The latest from Dr. Ravnskov
- Created on Sunday, 19 February 2012 14:59
In his latest newsletter, Dr. Ravnskov tackles the subject of statin drugs and diabetes. Be aware that the statin mania is so out of hand that you’ve got physicians like Dr. Esselstyn not only putting people on cholesterol-free diets, but also putting them on a statin drug. It’s not enough to eliminate cholesterol from their diet, they also have to put them on a drug that cripples the body’s production of cholesterol. And don’t think that the latter action (taking the statin drug) is just a continuation, an extension of the first action (adjusting the diet). Those two actions are worlds apart, and the latter action of prescribing the statin is not just extreme but truly reckless. Now listen to Dr. Ravnskov:
“It is well established that patients with diabetes run a greater risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. In Sweden and in most other countries, cholesterol-lowering treatment is prescribed routinely to all diabetics- whether their cholesterol numbers are high or not, and failure to do so is seen as professional negligence. But there are a number of observations that should have stopped this practice long ago:”
“First, at least fourteen studies have shown that high cholesterol is not a risk factor for patients with diabetes. If you are in doubt, go to chapter 4 in my book “Ignore the Awkward!” There you will find the references to these studies. The reason is probably because high cholesterol protects against infections- a common problem for diabetic patients. As readers of my books know, there is strong evidence that lipoproteins are able to bind and inactivate all kinds of bacteria and virus. You can read more about that in a paper that I published together with Kilmer McCully, the discoverer of the association between high homocysteine and atherosclerosis.”
“A critical and well-informed reader may possibly say that the small effect from statin treatment is not due to cholesterol-lowering, but to their other effects, and this is true. If so, statin treatment perhaps may benefit a diabetic in other ways. But here comes the next warning: Statin treatment may cause diabetes! Several of the statin trials ended up with more diabetics in the treatment group. For instance, in the JUPITER trial, 3 per cent got diabetes, but it was only 2.4 per cent among the controls. The authors wrote that this small risk was more than balanced by the benefits. Then what was the benefit?
In the control group 2.7% died; in the treatment group, the figure was 2.2%. The trial was stopped after less than two years- so excited were they about that small positive result. But, the question is: what would the results have been after 10 years? How many would have gotten diabetes over that longer interval? Here is a clue. Look at this recent report from a study called the Women’s Health Initiative.”
“More than 150,000 US women age 50-79 were followed for 7-12 years. At follow-up about ten per cent of the women were on statin treatment. Almost ten per cent of the statin-treated women had diabetes, but only six per cent among the non-users. And please recall that no statin trial has ever succeeded in lowering mortality for women.”
“There is a logical reason why cholesterol lowering may lead to diabetes. Like all other organs and structures, the insulin-producing cells need cholesterol, and when less cholesterol is available, less insulin is produced. This was recently demonstrated in a Canadian study.”
“What happens with those who already have diabetes when they start statin treatment? We don’t know because nobody has analysed this question.”
“But, is it really wise to treat diabetic patients with a drug that worsens the function of their insulin-producing cells? And is it wise to try to lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases in people by administering a drug that may cause a disease- diabetes- which increases CVD risk? Or which may cause cancer? And what about the long list of other unpleasant side effects?
OPEN - the autobiography of Andre Agassi
- Created on Monday, 13 February 2012 20:05
This is a fabulous book to read, and I say that not only because Andre has had such a fascinating and highly improbable life, but also because the book is extremely well written. I was shocked with the superb quality of the writing, considering that Andre is a high school dropout. But then at the end, I discovered that Andre got help from a Pulitzer Prize winning author: J.R. Moehringer. And Andre said that he had wished to list Moehringer as a co-author, but the latter wouldn’t hear of it. So, I don’t know how much of the actual writing to attribute to Andre and how much to attribute to Moehringer, but what I can tell you is that the book is superbly written and a delight to read. And I don’t doubt that the fundamental essence of the book is Andre, all Andre, and he makes quite an impression.
The first thing that jumps out at you is that Andre’s path was chosen not by him but by his father, an Iranian immigrant who in his youth had been an Olympic boxer for Iran but who became enamored with tennis. He pushed all of his children into tennis, but it quickly became apparent that the one with the most talent was the youngest, Andre. And from an early age, he made Andre eat, drink, and sleep tennis. Andre had no normal child. Andre said he didn’t even like tennis. He even said he hated tennis. He said he would have rather played soccer. But he was forced to play tennis, hours and hours every day. Then, at the age of 13, he was sent away from his home in Las Vegas to Florida to attend the Nick Bollittieri tennis academy, and Nick quickly figured out that he had a prodigy on his hands. And the rest, as they say, is history.
I am not going to go through his whole life and career, although it’s fascinating. If you said that his life course was a one in a million shot , that would be a gross understatement. It was more like a one in a billion shot. But, my purpose, as always, is to focus on the health aspects of his life. So, that’s what we’ll do here, but again, his personal story, his climb to the top, is most inspiring to read about, and I highly recommend this book.
The first health lesson that you get from the book is that tennis is hard on the human body. Andre was plagued with numerous injuries. And towards the end of his career, he was in constant, excruciating pain. The only thing that kept him on the court was cortisone shots and anti-inflammatory drugs. And towards the end, even his father, who had pushed him so hard, pleaded with him to quit. But, he kept going, and it was partly because he had already started his charitable educational foundation which he needed to fund and promote. So, he wanted to stay active in tennis for that reason. But, the brutality of the sport on him, the toll on his body, was severe. He was racked with pain like an old man with arthritis. The plain truth is that the human body is not a rubber band. It wasn’t meant to stretch and lunge and reach and twist and pull and do all the things you do in tennis- and in a jolting, bolting, erratic manner. Tissues tear from that. And then they swell. And that hurts. A lot.
So, the lesson is: if you enjoy playing tennis, go ahead and play- some. But don’t play every day. Don’t play too long. And don’t play too hard. And don’t try to do everything that a professional player does. Play within your limits, and I mean your bodily limits. Let the ball go sometimes. Don’t always try to get to it. Nobody is paying you. It doesn’t make sense for you to hurt yourself over this like Andre did.
Andre Agassi was one of the all-time greats of tennis; there is no doubt about that. In raw numbers, his accomplishments were legion. But, what he was not was: very consistent. Many times he unexpectedly lost when he should have won handily. Of course, it went the other way sometimes too, but still, as he pointed out: the letdowns and disappointments always seemed to register more profoundly.
So why, when he had so much natural talent and was so amazingly gifted- was his career so erratic and inconsistent?
Well, I can’t assume to be able to answer that, but some things did jump out at me.
He mentioned quite a few times in the memoir taking sleeping pills. He would take them before a match if he was nervous. He would take them on long flights just to knock himself out during the long plane ride. And sometimes, he would take a double dose if a single dose wasn’t enough. He didn’t say which drug he took, but I’ll guess it was either a benzodiazepine tranquilizer or one of the newer sleep drugs, such as Ambien. Either way, the effects of doing that can’t be good for physical and mental performance. And, he also mentioned becoming heavily dependent on coffee, and that’s not surprising because clearly, he had a chronic sleep deficit, and taking sleeping pills does not rectify a sleep deficit.
I know we are hearing a lot of good things about coffee lately, for instance, that it’s full of antioxidants and that it deters diabetes. I don’t doubt that some of it is true because coffee is a bean, a legume, and legumes are very high in antioxidants, polyphenols, and other protective compounds. However, caffeine is a stimulant drug, and it is never healthy to use a stimulant drug to counteract fatigue. That’s what Andre did during his career, and it had to take a toll.
And like everybody, Andre had his share of personal stress-and I mean besides the stress of a top-flight tennis career. He had his family problems, his mother’s and his sister’s cancers, and there were tragedies that affected his closest friends and their children, and he took all these things very hard. Then, there was his doomed first marriage to actress Brooke Shields. And like many others, Andre resorted to regular alcohol use in order to cope with his despair, and occasionally, he resorted to hard drugs. There is no balance or stability to the body that comes from doing that. And, it could not have lent stability to his tennis game either. Am I suggesting that his playing may have been more consistent without those bad influences? Yes, that is what I’m saying.
He addressed the subject of diet quite a bit. Growing up, he was raised on the typical, standard American diet, nothing special, and plenty of junk food. At that stage, there was no thought whatsoever given to the role of diet. And then as a teenager when he went off to the tennis academy in Florida, again, it was the typical, standard American diet: meats, dairy products, processed carbs, desserts, etc. But later, UNLV conditioning coach Gil Reyes became his trainer, and Reyes started to take charge of Andre’s diet, cutting back on the junk food. That was good, but Reyes, though nutritionall- minded, did not have an appreciation for the vast importance of unrefined plant foods. The diet was still mostly animal-based.
I am not suggesting that a strict vegetarian diet would have best served Andre’s needs as an elite tennis player. It would be very presumptuous for me to suggest that, and I’m not suggesting it. But, what I am suggesting is that making his diet “plant-strong” would have been very useful and supportive to his career. Relying heavily on unrefined plant foods would have been very advantageous to Andre, and it’s a shame that nobody urged him in that direction.
One interesting thing is that Gil Reyes developed his own electrolyte replacement drink which he called Gil Water. Andre never revealed what the exact composition of it was, but it sounds like it was a proprietary, homemade Gatorade. And Gil really pushed it on him hard, pouring it into him, before, during, and after matches.
You get the impression from reading the book that Andre was mostly miserable during his life and career- that his crushing defeats and disappointments caused more pain and agony than his victories brought joy- and it wasn’t until he met and fell in love with tennis great Steffi Graf (and for him, but not her, it was love at first sight) that he truly found happiness. And reading of it, you truly feel happy for him because throughout, he comes across as very likeable and decent and honorable and deserving. I was always an Andre Agassi fan, but now , from reading the book, I’m even more so.
But, from the health standpoint, it strikes me that spurious ideas about diet worked against him, and spurious notions about the effect of pharmaceuticals harmed him more than he realized then and perhaps now. Unfortunately, even elite athletes fall for the lure of pharmaceutical drugs- and it hurts them, just as it does everybody.
Lifestyle blamed for 40 percent of cancers
- Created on Monday, 06 February 2012 04:47
40 percent of cancers in women and 45 percent in men are caused by unhealthy lifestyles, say British researchers. I believe that is the highest percentage I have seen reported. And, I am glad to see it because perhaps more people will realize the importance that lifestyle has in determining their health outcomes.
And there were four lifestyle factors that they considered paramount -- smoking, unhealthy diet, alcohol, and being overweight- and presumably, they were listed in order of importance.
They said that smoking accounts for 23 percent of all cancers in men and 15.6 percent of cancers in women. Of course, the most likely location for smoking-induced cancer is the lungs. However, smoking also causes bladder, kidney, pancreatic, and cancers in many other locations. Every cell in your body is affected by tobacco smoke.
You might be wondering what role they attributed to chemical exposures such as asbestos or work-related chemicals. They said that only 1 in 25 cancers are linked to such exposures.
Only 1 in 33 cancers are linked to infections, they said, such as human papillomavirus, which is considered the most prevalent cause of cervical cancer.
When it came to a lack of fruits and vegetables causing cancer, they found that men were twice as likely to be dietarily deficient in these foods than women. Do men still think that fruits and vegetables are sissy foods? Very well, more for me.
I don’t think that most people are aware of the carcinogenic effect of alcohol. Unfortunately, we hear a great deal more good news about alcohol than bad, and there is a political reason for it. We live in a hypocritical world where if one person wants to relax by having a glass of wine, he or she can do so, but if another person would rather relax with a marijuana cigarette, he or she is committing a crime, risking criminal prosecution, the forfeiture of their freedom, property, etc. Keep in mind that I do not drink alcohol at all, and I do not smoke marijuana at all. And I would not smoke marijuana even if it were legal. The only gas I want entering my lungs is pure, fresh air and not any kind of smoke. But, having made myself perfectly clear about that, I will tell you that it is unquestionably true that alcohol causes a great deal more harm, damage, misery, tragedy, and personal and societal ruination than marijuana.
How do you account for such hypocrisy? Well, you can’t. All you can say is that the state is involved; it is something that the state does; and the state is a contradictory, hypocritical, and downright insane institution. So, don’t even try to make sense of it.
But, since the state is busy waging the valiant War on Potheads, it should not be surprising to learn that the United States is one of the few developed nations in the world that does not to require the labeling of genetically engineered foods. Just think: even in Communist China you get to know if your food was genetically modified. It is required by law over there that they tell you. But, here in the good old USA, that’s one freedom we don’t have. Russia is another country that requires labeling of GM foods. You see, Monsanto does not have much power over there like it does here.
Well, I hope you are a health-fooder like me because it's estimated that 70% of processed foods contain some genetically engineered materials. Over 80% of the corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. are now genetically engineered. And if you think that’s a good reason to skip the corn and soybeans and go for the steak instead, what do you think they are feeding the cows? The vast majority of the livestock that Americans consume have been raised on genetically engineered grains. It’s higher than in any other country in the world.
I do not eat meat- at all- but if I did, I would not go to the supermarket to buy it. Instead, I would seek out special producers who guaranteed high standards of production through every step in the production process and no GM fodder. But, I am very content to live without it.
Walnuts put the brakes on prostate cancer in mice
- Created on Friday, 27 January 2012 14:39
Recently, I have emphasized how, for lack of a better word, “crazy” I think it is to shun dietary fat. For one thing, fat is everywhere -in Nature. There are fatty nuts, fatty seeds, fatty fruits, fatty legumes. And the attraction that human beings have to eating fats is primal and visceral. There is a satisfaction that comes from eating fat that is incomparable to any other eating experience. It hits the spot- fulfills us gustatorily- in the most sublime and elevated way. To deny it and to spend one’s life trying to avoid having that experience, is to invite depression, neurosis-or worse. Imagine if you went your whole life trying to avoid sex. That is comparable to what I am talking about. And I am not exaggerating.
So, let that be the segue into new research by UC Davis showing that walnuts slow the growth of prostate cancer in mice. Mice fed a diet supplemented with walnuts had smaller, slower-growing tumors that tended to be relatively harmless, according to the researchers and as reported in the current issue of the British Journal of Nutrition.
Keep in mind that these were mice that were genetically programmed to develop prostate cancer- and to develop it at a young age.
The researchers stressed that, although a low-fat diet is often recommended to reduce the risk of prostate cancer, not eating walnuts may be a big mistake.
It is well-known that walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids, but they are also high in antioxidants and other plant compounds, such as polyphenols, that are thought to protect against errant cell growth. Eschewing walnuts may mean foregoing protective effects which could be lifesaving.
A report recently issued by the American Chemical Society found that walnuts contained 70 polyphenol units per gram. Do you know how small a gram is? It is 1/28 of an ounce. One ounce of walnuts contains more polyphenols than the sum of all the fruits and vegetables that most people eat- according to this report. Moreover, on average, polyphenols have 15 times the antioxidant power of Vitamin E.
One in 6 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, usually later in life, but only one in 36 men will die from the disease. That’s because most prostate tumors do not spread beyond the local site.
"Our findings suggest that eating a diet containing walnuts may slow prostate tumor growth so that the tumor remains inside the prostate capsule," said Paul Davis, research nutritionist at UC Davis who led the study. "Our hope is that men with prostate cancer can die of other causes -- hopefully old age."
What are the low-fat gurus, the Sultans of Starch, going to say about this? I’ll tell you what they are going to say: NOTHING. They are going to ignore it and go on preaching their mantra of starch, starch, starch. It's a pity.
29 billion reasons to lie about cholesterol
- Created on Tuesday, 17 January 2012 05:46
The above is the name of a new documentary film produced by the colleagues of Dr. Uffe Ravnskov, who is probably the leading cholesterol skeptic in the world today. I have had the privilege of corresponding with Dr. Ravnskov some by email, and I receive his monthly newsletter to doctors.
In case you haven’t figured it out, the 29 billion reasons above refers to the total number of dollars that are spent on cholesterol-lowering drugs each year around the world. If you would like to watch the short trailer to this movie, go here: http://www.29billion.com/
In his latest newsletter, Dr. Ravnskov shared a letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine that he submitted but which was rejected. Previously, the NEJM had published a favorable report about the SATURN trial which made weak claims of benefit for statin drugs. But, what Dr. Ravnskov pointed out in his letter was that they used as evidence of improvement the relationship between the internal and external diameter of arteries, but the problem is that arterial dilation- from any cause- tends to increase that variable- but without reducing the amount of plaque. For instance, just squeezing your fist tightly can temporarily increase the size of the arterial lumen by as much as 35%.
So, Dr. Ravnskov said they were drawing invalid conclusions from invalid assumptions. But, the New England Journal of Medicine refused to publish his letter.
I have the greatest respect for Dr. Ravnskov. He is 78 years old, and he is a an internist and a nephrologist (kidney specialist). He is also a PhD. And I can tell you that for being close to 80, he sounds as mentally sharp as a tack.
I heard Dr. Ravnskov recently on a local radio program in my own area, the Patrick Timpone show, which is broadcast from the little town of Dripping Springs, Texas, which is close to where I live. And on the program, Dr. Ravnskov started by saying that there is solid evidence that old people with higher cholesterol live longer than those with low cholesterol.
Keep in mind that I am still very much in favor of a plant-based diet. I think that we should load up on, and emphasize unrefined plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, greens, and raw nuts (as top tier foods) and whole grains and legumes (as second tier foods). And, as I’ve said before, in my diet, the only animal food that I have been eating, and semi-regularly, is free-range, organic eggs.
So, why am I such a fan of Dr. Ravnskov? First, he opposes statinization, and so do I. I have never had to consider taking a statin drug myself because my cholesterol level is fine. But even if it were high, I would NOT take a statin drug, and my bias against these drugs has been very much influenced by Dr. Ravnskov.
In contrast, Dr. Esselstyn will put people on a ultra-low fat vegan diet AND put them on a statin drug, which is a very extreme and dangerous thing to do, in my opinion.
Secondly, besides opposing the demonization of cholesterol, Dr. Ravnskov opposes the demonization of natural fats. Keep in mind that, doctors such as McDougall and Esselstyn, condemn not only animal foods but also high-fat plant foods, such as nuts and seeds and avocadoes. And to my mind, that is just an arbitrary dietary fetish. Fats are just as natural and normal and just as abundant in Nature as carbohydrates, and the natural attraction of humans to eat fats is just as great as to eating carbohydrates. So really, it is a very unnatural and abnormal behavior to systematically avoid fats. And I know that Dr. Ravnskov agrees strongly with that.
Thirdly, Dr. Ravnskov draws attention to alternative theories of heart disease causation, including infection, homocysteine, nutritional deficiencies, and high cortisol levels, and these factors need to be highlighted.
And fourth, Dr. Ravnskov’s most recent research concerns the possible role of low cholesterol in the development of cancer, and there is no question that cholesterol has a protective effect against cancer. And this suggests that the harm from the mass statinization that is going on all over the world may be astronomical, and I fear that it is.
If you would like to learn more about Dr. Ravnskov’s work, just google his name: Ravnskov.
Statin Use Ups Diabetes Risk
- Created on Wednesday, 11 January 2012 21:09
A new study has just been released on the Archives of Internal Medicine showing that postmenopausal women on statins had a 48% higher risk of developing diabetes.
The research echoes findings of other studies linking the cholesterol-lowering drugs with an increased risk of diabetes in men and women.
This study involved over 160,000 women, ages 50 to 79, who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative, a large longitudinal study of women’s health outcomes.
Adjustments were made for “propensity score” (women who were inherently at higher risk of developing diabetes) as well as “all potential confounding factors,” such as obesity.
All kinds of statin medications were involved, including both weak ones and strong ones. The result was a 48% higher incidence of diabetes among statin users, and the authors called it a “medication class effect.”
The irony is that statins are taken to prevent heart disease. But, diabetes is a strong risk factor for heart disease. Therefore, one could say that if statins increase diabetes risk, they also increase heart disease risk.
When contributing factors such as family history and excess weight were considered, the statin users were at markedly higher risk.
The researchers can't explain why. "It's still an area under scrutiny," said Annie Culver, the study's first author and a consulting pharmacist with the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
"Statins may affect the way the body manages insulin and glucose responses," she said.
It’s an interesting area of speculation as to why statins provoke diabetes. Could disruption in CoQ10 synthesis be a factor? That seems plausible to me since CoQ10 affects energy production and therefore glucose utilization. But, it may be that disruption in cholesterol synthesis itself may also be a factor since cholesterol is crucial to cellular membranes including those within the pancreas.
I have never been the least bit tempted to take statin drugs since my cholesterol isn’t high. But, I’ll be honest with you: even if it were high, I still wouldn’t take them. The risk of taking them is much greater than any possible benefit.
- Created on Monday, 02 January 2012 11:37
This is not an article about race relations. I am talking about the power of black foods. People often think about eating plants of various colors, but these usually include only green, red, yellow, and orange. There is also blue, but there aren’t too many blue foods, mainly blueberries and blue grapes. There is also blue corn, but we usually only see that as blue corn chips.
But what about black? You rarely hear about people striving to eat black foods. Is it because black is associated with death?
Well, get that idea out of your head. Black foods are nutritionally loaded, and they deserve a place on the table. Black foods tend to be very high in antioxidants, polyphenols, flavonoids, and they are sky-high in anthocyanidins- higher than blueberries. Let’s consider some of the leading black foods.
Blackberries are related to raspberries, and they grow wild in many parts of the United States, including where I live in Central Texas. Nutritionally, blackberries are as valuable as any other berries. A recent study found that radiation-induced brain damage in rats could be prevented by feeding them blackberries. They were also found to prevent age-related brain degeneration. What’s amazing is that blackberries have a very short season in the wild, but commercially, they’re available all year, and mainly from Mexico. And I observe that they tend to be the least expensive berry the year round. It may be because there is a little bit of grit involved, which makes them less popular, but that’s no big deal. You get used to it fast. I am eating blackberries right now. I buy them at Costco, and the price and the quality have been excellent. Blackberries may be the key to yearround berry-eating.
Black grapes are as high in resveratrol and other polyphenols as the more popular red grapes. In fact, there is a variety called Black Beauty which is the highest in resveratrol of all grapes. Black grapes are thicker skinned, so there’s a lot of fiber involved. But perhaps because they are thick-skinned, they keep very well and last a long time. I have seen them both seeded and seedless. You really should try them. With the seeded ones, you can either spit out the seeds or chew them up and swallow them- it’s up to you. Black grapes are also high in quercetin.
Black beans are the most popular bean in Austin, Texas, where I live. It’s part of the culture here. In not just the ever-popular Tex-Mex restaurants, but even in the regular cafes and family restaurants, a side of black beans is considered standard fare. Black beans take to spices very well, particularly cumin. And they tend to form a rich, tasty broth. Black bean soup is teeming with flavor and very satisfying. Nutritionally, black beans are loaded with antioxidants and bioflavonoids. I don’t think I ever had black beans before I moved to Texas, but I sure like them now.
Black rice is something that I have not yet had. I am not referring to wild rice, which can be black. Wild rice is a totally different plant from Asian rice, and it’s good too, although it’s somewhat woody. That may be why people tend to dilute it with regular rice. But, there is also a black Asian rice, which unlike regular rice, is usually eaten unhulled. In other words, they don’t usually refine it as they do regular rice. And nutritionally, black rice is reportedly much more superior. Obviously, black rice is not commonly available. Perhaps Asian grocery stores have it. And what about Whole Foods?
Black lentils I have tried, and they are available at Whole Foods. They are very different from the regular green/brown lentils. They’re much smaller and, in appearance, they almost seem more like a grain than a legume. But, they cook quickly, and they’re less fibrous, and like the red lentils, they tend to disintegrate more in cooking. And the flavor is very different although hard to describe. I know that they are very high in minerals, including zinc and iron, and the nice thing is that they are lower in phytic acid than most legumes.
Black potatoes are making a comeback. These are an heirloom variety, from Peru where all potatoes originated, and they are much more nutritious than the white-fleshed potato. The skins may actually be black, but the flesh is more like purple. But, they are very nice to eat and more distinctively flavored than russets. The russet potato is actually an artificial thing. It’s a hybrid developed by Luther Burbank who wanted this pure, perfect, white-fleshed potato. But, he did not do the world a favor because he reduced the nutritional value. I always prefer to buy potatoes with colored flesh, usually the yellow, since they’re widely available. The black potatoes are more expensive, but they’re nice for a change.
Black corn I don’t see offered commercially, but I do see the seeds offered for planting. It is an ancient Native American variety that was cultivated by the Lakota Indians. I may try planting it one year.
I’m sure there are other black foods, but these give you a start. Definitely add black to your list of food colors. It’s a matter of changing your consciousness. Black is good.
- Created on Sunday, 25 December 2011 07:14
I just finished reading Empire of the Summer Moon by S C Gwynne, and it is a fabulous read. It’s the true story of the Comanche Indian tribe in Texas in their struggles against the whites. Of course, it was a lost cause, and ultimately, they had to submit, and they did. But, for centuries, they put up a heck of a fight. It was said that the march of the Spaniards through Texas, with their missions and their cattle empire, only went as far north as San Antonio, and then it stopped. And it stopped because of the Comanches.
The Comancheria, as their homeland was called by whites, reached as far south as the Texas Hill Country whch lies just north and west of San Antonio. And it came very close to the city of Austin, where I live. And it covered a huge expanse that went clear across West Texas and into New Mexico, and it delved into Oklahoma and southern Colorado. But, the heart of it, the very center of it, was the Palo Duro Canyon, which is close to present-day Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle. I didn’t know it until recently, but the Palo Duro Canyon is the second biggest canyon in the United States, after the Grand Canyon.
The Comanches were successful warriors against both whites and other Indians, and they were feared by both. Their success stemmed partly from their culture because they were a warrior culture. But it also arose from their mastery of horsemanship. They were said to be the best horsemen in the world, and they fought mounted. And in the beginning, the whites weren’t doing that, and it gave the Comanches a huge advantage.
But, I mainly want to talk about their diet. Keep in mind that they were truly a Stone-Age people. And they were hunter/gatherers. They had no agriculture. And they were nomadic. They stayed put an average of just 3 weeks; then they packed up and relocated, with all their wives, children, horses, and belongings. It was a rough life.
But, they lived primarily on buffalo. That was their main food, their ancestral food, and their preferred food. They sometimes hunted other game, and if they were really desperate, they would kill one of their horses and eat it. But, they didn’t like doing that and they didn’t particularly like the taste of horse meat. That was considered a last resort.
So, they ate a lot of buffalo. They ate it fresh, and they also ate it dried. The men killed the buffalo and dragged it to their camp. And the women processed the buffalo, and that was just about as hard a job. Maybe harder. And of course, they used every part of the buffalo. The skin became clothing and also shelter, as their tepees were made of the hides. They used the bones to make various tools and weapons. And the fat was used in different ways, including as insulation. There was very little waste.
And the ways in which they consumed buffalo included practices which most of us would consider gross. For instance, if they killed a lactating female, they would squeeze the milk out of her udders, as much as they could. And then, they would mix it with her fresh blood and drink that combination of blood and milk as a sort of health tonic. Hey, it was a raw food, wasn’t it? You can’t say it wasn’t nutritionally potent.
But, it got worse. They would cut out the gall bladder and drink the bile. Yuck! And if they killed a calf that had been nursing, they would collect the partially digested milk from its stomach and eat it like cheese. Again, yuck!
They did consume some plant food. It was mentioned that they gathered and ate berries in season, which I presume was the Spring. We still have wild blackberries in Texas, and they’re not hard to find, although the season is short. And it was also mentioned that they ate nuts, and I’m sure that included pecans because they are the most abundant and widely distributed nut here. There are also some black walnuts, but they are much more scarce. And even the pecans, although they’re diffuse, they are not ubiquitous. You can go for miles and miles without seeing any. They’re not common the way oaks and cedars are common. And it was also said that they collected “roots and bulbs” to eat. But, they didn’t specify which ones, and my impression was that it formed only a small and irregular part of their diet. They lived mainly, and at times exclusively, on meat.
You have to wonder how that came about. If it is true, as taught, that all Native Americans are descendants of Siberians who crossed the frozen Bering Strait, on foot, during the last Ice Age, then they had to be from a line of confirmed meat-eaters because you couldn’t survive in such a harsh, frozen place without eating meat. There would have been no plant food for them to eat for most of the year.
But, as they moved south to milder climes, there was probably the opportunity to eat more plant food, since it was more abundant. But by then, the culture had been oriented to a high-meat diet, and it wasn’t going to change. Culture and tradition, more than anything else, including climate, determine what people eat.
So, the Comanche were big meat eaters, and in some ways, it seemed to serve them well. It didn’t make them fat. And they were physically strong, and sometimes prodigiously strong. The book centered around the life of the last Comanche chief, whose name was Quanah. What a life he led. I don’t know how Hollywood missed making a movie about him. His mother was a white woman, Cynthia Ann Parker, who had been kidnapped by the Comanches at the age of 9. She was adopted by a childless Comanche woman and fully integrated into the tribe. She learned their language and soon forgot English. She learned all the ways of the Comanches, and she eventually became the wife of the Comanche chief, Peta Nocona. Ultimately, Peta died at the Battle of Pease River, and she was recaptured by the whites and returned to her family in East Texas. But, she was miserable there and only lived a few years. Some say she starved herself to death.
But, her teenage son Quanah, who survived the Battle of Pease River and escaped, went on to become the last and greatest chief of the Comanches. He led them in war, and he also led them in peace when he realized in the late 1870s, that further resistance was futile. He lived well into the 20th century and became a leader and spokesman for Indians in polite white society. He went on to mix and mingle with the high and mighty, including Presidents, such as Teddy Roosevelt. Just think: earlier in his life he was a mighty warrior, scalping his white enemies and later, he was socializing with presidents.
But, I want to tell you about his feat of strength. During the Battle of Adobe Walls, he saw a fallen comrade who was still alive. So, he rode toward him and with one hand he lifted this fallen warrior and swept him up and onto the back of his horse- WITH ONE HAND! Everyone was amazed, including the whites. Think about the leverage that was working against him. And he did it with one hand.
So, the Comanche were plenty strong from their steady diet of grass-fed, organic buffalo meat. But, they also suffered from it. They suffered from constipation, as you can imagine, and they took various herbs as laxatives. They suffered from dental caries, and they figured out a way of packing carious teeth with dried mushrooms to fill the holes. But the worst thing was the epidemics of acute disease. They died in droves from exposure to small pox, diphtheria, dysentery of various causes, and worst of all, cholera. It was said that more Comanches died from the white man’s diseases than from the white man’s bullets.
A lot has been said about the idea that the Indians were so vulnerable because they had never been exposed to these diseases before, and so they had no natural resistance. But, I have to wonder how much of their vulnerability resulted from simple malnutrition. Today, we know about the important role that Vitamin C plays in immunity. Where were they getting Vitamin C? From a few berries eaten in the Spring? That wouldn’t have sustained them through the year. Carotenoids also play a crucial role in immunity, and that had to be lacking in their meat-centered diet. And of course, there were many other plant-based nutrients that they would have lacked as well. But, what did they know about these things? Nothing.
Ultimately, the Comanches were settled on a reservation in Oklahoma. And their diet switched from buffalo to beef. In fact, Chief Quanah became a big cattle rancher himself. It doesn’t sound like he or any of them ever learned about the importance of plant food. Quanah died of an undisclosed illness at the age of 66 in 1911. Of course, for that particular time, it was considered a ripe old age. But, what a life he lived, and what a life they lived: a Stone Age people to within 20 years of the 20th century. Amazing.