Changing Health Habits
Organic Food Update
Vitamin E Attacked Again
Ask Dr. J: Migraines/Insomnia
In The Health News
Diet and Disease
Recipe of the Month: Pesto Bean Stew (or Soup)
Some of my recent lectures have given me an interesting insight
into human behavior. While my listeners often are impressed
with the extent of the data showing the relationship between
good health habits (including dietary supplements) to better
health they often do not put what they have learned into practice.
This is often in spite of their great need (from my perspective)
for them to do something about their poor health.
While some people do, many do not make changes in their ingrained
lifestyle habits simply based on information. That is the
nature of habits—they are hard to change. Results are
much better in my practice when I have the chance to personally
encourage people to make helpful changes, although this success
may partly be due to the higher motivation of people who decide
to consult with me as opposed to just hearing a lecture.
It is clear that many influences go into the development
of habits and make them hard to break. Social pressures (“Oh,
come on, one piece of cake won’t hurt you!”),
advertising, and convenience, and sometimes the perceived
cost are among these influences. It is an uphill educational
battle to convince people that healthier eating habits can
be fun, convenient (although not as convenient as “convenience”
foods), inexpensive, and tasty. And it is impossible to make
exercise a routine without devoting some time to it, which
is seen as an obstacle no matter how much benefit this provides.
A recent article showed that you do not have to exercise
an enormous amount to derive some benefits, although how much
a person needs may depend on their weight and how much they
have to lose. For many people, getting 30 minutes per day
will help ward off chronic, degenerative diseases, but heavier
people might need to do more in order to lose weight and keep
it off. Perhaps this seems like a lot. However, the time spent
pays not only health dividends, but also improved productivity,
better sleep, more energy, and a sense of well being, providing
more effective use of time. The exercise can also be beneficial
even if broken up into shorter sessions during the day.
A common sarcastic criticism of exercise (“one has
a finite number of heartbeats during life, and why waste them
on exercise”) misses an important point—regular
exercise for a short time that elevates the heart rate leads
to a “training effect” that reduces the heart
rate for the remainder of the day with an overall “saving”
of heartbeats. This is in addition to the many other benefits.
Similarly, a healthy diet may take more time at first (less
so with some experience in healthier food preparation techniques
and the right equipment), but the resulting better health
will contribute to an increase in productivity and time savings.
Inspiring people to do better for themselves is always competing
with other pressures on people to stay the way they are, but
the successes make it worthwhile.
Organic foods were the only ones available a hundred years
ago, and somehow millions of people were fed. Today, in agricultural
products, we have to deal with pesticides, herbicides, fungicides,
growth stimulants, mold retardants, anti-sprouting agents,
and other chemicals in the food supply (and this is before
all the artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, and sugars
and artificial sweeteners are added during processing.) Animal
products are also a problem.
One organization, the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org),
recently revised its lists of the most and least contaminated
produce, so it is important to know these to make informed
choices. Strawberries used to be the worst contaminated, but
now peaches have moved up to first place. Others include apples,
bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines,
pears, potatoes, red raspberries, and spinach.
Their report notes that government testing found that 91
percent of apples were contaminated with pesticides, with
45 percent having 3 or more toxins, and some samples having
seven or eight different residues, including carcinogens,
nervous, immune, and hormonal system toxins, and chemicals
that cause birth defects. Of the 94 percent of peaches that
were contaminated, 55 percent of them had three or more toxins.
Vegetables (other than spinach, celery, peppers, and potatoes)
were generally less contaminated than fruits. The least contaminated
produce, and the ones to choose when organic sources are not
available, are asparagus, avocados, bananas, broccoli, cauliflower,
corn, kiwi, mangos, onions, papaya, pineapples, and peas.
These government tests are done on foods that are already
prepared for eating by washing, coring, etc., so washing will
not change which foods are highest in contamination. Washing
will affect the pesticide level in some foods, but some of
them are not only on the surface, but also throughout the
fruit or vegetable and can’t be washed off.
It is not only that pesticides and other chemicals are problems
when they are present in large amounts, but also that they
may be far more toxic when they are combined. Small amounts
in one food may not be as much of a problem as eating a wide
variety of foods, each with supposedly acceptable levels of
these chemicals. This is especially an issue for children
and pregnant women, who are more susceptible to such toxins.
In addition to pesticide accumulation from pesticide-laden
feed, animal products present other problems. They are often
treated with growth hormones, estrogens, and antibiotics,
all in an effort to increase their rate of growth. Drug residues
are found in the flesh and dairy products from non-organic
animals. (I wish the government were as concerned with steroid
use in farm animals as they are in athletes, but instead they
try to coerce other countries to accept the U.S. hormone-contaminated
meats.) The antibiotics contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant
bacteria. Milk products from California are also contaminated
with rocket fuel (perchlorate), with 31 of 32 samples testing
Choose organic foods as much as possible. They are safer
and more nutritious. The public demand for better food is
growing (but unfortunately so are the sales of some fast foods).
Although I am no longer close to one of the larger health
food supermarkets, I can still find organic produce by choosing
carefully from what is available at supermarkets (increasingly
carrying organic produce) and local health food stores.
It is also valuable to have an organic garden to grow some
of your own vegetables. This does not have to take much space
or work, and it can be fun. It is even easier to find organic
grains, beans, nuts, and seeds, as these keep longer than
fresh produce and are therefore more widely available. You
can get some of these online or by mail order. I am able to
consume nearly 95 percent of my food from organic sources.
Increasing numbers of good restaurants are carrying organic
foods, and a few are going totally organic. Do not expect
to be perfect in your choices, but the more you do, the lower
Supplements can also help protect you. Vitamin C helps to
clear some toxins from your system. Silymarin, from milk thistle,
calcium D-glucarate and antioxidants, such as vitamin E, alpha-lipoic
acid, proanthocyanidins, and those found in green tea (ECGC),
can help to detoxify some chemical exposures.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical
Association suggested that vitamin E supplementation might
increase the risk of developing congestive heart failure.
It seems that some medical researchers have an inappropriate
and relentless antagonism to dietary supplements. This study
was flawed, and was rejected a year ago by the Lancet, a prestigious
British medical publication.
The difference in heart failure rates was minor: 12.1 percent
(placebo) versus 13.5 percent (vitamin E). The data also showed
a small decrease in the risk of cancer that did not reach
statistical significance. These changes are too small to draw
firm conclusions. Aside from other benefits of vitamin E,
the Nurses’ Health Study showed a 41 percent reduction
in heart disease in subjects who took vitamin E supplements.
The subjects in this study were older, ill patients with
cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and already on multiple
drugs, including statins, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers,
anti-inflammatory drugs, and diuretics. Some of these overlap
the effects of vitamin E (anti-inflammatory and anti-platelet)
masking its benefits.
The National Cancer Institute is conducting a study of vitamin
E and prostate cancer. They noted that the latest research
gives them no cause for concern about subject safety in their
study. Other studies suggest reduced prostate cancer with
high intake of vitamin E.
Vitamin E inhibits blood clotting, platelet aggregation,
oxidation of LDL cholesterol, and inflammation, lowers CRP,
a heart risk factor, helps immunity, and brain function. No
other study has suggested an association of vitamin E with
heart failure, raising doubts about this conclusion. You need
supplements of vitamin E to get all of its benefits (preferably
mixed tocopherols high in gamma tocopherol).
Q. I have a 10-year old with insomnia and
migraines, what can I do?
—SW, via Email
These symptoms in children are often related to food or environmental
allergies, chemical sensitivity, or poor regulation of blood
sugar (from poor dietary habits), or some combination of these.
It is sometimes complex to find out just what is causing the
problem, but it is a good idea to eliminate sugar and food
additives from the diet, and eat small meals with snacks in
between in an effort to control blood sugar. Chemical and
environmental exposures need investigation, and may require
that you get some testing from a physician experienced in
Some supplements may also help. Magnesium, chromium, and
vitamins B2 and B3 (niacinamide or inositol hexaniacinate)
can help with both symptoms, depending on the cause, as can
the 5-hydroxy-tryptophan (usually 50 mg), and ginkgo biloba.
These are all quite safe, but the doses need to be adjusted
It is also important to recognize that psychological components
and emotional upsets may be contributing to these symptoms,
especially in children, including problems with family, friends,
and school. Addressing these may be complex.
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Alan Gaby, MD, Personal communication
Jack Challem, The Nutrition Reporter, Personal
A study of zinc in tissues shows that a low level is associated
with an increased risk of cancer of the esophagus. In a study
of 132 subjects, those with the highest level of zinc in esophageal
tissue had an 80 percent reduction in esophageal cancer compared
to those with the lowest levels. (Abnet CC, et al., Zinc concentration
in esophageal biopsy specimens measured by x-ray fluorescence
and esophageal cancer risk. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2005 Feb 16;97(4):301-6.)
Zinc deficiency increases the effects of some carcinogenic
compounds. Zinc is available as a dietary supplement and is
in many multiple vitamin-mineral formulas. Some healthy food
sources include beans, grains, and tofu.
The herb feverfew contains an active component called parthenolide.
New laboratory studies of parthenolide reveal that it can
inhibit the growth of certain leukemia cells without harming
normal cells. In addition, it gets at the root of the problem
by attacking the leukemia stem cells. (Guzman ML, et al.,
The sesquiterpene lactone parthenolide induces apoptosis of
human acute myelogenous leukemia stem and progenitor cells.
Blood. 2005 Feb 1; [Epub ahead of print]. Parthenolide is
apparently much more specific than the chemotherapeutic drug
used in this kind of leukemia.
Green tea has anti-cancer activity. One component, EGCG (epigallocatechin
gallate), is similar to some cancer drugs, but without the
same side effects. It inhibits a folic acid-related enzyme,
reducing growth, and promoting cancer cell death, but does
not bind as strongly as the drug, making it safer. (Navarro-Peran
E, et al., The antifolate activity of tea catechins. Cancer
Res. 2005 Mar 15;65(6):2059-64.) The effective concentrations
are similar to levels found in the serum of green tea drinkers.
The EGCG level in black tea is much lower.
After soaking for 4-8 hours and discarding the soaking water,
pressure cook some navy beans. Sauté chopped onions
and diced celery in olive oil and white wine, with freshly
ground black pepper and a pinch of cayenne (or to taste).
Put this in a stock pot with organic vegetable broth (available
from health food stores), the amount depending on whether
you want soup or stew. Add the beans, diced potatoes and butternut
squash (cut small to speed cooking), any chopped vegetables,
such as zucchini and yellow squash, and fresh diced tomatoes
or a can of fire-roasted organic tomatoes from Muir Glen.
Simmer until the potatoes are soft. Combine fresh basil, garlic
(to taste), walnuts, and olive oil in a food processor and
puree until smooth. Add this to the other dish just before
serving as a soup with whole wheat bread, or as a stew over
whole wheat or buckwheat noodles.
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