Sweet Poison, Another Fad

According to the esteemed medical journal “The Daily Telegraph”, sugar has been exposed as a poison which is slowly killing us[1].

“FORGET fat, salt and carbohydrates – sugar has been branded more addictive than heroin. It is slowly killing us. // While foods high in fat were once accused of increasing our waistlines, experts said it was foods high in sugar, such as cereals and yoghurts, that are making us fatter and more prone to long-term illness.”

The article is right.  Fat was once touted as foods hidden assassin.  Then it became carbs when the Atkins craze hit.  Now its sugar.

Then pretty soon, people will get bored with this fad, and some other “expert” will publish some book that find a new health demon to exorcise.

The problem is that these fads are narrow minded and overly sensationalist.  Everything is bad for us in some degree.  Change the article slightly and you see how ridiculous this fad reporting becomes.

Oxygen is exposed as a deadly addiction that turns us to rust. // Forget fat, salt and carbohydrates – oxygen has been branded more addictive than sugar. It is slowly killing us.

While foods high in fat were once accused of increasing our waistlines, experts said it was breathing oxygen in the air that is causing free radicals to form in our cells.  Free radicals cause oxidative damage, just like rust on iron.

Oxidative damage leads to increased rates of aging of our cells, experts say.  The faster we age, the sooner we die.  Experts say that reducing oxygen intake can add years to our lives, if we can just break our oxygen addiction.

Ahbig Stoog said breaking the oxygen addiction wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.  “I’ve never felt healthier”, said Mr Stoog.

Sorry, but sugar is just one of a long line of fads to come and go.  The Sweet Poison book was written by a lawyer, David Gillespie.  I like lawyers, but understanding law doesn’t give you a degree in biochemistry.  I was at a conference where Professor Rosemary Stanton (nutritionist and biochemist) and Mr Gillespie both spoke.  Stanton tore him apart.

But it’s not just my opinion.  This has been tested scientifically by a group in Adelaide, their work published in 2009[2].  They compared the weight loss effects of two diets over a year, an extremely low carbohydrate diet (like that espoused in the Sweet Poison Quit Plan) and a standard low-fat diet.  The extreme low carbs diet contained 4% of the energy intake as carbs compared to 46% as carbs for the low fat diet.  Importantly, both diets were equal in the calories consumed.

If the sweet poison hypothesis is correct, and sugar alone is responsible for weight gain/loss then the extreme low carbs diet would show significant weight loss to the low fat diet.  If, on the other hand, weight loss is moderated by total calories consumed, no matter what the make up of the diet, then the weight loss for the two diets would be about the same.

The result of the study is bad for Mr Gillespie’s credibility, because both groups lost approximately the same amount of weight (Low Carbs: 14.5 +/- 1.7 kg; Low Fat: 11.5 +/-1.2 kg; P = 0.14).**  The results mirror those of an earlier study by the same authors, using slightly different diets, but again showing that diets of a similar calorie intake result in the same amount of weight loss[3].

The point is, fad diets come and go.  The diet that works is one that is calorie controlled.  People on zero-sugar diets lose weight because they consume less calories.  Any diet that works is because people consume less calories.

A balanced, low calorie diet has been pushed by nutritionists and doctors ad nauseum for decades, but consistently neglecting words like “poison”, “toxin” or “death” has meant that the message is nowhere near as stimulating as the current whim.

If you feel compelled to cut every ounce of sugar from your diet then fantastic.  You will lose lots of weight, and I commend that.  But don’t kid yourself.  Sugar isn’t a poison.  It’s just another fad.

References:

  1. http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/sugar-is-exposed-as-a-deadly-addiction-that-turns-sweet-life-sour/story-fni0cx12-1226686558161
  2. Brinkworth, G.D., et al., Long-term effects of a very-low-carbohydrate weight loss diet compared with an isocaloric low-fat diet after 12 mo. Am J Clin Nutr, 2009. 90(1): 23-32.
  3. Noakes, M., et al., Effect of an energy-restricted, high-protein, low-fat diet relative to a conventional high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet on weight loss, body composition, nutritional status, and markers of cardiovascular health in obese women. Am J Clin Nutr, 2005. 81(6): 1298-306.

** Some people may wonder why I stated that the results of the study showed a similar weight loss, yet the numbers I quoted showed that the low carb diet had a weight loss of 14.5kg compared to 11.5kg for the low fat group.  How can weight loss of 3kg be “the same”?  The answer lies in the P value, a statistical measure of the strength of the evidence.  A p-value of greater than 0.05 shows that the difference in the groups could have been the result of chance.  For more explanation on the P value: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/what-a-pvalue-tells-you-about-statistical-data.html

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Needles of Death

Acupuncture caused womans heart to implode.

A woman in the prime of her adult life had that life ripped away by acupuncture, a known deadly complementary therapy.  Worse, though, is that acupuncture therapists don’t warn of these potentially fatal outcomes or actively hide them.

Ernst(1) documents two cases of healthy women who have had their lives torn away from them as murderous acupuncture needles were inserted into their vital chest organs causing them to instantly fail.  Each woman would have died in agony as their heart and lungs were unable to get blood to their body’s vital organs.

One woman, a forty-four year old lady, had an acupuncture needle pushed into her heart, causing severe pain and breathlessness.  When she alerted the acupuncturist to her peril, his “cure” was to insert another needle, causing a full-blown cardiac arrest.

Another woman, twenty-six years old, died after an acupuncture needle was inserted into one of her lungs causing the lung to collapse.  She eventually died from a tension pneumothorax, in which the punctured lung leaks air into the chest cavity with every breath, compressing the other chest organs like a Boa Constrictor.  A tension pneumothorax is one of the most terrifying ways to die.

Acupuncture is a multi-billion dollar industry.  Despite its potentially fatal consequences, it goes on, unabated and unregulated.  People need to be warned before more lives are lost to the needles of death.”

Do you feel scared of acupuncture after reading this?  Should you believe it?

These sort of beat up articles occur all the time.  A case report which links a vaccine or drug to an adverse outcome is exaggerated with highly emotional language and posted on conspiracy-driven anti-vaccination blog or site.  Then it gets sent around on Facebook or Twitter like an intellectual virus, taken as evidence of the evils of corporate western medicine by people who take the information on face value.

The latest that came across my Facebook page was of a claim that a 16 year old girls ovaries shrivelled after being exposed to the Gardasil vaccine for the Human Papilloma Virus/cervical cancer.(4)

The problem that these anti-vaccine activists have is that case studies, while interesting, have no evidentiary weight behind them.  Trying to make a case study out to be definitive proof for anything is like putting a grain of salt into a swimming pool and suggesting that you have salt-water.  How many cases of premature ovarian failure have been reported as a direct result of the Gardasil vaccine? I don’t know the exact answer to that, but I’d be surprised if I couldn’t count them on one hand.  Compare that to the hundreds of thousands of women vaccinated with the Gardasil vaccine.

One of the respondents to the anti-Gardasil blog(4) said, “This vaccine has never prevented a single case of oral, cervical, or anal cancer …”  Actually, it has likely prevented thousands.(2)  Case studies can’t see the bigger picture.

And for every case study against western medicine, there are just as many against complementary medicines and practices.  (There would be more, except that the dearth of regulation of the alternative and complementary therapy industry means that most of the adverse outcomes of alternative treatments go unreported).

Braun et al(3) report the case of a twenty-nine year old woman discovered to have an entirely treatable early form of cervical cancer on a pap smear, who died in agony from widespread metastatic cancer of the cervix, despite thirteen years of various complementary medicines (a homeopathic therapy consisting of a vitamin C-containing regimen and subcutaneous administration of mistletoe lectins, “regional hyperthermia”, Horvi-Reintoxin enzyme therapy, and pyrogenic lysates of bacteria combined application of Carnivora-Mistletoe-Ukrain).  This woman’s cancer was caused by HPV-18, which would have been prevented by Gardasil (if it was available to her.)

The point of the story is this: All treatments have side effects or complications.  If you look hard enough, you will find case reports of direct or associated illness from just about any traditional or complementary therapy.  But case studies are not good evidence.  They do not see the bigger picture.  They can not be generalised.

In trained hands, and for the right uses, acupuncture can be a very powerful therapeutic tool.  Acupuncture still does more good than harm.

In trained hands, and for the right uses, Gardasil and vaccines in general are very powerful preventative tools.  Vaccines still do more good than harm.

Neither are “needles of death”.

References

1. Ernst E. Acupuncture – a treatment to die for? Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 2010 Oct;103(10):384-5. PubMed PMID: 20929887.

2. Jin XW, Lipold L, Sikon A, Rome E. Human papillomavirus vaccine: safe, effective, underused. Cleveland Clinic journal of medicine. 2013 Jan;80(1):49-60. PubMed PMID: 23288945.

3. Braun S, Reimer D, Strobl I, Wieland U, Wiesbauer P, Muller-Holzner E, et al. Fatal invasive cervical cancer secondary to untreated cervical dysplasia: a case report. Journal of medical case reports. 2011;5:316. PubMed PMID: 21767367. Pubmed Central PMCID: 3156764.

4. http://www.thelibertybeacon.com/2013/07/22/gardasil-destroys-girls-ovaries-research-on-ovaries-never-considered-10497/

Fear: Friend or Foe?

Fear.  Should we run, fight, or think?

I was lazily wasting time at Zarraffas this afternoon, and while I was savouring the richness and depth of my triple masai mocha, I was filling the time by flicking through Facebook.

I came upon a blog post by one of the best thinkers and writers I’m personally acquainted with, one Ruth Limkin, who shared the story of how she was given an opportunity to snorkel in a pristine area of ocean in the South Pacific that is limited to only a handful of people, such is the fragile beauty of the ecosystem there.  As she started swimming into the warm, calm, azure waters, she felt this sudden dread.

Five years ago in a similar situation, she misjudged the current, was swept into some coral, and sustained a laceration to her knee.  This left a lot of blood in the water which, quite reasonably, made her think that she had suddenly become shark bait.  She made it back to shore otherwise unscathed. But it left her with the implicit memory of that event.

This year, despite the obviously calm surroundings, she recalled that fear. Her brain told her to get out of there.  She did manage to overcome her fear though, and enjoyed the snorkelling!

Her lesson was that the pain of yesterday can become todays fear, which robs tomorrow of its promise.

I don’t disagree with Ruth.  I’m not intelligent enough to do that.  But I guess I come from a more medical and analytical perspective of this phenomenon, and I wanted to flesh out her point a bit further.

We all feel it at sometime or another – your heart pounds faster and heavier in your chest. Your breathing gets faster. Your muscles tighten. And your brain either says, “Run” or “Fight”, or sometimes it says nothing at all and we simply freeze up.

The human fear response is both rational and irrational.  We usually don’t understand why we are faced with conflicting realities of internal anxiety and external tranquility, feeling scared while looking at calm clear waters.  Sometimes when we take a step back, we can gain some understanding of why we have reacted the way we did, and cognitively overcome our fear.

B-grade pop-psychologists make us believe that courage is the absence of fear, and that the way to move forward is to eliminate or repress your fears.  But that approach is wrong for a couple of reasons.

There is a good reason why we have fear conditioning.  There is a part of the brain called the limbic system, which is integral to emotional processing.  Central to this is the amygdala, which is responsible for adding emotions to our experiences, especially fear and anger.  When something happens that has real or perceived negative consequences (we experience pain, or we think that there is a high chance that we will experience pain) the amygdala pairs that aversive sensation with the memory of the total experience.  This helps us learn from our mistakes [1].

For example, if a pre-historic man was walking through a forest and came across a sabre-toothed tiger, the fight-or-flight response would help him escape.  But the amygdala would attach the memory of the emotion to the memory of the event itself.  Next time the man walked through a similar forest, or even recalled that event in his mind, the emotion of the memory would also be recalled.  This is why Ruth felt uneasy despite the lack of danger.  Her surroundings triggered the emotional memory of the previous snorkelling experience.

But while unpleasant, fear does confer a survival advantage.  Without the same emotion being recalled, we wouldn’t remember what situations were dangerous and which were safe.  Recalling the emotion and realising there may be sabre-toothed tigers around, or strong currents and sharks, means that there is a much smaller chance of us becoming lunch.

There are two pathways in the brain that are involved in the fear response.  The direct pathway goes from the senses to the amygdala, bypassing the thinking parts of our brain entirely.  Again, this confers a survival advantage as the quicker you can prepare yourself for danger, the more likely you are to survive it.  The signal is not properly analysed, but it doesn’t need to be.  It is better to be wrong and live than to be right and eaten by something.

The second pathway from the senses to the cerebral cortex then back to the amygdala is more precise, but it is slower than the direct path.  It can downgrade the fear response if it is not appropriate.  Well, it can in most people.  Anxiety and panic disorders arise when the balance between the direct and indirect pathways is skewed in the direction of the amygdala.

If you think you may have an anxiety disorder or panic disorder, you should see a good GP.  There are specific forms of psychological therapy that you may need to engage with.  Some people also need medications to assist with the process.

For most people though, we can simply allow the recalled feeling of fear stop us from engaging in life.  When we sense fear, the natural reaction is to run or fight.  That is the direct pathway talking in our brain. The lesson from our neurobiology is that we have another choice.  We can let our cerebral cortex do its job, we can think about the situation, and allow our higher functions to downgrade our primitive reactions.

We also need to understand that fear is ok.  It is necessary, in fact.  Without it, we wouldn’t adapt to our surroundings or learn from our mistakes.  We should not avoid fear.  We should not fight fear.  But we should not let fear control us.

Nelson Mandela, a man who experienced great fear but greater hope, sums it up beautifully, and so gets the final word, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”

References
[1] Dalgleish, T., The emotional brain. Nat Rev Neurosci, 2004. 5(7): p. 583-9.