[HerbalistReview archives]
[RMHI Home]
[HerbalThinkTCM software] [Tutorials]
[RMHInet] [Courses/Certification] [FAQ]
[Articles] [About]
[Follow] [Contact]

— updated 2003-07-23 (minor update 2014-12-01)


Herbalist Review, Issue 2000-#4:
Health fads from hell:
margarine, canola oil, soy foods, green/black tea

by Roger W. Wicke, Ph.D.

Our modern system of industrial food production has resulted in adulteration of commercial food with toxic ingredients that are responsible for a major decline in health among people in industrialized nations. Ironically, some of these adulterants are being promoted as "healthy" in advertising and popular media.

Subtopics on this page…


Health fads from hell

An elegantly dressed man enters an herbalist's shop wearing a brilliant array of rubber bands around his wrist. "My hand has been feeling numb and distinctly cold lately." Indeed, the flesh of his hand has taken on a pale and bluish cast. He asks the herbalist, "What type of herb tea might help improve the circulation in my hand?"

The herbalist, eager to help, consults her reference book. After having completed several training courses in western herbology, she knows that herbs like cayenne, cinnamon, ginkgo leaf, and turmeric share an ability to stimulate improved circulation. Having recently completed a course in TCM (Chinese) herbology she also cleverly deduces from his pale complexion, the heavy overcoat he is wearing, and his weak and diminutive voice that he seems to have a "Deficiency-Cold" body type and recommends a tasty decoction of cayenne, cinnamon, and ginseng. "You might also try seeing the acupuncturist down the street."

While the herbalist and the man with the blue hand contemplate the weighing and preparation of the herbs, a young girl walks into the store and asks the man "Why is your hand turning blue, and why are you wearing those tight-fitting rubber bands?"

"You silly girl, everyone knows these are the latest fashion in meditation bracelets. My own guru personally recommended these. Besides, I'm a very busy man, and I need a set of rubber bands handy to organize my papers."

"But those rubber bands look painfully tight. Wouldn't your hand feel better if you took them off?"

"Nonsense, that's what I'm paying this herbalist to help me with."

You may be thinking "This sounds like a bad episode from the Twilight Zone!" But ask yourself why millions of Americans continue to consume foods lacking nutrient value and laden with poisons, smoke tobacco products laced with chemicals designed to increase their addictive potential, watch insipid and enervating TV shows that sap their intelligence and transform their children into zombies, and then, finally, demand that their health care practitioners produce a magic pill to make it all better again, or at least, to dull their mind so they may temporarily forget their problems.

While herbs and herbal products have helped thousands of my clients regain their health, I also know from experience that the majority of health problems in this country are directly related to consumption of or exposure to avoidable poisons. To pretend that herbs or other health techniques will erase the damage these poisons inflict, without stopping their use, is folly. However, many people react with disbelief and confusion when informed that some of these avoidable poisons have actually been promoted as being "healthy".

This newsletter issue examines the nature and origins of these self-inflicted psychological strait-jackets that prevent many Americans from overcoming their bondage to poison. Specifically, I'll explore how misinformation and disinformation in the popular health literature have robbed people of their common sense and substituted it with a jumble of pseudo-scientific slogans and half-truths.

As examples of the type of misinformation (misleading or erroneous information) and disinformation (intentionally deceptive information disseminated by marketing whiz kids) Americans must navigate through to reach sane answers to their own questions about health, we'll consider following controversies:

  • The supposed benefits of margarine and hydrogenated oils over animal fats, disproven after several decades of being the established medical "wisdom";
  • The supposed benefits of canola oil, in spite of knowledge since the 1940's regarding its toxicity;
  • The supposed benefits of soy products vs. evidence that soy products may have serious side effects including chronic indigestion, thyroid damage, and possible increased cancer risks;
  • The supposed benefits of black and green teas (Camellia sinensis) due to antioxidant content vs. recent concern over the extremely high concentration of fluoride in these teas.

Public opinion regarding these controversies illustrates the power of erroneous but enticing pseudo-logic when it is assisted by emotional appeals to one's fear of disease, a general belief that the scientists know better, and constant reminders that our own senses and cultural traditions are not trustworthy. When these attitudes and beliefs are reinforced through daily exposure to television programming and advertising, most people cannot resist.


Margarine and hydrogenated oils

In this year 2000, knowledge of the harmful effects of trans-fatty acids (present in chemically hydrogenated oils and margarine) is becoming widely known; specifically, trans-fats are implicated in increased rates of coronary heart disease and cancer, as well as other chronic illnesses. •[2a-2g]• An acquaintance of mine who recently had a triple bypass operation was told by his surgeon to avoid hydrogenated oils of all types; this knowledge has slowly trickled down even to physicians in rural areas of the country, typically the last places to adopt new medical advances.

Recent research has led to a reinterpretation of studies from the 1950's and 1960's that purportedly demonstrated a correlation between heart disease and fat consumption. When the effects of pure animal fats were distinguished from the effects of hydrogenated oils and poor quality vegetable oils, almost all the negative health effects were attributed to the latter.

What is of interest here is how margarine was originally pushed onto the American public during the 1940's and 1950's. The public, with the assistance of the dairy industry, initially resisted substituting margarine for butter, and laws and taxes on margarine placed economic handicaps on its sales. •[2i]• Moreover, many people were repelled by its taste. Eventually, the margarine industry decided that the best way to increase sales was to sponsor "scientific" studies purporting to show its health benefits, and then heavily promote its consumption to physicians, rightly figuring that if physicians could be persuaded to switch, they, in turn, would convince their patients by example. This is what happened. One of my students recently gave me the following book, found in a used book store, as a gift: "The Story of Margarine" by S.F. Riepma. •[2h]• This book is filled with glowing recommendations for oleomargarine, cartoons illustrating happy families eating it, and includes a distinguished introduction by Frederick Stare, Professor of Nutrition at Harvard University. (How could we Yahoos possibly fail to be impressed?)

Because most people did not understand the complexities of biochemistry research, they trusted their doctors who informed them of the scientific studies "proving" that saturated animal fats were generally harmful, and almost two generations of Americans consumed huge amounts of hydrogenated oils in the form of margarine, hydrogenated oils in commercial breads and pastries, processed foods, and deep-fried restaurant foods. During this time, rates of both heart disease and cancer began to rise dramatically, and while other factors are known to play a role in these diseases, poor quality synthetic fats and oils are now known to be significant contributors to their high incidence.

I have several friends who were born in Europe and have a love of good food; all these people tell me they can't stand the taste of margarine. They also enjoy dishes made with olive oil, butter sauces, and fatty meats; they are all active, vigorous individuals, and none of them are overweight. Several years ago, a summer visitor left behind a stick of oleomargarine in my kitchen. Not wishing to inflict this substance on anyone, I threw it on my compost heap; weeks later it was still there — no deer, local dog or cat, or raccoon had even attempted licking it. Are even the animals smarter than people when it comes to nutrition? The major lesson that we should learn from the margarine fiasco is that not paying attention to one's senses can lead to trouble. It is no accident of nature that many poisonous and harmful plants and substances taste repulsive. Unfortunately, scientists in the food processing industry have designed flavor compounds to mask the unhealthy taste of many synthetic foods, so our task is now more difficult.

Another lesson is that sudden changes in one's traditions of eating may be risky. (Unfortunately, most Americans have already lost the eating traditions of their ancestors and have long ago replaced their diet habits with ersatz American-industrial cuisine.) Evolution of human populations together with the accumulated experience of our ancestors has resulted in culinary and herbal traditions uniquely adapted to a population's genetic makeup, local climate, and other factors. To intelligently prescribe changes based on biochemical findings often requires more extensive knowledge than we currently have. Every year it seems that scientific understanding of nutrition and of vitamin and mineral metabolism becomes more complex, and formerly simplistic ideas about recommended nutritional standards have to be discarded.


Canola oil

Because of the public scare over animal fats, sales of vegetable oils of all types increased. It was the established wisdom that those oils high in polyunsaturated fatty acids were especially beneficial (animal fats are high in saturated fatty acids). The obsession with polyunsaturated versus saturated fats led researchers and nutritionists to overlook some of the other features of vegetable oils that we now know are crucial to health, including:

  • Susceptibility to rancidity;
  • Ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids and its relevance in inflammatory diseases and immune system function;
  • Possible presence of irritating or toxic compounds in particular plant oils.

Unlike the case of trans-fatty acids, for which there is massive amount of research data, there is much less documented scientific research on canola oil consumption in humans, specifically. Some sources (unverified) claim that the Canadian government and industry paid the U.S. FDA $50 million dollars to have canola oil placed on the GRAS ("Generally Recognized As Safe") list, which allowed the canola industry to avoid the lengthy and expensive approval process, including medical research on humans. However, experimental rats that were fed canola oil "developed fatty degeneration of the heart, kidney, adrenals, and thyroid gland. On withdrawing the canola oil from their diets, the deposits dissolved but scar tissue remained on all vital organs." •[3a]•

In the absence of direct research studies of canola oil and human health, many concerned nutritionists and biochemists have attempted to analyze the canola oil situation on the basis of current knowledge of the biochemistry of fats and oils. While hard-nosed canola industry spokespersons may claim such commentary to be speculative, in the absence of proof of safety, anyone concerned about their family's health should pay close attention to the various arguments and warnings. •[3a-3i]•; for canola industry position, see •[3j]• •[3k]•

The Canola Council of Canada has published a report •[3k]• that focuses heavily on the high polyunsaturated fatty acid content of canola oil and the presumed benefits of polyunsaturated oils on various blood parameters (platelet phospholipids, platelet aggregation, eicosanoid production, clotting time). In spite of the many scientific references listed at the end of the report, the author studiously avoids discussion of the toxic effects mentioned by many nutritionists and biochemists, and, instead, attempts to link many of the benefits of Mediterranean-type diets high in olive oil to diets high in canola oil, when in fact, no such evidence is presented, and canola oil has never been part of a traditional Mediterranean diet.

Concerns about the risks of using canola (rapeseed) oil focus on several aspects:

  • The presence of long-chain fatty acids, including erucic acid, which are thought by some to cause CNS degeneration, heart disease, and cancer;
  • The high temperatures needed in the refining process to make canola oil palatable, which lead to formation of trans-fatty acids;
  • Miscellaneous undesirable chemical constituents (thioglycosides and thiocyanates) whose effects are unclear, as their concentration in the refined product is probably very low.

Although Chinese and Indian peoples have long used rapeseed oil in cooking, it was not refined and processed to the extent of modern commercial methods, and it was never considered to be a high quality oil for human consumption. Ayurvedic physicians have for thousands of years classified olive, almond, and sesame as the best oils for human health, and have considered safflower, soybean and rapeseed oils to be undesirable for human consumption except perhaps when no other oil sources were available.

Recent epidemiological studies of high lung cancer rates in Chinese women suggest that wok cooking with rapeseed oil is responsible, rather than tobacco smoking, which was only a weak factor. Chinese rapeseed oil tended to produce the highest emissions of the potentially carcinogenic or mutagenic compounds 1,3-butadiene, benzene, acrolein, and formaldehyde, when compared with soybean oil and peanut oil. •[3n]•

Canola oil contains a long-chain fatty acid called erucic acid, which is especially irritating to mucous membranes; canola oil consumption has been correlated with development of fibrotic lesions of the heart, CNS degenerative disorders, lung cancer, and prostate cancer, anemia, and constipation. •[3a]• •[3b]• Canola oil derives from the plants Brassica campestris and B. napus, which have been selectively bred to substantially reduce the erucic acid content. However, some health professionals feel that there is still too much present in current canola oil products for safe use. Some critics of canola oil focus on the fact that rapeseed oil was originally used as an industrial lubricant and known to be unfit for human consumption, although many vegetable oils have been used in industrial applications as well as in foods.

The long-chain fatty acids found in canola have been found to destroy the sphingomyelin surrounding nerve cells in the brain, in some cases leading to a degenerative brain condition remarkably similar to mad-cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy); in advanced cases the brain tissue develops a Swiss-cheese-like appearance, full of holes. Illnesses and conditions that have been associated with canola oil consumption include loss of vision (retinal capillaries are very sensitive and easily damaged), and a wide range of neurological disorders. •[3a]•

The high temperatures used in canola refining will damage many of the essential fatty acids, which are much more susceptible to damage by heat than saturated fats. (Heat may convert many of the unsaturated double bonds to the "trans" configuration.) While high-quality essential fatty acids are required for human health, in their damaged or rancid forms they become harmful.

Additional problems with canola oil include the presence of minute, but potentially dangerous, amounts of thioglycosides, which have thyrotoxic effects. •[3m]• To reduce the concentration of these compounds requires processing with alkalinizing agents plus high temperatures; unfortunately, the high temperatures used in processing have other undesirable effects, the most serious of which is the conversion of unsaturated fats to the trans form.

Rapeseed has been selectively bred and genetically engineered •[3a]• in an attempt to reduce the toxic components and processing methods were developed to further reduce the concentration of undesirable compounds. Before its entry into the "health" food market, it was known as rapeseed oil, but savvy marketing professionals knew that the health food market, heavily dominated by young, college-educated women, would not purchase a repulsive-sounding product called rapeseed oil. The name of the selectively bred variety was changed to canola (as in "Canadian oil"; it has been heavily promoted by Canadian government and agricultural organizations) oil; the name rolls off the tongue with a mellifluous sound.


The biochemistry of plants and natural food products is often complex; the total effect of a given food on human health is dependent upon many chemical constituents and their interaction with biochemical pathways of the body. To radically alter our diets based on scientific evidence regarding only a few aspects of this biochemistry is like cooking in the dark.

Common symptom reactions to unhealthy oils and fats, or to an unhealthy balance of the types of fats in one's diet include joint pain and aggravation of arthritic conditions, a general tendency to have increased tissue irritability and inflammation, and, in the case of unhealthy fats such as hydrogenated oils and excessive amounts of fried foods, abdominal fullness and indigestion. While these conditions also may be due to other factors, quality of fats and oils is important. How one feels immediately to within several days after eating specific types of fat is often a useful indicator of whether one's fat consumption is healthy or unhealthy.

Avoid canola oil; there is too much doubt about its safety. Recommended oils and fats, which are essential nutrients, include moderate amounts of meat in the form of clean sources (organically grown, etc.) of beef, lamb, and other red meats, poultry, fish (especially sardines and mackerel), plus olive, almond, or sesame oil; of all the vegetable oils, olive oil is probably the safest and best for health reasons. All these have been in traditional use in various cultures for thousands of years. Individual differences in metabolism will dictate needs for more or less of these types of oils and fats.

(Update 2014-12-01: Coconut oil as part of one's saturated fat intake is also beneficial; generally, a good rule of thumb is that one's total weekly fat/oil consumption should be apportioned into 1/3 saturated fats, 1/3 olive oil and healthy unsaturated fats, and 1/3 from oily fishes like sardines, anchovies, salmon, and herring. Of the fishes, sardines are the highest im omega-3 fatty acids, containing 10x more per ounce than salmon. Avoid the relatively unhealthy vegetable oils of safflower, corn, cottonseed, canola, etc. which are all generally high in omega-6 pro-inflammatory fatty acids that are consumed to extreme excess in the typical unhealthy American processed food diet.)


Soy products

Soy products, including tofu and miso, have been used in Asia for many centuries, and the growing popularity of vegeterian diets during the 1960's led Americans to search for meat substitutes. Over the next few decades, tofu, miso, soy milks, textured vegetable protein, and roasted soybeans were marketed, initially through health food stores, and then on a massive scale as a protein/meat substitute in many common processed foods.

Recently, research into the potential side effects vs. benefits of diets incorporating significant amounts of soy products have led to a reappraisal of their role in American diets. Biochemistry research into the metabolism of soy phytoestrogens, combined with a public recognition of the role estrogenic hormones play in many female health problems, led to an increased popularity of health products containing ingredients purporting to be beneficial for proper hormone regulation. Because various cancers and tumors are known to be either inhibited or stimulated by hormones, it was thought that soy phytoestrogens might be useful in preventing cancer. •[4f]• •[4e]• •[4h]• •[4i]• However, studies of soy consumption showed only weak effects on incidence of breast and prostate cancer, and in one report, increase in proliferation of cancer cells occurred. •[4d]•

When introducing chemical compounds that closely mimic the body's own naturally produced hormones, slight differences in chemical structure may result in huge differences in physiological effects. Specific soy phytoestrogens, genistein and daidzein, have genotoxic (damages DNA) effects, similar to those caused by the mammalian estrogen 17-beta-estradiol and the synthetic estrogen diethylstilbestrol (DES). The type and strength of the genotoxicity strongly depends on the chemical structure and does not correlate with estrogenicity. •[4a]• Published research indicates that genistein is a potent inhibitor of DNA synthesis in brain cells; reduced DNA synthesis eventually leads to apoptosis (programmed cell death). •[4b]• Other studies suggest that genistein and daidzein have an undesirable estrogenic stimulatory effect on breast cancer cells. •[4a1]•

Hormone-like substances have been recently recognized as a source of serious health problems. Specifically, families of chemicals known as xenoestrogens, such as PCB's (polychlorinated biphenyls), nonylphenols, and pthalates, may stimulate estrogen receptors in abnormal ways and are implicated in cancer and population-wide decreases in fertility in both men and women. These chemicals may be present in plastics, pesticides, and other industrial products, and are dangerous even in minute concentrations. •[4k]• •[4m]•

Some research suggests that soy products, with a few exceptions such as miso and other carefully fermented soy products, are not suitable for regular consumption because of increased risks of cancer, indigestion, thyroid problems, and other disorders, •[4c]• in addition to being a common food allergen •[4g]•. Soy products, in general, contain:

  • Trypsin inhibitors that can cause pancreatic enlargement and eventually cancer;
  • Hemagglutinin, which is a clot-promoting substance that causes red blood cells to clump together;
  • Phytic acids, which reduce the absorption of many vitamins and minerals.

All these substances are growth inhibitors which are deactivated by long, slow fermentation; fermented soy products (miso, natto, tempeh) were among the first soy foods to be used by the Chinese. Tofu, which is not a fermented product, but consists of soy protein precipitated by calcium or magnesium sulfate, contains high amounts of phytates, but traditionally, only small amounts were eaten followed by fish or meat; the meat partially reduces the mineral-blocking effects of the phytates. Vegetarians who rely on soy products for protein are risking serious mineral and vitamin deficiencies as well as other degenerative disorders.

In vitro studies suggest that soy isoflavones (phytoestrogens) inhibit synthesis of estradiol and other steroid hormones. Reproductive problems, infertility, thyroid disease and liver disease due to dietary intake of isoflavones have been observed for several species of animals including mice, cheetah, quail, pigs, rats, sturgeon and sheep. Human children who were fed soy-based formula developed various problems ranging from extreme emotional behavior, asthma, immune system problems, pituitary insufficiency, thyroid disorders and irritable bowel syndrome. This inhibition of steroid synthesis may account for the observed reduction of high blood cholesterol (a chemical precursor for many hormones) levels •[4j]•, but the numerous side effects of soy phytoestrogens are as potentially serious as many toxic drugs.

Within the last few years, aggressive marketing and generous research funding by the soy industry has led to warnings about the dangers of soy products being drowned in a sea of advertising hype and deceptive research reports. The FDA actually denied the soybean industry's petition to allow health claims for soy phytoestrogens (isoflavones) because its US government scientists already had strong evidence that soy isoflavones are toxic. The FDA had also received, early in 1998, the final British Government report on phytoestrogens, which failed to find much evidence of benefit and warned against potential adverse effects. However, this did not stop the soy industry from aggressively promoting the supposed benefits of soy phytoestrogens; Internet search engines ("soy" + "disease") currently yield numerous industry-sponsored webpages with such disinformation.


Over the past few decades I have witnessed the popularity of soy products along with my own observations of many people who seem to do poorly on a diet containing significant amounts of soy. The most common symptoms include indigestion, followed by fatigue, irregular bowels, and increased susceptibility to infections (in TCM equivalents: patterns ranging from Deficiency of Qi to digestive tract Dampness). These symptoms are consistent with reports in the literature. My observation has also been that people who eat soy products and develop health problems almost always have noticeable symptoms after eating them. If they continue to consume these products in spite of the side effects, they may develop more serious conditions.

In general, the main lesson that I derive from this experience is that regardless of how beneficial a product is claimed to be, if one develops unpleasant symptoms after eating it, this should usually be interpreted as a warning sign to stop. (There are very few exceptions to this rule, and in most of these exceptions, a knowledgeable health professional should be consulted.) That so many people should fail to heed these warning signals is a testament to the power of experts, authority figures, and the media to rob people of their common sense.

Another lesson from this experience is that we should only adopt traditions from other cultures carefully and gradually. It is now known that people of East Asia are genetically endowed with a greater ability to digest soy products, but even these people carefully process the soybeans according to traditional methods. To suddenly introduce for mass consumption a food product from another culture, and moreover, commercially processed in ways not even used in that culture, may be a recipe for disaster. I fear that the soybean craze will be a rerun of the oleomargarine wars, and will take another several decades to sort itself out as scientists, industry moguls, and alternative health investigators prepare for an extended siege.


Green and black teas

Green and black teas (dried and often fermented leaves of Camellia sinensis) have been popular drinks throughout the world for many hundreds of years, but recently tea has been promoted in the health literature as being beneficial in preventing a wide range of diseases including cancer. Such literature usually focuses on the fact that teas contain families of chemical compounds called catechins and polyphenols, which are potent antioxidants. •[5a]•

While these antioxidants may indeed have the beneficial properties claimed for them, whole plant products generally consist of complex combinations of thousands of biochemical compounds. If one neglects to investigate the presence of other compounds with potentially significant physiological actions, the health benefits and risks of consuming the whole plant product may be very different from the picture presented by focusing on only a small subset of the plant product's biochemistry.

It turns out that both green and black tea products contain high amounts of naturally occurring fluoride. Tea leaves accumulate more fluoride (from air and soil pollution) than most other edible plants. Fluoride content in tea has risen dramatically over the last 20 years (probably due to increasing levels of pollution) as has tea consumption. Various studies within the past few decades show levels of fluoride in tea leaves to range from 50 to 340 ppm; recently, average levels of fluoride in a typical cup of tea exceeded 1 mg, or approximately 4 times the recommended amount for fluoridated drinking water. One cup of such tea would exceed amounts formerly prescribed by physicians as a treatment for hyperthyroidism, due to the effect of fluoride as a thyroid gland poison. And, the fluoride in tea is absorbed by the body in similar manner to fluoride in drinking water. •[5g]•

Almost all information about tea promoted by the tea industry either ignores tea's fluoride content entirely, or gives brief mention of the fluoride as a health benefit in preventing dental caries and ignores all the serious side effects of fluoride consumption. •[5a]• •[5b]• •[5c]• •[5e]• •[5f]•

Most of the research literature on anticancer properties of green and black teas focuses on the effects of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a compound that belongs to a family of anti-oxidants known as polyphenols. The negative effects of the fluoride content of teas are so severe that any beneficial effect from the catechins and polyphenols may be negated; however, not much scientific evidence is available on the interaction between fluoride and polyphenols, although fluoride is known to adversely affect the action of many antioxidants. Research studies of green tea consumption reveal only weak anticancer effects at best, and some studies show ambiguous or actually negative results. •[5g]•

Fluoride is known to be correlated with increased incidence of the numerous diseases and conditions •[5m-5u]•: Alzheimer's disease (especially in combination with aluminum; fluoride combines with aluminum and increases the rate of aluminum absorption by the body and brain tissue); dental fluorosis; degenerative CNS diseases; hypothyroidism; Down's syndrome; ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder); psychosis and manic depression; osteoporosis and arthritis; irregular menses and infertility; crippling skeletal fluorosis; calcification of joints and ligaments; lupus; fibromyalgia; nephrosis and nephritis; cancers of thyroid, bone, and other tissues; SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Many of these diseases are closely associated with the hypothyroid aspect, which is a primary effect of fluoride poisoning. CNS symptoms of fluoride ingestion from drinking water include impaired memory and concentration, lethargy, headache, depression and confusion. •[5q]• I have observed many clients over the years obtain almost immediate relief from arthritic pain, chronic urinary infections, weak digestion, fatigue and other symptoms after stopping all black and green tea consumption.

While black and green teas have been in traditional use for many centuries, their moderate caffeine content has been long known to be addictive. Addictive potential plus promises of health benefits are a potent marketing combination, and history is replete with examples: opium and cocaine-containing elixirs of good health from snake-oil salesmen in 1800's America, and more recently, promises of quick weight loss from herbal products high in ephedrine, a constituent of the plant Ephedra sinensis. It appears that green and black teas, long a source of enjoyment for the mild buzz and quiet contentment they gave to generations of Chinese, Indians, and Englishmen, have become dangerous in the hands of Americans, who have added a health spin to their marketing of tea products, increasing sales by orders of magnitude at a time when the commercial product has become laden with dangerous concentrations of fluoride.


General recommendations

It is with increasing frequency that herbalists must learn to recognize that many people may achieve significant improvements in health by eliminating items from their diet and simplifying their lives (tossing out the TV set would be a good start). Unfortunately, many people do not want to hear this at all; denial is a key characteristic of addiction, and there is no question that many of the negative influences in our society are addictive in nature, or are associated with influences that are addictive. (While soy products or canola oil may not be addictive in themselves, they are frequently used as ingredients in "junk" food and fast-food items, which are high in addictive sugar and salt content, and low in nutrient value.)

We as herbalists must realize that our own profession will suffer just as the medical profession has by failing to intervene when faced with self-destructive influences in our clients, especially when these self-destructive influences might be reversed by presenting a bit of accurate information.

Consumers should not have to take on faith the word of food industry and government spokesmen that newly developed food products are safe. Before recommending any food for mass consumption, it should meet the following requirements:

  • It has been used for several generations safely, during which period side-effects or contraindications become known;
  • It has been processed in ways that are not radically different from traditional methods and that do not introduce dangerous or unknown contaminants;
  • It meets current standards consistent with sanitation and purity requirements;
  • It is used by consumers in quantities and under circumstances not radically different from traditional uses.

If any of these criteria are not met (genetic engineering, microwave processing, gamma irradiation, etc.) nutritionists, biochemists, and government regulators have a duty to inform the public that, in spite of scientific studies suggesting the product may be safe and beneficial, that the lack of traditional experience leaves too much room for doubt, and that consumption is at their own risk. But don't hold your breath for this to happen. Having been a medical scientist myself before becoming an herbalist, I am aware of the numerous embarrassing and belated reversals in scientific opinion that have occurred for products and technologies originally thought to be safe: x-rays, cortisone, Thalidomide, margarine, fire-retardant clothing for children, asbestos insulation, plastics, etc.

If you still believe that government and industry spokespersons and researchers have only your health and wellbeing in mind, please see "The Population Control Agenda — A Timeline" •[6a]• (Not only is Ralph Nader correct in stating that corporate behavior has spiraled out of control, it has become deadly.)


Recommended diet and recipe book

I highly recommend the following book on diet, nutrition, and traditional recipes from around the world: "Nourishing Traditions", by Sally Fallon (©1999; New Trends Publishing, Inc.; Washington, DC 20007). It contains useful and interesting recipes together with dietary and nutritional information about food products. Many of the problems people have with particular foods are discussed in her book, and I found myself agreeing with most of her cautionary notes, including those regarding milk products, soy products, and oils and fats. The only issue to which I take exception is Fallon's claims of the benefits of raw milk products. I find that the vast majority of people benefit by eliminating all forms of dairy from their diet, except for organically produced butter. Moreover, people of African and Asian ancestry generally are intolerant of dairy products, in contrast to people of northern European ancestry.

The primary drawback of the book is that the scientific and nutritional discussions are scattered throughout the book, and scientific references are not footnoted. But as a recipe book, which is its main purpose, it's a great reference. (Not all the recipes will be beneficial for everyone; individual dietary needs and sensitivities must always be considered.)

There are a lot of nutrition and diet books that contain dangerous ideas concocted by academic theorists and that are inconsistent with studies of actual human indigenous populations and their traditional diets. Fallon's approach is unique in that her recommendations are backed by a knowledge of traditional diets from many varied cultures and ethnic groups worldwide. Scientists who ignore the vast body of human experience over thousands of years do so at their peril and the peril of people who take their advice at face value.



Reference —{{ links }} will appear in a new window.

Most of the following references are available on the Internet. Further scientific literature citations are included in many of these references. We believe it is important for readers to have quick access to source information and to make their own informed decisions.