Escape from the Emergency Room

Posted in Articles on October 4th, 2016 by admin

By James J. Gormley

I realized the other day that I had a medical “situation,” a male concern I had wondered about for a couple of months, yet had dealt with by the time-honored male tradition of “avoidance”—if I pretend everything’s okay, the problem will go away—not  the  best approach.

Scared about cancer, I sat down with my wife. We resolved lo speak with a physician-friend the next day, which I did. l was told: “Get thee to an emergency room” in no uncertain terms.

waiting room editWracked with fear, l stepped into an emergency room in the Bronx, and I was shocked. Before me were hundreds of people waiting to be called—victims of a world without a family doctor, statistics at the periphery of an HMO universe.

There was no hope in this room. Only desperation. Only sickness. Only pain. The room was dark and filthy, the staff looked shell-shocked,  and the triage “window” was a 1-inch-thick bulletproof barrier.

My heart sank. I felt a ball of worry in the pit of my stomach. I telephoned my car-service friend, Marvin, and asked him to pick me up and drive me to a hospital in Manhattan, one regarded as one of the finest medical institutions in the world .

When the cab drove in along the graceful, flower-­lined driveway, I thought that I was pulling up to a Hamptons’ dinner party, not to a place of X-rays and blood. There were only a couple of people waiting in the immaculate, “elegant.” waiting room. I thought “Now l’ll be safe. Now I’m in good hands.”

Or not? The triage nurse ignored  most of my questions, and I wound up in a room within the bowels of the E.R. Freezing in a hospital gown, I was examined by a surgeon who was truly compassionate yet overworked. He informed me that I would need ultrasound testing, and that a urologist would have to see me.

After he left, a nurse ordered me to vacate the room, since they needed it for an “eye injury.” I painfully climbed down (without a step-stool) and found myself, ignominiously, having to climb up onto a stretcher in the hallway.

About 2 hours went by before transporters came to bring me to ultrasound. When I was brought back to the E.R., I was deposited in a wheelchair and forgotten. When my meal arrived (which I had to beg for), the urologist intern showed up—7 hours after I arrived , 4 hours after the ultrasound. He was very vague, and just didn’t seem to care. He promised to give me the names of three urological surgeons and sent me back to the nurse’s station, where I waited another hour for my discharge instructions, which I could barely decipher.

nyp er editWhen asked by one of the night-shift nurses, “‘Who was your nurse?,” l told her that I had no idea—that no one (except for the surgeon) had bothered to give me a name, or ask me if I was okay, or if I needed a sip of water—anything at all.

When I sit back, and try to process what this experience taught me, I’m left with this thought: It represents the very worst and the very best of what’s horribly wrong and terribly right about mainstream medicine today.

It’s high-tech but “low-heart,” the apex of empirical skill yet the nadir of compassionate medicine. In 1975, Ashley Montagu said, “One goes through [...] medical school and one’s internship learning little, or nothing, about goodness, but a good deal about success.”

Pity that goodness needs to be taught, and sad that this is a definition of success.

ls it any wonder that holistic medicine holds the key?

[Adapted from a real-life account of mine that I published in July 2000]

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Ayurveda: The art and science of un-toxification

Posted in Articles on October 4th, 2016 by admin

By James J. Gormley

oil change edit smallAn Ayurvedic physician would shy away from employing what we, in the West, would call “detoxification.” This practitioner would liken detoxification to waiting until your car’s oil is burning and running jet black, then doing an oil change and system flush. The Ayurvedic approach, on the other hand, is marked by what might be called “untoxification,” a continual state and process of proper fueling, regular care, preventive maintenance and tune-ups, when necessary, so that detoxification is never needed.

Ayurveda , including the herbals of Ayurvedic medicine, recognizes that seasonal weather variations call for alterations of our daily routines, and that our bodies also undergo seasonal changes which require a modification of optimal nutritional  support to address them.

When the winter chill arrives, the digestive and absorptive functions are well balanced and ready for the taxing seasonal demands of obtaining energy from the caloric value of food. Ideally speaking, in winter the key is to eat a variety of foods, frequently and in small quantities, which will continuously support the digestive processes and the body’s nutritional requirements. This is part of Ayurvedic “un­toxification.”

The catch? Ayurvedic medical texts, and formulary “recipes,” revealed a realistic acknowledgment not only of nutrition’s importance in maintaining health, but also of the likelihood that: people, just like you and me, will fail to always maintain proper dietary regimens; the liver, the body’s great detoxifier, will need a lot of  extra help; and single herbs and combination formulas will need to be available to compensate for our nutritional falls-from-grace.

Enter three Ayurvedic herbals which are more than up to the job: Picrorhiza kurroa, Phyllanthus amarus and Triphala.

p kurroa

P. kurroa

Picrorhiza kurroa. The bitter roots and rhizomes of P. kurroa have been traditionally used for asthma, bronchitis, malaria, as a bitter tonic (stimulating the appetite and improving digestion) and as a liver protectant. What’s in it? Since 1949, a number of researchers have isolated a glucoside (simple sugar plus alcohol), a bitter principle called kutkin and others. In 1972, it was discovered that kutkin is a mixed crystal of two glucosides: glucoside-A (picroside-I) and kutkoside.

A standardized extract of the root and rhizome of the plant has shown powerful liver-protective effects in clinical studies. Apparently, it is the kutkin component  that  provides protection in experimental conditions. In a 1990 study by R. Chander (Indian Journal of Medical Research), the  extract  was administered in response to a malaria-like parasitic infection. In the liver, it decreased the levels of harmful lipid peroxides and hydroperoxides and “facilitated the recovery of [beneficial] superoxide dismutase (SOD).”

P. kurroa also protects the liver in cases of chemical poisoning (e.g., carbon  tetrachloride) and over-the-counter drug overdosing (e.g., acetaminophen, a drug providing symptomatic relief of pain and fever for those who cannot  take aspirin). In addition to helping with everyday liver protection and regulating immune response, this extract has also demonstrated relief (in human volunteers) (J.G. Langer, Indian Journal of Pharmacology 13:98-99, 1981) from symptoms of rheumatic pain, neuralgia, skin conditions and asthma (as mentioned earlier). Dietary supplementation level: 3 mg, two times a day.

P. amarus

P. amarus

Phyllanthus amarus. An extract from this small, tropical shrub has been used, in recent years, for such conditions as jaundice and hepatitis B. In a now-classic 1988 study conducted at Madras’ Hospital for Children and the Government General Hospital (The Lancet, Oct. 1, 1764-1766), S.P. Thyagarajan, and colleagues treated  carriers of hepatitis B with an extract of P. amarus for 30 days. Fifteen to 20 days following the end of supplementation, 59 percent of the hepatitis B carriers (22 of 37) lost their carrier status, which essentially means that they longer carried the disease. Dietary supplementation level: 250 mg, two times a  day.

Triphala. A powdered formulation from three different plants—Terminalia chebula, Terminalia bellerica and Emblica officinalis—traditional Ayurvedic practitioners refer to Triphala as a “good manager of the house,” one which successfully tackles digestion, nutrient absorption and body metabolism .



With a mild laxative effect that may be balanced by our diets, this combination has been used for indigestion, constipation and as an adjunct in ulcer healing, in addition to other uses. Dietary supplementation level: four to six capsules per day.

So, is that untoxification with detox on the side?

[Adapted from an Ayurvedic Medicine column I published in January 1997]

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Ayurveda: From ancient wisdom to the leading edge of science

Posted in Articles on October 2nd, 2016 by admin

By James J. Gormley

Rig Veda fragment

Rig Veda fragment

Thousands of years ago, in India, in a “journey” spanning centuries, the accumulated wisdom of scientific practice and knowledge—including advanced experience in medicine—was distilled into four multi-volume compendia, the Vedas: the Rig Veda (4,500 years ago), Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, and the Atharva Veda (3,200 years ago). The Rig Veda (in the form of 1,028 hymns) and the Atharva Veda offered surprisingly detailed information on surgery and herbal remedies, respectively.

The origins of Ayurveda
According to Indian legend, Punarvasu Atreya, who was a vedic wise man and author of the fifth book of Rig Veda, “was the first human being [to whom] the gods taught the art the art of medicine,” recounts Hans Rhyner in Ayurveda: the Gentle Health System (1994).

Rhymer tells us legend further holds that Atreya went to visit Indra, the king of the gods (devtas), and said this to him: “Oh, monarch of the gods, not only do you reign over the heavenly spheres but over all three planetary systems, because that is the way the Creator wanted it. The world of human beings is befallen with illnesses, and they suffer terribly. Show me your compassion and teach me the science of life.”

After Indra was convinced of Atreya’s stunning intellectual abilities, he passed on to him the knowledge of Ayurveda, which literally means: the “science of life.”



The godlike Indra was supposed to have received his own understanding of Ayurveda from two physicians, the divine Ashwini brothers. “The Ashwini brothers had received their knowledge from Daksha, a higher being who had the task of filling the universe with living beings; Daksha had been instructed by his father, Brahma, the first living being of the universe,” explains Rhyner.

Atreya passed along records of what he learned to the following students: Agnivesha, Bhela, Jatukarna, Parasara, Ksirapani and Harita, who each added his own individual commentary. The writings of Agnivesha, the Caraka Samhita, have survived mostly intact, whereas the works of Bhela and Harita now only exist in fragments.

The great classics. The “Great Trilogy,” or Brihat Trayi, of the founding Ayurvedic medical texts are:

  • Caraka Samhita. These eight books are believed to have been written between 400 B.C. and 200 B.C., but are based on an oral tradition going back centuries prior to that (even thousands of years, perhaps); Caraka Samhita is the oldest and most important of the ancient writings on Ayurveda. It establishes the theoretical basis of Ayurvedic Medicine, and concentrates on internal medicine (kayacikitsa).
  • Susruta Samhita. These six books are thought to have been written shortly after Caraka Samhita, by a scholar, Susruta, but, again, are based on an oral tradition passed down over generations. In any case, the Susruta Samhita discusses 76 visual disorders, 51 of which were treated surgically. In addition, the author lists 101 blunt and 20 sharp surgical instruments that are very similar to instruments used today–the human hand is even included as one of the instruments, as well it should.

As Rhyner points out: “Surgical intervention was used in a very restricted sense, and only when other treatments could not promise success.” In addition to describing advanced surgical procedures–including plastic surgery and skin transplants–1,120 illnesses are discussed, including injuries, aging-related conditions, and mental illness. Seven hundred healing plants were included, in addition to 64 mineral-based preparations and 57 animal- source preparations.

The mythological roots of these works are said to originate with Dhanvantari, the incarnation of Vishnu, who is said to have been Susruta’s teacher in this. In fact, every chapter begins with the words: “Vathovaca bhagavan Dhanvantari Susrutaya,” or “As Susruta was taught by the honorable Dhanvantari …”

  • Astanga Hrdayam Samhita or Astanga Samgraha. These six books are said to have been written by Vagbhata, a person who was born in Sindh (now a province in Pakistan) and was taught Ayurvedic Medicine by his father, a Buddhist monk, named Avalokita. It, again, apparently dates back to the period between 400 B.C. and 200 B.C., and concentrates on internal medicine. It includes details on such topics as: pregancy, birth complications, human anatomy, and personal hygiene–a topic that wasn’t included in the curricula of European universities until the late 19th century. This work found its way to Tibet, and from there to China and Japan.

These works explain, for the first time, the eight disciplines of Ayurvedic science:
* Kayacikitsa (internal medicine)
* Balacikitsa or kaumarabhritya (pediatrics)
* Bhutavidya or grahacikitsa (psychiatry)
* Urdhvanga cikitsa or salakya (ear-nose-throat and ophthalmology)
* Salya tantra or Salakya (surgery)
* Agada tantra (toxicology)
* Rasayana (geriatrics)
* Vajikarana (sexology)

Ayurvedic botanicalsAyurvedic Principles
Basic elements. According to a chapter written by Vasant Lad in the book, Essentials of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (1999), an “Ayurvedic principle states that all organic and inorganic substances are made up of the five basic elements: space, air, fire, water, and earth.

Types of energy. In addition to the five basic elements, Ayurveda points to three basic types of energy, called doshas, that are present in every body and every thing, and which also correspond to “body types”–physical and behavioral characteristics, or personality tendencies:
* vata–the energy of movement. Characteristics: unpredictable, thin, cool/dry skin, irregular sleeper, cramps/constipation, moody, arthritic, hyperactive
* pitta–energy of digestion or metabolism. Characteristics: predictable, medium-set, warm/wet skin, regular sleeper, heartburn (ulcers & hemorrhoids), intense, efficient/orderly
* kapha–energy that makes up the body and holds our cells together. Characteristics: relaxed, heavy-set, oily/cool skin, heavy sleeper, allergies, high cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension, underactive thyroid, forgiving and tolerant, procrastinator.

Since each constitutional type is inclined to certain disorders (or imbalances), both we, and our Ayurvedic-trained physicians, should “have a basic understanding of how the inner organizations of vata, pitta and kapha are acting in, and reacting to, the patient’s [our] lifestyle, diet, emotions, job and stress,” adds Lad.

Disorders and stages of disorder (disease). In line with an understanding of constitutional types and the origins of dosha imbalance, specific organs lie at the heart of many disorders. For example, rata disorders can always be traced to the colon, while pitta disorders start in the small intestine, and kapha disorders are always based in the stomach and gastric mucosal secretions.

Stages of disorder. Continuing the concept of dosha imbalances, there are six progressive stages of disorder, or disease, brought on by “uncontrolled aggravating causes: accumulation (easiest to treat/prevent), provocation, spread, deposition, manifestation and differentiation (most difficult to treat/eradicate).

PanchakarmaAyurvedic treatment? Cleansing therapy. The strong health-promoting, purifying and strengthening goals of Ayurvedic herbal and mineral remedies are at the core of this medical science. This is one medicine which desperately wants to help us avoid drugs and “heroic measures” (like surgery).

Part and parcel of this approach includes such modalities as: panchakarma, including: oil massage and sweat therapy, purgatives (including the herbal remedy, Triphala), therapeutic enema, nasal administration of medications, and purification of the blood.

Rejuvenation therapy (rasayana). “After the cleansing process occurs, a program of rejuvenation is recommended, with specific herbs appropriate to the dosha imbalance,” Ladd explains.

Ayurvedic herbs and herbal formulas
Ayurveda’s knowledge, and wisdom, of herbs and minerals goes back thousands of years, including the understanding of herbs commonly used for food–such as turmeric and a variety of peppers, including cayenne.

Ayurveda = a whole-body approach to health

As Vasant Lad so rightly wrote:

“Ayurveda is more than a mere healing system. It is a science and an art of appropriate living which helps us to achieve longevity. It can guide every individual in the proper choice of diet, living habits and exercise to restore balance in the body, mind and consciousness, thus preventing disease from gaining a foothold in the system.”


Gormley, James J. “Ayurvedic Medicine” column passim. Better Nutrition January 1996 (volume 58, number 1) through June 1999 (volume 61, number 6).

Heyn, Birgit. Ayurveda: The Indian Art of Natural Medicine & Life Extension. Rochester, Ver.: Healing Arts Press, 1990.

Lad, Vasant. “Ayurvedic Medicine.” In: Wayne Jonas, M.D., and Jeffrey S. Levin, Ph.D., M.P.H. Essentials of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Philadelphia, Penn.: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 1999 (phone: 1-800-638-3030).

Lad, Vasant. “An Introduction to Panchakarma.” Albuquerque, N.M.: The Ayurvedic Institute (phone: 505-291-9698), 1994.

Packard, Candis Cantin. Pocket Guide to Ayurvedic Healing. Freedom, Calif.: The Crossing Press, 1996.

Rege, N.N., et al. “Adaptogenic properties of six rasayana herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine,” Phytotherapy Research 13(4):275-291, 1999.

Rhyner, Hans H. Ayurveda: the Gentle Health System. New York, N.Y.: Sterling Publishing, 1994.

[Note: Adapted from an original article of mine that was published in November 1999]

Gormley, James J

Health at Gunpoint: The FDA’s Silent War Against Health Freedom

Posted in Articles, Blog on July 28th, 2012 by admin

2. health at gunpointBy James J. Gormley

What forces and interests direct the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and why is this out-of-control law enforcement agency working so hard to take dietary supplements out of our hands?

These are the central questions explored in Health at Gunpoint: The FDA’s Silent War Against Health Freedom, what I hope you will consider to be a groundbreaking book that brings into clear focus the silent war now being waged by the FDA against all of us: American consumers.

The FDA was established in 1906 to protect the U.S. public from misbranded and adulterated foods, drinks and drugs. While the original intent may have been honorable, over the years the execution of this mission has become tainted by lobbyists and money.

In Health at Gunpoint, I present a history of both the natural foods movement and of this over-reaching Federal agency and examine how the agency has changed over the years. I then look at the FDA’s most controversial decisions and the troubling reasons behind them.

Why did the FDA try to shut down the supplements industry by getting most supplements classified as drugs? Why did the FDA drag its feet on folic acid fortification while thousands of babies were born with devastating birth defects? Why did the FDA try to get life stages (such as pregancy and aging) and normal discomforts (such as headaches) classified as diseases? Why are irradiated and genetically-altered food not labeled as such? Why does the FDA favor synthetic additives and dangerous drugs over natural ingredients and dietary supplements? Why did the FDA propose a guidance that would cripple the health food industry as we know it today?

Today, as in the past, the FDA is poised to make decisions that would have a major impact on the health of all Americans. Health at Gunpoint not only sheds light on what is happening, but also explains what you can do about it.

In many European countries, nutritional supplements are now available by prescription only. If you don’t think harmonization-friendly, anti-consumer, restrictions can be put in place here, you may be in for a rude awakening.

Health at Gunpoint will help prepare you for the coming fight.

The organic movement: protecting our food

Posted in Articles on January 23rd, 2012 by admin

By James J. Gormley

Some “difficult situations have developed as a result of the recent outburst of enthusiasm for the subject of nutrition and food [...] We regret the opportunity it has given faddists, zealots and other extremists to increase their customers, profits and power structure.”

Who would have bought into such paranoia and shortsightedness in November 1971? A massmarket food lobbyist? No. Try a Science Adviser for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) who was addressing the National Nutrition Education Conference.

The adviser went on:

“The indiscriminate distrust of scientific and technological progress that is displayed by such self-appointed guardians of our welfare–guardians who encourage others to be distrustful too–is another hazard in our nutrition and food environment. The surge of interest in buying ‘natural’ and organically grown foods is one manifestation of this distrust.”

These two observations take the cake:

“The commonly used pesticides about which the extreme environmentalists are so alarmed have undergone much more stringent and extensive testing than the products of the food extremists. [...] And how do they [the 'extremists'] justify a food production and diet scheme that, if adopted widely, would result in such a reduction in supplies that famine and death would be the fate of so many people?”

Since these ill-informed views are–incredibly–still held by one infamous massmarket-food industry funded organization and by a number of anti-organic bureaucrats, let’s clear them up on a few points.

As early as 8000 B.C., early farmers had already domesticated many wild food-plant species, with growers having cultivated thousands of different strains, each with its own hereditary genetic material, or “germ plasm.”

These traditional varieties are known as “land races,” and their vigor and diversity, alone, are the insurance for the future of our food supply.

Today, many growers and countries are abandoning these old land race crops in favor of genetically engineered, single-variety “monocultures,” making the entire world’s food supply ripe for complete, and utter, destruction.

Clear-cutting across virgin lands annihilates natural vegetation, bringing on what is called genetic erosion. By 2050, 25 percent of the world’s 250,000 plant species will disappear due to deforestation, the shift to genetically uniform crops, overgrazing, water-control projects and urbanization.

In Sri Lanka, for example, where farmers grew some 2,000 traditional varieties of rice as recently as 1959, only five main varities are sold today. In India, which once boasted 30,000 varieties of rice, today over 75 percent of its total production comes from less than 10 varieties.

In April 1991, plant geneticist Jack Harlan warned:

“The diversity of our genetic resources stands between us and starvation and us on a scale we cannot imagine.”

To prevent global disasters, groups are tracking down the wild relatives of modern crops in habitats believed to favor their survival–then preserving their germ plasm in a global network of gene banks and protected natural sites.

Organic growing is the key. Preserving plant diversity, the environment and our health–indeed, our future–will depend on whether we, as a planet, embrace organic methods … or not.

[Adapted from my article which appeared in the April 1999 'Earth Day' issue of Better Nutrition magazine]

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Fat City: What’s fueling America’s obesity crisis?

Posted in Articles on June 17th, 2011 by admin

By James J. Gormley

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of pow’rful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
– Second Witch, Macbeth, IV:1

This article by James Gormley originally appeared in Total Health magazine.

In 2002, people drank nearly 49 million gallons of soda (185 million liters), making it the third most popular commercial beverage after milk and tea. The typical bottling plant churns out over 79,250 gallons of soda per day. Here in the U.S., as annual soda consumption doubled to 49 gallons per person between 1970 and 2001, milk consumption fell by 30 percent.

National “cruel” lunch program
In light of exploding rates of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes, school nutrition has become a growing public health concern. While most meals offered as part of the federal school lunch and breakfast programs may be relatively less unhealthy than the offerings available outside of the school cafeteria, “These school food programs compete against the widely available and aggressively advertised fast food, soft drink, and snack foods that fill vending machines, school stores, and a la carte cafeteria lines,” wrote the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI) in a September 2002 report entitled Challenging the Soda Companies (1).

Many of the “same schools that offer health and nutrition education in the classroom are undercutting their own lessons by filling their hallways with chip and soda-dispensing vending machines,” noted the UEPI.

Boil and bubble
Speaking of soda, this beverage is a significant part of the problem of poor child nutrition, representing, as it does, hundreds of empty calories per day that contribute to several important health risks. For example, a standard 12-ounce can of soda contains about 160 calories and 1.5 ounces of sugar (2). Worse yet, many vending machines offer 20-ounce bottles that contain a whopping 250 calories and 2.3 oz sugar. According to government data, the average 12-to-19-year-old soda-consuming male drinks more than two cans per day (868 cans annually), while the average female consumes 1¾ cans a day.

For soda-consuming youth, these beverages provide from nine to 18 percent of total caloric intake and displace more-nutritious foods and beverages from the diet (3). Teenagers drink twice as much soda as they do milk, a nearly inverse relationship from the consumption patterns of 20 years ago (4). For each additional can or bottle of soda consumed per day over time, the risk of obesity and related health conditions increases by 160 percent (5).

In addition, soda consumption in kids also contributes to poor bone health. Because most girls have inadequate calcium intakes, they are more likely to suffer from osteoporosis (brittle bones) as they age and have an increased risk for broken bones while they are still young. Those who drink soda have a three-to-four times higher risk of bone fracture that do those who don’t drink soda (6). Soda consumption in young people is a concern to many health professionals because it displaces milk (a source of calcium) from the diet. In addition, soda also represents the largest single source of caffeine in children’s diets (45-100 mg per can) (7), and the sugar and acid in sodas combine to contribute to tooth decay (8).

According to Challenging the Soda Companies, “Soda companies like Pepsi and Coca-Cola have adopted marketing strategies to establish brand loyalty as early in a consumer’s life as possible, explicitly targeting school-aged children.”

“Schools offer these companies an ideal venue for targeting young people with their branding activities. A Coca-Cola official stated that his company would ‘continue to be very aggressive and proactive in getting our share of the school business’ “(9).

Food and beverage companies spend billions of dollars on advertising, and have started offering large payments for exclusive marketing rights in schools and other locations where children are present.

“These pouring rights contracts involve lump sum payments to school districts and additional payments over 5-10 years in return for exclusive sales of the company’s products in vending machines and at all school events,” says Challenging the Soda Companies.

“The contracts often allow constant advertising through display of logos on machines, cups, sportswear, brochures, and school buildings,” the UEPI report adds. “In this way, students receive constant exposure to the logos and products, an attempt by companies to create loyalty. Pouring-rights contracts result in students drinking more soda, vending machines in schools that previously did not have them, and vending machines in schools with younger children.”

“Non-happy meals”
According to a 2003 article by Barry Yeoman in Mother Jones (10), at a time when weight-related illnesses in children are escalating, “schools are serving kids the very foods that lead to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. According to Yeoman, under the National School Lunch Program the federal government actually purchases over $800 million in farm products each year and makes them available to schools.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), “which administers the system, calls this a win-win situation: schools get free ingredients while farmers are guaranteed a steady income. The trouble is, most of the commodities provided to schools are meat and dairy products” that are high in saturated fat, wrote Yeoman.

For example, in 2001, noted Yeoman, the USDA shelled out “$350 million on surplus beef and cheese for schools, more than double the $161 million spent on all fruits and vegetables, most of which were canned or frozen.”

Since the School Lunch Program’s inception in 1946, agribusiness has been able to exert significant control over what foods schools buy and don’t. According to Mother Jones, “In the mid-1990s, a group of health advocates met with the USDA to ask that schools be allowed to serve soy products like veggie burgers. According to one participant, a department official asked them, ‘Have you spoken with the Cattlemen about this? Until the Cattlemen go for this, we aren’t going to be able to move on it.’ “

Agribusiness’ gain in our (weight) gain
All in all, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle kill 400,000 Americans a year, according to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and U.S. deaths from poor diet and physical inactivity make up 17 percent of total deaths in the U.S.

About 64 percent of American adults are overweight or obese, and no surprise given soda over-consumption and the state of affairs at the National School Lunch Program that we discussed, our kids are catching up. Over the last 25 years, the number of children in the U.S. who are overweight has tripled—22 percent of kids are overweight. Specifically, 13 percent of children aged 6 to 11 and 14 percent of kids aged 12 to 19 are obese.

In fact, 60 percent of overweight children aged 5 to 10 have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD); 25 percent have over two risk factors. Tied to obesity, sugar-packed diets and physical inactivity, type 2 diabetes in children is now the “new children’s epidemic,” a disease which used to develop almost exclusively in adulthood.

It’s not just kids—some sobering stats
According to a story run on CBS News on September 21, 2004 (11), researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studied national beverage consumption patterns for more than 73,000 Americans between 1997 and 2001, and found the following:

•overall calories from sweetened beverages went up 135 percent;
•Americans took in 38 percent fewer calories from milk;
•Americans now get an average of 144 calories a day from sugary sodas and only 99 calories from milk; and for young people aged 2 to 18 years, milk consumption plummeted from 13.2 percent of total calories to 8.3 percent, and soda consumption doubled.

What is even worse, a study that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) (12), researchers found that “greater consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with greater weight gain and an increased risk for development of type 2 diabetes in women, potentially by providing excessive calories and large amounts of rapidly absorbable sugars.”

“Get up (off the couch), and boogie”
In addition to those excess calories and sugars, exercise is critical to health. Nevertheless, according to the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 (13), 25 percent of adult Americans “did not participate in any leisure-time physical activities in the past month, and, in 2003, 38 percent of students in grades nine to 12 watched three or more hours of television per day.

Although the Dietary Guidelines’ call for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a day could scare off many, fortunately the following activities also qualify: light gardening/yard work and walking. In fact heart, light gardening (330 calories an hour) burns even more calories an hour than do bicycling (290) or weightlifting (220). Hey, break out those gardening gloves!

Take-home tips
Based on our over-consumption of soda and junk food, we should be aware that the best foundation for responsible, sustained weight loss is vigorous, regular exercise and a nutrient-rich diet. Try the following tips:

•Avoid refined carbohydrates, including white flour, white rice, white sugar and other caloric sweeteners.
•Eat foods in as natural and fresh a state as possible.
•Emphasize non-starchy vegetables (such as salad greens, asparagus, broccoli and green beans) as your primary sources of carbs.
•Avoid soft drinks, fruit juices, alcohol and other highly processed drinks.
•Choose high-quality omega-6 oils: safflower, sunflower, borage, black currant seed, evening primrose, and one specific omega-9 oil: first cold pressed extra-virgin olive oil.
•Choose high-quality omega-3 oils: flaxseed, hemp, pumpkin seed and marine oils (DHA).
•Avoid fats rich in palmitic acid, such as coconut and palm oils. Steer clear of trans-fatty acids found in deep-fried foods, traditional tub margarine and foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils.

1. Challenging the Soda Companies: The Los Angeles Unified School District Ban–A Report Prepared by the Center for Food and Justice (CFJ). Urban and Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI), Occidental College, September 2002.
2. Pennington JAT. Bowes and Church’s Food Values of Portions Commonly Used, 16th ed. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1994.
3. Jacobson MF. Liquid Candy: How Soft Drinks Are Harming America’s Health. Washington, DC: Center for Science in the Public Interest, 1998.
5. Ludwig DS, et al. Relation between consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity: a prospective, observational analysis. Lancet 2001;357:505-508.
6. Wyshak G. Teenaged girls, carbonated beverage consumption, and bone fractures. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med
7. Ellison RC, et al. Current caffeine intake of young children: amount and sources. J Am Diet Assoc 1995;95:802-804.
8. Erickson PR, et al. Soft drinks: hard on teeth. [Clinical Feature]. NW Dentistry 2001 March-April:15-19.
9. Nestle M. Food Politics, How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2002.
10. Yeoman, Barry. Unhappy Meals. Mother Jones, January/February 2003.
11. CBS News. Soda fueling obesity epidemic. The Early Show, September 21, 2004.
12. Schulze M, et al. Sugar-sweetened beverages, weight gain and incidence of type 2 diabetes in young and middle-aged women. JAMA 292:927-934.
13. HHS/USDA. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005. US Department of Health and Human Services & United States Department of Agriculture.

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Fat Fallacies, Exercise Dreams

Posted in Articles on September 22nd, 2010 by admin

By James J. Gormley

This article by James Gormley originally appeared in Vitamin Retailer magazine in 2007.

In a recent issue of New York magazine, writer Gary Taubes in his article “The Scientist and the Stairmaster” posits the thesis: “Why most of us believe that exercise makes us thinner—-and why we’re wrong.”

Taubes first challenged the then “Holy Grail” of weight loss theory in a July 2002 article in The New York Times entitled: “What if it’s all been a big fat lie?”

In the Times article, Taubes had interviewed the country’s dean of health policy who confessed to Taubes that although “low-fat diets might lead to weight gain and low-carbohydrate diets might lead to weight loss,” he apparently asked Taubes to promise not to say he believed they did.

In reviewing Gina Kolata’s book, Ultimate Fitness: The Quest for Truth About Exercise and Health in the June 2003 New York Times, writer Eric Schlosser wrote:

“Over the last 20 years, while ordinary Americans became some of the most obese people on the planet—-sitting and eating their way to oblivion—the educated upper middle class spent more and more time seeking personal salvation on treadmills, ellipticals, LifeCycles, StairMasters and other sophisticated machines.”

And this search for personal salvation via more and yet more exercise has not gone un-remarked. In fact, as early as 1995 Fiona Stedman wrote, in an article entitled “Exercise Mania”: “Too much exercising, like too little food can slow down your body’s metabolism. When over-exercise is combined with dieting, your metabolism slows down even more,” a real obstacle for those who are trying to tone up or trim down.

In her prescient piece, Stedman outlined the dangers of compulsive over-exercising, exercise addiction and exercise dependence, concerns that are overlooked in the “Cult of the Body,” which is, it seems, one of the new religions of the 21st century.

In his concluding remarks in the New York article, Taubes wrote: “Because insulin determines fat accumulation, it’s quite possible that we get fat not because we eat too much but because our insulin levels remain elevated far longer than might be ideal”

Dr. Vijaya Juturu and I noted in a 2005 scientific review that appeared in Current Nutrition & Food Science that “over 47 million Americans have metabolic syndrome.”

This syndrome, also called insulin resistance syndrome, often directly leads to hypertension, stroke and polycystic ovarian syndrome; it can also progress to type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Tragically, some of the drugs used to treat these conditions lead to weight gain as well; therefore a vicious cycle may develop.

In addition to, and partly because of, America’s obsession with muscular archetypes on the one hand and impossibly thin and waiflike models on the other, it is perhaps no surprise that eating disorders are on the rise.

According to the NIH National Institute of Mental Health, up to 3.7 percent of females suffer from anorexia and 1.1 to 4.2 percent are afflicted with bulimia.

So with dysfunctional, and in many ways faulty, attitudes toward weight loss and exercise and a flawed and, ultimately, inchoate vision of what a healthy body should look like, what can help us find that path to nutritional enlightenment if not something resembling homespun common-sense?

With a few exceptions, there are no bad foods only behaviors that help us, or hinder us, from achieving our fitness and body composition goals.

Exercise is only a tool that we can use to become more fit versions of our current selves; it should not be an altar upon which we sacrifice time that could have been spent with our families and friends.

If life and living appear to be getting in the way of our Pilates classes and circuit training at the gym (and we never perceive the reverse), then maybe we should re-evaluate our priorities.

Because be careful: some day when we are admiring ourselves in the mirror and those abs we’ve trimmed, maybe we will have lost way much more than fat. Hint: I don’t mean muscle tissue.

Obesity – The Real Thing

Posted in Articles on September 22nd, 2010 by admin

By James J. Gormley

This article by James Gormley originally appeared in Vitamin Retailer magazine in 2007.

The May 14th issue of Newsweek magazine had an article entitled “Attack of the Diet Cokes.”

It discussed Americans’ consumption of Diet Coke, in addition to other sodas, in the context of a highly competitive $70 billion soft-drink market. Diet Coke Plus is the new rising star in Coca-Cola’s portfolio, a new version of Diet Coke featuring low, added levels of vitamins and minerals.

According to Newsweek, Diet Coke stands at the convergence of two powerful trends: the rise of diet drinks (30 percent of the soft-drink market today up from 25 percent in 2000) and the move toward functional beverages.

Considering that consumers in over 200 countries down Coca-Cola brand drinks at a rate “exceeding 1.4 billion servings each day,” the market potential for this latest “diet” soda is huge.

Unfortunately, huge is also a body type that fast-food-loving and soda-slurping Americans are increasingly adopting. Over 66 percent of American adults are overweight or obese; this amounts to 68.6 million adults. Worse yet, over the last 25 years the number of children in the US who are overweight has tripled. In fact, approximately 19 percent of children and 17 percent of adolescents are overweight.

Worse still, 60 percent of overweight children aged 5 to 10 have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease and 25 percent have over two risk factors. Tied to obesity, soda over-consumption, sugar-packed diets and physical inactivity, type 2 diabetes in children is now the new children’s epidemic.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill looked at national beverage consumption patterns for over 73,000 Americans between 1997 and 2001 and found the following: overall calories from sweetened drinks went up 135 percent. Kids drank about 40 percent fewer calories from milk while their soda imbibing doubled.

People may ask: Well, what’s wrong with diet sodas; aren’t they low in calories? While they are low in actual calories, data from the San Antonio Heart Study found that the more diet soda a person drinks the greater is the likelihood that he or she will become overweight or obese.

“On average, for each diet soft drink our participants drank per day, they were 65 percent more likely to become overweight during the next seven to eight years and 41 percent more likely to become obese,” said Sharon Fowler, MPH, faculty associate in the division of clinical epidemiology at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio. Other, more recent unpublished findings from Fowler, noted briefly in Newsweek, back this up.

Certainly, parents and schools need to do a better job of promoting regular exercise and better dietary choices, in general. And no one should be laying the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic solely at the feet of soda companies; but the viral distribution of these soft drinks doesn’t help things.

Part of the problem, says the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI), is that, “school food programs compete against the widely available and aggressively advertised fast food, soft drink and snack foods that fill vending machines, school stores and á la carte cafeteria lines.”

According to a study in the October 2006 issue of the Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing, the author, A. Opalinski, concluded: “Pouring rights contracts provide a profit to powerful mega-corporations at the expense of children’s health.” Opalinski added:

“There is a need to move beyond a solely individual approach to addressing childhood overweight and involve a social change […] including removal of soda machines from schools and changing marketing practices targeted at children.”

Eating Against Type

Posted in Articles on September 22nd, 2010 by admin

By James J. Gormley

Adapted from an original article by James Gormley in Vitamin Retailer magazine in 2007.

Cryogenically frozen in the 1970s, health food retailer Miles Monroe (played by Woody Allen) is revived 200 years later to find himself in a repressive, dystopian — and ultimately madcap — future.

It’s a future that has, presumably progressed far in the field of nutrigenomics, so far, in fact, that the foods believed to be the worst nutritional sins in the 1970s, when the film was made—steak, cream pies and fudge—were, in this Orwellian future, long established as healthy.

What also makes this ironic, and even more funny in 2007, is that, not unlike the scientists in Woody Allen’s comic farce, few broad-minded health-food retailers today would be likely to object to USDA Organic steak, cream pie and fudge made with organic, all-natural ingredients — in moderation, of course, and hopefully not all in one sitting!

In fact, the September 2006 issue of The Scientist has an article entitled “Eat Your Way to Better DNA” by writer Kate Travis, who points out that, at its core, nutrigenomics is the study of how genes and nutrients interact to promote health or predispose us to disease.

It’s a newly evolving science that is developing an understanding of how our diet may be changed — along with the addition of certain nutrients and the jettisoning of certain chemicals — in such a way that allows us to not become our parents.

“The important thing about nutritional genomics is that it tells us that we’re not slaves to our genes and that we’re not victims of genetic determination,” noted Raymond Rodriguez, director of the Center for Excellence in Nutritional Genomics at the University of California-Davis in The Scientist. “We ate ourselves into a disease state, and we can eat ourselves out of that disease state.”

According to the Center, its mission is to: “reduce and ultimately eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities resulting from environment-gene interactions, particularly those involving dietary, economic and cultural factors.” The goal of the Center is to prevent, delay and treat diseases such as asthma, obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and prostate cancer.

While the possibility for misuse of this nascent knowledge would be there if the lines between pharmacogenomics and nutrition were to be blurred beyond recognition, for example, much potential is there in truth for good and — one day, perhaps, in the not too-far-distant future — to have genetic-type-specific supplement sections in your retail store.

If Miles Monroe would awaken 30 years later, say in 2013 — rather than 200 — even he might not object.

Germ Anxiety

Posted in Articles on September 22nd, 2010 by admin

By James J. Gormley

Adapted from an original article by James Gormley in Nutrition Industry Executive magazine in 2007.

If you ever were in a hospital awaiting surgery, have you had a nurse or doctor shake your hand while wearing rubber gloves?

I have. It’s one of the least comforting, while most impersonal and sterile, human exchanges that I have experienced.

Are germs today that much more rampant than when I worked on medical-surgical units in a New York City hospital between 1984 and 1988? In those days, latex gloves were only routinely worn when unconscious, geriatric or injured patients were being changed and when actual medical or surgical procedures were being performed.

America’s obsession with germs has certainly grown since then, however, as we have seen with how popular culture has been gripped by microbial madness.

In 1995, two major killer germ movies were released, Twelve Monkeys (a sci-fi thriller in which 99 percent of the Earth’s population has been wiped out by an unknown and deadly virus) and Outbreak, a modern-day fright flick about the Ebola virus.

Following the anthrax scare and the September 11 attacks in the US in 2001, at least two books came out the next year capitalizing on our fears: Killer Germs: Microbial Disease that Threaten Humanity and Secret Agent: The Menace of Emerging Infections.

If you add these dark visions to the real rise of antibiotic-resistant bugs, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, surely there are reasons for concern: real and imagined.

Now while I would not want to dispute the critical importance of the development of the Germ Theory of Disease that was discovered and developed by such scientists as Semmelweiss, Pasteur, Lister and Koch, I am greatly concerned that modern society has apparently transformed our view of germs—those we have always lived with and newer varieties to which we have inadvertently given rise—into an “us vs. them” paradigm, a War on Germs version of the War on Terror (not to even mention those cases in which these wars overlap).

With today’s ubiquitous latex gloves and viral spread of potent hand sanitizers, our evolutionary relationship with germs has been, it seems, left behind … or sanitized away. So has common sense, apparently, along with it the simple virtue of the type of vigorous hand-washing (with good old soap and water) that was always encouraged by our parents and grandparents.

Mark Morford, in the November 2 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, said that he feels that our nation’s desire to create a sterile world is fraught with larger health and social risks.

He quotes Slate’s Kent Sepkowitz as arguing that, “far from not cleaning, cooking and irradiating our food well enough and far from not ensuring we have the correct FDA precautions, we as an over-pampered culture are probably not getting enough nasty buggy, immune-system-boosting microbes in our diet, in our meats, in our mouths.”

Morford speaks of the true dangers behind an “alarmist, germophobic mindset that insists on sanitized, overcooked ultra-safe bleached-out everything then grows and mutates and extends well beyond the toilet and the kitchen and the backyard and the human gut, straight into human experience as a whole, resulting in one horribly bland, edge-free, prefab life.”

He has a point.

Perhaps a better approach would be to seek germ balance, or bacterial balance, acknowledging that all of life operates with, and within, a series of processes that are constantly in flux—whether we are talking about probiotics and pathogenic bacteria, proper immune response and excessive immune response (which we call allergy, asthma, etc.) or good germs on our skin and the germs that we would much prefer be transient visitors.

What is clear is that almost every global effort to sanitize ourselves and our world has created real and potential health consequences: whether antibiotic resistance and probiotics’ destruction through over-prescription of antibiotics, unwanted byproducts through food irradiation or toxins through the breakdown of certain hand-sanitizer ingredients.

As an arguably enlightened society, we have a unique opportunity to offer solutions which are informed by a more balanced view of health and ecological (including microbial) balance and not feed into the various hysterias that currently plague us.