Organic Food Regulations
Toxic Metal Update: Cadmium
Managing Cadmium Risks
More Soy Benefits
Ask Dr. J: Lysine and Meds
In the Health News
Diet and Disease
Recipe of The Month: Shiitake-Eggplant Stir Fry
Organic foods have been the fastest growing segment of the grocery industry
for some time. Since the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) set organic
standards in 2002, they have always seemed to be a reluctant partner
in the growth and acceptance of these healthier and more flavorful foods.
A sign of the vigor of organic agriculture and the increasing popularity
of organic foods is the recent announcement by Wal-Mart that they are
making a massive commitment to carrying them in their stores. Although
supermarkets are now carrying a much larger amount of organic products
than they used to, the entry of Wal-Mart means that organics have really
This means that the bulk of the American population will now have easier
access to organic foods, but it is also somewhat of a concern, given
the wavering of the USDA in their commitment. The USDA is under pressure
from some major agricultural giants to loosen their organic regulations
and permit some industrial farming practices that are opposed by the
organic community. Already they have permitted standards for some meat
and milk production to be lowered, so that the animals are not grazed
or permitted outdoors as much as formerly required.
In fact, in some so-called organic dairies, the animals are permitted
only token access to the great outdoors (although they are not given
antibiotics, growth hormone, or pesticide-laden feed). Because of these
practices, some organic food stores and community co-ops are refusing
to carry some dairy products from some of these large producers. Among
these feed-lot brands is Horizon (owned by Dean Foods) and Aurora Organics,
a private-label milk supplier to Costco, Safeway, Giant, and Wild Oats.
Other large food producers, such as Kraft, are putting pressure on the
government to loosen its organic standards. Signs suggest that the USDA
is responding to these pressures, and only massive public response and
the Organic Consumer Association campaign have delayed the weakening
of the regulations, for example, permitting genetically modified foods.
The concern about Wal-Mart’s major expansion of their organic
foods is that they will exert further pressure on the USDA to weaken
organic standards, and they have significant financial clout. While I
am happy to see that organic foods are no longer considered to be the
choice only of “health nuts” (would anyone really prefer
to be a “sick nut”?), and have become much more available
for my own shopping, I do want to monitor any potential detrimental changes
to the regulations.
You can stay aware of this also by visiting the website of the Organic
Consumers Association (www.organicconsumers.org) and by supporting their
cause. The Organic Trade Association, on the other hand, is heavily influenced
by the larger farms. Organic foods are grown in 100 countries on about
60 million acres. Mainstream marketing may help it grow. Let’s
hope it stays organic.
Lead and mercury garner much of the attention paid to toxic exposures,
but cadmium is another toxic heavy metal that is associated with numerous
health problems. Cadmium (Cd) is a likely carcinogen and damages the
lungs, liver, nerve tissues, and kidneys. It also contributes to the
development of hypertension. Primary exposure is from tobacco smoke and
foods, but it occurs in the environment in many sources. It is present
in metal alloys and batteries, and is found in polluted water and run-off
Artists and painters may run into Cd as a component of many pigments,
such as cadmium red, orange, yellow, and green. When recycled municipal
sewage sludge is used in fertilizers, such as Milorganite or Nitrohumus,
Cd (and other metals) may actually end up being unwittingly added to
the soil in farms and gardens. This was one of the controversies in establishing
organic standards. Eventually such fertilizer was banned from organic
growing, but it is still commonly sold for garden use. Grains and green
vegetables readily take up Cd from the soil.
Even though standards for toxic metal and other chemical contamination
of sewage fertilizers were tightened in 1993, heavy metals may still
be a problem. This is partly because they are persistent in the environment
and accumulate in the soil and the body with repeated exposure. Governmental
safe exposure limits in the U.S. are eight times less strict than in
Europe, almost certainly due to political rather than safety considerations.
(Other toxins that occur in sewage sludge include PCBs, pesticides, asbestos,
industrial solvents, and petroleum byproducts.)
Cadmium is an enzyme poison, blocking energy production in the mitochondria
and competing with zinc and selenium. It is associated with increases
of lung and prostate cancer. It also damages the lining cells of the
arteries, promotes inflammation, and interferes with blood vessel wall
structure, all of which contribute to an increased risk of vascular disease.
Cadmium poses a serious health threat. A recent article evaluated 246
women with breast cancer and compared them with 254 case controls. Urine
samples were tested for Cd, and the researchers found that women with
the highest level of Cd in the urine had twice the risk of developing
breast cancer compared to women with the lowest urinary excretion. The
researchers screened out other risk factors by interviewing the subjects.
Cadmium has estrogenic effects, stimulating breast and uterine cells.
In estrogen responsive cancers, Cd has similar effects to estrogen exposure,
causing proliferation of cancer cells. Cd induces oxygen free radicals,
and it inhibits DNA repair, both of which contribute to its carcinogenic
activity. Even low environmental exposures contribute to this risk. Environmental
studies also show an association of Cd exposure with pancreatic cancer.
In one comprehensive study, researchers evaluated urine Cd in 994 people
living close to three zinc smelters (with Cd waste) and the soil Cd in
their gardens and compared them to a reference population not so exposed.
Over 17 years, 70 cancers occurred, 50 of them fatal. Of these, 19 were
lung cancers. High urine Cd was associated with 67 percent of the lung
cancers, which is similar to the risk from smoking, and for high soil
Cd the risk was increased 57 percent. Overall, residence in the high
Cd area showed a four-fold increase in risk of cancer.
Research shows an association of Cd (and other heavy metals such as
lead and mercury) with arterial disease. One study analyzed chronic low-level
exposure in 2125 participants. Those with the highest levels of Cd in
the blood had triple the risk of peripheral vascular disease compared
to those with the lowest levels. These levels were below the current
safety standards, but still apparently a problem. In this study a significant
portion of the risk of cigarette smoking was due to the associated Cd
Reducing exposure is the first line of defense, and it helps to eat
organic foods, avoid sludge fertilizers in the garden, and avoid tobacco
smoke, including second-hand smoke. Coastal shellfish often contain excessive
levels of Cd, and it is in numerous municipal water supplies.
Chelation therapy is one treatment for heavy metal toxicity. EDTA (ethylenediamine
tetra-acetic acid) has been used since the early 1950s to treat lead
toxicity, and it is also effective at removing cadmium from tissues.
EDTA is a synthetic amino acid administered intravenously, and is most
frequently used to treat vascular disease. The recently explored relationship
between heavy metals and vascular disease suggests one mechanism for
A non-chelating binding agent, similar in effect to EDTA, is DMSA (dimercaptosuccinic
acid), an oral tablet for removing cadmium, lead, and arsenic. This is
available as a dietary supplement. Typical doses range from 100 mg daily
up to 500 mg three times a day, but I prefer the lower doses (100 to
200 mg daily) for a longer time because of the excellent safety profile.
Alpha-lipoic acid is synergistic with DMSA, with typical doses ranging
from 300 to 1000 mg.
The pineal hormone melatonin regulates the body clock and is a good
antioxidant. It helps to block the estrogenic effects of Cd, which may
explain some earlier research showing that it helps to prevent breast
Zinc helps to prevent Cd absorption and displace it from tissues. Supplements
of 30 to 50 mg of zinc may be helpful, and this should be
balanced with 3 to 5 mg of copper to prevent deficiency. Antioxidant
and anti-inflammatory supplements are also valuable. These include vitamins
C and E, fish oil, green tea polyphenols, genistein from soy, quercetin,
selenium, curcumin, ginger, and boswellia.
Although some physicians recommend against consumption of soy, the evidence
for its health benefits continues to accumulate. Among 483
women undergoing angiography for coronary artery disease, those with
the highest level of daidzein, a soy isoflavone similar to genistein,
had lower triglyceride levels and a higher HDL-cholesterol. Isoflavones
have mild estrogen activity that protects tissues from stronger estrogens.
Soy food consumption has also been associated with improvement in kidney
function in diabetics, and in a Chinese study on 21,494 deceased
cases and 19,968 controls, total age-adjusted mortality was reduced by
23 percent in men and 34 percent in women in those who consumed soy products
four times a week or more, compared to those who consumed it once a month
or less. High soy intake was inversely proportional to deaths
from lung, colon, stomach, and breast cancers as well as heart disease.
Q. I am taking coumadin to prevent clotting. Can I also take L-lysine,
the amino acid that I have heard reduces platelet adhesiveness?
TK, New Jersey, via internet
A. Lysine, proline, and vitamin C prevent the binding of a blood lipid,
lipoprotein (a), to blood vessel walls, helping to prevent and perhaps
reverse atherosclerosis. The clinical evidence for lysine and proline
is limited, but they are certainly worth considering as part of a comprehensive
plan to protect the heart and blood vessels, including diet, exercise,
stress reduction, and a number of other supplements.
Coumadin inhibits blood clotting, but not through an effect on platelets.
I have not seen research showing that L-lysine inhibits platelets,
so there should be no problem taking L-lysine with other nutrients or
drugs. For heart disease I also recommend a mostly vegetarian diet, vitamins
C and E, coenzyme Q10, L-carnitine, magnesium, hawthorn,
and other supplements.
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The Sludge Scam: Should Sewage Sludge Fertilize Your Vegetables? A Library
Resource, http://www.riles.org/paper2.htm, 1997.
Metals as Toxins: Cadmium; Metals in Health and Disease: www.portfolio.mvm.ed.ac.uk/studentwebs/session2/group29/cadtox.htm.
Satarug S, et al., Kidney dysfunction and hypertension: role for cadmium,
p450 and heme oxygenases? Tohoku J Exp Med. 2006 Mar;208(3):179-202.
Filipic M, et al., Molecular mechanisms of cadmium induced mutagenicity.
Hum Exp Toxicol. 2006 Feb;25(2):67-77.
Prozialeck WC, The vascular endothelium as a target of cadmium toxicity.
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Mlynek V, Skoczynska A. The proinflammatory activity of cadmium. Postepy
Hig Med Dosw (Online). 2005;59:1-8.
Nawrot T, et al., Environmental exposure to cadmium and risk of cancer:
a prospective...study. Lancet Oncol. 2006 Feb;7(2):119-26.
McElroy JA, et al., Cadmium exposure and breast cancer risk. J Natl
Cancer Inst. 2006 Jun 21;98(12):869-73.
Kriegel AM, et al., Serum cadmium levels in pancreatic cancer patients...
Environ Health Perspect. 2006 Jan;114(1):113-9.
Navas-Acien A, et al., Lead, cadmium, smoking, and increased risk of
peripheral arterial disease. Circulation. 2004 Jun 29;109(25):3196-201.
Waters RS, EDTA chelation effects on urinary losses of cadmium... Biol
Trace Elem Res. 2001 Dec;83(3):207-21.
Martinez-Campa C, et al. Melatonin inhibits both ER alpha activation
and breast cancer cell proliferation induced by a metalloestrogen, cadmium.
J Pineal Res. 2006 May;40(4):291-6.
Bairey Merz, CN, et al., Phytoestrogens and lipoproteins in women. J
Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2006 June;91(6):2209-2213.
Azadbakht L, et al., Beneficiary effect of dietary soy protein on...
lipid and...kidney function...Eur J Clin Nutr. 2003 Oct;57(10):1292-4.
Ho SY, et al., Soy consumption and mortality in Hong
Kong: Proxy-reported case-control study of all older adult deaths in
1998. Prev Med. 2006 Apr 20; [Epub ahead of print]
a. Blood pressure medications such as thiazide diuretics are associated
with an increased risk of developing diabetes. Researchers followed 41,193
older women, 14,151 younger women, and 19,472 men, all with hypertension.
Over an 8-16 year period, thiazide medications led to a 20, 45, and 36
percent increase, respectively, in relative risk of diabetes. Older women
and men on beta blockers had 32 and 20 percent increases respectively.
(Taylor EN, et al., Antihypertensive medications and the risk of incident
type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2006 May;29(5):1065-70.) Calcium channel
blockers and ACE inhibitors were not associated with risk. Non-drug treatments
for hypertension, such as diet and exercise with dietary supplements
(fish oil, coenzyme Q10, magnesium, vitamins C and E, hawthorn), are
b. Chronic exposure to pesticides at low levels increases the risk for
Parkinson’s disease. Out of 143,325 people, the 7800 who reported
exposure to pesticides had a 70 percent increased risk (Ascherio
A, et al., Pesticide exposure and risk for Parkinson’s disease.
Ann Neurol 2006 July 60(1); [Epub ahead of print]. This included farmers
and those who used pesticides in the garden. This is one more reason
to grow and eat organic foods.
Diabetics with kidney damage benefit from dropping meat from the diet.
On the usual diet, protein excretion (a measure of kidney damage) was
313 mcg. A chicken diet reduced it to 269 mcg, while the low-protein
lacto-vegetarian diet reduced it more dramatically to 229 mcg. Nitrogen
taxes the kidneys, and lowering dietary protein is one way to reduce
this burden. (de Mello VD, et al., Withdrawal of red meat from the usual
diet reduces albuminuria and improves serum fatty acid profile in type
2 diabetes patients with macroalbuminuria. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 May;83(5):1032-8.)
Dice onions, garlic, and ginger (and mince some fresh hot pepper to
taste). Cube soft tofu, eggplant, and shiitake, and chop a green, such
as chard or spinach. Stir fry the onions, garlic, and ginger in olive
oil until the onions are glassy, then add the tofu and continue stirring
until this is sizzling. Add half of a mixture of 1 part tamari soy sauce,
2 parts cider vinegar, and 3 parts water. When this flavor has mixed
well, add the eggplant and stir until it is soft, then add the mushrooms,
and finally the chopped greens and the remaining soy sauce mixture. Mix
this well, turn off the heat and fold in some chopped cilantro. Garnish
the dish with a few drops of toasted sesame oil and serve it over brown
rice. I often fold in the rice toward the end of cooking and let it pick
up the flavor of the vegetables and sauce. The key to stir frying is
to keep adding ingredients as the previous ones start sizzling.
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