Category: Health

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10
Aug

How to use EFT to aid weight loss

By naturopath Robyn Chuter

As discussed in my article How to make an ‘obese brain’; just add saturated fat, researchers believe that a diet high in saturated fat may cause permanent changes in the brain, driving cravings for high-kilojoule foods that sabotage the efforts of overweight people to lose weight and keep it off for good.

That’s a depressing thought, but given the burgeoning research into neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain to change its structure and function depending on what we habitually think and feel, and what tasks we assign it, we may have cause for optimism after all.

My own experience in working with people who’ve battled with their weight over many years, suggests that cravings for unhealthy foods can definitely be abolished, and a preference for health-promoting foods firmly established, by using Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).

You can learn the basic EFT (‘tapping’) routine in this video.

How I use EFT to aid weight loss

1) Tap on cravings for unhealthy foods. When doing cravings tapping, I encourage clients to really get into the nitty gritty about the foods they desire: their appearance, smell, taste, texture and mouthfeel; how they feel when they contemplate eating that food; and how they would feel if they were prevented from eating that food (murderous impulses surface at times, at this point :)).

2) Tap on memories associated with the unhealthy food you crave. I often find that the foods people crave, were given to them when they were children by adults with whom they had a special, loving connection. No wonder they crave those foods when they are feeling down now – the memory of receiving love, affection and approval from their favourite uncle, granny or babysitter is strongly associated with the memory of the chocolates, cakes or sweets that loved one gave them!

3) Tap on negative associations with dieting, food deprivation and poor body image. I have lost count of the number of female clients I’ve seen, who were ‘put on a diet’ when they were pre-teen or even younger, by well-meaning but somewhat insensitive parents!

The shame, isolation, self-judgment and sense of deprivation felt by a child whose access to food is restricted in this way, is truly devastating. It often triggers an urge to rebel which results in a pattern of self-sabotage that persists into adult life.

Many of my female clients also report witnessing their mothers criticising their own bodies, and following extreme weight loss diets. These negative experiences leave a deep imprint on impressionable young brains, which fortunately is highly correctable with EFT.

4) Tap on aversions to healthy food. Dislike of health-promoting foods often has its roots in early-life experiences – and these too are amenable to tapping. Many of my clients have memories of being forced to eat everything on their plate even when they were full, or were repulsed by the food.

Others recall being made to eat their Brussels sprouts, while another family member (usually Dad) left them on his plate and still got ice cream for dessert! A rankling sense of injustice and the desire to rebel often lingers after experiences like these, creating a deep psychological aversion to eating healthy foods such as vegetables and salads.

5) Create a vision of your future self and tap on your resistance to realising that vision. A funny thing often happens when you imagine your future self – healthy, vibrant, at your ideal weight, finding it easy to consistently make good choices with food, not even tempted to eat junk – along with the excitement about achieving your goal, often comes some trepidation.

In EFT circles, we call these ‘yes-buts’:

‘Yes, I could lose weight, but then my overweight friends might get jealous and reject me.’

‘Yes, I’d love to choose healthy foods, but might I not feel deprived if I give up my ice cream?’

‘Yes, I’d love to get into exercise, slim down and tone up, but how will I handle it if I start getting more attention from the opposite sex?’

These ‘yes-buts’ are highly tappable issues, and once we collapse them with EFT, weight loss often proceeds at a truly startling rate.

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05
Aug

How to make an ‘obese brain’; just add saturated fat

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter

  • Saturated fat is derived primarily from animal products, but also occurs in high amounts in coconut and palm oils.
  • Saturated fat may damage a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is involved in memory and learning.
  • The type of damage inflicted also affects the ability to self-regulate food intake, leading to a downward spiral of food cravings and weight gain.
  • EFT is a form of therapy that has been found to be highly successful at overcoming these cravings.
The latest diet craze, the Paleo Diet, urges its followers to load up on saturated fat, found in animal flesh, eggs and dairy products, and a handful of plant products such as coconut oil.Paleo writers extol the virtues of saturated fat, claiming that its consumption is absolutely necessary for good health and weight loss.But if you’re tempted to jump on the Paleo diet bandwagon, think twice: all that saturated fat can cause a phenomenon dubbed ‘the obese brain’, destroying your ability to regulate the amount you eat, and sabotaging your weight loss goals.

First, a little background on 2 aspects of the anatomy of your brain:

1) The blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier is comprised of specially modified blood vessel cells that act like a filter, keeping potentially harmful substances circulating in the blood away from brain cells, while facilitating the passage of glucose, hormones, oxygen and other substances vital to the brain’s function.

2) The hippocampus. This seahorse-shaped part of the brain is crucially involved in memory and learning, and also in our response to stress. It forms a component of the limbic system, the brain’s emotion centre.

Now for the really scary part: Recently-published research (1) on the impact of saturated fat consumption on the brain indicates that this type of fat damages the blood-brain barrier, allowing toxins into the brain which impair the function of the hippocampus. The result of this damage is impaired learning and memory – and a vicious circle of overeating and weight gain.

The research was conducted on rats, whose blood-brain barrier and hippocampal function is essentially the same ways as humans’. The rats were initially fed on standard low-fat ‘lab chow’, while receiving training in several learning and memory tasks, some of which involved the hippocampus.

After the training phase, the rats were divided into 2 groups. One group was fed low-fat lab chow ad libitum (i.e. as much as they wanted), while the other group was offered food high in saturated fat, again ad libitum.

Some of the rats in the high saturated fat-fed group became obese while some did not; lead researcher, Terry Davidson, points out that just like humans, some rats have a preference for high-fat food and will gorge on it when it’s offered to them, while other rats (and humans) don’t.

When the researchers presented the rats with the learning and memory problems again, they found that the rats who became obese on the high saturated fat diet, performed much more poorly than the non-obese rats did on the hippocampal-dependent learning problem. Their performance on the learning task that did not involve the hippocampus was unaffected.

This decline in memory and learning ability was attributed to damage inflicted on the hippocampus by impaired blood-brain barrier function in the rats who had become obese on the high saturated fat diet. Davidson commented,

“We have compelling evidence that overconsumption of a high fat diet damages or alters the blood-brain barrier. Now we are interested in the fact that substances that are not supposed to get to the brain are getting to it because of this breakdown. You start throwing things into the brain that don’t belong there, and it makes sense that brain function would be affected” (2).

 

What this means for overweight humansIn a nutshell, what the research indicates is that diets high in saturated fat are not only obesigenic (obesity-causing) in susceptible individuals; they also cause changes to the brains of obese people that in turn may fuel overconsumption of high-fat foods, making weight loss nigh on impossible.Lead researcher Terry Davidson, who is the director of American University’s Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, summarises the implications of his study for humans:
“What I think is happening is a vicious cycle of obesity and cognitive decline… you eat the high fat/high calorie diet and it causes you to overeat because this inhibitory system [i.e. the ability to inhibit overeating by recognising when you’ve had enough] is progressively getting fouled up. And unfortunately, this inhibitory system is also for remembering things and suppressing other kinds of thought interference [i.e. thoughts of high-calorie food that pop unbidden into your mind – generally as soon as you commit to your new weight-loss plan!].” (2).
There is strong evidence that the results of this animal study probably do apply to humans: people who are obese in mid-life are a whopping 74% more likely to develop dementia as they age (3), and shrinkage of the hippocampus is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia (4).

Davidson suggests that the difficulty formerly obese people have in maintaining weight loss, could be partly due to permanent changes in the brain as a result of eating a saturated fat-rich, obesigenic diet for many years.

Now, if you’ve been overweight for years and you’re starting to feel just a little depressed about your prospects of permanent weight loss, I have some good news for you: there is an effective therapy that can literally rewire the brain, dramatically reduce levels of the hormone cortisol, which in excess causes the hippocampus to shrink, and completely transform your emotional response to the unhealthy foods you crave. Read all about it in my article Rewiring the ‘Obese Brain‘.

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20
Jul

5 reasons to think twice before taking blood pressure drugs

By Robyn Chuter

  • High blood pressure dramatically increases the risk of stroke, kidney damage, eye disease and dementia.
  • Various classes of blood pressure medications have side effects including an increased risk of diabetes, cardiac arrhythmias, and lung cancer.
  • Even if antihypertensives successfully lower blood pressure, they aren’t very effective at preventing strokes and heart attacks in most people.
  • Aggressive lowering of blood pressure in people who have coronary artery disease dramtically increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke, and dying from it.

High blood pressure (hypertension) kills. It is the most significant risk factor for stroke and congestive heart failure; in fact, people with high blood pressure have 4 times the risk of stroke compared to people with normal blood pressure.

In addition, it accelerates the build-up of atherosclerosis, a fatty plaque lining the artery walls, and increases the likelihood that one of these plaques will rupture, triggering a heart attack or embolic (clotting) stroke.

High blood pressure also damages the kidneys, and since the kidneys play a huge role in regulating blood pressure, this damage generates a vicious circle of escalating blood pressure and organ destruction, which may eventually result in kidney failure and the need for dialysis.

The tiny arteries feeding the eyes can rupture due to the effects of constant high blood pressure, causing blurred vision and even blindness.

And high blood pressure accelerates dementia.

So high blood pressure obviously requires urgent treatment. But are prescription drugs the answer?

All classes of antihypertensive (blood pressure-lowering) drugs present serious hazards, including these:

#1. Diuretics (commonly used as first-line therapy in hypertension) increase the risk of developing diabetes and arrhythmias.

An analysis of 22 clinical trials including 143 153 participants who were free of diabetes at enrolment, found that those who were prescribed a diuretic (such as Moduretic, Chlotride or Lasix) had a significantly higher likelihood of developing diabetes (1). Having diabetes dramatically increases your risk of both stroke and heart disease – the very conditions that antihypertensive medications are intended to reduce!

Diuretics can also cause abnormal heart rhythms (known as arrhythmias) which increase the risk of sudden cardiac death (2).


#2. Beta blockers (also commonly used as first-line therapy in hypertension) also increase diabetes risk, increase the risk of stroke and death in newly-diagnosed diabetics, and DO NOT lower the risk of either complications or death in simple hypertension.

Beta blockers (such as Inderal, Visken and Betaloc) raise the risk of developing diabetes by around 30%, with the risk rising the longer you stay on them (3). Since patients are usually told they will have to take antihypertensives for the rest of their lives, this should give serious pause for thought.

Beta blockers are commonly prescribed to lower heart rate in patients at high risk of heart attack, but a metanalysis of over 70 000 such patients found that those heart rate was lowered the most by beta blockers, had the greatest risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure and death (4).

Beta blockers DO NOT prevent heart failure in people with high blood pressure, and compared to other classes of antihypertensives, they raise the risk of stroke by 19% in elderly patients (3).

The authors of a major review on beta blockers concluded that

“despite the blood pressure lowering effect, beta-blockers have little, if any, efficacy in reducing stroke and MI [heart attack] in hypertensive patients as was shown in a variety of prospective, randomized trials and meta-analyses” (3).


#3. Calcium channel blockers dramatically increase the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, especially when combined with diuretics.

The Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study tracked over 30 000 women with hypertension but no history of cardiovascular disease (CVD), and compared the outcomes of women on a variety of different antihypertensive medications.

Women treated with calcium channel blockers (such as Norvasc, Adalat and Isoptin) alone had a 55% greater chance of dying from CVD than women treated with diuretics alone; while those on a combination of a calcium channel blocker plus a diuretic had a massive 85% greater risk of CVD death compared to those treated with a diuretic plus a ß-blocker. Even worse, when women with diabetes were excluded from the analysis, the risk rose to 116% greater! (5).


#4. Angiotensin receptor blockers increase cancer risk.

Angiotensin receptor blockers (such as Neosartan, Micardis and Pritor) affect hormone receptors involved in several factors relating to cancer growth: regulation of cell proliferation, angiogenesis (the development of a new blood supply, allowing a tumour to grow), and tumour progression. Researchers found an 11% increased risk of cancer in patients who had been on an angiotensin receptor blocker for at least 1 year, while lung cancer risk was 25% higher (6).

Old fashioned drug bottle with label, isolated, clipping path.
#5. Over-aggressive treatment of high blood pressure by any drug increases the risk of death in people with coronary artery disease (which is virtually everyone over the age of 60 who has eaten the typical Australian diet).

An analysis of 22 576 patients with hypertension and coronary artery disease found that the patients whose diastolic blood pressure was lowered to 60-70 mm Hg had almost double the risk of death or nonfatal heart attack or stroke compared to those with a diastolic pressure of 80-90 mm Hg, while those diastolic BP was pushed down to 60 mm Hg or less had triple the risk! (7).

Given these extremely worrying findings, what is a person with high blood pressure supposed to do? If you have recently discovered you have high blood pressure but are not yet on medication, I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of adopting a comprehensive blood pressure lowering program, incorporating dietary change, regular exercise and stress management.

Many of my clients have achieved phenomenal results after just a couple of weeks on my program, lowering their blood pressure to the point where their GP told them they no longer needed medication.

Obviously, if you are already on blood pressure medication, you cannot simply stop taking it abruptly. I advise clients who are taking antihypertensives to buy a home blood pressure monitor when they commence my blood pressure-lowering program. They take their BP regularly, present the results to their GP, and as their blood pressure drops (which it invariably does), the GP can gradually reduce their antihypertensive medication.

Several of my clients have experienced such dramatic drops in blood pressure that they had to halve their medication in the first week of following the program, because their blood pressure dropped uncomfortably low!

The bottom line: if you have high blood pressure, you need to be on an integrated program that addresses all the factors that cause blood pressure to rise in the first place, and therefore lowers your risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke – not a drug that simply forces your blood pressure down, while increasing your risk of dying!

 

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16
Jul

Fish: The Untold Story

By Robyn Chuter

  • Fish consumption has been linked in epidemiological research to a higher risk of breast cancer and heart disease.
  • Fish is the major dietary source of exposure to persistent organic pollutants which are linked to diverse health issues including impaired immune function, liver damage and Parkinson’s disease.
  • In most people, fish consumption is the major source of mercury exposure. Mercury is a neurotoxin linked with anxiety, attention deficit, and dementia.
  • Antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria are found in farmed fish, as they are in other intensively-reared animals.

When I counsel clients seeking weight loss, disease prevention or reversal, improved mood – and anything else they want to fix – to cut down on or entirely eliminate their animal product consumption, most can accept pretty easily that the great weight of scientific evidence supports this advice.

But then the question always comes up: “What about fish? Isn’t fish good for me?”

In the past I used to recommend moderate fish and seafood consumption for those who still wanted to include some animal foods in their diet, figuring it was safer than chicken or meat.

I no longer give that advice, and here’s why:

Over the years, numerous large, well-designed studies have indicated that fish consumption poses significant risks to health. But none of these studies have received widespread coverage in the popular media, which constantly pushes the line that fish is heart-healthy, an excellent source of omega 3 fats, and a good source of lean protein.

What risks were found? Well, how about a roughly 50% higher risk of breast cancer in women who eat the most fish, compared to women who eat little or no fish (1)?

Or a 2-fold higher risk of heart attack and a 2.9-fold higher risk of cardiovascular death in men with a high intake of nonfatty freshwater fish (2)?

Or a 30% higher risk of coronary death in Finnish male smokers with the highest intake of omega-3 fatty acids from fish (3)?

What’s in fish that makes it a health risk?

1) Persistent organic pollutants (POPs):

The world’s oceans are now brimming with toxic chemicals such as PCBs, dioxins and dieldrin. Some of these are no longer in use (such as PCBs and dieldrin, whose prodution was banned in 2001 because of their adverse health effects), yet they remain in our environment because they strongly resist biodegradation.

They get into the ocean either through direct discharge from factories, or by contaminating ground water or river water that eventually ends up in the ocean. There they are absorbed by phytoplankton, which are eaten by zooplankton, which are eaten by tiny fish, which are eaten by bigger fish, and so on and on, up the food chain.

These contaminants are fat-soluble, so they concentrate in the fatty tissues of the animals that eat them, and biomagnify (reach higher and higher concentrations in animals) at every step up the food chain.

Humans are at the top of the food chain, so every time we eat fish, we’re copping the full load of contaminants that that fish has accumulated over its lifetime.

So what’s the problem with that?

PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are endocrine (hormone) disrupters that cause liver damage; interfere with normal sexual development within the womb, impair immune function, motor skills and short-term memory in babies whose mothers ate fish high in PCBs; and increase the risk of liver, biliary tract and breast cancer (4).

Dioxins also cause liver damage, are endocrine disrupters and probable carcinogens (cancer-causing agents). They adversely affect metabolism of haem (the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells), serum lipid levels, sperm count and motility, and the function of the thyroid gland and immune system, and may cause diabetes (5).

European researchers concluded that

“… if the recommended LC n-3 PUFAs [long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid – i.e. DHA and EPA] intake would be based on fish consumption as the only extra source, the majority of the study population would exceed the proposed health based guidance values for dioxins and dioxin-like substances.” (6)

Dieldrin is linked with the development of Parkinson’s disease, breast cancer, and immune, reproductive, and nervous system damage. Male babies born to women who were exposed to dieldrin during pregnancy have a higher risk of undescended testes (7).

 

Farmed_vs_wild_salmon_contaminantsThe chart at left shows levels of some POP contaminants found in wild-caught (green bars) and farmed (red bars) salmon (8). As you can see, farmed salmon has higher levels of all of these contaminants than wild salmon.

However, exposure to any amount of these contaminants is risky, particularly as there is no research on the combined effects of these chemicals. Toxicology tests only investigate the effects of one chemical at a time, but many toxic substances have a synergistic effect – that is, exposure to very small amounts of multiple chemicals may cause just as much harm as a large exposure to just one chemical, especially if those small exposures are repeated on a regular basis… such as eating a can of salmon several times per week.

As the researchers who produced the chart concluded,

“Risk analysis indicates that consumption of farmed Atlantic salmon may pose health risks that detract from the beneficial effects of fish consumption” (8).

2) Mercury:

All fish and seafood contain methylmercury, and most of the mercury load in most people’s bodies comes from fish consumption, not amalgam fillings or thiomersal, the mercury-containing preservative used in many vaccines (9, 10).

Mercury is linked with infertility, neurological and mental disorders (including anxiety, attention deficit, and dementia), high blood pressure and endocrine disorders; and mercury levels are also strongly correlated with the risk of heart attack (11, 12, 13, 14, 15).

Mercury levels vary from one fish species to another, with large fish such as shark, swordfish and king mackerel being the most polluted.

But as with the POPs, persistent low-level exposure is just as dangerous as occasional high exposure, because mercury takes months to eliminate from the human body, and if more is ingested before previous doses are eliminated, then it starts to accumulate – particularly in the brain and kidneys.

3) Antibiotic residues and antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria:

Like other factory-farmed animals, farmed fish are routinely given antibiotics to prevent infectious diseases from spreading like wildfire through the densely-stocked pens. Residues of these antibiotics contaminate not only the flesh of the farmed fish, but also wild fish and shellfish living in or travelling through the vicinity of the fish farm (16).

Use of antibiotics has been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer (17) and prostate cancer (18); chronic low-level intake of antibiotics through the food supply may also be a risk factor for cancer.

Antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria including E. coli, Salmonella, and Serratia species bacteria cause food poisoning, respiratory diseases and urinary tract infections.

Furthermore, antibiotic-resistant bacteria can transfer the genes that confer their antibiotic resistance to other bacteria – including ones living in your body, making these formerly harmless bacteria capable of causing serious disease for which there may be no effective treatment (16).

The bottom line is, it is simply not worth exposing yourself to the serious, even life-threatening hazards posed by POPs, mercury and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, when every nutrient that fish contains, can be obtained from other, safer food sources that offer a range of beneficial nutrients.

The short-chain omega 3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) occurs in abundance in flaxseeds (also known as linseeds), chia, hemp seed, walnuts, pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and green leafy vegetables. ALA can be converted into the long-chain omega 3s EPA and DHA, which occur in fish, although the efficiency of this conversion varies from person to person. The good fats in these foods come packaged up with cancer-fighting lignans, fibre, and powerful antioxidants, none of which occur in fish.

If you want to safely boost your intake of ready-formed DHA and EPA, you can take a supplement derived from algae. As a matter of fact, that’s where fish get their long chain omega 3 fats. The algae are grown in controlled conditions, ensuring they are free of mercury, POPs and other contaminants. There are many vegan-friendly algal DHA and EPA supplements available, including Opti3, Nuique Omega 3 and Source Naturals Vegan Omega 3s.

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06
Jul

Should you get a flu vaccine this winter?

By Robyn Chuter

  • The Cochrane Collaboration is an international, independent, not-for-profit organisation which assesses the published literature (and unpublished trials, when available) to establish a reliable evidence base for the practice of medicine.
  • Separate Cochrane Reviews on flu vaccination for children, healthy adults, the elderly, and health care workers caring for institutionalised elderly people, have concluded that they offer little protection against the flu, and don’t reduce the rate of complications, hospitalisation or worker or student absenteeism.
  • Furthermore, getting the flu vaccine doesn’t prevent the transmission of the influenza virus to other people, so it’s of no benefit for ‘herd immunity’.
  • The researchers found an alarming absence of safety studies in children under two.
  • The researchers were disturbed by the amount of misrepresentation, manipulation of data and outright fraud that they found in drug industry-sponsored trials of flu vaccines.

Winter is finally upon us here in the southern hemisphere, and many of my clients have been asking me about flu vaccination. Fortunately, I don’t have to sift through the scientific literature all by myself to come up with advice on this matter; I can simply quote the findings of the Cochrane Collaboration on influenza vaccination.

For those of you not familiar with the Cochrane Collaboration, it is an international, not-for-profit organisation comprised of independent researchers – that is, they do not receive any funding from commercial sources, instead relying on international government agencies and charitable donations (commercial organisations such as pharmaceutical companies are specifically prohibited from making donations, under the Cochrane Collaboration’s Policy Manual).

The role of the Cochrane Collaboration is to establish an evidence base for health and medical care, by assessing the published literature (and unpublished trials, when available) to determine whether interventions such as surgery, medical drugs and nutritional supplements are effective at treating particular conditions. The work of the Cochrane Collaboration, which is published in Cochrane Reviews, is “internationally recognised as the benchmark for high quality information about the effectiveness of health care.”

So what is the Cochrane Collaboration’s verdict on flu vaccination? Separate Cochrane Reviews have been published on influenza vaccination in:

  • Children,
  • Healthy adults,
  • The elderly, and
  • Health care workers caring for institutionalised elderly people.

In every case, the reviewers concluded that the task of accurately assessing the effectiveness of flu vaccination was made next to impossible by the fact that the studies published by pharmaceutical companies were marred by poor methodological quality, multiple types of bias and in some cases, outright deceit:

“This review includes trials funded by industry. An earlier systematic review of 274 influenza vaccine studies published up to 2007 found industry-funded studies were published in more prestigious journals and cited more than other studies independently from methodological quality and size. Studies funded from public sources were significantly less likely to report conclusions favourable to the vaccines. The review showed that reliable evidence on influenza vaccines is thin but there is evidence of widespread manipulation of conclusions and spurious notoriety of the studies.”

Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy children

Here is a summary of the key points in each Cochrane Review (quotation marks indicate a direct quote from the review; points without quotation marks are my paraphrases):

  • “Inactivated vaccines in children aged two years or younger are not significantly more efficacious than placebo” – in other words, injecting your child with saline solution would protect them from the flu about as well as a flu vaccine [N.B. all seasonal flu vaccines used in Australia – Fluarix, Fluvax and Vaxigrip/Vaxigrip Junior – are inactivated].
  • “Twenty-eight children over the age of six need to be vaccinated to prevent one case of influenza (infection and symptoms).”
  • Flu vaccination does not prevent the transmission of influenza to others.
  • There is no reliable evidence that giving kids flu shots reduces their number of sickness-related school absences.
  • Flu vaccination does not reduce the rate of lower respiratory tract disease (e.g. pneumonia), drug prescriptions, or middle ear infections (or their consequences or socioeconomic impact).
  • 47% of children given a placebo instead of a vaccine developed an upper respiratory tract infection during the follow-up period, compared to 53-70% of vaccinated children.
  • “One specific brand of monovalent pandemic vaccine is associated with cataplexy [a sudden and transient episode of muscle weakness accompanied by full conscious awareness] and narcolepsy [a chronic neurological disorder inhibiting the brain’s ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles] in children and there is sparse evidence of serious harms (such as febrile convulsions) in specific situations.”
  • “The main problem we encountered in interpreting studies… was that of high risk of bias: all included studies were poorly reported and contained either contradictions between data in figures, tables and text, or reported implausible events or showed evidence of reporting bias of one sort or another” – in other words, the authors of studies conducted by drug companies fudged data, left out important data, or just made stuff up to make the vaccine look good.
  • Studies reporting that flu vaccination was effective are far more likely to be published than those reporting that it wasn’t; and studies finding that flu vaccines harmed children are far less likely to be published (and therefore don’t come to the attention of doctors or vaccine policy makers).
  • Flu vaccines are not adequately tested for safety before being released onto the market: “This is the case of the 2010 TIV by CSL Ltd used mainly in Australia. One child in every 110, aged below five, vaccinated with the CSL vaccine had a febrile seizure. Australia suspended its use. These episodes highlight the insufficient regulatory attention to potential harms from influenza vaccines in children, as the registration trials for the CSL vaccine had been carried out on 162 children aged up to three years (Collignon 2010).”
  • “It was surprising to find only one study of inactivated vaccine in children under two years, given current recommendations to vaccinate healthy children from six months of age in the USA, Canada, parts of Europe and Australia. If immunisation in children is to be recommended as a public health policy, large-scale studies assessing important outcomes, and directly comparing vaccine types are urgently required.”
  • That single safety study of inactivated flu vaccine on children under 2 was conducted over 30 years ago (which means the test was done using a different vaccine than those used currently, since seasonal flu vaccines change annually depending on which flu strains are circulating) and in only 35 children! So much for governments’ and doctors’ reassurances that vaccines are safe – how can you possibly know if you haven’t tested them?
  • The report’s authors were clearly concerned that vaccine manufacturers are not disclosing adverse reactions to flu vaccines that occur during clinical trials, as they stated: “Further safety data should also be collected or made available of the safety of vaccines in children, particularly inactivated vaccine in younger children. There is an immediate need to standardise safety outcome data… Honest and full disclosure of all safety data to researchers is also a priority.”
  • And in summary: “National policies for the vaccination of healthy young children are based on very little reliable evidence… Decision makers’ attention to the vaccination of very young children is not supported by the evidence summarised in our review. Although there is a growing body of evidence showing the impact of influenza on hospitalisations and deaths of children, at present we could find no convincing evidence that vaccines can reduce mortality [death], hospital admissions, serious complications or community transmission of influenza.”

(Summarised from the Cochrane Review ‘Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy children’.)

 

Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy adults

  • “In the relatively uncommon circumstance of vaccine matching the viral circulating strain and high circulation, 4% of unvaccinated people versus 1% of vaccinated people developed influenza symptoms … The corresponding figures for poor vaccine matching [the more common situation] were 2% and 1%.”
  • “… under ideal conditions (vaccine completely matching circulating viral configuration) 33 healthy adults need to be vaccinated to avoid one set of influenza symptoms. In average conditions (partially matching vaccine) 100 people need to be vaccinated to avoid one set of influenza symptoms.”
  • Flu vaccines reduce the risk of total “clinical” seasonal influenza (i.e. influenza-like illness) symptoms by “around 1%… the effect appears minimal. This is remarkable as healthy adults are the population in which inactivated vaccines perform best.”
  • There was no difference in working days lost to the flu, hospital admissions or flu complication rates – including the risk of pneumonia – between those who received flu shots and those who didn’t.
  • 1.6 additional cases of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a major neurological condition leading to paralysis) occur for every million flu vaccines administered.
  • The harms inflicted by flu vaccines are poorly understood because of inadequate research and documentation of adverse effects.
  • The situation may be even worse than this report indicates, since “Fifteen of the 36 trials were funded by vaccine companies and four had no funding declaration. Our results may be an optimistic estimate because company-sponsored influenza vaccines trials tend to produce results favorable to their products and some of the evidence comes from trials carried out in ideal viral circulation and matching conditions and because the harms evidence base is limited.”
  • “No RCTs [randomised controlled trials] assessing vaccination in pregnant women were found. The only evidence available comes from observational studies with modest methodological quality. On this basis, vaccination shows very limited effects: NNV [number needed to vaccinate in order to prevent one case] 92 (95% CI 63 to 201) against ILI [influenza-like illness] in pregnant women and NNV 27 (95% CI 18 to 185) against laboratory-confirmed influenza in newborns from vaccinated women.
  • In summary: “The results of this review seem to discourage the utilisation of vaccination against influenza in healthy adults as a routine public health measure. As healthy adults have a low risk of complications due to respiratory disease, the use of the vaccine may be only advised as an individual protection measure against symptoms in specific cases.”

(Summarised from the Cochrane Reviews ‘Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy adults’ and the 2014 update to that review.)

 

Vaccines for preventing influenza in the elderly

  • “Due to the poor quality of the available evidence, any conclusions regarding the effects of influenza vaccines for people aged 65 years or older cannot be drawn.”
  • “Our findings show that according to reliable evidence, the effectiveness of trivalent inactivated influenza vaccines in elderly individuals is modest, irrespective of setting, outcome, population and study design. Our estimates are consistently below those usually quoted for economic modelling or decision making” – that is, the benefits of flu vaccination in this age group are not sufficient to justify the cost of a vaccination program.

(Summarised from the Cochrane Review ‘Vaccines for preventing influenza in the elderly‘.)

 

Influenza vaccination for healthcare workers who work with the elderly

  • “No effect was shown for specific outcomes: laboratory-proven influenza, pneumonia and death from pneumonia. An effect was shown for the non-specific outcomes of ILI [influenza-like illness], GP consultations for ILI and all-cause mortality in individuals ≥ 60. These non-specific outcomes are difficult to interpret because ILI includes many pathogens, and winter influenza contributes < 10% to all-cause mortality [dying from any cause] in individuals ≥ 60. The key interest is preventing laboratory-proven influenza in individuals ≥ 60, pneumonia and deaths from pneumonia, and we cannot draw such conclusions.”
  • The studies analysed for this review “are at high risk of bias” because most of them were funded by pharmaceutical companies.
  • And in summary: “We conclude that there is no evidence that vaccinating healthcare workers prevents laboratory-proven influenza, pneumonia, and death from pneumonia in elderly residents in long-term care facilities. Other interventions such as hand washing, masks, early detection of influenza with nasal swabs, anti-virals, quarantine, restricting visitors and asking healthcare workers with an influenza-like illness not to attend work might protect individuals over 60 in long-term care facilities and high quality randomised controlled trials testing combinations of these interventions are needed.”

(Summarised from the Cochrane Review ‘Influenza vaccination for healthcare workers who work with the elderly’.)

Let me reiterate here that the Cochrane Collaboration is not a bunch of dope-smoking, hemp sandal-wearing ‘alternative medicine’ types; it is the most authoritative institution in the world when it comes to providing an evidence base for medical care.

So when multiple Cochrane reviews point out that manufacturer-sponsored flu vaccine trials are biased and of poor methodological quality and even taking this into account, they still don’t show any advantage for getting a flu vaccine, you can take that to the bank!

If your doctor is keen for you to have a flu vaccine this year, ask if he or she has read the Cochrane reviews on the subject, and if so, what special circumstances apply in your case that might override the Cochrane recommendations.

If there are none, and yet your doctor is still insistent that you should have the vaccine, you’re well within your rights to ask why.

Better yet, find another doctor.

Read my article on how to minimise your risk of flu.

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29
Jun

Caloric density – the key to weight-loss success!

By Robyn Chuter

  • Caloric density expresses the energy (i.e. kilojoules/calories) per gram of foods.
  • Most whole, unrefined plant foods have low caloric density.
  • People tend to eat the same weight of food each day, regardless of its energy density.
  • Stacking your diet with low caloric density foods allows you to lose weight without counting calories or reducing portion size.

caloric-density

One of the most magical things about a diet based on unrefined plant foods is that it facilitates almost effortless weight loss. The scientific principle behind this magic trick is caloric density.

So what’s caloric density? It’s simply a measurement of the calories/kilojoules per gram of a particular food.

Foods with a high water and fibre content, but a low fat content, have low caloric density. They provide fewer calories per serving, meaning that you can have bigger servings, or more servings, without taking in excessive calories. Giving foods with low caloric density centre stage on your plate is the most effective long-term weight management strategy there is.

Interestingly, researchers have found that people tend to eat the same weight of food each day regardless of the composition of the diet, so choosing foods that have fewer calories per gram is obviously going to lead to lower calorie intake, and therefore weight loss.

Here is the caloric density of some representative foods:

caloric-density-food

Get the picture? Vegetables, fruits and legumes have very low caloric density, so you can eat as much of them as you like without fear of exceeding your calorie needs. Fortunately, these foods are also high in nutrient per calorie density… but that’s a post for another day.

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23
Jun

5 reasons to think twice before taking calcium pills

By Robyn Chuter

  • Calcium supplements are frequently recommended to postmenopausal women.
  • Calcium supplements raise the risk of kidney stones, heart attack and acute abdominal conditions.
  • Elderly people who take a calcium supplement have a higher risk of death.
  • Taking calcium supplements does not reduce the risk of bone fractures, and neither does eating a high-calcium diet.

Calcium supplements are widely promoted in popular media, and routinely prescribed by both medical doctors and naturopaths to postmenopausal women, particularly those who have been diagnosed with low bone density. Many vegans consume calcium supplements and/or calcium-fortified foods because they worry that their dietary intake of calcium may be inadequate.

Because calcium is a mineral found abundantly in our food supply, it has long been assumed that raising calcium intake, through either higher intake of dairy products fortified foods or supplementation, is at worst harmless, and at best beneficial to our bones.

But an editorial published in the medical journal Heart pulls together multiple strands of evidence which strongly indicate that both those assumptions are false.

Here are some disturbing facts on calcium supplements:

#1. Calcium supplementation raises the risk of renal calculi (kidney stones) by about 20%.

The pain caused by kidney stones is so excruciating, it is often described as one of the strongest pain sensations humans can experience – and the closest men (who comprise 80% of kidney stone cases) ever get to the pain of childbirth!

Taking calcium supplements was found to raise the risk of kidney stones by 20% in the Nurses’ Health Study (1) and by 17% in the Women’s Health Initiative trial (2).

#2. Calcium supplements substantially raise your risk of heart attack.

A metanalysis of 15 randomised, placebo-controlled trials of calcium supplementation, involving over 20 000 patients aged 40+ who were followed up for a year or more, found that patients allocated to calcium supplementation had around a 30% greater risk of suffering a heart attack (3).

Patients with renal failure (who are often given calcium supplements to lower their blood phosphate level) are at even higher risk: calcium pills dramatically accelerate coronary-artery calcification, contributing to the very high cardiovascular death rate in this population (4, 5, 6).

t1larg.vitamins.ts

#3. Taking calcium supplements nearly doubles your risk of admission to hospital with an acute abdominal condition.

A review of adverse events from 7 randomised clinical trials of calcium supplementation, found that taking calcium supplements caused a plethora of gastrointestinal complaints. Constipation, excessive abdominal cramping, bloating, severe diarrhoea or abdominal pain, upper gastrointestinal events and gastrointestinal disease were over 40% more likely to afflict people taking calcium pills than those taking placebo

Most worryingly, those on calcium pills were 92% more likely to require hospitalisation for an acute gastrointestinal condition (7).

#4. Elderly people have a higher risk of dying when they take calcium supplements.

A randomised, controlled trial conducted on 602 elderly, frail Australians found that those given 600 mg of calcium per day plus daily sunshine exposure, had a 47% increase in total mortality and a 76% increase in cardiovascular mortality compared to those receiving sunshine exposure alone (8).

#5. Taking calcium supplements does NOT reduce fracture risk.

This is the real kicker. The aggressive marketing activities of calcium pill manufacturers have managed to persuade almost the entire populace – including the vast majority of doctors – that raising calcium intake is the most important step we can take to lower the risk of bone fractures. Yet the authors of the Heart article point out that

“the anti-fracture effects of calcium are modest, having been demonstrated in only two studies of calcium plus vitamin D, and suggested to be of the order of about 10% reduction, in meta-analyses” (9).

And by contrast, several trials have found that higher calcium intake either has no effect on the risk of suffering a bone fracture risk, or actually increases it!

For example, an 18 year prospective analysis involving 72 337 postmenopausal women found that neither total calcium intake nor dairy product intake had any protective effect against bone fractures, while vitamin D intake was strongly protective (10).

The Women’s Health Initiative study referenced above (2) found that although

“calcium with vitamin D supplementation resulted in a small but significant improvement in hip bone density, [it] did not significantly reduce hip fracture.”

And a study of 61 433 Swedish women, who were followed up for 19 years, found that those with the highest intake of calcium had a 19% higher risk of suffering a fracture (11).

There are proven, safe and effective ways to build your bone health and decrease fracture risk, without the scary side-effects of calcium supplements! To find out more, read my article The top 5 tips for building strong, healthy bones.

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15
Jun

The B12 issue

  • Vitamin B12 is made by bacteria that live in soil and water, and are ingested by animals.
  • Deficiency causes serious consequences including anaemia, depression and elevated homocysteine.
  • Vegans, older people and those taking acid-suppressing medication should either take B12 supplements routinely or get a blood test for serum B12 every year.
  • Vitamin B12 injections are unnecessary; oral supplementation, especially with sublingual sprays or lozenges, is as effective, and possibly more effective, than injections.

However, vitamin B12 deficiency is very common in the general population; the Framingham Offspring Study found that, of the almost 3000 people tested, 39% had vitamin B12 levels below the desirable range. Interestingly, meat intake was not found to correlate with higher B12 levels in this study.

The prevalence of deficient or suboptimal B12 levels is highest in the elderly (very few of whom are vegetarian or vegan!!!), so it is clearly not a problem confined to those eating plant-based diets.

The fact is, vitamin B12 is made by bacteria – either living on the roots of plants, in the guts of animals or in water – and it only occurs in animal-derived foods as a product of bacterial activity.

If we drank water out of ponds, pulled vegetables out of the ground and ate them dirt and all, and generally weren’t so scrupulous with our food hygiene, we would all receive a perfectly adequate amount of vitamin B12 each day (along with a hefty dose of intestinal parasites, which our ancient ancestors were plagued with, and pathogenic bacteria). But chlorination of town water supplies kills B12-producing bacteria along with the nasty ones, and our vegies reach us in a scrubbed state, so we have very little exposure to these natural sources of B12.

Anyone adopting a plant-based diet should ask their GP for a serum B12 test every year unless they’re taking a supplement on a regular basis. Up until recently, the serum vitamin B12 test (which has a reference range so wide you can drive a Mack through it) was the only one you could get from most doctors unless you offered to sleep with them ;-). This resulted in many people with serum levels in the lower end of the reference range being reassured that their vitamin B12 level was ‘normal’, when in fact they were showing early signs of B12 deficiency such as increased red blood cell size.

vitamin-b12-deficiency

Fortunately, recent changes to testing procedures mean that if your serum B12 is in the lower end of the reference range, your blood sample will automatically be tested for ‘active’ B12 (holotranscobalamin), which is a much more accurate indicator of your B12 status.

If you’re over 50, you should also have an annual B12 blood test regardless of your dietary practices, because our ability to absorb B12 declines with age due to a condition called ‘atrophic gastritis’, which reduces stomach acid production.

You should also get tested each year if you’re on acid-suppressing medications such as Nexium, Prilosec, Zantac or Tagamet, which increase the risk of B12 deficiency. Better yet, make the right changes to your diet and get off acid suppressing medication, which also increases the risk of Streptococcus pneumoniae-associated pneumonia, hip fracture and other non-fragility fractures and polyps in the stomach that can turn cancerous.

I’m often asked by my clients whether supplemental vitamin B12 is derived from animal products, and whether the supplements are ‘natural’.

Here are the facts: All B12 supplements are made by bacteria which are purpose-grown on a cobalt-enriched medium in a laboratory. The B12 produced from this process is just as natural as the bacterial B12 found in flesh, dairy and eggs – that is, it’s made in the same way (i.e. by bacteria), and has exactly the same chemical structure, as vitamin B12 that you would get by eating the flesh or eggs from an animal.

The best B12 supplement is a sublingual (under the tongue) spray or lozenge. The vitamin B12 in these preparations is absorbed through the mucous membranes under the tongue, by passive diffusion. This sublingual absorption bypasses the numerous biochemical processes that take place in the gastrointestinal tract, which is a huge advantage for people with impaired absorption due to advancing age or gastrointestinal problems.

Oral vitamin B12 supplements, in sufficient doses, have been shown to be just as effective as B12 injections, even for people suffering from pernicious anaemia (a condition in which secretion of intrinsic factor, which is necessary for B12 absorption in the gut, is impaired). So there’s no need for B12 injections, which can be painful, are potentially dangerous in patients who are taking anticoagulants such as warfarin, and require a visit to a doctor or nurse, which adds inconvenience and extra cost.

A dose of 500 mcg of B12 2-3 times per week is sufficient for most adults to maintain good levels of vitamin B12; children require proportionately less depending on body weight. If a blood test has established that you have a B12 deficiency, take 500 mcg daily for 2 months, then repeat the blood test.

Although the science is not 100% clear on this, I lean toward using a methylcobalamin spray rather than cyanocobalamin, as cyanocobalamin has to be converted into methylcobalamin in your body anyway in order to be used, and methylcobalamin may be better retained in the body once absorbed than cyanocobalamin. Methylcobalamin is available in Australia in injection or patch form, or you can order methylcobalamin sprays for personal use only (i.e not for retail sale) from overseas.

I get mine from iHerb, which has a huge range of products, and fast, cheap shipping. If you haven’t already set up an account with iHerb, you can do so in seconds flat, and then use the discount code UTE208 at checkout to get $5-10 off your first order.

Just one word of warning: high dose vitamin B12 supplements have been reported to cause or aggravate cystic acne. I recommend choosing a supplement that contains 500 mcg or less of vitamin B12 to minimise this risk.

The bottom line: ensure your B12 level is sitting pretty by using a B12 supplement, then relax and enjoy your yummy, healthy plant-based food. (Or eat dirt if you’d rather get intestinal parasites along with your B12…)

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10
Jun

Oils ain’t oils

By Robyn Chuter

* Extracted oils and fats impair the function of endothelial cells, which maintain healthy blood flow and normal blood viscosity, and prevent the build-up of atherosclerotic plaque which causes heart attacks and strokes.
* Olive oil is not immune from this harmful effect.
* Nuts and seeds do not impair endothelial function, despite their fat content.
* The benefits of the Mediterranean occur in spite of olive oil consumption, not because of it.

Ah, how I love a good quote! Here are a few that have inspired me this week, as I dissected the fall-out from my last newsletter on the big fat lies about coconut oil:

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
― Mark Twain

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”
― Gloria Steinem
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
― John Keats

and last but not least,

“You can’t handle the truth!”

― Colonel Jessep, played by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men

(Missed that article? Read it here.)

What was the fall-out from that article, you might be asking? Well, 9 people unsubscribed from my email list after I sent out the article on coconut oil, which is the highest number of unsubscribes I’ve had in months. Interesting, don’t you think? I wrote an article that was fully referenced from the published scientific literature, and because it told truths that some people don’t want to hear, 9 of them decided they didn’t want to read anything else I wrote. To them, I gift that Jack Nicholson quote –  “You can’t handle the truth!” :).

On the bright side, 18 new people subscribed to my newsletter, presumably because their friends had shared my article with them. To them, I gift the Keats quote – “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know” – which has always been one of my favourites.

So, emboldened by my discovery that telling the truth is effective at attracting the right kind of people onto my mailing list while culling the wrong ones, I’m going to tackle another oily issue this week: The Great Olive Oil Question.

I am frequently asked by clients,

‘What about olive oil? Shouldn’t I include it in my diet? Isn’t it heart-healthy?’

I will keep the science to a minimum here so you don’t all drop off to sleep, because this is an incredibly important subject.

What’s wrong with oils – any kind – is that they impair endothelial function. What’s endothelial function? It’s the ability of the thin layer of cells that line your blood vessels, known as the endothelium, to regulate the flow of blood through those vessels, and to prevent the formation of atherosclerotic plaque – a build-up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, white blood cells engorged with cholesterol (known as ‘foam cells’) and other substances found in the blood on the inside of your arteries. Endothelial function is a strong predictor of your risk of having a heart attack.

Over time, this plaque hardens and narrows your arteries, reducing the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the part of the body supplied with blood by the affected artery. This can lead to:

  • Angina (chest pain on exertion);
  • Intermittent claudication (pain in the calf muscles after walking for a short distance);
  • Chronic kidney disease and eventually kidney failure;
  • Cognitive impairment and eventually dementia;
  • Erectile dysfunction;
  • Chronic lower back pain; and
  • Numbness, pain, poor wound healing and even dangerous infections.

Eventually, an atherosclerotic plaque may rupture, causing a clot to form. Depending on the location, you may suffer a heart attack or stroke.

unnamed

A well-functioning endothelium produces substantial amounts of the gas nitric oxide, which

  1. Keeps your blood vessels reasonably dilated, in turn lowering your blood pressure;
  2. Decreases the ‘stickiness’ of platelets, preventing them from forming clots;
  3. Stops white blood cells from adhering to the blood vessel walls, which is one of the first steps in the formation of atherosclerotic plaque;
  4. Destroys foam cells – white blood cells which have ingested so much cholesterol that they become non-functional, and become part of the plaque;
  5. Prevents smooth muscle cells from the artery wall from migrating into the plaque;
  6. ‘Smoothes’ the flow of blood, minimising the risk of microscopic injuries to the blood vessels. These injuries are ‘patched up’ with cholesterol, like you would patch up a damaged plasterboard wall with Spakfilla. If the injuries are infrequent, the cholesterol ‘patch’ is soon reabsorbed and the artery wall is repaired with normal, healthy endothelial cells. If there are repeated injuries, the cholesterol patches aren’t reabsorbed, but instead start to form an atherosclerotic plaque.

When you ingest extracted oils and fats – especially those with a higher saturated fat content – you impair the function of your endothelial cells for several hours (the duration of effect varies with the type of oil) and during this time period, the growth of atherosclerotic plaques accelerates dramatically.

On the other hand, nuts do not impair endothelial function in spite of their high fat content, because they contain arginine, which endothelial cells use to make nitric oxide, the gas whose functions I described above.

The benefits of the so-called Mediterranean diet are due to the high consumption of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, and are impaired by the addition of olive oil. And when Mediterranean people start to eat less fruits and vegetables but more animal foods, maintaining a high consumption of olive oil has ZERO protective effect: a study in Crete found that patients with heart disease were eating significantly more olive oil than people free of heart disease.

The bottom line: extracting an oil from the nutritional matrix that it is packaged in by nature is asking for trouble. If you want to minimise your risk of cardiovascular disease, enjoy plant foods that are naturally high in fats, such as avocado, nuts and seeds, in moderation, but leave the extracted oils out of your diet.

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02
Jun

Coconut oil: beyond the hype

  • The many health claims made for coconut oil online and in popular books have either not been verified by scientific research, or have been disproven.
  • Coconut oil consumption does not assist with weight loss.
  • Several risk factors for cardiovascular disease are raised by coconut oil, and populations eating more of it have a higher risk of heart disease.
  • There is absolutely no evidence that coconut oil prevents or reverses Alzheimer’s disease; it is more likely to contribute to it given its effects on cardiovascular risk factors.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you’ll know that coconut oil is being heavily promoted online and in popular books, as a ‘health food’. Self-styled health gurus wax lyrical about its content of medium chain triglycerides (a fat that doesn’t make you fat), antimicrobial properties, stability when heated, and of course, the very appealing notion that Polynesian people eat lots of the stuff and don’t get heart disease. In the last couple of years, it’s even been claimed that coconut oil prevents or cures Alzheimer’s disease.

So let’s look at how the scientific facts compare with the marketing fantasies.

First of all, by the broadly-accepted definition of nutritiousness of food – nutrient content per kilojoule/calorie – there is absolutely no way that coconut oil can qualify as a health food. It contains absolutely no protein, carbohydrate, fibre, vitamins A, C or E, folate or other B vitamins, magnesium, calcium, manganese, phosphorus, iron, selenium, zinc or omega 3 fats. Zip, zero and zilch of the key nutrients needed for the human body to function optimally.

The only nutrient that it boasts is fat, and most of that fat is saturated fat – 92% in fact, which makes it the most heavily saturated fat found in nature (see table below).

coco1

Contrary to the claims you may have read on many blogs, saturated fat has been definitively proven to

  • Raise total and LDL cholesterol levels;
  • Increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and death from cardiovascular causes; and
  • Cause insulin resistance (which leads to metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes).

Coconut oil promoters claim that it is unlike other saturated fats (such as butter or lard) because it contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). One of those much-vaunted MCTs, lauric acid, has antimicrobial properties, which gets the coconut oil advocates very excited.

I say, so what? How many people get sick from microbial illnesses, compared to the number that are sick from overweight and its associated conditions: diabetes, heart disease and common cancers such as breast, prostate and bowel? We are surrounded by, covered in and contain uncountable numbers of microbes, and this inevitable condition of human life doesn’t make most of us sick, most of the time.

But where the coco crowd really goes nuts is over the claim that coconut oil helps you lose weight because of its MCTs. MCTs are absorbed and metabolised somewhat differently from other fats. Most fats are absorbed through lacteals (lymphatic capillaries in the small intestine) and dumped into the bloodstream, from which it’s a short trip into your butt, thighs or muffin top.

On the other hand, MCTs are transported directly from the intestinal tract to the liver, where they’re likely to be directly burned off as fuel. They also raise the metabolic rate slightly. These properties of MCTs fuel the marketing hype that coconut oil consumption aids in weight loss.

The first flaw in this argument is that MCTs make up only about 45-50% of the overall fat content in coconut oil, and are frequently removed from coconut oil sold for human consumption anyway, because they are used in the cosmetics industry.

The second flaw – and it’s a humdinger – is that only one published study, a master’s thesis from Brazil, has tested the hypothesis that coconut oil causes weight loss, and the results were less than spectacular.

40 poor, mostly illiterate women with abdominal obesity were recruited for this study. 20 of them were given daily supplements of 30 ml of soyabean oil, and the other 20 were given 30 ml of coconut oil per day. All participants attended sessions with a nutritionist over the 12-week duration of the study, in which they were counselled to

  • Reduce their overall calorie intake
  • Increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables,
  • Reduce intake of animal fats and refined carbohydrates,
  • Drink adequate water, and
  • Reduce alcohol intake and cigarette smoking.

In addition, they were given sessions with a personal trainer 4 times per week, consisting of stretching exercises followed by 50 minutes of walking.

At the end of 12 weeks, despite all these significant diet and lifestyle changes, the women in the soyabean oil group lost, on average, 1 kg while those in the coconut oil group lost – drum-roll please –  1.1 kg. Whooppee! I’ll bet you want to rush straight out to the health food store and buy a big tub of coconut oil so you can get results as impressive as that!

Advocates of the coconut-oil-for-weight-loss theory must be out of their minds. Clients who follow my dietary advice – a wholefoods, plant-based diet with no added fats and oils – typically lose that amount of weight, or more, every week until they’re close to their ideal weight. Even worse, the coconut oil-eating women’s total cholesterol, LDL, triglyceride and insulin levels all went up, indicating a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The study’s authors made much of the fact that the waist circumference of the women in the coconut oil reduced, unlike those in the soyabean oil group. How big a reduction? All of 1.4 cm – again, after 12 weeks of regular exercise and a reduced-calorie diet! (See table below). Are you serious?????? Again, I see my clients losing that much off their waist circumference after a week or so of healthy eating. It seems more likely to me that the 270 extra calories from coconut oil that the women were consuming each day hindered weight loss than that it helped.

coco2

What about Alzheimer’s? As yet, there has not been a single published study on the use of coconut oil to treat this dreaded disease, although the fact that coconut oil raises LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and other risk markers for cardiovascular disease should sound a warning bell, since Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular share common risk factors and researchers now believe that these conditions are causally related.

Even isolated MCT oil doesn’t improve cognitive function in Alzheimer’s disease, as the following chart shows; early gains in cognitive function in Alzheimer’s sufferers taking the MCT product (red line) were lost by the end of the study.

coco3

The claim that coconut oil is heart-healthy is a sick joke. When given to healthy human volunteers in a study conducted by Australian researchers, coconut oil dramatically decreased endothelial function and impaired the antioxidant capacity of HDL for at least 6 hours after consumption.

What that means is that if you eat coconut oil, your blood will be more prone to clotting, there will be accelerated formation of plaque inside your arteries and your arteries will be unable to dilate (open up to allow more blood flow to the tissues they supply) for at least 6 hours. Do that often enough, and you’ll make yourself an excellent candidate for a heart attack or stroke.

The claim that populations eating coconut oil are healthy and don’t get heart disease doesn’t hold water either. A study comparing food consumption patterns and heart disease rates in Singapore and Hong Kong (where the majority of both populations is ethnic Chinese), found that the death rate from heart disease in 1993-1995 was 2.98 times higher in Singaporean men, and 3.14 times higher in Singaporean women, than in Hong Kong men and women respectively. Singaporeans were found to have higher serum total cholesterol and LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, but lower HDL (‘good’) cholesterol than those living in Hong Kong.

After analysing the dietary patterns in both territories, the researchers concluded that

“higher consumption of coconut and palm oil, mainly containing saturated fat, in Singapore”

was one of the primary explanations for the dramatic difference in heart disease deaths. Coconut oil raises total and LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, which no doubt contributes to the increased risk of heart disease observed.

Finally, claiming that the Polynesians ate lots of coconut oil and had a low incidence of heart attacks is just plain naïve. All the other characteristics of the traditional Polynesian diet and lifestyle were heart-protective:

  • Their traditional diet (now, sadly, largely abandoned) was characterised by a high intake of fibre, plant sterols, antioxidants and omega 3 fats; and an extremely low sodium (salt) intake;
  • They had a very high activity level; and
  • Rates of overweight and obesity were very low – certainly not the case in Polynesia now!

Since the remainder of their diet was low in calories and fat, the addition of total fat and saturated fat from coconut wasn’t a deal-breaker in relation to the overall healthfulness of their diet.

But if you think that sedentary, overweight Westerners with a low plant food intake can reap benefits from adding coconut oil to their diet, you’re living in cloud cuckoo land. If you’re slim, active, have no major cardiac risk factors, and eat a diet high in unrefined plant food, you can get away with having some coconut oil now and then – but don’t overdo it. If you are overweight, sedentary and have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high C-reactive protein, a high waist to hip ratio, impaired glucose tolerance or diabetes, don’t even think about it.

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