Why There Is so Much Commercial Corruption in Nutrition

The prevalence of chronic diseases such as diabetes has skyrocketed, as has the number of articles published about diabetes in medical journals. “Why does our wealth of academic knowledge not translate more directly to improving the human condition?” Perhaps our over-attachment to the reductionistic mindset that proved so successful with acute deficiency diseases may actually represent an obstacle to success battling chronic disease.

These days, health seems to have been reduced to a highly commercialized commodity, in which we’re marketed all sorts of high-cost, high-tech tests and treatments of dubious value with substantial risks attached. “This is worrisome because most of the things that make us healthy and keep us healthy are cheap and largely available without professional help or commercial prodding.” This isn’t to say modern medicine can’t work miracles, but what about the big picture? That is, what about the 80 percent of death and disability caused by preventable diet-related diseases?

What about the field of nutrition? In my video Why Is Nutrition So Commercialized?, I discuss how it’s become about profits and products, and extracting nutrients from whole foods so they can be repackaged and marketed. But food is best eaten whole. Eat the broccoli and the blueberries, not some broccoberry supplement. But the reason there aren’t more studies on whole foods is fairly obvious: You can’t patent them. Why should a company spend a lot of money, time, and effort to convince you to buy broccoli when any other company can sell it to you? That’s why the field of nutrition can be more about marketing profitable products than educating people about the fundamentals of health and wellness. For example, the benefits of whole grains over refined grains is commonly attributed to the fiber, which enables the food industry to whip out fiber-fortified Froot Loops and make you feel all better.

Let’s consider this ingenious study: Burkitt and colleagues thought the extraordinarily low rates of killer chronic diseases in sub-Saharan Africa were due to all the whole, plant foods they were eating. This turned into the fiber hypothesis, the reductionistic thought that fiber must be the magic bullet active ingredient. What happens if we put it to the test? What if we compared two groups of older women, both getting around six grams of grain fiber a day, but one group mostly from whole grains and the other mostly from refined grains? Who do you think lived longer? If it was just the fiber, there shouldn’t be much difference because both groups ate about the same amount. In fact, the whole grain group lived longer and with a significantly lower mortality rate, which implies that it may be all the other wonderful things in whole plant foods “linked to fiber [that] may confer important health benefits above and beyond effects of the fiber itself.” That’s why fiber supplements wouldn’t be expected to offer the same benefit.

Indeed, food, not nutrients, is the fundamental unit in nutrition.

As Dr. David Katz has pointed out, “Our culture doesn’t want to hear that the active ingredient in broccoli is broccoli—it wants to know what supplement it can take.”


This is part of my extended series on the reductionist trap, which includes:

The Five to One Fiber Rule still holds, though, since it’s an indication of how heavily processed a product is.

There are two sides to the intellectual property argument when it comes to food. I explore both in Plants as Intellectual Property: Patently Wrong?.

And, of course, this is why I always recommend Taking Personal Responsibility for Your Health.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

The Role of Pesticides in Parkinson’s Disease

In the original description of Parkinson’s disease by none other than Dr. James Parkinson himself, he described a characteristic feature of the disease: constipation, which may precede the diagnosis by many years. In fact, bowel movement frequency may be predictive. Men with less than one bowel movement a day were four times more like likely to develop Parkinson’s an average of 12 years later. This could be simply a really early symptom of the disease tied to decreased water intake, however. Many Parkinson’s patients report never really feeling very thirsty, and perhaps that led to the constipation. “Alternately, one may speculate that constipation also increases the risk of Parkinson’s disease as constipation results in a longer stay of the feces in the bowel and thus more absorption of neurotoxicants,” neurotoxins from the diet.

Two studies suggest an association between constipation and Parkinson’s, but, at the same time, 38 studies link the disease to pesticide exposure and by now more than 100 studies link pesticides to an increased risk of up to 80 percent.

Many of these studies are on occupational exposure, like that experienced by farmworkers, who may reduce their risk of Parkinson’s by wearing gloves and washing their clothes, but Parkinson’s has also been linked to ambient exposure. In the United States where approximately a billion pounds of pesticides are applied annually, just living or working in high-spray areas may increase Parkinson’s risk. It’s the same with using pesticides in the home. I didn’t realize how common household pesticide use was, and a study out of UCLA suggests it might not be such a good idea. 

Pesticides may cause DNA mutations that increase susceptibility for Parkinson’s or play a more direct role. Many neurodegenerative diseases appear to be caused by the buildup of misfolded proteins. In Alzheimer’s, it’s the protein amyloid beta; in Creutzfeldt-Jakob and mad cow disease, it’s prions; in Huntington’s, it’s a different protein; and in Parkinson’s disease, it’s a protein called alpha synuclein. A variety of pesticides—8 out of the 12 tested by researchers—were able to trigger synuclein accumulation in human nerve cells, at least in a petri dish, though the study has since been retracted so it’s unclear what the data actually showed.

The buildup of synuclein may play a role in killing off specialized nerve cells in the brain, 70 percent of which may be gone by the time the first symptoms arise. Pesticides are so good at killing these neurons that researchers use them to try to recreate Parkinson’s disease in animals. Is there any way to stop the process? As of this writing, there aren’t yet any drugs that can prevent this protein aggregation. What about flavonoid phytonutrients, natural compounds found in certain fruits and vegetables? Flavonoids can cross the blood-brain barrier and may have neuroprotective effects, so researchers tested 48 different plant compounds to see if any could stop the clumping of synuclein proteins into the little fibers that clog up the cell. And, indeed, they found a variety of flavonoids that can not only inhibit the spider web-like formation of synuclein fibers, but some could even break them up. It turns out flavonoids may actually bind to synuclein proteins and stabilize them.

In my video Berries vs. Pesticides in Parkinson’s Disease, you can see healthy nerve cells and the neurites, the arms they use to communicate to one another. After exposure to a pesticide, however, you can see how the cell is damaged and the arms are retracted. But, if you first incubate the nerve cells with a blueberry extract, the nerve cell appears better able to withstand the pesticide effects. So, this implies that flavonoids in our diet may be combating Parkinson’s disease as we speak, and healthy diets may be effective in preventing and even treating the disorder. However, these were all petri dish experiments in a laboratory. Is there any evidence that people eating berries are protected from Parkinson’s?

A study published quite a long time ago suggested the consumption of blueberries and strawberries was protective, but it was a tiny study and its results were not statistically significant. Nevertheless, that was the best we had…until now. In a more recent study, those eating a variety of phytonutrients were less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease. Specifically, higher intake of berries was associated with significantly lower risk. The accompanying editorial, “An Apple a Day to Prevent Parkinson Disease,” concluded that more research is necessary, but, until then, “an apple a day might be a good idea.” Of course, that’s coming from a man. Apples appeared protective against Parkinson’s for men, but not women. However, everyone appeared to benefit from the berries.

We may not want to have our berries with cream, though, as milk may be contaminated with the same kind of neurotoxic pesticide residues found in the brains of Parkinson’s disease victims.


I’ve produced other videos on Parkinson’s disease, including: 

Learn about other neurological muscular disorders, including essential tremor and ALS:

The same reason Parkinson’s may be related to constipation may also explain the breast cancer connection. For more on this, see my video Breast Cancer and Constipation.

What else can berries do?

But what about all the sugar in fruit? See my videos If Fructose Is Bad, What About Fruit? and How Much Fruit Is Too Much?.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Vinegar, Wine, and Artery Function

In my video Vinegar and Artery Function, I discuss a famous study from Harvard University published back in 1999, which found that women who used oil and vinegar salad dressing about every day went on to have fewer than half the fatal heart attacks compared to women who hardly ever used it. That’s less than half the risk of the number-one killer of women.

Researchers figured it was the omega-3s in the oil that explained the benefit. I know you’re thinking: Those who use salad dressing every day probably also… eat salad every day! So perhaps it was the salad that was so beneficial. But no, they were able to adjust for vegetable intake so it didn’t appear to be the salad. Why, though, does oil get the credit and not the vinegar? Well, what about creamy salad dressings? They’re also made from omega-3-rich oils like canola, in fact even more so than oil and vinegar dressing. So if it’s the oil and not the vinegar, then creamy dressings would be protective, too. But they’re not. They found no significant decrease in fatal heart attacks rates or in nonfatal heart attack rates, for that matter. Now, it could be the eggs or butterfat in these dressings counteracting the benefits of the omega-3s or perhaps the vinegar is actually playing a role. But how? 

In my Does Apple Cider Vinegar Help with Weight Loss? video, I highlight a paper entitled, “Vinegar Intake Enhances Flow-Mediated Vasodilatation via Upregulation of Endothelial Nitric Oxide Synthase Activity.” In other words, vinegar enhances arterial function by allowing our arteries to better dilate naturally by boosting the activity of the enzyme in our body that synthesizes nitric oxide, the open sesame signal to our arteries that improves blood flow. Acetate is cleared out of your blood within half an hour of consuming a salad with a tablespoon of vinegar in it. This apparently isn’t enough time to boost the AMPK enzyme, but within just ten minutes, those kind of acetate levels can boost the activity of the nitric-oxide-synthesizing enzyme within human umbilical cord blood vessel cells in a petri dish.

But what about in people? Researchers also measured the dilation of arteries in the arms of women after they had one tablespoon of rice vinegar, one tablespoon of brown rice vinegar, or one tablespoon of forbidden rice vinegar that’s made from black or purple rice. All the vinegars appeared to help, but it was the black rice one that mostly clearly pulled away from the pack. Black rice contains the same kind of anthocyanin pigments that make some fruits and vegetables blue and purple, and may have independent benefits. For example, if you give someone a big blueberry smoothie containing the amount of anthocyanins in one and a half cups of wild blueberries, you get a nice spike in arterial function that lasts a couple of hours.

Thus, the highest maximum forearm blood flow in the forbidden rice vinegar group might be attributed to an additional or synergistic effect of anthocyanin with the acetate. But it could also just be the antioxidant power of anthocyanins by themselves. This could mean that balsamic vinegar, which is made from red wine, may have a similar effect, as it’s been shown to have remarkably higher free radical scavenging activity than rice vinegar. Could it be enough to counter the artery-constricting effects of a high-fat meal? We’ve known for nearly 20 years that eating a single high-fat meal like Sausage and Egg McMuffins with deep-fried hash browns is crippling to our arteries, halving their ability to dilate normally within hours of consumption. Even a bowl of Frosted Flakes, with its massive, unhealthy sugar load, it has no acute effect on the arteries because it lacks fat.

We aren’t just talking about animal fat. A quarter cup of safflower oil had a similar effect. In fact, the very first study to show how bad fat was for our arteries basically dripped highly refined soybean oil into people’s veins. Does this apply to extra-virgin olive oil, which isn’t refined? We know that some whole food sources of plant fat, such as nuts, actually improve artery function, whereas oils, including olive oil, worsen function. But you can see, smell, and taste the phytonutrients still left in extra virgin olive oil. So are they enough to maintain arterial function? No. Research showed a significant drop in artery function within three hours of eating whole-grain bread dipped in extra-virgin olive oil, and the more fat in the subjects’ blood, the worse their arteries did.

What if you ate the same meal but added balsamic vinegar on a salad? That seemed to protect the arteries from the effects of the fat. Because balsamic vinegar is a product of red wine, you might ask whether you’d get the same benefits drinking a glass of red wine. No. They found no improvement in arterial function after red wine. So why does balsamic vinegar work, but not red wine? Maybe it’s because the red wine lacks the benefits of the acetic acid in vinegar or because the vinegar lacks the negative effects of the alcohol. A third option might be that it was the salad ingredients and had nothing to do with the vinegar.

To figure out this puzzle, non-alcoholic wine was tested. The result? Non-alcoholic red wine worked! So maybe it was the grapes in balsamic vinegar and not the acetic acid. Indeed, if you eat one and a quarter cups of seeded and seedless red, green, and blue-black grapes with your Sausage and Egg McMuffin, you can blunt the crippling of your arteries. So, plants and their products may provide protection against the direct impairment in endothelial function, unless those products are oil or alcohol.


Check out my other videos on vinegar:

We are only as healthy as our arteries. For more videos on what may help or hurt, see:

Note that there is a level of sugar intake that can adversely impact artery function. I discuss this in my video How to Prevent Blood Sugar and Triglyceride Spikes After Meals.

Surprised about the alcohol data? For more on wine, see:

If you’ve been able to find forbidden rice vinegar, please let me know. I’d love to try it! You may be interested in my video on how pigmented rice may beat out brown rice: Brown, Black, Purple and Red (Unlike White on) Rice.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations: