The Irrelevance of Grass-Fed Beef (Ancestral Health Symposium 2013)

Grass-fed beef is better than ordinary (grain-fed) beef because it has a better omega-3/omega-6 ratio. I’ve heard this a thousand times. It’s true. Grass has more omega-3 than grain, which is high in omega-6. But it is misleading. For practical purposes, grass-fed and grain-fed beef are the same in terms of omega-3 and omega-6. 

Peter Ballerstedt made this point in his talk at the recent Ancestral Health Symposium. He showed this slide, based on research by Susan Burkett.omega3omega6

This shows the amount of omega-3 and omega-6 in one serving of various foods. The amounts in grass- and grain-fed beef are small relative to other foods most people eat. People who have said eat grass-fed beef, such as Michael Pollan, should have been saying eat less chicken. When I started eating grass-fed instead of grain-fed beef, I noticed no differences, which agrees with this analysis.

Sunlight and Heart Disease

Vitamin D and Cholesterol: The Importance of the Sun (2009) by David Grimes, a British doctor, contains more than a hundred graphs and tables. Most of the book is about heart disease.  Grimes argues that a great deal of heart disease is due to too little Vitamin D, usually due to too little sunlight. I recently blogged about other work by Dr. Grimes — about the rise and fall of heart disease.

Part of the book is about problems with the cholesterol hypothesis (high cholesterol causes heart disease).  One study found that in men aged 56-65, there was no relationship between death rate and cholesterol level over the next thirty years, during which almost all of them died (Figure 29.2). There is a positive correlation between death rate and cholesterol level for younger men (aged 31-39). The same pattern is seen with women, except that women 60 years or older show the “wrong” correlation: women in the lowest quartile of cholesterol level have by far the highest death rate (Figure 29.5). A female friend of mine in England, who is almost 60, was recently told by her doctor that her cholesterol is dangerously high.

The book was inspired by Grimes’ discovery of a correlation between latitude and heart disease: People who lived further north had more heart disease. This association is clear in the UK, for example (Figure 32.4). Controlling for latitude, he found a correlation between hours of sunshine and heart disease rate (Table 32.3): Towns with more sunshine had less heart disease. No doubt you’ve heard that dietary fat causes heart disease. In the famous Seven Countries study, there was indeed a strong correlation between percent calories from fat and heart disease death rate (Figure 30.2). You haven’t heard that in the same study there was a strong correlation between latitude and dietary fat intake (Figure 30.8): People in the north ate more fat than people in the south. The fat-heart disease correlation in that study could easily be due to a connection between latitude and heart disease. The correlation between latitude and heart disease, on the other hand, persists when diet is controlled for.

Grimes convinced me that the latitude/sunshine correlation with heart disease reflects something important. It is large, appears in many different contexts, and has resisted explanation via confounds. Maybe sunshine reduces heart disease by increasing Vitamin D, as Grimes argues, or maybe by improving sleep — the more sunshine you get, the deeper (= better) your sleep. Sleep is enormously important in fighting off infection, and a variety of data suggest that heart disease has a microbial aspect. As long-time readers of this blog know, I take Vitamin D3 at a fixed time (8 am) every morning, thereby improving my Vitamin D status and improving my sleep.

Grimes and his book illustrate my insider/outsider rule: To make progress, you need to be close enough to the subject (enough of an insider) to have a good understanding but far enough away (enough of an outsider) to be able to speak the truth. As a doctor, Grimes is close to the study of disease etiology. However, he’s a gastroenterologist, not a cardiologist or epidemiologist. This allows him to say whatever he wants about the cause of heart disease. He won’t be punished for heretical ideas.

 

More Wrinkles = Too Little Vitamin K2?

This post (“The vitamin deficiency that’s written all over your face”)  by Sarah Pope at Healthy Home Economist is very good. It takes various pieces of data and puts them together to suggest that people who don’t get enough Vitamin K2 will get facial wrinkles sooner. The most interesting data is the difference between women in Shanghai, Bangkok and Tokyo — the Tokyo women had the fewest wrinkles. They eat the most natto, of course, and natto is notoriously high in Vitamin K2. Pope should have added that Tokyo women probably also eat a lot more of other fermented foods than Shanghai and Bangkok women — for example, more pickles and miso.

Another example of the same sort of reasoning:

Further research which bolsters the notion that getting plenty of K2 in the diet makes for smoother facial features is found in the research of Korean scientists and was published in the journal Nephrology in 2008. The rate at which the kidneys are able to filter the blood is an important measure of overall kidney function.  Researchers found that reduced renal filtration rate was associated with increased facial wrinkling. What does decreased kidney filtration rate predict? You guessed it – Vitamin K2 deficiency, according to American research published the year after the Korean study.

I wonder what other nutritional deficiencies poor kidney function is associated with. These associations are far from convincing but it is a new (to me) and testable idea. And Vitamin K2 is quite safe.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Peter McLeod, John Batzel and Joseph Sinatra.

Canker Sores Quickly Cured by Walnuts: More Evidence for Importance of Omega-3

A reader of this blog named PSB, who lives in New Jersey, told me the following:

I’m 52.  I happen to like walnuts and was snacking on them and noticed the pain from canker sores was lessened.  I kept eating [walnuts] the next couple days and found the sores healed quickly, painlessly and were gone within a few days. They usually take quite a while to go away. The walnut thing was accidental and just from observation noticing the change in the sores. The sores are still gone and although I haven’t been eating lots of walnuts, I usually grab them here and there.

Her daughter “has suffered from canker sores for years . . . [and] gets multiple at a time and they are usually very painful.” Her daughter is resistant to eating walnuts. I asked why. “Doesn’t listen to her mother, knows it all and I sometimes thinks she prefers to complain. Other than that, no real reason, hahaha,” said PSB.

I’ve blogged before (here and here) about canker sores cured by omega-3. Walnuts are high in omega-3, supporting what I said. The Mayo Clinic lists eight possible causes of canker sores, including “A diet lacking in Vitamin B-12, zinc, folate (folic acid) or iron”. Nothing about omega-3.

Maybe We SHOULD Eat More Fat?

In a review of Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss, a new book about the food industry, David Kamp writes:

The term “bliss point” . . . is used in the soft-drink business to denote the optimal level of sugar at which the beverage is most pleasing to the consumer. . . .

The “Fat” section of “Salt Sugar Fat” is the most disquieting, for, as Moss learns from Adam Drewnowski, an epidemiologist who runs the Center for Obesity Research at the University of Washington, there is no known bliss point for fat — his test subjects, plied with a drinkable concoction of milk, cream and sugar, kept on chugging ever fattier samples without crying uncle. This realization has had huge implications in the food industry. For example, Moss reports, the big companies have come to understand that “cheese could be added to other food products without any worries that people would walk away.”

By “fat” Moss means animal fat (the fat in cheese, for example). I haven’t seen the book but I’m sure Moss doesn’t consider the possibility that “there is no known bliss point for fat” because people should be eating much more animal fat. In other words, it is hard to detect the bliss point when people are suffering from severe fat deprivation.

My view of how much animal fat I should eat changed abruptly when I found that large amounts of pork fat made me sleep better. One day I ate a lot of pork belly (very high fat) to avoid throwing it away. That night I slept much better than usual. I confirmed the effect experimentally. Later, I found that butter (instead of pork fat) made me faster at a mental test. This strengthened my belief that I should eat much more animal fat than countless nutrition experts have said. (Supporting data.)

My sleep and mental test evidence was clear and strong (in the sense of large t value). The evidence that animal fat is bad (based on epidemiology) is neither. That is one reason I trust what I found rather than what I have been told.

Another reason I trust what I found the fact that people like the taste of fat. That evolution has shaped us to like the taste of something we shouldn’t eat makes no sense. (Surely I don’t have to explain why this doesn’t mean that sugar — not available to prehistoric man — is good for us.) In contrast, it is entirely possible that nutrition experts have gotten things backwards. Epidemiology is a fledgling science and epidemiologists often make mistakes. Their conclusions point in the wrong direction. Here is an example, about the effect of beta-carotene on heart disease:

Epidemiology repeatedly found that people who consumed more beta-carotene had less heart disease. When the idea that beta-carotene reduces heart disease was tested in experiments, the results suggested the opposite: beta-carotene increases heart disease.

“Fat will become the new diet food” (via Hyperlipid).

Better Balance and Gums From Flaxseed Oil

When I took flaxseed oil capsules for reasons connected with the Shangri-La Diet, I noticed, to my surprise, that my balance improved. The next time I saw my dentist, he told me that my gums were much better. A reader of this blog named Chuck Currie has noticed the same things.

I ran across a reference to your book again which led me to your website. And, like I said, from there to Mark Sisson and all the rest.

I had already ran across information about flax oil and cholesterol and heart health. So I started taking two tablespoons a day [of flaxseed oil] – morning and night. I noticed my balance improvement while doing yoga, but thought it was due to practice. After reading several paleo blogs, I switched to fish oil – one table spoon a day in the morning. Then after reading some other studies regarding possible negative effects of over-consumption of fish oil, I stopped that also.

During this time I really became a strict paleo/primal eater and exerciser. No carbs other than leafy greens and non-starchy vegs. No more chronic cardio. Stopped swimming due to shoulder issues. Started using kettlebells and body weight tabata exercise. Went back and forth on supplementation. My weight dropped to below 120. [He’s 5 feet 8 inches tall.]

I was getting totally confused on what was legit and what was BS. Sure I lost weight, but I must have looked sick because people were asking if I was all right. I think they thought I had cancer or AIDS. I felt great though. No more 2 o’clock naps and I slept great. Then I read Kurt Harris’s 2.0 blog and that set me straight – and straight back to your blog.

It made me think, OK what works on the individual level, not the hypothesis level. I had also noticed that my balance had deteriorated (I thought it was because I stopped doing yoga) and my gums were bleeding again – I had forgotten that they had stopped bleeding. [After he switched from flaxseed oil to fish oil, his balance slowly got worse.] Sort of back to basics. Sun, lots of it, or D3 – 10,000 units (I am sitting in the sun as I type this on my iPhone). Omega 3 – your posts about flax oil made sense – [sudden release of short-chain omega-3 causes] slow release [of long-chain omega-3] – and is more sustainable than cold water fish and fish oil. Magnesium at night for better sleep and muscle cramps. (when I first went full paleo, I suffered from terrible leg cramps during the night until I found magnesium). And extra butter – beyond cooking with it.

I tested the flax/balance question by continuing to not practice yoga or any other balancing exercises and [measure my balance] just using my ability to wash my feet in the shower without leaning against the wall – which had been my normal habit before my first improvement and then again when it went away. After about a week – perfect balance – both washing and drying my feet. Also, no gum bleeding. So as some would say, “the shit works”.

[He added later:] I can definitely say, with a high degree of confidence, that my balance is not as good when taking fish oil as it is when taking flax oil. Fish oil does provide a small improvement over not supplementing any omega-3. But the big improvement comes with flax oil.

Make Yourself Healthy: Diverticulitis

You have diverticulitis when “diverticula in your digestive tract become inflamed or infected. Diverticula are small, bulging pouches.” A man in his forties named Tuck had a serious case:

In my twenties I got really sick; lying in bed for 5 days, bleeding from the lower part of my digestive tract: not pretty. . . Delirious days later and ten pounds lighter and I was recovered, except for one problem: I had diarrhea for the subsequent 14 years. . . . Two years ago [2008] I passed out on the toilet on a ski weekend. The emergency room at Bennington Hospital [Vermont] told me it was a stomach flu.

Four weeks later I got cramps at work. I had to lie on the floor until it passed. Then I drove to my doctor’s office, and he told me that I had diverticulitis, and I had to go to the emergency room. I drove myself, and barely made it. I was in agony; I nearly passed out again while they were interviewing me to see if it was “serious”. . . . I had a perforated colon. . . . I spent the next four days in the pre-operative ward, so if it got worse they could cut me open immediately. I lost 10 pounds. Then I started bleeding, and I realized these were all the same symptoms that I had had 14 years before. My blood pressure got so low that the automated blood-pressure machine wouldn’t work . . .

I mentioned to all three of the doctors I saw that I had had constant diarrhea for the last 14 years, since the first attack, and they shrugged. They told me to eat more fiber, and whole wheat, even though that was what I had been eating for the last 20 years. So I avoided surgery, started eating salad with salad dressing (containing industrial seed oils) and lots of whole wheat. . . . But the more salad and whole wheat I ate, the worse it got. I couldn’t understand why. Finally had to have eight inches of my colon removed. The diarrhea continued, so obviously the cause remained.

Then something happened that, before blogging, wasn’t possible: Continue reading “Make Yourself Healthy: Diverticulitis”

Omega-6 is Bad For You

For a long time, nutrition experts have told us to replace saturated fats (solid at room temperature) with polyunsaturated fats (liquid at room temperature). One polyunsaturated fat is omega-6. Omega-6 is found in large amounts in corn oil, soybean oil, and most other vegetable oils (flaxseed oil is the big exception). According to Eat Drink and Be Healthy (2001) by Walter Willett (and “co-developed with the Harvard School of Public Health”), “replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats is a safe, proven, and delicious way to cut the rates of heart disease” (p. 71). “Plenty of proof for the benefits of unsaturated fats” says a paragraph heading (p. 71). Willett failed to distinguish between omega-3 and omega-6.

A recent study in the BMJ shows how wrong Willett (and thousands like him) were. This study began with the assumption that omega-3 and omega-6 might have different effects, so it was a good idea to try to measure the effect of omega-6 separately.

They reanalyzed data from a study done in Sydney Australia from 1966 to 1973.The study had two groups: (a) a group of men not told to change their diet and (b) a group of men told to eat more omega-6 by eating more safflower oil (and reducing saturated fat intake, keeping overall fat intake roughly constant). The hope was that the change would reduce heart disease, as everyone said.

As these studies go, it was relatively small, only about 500 subjects. The main results:

Compared with the control group, the intervention group had an increased risk of all cause mortality (17.6% v 11.8% [emphasis added]; hazard ratio 1.62 (95% confidence interval 1.00 to 2.64); P=0.051), cardiovascular mortality (17.2% v 11.0%; 1.70 (1.03 to 2.80); P=0.037), and mortality from coronary heart disease (16.3% v 10.1%; 1.74 (1.04 to 2.92); P=0.036).

A 50% increase in death rate! The safflower oil was so damaging that even this small study yielded significant differences.

The authors go on to show that this result (omega-6 is bad for you) is supported by other studies. Walter Willett and countless other experts were quite wrong on the biggest health issue of our time (how to reduce heart disease, the #1 cause of death).

Celiac Experts Make Less Than Zero Sense

In the 1960s, Edmund Wilson reviewed Vladimir Nabokov’s translation of Eugene Onegin. Wilson barely knew Russian and his review was a travesty. Everything was wrong. Nabokov wondered if it had been written that way to make sense when reflected in a mirror.

I thought of this when I read recent remarks by “celiac experts” in the New York Times. The article, about gluten sensitivity, includes an example of a woman who tried a gluten-free diet:

Kristen Golden Testa could be one of the gluten-sensitive. Although she does not have celiac, she adopted a gluten-free diet last year. She says she has lost weight and her allergies have gone away. “It’s just so marked,” said Ms. Golden Testa, who is health program director in California for the Children’s Partnership, a national nonprofit advocacy group. She did not consult a doctor before making the change, and she also does not know [= is unsure] whether avoiding gluten has helped at all. “This is my speculation,” she said. She also gave up sugar at the same time and made an effort to eat more vegetables and nuts.

Fine. The article goes on to quote several “celiac experts” (all medical doctors) who say deeply bizarre things.

“[A gluten-free diet] is not a healthier diet for those who don’t need it,” Dr. Guandalini [medical director of the University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center] said. These people “are following a fad, essentially.” He added, “And that’s my biased opinion.”

Where Testa provides a concrete example of health improvement and refrains from making too much of it, Dr. Guandalini does the opposite (provides no examples, makes extreme claims).

Later, the article says this:

Celiac experts urge people to not do what Ms. Golden Testa did — self-diagnose. Should they actually have celiac, tests to diagnose it become unreliable if one is not eating gluten. They also recommend visiting a doctor before starting on a gluten-free diet.

As someone put it in an email to me, “Don’t follow the example of the person who improved her health without expensive, invasive, inconclusive testing. If you think gluten may be a problem in your diet, you should keep eating it and pay someone to test your blood for unreliable markers and scope your gut for evidence of damage. It’s a much better idea than tracking your symptoms and trying a month without gluten, a month back on, then another month without to see if your health improves.”

Are the celiac experts trying to send a message to Edmund Wilson, who died many years ago?

Assorted Links

  • Interview with Royce White, the basketball player. I agree with him that addictions should be considered mental disorders. I think they are usually self-medication for a mood disorder, such as depression. His view that more than half of Americans have a mental disorder is consistent with my view that you need to see faces in the morning to have your mood control system work properly. Hardly anyone sees enough faces in the morning.
  • Racial quotas at Harvard by Ron Unz. “Top officials at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton today strenuously deny the existence of Asian-American quotas, but their predecessors had similarly denied the existence of Jewish quotas in the 1920s, now universally acknowledged to have existed.”
  • Traditional Filipino fermented foods (scientific paper)
  • Omega-6 supplementation (with concurrent decrease in saturated fat) increases heart disease
  • How not to globalize Korean food. For one thing, don’t assume all foreigners are alike.

Thanks to dearime.

Are Low-Carb Diets Dangerous?

A link from dearieme led me to a recent study that found low-carb high-protein diets — presumably used to lose weight — associated with heart disease. The heart disease increase was substantial — as much as 60% in those with the most extreme diets. (A critic of the study, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, called the increase in risk “incredibly small“.) Four other studies of the same question have produced results consistent with this association. No study — at least, no study mentioned in the report — has produced results in the opposite direction (low-carb high-protein diets associated with a decrease in heart disease).

I find this interesting for several reasons.

1. I learned about the study from a Guardian article titled “What doctors won’t do”. A doctor named Tom Smith said, “I would never go on a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet like Atkins, Dukan or Cambridge.” Fine. He didn’t say what he would do to lose weight. The psychological costs of obesity are huge. The popularity of low-carb diets probably has a lot — or everything — to do with the failure of researchers to find something better. I have never seen people who criticize low-carb diets appear aware of this. I disagree with a lot of Good Calories Bad Calories but I completely agree with its criticism of researchers. Continue reading “Are Low-Carb Diets Dangerous?”

Flaxseed Lowers Blood Pressure

A new study found that ground flaxseed powerfully lowers blood pressure:

A patient population with peripheral artery disease (PAD) was selected as ideal to benefit from dietary flaxseed. . . . Patients received 30g of milled flaxseed (or placebo) each day over 6 months. [I eat  50 g/day — Seth] . . . No significant adverse events were associated with flaxseed ingestion. . . . SBP in the placebo group increased by ~3 mmHg and DBP remained the same over the experimental period. However, SBP levels were ~10 mmHg lower (P<0.04) and DBP was ~8 mmHg lower (P<0.004) in the flax group compared to placebo. In the flaxseed group, patients with a SBP <140 mmHg at baseline did not receive an anti-hypertensive effect but patients who entered the trial with a SBP > 140 mmHg at baseline obtained a sustained and significant 15 and 7 mmHg reduction in SBP and DBP, respectively, during the six months. . . . one of the most potent anti-hypertensive effects ever observed by a dietary intervention.

This supports my belief that we can improve our overall health by trying to improve our brains (which are more sensitive than the rest of the body). I have blogged about flaxseed oil many times. I became interested in it when I noticed it improved my balance. Balance measurements showed that the optimal dose  (2-4 T/day) was higher than flaxseed oil manufacturers suggested.  Then I and others noticed that taking this amount of flaxseed oil produced big improvements in gum health. Tyler Cowen, for example, no longer needed gum surgery. Go home, said the surgeon.

Thanks to Grace Liu.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Anne Weiss and Dave Lull.

Journal of Personal Science: How Much Salt Should I Eat?

by Greg Pomerantz

The Journal of Personal Science, suggested by Tom and encouraged by Bryan Castañeda, will contain articles about using science to help yourself. This is the first one. It previously appeared on Greg’s blog. If you have written something or plan to write something or are thinking about writing something that might be included, please let me know. — Seth

I spent a few weeks this summer conducting a self-experiment on salt sensitivity and blood pressure. The experiment included a three week phase on a low carb whole foods diet with no added salt, followed by a moderately extreme salt loading phase. This post is a summary of my results. Continue reading “Journal of Personal Science: How Much Salt Should I Eat?”

Short-Term Effects of Fat, Protein and Carbohydrate on Cognition: Fat Best

A German study published in 2001 measured the effect of starkly different breakfasts (all fat, all protein, or all carbohydrate) on cognition during the next hours. Participants (17 men in their 20s) ate the same packaged dinner at home and next morning came to the lab and ate different breakfasts. All of the breakfasts were “cream-like” and all contained 400 calories. The design was relatively sophisticated. Practice effects were reduced by giving considerable practice with the tests before the main measurements began. Brain tests included a simple reaction time task, a choice reaction time task, and a “combi-test” in which the subject does two things at once that provides six measures of performance. One set of tests took 15 minutes. The tests were done once/hour for 3 hours after the breakfast.

The simple reaction time test showed no difference between the breakfasts. The choice reaction time test and the combi-test did show differences: The all-fat breakfast was better. The improvement produced by the fat breakfast compared to the other two breakfasts was clearest about two hours after the breakfast.

EMG (brainwave) measurements showed no differences between the breakfasts.

These results agreed with previous work.

Cunliffe et al. (1997) reported that a pure fat meal did not increase reaction times in contrast to carbohydrate ingestion when measured hourly for 4 h after the meal. In our study, fat ingestion even improved reaction times compared with baseline. Our subjects scored best for all tasks of the combi-test after the fat meal. This finding is in line with the higher accuracy of a focused attention task after a high-fat meal compared with a low-fat meal reported by others (Smith et al. 1994).

The “fat” breakfast in this study was 25% soybean oil (high in omega-6), 25% palm oil (high in saturated fats) and 50% cream (high in saturated fats). I have not compared omega-6 to nothing but I suspect it would produce worse results, given that olive oil appears worse than nothing. So I suspect that the improvement due to fat was due to the palm oil and cream. I concluded, based on evidence that I and others collected, that butter (high in saturated fats) improves arithmetic speed. I usually ate 30 g (= 2 tablespoons = 270 calories) of butter twice/day. Close to the dosage of this experiment. The timing of the effects I saw (sharp improvement from one day to the next) is consistent with a change that happens within 2 hours.

These results, which I didn’t know about until recently, support my earlier conclusions about butter. My measurements cost almost nothing whereas this experiment must have cost thousands of dollars ($400/subject?) plus hundreds of hours of researcher time. Maybe I should compare cream and butter. Cream has advantages. Mark Frauenfelder suggested using cream to make yogurt. Superfood!

A more recent study found saturated fat consumption correlated with cognitive decline. It was a survey, however, with many differences between the groups being compared. I trust experimental evidence much more than survey evidence.

Assorted Links

 

Thanks to Anne Weiss and Dave Lull.

Does Too Little Vitamin K2 Cause Prostate Cancer?

People with unusual genomes often resemble canaries in a coal mine: More sensitive than the rest of us to bad environments. This is illustrated by a new study of prostate cancer/genome associations.

Repeating earlier work in Europeans, they compared the genetic profiles of Japanese groups of prostate cancer sufferers with non-sufferers. . . . The joint numbers included 7,141 prostate cancer sufferers and 11,804 non-sufferers. The most recently identified loci are on chromosomes 11, 10, 3 and 2. . . .The locus on chromosome 2 is linked with GGCX, a vitamin K-dependent [actually, vitamin K2] enzyme that regulates blood clotting [Vitamin K2 does not regulate blood clotting], bone formation and cancer biology. Japanese foods such as natto and seaweeds are rich in vitamin K, which is thought to protect against cancer. Interestingly, the association of this SNP with prostate cancer was significant in all populations except for the Japanese in the USA, indicating that environmental factors, such as diet, are involved.

Here is the paper. Why would the correlation not show up for Japanese in the USA? Maybe because Japanese in the USA all get too little Vitamin K2.

Neither the press release nor the article make clear what I am saying: These results make it a lot more plausible that Vitamin K2 protects against prostate cancer. A lot of mainstream nutritional advice is based on epidemiology. The K2/prostate cancer connection is especially interesting because it does not suffer from the usual problems of epidemiology: difficulty measuring intake (do you have any idea how much K2 you consume?) and vast confounding (Vitamin K2 intake is probably correlated with many other things).

My Dental Exam: Good Gums

A week ago I had my teeth cleaned. So dirty! said the dental hygienist. This wasn’t surprising. Because I am in China a lot, I get my teeth cleaned only twice per year. Long ago they got dirty so fast my dentist insisted on four cleanings per year. “But aren’t my gums okay?” I asked the hygienist. They felt okay. Not tender. They did’t bleed when I flossed (which wasn’t often). No, she said. You have pockets of 5 (= 5 mm depth). There is bleeding. Indeed, when I washed out my mouth with water at the end, there was some blood.

Yesterday I had my teeth examined. The hygienist was wrong. Almost all my pockets were 2’s, with a few 3s. That’s very good and a vast improvement from the 4s and 5s I had before I became a big fan of flaxseed oil. My gums improved exactly when I started drinking flaxseed oil, no doubt because the omega-3 in flaxseed oil reduces inflammation. My gums were fine in spite of all the plaque — which is supposed to make gums bad. Apparently the hygienist was so devoted to her theory (lots of plaque = bad gums) that she failed to see an exception she stared at for 30 minutes.

There is a well-established correlation between gum disease and heart disease (more gum disease, more heart disease), probably because both are caused by inflammation. So good gums is very good news — it shows I am doing a good job of reducing inflammation throughout my body. These results also support two of my pet theories:

1. Studying what foods make the brain work best is a good way to improve overall health. I started studying flaxseed oil, and how much to take, because I discovered by accident that it improved my balance. Experiments (what is the effect of flaxseed oil on my balance?) soon showed the optimum amount/day was more than flaxseed oil makers recommended! Before I started eating lots of butter, the optimum for me was about 3 tablespoons/day. After I started eating lots of butter, the optimum seems to have gone down to 2 tablespoons/day. Gum improvement seems to be easy to notice at about 1 tablespoon/day.

2. Our health care system fails to get the simplest things right. Omega-3 is not a mysterious nutrient. It has been shown to improve health in thousands of studies. It is well-known that it is anti-inflammatory. It is also well-known that too much inflammation is a major problem. Even so, our health care system has failed to grasp that a large fraction of the population eats too little omega-3 and this has an easy fix. Other examples of failure to get the simplest things right include gastroenterologists not realizing that digestive problems may be caused by food, dermatologists not realizing that acne may be caused by food, and everyone not realizing that cutting off part of the immune system (tonsillectomies) is a terrible idea.

What other simple things does our health care system get wrong?

Fear of Food: “The Hubris of Experts”

At the end of Fear of Food: A History of Why We Worry about What We Eat by Harvey Levenstein (2012), an historian at McMaster University, the author summarizes what he has learned:

During the course of writing this book, I have often been asked what lessons I personally draw from it. . . . The hubris of experts confidently telling us what to eat has often been well-nigh extraordinary. In 1921, for example, the consensus among the nation’s nutritional scientists was that they knew 90% of what there was to know about food and health.

Yeah. Two questions for an expert giving advice, especially apocalyptic advice (“You’ll die if you don’t . . . “): 1. What fraction of what there is to be known on your subject do you know? 2. May I quote you?

When I was a freshman in college, I went to hear a talk (off campus) about the chance of life elsewhere in the universe (or was it the galaxy?). The speaker multiplied a bunch of numbers together and came up with an estimate. “What’s the error in that estimate?” I asked. The speaker had no answer. He didn’t know. It’s essentially the same thing.