A couple of weeks ago, a major study out of the Harvard School of Public Health unveiled a remarkable magic bullet that has been proven to reduce cancer mortality by 44% and death from heart disease by an astounding 73%. This is Nobel Prize winning stuff!!! So why haven’t you heard about this on every TV station in the world and read about it as the lead story in every newspaper?
Oh, did I forget to mention that it’s not a drug; it’s a lifestyle change? No wonder you didn’t hear about it — there’s no pharmaceutical company standing behind it and investing millions to promote it. But that doesn’t make it any less important. In fact the study is even more dramatic than I’ve already indicated. It proved that a simple lifestyle change could reduce your risk of death from ALL causes by 55%. But it gets even better. Since the study was run by medical doctors, their idea of “lifestyle” change is pretty limited — stop smoking, eat a little better, get some exercise. The truth behind the study is that if you make some more aggressive changes, including regularly flushing environmental toxins from your body and incorporating an intelligent supplement program, you can push the study numbers through the roof — cutting your cancer risk and improving cardiovascular health by close to 90%!! Now, that’s truly worth a Nobel Prize.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the study, and then a closer look at how we can make some lifestyle changes that can dramatically shift health odds in your favor.
A study in mortality
A research team at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital tracked 77,782 nurses over 24 years. The researchers analyzed the participants’ responses to questionnaires about lifestyle and health conditions and concluded as a result that 55% of deaths from all causes (44% of deaths from cancer and 72% of deaths from heart disease) could have been avoided if participants never smoked, engaged in regular physical activity, avoided becoming overweight, and ate a healthy diet. In addition, they found that the women who had one drink a day, or slightly less, actually did about 7% better than those women who did not drink at all in terms of death from heart disease. Then again, those women who averaged two or more drinks per day had a significant increase in deaths from cancer.
As Rob van Dam, the leader of the study and assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at HSPH and in the Channing Laboratory, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School said, “A healthy diet and lifestyle has a profound influence on risk of premature death due to chronic diseases. The results of the study reinforce the need to strengthen public health efforts around quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy diet and weight and performing regular physical activity.”
“Our findings suggest that the combination of lifestyle factors has a substantially larger impact on survival than any single factor. Clearly, avoiding smoking is of major importance for health, but regular physical activity, a healthy diet and weight management can result in large additional health benefits. Even modest lifestyle changes such as 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity (e.g., brisk walking) per day significantly reduced risk of premature death.” said van Dam.
Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at HSPH, and senior author of the study, added, “Because prevalence of smoking has declined but prevalence of obesity is increasing rapidly, the impact of obesity on chronic diseases and mortality will become even more pronounced in the future.”
A healthy diet
Giving up smoking, exercising, and losing weight are pretty much self explanatory, but what qualifies as a healthier diet? The study specifically states, “Findings from randomized controlled trials support the protective effect of a prudent Mediterranean-style diet” That’s pretty clear, but for more details we can turn to another study published in the British Medical Journal less than a month ago that focused on determining the optimum diet. The conclusion of this second study agrees with the HSPH study — both of which pretty much agree with what I’ve been saying for years.
“Greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with a significant improvement in health status, as seen by a significant reduction in overall mortality (9%), mortality from cardiovascular diseases (9%), incidence of or mortality from cancer (6%), and incidence of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease (13%).”
So what is the Mediterranean Diet? (And here’s where things get a little bit interesting.) According to the American Heart Association, there is no one “Mediterranean” diet. At least 16 countries border the Mediterranean Sea. Diets vary from country to country and also between regions within a given country. Many differences in culture, ethnic background, religion, economy, and agricultural production result in different diets. But the common Mediterranean dietary pattern, according to the AHA, has the following characteristics:
- high consumption of fruits, vegetables, bread and other cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds
- dairy products, fish and poultry are consumed in low to moderate amounts, and little red meat is eaten
- eggs are consumed zero to four times a week
- wine is consumed in low to moderate amounts
- olive oil is an important monounsaturated fat source
- more than half the fat calories in a Mediterranean diet come from monounsaturated fats (mainly from olive oil)
I’m not entirely comfortable with that definition and will offer my own refinements in a moment, but first I’d like to explore some of the concerns that Dr. Joseph Mercola has expressed concerning the Mediterranean diet. Overall he likes the diet but expresses six concerns — all of which are serious concerns and need to be addressed.
- Olive oil is the dominant oil in the Mediterranean diet, but should not be used for cooking. It has a low smoke point and quickly breaks down into unhealthy components when used in cooking.
- Dr. Mercola doesn’t like the fact that the Mediterranean diet (at least as most people follow it in the United States) promotes the misguided notion that saturated fats are bad for you — when in fact, they can be very healthy.
- The diet promotes high consumption of bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and other grains, all of which contribute to heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
- It encourages the consumption of fish, which is no longer healthy because of high heavy metal levels in ocean caught fish and high dioxin levels in farm raised fish.
- The diet makes no distinction between pasteurized and raw dairy.
- And finally, no diet is right for everyone.
For the most part, his concerns are dead on — but easily accounted for — and lead into the modifications that I mentioned earlier.
1. Cooking with olive oil
Dr. Mercola is absolutely correct. Olive oil should only be used for salad dressings and added to already cooked foods. You do not want to cook with it; it breaks down too easily under even medium cooking temperatures. For high temperature cooking, you want to use either avocado oil or rice bran oil. Dr. Mercola’s recommendation to use extra virgin coconut oil for cooking is only good for medium temperature cooking, not frying. For more information on vegetable oils, click here. For more information on olive oil, click here. Note: walnut oil is a healthy and tasty substitute (or complement) to olive oil in the diet.
2. Are saturated fats really bad for you?
Again, Dr. Mercola is dead on. The generalization that saturated fats are unhealthy is absolutely wrong! It misses the distinction between good (essential) saturated fats and bad fats. In fact, the right kind of saturated fat in your diet is essential. Coconut oil, one of the most saturated fats in existence, for example, is one of the healthiest fats you can eat. It is high in medium chain triglycerides in general and lauric acid in particular — extremely beneficial. Even the generalization that all trans fats are unhealthy is wrong. Only artificial trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) are unhealthy. Naturally occurring trans fats are not unhealthy — and in some cases, they actually promote heart health. The biggest problem with fats, as it turns out, is the high ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 oils in the modern diet. A healthy diet will have a ration of 1:1 or 2:1. But the modern diet has ratios that run 20:1 to 30:1 and even 50:1. This is a concept that appears to be beyond most doctors, researchers, and mainstream nutritionists, but it is vital to your health that you understand it.
3. The Mediterranean diet promotes high carbohydrate consumption
Not necessarily!! Some versions of the Mediterranean diet actually advocate low consumption of refined carbohydrates, instead emphasizing the consumption of nutrient dense carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, and sprouts. Understand, not all carbohydrates are bad. In fact, carbohydrates are essential. Our bodies need carbohydrates. Most of the organs and tissue in our bodies, including our muscles and our brains, run on carbohydrates. As Dr. Joel Fuhrman explains in his book, Eat to Live (highly recommended), “It is impossible to glean all the nutrients needed for optimal health if your diet does not contain lots of carbohydrate rich food.”
And he continues, “Fresh fruits, beans and legumes, whole grains, and root vegetables are all examples of foods whose calories come mainly from carbohydrates. It is the nutrient-per-calorie ratio of these foods that determines their food value.” The concept of nutrient density that Dr. Fuhrman mentions is key to truly making sense of dietary issues. My one caution on Dr. Fuhrman is that he does not acknowledge the importance of healthy fats in the diet. Fats may not be nutrient dense, but they do provide certain nutrients that are absolutely necessary for optimum health.
4. The Mediterranean diet promotes the consumption of toxic fish
Certainly toxins in fish are a major concern, but they can be intelligently avoided. For those of you who wish to include fish in your diet, here’s an entire newsletter devoted to the topic. Unfortunately, we are fishing many species to the point of extinction. That means that much of the debate on fish as food is moot. As a viable protein source for the human race, toxin free wild fish will most likely be pushed beyond its limits within the next one to two decades. After that, it will be a “special treat” for those who can afford it.
5. The Mediterranean diet makes no distinction between pasteurized and raw dairy
Who says? Just like you have a choice to eat organic or genetically modified foods, you have the option to eat either commercial or organic raw dairy. That said, unlike Dr. Mercola, I’m not a great fan of dairy, either raw or commercial. But yes, if you’re going to eat dairy, raw, organic dairy is a far healthier choice — if for no other reason than that the heat involved in pasteurizing dairy denatures the protein, making it that much more allergenic and that much more inhibiting of nutrient absorption.
6. And finally, Dr. Mercola states that no diet is perfect for everyone
Bingo! Absolutely! Dead on! And that’s why I’ve never actually spelled out the details of a diet program despite numerous requests to do so. Each person is different. Some people thrive as vegetarians. Others require some meat to feel energized. But within those differences, there are rules that all diets share. For example:
- If you do eat meat, keep it under 3 oz per day, and eat only organic, grass fed, no growth hormone beef. Eat low mercury wild-caught fish. And eat organic, free-range chicken.
- If you do eat dairy, minimize it — and opt for organic raw dairy if you have the option.
- Eat nutrient dense foods.
- Minimize the consumption of refined carbohydrates.
- Absolutely make sure to get your ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 oils closer to the ideal 1:1 ratio, as opposed to the 50:1 you might be consuming now.
What to take from the Harvard School of Public Health study
First and foremost, change your diet. We’ve spent the major chunk of this newsletter talking about exactly how to do that. For more information, you can read Lessons from the Miracle Doctors. You can download a free copy of the 2002 edition at www.jonbarron.org/detox/free-natural-health-book-lessons-miracle. However, a greatly expanded edition (419 pages) is being released by Basic Health Publications later this week. Within a few weeks it should be available in bookstores everywhere and from Amazon.com. That version, unfortunately, will not be available for free download. The publisher, though, has graciously allowed us to continue offering free downloads of the 2002 edition on our website. In any case, in the new edition, there is a greatly expanded section on diet and nutrition.
As I mentioned at the top of the newsletter, the study restricts itself to minor modifications in lifestyle. It did not analyze the benefits of aggressive changes (probably because the researchers had no idea what those might be). Avoiding smoking certainly helps, but it’s passive. What about all the toxins you breathe in every day or consume in your water? For those, you need to detox regularly. We’re talking about intestinal detoxes, heavy metal detoxes, kidney flushes, and liver and gallbladder cleanses — done on a regular basis, like having a regular check up at your doctor’s office.
As for exercise, make sure you incorporate a routine that moves you through all types of exercise — not necessarily in each exercise session, but certainly over two or three sequential sessions. We’re talking about:
- Weight bearing
- Resistance breathing
Each type of exercise provides a different range of benefits. To better understand those benefits, check out The Need for Exercise.
And finally, there are essential supplements. Despite what the AMA or personal physician may tell you, you can’t get all the nutrients you need from a balanced diet. Even if your food had the same nutritional value of food grown 50 years ago, the stresses our bodies face today are far beyond the ability of a standard diet to defend against. The right use of supplements can:
- Make up for nutritional deficiencies in the food we eat.
- Counteract the effects of the myriad of free radicals our bodies are now exposed to.
- Mitigate many of the effects of improper diet, such as excessive consumption of high glycemic foods.
- Rebalance hormone levels
- And slow down the aging process
For a quick guide on what supplements you might want to consider, check out:
For the complete version, check out Lessons from the Miracle Doctors:
- Again, you can either download the free 2002 edition at www.jonbarron.org/detox/free-natural-health-book-lessons-miracle
- Or pick up the new expanded hardcover edition at your local bookstore or online at Amazon.com.
So where does that leave us? Well, thanks to the HSPH study we now know that modest lifestyle changes can cut our risk of dying from cancer and heart disease by 44% and 72% respectively. But we now also know that if you are more aggressive about your lifestyle changes and follow a Baseline of Health® type approach, you can cut your risk of dying from cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc. by some 90%. That’s got to be the medical story of the century and a slam dunk for a Nobel Prize. Please feel free to submit nominations on my behalf to the prize committee. Oh darn! I forgot. I’m not part of the medical establishment; it’s not a magic bullet, and I’m not affiliated with a major university. Never mind. I’ll just have to be content knowing that I’m helping people live longer healthier. And that’s more than enough.
For more detailed information about diet and nutrition visit Jon Barron’s Baseline of Health® Program.