining inulin.  Even though the starch in agave goes through the same process as HFCS, it is not required by law to be named “High Fructose Agave Syrup”, which is exactly what it is.

So what’s the difference between the light and amber colors sold in the stores?  According to Mr. Bianchi:  “Due to poor quality control in the agave processing plants in Mexico, sometimes the fructose gets burned after being heated above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, thus creating a darker, or amber color.” However, the labels create the impression of an artisan product—like light or amber beer.

Like HFCS, agave syrup is a man-made sweetener, and like all man-made foods, should be completely avoided. While high fructose agave syrup won’t spike your blood glucose levels, the fructose in it may cause mineral depletion, liver inflammation, hardening of the arteries, insulin resistance leading to diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and obesity.  For the large majority of people who are addicted to sugar, switching to agave syrup instead of cane sugar is the equivalent of an alcoholic switching to wine because he drinks too much beer.

As Featured On EzineArticles

http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Food-Expert-Michael-Pollans-Food-Rules-Video

mmmmm…. Mercury

There’s been a lot of attention in the media about the ill effects of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  Most of the attention has been  on its contribution to obesity, diabetes and a whole slew of chronic disease.  A recent study in the journal Environmental Health shows that HFCS also appears to be routinely contaminated with mercury.  Much HFCS as well as thousands of other products including the food preservatives citric acid and sodium benzoate are made using mercury grade caustic soda.  Mercury is a toxic metal that has historically been used as an anti-microbial agent. It is also a very powerful poison that can have devastating effects on one’s health.  Mercury contamination of soft drinks or drink mixes from this caustic soda was acknowledged by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies as early as 2000 (Alternative Medicine Review 2009;14:110). Some of the products containing the highest levels of mercury were: Quacker Oatmeal to Go (nearly six times the amount found in Classic Coke!), Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup, Smucker’s Strawberry Jam and Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce.  A complete list can be accessed here.  There’s a very simple way to avoid these contaminators- eat food.  Don’t shop in the middle of the grocery store where most of these pre-packaged foods are found.  Foods containing HFCS should come with a warning label similar to that found on cigarette packages. Do yourself a favor and make a commitment to eliminate it from your diet.

Calcium supplements are the fourth most consumed supplement in the united states. The current recommendation is 1200mg per day, this is equal to about 4 glasses of milk per day.  But where did this number come from? How was it decided that everyone  needed to be taking in so much calcium? Well,  there was a study done in 1986 (Hegsted DM. Calcium and osteoporosis. J Nutr. 1986 Nov;116(11):2316-9.) that demonstrated that taking 1200mg of supplemental calcium did indeed increase bone density. This bit of news was taken up by the media and supplement companies and voila- a new recommendation to help promote dense bones. Unfortunately it took 10 years before someone asked the question of whether or not taking that much calcium decreased fractures. A 12 year study in 1997 that followed 77,000 women showed that women who drink 2 or more glasses of milk are actually almost 50 percent higher risk of fracture than those who don’t drink milk  (Feskanich D. et al. Milk, dietary calcium, and bone fractures in women: a 12-year prospective study. Am J Public Health 1997;87(6);992-7).

Here’s an interesting chart produced by a Harvard researcher that showed nearly a direct relationship between calcium intake and hip fractures, i.e the more calcium one took in, the more fractures.

It turns out that while supplemental calcium may increase bone density some, it also makes bones more brittle.  The highly promoted idea that milk builds “strong bones” refers to the prevention of osteoporosis. We’ve been lead to believe that drinking milk and eating dairy products is the best way to do this. In fact, the opposite seems to be true (Am J Clin Nutr 1995;61(suppl 6): 11407S-1415S.).  A balanced intake of minerals cannot occur when the diet emphasizes dairy. Dairy’s high calcium content causes relative deficiencies in magnesium and other bone-building minerals, and its high phosphorus content reduces calcium availability. Healthy bones come from a balanced intake of all the bone minerals, including calcium from food, exercise (especially weight lifting) and vitamin D.  Here are some great foods and their calcium content .

  • Sesame seeds (1 cup = 702 mg)
  • Flax seeds (1 cup = 416 mg)
  • Cabbage (1 cup = 380 mg)
  • Sardines 3 oz(in oil, with bones=324 mg)
  • Collard greens (1 cup = 266 mg)
  • Spinach (1 cup = 245 mg)
  • Orange (1 cup = 104 mg)
  • Kale (1 cup = 94 mg)
  • Broccoli (1 cup = 62 mg)
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