By Dr. Mercola
It's easy to regard happiness as something that happens to you, but being happy is a choice that you can actively seek out and attain. You needn't sit by and wait for happiness to come to you; you can go out and grab it virtually whenever you want.
What types of choices lead to happiness? Many of them involve leading a healthy lifestyle, because a healthy body goes hand-in-hand with a healthy mind.
Happy people tend to eat healthier, exercise more, and get better sleep than those who are stressed out or depressed — all habits associated with health.
On the other hand, when you feel happy, you're more likely to actively seek out and follow a healthier lifestyle. Regardless of which comes first, happiness or a healthy lifestyle, striving to be happy can lead to physical changes along with emotional ones.
Lower Blood Pressure, Better Immune Function and Improved Mobility
A review of more than 200 studies found that positive psychological well-being is linked with a lower risk of heart disease as well as lower blood pressure, normal body weight and healthier blood fat profiles.1
Further, among those 60 and over, feelings of happiness and enjoyment were associated with improved mobility and a lower risk of developing a disability over an eight-year period.2
Past research has found that positive emotions — including being happy, lively and calm — appear to play a role in immune function. One study found that when happy people are exposed to cold and flu viruses, they're less likely to get sick and, if they do, exhibit fewer symptoms.3
The association held true regardless of the participants' levels of self-esteem, purpose, extraversion, age, education, body mass or pre-study immunity to the virus, leading the lead researcher to say:4
"We need to take more seriously the possibility that positive emotional style is a major player in disease risk."
23 Happiness Hacks
Do you want to be happier? CNN compiled 25 happiness hacks that are backed by science.5 Incorporate as many of these into your life as you can, and you'll be on your way to a happier, healthier you.
The feel-good effects of exercise are often attributed to endorphins, but anandamide may actually deserve the credit. Anandamideis a neurotransmitter and endocannabinoid produced in your brain that temporarily blocks feelings of pain and depression.
It's a derivative of the Sanskrit word "bliss," and a deficiency is associated with increased anxiety and stress.6
Anandamide levels are known to increase during and following exercise. A recent animal study similarly found that anandamide might be responsible for producing a "runner's high" in mice.
Exercise also boosts levels of potent brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which may help buffer some of the effects of stress. It's even one of the most effective prevention and treatment strategies for depression.
Yoga has been around for about 5,000 years, and while many regard it as just another form of exercise — some even see it as a "fad" — it's really a comprehensive practice that integrates mental, physical, and spiritual elements.
With regards to the latter, yoga can be viewed as a form of meditation that demands your full attention as you move from one asana (yoga position) to another. As you learn new ways of moving and responding to your body and mind, other areas of your life tend to shift and change as well.
In a sense, you not only become more physically flexible, but your mind and approach to life may gain some needed flexibility as well.
Research suggests yoga can have a similar effect to antidepressants and psychotherapy, by influencing neurotransmitters and boosting serotonin. It's known to benefit mild depression and anxiety, too.
- Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens like spinach are rich in folate, which helps your body produce mood-regulating neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine. One 2012 study found people who consumed the most folate had a lower risk of depression than those who ate the least.7
Furthermore, research from the University of Otago found eating fruits and vegetables of any sort (except fruit juice and dried fruit) helped young adults calm their nerves.8 Department of Psychology researcher Tamlin Conner, Ph.D. said:9
"On days when people ate more fruits and vegetables, they reported feeling calmer, happier, and more energetic than they normally did."
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is designed to help you deal more effectively with situations that fill you with anxiety. It teaches you to recognize and reverse harmful thought patters and replace them with positive ones.
In a systematic review of 11 studies, no statistically significant difference in effectiveness was found between second-generation antidepressants and CBT.10
- Adorn Your Home With Fresh Flowers
- Think Happy and Smile
Simply thinking about a positive event, and smiling as a result, can make you happier and more upbeat (more so than simply fake smiling, which is actually linked to worsened mood).
A genuine smile includes the facial muscles around your eyes, and can actually prompt brain changes linked to increased mood.
- Light Therapy
Full-spectrum light therapy is often recommended over antidepressants for the treatment of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but according to recent research, light therapy may be preferable even for major depression.12
Light therapy alone and placebo were both more effective than Prozac for the treatment of moderate to severe depression in the eight-week study. Blue light has been found to be particularly beneficial for boosting your mood, as it plays a key role in your brain's ability to process emotions.
- Open Your Shades
If you don't have a light box, at least open your shades and let the sunshine in. A brighter living or work area will help to boost your mood.
- Go Outside
Exposure to bright outdoor light is crucial for a positive mood, in part because regular exposure to sunlight will helps to enhance your mood and energy through the release of endorphins.13
- Eat Mushrooms
Mushrooms are certainly a wonderful medicinal food and many varieties are rich in the antioxidant selenium, low levels of which have been linked to anxiety.
Mushrooms are also one of the better food sources of vitamin D, which supports healthy mood (however, your best option to optimize your vitamin D levels is regular sun exposure or use of a high-quality tanning bed; if that's not possible, a vitamin D3 supplement may be necessary).
Meditation is an underutilized tool to optimize mental health. Not only is it helpful for stress relief and gaining greater self-awareness, but it has also been shown to alter the structures of your brain for the better, including reducing activity in the "me" centers of your brain.
Meditation is also linked to decreased anxiety and depression and improved psychological well-being.16 Mindfulness meditation has also been shown to increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus and brain areas involved in the regulation of emotions and self-referential thought processes.17
- Smell Oranges or Orange Essential Oil
Sweet orange oil has been found to have anxiety-inhibiting effects in humans, supporting its common use as a tranquilizer by aromatherapists.18 Ambient odors of orange (and lavender) also reduced anxiety and improved mood in patients waiting for dental treatment.19
Compared to the controls, women who were exposed to orange odor in a dental office had a lower level of anxiety, a more positive mood, and a higher level of calmness. Researchers concluded, "exposure to ambient odor of orange has a relaxant effect."20
- Play With Your Pet
Couples who own pets are less stressed by conflicts and recover quicker when conflicts occur. Pet-owning couples also report more signs of happiness and sociability than non pet-owning couples.21 Elderly dog owners also report being more satisfied with their social, physical and emotional states.22
- Recharge With a Microbreak
Taking a few minutes to watch a funny video online, go for a quick walk or have an uplifting chat with a coworker may leave you feeling happier, more upbeat and more energetic.
- Eat Turmeric
Curcumin, the pigment that gives the spice turmeric its yellow-orange color, is thought to be the primary component responsible for many of its medicinal effects. Among them, curcumin has neuroprotective properties and may enhance mood and possibly help with depression.
- Listen to Music
Music triggers activity in the nucleus accumbens, a part of your brain that releases the feel-good chemical dopamine and is involved in forming expectations. One study found listening to music even resulted in less anxiety and lower cortisol levels among patients about to undergo surgery than did taking anti-anxiety drugs.23
The sacculus, a tiny organ in your inner ear, responds to frequency notes associated with singing. In turn, the sacculus is connected to pleasure-inducing areas of your brain, leading researchers from the University of Manchester to conclude that we may be hard-wired to derive pleasure from singing.24
- Eat Dark Chocolate
Like exercise, chocolate may trigger your brain to produce the "bliss compound" anandamide. It also contains other chemicals that prolong the "feel-good" aspects of anandamide.
Chocolate has even been referred to as "the new anti-anxiety drug." One study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology also revealed that drinking an antioxidant-rich chocolate drink equal to about 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate daily felt calmer than those who did not.25
- Drink Organic Black Coffee
Coffee appears to affect a number of neurotransmitters related to mood control, so drinking a morning cup could have an effect on your general sense of wellbeing. Research has shown that coffee triggers a mechanism in your brain that releases BDNF, which activates your brain stem cells to convert into new neurons, thereby improving your brain health
Interestingly enough, research also suggests that low BDNF levels may play a significant role in depression and that increasing neurogenesis has an antidepressant effect. One Harvard study even found women who drink four or more cups of coffee a day have a 20 percent lower risk of depression than those who drank little or none.26
- Drink Green Tea
Green tea contains theanine, an amino acid that crosses the blood-brain barrier and has psychoactive properties. Theanine increases levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), serotonin, dopamine, and alpha wave activity, and may reduce mental and physical stress and produce feelings of relaxation.27
- Get or Give a Hug
Hugging is known to lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol. Hugging also activates the orbitofrontal cortex in your brain, which is linked to feelings of reward and compassion.28
- Eat Avocados
Avocados provide close to 20 essential health-boosting nutrients, including potassium, vitamin E, B-vitamins, and folate, and, according to research published in the Nutrition Journal, eating just one-half of a fresh avocado with lunch may satiate you if you're overweight, which will help prevent unnecessary snacking later.29
Those who ate half an avocado with their standard lunch reported being 40 percent less hungry three hours after their meal, and 28 percent less hungry at the five-hour mark compared to those who did not eat avocado for lunch. The study also found that avocados appear helpful for regulating blood sugar levels. This combination of satiety and blood-sugar regulation can help keep your mood steady, even in times of stress.
- Eat More Omega-3 Fats, Found in Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon
One study in Brain Behavior and Immunity showed a dramatic 20 percent reduction in anxiety among medical students taking omega-3,30 while past research has shown omega-3 fats work just as well as antidepressants in preventing the signs of depression, but without any of the side effects.
I'd also add one more important mood booster, which is optimizing your gut health with fermented foods. Fermented foods, including fermented vegetables, are one of the best sources of probiotics there is. Certain probiotics are now being referred to as psychobiotics, or "bacteria for your brain," and are being used to successfully treat depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric problems.
In one recent study, a multispecies probiotic supplement taken for four weeks reduced cognitive reactivity to sad mood, which is a strong marker for depression (the more a person reacts to sad mood with dysfunctional thoughts, the more prone they are to a depressive episode).31 So if you want to be happy, be sure your diet is rich in traditionally fermented foods.
Even better, get together with friends and family to make a big batch together; you'll get the benefit of healthy foods together with the mood-boosting benefits of positive social interactions. It doesn't get much better than that!
Happiness Is Good for Your Health
9 Secrets of Highly Happy Children
By Dr. Mercola
Statin cholesterol-lowering drugs are widely touted as the best way to lower your cholesterol and thereby prevent a heart attack. They’re recommended to people who have “high cholesterol,” those who have heart disease, and even for some healthy people as a form of preventive medicine.
Statins are among the most widely prescribed drugs on the market, with more than 1 in 4 Americans over 45 taking them. This already inflated number is set to increase significantly due to draft recommendations issued earlier this year by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).
This federal advisory board recommended statin treatment for people between the ages of 40 and 75 with a 10 percent or greater risk of heart problems in the next 10 years (based on the 2013 AHA-ACC online calculator1) — even if they have not had a previous heart attack or stroke.
Needless to say, if you’re a U.S. adult aged 40 or beyond, there’s a good chance your doctor may bring up statins at your next visit, so you need to do your homework to determine if these drugs are truly right for you — and there’s a good chance they’re not.
5 Reasons Why You Should Not Take Statins
- They Don’t Work
Statin drugs work to lower cholesterol, and as your levels fall, you may assume that is proof that you’re getting healthier and lowering your risk of heart disease and heart attack. But that would be far from the truth.
There is far more that goes into your risk of heart disease than your cholesterol levels. Further, there is evidence showing that statins may actually make your heart health worse and only appear effective due to statistical deception.
One report published in the Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology concluded that statin advocates used a statistical tool called relative risk reduction (RRR) to amplify statins’ trivial beneficial effects.2
If you look at absolute risk, statin drugs benefit just 1 percent of the population. This means that out of 100 people treated with the drugs, one person will have one less heart attack. This doesn’t sound so impressive, so statin supporters use a different statistic called relative risk.
Just by making this statistical sleight of hand, statins suddenly become beneficial for 30 to 50 percent of the population. As STATS at George Mason University explained, “An important feature of relative risk is that it tells you nothing about the actual risk."3
- Statins Reduce CoQ10
Statins deplete your body of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), which accounts for many of their devastating results. Although it was proposed to add a black box warning to statins stating this, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided against it in 2014.
CoQ10 is used for energy production by every cell in your body, and is therefore vital for good health, high energy levels, longevity, and general quality of life. CoQ10’s reduced form, ubiquinol, is a critical component of cellular respiration and production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
ATP is a coenzyme used as an energy carrier in every cell of your body. When you consider that your heart is the most energy-demanding organ in your body, you can surmise how potentially devastating it can be to deplete your body's main source of cellular energy.
So while one of statins' claims to fame is warding off heart disease, you're actually increasing your risk when you deplete your body of CoQ10. The depletion of CoQ10 caused by the drug is why statins can increase your risk of acute heart failure.
So if you're taking a statin drug, you MUST take Coenzyme Q10 as a supplement. If you're over 40, I would strongly recommend taking ubiquinol instead of CoQ10, as it's far more effectively absorbed by your body.
In every study conducted so far, ubiquinol has been shown to be far more bioavailable than the non-reduced form (CoQ10). Dr. Steven Sinatra,cardiologist and founder of the New England Heart Center, recommends taking at least 100 milligrams (mg), but preferably 200 mg of high-quality CoQ10 or ubiquinol daily.
One study in the European Journal of Pharmacology showed that ubiquinol effectively rescued cells from the damage caused by the statin drug simvastatin, thereby protecting muscle cells from myopathies.4
The other part most people don't realize is that CoQ10 and ubiquinol are lipid-soluble materials biosynthesized in your blood. The carrier is the blood lipid cholesterol.
The ubiquinol actually keeps your LDL (often referred to as the "bad" cholesterol) reduced, as it's an exceptionally potent antioxidant.
Reduced LDL cholesterol isn't bad cholesterol at all. Only the oxidized version will cause a problem. So by reducing CoQ10 production in your body, you're also removing the mechanism that keeps your LDL cholesterol from doing harm in your body.
- Statins Reduce Vitamin K2
A new finding was published in March 2015, and it is not yet widely known.
Research published in Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology revealed that, in contrast to the current belief that cholesterol reduction with statins decreases atherosclerosis, the drugs may instead actually stimulate atherosclerosis and heart failure.5
There were several physiological mechanisms discussed in the study that show how statin drugs may make your heart health worse, one being that they inhibit the synthesis of vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 protects your arteries from calcification. Without it, plaque levels worsen.
Vitamin K2’s biological role is to help move calcium into the proper areas in your body, such as your bones and teeth. It also plays a role in removing calcium from areas where it shouldn't be, such as in your arteries and soft tissues.
According to a 2009 Dutch study, vitamin K2 is associated with reduced vascular calcification even at small dietary intakes.6
Statin drugs inhibit the function of vitamin K2 in your body, which means taking them may put you at risk of vitamin K2 deficiency, a condition known to contribute to a number of chronic diseases, including:
Osteoporosis Heart disease Heart attack and stroke Inappropriate calcification, from heel spurs to kidney stones Brain disease Cancer
- Statins Reduce Ketone Production
Statins lower cholesterol by inhibiting the enzyme in your liver that produces cholesterol (HMG coenzyme A reductase). Unfortunately this is the same enzyme that produces not only CoQ10 but also ketones, which are crucial nutrients to feed your mitochondria.
Ketones are vitally important biological signaling molecules. There are three ketone bodies, acetoacetate, beta hydroxybutyrate, and acetone.
“Ketone bodies are emerging as crucial regulators of metabolic health and longevity, via their ability to regulate HDAC [histone deacetylases] activity and thereby epigenetic gene regulation.”
Ketone bodies appear to inhibit HDAC function, which is implicated in the regulation of aging. Further, researchers noted “ketone bodies may link environmental cues such as diet to the regulation of aging.”9
- Increased Risk of Serious Diseases
Because statins deplete your body of CoQ10, inhibit synthesis of vitamin K2, and reduce the production of ketone bodies, they increase your risk of other serious diseases. This includes:
Research has shown that long-term statin use (10 years or longer) more than doubles women's risk of two major types of breast cancer: invasive ductal carcinoma and invasive lobular carcinoma.10 According to Dr. Sinatra, statins block the squalene pathway (squalene is the precursor to cholesterol), which he believes is essential in preventing breast cancer.
In addition, the use of any statin drug, in any amount, was associated with a significantly increased risk for prostate cancer in a separate study, and there was an increasing risk that came along with an increasing cumulative dose.11
According to a letter to the editor published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology:12
“Several cholesterol-lowering drugs, including statins, have been found to be carcinogenic in rodents in doses that produce blood concentrations of the drugs similar to those attained in treating patients.
In accordance, breast cancer occurred in 12 of 286 women in the treatment group of the CARE (Cholesterol and Recurrent Events) trial, but only in one of 290 in the placebo group … In the PROSPER (Prospective Study of Pravastatin in the Elderly at Risk) trial, cancer occurred in 245 of 2,891 patients in the treatment group, but only in 199 of 2,913 in the placebo group …
In the SEAS (Simvastatin and Ezetimibe in Aortic Stenosis) trial, cancer occurred in 39 of 944 patients in the treatment group, but only in 23 of 929 in the placebo group …
In the two first simvastatin trials, nonmelanoma skin cancer was seen more often as well, and with statistical significance if the results are calculated together … The latter finding may explain the current so-called epidemic of nonmelanoma skin cancer.”
Statins have also been shown to increase your risk of diabetes via a number of different mechanisms. The most important one is that they increase insulin resistance, which can be extremely harmful to your health. Secondly, statins increase your diabetes risk by raising your blood sugar. Statins work by preventing your liver from making cholesterol.
As a result, your liver returns the sugar to your bloodstream, which raises your blood sugar levels. These drugs also rob your body of certain valuable nutrients, which can also impact your blood sugar levels. Two nutrients in particular, vitamin D and CoQ10, are both needed to maintain ideal blood glucose levels. A 2011 meta-analysis confirmed the higher the dosage of statin drugs being taken, the greater the diabetes risk.
The "number needed to harm" for intensive-dose statin therapy was 498 for new-onset diabetes — that's the number of people who need to take the drug in order for one person to develop diabetes.13 In even simpler terms, 1 out of every 498 people who are on a high-dose statin regimen will develop diabetes.
The following scientific reviews also reached the conclusion that statin use is associated with increased incidence of new-onset diabetes:
- A 2010 meta-analysis of 13 statin trials, consisting of 91,140 participants, found that statin therapy was associated with a 9 percent increased risk for incident diabetes.14 Here, the number needed to harm was 255 over four years, meaning for every 255 people on the drug, one developed diabetes as a result of the drug in that period of time.
- In a 2009 study, statin use was associated with a rise of fasting plasma glucose in patients with and without diabetes, independently of other factors such as age, and use of aspirin, β-blockers, or angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors.15
The study included data from more than 345,400 patients over a period of two years. On average, statins increased fasting plasma glucose in non-diabetic statin users by 7 mg/dL, and in diabetics, statins increased glucose levels by 39 mg/dL.
Cholesterol is also essential for your brain, which contains about 25 percent of the cholesterol in your body. It is critical for synapse formation, i.e. the connections between your neurons, which allow you to think, learn new things, and form memories. So perhaps it’s not surprising that memory loss is widely reported in association with statin use.
Further, remember that statins reduce ketone production. Ketone bodies are used as fuel by your brain, and they have also demonstrated the capacity to protect against neuronal disease, seizures, and age-related brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and Parkinson's. Researchers from Penn State College of Medicine even found statins were associated with an increased Parkinson’s risk.16
High total cholesterol and LDL were also associated with a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease. The study concluded, “Statin use may be associated with a higher PD [Parkinson’s disease] risk, whereas higher total cholesterol may be associated with lower risk.”
Statin users are more likely to suffer from musculoskeletal conditions, injuries and pain than non-users.17 Myalgia, muscle weakness, muscle cramps, rhabdomyolysis, autoimmune muscle disease, and tendinous diseases have all been reported in association with statin use.
One reason for this may be statins’ interference with selenium-containing proteins. Selenoproteins such as glutathione peroxidase are crucial for preventing oxidative damage in your muscle tissue. As reported by Wellness Resources:18
“Blocking the selenoprotein enzyme glutathione peroxidase is akin to pouring gasoline on the fire of inflammation and free radicals, which damages muscle tissue. In fact, the scientists described this blocking of the selenoproteins reminiscent of selenium deficiency induced heart failure, known as Keshan’s disease first identified in the 1930s.”
Further, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine:19
“ … [S]tatin use is associated with an increased likelihood of diagnoses of musculoskeletal conditions, arthropathies, and injuries … Several factors may explain the musculoskeletal AEs [adverse events] of statin therapy, including the inhibitory effect on coenzyme Q10 synthesis, selenoprotein synthesis, and the mitochondrial respiratory chain.
In addition, in vitro studies indicated that statins may affect apoptosis genes; misregulation of apoptosis is associated with myopathy. Pathologic studies also have shown that statin use may be associated with myopathy in the presence of normal creatine kinase levels, even in the absence of symptoms.
Statin-associated necrotizing autoimmune myopathy was noted to persist or progress despite cessation of statin therapy.”
An objective review of PubMed, EMBASE, and Cochrane review databases found that for every 10,000 people taking a statin, there were 307 extra patients with cataracts.20 This was supported by a separate JAMA study, which further revealed that the risk of cataracts is increased among statin users compared with non-users.21 Cataract is a clouding of your eye lens and is a main cause of low vision among the elderly.
If You Take Statins, Be Sure You Also Take Vitamin K2 and CoQ10
If you decide to take a statin, a vitamin K2 supplement is highly recommended. MK-7 is the form you'll want to look for in supplements; it’s extracted from the Japanese fermented soy product called natto. Professor Cees Vermeer, one of the world’s top vitamin K2 researchers, recommends between 45 mcg and 185 mcg daily for adults.
You must use caution on the higher doses if you take anticoagulants, but if you are generally healthy and not on these types of medications, I suggest 150 mcg daily. You’ll also need to make sure you take CoQ10 or ubiquinol (the reduced form) with it. One study evaluated the benefits of CoQ10 and selenium supplementation for patients with statin-associated myopathy.22
Compared to those given a placebo, the treatment group experienced significantly less pain, decreased muscle weakness and cramps, and less fatigue.
How to Protect Your Heart Health
Are you looking for a non-drug way to boost your heart health? Here are some of my top recommendations:
- Reduce, with the plan of eliminating, grains and sugars in your diet. It is vitally important to eliminate gluten-containing grains and sugars, especially fructose.
- Consume a good portion of your food raw.
- Make sure you are getting plenty of high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fats, such as krill oil. Research suggests that as little as 500 mg of krill per day may improve your total cholesterol and triglycerides and will likely increase your HDL cholesterol.
- Replace harmful vegetable oils and synthetic trans fats with healthy fats, such as olive oil, butter and coconut oil (remember olive oil should be used cold only; use coconut oil for cooking and baking).
- Include fermented foods in your daily diet. These will not only optimize your intestinal microflora, which will boost your overall immunity, but will also introduce beneficial bacteria into your mouth. Poor oral health is another powerful indicator of increased heart disease risk.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels, ideally through appropriate sun exposure as this will allow your body to also create vitamin D sulfate — another factor that may play a crucial role in preventing the formation of arterial plaque.
- Exercise regularly. Make sure you incorporate high-intensity interval exercises, which also optimize your human growth hormone (HGH) production.
- Stop smoking and drinking alcohol excessively.
- Be sure to get plenty of high-quality, restorative sleep.
- Practice regular stress-management techniques.
New Recommendation for Adults Turning 40: Preventive Statin Use
Statin Use Inhibits Vitamin K2
By Dr. Mercola
On January 7, 2016, the U.S. government released its 2015 to 2020 dietary guidelines 1,2,3,4,5 many of which are steps in the right direction. Perhaps one of the most promising changes is a shift away from focusing on specific nutrients toward a general focus on eating real food.
My main objections are that they still do not consider the hazards of eating too many non-fiber carbs, which can exacerbate insulin and leptin resistance. And they still inaccurately accuse saturated fats of promoting heart disease.
On the upside, they do suggest reducing processed grains overall. The following graph, created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture,6 shows the discrepancies between the 2015-2020 dietary recommendations and what Americans actually consume, comparing statistics from 1970 and 2013.7
Beneficial Changes in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines
Among the beneficial changes brought forth in the 2015 dietary guidelines for Americans, we have:
- New sugar limit: For the first time, the guidelines recommend limiting added sugars to a maximum of 10 percent of your daily calories. Based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, that would equate to about 50 grams of sugar per day, which is still too high if you’re insulin-resistant or diabetic.
I recommend limiting your total fructose intake to 25 grams per day for optimal health, and as low as 15 grams a day if you’re insulin resistant or diabetic.
- Artificial sweeteners should not be used for weight loss. While they say artificial sweeteners such as aspartame are probably OK in moderation, they should not be promoted for weight loss.
This recommendation reflects the overwhelming amount of evidence showing that artificial sweeteners in fact tend to promote weight gain, and have been shown to worsen insulin resistance and metabolic disorders to a greater degree than refined sugar.
- Moderate protein consumption. The new guidelines note that men in particular, tend to eat too much protein.
The guidelines do not go so far as to suggest a limit, however, although it does specify eating 8 ounces of seafood per week which, besides protein, is a source of healthy omega-3 fat.
Nor does it strictly warn against eating processed meats, even though it mentions processed meats have been associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
For reasons detailed in my previous article, “The Very Real Risks of Consuming Too Much Protein,” I recommend limiting your protein to about one-half gram of high-quality, organic, pastured/grass-fed protein per pound of lean body mass, which for most would be 40 to 70 grams a day.
Eating more high-fat/low-mercury fish in lieu of red meat is one great way to reduce your protein consumption, as fish is far lower in protein than meat. As for processed meats, they have far more risks than benefits, and are best avoided as much as possible.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a part of the World Health Organization, has actually classified processed meats as a Group 1 carcinogen, as the evidence strongly shows it can cause colorectal cancer in humans.
- Eat more veggies. The guidelines recommend eating 2.5 cups of a wide variety of vegetables. In my view, you can’t really overdo it when it comes to vegetables, as they’re very low in calories, and supply much needed fiber and prebiotics that nourish beneficial gut bacteria.
Good News: Limit on Dietary Cholesterol Has Been Removed
For the past four decades, the U.S. government has warned that eating cholesterol-rich foods, such as eggs, would raise LDL cholesterol in your bloodstream and promote heart disease. Alas, decades’ worth of research has utterly failed to demonstrate this correlation.
Now, finally, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has addressed this scientific vacuum, announcing that “cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”8
In the past, the guidelines suggested a limit of 300 milligrams (mg) per day; the equivalent of about two eggs. Now, the limit on dietary cholesterol has been removed entirely. This is good news, since dietary cholesterol is actually one of the most important molecules in your body.
Cholesterol plays an important role in brain health and memory formation, and is indispensable for the building of cells and the production of stress and sex hormones, as well as vitamin D. (When sunlight strikes your bare skin, the cholesterol in your skin is converted into vitamin D.)
Eggs are a healthy source of cholesterol, provided you buy high-quality eggs, meaning organic and pasture raised. The Cornucopia Institute has created an egg scorecard,9 based on 28 organic criteria, to help you select eggs of the highest quality possible.
Bad News: Saturated Fat Myth Remains
Unfortunately, they still do not retract their previous misinformation and do not tell the truth about saturated fat. Insisting that it raises LDL, while ignoring that it only raises safe fluffy LDL particles, they still omit the very important fact that it actually increases HDL.
This is surprising, considering all the evidence. For example, a 2014 meta-analysis10 published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (which included data from 76 studies and more than a half-million people) found that those who consume higher amounts of saturated fat have no more heart disease than those who consume less.
Moreover, those who ate higher amounts of unsaturated fat, including both (healthy) olive oil and (unhealthy) corn oil — both of which are recommended over saturated fats — did NOT have lower incidence of heart disease.
Another meta-analysis11 published in the British Medical Journal last year also failed to find an association between high levels of saturated fat in the diet and heart disease. Nor did they find an association between saturated fat consumption and other life-threatening diseases like stroke or type 2 diabetes.
Saturated Fat Recommendations Do Far More Harm Than Good
Despite such findings, the updated dietary guidelines still recommend limiting both trans fats (which are indeed harmful) and saturated fat (which is not) to less than 10 percent of your daily calories. This is a far cry from what most people probably need for optimal health. Saturated fats not only are essential for proper cellular and hormonal function, but also provide a concentrated source of energy in your diet.
If you’re insulin-resistant, which most Americans are, then you’d likely benefit from getting as much as 50 to 80 percent of your daily calories from healthy fats. I personally consume about 75 percent of my diet as healthy fat.
For weight loss, they also recommend sticking to low- and non-fat dairy, which I believe is a serious mistake. Low-fat recommendations do more harm than good across the board, but it may be particularly counterproductive if you’re trying to lose weight. In fact, mounting evidence clearly shows that a high-fat, low-carb diet can be exceptionally effective for weight loss — provided you’re eating the right kinds of fats.
For example, research from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine shows low-carb, high-fat diets promote faster weight loss than a low-fat diet. Low-carb dieters lost 10 pounds in 45 days, while the low-fat dieters needed 70 days to lose the same amount of weight.
Summary of Heart Healthy Diet
To break it down into simple terms, to protect your heart health you need to address your insulin and leptin resistance, which is the result of eating a diet too high in sugars and grains (non-fiber carbs). To safely and effectively reverse insulin and leptin resistance, thereby lowering your heart disease risk, you need to:
- Eat REAL food, ideally as close to their natural state as possible. Avoid processed foods and other sources of refined sugar and processed fructose, and limit non-fiber carbs to under 50 grams a day.
- Focus your diet on whole foods, ideally organic, and replace the grain carbs with:
- Large amounts of vegetables
- Low-to-moderate amounts of high-quality protein (think organically raised, pastured animals and high-fat/low-mercury fish, such as wild Alaskan salmon, anchovies, and sardines)
- As much high-quality healthy fat as you want (saturated and monounsaturated from animal and tropical oil sources). Sources of healthy fats that you'll want to add to your diet include the following:
Organic seeds Coconuts, and coconut oil (for all types of cooking and baking), MCT Oil Butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk Raw nuts, such as macadamias and pecans Organic pastured egg yolks Avocados Grass-fed meats Palm oil Raw cacao nibs
Flawed Cholesterol Treatment Guidelines Turn Healthy People Into Statin Users
According to the U.S. cholesterol treatment guidelines, issued in 2013, if you answer "yes" to ANY of the following four questions, your treatment protocol calls for a statin drug:
- Do you have heart disease?
- Do you have diabetes? (either type 1 or type 2)
- Is your LDL cholesterol above 190?
- Is your 10-year risk of a heart attack greater than 7.5 percent?
Your 10-year heart attack risk involves the use of a cardiovascular risk calculator,12 which researchers have warned may overestimate your risk by anywhere from 75 to 150 percent13 — effectively turning even very healthy people at low risk for heart problems into candidates for statins. The guideline also does away with the previous recommendation to use the lowest drug dose possible and instead basically focuses all the attention on statin-only treatment and at higher dosages.
While shifting attention to LDL cholesterol rather than total cholesterol is a step in the right direction, the guidelines still ignore the density of the lipoproteins. The division into HDL and LDL is based on how the cholesterol combines with protein particles. LDL and HDL are lipoproteins — fats combined with proteins. Cholesterol is fat-soluble, and blood is mostly water. For it to be transported in your blood, cholesterol needs to be carried by a lipoprotein, which is classified by density.
Large fluffy LDL particles are not harmful. Only small dense LDL particles can potentially be a problem, as they can squeeze through the lining of your arteries. If they oxidize, they can cause damage and inflammation. So, you could potentially have an LDL level of 190, but still be at low risk, if your LDLs are large, and your HDL to total cholesterol ratio is above 24 percent. And remember, saturated fat increases your HDL.
Five Reasons to Avoid Statin Drugs
So, while the dietary guidelines no longer focus on reducing dietary cholesterol to protect your heart, and the cholesterol treatment guidelines have stopped using total cholesterol as a measure of heart disease risk (honing in on elevated LDL cholesterol instead), we’re still far off the mark when it comes down to how to best prevent heart disease.
Refined sugar and processed fructose are in fact the primary drivers of heart disease, so that’s where the focus needs to be; not on driving down your cholesterol with the aid of a statin drug (and/or avoiding healthy saturated fats in your diet). The ONLY subgroup that might benefit from a statin are those born with a genetic defect called familial hypercholesterolemia, as this makes them resistant to traditional measures of normalizing cholesterol.
There are many great reasons why you should NOT take a statin drug unless you have this genetic defect, including but not limited to the following five:
- They don't work as advertised. A 2015 report14 published in the Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology concluded that statin advocates used a statistical tool called relative risk reduction (RRR) to amplify statins’ trivial beneficial effects. If you look at absolute risk, statin drugs benefit just 1 percent of the population. This means that out of 100 people treated with the drugs, one person will have one less heart attack.
- They deplete your body of CoQ10. Statins block HMG coenzyme A reductase in your liver, which is how they reduce cholesterol. But this is also the same enzyme that makes CoQ10, which is an essential mitochondrial nutrient that facilitates ATP production.
- They inhibit the synthesis of vitamin K2 — a vitamin that protects your arteries from calcification.
- They reduce ketone production.15 If you take CoQ10 while on statins you did not solve the problem, as the same enzyme also inhibits your liver’s ability to produce ketones, which are not only water-soluble fat nutrients important for tissue health but also important molecular signaling molecules.
- Because of Nos. 2, 3 and 4 they increase your risk for other serious diseases, including:
- Cancer. Research16 has shown that long-term statin use (10 years or longer) more than doubles women's risk of two major types of breast cancer: invasive ductal carcinoma and invasive lobular carcinoma.
- Diabetes. Statins have been shown to increase your risk of diabetes via a number of different mechanisms, two of which include increasing your insulin resistance, and raising your blood sugar.
- Neurodegenerative diseases
- Musculoskeletal disorders and motor nerve damage. Research17 has shown that statin treatment lasting longer than two years causes “definite damage to peripheral nerves.”
New Class of Cholesterol Drugs May Be Even More Harmful Than Statins
Also beware of a newer class of cholesterol absorption inhibitors called PCSK9 Inhibitors.18 PCSK9 is a protein that works with LDL receptors that regulate LDL in the liver and release LDL cholesterol into the blood. The inhibitors work by blocking that protein and thus having less LDL to circulate in the blood; in clinical trials, these drugs lowered LDLs by about 60 percent.
While these drugs are being touted as the answer for those who cannot tolerate some of the side effects of the other drugs, such as severe muscle pain, trials have already discovered that PCSK9 inhibitors can produce “neurocognitive effects,” with some patients experiencing confusion and attention deficits.19 There’s evidence suggesting these drugs may actually be even more dangerous than statins.
Making Sense of Your Cholesterol Levels, and Assessing Your Heart Disease Risk
Embed this infographic on your website:
Click on the code area and press CTRL + C (for Windows) / CMD + C (for Macintosh) to copy the code.
As a general rule, cholesterol-lowering drugs are not required or prudent for the majority of people — especially if high cholesterol and longevity run in your family. Also keep in mind that your overall cholesterol level says very little about your risk for heart disease.
For more information about cholesterol and what the different levels mean, take a look at the infographic above. As for evaluating your heart disease risk, the following tests will provide you with a far more accurate picture than your total cholesterol or LDL level alone:
HDL / Cholesterol ratio HDL percentage is a very potent heart disease risk factor. Just divide your HDL level by your total cholesterol. That percentage should ideally be above 24 percent Triglyceride/HDL ratio You can also do the same thing with your triglycerides and HDL ratio. That percentage should be below 2 NMR LipoProfile Large LDL particles are not harmful. Only small dense LDL particles can potentially be a problem, as they can squeeze through the lining of your arteries. If they oxidize, they can cause damage and inflammation.
Some groups, such as the National Lipid Association, are now starting to shift the focus toward LDL particle number instead of total and LDL cholesterol, in order to better assess your heart disease risk. Once you know your particle size numbers, you and your doctor can develop a more customized program to help manage your risk
Your fasting insulin level Any meal or snack high in carbohydrates like fructose and refined grains generates a rapid rise in blood glucose and then insulin to compensate for the rise in blood sugar.
The insulin released from eating too many carbs promotes fat accumulation and makes it more difficult for your body to shed excess weight. Excess fat, particularly around your belly, is one of the major contributors to heart disease
Your fasting blood sugar level Studies have shown that people with a fasting blood sugar level of 100 to 125 mg/dl had a nearly 300 percent increase higher risk of having coronary heart disease than people with a level below 79 mg/dl Your iron level Iron can be a very potent oxidative stress, so if you have excess iron levels you can damage your blood vessels and increase your risk of heart disease. Ideally, you should monitor your ferritin levels and make sure they are not much above 80 ng/ml.
The simplest way to lower them if they are elevated is to donate your blood. If that is not possible you can have a therapeutic phlebotomy and that will effectively eliminate the excess iron from your body
How to Lower Your Risk for Heart Disease Without Drugs
Heart disease is predominantly the end result of unhealthy lifestyle choices, and cholesterol-lowering medications are far from being magic bullets to lower your risk of dying from heart disease — especially when you consider that your body needs cholesterol for optimal functioning.
In a nutshell, preventing cardiovascular disease involves reducing chronic inflammation in your body. Proper diet, exercise, sun exposure, and grounding to the earth are cornerstones of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. For more details on how to naturally reduce your risk of heart disease, please review the following 10 heart-healthy strategies:
Eat REAL FOOD. Replace processed foods (which are loaded with refined sugar and carbs, processed fructose, and trans fat — all of which promote heart disease) with whole, unprocessed or minimally processed foods, ideally organic, and/or locally grown. Avoid meats and other animal products such as dairy and eggs sourced from animals raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Instead, opt for grass-fed, pastured varieties, raised according to organic standards. Limit your protein intake to one half gram of protein for every pound of lean body mass which is about 40 to 70 grams for most people. Eliminate no-fat and low-fat foods, and increase consumption of healthy fats. Those with insulin resistance would likely benefit from consuming 50 to 85 percent of their daily calories from healthy saturated fats, such as avocados, butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk, raw dairy, organic pastured egg yolks, coconuts and coconut oil, unheated organic nut oils, raw nuts, and grass-fed meats.
No- or low-fat foods are usually processed foods that are high in sugar, which raises your small, dense LDL particles.
Balancing your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is also key for heart health, as these fatty acids help build the cells in your arteries that make the prostacyclin that keeps your blood flowing smoothly.
Omega-3 deficiency can cause or contribute to very serious health problems, both mental and physical, and may be a significant underlying factor of up to 96,000 premature deaths each year. For more information about omega-3s and the best sources of this fat, please review this previous article.
You also need the appropriate ratios of calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium, and all of these are generally abundant in a whole food diet. To get more fresh vegetables into your diet, consider juicing. Optimize your vitamin D level. Some researchers, like Dr. Stephanie Seneff, believe optimizing your vitamin D level through regular sun exposure, opposed to taking an oral supplement, may be key to optimizing your heart health. If you do opt for a supplement, you also increase your need for vitamin K2. Optimize your gut health. Regularly eating fermented foods, such as fermented vegetables, will help reseed your gut with beneficial bacteria that may play an important role in preventing heart disease and countless other health problems. Quit smoking and reduce your alcohol consumption. Exercise regularly. Exercise is actually one of the safest, most effective ways to prevent and treat heart disease. In 2013, researchers at Harvard and Stanford reviewed 305 randomized controlled trials, concluding there were "no statistically detectable differences" between physical activity and medications for heart disease.
High-intensity interval training, which requires but a fraction of the time compared to conventional cardio, has been shown to be especially effective. Exercise is one of the most important stimulants of mitochondrial biogenesis.
Pay attention to your oral health. There's convincing evidence linking the state of your teeth and gums to a variety of health issues, including heart disease. In one 2010 study,20 those with the worst oral hygiene increased their risk of developing heart disease by 70 percent, compared to those who brush their teeth twice a day. Avoid statins, as the side effects of these drugs are numerous, while the benefits are debatable. If you are taking statins for any reason it is imperative to take Coenzyme Q10. I believe the best is the reduced form called Ubiquinol.
7 Factors to Consider if You’re Told Your Cholesterol Is Too High
5 Lifestyle Changes Could Prevent 80 Percent of Heart Attacks
By Dr. Mercola
Pharmaceutical companies spend billions of dollars to influence, “educate,” and entertain doctors around the world.1
According to ProPublica’s “Dollars for Docs” website, which you can use to find out if your doctor accepts money from the drug industry, 1,630 companies have made payments to more than 681,000 doctors, totaling more than $3.5 billion.2
Drug companies have long tried to influence doctors’ prescribing habits by paying them for research activities, speaking and other “consulting,” or offering gifts of free meals and travel. However, it hasn’t always been possible to find out what gifts your own doctor might be accepting.
The Physician Payments Sunshine Act, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, went into effect in 2013. For the first time, the Act requires drug and medical device makers to collect and disclose any payments of more than $10 made to physicians and teaching hospitals.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is in charge of implementing the Sunshine Act, which it has done via its Open Payments Program. You can easily search the site to find out what (if any) payments your doctor has received, along with the nature of the payments.
Many Doctors Believe They’re Not Affected by Drug Company Freebies
It is the rare physician who has not been given something by a drug company at some point during his or her career. Many physicians have regular contact with the drug industry and its representatives.
One study found physicians began interacting with pharmaceutical reps in medical school and continued at a rate of about four meetings a month.4
A New England Journal of Medicine study also highlighted the prevalence of physician-industry relationships, noting that “most physicians (94 percent) reported some type of relationship with the pharmaceutical industry.”5 This included:
- Receiving food in the workplace (83 percent)
- Receiving drug samples (78 percent)
- Reimbursement for costs associated with professional meetings or continuing medical education (35 percent)
- Payments for consulting, giving lectures, or enrolling patients in trials (28 percent)
Despite these cozy relationships, many physicians believe they’re immune to the effects of free food, free travel, and speaking gigs that essentially amount to free money.
They understand there’s a conflict of interest there, but employ a number of psychological dynamics, including denials and rationalizations, to justify the relationship.
According to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, in order to resolve their state of cognitive dissonance, the physicians:6
- Avoided thinking about the conflict of interest
- Disagreed that industry relationships affected physician behavior
- Denied responsibility for the problem
- Enumerated techniques for remaining impartial
- Reasoned that meetings with detailers were educational and benefited patients
Do Doctors Remain Impartial When Receiving Drug Company Gifts?
It’s possible for a physician to not be swayed by a drug representative’s gifts of free food and travel, but it isn’t likely. Many studies show that even well-intentioned physicians are often influenced by such gifts; if they weren’t, the drug companies would have stopped this practice long ago.
According to one JAMA study:7
“Meetings with pharmaceutical representatives were associated with requests by physicians for adding the drugs to the hospital formulary and changes in prescribing practice.
Drug company-sponsored continuing medical education (CME) preferentially highlighted the sponsor's drug(s) compared with other CME programs.
Attending sponsored CME events and accepting funding for travel or lodging for educational symposia were associated with increased prescription rates of the sponsor's medication.
Attending presentations given by pharmaceutical representative speakers was also associated with nonrational prescribing.”
'Doctors … Respond to Financial Incentives'
Money clearly clouds objectivity. As written in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine:8
“Several studies have shown that financial benefit will make doctors more likely to refer patients for tests, operations, or hospital admission, or to ask that drugs be stocked by a hospital pharmacy.
Caesarean section rates vary dramatically across the world and are higher when women are cared for by private practitioners who are paid for the operation.
Doctors in Britain performed screening examinations on older people when paid to do so — even though most argued that there was no evidence to support such screening.
Dentists in Britain carry out many unnecessary fillings because they are paid much more to fill teeth than to simply clean them. Doctors, in other words, do respond to financial incentives, and it would be surprising if they did not.”
My point is not to call out any individual physician or researcher who is currently receiving income from the industry. In many cases, these individuals truly do not believe the relationship influences their medical advice, research or prescribing habits. And in some cases, the payouts may be justifiable.
I speak from experience because, in fact, I used to be a drug company lecturer. I was hired as a "rising star" shortly after I finished my residency training in 1985 and flew across the U.S. lecturing on estrogen replacement therapy — and receiving handsome checks from the drug companies for doing so.
I stopped more than 20 years ago when I realized the entire approach was a scam. However, there are tens of thousands of U.S. physicians and researchers who have replaced my lecturing role and are currently on Big Pharma's payroll. Now that these payments are being made public, this may begin to change.
Patients Tend to Distrust Doctors Receiving Drug Company Money
Most physicians would rather their patients not know about any kickbacks they’ve received from the drug industry. But now that this has become public information, it may very well prompt some physicians to cut their ties to the industry. In 2012, research showed that accepting gifts from the pharmaceutical industry does have implications for the doctor-patient relationship, and “doing so can undermine trust and affect patients’ intent to adhere to medical recommendations.”9
Not surprisingly, most people surveyed in one study said they would have less trust in their physician if they learned he or she accepted gifts worth more than $100 from the pharmaceutical industry, or went on industry-sponsored trips or sporting events.
One-quarter even said they would be less likely to take a prescribed medication “if their physician had recently accepted a gift in return for listening to a pharmaceutical representative's presentation about that drug.”10
Even Federal Health Officials Are Often on the Drug Industry’s Payroll
It’s bad enough that a private physician may be tempted to prescribe one treatment over another because of a financial tie to its maker. Worse still is when financial interests affect the voting behavior of committee members tasked with making broad policy and public health recommendations.
Research has shown, however, that conflict of interest is rampant among U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee members.
FDA advisory committees are created to help the agency make approval decisions on drugs, and the presence of external experts is supposed to ensure that decisions are unbiased and grounded in sound science. After carefully examining the financial relationships between 1,400 FDA committee members and drug makers, one study showed:11
- On average, 13 percent of the members in any given committee had financial interest in the company whose drug was up for a review by that committee.
- About one-third of financial interests involved consulting for a drug maker; 25 percent involved ownership interest; 14 percent involved serving on an industry advisory board or steering committee
- Committee members with financial ties to the company sponsoring the drug under review voted in favor of approval 63 percent of the time, while members who did not have financial ties had a 52 percent chance of favoring approval
- Committee members who served on a sponsoring firm's advisory board had a whopping 84 percent chance of voting in favor of the drug's approval
- Committee members with financial ties to several competing drug firms did not, on average, show pro-industry bias in their voting behavior
In an Era of Bias, Conflict of Interest and Confusion: Take Control of Your Health
Virtually every measurable index indicates that despite the ever-increasing amounts of money invested, if you live in the U.S., your chance of achieving optimal health through the conventional medical system is getting progressively worse. As just one example, while the U.S. spends more than twice the amount on health care as other developed nations, we rank 49th in life expectancy worldwide — far lower than most other developed nations.
When it comes to your health, you simply cannot accept claims at their face value. Quite often — definitely too frequently for comfort — treatment recommendations are biased in favor of a specific drug simply because people making the decisions stand to profit from it.
Whatever your health problem might be, I strongly recommend digging below the surface using all the resources available to you; including your own commonsense and reason, true independent experts' advice and others' experiences to determine what medical treatment or advice will be best for you.
Ultimately, you are responsible for your and your family's health, so be sure you feel completely comfortable with any related decisions you make. If you're facing a health challenge, choose healthcare practitioners who really understand health at a foundational level, and have extensive experience helping others (and don't be afraid to ask for references and seek corroboration).
I always advise taking control of your health as well, which you can easily do by reviewing my comprehensive nutrition plan that summarizes my 30 years of clinical experience and treating 25,000 patients.
I put this together so you can stay well and avoid having to rely on information that gives the perception of science when it is actually too heavily flawed or manipulated to benefit your health. Most of us live in free enough countries where we still have the ability to take back control of our health — we just need to grab the initiative.
Conflicts of Interest Rampant Among FDA Advisors, Study Shows
How Drug Company Money is Undermining Science
By Dr. Mercola
Genetically engineered (GE) food comes from crops in which genes from one species have been integrated into another species — even between species in which this is biologically impossible in nature. The end result is a gene sequence that would never have occurred naturally.
There are two main types of GE crops:
- Herbicide-tolerant crops: Plants engineered to withstand heavy herbicide spraying without sustaining damage, such as Roundup Ready crops
- Pesticide-producing crops: So-called Bt plants are engineered to produce their own internal pesticide, so that when a bug takes a bite of the plant, it dies
Trying to control genetic changes via artificial modification is a dangerous game. An organism's genome is not static but fluid, and its biological functions are interconnected with its environment and vice versa.
Contrary to what the industry would like you to believe, the process of genetic engineering is imprecise at best, and is riddled with unintended and often unforeseeable consequences.
Of course that is about to change with the new technology, CRISPR-Cas9 that I reviewed last month. Once this technology is implemented, we will need to pay very careful attention to what the researchers are planning.
Genetic Engineering Is Riddled With Unintended Consequences
Viruses are typically used to genetically engineer the genes into a new species. These are known as viral transgenes, and there’s a profound lack of understanding of how this process actually works and what the ultimate ramifications are.
Compared to natural genetic modification (vertical gene transfer), artificial genetic modification is inherently hazardous because it lacks the precision of the natural process, enabling genes to be transferred between species that would never have been otherwise exchanged.
Artificial genetic modification uses horizontal gene transfer, which involves injecting a gene from one species into a completely different and naturally incompatible species, yielding unexpected and often unpredictable results — some of which may pose a hazard to animal and human health.
Approval Does Not Mean GE Crops Have a Proven Safety Record
In 1995, Novartis (which later became Syngenta) received approval to cultivate the GE maize known as Bt1761 in the U.S. It was the first Bt corn commercialized for animal feed. Due to controversies, it never gained much market success and the registration was allowed to lapse in 2001.2
In Europe, it was officially withdrawn from the market in 2007. Last month, Professor Gilles-Eric Séralini published a feeding study on this particular Bt corn, showing it was in fact toxic to cows over the long-term.
Prior to its introduction, Novartis had conducted just one feeding test on four cows for the duration of two weeks.3 One of the animals died one week into the test with electrolyte and mucosal problems. No scientific explanation could be found for the death, and the cow was removed from the protocol.
It’s really important to realize that animal feeding trials are not required to be done prior to the commercial release of a GMO, and if they are done, they’re typically extremely small, and very short in duration, like this one was.
Long-Term Studies Keep Finding Serious Health Problems With GMOs and Associated Chemicals
As an expert for the French government within the Biomolecular Engineering Commission, Séralini had access to the industry dossier on Bt176, and expressed strong objections to and concern over the lack of long-term feeding tests — the kind that have since become Séralini’s own hallmark specialty.
As you may recall, Séralini produced the first-ever lifetime feeding study on rats in 2012. The 2-year-long study evaluated lifelong effects of a Monsanto-produced GE corn that is prevalent in the U.S. food supply.
The rats developed massive breast tumors, kidney and liver damage, and early death. The major onslaught of diseases set in during the 13th month, which in human terms equate to about the age of 43, assuming that the average person lives to the age of 80.
Séralini has also investigated the health effects of glyphosate and Roundup.
In a study4,5 published last year, he found that long-term exposure to ultra-low amounts of Roundup — which is used on both GE and conventional crops in ample amounts — may cause tumors, along with liver and kidney damage in rats.
First GE Corn Shown to Be Toxic to Cows in the Long Term
In 1997, Gottfried Glöckner, an award-winning dairy farmer in Germany, became the first farmer to grow and feed Bt176 corn to his prized Holstein cows. The test continued until 2002.
According to Séralini, this was the longest running and most detailed observation of farm animals ever performed for a GE crop.
Since 1986, when Glöckner took over the farm, he’d had no cases of serious disease on his farm. That all changed once he started feeding his cows Bt176 in 1997. As noted on Séralini’s website:6
“When partial paralysis (paresis) accompanied by great fatigue, and problems in the kidneys and mucosal membranes arose in the animals, followed by death in 10 percent of cases, microbial causes were sought. All kinds of analyses were conducted ...
At this time, the dose of GMO Bt maize, which had been progressively introduced, had reached 40 percent of the diet. By 2002, the farmer had become convinced that Bt maize was the cause of the diseases. He sued Syngenta and had partial compensation for his losses7 ...
After all these court cases ended, Prof. Séralini gained access to veterinary records and to very complete archived data for each cow ... For the first time ever, an analysis of these data has been published8 ... New scientific data on Bt toxins and a thorough study of the records show that this GMO Bt maize is most probably toxic over the long term.
This study reveals once again the urgent need for specific labeling of the identity and quantity of GMOs, especially in food and feed. Long-term testing of GM food and the pesticides they are designed to contain must be carried out and made public. This is now more essential than ever.”
The Higher the GMO Content, the Greater the Health Risks
As Glöckner increased the amount of Bt176 corn in the cows’ feed, gradually going from 2 to 40 percent over the course of two years, the worse his cows fared. At the outset, 70 percent of his cows produced high yields of milk, which is considered normal.
Once the GMO content of the feed reached 40 percent, a mere 40 percent of his cows were high-yielding. In 2000, milk tested positive for the Bt176 DNA specific fragment, which under European law meant the milk had to be labeled as coming from GE-fed animals.
Peak mortality was reached in 2002, when 10 percent of his cows died after suffering a long period of partial paralysis. Thirty percent of the herd was sick with a variety of ailments.
A number of cows were diagnosed with liver disease, mucosa problems, irregular heart function, mammary gland breaks (which is exactly as disturbing as it sounds: the study includes pictures), and general “abnormal behavior” suggesting chronic lack of energy.
As the GMO ratio peaked, fertility also began to drop significantly. Some of the animals tested positive for Chlamydia, but had no visible infection. Overall, kidney function appeared to be the most affected.
Because the farmer introduced new cows to his herd here and there to replace those who had died or were too sick to be milked, the toxic effects may actually be underestimated, as the replacement animals had not previously eaten the GMO feed, and were therefore exposed to it for a much shorter duration.
Indeed, Séralini points out that toxic effects such as these would likely be missed under common conditions on factory farms with high and rapid animal turnover for that very reason. Especially when the feed is not specifically labeled, identifying the type of GMO and precise amount.
Pesticide-Producing Plants May Also Harm Human Health
Like other Bt crops, Bt176 was genetically engineered to produce Bacillus thuringiensis(Bt toxin) — a pesticide that breaks open the stomach of certain insects and kills them. Bt plants are engineered to produce this pesticide internally, so it’s present in every cell of the plant, from root to tip, and cannot be washed off.
Pesticidal crystal proteins Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac, two subspecies of the Bt toxin, were tested on cells from the embryonic kidney cell line 293, looking at specific biomarkers indicating cell death. Concentrations ranged from 10 parts per billion (ppb) up to 100 parts per million (ppm).
Cry1Ab caused cell death starting at 100 ppm. Roundup alone was found to cause necrosis (cell death resulting from acute injury) and apoptosis (cellular “suicide” or self-destruction) starting at 50 ppm, which the researchers noted is “far below agricultural dilutions.”
According to the authors: “In these results, we argue that modified Bt toxins are not inert on nontarget human cells, and that they can present combined side effects with other residues of pesticides specific to GM plants.”
Monsanto and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claimed the Bt toxin produced inside the plant would be completely safe for human consumption because it would be destroyed in the human digestive system. This has been proven false more than once.
Research11 published in 2007 found that antibiotic resistance marker genes from Bt176 maize were able to survive for longer periods in gastric juices taken from patients on anti-acid drug treatment, thereby potentially increasing the risk of antibiotic resistance. According to the authors:
“Our data indicate the possibility that in particular cases the survival time could be so delayed that, as a consequence, some traits of DNA could reach the intestine. In general, this aspect must be considered for vulnerable consumers (people suffering from gastrointestinal diseases related to altered digestive functionality, physiological problems or drug side-effects) in the risk analysis usually referred to healthy subjects.”
Then, in 2011, doctors at Sherbrooke University Hospital in Quebec found Bt-toxin in the blood of 93 percent of pregnant women tested, 80 percent of umbilical blood in their babies, and 67 percent of non-pregnant women.12 It’s quite clear that Bt toxin is not destroyed when passing through your digestive system, and that it can bioaccumulate in your body.
According to one study,13 Bt toxin may produce a wide variety of immune responses, including elevated IgE and IgG antibodies, typically associated with allergies and infections, and an increase in cytokines, associated with allergic and inflammatory responses — conditions that have markedly risen in prevalence since the advent of Bt crops.
Transgenic Bt Crops Promote Resistant Pests and Destroys Soil Biology
One of the selling points and touted benefits of GE crops like Bt cotton and Bt corn is reduced pesticide usage, as the plant itself will kill any bug that chews on it. As with so many other GMO claims, this one cannot stand up to scrutiny. For starters, just like exaggerated herbicide use has led to the rapid development of resistant superweeds, so have Bt plants led to the emergence of resistant pests.
According to The Times of India,14 farmers in Punjab and Haryana are seeing significant losses of their Bt cotton crops to the whitefly. To address the problem, increasing amounts of pesticides have been applied. During an outbreak in 2002 farmers applied so much pesticide to fend off the whiteflies that soil and groundwater are thought to have been affected.
Many now blame the exaggerated use of pesticides on the clustering of cancer cases being detected among those living in India’s cotton belt. Research15 has also shown that Bt crops, just like topical pesticides and herbicides, alter and destroys soil microbiology. According to the authors:
“Our data showed that the cultivation of Bt maize significantly increased the saturated to unsaturated lipid ratios in soils which appeared to negatively affect microbial activity.”
Beware: Bt Toxin Produced by Bt Plants Is Not Counted Toward Total Pesticide Exposure
Last but not least, it’s well worth noting that the Bt toxin produced in these Bt crops are NOT included as part of the total human pesticide exposure. This despite the fact that Bt plants are actually registered with the EPA as a pesticide.16 This also helps explain why Bt plants damage the soil just like topical pesticides do.
Ignoring Bt toxin produced by Bt plants, as if it never were to reach a dinner plate, is a gross misrepresentation of facts and outright fraudulent propaganda. How can they claim reductions in pesticide exposure as a result of Bt plants when every single cell of the plant contains it?
And how can they not include the plants in the pesticide usage data when the plant itself is registered as a pesticide? The failure to count the toxin inside the plant, and only counting the pesticides applied topically, is a significant loophole that makes Bt plants appear to provide a benefit that in reality simply isn’t true.
In reality, Bt exposure has likely increased exponentially with the introduction of Bt plants. Why? Because the plant-produced version of the poison is thousands of times more concentrated than the topical spray, and while topically applied Bt toxin biodegrades in sunlight and can be washed off, the Bt toxin in these GE plants does not degrade, nor can it be removed or cleaned off the food since it’s integrated into every cell of the plant.
Besides that, Bt toxin in GE soy, cotton, and corn has also been exempted from residue tolerance levels by the EPA, so absolutely no one is looking for or paying any attention to the amount of Bt toxin you’re exposed to via the food you eat!
How to Avoid Bt Crops
So, if you want to avoid eating Bt plants, which foods end up on the “buy certified organic” list? The following list shows which Bt crops have received approval for commercialization in which countries as of 2013.17,18 (A Bt poplar tree has also been approved for planting in China.)
Cotton is of course not a food, but is used for cotton clothing. The genetic engineering of cotton is one reason why I recommend buying clothing made with organic cotton.
Bt crop Country Cotton Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Canada, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, European Union (EU), India, Japan, Mexico, Myanmar, New Zealand, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, and United States of America (USA) Eggplant Bangladesh Maize/Corn Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Egypt, El Salvador, EU, Honduras, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Russian Federation, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, USA, and Uruguay Potato (“Atlantic NewLeaf potato”19,20) Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Russian Federation, South Korea, and USA Rice China and Iran Soybean Argentina, Australia, Brazil,21 Canada, China, Colombia, EU, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Paraguay, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, USA, Uruguay Tomato22,23,24 Canada, Chile, and USA
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