Monday, September 23, 2013

Bad Studies Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

~Jack Challem

In our 24‐hour news cycle, headlines are written to shock and scare, and most reporters don’t have the grasp of medicine needed to critically evaluate whether a study is valid or not and publication in a medical journal is no assurance of research quality.

That’s something to consider when you see negative reports on dietary supplements. For example, a recent article in the Archives of Internal Medicine claimed that older women who took a variety of supplements‐including multivitamins‐ had a greater risk of death from disease. But the conclusions drawn from this article were suspect, at best.

For one thing, the Archives study had serious flaws. The subjects were asked to remember, on three different occasions over a span of almost 20 years, which supplements they had taken. This type of data collection is notoriously inaccurate. After all, do you remember exactly what you took years ago? And would something you took 20 years ago actually cause your death today? It’s doubtful.

The researchers also ignored the fact that older people have a higher risk of death simply because of their age, their greater likelihood of having serious age‐related diseases, and their likely use of multiple prescription drugs with attendant side effects.

Monday, September 9, 2013

How Sweet It Is


Who among us is resolute enough to get through the holiday season without enjoying—or, for that matter, baking—sweets?  While a few extra calories in natural sweeteners and syrups won't hurt most of us, the new breed of sugar substitutes might.  Alarmingly, sugar's kissing cousins may be even more harmful to your health than sugar itself.

When you overindulge in salty foods, your body craves sweets more than usual.  Experiment with herbs and spices that increase flavor without salt or sugar.

The perception of sugar free is not unlike that of fat free in the 1980s and early '90s.  Ever since we started slashing fat, we've gotten fatter.  With all the new sweeteners on the market today (like high-fructose corn syrup and Splenda), refined sugar consumption has declined, but that doesn't mean people are consuming fewer calories.  In fact, when Jelly Belly added Splenda (aka sucralose) to its sugar-fee jelly beans, this artificially sweetened candy had only one calorie less than the original!  But the real problem is that Splenda has been linked to a variety of unwanted symptoms from bloating and stomach cramps to headaches.  Even the company Web site has warned against giving sugar-free jelly beans to children under three years of age.  Another popular artificial sweetener, NutraSweet (aka aspartame or Equal) appears to deplete the body's supplies of chromium—a trace mineral critical in sugar metabolism—and may increase cravings for sweets.  Aspartame has recently been linked to migraines, particularly in children and teens, possibly as a reaction to its metabolite formaldehyde.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest has concluded that Sunette (aka acesulfame potassium, or Sweet & Safe and Sweet One) may cause cancer, so avoid these sugar substitutes.  Even older artificial sweeteners, like Sweet'N Low (aka saccharin), a petroleum derivative, can cause problems in sensitive individuals.