Sunday, June 28, 2009

How did America get so hooked on pills?

America has a drug problem. I'm not just talking about illegal drugs, because while that's true too, but America has a larger drug problem. In 2007 there were 3.8 BILLION prescriptions filled in this country. That's a staggering number. If American's are taking that many drugs, and prescription drugs are such lifesavers you would think that means that we have the healthiest population in the world right? Well, that's not exactly the case. The U.S. ranks 45th in average life expectancy compared to other nations of the world. What has happened that's caused America to become so reliant on prescription drugs for all it's woes?

A health care system that writes 3.8 billion prescriptions in one year would seem to have glaring problems PREVENTING illness and disease in the first place. With the cost of health care being such an important subject in people's minds right now, shouldn't we be focusing our attention on preventing disease instead of treatment? Why isn't there more focus by the media and health care practicioners on how lack of proper nutrition affects the immune system? Too much sodium can increase blood pressure, vitamin D deficiency causes bones to soften, potassium deficiency can cause fatigue, heart deterioration and other problems. There are so many different vitamins and minerals that your body needs to function at it's best, and many people just aren't getting the information that they need about the proper foods to eat to maintain this balance. So when people don't have the information they need about proper nutrition, they are much more likely to have a compromised immune system which leads to sickness and disease. Which means they are going to go to their doctor for relief, which is usually administered in the form of a pill.

(As an aside, I know a lot of people think taking their daily multivitamin is enough to take care of this problem. Unfortunately a lot of the vitamins on the market are largely ineffective as the body can not absorb them. Waste treatment plants remove TONS of undissolved vitamins from their treatment plants every year. I'm not against all vitamins, just do some googling and some research and find a vitamin that your body can actually use)

Another reason that people have become so reliant on prescription drugs is the amount of advertising drug companies do. There are only 2 countries in the world that allow direct to consumer advertising of prescription drugs: The United States and New Zealand. In 2006, drug companies spent nearly 5 billion dollars on direct to consumer (TV, radio, magazine) ads. According to Congress' House Committee on Energy and Commerce panel's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee every dollar spent on drug advertising leads to a $6 increase in drug sales. That's a pretty high rate of return. Another interesting thing about drug ads is that a study done by York University researchers found that in 2004 drug companies spent 24.4% of their total sales on advertising. They only spent 13.3% on research and development. Do you still think the drug companies are interested in saving lives and making people healthier when they spend almost twice as much money on advertising as they do research and development?

One of the problems I have with these ads is they try to make normal, everyday parts of life seem like things that need to be treated with a pill. Possibly for the rest of your life. Things like stress, anxiety, and depression are things that every person goes through during the course of their life, and for the majority of people are not problems that need to be addressed with a drug. Yes, I do realize that there are some people who have legitimate medical problems with stress, anxiety and depression but I find it hard to believe that millions of people need to take an anti-depressant pill every day of their life. Having stress, or being unhappy generally is a signal that something is wrong in your life that needs addressing. But now pills have become so readily available many people find it easier to go get a prescription rather than making the changes in their lives they need to make themselves happier.

I think this blog has laid out a good foundation for why America has become a nation of pill poppers. But there are plenty of other questions that need to be asked: Is America doing harm to itself putting so much of it's trust into drug makers? Is it wise for us to expect that all our health problems and all our worries can be solved by pills? What are the hidden costs of a society that consumes so many drugs? Stay tuned for my next post where I will attempt to answer those questions.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

What's wrong with my milk? It's supposed to do a body good!

Thanks to the Food Renegade for asking me to participate in Fight Back Fridays! Check out the rest of the wonderful blogs there!

In my last blog, I wrote about why I choose raw milk and the history of why raw milk began to be pasteurized. This time I am going to go over the problems of the large scale dairy operations of today.

Most of the milk you see on the shelves at your local supermarket comes from cows raised in the large scale dairy operations, also called concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) There are essentially cow warehousing facilities, crowding hundreds of cows together inside pens with little or no access to a pasture. There are two statistics I want you to keep in mind while reading this. First is that a cow's natural life expectancy is around 20 years or more but the average dairy cow in a CAFO only lives around 3-4 years. Another thing to note is that between 1950 and 2000 the number of dairy cows in the US has dropped by more than 50% yet the average annual milk yield has tripled. How has this been made possible?

The obvious thing about milk is that all mammals produce milk to provide for their young. This is no different in cows, for a cow to produce milk it must have recently given birth to a calf. Normally cows are pregnant for 9 months and then nurse their calves for around 7 months to a year. But since these cows are wanted to provide milk to the consumer instead of their young, their calves are taken away immediately after birth or the day after. Obviously, this causes the cows to be very upset and combined with the other problems inherent in the CAFO system leads to a very poor life for the dairy cow.

I think most people, at least here in my home state of Virginia have probably seen a cow pasture or two sometime in their lives. Cows left to pasture on a small family farm eat a diet of mostly grass. Cows have a very complex digestive system and that is what it is designed to eat. But since grass does not provide a very nutrient rich diet for the cow, it does not provide a high volume of milk. So in a CAFO cows are fed a diet of mostly corn or soy, which is very difficult for the cow to digest. Just look at the health of Americans, you'll easily see what happens when people eat food their body is not designed for so you can imagine what health problems this causes for the cows. Is it starting to make sense why dairy cows live only a quarter of their normal life expectancy?

Anyone who knows about the spread of disease is aware that a higher population density causes a higher risk for illness in humans. This is no different for cows. Some dairies house up 1,000 cows inside their "warehouses" or outside on a dry lot. Housing this many cows together into small spaces makes it very difficult to maintain sanitation. I don't think it's a secret that cows produce a large amount of excrement, and if you have 1,000 cows producing how ever many pound of poo that is a day, that is going to create a very large waste and sanitation problem.

Now, I want to go back to the question I asked at the beginning. How did milk yields triple when the number of cows declined? In 1994 the FDA (stay tuned, I'll be writing plenty about them in the future) approved the use of something called rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) to be used in the United States. In the normal nursing period of a cow it's milk production steadily increases until 70 days after the birth of the calf, and then it starts to decrease until it goes dry. The use of rBGH keeps the cow producing at peak levels after the 70 day drop off, which along with an unnatural diet is a factor in the average production of 100 pounds of milk per cow per day. A cow is designed to provide milk for it's calves, and 100 pounds of milk a day, is more than 10 times what a calf needs. Pushing the cows to produce so much milk causes them their bodies to become depleted of nutrients. Everyone knows milk is filled with calcium, well if a cow is producing 10 times more calcium rich milk than it is designed to produce, it would make sense that the cow's body is being depleted of calcium. This is why dairy cows' bones become frail and brittle causing them to fracture as they can no longer support the weight of the cow. Once a cow can no longer stand it is then worthless to the CAFOs and is slaughtered to make room for another cow.

Now, if you haven't started to wonder about whether or not it's healthy to drink milk from cows who are stuffed into unsanitary warehouses and filled with unnatural hormones, I don't know what more I can say. But I think I have at least made the case that the life of a dairy cow is a very sad and unhealthy life. I'm not asking you to start protesting or become an activist, although you are certainly welcome to do so. I am simply asking you to make a conscious decision about your food choices not just for your own health, but for the health of the animal producing it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Why I drink raw milk (non pasteurized)

So I've had a few people ask me why I bother driving 40 minutes to a farm every week to pick up fresh milk when I can just drive 10 minutes to the store. So I usually try to give this simplest answer I can, but I've found this is really just one of those questions people ask without really wanting to wait for an answer. But I'm going to go ahead and write my explanation anyway so I'll have it ready the next time someone asks me.

If most people have ever heard anything about raw milk it is usually that it is "unsafe" to drink. Well first of all, that isn't totally true. Yes, it COULD be unsafe to drink, but just about anything you drink or eat COULD make you sick. Even foods you wouldn't think of, like the recent outbreak of salmonella from peanut butter. The argument whether raw milk is "safe" or not all comes down to the farming methods and the animals. If the animals are properly cared for, are allowed to graze freely and maintain a proper diet then the likelihood of raw milk making you sick is very low.

The reason I choose to drink raw milk is because it has a higher nutritional value. There are those who say that nothing is killed in the pasteurization process except harmful bacteria, but I find that hard to believe. Studies done in the 1930s comparing pasteurized milk to raw milk found that the pasteurzation process makes the majority of the calcium in milk insoluble, meaning that we can't digest it. Also if no nutrients are lost in the pasteurization process, why do so many zoos use raw milk to feed their animals instead of pasteurized? Because animals fed pasteurized milk develop health problems that those fed raw milk do not. Studies have also shown that people who drink raw milk, like those who grow up on a farm, have less allergies. There is also the fact that I have actually seen the farm where the milk is coming from AND the animal that is producing the milk. So I don't have to worry if I'm getting milk from a healthy animal. Plus there is the fact that is just tastes better.

The reason that milk began to be pasteurized in the first place is because during the mid to late 1800s there were a large number of milk epidemics that were causing people to become sick with typoid, cholera, and scarlet fever. As the epidemics grew worse, there becaming an increase pressure on farmers by legislators and pasteurization plants to pasteurize all their milk. As the farmers resisted, the pasteurization plants started public campaigns against raw milk in newspapers and in 1909 the first mandatory pasteurization law was passed in Chicago. Today, only 4 states allow the sale of raw milk in stores, 24 states allow the sale of raw milk on farms, and the other 22 outlaw sale completely.

But what was missed in the argument over raw milk sales during the early 1900s was the state of the dairy farm. Most barns were filthy, cramped and filled with manure that the cows would then have to lie in. An 1895 study found that more than one-fourth of 165 herds examined in 17 states harbored tuberculosis. Not to mention that in some states, dairy farms were located next to whiskey distilleries and the cows were fed the waste produced from the whiskey production, making the cows sick. Sick cows produce bad milk which leads to illness in the drinker.

So while a large percentage of the milk being produced was leading to illness, this was a cause of bad farming practices that should have been solved by a cleanup of farming procedures, instead of a process of heating or even boiling the milk.

Now that I've given my reasons for choosing raw milk and the history behind the pasteurization process, my next blog will focus on the problems of today's large scale dairy operations.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

What's wrong with America's diet?

The old saying goes "You are what you eat." Well, if that is true there is something very wrong with what we are eating as Americans. According to The National Center for Health statistics 63% of Americans are overweight and 30% of them are obese, meaning they are over their ideal body weight by 20%. Some other disturbing statistics are that from 1962 to 2000 the obesity rate of America jumped from 13% to 31%, and the rates of childhood obseity have more than tripled. Unfortunately, many people are looking in the wrong places for a fix. The solution to obesity is not in a pill, it comes by simple, slow changes to the diet.

Somewhere along the way the idea that "diets don't work" has become accepted as fact. This is most likely because people go from eating what they usually eat one day and then try to rapidly change to their diet of choice overnight. This is just unrealistic and going to cause your diet to fail. Rather than trying to change everything you eat in a day, the best idea is to go slow. Maybe the first change could be exchanging sodas for water. Depending on how much soda you drink, just this change alone could cut anywhere from 300-1000 or more calories from your daily intake. Or maybe even that is too fast, so if you drink soda all day every day, start with saving your sodas for meals and drink water during the other times. Just do what you are comfortable with and make it a slow, gradual change rather than try to force it and then give in because you don't have the willpower. Changing your lifestyle isn't so much about willpower and forcing yourself to do things as it is about changing your mindset so that you WANT to do it.

Another good small diet idea is if you eat a lot of snacks or desserts. A simple switch of almonds or walnuts for a bag of chips, or a bannana or an orange for a cupcake is going to go make a big difference in your body. And most likely your energy level. I'll write another blog about this later, but I know a lot of people suffer from lack of energy, and this is directly related to diet. For right now, all I've got to say is if you're tired all the time, try adding fruits to your diet, from my experience eating an orange first thing in the morning is a great way to start off the day with some energy.

Now that I've written about energy, I think I should go ahead and write something about exercise. I know people have been trying to find a way around it for a long time, but it is true, the key to being healthy and losing weight is diet and exercise. I'm not going to tell you to go out and get a gym membership, or tell you that you have to run 5 miles every day. Like with changing your diet, starting to excercise should be a slow gradual change. There are over 3.8 million people who weigh over 300 pounds in this country, and I am pretty confident in saying that a big contributing factor in this is a complete lack of exercise. For most people to start out with, all they really need to do is pick one commercial break a night while they are watching tv and do some excercise during it. It doesn't have to be anything too strenuous, just do what you can. Two simple starter exercise are squats, demonstated here: and planks demonstrated here:

I have some more to write about this subject, but I think I'll save that for another day. If you are struggling with your weight, I think following the advice I've given here could really help you. Just remember you didn't get overweight overnight and you can't expect to get fit overnight either. Take it as a slow, gradual change and you will start finding the results you want. Good luck!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What is our conscience?

What is conscience? Wikipedia defines it as "an ability or a faculty that distinguishes whether one's actions are right or wrong. It leads to feelings of remorse when one does things that go against his/her moral values, and to feelings of rectitude or integrity when one's actions conform to our moral values." Most everyone has probably seen a cartoon that illustrates a character's conscience as an angel on his shoulder, usually with a devil on the other shoulder representing the rationalization that takes place when we try to avoid what our conscience tells us. But although the conscience is easily definable and just about everyone knows what it is, no one seems to be able to explain where it comes from. Some scientists have tried to explain it as a product of evolution, some say it is imprinted by the parents during childhood, and then there other some who say it is the voice of the morality of the universe, or the voice of God.

Personally, from my own experience, I believe that our conscience IS the voice of God. It is His way of communicating us and trying to guide us along the right path. As it says in the Bible: ""Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" If the Spirit of God dwells within us all, how else would that Spirit guide us except through our conscience?

One consequence of having a conscience is that when we do something our conscience tells us is wrong, we feel guilt afterwards. And unfortunately, a lot of people rather than facing this and attempting to right their wrongs, will engage in behaviors that attempt to silence those feelings of guilt and remorse. Activities like excessive drinking and drug abuse, are classic examples of things that people do to try and rid themselves of their underlying feelings of guilt. But once someone starts to engage in this lifestyle, they feel even more guilt for doing so, which often leads to more drinking or drug abuse, locking them into a vicious cycle. It says in the Bible "If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple you are." Does this mean that we are destroyed by the guilt that comes from defiling the temple of God (ourselves)?

In closing, I would like to say that I am not attempting to convert anyone to any religion, or change anyone’s beliefs. I wrote this in the hopes that the reader would give some thought to what their conscience is, how it speaks to them, and how they respond to it. It is my belief that we could all live in a much better world if we simply allowed ourselves to be guided by our conscience.