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Notes From The Underground

It was the Summer Solstice this past weekend and people all over the northern hemisphere celebrated in huge gatherings of what UNESCO calls an “intangible cultural heritage.” Not knowing if we have a lot of pagan or druid Health Tip readers, in case you couldn’t make it to Stonehenge here’s a nice link on 11 things you can do to use the solstice as a moment to reset yourself.

I myself enjoyed #3, spending the day outdoors reading a book. Knowing I’d be writing  about the US healthcare and food industries this week, I chose Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground.

Maypole dancing (#8) is simply not my thing.

Sunshine, D, and Divvy
Summer means, of course, our first taste of sunshine in months, and to celebrate I can report that conventional medicine has finally made up its mind about the value of vitamin D. You wouldn’t believe the waffling. Several years ago researchers linked low vitamin D to a variety of diseases, including early heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and several cancers. Just about a year ago (ironically on last year’s solstice), I wrote about Mayo Clinic’s excellent article on vitamin D, which managed to be refuted several months later in the British Medical Journal.

With this apparent confusion among doctors themselves, health insurance companies balked at including vitamin D measurements among the so-called recommended annual health tests. The FDA, too, remained solidly in the 1950s with its ridiculously low 400 IU (international units) recommended daily allowance of D.

But finally, here’s a study that ends the debate.

Quick review: Your vitamin D status is determined by measuring one of vitamin D-3’s metabolic products, 25-OH D. Researchers reviewed 32 previously published studies with a total of 566,583 participants from 14 countries including the US. Beyond a shadow of any doubt, people with lower levels of 25-OH D (anything below 30 ng/ml) are twice as likely to die prematurely as those with higher levels.It’s estimated that two thirds of Americans are in this danger zone below 30.

Conclusions of the researchers? Have your D checked annually and increase the RDA from 400 IU to 4,000 IU. I’ve been recommending Bio D Forte Emulsion because liquid forms of D absorb more reliably. Just two drops daily will give you your needed 4,000 IU.

The main warning is not to go overboard. Vitamin D increases your absorption of calcium, and if you’re taking too much of either you can set yourself up for calcium kidney stones. 4,000 IU daily is about right. If you do take calcium with this much D, limit yourself to one or two calcium tablets daily max.

Of course another way to get your D is simply to go outside into the sun (which, by the way, the protagonist of Notes From The Underground rarely manages). Last year I badgered Health Tip readers to sign up for the city’s bike-share program Divvy and start biking instead of using gas-powered transport.

Can transport affect feelings?
I’m back badgering again, this time to report on a recently published study in the public policy journal Transportation, which I’m guessing you don’t read regularly. The title– “Mood and mode: does how we travel affect how we feel?”–seems like something we should have been asking ourselves years ago.

Researchers sent surveys to 13,000 participants asking how they felt emotionally during certain activities. Right up front, despite the grim expressions of car drivers and bus and airplane passengers, when people travelled they were in no worse mood than when they weren’t travelling. However, there was an appreciable correlation in “happiness” and the mode of transportation taken.

Happiest were bicycle riders, followed by car passengers, car drivers, and last, riders of public transportation (bus, train, plane).

This makes a lot of sense if you believe freedom and being in control are two good criteria for happiness. To me, these words best describe the feeling of being on a bike. June has been declared Women’s Bike Month.  Go ahead and try it!

Buzzwords on processed foods
But now for an article that explains why I read Notes from the Underground for pleasure. This is a real doozy about the food industry.

In a study entitled “Truth, Lies, and Packaging: How Food Marketing Creates a False Sense of Health,” researchers focused on selected buzzwords of the processed food industry–“organic,” “natural,” “antioxidants,” “heart healthy,” and “gluten-free”—and how closely consumers linked good health with the marketing they see on food packaging.

Researchers used these products in the study: Annie’s Bunny Fruit Snacks (Organic), Apple Sauce (Organic), Chef Boyardee Beefaroni (Whole Grain) Chef Boyardee Lasagna (Whole Grain), Chocolate Cheerios (Heart Healthy), Cherry 7-Up (Antioxidant), and Smuckers Peanut Butter (All Natural), and Tostitos (All Natural).

Virtually every individual surveyed selected the buzzword product as being “healthier” and “better for them” when compared to the same product without the buzzwords. Spam, probably the single unhealthiest food in a grocery store, when its label declared “Spam-Lite,” was selected by 20 percent as being more healthful than a salmon filet.

Dostoevsky, anyone?

Let’s face it, Cherry 7-Up is carbonated water, 25 grams of high fructose corn syrup, and Red dye 40, and its “antioxidant” is a squirt of vitamin E. Chef Boyardee Beefaroni may be made with “whole grain” as the label declares, but each serving contains more than one third of your daily maximum sodium (salt) allowance. A can of Beefaroni contains two servings, so if your teenager’s hungry he’ll get two thirds of his daily sodium allowance eating that crappy lunch you shouldn’t have in the house.

And now for some salty stern advice
Sometimes I’ve just got to speak up when I see truly bad medical recommendations being given by authority figures. These well-meaning but seriously misguided souls range from Scientific American and menshealth.com to mercola.com. They all tell us that using salt is just fine, and that a low-salt diet can lead to higher mortality.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. This is simply not true and it’s dangerous advice to follow. It’s already been shown that the overall heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure rate in the UK has dropped during the last decade because of the increased public awareness of reducing salt intake. Many of the “studies” quoted by salt supporters were either seriously flawed or funded by the food industry. Sea salt, by the way, has absolutely no health advantages over regular table salt. Sea salt comes from evaporation of sea water, the other salt from salt mines. Same amount of sodium, period.

Earlier this week, at the Hypertension 2014 worldwide meeting in Athens, Greece, the conference keynote speech “Calling All Physicians: The Salt ‘Debate’ Must Stop” urged doctors not to take seriously any research proving that excessive salt was harmless. If we’re to take any steps in reducing heart disease and strokes on a global level, we need to reduce our sodium consumption. Period.

We’ll get no help whatsoever from the processed food industry. Chef Boyardee is not our friend.

Be well,
David Edelberg, MD



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