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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pickled Pink

I think back to Biology 101 and the little pickled animals and parts we dissected, poked, and prodded to "learn" what insides look like and get an idea of how structure and function relate to the electrochemical magic we call "life." It is fascinating but are we pickling ourselves?

Since the dawn of the TV dinner science has produced chemicals that make food stay in an edible form for periods of months to years. We have also seen a steady rise in neurological disease and gastrointestinal cancers. Sure, skeptics would say that the rise in many diseases of aging happen simply because our life expectancy has greatly increased beyond that of people from 200 years ago. I am not so sure.

I looked through a catalog of government approved food additives. There is a whole lot more than color going into those Pop-Tarts, kids. There are pages and pages of protein, fat and sugar substitutes, colors, flavors, antimicrobials, texture stabilizers, etc. I don't even think Kosher hot dogs are "Kosher" anymore because several additives are derived from animal and bacterial origin. I was taken aback by the practically unending array of things you can put in food to make it appeal visually, odoriferously, and tastefully.

Consider colon cancer. The colon is basically the sewer system of the human body. The upper digestive tract breaks down food so nutrients can be absorbed and passes the rest of the material to the small intestine for further processing. The intestines have secretory cells that coat the lining with a mucus layer that assists in moving waste out while bacteria finish processing waste. While the waste is moving out some things get stuck in the mucus layer. If you don't eat enough fiber these trapped wastes can lead to irritation or infection in the intestinal lining. These irritations sometimes form polyps that eventually have the potential to become cancerous years down the road.

The real problem with colon cancer is that you can be asymptomatic for years after the cancer starts. Once it has spread to other areas of the body and you start showing symptoms it can be damn tough to treat and often fatal. This is where routine screenings for certain age groups come in. Sure the test is very uncomfortable but if you can catch it early you can stop it early. How many of the additives in food contribute to this? We have no idea.

Another problem we see more and more is Alzheimer's disease. This neurobiological breakdown of brain tissue leads to serious problems relating to being able to care for one's self or becoming a burden on the family. The saddest statistic is that most of these patient's end up in long term care facilities on a chemical cocktail that keeps them "manageable". It is a horrifying sight to behold and I will die in a well orchestrated "accident" before I let that happen to me. It does run in my family so I will more than likely be afflicted. Tick tock...not sure how long but I know my brain is waiting to turn to useless mush in about another 50 years... Pudding, it is turning into pudding...

Another neurobiological issue is Autism. There are many degrees of cognitive failure in Autism. For the lucky ones the damage is minor and they appear to function on a time delay. Others are not so lucky and seemed trapped in a repetitive nightmare that makes them a burden on the family. Could it be from food additives during a baby's time in the womb that cause this?

I like to think there are many contributing factors. First, neurological problems can be inherited. Alzheimer's, seizure disorders, and several forms of mental retardation are known to be inherited. We all have a "crazy" relative somewhere in the family tree. That one relative is evidence that your genetic stew can go bad when it comes to cooking up a new member of the family.

Second, diet plays a major role in fetal development. There are certain nutrients we know pregnant women need to prevent specific developmental problems. There are also certain foods pregnant women should not eat because they are in a state of decreased immunologic function. I am curious to see what women ate the entire time they were pregnant if the child was diagnosed with autism. I doubt that would be a good study though because people always lie about eating better to scientists or medical personnel.

Third, certain medications are known to cause birth defects and increase the risk of birth defects. I would like to know what prescription and OTC medications women were on along with vitamins, herbal supplements, health drinks, etc. the entire time they were pregnant if their child had neurological problems.

I don't know what the answer is as I have written myself into a vortex of practically unanswerable questions. I think I have to side with the Vegans on this one. Unprocessed foods seem like the best choice to me. Beyond foods, I don't think I will use any medications unless 100% necessary during pregnancy. Not that I am planning on children but you never know when an accident will happen....


Carol said...

my mother died of colon cancer, so I went in for my screening at the ripe age of 40. It actually wasn't that uncomfortable. The prep was unpleasant, but not painful. All in all, way better than cancer.

Anonymous said...

Quite an interesting
'mulligatawny' of speculation, now let's see if the underlying theme is relevant...I think it is, that many turns off into the deep end are tipped off by genetic predisposition and unnatural, foreign, manufactured chemicals that get too close to developing tissues... .

I don't think that 'herbals' and 'au natural' foodstuffs are the answer--just plenty of fiber, water, and vegetable-based fats and proteins (they may leave the body faster than things that are too similar to animal tissue)?.

My theory on autism (of course, right or wrong) is that the kids come from frenetic environments so fast-paced with family tension that the kids just try to shut it all out, but cannot.

The reason I'm suggesting it is of course anecdotal. We all know the kids with their questionable ADHD and how sometimes we see evidence of dysfunctional family dynamics. Well, in some families where autistic kids are raised, the kids show magnificent growth and development from an early age, then *kaboom, too much neurological and socially fraught anxiety-type stimulation, and they retreat.

(I haven't seen anything in print that validates this, but ever since I read a book about a kid whose mother was of direct far eastern ancestry (maybe of non-traditional religious beliefs) and father was of a strict western traditional ancestry and definitely a strict religion and they held both strong views, provided an intense but tremendously caring environment for their precocious child, but had there major differences between the pillars of the child's foundation of 'being' and 'validation'. Therefore, I couldn't help but think that an intelligent little being would feel 'torn' in allegiance and to whom to trust more and thus might try to resist making a choice by withdrawing from close family members. (I think that's what almost (?) happened to my kid.) I wonder if kids raised in orphanages are ever autistic?

DanTech said...

A good book that touches on a lot of your questions is "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan. His suggestion is to eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

By food he means real food with real ingredients that your grandmother may have used in her kitchen to make the same thing. No soylent green. No high fructose corn syrup. No margarine. Stuff that she actually would have used herself 100 years ago. Good luck finding food like that in todays grocery stores.

Another good book is "Twinkie, Deconstructed" by Steve Ettlinger. He shows what the ingredients in the Twinkie are, what they are for, why they are used, and, more importantly, where they come from.

I never knew that the vitamins added to flour do not come from vegetable matter, but are derived from petroleum! Ferrous sulfate is made in a steel mill when they use sulfuric acid to clean the scale off of steel. Very appetizing.

Big 'N Tasty RPH said...

Damn, I miss Soylent Green most of all because .."IT'S MADE OUT OF PEEEEOPLE! (my salute to Charleton Heston)