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December 29, 2015

Food For Thought
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What We Do and Don’t Know About Probiotics, Meat-Eating, and Vaccines

Following health news is like reading a murder mystery. Every time you think you know the answer, it changes on you and keeps you on an information roller coaster.

If the media’s goal is to provide an unbiased view of the research in an easily digestible and usable format for the end consumer, then they have failed miserably. If the goal is to confuse, mislead, and misguide the end consumer, then they’ve done a fabulous job.

The news is only worthy of an audience if it challenges the status quo.

What does that involve? First, lets discuss what it does not include.

It does not include encouraging people to:

That’s just boring.

The news captures its audience by making sensationalistic statements about health studies that catch people’s attention. The problem with this is that when it comes to science, taking one piece of information without looking at the whole is like looking at the front gate of Disney Land, and thinking that you’ve experienced the whole park.

There are often many layers to health information, and the average individual,  the consumer of mass media, would be hard pressed to understand the depths of misinformation or be able to read between the sensationalist headlines.

In the following examples I have attempted to bring light to certain issues that have multiple sides to them, and might not have a black and white answer.

Probiotics

What We Know

Many people know by now that bacteria are an integral part of our bodies. They live all over us, and within. In fact, they outnumber our cells ten-to-one. Most people have also been able to extrapolate from this that they are important for health. This is true, and the research continues to pour out on this.

We understand some of the mechanisms by which probiotics improve immunity, help heal the gut, inhibit pathogenic organisms, and digest our food. We can even choose certain strains to achieve targeted effects.

What We Don’t Know

An individual’s microbiome is like a fingerprint. Each person has a unique combination of microorganisms living within them that is different than any other person on the planet. Thus, we don’t fully know how and if a probiotic will work in a certain individual. I have had many clients who have had to try a variety probiotics before finding the one that works for them.

There was a study published in 2005 showing the benefits a probiotic combination called VSL#3 in patients with Ulcerative Colitis (see below – slide taken from the Advanced Clinical Focus: Digestion and GI Health slide set).

Digestion and GI Health with Josh Gitalis

The results of the study were compelling. It showed a 77% response rate for the subjects taking the VSL#3. (This result beats out any drug on the market).

This of course piqued my interest in terms of its clinical utility, yet there were a few questions I had before applying this with my clients. One of those questions was, why did they use such a high dosage? The dosage was one of the highest I have ever seen used, and, this dosage would cost a user over $900 a month. Was this really necessary to achieve the intended effect? Was there a maximum effective dose? A minimum effective dose?

I contacted one of the researchers, and here’s how he responded:

“The dose was a bit arbitrary. Our animal work had shown that higher doses were better and the manufacturer had some preliminary evidence of better efficacy in the acute phase of UC with the higher dose.” – Richard Fedorak

So it seems like there are still some unanswered questions about probiotics.

We can take the probiotic discussion even further regarding fecal transplants. This area of research and application is getting tremendous attention and traction. But again, there’s still much we don’t know about the mechanisms and long-term effects. A now-famous case study illustrated this with it’s interesting account. A woman successfully treated for clostridium difficile infection with fecal transplantation, developed new-onset diabetes after receiving the treatment from an overweight donor.

Meat

What we know

There was a study published in October of 2015 that created quite a stir. It concluded that processed meat and red meat increase risk of cancer. (See my response to this report here) Of course, people completely misinterpreted the information, and concluded that all meat is bad.

Here’s what we know. In Weston A. Price’s exploration of indigenous cultures in the 1930s, he found that every diet included at least one animal food. Indigenous people intuitively knew that there were certain nutrients in animal foods that could not be obtained from plant foods.

As we look at different cultures based on geographical location, we find that generally speaking, those that live closer to the equator eat less animal food, while those closer to the poles have a more meat-heavy diet. These people did not choose their diets based on food pyramids, guides, books, governments, dieticians and nutritionists, or spiritual values (although these are some of the most “spiritual” people on the planet). They chose them based on what was available, and what felt right. In other words, they chose their diets based on hundreds of years of trial and error living off the land.

We also know that not all meat is created equal. A piece of organic beef versus conventional beef vary on so many levels, that under a microscope they are essentially completely different foods. A study published in Nutrition Journal in 2010 clearly showed that the fatty acid and antioxidant content of grass-fed beef was more favourable than its grain-fed counterpart.

What We Don’t Know

Two (big) words for you; biochemical individuality. There are 7 billion people on the planet, and as such, there are 7 billion different diets that people need. And to make things even more confusing, one person might even need different diets at different times in their life.

I have had clients that thrive on vegetarian-style diets, and clients that get very sick on these diets. I’ve also had clients that thrive on a Paleolithic-style diet, and clients that get very sick on this style of eating. What I have come to realize is that only the individual can figure out what their body needs (sometimes with my help). And it often involves a bit of trial and error.

Vaccines

What we Know

There is so much emotion intertwined in the discussion of vaccines that the issue often gets reduced to two camps: vaccine supporters, and “anti-vaxxers”. This is truly unfortunate, because there is a lot more to discuss than simply “should I or shouldn’t I”.

I couldn’t do this topic justice in this type of short format, but I would like to discuss a series of studies that were presented in a recent Scientific American article. The studies explored the response of individuals to the hepatitis vaccine in relation to the amount of sleep they got. What they found was that those individuals who were not sleep deprived had 97% higher antibody levels than those that were sleep-deprived. In fact, the immunity of the sleep-deprived individuals to hepatitis was so bad, that they were considered non-responsive to immunization (i.e. it didn’t work).

So we know that if you are getting immunized, it is important to get enough sleep to make sure the vaccine actually works. Any vaccine makers suggesting practitioners implement these practices as a standard of care?

What We Don’t Know

Another aspect of the vaccine issue is the presence of adjuvants, and the effects this might have on an individual. What we don’t know is how any individual will react to adjuvants such as thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative), aluminum, formalin (formaldehyde), egg protein, chicken protein, and polysorbate 80 to name a few. It is apparent that some people are genetically susceptible to having adverse reactions to some or all of these chemicals. Others might have that ability to detoxify and process these chemicals in an efficient manner, as to not experience any symptoms.

The Bottom Line

According to Eric Schmidt, in 2015, every two days we generate as much information as was created from the dawn of man and woman to 2003. That’s a lot of information!

At the end of the day, the only person who can figure out what is right for you is you. You are the doctor of you, the nutritionist of you, the researcher of you, and the boss of you. Gather as much information as you can, then go ahead and do what you think is most right for you.