Tobacco is credited with causing cancer, but a deeper cause for lung cancer and many other diseases of industrial civilization may lie in modern commercial processing and refining of foods. Tobacco lawsuits have established the principle that those who profit from harmful products are responsible for the damage they cause. This article explores the possibility of performing "social judo", by getting the tobacco industry to spearhead a revolution in the food processing industry. (2500 words)
A "mercenary" is the term for someone who kills for profit. It is wonderful to see society starting to hold tobacco companies accountable for the effects of their products. But it is ironic that in many parts of the world, where the diet and living conditions differ from those that are endemic to Western civilizations there is no such strong correlation between tobacco use and cancer.
Not that I think tobacco companies should be let off the hook. Anyone who is peddling an addictive, carcinogenic substance deserves to have their head handed to them, financially speaking. But if I was a tobacco company looking for a scapegoat, I might want to consider drawing attention to the products of the food processing industries.
This information is not particularly new. Many scientific studies have pointed to the potential protection from cancer offered by the diet in Asiatic cultures -- to the point that studies in these countries simply do not find the correlation between smoking and cancer that exists here. These studies point variously to the effect of garlic, vitamin C, phytochemicals, and fiber. The one thing they have in common is that something in the diet of these peoples is protecting them from cancer. But that doesn't mean it is possible to somehow make the right choices in this part of the world. Seven-time Nobel prize nominee Johanna Budwig has pointed to controlled laboratory studies that demonstrate complete protection from carcinogenic effects delivered by the essential fatty acids -- but those critical nutrients are typically processed out of the Western, "civilized" diet.
It is remarkable that these studies have received so little attention in the popular press. The fact is that you cannot depend on your evening news for health-related information. Just the other night, a television newscaster reported with a straight face the "new" information that cholesterol has some beneficial properties, and that high cholesterol levels do not necessarily produce disease. Heck, that information is ancient, in nutrition circles. What constitutes "news" and what constitutes real health information are, not infrequently, different.
The mechanism that provides protection from cancer is even well understood. The high levels of vitamin C and phytochemicals present in the natural foods of Asian peoples build healthy cell membranes. It seems that pre-cancerous cells form all the time, but the membranes of surrounding cell are so strong that they contain the abnormal cell, which is then quashed by a healthy immune system. But, here in the West, supplements do not deliver the same protection. The other major component of healthy cell membranes -- high-quality essential fatty acids -- are the first victims of commercial refining methods, as are the vital enzymes that make everything work. Fatty acid authority Udo Erasmus points out that when a cell membrane is functioning optionally, it keeps out invaders. It repels viruses, toxins, and even carcinogens. An unhealthy cell membrane is "leaky", and that is where the problems start.
So what is it that kills the enzymes, removes the vitamins, eliminates the phytochemicals, and destroys the essential fatty acids in our foods? There are many causes, ranging from the lack of organic farming methods to the use of pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones in agriculture. Today, in fact, the Seattle Times reported that companies across the country have been recycling hazardous wastes as fertilizer!
But the most insidious damage to our food supply comes from high-heat industrial processing, because that damage is hidden, unadvertised, and unknown to the average consumer.
There are three kinds of processing in particular that adulterate our foods: refining, deep frying, and hydrogenation. Robert Erdmann provides a truly horrific description of these processes. Their enormously high heat produces exotic compounds that have literally lethal consequences. Some of these compounds we know about. The detrimental effects of the trans fats are widely known and understood. But many more compounds are produced that we either don't understand or have never heard of before, because they have never before existed! In other words, nothing in your millions of years of evolution has prepared you for some of the things you are ingesting every day of your life.
Our understanding has grown so complete, in fact, that we can use quantum physics to see why this high-heat processing is so bad. The essential fatty acids contained in the oils we consume occur in only a very few, limited configurations. Udo Erasmus has laid them all out, one after the other. There are so few of them, diagrams for them all fit on a couple of pages in his book. But when sufficient heat is present, a huge number of novel configurations can result. The quantum physics for the process is succinctly described in the book, What is Life?, by Erwin Shro:dinger. [Author's note: The "o" has an umlaut, or kumquat, or whatever it is -- two dots over it.] When enough heat is produced to override the "energy threshhold", completely new molecular configurations appear.
What is remarkable is how much processing has occurred purely in the name of profit. Oils are refined to extend their shelf life -- so they don't go rancid by combining with oxygen. But it is precisely by combining with oxygen that they carry out some of their most important functions in the body. As part of hemoglobin, it is the essential fatty acid combining with oxygen that allows oxygen to be transported to the cell. As part of the cell membrane, it is the essential fatty acid combining with oxygen that allows oxygen to be transported into the cell, and from there to the mitochondria. When you refine the oil so it no longer combines with oxygen, you get an oil that will last for years on the shelf, but which does absolutely nothing whatever for you after you eat it!
Even so-called "cold pressed" oils are not immune to this problem. True, they are pressed at low enough temperatures to preserve their nutrient content (140-160 degrees, or less). But then they are refined -- literally steam-distilled -- at temperatures in excess of 500 degrees! Truth in labeling? Hardly. Worse, the bad fats can be hidden. The recipe for mayonnaise is two cups of oil to two egg whites. And guess what oils are used: denatured, refined oils. It will "keep" on the shelf, but it won't keep you healthy.
Then there is deep frying -- another high-heat process with disastrous consequences. Some restaurants proudly claim that they use only vegetable oils. But that's even worse than using animal fats! Animal fats are pretty much totally saturated. Saturated fats aren't great, but you can't harm them very much either. It is the chemically active unsaturated fats that are hurt most by deep frying -- the same unsaturated fats that are present in the vegetable oils! If you're going to deep fry, you're better off with animal fat. But it takes a lot to understand that.
Finally, there is hydrogenation. It is hard to believe that anything worse has ever been foisted off on an unsuspecting public and then paraded as "healthy". The results of hydrogenation are, in fact, a plastic -- a substance with a molecular structure akin to plastic whose effects in the body we only dimly suspect, much less understand. Some of the processes for manipulating oils are even known among chemists as "plasticizing".
The artifacts of the industrial revolution produced by refining, deep frying, and hydrogenation are somewhat laughingly referred to as "foods". In addition to denaturing enzymes and destroying vitamins, these methods turn the truly essential fatty acids into a wide variety of toxic compounds. Everything from obesity and psoriasis to being hospitalized with a life-threatening illness or degenerative disease can be traced to the diet that contains them. But there are alternatives. Organic, unrefined oils are available at health food stores. Organic butter, free of pesticides, antibiotics, and bovine growth hormone is available, as well. A clarified, lactose-free butter called "Ghee" can be used for cooking. Free-range eggs, high in essential fatty acids and lecithin, can frequently be found even in normal supermarkets.
It is an unfortunate fact that an extensive education in biochemical nutrition is required to make the right choices without falling prey to every new health food fad that comes down the pike. Sadly, many of the dietary choices we make, given the options normally available, are simply killing us. It is not so much that the original intentions behind these products were evil. Assuredly, they were all developed with the best of intentions. But with what is known today about their harmful effects and the precise mechanisms by which they occur, to continue selling them is nothing short of criminal.
So, when we go after companies that sell us harmful products, where do we draw the line? If we go after tobacco companies for selling us products that kill us from cancer, why don't we go after the food processing industries for selling us products that kill us from heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and a host of other diseases that are unknown outside of modern industrial societies? Legality is no excuse. Putting untreated toxic waste into fertilizer is perfectly legal. Its just damn inconsiderate. If I was one of the tobacco companies, I think that I would be pressing hard to improve the Western diet -- if only to lower the downstream costs of delivering my products. I'd start by attacking high-heat refining methods and getting consumers educated about fatty acids. Then I'd take a look at how to get more organic foods into consumer's hands -- foods without pesticides, antibiotics, and toxic wastes, foods that are capable of sustaining life.
It makes sense for tobacco companies to spearhead an effort of this kind. They have the money to undertake a massive public education campaign, and they have a major incentive to shift blame elsewhere. The result of such "social judo" (using the force of industral civilization against itself) would be to reduce not only lung cancer, but also the heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, other forms of cancer and other diseases that are so prevalent in industrial societies, yet unknown outside of it. The result would be better health for all.
Budwig, Dr. Johanna. Flax Oil as a True Aid Against Arthritis, Heart Infarction, Cancer, and Other Diseases. Apple Publishing, Vancouver, BC, CAN.
"When animals breathe in relatively large amounts of cigarette smoke, i.e. benzopyrin; it is proved that cancer does occur. In parallel tests, animals were concurrently fed with flax seed or flax seed oil. These animals did not become ill." (p.34..35)
"Animals which have been fed with solidified fats or saturated, inert fats, eat six times as much fat and six times as much food." (p. 22)
"The destruction of the light, activating, electron oxidation system is the reason behind preserving process that treat food to make it last longer, and change the nature of fats so they can be stored for years....Testing on animals and humans has shown that when these preserved [refined] fats, poor in electrons, are ingested, animals and humans eat six times their normal amount of food." (p. 33)
Note: The reason is that no fat is "pure". All fats are a mixture of saturates and unsaturates. The body just keeps eating until the required polyunsaturates are supplied.
Erasmus, Udo. Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill. Alive Books, Burnaby, BC, CAN.
Erasmus gives diagrams for all of the naturally occurring EFAs in just 2 pages at the beginning of his book. It is remarkable that these are virtually the only configurations that occur in nature. (pp. 27-28)
"[As a result of industrialized processing] we obtained oils altered by heat and chemicals. Natural nutrients in oils were converted into substances detrimental to our health: trans- fatty acids, polymers, cyclic compounds, aldehydes, ketones, epoxides, hydroperoxides, and other compounds that have not yet been identified. Many of these are toxic and detrimental to our body and our health even in small quantities (see Chapter 19, Other Toxic Products). The processes used to refine oils produce dozens of different new substances by random processes that cannot be controlled." (p. 88)
"Trans- fatty acids change the permeability of cell membranes. They impair the protective barrier around cells, which is vital for keeping cells alive and healthy. This means that some molecules that would ordinarily be kept out of cells can now get in, while some molecules which would ordinarily remain in our cells can now get out. Cell vitality would then diminish. Also, allergic reactions may result, and immune function may be impaired." (p. 109)
(For more information, visit http://www.udoerasmus.com.)
Erdmann, Robert, Ph.D. Fats That Can Save Your Life. Progressive Health Publishing, Encinitas CA.
Dr. Erdmann gives truly hair-raising accounts of the high-heat processing that accompanies hydrogenation (pp. 76-79) and commercial refining methods (pp. 66-70). His short book effectively details the harm done to the EFAs in the process.
Note: Even "cold pressed" oils are usually refined and then steam distilled at temperatures in excess of 500 degrees to extend their shelf life!
Finnegan, John, The Facts About Fats. Celestial Arts, Berkeley, 1993.
"Dr. Budwig....discovered that healthy people contained ample amounts of the essential fatty acids and sulfur-rich proteins in their blood and tissues, whereas people with illnesses were deficient in these vital lipoprotein substances. She also discovered that these lipoproteins [lipo- = lipid (fat) + protein] play a critical part in the many key biochemical processes. They are an essential component in the body's oxygen-transport mechanisms and in the creation of hemoglobin. They are also the main substance used to build the membranes in each and every cell, [italics mine] and, as such, enhance our bodies' ability to resist and fight disease-causing viruses, bacteria, yeasts, and parasites." (p. 49)
When looked at through a microscope, a hydrogenated fat molecule looks very much like a plastic molecule....Lipid chemists actually talk about plasticizing oils. (p. 41)
Shrodinger, Erwin. What is Life? Cambridge University Press, New York, 1967.
This wonderful little book explains the quantum processes that produce entirely new compounds when sufficient heat, pressure, or radioactive bombardment exceeds the "threshold energy" required to destabilize a molecule. (pp. 53..55)
"Killing fields? Toxic waste being spread as fertilizer", by Duff Wilson of the Seattle Times, reprinted in San Jose Mercury News, Saturday, July 5, 1997.
About the Author
Eric Armstrong has been programming and writing professionally since before there were personal computers. His programming experience includes AI programs, system libraries, real-time programs, and business applications in a variety of languages. He is the author of The JBuilder 2 Bible, published by IDG Books in 1998, as well as the XML tutorial published at http://java.sun.com/xml. For the last 30 years, off and on, he has been researching nutritional biochemistry and exercise.
Personal Note: I am not a doctor. I am a computer programmer and writer who has been student of nutrition and the body's physiologic response to it for more than 30 years (off and on, since I first read Adelle Davis at age 15). I have an eye for the literature and the ability to formulate theoretical models of systems based on my literature research and background in computer systems modeling. I have been skinny as a kid and overweight as an adult. I've dealt with fatigue, depression, sinusitis, anxiety attacks, and severe overtraining. I have had occasion to experiment and find out for myself what works.
Copyright © 1999
by Eric Armstrong. All rights reserved.
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