1. Has the obesity epidemic been blown out of proportion?

    Has the obesity epidemic been blown out of proportion?

    Before I get into today's topic, let me ask you a question: Do you think there are more fat people now than there used to be?

    I just read an article that made me think that maybe we're not as fat as we think we are. Oh, don't get me wrong - you don't have to strain your eyes to see that more than a few Americans could stand to drop a pound - or 10. But a new and incredibly controversial study is calling the obesity epidemic a bunch of B.S.

    The man who has dared to come out and say that "the obesity epidemic has absolutely been exaggerated" is Dr. Vincent Marks, emeritus professor of clinical biochemistry at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom. And while I don't agree with everything he says, I love the fact that he's saying it. Hey, I've got to give credit to an iconoclast who's cut from the same cloth I am, right?

    Here's a doctor who's out there contradicting the long-held and cherished beliefs of the mainstream medical community - just like me. And since my "wrongheaded" views are routinely found to be correct upon further review, I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't at least give Dr. Marks the credit I believe he deserves.

    Marks questions the data upon which the current claims about an obesity epidemic are based, and doubts that being fat is the root cause of health ailments like cancer, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

    There's a very good reason I'm in Dr. Mark's corner - one of the examples his opponents points to as "proof" that he's wrong is diabetes. The article quotes Dr. James Hill, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado, who says that "Type two diabetes rarely happens in people who aren't obese."

    But as I've pointed out on more than one occasion, obesity doesn't cause diabetes, and diabetes doesn't cause obesity. What obesity and diabetes have in common is that they can both result from the excessive intake of sugar and starch-based substandard foods.

    I'm not alone. Others have leapt to the defense of Dr. Marks, notably Eric Oliver, a political science professor at the University of Chicago and author of the book Fat Politics. Oliver says that blaming obesity for heart attacks and diabetes is just a red herring, and that there are other factors in these maladies -- like exercise, diet, and genetic predisposition to disease. These are all harder to pin down than your weight - which can be easily measured. I'm inclined to agree with Oliver.

    Marks has a few more points to make

    He also points out, in typical contrarian fashion, how shoddy research and the fast-and- loose interpretation of statistics are used to prop up popular notions about weight. Being English, Marks's battleground is the U.K rather than the U.S., but when he attacks the so-called cold-hard facts that led to the British government's warning that "nearly half of Britain" would be obese by 2050, it makes you wish he'd come take a closer look at our numbers. Marks noted that there was "relatively little change" in Britain's national weight averages from 1993 to 2006.

    These aren't baseless theories that Marks espouses-they're backed by research. In 2005, a CDC study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association stated that overweight people typically live longer than so-called "normal weight" people. (A conclusion which, by the way, was reached by more than a dozen other studies.) As you can imagine, the mainstream medical community went into immediate damage control mode, attacking the research's legitimacy.

    Indeed, it's a known fact that, statistically, fat people have better odds of surviving heart attacks (some theorize that the hearts of overweight people often work harder and are therefore better conditioned to endure stress).

    I could go on in my support of Marks. When you really get down to what he's saying, it's not as outrageous as the article makes it out to be. We are such a society of extremes and absolutes that we often refuse to believe that the world of health - like the rest of the world - is painted not in black or white, but in shades of gray.

    Not once does Marks advocate that fatter is better. He merely points out that there's been some needless and wrong-headed hysteria about the apparent death sentence that can be brought on by a couple of extra pounds. I'm glad I'm not the only one who's willing to take a stand with an unpopular opinion. If the medical community loses people like Marks (and myself), it could lead to big trouble. It's essential for doctors to keep an open mind.

  2. The cheapest way to avoid the dentist

    The cheapest way to avoid the dentist

    An ancient technology that will cost you less than a penny can save you thousands of dollars in dental work: the straw.

    Americans down about 576 sugary soft drinks every year - that works out to about one and a half cans per day per person. And it turns out that it's not just the sugar in these beverages that causes the risk to your teeth-how you drink a soda can have a huge impact, too. The Academy of General Dentistry (AGC) recently announced that the use of "a properly positioned" straw (you read that right-more on this later) can help to significantly minimize the risk of cavities and other oral health problems.

    The study revealed that people who drink soda directly from the can or bottle had serious decay issues toward the back of their mouths because the soda pooled around the molars. Overall, straw users had fewer cavities.

    The logic is very simple: A straw ushers the sweet drinks past your lips and teeth, delivering your drink of choice closer to your throat. So your teeth don't get a sugary bath with every sip.

    Here's the catch: You must use the straw properly to get the benefit! Yes, according to this research, there's actually a WRONG way to use a straw. (Whatever you do, DON'T let this email get into the hands of a government employee, or soon we'll be seeing straws wrapped in a Sunday paper-sized warning label, complete with manuals!) The AGC found that people who sipped from straws positioned at the front of their mouths (right behind the lips), had decay on their front teeth.

    "Your best option is to sop soft drinks and other beverages through a straw positioned towards the back of the mouth," said Mohamed A. Bassiouny, DMD and the leader of the study. "Doing so will limit the amount of time the beverage is in contact with the teeth." Even then, drinking with a straw positioned in the back of the mouth still allowed the rear teeth to be drenched with sugary and acidic liquids.

    Is it me, or is there another simple logic here: The best way to avoid the negative effects of drinking sodas IS TO NOT DRINK SODA.

    Not to make light of this finding but the report was so laden with caveats, that there's only one possibly conclusion: Even the dentists who issued the study know that the straw technique is the equivalent of putting a butterfly Band-aid on a sucking chest wound. And that overall, these dentists viewed the soft drink industry with the same disdain that the mainstream medical community has for big tobacco.

    In the end, after an incredible dull and wildly obvious litany of anti-soft drink tips, Dr. Bassiouny ended with this brilliant bit of advice: "Reduce your soda consumption." Those four words could have summed up the point of the whole report, thereby saving untold numbers of straws, weeks of meaningless statistical compilation, acres of trees upon which the report was printed, and the valuable time of all involved.

    Ultimately, though, cavities should be the least of your concerns. Turns out sugary beverages not only increase your risk of cavities, they also increase your risk of Alzheimer's.


    A new study reported in General Dentistry suggests that sugary beverages could increase the risk of Alzheimer's. The researchers were trying to determine if high sugar consumption in an otherwise normal diet could impact Alzheimer's progression.

    They found that mice that consumed a diet that was 10 percent sugar water gained more weight, had higher cholesterol, and developed insulin resistance. In other words, they became classic diabetics. Sound like a familiar pattern? What's more, the mice showed a decline in learning and memory retention, and their brains contained OVER TWICE as many amyloid plaque deposits - a hallmark of Alzheimer's.

    Now you're thinking, "Hold on, Dr. D. - I don't have a diet that contains 10 percent sugar water. This test is bunk!" Actually, the human equivalent of the mouse diet would be about five cans of soda a day - a lot, to be sure. But even if you don't drink that much soda, there are plenty of other ways we funnel sugar down our throats, and it all ads up.

    I saw another report the other day that pointed out that Americans are now drinking about 20 percent of their total caloric intake. And sugary beverages - of which there are so many these days - are everywhere. And don't forget: Those sports drinks may be refreshing, but they're like drinking a Milky Way bar. And I'm sure you don't think about it much, but fruit juices, like orange and grapefruit, can be tossed into this category as well.

    Whether it's your teeth or your brain you should think twice the next time you reach for a drink.

  3. The bitter side of sugar

    When it comes right down to it, your immune system's (and your!) worst enemy is processed sugar.

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