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Monday, July 30, 2012

Do Sports Drinks Really Work?

Mother Jones

| Mon Jul. 30, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

Just in time for the Summer Olympics in London, a top science journal has issued a blistering indictment of the sports drink industry. According to the series of reports from BMJ (formerly British Medical Journal), the makers of drinks like Gatorade and Powerade have spent millions in research and marketing in recent decades to persuade sports and medical professionals, not to mention the rest of us suckers, that a primal instinct—the sensation of thirst—is an unreliable guide for deciding when to drink. We've also been battered with the notion that boring old water is just not good enough for preventing dehydration.

I've been as susceptible to this scam as anyone else; I knew, or thought I knew, that if I'm thirsty after my half-hour go-round on the elliptical trainer, it means I was underhydrated to begin with. So for years I've been trying to remember to ignore my lack of thirst and make myself drink before working out. Not any more.

The BMJ's package of seven papers on sports performance products packs a collective wallop. The centerpiece is a well-reported investigation of the long-standing financial ties between the makers of Gatorade (PepsiCo), Powerade (Coca-Cola, an official Olympic sponsor), and Lucozaid (GlaxoSmithKline) with sports associations, medical groups, and academic researchers. It should come as no great surprise that the findings and recommendations that have emerged through these affiliations have tended to include alarming warnings about dehydration and electrolyte imbalance—warnings that conveniently promote the financial interests of the corporate sponsors.

And who knew there was something called the Gatorade Sports Science Institute? According to the BMJ investigation, "one of GSSI's greatest successes was to undermine the idea that the body has a perfectly good homeostatic mechanism for detecting and responding to dehydration—thirst." The article quotes the institute's director as having declared, based on little reliable evidence, that "the human thirst mechanism is an inaccurate short-term indicator of fluid needs."

Another study in the BMJ package finds that the European Food Safety Authority, which is authorized to assess health claims in food labels and ads, has relied on a seriously flawed review process in approving statements related to sports drinks. A third study reports that hundreds of performance claims made on websites about sports products, including nutritional supplements and training equipment as well as drinks, are largely based on questionable data, and sometimes no apparent data at all. One overall theme emerging from the various papers is that much of the research cited was conducted with elite and endurance athletes, who have specific nutritional and training needs; any such findings, however, should not be presumed to hold for the vast majority of those who engage in physical activity.

Critics have long blasted sports drinks as being loaded with calories and unnecessary ingredients. (Not to mention concerns about the environmental costs of producing, shipping, and discarding all those millions of plastic bottles.) Yet the product category represents a lucrative and growing market, with US sales of about $1.6 billion a year, according to the BMJ. In fact, Powerade is the official sports drink of the London Olympics, and Coca-Cola is hyping the brand with a campaign featuring top-tier athletes.

The BMJ papers address two related but distinct questions: Should people who exercise seek to proactively replace fluids lost, or can they rely on thirst to guide them during and after physical activity? And when they rehydrate, do they need all the salts, sugars, and other ingredients dumped into sports drinks, or is water fine? The correct answers are: best to rely on thirst, and water is fine. All that stuff about replacing electrolytes and so on you've been hearing all these years? Never mind! The evidence doesn't support it.

Overhydration presents a far greater risk of serious complications, and even death, than dehydration.
In a commentary accompanying the investigations in the journal, Timothy Noakes, chair of sports science at the University of Cape Town, points out that overhydration presents a far greater risk of serious complications, and even death, than dehydration. Moreover, he notes, the notion that fluid and electrolytes must be immediately replaced is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of our past as "long distance persistence hunters" in arid regions of Africa.

"Humans do not regulate fluid balance on a moment to moment basis," Noakes writes. "Because of our evolutionary history, we are delayed drinkers and correct the fluid deficits generated by exercise at, for example, the next meal, when the electrolyte (principally sodium but also potassium) deficits are also corrected…People optimize their hydration status by drinking according to the dictates of thirst. Over the past 40 years humans have been misled—mainly by the marketing departments of companies selling sports drinks—to believe that they need to drink to stay 'ahead of thirst' to be optimally hydrated."

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Jaw-Dropping Corruption: America's 47 Million Hungry Mouths Are Just Another Corporate Cash Cow


Progressive Populist / By Mark Anderson

An attorney's courageous report exposes just how ruthless and greedy big business is capable of being.

A unique, hard-hitting report just completed by a California attorney exposes a largely unknown federal food-stamp racket involving large grocery retailers, food manufacturing giants and other private players, including the Federal Reserve and JPMorganChase, which combine to channel food stamp spending into a gravy train for the heavy hitters in the food industry.

And the report’s author, Michele Simon, says administrative costs added by these privateers inflate the overall price tag of the Supplemental Nutrition Allowance Program (SNAP). And high program costs are prompting potentially deep legislative cuts to SNAP in the pending Farm Bill — when a record 46 million Americans use SNAP, of which 47% are children.

A major fear is that SNAP cuts could wrongly target the program’s central mission to feed the hungry, when cuts should target the private players who harness the program for their own gain.

“If we want to cut, let’s look at administrative cuts—not [necessarily] cutting the benefits themselves,” Simon told this writer. She’s disturbed that JP Morgan and the Federal Reserve are well positioned in this debacle. Yet, her 28-page report, for all that it reveals, just begins to explore this fathoms-deep issue, since critical data is being withheld by the USDA.

Over the last 7 months, Simon organized the report, “Food Stamps, Follow the Money: Are Corporations Profiting from Hungry Americans?” She wrote it because she felt there was more to the story after a 2010 debate over how SNAP dollars should be spent in New York City.

The city asked the USDA for a waiver in order to conduct a two-year trial “to prevent SNAP funds from being used to purchase sugar-sweetened beverages,” wrote Simon, who added, “Several [nine] states have proposed bills similar to New York’s approach, to modify SNAP-eligible items to promote health. But each time, the food industry fought these bills. To date, none have passed.”

The big picture is that once Congress approves the Farm Bill budget for the USDA, (which administers SNAP 50/50 with the states), the states, upon enrolling SNAP participants, contract with banks to get the EBT debit cards that SNAP recipients now use (replacing the old food coupons). Card-carrying participants then enter a system wherein the major food manufacturers lobby the USDA to deny states the right to alter SNAP-purchase guidelines, so major food and beverage-makers (Mars, PepsiCo, Coca Cola, Kraft etc.) can reap the harvest of 46 million cardholders buying their products—including sweets with little to no nutritional value.

The big-box food makers refuse to surrender this arrangement, for, as Ms. Simon sees it, if they and their cohorts at the major retail outlets allow diverse nutritional considerations requested by the states to decide policy, then SNAP’s vast purchasing power could be redirected not only toward nutritional food (a novel idea for a “supplemental nutrition” program) but also toward smaller food outlets, including farmers’ markets—which, according to Simon, currently receive perhaps 0.01% of SNAP purchases. She imagined how much SNAP spending could revive the economy if most of it helped local agriculture, spurred jobs and ironically even helped some people get off food stamps. Indeed, the nation’s food relief program started on the basis of helping the needy buy fresh produce to reduce farm surpluses, says the report, which adds:

“Given the huge stakes for the food and beverage industry in the debate over SNAP purchases, lobbying has played a critical role in shaping public policy. Unfortunately, due to reporting rules, it’s difficult to paint the entire picture of exactly who lobbied and how much money was spent against any one proposal [to limit SNAP purchases to real food].”

Meanwhile, JPMorganChase has EBT contracts with more states than any other bank and rakes in fees galore. “[SNAP] store purchases at the register go to JP Morgan ... which authorizes the request. And that [purchase data] goes to the Federal Reserve Bank and the Fed reimburses, say, Wal Mart,” explained Simon, who stressed that the USDA strangely refuses to release comprehensive SNAP purchase-redemption data so the big picture can be fully understood.

This issue has become so touchy that at least one journalist, Michael Morisy (MuckRock.com), is in hot water with the USDA for managing to obtain some of this data. But the truth cannot be contained forever. A newspaper, the Sioux Falls, S.D., Argus Leader, last year in South Dakota’s federal court district filed a lawsuit to try and force the government to release all redemption amounts, including how much the Fed reimburses the stores who accept EBT purchases, and how much SNAP money goes to buy specific products.

Mark Anderson is a veteran journalist who divides his time between Texas and Michigan. Email him at truthhound2@yahoo.com. Simon, who compiled the SNAP report referenced here, is a public health lawyer and president of Eat Drink Politics, an industry watchdog consulting group. Contact her at Michele@EatDrinkPolitics.com.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

TEVA Phamaceuticals Recalls Single Lot of Metoprolol Tartrate Tablets 50 mg

TEVA Phamaceuticals Recalls Single Lot of Metoprolol Tartrate Tablets 50 mg

TEVA Phamaceuticals has recalled a single lot of Metoprolol Tartrate Tablets 50 mg, the short acting formulation of metoprolol. Lot number TE1Y261 is being recalled because some tablets in this lot may have different thickness and weight.

Metoprolol is used in the treatment of high blood pressure. Metoprolol is also sold under the brand name Lopressor or Toprol XL. No other lots, strengths, or brands of Metoprolol were involved in this recall.

To view the FDA notice about this recall, please visit:
This recall for Metoprolol Tartrate Tablets 50 mg from TEVA Phamaceuticals was issued at a warehouse and pharmacy level only. The FDA and the manufacturer have determined that any recalled product that may have been dispensed to patients does not pose a significant health risk. If you take Metoprolol Tartrate Tablets 50 mg from Teva Pharmaceuitcals and are concerned, you should speak to your pharmacist or doctor. If you think you are experiencing side effects from your medicine, please follow up with your doctor.

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Truth Is Out on Genetically Modified Foods - And It's Not Pretty


You are what you eat

The Truth Is Out on Genetically Modified Foods - And It's Not Pretty

By the Institute for Responsible Technology , Your Consumer Safety Partner - May 20, 2009

This week, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) called on “Physicians to educate their patients, the medical community, and the public to avoid GM (genetically modified) foods when possible and provide educational materials concerning GM foods and health risks.” They called for a moratorium on GM foods, long-term independent studies, and labeling. AAEM’s position paper stated, “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food,” including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. They conclude, “There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation,” as defined by recognized scientific criteria. “The strength of association and consistency between GM foods and disease is confirmed in several animal studies.”

More and more doctors are already prescribing GM-free diets. Dr. Amy Dean, a Michigan internal medicine specialist, and board member of AAEM says, “I strongly recommend patients eat strictly non-genetically modified foods.” Ohio allergist Dr. John Boyles says “I used to test for soy allergies all the time, but now that soy is genetically engineered, it is so dangerous that I tell people never to eat it.”

Dr. Jennifer Armstrong, President of AAEM, says, “Physicians are probably seeing the effects in their patients, but need to know how to ask the right questions.” World renowned biologist Pushpa M. Bhargava goes one step further. After reviewing more than 600 scientific journals, he concludes that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a major contributor to the sharply deteriorating health of Americans.

Pregnant women and babies at great risk

Among the population, biologist David Schubert of the Salk Institute warns that “children are the most likely to be adversely effected by toxins and other dietary problems” related to GM foods. He says without adequate studies, the children become “the experimental animals.”

The experience of actual GM-fed experimental animals is scary. When GM soy was fed to female rats, most of their babies died within three weeks—compared to a 10% death rate among the control group fed natural soy. The GM-fed babies were also smaller, and later had problems getting pregnant.

When male rats were fed GM soy, their testicles actually changed color—from the normal pink to dark blue. Mice fed GM soy had altered young sperm. Even the embryos of GM fed parent mice had significant changes in their DNA. Mice fed GM corn in an Austrian government study had fewer babies, which were also smaller than normal.

Reproductive problems also plague livestock. Investigations in the state of Haryana, India revealed that most buffalo that ate GM cottonseed had complications such as premature deliveries, abortions, infertility, and prolapsed uteruses. Many calves died. In the US, about two dozen farmers reported thousands of pigs became sterile after consuming certain GM corn varieties. Some had false pregnancies; others gave birth to bags of water. Cows and bulls also became infertile when fed the same corn.

In the US population, the incidence of low birth weight babies, infertility, and infant mortality are all escalating.

Food designed to produce toxin

GM corn and cotton are engineered to produce their own built-in pesticide in every cell. When bugs bite the plant, the poison splits open their stomach and kills them. Biotech companies claim that the pesticide, called Bt—produced from soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis—has a history of safe use, since organic farmers and others use Bt bacteria spray for natural insect control. Genetic engineers insert Bt genes into corn and cotton, so the plants do the killing.

The Bt-toxin produced in GM plants, however, is thousands of times more concentrated than natural Bt spray, is designed to be more toxic, has properties of an allergen, and unlike the spray, cannot be washed off the plant.

Moreover, studies confirm that even the less toxic natural bacterial spray is harmful. When dispersed by plane to kill gypsy moths in the Pacific Northwest, about 500 people reported allergy or flu-like symptoms. Some had to go to the emergency room.

The exact same symptoms are now being reported by farm workers throughout India, from handling Bt cotton.[xiii] In 2008, based on medical records, the Sunday India reported, “Victims of itching have increased massively this year . . . related to BT cotton farming.”

GMOs provoke immune reactions

AAEM states, “Multiple animal studies show significant immune dysregulation,” including increase in cytokines, which are “associated with asthma, allergy, and inflammation”—all on the rise in the US.

According to GM food safety expert Dr. Arpad Pusztai, changes in the immune status of GM animals are “a consistent feature of all the studies.” Even Monsanto’s own research showed significant immune system changes in rats fed Bt corn. A November 2008 by the Italian government also found that mice have an immune reaction to Bt corn.

GM soy and corn each contain two new proteins with allergenic properties, GM soy has up to seven times more trypsin inhibitor—a known soy allergen, and skin prick tests show some people react to GM, but not to non-GM soy. Soon after GM soy was introduced to the UK, soy allergies skyrocketed by 50%. Perhaps the US epidemic of food allergies and asthma is a casualty of genetic manipulation.

Animals dying in large numbers

In India, animals graze on cotton plants after harvest. But when shepherds let sheep graze on Bt cotton plants, thousands died. Post mortems showed severe irritation and black patches in both intestines and liver (as well as enlarged bile ducts). Investigators said preliminary evidence “strongly suggests that the sheep mortality was due to a toxin. . . . most probably Bt-toxin.” In a small follow-up feeding study by the Deccan Development Society, all sheep fed Bt cotton plants died within 30 days; those that grazed on natural cotton plants remained healthy.

In a small village in Andhra Pradesh, buffalo grazed on cotton plants for eight years without incident. On January 3rd, 2008, the buffalo grazed on Bt cotton plants for the first time. All 13 were sick the next day; all died within 3 days.

Bt corn was also implicated in the deaths of cows in Germany, and horses, water buffaloes, and chickens in The Philippines.

In lab studies, twice the number of chickens fed Liberty Link corn died; 7 of 20 rats fed a GM tomato developed bleeding stomachs; another 7 of 40 died within two weeks. Monsanto’s own study showed evidence of poisoning in major organs of rats fed Bt corn, according to top French toxicologist G. E. Seralini.

Worst finding of all—GMOs remain inside of us

The only published human feeding study revealed what may be the most dangerous problem from GM foods. The gene inserted into GM soy transfers into the DNA of bacteria living inside our intestines and continues to function. This means that long after we stop eating GMOs, we may still have potentially harmful GM proteins produced continuously inside of us. Put more plainly, eating a corn chip produced from Bt corn might transform our intestinal bacteria into living pesticide factories, possibly for the rest of our lives.

When evidence of gene transfer is reported at medical conferences around the US, doctors often respond by citing the huge increase of gastrointestinal problems among their patients over the last decade. GM foods might be colonizing the gut flora of North Americans.

Warnings by government scientists ignored and denied

Scientists at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had warned about all these problems even in the early 1990s. According to documents released from a lawsuit, the scientific consensus at the agency was that GM foods were inherently dangerous, and might create hard-to-detect allergies, poisons, gene transfer to gut bacteria, new diseases, and nutritional problems. They urged their superiors to require rigorous long-term tests.[xxvii] But the White House had ordered the agency to promote biotechnology and the FDA responded by recruiting Michael Taylor, Monsanto’s former attorney, to head up the formation of GMO policy. That policy, which is in effect today, denies knowledge of scientists’ concerns and declares that no safety studies on GMOs are required. It is up to Monsanto and the other biotech companies to determine if their foods are safe. Mr. Taylor later became Monsanto’s vice president.

Dangerously few studies, untraceable diseases

AAEM states, “GM foods have not been properly tested” and “pose a serious health risk.” Not a single human clinical trial on GMOs has been published. A 2007 review of published scientific literature on the “potential toxic effects/health risks of GM plants” revealed “that experimental data are very scarce.” The author concludes his review by asking, “Where is the scientific evidence showing that GM plants/food are toxicologically safe, as assumed by the biotechnology companies?”

Famed Canadian geneticist David Suzuki answers, “The experiments simply haven’t been done and we now have become the guinea pigs.” He adds, “Anyone that says, ‘Oh, we know that this is perfectly safe,’ I say is either unbelievably stupid or deliberately lying.”

Dr. Schubert points out, “If there are problems, we will probably never know because the cause will not be traceable and many diseases take a very long time to develop.” If GMOs happen to cause immediate and acute symptoms with a unique signature, perhaps then we might have a chance to trace the cause.

This is precisely what happened during a US epidemic in the late 1980s. The disease was fast acting, deadly, and caused a unique measurable change in the blood—but it still took more than four years to identify that an epidemic was even occurring. By then it had killed about 100 Americans and caused 5,000-10,000 people to fall sick or become permanently disabled. It was caused by a genetically engineered brand of a food supplement called L-tryptophan.

If other GM foods are contributing to the rise of autism, obesity, diabetes, asthma, cancer, heart disease, allergies, reproductive problems, or any other common health problem now plaguing Americans, we may never know. In fact, since animals fed GMOs had such a wide variety of problems, susceptible people may react to GM food with multiple symptoms. It is therefore telling that in the first nine years after the large scale introduction of GM crops in 1996, the incidence of people with three or more chronic diseases nearly doubled, from 7% to 13%.

To help identify if GMOs are causing harm, the AAEM asks their “members, the medical community, and the independent scientific community to gather case studies potentially related to GM food consumption and health effects, begin epidemiological research to investigate the role of GM foods on human health, and conduct safe methods of determining the effect of GM foods on human health.”

Citizens need not wait for the results before taking the doctors advice to avoid GM foods. People can stay away from anything with soy or corn derivatives, cottonseed and canola oil, and sugar from GM sugar beets—unless it says organic or “non-GMO.” There is a pocket Non-GMO Shopping Guide, co-produced by the Institute for Responsible Technology and the Center for Food Safety, which is available as a download, as well as in natural food stores and in many doctors’ offices.

If even a small percentage of people choose non-GMO brands, the food industry will likely respond as they did in Europe—by removing all GM ingredients. Thus, AAEM’s non-GMO prescription may be a watershed for the US food supply.

Source: http://www.opposingviews.com

Hey Monsanto -- I Want My Tomatoes From Nature, Not Your Labs



The biotech industry is willing to tamper with our food supply, our kids' minds and our basic consumer rights.


Some people are too smart for your own good.

Food geneticists, for example. These technicians have the smarts to tinker with the inner workings of Momma Nature's own good foods -- but not the smarts to leave well enough alone.        

In fairness, much of their scientific tinkering has been beneficial. But during the past half-century, too much of their work devolved from tinkering into outright tampering with our food. This is mostly the result of money flowing to both private and public research centers from big agribusiness corporations that want nature's design altered in ways that fatten their bottom lines. Never mind that the alterations created by these smart people are frequently not good for you and me.

Take the tomato, truly a natural wonder. Agribusiness profiteers, however, wanted it to do unnatural things, so -- voila! -- the genetic tamperers in the 1960s and '70s dutifully produced the Amazing Industrial Tomato. It's a techno-marvel made to endure long-distance shipping, be harvested while green and then artificially ripened to appear tomato-y red and last an ungodly amount of time without rotting.   
But taste? Forget it. There's more flavor in the carton. This led to the "Upchuck Rebellion" -- a grassroots movement of consumers, small farmers and local food artisans. In the last couple of decades, they've spurred phenomenal growth in farmers markets and stores that offer nature's own locally produced and heirloom varieties untouched by the smart ones.
But, look out, the tomato tamperers are back in the lab! They've discovered that a mutated gene they had bred into the corporate tomato switches off other genes that would cause the fruit to develop flavor. The answer, they say, is not less technology, but more. 

By artificially re-engineering the DNA structure of the plant, they can bypass that naughty mutated gene and switch on some of the flavor genes. But do we really want to eat genetically engineered tomatoes?

Still, you can expect them to push the latest alteration of nature's marvel. I can just see the agribusiness ad: "Buy our industrial tomatoes -- Now genetically flavored!" Better yet, buy the local tomatoes, which don't need a smart geneticist or an ad to deliver real flavor.
Unfortunately, it's not just tomatoes they're tampering with. For instance, if you are parent you may be worried about the plethora of highly questionable bio-engineered organisms that the profiteers have quietly been slipping into everything from snack foods to school lunches.
Well, perhaps your own children can put your mind at ease, for science teachers around the country have been assigning a book called "Look Closer at Biotechnology" to the kiddos in their classes. It's filled with colorful images, friendly cartoon faces, puzzles and more!
The very first page makes clear that the scientific wonder of genetically engineered foods pose no worries at all. "Hi, kids," it begins. 

"This is an activity book for young people like you about ... a really neat topic." Why is it so neat? Because, say the authors, "as you work through the puzzles in this book, you will learn more about biotechnology and all the wonderful ways it can help people live better lives in a healthier world. Have fun!"

Fun? With genetically engineered food? That's not fun, it's serious business -- and look who's behind this book of fairy tales: the Council for Biotechnology Information.

Exactly what and who is CBI? It's a PR and political front for the biotech industry, financed by such multibillion-dollar giants as Monsanto, Bayer, DuPont and Dow. It's also now funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into the industry's deceitful political campaign to kill a California "Right to Know" ballot initiative that finally would require food giants to label all products containing genetically engineered organisms.

This raises an obvious question for those of us who prefer food from nature, not from engineering labs: What are we to do about corporate powers that are so avaricious and arrogant that they're willing to tamper with our food supply, our kids' minds and our basic consumer rights? Defeat them, that's what!

Here are three good sources for information and action: JustLabelIt.org, 

NonGMOShoppingGuide.com and OrganicConsumers.org.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the new book, "Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow." (Wiley, March 2008) He publishes the monthly "Hightower Lowdown," co-edited by Phillip Frazer.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Shingles Vaccine Safe for Those With Autoimmune Diseases: Study

Shingles Vaccine Safe for Those With Autoimmune Diseases: Study

Study allays fears that the shot might raise shingles risk in people with psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tuesday, July 3, 2012
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TUESDAY, July 3 (HealthDay News) -- For those suffering from the chronic skin disorder psoriasis and other autoimmune diseases, a new study finds the shingles vaccine appears to be both safe and effective.

It had been thought the vaccine might boost the risk of developing shingles in these patients, the researchers explained.

"The findings are reassuring for a very specific group of patients," said Dr. Bruce Hirsch, an attending physician in infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., who was not involved in the study.
"Patients who have weak immune systems are vulnerable to getting shingles and the shingles vaccine is a live vaccine," he added.

The study looked at patients with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis (an inflammation of the spine), or inflammatory bowel disease.

The risk is that patients with these conditions are taking drugs that work by suppressing the immune system, which can leave them at risk for infections.
"I would tell these patients to have the vaccine," Hirsch said. "The vaccine seems to be effective and provides some advantage in patients who are getting treatment for these conditions."

This study, however, does not address the vaccine in patients who have weakened immune systems related to other causes, Hirsch said.
He cautions that the vaccine does have some risks and there is no long-term data on its effectiveness in these patients.

"I don't consider this study to be completely definitive," Hirsch said. "The book isn't closed, but I am cautiously optimistic. The vaccine seems to be safe and these kinds of patients are able to handle the vaccine and get a benefit from it."
Because the shingles vaccine is a live vaccine, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other organizations say the vaccine should not be used in patients taking immunosuppressive drugs including all biologic agents and some nonbiologics.

The concern is that these patients may develop shingles from the vaccine virus strain, the researchers explained.

"A live attenuated vaccine reduces [shingles] risk by 70 percent and 51 percent among immunocompetent individuals 50 to 59 years and 60 years and older in two randomized, blinded trials, respectively," the researchers wrote.

"The risk of [shingles] is elevated by 1.5 to two times in patients with rheumatic and immune-mediated diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease. This increase has been attributed to both the underlying disease process and treatments for these conditions," the authors added in the report published July 4 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

For the study, a team led by Jie Zhang, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, collected data on more than 460,000 Medicare patients who had one of several rheumatic or immune-mediated diseases.

Specifically, they looked at the cases of shingles that developed in the months after being vaccinated with the shingles vaccine.

Among the over 18,600 patients who received the shingles vaccine, there were no cases of shingles in the 42 days after vaccination, including among the over 600 who were taking so-called anti-tumor necrosis factor biologics to treat their other conditions, the researchers found.

There was only one case of shingles seen among all the patients during that time, they noted.

More than 42 days after being vaccinated, 138 patients did develop shingles, which is in the range of the effectiveness of the vaccine, the researchers reported.

All in all, after two years of follow-up, the investigators concluded that the vaccine reduces the risk of shingles in these patients.

That conclusion was also based on accounting for the type of immune disease, treatment, the use of arthritis drugs and steroids.

"Despite the recognition that patients with immune-mediated conditions are at increased risk of [shingles], this and previous studies have shown that only a small fraction of these patients received the vaccine, likely in part due to safety concerns. Our data call into question the current recommendations that [shingles] vaccine is contraindicated in patients receiving biologics and suggest a need for a randomized controlled trial to specifically address the safety and effectiveness of [shingles] vaccination among patients receiving biologics," Zhang's group concluded.

Another expert, Dr. Doris Day, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said that "the shingles vaccine is a little controversial, but as a dermatologist who sees shingles, I can tell you that it can be a very painful, scarring process that goes beyond the skin and lasts beyond the rash."
Currently, the vaccine is recommended for those aged 60 and over. Shingles tends to be more severe and painful in older patients, she noted.
"I recommend that people get the vaccine no matter what their underlying disease state or health," Day added.

SOURCES: Doris Day, M.D., dermatologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Bruce Hirsch, M.D., attending physician, infectious diseases, North Shore University Hospital, Manhasset, N.Y.; July 4, 2012, Journal of the American Medical Association
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Sunday, July 8, 2012

It May be Legal and Constitutional, but it is NOT Healthy or Sane

The Huffington Post

'Instant Heart Attack' Sandwich OK'd By Judge: NYC's 2nd Avenue Deli Wins Ruling Over Heart Attack Grill

Reuters  |  Posted: Updated: 07/08/2012 11:50 am

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK, July 6 (Reuters) - In the battle of the "latke" versus the cheeseburger, a federal judge has let it be known that the two cannot be confused.

A famed New York City kosher deli beat back a challenge from the Heart Attack Grill of Las Vegas over its naming of cardiac-themed concoctions.

A federal judge in Manhattan ruled on Thursday that the 2nd Avenue Deli may keep selling its "Instant Heart Attack" sandwich and launch a "Triple Bypass" version, noting clear differences between the deli and the Heart Attack Grill.

The 2nd Avenue Deli's potato pancake- and meat-based sandwiches pose little risk of customer confusion with the Heart Attack Grill, which sells giant cheeseburgers and fries cooked in lard, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Engelmayer said.

The decision is a victory for the 2nd Avenue Deli, which under the threat of litigation in May 2011 had sought a ruling that it did not infringe any Heart Attack Grill trademarks.

Engelmayer said "it is safe to say" even unsophisticated customers could readily differentiate between a Manhattan kosher deli selling latke-based sandwiches and a medically-themed Las Vegas restaurant selling "gluttonous" cheeseburgers.

The judge also noted that the 2nd Avenue Deli, being kosher, cannot serve sandwiches that include both meat and cheese, such as the Triple Bypass burger.

The 2nd Avenue Deli's $24.95 sandwich consists of two potato pancakes, known as latkes, stuffed with corned beef, pastrami, salami or turkey.

"I'm really happy that we were vindicated," said Joshua Lebewohl, co-owner of the 2nd Avenue Deli. "This is a fight that was not of our choosing, and our customers are the true victors."

Following the court decision, he said the Triple Bypass, including three latkes, was to go on sale on Friday for $34.95.

The Heart Attack Grill had conceded during the litigation that the New York deli could be entitled to "limited" use of the disputed names. Engelmayer limited the 2nd Avenue Deli's use of the disputed names to restaurants in Manhattan.

In a statement, the Heart Attack Grill said the decision confirms that it can retain "unbridled use of its trademarks throughout the entire United States."

Lebewohl said his late uncle Abe, who established the 2nd Avenue Deli in 1954 and whose 1996 murder remains unsolved, came up with the idea for the Instant Heart Attack.

The case is Lebewohl et al v. Heart Attack Grill LLC et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 11-03153. (Reporting By Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Martha Graybow and Leslie Adler) 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Digging a Vegetarian Diet: Plant-Based Eating Can Reap Rewards

NIH News in Health

July 2012

Digging a Vegetarian DietPlant-Based Eating Can Reap Rewards

Illustration of a man ready to eat a giant sandwich stacked full of fruits and vegetables.
Vegetarians miss out on lots of foods. No grilled burgers or franks at picnics. No holiday turkey or fries cooked in animal fat. Strict vegetarians may even forego honey made by bees. But vegetarians also tend to miss out on major health problems that plague many Americans. They generally live longer than the rest of us, and they’re more likely to bypass heart-related and other ailments.

The fact is, eating a more plant-based diet can boost your health, whether you’re a vegetarian or not.

What is it about the vegetarian lifestyle that can protect your health? And are there risks to being vegetarian? NIH-funded researchers are looking for answers. They’re exploring the many ways that diet and other factors affect our health.

Vegetarian meals focus on fruits and vegetables, dried beans, whole grains, seeds and nuts. By some estimates, about 2% of the U.S. adult population follows this type of diet.

People have many reasons for becoming vegetarians. Some want to eat more healthy foods. Others have religious or economic reasons or are concerned about animal welfare. “Vegetarian diets are also more sustainable and environmentally sound than diets that rely heavily on meat, poultry and fish,” says NIH nutritionist Dr. Susan Krebs-Smith, who monitors trends in cancer risk factors.

Most people think of vegetarian diets as simply eating plant foods and not eating meat, poultry and fish. “But in fact, there are many different types of vegetarian diets,” Krebs-Smith explains. “Some are more restrictive than others.”
Strict vegetarians, or vegans, eat plant foods and reject all animal products—meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy and sometimes honey. Those who also eat dairy products are called lacto vegetarians. Vegetarians who eat both dairy and eggs are called lacto-ovo vegetarians.

Some vegetarians eat fish but not meat or poultry. They’re called pescatarians (pesce is Italian for fish).

“Then there are the so-called flexitarians, or semi-vegetarians. These are people who eat a mostly vegetarian diet, but they occasionally eat meat,” says Jody Engel, a nutritionist and registered dietitian at NIH. “They might say ‘I’m a vegetarian, but I need to eat my burgers every Sunday.’  People tend to follow their own rules, which is one reason why it’s hard for researchers to study vegetarians. There’s so much variance.”

Despite the different definitions, “there’s tremendous agreement among nutrition experts and health organizations that a more plant-based diet is beneficial, whether you’re a true vegetarian or not,” says Krebs-Smith. “Most Americans don’t eat enough fruit, vegetables, legumes or whole grains. There’s a huge consensus that eating more of these foods would be a good idea for everyone.” 
Vegetarian diets tend to have fewer calories, lower levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, and more fiber, potassium and vitamin C than other eating patterns. Vegetarians tend to weigh less than meat-eaters, and to have lower cancer rates. “Evidence also suggests that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from certain heart diseases, and that those who follow a vegetarian diet tend to have lower LDL [“bad”] cholesterol levels,” says Engel.

In some cases, though, it’s unclear if certain health benefits come from plant-based eating or from the healthy lifestyle of most vegetarians. “Vegetarians are generally more physically active and have healthier habits than non-vegetarians. They also typically have a higher socioeconomic status, at least in the United States,” says Krebs-Smith.

To tease out the effects of diet, scientists have to conduct large, carefully controlled studies that account for other factors. One of the world’s largest studies of plant-based diets is now underway at Loma Linda University in California. Cardiologist Dr. Gary Fraser is leading an NIH-funded team of scientists to analyze data on 96,000 Seventh-day Adventists in all 50 states and in Canada. Members of this religious group have unique dietary habits and a generally healthy lifestyle.

Adventists are encouraged to follow a vegetarian diet, but about half the population sometimes eats meat. These variable eating patterns allow scientists to compare a wide range of dietary habits and look for links between diet and disease.

To date, the researchers have found that the closer people are to being vegetarian, the lower their risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome (a condition that raises your risk for heart disease and stroke). “The trend is almost like a stepladder, with the lowest risks for the strict vegetarians, then moving up for the lacto vegetarians and then the pescatarians and then the non-vegetarians,” Fraser explains. Earlier studies found that vegetarian Adventists also tend to live longer than both meat-eating Adventists and non-Adventists. The vegetarians also have less coronary heart disease and lower rates of some cancers.

Because vegetarians by definition don’t eat meat, some people jump to the conclusion that simply cutting meat from your diet will lead to health benefits. “But it’s actually more complicated than that,” says Fraser. “Differences in life expectancy and other health matters might be related to the extra fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes—including soy—that vegetarians tend to eat. You can’t necessarily conclude it’s based on the absence of meat,” he says.
Experts generally agree that vegetarians who eat a wide variety of foods can readily meet all their body’s needs for nutrients. “At any stage of life, you should be able to eat a healthy diet by consuming vegetarian foods. But it does take a little planning,” says Rachel Fisher, a registered dietitian involved in nutrition research at NIH.

Vegetarians need to be sure they take in enough iron, calcium, zinc and vitamin B12. Studies show that most vegetarians do get enough, in part because so many cereals, breads and other foods are fortified with these nutrients. “Vegans in particular need to be certain to get enough vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids,” says Fisher. Omega-3—found in fish, flax seed, walnuts and canola oil—is important for heart health and vision.

Some vegetarians take dietary supplements to make sure they’re getting everything they need. It’s a good idea to talk to a registered dietitian or other health professional if you’re a vegetarian or thinking of becoming one.
Whether you’re a vegetarian or not, Fisher says, you can benefit from the high fiber, low fat and rich nutrients of a vegetarian diet. “Vegetarian foods can be so delicious, and they’re so good for you,” she says.

Try using a variety of spices and herbs to make things interesting. And make sure not to overcook your vegetables, or they might lose some of their valuable nutrients. 

Heart disease and stroke deaths drop significantly for people with diabetes

CDC 24/7: Saving Lives. Protecting People. Saving Money Through Prevention.

Press Release

For Immediate Release: May 22, 2012
Contact :Division of News & Electronic Media, Office of Communication
(404) 639-3286

Heart disease and stroke deaths drop significantly for people with diabetes

Healthier lifestyles, better disease management are helping people live longer
Death rates for people with diabetes dropped substantially from 1997 to 2006, especially deaths related to heart disease and stroke, according to researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

Deaths from all causes declined by 23 percent, and deaths related to heart disease and stroke dropped by 40 percent, according to the study published today in the journal Diabetes Care (http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/35/6/1252.fullExternal Web Site Icon).  Scientists evaluated 1997-2004 National Health Interview Survey data from nearly 250,000 adults who were linked to the National Death Index. Although adults with diabetes still are more likely to die younger than those who do not have the disease, the gap is narrowing.

Improved medical treatment for cardiovascular disease, better management of diabetes, and some healthy lifestyle changes contributed to the decline. People with diabetes were less likely to smoke and more likely to be physically active than in the past. Better control of high blood pressure and high cholesterol also may have contributed to improved health.  However, obesity levels among people with diabetes continued to increase.

“Taking care of your heart through healthy lifestyle choices is making a difference, but Americans continue to die from a disease that can be prevented,” said Ann Albright, Ph.D., R.D., director of CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation.  “Although the cardiovascular disease death rate for people with diabetes has dropped, it is still twice as high as for adults without diabetes.”

Previous studies have found that rates of heart disease and stroke are declining for all U.S. adults. Those rates are dropping faster for people with diabetes compared to adults without diabetes.  Recent CDC studies also have found declining rates of kidney failure, amputation of feet and legs, and hospitalization for heart disease and stroke among people with diabetes.

Because people with diabetes are living longer and the rate of new cases being diagnosed is increasing, scientists expect the total number of people with the disease will continue to rise. The number of Americans diagnosed with diabetes has more than tripled since 1980, primarily due to type 2 diabetes, which is closely linked to a rise in obesity, inactivity and older age. CDC estimates that 25.8 million Americans have diabetes, and 7 million of them do not know they have the disease.

CDC and its partners are working on a variety of initiatives to prevent type 2 diabetes and to reduce its complications. CDC leads the National Diabetes Prevention Program, a public-private partnership designed to bring evidence-based programs for preventing type 2 diabetes to communities. The program supports establishing a network of lifestyle-change classes for overweight or obese people at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

“Diabetes carries significant personal and financial costs for individuals, their families, and the health care systems that treat them,” said Edward W. Gregg, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and chief of epidemiology and statistics in CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation. “As the number of people with diabetes increases, it will be more important than ever to manage the disease to reduce complications and premature deaths.”

Controlling levels of blood sugar (glucose), cholesterol and blood pressure helps people with diabetes reduce the chance of developing serious complications, including heart disease, stroke, blindness and kidney disease.

In 2001, the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP), a joint effort of CDC and NIH with the support of more than 200 partners, developed a campaign to raise awareness of the link between diabetes and heart disease and reinforce the importance of a comprehensive diabetes care plan that focuses on the ABCs of diabetes – A1C (a measure of blood glucose control over a two- to three-month period), Blood pressure and Cholesterol.  For more information, visit www.YourDiabetesInfo.orgExternal Web Site Icon or call toll-free 1-888-693-NDEP (1-888-693-6337).

Last year CDC and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services launched Million Hearts, an initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes over the next five years.  The initiative focuses on two main goals: empowering Americans to make healthy choices and improving care for people, focusing on aspirin for people at risk, blood pressure control, cholesterol management and smoking cessation. More than 2 million heart attacks and strokes occur every year, and treatment for these conditions and other vascular diseases account for about 1 of every 6 health care dollars.  Up to 20 percent of deaths from heart attack and 13 percent of deaths from stroke are attributable to diabetes or prediabetes. For more information on Million Hearts, visit http://millionhearts.hhs.govExternal Web Site Icon.

Diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in 2009 and is the leading cause of new cases of kidney failure, blindness among adults younger than 75, and amputation of feet and legs not related to injury. People with diagnosed diabetes have medical costs that are more than twice as high as for people without the disease. The total costs of diabetes are an estimated $174 billion annually, including $116 billion in direct medical costs.

For information about diabetes visit www.cdc.gov/diabetes or the National Diabetes Education Program at www.yourdiabetesinfo.orgExternal Web Site Icon.
CDC works 24/7 saving lives, protecting people from health threats, and saving money through prevention. Whether these threats are global or domestic, chronic or acute, curable or preventable, natural disaster or deliberate attack, CDC is the nation’s health protection agency.

Sleep apnea gets worse in the winter

Sleep apnea gets worse in the winter

Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Related MedlinePlus Pages
By Kerry Grens

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The breathing problems caused by sleep apnea appear to worsen during the colder months of the year, according to a new study from Brazil.

People with the common sleep disorder stop breathing multiple times throughout the night, each bout lasting from seconds to minutes.

Jerome Dempsey, who studies breathing problems at the University of Wisconsin and was not involved in the new study, said it makes sense that airway infections and weather would have an effect on sleep apnea.

But the changes in sleep apnea across seasons are small, Dempsey added, and the study does not prove that winter weather in itself makes sleep apnea worse.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, one in 10 adults over age 65 has sleep apnea.

Seasonal changes in weight and allergies can affect sleep apnea, and the Brazilian researchers, led by Cristiane Maria Cassol at Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, wanted to see if weather changes might also have any impact on the disorder.

They used data from patients who came in for testing at a sleep clinic on how many times their sleep was disturbed by breaks in breathing. The study included one night of sleep for more than 7,500 patients over a 10-year period.
The researchers then compared the severity of the patients' apnea to the weather conditions at the time, including humidity, temperature and air pollution.

Patients who came in during the colder months had more nighttime breaks in breathing than those who sought treatment during the warmer months. For instance, during the winter, patients stopped breathing an average of 18 times per hour, compared to 15 times an hour during the summer.

Similarly, the sleep clinic was more likely to see the most severe cases - people who stopped breathing more than 30 times an hour - in the colder months.

About 34 percent of patients who came in during cold weather had severe apnea, while 28 percent of patients during warm weather had severe apnea.

The team found that certain weather conditions - high atmospheric pressure and humidity and high levels of the air pollutant carbon monoxide - were tied to worse cases of apnea.

But the study could not determine whether it's the weather that's responsible for the more severe sleep apneas.

The researchers write in their report, published in the journal Chest, that more severe apnea in the winter "can be due to several circumstances, including winter-related upper-airway problems that intensify the severity of (sleep apnea) symptoms."

Another possibility is that wood burning to heat homes during the winter can cause irritation in the airways and aggravate sleep apnea.

"There are so many things that affect sleep apnea, including the decision of when to come visit" a sleep clinic, Dempsey told Reuters Health.

In other words, it might not be the weather, but the time of year that makes it more convenient for patients to take the time to seek treatment.

Dempsey said researchers would have to follow patients for at least a year and observe how their conditions change in order to say whether sleep apnea really does worsen in the winter.

While winter-related conditions such as colds or allergies might intensify sleep apnea, Dempsey said the biggest risk factor is obesity.

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/MqNmmE Chest, online June 14, 2012.

Reuters Health
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6 Bogus Economic Arguments Used to Trash Local Food


A critique of local food proves that the models used in neoliberal economics do not accurately apply to food and agriculture.

Photo Credit: Baloncici/ Shutterstock.com

A physicist, a chemist and an economist are stranded on an island, with nothing to eat. A can of soup washes ashore. The physicist says, “Let's smash the can open with a rock.” The chemist says, “Let's build a fire and heat the can first.” The economist says, “Let's assume that we have a can-opener...”

Economists all know this joke, which “comes from the stereotype that many economic models require unrealistic or absurd assumptions in order to obtain results.” And yet, how many heed its warning?

A new book, The Locavore's Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000 Mile Diet by Pierre Desroches and Hiroku Shimizu, uses arguments from neoliberal economics to explain why those who advocate eating local food are wrong. Often, their arguments require assumptions as silly as the one in the joke. For example, in making the case that the world moved from a diet of local food to a global food system for a good reason (and therefore we should not return to eating local), they assume that modern locavores will face the same technological limitations as our ancestors, who were also locavores. But aside from the numerous strawman arguments found throughout the book, there are several points where economics are properly applied to food and agriculture and – the authors charge – prove that local food is a bad idea.

But perhaps the opposite is true instead; that the models used in neoliberal economics do not accurately apply here. Here are six economic principles that do not fit when it comes to food and agriculture:

1. Assume the Players are Rational:

In economics, one assumes all of the players are rational. When it comes to food, we are far from it. For example, frozen dinners had been introduced to supermarkets unsuccessfully before the TV dinner came along. The TV dinner succeeded because Americans were excited about TVs. When the Pepsi Challenge showed that Americans prefer the flavor of Pepsi to Coke, Coca-Cola took the bait and introduced New Coke, which tested better than Coke and Pepsi in taste tests. Turned out, consumers don't drink Coke because of the flavor. They drink it because it's “American” and “fun.” Coke learned its lesson, and its slogans have reflected it ever since (“Open happiness”).

2. Standardization of Food:

Much of economic theory rests on the assumption that the goods in question are commodities. Our food is standardized so that it can be treated as a commodity. One Granny Smith apple is the same as any other Granny Smith apple, no matter where it’s from or how it was produced. But many foods are not so interchangeable, and indeed, when they are standardized, they often become standardly bad.

Take the strawberry. There’s nothing like the flavor of a fresh-picked, juicy strawberry. But if you pay $3.99 a pint for strawberries in your supermarket in January, the berries you buy will hardly even give a hint of flavor. They’ll be big and red, but who cares if the berry is perfectly red if it doesn’t deliver on strawberry flavor?

The market can deliver on the idea of year-round strawberries, but it cannot deliver on the delectable flavor one associates with those berries. Truly ripe strawberries are highly perishable, so they can’t be too ripe when picked. And strawberry flavor deteriorates when the berry goes in the fridge, but there’s no way to transport perishable berries across the country without refrigeration. Even in California, where nature provides fresh, local berries for about half the year, the flavor changes throughout the season. Early season berries aren’t very sweet or flavorful, unfortunately. It takes until May or June to get perfect, sweet, juicy strawberries. That goodness is fleeting and ephemeral, and it only comes once a year.

In addition to flavor, foods are not identical in terms of nutrition. It’s likely that supermarket eggs are standardized, all with roughly the same nutrition content. They were all produced in nearly identical conditions from genetically identical birds who were fed exactly the same feed. But when chickens can roam freely, eating grass and bugs in addition to chicken feed, their eggs become more nutritious. It would be extremely difficult to produce eggs this way on a large scale and do so profitably. But it’s easy and fun to do for homeowners with small backyard flocks.

Another factor is genetics. It’s certainly convenient to produce genetically identical food for the market, especially if you find the perfect combination of genetics to give you a high yield and great taste with disease and pest resistance. But what happens when Mother Nature throws a curveball at you and a disease comes along that your crop has no resistance to? You need new genes. Sure, scientists can keep a supply of biodiversity in a seed vault and that might provide the new genes you’re looking for. But for genes that really keep up with the current challenges of nature, you need genetic diversity grown in nature, under conditions that change over time.

When governments signed NAFTA, they assumed that corn is corn is corn, and the U.S. produces corn cheaper than Mexican peasants are able to produce it. But those Mexican peasants are the guardians of the world’s most valuable supply of corn genetics. And in that sense, they can hardly be compared to an Iowa corn farmer who buys seeds each year from DuPont or Monsanto.

3. Creative Destruction:

Economist Joseph Schumpeter spoke of creative destruction, explaining how new inventions will disrupt old, established businesses. When automobiles were introduced, carmakers and their employees succeeded as horse-drawn buggy makers went out of business and their employees lost their jobs. Therefore, under this line of thinking, it makes perfect sense for Florida to grow oranges until the global market some day decides to source oranges from Brazil instead. There's no need for Florida to diversify its crops, not while Florida oranges are in demand. They can worry about switching to a more profitable crop (or perhaps, switch from farming to tourism) when the time comes, just like cassette tape makers in the 1980s did not stop making cassette tapes because some day CDs would become popular and put them out of business.

The devil here is in the details. Desroches and Shimizu specifically say that “profitable monocultures should be pursued as long as they remain viable in a particular location.” So California should provide all of the nation's almonds and strawberries, while the entire midwestern United States is blanketed in corn and soybeans. But it is nearly impossible to grow monocultures year after year in the same field without running into pest and fertility problems.

Right now some experts predict the downfall of the Cavendish banana, the variety of banana sold in U.S. supermarkets, due to a fungal disease. Enormous fields of genetically identical bananas make easy prey for pests and diseases. Accepting large scale monoculture means accepting lots of pesticide use. When one crunches the numbers, the costs might add up because revenues outweigh the extra money spent on pesticides, but the equation leaves out the impact those pesticides have on farmworkers, eaters and the environment.

4. Comparative Advantage:

The idea expressed above goes hand in hand with the principle of comparative advantage. The idea is simple. If Idaho can produce potatoes cheaper than California can, and California can produce strawberries cheaper than Idaho can, then Idaho should grow all of the potatoes and California should grow all of the strawberries, and they should trade. To some extent, this makes sense. No one is suggesting that Mexico attempt to produce its own maple syrup or that Vermont should try to grow its own pineapple. But relying on large-scale monoculture as suggested by the notion that California should supply the nation with strawberries runs into the need for toxic agrochemicals.

Until recently, California was set to approve a potent carcinogen to fumigate strawberry fields. This chemical, methyl iodide, was to replace its predecessor, methyl bromide, which was phased out globally because it harmed the ozone layer. Should Californians be exposed to a carcinogen just so a few strawberry growers can get rich and the rest of the country can eat cheap (but flavorless) strawberries year-round? Or should midwesterners drink tapwater laced with the herbicide atrazine? When confronted with this question, Desroches dismissed the idea that agrochemicals are harmful, pointing to the increasing human lifespan in recent times.

5. Legal System:

In a recent case Nicaraguan farmworkers brought against Dole, the workers sued over health problems caused by a pesticide called Nemagon used on the Dole Plantations. Nemagon has been banned in the U.S. since 1979. Initially, the farmworkers won their case, but it was overturned in an appeal after Dole found 27 secret witnesses who testified that the plaintiffs were fraudulent. After Dole's victory, several of the secret witnesses came forward and recanted their testimony, saying they testified because Dole offered them bribe money -- and then never even paid them the bribe money.

Most recently, Dole settled out of court with the farmworkers. Economists might assume we can create a perfect legal system that passes laws protecting workers' rights and enforces them as much as they assume they have can-openers -- but it doesn't make either one true.

In our global food system, human rights abuses abound. Most are invisible to us when we shop at the grocery store. A recent WTO ruling challenged even the basic principle that we should be allowed to know what country our beef comes from. Pesticide standards only require that residue on food in our stores is limited, but nobody checks to find out what farmworkers were exposed to. Did the company that grew your food drive an indigenous community of their ancestral land with bulldozers, or did they irrigate their crops so heavily that an entire river the community relied on now runs dry? Did somebody’s property value plummet after a factory farm moved in next door, forcing them to smell manure night and day while simultaneously killing their chances to sell their home and move? These are not made-up scenarios -- all of them have happened. But in the grocery store, you don't know.

6. GDP Meets Human Health:

From the perspective of maximizing GDP, our current food system cannot be beat. We have found ways to make people eat more than ever (and more processed foods than ever), and then they spend more money on diet books, weight loss programs, gyms, and health care for diet-related illnesses. This boosts the GDP much more than if people just ate the right amounts of a diverse mix of whole foods and then skipped the weight loss programs and the diabetes meds. But is it what we want?

For an economist, our current food system is highly efficient, producing, distributing, and selling the maximum amount of cheap food. A large amount of food is “value-added” (i.e. highly processed), which means that more companies and employees will earn money from each food. Instead of wheat or even wheat flour, a consumer buys a loaf of bread, giving jobs to the bakery and requiring dough conditioners, preservatives and a plastic bag that would not have been necessary if they just baked a loaf of bread at home.

Unfortunately, economics only quantifies dollars, not human health. According to those looking for GDP growth, it’s better if you buy a bottle of Heinz ketchup than if you grow tomatoes from seed in your garden, and it’s better if you buy a Snapple made with 10 percent juice than if you eat a piece of fruit. Maybe we would be better off if economists start assuming that we don’t have can-openers, so we have to cook healthy whole foods from scratch.

Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It..