Author: Ellie Strand

chips aisle in supermarket

New Study: Processed Foods Increase Mortality

As readers of this blog can attest, I have a lot to say about the nutritionally inadequate and poisonous standard American diet and lifestyle. Today, a seven-year study published online by the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that eating highly processed foods appears to be associated with a 14% higher mortality.

There’s an ever-increasing amount of evidence that frequently eating processed foods is associated with chronic diseases like high cholesterol, obesity, high blood pressure, and cancer. However, this is the first study to look at processed food consumption and mortality.

Highly Processed Food Not Healthy

Highly processed foods include ready-to-eat foods like packaged snacks, sugary drinks, breads, candies, ready-made meals, and processed meats with little nutritional value. frozen food supermarket aisleThese have a high-calorie content along with being low in fiber and high in carbohydrates (including added sugar), saturated fats, unhealthy additives like artificial coloring and chemical preservatives, and large amounts of salt.

Popular because they are seen as affordable, easy to prepare and resist spoiling, these foods are also intensively marketed and prominently displayed in supermarkets.

The research was conducted in France where the EU does not allow genetically modified organisms and many of the pesticides found in most nonorganic American processed foods.

Researchers obtained mealtime data from 44,551 adults. Almost three-quarters of the study group were women having a mean age at the study’s start of 56.7 years.

According to the French study, for every 10% increase in highly processed foods in the diet, the risk of dying from any cause increased by 14%.* Participants were already in the French NutriNet-Santé Study, an ongoing, nationwide, web-based nutritional study that began in May 2009. The researchers conducted follow-up through December 15, 2017. Food intake information was recorded using 24-hour dietary recalls.

Processed Food Makes Up 30% of French Diet vs. 60% of American Diet

The diet questionnaires asked for information on what foods were typically eaten at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and also what snacks were eaten. There were validated photos so participants could accurately report portion size. Based on the responses, highly processed foods accounted for about 30% of French respondents total daily intake.

highly processed breakfast cerealsThis is in stark contrast to the standard American diet. A 2016 study found highly processed food accounting for almost 60% of calories (57.9%), and almost 90% of calories (89.7%) from added sugars. The extra sugar in ultra-processed foods is eight times higher than in minimally processed food and processed ingredients used to make food (2.4 and 3.7% respectively) added together.

The data analysis adjusted for potential things that could have skewed results. These confounders included age, gender, income, educational level, marital status, urban or rural residence, physical activity level, smoking status, alcohol intake, calorie intake, first-degree family history of cancer/cardiovascular disease, number of 24-hour dietary records completed, the season in which dietary recalls were done, and the overall nutritional quality of the diet.

Food Coloring, Preservatives Plus Added Salt and Sugar Raise Chronic Disease Risk

Researchers stated that food additives (like coloring and preservatives), in addition to the high salt, high sugar, and low fiber content of highly processed foods, contribute to an increased risk for chronic diseases that ultimately leads to the increased mortality risk found in this study.

Adjusting for an overall healthy diet (as estimated by following French national recommendations) made the association between ultra-processed foods and death weaker but did not remove it. This suggests that a healthy diet plays a part in reducing the observed 14% greater risk of death.

Please look at the Resources section of this blog to find links to websites I used to increase my health despite being disabled by a complex and devastating multi-system disease that causes dysfunction of the neurological, immune, endocrine, and energy metabolism systems. Read all about this disease by clicking on the link above.

* Hazard ratio per 10% increment, 1.14; 95% confidence interval, 1.04 – 1.27;P = .008

flu still life

What To Know About Flu, Colds & Chronic Illness

Since so many of us with chronic illnesses stay at home most of the week, we aren’t exposed to the upper respiratory germs that people in the workplace run across daily*. Additionally, many chronic illnesses also include an immune system dysfunction.

It can be a shock to find out a family member, friend or caregiver has passed along a bug that hits you hard. Suddenly your nose starts to run, your throat is a bit scratchy and you may even feel overheated. Do you have the dreaded flu or a cold?

Many people think a fever occurs only with flu, but there is a huge overlap between non-flu viruses and those produce by classic influenza. That said, there are some predictable differences between the two contagious illnesses.

Symptom

Influenza

Common Cold

Other Viral

Onset

Quick, An Hour or Less

Several Days of Increasing Symptoms

Can Be Within Hours

Cough

Dry, Nonproductive

Wet, Produces Mucous

Fever

Yes

yes

Body Aches

Like You Were Run Over by a Truck

Slightly to Moderately Increased

Head Congestion

Some

Severe, Often Sinuses Inflamed

Sore Throat

Some

Often With Swollen Neck Glands

GI—Nausea, Diarrhea, Stomach Ache

No

No

Yes

Just about everyone in the medical community, as well as many bloggers, say it’s crucial everyone get a flu vaccination—preferably before the end of October. The flu shot’s effectiveness can vary from about 50% to 90% depending on how well vaccine manufacturers determined which strain of flu would be most active in the 2018-19 Flu Season.

Experts say that even if the vaccine is only 30-40% effective someone with it will have a quicker and easier time getting over the flu. Another reason frequently discussed is that vaccinations save lives. The rationale is that by vaccinating yourself, you’ll be much less likely to acquire and spread it to at-risk groups.

But say you are one of the millions of people with a compromised immune system. What to do? This was the subject of a recent, very long thread on the subject on a Facebook group I frequent for people with ME/CFS.

By the time the thread closed, there was no clear consensus. People spoke about how many months (usually three to four) they took to recover from flu and swore they would never go without a vaccination again. Others said they were down for three to four weeks with immune system activation after receiving a vaccination for flu.

Personally, I use the Mayo Health System. Inexplicably, Mayo still recommends the discredited results of an infamous research study–graded exercise therapy (GET) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as the primary treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome. Sadly, it does not list myalgic encephalomyelitis as a disease or condition.

I have a Masters in Nursing Science and worked as a Nurse Practitioner in South Carolina, Colorado, and Wisconsin before contracting this damn disease (ME/CFS). I do my own research and, since Mayo still clings to outdated and erroneous recommendations based on the highly flawed PACE Trial in the UK, I make up my own mind as far as my own health issues go.

So, as I have done many times in the past when faced with a decision, I wrote out the pros and cons.

FOR FLU VACCINATION (PRO)

AGAINST FLU VACCINATION (CON)

May help hubby, on O2 for COPD, avoid getting the flu

May trigger extended (2-4 wks) immune system reaction

Maybe bedridden for months if I get the flu

I have not had flu since contracting ME, actually not since I was a young woman

Chronically ill with a disease that began with a coxsackievirus infection

I am seldom ill from community-acquired infections, even when I was not homebound

I am chronically ill with a disease that began with a coxsackievirus infection, some specialists believe a subclinical enterovirus infection is at the root of ME

As Leslie Kernisan, MD MPH wrote in response to a question asking if flu vaccination making autoimmune diseases worse, “The CDC and other experts generally recommend that people with autoimmune diseases get the seasonal flu vaccine. This is because people with autoimmune conditions are at higher risk of having flu complications, and it’s estimated that the overall risk of being harmed by the flu is higher than the small risk of developing an autoimmune exacerbation related to the vaccine.

People with autoimmune conditions should not get the live attenuated flu vaccine. (But that one is not recommended in the US this year, anyway.)

I think there are certainly some doctors who believe it’s risky for people with autoimmune issues to get the flu shot. I was not able to find much scientific evidence regarding the risk, however, so I’m not sure we really know what the risk is.

I would recommend you discuss your questions regarding the likely benefits and risks of flu vaccination with your own doctors. You may want to discuss this question with a rheumatologist, as they may have a better understanding of the guidelines and research evidence on this topic.

Good luck!”

I respect Dr. Kernisan and so if she could find no contradictions for a person with a (presumed) autoimmune disease receiving an annual flu vaccination, I can’t argue with it.

I will be doing a 16-day Buddhist practice for my health starting this weekend. Not wanting a possible reaction to immune system triggering from the vaccine during this time of prayers and meditation, I will not get vaccinated until after the retreat finishes on November 5th.

I’ll let you all know if I have any sort of reaction to the vaccination. But what about you? Have you had a reaction to flu shots? Do you get an annual flu vaccination?

*I’m talking about folks who are deemed disabled by the Social Security Administration. If you are in the process of applying for disability or have just been denied benefits, there is an excellent post on how to appeal a disability denial as well as a host of other valuable information. Check it out on this website howtogeton.wordpress.com/.

charcoal woman's eye CU

Kitchen Spice Stops Cancer Stem Cells

I recently came across a study published in 2014 that found the common kitchen spice, turmeric and its prime constituent curcumin, had a surprisingly effective effect on cancer stem cells (CSCs).

Why this information was not made more public than the medical newsletter Cancer Letters is clear only when I consider that there is no “real” money to be made from a root that has been used as a spice for hundreds of years. 

person inside MRI machine

Nixon signed the National Cancer Act in 1971. Since then, over a hundred billion dollars of taxpayer money has been spent on research and drug development in an attempt to eradicate the disease. Trillions more are spent by the cancer patients themselves and through insurance. But after more than four decades of waging full-scale conventional (surgery and chemo) and nuclear (radiotherapy) war against cancer, one in every four Americans will be diagnosed with cancer each year. 

I’ve long known about curcumin as an anti-inflammatory and use it daily for my osteoarthritis, as well as for the central nervous system inflammation that is part of myalgic encephalomyelitis, the ME part of ME/CFS. But let’s talk about cancer in this post.

CSCs Are The Mother Of Cancer

Conventional models of cancer (the mutation theory) assume that the majority of the cancer cells within a tumor possess the ability to grow and self-renew to differing degrees. The CSC model proposes that CSCs, actually a minor population of all cancer cells, are the tumor growth engine. CSCs undergo continuous self-renewal and have the ability to change into different types of cancer cells, just like other human stem cells. No other cancer cell type has this capability. 

In other words, CSCs are at the top of all cells within the tumor and are the “mother” of the various daughter cells that make it up. Furthermore, most of the cells derived from CSCs are not lethal. Therefore, chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery aimed at removing these “daughter” cells are wasted.  The goal is to eradicate the stem cells, not the relatively harmless cancer cells they create.

In the study, conventional treatment with chemotherapy and radiation (tested by a rodent model with a 2-year experimental window to evaluate treatment efficacy and safety) was unable to identify the CSC-mediated cause of post-treatment tumor recurrence. This recurrence, which in humans can take decades after initial treatment to manifest, is usually more invasive and resistant to conventional treatment. 

dead leaf

Although it’s possible to reduce (debulk) a tumor with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, CSC populations were often missed or even enriched as a result. When the tumor regrew it often results in the rapid death of the patient. Unfortunately, most of us are only too aware of family and friends who “survived” one cancer only to succumb, years later, to metastasis of cancer cells.

Turmeric and curcumin extract have been and continue to be extensively researched for their ability to kill various cancer cell lines.  The number of published studies is so abundant that it is disheartening that so many people who need safe, effective and affordable treatments are not given any information about it. 

Curcumin Is Ideal Cancer Therapy

Emerging evidence suggested that the dietary agent curcumin exerted its anti-cancer activities via targeting cancer stem cells of various origins such as those of colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, brain cancer, and head and neck cancer.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24851881

The study identified a number of ways in which curcumin provides an ideal CSC therapy, including:

  • Regulating CSC self-renewal pathway. Curcumin appears to influence at least three self-renewal pathways within cancer stem cells, namely, Wnt/b-catenin, sonic hedgehog 89 (SHH), and Notch. The authors list 12 difference cancer cell lines which curcumin appears to positively affect.
  • Modulating microRNA. These are short, non-coding RNA sequences that regulate approximately a third of the human genome. Curcumin degrades or inactivates cells by binding to messenger RNA (mRNA) within the cell. The way curcumin alters the expression of microRNAs in cancer stem cells suggests a strong suppression of tumor formation.
  • Direct anti-cancer activity. Curcumin has the ability to selectively kill cancer cells versus healthy cells and works with conventional chemotherapy agents, thereby making them more effective and, in some cases, less harmful.

“Curcumin, as well as its modified forms (analogs or nanoparticle-encapsulated formulations), has shown great potential to inhibit CSCs in several types of cancer both in cell cultures and in mouse models, including glioma, breast, colorectal, pancreatic, brain, and esophageal cancers. Some analogs (e.g., CDF) and formulations (e.g., nanotechnology-based formulation) have exhibited improved efficacy against CSC-like cells and greater growth-inhibitory capacity in tumors.”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24851881

There are over 800 studies on turmeric/curcumin in the national published medical research database, known as PubMed. The safety and tolerability of all the available human research on curcumin in human cancer studies found no cause for concern. Curcumin, in addition to being a natural Ayurvedic remedy for thousands of years, is well tolerated and caused no significant toxicity in clinical trials.

Unfortunately, none of the research I cited earlier identified the amount of curcumin used in cancer therapy. However, I found guidance on this site. https://integrativeoncology-essentials.com

Pharmacologically, curcumin has been found to be safe. Human clinical trials indicated no dose-limiting toxicity when administered at doses up to 10 g/day. All of these studies suggest that curcumin has enormous potential in the prevention and therapy of cancer.  

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12680238

According to Brian D. Lawenda, MD, an integrative oncologist trained at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Helms Medical Institute at Stanford-UCLA, and founder of IntegrativeOncology-Essentials, curcumin is considered to be a safe supplement, food additive and spice (by the U.S. FDA.)

Side Effects and Interactions

That said, Dr. Lawenda noted a number of potential side effects, drug interactions, and contraindications that you should know about:

  • Curcumin may cause an upset stomach. Dosages of 6g daily have been associated with minor flatulence and a yellowing of the stool. I take between 1,500 and 3,000 mg/day in two divided doses. I especially noticed this when my irritable bowel syndrome was raging on the diarrhea side. After probiotic therapy that replenished my microbiome, I no longer see this.
  • There is a risk of exacerbating existing gallbladder disease. Curcumin causes smooth muscle contractions, which will make it painful if you have stones in the bile duct.
  • May increase the risk of bleeding (due to platelet inhibition) when combined with other medications or botanicals like aspirin, anticoagulants (blood thinners), antiplatelet drugs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, naproxen, Motrin ®, Ale®), Gingko biloba, garlic, saw palmetto.
  • May cause uterine stimulation (caution is recommended during pregnancy)
  • May decrease the effectiveness of cancer drugs like cyclophosphamide and camptothecin.
  • People with GI disorders or predisposed to kidney stone formation should also use this supplement with caution.

How Do You Take It?

Oral curcumin is poorly absorbed from the bowel. However, the absorption can be increased when it is given with piperine (an extract from black pepper.) Simply adding piperine to curcumin has been shown to increase curcumin absorption by 2000%!

Taking curcumin with meals can increase its absorption (especially fatty/oily foods: olive oil, avocado, fish oil, milk, seeds, etc.)

salmon-with-carrots

Newer formulations of curcumin are available with greater absorption characteristics (i.e. complexed with piperine, nanoparticles, liposomal formulations, etc.) Watch out for curcumin supplements that do not contain the amount listed on the bottle.

Consumer Labs tested 22 products and recommends only four that met or exceeded their minimum requirements–like containing the amount listed, and not containing heavy metals or insect fragments. Two of the recommended brands are not available on Amazon, but are listed in their review (see link at the start of this paragraph). The brands they, and I, recommend are: Doctor’s Best High Absorption Curcumin and NOW Curcumin.

Curcumin is rapidly cleared from the blood (within 1-4 hours of ingestion, most of it is cleared.) To maintain blood levels of curcumin, it is best to take it in divided doses throughout the day. Dr. Andrew Weil, a well-respected integrative medicine practitioner, recommends taking curcumin derived from whole turmeric three times per day.

Unfortunately, we don’t know the optimal dosing. That said, doses from 500-3600 mg of curcumin per day have been used in recent studies.

For cancer prevention, Life Extension recommends 400-500 mg per day. During and after cancer treatment, they suggest 800-3,000 mg per day (divided dose, with meals containing some form of fat).

If you want to take turmeric instead of curcumin, here’s how to do it. One tablespoon of dried turmeric powder weighs 6.8 grams. The average amount of curcumin (by weight) in turmeric powder is 3.4%. So, 1 tablespoon of turmeric powder is equal to 6.8 grams x 3.4% = 0.231 grams or 231 milligrams. Therefore, if you want to take 500 milligrams of curcumin per day, you will need to consume approximately 2 tablespoons of dried turmeric powder.

As with any supplement, please first discuss your interest in using curcumin with your oncology team or primary care provider before you start taking it.