Wednesday, August 22, 2007

You Are What You Eat (*Shudder*)

If you're still not washing your produce, avoiding plastic, and buying hormone-free milk, after reading Randall Fitzgerald's "The Hundred-Year Lie: How Food and Medicine are Destroying Your Health," you may change your mind. The book makes a lot of good points; my only quibble was... well... you can read that in my review, below.

July 6, 2006

Sounding the alarm on a toxic `synergy'

By Lylah M. Alphonse, Globe Staff

The level of environmental pollution we live with may not surprise anyone anymore. But what about the idea that we may be born with harmful neurotoxins in our systems? And that the food we eat and the medicine we take may be making us sicker?

Randall Fitzgerald's interest in the topic was triggered by his own experience with nontraditional medicine and the sudden onset of severe medical problems within his circle .

``Among my friends and acquaintances, all of whom are baby boomers like me, or younger, three are battling various forms of cancer, three others are in remission from cancer, two have come down with multiple sclerosis, one man and one woman have AIDS, two people suffer from Parkinson's disease in its advanced stages, two in their 30s have Crohn's disease , and three others endure such severe bouts of migraines and food allergies that doctors say, only half-jokingly, they must be `allergic to civilization,' " he writes in the introduction to his new book, ``The Hundred-Year Lie: How Food and Medicine are Destroying Your Health."

For Fitzgerald, a journalist who has written for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, the crux of the lie cited in his title is the idea that, in general, ``lab-created synthetics are as benign as -- and more effective than -- naturally occurring food and medicines."

It started with the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, he says, because that lulled people into thinking the government was looking out for their best interests and the food and medicines they were ingesting were safe and well tested. It was a time of `` a better life through chemistry," with the rise of heavily processed foods, fluoridated and chlorinated water, and do-it-all products, most of them approved for general use under the assumption that tiny doses of anything probably couldn't be harmful.

But worse than the rapidly increasing number of chemicals and synthetics ``fortifying" our lives (or disguised as ``natural flavoring" or ``inert ingredients") is the fact that while some additives are tested for toxicity individually, virtually none are tested in combination, and little thought was given to how they could build up in our bodies over time.

According to Fitzgerald, when various chemicals are combined -- say, monosodium glutamate ( MSG) and aspartame, an artificial sweetener, which are used together to enhance flavor in a myriad of processed foods -- the toxic elements of each are magnified exponentially. He calls this phenomenon ``synergy."

``What makes synergy so scary for scientists and government regulators," Fitzgerald writes, ``is how it profoundly challenges all traditional risk analysis calculations of whether chemicals in products, food, water, or medicines pose a threat to human health."

Fitzgerald urges readers to avoid toxins in general, eat raw or ``pure" foods, and be skeptical of Western medicine, but short of visiting the same sort of extreme detoxification program he does, the prospects don't seem very good.

The book is disconcerting -- of course, it's supposed to be. But what's especially troubling is that, while Fitzgerald lists his sources in a bibliography at the back of the book, the chapters themselves have no footnotes, making statements attributed to ``one biologist who co-authored the study" or information gleaned from ``an American Heart Association journal" seem sensationalistic and unreliable.

Key details are missing in several of his examples (as when he declares that ``Two products designed to kill dust mites . . . quickly generated hundreds of health complaints from consumers" without naming the products or the health issues), and he cites the same handful of statistics in so many places that he undermines their impact and credibility.

The success stories in the last chapters are amazing -- a woman who cured her colon cancer by consuming large quantities of wheatgrass juice, a woman with terminal stage IV lung cancer who recovered thanks to a strict macrobiotic diet, a 71-year-old emphysema patient who healed herself with herbal remedies and by strengthening her lungs with exercise -- but they are also extreme situations not faced by most people and, quite frankly, hard to believe.

Though filled with interesting points, including a ``Toxicity Questionnaire" and a detailed timeline that Fitzgerald dramatically calls ``The Slippery Slope Index," ``The Hundred-Year Lie" ends up seeming more alarmist than authoritative.


No comments: