By Hunter Lewis
There is a genuine scientific revolution taking place at the intersection of health and longevity with food, food extracts, food supplements, exercise, and lifestyle. Solid, peer reviewed scientific research is pouring forth from reputable research institutions, especially research universities such as as Harvard, Stanford, and the like.
This research suggests that changes in diet alone could reduce both heart disease and cancer by as much as 90%. (For example, see Archives of Internal Medicine, Oct 22, 2007; 167(19): 2122-7). Alzheimer’s too by a significant but still to be determined percentage (Neurology, 2007:69:1921-30).
This is not just a question of eating more fruits and vegetables, although that alone might increase lifespan by an astonishing estimated average of 14 years. It is also about specific nutrients. In many cases, there is strong scientific evidence that a specific nutrient may be used to prevent, moderate, reverse, or in therapeutic doses cure disease.
This kind of research along with its clinical application is often called “natural health”. Natural health is in turn a key focus of genuine preventive or “integrated” medicine, a form of medicine that tries to draw on the best techniques of natural health as well as conventional drugs and surgery.
Unfortunately the American people do not know much about the science behind natural health. Food and supplement producers would like to tell them about it. But FDA rules prevent it.
Cherries are a case in point. Research from Harvard published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggested that cherries could reduce heart attack risk ( Ann Inter Med, 1996, Sept 1: 125 (5): 384-9). A large number of other studies published in prestigious journals have indicated that cherries could do that and also reduce pain and cancer. But the FDA says that cherry producers, sellers, and food manufacturers may not talk about this research.
In February 2008, the FDA even obtained a court order to silence 29 cherry orchards. The FDA held that any discussion of the health benefits of cherries automatically turned cherries into “unapproved” drugs. Moreover, the Agency says that any “claim” made for an “unapproved drug” is by definition ” false ” and legally actionable, even if the claim originates at the Harvard Medical School.
Cherries are not an isolated case. Blueberries too have a large amount of research supporting them as a “superfood”. We can improve our health and well being by understanding and using such “superfoods”. Or conversely, by not using certain other foods, even healthy foods that become less healthy under certain circumstances. For example, there is evidence that cancer cells depend on iron and that by reducing our consumption of iron rich foods we may improve our chances of surviving this disease (See Aug 07, Journal of Integrative and Compararative Biology). Cancer cells also require large amounts of simple sugars, so eating less of them may also help.
Besides cherries and blueberries, many other foods and food extracts and food supplements are currently thought by researchers to offer significant health benefits. Some of us have received a mailing from the Harvard Health Letter, published by the Harvard Medical School. The mailing says that a free copy of a booklet with 26 health tips has been reserved for the recipient. The tips are all taken from peer-reviewed scientific studies vetted by Harvard. Just under a third of the tips concern food or supplements. Topics include: vit B-3, coffee, foods that reduce blood pressure, red wine, chocolate, and vit D for bones, cancer, ms, and heart disease (they could have added flu). Before we leave vit D, it is worth mentioning that a controlled, double blind study of 1180 older women showed a 60% lower risk of all types of cancer from taking 1,000 IU of Vit D a day rather than the usual 400 IU (Am J Clinical Nutrition, 2007 Jun;85(6): 1586-91). Many other studies have produced similar results.
A mailing from the University of Virginia Medical School (summer 08 issue) focuses more on the health benefits of specific fresh foods: berries, kiwi, cantaloupe, red and green peppers, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, red cabbage, kale, parsley, collards, broccoli, papaya, spinach, wheat germ oil, leafy green vegetables, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, avocados, beans, pumpkins seeds, ginger root, pecans, split peas, Brazil nuts, walnuts, garlic, carrots, and almonds. (On second thought, better restudy almonds now that the FDA has required high heat or radiation of the nut before sale).
The previous spring 08 issue extolled fish, fish oil, eggs (yes eggs), and flaxseed for heart, beta glucans (a kind of yeast, usually in supplement form) for Alzheimer’s and cancer prevention, vit B-3 also for Alzheimer’s and cancer prevention, green tea to reduce brain and neurodegenerative problems, and pomegranate juice for prevention of Alzheimer’s and possibly aggression (could have added heart trouble).
A study from Nature Reviews Neuroscience was featured in the July 19 edition of the Economist on P. 87. The study is a meta-analysis of 160 studies relating to the effect of food on the brain by Dr Gomez-Pinilla, professor of neurosurgery and physiological science at the U. of Ca. (LA). “Some foods, he concludes, are like pharmaceutical compounds: their effect is so profound that the mental health of entire countries may be linked to them.”
Is this new emphasis on diet, food, dietary supplements, exercise, and lifestyle just a fad? It doesn’t seem likely. Look at Science News, the leading summary of recent scientific studies for the layman. Studies on the profound health effects of foods and food supplements appear at least once or twice per issue on average.
A few critics will accept that there is a revolution taking place linking nutrition directly to health. But they think that we should just focus on food and perhaps lifestyle, not on food extracts and supplements. There are at least two problems with this. First, studies show that the nutritional content of food has been declining for as long as the last 50 years (see especially the work of Dr David Thomas). The USDA has recently confirmed this analysis for more recent years. The problem seems to lie in depleted soil.
Second, nutrients sometimes have to be concentrated to have full therapeutic benefit. No one can get enough Vit D from food. We also get it from exposure to sunlight on our skin, but use of sun lotion prevents it. Food supplements often make sense either for routine day to day use in lower potencies or as higher potency therapies devised and supervised by doctors.
The vast scientific research that has accumulated about natural health is not only critical to our personal health and well being. It is also a potential solution to the problem of surging and economically destructive healthcare costs.
As everyone acknowledges, U.S. healthcare costs are out of control. In 1980, they represented 8% of gross domestic product; today it is 14%. As the population ages, these costs may rise at an even faster rate.
Moreover, healthcare costs are a very serious burden on the economy. Businesses that spend more and more on employee healthcare have less to spend on new investments and jobs. They are also reluctant to add employees who cost more each year. Competitor firms based overseas often have to bear none of these costs, because governments are providing complete health services.
Controlling healthcare costs is a multi-faceted problem. Nevertheless, consumer education about natural health represents an important part of the answer. Consumers who are better educated about natural healthcare will take better care of themselves, lead healthier lives, and ask better questions of their professional medical advisors.
This material is copyrighted (copyright by Praktikos Institute, 2008) and may be forwarded, copied, or reprinted without prior authorization only if appropriately attributed to Praktikos Institute, 2008.