Tom Ballard, ND's blog

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.

Spreading Fear of Chiropractic
November 11, 2010, 10:01 am
Filed under: Commentary | Tags: , , , ,

“Chiropractors are dangerous,” is a statement I’ve heard repeatedly over the years. I’d never looked up any studies, but reasoned, “If they’re so dangerous, why is their malpractice insurance so low compared to MDs?” (Naturopathic malpractice insurance is even lower.)

Well, now we have a defining article, picked up by WebMD from The International Journal of Clinical Practice (2010:64(10)), entitled “Death after Chiropractic: A Review of Published Cases.”

The author searched the medical literature and found 26 deaths! Chiropractic is so dangerous, those deaths must have been in the last week, right? Month? Year? Ah, no, that’s since 1934.

The author’s conclusion: “Numerous deaths have occurred after chiropractic manipulations. The risks of this treatment by far outweigh its benefit.” She was particularly alarmed since most deaths from chiropractic are not reported. There are probably several times this number of deaths. Alarming!

Any deaths from medical treatment are sad and we should do anything we can to stop them. However, let’s put these numbers into perspective. In a 2000 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the authors found hard evidence for 225,000 deaths per year from iatrogenic (MD) causes. They estimated that only about 10% of adverse drug reactions are reported.

Now, back to the chiropractic numbers. Let’s say they are underreported by 1000 %. So, in 76 years there may have been 26,000 deaths from chiropractic. This is slightly over 1/10th of the deaths that are caused by MDs EVERY YEAR.

When MDs are confronted with their death statistics they defend themselves by saying that’s the price we pay for having the best medical system in the world (However, we don’t have the best medical system in the world, actually rating quite poorly on longevity, infant mortality, and many other parameters.) For chiropractic, on the other hand, it’s considered a scandal of the first order if the entire profession contributes to a death about every three years. Every chiropractor in the U.S. (estimated 100,000) would have to contribute to the death of 2.25 patients a year to keep up with MDs.

You want fear mongering? There are approximately 700,000 MDs working in the U.S. That means that each year, statistically, one in three MDs kills a patient. By these calculations (225,000 deaths from 700,000 MDs), going to an MD is, statistically, one of the most dangerous things you can do. You’d have a better chance of living if you walked in a high-crime neighborhood with money sticking out of your pockets.

It’s natural for any group to defend themselves against those considered to be their rivals. It would be a better use of time, however, for MDs to look at ways to cooperate with chiropractors, or at least stick to cleaning up their own problems, since calling chiropractors “dangerous” clearly doesn’t hold up.

Pushing Down the Limits
November 4, 2010, 10:40 am
Filed under: Medications | Tags: , , , ,

It is in the interest of drug companies to push for tighter guidelines on tests such as cholesterol and blood pressure. If they can convince doctors that cholesterol levels should be below 200 and blood pressures below 140/90, then they sell more pills.

I’m too cynical you say?

I predict that in the next few years, guidelines for cholesterol and blood pressure will be lowered, despite research showing that the new recommendations actually increase health problems.

In early 2010 the New England Journal of Medicine reported the results of the nationwide ACCORD study of 4,733 diabetics. It concluded that lowering cholesterol and blood pressure below current levels provided no benefit when weighed against side effects. (Fun fact: patients in the intensive treatment group took an average of 3.6 medications to lower their blood pressure! Talk about good for business.)

Will a large study with a negative impact on drug sales be tolerated?

Watch and see.

Osteoporosis in a Pill
October 28, 2010, 9:18 am
Filed under: Medications | Tags: , , , , ,

In the twisted logic of our dominant medical system it makes since to treat osteoporosis with a drug that interferes with normal bone development rather than providing bone-supporting nutrients.

Osteoporosis drugs such as Fosamax, Actonel, and Boniva have been found to actually increase bone fractures, as well as cause loss of jaw bone calcium, irregular heartbeats, incapacitating musculoskeletal pain, and esophageal cancer.

A New York Times analysis of found that patients are widely dissatisfied with these drugs. If only their doctors knew as much.

Yes, these bone-damaging drugs are still commonly prescribed – instead of calcium, magnesium, vitamins D and K, omega-3 oils, and weight-bearing exercise.

Who is your doctor listening to?

The drug companies or basic bone physiology?

Hospitals are sick houses
October 21, 2010, 11:59 am
Filed under: Commentary | Tags: , , , , ,

Where I have my car worked on the mechanics place a paper mat on the floor and seat to prevent the transfer of grease from the engine compartment to the upholstery. If our hospitals were as cautious about transferring germs, about 100,000 lives could be saved every year. That’s the number of people that are known to die of hospital acquired infections every year.

The death rate from hospital infections is probably much higher than this since it is well known that most hospitals do not monitor or keep accurate statistics. According to Peter Pronovost, MD, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, there are no measurable, achievable and routine strategies to prevent patient harm in our nation’s hospitals. Dr Pronovost blames doctor arrogance for much of the problem.

According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, 5-10% of those admitted to hospitals will acquire an infection. It is estimated that hospital infections are the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S. and cost 6 billion dollars a year.

How could this be? Yes, hospital patients often have compromised immune systems.  More importantly, there is a lack of what is known as “hand hygiene.”  According to a 2003 study by the CDC, 52% of doctors did not wash their hands between patients. They also found that hand hygiene was only practiced by 29-48% of hospital employees.

In spite of all our knowledge, nothing much has changed about hospitals since the Middle Ages where people knew they were going to die. Arrogance, according to Dr Pronovost, plays a role. I would add; disregard for basic science.  If your model for treating disease is to give a drug, then you neglect such basics as hand washing.