AnthroHealth

Something New Under the Sun:
Adapting to Change in the 21st Century

 

AnthroHealth News

September 2004

Volume 3, Issue 9

 

Greetings!!

Itís September and the kids are back in school. Even though you may no longer be in school and may have no children in school, for many of us, September still feels like the beginning of a new year. Summer vacations are over, itís time to get focused and get back to work. This is also the perfect month to renew your focus on optimizing your health.

 

News Updates:

Calculate your Risk for Heart Attack: The National Cholesterol Education Program has developed a handy website for calculating your 10-year risk of having a heart attack. To find out what your risk level is, you just need to put in your age, gender, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, systolic blood pressure, and whether or not you are a smoker or take blood pressure medication. Click the button and the results appear. The results page also includes links to other sources if you want advice on ways to improve your risk profile. Click here to give it a try: http://hin.nhlbi.nih.gov/atpiii/calculator.asp

 

Emergence of a Killer Virus: Draining swampland or cutting down a forest to turn it into more profitable agricultural or ranch land might seem to be a good idea to many. But this can actually end up causing more harm than benefit. One resulting harm that is frequently overlooked, until the rise in human illness and death makes noticing it unavoidable, is that changing the local ecology presents a major adaptive challenge to the organisms living in that area. Some organisms will move elsewhere if they can, and will die out if they cannot. Since all organisms in an ecosystem interact with each other, if one species moves elsewhere or dies out, this will have a rippling, chain reaction effect on other organisms. Researchers found a fascinating case study in the deforestation that occurred along the Pacific coast plains of Mexico and Guatemala.

Different species of mosquitoes serve as the vectors for a variety of pathogens. In this region, before the massive environmental change, the primary mosquito species had been Culex taeniopus which served as the vector for a sub-species of a virus called VEE. The mosquitoes primarily fed on small mammals such as rodents, but the destruction of their normal habitat also destroyed the mosquitoes. One might think this is a good thing. After all, mosquitoes spread disease, so eliminating this species should mean less disease. Unfortunately, this time that turned out not to be the case because the VEE virus can mutate so rapidly and prolifically that among all its many mutant forms there was a new variant that was able to utilize an entirely different vector, the Ochlerotatus taeniorhynchus mosquito species which was moving into the area with its transition to ranchland. Unlike the Culex mosquito, this mosquito feeds on large mammals such as horses and humans. The change in the virus was in just one base of one amino acid, but that was enough to enable it to change vectors and, in the process, also become far more virulent.

In an arms race with pathogens, the pathogens have the edge because of their ability to adapt rapidly through mutation to changing environmental conditions. This is becoming increasingly evident in a context closer to home. Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria which had been largely confined to hospital settings has now been found among the general populace, particularly among athletes and the military. The initial infection of MRSA is on the skin and soft tissues, but can easily invade the bone and muscle tissue or move into the blood stream causing great harm. It is a serious problem because several strains are resistant to the more common antibiotics such as penicillin. If not treated appropriately and quickly, the infection will spread to internal organs. However, for many of the strains, appropriate treatment options are becoming fewer as the pathogen continues to adapt. In the survival of the fittest, the pathogens may have the edge. Aaron C. Brault, Ann M. Powers, Diana Ortiz, Jose G. Estrada-Franco, Roberto Navarro-Lopez, and Scott C. Weaver. Venezuelan equine encephalitis emergence: Enhanced vector infection from a single amino acid substitution in the envelope glycoprotein. PNAS | August 3, 2004 | vol. 101 | no. 31 | 11344-11349.

CDC: Frequently Asked Questions on MRSA: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/hip/ARESIST/mrsa_comm_faq_print.htm
CDC: MRSA Factsheet: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/hip/Aresist/mrsafaq.htm
CDC: Infections Among Competitive Sports http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5233a4.htm

 

Obesity as a Factor in Cancer: A review of numerous studies on obesity and its association with a variety of cancers has found links with five different cancers that the International Agency for Research on Cancer considers sufficiently solid to state that obesity is one of the causative factors in these cancers. The cancers are: postmenopausal breast cancer, colon cancer, endometrial (uterine lining) cancer, esophageal cancer, and kidney/renal cell cancer. Although the methods by which fat cells encourage the growth and spread of cancers is not entirely clear, they appear to be related to inflammation, a massive release of proteins that encourage cell growth, and, in the case of breast cancer, estrogen production. The situation for esophageal cancer is a bit different. Obese individuals more frequently suffer from acid reflux than do lean individuals. Acid reflux can harm the esophagus eventually resulting in cancer. Obese women who are treated for breast cancer have more difficulty remaining cancer-free than do lean women due to the fact that the anti-estrogen drugs are inhibited by the continued estrogen production in the fat cells. The result is that obese women who are being treated for breast cancer have a 50% higher probability of mortality. For smokers, the biggest avoidable risk factor for cancer is to quit smoking. For non-smokers, it is to avoid obesity. The authors state that in the United States that excess weight (both overweight and obesity) could be the primary factor for14% of deaths due to cancer in men and 20% of such deaths in women. Calle EE, Thun MJ. Obesity and cancer. Oncogene. 2004;23(38):6365-78.

 

Book Review: Over the past several years, Iíve perused a variety of diet/nutrition books. I have not been impressed with most of them so when I decided to read SuperFoods Rx: Fourteen Foods that Will Change your Life by Steven Pratt, MD and Kathy Matthews, I had fairly low expectations for it. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. The text is well-written and easy to follow. The nutritional information provided within the text is adequate and appropriate without being overpowering. Unlike The South Beach Diet which is about 1/3 testimonial and 2/3 recipes, SuperFoods Rx relies on science (detailed in a 22 page bibliography) not testimony to support its claims. And while SuperFoods Rx does include recipes, the bulk of the book is devoted to descriptions and explanatory support of each of the 14 super foods.

What are the super foods? Pratt devotes a chapter to each one and discusses them in alphabetical order: Beans, Blueberries, Broccoli, Oats, Oranges, Pumpkin, wild Salmon [farmed salmon is problematic], Soy, Spinach, Tea, Tomatoes, Turkey (skinless breast), Walnuts, and Yogurt. Most of the super foods also have super sidekicks. For instance, cranberries and strawberries, along with most other berries, are sidekicks of blueberries. Sardines are a sidekick of salmon. [You knew Iíd get sardines in there somehow!] All citrus are sidekicks of oranges. And other tree nuts and sunflower seeds are sidekicks of walnuts.

For the most part, the SuperFoods diet matches that recommended by AnthroHealth. The primary difference is that the AnthroHealth diet is derived from that of our foraging ancestors. This means that oats and other whole grains, yogurt, and large quantities of soy and soy products would not have been eaten; and beans would have had a very limited role to play. I was also rather surprised to find that he did not include eggs as one of his super foods since we know that it is a nutritional powerhouse. Pratt does briefly discuss eggs on p. 145 in his chapter on spinach, pointing out its nutritional bounty, but I think it deserves more mention. I can only conclude that his concerns about an eggís cholesterol content caused him to be circumspect. However, research indicates that high cholesterol levels are primarily due to a diet high in saturated and trans fats. Therefore, if one drastically limits those two bad fats in the diet, one should have no trouble with eggs.

I am also concerned about the emphasis on soy and soy products. This is a food that our foraging ancestors would have eaten rarely if ever. Support of it as a super food is primarily based on studies and anecdotal evidence from Japan and Okinawa. One fact that is almost entirely ignored when lauding the health of these populations is that the inhabitants are relatively lightly-pigmented, but live below, in some cases, far below, 350 N latitude. Cities in the US at this latitude or further south include (but are not limited to): Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Memphis, Birmingham, Atlanta, and Miami. Therefore, it is probable that a large measure of the good health of Japanese and Okinawans can be ascribed to the fact that their blood levels of vitamin D are optimal or near optimal when compared to those living in the US. Given this, I would be cautious about eating as much soy as Pratt suggests. Pratt does discuss vitamin D on pages 118 Ė 119 in his chapter on wild salmon. He states that one can obtain vitamin D from eating salmon, sardines, and tuna. This is not entirely correct. Canned tuna, at least as processed and canned in the US, does not contain vitamin D, while fresh tuna does contain some. The best food sources remain salmon and sardines. Also, the recommended daily intakes of vitamin D he mentions are too low and are in the process of being officially revised upward.

The final third of the book includes a chapter of menus for seven days of meals. This is followed by a chapter which analyses each dayís nutritional content. The final chapter is a shopping list of brand-name items for products Pratt considers appropriate for inclusion in a SuperFoods Rx diet. Overall, I feel comfortable recommending this book to readers of AnthroHealth News. For those of you who want to eat the AnthroHealth way, but canít quite bring yourself to give up all grain and dairy products, Prattís diet provides a good transitional point from the typical western diet to the more biologically appropriate diet prescribed by AnthroHealth.

 

AnthroHealth Tip of the Month: Last year around this time I talked about the childhood obesity problem and how the meals served in school cafeterias and the items available in school vending machines were contributing to the problem. This year, a number of school districts have taken action to improve the lunch and snack options available to children and teens during the school day. This is great news. Now it is time to think about the adults. How healthy are the options in the snack machines at your workplace? If there is a cafeteria there, do they sublet to fast food outlets? How do the available menu choices compare to what is recommended in AnthroHealth News? If you use the cafeteria and the snack machines, suggest to whoever is in charge that they order snacks and create menus that give those who want healthier choices more options.

 

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