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Research Shows That Supplements Can Be Dangerous

Hallelujah. At last there is an actual, published paper (full text behind subscription firewall, unfortunately) objectively documenting not only a lack of longevity benefit for several commonly consumed dietary supplements, but a numerical association indicating potential harm. Finally!

Investigators looked at nearly 39,000 women (in scientific terms: a lot) over 19 years of follow up (in scientific terms: a long time) and found increased risk of death in women who took supplemental iron (strongest association), copper, zinc, magnesium, Vitamin B6, and multi-vitamins.


If nothing else, that should at least give one pause when considering whether or not to take supplements at all, especially in the demographic studied (the “older female”). But are they overstating their case? Scare-mongering? Not at all. In fact, the following caution was explicitly added by the researchers: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Dinosaur*

Organic Food: Is It Better For You?

In 1952 Martin Gardner, who just passed away this week at the age of 95, wrote about organic farming in his book Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. He characterized it as a food fad without scientific justification. Now, 58 years later, the science has not changed much at all.

A recent review of the literature of the last 50 years shows that there is no evidence for health benefits from eating an organic diet. The only exception to this was evidence for a lower risk of eczema in children eating organic dairy products. But with so many potential correlations to look for, this can just be noise in the data.

Another important conclusion of this systematic review is the paucity of good research into organic food –- they identified only 12 relevant trials. So while there is a lack of evidence for health benefits from eating an organic diet, we do not have enough high-quality studies to say this question has been definitively answered. It is surprising, given the fact that organic food was controversial in the 1950s, that so little good research has been done over the last half-century. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

Organic Food Not More Nutritious – But May Have Different Pesticide Exposure

I have been bombarded with questions about this new study released yesterday about organic food being no healthier than conventionally grown produce. The study is in the September issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Organics have been growing in the marketplace at a very steady rate of about 20% for years. Are they worth the higher price tag?

This particular study was a review of scientific papers published in the past 50 years on nutritional quality of organic foods. They found that there was no statistically significant difference between organic and conventional produced foods in terms of nutritional value.

Many people were disappointed in this news, but remember that they just studied nutritional value. They did not address in this study the difference between pesticide and fertilizer residue, environmental impact, hormone levels, etc. When you make the decision of organic vs. conventional, there are many issues to consider.

If you want help making this decision, check out this link to the 12 “dirtiest” foods that tend to have the most pesticide residue and the 12 “cleanest” foods that have very little. Spend your organic dollars on the dirtiest and save your money on the cleanest.

The Organic Center has a different take on the study recently released and believes organic food does have higher nutritional quality, especially when talking about antioxidants. Read their response here. You can also link to their study from 2008 that found organic food with higher nutritional quality.

This post, Organic Food Not More Nutritious – But May Have Different Pesticide Exposure, was originally published on by Brian Westphal.

When Doctors Are Sent Ketchup, Not Drug Samples

Today marks a new phase in my medical career – I’ve been sent a bottle of ketchup for my consideration. Until now I’ve received pharmaceutical pitches and drug samples for my patients… but I’ve now entered a new phase in my life. I am a target market for condiments.

And how did this purveyor of organic ketchup find me online? I was blogging about how difficult it is for patients with diabetes to avoid high fructose corn syrup these days (it seems to be a required ingredient from spaghetti sauce to peanut butter) and I explained that I was a carb conscious person myself, and had recently purchased some unsweetened ketchup as part of a sugar-avoidance strategy.

The next day a nice man asked if he could send me a sample of his own brand of ketchup, sweetened with agave nectar instead of corn syrup or cane sugar. I said it’d be fine for him to send it along, and a few days later there it was: Wholemato brand organic agave ketchup.

So I did a little taste test, comparing my Westbrae Natural Vegetarian Unsweetened Ketchup to the Wholemato brand. The Wholemato guy was right – it was head and shoulders above the other brand in terms of flavor and sweetness. Of course, it has 3g of sugar/serving, while the sugar-free version has 1g/serving. My organic Heinz ketchup has 4g/serving, and parenthetically – I went to the Heinz site and found that they have a new marketing campaign around customized ketchup labels. Kind of quirky. Who knew?

It seems that agave nectar contains ~90% fructose (if you can trust the sources online) which means that it’s “sweeter” than glucose-based cane sugar (which is 50/50 glucose and fructose, and high fructose corn syrup is 55/45 fructose and glucose). So what does this mean? Correct me if I’m wrong here but I just interviewed Penny Kris-Etherton about corn syrup and she told me that it’s the FRUCTOSE that is the real problem in terms of increasing blood lipid levels and requiring more insulin output.

So I feel really badly about the nice agave man who sent me the delicious ketchup – but the nutritionists are saying that agave is actually much WORSE for you than corn syrup if you’re a diabetic.

I don’t think that small amounts of any kind of sugar is worth fretting about (unless you have diabetes) – but trying to avoid cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup by switching to agave syrup is kind of like getting out of the frying pan and into the fire.

And with that blog post I think I’ve ended my career as a condiment tester unfortunately. Of course, I do like the taste of agave nectar. :-|

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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