An interesting study you’re not likely to ever hear about came out of my own alma mater, the University of Utah, and THIS article was published in the Tribune:
Many mothers let their children eat loads of sugary food, thinking that it’s okay because their kid is thin, and they’ll make him brush his teeth twice a day. It turns out that sugar is harmful in so many more ways than dental decay and “empty calories.” The researchers at the University of Utah found that, with the amount of added sugar many Americans eat, female mice died at twice the rate, and male mice exhibit abnormal behavior and don’t reproduce.
The senior author of the study says that the mortality rate of eating the S.A.D. is the equivalent of having your parents be first cousins.
Dear GreenSmoothieGirl: Will you blog on what is wrong with the Paleo diet? We have Crossfit fanatics all around us and they are pushing it. It would be nice to have something I could print off and refer to it. I know it’s bad, but I can’t explain why. The Crossfit teachers say they have empirical data to back up this style of eating for health. –Marianne
Answer: I’d love to answer this!
The Paleo Diet is a fad. It’s also known as the “caveman diet,” and it is an iteration of what the D’Adamos made a fortune on, the Eat Right for Your Blood Type Diet. Both are grounded in the idea that you should eat what your ancestors ate. That’s the “empirical evidence” they refer to. However, you can find some clear evidence that debunks the false or tenuous links to Paleo being a solid nutritional program.
Let’s cover some main points.
Nutritionally speaking, if I’m trying to say something fair and balanced here, Paleo is better than the Atkins Diet, which may be the worst massively popular diet in history. (Unlimited bacon and eggs—enough said!) In theory at least, Paleo is a little better than the low-carb Atkins Me-Too diets, like South Beach and Zone. Those guys saw Atkins making millions, so they jumped in the stream, before the low-carb decade burned out. As all fads do.
Paleo is better than the decade of suffering through the “low-fat” insanity many of us grew up with, too, which radically changed the food supply for the worse and introduced many more manipulated, unnatural foods still being manufactured and sold to an unsuspecting public. Paleo is about the same, health-wise, as the totally ridiculous and easily discredited Eat Right for Your Blood Type, Dr. Mercola’s typing diet, and many others.
The Good and The Bad
Good things about the Paleo diet: very low salt, high vegetable consumption, and elimination of processed foods, hybridized grains, refined oils, fatty meats, and dairy products.
Hang on, though. Bad things include too-low consumption of high energy (carbohydrate) foods, eliminating even good grains and legumes. Another issue is the heavy load on the body of eating so many animal products. This causes higher cancer risk, kidney stones and osteoporosis, and draining the body of calcium to buffer pH due to such high acidity.
Trying to eat “Paleo” is extremely expensive. Worse, it may not even be duplicatable in the modern age (given the way meat products are manipulated in our marketplace) without massive off-the-grid effort.
The most clear empirical evidence AGAINST Paleo may be this:
In 2011, U.S. News & World Report ranked 20 diets based on health, weight loss, and how easy the diet is to follow. The Paleo diet ranked dead last, by the panel of 22 experts. The following year, 2012, 25 diets were ranked and Paleo tied for last place. Why? The experts “took issue with the diet on every measure.”
Those who advocate for this diet say that indigenous peoples who follow this diet have no disease. The diet is a lot of lean, simply prepared meats, and wild vegetables. A LOT of meat. No grains. Low carbohydrate.
That’s the “empirical evidence” they’re referring to, that Paleolithic man had no cancer, heart disease, or auto-immune disease. While it’s true that Paleolithic man had no cancer or heart disease, dig a little deeper with your thinking, and remember: CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION.
The problem is, other scientists have explained, that there are OTHER factors from the Paleolithic era that may explain much better why there was no degenerative disease.
A Modern View
For instance, low caloric intake, no processed foods, no chemicals in environment or water or dental materials, short average lifespans, and many other factors surely have some impact. Some of the experts who have reviewed the diet point to the disease risks of following this diet attempting to use foods available to us in the modern age, as well as flawed logic related to evolutionary theory.
The experts who review and criticize the Paleo diet say that the five studies on health implications of Paleo are too short, with a sample size too small, to be conclusive.
It may be true that the Paleo diet will lead to more muscle mass and less fat. (Almost any diet will that improves on the Standard American Diet – which isn’t hard to do.) But the diet that many Americans are doing under the “Paleo” banner isn’t at all the same as what cavemen ate. To the extent you can come even close to approximating what cavemen ate, which is difficult, nigh unto impossible, the diet is almost obscenely expensive, to the point that is simply unsustainable by most people.
So Paleo followers, therefore, default to a diet they THINK is clean and simple, but which actually may have quite a few deadly meat-processing chemicals like nitrites and nitrates, plus toxic sodium chloride and more. You have to be very serious about your diet, and very educated, to avoid those things, within the food groups Paleo tells you to eat.
My biggest general issue beyond the health implications, with the Paleo Diet, is that it’s utterly unsustainable, eating incredibly high on the food chain and taking more than your fair share of the Earth’s resources. One pound of beef costs 1,000 gallons of water and 20 lbs. of plant food, to produce! And no one could afford it, without government supports.
Because to do Paleo, you have to buy lots of organic, free range poultry, beef, fish and other animal carcasses.
(My event manager who travels with me is always saying to stop using provocative language. What I meant is, Paleo wants you eating a lot of dead animal bodies.)
Seriously now. (I’m not even a vegetarian. I just like to talk like one. And be one 95%+ of the time.)
My real point is, if government price supports were removed for meat and dairy, NO gallon of milk would cost less than $10, and NO chicken, turkey, beef, pork, or fish that is clean enough to eat would cost less than $20/lb.
Very frankly, it is a matter of time before those government supports collapse under their own weight! There are any number of economic “bubbles” very ripe for bursting, whose consequences will include the collapse of government price supports.
Most recently, at the beginning of 2013, we were within 24 hours of going off the “fiscal cliff,” before Congress pumped more air into our national fiscal flat tire. One of the common predictions for consequences of that event was that meat and dairy prices would skyrocket. It’s a temporary fix, for Congress to “save” us from the fiscal cliff. We have been headed towards disaster for a very long time, and our burgeoning debt and price supports cannot last forever.
A Modern Solution
You might as well learn NOW, before we’re economically forced to, to eat lower on the food chain. To eat foods that are inexpensive even without price supports. Greens, vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
My next post will finish the Paleo topic talking about its ban on grain, its heavy limitation on fruit, and why we are not biologically adapted to eat as much meat as Paleo demands.
This is my interview with Dr. Iva Keene. She’s a Fertility Specialist and Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine. Find her on Facebook as “Natural Fertility,” and see her website natural-fertility-prescription.com. Please point your friends suffering with infertility to my last blog post (as well as this one). Last time I posted the flier on the upcoming Fertility Retreat at Sanoviv in Mexico, where I will be for a few days, and Dr. Keene will be instructing.
GSG: What do you think of the current medical model for fertility? Twenty years ago, it was testing, drug approaches to hyper-ovulation or Lupron for manipulating hormones, IVF, lots of surgeries. It was a nightmare for me personally. Has it gotten better?
DR. KEENE: While I think the testing, procedures and drugs have improved somewhat, the general approach to treating infertility hasn’t changed significantly. It’s still focused on the reproductive system alone. The treatment aim is to jump over the problem, force a conception and then hope the pregnancy will be successful.
While in some cases, like severely blocked fallopian tubes, retrograde ejaculation, or missing Vas Deferens, the medical model is the only option available, my experience has been that most cases of infertility respond better to a holistic approach.
PCOS, endometriosis, unexplained infertility, recurrent miscarriages, irregular periods, ovarian cysts, and sperm abnormalities are all symptoms of some other imbalance in the body, which usually affects multiple systems such as the endocrine system, the immune system, liver and the digestive system.
Our reproductive system is not crucial for our body’s survival. As such, in terms of the body’s priorities it is last on the list when it comes to nutrient and energy distribution. The heart, lungs, brain, kidneys etc are more important for your survival because if one of those organs had a problem, your life would be at stake.
Infertility should always first be treated holistically and IVF, ICSI etc. be reserved as the last options once the natural approaches have been exhausted and everything has been done to bring the body into equilibrium. Not only does this holistic approach reduce the need for those technologies, but it also increases their chances of success if they have to be used.
For this reason, I don’t see our approach as an alternative to IVF, ICSI etc., but rather as complementary to them.
GSG: Do “standard of care” infertility treatments cause permanent or debilitating side effects?
DR. KEENE: They can. This will very much depend on the treatment used, the individual, their underlying health and the number of times the treatment was used in close succession. In rare cases, some women develop life threatening conditions such as Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome.
Some studies suggest that repeated use of fertility drugs predisposes women to breast and ovarian cancer later in life. Unfortunately, many of my patients come to me once they’ve been through multiple IVF treatments. And because most clinics urge patients not to waste any time, the treatments are used repeatedly, sometimes for a year or longer.
Some of the more immediate side effects I’ve observed in some of my clients are hormone irregularities, irregular cycles, shorter cycles, cysts, thyroid problems, weight gain and mood disorders.
GSG: What kind of natural treatments for infertility are effective?
DR KEENE: The approach I use has been shown to have an over 80% success rate when used for a minimum of 4 months and maximum of 2 years. The effective treatments focus on identifying systemic imbalances and correcting those with dietary and lifestyle changes as well as supplementing with nutrients that have been shown to be effective.
This treatment approach also relies on tests for toxicities and immune imbalances, as the two are linked, and when the immune system is out of balance, pregnancy is much harder to achieve. Acupuncture is also a great adjunct therapy to this approach, as are mind-body programs like those produced by Circle and Bloom.
GSG: What book or resources should a couple read who are struggling with infertility?
DR. KEENE: We recommend Circle and Bloom mind/body programs in conjunction with our Natural Fertility Prescription program which is a step-by-step system explaining in great detail what practical steps a couple should take over a period of 120 days to maximize their chances of getting pregnant naturally. In addition to our core Natural Fertility Prescription (NFP) program, we also offer protocols specifically designed to address egg and sperm health issue as well as a program for IVF preparation to help couples who have decided on that path.
GSG: Does diet influence fertility? What about consumption of animal flesh and milk that has hormones in it, if it’s not organic? What kind of diet do you recommend for couples wishing to conceive, and deliver a healthy baby?
DR. KEENE: Diet is very important for fertility! Both organic and non-organic animal food products will have the hormones from the animal in them. One of the largest studies conducted on women, the Nurse’s Health Study by Harvard, with 17,544 participants over eight years, found that women who ate more plant proteins rather than animal proteins had better fertility overall and fewer problems with ovulation and infertility due to anovulation.
Milk, strictly speaking, is the breast milk of another species. And while you’ll find lots of information on the nutritional benefits of raw unpasteurized milk, the three main issues with milk for fertility are as follows:
Milk is mucous producing and can predispose to blocked fallopian tubes.
Milk is loaded with estrogen as cows are milked during their second trimester of pregnancy. In someone who already has estrogen dominance, like women with fibroids, polyps, endometriosis and PCOS, milk is only making the problem worse. Similarly, milk and all dairy products contain insulin growth factor, which is great for the young of the species as it helps them grow big and strong. In adult humans, it only makes us fat, predisposes us to acne, and in women with PCOS, where insulin resistance is already present, dairy only makes the condition worse.
A very large portion of the population is lactose intolerant. We stop producing the enzyme lactase at the age of two, needed for breakdown of the main sugar molecule in dairy, lactose. If you are intolerant to dairy but keep eating it anyway on a regular basis, you are not only damaging your digestive system and preventing nutrients from being absorbed, but you are also setting up your immune system to become overly aggressive and predispose to miscarriage and ‘unexplained infertility’.
So while raw dairy products may be a source of nutrition for some people, like those who want to build muscle and who are not intolerant to lactose, it’s not a good idea for those wanting to get pregnant, and those who already have weight issues or hormonal imbalances.
This applies to both men and women, since in men, excess estrogen causes testosterone to be converted to estrogen, which negatively impacts sperm quality and quantity.
Our fertility diet essentially focuses on fresh vegetables, especially dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, legumes and beans, green smoothies, fresh fruit, wild fish and some lean protein from grass-fed animal sources for those who don’t wish to give up meat. And we emphasize the food being as fresh as possible and organic where possible. Eggs and meat should be grass-fed, organic and free range. Hormones, oocytes and sperm need good quality fats and protein. And this is the main focus of this diet, as well as providing high levels of vitamins, minerals, other nutrients, and fiber from plant sources. Fiber helps mop up excess estrogen and environmental toxins from the diet before those toxins get a chance to absorb into our bloodstream.
GSG: You’ve said that the greatest gift you can give your baby is robust health, and this starts with the quality of the sperm and eggs at conception. How does one achieve healthy sperm and eggs?
DR. KEENE: Women are born with all their eggs. In fact, the eggs are older than the woman! However these egg cells are not mature. They are in their primordial form. From the onset of puberty, every 120 days, 5-6 of those primordial egg cells will be selected for maturation. At the end of this cycle, 1-2 of the best formed eggs will be selected for ovulation.
And while it’s true that you are born with a finite number of eggs, it’s not true that the quality of the eggs you ovulate each month can’t be made better or worse depending on your dietary and lifestyle choices. The Natural Fertility Prescription (NFP) program and the Egg Health program focus on providing your eggs with all the nutrients which have been shown to improve egg quality as well as removing/minimizing exposure to all the toxins shown to negatively impact your egg quality and hormone balance.
Similarly with sperm, men produce new batches of sperm approximately every 90 days. So it’s possible to improve the quality and quantity of the sperm in as little as 3 months, providing there are no congenital anatomical malformations or genetic abnormalities present, which are rare and do not apply to majority of men. We also created a Sperm Health program, which can be used in conjunction with the NFP program for improving sperm health.
Even if a couple have no fertility issues, we advise everyone planning children to prepare for pregnancy at least 120 days before conception. This ensures that you are conceiving with the best quality eggs and sperm, which means you are passing on the best of your genetic material to your child.
GSG: What’s the best and worst part of your job as a naturopathic physician working with infertility?
DR. KEENE: What I love the most about my work is empowering people and educating them about how their bodies work, how everything is interrelated, and showing them how a seemingly harmless dietary or lifestyle habit or nutrient deficiency can have wide-reaching effects over time.
I have great respect for, and am in awe of, the inherent intelligence and perfection of our human body. Trillions of cells working 24/7 enable us to have the life experience we enjoy. Our body is the most intelligent pharmacy in the world, and it is programmed to strive for balance and health. Which it will achieve, given all the right elements and an environment to thrive.
Once the mechanics of this wonder machine are understood, most of my clients are full of vigor again and ready to try for a baby again. Their faith in their bodies is restored and they feel much more empowered about their fertility. And this is key. After many failed fertility treatments, people often start to doubt themselves and their bodies because they are told by the medical profession that their eggs are old, their sperm is no good, they are too old, or their bodies are in some way ‘broken’.
And while it may be true that the body is currently in a state of imbalance, that does not mean one should give up on it, give up hope. It does not mean that the issues cannot be resolved and fertility restored without medical intervention. Instead, the traditional drug and procedural methods used so far should be questioned and doubted, because these methods are not providing the body with what it needs to fix itself! It’s not drugs or doctors who ‘cure’ the body—it’s the body itself that repairs itself when given the right materials to do so.
What I find most frustrating is the misinformation which is often propagated by the mainstream infertility treatment approach. Namely, that time is running out already at age 37, that the egg and sperm quality can’t be improved, and that if your AMH is low you should opt for donor eggs immediately.
These misconceptions and ‘fear tactics’ cause so much stress and despair, which is unnecessary, not to mention counter-productive to any fertility treatment. And while it’s true that fertility will decline with age and the risks of miscarriages due to chromosomal abnormalities are higher, if dietary and lifestyle factors are ignored and nutritional deficiencies remain unaddressed, the fact is that most of these factors can be addressed.
If they properly prepare for pregnancy, it is possible for women in their mid- to late-forties to have healthy pregnancies with their own eggs and give birth to healthy children.
GSG: Dr. Keene, I hope those who read this will have renewed hope. Like you, I believe in the miracle of the human body, and I marvel at its innate ability to correct imbalances. We need to get heavy metals, chemicals, and toxic foods out of its way. Thank God there are practitioners like you helping people get on the right track. Thank you very much for serving my readers with this information and encouragement!
DR. KEENE: Thank you so much, Robyn, for the opportunity to share this information with your readers. I hope more couples will look to natural infertility treatments first after reading this interview. It would be a great pleasure to meet some in person at our upcoming fertility retreat at Sanoviv in Rosarito, Mexico.
As I started blogging nearly 6 years ago, one of my first topics talked about my struggle for over 5 years with infertility, in my 20’s. In fact, my oldest son arrived after five courses of artificial insemination, and I was taking hyper-ovulation drugs too. (Bad idea—it made hormonal issues worse.)
So technically, my son was an immaculate conception. My husband was there at the hospital several hours before I showed up by myself, to deposit a “sample” for “spinning.” I then had an encounter with a turkey baster.
(They don’t really use a turkey baster. Kinda like that, though.)
It was a hellish five years, with a lot of roller-coaster ride (I was pregnant once during that time and miscarried, and thought I was pregnant, other times). Hopes dashed, hormones manipulated, expensive and invasive tests administered. I cried almost every month I learned I would not be a mother. I withdrew from normal social activities because I didn’t want to be around the pregnant women and young mothers, who just reminded me of what I didn’t have.
Those five years did make me deeply grateful to be a mother, when it finally happened. Those five years gave me an advanced degree, a chance to travel in Europe, and a jump start on a career that would have never happened if things had happened the way I planned them. (And that education and career start would prove helpful later, when I became a single mother.)
As with many things in life, I’m glad that things didn’t go according to MY plan. I would have been a VERY young mother and would have, I believe, been chomping at the bit, later, to experience the life I didn’t have a chance to when I was young. This whole experience taught me to float in the stream a bit, rather than try TOO hard to force agendas.
I’m always glad when I remember that, and stop pushing sometimes when things just aren’t working. Maybe something better is just around the corner? Maybe the time isn’t right?
I miscarried my son’s twin. And endured a very difficult pregnancy. The delivery was terrible, 27 hours, and 2.5 hours of pushing, as the early morning of my second night of no sleep dawned. I was falling asleep between contractions. When I talk about being 206 lbs., that was the day I delivered Kincade. (I’d gained 62 lbs. during the pregnancy! And I started the pregnancy at a higher weight than I have been, the past 10 years.) I had massive edema, major blood sugar problems, and looked and felt awful.
When Kincade was a year old, I learned about the way our diet was impacting our health. Both of us were in terrible health, my baby and me, and my husband was overweight, too. After I radically changed our lifestyle, especially our diet, I got pregnant three more times, without intervention, and had easy, normal pregnancies where I gained much less weight.
I also had an ectopic pregnancy nine months after Kincade’s birth, before the lifestyle changes. It was discovered only when it ruptured and required emergency surgery to cut off an ovary. I had bled out half my blood supply at the time that this occurred, while I was in another state and did not have a blood donor. I spent weeks recovering enough to even stand up. I flew home to Utah after two weeks, pushed in a wheelchair onto the plane.
The removal of my right ovary likely reduced my fertility by half, in some ways. But I had three more healthy children AFTER that, without incident. I believe that providing my body appropriate fuel, consistently, allowed my body to heal and solve problems.
I did read a great book towards the end that I believe helped solved my problems. (None of the testing revealed what our fertility problem was.) It is called Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, MPH. I learned in her book to tune into the female body’s signals, mid-month, that fertility is highest. I learned that what the OB/GYN’s I had been working with were telling me was probably WHY I didn’t get pregnant for five years! They were having me take my temperature every morning. We were told to abstain until right when my temperature went up. At that time, though, I learned from this book, the window to get pregnant had just barely passed.
Ignoring what the drug-specialized OB/GYN’s had told me to do, for five years, and doing what Toni Wechsler taught me in that book, plus improving my health with diet, gave me three more beautiful healthy babies.
I am speaking at Sanoviv, in Mexico just across the border from San Diego, in September at an infertility retreat there. The photos here are of the gorgeous Sanoviv campus. For more information about the retreat, see the flier below.
Dr. Iva Keene will be there as the specialist, and I interviewed her for this blog series. She’s a naturopathic physician and a specialist in natural treatments for infertility. My
next post is my written interview with Dr. Keene that I hope will help others struggling to conceive, with ideas of interventions that don’t involve drugs and surgery, that help the body correct itself. I wish I had known more, when I was 22 years old and began infertility treatments for a problem that wasn’t likely a problem. I was just impatient (sought treatment after 6 months of “trying”), and suffering from years of eating a processed, chemical diet soaked with salt, sugar, MSG, and aspartame.
Link to the flier about the infertility retreat in September HERE.
My second major challenge as we leave our home of 10 years at the end of the year?
I’m trying to build a green, sustainable home. Utah is NOT one of the most progressive states in the U.S., in community planning, recycling, green practices, co-ops, locavore movement, commitment to our future. When I visit Austin, or Portland, or Anywhere California, I feel sad about how far behind we Utahns are.
Just this week I found possibly the MOST SUSTAINABLE flooring in the world. (Besides a dirt floor.) Bamboo. Grows like a weed. The entire house will be bamboo, which is actually quite lovely, and very hard so it holds up. (As prolific as it is, seems it would be cheap. It’s not crazy-expensive, but it’s not cheap either.)
Not a stitch of carpet anywhere. No petroleum products. No off-gassing. No lining Dupont’s pockets.
I’m also looking at air filters. Very frankly, I wanted to move away from here because of air quality. But I can’t. Kids, you know.
The warm air traps the cold air in the Salt Lake and Utah valleys, making a cold, toxic soup of car exhaust, manufacturing process output, and more. And we’re stuck in it, until a storm moves through with lots of wind and precipitation. I flee up to Sundance with Tennyson to ski, just to breathe for a couple of hours. But OMG, several times I was on trips this past winter, fretting about my kids breathing that awful muck while I was gone.
I’ve found IQAir, whose whole-house filtration system gets the very fine particulate down to 0.003 microns. (All the other filters I’ve found can’t filter stuff over 1 micron, or 3 microns. The fine particulate of heavy metals and other junk, around here, is what does the most damage. Very hard to eliminate through the respiratory tract.)
Does anyone else have anything to say about green practices and products in new-home construction? I’m learning as much as I can about this subject. THANKS to facebook friends who gave me these great ideas!
It changes your metabolism, raises your blood pressure, and destroys your liver, they say.
They state that it contributes to 35 million deaths, compared to 6 million deaths from smoking each year. Sadly, you and I both know that sugar is an American darling, a sacred cow that no one is going to touch. GreenSmoothieGirl can dream, though.
(Actually, I don’t dream about government regulation. That would never work as a solution. We should get it out of the schools, hospitals, and vending machines though, and implement education programs.)
“Empty calories” as the descriptor for sugar is language that isn’t nearly strong enough – because sugar is filled with bad stuff, not just nothingness.
The Sugar Association, of course, is screaming bloody murder and claiming those calling attention to the study are “irresponsible.”
As if the SUGAR industry is a paragon of responsible virtues with the right to get in a self-righteous snit. That would be entertaining, if it weren’t so infuriating.
What would it be like to have a job working for the sugar industry where you do NO good for anyone, only HARM? Once the High-Fructose Corn Syrup people posted here on my blog, spinning their product as some kind of health food. INCREDIBLE.