Tom Ballard, ND's blog

Exploding Field of Dreams
January 20, 2011, 9:58 am
Filed under: Commentary | Tags: , ,

When you think of American agriculture do you think of vast fields of corn or acts of terrorism? Ammonia, the source of nitrogen that stimulates crops to grow large is also what was used to blow up the Oklahoma courthouse as well as other acts of terrorism.

Nitrogen, while necessary in the right balance, is also responsible for terrorism to our soil, water and air. The Green Revolution which started after World War II, heralded an expansion of agriculture with the use of ammonia nitrogen. It was a great triumph of quantity over quality. Only about 30 % of fertilizer reaches the intended plant. The rest stays in the soil where it destroys the natural organisms which plants need. Nitrogen also evaporates into the air, and it runs off into lakes and rivers causing algae blooms and increasing water acidity. The manufacturing of ammonia also contributes to global carbon dioxide emissions.

The story of agriculture is similar to that of medicine. Chemical farming led us away from caring for our earth, air and water. Chemical medicine upsets the ecology of our bodies and ignores the underlying healthy processes.

Drugs: No Comparison
January 13, 2011, 11:29 am
Filed under: Commentary, Medications | Tags: , , ,

Researchers from Harvard, writing for the Journal of the American Medical Association, have concluded that, “Many of our nation’s research priorities are driven by the pharmaceutical industry. These companies, not surprisingly, focus most of their attention on new therapies.”

This is what I’ve been writing about for years. How can we improve our health when the powerful pharmaceutical industry controls research? Their goal is to make money. New drugs make more money, whether they’re any better than the old or not.

Among this study’s conclusions was that few drugs are ever compared with other drugs for safety or efficacy. Instead they’re usually compared to placebos. When drugs are compared one on one, the report states, they usually don’t compare safety. Doctors and patients can be lured into thinking that the new drug on the block is better than an older, less expensive, drug, when in reality the question was never asked. This is one of the reasons why drug companies make more profits than any other industry.

It goes without saying that drugs are rarely compared to lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. Drug studies also tend to be relatively short in duration, months rather than years, and limit their scope to very narrow parameters (ie, does it lower cholesterol, not whether it prolongs life).

There is one area where I have seen comparative studies. Cancer research usually involves comparing two chemotherapy programs or chemotherapy to radiation. You’ll never see a cancer therapy compared to life style changes or even doing nothing. Cancer researchers would argue that it would be unethical to use humans with cancer in a study and give them nothing, but the fact is they usually have no idea whether patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation are in fact helped at all. They may be able to tell you therapy X prolonged survival over therapy Y, but not if either prolonged life over no therapy.

The American public has been dazzled by the advances in medicine over the past few decades. And there have been remarkable achievements. As more reports like this one emerge, the public will undergo a slow awakening to the dangers of allowing a largely unregulated industry to dictate how medical research is conducted.

Drug Side Effects in the Elderly
January 6, 2011, 10:09 am
Filed under: Commentary, Medications | Tags: , , ,

The elderly aren’t the only ones being prescribed pharmaceuticals, but they’re more likely to be taking several. Along with children, the elderly are most likely to have adverse reactions to medicines. This is mostly due to their lessened ability to detoxify and remove chemicals from the body.

From: (Public Citizen)

Each year, more than 9.6 million adverse drug reactions occur in older Americans. The referenced study found that 37% of these adverse reactions were not reported to the doctor, presumably because patients did not realize the reactions were due to the drug. This is not too surprising considering that most doctors admitted they did not explain possible adverse effects to their patients.

The following national estimates are based on well-conducted studies, mainly in the United States:

  • Each year, in hospitals alone, there are 28,000 cases of life-threatening heart toxicity from adverse reactions to digoxin, the most commonly used form of digitalis in older adults. It is estimated that as many as 40% or more of these people are using this drug unnecessarily, even by pro-pharmaceutical researchers. Therefore, many of these injuries are preventable.
  • Each year 41,000 older adults are hospitalized—and 3,300 of these die from ulcers caused by NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, usually for treatment of arthritis). Thousands of younger adults are hospitalized due to these drugs.
  • At least 16,000 injuries from auto crashes each year involving older drivers are attributable to the use of psychoactive drugs, specifically benzodiazepines and tricyclic antidepressants. Psychoactive drugs are those that affect the mind or behavior.
  • Each year 32,000 older adults suffer from hip fractures—contributing to more than 1,500 deaths—attributable to drug-induced falls. In one study, the main categories of drugs responsible for the falls leading to hip fractures were sleeping pills and minor tranquilizers (30%), antipsychotic drugs (52%), and antidepressants (17%). All of these categories of drugs are often prescribed unnecessarily, especially in older adults, according to medical experts that are not anti-drugs. The in-hospital death rate for hip fractures in older adults is 4.9%. Multiplying this times the 32,000 hip fractures a year in older adults attributable to drug-induced falls, 1,568 older adults die each year from adverse drug reactions that cause hip fractures. Continue reading

Caution: Supplements are Deadly
December 29, 2010, 10:20 am
Filed under: Commentary | Tags: , , , ,

Oops, I’m wrong, as are all the other dire warnings you’ve heard about vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements.

In fact, there were NO REPORTED DEATHS from supplements in 2008 (the most recent information collected by the National Poison Data System) This included all the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and herbal products, even the much-feared kava kava and ephedra.

That’s zero, zip, nada.

Compare those statistics to these from The JOURNAL of the AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (JAMA) Vol 284, No 4, July 26th 2000:

  • 12,000 deaths/year from unnecessary surgery
  • 7000 deaths/year from medication errors in hospitals
  • 20,000 deaths/year from other errors in hospitals
  • 80,000 deaths/year from infections in hospitals
  • 106,000 deaths/year from non-error, adverse effects of medications

These total up to 225,000 deaths per year in the U.S. from iatrogenic (doctor induced) causes. That places iatrogenic causes as the # 3 killer – right up there with heart disease. And, it is believed that only around 10% of medical errors and adverse reactions are ever reported.

Does this mean never go to the hospital or take a medication?


But it puts the dangers of supplements into perspective and alerts you to where the real dangers to your health lurk.

Corruption in Drugville?

“Corruption in the pharmaceutical sector occurs throughout all stages of the medicine chain, from research and development to dispensing and promotion,” from a World Health Organization (WHO) fact sheet.  According to WHO data, unethical practices such as falsification of evidence, bribery, and mismanagement of conflicts of interest are “common and throughout the medicine chain.”

The fact sheet goes into detail, such as findings that clinical trials of drugs are conducted without proper regulatory approval, that drugs are approved with incorrect or insufficient information, and that doctors are unduly influenced to dispense drugs to gain the greatest profit rather than to produce the greatest benefit for the patient.

Unfortunately our current medical system isn’t the paragon of scientific virtue that they would have us believe. Medical care is a commodity and as such: Buyer beware.

Antibiotics Make Us Fat
December 16, 2010, 8:46 am
Filed under: Commentary, News | Tags: , , ,

Just to show how complex we are, research published in Scientific American and Science magazine has shown that antibiotic use contributes to weight gain. Apparently the disruption of healthy gut bacteria slows the burning of fat.

Antibiotics are not the only drug feeding the obesity problem. According to Lawrence Cheskin, MD, Director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, “Medication-related weight gain has become far more important over the past decade as obesity increases in prevalence and more people are taking medications for chronic illness.”

Didier Raoult, MD, PhD, professor at Merseille School of Medicine, has discovered that antibiotics act as growth promoters and proposes that they are a factor in the pandemic of obesity that is occurring.

No one is suggesting to never take antibiotics. However, do remember that they are having effects far beyond killing off unwanted bugs.

This web of relationships between systems, like digestion and metabolism, is one reason natural medicine emphasizes not disrupting the ecology of the body. Instead the major role of health care should be in reestablishing the delicate balances that keep us healthy.

ADHD and Pesticides
December 9, 2010, 10:40 am
Filed under: Commentary, Research | Tags: , , ,

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is thought to affect 3 to 7 percent of U.S. children. Various reasons for the increasing incidence have been proposed, including mercury preservative in vaccines, food additives, dietary sugar, and the ubiquitous “genetics.”

New research out of Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley have added pesticides to the list of potential causes of ADHD. The studies found a striking correlation among children with ADHD and their level of organophosphate pesticides.

Looking at ADHD as a microcosm of how medicine is practiced is an interesting exercise.

1.   Few doctors ever ask why a child has ADHD. Treatments are designed to modify the symptoms, not treat the underlying cause.

2.   Rarely would a doctor read a journal such as Environmental Health Perspectives where the University of California study was published. They’re reading journals associated with their specialty which are heavily subsidized by the pharmaceutical industry.

3.   Of the list of potential causes, genetics is the one they usually cite, although the evidence for this is no better than any other. Furthermore, the latest genetic research shows that toxins and nutrition influence the expression of genes. That is, they turn genes off and on.

4.   It is counter to all we know about disease to propose a single cause. This is rarely the case. Most diseases are caused by a web of factors. Even bacterial infections are not merely the result of single bacteria, but also depend on the state of the victim’s immune resistance. Science supports a whole-system, wholistic, orientation to diagnosing and treating disease.

5.   The recommendation by the researchers was “…thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables…” That’s it? What about eating organic, detoxification therapies, eliminating the use of 73 million pounds of organophosphate pesticides sprayed annually onto our crops? These pesticides contaminate our soils, water and ourselves, while at the same time encouraging the growth of new and stronger pests.

Is it too “radical” to ban organophosphate pesticides? Too “unproven” to use detoxification therapies? Too” expensive” to eat organic? Not at all. These are the rational, whole-science  and, long-term, least expensive options.

Government policies currently subsidize millions of dollars for pesticides. Drug companies make billions treating symptoms. Doctors fall back on the old straw man “genetics” instead of asking “Why?” and treating appropriately.

ADHD, like the other chronic diseases, will not be cured by finding a single magic pill, but by a wholistic approach that forces the medical system to close the door on simplistic pharmaceutical answers and exploring what lies beyond the door marked “Environmental toxins – Beware!”

Weight Watchers Endorses McDonalds
December 2, 2010, 1:09 am
Filed under: Commentary, News | Tags: , , , ,

Some nutritionists (although not nearly enough) were shocked when Weight Watchers (WW) endorsed Chicken McNuggets as a “healthy meal.”

I wasn’t.

Weight Watchers has a long history of recommending questionable foods. More importantly, their entire approach to losing weight – cut fat and calories – has a 95% failure rate. It does not work for long-term weight loss for 95% of its clients.

I’ve asked WW to provide some proof for the effectiveness of their program. All they have are a few sketchy studies showing that lifetime members lose weight. Well, yes, lifetime members are the minority that is more likely to be successful. They remain members because it’s working for them (I suspect these are the ones with the worst diets going into the program). But what about all the millions who drop out because they lost a few pounds, then gained more? They aren’t counted.

What I dislike even more about WW than their endorsement of unhealthy food and failed program is that they crush people’s spirits. Millions have signed up for their program because it has been around so long that it’s become part of the fabric of our culture. It is so ubiquitous, so recommended by doctors and nutritionists, that it becomes the first stop for many people trying to lose weight.

When it doesn’t work, when the person finds their body won’t allow them to be on a low-nutrient diet, they blame themselves. The message becomes: If you were a strong person, you could do this – it’s your fault you failed.

Who wins when we feel defeated? The food and beverage industries and the medical industrial complex. They thrive on our misery.

The Low-Fat Lie
November 24, 2010, 5:54 pm
Filed under: Commentary | Tags: , , ,

What have government programs, doctors and most nutritionists been telling us for the past 30 years? The message that has been drummed into us is: Eat less fat, more carbs. This message has been so broadcasted that it is now considered common knowledge. If you can just follow this simple advice you’ll save yourself from heart disease. Everyone knows that fat is bad, carbs are good. Right?

Now, take a look around you, especially if you’re over 40 years old. Do you see fewer people with heart disease than you did 30 years ago? No. Heart disease is at epidemic proportions.

What conclusion might you draw from this?

That people are not following the advice of experts? No. Low-fat products sales continue to grow. Beef sales are down while chicken is up. Even skinny people with low cholesterol avoid saturated fat as if it might cause an instant heart attack.

Or, you might conclude that the advice was wrong.

But, wasn’t it based on scientific evidence? No.

Avoiding fat was based on scientific theory, not facts. People of influence (this dates back to the McGovern Senate hearings in the ‘80s) believed that eating fat increased heart disease. They won the government seal of approval, despite their lack of evidence.

The evidence 30 years ago is the same as it is today: excess carbs, especially refined ones, contribute to heart disease.

The latest evidence that it’s not fats, but carbs that are to blame comes from a report in the March 2010 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  They looked at the food intake of 350,000 people over five to 23 years (an unusually large and long study, much more than any drugs are scrutinized) and found NO ASSOCIATION between saturated fat consumption and risk of heart disease (the British Medical Journal reports similar findings).

Why doesn’t everyone know this? Why is the “fat is bad for your heart” myth still perpetuated? Government conspiracy? Sugar lobby more powerful than the beef lobby? Cholesterol-lowering drug manufacturers benefitting? Certainly the latter is true.

The medical-industrial complex thrives on misinformation. The more confused you are about diet, the more satisfied you are that drug studies are honest and vigorous, the better it is for them. Does your individual doctor participate willingly? No. He or she is just passing on information that they’ve been told is accurate. Few have the time to check into what the pharmaceutical companies claim.

What can you do?

Humans ate saturated fats (organic, of course) and NO REFINED SUGAR for millions of years. That suddenly changed over the past hundred years, during the same time that heart disease, diabetes, and obesity became epidemic.

Your answer to fads, such as the low-fat diet, is to try and eat as your ancestors ate. My book, Nutrition-1-2-3: Three proven diet wisdoms for losing weight, gaining energy, and reversing chronic disease, explains in detail how to avoid fads and regain your health.

Statins Harm More than Help
November 18, 2010, 11:50 am
Filed under: Medications, Research | Tags: , , ,

It may seem like I’m picking on statin (cholesterol) drugs, but they’re such an easy target for scorn.  They’re such a good example of how bad science and greed walk hand in hand in our current medical system.

Example 1:

You may have read reports of the push to prescribe statins to younger, healthy people. The rationale for this is that the sooner you stop heart disease the better. The research support for this was the JUPITER study, funded by a drug company, which claimed a 44% reduced risk of a cardiovascular event for those using a statin.

One obvious problem with the study is that it was conducted on sick people, not healthy ones. There has been no study on the consequences of giving statins over prolonged periods to healthy people.

In other words, the “scientific” medical community’s attitude is: Hey, don’t let the lack of scientific evidence stop the prescriptions. Let’s proceed on assumptions.

Example 2:

You’d think from the advertising and 20 million prescriptions that statins are miracle drugs. The scientific truth is something completely different. The British Medical Journal in 2010 published yet another study showing how poorly these drugs perform. They found, in following over 225,000 people, that only 2.7% benefited (271 out of 10,000). Not what you call cost-effective.

Even more damning in the BMJ study was the number of people suffering side effects, including liver damage, kidney failure, cataracts, and extreme muscle fatigue. This group made up 4.4% of participants. In other words, almost twice as many people did worse on statins than did better.

Mathematics is a science: 4.4% of 20 million is 880,000 people suffering, even dying in the hopes that 2.7%, 540,000, will have less heart disease. Clearly doctors who prescribe statins are not doing their math.