An Open Letter to Victorian Health Minister Bronwyn Pike.

Ms. Pike, get off the anti-low-carb bandwagon!

By Anthony Colpo, March 29, 2004.


Dear Ms Pike,

Recently, you announced a new campaign, to be conducted by your government at taxpayer expense, that would endeavor to alert Victorian residents to the alleged "dangers" of low-carbohydrate diets. To the best of my knowledge, this action is unprecedented in Australian political history, for no state government has ever taken it upon themselves to issue warnings against a specific diet, despite the fact that certain dietary regimens have indeed been directly linked to ill-health and death. Such potentially dangerous nutritional regimes include vegan diets, which have claimed the lives of numerous infants around the world, and resulted in legal proceedings against the misguided parents of these youngsters.(1) Along with their potentially fatal effects on infants, vegan diets have also demonstrated the ability to harm children, adolescents, and even adults. So far, while you have had much to say about low-carb nutrition, you have not uttered a word about vegan diets. Before I discuss just why you are so wrong on low-carb diets, lets take a closer look at vegan regimens.

Vegan Diets - Fast Track To Ill-Health

Among their many nutritional shortcomings, vegetarian diets supply sub-optimal amounts of vitamin B12 and essential long-chain omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA. B12 is essential for optimal cognitive function, while DHA is a major component of brain tissue. Not surprisingly, analyses of blood samples from vegetarians consistently show lower dietary and lower blood levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. (2-7) These fatty acids can be formed in the body from plant-based omega-3 fats, but numerous studies show that the conversion rate is very low.(8,9) Because of their complete abstinence from animal foods, deficiencies of these and other nutrients are much more pronounced in vegans than in lacto-ovo vegetarians. Below are observations, published in peer-reviewed journals, of the harm that can befall those following these truly unbalanced diets:

  • In 1986, Dutch researchers observed that vegan infants had markedly lower B12 levels and impaired psychomotor functioning when compared to control infants.(10,11) On the basis of these findings, the researchers made dietary recommendations to the families of the infants, who subsequently began switching their youngsters to lacto-vegetarian, lacto-ovovegetarian, or even omnivorous diets. On average, the children were six years old when the dietary change took place. In 2000, researchers reported on follow-up examinations of these same subjects, who were now aged between 10 to 16. Two-thirds of the formerly vegan adolescents still suffered from B12 deficiency, whereas all of the subjects in a similarly aged omnivorous control group had normal B12 levels. When given a series of cognitive tests, the ex-vegan group achieved poorer results than the lifetime-omnivore group. A significant association was found between low B12 status and poorer performance on tests measuring fluid intelligence, spatial ability, and short-term memory. Because fluid intelligence involves reasoning, the capacity to solve complex problems, abstract thinking ability, and the ability to learn, the authors pointed out that: "Any defect in this area may have far-reaching consequences for individual functioning." (12).
     
  • British researchers found that, compared to omnivores and lacto-ovovegetarians, vegans suffered a higher frequency of abnormal electroencephalogram (EEG) readings, a test designed to detect abnormalities in the electrical activity of the brain (13). In one of their studies, B12 supplementation improved EEG scores in most of those registering abnormalities, but three of the vegans failed to respond to heavy supplementation with either oral or injected B12.
     
  • In 2000, French researchers reported the case of a 33-year-old patient who lost most of his eyesight after following a strict vegan diet since the age of 20. Ironically, the man had adopted the diet for "improved health", and did not use any supplements. Blood samples showed that his levels of vitamin B1, B12, A, C, D, E, zinc, and selenium were all measurably below normal. Vitamin B12, in particular, is vitally important for maintaining the health of the optic nerve that transmits signals from the eye to the brain. Administration of intramuscular and oral multivitamins normalized blood levels of the aforementioned nutrients, but his eyesight did not recover. They concluded that the nutritional deficiencies in the patient's vegan diet - particularly the insufficient amount of vitamin B12 he had been absorbing - were the most likely cause for the optic nerve deterioration that had resulted in irreversible blindness. (14)

In a recent newspaper article ('Health fears for Atkins diet', Hearld Sun, March 15, 2004), you stated that: "When we know something is bad for people, like smoking, then we let people know what the health risks are". I eagerly await to see if your department issues any warnings against vegan diets, for unlike low-carb diets, these posess a demonstrated poor safety record.

And what about low-carb diets?

In response to criticisms of your sadly misguided campaign against low-carbohydrate diets, you also stated in the aforementioned article: "Some people might come out and say, 'This is a nanny state - now they are telling us what to eat' ... But while I don't think it is the role of the politician to dictate individual preference and behaviour, it is my role to point out when something can actually harm you."

Seeing as you are taking it upon yourself to become a taxpayer-funded dietary commentator, it behooves you to learn as much as possible about the dietary regimens you intend to comment on. The statements you have made so far in regards to low-carbohydrate diets clearly show that you have not done this.

You claim that low-carbohydrate diets raise the risk of cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and even depression. From what peer-reviewed literature did you obtain such information?

Heart Disease

The claim that low-carbohydrate diets raise the risk of heart disease strains all boundaries of logic. Low-carbohydrate diets, via a reduction in cereal grain intake and an increase in meat and fruit and vegetable intake, increase the ingestion of many key heart-healthy nutrients. These include vitamin C, bioflavonoids, magnesium, carnitine, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid.

Bioflavonoids and vitamin C are important for the formation and maintenance of the collagen inside our arteries. Vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid lower blood levels of homocysteine and C-reactive protein (the former is believed to be directly atherogenic, the latter is an accurate measure of inflammatory activity in the body and a far superior predictor of future CHD risk than LDL cholesterol).(15-17) Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, meanwhile, have demonstrated an ability to reduce CHD and overall mortality in randomized clinical trials, not just in the wishful-thinking minds of health bureaucrats. Magnesium and carnitine are essential for muscular contraction and energy production; both have been shown to lower mortality from CHD and heart failure in overseas trials.(18-20) When researchers compared a low-carbohydrate diet with a high-carb diet, they found that the former increased carnitine absorption, despite the equal carnitine contents of the two diets.(21)

Allegedly "healthy" cereal grains (whole or otherwise) contain no vitamin C, no B12, contain only omega-6 fatty acids but no omega-3 fats, contain phytates that impair the absorption of magnesium, and contain a substance known as pyridoxine glucoside, which has been shown to reduce the availability of vitamin B6 by 75-80%.(22) The only dietary intervention trial to compare the effects of increased whole-grain intake on CHD outcomes was the DART trial; in this study, men assigned to eat more brown bread and wheat fiber actually suffered a slight increase in CHD mortality (in the same study, men who were instructed to eat a low-saturated fat diet experienced no change, while men instructed to consume fish/fish oil reduced their CHD risk by almost a third).(23)

Sorry, but I don't see any reason why cereal grains should even be included in anyone's diet, let alone form the foundation of said diet. No-one "needs" cereal grains; in fact, those with gluten sensitivity and celiac disease should quite literally avoid them like the plague! Maybe you would care to include these facts in your future public awareness efforts...

Meat is by far the richest source of carnitine, vitamin B6, B12 and (in the case of organ meats), folic acid. Animal foods are also the only non-supplemental source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (brain tissue is the richest source, followed by fatty fish).

Non-cereal plant foods (fruits, vegetables, and nuts) - the kind encouraged by virtually all of the current crop of low-carb authors - contain magnesium, folic acid, bioflavonoids, and are the richest dietary sources of vitamin C.

Those who are still obsessed with "risk factors" (e.g, much of the medical establishment) should know that low-carb diets typically raise HDL cholesterol, improve the HDL:LDL ratio, and lower elevated triglyceride levels, while low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets often have the opposite effect. In clinical studies, low-carbohydrate diets have repeatedly been shown to produce significant fat loss; overweight and obesity is well-known to be associated with an increased risk of heart disease (and cancer).

Depending on one's food choices, adopting a low-carb diet may result in an increase of saturated fat intake. Despite the hysterical anti-saturated fat rantings of mainstream low-fat proponents, there exists no sound scientific evidence whatsoever to support any causative role for these fats in the pathogenesis of CHD. Consider carefully the following facts, available in the scientific literature for anyone who cares to look:

1) Four decades worth of dietary intervention trials have completely failed to produce any reduction in CHD that can be attributed to cholesterol-lowering or saturated fat restriction.(24)

2) Ironically, the only cholesterol-lowering strategy that has shown any noteworthy benefit in the reduction of CHD - the use of statin drugs - does not even work by cholesterol-lowering. These drugs operate via anti-inflammatory, artery-dilating, and antioxidant mechanisms.(25-41)

Cancer

The confident proclamations of many that meat and animal fats cause cancer are rather remarkable considering the complete lack of reliable clinical evidence to support such a notion. Even the allegedly "strong" epidemiological evidence is highly suspect. For example, if meat and saturated fat caused cancer, then vegetarians should by all rights experience lower rates of cancer. As a pooled analysis of the largest vegetarian studies shows, they don't.(42)

One of the few randomized clinical trials to examine the above topic was the Polyp Prevention Trial. In this study, over two-thousand patients who had one or more confirmed adenomatous colorectal polyps (adenomatous polyps are considered forerunners to colorectal cancer and are used as markers for colorectal cancer risk) removed within the previous 6 months were randomly assigned to follow either their usual diet, or a low fat, high fiber diet. Compared to the controls, subjects assigned to the high-fiber diet significantly increased their intake of whole-grains and legumes, and ate an average of 2.25 more servings of fruits and vegetables each day. The intervention group was also advised to reduce their consumption of red meat, which they did.

Total fat consumption in the control group averaged 34%, while those following the treatment diet reduced their fat intake to only 24%. After 4 years, colorectal cancer was diagnosed in 10 subjects from the high fiber group, and only 4 from the usual diet group eating more red meat. Even after excluding those diagnosed within the first year of the study, the results were similarly unfavorable; 4 cases in the intervention group as compared to 2 in the control group. Polyp recurrence was virtually identical between the two groups.(43)

In animal studies, the one fat that shows consistent tumor-promoting effects is the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid (found in so-called "heart-healthy" polyunsaturated vegetable oils).(44) While animal fat consumption in America has remained stable over the last 100 years (in terms of grams consumed per person per day), the consumption of vegetable oils and margarines has risen dramatically.(45,46) During this time, age-adjusted cancer rates have also risen in both males and females. To hold stable animal fat consumption responsible for rising cancer rates requires a complete abandonment of one's rational faculties.

The claim that low-carbohydrate diets will cause cancer appears especially fanciful considering they have been shown to reduce tumor size in animal studies and have been used with success as part of the treatment of cancer patients.(46a,b,c)

Osteoporosis

Ms. Pike, the well-worn claim that high-protein diets can cause osteoporosis really is a bad joke, considering that it is a well-established fact that protein is an essential component of bones, and that epidemiological studies repeatedly show that it is low-protein intakes, not high protein intakes, that are associated with reduced bone density.(47)

It is typically claimed that high protein intakes will cause an increase in calcium excretion. Researchers recently examined this premise by performing a series of experiments in which intestinal calcium absorption was measured (using dual stable calcium isotopes) in pre- and postmenopausal women who were fed diets of varying protein content. Unlike a number of similar previous experiments, the diets of the women were tightly controlled, and the wide variations between individuals in calcium absorption were countered by using each women as her own control. Under these well-controlled conditions, the researchers found that calcium absorption was significantly lower during periods of low protein consumption (0.8g/kg and below) than during periods of high protein consumption. The researchers concluded, in a rather understated manner, that these studies "call the traditional high protein hypothesis to question". No kidding!(47)

Depression

The claim that low-carb diets cause depression has been doing the media rounds recently after Massachussetts Institute of Technology researcher Judith Wurtman and her team allegedly found an increase in depressive mood symptoms on people eating high protein diets compared to those following low-protein diets. This study has not yet been published, so there is no information on the exact diet the control and intervention groups followed, the methods used to determine mood changes, etc, etc. I contacted the MIT media department shortly after news of the study broke requesting more information, and never received a reply. One should refrain from using this study as evidence until its results are peer-reviewed and published. It should be noted that Judith Wurtman has authored books promoting low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets. While that in itself is no guarantee of impropriety or bias, she can hardly be considered a totally impartial voice on the subject. During the nineties, Wurtman also published several papers singing the praises of the now defunct diet drug dexfenfluramine - ironically, for its ability to reduce overconsumption of carbohydrate-rich foods!(47a,b) Dexfenfluramine was eventually pulled from the market by the FDA in 1997 due to safety concerns.

And that's not all...

Ms. Pike, if you intend to be a credible and objective source of information to the Victorian public on low-carb diets, then it is incumbent upon you to point out, in addition to their alleged flaws, any health benefits they may possess. Researchers have indeed uncovered several characteristics of carbohydrate-reduced diets that could prove extremely valuable in the quest for improved public health.

  • There have been over a dozen randomized dietary intervention trials published since the mid-eighties, ranging in duration from four weeks to one year, that directly compared the weight-loss efficacy of low- and high-carbohydrate diets. None of these has shown superior weight loss on the latter, apart from a highly suspect study (click here for details) conducted by Richard Fleming, the Nebraska cardiologist who obtained the late Dr. Atkins death report under highly dubious circumstances. In every study except Fleming's, low carbohydrate diets produced either markedly superior weight loss or statistically non-significant differences in weight loss.(48-65) Despite the oft-repeated claim that low-carb diets are hard to stick to, most studies reporting drop out rates have found higher rates of attrition in the low fat, high-carbohydrate diet groups.
     
  • In addition to spiraling obesity rates, we are currently experiencing an epidemic of type 2 diabetes, the prevalence of which began accelerating skywards soon after orthodoxy embraced the low-fat, high-carbohydrate paradigm. Numerous studies have compared the effects of lower- versus higher-carbohydrate diets on blood glucose control and, in virtually every instance, the carbohydrate-restricted regimens produced superior results.(66-81) Given that the United Nations has forecast over 300 million diabetics worldwide by 2025, the potentially beneficial public health implications of carbohydrate-restriction are enormous.

    Recently, a team of researchers from Kuwait University placed 102 obese adults on a low-carbohydrate diet. For three months, these folks ate 20-30 grams of carbs per day from green vegetables and salad, and 80-100 grams per day of protein in the form of meat, fish, fowl, eggs, shellfish, and cheese. In addition to losing over 13 kg (27lbs) of unwanted chub, the participants lowered their fasting blood glucose levels from 7.0mmol/l to 5.4 mmol/l.(82)

    Ms. Pike, please take a good look at those fasting blood glucose figures. If you are familiar with the new guidelines of the Expert Committee on the Diagnosis and Classification of Diabetes Mellitus, you will know that a fasting blood glucose reading of 7.0 is the lower limit for diagnosis of diabetes, while a reading of 5.4 is inside the recently-lowered normal-range limit.(83) In other words, these dieters commenced the study with a mean fasting glucose level in the diabetic range, and after twelve weeks had returned this to the normal range!

    Here in Victoria, the incidence of diabetes is over 7 percent (and increasing), while the prevalence of overweight and obesity is estimated to be 61%, figures similar to those seen in North America.(84) Why on earth are you trying to scare Victorians away from an effective treatment for both of these conditions? If you are truly seeking a solution to the growing diabetes problem here in Victoria, you should at the very least be calling for more research into these diets. Instead, you are diverting the money that could fund such trials into warning people away from the very diets that could save their lives!
     
  • Low carbohydrate diets are proving themselves to be invaluable in the most surprising of circumstances. High-protein diets have been traditionally regarded as a no-go zone for individuals with kidney impairment, but in a recent issue of Diabetes, Italian researchers reported that a special low-carbohydrate, unrestricted protein diet, based on low-iron foods, produced dramatic benefits in patients with advanced kidney disease. Compared to patients following a traditional low fat, low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet, those on the low-iron, low-carbohydrate diet were 50% less likely to progress to the point where they either died or required kidney replacement.(85) Very low carbohydrate, or ketogenic, diets are also a well-established and effective treatment for childhood epilepsy.
     
  • Low-carbohydrate diets may eventually prove themselves to have life-extending properties. In animal research, the only consistent intervention that produces increases in life span is calorie-restriction. Whether the same applies to humans has not yet been established, but we do know that cutting calorie intake often produces marked improvements in important health parameters, such as blood glucose control. Unfortunately, telling people to voluntarily limit their calorie intake on a long-term basis tends to be a very poorly-received piece of advice. Low carbohydrate diets, however, may render such unpopular admonitions redundant. Dietary intervention studies have revealed a rather unique phenomenon; subjects following low carbohydrate diets, despite being told to limit only carbohydrate intake and to eat unrestricted amounts of protein and fat, often inadvertently reduce their total calorie intake to levels similar to those seen in subjects who have been explicitly instructed to lower their total calorie intake.
     
  • The possible life-extending effects of low carbohydrate diets have not escaped the attention of longevity researchers at Baltimore's National Institute of Aging. In a recent journal article they stated: "The Atkins Diet is ketogenic resulting in reduced appetite and therefore a reduced calorie intake; individuals who can comply with the diet may therefore exhibit some physiological changes observed in rodents and monkeys subjected to caloric restriction including reduced body weight, and decreased insulin and glucose levels."(86)

Do Your Homework.

Ms. Pike, it is unfortunate that you did not sit down and review the evidence before embarking on your misguided crusade to save Victorians from the supposed harm that awaits them if they adopt low-carbohydrate nutrition. Scandalous media reports arising from misleading press releases by vested interests do not constitute reasonable grounds for commencing a campaign that has the potential to affect public health, for better or worse.

Much of the recent media commotion over low-carbohydrate diets can be traced back to an American vegan organization known as the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. If you are not familiar with this group, whose behavior so far has been anything but responsible, then I suggest you click here. This "Committee" in fact serves as a front-group for the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a radical animal rights and vegan activist group that has given documented financial aid to green terrorist groups.

Perhaps your heroic streak was triggered into action after Australia's most popular current affairs show featured footage of a Melbourne nutritionist claiming that "medically-supervised low-carbohydrate diets" had caused sixty deaths. You should know that this individual was referring to deaths that occurrred over twenty years ago among individuals following liquid protein diets, a crucial fact that was conveniently ommitted (click here to see for yourself). These deaths did not occur among people following the current crop of popular low-carbohydrate diets, people eating real food - you know, meats, eggs, dairy, fruits, nuts, and vegetables! Needless to say, several hundred calories per day derived solely from protein-based powder and water does not constitute a healthy diet, regardless of whether it accompanies a low or high carbohydrate intake.

It should also be mentioned that the individual who appeared on A Current Affair issuing these misleading claims also has authored a number of low-fat diet books. You may like to read a detailed critique of this author's work, and his subsequent reply to this critique, at the following links:

Just How Low Will the Anti-Low-Carb Crowd Go?

A Reply to Bilsborough

Ms. Pike, Your Actions Have Consequences - Bad Ones!

Several days ago, I received an e-mail from a business owner in NSW who, a little while back, started an innovative low-carb meal delivery service in response to the growing popularity of low-carb diets. The ready-made meals delivered by her business include lean meats and vegetables, and, to avert the stigma associated with saturated fats (no matter how misguided this sentiment may be), derive their fat content mainly from monounsaturated sources. Until recently, this individual was doing a roaring trade, having established a franchise chain of 15 outlets delivering delicious low-carb meals around the country. This entrepreneurial mother-of-three saw a niche and filled it, via honest and productive effort (something that more of our politicans should try to emulate), and started reaping the rewards that were rightly hers.

That is, until some misguided politician appeared on national TV and in the nation's newspapers announcing her latest novel waste of money - an anti-low-carbohydrate crusade!

"Since the negative PR has appeared in the recent news, my company is really suffering", said our understandably disheartened low-carb entrepreneur. "Here in Sydney it was as if someone has 'turned off the tap', that's how quiet our phones have been. It is a devastating blow to our businesses from which we hope to recover, but there are no guarantees."

Did customers stop ringing because they had subsequently died from heart disease and cancer, or because they were hospitalized with broken osteoporotic bones and/or depression, or because they had fallen prey to some other alleged adverse effect of low-carb diets?

Nope.

Customers stopped ringing because, not being familiar with the scientific literature, they relied on the media to deliver their diet and health information. So when a bunch of radical vegan activists from North America tried to infer that the death of the late Dr. Atkins was a result of his own dietary prescriptions, and the media lapped it up, they became worried. When some axe-grinding nutritionist from Melbourne appeared on A Current Affair and told the nation that low-carb diets had killed sixty people, they got scared. And when a Victorian politician announced that low-carbohydrate diets were such a threat to public health that her government was going to actively warn people away from them, people ran for the doors. Not being familiar with the scientific literature, which actually indicates that low-carb diets possess an array of favorable qualities and are definitely worthy of increasing research attention, these folks evidently believed what they were hearing on TV and in the newspapers.

Despite the volumes I read and hear about how people supposedly distrust politicians and how they distrust what they read in the papers and see on TV, a significant portion of the population in this country appears to have been suckered beautifully by yet another fallacious government and media beat-up!

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I thought the notion of someone getting off their butt and "having a go" was supposed to be admired here in Australia. I don't know about others, but I think it is extremely unfair for someone who was making an honest, productive living to now be faced with the prospect of going out of business simply because of misleading, sensationalist bullshit.

I also think it is extremely unfair for some politician to take my tax money, and use it to tell me how I should abandon the very diet that has personally brought me nothing but benefits! Puhleez!

Perhaps most unfair of all is that thousands of people are being scared away from diets that have clearly been shown to benefit a number of common conditions - diabetes and obesity, for example - and hold great promise for treating many other ailments.

Conclusion

Ms. Pike, I know you have already travelled a fair way down your proposed path, and it might make you look rather silly if you abandon your sadly-misguided anti-low-carb campaign after creating such a commotion in the media. Nonetheless, I urge you to study the scientific evidence thoroughly, and then carefully reconsider your current stance. There are far better ways to spend taxpayer funds than on discouraging people from trying diets that may just benefit their health, and from sending flourishing businesses down the tube. I know such a change in stance will not impress the flour and baking industry, who are lobbying hard to try and avoid the same fate that is currently befalling their counterparts in the US, where low-carb diets have undergone phenomenal growth, but I think your primary concern should be public health, not the financial well-being of vested industries.

Sincerely,

Anthony Colpo.

To tell Bronwyn Pike that taxpayer funds should be used in a more responsible manner, e-mail: bronwyn.pike@parliament.vic.gov.au


Related articles:

Victorian Government Rolls Out Anti-Low-Carb Propaganda Machine

Fat loss fads: the facts and fallacies

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Anthony Colpo is an independent researcher and certified fitness consultant with 20 years' experience in the physical conditioning arena. To contact: contact@theomnivore.com

Disclaimer: This article is presented for information purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Persons with medical conditions should institute dietary changes whilst being monitored by a competent medical practitioner.

Anthony Colpo 2004.   http://www.theomnivore.com

 

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