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*May 2004 issue of Dr. Greger's Newsletter*

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  • Michael Greger, M.D.
    ************************************** May 2004 issue of Dr. Michael Greger s Monthly Newsletter *******************************************************
    Message 1 of 1 , May 5, 2004

      May 2004 issue of Dr. Michael Greger's Monthly Newsletter


      CONTENTS (online at http://www.veganmd.org/newsletters.html)

      I. Latest Updates in Human Nutrition
      A. Mercury Contamination in Fish
      B. HIGH Carb Diet for Safe Weight Loss Without Hunger?
      C. Insulin Sensitivity and Vegetarianism
      D. Skim Milk Versus Soy Milk: Head to Head
      E. Iron Status of Young Vegan Women

      II. Mad Cow Disease: Comment deadline extended to May 7th

      III. Personal Update

      IV. MAILBAG: "I heard that a study showed that
      soy didn't prevent breast cancer"



      A. Mercury Contamination in Fish

      Each year in the U.S., up to 600,000 children are
      born at risk for lower intelligence and learning
      problems due to mercury exposure because their
      mothers ate fish. That's the number of children
      the Environmental Protection Agency estimated to
      be at risk in an analysis published last month
      using data from the Centers for Disease Control.
      This is double the Agency's previous estimate.[1]

      This study follows on the heels of the joint
      FDA/EPA advisory in March, which warned young
      children, pregnant and breast-feeding women, or
      even women just planning to get pregnant to
      severely limit the consumption of many types of
      fish like canned tuna, and to stay away from some
      fish completely, like swordfish, mackerel, etc.
      Still, many scientists didn't think the advisory
      went far enough.

      After learning that the FDA was going to
      "disregard" science[2] and allow women to eat a
      whole can of albacore tuna once a week, one
      leading FDA advisory panel expert resigned in
      protest. University of Arizona toxicologist Vas
      Aposhian said the advisory should have put more
      stringent limits on all canned tuna and warned
      women who might get pregnant to avoid albacore
      tuna entirely, claiming that "The new
      recommendations are dangerous to 99 percent of
      pregnant women and their unborn children.[3] "It
      seems that one should be more concerned about the
      health of the future children of this country,"
      he said, "than the albacore tuna industry.".[4]

      The hundreds of thousands of babies born every
      year in the U.S. to the one in six women with
      enough mercury in their blood to put their babies
      at risk suffer most often subtle losses in
      potential. Although mercury can cause irreparable
      damage to the human central nervous system and
      has been found to deform fetuses, more often, "It
      might reduce IQ by a few points," says Dr.
      Michael Gochfeld, chairman of New Jersey's
      mercury task force. "It might reduce motor
      coordination, so that this child is someone we
      think of as a klutz. It might make them

      Studies have shown that children born to mothers
      who ate a lot of fish were slower to talk, walk
      and develop fine motor skills and have weaker
      memories and attention spans. And the brain
      damage is apparently permanent. Follow-up studies
      over a decade later showed that their brains had
      not recovered.

      The tuna industry feels that tuna is being
      unfairly singled out and is quick to point out
      that "almost all ocean fish and seafood naturally
      contain trace levels of mercury."[6] One such
      leading "natural" source is the smoke that pours
      from coal-burning plants across the U.S. And this
      past Earth Day it was the coal and power industry
      executives that were celebrating.

      Lost in Bush's "war on terror" is Bush's war on
      the Clean Air Act. As part of Bush's "Clear Skies
      Initiative," the Bush White House proposed to
      weaken and delay efforts to clean up mercury
      emissions from America's power stations, thus
      saving millions for their corporate campaign
      contributors. The energy industry alone
      contributed $40 million to Republican election
      campaigns, including $1.3 million directly to
      Bush. And they got their money's worth.

      Last December as the EPA signed the first
      proposal ever to cut mercury emissions from coal
      plants, Bush was busy proposing mercury be
      delisted as a toxic air pollutant. The EPA was
      hoping to cut mercury emissions 90% by 2008. Bush
      had a better idea--how about 70% by 2018? Bush's
      plan would also allow coal plants to buy and sell
      pollution credits; in other words, bigger plants
      could buy the right to continue emitting mercury.

      At the same time, Bush is applauding Congress for
      passing the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which
      makes harm to a fetus a federal crime separate
      from harm to the mother. Of course Bush's "Clear
      Skies Initiative" is going to mean harm for both.

      We have until June 29th to make our voices heard.
      Go to http://www.epa.gov/air/mercuryrule/ to
      submit comments to the EPA about their proposed
      Utility Mercury Reductions Rule.

      On a personal level, people can reduce their
      exposure to mercury by not eating fish. In a
      recent public relations blitz, Chicken of the Sea
      International was quick to point out the
      heart-healthy benefits of the omega 3's found in
      fish. Thankfully people don't need to choose
      between mercury poisoning or heart disease.

      For adults, mercury overload from eating fish can
      cause fatigue and memory loss--something we
      clinicians often call "fish fog". Mercury poisons
      the heart and may double one's risk of dying from
      a heart attack. In fact, the mercury
      contamination in fish and fish oil may be so
      extensive that some recent data suggests that it
      may cancel out the benefits of the omega 3's in
      the fish. There are a number of studies, for
      example, showing increased mortality among
      fish-eaters, which we think is from the toxic
      mercury. Thankfully, plant-based sources of omega
      3's provide a safe and healthy alternative.

      Our bodies convert some of the short chain omega
      3's found in flax seeds, for example, into the
      long chain omega 3's found in fish fat, so one
      can choose to get omega 3's packaged with soluble
      fiber and antioxidants in flax, rather than
      getting them packaged with heavy metals and
      carcinogens in fish. I recommend everyone eat 2
      tablespoons of ground flax seeds a day.

      For those who want to take supplemental long
      chain omega 3's directly, but don't want to be
      exposed to the high concentrations of PCBs and
      pesticides in fish oil capsules,[7] there are two
      vegan algae-based contamination-free supplements
      in veggie-caps currently on the market.[8]

      So when a fish-eating woman comes into my office,
      I've really got to just put my hand up and say,
      "Just the flax, maam."


      B. HIGH Carb Diet for Safe Weight Loss Without Hunger?

      Any diet that restricts calorie intake can cause
      people to lose weight. Many fad diets accomplish
      this be being so restrictive or monotonous that
      people end up eating less. But lifelong weight
      control requires dietary changes people can
      safely and satisfactorily live with for a
      lifetime. And high carb diets may fit the bill.

      A recent study published in the Archives of
      Internal Medicine showed that people randomized
      to an all-you-can-eat high carbohydrate diet
      actually lost weight.[9] People were provided
      with piles of food, 50% more than they needed to
      cover daily caloric requirements and were
      specifically told to eat as much as they wanted.
      Not only did those eating the high carb diets
      lose weight, but CT scans of their thighs showed
      that while those eating the control diet
      increased their percentage body fat, those on the
      high carb diet lost thigh fat mass while
      preserving muscle mass. And all this despite
      exercising less than the control group (who ate
      unlimited amounts of a lower-carb, higher-fat
      diet). The researchers theorized that the
      explanation lay in the fact that
      carbohydrate-rich foods tend to be more satiating
      and less calorie-dense than higher fat foods.

      Proponents of low carb diets like the Atkins Diet
      claim that carbs stimulate insulin production,
      which leads to increased fat storage and
      decreased fat breakdown. Studies like this one in
      fact show exactly the opposite. Reputable
      scientific organizations like the American
      College of Sports Medicine, the American Heart
      Association, and the American Dietetics
      Association have all issued statements that
      high-protein high-fat low-carbohydrate diets are
      not only mostly ineffective, but may in fact
      cause harm.

      By eating a whole foods plant-based diet one can
      control one's weight without risking one's health.


      C. Insulin Sensitivity and Vegetarianism

      Impaired insulin sensitivity sets people up for a
      whole host of life-threatening problems,
      including obesity, hypertension, atherosclerosis,
      and diabetes. It is also thought to be at the
      heart of so-called syndrome X (now called
      metabolic syndrome) affecting 50 million

      A new study in China compared the insulin
      sensitivity of vegetarians and meateaters, and
      even though the vegetarians were on average years
      older than the meateaters, the vegetarians were
      significantly more insulin sensitive. Yet another
      clue to explain why vegetarians have so much less
      cardiac mortality. And the longer the research
      subjects were vegetarian, the better their values

      The researchers summarize: "In conclusion, the
      vegetarian diets had significant beneficial
      effects on insulin sensitivity of subjects in a
      low-risk population. The degree of beneficial
      effects appeared to be correlated with years on a
      vegetarian diet."[11]

      It seems vegetarians are sensitive in more ways than one. :)


      D. Skim Milk Versus Soy Milk: Head to Head

      Last month researchers in Brazil studied the
      effects of skim cow milk consumption compared to
      soy milk consumption using what's called a
      double-blind randomized crossover study. People
      were randomly split into two groups and given
      four cups of either soy milk or skim milk to
      drink every day. The milks were identically
      packaged and flavored such that neither the
      research subjects nor the researchers knew who
      was drinking which. Then at six weeks the skim
      milk group was secretly switched to soy and vice
      versa. So after 3 months each participant had
      spent 6 weeks on soy and six on skim in random
      order. The codes were broken and data tallied:
      Soy won hands down.

      When the subjects were drinking soy milk, their
      bad cholesterol went down and their good
      cholesterol went up (exactly the reverse of what
      happened when they were drinking milk from a
      cow). The amount of rancid fat circulating in
      their blood stream (a further risk factor for
      heart disease) was also reduced drinking the soy
      milk (and marginally higher drinking cow milk).

      The American Heart Association recommends people
      switch from whole milk to skim milk. But this new
      research suggests that it would be much healthier
      for people to wean themselves from bovine milk
      altogether and switch from veal milk to real
      milk--soy milk.[12]


      E. Iron Status of Young Vegan Women

      Iron deficiency is considered the most common
      nutrient deficiency in the world. In the United
      States, up to 1 in 25 menstruating women are so
      iron deficient that their bodies can't produce
      enough blood and they become anemic.

      The iron in animal blood is generally absorbed
      better in the digestive tract than the iron in
      plants, so there was a concern that people who
      didn't eat or drink blood - vegetarians -- would
      have higher rates of iron deficiency anemia.
      Thankfully the concern was unfounded, as
      vegetarians have been shown to generally have the
      same rates of iron deficiency anemia as

      The latest from the German Vegan Study was just
      published and showed that 4% of vegan women had
      iron deficiency anemia,[13] the same rate of
      anemia we see generally here in the U.S.[14] But
      just because vegans don't have worse rates than
      meateaters here doesn't mean much, because
      meateaters have such crappy rates in the first

      All menstruating women, vegan or not, should be
      screened for anemia between 15 and 25 years of
      age. They should then consider getting rescreened
      once every 5 to 10 years, unless they have a lot
      of kids, frequently donate blood, have heavy
      periods, live in poverty or were previously
      diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, in which
      case they should consider getting screened more


      II. MAD COW DISEASE: Comment Deadline Extended to May 7th

      So if anyone missed a chance to send the USDA
      comments on their proposed mad cow regulations,
      the USDA announced that they were going to
      extend the deadline for comments until May 7th,

      So please go to
      for information about the regulations and how to
      contact USDA.



      Just finished filming a new DVD on Friday -- a
      lecture/cooking show based on my "Stopping Cancer
      Before it Starts" talk. It's hard for me to gauge
      how well it went without an audience, but I
      should have it out and available by July and
      everyone can tell me how I did. I'm just so
      excited that it's done! I also have a mad cow
      talk DVD currently in press.

      Now that those are out of the way I've basically
      cleared the next few months to finish the vegan
      nutrition book whose writing was so rudely
      interrupted by the mad cow in Washington. A very
      generous activist is graciously welcoming me into
      their home in Massachusetts to spend the Summer
      writing. Then in July I'll be at Vegetarian
      Summerfest and AR2004 and, assuming the book is
      done, go back on the road speaking for another
      year or so starting in the Fall. I'm getting
      tired just thinking about it. :)


      VI. MAILBAG: "I heard that a study showed that
      soy didn't prevent breast cancer"

      Back in February, there was this Dutch study
      published that followed thousands of women for a
      few years and found that those who ate the most
      phytoestrogens did NOT have lower rates of breast
      cancer, as might be expected. So a reader wrote
      me and asked why I didn't mention that study in
      any of my newsletters.

      Sometimes you have to really dig to discover
      flaws in experimental design; other times it's a
      bit more obvious. Phytoestrogen intake in the
      Netherlands? To study a nutrient you need a good
      range of intake levels. How much soy do Dutch
      women eat? Not much, it turns out.

      The group with the highest intake was eating
      0.5mg of isoflavones a day; the group with the
      lowest intake was eating 0.3mg a day. That means
      they were comparing people who drank like a
      single spoonful of soy milk a day to people who
      drank like half a spoonful. Or comparing people
      who ate like 1.5 grams of tofu to people who only
      ate1 gram of tofu a day (a gram is the weight of
      a paper clip). And they're surprised they didn't
      find any difference in breast cancer rates?

      Listen to how this study was described in the press, though:

      "Dietary Isoflavones Not Linked to Breast Cancer"
      "High intake of isoflavones does not increase risk of breast cancer"[15]
      "Study Shows Reduction in Breast Cancer Risk Not
      Seen Even if Started at Early Age"
      "You may have heard that diets rich in soy that
      contain phytoestrogen help protect against breast
      cancer. Now, new research from The Netherlands
      indicatesŠ [no] protective effect."[16]

      So always take media reports of studies with a
      grain of salt, or, at the very least shoot me an
      email and I'd be happy to check it out.


      (Full text of specific articles available by
      emailing article-request@...)
      [1] Environmental Health Perspectives 112(April 2004).
      [2] Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, CT). March 20, 2004.
      [3] The Boston Globe. March 20, 2004.
      [4] USA TODAY. March 22, 2004.
      [5] Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Wisconsin). April 12, 2004.
      [6] Greenwire. March 22, 2004.
      [7] Times Newspapers Limited, January 11, 2004
      [8] http://veganessentials.com/ and http://drfurhman.com/
      [9] Archives of Internal Medicine 164(2004):210.
      [10] JAMA 287(2002):356.
      [11] European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 58(2004)312.
      [12] Nutrition 20(2004):200.
      [13] Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism 48(2994):103.
      [14] Centers for Disease Control MMWR 51(2002);897.
      [15] http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/468113
      [16] http://content.health.msn.com/content/article/81/96999.htm


      If anyone missed previous months, check out my
      newsletter archive at

      Until next month,
      peace, love, and kale,

      (206) 312-8640

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