Poor nutrition and the environment

Health conditions can be inherited without being genetic, but this important distinction is often overlooked. People say: I have this problem, my father or mother has it, my child has it; therefore, it must be genetic. But this is not necessarily so.

The point is clearly demonstrated in nutritional research dating back to the 1940’s and outlined in the landmark book ‘Pottenger’s Cats’ by Francis Pottenger, MD. When Dr. Pottenger deliberately fed some of his cats impoverished diets, their health deteriorated progressively as nutrient reserves were depleted over successive generations. By the fourth generation, cats had a very high rate of allergies and reproductive disorders; some even exhibited behaviors reminiscent of autism or ADHD.

Another clear illustration comes from omega-3 research described in Andrew Stoll’s book ‘The Omega-3 Connection.’ Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for many aspects of health,
including mental health; however, they are severely deficient in the modern American diet. In his book, Dr. Stoll explains how the body goes to great lengths to conserve these fats when it doesn’t get enough of them from food. To some extent omega-3 fats are passed on from one generation to the next during fetal development and through breast milk, so the full impact of dietary depletion only appears after several generations.

Many of us would agree that the standard American diet has become increasingly dependent on highly processed and packaged foods over the past several decades. Another equally significant aspect is that food itself is not as nutritious as it used to be. More evidence of this comes from a new study performed at the University of Texas. Using as a benchmark nutrients that were documented in crops 50 years ago, researchers found that six out of 13 nutrients had shown reliable declines (from a press release. The study will be in the December edition of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Find the press release at www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2004-12/uota-ssn120104.php ).

The common practice of applying toxic industrial sludge to farmland by labeling it as ‘fertilizer’ gives us an idea of how we have been progressively impoverishing our soil and food, while at the same time poisoning them both. This disturbing practice has been reported in various news outlets as well as a previous issue of this newsletter (1).

This raises another question: what happens when nutrient-depleted children (or adults) are exposed to environmental poisons such as mercury, lead, pesticides or other chemicals? A new study authored by Dr. Jill James (see www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/news/nation/10405661.htm but registration is required) reveals that autistic children are deficient in a protein called glutathione and are therefore unable to excrete heavy metals like mercury and lead. The study also shows that providing these children with enough vitamin B12 and folic acid helps re-establish this protein and leads to improvements. We can therefore conclude that the lack of this protein is caused by vitamin deficiencies and is not genetic, as in this latter case the vitamin supplements would not make any difference. Evidence that children and adults alike are exposed to toxic metals and chemicals in the environment is certainly not lacking. After repeatedly denying that mercury used as a preservative in vaccines could be harmful, the Centers for Disease Control reported that as many as one in six women of childbearin g age have enough mercury in their blood to cause permanent damage to the nervous system of developing fetuses (2).

Studies that have looked for chemicals stored in blood or human tissues have never failed to find them, often at levels known to potentially cause cancer or neurological damage. One of these was reported some time ago on this newsletter (3).

A more recent study gives us an idea of how insidious this problem can become. The results showed that minute amounts of a chemical called methylisothiazolinone (MIT) –
commonly found in shampoos and skin lotions – could impair early development of the nervous system (see www.nature.com/news/2004/041129/full/041129-13.html). Although this was an in-vitro study and its findings cannot be considered definitive, the amounts found to be damaging are so minute that they could be easily absorbed through skin.

Children with symptoms of hyper-excitability may have a history of exposure to environmental toxins combined with nutrient deficiencies, but the solution is often fairly simple. A new French study showed that children described as suffering from aggressive behaviors, instability, lack of attention in school, muscle tension and spasms, improved over a period of 1 to 6 months with nothing more than vitamin B6 and magnesium supplements. (J Am Coll Nutr 2004 Oct; 23 (5): 545S-8S).

(1) “EPA sanctions use of toxic waste to make fertilizer” January 2003, archived on the Newsletters page of my website under the Environmental Issues link
(2) “More news on mercury” March 2004, archived on the Newsletters page of my website under the Environmental Issues link
(3) “New website reports high levels of chemical in our bodies” March 2003, archived on the Newsletters page of my website under the Environmental Issues link

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