Life Out of Balance

Life Out of Balance By Emeran A. Mayer, MD Two weeks ago, I had thought about writing a post for this edition of the MGC Newsletter that deals with the possible relationship of an unhealthy diet, the epidemic of obesity and metabolic diseases, and the greater vulnerability of individuals on such a diet for COVID-19 related complications. But when I looked in disbelief at the orange sun in the smoke filled sky over the weekend, turning into a deeply red sunset over the Santa Monica mountains later in the evening, I felt an urgency to expand the planned topic of individual health and wellness, to the health of the planet. In particular, I wanted to find an answer to the question: Could there be a relationship between the catastrophic events unfolding along the Pacific coast and our own health? To say that what filled the news over the past two weeks has been shocking is a gross understatement: Following a historical heat wave – Los Angeles County had its hottest temperature on record when Woodland Hills hit 121 degrees on Sept. 6 - record breaking fires broke out in Northern California that turned into an epic firestorm hopscotching from the Mexican to Canadian borders, killed more than 30 people, wiped out entire towns and caused some of the worst air pollution ever seen in the region. In California and Oregon alone, fires have burned more than 5.0 million acres with California breaking its record of 1.8 million acres burned from 2 years ago.1 AAt the same time, and reminiscent of the movie The Day After, an Arctic front reached Colorado at the same time in early September, triggering the first heavy snowfall of the season, and leading to the powerful offshore winds on the Pacific coast which fanned the fires there. And a week later, a slow moving Hurricane hit the Gulf coast, with 4 more storms in the waiting – a historic first. The devastating fires didn’t arrive out of the blue. Federal government scientists had predicted two years ago that greenhouse gas emissions could triple the frequency of severe fires across the Western states,2 in part due to the increase in extreme temperatures. Global warming has increased the odds of unprecedented heat extremes across more than 80% of the planet and according to Stanford University climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh “has doubled or even, in some areas, tripled the…

How Important Are Dietary Supplements for Our Health?

How Important Are Dietary Supplements for Our Health? By Juliette Frank with Emeran A. Mayer, MD [caption id="attachment_4143" align="alignleft" width="300"] hand, full, pills[/caption]Every year Americans spend somewhere around $35 billion on vitamins, minerals, and dietary supplements with over half the American population taking at least one vitamin daily. This fuels the $40 billion dietary supplement industry producing over 50,000 products that make large health and wellness claims such as weight loss, increased energy, and overall health and wellness. These products appeal to many looking for a quick fix or solution to their physical and mental health problems. What many consumers are unaware of is that dietary supplements do not need to be FDA-approved prior to marketing their products, meaning that it is not necessary to prove their effectiveness in well-designed clinical trials, and it is up to the company’s discretion to make sure the products are safe and effective.1 A new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine2 tested over a dozen vitamins and supplements, some including compounds generally referred to as antioxidants, vitamin A, vitamin B-complex, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and multivitamins. The study found that most of them did not cause any harm but only omega-3 fatty acid (fish oil) and possibly folic acid, showed potential health benefits for some people. Scientists also found that supplements combining calcium and vitamin D might increase the risk of stroke.3 Furthermore, supplements may actually become harmful if taken in conjunction with certain medications that may alter the effects or not work how it is intended. The president for the Center of Science for the Public Interest, Peter Lurie, points out ephedra, one of the more notable examples of the possible harm supplements can have. Ephedra is a substance found in some plants and is marketed as an appetite suppressant and energy booster.4 The supplement was associated with cases of heart attack, stroke, and sudden death which led to 155 deaths until it was banned by the FDA in 2003. Lurie points out that without the required approval by the FDA prior to releasing vitamins and supplements to the market, the true damage of a product may only be exposed after it is too late. Similarly, another concern of Lurie’s is that there is little way of knowing what harmful effects or damage these supplements may have. Adulteration and contamination is a real problem, there is…

The Truth About Superfoods

The Truth About Superfoods By Emeran A. Mayer, MD “Superfoods”— mostly plant-based foods in addition to some fish — are foods that have been marketed based on a wide range of health benefit claims, ranging from anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antiaging and protective against cardiovascular diseases and cognitive decline, as well as more subjective “energy boosting” effects. Even though “superfoods” are considered an important contributor to the well documented health benefits of largely plant based diets (such as the traditional Mediterranean diet), specific health claims about these foods are generally based on the effects demonstrated on cells in test tubes or in mouse models. Unfortunately, and largely unknown to the public, the great majority of these claims are not based on evidence from well controlled clinical trials in humans, and it is unlikely that they ever will. Even though scientists claim that use of the term "superfood" is largely a marketing tool unsubstantiated by scientific evidence, manufacturers rely heavily on marketing ploys and lobbyists to shape the public's perception of their products.1 The problem starts with the question what qualifies as a “superfood”. According to the American Heart Association there are no set criteria for determining what is and what is not a superfood.2 Some superfoods stand out from other healthy plant-based foods, based on their high content of dietary fiber, vitamins, healthy fats (high omega-3 to omega-6 ratio), and high levels of a class of phytonutrients made up of large, poorly absorbable molecules, called polyphenols and phenolics.3 There are thousands of such phenolic compounds in different plants, with the majority of them belonging to the family of flavonoids.4 Polyphenols are the plants’ medicine, which they produce to protect themselves against pests, diseases, and other harmful influences, and they are usually contained in leaves, fruits and roots of most plants. Based on their in vitro effects, polyphenols and phenolics are generally mislabeled and promoted as antioxidants, even though in humans this only applies to the small fraction of such compounds which are absorbed in the small intestine and reach sufficient levels in the blood to exert antioxidant effects. However, as a growing body of science is demonstrating, less than 5 percent of these molecules are actually absorbed in the small intestine, while the rest has to travel further down the intestine, where they are broken down into smaller, absorbable metabolites by our gut microbiota. It is likely that the health benefits of…

As Far as Fish Are Concerned, Smaller Is Better

As Far as Fish Are Concerned, Smaller Is Better By E. Dylan Mayer This article was inspired by Patagonia Provisions’ journal found here. Even though the majority of people have stuck to their traditional habit of enjoying red meat as their main protein source, in the last 40 years, an increasing number of Americans have been moving away from red meats and transitioning towards vegetarian, vegan or so-called pescatarian diets.1 The science is telling us this is probably a good thing not only for our own health but for the environment’s health as well. The only caveat to this transition is that overfishing as well as farming fish has been growing too, in order to satisfy the increasing appetite for seafood. According to the Independent, “fewer big, predatory fish are swimming in the world’s oceans because of overfishing by humans, leaving smaller fish to thrive and double in force over the past 100 years.” (I won’t go too in depth on the negative sides of farming fish in this article, but if you’re interested in learning more, I’d recommend watching Patagonia’s film Artifishal). Because of overfishing, some may argue that farm-raised fish are the better alternative for a growing number of people that are seafood enthusiasts. Farm-raised fish are now frequently found in grocery stores and are bought up by fish-loving customers. However, we know that farm-raised fish are fed a diet which is similar to that of farm-raised cattle (hormone-packed & not fed their natural diet), leaving the wild option almost always the healthier choice. One of the most significant differences between farmed and wild fish is the omega-3 fatty acid content. Wild fish generally have a more favorable omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio compared to their farm-raised counterparts.2 We all know and love our salmon, tuna and swordfish, and can definitely still enjoy these delicacies as long as they are responsibly harvested and wild, but let us turn our attention to the smaller guys: the sardines, anchovies, squid, herring and mackerel. Not only are these smaller fish more plentiful and have much lower mercury levels than fish higher up on the food chain, they are also excellent sources of protein, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12.3 Because of this, when you make the switch from big to small fish, you’re not only doing something good for your own health, you’re also benefiting the environment, allowing wild food…

Why Do Humans Continue to Eat Meat When It Is Not Good for Us

Why Do Humans Continue to Eat Meat When It Is Not Good for Us By Emeran A. Mayer, MD Personal and environmental health are closely interconnected. Increasing evidence suggests that diets inextricably links human health and environmental sustainability as recently described in great detail in the Eat-Lancet Commission report.1 The authors of the report state that “unhealthy diets are the largest global burden of disease and pose a greater risk to morbidity and mortality than does unsafe sex, alcohol, drug and tobacco combined.” The report goes on to propose a dramatic shift from the current lose-lose diets to worldwide acceptance of “win-win” diets which are both healthy and environmentally sustainable. What are these unhealthy lose-lose diets? The term is generally used to refer to the modern Western diet, a dietary pattern with high consumption of red meat (including beef, lamb and pork), ultra-processed foods and sugar, as well as low consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes and fish, which are typically consumed by people who are overweight or obese, and who have growing rates of chronic metabolic diseases. So even if people claim to feel better, have less “brain fog”, lower rates of obesity and metabolic disease on diets predominantly based on animal products, such as the ketogenic diet, the environmental impact of such diets are shocking. To use a quote from a conversation I recently had with Dr. Walter Willett, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, and the first author of the Eat Lancet Commission report:”… what kind of world population could our earth support if everyone adopted …. the animal based keto diet. And the response I got was about 200 million people, which means that about 7.2 billion people need to find another planet. If we can only support 200 million people with this almost completely animal source kind of diet, it's just not realistic for the world.” So why is it that so many Americans cling so desperately to their Western diet and their meat-eating habits despite a growing body of research that eating a lot of meat is not only bad for our bodies, but for the environment? One answer to this question has to do with the image that society, with the help of the advertisement industry, has attached to eating a meat based, protein rich diet as masculine, while eating a…