Alcohol and Your Health

From the September 2002 edition of Dr. Fuhrman’s Healthy Times:

A few years ago the University of California’s Berkeley Wellness Letter reported on new research about the so-called heart-healthy “benefits” of alcohol consumption. Previous studies had led to a recommendation that moderate consumption of red wine—but not other alcoholic beverages—helped reduce the risk of heart attack. What did the new research reveal?

If we were to rely on the Berkeley Wellness Letter for this information, the latest news would be that moderate consumption of any alcoholic beverage—red or white wine, even beer and spirits—can be heart-healthy. Unfortunately, their latest news is still woefully out-of-date. More recent studies show that even moderate alcohol consumption is linked to significantly increased incidence of atrial fibrillation,1 a condition that can lead to stroke, and to higher rates of breast cancer.2,3

Alcohol is not actually heart-healthy. It simply has anti-clotting effects, much like aspirin.

Researchers have found that even moderate consumption of alcohol—including wine—interferes with blood clotting and, thereby, reduces heart attacks in high-risk populations—people who eat the typical, disease-promoting American diet.

Moderate drinking is defined as a maximum of two drinks for men. Consuming more than this is associated with increased fat around the waist4 and other potential problems. For example, alcohol consumption leads to mild withdrawal sensations the next day that are commonly mistaken for hunger, which leads people to eat more than is genuinely necessary, resulting in weight gain.

It is worth nothing that alcohol’s anti-clotting properties have only been shown to grant some protective effect against heart attacks for people eating unhealthfully. There are no studies showing that this protective effect is valuable in low-risk individuals consuming healthful, plant-based diets with resultant low cholesterol levels. In my view, it is much wiser to avoid the detrimental effects of alcohol completely and protect yourself from heart disease with nutritional excellence. Continue Reading...

Dramatic Reversal of Heart Disease

From the May 2006 edition of Dr. Fuhrman’s Healthy Times:

Dramatic reversal of atherosclerotic heart disease is the norm in my medical practice. Not a week goes by when I do not see a patient whose heart problems, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels have normalized. The results I see are so effective because my recommendations are ideal for maximizing human longevity. The following stories show the power of diet and lifestyle changes.

John Pawlikowski
John recently returned to my office for a routine follow-up visit. He is now 84 years old and in excellent health. His cholesterol level is 142 with an HDL of 86. He is 5’10”, weighs 152 pounds, and he is muscular and fit.

He is a dramatically different man from the one who walked into my office 13 years ago suffering from advanced heart disease. At that point in his life, John was facing a major health crisis. Based on chest pains and the abnormal results of a stress test and cardiac catherization, he had been advised to undergo bypass surgery immediately.

I assured him that if he did exactly what I asked of him, his heart disease would melt away rapidly, and he would live a long life—free of heart disease—without the interference and intervention of cardiac surgeons and cardiologists.

In a few weeks, John’s chest pains lessened, and in a few months they disappeared. His cardiologist was so impressed with the results that he told John he no longer needed surgery and advised him to keep following my advice.

John lost about 60 pounds in the first year after coming to see me, and he has maintained his present weight for over 10 years. He has been free of any further heart problems, and he is on no medication. He has not had any medical problems in the past 13 years.

Bruce Heimlich
Bruce was not a patient of mine. He introduced himself after a lecture I gave in San Francisco, and we have corresponded since then. At the time, Bruce was 49 years old and weighed 225 pounds. He had tried many diets to lose weight, including the vegetarian one he was following when he found out that he had a significant blockage of his right carotid artery (ultrasound showed over 80 percent occlusion). Bruce read my book Eat to Live and decided not to undergo surgical treatment. Within one year, he lost 75 pounds. He repeated the test to evaluate the blockage in his carotid arteries, and the ultra-sonographer was shocked to see that no plaque or disease could be found. The atherosclerotic plaque obstructing the lumen of the blood vessels had disappeared completely.

BMI Not So Good For Asians

A couple weeks ago Linda Carroll of MSNBC reported on the growing doubt surrounding the Body Mass Index. The BMI is commonly used to determine if a person is of healthy bodyweight, but as Carrol explained it has its problems:
BMI can be way off, especially when it comes to assessing a particular individual. The commonly used measure can give a skewed result not only for fit body builders who come out with a high number because of the extra weight associated with muscle, but also for the elderly, who tend to have scores that underestimate obesity because they have so much less muscle.
In response Dr. Fuhrman provided his method of determining whether or not someone has a healthy bodyweight:
I just take a pinch near the umbilicus and squeeze it lightly between two fingers and measure the distance between the fingers.
Well, we might need to start pinching Asians. Because according to a new report by Malcolm Burgess of AFP the Body Mass Index often misdiagnoses them:
The standard way to define obesity uses the body-mass index -- a measure of weight divided by height -- but weight-related ill health appeared in East and South Asians at a lower cut-off point than in Caucasians, they said.

World Health Organisation guidelines say a BMI of 25 is healthy, more than 25 is overweight and more than 30 obese.

Taiwanese academic Pan Wen-Harn told the 10th International Congress on Obesity in Sydney that such criteria missed a large number of people in Asia.

Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and Indians experienced metabolic risks such as hypertension and diabetes at a much lower threshold, she said.

"You don't have to wait until you get a BMI of over 25 -- even at 23 or 24 a substantial number of people have those diseases," she said.
Burgess cites the spread of the western diet and lifestyle as a reason why Asians are getting heftier:
Indian researcher Naval Vikram agreed that while the westernisation of the Indian diet and less physical exercise contributed to metabolic disorders, most blame lay with genetic make-up.

Indians tended to have high body fat, a low body-mass index, high abdominal fat and a low waist circumference, he said.

They suffered hypertension and lipid problems at a BMI of 22 or 23 -- much lower than other ethic groups, he said.

"If we use international definitions we will be missing about 15 to 20 percent of people whom we would be able to identify with a lower cut-off point. That's a substantially large proportion, taking the population of India," he said.
This story harks at the same issues illustrated in the series of reports by The New York Times investigating the diabetes epidemic in New York City. Here’s an excerpt from N.R. Kleinfield’s report:
One in three children born in the United States five years ago are expected to become diabetic in their lifetimes, according to a projection by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The forecast is even bleaker for Latinos: one in every two.

New York, perhaps more than any other big city, harbors all the ingredients for a continued epidemic. It has large numbers of the poor and obese, who are at higher risk. It has a growing population of Latinos, who get the disease in disproportionate numbers, and of Asians, who can develop it at much lower weights than people of other races.
Fellow New York Times reporter Marc Santora offers up more evidence that the Western way of eating isn’t well-suited for Asians:
Asian children in New York are obese, more than twice the rate among their parents. And they say there is mounting evidence - including soaring diabetes rates in major cities in China, and in other countries with Chinese immigrants - that New York will soon experience a similar explosion as more Asians arrive and have their first encounters with Western ways.

The clash of cultures is vividly apparent in Flushing, one of the city's new Chinatowns. On streets like Roosevelt Avenue, older immigrants still throng traditional Asian markets, with their signs in Chinese, and dine at noodle shops where windows fog with steam. Their children, however, are increasingly lured by fast food. Along a 100-yard strip of storefronts are a McDonald's, a Burger King, a Taco Bell, a Pizza Hut, and a Joe's Best Burger.

Even in China, the number of obese people has tripled since 1992 to 90 million, as Western food has become popular and prosperity has made it possible to eat more. The World Health Organization has warned that Asia faces a "tsunami" of diabetes in the coming decade, and health officials have assailed the Chinese government for its tepid response to the crisis.
It really seems like the problem extends beyond the shortcomings of the BMI. In Eat to Live Dr. Fuhrman explains Asians, in particular the Chinese who traditionally eat a very healthy plant-based diet, are biologically reeling from the effects of the Western lifestyle:
The Chinese [living in China], who on the average consume more calories, are thinner than Americans.1 In China the calorie intake per kilogram of body weight is 30 percent higher than in the United States. The Chinese eat about 270 more calories per day than Americans, yet they are invariably thin. Exercise cannot fully explain this difference, as researchers discovered the same thing with Chinese office workers as well.

This may be because calories from carbohydrates are not as likely to increase body fat as the same number of calories from high-fat foods such as oils and meats, which make up such a high proportion of the American diet. The data suggests that when a very low fat diet is consumed (15 percent average dietary fat in rural China), as compared to the typical Western diet (30-45 percent of calories from fat), more calories are burned to convert carbohydrate in fat, so the body cannot store fat easily.

The modern American diet receives about 37 percent of its calories from fat, with lots of sugar and refined carbohydrates. The combination of high fat and high sugar is a metabolic disaster that causes weight gain, independent of the number of calories.
Continue Reading...