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A recently published study was good news for those who eat organic foods. The large French study (about 69,000 people) found a  significantly lower risk of getting cancer (25% lower) in people who ate a lot of organic food - when compared to people who rarely or never ate organic food. The participants in the study were followed for an average of 4.6 years. Cancers with the greatest decreased risk were breast cancer (especially in postmenopausal women) and all lymphomas, especially non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The researchers summarized the findings as:  "In a population-based cohort study of 68 ,946 French adults, a significant reduction in the risk of cancer was observed among high consumers of organic food." and "...if the findings are confirmed, promoting organic food consumption in the general population could be a promising preventive strategy against cancer." This could be an easy way to cut cancer risk! (Other organic food benefits.)

Of course the pesticide and conventional agriculture industry went nuts attacking the study - this finding goes against their message that pesticides are fine and necessary, don't worry about pesticide residues in food, and that antibiotics and other medicines are safe when given routinely to animals. Unfortunately, research finds that a number of pesticides used in conventional farming are considered carcinogenic (cancer causing), and pesticide residues are found in conventionally grown foods. Eating conventional foods every day results in chronic low-dose pesticide residue exposure. The researchers suspect the pesticide residues in foods is the reason for the higher cancer risk. [Note: those pesticides are not allowed to be used in organic farming.]

What foods did the researchers ask about? They asked people about the consumption of 16 types of labeled organic food products: fruits; vegetables; soy-based products; dairy products; meat and fish; eggs; grains and legumes; bread and cereals; flour; vegetable oils and condiments; ready-to-eat meals; coffee, tea, and herbal tea; wine; biscuits, chocolate, sugar, and marmalade; other foods; and dietary supplements. In other words, all the foods we eat daily.

But what I found really interesting was a review of the study by Dr. Charles Benbrook (Visiting Scholar in the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, and a Visiting Professor at the Univ. of Newcastle in the UK). He correctly points out that the results are big news and a big deal. Excerpts from Environmental Health News:

Charles Benbrook: New study showing organic diets cut cancer risk is a big deal. Let’s treat it that way.      ...continue reading "Lower Cancer Risk By Eating Organic Food?"

It turns out that we're all eating tiny bits of plastic in our food. Yes, teeny tiny bits of plastic that are smaller than 5 mm and are called microplastics. Why are there tiny plastic pieces in our food? Is it doing anything to us, to our health? What can we do about it? After all, it's not normal or desirable to eat plastic.

Most of us have heard of the "garbage patches" in the oceans - consisting of many pieces of plastic debris, both big and small. But the reality is that tiny pieces of plastic are all around us, not just far away in the ocean. Microplastics can be found in our drinking water, bottled water, in the seafood we eat, in honey and sugar, in beer, table salt, even in our house dust (which includes tiny synthetic fibers, such as polyester, that are constantly being shed from soft furnishings, clothing, and carpet fibers), and outside air (e.g. from tires). This is microplastic pollution, and unfortunately this pollution is increasing each year because we are increasing our use of plastics. [Other posts on this topic here, here, here.]

Every time we eat a meal we ingest any plastics that are in the food, as well as any plastic particles floating in the air that settle on our food and which we then ingest. One recent study found that about 80 to 100 pieces of tiny plastic particles are eaten over the course of each meal in this way!

Currently no one knows what ingesting all these microplastics is doing to us, if anything. The research hasn't been done. However, there are questions and concerns, especially because toxic chemicals (carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, etc) used in plastic manufacturing are in the microplastics, as well as any contaminants that the plastics were exposed to in the environment. There may  even be microbes (including pathogens) on the plastics. A recent study found that we excrete microplastics  in our feces.

A 2017 United Nations report about microplastics and food safety said that while much remains unknown, microplastics in our food doesn't appear to be health threat: "It is thought that only the smallest particles (1.5 µm or less) will penetrate into the capillaries of the organs and the remaining will be excreted." and "Based on the available scientific evidence, it is safe to state that microplastics neither seem to pose a significant food safety threat and the health benefits associated with the intake of fishery products will exceed the potential risks.Nonetheless, there are many knowledge gaps..."

From National Geographic: Microplastics found in 90 percent of table salt ...continue reading "We Are All Eating Microplastics"

Is the Mediterranean style diet the future in breast cancer prevention? The following study was done in primates, but it makes sense that the results would also be true for humans: that the type of diet eaten influences the breast microbiome. This means the community of microbes that live in the breast. Yes, it's true - studies show that there is a breast microbiome and it varies between those who have breast cancer and those who don't (healthy breasts).

The study looked at macaque monkeys who were fed either a Mediterranean style diet or a Western style diet for 31 months, and then their breast tissue was examined. They found microbial differences in the breast tissue among the 2 groups, including  greater numbers (abundance) of Lactobacillus species in the primates that had been eating the Mediterranean diet.

Lactobacillus species are generally considered beneficial to humans (which is why they are added to many foods and supplements) and studies suggest they may have anti-tumor effects. Some research has found microbial differences between healthy and malignant (cancerous) human  breast tissue  - including lower Lactobacillus numbers or "abundance" in the malignant breast tissue (compared to those with benign breast lesions). Researchers say it suggests that microbial imbalances (dysbiosis) of breast tissue could be a possible driver of breast cancer .

Studies already show that a person's diet influences the gut microbiome. This study shows diet directly influences microbial communities far away from the gut - in the breasts. Unfortunately it is not stated in the study what Lactobacillus species increased in the breast tissue of primates fed a Mediterranean diet. There are many Lactobacillus species, and they are not equal in their effects (as our experiences with Lactobacillus sakei and sinusitis has shown).

Of course more studies are needed, but in the meantime - eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans), nuts, and seeds. There are many other documented health benefits from a diet rich in those foods (frequently referred to as a Mediterranean diet). The diet is low in processed foods and high in fiber, and rich in "real foods". From Science Daily:

Diet affects the breast microbiome in mammals

Diet influences the composition of microbial populations in the mammary glands of nonhuman primates, researchers report October 2 in the journal Cell Reports. Specifically, a Mediterranean diet increased the abundance of probiotic bacteria previously shown to inhibit tumor growth in animals ...continue reading "Diet And The Breast Microbiome"

Many people have chronic low-grade inflammation, which is associated with a number of chronic diseases, and increased risk of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and early death. Thus there is a lot of interest in things a person could do to lower the inflammation. A number of studies have found a person's general diet may influence chronic low-grade inflammation - either increase it or decrease it, as well as whether they smoke or not. A recent large Swedish study found that persons who ate an anti-inflammatory diet for at least 16 years had a lower risk of dying early from any cause (all cause mortality), as well as dying from cancer, or dying from heart (cardiovascular) disease.

In the study an anti-inflammatory diet was a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals, whole grain bread, coffee, tea, red wine (low to moderate levels), beer (low to moderate levels), chocolate, nuts, olive and canola oils. These foods are both anti-inflammatory and also rich in anti-oxidants. Pro-inflammatory foods were: red meat, processed red meat, offal, chips, soft drinks. In other studies a pro-inflammatory diet was also one with lots of processed foods, low fiber, and refined grains. From Science Daily:

Anti-inflammatory diet linked to reduced risk of early death

Adhering to an anti-inflammatory diet was associated with lower risks of dying from any cause, dying from cardiovascular causes, and dying from cancer in a recent Journal of Internal Medicine study. ...continue reading "Diet, Inflammation, and Health"

Lately there has been discussion about "intermittent fasting" (on some days or time periods) and possible health benefits. Now an interesting small study has been published that found health benefits to eating as usual, but only within a restricted time frame.

Thirteen healthy, but overweight individuals were either assigned to an "eat normally as usual" group or a group that "ate only within a restricted time frame" - that is, they ate breakfast 1.5 hours or more later and supper 1.5 hours earlier (this was their last food of the day). After 10 weeks those eating only within the restricted time frame had lost body fat ( a health benefit), but not weight. However, there were complaints that eating within a restricted time frame was hard to do because it interfered with social events and family meals. Bottom line: lengthening the daily fast (from dinner to breakfast) without changing foods eaten appears to have health benefits. (Posts on "minifasting", Fasting Mimic Diet, fasting, 5 day calorie restriction). From Science Daily:

Changes in breakfast and dinner timings can reduce body fat

Modest changes to breakfast and dinner times can reduce body fat, a new pilot study in the Journal of Nutritional Sciences reports. During a 10-week study on 'time-restricted feeding' (a form of intermittent fasting), researchers led by Dr Jonathan Johnston from the University of Surrey investigated the impact changing meal times has on dietary intake, body composition and blood risk markers for diabetes and heart disease.  ...continue reading "Increasing the Length of the Nighttime Fast May Have Health Benefits"

The controversy over the pesticide Roundup and glyphosate (which is the active ingredient in Roundup) rages on. This week the Environmental Working Group (EWG) published results of independent laboratory tests (commissioned by them) that looked at glyphosate levels in common oat based foods (cereals, oatmeal, granola, and snack bars). Not surprisingly, they found glyphosate in almost all conventional cereals and at much higher levels than the little they found in some organic cereals (it was felt this was from cross-contamination or "pesticide drift" from conventional farms onto organic farms). The main questions are: Why is this pesticide found in foods? What, if anything, does this mean for our health? Are these levels safe?

The main thing to know: Glyphosate is the most heavily used herbicide (a type of pesticide) in the world. Over 250 million pounds were applied in the U.S. in 2015, with much of the application in the Midwest. Incredibly huge amounts of glyphosate are used in the midwest on farmland - greater than 88.6 pounds per square mile! Top crops it's used on are corn, soybeans, canola - especially genetically modified Roundup Ready crops. It is also used as a dessicant right before harvest ("preharvest") on many crops, such as wheat and oats (see Monsanto's guide for preharvest use). This is why harvested crops have glyphosate residues on them, and the foods we eat. Note that glyphosate (Roundup) can not be used on organic crops.

The herbicide has been linked to a number of health problems, including cancer, birth defects, endocrine disruption, and reproductive problems. (Posts on glyphosate.)  There are currently hundreds of lawsuits from farmers and others claiming that Roundup gave them cancer. This past week a California jury awarded $289. millions dollars to a man who said his cancer was due to repeated glyphosate weed killer (including Roundup) exposure as part of his job. A new concern is that glyphosate has an effect on our gut bacteria - that it messes with the human gut microbiome. Also, that Roundup has more of an effect than glyphosate alone (what's in all those hiddden inert ingredients?) At this point we just don't have all the answers, but there is cause for concern.

Whether these government allowed levels of pesticide residue in our foods are "safe" is also being hotly debated. The chemical industry and EPA say it's safe, while a number of researchers are saying no. It has been pointed out by many that the chemical industry (Monsanto - the makers of Roundup) and the EPA have worked hand in hand to make sure that Roundup is considered "safe".

Also, government allowable levels of glyphosate in foods (called tolerance for pesticide residue) were raised when the pesticide industry lobbied for that (which happened when Roundup Ready crops were introduced and as preharvest use increased). The EPA for years deliberately did not look at how much glyphosate residue is in our foods - if you don't know, how can you be concerned? And research now shows that MOST people have detectable glyphosate residues in them, including most pregnant women. [See all glyphosate posts.]

Both Quaker Foods and General Mills (their product Cheerios was among those with higher levels of glyphosate residues) responded to the EWG report by saying that their products are safe because the glyphosate residue levels in their products are within the EPA’s acceptable levels. Yes, but are these levels really safe? Especially if a person eats many foods with multiple pesticide residues daily.

Bottom line: We just don't know what these small, but increasing levels of glyphosate residues in our food and our bodies means for our health. If you are concerned, and I am, then try to eat organic foods when possible, especially organic corn, soybean, canola, wheat, and oats in order to try to minimize glyphosate levels in your body. Glyphosate and Roundup is not allowed to be used on organic crops. 

Two recent studies caught my eye – both reviews of scientific research that looked at the issue of diet and whether it contributes to the development of Intestinal Bowel Disease (IBD), specifically Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These are chronic inflammatory disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, and which are rapidly increasing in developed countries (over 1 million individuals in the US). The main question is: Does a person’s diet contribute to the development of IBD?

Both articles (one in the journal Nature Reviews and one in Immunology) said: YES, there is growing evidence that a person’s diet has a role in the development of IBD. Both articles stated that the current view is that some individuals may be genetically susceptible, and their diet (which feeds the microbes in the gut) then makes them more prone to the disease due to the mucosal lining becoming permeable and inflamed. Studies have shown that people with IBD have gut microbial communities that are imbalanced or out of whack (dysbiosis).

What does this mean? A person’s diet has a key role in what microbes live in the gut (human gut microbiome) – what one eats feeds the microbes in the gut, and a person’s general dietary pattern feeds some types of microbes and not others. So what one eats determines what lives in the gut microbial community. Unfortunately a fiber-deficient diet (typical Western diet) is both linked to increased mucosal inflammation (the mucus layer of the intestines) and it makes it leaky. In other words, a fiber deficient diet impairs the mucus layer of the intestines. Animal studies also support this (that the diet regulates mucosal barrier function).

People in developed countries such as the US typically eat a Western style diet. A Western diet is characterized by high amounts of red meat, processed food, high-fat foods, refined grains, sugary desserts, and low intakes of dietary fiber. However, the Western style diet has been linked to increased mucosal inflammation of the intestines, and to a higher incidence of a number of diseases, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

What diet is best? A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes (beans), and fish. Low in red meat, but moderate amounts of poultry. High in vitamin D, and high in omega-3 fatty acids. High in dietary potassium and zinc. Eat the foods, not supplements. One good example to follow is the Mediterranean diet. Think of it this way: high fiber diets lower inflammation in the gut, low fiber diets increase inflammation.

Both articles had similar diagrams showing that diet has an effect on the microbes in the gut (the microbiome), which results in either 1) a healthy mucosal lining of the intestines, or 2) a disturbed mucosal lining, disturbed permeability, and inflammation. The one article calls it the “mucinous layer” and the other calls it the gut “barrier” in the diagrams, but both are talking about the mucosal lining of the intestines.

The following image contrasts the effects on the intestines of the two types of diet - the intestines on the left have "homeostasis" (balance) from a healthy dietary pattern (lots of fiber, fruits& vegetables, etc) , and the one on the right has inflammation from a Western dietary pattern.  To see it more clearly, go to the original Figure 1. in the article by L. Celiberto et al: Inflammatory bowel disease and immunonutrition: novel therapeutic approaches through modulation of diet and the gut microbiome

The other review:  The role of diet in the aetiopathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease

Chronic low-grade inflammation in humans is drawing a lot of interest because it is linked to so many diseases (diabetes, cancer, etc). Key ways to lower this inflammation appear to be losing weight (if overweight), exercising, not smoking, and eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds (thus lots of fiber). Research also shows that the type of diet a person generally eats has an effect on the composition of gut microbes (you want to feed beneficial microbes!). But which is more important for health and lowering inflammation - whole grains or fruits and vegetables or neither?

A recent study attempted to answer this question. They put 49 overweight or obese individuals, who typically ate low amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (less than 1 serving per day), into 1 of the following 3 groups for 6 weeks: 1) Whole grains (WG), 2) Fruits and vegetables (FV), and 3) a Control group (who ate refined grains). All persons were given 3 servings per day of "treatment" foods to eat at home, but the rest of their Western style diets stayed the same. The individuals did not all consume the same foods, but rather consumed their choice of foods from their group's food category.

The researchers collected blood and stool samples (both at the beginning of the study and after 6 weeks) to measure inflammation levels, and types of microbes and fatty acids in the gut. Inflammatory markers that they measured were: tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), interleukin-6 (IL-6), lipopolysaccharide binding protein (LBP), and high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP).

The researchers found an increase in microbial diversity in the FV group (perhaps due to the new variety of fibers in the fruits and vegetables), but otherwise there were no significant changes in gut microbiome composition among the groups. [Note: but each group had only some dietary changes, not drastic changes]

The researchers found that whole grains and fruits and vegetables lowered markers of inflammation - but each treatment (FV or WG) lowered different types of inflammation markers. And note that for the fruit/vegetable group - the 3 servings per day, was still below government recommendations of 5 servings per day for adults. And the rest of their diet was the same Western diet that they normally ate. So the whole grains or fruits and vegetables were not major dietary changes. And yet there were positive changes - lowering of inflammation.

So the final answer is that it is best for your health  (and gut microbes) to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and also whole grains. And they didn't even mention legumes, nuts, and seeds - all high fiber foods with lots of micronutrients, and known to be good for beneficial gut microbes. So yes, eat them also. What was a serving in this study? 1 serving = 1 cup fruits or vegetables, and 1 serving = 1 oz of whole or refined grains...continue reading "Fruits, Vegetables, and Whole Grains Lower Inflammation"

It will be great if more studies support a recent study finding that eating a Mediterranean style diet is associated with fewer psoriasis symptoms. The large study, which was conducted in France, found an inverse association with the Mediterranean diet - the more closely a person ate a Mediterranean diet, the less severe their psoriasis symptoms and the lower their serum C-reactive protein levels (which measures chronic systemic inflammation). Key things to remember are that psoriasis is an inflammatory condition and the Mediterranean diet is anti-inflammatory, and the typical Western diet is inflammatory (low in fiber, lots of highly processed foods, few fruits and vegetables, high in sugar, and red meat) .

The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, legumes (beans), fish, and light on red meat. Research finds that micronutrients, fiber, antioxidants, and polyphenols that are present in the Mediterranean diet reduce chronic systemic inflammation.  The Mediterranean diet has other health benefits - for example, it's good for the heart, is good for gut microbes, and linked to lower rates of several cancers. From Medical Xpress:

Could psoriasis patients eat their way to fewer symptoms?

A study of more than 3,500 French psoriasis patients found that the healthier their diet, the less severe their symptomsSpecifically, the closer an individual adhered to the nutritious "Mediterranean" diet, the less onerous their psoriasis became. This was true regardless of whether or not the patient was obese, the French researchers noted. 

...continue reading "Could the Mediterranean Diet Help With Psoriasis Symptoms?"

The American Academy of Pediatrics (representing 67,000 pediatricians) has come out with a statement expressing serious health concerns about the Food and Drug Administration's  (FDA) lax regulation of chemicals added to food and food packaging - such as additives, BPA, colors, flavors, nitrates, nitrites, etc. They also list ways that this problem could be fixed (Congress needs to pass legislation!), and also give some steps on how people can lower their exposure to these chemicals.

A panel of experts representing the group issued both a technical report and a statement which talked about the scientific evidence (which grows yearly) against such compounds such as bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs) used in grease-proof paper, certain colors (dyes), and preservatives. These chemicals can enter into the body and cause harm or health problems, for example  by disrupting crucial biological processes such as the endocrine (hormone) system and immune system. A number of these chemicals are thought to mimic or suppress natural hormones - they are endocrine disruptors. Children and developing fetuses are especially vulnerable to long-term effects. They also expressed concern with nonpersistent pesticides.

Many of the chemicals currently in the food supply "have not been tested at all, while others have not been tested for endocrine disruption or their impact on brain development, and their effect on children's health is still unknown," said Trasande, the paper's lead author and an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine in New York. This is because the old required tests are too simplistic, too crude, using old out-dated technology and knowledge.

The American Academy of pediatrics points out in the statement that currently: "more than 10 000 chemicals are allowed to be added to food and food contact materials in the United States, either directly or indirectly, under the 1958 Food Additives Amendment to the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA)". Many of these were grandfathered in for use by the federal government before the 1958 amendment, and an estimated 1000 chemicals are used under a “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) designation process..."  Whew.... so many chemicals...

Is there a problem with GRAS? Of the approximate 1,000 GRAS compounds added to food and food packaging, the large majority were designated as such by either the company that manufactures them or a paid consultant. (Do you see a problem here? The conflicts of interest are huge - the fox is guarding the chickens.)

How can you personally lower your exposure to all these chemicals? 1) Eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible, and avoid eating canned foods (the can lining has BPA or other just as worrisome chemicals - bisphenols), 2) Avoid processed meat, especially during pregnancy (nitrates, nitrites, etc), 3) Avoid microwaving food or liquids in plastic containers (chemicals leach out) - including infant formula and breastmilk, 4) Avoid putting plastics in the dishwasher (chemicals leach out), 5) Use alternatives to plastic such as glass and stainless steel, 6) Avoid plastics with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene), and 7 (bisphenols) unless plastics are labeled as “biobased” or “greenware,” indicating that they are made from corn and do not contain bisphenols, 7) Wash  hands before eating, and wash fruits and vegetables that cannot be peeled. 8) Also - read the ingredients on all labels, and look for "real" ingredients ...continue reading "Pediatricians Have Health Concerns About All the Additives In Food"