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July 2012


Common chemicals and allergies
Adolescent diets and heart risks
Good and bad fats for the brain
Excess salt found in hospital foods

Common chemicals and allergies

Common household products that people use to make them safe from infections appear to do more harm than good. Plain soap and warm water are perfectly adequate to clean hands and bodies without the anti-bacterial agents that are added, supposedly to make them more effective. One of the common ones is triclosan.

Companies formerly used an antibacterial product called hexachlorophene, but it was suspected of being carcinogenic and caused neurological problems, so it was banned by the FDA in non-medicinal products (such as Dial Soap, which changed to triclosan).
Triclosan is not as effective as hexachlorophene as an antiseptic, but neither is it necessary for routine skin cleaning at home no matter how dirty your hands are. A new study evaluated children’s urinary levels of endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs), including triclosan, bisphenol A (BPA), and parabens (used as preservatives in many skin preparations, mouthwash, toothpaste, and shampoos, including some found in health food stores). The researchers then analyzed the number of children with allergies to airborne allergens and foods based on IgE antibody levels in the blood.

IgE levels were available for 860 children evaluated as part of the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They found that the odds of having at least one allergy-related IgE elevation was almost four times higher among male children with the highest levels of urinary triclosan compared to those with the lowest levels. (Savage JH et al., Urinary levels of triclosan and parabens are associated with aeroallergen and food sensitization. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2012 Jun 14. [Epub ahead of print])

Parabens were also associated with an increase in allergy sensitization. Although BPA interferes with hormonal function, it was not associated with allergies in this study. It is a common chemical in plastics, including food storage containers (but BPA-free varieties are now available, and the labels will say “BPA free.”  Check labels of all cosmetics and other products to see if they contain parabens. Use non-anti-bacterial soaps and wash hands often, especially if using any public facilities. You can also use hand sanitizers, as they do not contain parabens or triclosan.

Adolescent diets and heart risks

Teens do not always have the best dietary habits (surprise, surprise!). Researchers evaluated 559 adolescents aged 14-18 years. Virtually none of them consumed the recommended amount of dietary fiber (fast foods are notoriously devoid of this important food component). They were measured for body fat and biomarkers of inflammation and other plasma chemicals associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
The markers studied were leptin, adiponectin, resistin, C-reactive protein (CRP), and fibrinogen. They also measured levels of physical activity. In addition to total body fat, they measured visceral adipose tissue (the fat surrounding the internal organs, which is also associated with heart risk). In males, dietary fiber intake was inversely associated with fat mass and serum leptin. In both genders, lower fiber intake was associated with an increased level of visceral fat, and plasma CRP and fibrinogen. (Parikh S, et al., Adolescent fiber consumption is associated with visceral fat and inflammatory markers. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2012 May 16. [Epub ahead of print])

In short, teens do not eat properly, and this dietary pattern is associated with fat bellies and inflammatory markers that put them at a higher risk of developing heart disease and diabetes, both of which are happening at younger ages than in the past. Because the advertising of unhealthy foods is widespread in magazines and TV, education on better nutrition in schools and in families is essential. I have noticed that a fast-junk purveyor is the official restaurant sponsor of the Olympics. While the young athletes may be able to tolerate such diets (in the short term) because of their intense physical activity level, the vast majority of people (those watching the Olympics rather than participating) need to be aware of the dangers of these foods.

Good and bad fats for the brain

Researchers at Harvard evaluated data on 6,183 older women who participated in the Women’s Health Study. They wanted to relate dietary fat intake to cognitive changes. They examined the intake of major fatty acids, including saturated (SFA), monounsaturated (MUFA), total polyunsaturated (PUFA), and trans fats. They did cognitive testing for general cognition, verbal memory, and semantic fluency. They did serial testing over a four-year period beginning five years after the initial dietary assessments.

In this study group, the SFA was almost certainly from animal fats, as the vegetable sources of SFA, such as coconut and palm oils, are uncommon in the diet. Higher SFA intake was associated with a trend toward worsening global cognitive function and verbal memory. (Okereke OI, Dietary fat types and 4-year cognitive change in community-dwelling older women. Ann Neurol. 2012 Jul;72(1):124-34. doi: 10.1002/ana.23593.)

The consumption of MUFA was associated with improved cognitive function scores. These fatty acids are found abundantly in olive oil, avocados, canola oil, almonds, and cashews, and in smaller amounts in peanut, sesame, whole wheat, and oatmeal. They are also present in meat and dairy products. However, the MUFAs from these sources do not appear to be protective because the SFAs seem to have more negative influences on cognitive function that are not overridden by the beneficial MUFAs.

Total fat, PUFA, and trans fat were not associated with cognitive changes in this study, although trans fats are associated with other health problems. This information suggests that the Mediterranean diet pattern is likely to help the brain as well as the heart.

Excess salt found in hospital foods

Low salt diets have a number of benefits. Blood pressure control is one of them, but maintenance of normal blood minerals is another. Dietary salt increases the need for water to flush out the excess sodium through the kidneys, and minerals such as magnesium and zinc are flushed out as well. The medical community is well aware of the problems with excess salt, and public health agencies have made population-wide sodium reduction a priority.

However, when it comes to hospitals, they appear not to pay as much attention to this issue as they might. Hospital patient menus continue to provide too much salt, even to patients prescribed salt-restricted diets. In a study of three acute-care hospitals in Canada with a total of 1935 beds, researchers evaluated standard and patient-selected menus for regular, diabetic, and 3000- and 2000-mg sodium-restricted diet prescriptions.

Adequate intake (AI) is considered to be 1500 mg/day of sodium and the tolerable upper limit (UL) is 2300 mg/day. The hospital diets were compared to these levels. For standard-unselected regular menus, the mean sodium level was 2896 mg. All of these menus exceeded the AI, and 86 percent of them exceeded the UL. For those patients who selected their menus 97 percent exceeded the AI and 79 percent exceeded the UL. (Arcand J, et al., Evaluation of sodium levels in hospital patient menus, Arch Intern Med. 2012;():1-2. Doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.2368.)

Even for diabetics, hospital foods have unhealthy levels of sodium (along with a host of other problems). For standard diabetic diets or patient-selected menus virtually all of them exceeded the UL. Even for sodium-restricted diets, half of the menus exceeded the AI. These researchers noted that in other studies dietary sodium levels in long-term-care facilities were as high as 4390 mg/day. Part of the problem is that hospitals are outsourcing their food services and just reheating prepared foods. If you have to be in the hospital, have someone bring in healthful foods so you don’t rely on the hospital for a healthful diet – you won’t be likely to get one.

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From September to June, I see patients in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
Call 386-409-7747, or send an email to to make arrangements.

In summer, I have a variable schedule, and I see patients in offices at the
Rothfeld Center for Integrative Medicine in Waltham, Massachusetts. For appointments, send an email to make arrangements, or call: 386-409-7747.

I primarily do phone consultations, as well as email and instant messaging consults.

Information herein is not medical advice or direction. All material in this newsletter is provided for information only. Its contents should not be used to provide medical advice on individual problems. Consult a health care professional for medical or health advice.