Can Cholesterol Be Too Low?

Typically, those individuals promoting the myth that low cholesterol levels are dangerous and the topsy-turvey "science" that saturated fat and high cholesterol are not bad, but good, are those individuals and health advisors advocating diets high in animal products, such as the Atkins devotees. Unfortunately, this advice is not merely incorrect; it is dead wrong for hundreds of individuals who heed such dangerous advice and die of heart attacks every day.

When it comes to coronary artery disease, there may be no such thing as lowering total blood cholesterol levels too far. Another recent study, published in the journal Circulation, found that the arteries in male patients with a total cholesterol level as low as 155 mg/dl benefited significantly from cholesterol-lowering medication as well.1 Both regression of atherosclerosis and a dramatic reduction in heart attacks were seen in the group treated.

While some research in the past has raised questions about the safety of very low cholesterol levels, no danger has been proven in larger, more dependable investigations. The new reports, documenting the effectiveness in saving lives with more substantial cholesterol lowering, fuels an ongoing debate about how aggressively to treat heart disease patients whose cholesterol levels are better than average and whether aggressive cholesterol lowering is valuable even in young healthy adults without signs of heart disease.

In the past, it was thought to be good enough to have a cholesterol level better than average. Until recently, doctors advised their patients to strive for a total cholesterol lower than 200 mg/dl. Eventually, this advice was found to be lacking and now we know that it is not very good to be average in a population that ubiquitously develops atherosclerosis. On autopsy, almost all American adults demonstrate significant coronary artery disease (2) and even 78% of young trauma victims who died before the age of 35 demonstrated significant atherosclerosis on autopsy.3 If you eat American food, you will inevitably develop American diseases. It is rare that someone can escape from the biological laws of cause and effect.

Clearly, if we attempt to rival the low cholesterol of populations that eat mostly natural plant foods and do not have heart disease, we are always looking at total cholesterols below 150 mg/dl. The average cholesterol level in rural China, as documented in the massive China Cornell Project, was 127 mg/dl. Heart attacks were rare, and both cancer and heart disease rates plummeted as cholesterol levels fell, which reflected very low animal product consumption. The lowest occurrence of heart disease and cancer occurred in the group that consumed plant-based diets with less than two servings of animal products per week.

There was some controversy years ago about striving for lower, protective cholesterol levels after some studies in the eighties noted that depression, suicide, hemorrhagic stroke, cancer, and death from other causes, were higher in some groups with very low cholesterol groups. Larger, recent investigations studying larger populations did not confirm these questionable findings.

When investigators looked more carefully at the individual characteristics of the studied populations they were able to explain the earlier findings. This issue is complicated because these studies evaluated individuals who were eating the modern American diet, rich in saturated fat and other components of animal products that raise cholesterol, and low in plant derived anti-oxidants, phytochemicals, and essential fatty acids that improve cholesterol ratios. Those who demonstrated very low (ideal) cholesterol levels, while following the traditional, modern, cholesterol-promoting diet, may actually have a compromised health status or undetected chronic disease.

For instance, we know cancer causes less cholesterol production in the liver. Low cholesterol may be associated with cancer, but does not cause it. Researchers showed that cholesterol starts to fall up to 8 years prior to a person dying of cancer, and that those with the greatest drop in cholesterol in a 4 year period without dietary improvements to lower cholesterol were those most likely to develop cancer.4 The low cholesterol did not cause the cancer; the cancer caused the low cholesterol. Those who work to lower cholesterol by avoiding saturated fats, eating a high nutrient diet with lots of raw vegetables, cooked green vegetables, and beans do not have a pathological condition causing their low cholesterol. They earned it.

This is why in rural China where the diets are nearly vegetarian, the average cholesterol levels are low and you see lower cancer rates, not higher. Those with the lowest cholesterol in the China study actually had the lowest cancer rates as well. Obviously, there is a difference between one who has a low cholesterol because his dietary style earns it, and one whose cholesterol seems unjustifiably low on a modern heart-disease-promoting diet that almost everyone in the west eats.

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Diet, Chemotherapy, and the Truth: How to Win the War on Cancer

We live in an era where the majority of Americans think that diseases strike us because of either misfortune, genetics, or unknown factors beyond our control. When serious disease "strikes," we run to doctors and expect them to fix us with a pill. Most people have no idea that most diseases--including cancers, heart disease, strokes, and diabetes--are the result of nutritional folly. Because they do not know that adults lived much longer centuries ago, they accept the myth that we are living healthier and longer today.

If we were taught from childhood that the diseases we suffer in the modern world are the tragic consequence of our toxic food environment, we wouldn't be in today's disgraceful situation--where people graduate from high school, college, and even graduate school without learning how to protect, preserve, and restore their precious health. With proper health education, we would learn that our bodies are powerfully resistant to disease when nutritional needs are met. Instead, we have become the victims of the high-tech, mass-produced food culture that is fueling a cancer epidemic unrivaled in human history.

Chemotherapy Mentality
Our technologically-advanced society is suffering from the highest rates of cancer ever seen in human history, rates that are also much higher than in less developed parts of the world. Since 1999, cancer has surpassed heart disease and has become the leading cause of age adjusted mortality for Americans younger than 85. Despite more than a hundred billion dollars in cancer research-- invested largely in the development of drug chemotherapy and screening and detection techniques--we have lost the war on cancer. While there has been a slight reduction of cancer-related deaths in the last 25 years, this is largely the result of the decrease in lung cancer deaths that has resulted from a reduction in cigarette smoking during this timeframe. Mortality rates for most cancers have stayed remarkably steady.

Chemotherapy has contributed to the progress made against cancer deaths from fast-growing cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma, testicular cancer, and childhood cancers such as osteogenic sarcoma. But for the major cancers affecting most adult Americans, chemotherapy adds less than one year of disease-free life to those treated.

Science or Profits?
At present, pharmaceutical companies-- not independent medical or scientific researchers--control the vast majority of research and clinical trials. We have lost the judgment and rationale of independent experts and now depend on drug companies to honestly report the risks and benefits of drugs they manufacture and sell. This is like asking the fast-food industry to be in charge of our nutritional advice. The medical studies that drug companies pay for and publicize are heavily biased in favor of the drugs they sell. The economically powerful pharmaceutical industry and the large chemical-food conglomerates wield undue influence on government and the media. Accurate nutritional information is rarely reported because the media cannot produce stories that go against the interests of their advertisers. Instead, the media is quick to report on drug company press releases--self-serving propaganda announcing new anticancer "breakthroughs" that reinforce the myth that we are winning the war against cancer.

Mythical Breakthroughs
Most often, the so-called "benefits" described by drug companies announce improved "response rates," for example, when tumor burden is lessened. But an improved response rate means little if the patient does not survive longer. And even the cancer industry's meager definition of survival--living 5 years beyond diagnosis--can be misleading. If "advances" in chemotherapy result in a higher percentage of people surviving for 5 years than did previously, that can be reported as "progress." But if most of them still die between years 5 and 10, it hardly can be called a big success, especially if the same number or more people would have survived 10 years or longer without the chemotherapy.

Unless overall survival and quality of life are improved, it matters not if chemotherapy resulted in tumor shrinkage, or if a slight increase is seen in 5-year survival statistics. By using virtually meaningless terms like "response rates" and "disease-free survival," researchers can report results that make chemotherapy look more effective than it really is.

Unless patients do some investigating of their own, they have no way of knowing that the glowingly optimistic results reported in the press--and too often parroted by their doctors--are designed to lead them to chemotherapy even though it is a poor choice for both quality and duration of life. The false perception that chemotherapy offers significant life-span benefits for cancer sufferers is dramatically juxtaposed by the fact that so many more people die of cancer today than they did years ago. In fact, a Swedish study showed that the risk of developing cancer and dying of it was three times higher in people born in the 1950s compared with those born in the 1880s. Since 1958, cancer has increased 55 percent in men and only slightly less in women.1

Does Chemotherapy Work?
Let's see how effective chemotherapy actually is with a few common cancers.

  • A meta-analysis of chemotherapy for postmenopausal, estrogen receptor-positive women (the largest group of women with breast cancer) pooled the six largest studies to get the most accurate data on survival and complications. Here is what researchers concluded about the group treated with standard chemotherapy: "No significant survival benefit was observed."2
  • In non-small cell lung cancer (the most common type), the 5- year survival is only about 10 percent. In stage 4, when the cancer has spread to distant sites, the 5-year survival is only 1.6 percent. After looking at multiple studies, it appears that treatment generally results in a very slight improved survival rate at 1 year, but this advantage disappeared at 30 months of follow- up.3
  • Even in small cell lung cancer where chemotherapy has proven effectiveness in life extension, the benefit adds only a few months of life, not years. And during this time the patient can experience serious--even life threatening-- side effects from the treatment.

What Should You Do?
If you have cancer and are considering chemotherapy, it is wise to do a search on all of the studies done on the recommended therapy (using med-line, for instance), so an informed decision can be made. If this were done, most patients likely would refuse chemotherapy. Doctors generally hide and distort the realities of chemotherapy, talking to patients about "shrinking the cancer" and "killing cancer cells," not mentioning the fact that the therapy has not been shown to extend life.

Every patient has to make her own decision. But if I were a woman with postmenopausal breast cancer, I would opt for surgery, without radiation and without chemotherapy, and would then pursue an aggressive nutritional protocol. I also would include antiestrogens if the tumor histology showed it to be estrogen receptor- positive.

War Against Good Nutrition
While the "war against cancer" is being fought with the wet noodle of chemotherapy, we are observing a significant increase in some cancers, such as malignant melanoma, multiple myeloma, and prostate cancer. Our population is heavier and as cancer-prone as ever. While we are pouring billions of dollars into drug companies and cancer centers, millions of people continue to die from what should be a preventable disease.

Almost nothing has been done to teach people about the power of nutritional excellence to protect against cancer. In fact, the media regularly reports that nutrition does not affect cancer. For example, a recent New York Times (G. Kolata, September 27,2005,"Science Times") article reported that diet had only a "hypothetical" relationship with cancer. This ludicrous pronouncement was based on studies that showed that perimenopausal women who eat less fat still have high cancer rates. The Times evidently does not understand that modestly reducing fat and eating more chicken and pasta is not an anti-cancer program.

We are losing the war on cancer, and our government policies are actually worsening the problem. With all of the recent advances in science pointing to phytonutrient deficiency as the major cause of cancer, our efforts should focus on prevention; educating the public about proper diet and nutrition. Millions of lives can be saved. We also can eliminate the tragic consequences and family trauma of living with cancer---diagnoses, surgeries, radiation, chemotherapies, suffering, and premature death, which come from the cancer and very often from the treatment.

Avoiding Cancer
Your body is a self-repairing and self-healing machine. Human cells have all the features necessary to protect themselves from chemical damage to their DNA that eventually results in carcinogenic changes. A cancer cell is essentially a normal cell whose DNA has been damaged to the point that it can no longer control its replication. The process that is creating our modern epidemic of cancer is twofold. One aspect involves the exposure of our cells to damaging stresses such as chemical carcinogens, radon, acrylamides, and high levels of saturated and trans fats and animal protein. At the same time, we have a woefully insufficient dietary intake of plant-derived nutrients, which renders our cells incapable of functioning to their fullest potential for repair and maintenance.

Our cells have built-in, powerful mechanisms to remove or destroy toxic substances, inhibit DNA damage, repair broken DNA cross-links, and remove cells that are injured or abnormal before they become cancerous. In recent years, the term phytochemicals has been used to refer to the thousands of newly-discovered nutrients supplied by plants that---in addition to vitamins and minerals---are necessary for maximal immune system protection and for the promotion of cellular detoxification and repair.

Most of our knowledge about what constitutes the optimal cancer prevention diet comes from both human population (epidemiological) studies and animal studies. Populations that have a high intake of natural, unrefined plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and beans always have a low incidence of cancer, proportional to the intake of these phytochemcal-rich plant foods.

Even though other factors such as chemicals, pollution, and smoking play a role in cancer etiology, the scientific literature still illustrates that a better diet offers dramatic protection even against nondietary cancer promoters. For example, the Fiji Islands (where smoking rates are high) still has a dramatically lower incidence of lung cancer than Hawaii (where smoking rates are lower). This protection against lung cancer even in heavily smoking Fiji Islanders was shown to be the result of the high intake of green vegetables in Fiji.4

Examining data from numerous epidemiological studies, the World Cancer Research Fund concluded that the evidence that fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of oral, esophageal, lung, stomach, colon, pancreatic, bladder, and breast cancer was convincing. No single substance in a plant-based diet accounts for this relationship; rather, it is the synergistic effect of multiple phytochemical compounds (which number in the thousands).

The National Cancer Institute recommends eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. However, scientific studies suggest that more is better and that much, much more is much, much better at reducing cancer risk. It is a national disgrace that very few Americans follow this very minimal recommendation to eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

Cruciferous Vegetables
While fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of nutrients, the consumption of vegetables is more helpful in reducing cancer because they contain much higher amounts of cancer-protective compounds-- especially green vegetables. Among these green vegetables, the cruciferous family has demonstrated the most dramatic protection against cancer. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, bok choy, collards, arugala, watercress, and cabbage) contain a symphony of phytonutrients with potent anti-cancer effects. Isothiocyanates (ITCs), which are perhaps the best studied, have been shown to provide protection against environmental carcinogen exposure by inducing detoxification pathways, thereby neutralizing potential carcinogens.

These vegetables also contain indole-3- carbinol (I3C). Indole-3-carbinol has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer by decreasing estrogen activity. Important recent studies have shown that cruciferous vegetables and the compounds they contain can do the following:


  • halt the growth of breast cancer cells;5
  • dramatically reduce the risk of colon cancer;6
  • prevent the replication of prostate cancer cells and induce death of cancerous cells;7
  • inhibit the progression of lung cancer.8


What makes these studies even more fascinating is the discovery of the gene/diet interaction, which has shown that high intake of greens and cruciferous vegetables provides the food factors necessary to interact with--and prevent-- genetic defects from creating disease. This gene/diet interaction activates a battery of many genes, initiating DNA repair and other protection mechanisms.

These cellular repair and detoxification mechanisms are most powerfully induced by eating a mixture of both raw and cooked cruciferous plant foods. Some of the compounds are water soluble and heat stable, and absorption is increased when cooked, for example, in a soup. Other critical ITCs are heat sensitive and are better transmitted in the raw form.

Carotenoids & Polyphenols
Population studies show an association between high dietary intake of carotenoid-containing fruits and vegetables and reduced risk of prostate, breast, and head and neck cancers. A high dietary intake of fruits and vegetables provides a spectrum of carotenoids, including alphacarotene, gamma-carotene, betacryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, lutein, and lycopene.

Vegetable juices (carrot, tomato, spinach, and other greens) represent a particularly potent form of carotenoids. Scientists have demonstrated that drinking carrot juice significantly reduces free radical damage to genes. Tomato juice and cooked tomatoes rich in lycopene and other potent antioxidants help reduce the oxidation of the "bad" LDL cholesterol and also have been shown to dramatically help protect against cancer. Carotenoid-rich extracts of carrots and tomatoes have been shown to substantially inhibit the early stages of liver cancer in animals.

Fruits also contain various key phytochemicals. For example, resveratrol, found in grapes, has been reported to exert a variety of anticancer effects. Studies have demonstrated that resveratrol causes growth inhibition of human colon and breast cancer cells. Ellagic acid, found in strawberries, grapes, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, is another polyphenol that has demonstrated anticarcinogenic potential in animal studies.

This article is from the Healthy Times newsletter, a complete archive of which is available to members of DrFuhrman.com.

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"A Symphony of Phytonutrients" from Cruciferous Vegetables

While fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of nutrients, the consumption of vegetables is more helpful in reducing cancer because they contain much higher amounts of cancer-protective compounds--especially green vegetables. Among these green vegetables, the cruciferous family has demonstrated the most dramatic protection against cancer. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, bok choy, collards, arugala, watercress, and cabbage) contain a symphony of phytonutrients with potent anti-cancer effects.

Isothiocyanates (ITCs), which are perhaps the best studied, have been shown to provide protection against environmental carcinogen exposure by inducing detoxification pathways, thereby neutralizing potential carcinogens. These vegetables also contain indole-3-carbinol (I3C). Indole-3-carbinol has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer by decreasing estrogen activity.

Important recent studies have shown that cruciferous vegetables
and the compounds they contain can do the following:

* halt the growth of breast cancer cells1
* dramatically reduce the risk of colon cancer2
* prevent the replication of prostate cancer cells and induce death of cancerous cells3
* inhibit the progression of lung cancer4

What makes these studies even more fascinating is the discovery of the gene/diet interaction, which has shown that high intake of greens and cruciferous vegetables provides the food factors necessary to interact with--and prevent--genetic defects from creating disease. This gene/diet interaction activates a battery of many genes, initiating DNA repair and other protection mechanisms.

These cellular repair and detoxification mechanisms are most powerfully induced by eating a mixture of both raw and cooked cruciferous plant foods. Some of the compounds are water soluble and heat stable, and absorption is increased when cooked, for example, in a soup. Other critical ITCs are heat sensitive and are better transmitted in the raw form.

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Pomegranate Power

Pomegranate juice is a rich source of phytochemical compounds shown to benefit the heart and blood vessels. It not only lowers cholesterol, but lowers blood pressure and increases the speed at which heart blockages (atherosclerosis) melt away.

Recent medical research completed in 2004 studied heart patients with severe carotid artery blockages. They were given an ounce of pomegranate juice for a year, and not only did their blood pressure lower by over 20 percent, but there was a 30 percent reduction in atherosclerotic plaque.1

The data was measured by IMT technology. IMT stands for Intima Media Thickness. It has been shown in medical studies that the thickness of the plaque in a specific place in the neck has an excellent correlation with coronary artery atherosclerotic burden. The control group who did not receive the juice had their arteries close off even further. IMT thickness increased 9 percent.

Not only are pomegranates good for your heart and blood vessels but they have been shown to inhibit breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, leukemia and to prevent vascular changes that promote tumor growth in lab animals.2

Pomegranates' potent antioxidant compounds have also been shown to reduce platelet aggregation and naturally lower blood pressure, factors that prevent both heart attacks and strokes.3 Pomegranates contain high levels of flavonoids and polyphenols, potent antioxidants offering protection against heart disease and cancer. A glass of pomegranate juice has more antioxidants than red wine, green tea, blueberries, and cranberries.

Pomegranate juice has also been found to contain phytochemical compounds that stimulate serotonin and estrogen receptors, improving symptoms of depression and improving bone mass in lab animals.4

Given the fact that pomegranate juice is so rich in heart protective compounds and there are animal studies to support the beneficial findings in human studies, it makes the results of these recent investigations understandable and believable. Pomegranate is a powerful food for good health.5

Summary Features of Pomegranate

1. Most powerful anti-oxidant of all fruits
2. Potent anti-cancer and immune supporting effects
3. Inhibits abnormal platelet aggregation that could cause heart attacks, strokes and embolic disease
4. Lowers cholesterol and other cardiac risk factors
5. Lowers blood pressure
6. Shown to promote reversal of atherosclerotic plaque in human studies.
7. May have benefits to relieve or protect against depression and osteoporosis

I recommend all my patients who have heart disease, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure to incorporate pomegranate juice into their diet and, for the above reasons I have added pomegranate concentrate to my cholesterol lowering formula, LDL Protect.

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Dietary Fiber and Colon Cancer

In a Dec. 14 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) report, Yikyung Park, ScD, et al. addresses the relation between dietary fiber intake and risk of colorectal cancer.1 The study examines the commercially accepted hypothesis that dietary fiber reduces the risk of colorectal cancer. The conclusion of the research revealed mixed results, including some instances where fiber supplementation did not decrease the risk of cancer:

The association between dietary fiber intake and risk of colorectal cancer has been inconsistent among observational studies and several factors may explain the disparity: potential biases in each study, the failure to adjust for covariates in the multivariate models, and the range of dietary fiber intake. Inconsistent results also have been reported from randomized clinical trials of dietary fiber supplementation on the recurrence of colorectal adenomas (precursors of colorectal cancer); most trials have found no reduced risk of adenoma recurrence with dietary fiber supplementation compared with placebo.2-5

A statistically significant reduction in risk of colorectal cancer with higher dietary fiber intake has been observed in most case-control studies.6 However, case-control studies are prone to recall bias because dietary assessments are obtained after cancer diagnosis and also are prone to selection bias because control participants who participate are likely to be particularly health-conscious. In addition, publication bias may contribute to the accumulation of literature with significant findings. On the other hand, the Pooling Project is less susceptible to these biases because diet was assessed prior to diagnosis and the studies were not required to have published on the association between dietary fiber intake and risk of colorectal cancer.


In Dr. Fuhrman's book Eat to Live he gives a reason why this connection is inconsistent and provides his recommendation for fiber intake:
It is not the fiber extracted from the plant package that has miraculous health properties. It is the entire plant package considered as a whole, containing nature's anti-cancer nutrients as well as being rich in fiber.

High-fiber foods offer significant protection against both cancer (including colon cancer) and heart disease. I didn't say fiber; I said high-fiber foods. We can't just add a high-fiber candy bar or sprinkle a little Metamucil on our doughnut and french fries and expect to reap the benefits of eating high-fiber foods.

The reality is that healthy, nutritious foods are also very rich in fiber and that those foods associated with disease risk are generally fiber-deficient. Meat and dairy products do not contain any fiber, and foods made from refined grains (such as white bread, white rice, and pasta) have had their fiber removed. Clearly, we must substantially reduce our consumption of these fiber-deficient foods if we expect to lose weight and live a long, healthy life.


Furthermore, in his book Disease-Proof Your Child Dr. Fuhrman tells how the changing Japanese diet demonstrates a connection between higher consumption of animal products and the incidence of colon cancer:
The intake of Total Dietary Fiber (TDF) was evaluated from data from the National Nutrition Survey in Japan for forty-one years beginning in 1947. TDF intake decreased rapidly from 27.4 grams per day in 1947 to 15.8 grams in 1963. Fat intake increased rapidly from 18 grams in 1950 to 56.6 grams in 1987. Of significance in this carefully done study was that the increased occurrence of colon cancer had a twenty-three-to-twenty-four-year lag after the heightened consumption of animal products began. Apparently what the Japanese people did twenty-five years earlier had the strongest effect on inducing cancer, not what they ate ten years or even twenty years earlier.7 Those with the highest consumption of plant fiber in their childhood had the lowest incidence of colon cancer.

Recent studies have also found that eating fruit during childhood had powerful effects to protect against cancer in later life. A sixty-year study of 4,999 participants found that those who consumed more fruit in their childhood (the highest quartile) were 38 percent less likely to develop cancer as adults.8

Diets rich in meat and dairy are powerfully implicated as cancer promoters. Processed, pickled, smoked, or barbequed meats are even more strongly linked to cancer. Separate studies from Europe and the United States found the same results; those who eat meat daily have a three- to four-fold increase incidence of colon, esophageal, and stomach cancers, and the risks are more severe the younger in age people begin these practices.9

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Fishing for the Truth

Michael Hawthorne and Sam Roe of the Chicago Tribune report that the United States safety net for safeguarding consumers against the increased mercury levels in fish is in tatters. In the article the reporters detail the fate of one particular piece of fish:

Shipped from Singapore, the swordfish entered the U.S. this year without being tested for the toxic metal mercury.

When a fillet from that fish reached a display case at a supermarket in suburban Des Plaines, it carried no government warning labels, even though federal officials know swordfish often is so contaminated that young children and pregnant women should never eat it.

The Chicago Tribune actually bought and tested a portion of this fish, which produced alarming results:

When the Tribune bought and tested this particular piece of fish, the results showed not just high amounts of mercury, but levels three times the legal limit.

Hawthorne and Roe point out the dangers lurking in the fish and in the actions of U.S. health officials:

Even though mercury can cause learning disabilities in children and neurological problems in adults, regulators do not even bother to routinely check fish for metal. This leaves consumers with little idea about which fish are most hazardous.

In some cases, regulators have ignored the advice of their own scientists who concluded that mercury was far more dangerous than what consumers were being told.

In other instances, regulators have made decisions that benefited the fishing industry at the expense of public health.

In his book Eat to Live Dr. Fuhrman explains that consumption of fish creates a parodox:

Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) that interfere with blood clotting much the same way aspirin does. Once you have significant atherosclerosis, it is helpful to take such anti-clotting agents, especially if you continue a dangerous diet. These fish derived-fats also have some effect on protecting the arterial walls from damage from other fats.

However, the best way to prevent a heart attack or stroke is to follow a high-nutrient diet with little or no animal products, thereby ensuring that such blockages don't develop in the first place. Then eating fish won't matter. In fact, the reason fish-derived fats, EPA and DHA, are not considered essential fats is that almost all people have enzymes to convert the plant-derived omega-3 fat rapidly into EPA and DHA.1

Fish is a double-edged sword, especially because fish has been shown to increase heart attack risk if polluted with mercury.2 It seems that the cardioprotective effects of eating a little fish is lost when you eat lots of fish, most likely because lots of fish exposes you to high mercury levels, which can promote lipid peroxidation.3 Lipid peroxidation plays a major role in the development of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.

Dr. Fuhrman provides important information to consider when deciding whether or not to consume fish:

Higher levels of mercury found in mothers who eat more fish have been associated with birth defects, seizures, mental retardation, developmental disabilities, and cerebral palsy.4 This is mostly the result of women having eaten fish when they were pregnant. Scientists believe that fetuses are much more sensitive to mercury exposure than adults, although adults do suffer from varying degrees of brain damage from fish consumption.5 Even the FDA, which normally ignores reports on the dangers of our dangerous food practices, acknowledges that large fish such as shark, swordfish, and yellowfin and bluefin tuna, are potentially dangerous. Researchers are also concerned about other toxins concentrated in fish that can cause brain damage way before the cancers caused by chemical-carrying fish appear.

Fish with Highest and Lowest Mercury Levels

Highest
  • tilefish
  • swordfish
  • mackerel
  • shark
  • white snapper
  • tuna

Lowest
  • salmon
  • flounder
  • sole
  • tilapia
  • trout

Source: Mercury levels in seafood species. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Office of Seafood, May 2001.

The bottom line: Choose fish over other animal products, but be aware that the place where it was caught, and the type of fish, matters. Don't accept recreational fish from questionable waters. Farmed fish is safer. Never eat high-mercury-content fish. Don't eat fish more than twice a week, and if you have a family history of hemorrhagic stroke, limit it further to only once a month.

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Nutritional Excellence vs. Cancer

Graciela Flores of Reuters Health reports that a study conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer determined that smoking lowers chances of surviving throat cancer.
Dr. Rajesh P. Dikshit, a member of the research team, says:

This is a very important finding. We knew that smoking is a cause of laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer, but now it's clear that it affects survival as well. Alcohol consumption also had a negative effect on survival, but to a lesser extent than tobacco.

He explains that regular consumption of vegetables can actually improve cancer survival rates:
We found that a high intake of vitamin C significantly improved the patients' survival.

Eating vegetables and vitamin C is also something cancer patients should consider. Doctors are prescribing this already, but now we have demonstrated that these diet components improve the patients' survival, and perhaps make the treatment more effective.

The idea that vegetables can be an important tool in fighting cancer is central to Dr. Fuhrman's work. In Dr. Fuhrman's book Eat to Live, for instance, he explains that the phytochemicals in plants appear to play an important role:
Phytochemicals, or plant-derived chemicals, occur naturally in plants (phyto means "plant"). These nutrients, which scientists are just starting to discover and name, have tremendously beneficial effects on human physiology. The effects of our not consuming sufficient amounts of them are even more astounding--premature death from cancer and atheroscleriosis.

A recent edition of Dr. Fuhrman's monthly newsletter Healthy Times provides some real-life examples of diet having dramatic effects after cancer diagnoses:
In my medical practice over the last 15 years, I have observed numerous people utilize nutritional excellence as their primary treatment for cancer. Although I have been witness to the deaths of some very special, brave and loving individuals, I also have seen some dramatic recoveries. For example:
  • I have observed a young woman with stage-4 metastatic colon cancer who made a complete recovery with no treatment except nutritional excellence and who had no further cancer noted on follow-up CT scans.
  • I have observed 8 women with CIN III of the cervix reverse the abnormality back to normal with my nutritional protocols in 4 to 6 months.
  • I observed a woman with metastatic breast cancer to the bones make a complete recovery, with no signs of recurrent disease.
  • I observed a woman with a positive biopsy for breast cancer who left the tumor untreated; the tumor shrunk and disappeared into a small scar.
  • I have seen many men with prostate cancer drop their PSA levels into the normal range and keep them there with this nutritional protocol with no further advancement of the cancer.

Is Organic Food Safer?

From Dr. Fuhrman's book Disease-Proof Your Child.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is up 10.7 percent over the last twenty years. Brain cancer is up 30 percent; osteogenic sarcoma, a type of bone cancer, is up 50 percent; and testicular cancer is up 60 percent in men under thirty. No one can tell us why. Scientific studies provide clues that are difficult to ignore:

  • Children whose parents work with pesticides are more likely to suffer leukemia, brain cancer, and other afflictions.
  • Studies show that childhood leukemia is related to increased pesticide use around the house.
  • Nine studies reviewed by the National Cancer Institute showed a correlation between pesticide exposure and brain cancer.
  • Exposure to weed killers in childhood increases asthma risk by more than fourfold.
All the dangers stated above are not the result of eating pesticide-treated produce. This clear link between pesticides and cancer is a result of chemical use around the home and farm.1 Clearly, it is not logical to eat organic food to avoid pesticide residue and then spray our homes with carcinogenic insecticides and weed killers used liberally in and around homes, interior plants, lawns, gardens, and even schools.

Because young children are the ones most susceptible to toxic exposures, the National Academy of Science has issued warnings and position papers stating that exposure to pesticides in early life can increase cancer rates down the road as well as increasing the occurrence of mental and immune system disorders.2

We must be careful not to expose our children to chemical cleaners, insecticides, and weed killers on our lawns. Chemicals used in pressure-treated wood used to build lawn furniture, decks, fences, and swings sets have been shown to place children at risk. When children are around, we must be vigilant to maintain a chemical-free environment.

The Environmental Protection Agency reports that the majority of pesticides now in use are probable or possible cancer causers. Studies of farm workers who work with pesticides suggest a link between pesticide use and brain cancer, Parkinson's disease, multiple myloma, leukemia, lymphoma, and cancers of the stomach, prostate, and testes.3 But the question remains, does the low level of pesticides remaining on our food present much of a danger?

Some scientists argue that the extremely low level of pesticide residue remaining on produce is insignificant and that there are naturally occurring toxins in all natural foods that are more significant. The large amount of studies performed on the typical pesticide-treated produce have demonstrated that consumption of produce, whether organic or not, is related to lower rates of cancer and disease protection, not higher rates. Certainly, it is better to eat fruits and vegetables grown and harvested using pesticides than not eating them at all. The health benefits of eating phytochemical-rich produce greatly outweigh any risk pesticide residues might pose.

It has been shown that women with higher levels of pesticides in their bloodstream have a higher risk of breast cancer.4 However, the pesticide shown in these studies to be connected to cancer was DDT, which is no longer used in food production and was banned by the U.S. government in 1972. The problem is that DDT is still in the environment and finds its way back into our food supply, predominately via shellfish and fish consumption. So purchasing organic fruit and vegetables will not lower our exposure to DDT if we are eating fish and shellfish regularly.

Keep in mind, there is a significantly larger exposure to toxic chemicals in animal products compared to plant food. By eating lower on the food chain and reducing our intake of animal products, one automatically reduces exposure to toxic chemicals. Plants have the least fat-soluble pollutants, animals that eat plants have more, and animals that eat animals have the highest levels of these toxic compounds. Fish that eat smaller fish will store the toxic compounds from every fish it ever ate, including all the fish eaten by the fish it just made a meal of. It is important to avoid lobster, shellfish, catfish, and predator fish such as tuna, bluefish, striped bass, shark, and swordfish, where toxins such as PCB, DDT, dioxin, and mercury are likely to build up due to the compounding effects of eating lots of smaller fish. One gets larger doses of more toxic compounds from these contaminated animal products than would be possible to take in from produce.

Organic food is certainly your best bet, to further limit exposure to toxic chemicals. No one knows for sure how much risk exists from pesticide residue on produce, but here's what we do know: the younger you are, the more your cells are susceptible to damage from toxins. It seems wise to feed our young children organic food whenever possible.

Of course, wash your vegetables and fruit with water and when possible, use a drop of dishwashing detergent and then rinse well to remove all detergent residues for a little more efficient cleaning. Specialty pesticide removal products have not clearly demonstrated any more effectiveness than mild soap and water.

Besides the heightened exposure to chemicals and pesticides from animal products, the most hazardous pesticides are used on some plant foods responsible for the majority of the plant-food-related dietary risk. These foods with the most pesticide residue are: strawberries, peaches, raspberries, blackberries, grapes, cherries, apples, and celery. Imported produce is also more likely to contain higher levels of pesticides.5

There is another reason to feed our children organic food when possible. Organic food usually has more nutrients than conventional.6 One study performed at the University of California at Davis found that foods grown organically had higher amounts of flavonoids, which have protective effects against both heart disease and cancer. The researchers found flavonoids were more than 50 percent higher in organic corn and strawberries. They theorized that when plants are forced to deal with the stress of insects, they produce more of these compounds, which are beneficial to humans.7 Overall, organic foods taste better, and organic agriculture protects farmers and our environment.

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