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When a Scraped Knee May Once Again Kill

March 13, 2014 by Michael Greger M.D. in News with 16 Comments

You Can Thank Factory Farms When Antibiotics Stop Working

In a keynote address last year, the Director-General of the World Health Organization warned that we may be facing a future in which many of our miracle drugs no longer work. “A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it,” she said. “Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”

The Director-General’s prescription to avoid this catastrophe included a global call to “Restrict the use of antibiotics in food production to therapeutic purposes.” In other words, only use antibiotics in agriculture to treat sick animals. In the United States, meat producers feed literally millions of pounds of antibiotics to farm animals who aren’t sick just to promote growth or prevent disease in the often cramped, stressful, unhygienic conditions of industrial animal agriculture. The FDA estimates that 80% of the antimicrobial drugs sold in the U.S. every year now go to the meat industry.

The discoverer of penicillin warned us back in the ’40s that misuse could lead to resistance, but the meat industry didn’t listen and started feeding it to chickens by the ton. The Food and Drug Administration finally wised up to the threat in 1977 and proposed stopping the feeding of penicillin and tetracycline to farm animals.

That was 37 years ago. Since then, the combined political power of the factory farming and pharmaceutical industries has effectively thwarted any legislative or regulatory action. This stranglehold shows no sign of breaking. We realized this reckless practice was a public health threat decades ago, and yet what’s been done about it?

“Present [farm animal] production is concentrated in high-volume, crowded, stressful environments, made possible in part by the routine use of antibacterial [drugs] in [the] feed,” the U.S. Congressional Office of Technology Assessment wrote in 1979. “Thus the current dependency on low-level use of antibiotics to increase or maintain production, while of immediate benefit, also could be the Achilles’ heel of present production methods.”

Industrial operations use antibiotics as a crutch to compensate for the squalid conditions that now characterize much of modern agribusiness. The unnatural crowding of animals and their waste creates such a strain on the animals’ immune systems that normal body processes like growth may be impaired. That’s why a constant influx of antibiotics is thought to accelerate weight gain by reducing this infectious load. The problem is that “Each animal feeding on an antibiotic becomes a ‘factory’ for the production and subsequent dispersion of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” offering a whole new meaning to the term “factory farm” (see my 3-min video Past the Age of Miracles: Facing a Post-Antibiotic Age for details).

What else do they feed farm animals? Check out:

This issue, perhaps more than any other, lays to bare the power of moneyed interests to undermine public health. Look at the long list of endorsers of legislation to reform this practice. Sadly, though, the sway of nearly every single medical organization in the United States is no match for the combined might of Big Ag and Big Pharma.

For more on this issue, see:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image credit: Brett Aruther Donar / Flickr

Why We Should Eat More Beans

March 11, 2014 by Michael Greger M.D. in News with 16 Comments

Why You Should Eat More Beans

We’ve known for decades that beans have an exceptionally low glycemic index. You give someone cooked beans, peas, or lentils and they don’t even get half the blood sugar spike that they would get with the same amount of carbs in the form of bread, pasta, or potatoes. So if you’re going to eat some high glycemic food like white rice, consider having some beans with it, and the more beans the better. If you check out my 3-min video Beans and the Second Meal Effect, you can see that as the subjects’ bean to rice ratio increases, cardiometabolic risk factors continually improve. Substituting one serving of beans for one serving of white rice was associated with a 35 percent lower risk of metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes).

Why do beans have such a low glycemic index? Maybe it’s because they’ve got so much fiber that absorption is just slower or something? It was this study that blew everyone’s minds.

It started about as expected. Give people bread for breakfast, and they get big spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels, but give the same amount of carbs in lentil form and you blunt the effect. (Lentils for breakfast? Well, the Brits like baked beans on their toast, but I’ve started using a handful of sprouted lentils in my breakfast smoothie. See A Better Breakfast and Antioxidants Sprouting Up). What they did different, though, was follow through to lunch.

For lunch both groups got the same meal; they both got bread. Those that had lentils for breakfast, though, had less of a glycemic reaction to the bread. At the time they called it the “lentil effect,” but subsequent studies found chickpeas appear to work just as well. It has since been dubbed the “second meal effect.” Eat lentils for dinner, and then for breakfast, even if forced to drink sugar water, we have better glycemic control. Beans moderate your blood sugar not just at the meal we eat them, but even hours later or the next day.

How is that even possible? The mystery has since been solved. Remember what our gazillions of gut bacteria do with fiber? They produce compounds like propionate with it (see Fawning Over Flora and Boosting Good Bacteria in the Colon Without Probiotics) that get absorbed into our system and slow down gastric emptying—the rate at which food leaves our stomach—so we don’t get as much of a sugar rush. It’s like symbiosis. We feed our good bacteria and they feed us back. So, we have a bean burrito for supper and by the next morning it’s time for our gut bacteria to eat that same burrito and the by-products they create may affect how our breakfast is digested.

Researchers figured this out by giving people rectal infusions of the amount of propionate your good bacteria might make from a good burrito, and the stomach relaxes within minutes. I guess if you forgot to eat any kind of beans for supper and need to blunt the effect of your breakfast doughnut, it’s theoretically not too late—but in general I encourage people to administer their food orally.

What about the gas? Check out my blog post Beans and Gas: Clearing the Air.

Which beans are most antioxidant packed? See The Best Bean and The Healthiest Lentil (hint: skip the jelly variety). Which lower cholesterol the most? See Soy Worth a Hill of Beans?

What other superpowers do beans posses? They are packed with potassium (Preventing Strokes with Diet), mad with magnesium (Mineral of the Year—Magnesium), and a preferred source of protein (Plant Protein Preferable). They improve breast cancer survival (Breast Cancer Survival and Soy), reduce hot flashes (Soy Foods & Menopause), delay premature puberty (The Effect of Soy on Precocious Puberty), and they’re a great bargain to boot (Eating Healthy on a Budget).

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image credit: Renee Suen 孫詩敏 / Flickr

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