June 24, 2013

222 Salt – how much is too little? [24 June 2013]

The Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation’s DASH diet for lowering high blood pressure recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. But some organizations like the American Heart Association are pushing for as little as 1,500 mg (half a teaspoon) per day. A recent report questions the benefits and safety of this lower amount.

The report, titled “Sodium Intake in Populations: Assessment of Evidence” by an expert group of the Institute of Medicine for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was published in May 2013. The group looked at new evidence that had been published since the last report in 2005. The new data showed no health benefit in restricting sodium below 2,300 and indications of possible harm. The “possible harm” included increased rate of heart attacks and risk of death. It looks like the Canadians, with their more conservative recommendation, got it right this time.

Previous predictions on benefits of sodium reduction (like the prevention of 14,500 heart attacks each year in Canada that I quoted in my column #022 July 27, 2009) are based solely on salt’s effect on blood pressure. Actual studies of health outcomes found that groups with the lowest salt intake often had worse health outcomes, including higher death rates. Obviously salt plays many important roles other than affecting one’s blood pressure.

Over-restricting salt in seniors is especially dangerous because symptoms of hyponatraemia (low sodium levels) are commonly associated with aging – fatigue, confusion and poor balance – and can easily be overlooked.

Potassium in balance with sodium is more important than just sodium levels – see my columns #129 and #211 for more on potassium.

Hyperinsulinism (high insulin levels) is the underlying cause of metabolic syndrome which includes high blood pressure. See my column #084 Insulin and Blood Pressure (03 Oct 2010). The insulin causes the body to retain sodium and excrete potassium. Normalizing insulin not only prevents type 2 diabetes but also reverses high blood pressure with normal salt consumption.

Additional points not mentioned in the Eagle ad article:

Salt is a nutrient and is essential for life so can't be completely eliminated. There are however sources of sodium other than salt that are not essential (and likely harmful) so should be avoided: sodium benzoate, sodium nitrate, and MSG.

80% of sodium in the typical American diet comes from processed foods; 10% from natural foods; and only 10% added at the table. The best way to reduce sodium would appear to be to reduce processed foods.

Iodine is added to commercial table salt which is believed responsible for the lower rates of hypothyroidism in North America. There is some concern that reducing salt, or switching to the marginally more nutritious sea salts, could lead to more iodine deficiencies. Probably true but it need not be the case. There are other sources of iodine supplementation readily available, either as a liquid supplement or some form of kelp supplement.

To recap, the only benefit to reducing salt is to lower blood pressure. Levels below 2,300 mg have no blood pressure lowering effect. Levels lower than 2,300 can be detrimental to our health.

IOM Report
New York Times article and opinion piece
Health Sciences Institute articles 1 and 2
Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation – DASH diet

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

June 17, 2013

221 Barry Marshall story [17 June 2013]

Barry Marshall won the 2005 Nobel Prize for his discovery that ulcers were caused by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori. In his online autobiography he tells the story of his discovery and the path that led to the Nobel Prize.

One factor favoring his discovery was his general medicine training – he hadn’t been indoctrinated into the gastroenterology specialist dogma (for example that bacteria cannot live in the acidic stomach). Thus he was able to draw logical conclusions from his observations (that H. pylori occurred in all the ulcer patients and in few others). He then went about testing his theory, including infecting himself with the bacteria to see what would happen (he got very sick). By 1984 he was successfully treating ulcer patients with antibiotics and bismuth.

Naturally Marshall was anxious for his discovery to be quickly accepted so that millions of other ulcer patients could also benefit. Instead he became frustrated with the opposition he faced from the medical community. In his words: “I was met with constant criticism that my conclusions were premature and not well supported. When the work was presented, my results were disputed and disbelieved, not on the basis of science but because they simply could not be true.”

Proctor & Gamble, an American pharmaceutical company which made a bismuth drug, came to his rescue and helped Marshall patent and promote his work. Gradually his theory became more accepted and finally in 1994 it became the standard treatment for duodenal and gastric ulcers. The following year he was awarded the Nobel Prize.

Although those 10 years of opposition must have seemed like a long time to Marshall, he was really very fortunate to have such a revolutionary idea accepted so quickly. I wonder how many other health discoveries are being ignored (or worse) because “they simply could not be true” or because there is too much money being made with the status quo.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner. See

June 10, 2013

220 Red Meat & Heart Disease [10 June 2013]

Have you heard about the recent study connecting red meat with heart disease? Briefly the theory holds that carnitine, an amino acid found in red meat, is converted in the intestine to trimethylamine oxide (TMAO) by bacteria found in omnivores (people who regularly eat meat) but not in vegetarians. High blood levels of TMAO had previously been correlated with atherosclerosis, providing a new explanation for red meat as a risk factor for heart disease (besides its content of saturated fat and cholesterol).

Well, don’t swear off steaks just yet. The New York Times article questions whether the association between high TMAO levels and heart disease is cause & effect (i.e. will lowering TMAO reduce your risk?) and concludes “the study does not mean that red meat is entirely bad or that it is best to avoid it entirely…”

Chris Masterjohn, writing for the Weston A. Price Foundation, critiques this study raising other questions and objections:
• a 1999 study showed that beef did not generate significantly more (and often less) TMAO than most other foods including chicken and pork; vegetables such as carrots, cauliflower, peas, and tomatoes; and milk, eggs and bread
• the only foods in the 1999 study which produced significantly more TMAO than beef (up to 100 X higher!) was seafood, which of course is known to lower the risk of heart disease
• the steak eating experiment studied only 5 people – one vegan and 5 omnivores – and the results were too varied to draw any firm conclusions
• numerous studies have shown that carnitine supplementation is beneficial to patients with heart disease
• finally, the whole premise of red meat and heart disease is debatable. Masterson writes “…the balance of epidemiological evidence fails to show an association between fresh, unprocessed red meat and heart disease.”

So don’t give up your steaks yet, at least not based on this study.


original article
"Intestinal microbiota metabolism of l-carnitine, a nutrient in red meat, promotes atherosclerosis" Nat Med. 2013 May;19(5):576-85

New York Times article
Culprit in Heart Disease Goes Beyond Meat’s Fat" New York Times, Gina Kolata, 7 April 2013

Weston A. Price Foundation - critique
Does Carnitine From Red Meat Contribute to Heart Disease Through Intestinal Bacterial Metabolism to TMAO? Chris Masterjohn, 10 April 2013

Mercola.com article - more on the subject
Will Eating Meat Really Increase Your Risk of Heart Disease? 22 April 2013

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

June 3, 2013

219 GMO Myths & Truths [3 June 2013]

I have written about genetically modified organisms before (# 052, 110, 111 & 195). This week I want to share a recent report that I just learned about.

GMO Myths and Truths – An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops is a 123 page report published in June 2012 by a not-for-profit organization called Earth Open Source. The authors have impressive backgrounds. Michael Antoniou is a genetics professor at King’s College London school of Medicine, UK, with 28 years experience in genetic engineering technology and over 40 peer reviewed publications plus several patents in gene expression biotechnology. John Fagan is founder of one of the world’s first GMO testing and certification companies and previously conducted cancer research at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Claire Robinson is an investigative reporter specializing in public health, science and the environment. So these are solid scientists and science writers, not just crackpot environmentalists.

The authors concluded that, contrary to industry promotional claims, GM crops:
• are totally different from natural breeding and pose different risks
• can be toxic, allergenic or less nutritious than natural crops
• are not adequately regulated to ensure safety
• have not increased yield potential
• increase rather than decrease pesticide use
• create serious problems for farmers including herbicide-tolerant “superweeds”, compromised soil quality, and increased disease susceptibility
• are as energy-hungry as other chemically-farmed crops
• cannot solve world hunger but distract from its real causes.

You can read the entire report online at http://earthopensource.org/gmo-myths-truths-reports/
For further discussion of this report and an interview with Thierry Vrain, a former research scientist with Agriculture Canada, see Mercola.com.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.