Friday, November 21, 2008

Eat More Often, Weigh Less?

One of the confounding results of diet research has been the discovery that eating more frequently seems to be associate with slimmer waists and lower weight. But Canadian scientists have found that, at least for women who have not reached menopause, eating more often has more to do with being "on the go" than any diet secret.

Researchers at the Faculty of Health Sciences of the University of Ottawa, the Department of Nutrition of the Université de Montréal, and the Montreal Diabetes Research Center tracked the eating habits of 85 women in their late 40's and early 50's who had not yet entered menopause. They found that women who ate more often also consumed more calories, but had:

  • Slimmer waists,
  • Lower BMI (body mass index),
  • Lower percentage body fat, and
  • Lower mass of body fat.

At first blush, it would seem that eating smaller meals more often helps you lose weight. When the clinical study participants' physical fitness was measured by equipment that computes peak oxygen expenditure (roughly, how much huffing and puffing the women needed to accomplish physical work), however, the most fit and active women were the ones with the slimmest weight and lowest body fat. Physical fitness explained all the differences in weight and body fat. And, it's important to emphasize, women who ate more often consumed more calories.

Nibbling really won't help you lose weight, but snacking won't hurt you if you're physically active. Just remember that you have to be active to avoid weight gain.


Karine Duval, Irene Strychar, Marie-Josée Cyr, Denis Prud'homme, Rémi Rabasa-Lhoret and Éric Doucet Physical activity is a confounding factor of the relation between eating frequency and body composition American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 88, No. 5, 1200-1205, November 2008.

Can You Really Lose Weight on a High-Fat Diet?

Can you really lose weight on a high-fat diet? Recent research from Denmark says the answer is yes, but it won't be easy to keep the weight off once you stop.

A team of researchers from four Danish medical facilities did a six-month study of enhanced-fat, low-fat, and calorie-reduced diets to see not only how successful dieters were at losing weight and keeping it off, but also how their diets affected cardiovascular risk factors and blood sugars. Their test subjects were aged 25 to 35.

All dieters lost weight, and all dieters regained some weight when they stopped dieting. The amount of weight regained was lower among dieters who had followed low-fat diets or a high-fat diet in which the added fat came from olive oil and fish. Dieters who just ate less of their regular high-fat diets regained the most weight when they stopped their portion control.

There was also a difference in cholesterol levels. The lowest cholesterol was found in the group that ate the most fat, and the highest cholesterol was found in the low-fat dieters.

This may seem counterintuitive, but there's a reason why. The human body makes most of its own cholesterol, and "flushes" the excess away through the bile. The more mono-saturated fatty acids (like those in olive oil) you consume, the easier it is for the excess cholesterol your body makes to be removed with bile salts.

And the group that ate the most healthy fat had the lowest insulin levels. Increased insulin levels is often a prelude to insulin resistance that leads to diabetes.

So a dash of olive oil for dressing your diet salad seems to be a good idea. Just be forewarned that of all the approaches to losing weight, adding healthy fat seems to be hardest plan to stick to. But if you have any risk factors for diabetes, it's probably the best.

Source: Anette Due, Thomas M Larsen, Huiling Mu, Kjeld Hermansen, Steen Stender and Arne Astrup Comparison of 3 ad libitum diets for weight-loss maintenance, risk of cardiovascular disease, and diabetes: a 6-mo randomized, controlled trial American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 88, No. 5, 1232-1241, November 2008.

Green Tea for Cholesterol

To be honest, I've become kind of burned out by all the hype about the health benefits of green tea, although I'll admit I'm intrigued about recent reports on green tea memory boosters. Recently, however, I came across a study of green for cholesterol in kids, however, that's really worth passing on.

Nowadays there is pretty general acceptance of the idea that green tea has remarkable health benefits, and there is growing evidence that it is an essential element in the best diets for high cholesterol, notably for children with high cholesterol.

A team of medical researchers at the Nippon Medical School in Chiba (Japan) gave 40 volunteers either 500 milligrams of green tea catechins (that’s the equivalent of drinking 6 or 7 cups of green tea a day) or a placebo for four months . The scientists found that in the green tea group at the end of the twenty-four week trial:

Total cholesterol was essentially unchanged,
Triglycerides also were unchanged,
LDL cholesterol stayed the same, but

The fraction of LDL particles that had been attacked by free radicals and oxidized into a form that cause plaques in the lining of arteries fell nearly 18 per cent. Since it is oxidized LDL cholesterol that actually clogs arteries, green tea is more effective in heart health than beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, or vitamin E.

Green tea may also help children with high cholesterol. The journal Obesity reports that Japanese children who were given a drink containing 576 milligrams of green tea catechins once a day for six months lowered LDL and blood pressure and enjoyed slimmer waistlines while continuing normal bone and muscle growth.

And if that is not enough, there is evidence that for people who eat a high-fat diet, green tea acts as a cholesterol-blocker. Green tea attacks the very causes of high cholesterol, keeping cholesterol from ever entering circulation. The catechins in green tea mix with the cholesterol so that it clumps and is excreted rather than absorbed. They do not interact with essential n-3 fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins. Good fats in, bad fats out.

The easiest way to get your catechins is to take a supplement, but many people prefer to brew their own green tea. Here’s what you need to know to brew a heart-healthy green tea:

Green tea develops a full flavor and releases the most catechins if it is brewed at about 140 degrees F (80 degrees C). Black tea, in contrast, is usually brewed in water that is almost boiling.
You make the catechins unavailable if you add milk to hot green tea (although green tea ice cream typically has a high catechin content). Loose green tea has a higher catechin content than bagged green tea.

Most of the complaints about green tea center on its taste, or lack thereof, but you can be creative. In addition to the well-known green tea ice cream (which is not really on any list of heart-healthy foods), it is possible to add anywhere from a pinch to a teaspoon of loose green tea to burgers, omelets, salads, smoothies, soups, sauces, oatmeal, and even burritos. The benefits of green tea start at about four cups a day, so start there!

Eggs and Cholesterol

I have a confession to make. I like eggs. From my head down to my legs. So it's possible I am biased on this topic. But here's my thinking on eggs and cholesterol.

The relationship between eggs and cholesterol is not what most people have been led to believe. Not only do eggs not always raise cholesterol, sometimes they lower it.

About one-third of the population is unusually sensitive to the cholesterol in egg yolks. Medical researchers at the University of Connecticut gave a population of men and women over the age of 50 either three eggs a day or an equivalent serving of cholesterol-free egg substitute. None of the participants in the trial was on any medication to lower cholesterol

Among the two-thirds of the participants in the trial who were not especially sensitive to the cholesterol in egg yolks, eating three eggs a day not only did not raise cholesterol, total cholesterol went down. In the majority of test participants, eating three eggs a day slightly lowered LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and slightly increased HDL cholesterol. Conversely, eating an equivalent amount of egg substitute caused slight increases in LDL, total cholesterol, and triglycerides, and a slight decrease in the beneficial HDL.

In the one-third of the participants the researchers labeled hyper-responders, the opposite occurred. For this smaller group, eating three eggs a day raised cholesterol, but in a heart-healthy way. LDL levels increased, but the additional LDL was the larger, less clogging variety of LDL. HDL levels also increased, and also were the larger, less dangerous particles. Moreover, eating eggs increased bloodstream concentrations of eye-protective lutein and zeaxanthin.

Eggs have a similarly unexpected effect on cholesterol levels in overweight men. One study found that when eggs are consumed with a high-carbohydrate meal, they seem to accelerate the release of sugars from the carbohydrate, but also to accelerate the release of insulin from the pancreas. The extra insulin “covers” the extra glucose released from digestion. The problem is, insulin stores fat as well as sugar, so eating eggs with carbohydrates seems to increase weight gain.

Another study found that eating eggs as part of a low-carbohydrate diet, on the other hand:

Reduces body weight,
Increases insulin sensitivity,
Increases HDL-C cholesterol, the kind of “good” cholesterol that “catches” other cholesterol particles so the liver can remove them from circulation,
Increases adiponectin, a hormone that fights atherosclerosis, and
Reduces C-reactive protein, a marker of arterial inflammation,

also in tests conducted with overweight men.

A study of 9,734 men and women aged 25 to 74 at the Zeenat Qureshi Stroke Research Center of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey found that eating more than 1 egg a day does not significantly raise the risk of either heart attack or stroke.

Since 2000, even the American Heart Association has recognized that Cholesterol-rich foods that are relatively low in saturated fatty acid content (notably, egg yolks, and, to a lesser extent, shellfish) have a (small) effect on LDL. The effects of dietary cholesterol on plasma LDL levels appear to be greater at low versus high levels of cholesterol intake. In other words, for most people, if you consume more cholesterol, your body just uses it faster.

The exceptions to this rule seem to be male doctors and female nurses. The widely publicized Physicians Health Study reported in April 2008 that male doctors who ate more than one egg a day were more likely to suffer heart attack or stroke, especially if they were diabetic.

The study also found that doctors who ate the most eggs also were older and fatter. They ate less breakfast cereal but more vegetables. They were more likely to smoke and drink and less likely to get regular exercise. It is just possible that excessive consumption of eggs was only part of a pattern of excessive consumption of everything else in this group of 21,337 middle-aged male doctors—do you suppose?

For most of us, eggs are not heart-harmful, and if you avoid excess sugars, they are heart-healthy. If you do not have familial hypercholesterolemia or some other rare condition causing excessive cholesterol, regular consumption of eggs is likely to have a beneficial effect on your triglycerides, LDL-C, and HDL.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Latest Lies About Statins for High Cholesterol



"A colossal breakthrough."

These are just a few of the phrases used to describe the recently published study led by a Brigham and Women's Hospital researcher purporting to show that, in patients with normal cholesterol but high levels of inflammation, the use of Crestor (a new-generation statin drug), should reduce the rates of heart attack, stroke, and death, and all for a mere $100 per month per patient, or up to $30 billion a month to the drug manufacturer should treatment eventually be extended to essentially all adults everywhere.

There's just one problem with this headline-grabbing story. The study didn't show what the mainstream media seems to believe it showed. And even the scientists themselves admitted that their drug seemed to increase the risk of diabetes.

There's so much wrong with the reporting that this is going to be a very long post. I'll start with the obvious. The publicists for the study would have us believe that it proved that Crestor is practically candy for everyone, but the study limited its work to a very select group.

They studied Crestor in older people. The median age in the study was 66, which is to say, half of study participants were older.

Study participants also were somewhat overweight. Their median BMI was 28.3. That's about 192 pounds (88 kilos) for a man who's 5'9" (180 cm) or 165 pounds (75 kilos) for a woman of 5'4" (163 cm).

And most of the study's participants were "prediabetic." The median HbA1C was 5.7%. Endocrinologists do not all agree, but an HbA1C of 5.7% can indicate undiagnosed diabetes. And these individuals were given no advice about an appropriate prediabetic diet.

But most importantly, the study group had elevated blood pressure. While the elevation was slight, a median 134/80, that's enough to suggest a risk for heart disease.

So the Crestor study didn't focus on healthy people.

It also excluded people with the complaints many 50- and 60-somethings have: thyroid disease, any use of hormone replacement therapy, any indicator of kidney or liver abnormality, anyone with diagnosed high blood pressure, anyone with any autoimmune disease, and any with a history of drug abuse or alcoholism. In other words, the researchers were looking for senior citizens with beginning diabetes or heart disease but no other complaints--and how many people even over 50 don't have some ongoing medical condition?

The next thing to look at is results. The study conveniently lists "any myocardial infarctions" and "non-fatal myocardial infarctions." What it does not list is "fatal myocardial infarctions," but you can compute that by subtracting "non-fatal myocardial infarctions" from "total myocardial infarctions."

There's a reason the scientists did not list that figure.

Among the 8901 people not taking Crestor, six died of a heart attack. Among the 8901 people who did take Crestor, nine died of a heart attack.

How many people had non-fatal heart attacks during the three years of the study? If you were in the study and you weren't taking Crestor, your risk of a heart attack was about 1 in 300. If you were taking Crestor, risk of heart of attack was about 1 in 600.

So the drug company can honestly claim that their product seems to reduce the risk of having a non-fatal heart attack by 50% (even though it raises the risk of having a fatal heart attack by the same 50%). What isn't told is that the reduction in risk was from 1 in 300 to 1 in 600.

And to be fair, there were 31 fewer strokes in the Crestor group and 3 fewer deaths from stroke. But 54 more people in the Crestor group developed diabetes.

So what's the bottom line?

Any difference Crestor makes in heart health, good or bad, is small. The absolute improvement in risk of heart attack was 1 in 300, or 0.3%.

The study seems to confirm the idea that inflammation, not cholesterol levels, are what count.

Crestor reduces risk of stroke and heart attack, but raises rate of deaths from heart attack. It's important to note that only 1 in 1000 participants died of heart attack, with or without the drug.

Crestor seems to increase the risk of progressing from prediabetes to diabetes.

The study did not look at memory loss, dementia, or kidney and liver damage in people already known to be susceptible to those conditions. Nor did the study look at the impact of cheaper generic statin drugs such as Zocor (simvastatin).

You have to look at the find print to find essentially all the authors receive money from AstraZeneca, Novartis, Merck, Abbott, Roche, Sanofi-Aventis, Vascular Biogenics, Genentech, Relians, Aegerion, Reaverlogis, Pfizer, or Schering-Plough.

So what should you do?

If inflammation is more than cholesterol as the study suggests, make sure you have an inflammation problem before your doctor gives you a statin drug. That means a test for CRP rather than just a cholesterol reading.

Make sure your doctor runs a liver panel before giving you Crestor and repeats blood tests for liver disease regularly.

Don't take Crestor if you have a family history of age-related memory loss or dementia, and stop taking Crestor if you experience muscle pain (and call your doctor).

But before taking any drug for inflammation, consider taking supplement fish oil and lowering the amount of carbohydrate in your diet, following up with your doctor after you've tried them for at least 3 months. The natural approach just might save you both side effects and $100 a month.

You may also be interested in:

Statins (Crestor) for Everyone? Or Could Diet and Nutritional Supplements Do the Job Better?

Do Diabetics Really Need Lipitor?

Fish Oil and LDL Cholesterol: What to Do When Lowering Your Triglycerides Appears to Raise Your LDL

Does Cinnamon for Diabetes, Cholesterol, and Triglycerides Really Work?

Could Curcumin Lower Cholesterol?

Does Raisin Bran Lower Cholesterol?

Does Colostrum Lower Cholesterol?

Lowering Cholesterol by Lowering Salt

Red Yeast Rice for High Cholesterol

About Me

Hello, and welcome to Savvy Natural Healer!

My name is Robert Rister, and I'm the author or co-author of nine books about the rational use of scientifically based natural remedies, including Healing without Medication, 753 pages of documented complementary healing techniques that covers many complex topics in far greater depth than I can provide here. Now that I have a regular readership of this blog, I realize I should have called it Savvy Natural Healers, because every page distills not just my experience but the experience of many other healers from all over the world.

I'm generally considered a "conservative" commentator on natural health. That means I take care to give you the facts, and to tell you what level of proof is behind them.

Although my books are often shelved under the heading "alternative medicine," the fact is, there is no alternative to medicine. Sometimes you absolutely have to have the help of a doctor to get well (and, as you'll read on almost any site of this type, you can't use the information here to make a medical diagnosis or as a substitute for doctor-directed care' always see a physician for emergency treatment).

I consider what I'm providing you here to be "complementary healing." That is all the techniques you can use to take charge of your health while your doctor is taking care of your illness. I try to give you some information your doctor won't have time to give you, and also to give you some considerations for lowering the risk of occurence or recurrence of disease.

Thank you for visiting my site. Please come back often, and please share your questions, comments, and insights in the comments sections for each page.

A Poster Boy for Surviving Pancreatic Cancer

The Austin American-Statesman in Texas recently reported the seven-year survival of pancreatic cancer patient and software executive Mike Beeman.

Beeman, now 63, credits his survival to good luck and great medical care. "When they found the tumor, they really thought I probably should go home and enjoy the last six months I had left," he told the paper.

This extraordinary survivor of one of the most dreaded cancers had a take-charge attitude from the very first, however. He had gone to see his doctor when he noticed a change in the color of his urine. In Beeman's case, this turned out to be the result of the tumor pressing against the bile duct.

And Beeman was both fortunate to have an operable tumor and brave enough to have the procedure. Treating Beeman at M. D. Anderson Hospital in Houston, oncologist Dr. Milind Javie was able to get him into a clinical trial that gave radiation and chemotherapy before surgery.

As the Austin American-Statesman notes:

"In January 2002, doctors removed Beeman's tumor, his gallbladder, and part of his intestine and bile duct, along with part of his pancreas, an organ behind the stomach that secretes hormones and enzymes that aid in digestion. Six months ago, Javle was so pleased with his patient's progress that he told Beeman there was no need to come back."

Here's a link to the original story, Bastrop Man Beats the Odds with Pancreatic Cancer.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Do Whole Grains Really Lower the Risk of Heart Failure

From the November 2008 issue of Journal of the American Dietetic Association comes a 13-year study of 14,000 people announcing that those who ate more whole grains and fewer eggs and butter suffered less congestive heart failure. The implication, the news outlets tell us, is heart health ensues from a whole grain-rich diet.

What the headlines leave out is what the study didn't find. Here we have a major study that also looked at rates of consumption of red meat, fruits and vegetables, fish, and nuts. Are we really to believe that eating our veggies isn't good for our hearts? Or that chomping down barbecued ribs isn't bad?

And the mean improvement in risk of heart failure for the low-egg group? 7 per cent.

I prefer a good whole wheat to white, myself. But studies like this can never tell us whether any particular food causes or prevents any disease. They can only tell us that eating a particular is or is not correlated with a disease. It may well be that people who eat fried egg sandwiches on Wonder Bread are not other prudent in their health habits, whereas people who dine on 7-grain bread are. Just don't read too much into any one study, especially if it's correlational.

Mesothelioma Revisited

Earlier this year I published several posts regarding the real, although very limited, benefits of diet for mesothelioma. There's nothing to buy that would prevent this horrible form of cancer, although eating fresh vegetables seems to tie in to a reduction in the rate of development. More recently, the medical literature suggests that one B vitamin may at least make one form of chemo for mesothelioma less toxic.

Dr. H. L Kindler of the Hematology/Oncology Section at the University of Chicago Hospitals finds that medically supervised folic acid supplementation probably decreases the toxicity of pemetrexed (Alimta). The research absolutely, positively does not suggest that anyone taking pemetrexed should send someone running to the drugstore to pick up some vitamin B.

Pemetrexed works by interfering with the action of folic acid in cell multiplication, giving the body a chance to "catch up" with cancer cells through other immune mechanisms. Supplemental folic acid just ensures its availability in other metabolic processes. You don't want to take so much folic acid that you overwhelm the activity of the drug.

Folic acid is something you should take with vitamin B-12, and before chemotherapy, not during or after. Ask your physician to make sure you are getting any vitamin B supplements you may need if you take this drug.

You may also be interested in:

Asbestos, Diet, and Mesothelioma: Could Eating Right Prevent One of the Deadliest Cancers?
Is Remission from Mesothelioma Possible?
Mesothelioma Revisited
What About Nutritional Supplements for Mesothelioma?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I'm Back

Thanks to all of you who have written to ask when I'll get back online.

For the past six months I have been working on two sticky problems. One has been what you do if you have hemochromatosis (the iron overload disease) and you can't get the standard treatment, phlebotomy. The idea behind the conventional medical treatment of iron overload disease, and it usually works, is you draw enough blood to cause anemia, and then excessive iron won't be a problem.

Anemia, of course, can be the problem. Also, some people just can't have a pint of blood drawn every week. In the referral that started the inquiry, a man had a pint of blood drawn and his heart stopped. He had a near-death experience (and was met by his dead cat). He was revived, but then had no way to treat hemochromatosis he could afford.

Dying and going to the hereafter to meet your cat is a really undesirable side effect of treatment. This doesn't happen with desferrioxamine, the chelation drug, but chelation can easily run $100,000 or more. So, I started calling experts in countries that have gone through financial crises.

Finally, a pharmacologist who managed to get through the financial crisis following the breakup of the Soviet Union suggested treatment with alpha-lipoic acid. Not just any formulaton of alpha-lipoic acid soaks up the excess iron, however. It has to be R-lipoic acid.

So after six months of trying, the man who called me for help persuaded his doctors to supervise (and not play games with his insurance) when he took alpha-lipoic acid. After three weeks of treatment, his iron levels are down, and his diabetes is greatly improved. And he's spent $240 instead of about $10,000.

Doctor-supervised phlebotomy really is a better treatment. Alpha-lipoic acid is wonderful if it's what you can get. You can check here to see the results, but my guess is the alpha-lipoic acid will be a lot less effective than drawing blood once or twice a week, but about as effective as desferrioxamine. Don't stop medically directed treatment to try this if you have hemochromatosis, however.

The other project in the works is a "detox" for what we are told is exposure to depleted uranium for a community in Kosovo. We're looking at what we can do that actually helps people but doesn't interfere with medical treatment. Once again, the right formulation of the right supplement can do a lot of good. The trick is knowing what you can do, and what you can't. There's not a dollar or a dinar to be made from the effort, and plenty to be spent, but why not?

Thanks for your faithful reading of this blog. And please feel free to send any questions.