Industry Response to Plants Not Pills

Industry Response to Plants Not Pills
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The whole food is greater than the sum of its parts: how unscrupulous marketers use evidence that ties high blood levels of phytonutrients with superior health to sell dietary supplements that may do more harm than good.

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This is the famous study that started so many down the wrong track. Thousands of men followed for 19 years, and there was a stepwise drop in risk of lung cancer for smokers that got more and more beta-carotene in their diet, which they estimated by just adding up how much fruit, vegetables and soup they ate. So, did they start treating smokers with fruit, veggies, and soup? No, they gave them beta-carotene pills.

And, those taking the pills got more lung cancer than those that didn’t. And, more deaths from lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke. And, a shorter average lifespan overall. Didn’t stop them from trying it again, over and over, though. Six more studies performed, and beta-carotene pills continued to increase mortality. Twenty other studies in which they gave beta-carotene and other antioxidant supplements, significantly increased mortality.

An obvious conclusion is that isolated nutrients are drugs, but not studied or regulated as drugs, and perhaps they should be. Food, on the other hand, needs to be treated in a different way, cognizant of the food synergy concept. The whole food is greater than the sum of its parts.

Yes, low beta-carotene levels in the blood increase the risk of heart disease mortality, but that’s just basically saying low carrot, pumpkin, collard greens, and kale levels increase the risk of heart disease mortality, or here in the U.S., carrots, spinach, and sweet potatoes.

 Yes, the more carotenoids we have in our blood, the healthier we may be, but though unscrupulous marketers may use this to sell dietary supplements, responsible scientists and food producers need to emphasize the use of foods and whole food products to improve blood carotenoid concentrations.

 We can now see that giving supplements of beta-carotene was a misguided way to prevent cancer. Instead, researchers maybe should have sought to determine which foods worked best and then put fruits and veggies to the test in randomized controlled trials.

 ‘Science’ tends to be reductionist, looking for discrete causes and effects. It is hard to get food studies past peer grant reviewers unless they take the food apart, which seems to us to miss the point. The key is to encourage consumers to increase the total amount to 9 to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables

 The past 30 years have seen the development of an enormous body of evidence on the importance of plant-based foods in preventing or reducing the risk of chronic disease. But, despite broadly disseminated public information programs on how to eat healthily, it is extremely difficult to get people to change their diets. Therefore, one proposed solution is to add back the health-promoting phytonutrients that are missing from many convenience foods. By eating more fruits and vegetables? No, silly, by genetically engineering phytonutrients into fast food.

People eat ketchup, not kale, but who needs greens when you can genetically engineer high-folate tomatoes. Why buy berries when you make tomatoes purple by stitching in two genes from snapdragons to make transgenic tomatoes. Instead of soybean burgers, we can have soybean genes in the ketchup on our burgers. And, you’ve heard of grape tomatoes–how about really grape tomatoes?

Pills are more profitable than plants. But when pills don’t work, industry will try to patent the produce itself.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

This is the famous study that started so many down the wrong track. Thousands of men followed for 19 years, and there was a stepwise drop in risk of lung cancer for smokers that got more and more beta-carotene in their diet, which they estimated by just adding up how much fruit, vegetables and soup they ate. So, did they start treating smokers with fruit, veggies, and soup? No, they gave them beta-carotene pills.

And, those taking the pills got more lung cancer than those that didn’t. And, more deaths from lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke. And, a shorter average lifespan overall. Didn’t stop them from trying it again, over and over, though. Six more studies performed, and beta-carotene pills continued to increase mortality. Twenty other studies in which they gave beta-carotene and other antioxidant supplements, significantly increased mortality.

An obvious conclusion is that isolated nutrients are drugs, but not studied or regulated as drugs, and perhaps they should be. Food, on the other hand, needs to be treated in a different way, cognizant of the food synergy concept. The whole food is greater than the sum of its parts.

Yes, low beta-carotene levels in the blood increase the risk of heart disease mortality, but that’s just basically saying low carrot, pumpkin, collard greens, and kale levels increase the risk of heart disease mortality, or here in the U.S., carrots, spinach, and sweet potatoes.

 Yes, the more carotenoids we have in our blood, the healthier we may be, but though unscrupulous marketers may use this to sell dietary supplements, responsible scientists and food producers need to emphasize the use of foods and whole food products to improve blood carotenoid concentrations.

 We can now see that giving supplements of beta-carotene was a misguided way to prevent cancer. Instead, researchers maybe should have sought to determine which foods worked best and then put fruits and veggies to the test in randomized controlled trials.

 ‘Science’ tends to be reductionist, looking for discrete causes and effects. It is hard to get food studies past peer grant reviewers unless they take the food apart, which seems to us to miss the point. The key is to encourage consumers to increase the total amount to 9 to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables

 The past 30 years have seen the development of an enormous body of evidence on the importance of plant-based foods in preventing or reducing the risk of chronic disease. But, despite broadly disseminated public information programs on how to eat healthily, it is extremely difficult to get people to change their diets. Therefore, one proposed solution is to add back the health-promoting phytonutrients that are missing from many convenience foods. By eating more fruits and vegetables? No, silly, by genetically engineering phytonutrients into fast food.

People eat ketchup, not kale, but who needs greens when you can genetically engineer high-folate tomatoes. Why buy berries when you make tomatoes purple by stitching in two genes from snapdragons to make transgenic tomatoes. Instead of soybean burgers, we can have soybean genes in the ketchup on our burgers. And, you’ve heard of grape tomatoes–how about really grape tomatoes?

Pills are more profitable than plants. But when pills don’t work, industry will try to patent the produce itself.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Doctor's Note

I’ve talked about this kind of reductionistic thinking before:

There may actually be benefits of patenting produce, though. See Plants as Intellectual Property – Patently Wrong?

What about the GMOs that are already on the market? See:

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