New Under the Sun:
Volume 4, Issue 12
Happy Holidays! May you have a safe, peaceful, and healthy month.
Waist…not…: It is not entirely how much you weigh, but where you carry your weight that has a bearing on your health according to recent research. After analyzing body mass index (BMI) compared to the incidence of heart attack of 27,000 subjects from 52 countries on five continents, the researchers concluded that when the waist/hip ratio was taken into consideration, the significance of BMI was dramatically reduced. They did find that there was a direct and significant relationship to waist/hip ratio. The higher the ratio, the higher risk of heart attack. The lowest incidence of heart attack in this study was achieved by those with an average waist/hip ratio of about 83 percent. The averages for the various groups studied ranged from a high of 94 percent in South America to a low of 88 percent in China. The overall average was 90 percent. The authors concluded that the waist/hip ratio would be a much better indicator of potential heart attack risk than is the currently-used BMI; and that using the ratio would increase the numbers of those at risk for heart attack. Salim Yusuf et al. and the INTERHEART Study Investigators. Obesity and the risk of myocardial infarction in 27,000 participants from 52 countries: a case-control study. The Lancet 2005; 366:1640-1649.
Comment: The ratio of 83 percent as optimal seems likely to be based on male morphology since the waist/hip ratio in healthy, trim young men is higher than that of healthy, trim young women. Several studies by evolutionary biologists on female attractiveness support this. These researchers found that female body weight is not as important a consideration as is the waist/hip ratio in determining which females that males find attractive. Researchers have studied male preferences across ethnic groups in diverse countries and concluded that the ideal waist/hip ratio for females is about 70 percent. Most evolutionary biologists view attractiveness as a proxy for health. Therefore, the healthiest women are most probably those with a waist/hip ratio of about 70 percent while the healthiest ratio for males may be around 83 percent. Excess belly weight is not only unattractive, it is unhealthy.
Fruits to Nuts: Current research provides more support for eating the AnthroHealth way. AnthroHealth suggests eating 8 – 10 servings each day of richly-colored fruits and vegetables. Harvard researchers found that those eating 8 servings each day had a 30% reduced probability of having a heart attack or stroke compared to those eating the American average of about 1.5 servings per day. Fruits and vegetables are rich in phytonutrients. Some may have dozens of different types of these chemicals that help protect the immune system, fight cancer, and aid in preventing other diseases. We know that eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is beneficial to health, but we are not yet sure which phytonutrients and in what combinations are responsible for these benefits. For this reason, taking supplements is not an effective alternative to an appropriate diet. Watzl, B., et al. 2005. A 4-wk intervention with high intake of carotenoid-rich vegetables and fruit reduces plasma C-reactive protein in healthy, nonsmoking men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 82:1052-1058. http://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtIH/WSIHW000/35320/35327/441606.html?d=dmtHMSContent
Other research presented at the recent 35th annual Society for Neuroscience Meeting indicates that almonds can help maintain memory function. Mice who had developed Alzheimer’s-like changes in their brains were fed an almond-rich diet. After four months on this diet, their memory ability was tested. Compared to mice not receiving the almond supplement, the supplemented mice did better on the test and had fewer Alzheimer’s-like deposits. This research needs to be replicated in humans. But given that almonds provide protein and calcium, along with other benefits, we should include them in our daily diet even if we do not yet know if they help memory in humans in the same way they help mice. Neelima Chauhan at the University of Illinois-Chicago, 35th annual Society for Neuroscience Meeting, November 2005.
Comment: It is not really that difficult to eat 8 – 10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, especially if you start off your morning with a good breakfast. For instance, you can obtain 5 servings by eating a spinach and tomato salsa two-egg omelet with a bowl of blueberries and sliced banana, and a half grapefruit. A salad at lunch or dinner could provide the other 3 – 5 servings, depending on what it includes. Have an apple as a snack, and you’ve easily met your needs. Just remember that the fruits and vegetables should be richly-colored; white potatoes do not count.
The AnthroHealth eating plan is not vegetarian. Humans are designed to eat animal protein. However, red meat should be the smallest component, with fish and shellfish, and eggs predominating. Tree nuts are also great sources of protein and other nutrients. Snack on almonds during the day and not only get protein and a good dose of calcium, but possibly you will also help prevent memory loss.
Book Review: Ray Moynihan and Alan Cassels have written an enlightening, but disturbing book: Selling Sickness. The subtitle says it all: How the World’s Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies are Turning Us All into Patients. What could be better for Big Pharma than an ever-increasing patient base? Creating drugs to treat extant diseases doesn’t cut it. Too many of those patients have too little money or patient numbers are too low to make it worthwhile. The big money is found among those in the middle and upper middle class who are well-educated and care about their health. The trick is to make these basically healthy individuals believe they suffer from potentially serious health issues that can be treated with the latest, costly drug.
Moynihan and Cassels have selected ten health conditions that their research has shown have either been created by Big Pharma or whose effects have been exaggerated to the benefit of Big Pharma. Since women tend to be more concerned with their health than are men, seven of the ten medical conditions target women solely or primarily. The ten conditions that the authors assert are being sold to benefit Big Pharma’s coffers are: high cholesterol, depression, menopause, attention deficit disorder, high blood pressure, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, social anxiety disorder, osteoporosis, irritable bowel syndrome, and female sexual dysfunction.
The authors of Selling Sickness do not deny that there are individuals who suffer from these conditions, but in many, if not most cases, the numbers of sufferers are grossly exaggerated by Big Pharma, as are the benefits of the drugs they sell as treatments. As discussed in the August, 2005 book review, many physicians receive major financial support from Big Pharma. Most medical meetings are funded to some extent by “donations” from Big Pharma. When a company decides to promote a medical condition that they have the drug to treat, they have a ready-made audience for their message and experienced physicians to deliver that message to their fellow physicians. It is a winning proposition for the companies and many physicians, but is it for the patients?
It is not possible in this short review to cover all of the topics, so I will just give a few highlights. In discussing cholesterol the authors point out that reducing high cholesterol is not the real issue. The real issue is reducing heart disease. High cholesterol is only one of the risk factors for heart disease and may not be the most important. However, it is the factor, if one takes a medication such as Lipitor, that best serves Big Pharma’s interests. A man who quits smoking, watches his diet, and exercises will do more to reduce his risks for heart disease than he will by taking a drug, but those other risk factors don’t make the company any money. High blood pressure is another factor involved in heart disease. New medications are touted as providing a 50% risk reduction. When these data are analyzed more thoroughly, it turns out that the initial risk may have been 3% and that the medication lowered the risk to 2%. Is this level of initial risk and reduction worth the side effects associated with taking the drug? Taking a drug is easier than making lifestyle changes, but those are the changes that provide the most benefits with fewest side effects, not the drugs.
Many individuals suffering from depression are helped by drugs such as Paxil, at least initially. However, the side effects, which are often minimized or dismissed, can be more debilitating than the depression was. Withdrawal symptoms can be so severe that the individual is unable to give up the drug. And the underlying cause of the depression is simply masked rather than resolved. In an attempt to further expand their market, producers of Paxil, Zoloft, etc. created a medical condition: social anxiety disorder. They took a rare condition called social phobia, loosened the definition, changed the name, and declared that this disorder affected millions. Presto, a new market for the same drug. The PR company that helped GlaxoSmithKline create this disorder even won an award for their marketing coup.
Many normal life stages for women are medicalized which could lead to more health risks than benefits. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was touted for years as a great benefit for women. Instead of preventing heart disease, HRT now seems to be a factor in causing heart disease. Many women suffer from a variety of premenstrual symptoms. However, Big Pharma has created a condition in premenstrual dysphoric disorder that many medical professionals do not think exists. Once again, the anti-depressant drugs are being prescribed to treat this disorder. Once again, the side effects are minimized or ignored. Osteoporosis is certainly a concern for the elderly. However, the target population for the drugs is not the elderly; it is primarily women in middle age who are perimenopausal. For these individuals, their best options are weight-bearing exercise and optimizing their vitamin D levels. These options improve health across the board and avoid the potentially harmful side effects of the drugs.
If you believe you suffer from one of the disorders discussed by Moynihan and Cassels, before taking a drug to treat it, read this book. It may change your mind. As regular readers of AnthroHealth News know, good health requires effort. Taking a drug, popping a pill, is not the best solution to optimizing your health. Exercise, an AnthroHealth diet, plenty of sleep, and optimized vitamin D levels are what your body needs to be healthy.
AnthroHealth Tip of the Month: In this season of giving it is important to remember that individuals continue to suffer from the after-effects of tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes. This has been a devastating year for millions. My personal preference is to give to UNICEF due to their global reach. They are also helping Katrina survivors. However, there are dozens of other wonderful organizations dedicated to helping others. I hope you are able to provide hope to others this season.
© 2001-2009 Kathleen E. Fuller, PhD. All rights reserved.