Apr 122011
 

Worthwhile reading today on page 1 of USA Today. The cover story is titled ‘Girls hit puberty earlier than ever, and doctors aren’t sure why.’

Here’s a brief excerpt with the grim stats:

About 15% of American girls now begin puberty by age 7, according to a study of 1,239 girls published last year in Pediatrics. One in 10 white girls begin developing breasts by that age — twice the rate seen in a 1997 study. Among black girls, such as Laila, 23% hit puberty by age 7.

“Over the last 30 years, we’ve shortened the childhood of girls by about a year and a half,” says Sandra Steingraber, author of a 2007 report on early puberty for the Breast Cancer Fund, an advocacy group. “That’s not good.”

I give this article credit for hinting at the reasons why puberty is starting earlier. It addresses rising rates of childhood obesity; endocrine disruptors such as pesticides, phthalates in water bottles, and BPA in cans; and reduction of melatonin levels triggered by overexposure to computer and TV screens. It also mentions stress and premature birth rates (up 18% since 1990, according to the article) as possible causes. What it doesn’t mention — and what I rarely see in articles of this type — is an acknowledgment that many of the problems and diseases of modern life are interlinked, so early puberty cannot really be viewed in isolation.

One indication that the problem is modern life and not genetics is mentioned in the article:

Studies consistently show that black girls in the USA go into puberty earlier than whites, suggesting a possible genetic difference. Yet Steingraber notes that, 100 years ago, black girls actually matured later than whites. And she notes that black girls in Africa enter puberty much later than those in the USA, even when their nutrition and family incomes are comparable.

Since we can’t turn back the clock to the year 1900, how can we fight back against the onslaught of contaminated food, water, and environmental surroundings? I discuss some ideas in the 10 Changes section in relation to general health, but this is what I would do if I had a daughter:

1. Choose organic dairy. Conventional dairy products may contain recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) and/or recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST). These hormones stimulate increased milk production by cows, but that milk also contains higher than normal levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). What is IGF-1? A trigger of puberty in mice, according to recent research from Johns Hopkins. 1 I look forward to the human studies — in the meantime, organic milk is unlikely to contain such high levels of IGF-1. Plus, it is free of antibiotic residues, and the cows cannot be fed genetically modified corn. Honestly, I might go easy on dairy in general, since most mammals in nature don’t consume it after they’re weaned.

2. Banish high-fructose corn syrup. Since obesity is a possible contributor to early puberty, I would seek out products unlikely to promote obesity. That means real, unrefined food — organic fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean meats and eggs, beans, and whole grains, ideally speaking. If that were not entirely possible, I would at least avoid likely contributors to the obesity epidemic, such as HFCS. 2

3. Dump the plastic water bottles and canned foods. I would use stainless steel water bottles (less breakable than glass) and fill them with filtered tap water, using a high-quality reverse osmosis or combination filtration system (such as Aquasana). And I would seek out food packaged in BPA-free cans, glass jars, or bags.

4. Encourage outdoors time. I would make sure the day included some active time outside in real sunlight. Humans aren’t built to live indoors 24/7.

5. Enforce screen-off time. I would install Flux on all computers. I would set the computer to shut down automatically about an hour before bedtime. I would turn off the television about an hour before bedtime. I would encourage the reading of old-fashioned paper books — not on-screen books — in that last hour before sleep.

Mar 132011
 

This post is in initial build-out status and may change.

General Information: Wikipedia entry

Cardiovascular

Studied Uses: Stroke

Studied Risks: Heart attack; high blood pressure

Coffee - Cardiovascular Evidence Summary - http://sheet.zoho.com

Overall Cardiovascular Score: -1.39

Behind the Score: The score is more complex than it appears at first glance. Case-control studies show increased risk for heart attack and ischemic stroke, particularly in the hour after consumption, among infrequent drinkers of coffee 1, and among those with risk factors for heart disease 2 3 or who are carriers of the “slow *1F allele” of the CYP1A2 gene, which produces slow caffeine metabolism. 4 Other negative effects on the score stem from studies showing a modest increase in blood pressure among coffee drinkers 5 and an increased risk of developing high blood pressure for those with the slow *1F allele. 6

On the other hand, large prospective cohort studies that spanned many years identified health benefits as well, mainly related to reduced relative risk for stroke 7, especially cerebral infarction 8 but also possibly subarachnoid hemorrhage 9. These benefits accrued over the long term among regular drinkers of more than 1 cup per day. Benefits seemed to attenuate at more than 2 cups per day, with other risks — such as risk for heart attack — possibly increasing at 3 cups per day. 10 It is important to note that prospective cohort studies are not randomized clinical trials, and some may rely on participants’ self-reported intake of coffee.

Notably, at least one prospective cohort study showed that tea appeared similarly effective at lower intake levels (2 cups a day). 11 Also, tea did not appear to raise stroke risk in the hour after consumption. 12

A 2008 prospective study of more than 120,000 people identified 13 a small reduction in all-cause mortality due to coffee consumption; however, this appears to be due to a “moderate” reduction in deaths from cardiovascular disease. Further study would be required to confirm this association.

Warnings and Special Notes: Based on study results, people with existing risk factors for heart disease may want to consult their doctor about the right level of coffee consumption for them.

What Now? An overarching review of coffee’s short- and long-term studied effects states that, “…. longer-term trials on the effects of coffee on biological risk factors are needed to bridge the gap in the data between short-term trials and cohort studies.” 14

What Can I Do? Coffee is readily available, if you choose to drink it. Because of pesticide use on conventional coffee crops 15, organic coffee may be worth the extra cost. Buying Fair Trade may reduce the risk of supporting exploitative producers.

Notes:

  1. Coffee and acute ischemic stroke onset: the Stroke Onset Study. Neurology, 2010.
  2. Transient Exposure to Coffee as a Trigger of a First Nonfatal Myocardial Infarction. Epidemiology, 2006.
  3. Coffee and alcohol consumption as triggering factors for sudden cardiac death: case-crossover study. Croatian Medical Journal, 2005.
  4. Coffee, CYP1A2 genotype, and risk of myocardial infarction. Journal of the American Medical Association, 2006.
  5. Blood pressure response to chronic intake of coffee and caffeine: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Hypertension, 2005.
  6. CYP1A2 genotype modifies the association between coffee intake and the risk of hypertension. Clinica Medica, University of Padova, 2009.
  7. Coffee consumption and risk of stroke in women. Circulation, 2009.
  8. Coffee and tea consumption and risk of stroke subtypes in male smokers. Stroke, 2008.
  9. Coffee Consumption and Risk of Stroke in Women. Stroke, 2011.
  10. Alcohol, smoking, coffee and risk of non-fatal acute myocardial infarction in Italy, European Journal of Epidemiology, 2001.
  11. Coffee and tea consumption and risk of stroke subtypes in male smokers. Stroke, 2008.
  12. Coffee and acute ischemic stroke onset: the Stroke Onset Study. Neurology, 2010.
  13. The relationship of coffee consumption with mortality, Annals of Internal Medicine, 2008.
  14. Coffee Consumption and Coronary Heart Disease: Paradoxical Effects on Biological Risk Factors versus Disease Incidence, Clinical Chemistry, 2008.
  15. Coffee, Conservation, and Commerce in the Western Hemisphere, Natural Resources Defense Council
Mar 082011
 

Headlines in January covered the USDA’s unrestricted approval of GM alfalfa.

Dr. Joseph Mercola now has a scathing analysis on his site about potential long-term implications of the decision. He interviewed representatives from the Institute for Responsible Technology, Organic Valley, Whole Foods and the Organic Consumers Association — and then made some good points. The key highlight: Most alfalfa is not sprayed with pesticides now, so why would any need arise for a Roundup-resistant version?

Mercola (via his sources’ interviews) analyzes a possible ulterior motive as follows:

“‘The interesting thing about the way alfalfa has been grown up until now is that, according to Michael Pollan and other experts, 93 percent of the alfalfa grown in the United States right now is not sprayed with herbicides… alfalfa is pretty much an herbicide free crop!’ Cummins says.

“‘Now, what’s going to happen is that Monsanto is going to sell their alfalfa seeds all over the country which make this alfalfa roundup resistant. This means they’re going to spray the heck out of these 23 million acres of alfalfa fields.’

“How can anyone justify the planting of Roundup-resistant alfalfa when there’s apparently no need for it, and when emerging evidence shows that weeds are rapidly becoming increasingly resistant to Roundup as well, creating superweeds that are near impossible to get rid of?

“That seemingly nonsensical decision becomes clearer if you look at alfalfa’s role on a much grander scale, and helps explain why Monsanto appears to have pulled out all the stops to get it approved, despite the fervent opposition of the organic industry and hundreds of thousands of vocal consumers.

Alfalfa is the Perfect Choice if You Want to Contaminate a Wide Variety of Organic Foods!

“Alfalfa is a perennial crop, meaning it comes back year after year. In the case of alfalfa, farmers only need to re-seed about every seventh year. And as stated earlier, it’s a powerful pollinator.

“‘Basically, any organic alfalfa or non-genetically engineered alfalfa within a five mile radius will immediately get contaminated,’ Cummins says.

“‘Given the fact that alfalfa is a major food source for dairy cows across the United States, and organic alfalfa is a major food source for organic dairy cows, we’re going to see widespread contamination getting worse every year… by this GM alfalfa.

“‘So this is outrageous. It totally flies in the face of campaign promises that Obama made in 2008 when he was running for president. It totally flies in the face of what Hillary Clinton, who was also running for president at the time, made, which was that they would support mandatory labeling and safety testing of GMOs. They have gone back on their word…'”

What now? I highlighted this article mainly because Mercola outlines several ways to take action at the end of it. If you really care about this issue, take a few minutes to sign up to help stop GM food’s pervasive spread. This is one of those battles that can be won, because it’s not too late. Time is growing short, though.

Mar 052011
 

I do not advocate any particular diet — the “right” diet seems to vary widely based on ethnic origin, lifestyle, and individual biochemistry. As an extreme example, “The China Study” makes a compelling argument for a vegetarian diet, yet the Inuits historically ate almost entirely meat and remained free of most degenerative diseases.

What can be said, almost with certainty, is the following: Eat real food, organic when possible. By “real” food, I mean food that is recognizable as food. I have a strong opinion about this: If an ingredient list reads like a chemistry experiment, perhaps it is one, and perhaps you are the test subject. Put it back on the shelf. In sending this simple message with your food choices, you encourage food producers to provide more real-food options.

On the organic front, it is true that organic food may not be more nutritious than conventional food, and it is almost always more expensive. But what it does not include — pesticides — can make a big difference in your health. Even grains and beans, if they are conventional, were likely sprayed with pesticides. And standards for pesticides on imported products are more lax than for U.S.-grown produce…. If you can’t afford to buy all-organic, this list identifies the most contaminated fruits and vegetables (aka worth buying organic) and the less contaminated (save your money and go conventional).

Another reason to buy organic is that, due to labeling laws, it remains one of the only ways to avoid genetically modified (GM) foods. These foods have slight differences from the natural foods that your body recognizes — and initial animal studies show significant 1 effects 2 as a result. Yet, these GM ingredients permeate nearly all processed foods and even some conventionally grown, apparently “real” foods, such as corn. The “four horsemen” of GM foods are corn, soy, cottonseed, and canola (EDIT: plus sugar beets and alfalfa). If you look at ingredient lists, you will see these offenders in many forms, such as high-fructose corn syrup, canola oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, cornstarch, and even lecithin (an emulsifier that is usually soy-based). Other GM foods include some Hawaiian papayas and, soon to come, alfalfa.