July 31, 2017

431 More on Lectins [31 July 2017]

The lectin theory of disease, while new to me, has been around for a few years now. I just bought two more e-books on the topic (Amazon’s “Buy with 1-Click” feature is too handy!) The first is Cure Your Autoimmune and Inflammatory Disease by Gregory Barton, July 2010, which, according to the author, was the only book on the subject at the time. Barton’s book has a more detailed scientific explanation of lectins than Steven Gundry’s The Plant Paradox.

Barton is an environmental and agricultural historian and devotes much of the book to the effect agriculture has had on human health. While recognizing that agriculture was responsible for the development of civilization – including the amazing advances of science – it is also responsible for much of our chronic modern diseases. And vested commercial interests plus our own reluctance to change – particularly when it comes to our food – prevent scientists from investigating dietary cures for disease and the rest of us from implementing them.

Optimistically Barton proposes that with the new knowledge of lectins we can still enjoy our modern lifestyle while avoiding the diseases of civilization. He developed the first low-lectin food list and then cured his own health problems which had started with a nagging backache and progressed from there. Here are the results in his own words: “Within a few weeks I cleared up entirely, 100%. The arthritis went away, the sore muscles disappeared. I began to gain muscle weight again, felt stronger, looked better, and had boundless energy… I was a new man…”

So, if lectins are in almost all our foods, how are any of us still healthy? Well we all have a certain tolerance for low to moderate amounts of lectins. And some of us appear to have a greater tolerance to lectins than others. If we discover foods that we are particularly intolerant (or even allergic) to, we try to avoid them. Too often however we fail to make the connection, keep eating the foods, and take antacid pills for our indigestion, pain relievers for our headaches, massage treatments for our muscle pain, and drugs or supplements for our many autoimmune diseases.

Next week I’ll discuss how lectins affect our health and who could most benefit from a low lectin diet.

By the way, this book is only $1.03 at Amazon.ca for the Kindle edition. Even if you don’t have an e-book reader, you can still read it on your computer.

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

July 24, 2017

430 Lectins [24 July 2017]

Are you eating healthy foods and still can’t lose weight or have a few nagging little (or big) health problems? A recent book called “The Plant Paradox: the Hidden Dangers in Healthy Foods that Cause Disease and Weight Gain” by Steven R. Gundry, MD, might explain why.

The culprit, according to Gundry, is a group of proteins in plants called lectins. These lectins, of which glutens are the most well-known but not the worst, are the plants’ defense against being eaten. They are designed to attack the digestive tract of animals that eat them and make them sick so they will learn not to eat that plant again. The paradox in the title comes from the fact that lectins occur in many of the plant foods that we promote as being healthful for the nutrients they contain – vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and protein. Examples are legumes, nuts, grains, most fruits, nightshades, and squashes.

One of the effects of lectins is to create holes in the gut wall. The wall of our intestines is only one cell thick to facilitate nutrient absorption. These cells, called enterocytes, are bound together by “tight junctions”, separating the contents of the gut from the rest of the body. Lectins release a compound called zenulin which breaks the tight junction bonds, creating what is known as “leaky gut”. These holes allow the lectins, lipo-polysaccharides (tiny particles of bacteria) and partially digested proteins to enter the blood stream. This triggers a strong immune reaction which can lead to auto-immune disease as I have previously described.

Lectins also bind to a sugar called sialic acid in the gut, in joints, blood vessel walls, and between nerve endings, where they promote inflammation and disrupt cell communication (brain fog). Gundry believes that lectins are the root cause of almost all allergies, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes and auto-immune diseases.

So what can we do to protect ourselves from lectins? First Gundry recommends removing all lectin containing foods for a month or more to give the gut a chance to heal (I have the list of foods to avoid and foods that are lectin-free). Then re-introduce the milder lectin foods one at a time. The lectins in beans and some other foods can be neutralized by cooking with a pressure cooker. The worst foods he recommends avoiding completely. Finally, Gundry formulated a lectin-blocking supplement to be taken with meals which binds the lectins before they can do damage.

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

July 17, 2017

429 Confirmation Bias [17 July 2017]

One of the sources for my column last week about saturated fat safety was an article by Gary Staube with the strange title “Vegetable oils, (Francis) Bacon, Bing Crosby, and the American Heart Association”. The article raised an issue I wanted to follow up on – bias in science.

Francis Bacon first articulated the problem of bias in 1620, nearly 400 years ago:
The human understanding, once it has adopted opinions…draws everything else to support and agree with them. And though it may meet a greater number and weight of contrary instances, it will, with great and harmful prejudice, ignore or condemn or exclude them by introducing some distinction, in order that the authority of those earlier assumptions may remain intact and unharmed.

The Bing Crosby connection is the lyrics to his hit song “Accentuate the positive, Eliminate the negative…” which is what we do when sifting information about an issue on which we have a position. It is what lawyers do when arguing for their client in court, but not what scientists should be doing in seeking the truth. And what, Staube argues, the American Heart Association did in selecting the studies to support their now outdated position on saturated fat and heart disease.

Elizabeth Kolbert in a February 2017 article in The New Yorker “Why facts don’t change our minds” describes modern psychological experiments which support what is called “confirmation bias”. We readily believe information that agrees with our thinking and disregard anything to the contrary, spotting weaknesses in our opponents’ arguments but not in our own. Furthermore even when we realize that what we thought is not true we are unable to effectively reverse our first impression.

A classic Peanuts cartoon strip illustrates this perfectly: Lucy and Linus see something on the sidewalk and Lucy says “Look a big yellow butterfly…they fly up from Brazil and they…” Linus interrupts to point out that it’s a potato chip not a butterfly. Lucy looks closer and then exclaims “So it is! I wonder how a potato chip got all the way up here from Brazil?”

Confirmation bias has polarized almost every issue in politics, religion, and health science (and many more). At least part of the solution is to recognize this bias – in ourselves as well as others – and critically examine both sides of issues.

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

July 10, 2017

428 Is Coconut Oil Dangerous? [10 July 2017]

Did you see the headlines last month warning about the dangers of coconut oil? “Coconut oil health claims not all they’re cracked up to be” (CBC News) or “Coconut Oil is Unhealthy according to the AHA” (Huffington Post). These news articles are referring to a June 15, 2017, article in the journal Circulation titled “Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory from the American Heart Association”.

The twelve authors of the Advisory recommend replacing saturated fats – including coconut oil which they specifically warn against – with polyunsaturated vegetable oils, and claim that doing so would lower LDL cholesterol and reduce cardiovascular disease (CVD) by 30%. They based this on what they called “…the totality of the scientific evidence, satisfying rigorous criteria…”

Unfortunately their “rigorous criteria” was fatally biased and their conclusions decades out of date and at odds with modern science. In a rebuttal published in Cardio Brief Gary Taubes explains why:
• They cherry-picked the studies, eliminating most for various reasons, and selected four, all of which supported the saturated fat CVD hypothesis. The problem is these four all date from the 1960s and have more serious flaws than the ones they eliminated.
• Among the eliminated studies are the largest trials ever done on the issue: the Sydney Heart Study, the Minnesota Coronary Survey and the Women’s Health Initiative, and several independent meta-analyses, all of which refute the saturated fat hypothesis of heart disease [see my posts #244, #259 & #261].
• The control diet of the early studies contained significantly higher trans fatty acids and sugar than did the unsaturated group, both of which are known to cause CVD and could account for the reduction in heart disease.
• Coconut oil was not part of any of the studies used and is mentioned only because of its saturated fat, but much of coconut’s saturated fatty acids are beneficial MCTs.
• Polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids, which the study recommends, promotes inflammation which is known to increase heart disease and overall mortality.

So the authors’ conclusions and recommendations are not only unscientific and misleading, but dangerous. It’s almost as if the Canadian Cancer Society warned us about the dangers of exercise and told us to take up smoking instead.

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

July 3, 2017

427 Parasites – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly [3 July 2017]

Last week [#426] I introduced the idea that, like bacteria, some parasites could actually be beneficial to our health. This idea has been around since at least 1999 but this was the first I had heard of it.

Lest I give the impression that all parasites are beneficial, I hasten to add that most are bad news and the few beneficial ones are likely so only in low numbers. The species used in helminthic therapy mentioned last week are non-colonizing in humans, meaning they can’t take up residence and reproduce in our bodies.

Parasites vary in size from microscopic one-celled animals, called protozoa, to tapeworms which can grow to several meters in length. Malaria is the most deadly protozoan parasitic disease, killing about 1 million people worldwide each year. Other parasitic protozoa include Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Toxoplasma, and Trichomonas. Helminths include many species of tapeworms, roundworms and flukes. Other human parasites include microscopic worms, a tiny flea, and the larvae of certain flies.

The effects of parasites vary from mild discomfort, anemia and nutrient deficiencies, to blindness, organ failure and death. Not a very pretty picture!

I carry a few anti-parasitic products, typically containing extracts from wormwood (a variety of sage), clove buds, garlic, black walnut hulls, and a few others. With more serious parasitic infections see your medical doctor. There are two new anti-parasitic drugs: Avermectin, derived from a soil bacteria, that works on worms, and Artemisinin, derived from a species of sage, that treats malaria.

Like most problems, prevention is better than a cure. One good defense against parasites is to maintain a healthy gut biome as I have discussed over the last few months. Follow hygienic practices when handling raw meat. Thoroughly cook meat, especially pork and fish. Wash your hands after handling animals. Wash fruits and vegetables before eating. Avoid drinking untreated surface water. Be particularly vigilant when visiting tropical countries where parasites are more common.

But if you discover that your children have pinworms, don’t panic. Think, “Oh good, my kids have worms”. Then get rid of them (the worms not the kids).

Back to the title – a few parasites may be somewhat good, most are bad (some very bad), but in almost everyone’s eyes they are all ugly.

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