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TOPIC: Shocking story

Shocking story 09 Sep 2019 09:58 #13215

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For about 2-3 years now, I receive weekly mails from Zoe Harcombe- Welsh scientist and well-known nutrition expert, who recently spoke at a hearing in the British House of Commons on the state of the nutrition guidelines in the UK. I - together with (hopefully) hundreds of other like-minded folks support her with a quarterly financial contribution, so that she can remain independent in her research and is not restrained by "corporate interests" :whistle:

Obviously I still learn from her research and keep it for myself, since that information is her copyright- today, however, her mail shocked me that much, that I decided to simply ignore copyright for a change and share, since it apparently has been in the news anyway- there you go-

Teen goes blind on junk food diet

Executive summary
* A case report was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine last week about a teenage boy who had gone blind on a diet of chips/fries/crisps, white bread and the occasional bit of processed meat.

* The boy had first presented himself to the medical profession with tiredness, at the age of 14. He had B12 deficiency and anemia. By the age of 15 he had hearing loss and vision problems. Only when multiple nutrient deficiencies were diagnosed did doctors think to ask about his diet.

* Supplements have stopped further sight loss, but the damage already done can't be repaired. The boy is now being treated for nutrient deficiencies and an eating disorder.

* This is an extreme and extremely sad case, but most children in developed countries will have at least one nutrient deficiency and likely more. That's because official dietary advice is so low in fat, it cannot deliver the fat-soluble nutrients that the body needs. Additionally, our demonisation of animal foods means that there are many more nutrients that populations are becoming deficient in.

* These deficiencies are known about. Academic papers, and government documents about food intake, regularly report that the average population intake of certain nutrients (usually the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K) is woefully lacking.

* This should lead to an emergency response to advise people to consume more fat and nutrient-rich animal produce. Governments are doing the opposite.

* It is quick and easy to analyse where nutrients are found. They provide the answer to the question – what should we eat?


I received a call from BBC Radio Wales early on September 3rd. Would I take part in the breakfast show to talk about a teenager who had gone blind having eaten nothing but junk food all his life (Ref 1). The last time I was that shocked about a nutrition story was September 2015 when a 3-year old was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes (Ref 2). This ‘blind teen’ story obviously shocked people around the world, as it was picked up from the US (Ref 3) to NZ (Ref 4).

The story

The story came to light following a medical case report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (Ref 5). The boy, who has not been named, first presented himself to the medical profession with tiredness at the age of 14. The case report described him a “fussy eater,” but otherwise well and not on medications. He was also described as not overweight or underweight. Tests revealed low vitamin B12 and macrocytic anemia (the type of anemia normally associated with low vitamin B12). He was treated at that time with vitamin B12 injections and dietary advice.

By the age of 15 he had developed hearing loss and vision problems. Doctors didn't think to ask what he was eating. Over the next two years, the boy's vision got progressively worse until, at the age of 17, his sight was so bad that he met the threshold for "legally blind." The teen still had low levels of vitamin B12 and low levels of copper, selenium, calcium and vitamin D. His bone nutrient deficiencies were so bad that he had lost minerals from his bone.

It would appear that only when confronted with many nutrient deficiencies did doctors ask the teen about his diet. The boy shared that, since primary school, he had only eaten certain foods because he didn't like certain textures. He would eat fries/chips, what we Brits call crisps – Pringles – and white bread. Occasionally he would have a sausage or a slice of processed ham. Supplements were then recommended by the boy’s doctors. These have prevented further sight loss, but the damage that has already been done can’t be repaired.

The boy is also being treated for an eating disorder. The eating disorder help should include consideration of autism spectrum disorder and food intolerance. An aversion to different textures to this extent can indicate that someone is on the autistic spectrum. The routine of eating the same thing every day (and a pattern of one meal a day) also fits spectrum behaviour. Food intolerance would be worthwhile exploring, as it occurs when someone eats too much of the same thing too often. In the extreme, someone with a food intolerance wants to eat particular foods to the exclusion of everything else. This also matches the case notes.

All of this happened in Bristol UK, which is little more than 20 miles from where I live.

The boy’s nutrient deficiencies

Much was made in the case report and in the media articles about vitamin B12. This might have been because this was the first deficiency detected. However, this is not the primary nutrient of concern when it comes to eyes. The single most important eye nutrient is retinol. Vitamin A comes in two forms – carotene comes from plants and retinol comes from animal foods. Retinol is the form of vitamin A that the body needs. Carotene can be converted to retinol by the body but even with Beta-carotene, the carotene most easily converted into retinol, there is substantial loss such that the conversion ratio is at best 6:1 (“The accepted 6:1 equivalency of beta-carotene to preformed vitamin A must be challenged and re-examined in the context of dietary plants”) (Ref 6). Also, not every person is capable of converting carotene to retinol “Diabetics and those with poor thyroid function cannot make the conversion. Children make the conversion very poorly and infants not at all” (Ref 7). Finally, carotenes are converted by the action of bile salts and very little bile reaches the intestine when a meal is low in fat. Our grandparents put butter on their vegetables for good reason. Animal food generally, and liver particularly, is the best source of vitamin A.

Other vital eye nutrients include vitamin E (sunflower seeds are the best source of this); vitamin C (yellow peppers are one of the best sources – any salads and vegetables, especially raw, are good sources); a number of B vitamins (B6, B9 and B12 especially) are vital for eyes (liver is again the best source of these); zinc (red meat and oysters are great for zinc) and omega-3 fats (oily fish). Liver is a quite spectacular all-round provider of high levels of nutrients (Ref 8). It’s the one food to pick to win a nutrient contest and it’s why liver and onions used to be a cheap, super-nutritious meal, on every household weekly menu schedule.

Nationwide nutrient deficiencies

While this is an extreme, and extremely sad, case, I expect that most children in developed nations are deficient in at least one nutrient and likely more. That’s because the diet that we recommend to all citizens from the age of two (and before two, a toddler’s nutrition is only as good as the mother’s diet or formula ‘baby milkshake’) is nutritionally deficient.

When the UK dietary advice was updated in March 2016, a number of recommended menus were published at the same time. These were quickly taken down, but not before I had grabbed the PDF. I analysed the nutrient content of the UK’s ‘healthy’ eating advice (and the UK’s high carb low fat diet is no different to that recommended in the US, NZ, Australia and in other countries) (Ref 9). The menus were so high in carbohydrate (between 61 and 70% of calorie intake) and so low in fat (between 13 and 21% of calorie intake) that deficiencies in fat soluble vitamins were inevitable:

- The average retinol intake over the 5 days was 207mcg – less than a quarter of the recommended amount.

- The average vitamin D delivered over the 5 days was 3.7mcg – again – less than a quarter of the recommended 15 mcg per day. Menu 1 delivered no vitamin D whatsoever. The only day that came close to meeting requirements was menu 4, which had oily fish for dinner.

- The average vitamin E delivered over the 5 days was 6.8mg – less than half the recommended 15mg per day. A few sunflower seeds a day would sort this, but then they would be rich in the dreaded fat macronutrient.

- Vitamin K was not included in the nutrition information. This was likely also deficient, as a result of the extraordinarily low-fat menu plans.

Calcium was also deficient. Amusingly sodium was higher than the government would advise, averaging 2,511mg over the 5 days.

The EAT Lancet diet – the diet recommended for the world – is also nutritionally deficient (Ref 10). The nutrients most deficient in this diet were retinol again (just 17% of the RDA was provided); vitamin D (just 5% of the RDA was provided); and calcium (55-65% of the 1,000-1,200mg recommended was provided). Barely half the iron intake needed was provided and the paltry 28g of fish would not provide the omega-3 (DHA & EPA) needed, while the nutritionally poor 350 calories of highly unsaturated fats would create an unhealthy omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.

This is a shocking indictment of modern dietary advice and yet the low-fat high-carb advice is getting more strident, not less. And we can’t claim that we don’t know the consequences of this advice. A 2017 article documented the nutritional deficiencies among US children and adults. The nutrients most likely to be deficient were reported as vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, folate, and iron (Ref 11). (Notice the fat-soluble vitamins – A, D and E – coming up again and also notice vitamin K not being covered again. This is the fourth fat soluble vitamin and we ignore it at our peril.) The overall conclusion of the report was “Nearly one-third of the U.S. population is at risk of deficiency in at least one vitamin, or has anemia.”

I tore out an article from the Daily Mail on 3rd August with the headline “Food for thought as intake of vital vitamins plunges” (Ref 12). The headline came from an paper published in the Journal of Vitamins and Minerals (funded by Health and Food Supplements), written by Dr Emma Derbyshire (Ref 13). The journal article reported that "Over the last two decades there have been significant linear changes for ten variables. Energy, fat, riboflavin, folate, vitamin D, iron, calcium and potassium significantly declined whilst improvements were observed for dietary protein and zinc." (It’s interesting that energy intake has declined while we have been getting more obese.) The UK Family Food Survey has reported deficiencies in retinol, vitamin D and vitamin E for years (Ref 14). These data should elicit an emergency response that the population be told to consume more fat and foods rich in fat soluble vitamins – red meat, oily fish, full-fat dairy products and eggs – and yet we just demonise these foods even more.

This poor lad from Bristol has been failed by so many adults during his short life. From the government that continues to give out the low-fat dietary advice to the medical education system, which fails to give doctors more than half a day of nutritional information (and even that would likely be required to conform with the government eatbadly guide advice).

It’s not difficult to analyse the nutritional content of foods. The following table presents the key vitamins and minerals per 100g of (uncooked) food. The number in bold is the ‘winner’ in that row. The number in brackets after each nutrient is the recommended daily intake for that nutrient. Brown rice wins for: calories (maybe not the one you want to win); B1 (liver is close behind); and magnesium (cocoa powder would thrash brown rice for magnesium). Liver wins for most other nutrients. Apples are tasty, but nutritionally rather pointless. Half an hour on a nutrient calculator web site and any health professional would realise that we should be eating liver, steak, oily fish and greens rather than the ‘five a day’ and ‘healthy wholegrains’ that we are instructed to eat.

Did a boy really need to go blind on a shockingly poor diet for those who should have been responsible for him (parents, relatives, teachers, and doctors) to realise that chips and crisps don’t provide the vital nutrients that we need – but then nor do fruit and fibre?

Until the next time...

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Board moderator and Site-owner. I still regret the day I started analysing the prospects of MacroPore (now Cytori) back in 2004- a left-over from the tech-bubble at that time from the century change in my portfolio- and became addicted to Cytori´s fat cell technology. :cry:

Shocking story 10 Sep 2019 08:28 #13217

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Yeah, I saw this a few days ago but didn't read the article.
While sad, this is really a common sense issue and it is amazing the number of parents that allow their children to eat this way. I have seen it myself that they just give up the fight and allow hot dogs and chicken nuggets to be the dinner main stay. I say this knowing my own diet should be improved upon but as a child I still had to eat my vegetables no matter how much I complained and today enjoy a good salad. IMHO balance is really the key...most can occasionally partake in indulgences deemed taboo and still enjoy a healthy and long life.
I give as example Jack Lalanne, Fitness and diet guru. Here is a quote that will hit home to many here:
***LaLanne often stressed that artificial food additives, drugs, and processed foods contributed to making people mentally and physically ill. As a result, he writes, many people turn to alcohol and drugs to deal with symptoms of ailments, noting that "a stream of aches and pains seems to encompass us as we get older."[32]:114 He refers to the human bloodstream as a "River of Life", which is "polluted" by "junk foods" loaded with "preservatives, salt, sugar, and artificial flavorings"***
Jack LaLanne lived to 96. I remember him on TV as a kid. He preformed many amazing feats even as he got into his later years. Certainly someone to be admired. Sadly he passed from pneumonia at his home because he refused to go to the doctor. A simple antibiotic likely would have saved his life. Balance !!!!! Medicine isnt always the enemy. Of course I do believe it was his life and thus his choice. He probably thought he could beat it on his own.

Mrs. Hedge's uncle, also in his 90's, always swore by eating a onion and mustard sandwich when he got sick. There is some natural antibiotic effect there but sometimes you need the hard stuff.

At the other end of the spectrum we have Jim Delligatti, inventor of McDonald's Big Mac Died at age 98 from complications of a stroke but is said to have eaten a Big Mac every week for 50 years. Sometimes good genes and luck also play a role imho. BTW, something I certainly wouldn't recommend.
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