Movie Review – Food Matters

Food MattersFood Matters is a documentary from two Australians – James Colquhoun and Laurentine ten Bosch who describe themselves as nutritional consultants turned filmmakers. It is the first of two films they have produced. Their second film is called Hungry for Change. I have a very different bottom line on Hungry for Change than I do on Food Matters, so make sure you read my review of Hungry for Change too—you can find it here.

The website for Food Matters makes the following claim:

“In what promises to be the most contentious idea put forward, the filmmakers have interviewed several leading experts in nutrition and natural healing who claim that not only are we harming our bodies with improper nutrition, but that the right kind of foods, supplements and detoxification can be used to treat chronic illnesses as fatal as terminally diagnosed cancer.” (Emphasis mine.)

I would say that is contentious. In fact, statements like this can be downright dangerous—encouraging cancer patients to forgo conventional cancer treatment for treatments with foods, supplements and detox methods that have only anecdotal evidence. I love the idea of curing cancer in this way but it is a huge leap of faith with no published studies showing it is effective. With recent events here in Canada—the death of a young first nations girl who shunned her chemotherapy (which came with it a very high rate of success) for alternative and traditional treatment—this is contentious alright.

The website also states:

“The focus of the film is in helping us rethink the belief systems fed to us by our modern medical and health care establishments.” (Emphasis mine.)

If by “modern medical and health care establishments”, they mean video clips of commercials and public service announcements from the 1950s, then they have satisfied this criteria. But to me, modern means 2008 (the year the film was released).

A few weeks ago, I attended a nutrition and cancer research practicum at the National Institute of Health in Rockville, Maryland. For four days, I listened to presentations on nutrition and cancer research and none of it sounded like the dated clips in this film.

“The ‘Food Matters’ duo have independently funded the film from start to finish in order to remain as unbiased as possible, delivering a clear and concise message to the world.” (Emphasis mine.)

This film may be independently funded, but it is far, far from unbiased. If this film was unbiased, it would include interviews with conventional medical oncologists and cancer researchers. Instead, their “panel of experts” are all singing from the same songbook—conventional cancer treatment is bad, alternative treatment is good.

The most reasonable thing I heard throughout the 80 minutes of this film is this quote from Andrew Saul, PhD:

“There is no magic bullet, there is no monotherapy that cures cancer…that cures heart disease but there is lifestyle change that prevents, arrests, reverses serious chronic disease.”

Bottom Line

I already gave you the best line in the film, so save yourself 80 minutes. If you are looking for factual, unbiased, evidence-based information on cancer and its treatment, then don’t watch this movie. The only reason to watch it would be for entertainment value and to satisfy your curiosity about how alternative practitioners think and deliver their messages and conspiracy theories.

Movie Review – Hungry for Change

I have been doing book reviews for years and am now branching out to include movie reviews. Of course, I’m not reviewing the latest blockbuster, I will focus my attention on films that are relevant to food, nutrition and cancer.

Hungry for ChangeRecently I watched Hungry for Change. It is a documentary from two Australians—James Colquhoun and Laurentine ten Bosch—who describe themselves as nutritional consultants turned filmmakers. Hungry for Change is their second film—their first is Food Matters (see my review of the Food Matters film here).

I must admit, I started watching this film with some skepticism. I had just finished watching their first film, Food Matters and I thought Hungry for Change would be more of the same—conspiracy theories about big pharma and government conspiring to keep us sick with cancer so they can profit financially. But the film ended up surprising me…in a good way!

I highly recommend Hungry for Change. It is a documentary style film with intermittent clips of a fictitious young woman who is struggling with her eating habits and perception of herself. Also, it is interspersed with interviews with well-known advocates for healthy eating including Dr. Cristiane Northrup, Davide Wolfe and Joe Cross. Some of their claims I was not so sure about, such as those around MSG, but I found most of their recommendations highly digestible.

Here are my take-away recommendations from watching the film:

  • focus on what you should be eating (i.e. organic vegetables and fruits) and these will eventually crowd out the unhealthy food in your diet;
  • your mind is a powerful tool, so be aware of the messaging that you have about yourself ;
  • and finally, love yourself.

They do recommend some specific diet changes like vegetable juicing, spirulina and chia seeds in normal culinary quantities. And these are all safe recommendations.

Bottom Line

I recommend you watch Hungry for Change. I think it will inspire you to make positive changes to your health.

How Do I Support My Coworker Who Has Cancer?

In a previous post entitled How Friends and Family Can Improve Your Health. I talked about the benefits of social support.

According to the American Cancer Society (1), many studies have shown that people who are socially isolated are more likely to die of all causes, including cancer.

We do know that social support and practical help improve the quality of life of people with cancer, and in some cases prolong survival. These things also help people who have cancer cope better with their diagnosis, treatment and recovery (1).

When a family member or friend is diagnosed with cancer, our instinct is to jump in and lend a hand. But what if it is someone we know who isn’t in our immediate social circle? How do we support a coworker diagnosed with cancer?

The American Cancer Society has published this guide to help you understand how you can help when someone you work with has cancer.

 

 

References

(1) American Cancer Society

 

The Food Babe Versus The Science Babe

The Food Babe versus The Science Babe

I have been following The Food Babe for about a year now. I was really impressed with her ability to get large food companies to make changes to their products and her goal of cleaning up the food supply. Her loyal followers, the Food Babe Army go on the attack at her command. They bombard the companies with emails, social media campaigns and petitions that get the Food Babe meetings with the company’s CEO, as well as national media coverage.

The Food Babe believes the FDA has been lax in allowing over 10,000 new products in food. And she states “you cannot assume the FDA label means anything”. See this link for a glimpse into her style.

The Food Babe’s name is Vani Hari. She states that she was addicted to industrial processed food. She uses her impressive before-and-after photos to show you how cleaning up her diet has changed her physique—she is a beautiful young woman with a slim figure, long black hair and glowing skin. Her look certainly doesn’t hurt for getting lots of TV and video coverage.

She is an activist to “hold companies accountable”. According to her website, as a result of her campaigns, company after company has been forced to make changes, including Kraft, chickin’filla, Chipotle, McDonalds and Subway, among others. She has published a book called The Food Babe Way to help you read labels and spot ‘food industry tricks’.

She talks about conspiracy with the food industry and the FDA and states “the food industry does not want you to know this”. Her list of dangerous ingredients in food includes chemical additives refined bleached flour, preservatives, artificial colors, MSG, nitrate, refined sugar and GMOs.

On the other end of the spectrum is The Science Babe. You can check out here work here.

The Science Babe is Yvette Guinevere. Like Vani, she has also had an impressive personal weight loss story and is an attractive young woman. But unlike Vani, she has formal science education, namely a B.S. in chemistry, and an MSc in forensic science with a concentration in biological criminalistics. She started her blog because of “the Food Babe’s complete disconnection from reality and inability to take criticism”.

The Science Babe is pretty deft at rebutting the Food Babe’s social media posts and does so, with sarcasm and a dose of vulgarity. The Food Babe provides an easy target for Science Babe, with her pedestrian understanding of science being easily overshadowed by Science Babe’s credentials.

Here is an example – The Food Babe goes after pumpkin spices lattes because an ingredient is a class 2b carcinogen. Yet, she posts pictures of herself drinking champagne and talks about her juicing choice for combating hangovers. The Science Babe deftly points out the hypocrisy in these actions as alcohol is a class 1 carcinogen.

Read The Science Babe’s recent viral take-down of The Food Babe here called The Food Babe Blogger is Full is Sh*t.

I can spend a lot of time reading The Science Babe. She really is thorough and entertaining when on the attack. In fact, it’s a bit contagious. So, I am writing my own rebuttal for The Food Babe’s attack on my profession…

 

I’ve never claimed to be a scientist or nutritionist, but a high percentage of registered dietitians and nutritionists in this field have a financial relationship with the entities I investigate. They oftentimes are unwilling to disclose where their funding really comes from.

-The Food Babe


I’d like to know what the reference is for her statement. Is this from some registered dietitian employment statistics that I’m not familiar with? The majority of registered dietitians I know work in hospitals and for food service companies. In these roles they provide nutrition support for in-patients and out-patients or run large-scale kitchens. Some are entrepreneurs, and with the exception of some spokesperson roles, very few would receive money from food companies. There are some that are employees of food companies, but in this case, I think it’s pretty clear where their income comes from.

In addition, every nutrition talk or webinar I have heard in the past couple of years begins with the standard practice of a disclosure slide—this is a declaration of any funding sources that might bias your work. So, in fact, they are openly disclosing their funding sources. And, even if you might be receiving funding from a food company, there is something called professional integrity that would prevent a registered dietitian from intentionally misleading the public.

While the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Dietitians of Canada have made some bad choices in allowing corporate sponsorship of their conferences, this does not tie the hands of individual registered dietitian from speaking the truth about what foods they recommend and what foods they caution against. In fact, our profession is constantly promoting and supporting its members to practice ‘evidence-based’ dietetics.

That felt good…now back to my post.

The Bottom Line

I think The Food Babe started out with some really great intentions of cleaning up the food supply and I think she has some good accomplishments. But, don’t get all worked up about food ingredients based on her word alone. As she admits, she is no scientist, and while I think her heart is in the right place, she can easily lead you down the garden path of conspiracy theories. I think her movement has gotten so big she is now in over her head.

There are some things where I find myself in agreement with Food Babe. I choose organic foods and avoid GMO’s (although I find the new GM approved Artic apple might be the exception to this but I have to research it some more). I avoid foods with artificial food coloring and I limit refined flour and sugar.

But much of what The Food Babe says is fear mongering and she has been accused of being orthorexic and promoting this to her followers. (Orthorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an extreme preoccupation with avoiding foods deemed to be unhealthy.) I have met one orthorexic client in my career and it was a sad situation. I can certainly see how vulnerable people who follow The Food Babe might end up facing this serious condition.

On the other hand, I will continue to follow The Science Babe. I get her sense of humor and I love she uses fact and science as her weapon. While I certainly wouldn’t throw myself on my sword in defense of pumpkin spice lattes, I get that she finally reached her limit.

If you follow The Food Babe, then make sure to follow The Science Babe too. This will give you the other end of the spectrum and allow you to make decisions that are right for you and your personal health based on the science and not fear and hyperbole.

I think my approach is somewhere between these two women. I promote real food made from scratch; I limit my alcohol, sugar and refined grain consumption. I don’t eat red meat or processed meat and I try to minimize my BPA exposure. But, I do so because I have looked at the evidence. I also make my decisions knowing my health history and I personalize my choices. This is why I call myself The Cancer Survivors Nutrition Voice of Reason.

One last thing, for the record…I think registered dietitians are highly professional and are a trusted source of nutrition information [Full Disclosure: I am a card carrying member of a couple of dietitian organizations and a member in good standing with the College of Dietitians of Ontario].

Let me know what you think of The Food Babe and The Science Babe in the comments section below.

How Friends and Family Can Improve Your Health

How Friends and Family Can Improve Your Health

In last month’s blog topic, I wrote about optimism and its role in our immune system. I want to pick up on a theme I mentioned and take it a little further. In my post entitled Are Optimists Healthier? (you can read the entire article here), I talked about the downsides of optimism.

The Downsides to Always Looking for the Upside

One downside of optimism is that optimists can sometimes do such a great job of being optimistic that their friends, family and other supports mistakenly assume they are coping just fine and don’t need their help. This is a downside, because they do need help, support and love. Not only can it be frustrating for them, but it can have negative health consequences when they don’t get the support they need.

A second downside to optimism is that an optimist can be so focused on feeling and expressing optimism; they suppress their true emotions.

The Benefits of Social Support

Let’s look at the two downsides to optimism listed above and how social support can counter those.

In a small study published in 2013, researchers found that emotional suppression was deadly (1). In a cohort of 729 people, which was followed for 12 years, there were 111 deaths in the group. What the researchers found was that the higher the scores of emotional suppression were associated with greater risk of death including cancer death.

Emotional support and love involves two aspects. You need to first disclose your feelings and then your support person(s) need to help you to process these feelings. Health benefits result when you feel safe and can express your emotions.

In order for this to work, you need to disclose your emotions to the right support person. If you talk to someone who tends to give advice and then gets frustrated with you when you don’t take their advice, then I don’t think this person is going to be much help to you. A support person must be a good listener above all else and then be a sounding board for your ideas, fears and other feelings.

In a clinical trial to test the effects of social support on cancer recurrence and death, researchers at Ohio State University randomly assigned whether newly diagnosed breast cancer patients would receive social support or not (2). The trial was called the Stress and Immunity Breast Cancer Project (SIBCP).

227 patients with stage II or III breast cancer were enrolled in the study. The control group of the study received an assessment only, while the treatment group received an assessment plus the social support intervention.

The social support intervention was conducted in groups of 8 to 12 patients with two clinical psychologist leaders. It included relaxation training, positive ways to cope with stress and cancer-related difficulties (e.g., fatigue), methods to maximize social support, and strategies for improving health behaviors (diet, exercise) and adherence to cancer treatments. A total of 26 sessions (39 therapy hours) were delivered over 12 months.

While the intervention lasted for the first 12 months after diagnosis, the patients were followed for an average of 11 years. During this time 62 patients experienced a recurrence of their cancer. Did the intervention of relaxation training, positive ways to cope with stress, methods to maximize social support and strategies to improve health behaviours make a difference? Yes, here’s how:

Those who received the intervention had a 45% reduced risk of breast cancer recurrence. Those that did have a recurrence had a lower risk of death from that recurrence. In addition, those that had the intervention were able to overcome their negative mood brought on by their diagnosis and reported more social support from their families. The intervention group also had significantly greater immune system measurements.

Bottom Line for Social Support

While optimism is a good long-term strategy for cancer patients, it should be coupled with a safe disclosure and processing of your true feelings. Secondly, don’t be so optimistic that you turn away or fail to seek out social support. Social support has been shown to reduce your risk of recurrence, improve your mood and support your immune system!

 

 

References:

(1) J Psychosom Res. 2013 Oct;75(4):381-5. Emotion suppression and mortality risk over a 12-year follow-up. Chapman BP1, Fiscella K, Kawachi I, Duberstein P, Muennig P.

Read the full study here

(2) Clin Cancer Res. 2010 Jun 15;16(12):3270-8. Biobehavioral, immune, and health benefits following recurrence for psychological intervention participants.Andersen BL1, Thornton LM, Shapiro CL, Farrar WB, Mundy BL, Yang HC, Carson WE 3rd.

Read the full study here

Book Review : The Emperor of All Maladies

The Emperor of All Maladies

The Emperor of All Maladies, A Biography of Cancer By Siddhartha Mukherjee

Reading this book was a relationship… four hundred and seventy pages on the history of cancer in the western world (plus glossary and references). The subtitle is very appropriate – this is a biography of cancer. But a biography from the western medicine view of cancer.

If you are interested in other attempts to treat cancer outside of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery then you will be disappointed. But if you are interested in these three main conventional treatments and how they came to be the standard therapy for cancer, then this is the book for you.

Insights including the personality of the researchers, the location of their labs, their relationships to each other—it’s all here—in amazingly detailed story telling.

I appreciated the historical accounts of cancer, how the three treatment modalities came to be developed and the recent account of the discovery of the HER2+ targeted therapy Herceptin.

But I must admit, I found the detail overwhelming at times and with each new chapter I kept hoping for a glimpse outside of the conventional cancer treatment world, such as alternative therapies or nutrition therapies but this never came. It is not surprising really, as the adage goes, write about what you know, and Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, being a conventionally-trained cancer physician and researcher, did a great job of revealing the inner workings of his cancer research world to people outside of.

I’m not sure what value there is in this book for me or my work. It has advanced my understanding of cancer, at least in the initial reading, but with so much information I’m not sure I have internalized much. I will keep the book as a reference whenever I need to understand something in more detail because his explanations were very well done. But, I can’t see it changing the way I practice or live my day-to-day experience as a cancer survivor.

Bottom Line:

The Emperor of All Maladies, A Biography of Cancer was an interesting read and helpful to understand the history of cancer and conventional treatments. But it didn’t get me fired up or inspired to make changes the way other cancer related books have. If you’re a history buff then you will enjoy this book. If you’re looking for ideas on how to live with cancer or reduce your risks of cancer, keep looking because this book isn’t for you.

 

Additional Notes:

This book was very successful and has inspired a film entitled The Emperor of All Maladies: A Film by Barak Goodman. The film is a three-part, six-hour documentary series. It will air on PBS stations on March 30, 31 and April 1 from 9-11 p.m. EDT (check local listings).

And…inspired by the film (which is inspired by the book) there is a 10-Story Companion Radio Series called “LIVING CANCER” on NPR radio programs, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, heard on public radio stations across the U.S.

 

To listen to the NPR LIVING CANCER radio broadcast use this link.

To watch the documentary film Ken Burns Presents: Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies A Film by Barak Goodman on PBS use this link. Note – the PBS link is not available in all regions.

 

Am I an Optimist or a Pessimist?

optimistic

Not sure where you fall on the spectrum? Take this free Optimism test to find out if you are an optimist or not.

There are some advantages to being an optimist, including health benefits. To find out more about this, read my post called Are Optimists Healthier?

How to Become An Optimist

If you haven’t seen my post called Are Optimists Healthier? You can check it out here.

Suffice to say, there are some advantages to being an optimist, including improved immune system function. If you are a pessimist don’t despair—no really don’t despair—there is help!

Check out this great guide: The Pessimists Guide to Becoming an Optimist 

Optimist versus Pessimist

The classic example of the difference between an optimist and a pessimist is:

the optimist will see a half glass of liquid as half full and the pessimist will see it as half empty

But how does this example apply to situations that really matter (and not just drinking glasses)? What about a cancer diagnosis? If a doctor tells a patient the 5-year-survival-rate for their type of cancer is 30%, how do the optimist and the pessimist respond now?

The pessimist might say, “Well, the cards are stacked against me and chances are, I’m in the 70%.” While the optimist might say, “30% is better than 20% and as long as I’ve got any chance even if it’s 1%, I see myself in that number.”

It’s easy to speculate that these two different attitudes will result in different outcomes.  In my review of the research in this area, being an optimist may in fact be better for your immune system. If you haven’t seen my post called Are Optimists Healthier?, you can check it out here.

Here is short story that illustrates the comparison between an optimist and a pessimist. Enjoy!

Optimist VS Pessimist

I’d love to read your examples of an optimist versus a pessimist. Add them below in the comments section.

 

 

Important!

Thriving After Cancer Coaching and Support Community

Access a welcoming and supportive community where you can learn and practice benefit finding with cancer survivors just like you!

Click here to access the community

Are Optimists Healthier?

 

Are Optimists Healthier?

This is the question I set out to answer, in my quest to find all the tools available to us to support our immune systems.

This is what I found.  First off, researchers from Australia conducted a review of studies on the subject and have found that optimism is closely associated with a strategy called benefit finding (1). Benefit finding, as the name implies, is a strategy in which you find the positives in adverse situations.

You might be thinking, what allows a cancer patient to engage in the practice of benefit finding? Well, two prerequisites suggested themselves in the research review—optimism and social support.

While the tabulation of their literature review did show a mix of results, some of the positive findings of the practice of benefit finding were:

  • less depression,
  • less anxiety and
  • lower levels of cortisol.

Lower levels of cortisol is important because cortisol is a stress hormone that suppresses the immune system. So, lower levels of cortisol means a stronger immune system.

While this is by no means strong evidence, I believe every little bit helps. So, if there is some evidence optimism and benefit finding can help my immune system, then these tools are going straight into my toolkit!

Important!

Thriving After Cancer Coaching and Support Community

Access a welcoming and supportive community where you can learn and practice benefit finding with cancer survivors just like you!

Click here to access the community

A second study that I looked at made the waters on the subject a bit more cloudy (2). While optimists do have better mental health such as mood, better adaptation to change, and less depression and anxiety, it seems it is not as straightforward as “an optimist will always have a better immune response”. It appears to be a situation of short-term pain versus long-term gain. Let me explain this in more detail by giving you an example.

An optimist is diagnosed with cancer. They believe the cancer will be contained and the treatment they will undergo will be easy and effective. They start learning what they can about their cancer, begin networking with others and really get engaged in their cancer treatment. Then, they find out their cancer is more advanced and the treatment comes with little guarantee of a cure—this can spike their levels of cortisol because of disappointment and/or because the stress of being engaged in their cancer diagnosis is draining on them. The result of this spike in cortisol is lower immune system function.

In contrast, a pessimist is diagnosed with cancer and they think “game over”.  They do not hold high expectations and do not get engaged in finding answers or treatments. This disengagement is actually protecting their immune system. They do not experience a spike their levels of cortisol from the disappointment or the draining energy of engagement and therefore, do not have a lowered immune system function.

However, in the long run, as the initial stress of the diagnosis wears off, the optimist begins to see some successes along the way. The benefits of their engagement in their cancer journey forms new support systems and community. They may even begin benefit finding. As a result, their immune function improves and surpasses that of the pessimist.

So, what does this research tell me? I think the optimist is the healthier perspective. As a short-term strategy though, I would suggest setting incremental goals, which may avert some immune-depleting disappointment. I would also recommend a regular practice of benefit finding.

Important!

Thriving After Cancer Coaching and Support Community

Access a welcoming and supportive community where you can learn and practice benefit finding with cancer survivors just like you!

Click here to access the community

A benefit I can report from my cancer experience is that I had a much closer relationship with my family, especially my mother. So much so that I would now say, I think the benefit of that closer relationship, outweighed the ugliness of having cancer and treatment.

What benefit did you find in your cancer experience? Leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below!

 

 

 

References:

(1) Eur J Oncol Nurs. 2013 Dec;17(6):760-6. 2013 Apr 21.

Benefit finding in cancer: a review of influencing factors and health outcomes.

Pascoe L1, Edvardsson D.

(2) Brain Behav Immun. 2005 May;19(3):195-200.

Optimism and immunity: do positive thoughts always lead to positive effects?

Segerstrom SC1.

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