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Diet and Exercise

Posted Aug 20th, 2008 by Patient Assistance Team
Sometimes it seems as if the panacea, the answer to all physical ailments, is diet and exercise. Every age has something like that – sarsaparilla bark, steam baths, magnets – history is filled with all-purpose cures and preventatives. Now, the secret of a long and healthy life is eat a carrot while running on a treadmill. For those with long memories, there was a song (recorded by Danny Kaye) with the chorus:

Black strap molasses and wheat germ bread
Makes you live so long you wish you were dead
Add some yogurt and you'll be well fed
With black strap molasses and the wheat germ bread

It feels as if we’re back to those days.

Diet and exercise can’t guarantee good health, but they can save money on drug supplements. In too many cases, people are buying nutritional supplements that can, and should be part of their regular diet. This comes of drawing the wrong conclusions from scientific studies.

Years ago, there was a study that showed that people living in areas where they ate a lot of fish had a low incidence of heart attacks and strokes. There were two reasonable conclusions. Either fish contained something, probably the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, or else the health benefits were the result of not eating as much red meat. There was no clear answer, and a lot more studies were needed, but fish oil capsules started appearing on, and flying off, the shelves of retail stores.
There is evidence that the omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial, but the easiest way to get them is to eat fish. That way you get the oils, and don’t eat red meat. Yes, fish is more expensive than beef by the pound, but because it contains less fat, it doesn’t shrink as much. A raw hamburger is commonly 15 - 20% fat, which means that the real price is 15 - 20% higher than you think you’re paying. And, there are plenty of inexpensive varieties of fish, such as bluefish and whiting.

The most recent report, from Reuters Health, dated August 7, 2008, describes the results of the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer–Norfolk Prospective Study (EPIC) study, where researchers found that people with high levels of vitamin C has a very significantly lower risk of developing diabetes than people with low levels. The role of vitamin C has been studied ever since Linus Pauling published Vitamin C and the Common Cold, although the conclusions have varied from study to study. This study, which lasted for 12 years and had 21,831 participants, seems large enough to justify some conclusions, and the observation that people with the highest blood levels of vitamin C had roughly a 2/3rds lower risk of developing diabetes seems important.

But, does that mean it’s time to run out and buy a big bottle of vitamin C? Actually, no. The results of this study are still factoids, important information, but not enough to justify action. The vitamin C could have come from several sources, and it’s not clear which one produced the high blood levels. If the people in the high blood level group were popping pills, then we can assume that vitamin C by itself has an important protective effect, but it’s also possible that this group was following traditional diet advice and eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. In that case, the blood levels of vitamin C might have been nothing more than a marker of high intake of of vegetable products, which also contain high levels of fiber. Fiber, the indigestible part of fruits and vegetables, the stuff that goes in one end and out the other, has already been associated with important health benefits. A diet high in fiber has been reported to aid in weight loss programs, lowering the risk of cardiovascular and intestinal diseases, helping in weight loss programs and lowering both the risk and the effects of diabetes. Americans generally consume less than half the recommended amount of fiber each day, yet one study reported that even modest increases in fiber above the recommended levels could lower blood sugar and even reduce the need for insulin in diabetic patients.
Of course one option is to take this information and head for the drug store, and while you’re buying your fish oil also buy a bottle of vitamin C and a fiber supplement, It might work, but from an economic viewpoint, it seems foolish. What you’re doing is keeping your food budget constant – sort of, since th prices of food have been rising dramatically – and tacking on an extra expense for supplements. It makes a lot more sense, from both a health and economic viewpoint to look at your diet and budget, and consider the Food and Drug Administration recommendations to eat more fruits and vegetables, lots more. That reduces the cost of supplements by integrating that expense into your food budget, while offering ths same important health benefits that you expect from these supplements.

It’s really that simple. You can buy a fiber supplement, a vitamin C supplement, a fish oil supplement, and then pick up something for dinner, or you can buy a bluefish filet, a tomato (bluefish is best served with something acidic, so tomatoes are the perfect accompaniment) and an ear of corn for dinner. Even with the increases in food prices, that’s a low cost meal, and it’s like getting all the supplements for free. You won’t find a better bargain anywhere.