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Milk Ban: How Seemingly Dumb Nutritional Legislation Gets Proposed

In late April, news broke that Connecticut lawmakers proposed a bill that would ban day care centers from serving 2-percent and whole milk to kids older than two. The media was quick to point out that the ban is “sheer lunacy” and “based on an incredibly faulty understanding of nutrition.” That last part is right, and I’ll get to that in a second. But rather than say the lawmakers behind this bill are lunatics, I’ll call them Colberts. 

Stephen Colbert’s character on "The Colbert Report" is eager, but terribly misinformed. That’s what appears to be going on with milk ban bill sponsors, Democratic Reps. David Zoni, Roberta Willis, and state Senator Catherine Osten. The three are up for re-election this year and as Gary Rose, chairman of the Government and Politics department at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conecticuit told Connecticut magazine, “We’re going to see lawmakers announcing more legislative initiatives to let their constituents know they are trying.”

Fighting childhood obesity is a popular and laudable platform that, one would assume, would go over well with constituents. In fact, childhood obesity ranked as the number-one health concern amongst Connecticut parents in 2012. That’s where the eagerness comes in; these lawmakers likely wanted to do the right thing while winning votes. Unfortunately, the misinformation that led to milkbangate came from their own experts, who were meant to guide Connecticut’s newly established (as of 2013) childhood obesity task force.

In a presentation on March 27, John Bailey, the State Director of Government Relation for the American Heart Association gave a presentation to the task force, explaining their joint mission is to build healthier lives “free of cardiovascular disease and stroke.”

In the presentation, he explained that one-third of Connecticut kindergarten and third-grade students are overweight or obese, which could lead to health issues including asthma and type 2 diabetes when they’re older. One of the main standards he recommended promoting: low-fat and fat-free dairy products.

Where did Bailey get the idea that full-fat dairy products contribute to childhood obesity? From the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends low-fat milk and milk products for all individuals aged 2 years and over to “obtain the nutritional benefits of milk while limiting caloric and fat intake.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists the benefit as “achieving optimal lifetime bone health.”

In this case, the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics are to blame for milk misinformation. As one researcher wrote in a 2005 study, “available evidence does not support nutrition guidelines focused specifically on increasing milk or other dairy product intake for promoting child and adolescent bone mineralization.”

And as NPR reported last year, several studies have “linked fattier milk to slimmer kids,” possibly because “whole milk gives us a greater sense of satiety.” In other words, kids feel fuller longer which keeps them from noshing on extra calories later in the day. 

In the end, the Milk Ban proposal isn’t just a question of faulty science, or even local government, but national politics. Food associations have contributed to the American Academy of Pediatrics in the past, and dairy lobbying is the likely reason why the CDC hasn’t updated its milk-drinking recommendations. However recent studies touting whole milk’s benefits should have lobbyists fighting to change the AAP’s recommendations so more parents and daycares will buy all types of milk for their kids—if Connecticut lets them. 

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Your Food Is Poisoning You

There’s a scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind where the Air Force subjects Richard Dreyfus and his fellow Third Encounterers to the media. The press conference is actually going pretty well, the media seem to be on the verge of believing these people—until one of them, a bearded old hermit type (Roberts Blossom) launches into a speech about how he once saw Bigfoot. Credibility: shot.

Such is the case, too, with people who’ve been trying to link celiac disease (and other ills) with the use of the herbicide glyphosate. Despite having long been treated like Bigfoot believers by their opponents, their research is now gaining widespread attention. More importantly, there's a growing sense that the science has reached a tipping point: Glyphosate cannot be recognized as harmless.

“I'm always suspicious of these consensuses on [the safety of] agriculture chemicals—they almost always fall apart over time, and that may be happening with glyphosate,” says author and food activist Michael Pollan.

Introduced by Monsanto in the early 1970s under the trade name Roundup (and used primarily back then as a weed killer), glyphosate is now used throughout the world on wheat and soy crops and since 2007 it has been the most widely used herbicide in the U.S.—and the growing target of research linking it to a variety of illnesses.

“Since Monsanto first introduced Roundup into crops in 1974, there’s been a rise in autism and other diseases,” says Stephanie Seneff, a senior research scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-author, with Anthony Samsel, a retired environmental scientist, of the recent review claiming that Roundup leads to celiac disease . “I’m certain at this point that glyphosate is the most important factor in an alarming number of epidemic diseases.” Diseases ranging from autism, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes to pancreatic cancer, thyroid cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease and—wait for it—the ongoing collapse of bee colonies.

But where then, beyond the work of Seneff and Samsel, is the proof? Well, there isn’t much hard evidence (only two long-term studies on the health effects of the chemical have been conducted). And for a complicated set of reasons. For one, historically, people who’ve challenged the biotech industry have been systematically discredited, says Pollan, "as we learned recently about Tyrone Hayes, the UC Berkeley herpetologist who ran afoul of Syngenta." Also, there’s the just-as-hard-to-prove theory that no one wants to bite the hand that feeds them.

“Some of our scientists are the ones who are the most difficult—and the biggest impediment to better research—because they’re funding is dependent on the very same agrichemical companies like Monsanto that are producing Roundup,” says Dr. Don Huber, professor emeritus of plant pathology at Purdue University (who for years consulted with Monsanto scientists). "They’re not about to go in a different direction from the people who’ve been funding them."

{%{"quote":"There are “absolutely potential adverse health effects from glyphosate,” says Hansen. But the strongest data is in cases of birth defects and non-Hodgkins lymphoma."}%}

Others agree. Many of them levelheaded, despite coming off like Oliver Stone. “Monsanto and these other companies are doing an exceptionally good job at blocking all information and data on the subject from public discourse,” stresses Dave Schubert, professor and head of the Salk Institute’s Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory.

“There is indeed an enormous amount of published data showing that Roundup is very nasty stuff, particularly at the levels currently being used (ten times more than before genetically modified, herbicide-resistant crops) and the extent of human exposure in food—a greatly allowed increase by the EPA to reflect increased use.”

Not everyone, however, is so convinced—though many are still intrigued by a possible link. “Samsel and Seneff have produced a series of plausible hypotheses,” says Sheldon Krimsky, chairman of the Council for Responsible Genetics and Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University. “But that is all they are: hypotheses.”

Indeed, Krimsky himself, as sober as he remains in his reception to Samsel and Seneff’s study, cites a chapter from Earth Open Source’s 2012 paper, “GMO Myths and Truths,” in which, among many other things, glyphosate is called “toxic,” Roundup’s marketing campaign as a “safe” herbicide is “based on outdated and largely unpublished studies by manufacturers,” glyphosate’s acceptable daily intake level in the U.S. and Europe is “inaccurate and potentially dangerously high,” and “the added ingredients (adjuvants) in Roundup are themselves toxic and increase the toxicity of glyphosate by enabling it to penetrate human and animal cells more easily.”

If Bigfoot’s still a bit fuzzy, consider these words from Dr. Alessio Fasano, founder of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Celiac Research, in a 2011 interview with the gluten-free website livingwithout.com: “Gluten and autism, gluten and schizophrenia—is there a link or not?” he asked rhetorically.“I have a hard time believing that gluten has absolutely nothing to do with these behaviors.”

Many, though, do. “There is no link between Roundup and celiac,” says Dr. Stefano Guandalini, founder and medical director of the University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center, in response to Samsel and Seneff’s review. “The whole story is preposterous and finds a cause/effect relationship when there is none.”

Other critics have been harsher, while supporters embrace the review as evidence of what’s been plaguing them and/or their children. Already an emotional issue, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that affects upwards of 3 million people in the U.S. alone. It is triggered by gluten, the protein in wheat, barley, and rye. As yet there is no cure.

Linking celiac disease to glyphosate also stems on the belief (and a growing body of scientific literature that seems to back it up) that glyphosate, and aminomethylphosphonic acid, or AMPA, the compound glyphosate breaks down into as it decays, affects the balance of our gut microbials. These changes to our bacteria can then lead to disease, obesity, autoimmune deficiencies—and maybe even the bee-colony collapse.

“You have this very broad, extremely powerful broad-spectrum chelator that causes a tremendous level of dysbiosis,” says Dr. Huber. “When you disrupt your intestinal microflora, you’re not a happy individual.” Or healthy.

Part of the reason it’s so easy to castigate Samsel and Seneff (and others like them) with the bigfoot brush is that, as they admit, many of their observations are anecdotal and their research is based on making correlations. Seneff graphed Roundup and its use in corn and soy and the rise of celiac disease (and other autoimmune disorders) and came up with A + B = C.

“People have been trained to dismiss these types of correlations, but they’re there,” asserts Seneff, a senior research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. “The data are there. You just have to connect the dots.” And the picture she has painted—glyphosate leading to celiac disease and a plethora of other maladies and autoimmune diseases—is far from pretty.

(Michael Hansen, a senior staff scientist with Consumers Union, denied that the dots match up so well. “If you don’t understand biology, you’d go, Wow! They match up perfectly. If you do understand biology, those graphs don’t show anything. They’re nonsense.”)

“They looked at the biochemical impact of glyphosate relative to the biochemical impact of various diseases and found a perfect fit—they didn’t have any problem connecting the biochemical dots,” explains Dr. Huber, who warns that our “wake-up call” is just around the corner.

In the meantime, while Samsel and Seneff’s review may not yet be fully accepted, their work, and others’, should lead to better, more convincing studies, something both Dr. Huber and Krimsky agreed is worth pursuing. And Hansen, who’s still leery of embracing any link to celiac disease, notes that there are “absolutely potential adverse health effects from glyphosate,” but that the strongest data is in cases of birth defects and non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

"There are growing suspicions that this supposed non-toxic pesticide is more toxic than we realized. Especially when used with the 'inert ingredients' it comes with—surfactants that help the chemical force its way into plant tissues," says Pollan. "There are also reports on illness around the big round-up soy fields in Brazil and Argentina. To me it seems like a lot of smoke and I wouldn’t be surprised to find fire.”

Until then, voices in the wilderness like Samsel and Seneff and Dr. Huber will continue to proselytize about the evils of their personal Bigfoot, and hope to prove Pollan right, and vindicate their theories. “The proof isn’t there,” says Seneff, “but the innuendo is.”

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Become an Athlete, Not a One-Sport Wonder

When I threw out my back for the first time last fall, I hadn’t had a gym membership for years. “Cycling makes me fit,” I’d reasoned, until picking up a small cardboard box laid me out for five days. I reconsidered my defintion of strength: I could ride a mountain bike for six hours, but could I get through day-to-day life without hurting myself?

Getting stronger not just for sport but also life is the goal behind kinesis, one of the newest trends in functional training, a workout performed on and around the dual-cable Technogym Kinesis® machine. The company's design increases resistance as you move further from the machine, and unlike traditional cable systems and weightlifting, the 360-degree pivoting pulleys generate resistance in all directions. This enables the user to develop strength in almost any three-dimensional movement.

At Studio K, a kinesis gym in Santa Monica, California, owner Susan Howard says, “We’re working on functional movement patterns that allow us to be more dynamic and efficient in everything that we do, whether it’s hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, picking up your child, or going up a flight of stairs.” Howard calls her program “lifestyle performance enhancement”.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/kinesis_in.jpg","size":"medium","caption":"Studio K clients make use of the Technogym Kinesis® machine."}%}

Participants perform a mix of high-intensity speed, power, and agility work; with low-intensity movements for strength, flexibility, balance, and core stability. Attached by the waist to the cables, they skip, jump, and move side to side. They also do strength work like rows, lunges, squats, and presses, on and off the machine.

Kinesis appeals to the causual fitness crowd, but ironically, it may be serious athletes who need this kind of functional workout the most.

“A lot of times elite athletes who are only doing their sport get stuck in repetitive patterns in a single plane of motion—think of someone riding a bike,” says functional training specialist Dawna Graham, who teaches kinesis at RallySport Fitness Club in Boulder, Colorado.

“Functional training like kinesis moves you in three dimensions and helps you to achieve full range of motion in all your joints.” This makes the body more efficient, able to recruit more muscle and power for the same amount of energy.

The other key element of kinesis is core stability. The core is engaged in every movement in kinesis—needed to balance and stabilize the entire body in performing a single-arm pull, for example.

These dual benefits of mobility and stability facilitate power transfer from one part of the body to another in sports and daily functions. They’re also key to injury prevention.

“Shoulders, hips, and feet can get tight or injured from sport-specific training,” says Erin Carson, fitness director and co-owner at RallySport. This tightness and muscular imbalance can make seemingly “strong” individuals vulnerable to injury from non-sport related movements—like lifting a cardboard box.

That’s why ensuring optimal mobility and stability with a program like kinesis is the first step to building a stronger athlete, says Carson, who has applied this philosophy to conditioning elite athletes like Mirinda Carfrae, 2013 IRONMAN World Champion.

RallySport recommends kinesis once a week as a supplement to aerobic training, and at a lower intensity than CrossFit or boot camp, it won’t wear you out for your sport training.

At some point, Carson says, you will need to progress beyond kinesis to keep making strength gains—but pure strength isn’t the point of this workout. Kinesis means “movement”, and the more of your life you spend in motion, the more you stand to gain by becoming more well-rounded and efficient in that motion.

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Endurance Training at 40 and Up

Endurance training isn’t just for the under 40 crowd. In fact, a European study has found that for men, endurance exercise is beneficial to the heart regardless of when they first began training.

“The heart is a muscle,” says David Matelot, who presented the study at the EuroPRevent congress 2014. "If you train it, it becomes bigger and stronger, so the pump can be more efficient.” It’s likely that the right ventricles were bigger as well, but they are harder to measure.

Though starting training after 40 has positive effects, Matelot still recommends that people start much earlier—in childhood, if possible. “There are others benefits of endurance training than cardiac parameters,” he says. “Indeed, endurance training is also beneficial for bone density, for muscle mass, for oxidative stress… And these benefits of endurance training are known to be better if training have been started early in life.”

It’s also key to keep training once you’ve started. The benefits from exercise can dwindle quickly in the inactive. But, he says, it’s “never too late to change your way of life and to get more physically active.”

The Study Methods

Researchers studied 40 men between the ages of 55 and 70 who had no cardiovascular risk factors, assessing when they first began training and the level of exercise—specifically cycling and running—they performed.

Of the 40, ten had never exercised more than two hours a week; the remaining 30 had exercised for at least seven hours, beginning either before age 30, or after age 40. The group that started younger had been training for an average of 39 years; the older group 18.

Participants went through maximal exercise testing, echocardiography at rest and during sub-maximal exercise, and heart rate analysis.

Researchers found that resting heart rate was similar for the exercisers, but much more rapid in the non-exercisers. The more active group also had bigger left ventricles and atria, and the same results in their cardiac echocardiography tests.

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