Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sample Post: A response on an article by Mike Adams

Mike Adams, who dubs himself the "Health Ranger", is currently writing a 15-part series about natural cures and whatnot. It's gotten a good deal of attention due to consisting primarily of easily refuted talking points from the alt-med community.

Though the first parts of the series are refuted on a lovely blog which I highly recommend you all read, Respectful Insolence, nothing was done on the site about the third article. I commented it a little bit on the page about the third part. I'm not a doctor and not a biologist, but I'm fairly confident that the information I've posted is quite accurate. I'd not be surprised if I got some things wrong or was misleading, probably due to a combination of being misleading and because, quite honestly, a lot of the information on nutrition seems more poorly informed than even the Today Show.

The main page is here. I didn't cover everything there, but I got some major points in. What follows is the comment I made, likely representative of the content you'll see here.


Well, the [third] article isn't too hard to get through either, in that it's short. Let's take a look:

"Many people suffer from poor digestion. In fact, you might say that most people aren't able to absorb the nutrients they swallow, so they remain in a state of nutritional starvation even though they're taking supplements that would otherwise be quite helpful.

These people tend to scratch their heads, wondering why all the nutrients they're swallowing aren't having the positive effects they had hoped for. The answer to this conundrum is found in enhancing the absorption of those nutrients."

Okay, this is surprising because, although a bit oversimplified, this isn't too far off base. A lot of material that goes through the body isn't absorbed, and some is more easily absorbed than others. Mainly this is because a lot of material is filtered out by the liver. When you take medicine, a lot of it is expected to be filtered out through it; that is, the size of the dose compensates for the fact that not all of it will get absorbed. If you take something like alcohol that the liver must process in order to make safe for the body, then the liver won't filter out the medication as much. People who die from drug overdoses have probably taken medication with alcohol or other illicit substances. The liver can only do so much, after all.

So that's something to keep in mind -- absorption of medication has a lot to do with the performance of the liver. Clearly the easy way to enhance such absorption is to only take supplements with alcohol. This is probably not a good idea so I won't recommend it. :P

"Pharmaceutical pill pushers have convinced many people that stomach acid is bad for your health. By promoting diseases like "acid reflux" or GERD, they misinform consumers into believing that heartburn and stomach pain are caused by too much stomach acid. But the truth is that in most (but not all) cases people actually suffer from weak stomach acid and they need stronger stomach acid to properly digest foods."

Hoo boy. That's a lot worse, then. The main reason acid reflux/GERD is an issue is the fact that it eats away at the esophogeal lining, at least what I'm led to believe from the pharmaceutical companies' commercials. Even then I've been led to believe that it's not so much an issue with an excess of stomach acid as it is poor performance of the pyloric valve. That controls the path of the strong stomach acid from the stomach into the small intestine (yes, just like the food in the stomach, some stomach acid enters the small intestine; this controls the pH of the acid in the body and helps prevent a buildup (lest it back up into the esophagus).

And of course we also have to wonder whether Adams has ever taken a chemistry course. Stomach acid is hydrochloric acid, and hydrochloric acid is hydrochloric acid. It's a very strong acid. There's no way to "weaken" it except to dilute its concentration. I guess that would mean that the stomach was filled of a relatively low concentration of HCl and a high concentration of, say, water. Hmmm...

Of course that doesn't explain exactly why acid reflux occurs in the slightest. Why would the acid back up into the esophagus in the first place, and if it's a weak acid why would the experience be that much more unpleasant than, say, swallowing water?

"Digestion is a complex process. It requires biochemical and physical processes to break down ingested substances into their nutritional components. This process is significantly aided by digestive enzymes which exist naturally in living foods (fresh, raw vegetable and fruit juices, for example).

Heating foods (cooking them) destroys all digestive enzymes. This is one reason why cooked foods steal life away from people while raw, living foods impart life. Living foods usually come with their own digestive enzymes, aiding your digestive processes in breaking down and absorbing nutrients.

Dead foods -- which include anything pasteurized -- stress your liver, pancreas and gallbladder by requiring these organs to produce extra digestive enzymes that are missing from the foods themselves. Because many people suffer from poor digestive organ function, they have difficulties absorbing the nutrients they've swallowed."

So this is what he meant about live and dead foods from the previous article. Not surprisingly, it's a load of nonsense. First of all, just like the living things that we ate, we have digestive enzymes too! In fact, they probably have more to do with digestion and absorption of material than the stomach acid. This is especially the case, ironically enough, for the raw fruits and vegetables that Adams so greatly lauds.

Most plant parts have a very strong cell wall made of cellulose that helps serve as the plants' skeletal structure and as a wall of defense against other materials. Cooking fruits and vegetables to a certain temperature (note: to all intents and purposes the concept of cooking is little more than applying a heat source to food in some way, to cause chemical reactions in the materials in the food...ooh yes, there are plenty of chemicals in natural food, of course) helps to weaken the cell wall which makes these nutrients easier to asborb, much like how one can't steal stuff from a house without breaking a door or a window.

This is also true for meats as well, though. It tenderizes them and makes the constituent proteins easer to be absorbed and digested. In any case, unless you're blanching the food, any loss in nutrients is made up for by the ease of which the remaining nutrients are absorbed into the body. [EDIT: This actually sounds like I might be saying meats have a cell wall like plants do. This is not the case, but they cannot be processed by the body as easily when uncooked because the materials are bound by membranes, though meats are more easily digested than plant mass.)

Hm, I'd also like to comment on why it is that the food, which presumably came from healthy animals and plants, is okay with having its own digestive enzymes but the human body, according to Adams, is not? Isn't that what the pancreas and for? Why would we have them at all if we didn't expect to use them? (Yes, I'm sure someone will note, we have the appendix. From what I remember from high school it's been hypothesized that the appendix was used to prevent foodborne illness from improperly prepared food; since most people cook their foods, killing a lot of foodborne parasites and other pathogens, it's fallen out of use.)

Even then, the pancreas is perhaps more importantly used for absorption of glucose by cells for producing energy (which is the main reason that we eat in the first place) than in actually producing digestive enzymes. If you cut up Adams's article enough you'd probably have something vaguely representing the truth. (I'm also greatly amused at the fact that Adams refers to an overworked pancreas in one paragraph yet claims diabetes is caused by mineral deficiencies. Well, more precisely some diabetic conditions -- not all -- are caused by the pancreas needing to produce more insulin than it can, due to resistance in these cells to that insulin, which is why insulin injections are given to people with that condition.)

Incidentally, if Wikipedia is to be believed, there are some researchers with some credibility in the field that think that the move to cooking food, which allowed the body to develop a smaller digestive system and a larger brain size. The latter would explain Mike Adams (heh heh), while the former would suggest that eating raw food is more likely to stress the digestive system than eating cooked food.

In any case, perhaps we should recommend Mike Adams suck on raw eggs, for health?

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