Thursday, May 28, 2009

Swine flu - a reality check

Now that the swine flu is receding from the front page it is the time to see what can be learned from the experience. The whole episode shows what can happen when panic overtakes fact and well meaning authorities end up fanning rather than dousing the flames.

A look at history is helpful first up. The first link describes the epidemics of flu over the last century. There is a pattern .The 1918 flu claimed 500,000 live sin the USA.The flu of 1957,around 70,000 died in 1967, around 33,800 and in 1976 there was one death from Swine flu in the USA .Unfortunately there were 500 deaths from complications of the vaccine(link 3) which was given to 40million people(unnecessarily in my view). Add to this the small number of deaths from SARS and the Bird flu and you wonder what all the fuss is about.

The term pandemic(link 2) sounds important but actually means presence of a virus in the environment. Level 5 pandemic sound s like a code red when you consider there are only 6 levels. Consider though that Level one means no cases anywhere in humans of a virus. Level 5 means human spread in more than one country in a WHO region . In other words as soon as one person crosses a border with a virus and passes it to one other person ,it is level 5 pandemic. Sounds dramatic but can mean only a handful of cases.

The next issue is how numbers are reported. We saw in one weekend(May 2and 3- link 4)the number of deaths drop from 176 to 16 and the number of cases shrink from 2500 to 443 (the numbers have risen again gradually). Why? Because the powers that be decided to use only figures where swine flu had been confirmed. This is and clearly was quite different to suspected cases. Anyone with a fever and runny nose can be a suspected case .Only those who test positive to H1N1 virus are proved cases.
As at May 27 there were 13000 cases worldwide and 91 deaths. This is not a big number compared to a regular flu and the number of deaths is tiny compared to deaths from each of cancer, heart disease and on the roads in the same time.

Even then whether people who died do so because of or with the virus is questionable This is particularly an issue when those who are already ill with other diseases get a virus(of any kind).

The stockpiling of masks and “antiviral” medication is good for manufacturers of these products but not much use to anyone else. When you read the product information on the two flu drugs you will see they are not a cure. At best they shorten the course of the illness.

The media love a story and to blame them is shooting the messenger.I believe the finger needs to be pointed at officials who like to cry that the sky is falling.This makes them look important and feel like they are doing something. Better still they can claim the credit for saving lives ,which those on public health love to do .( Notice how little is heard of the 500 deaths from vaccine complications in1976)

It is seen as a no lose situation in that even if there is no crisis they can claim that either their actions prevented calamity or well we did the right thing even though there was no danger after all.The problem with this is that after three times calling that the sky is falling( SARS ,Bird Flu and now swine flu) if there ever is a genuine threat will the authorities be seen as chicken little.

Ultimately though the real question is why the panic over any sort of flu. The flu is a virus .Clearly the trend over 90 years has been less deaths each “pandemic”. Yes the flu is an issue for those with compromised immunity but this is the same with regular flu.

As we saw in an earlier blog (April 27) the best defense against flu or infection of any kind is to have a healthy immune system. Important elements are correct nutrition(including supplements if needed) adequate sleep and managing stress. As Louis Pasteur reportedly said later in life "The seed (germ)is nothing, the soil (body) is everything."

Care for your soil(body ) and then you don’t have to worry about flu or the paranoia of health authorities and their sometimes less than helpful interventions. 1 2 3 4

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Food and weight

Its always great when science catches up with reality. Two recent reports from the USA and Australia confirm that people are getting heavier. Furthermore there is an obvious reason for this and yet and to some extent many are in denial.

The first article comes from Australia where the Australian Bureau of Statistics has found 62%of the population to be overweight (BMI 25-30)or obese(BMI >30).One quarter of children were also in these categories .The survey found people underestimated their weights and waistlines.(On the plus side the survey found Aussies to be a happy bunch).Also figures show the rates of childhood obesity static over the last decade.

The second article is a corker. Scientists have demonstrated that the reason that Americans have gotten heavier over the last 30 years is due to …eating more. The study looked to determine the contributions from more food versus less exercise and found that the latter was not a factor as people were exercising about the same.

When you consider that a can of soft drink requires 30 minutes on the bike to burn off the calories it contains this finding should not come as a surprise to anyone. The researchers concluded that for Americans to return to average weights of the 1970s required them to take in 500 less calories per day .This is the equivalent of a hamburger or around one and a half cans of soft drink.

Weight issues polarize opinions. Many who are overweight claim to be happy. That is great Better to be overweight and happy than overweight and miserable In the same way it is not great to be thin and miserable either.

There is no need to be a rakish model or to aspire to a body form that you are not. In addition to this the Body Mass Index(BMI) whilst a useful tool is not the only guide to weight or health. Many athletes will be classed as overweight on BMI due to their muscle mass.

However much like a car that is loaded with more weight than it is designed to carry will not run as well as it could do, the same applies to the body. There are a number of health issues associated with being overweight and these include heart disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer and arthritis to name a few.

There are 8 pillars of DIY health and fuels is one of them. If we don’t put the right fuel in the car it wont run smoothly If we don’t put the right fuel in the body it wont run smoothly either.

The trend to processed and packaged food (including high sugar “low fat” foods) has left many people needing more vitamins minerals essential fatty acids and even protein. The body expresses this a s hunger. As a result people eat more. However if the food provides only calories but no nutrition then we get heaver and remain hungry. Yes, there are emotional issues involved too, they are for another day.

So what is the answer? The answer is simple eat real food, food that was until recently moving around or growing somewhere , food that if not eaten will go off by next week, food that your great great grandparents would recognize as food. Fruit, vegetables, nuts seeds, meat fish and poultry come under this banner. Processed foods in pretty boxes with multiple numbers on the label do not.

When you give your body the fuels it needs in the right amounts then it will run best for you, giving you energy and reducing your chances of getting numerous illnesses. Fuels is one pillar of health-but not the only one, so eating right is not a force field.

Remember also what you eat today will be you tomorrow.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Can reducing your risk of cancer really be this simple ?

In a previous blog (April 24) we saw that despite the spending of billions of dollars, over 50 years, not much headway has been made in reducing the cancer mortality rate. To make real headway we need to turn to genuinely preventing cancer.

If a pill was invented that could reduce your chances of getting cancer by 1/3 there is a fairly strong likelihood you would want to take it. Good news then.

Earlier this year the London based World Cancer Research Fund published findings that 1/3 of all cancers could be prevented by simply eating a healthy diet and doing regular exercise. A healthy diet is one that has fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and fish and is low in red meat, processed and refined foods and bad fats (transfats and some saturated fats).Regular exercise means some form of physical activity for at least 30 minutes at least 4 days a week.

This genuinely is not difficult or beyond reach of virtually anyone. I suspect the reason it may not be applied is that it is too simple and therefore not taken as seriously as new technology or a wonder drug.

Now comes a report (see link) that rates of colon cancer could be reduced by around 20% in women and 30% in men. (The reason for the differences in the sexes is not clear.) This would be achieved by… eating more fruit and vegetables, less red meat regular exercise and keeping alcohol consumption below 3drinks per day for men and 2 for women together with weight reduction to the healthy range.

These are impressive figures. The reductions would be greater than come from screening testing which is expected to prevent 15 % of colon cancers in the UK. This is not a surprise as screening can detect early cancer whereas lifestyle change can prevent cancer forming.

Are lifestyle measures a force field that guarantees you can’t get cancer or other illness? Of course the answer to that is they are not. There are other factors involved too. However the fact that your chances of getting cancer can be reduced by such a large percentage by measures you can easily do yourself at little or no cost would seem to make them no brainers.

Many will say I know all this As the Zen saying goes “To know and not to do is not yet to know.” When you do it you will know it.

And as the global shoemaker says- Just do it.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sweeteners-not so sweet for your health

There is a tendency for things in health to be made far more complicated than they need to be. Coupled with this is the tendency to look for answers in just about every place but the one where it lies. Rather than ask which sweeteners to use (there is a “battle” raging –see link 1) ask should I use sweeteners at all?

Two recent reports focus on sweeteners in food. There has been much debate over the role of high fructose corn syrup in the development of obesity and diabetes. A study at University of California(link 2) showed that consuming beverages with high fructose syrup increased the levels of LDL or bad cholesterol in the blood stream more than those sweetened with glucose thus linking it to an increase in risk of heart disease.

The study was small and preliminary. It seems that it is the amount of fructose, which is the key. Hence eating fruit (which contains fructose) is not a problem. The concentrated form in processed foods is and especially if consumed often.

The other report(link 3) is about stevia the new artificial sweetener derived from a South American shrub. Whilst it is “natural” as against aspartame and saccharin, it is still processed before being used. The FDA has declared it “generally recognized as safe.”
There is some argument as to whether it is linked to cancer or not.

This is, surprisingly, beside the point. The issue with any sweetener artificial or “natural” is that it can lead to obesity. The body associates sweetness with energy (calories.) When they don’t arrive you remain hungry. This is particularly the case with low calorie sweet drinks. Sweet taste with no calories will make people hungry and hence they eat. Sweeteners may also affect our natural gut “good” bacteria.

Here is the thing about any sweetener. There is no need for them. It is much better to have real sugar but just not that much of it. There is no need to drink zero calorie sweet beverages when the best zero calorie beverage is water. The answer to the issue of obesity is not to consume “low calorie” sweetened processed foods. It is to consume “real” food, which will give your body the energy, and nutrients it needs.

You wouldn’t dream of pulling up at the gasoline (petrol) station and deliberately put fuel unsuited to your car into the tank. So why would you put food not suited to your body into yourself. Eat a diet based on real food - food that was until recently moving around or growing somewhere. Food, which will have to be thrown out next week if not eaten. Food, which has no numbers on the label. Food, which your great great grandparents would recognize as food.

When you do this the merits or problems of fructose, corn syrup or stevia becomes irrelevant. You will have the right fuel in your body and your health will be better for it. 1 2 3