Mad Cowboy Interview 08: Dr. Neal Barnard
(Part 01 of 04)



MC: "Can you summarize the Chicago Study you referenced in your book and how this relates to metals and Altzheimer's. That really hit me when reading your book as it had a sampling population of around 9,000 people."


NB: "Sure, the "Chicago Health and Aging Study Project," their principal investigator, Martha Clare Morris was just here for a conference we did a couple of weeks ago. Wonderful, wonderful researcher. Very inspired. They brought in thousands of people, tracked what they ate, and the first thing that catches your attention is that the people who tended to avoid saturated fat cut their risk of developing Alzheimer's dramatically..."


MC: "...the study's results that you cite in your book were intriguing."


NB: "There are different ways of analyzing the results. But in two different analyses she has done, one way, if you eat a higher level of saturated fat it more than doubles the risk, in a different analysis that's more controlled, it reduces your risk by three and a half-fold. So that means compared to that level, to not consuming... if you avoid it, that means you're cutting your risk by 70 to 80%, just from from that step alone. Same with trans-fats, the people avoiding trans-fats had about an 80% reduction in their risk of Altzheimer's.


But, you take that high risk group, that's eating the fatty foods, everything I ate as a kid, and then you look at some of them are high in copper as well, and you need a little copper for enzymes, but if you have too much..."


MC: "...I think it was 1mg that you mentioned..."


NB: "Yes, that's right.


MC: "...you said it was a very thing edge between having enough and too much... a couple of milligrams?"


NB: "Yes, which is miniscule. A penny, weighs 2500 mg. We're talking about 1 or 2 milligrams."


MC: "So from a dietary standpoint, this is a 'double-whammy".... the fat and copper and/or iron."


NB: "Those people who had a high-fat diet AND were getting about 3 mg. of a day of copper, which is easy to do, those people had cognitive decline equivalent of 19 extra years of aging. Nineteen. One, nine."


MC: "The implications are huge. The issue of fat, and what people are eating, and copper and iron... it just multiplies and multiples, as being so bad for you on so many levels..."


NB: "You're right, but you can think of it the other way, too. Think of how good for you it is. Let's say you decide "forget this, I'm going to do a vegan diet." Suddenly, the saturated fat is gone, but also you're no longer having the liver, or the shellfish, which are very high sources of dietary copper. Your iron balance is likely to stay right in the middle, as opposed to being too low or too high. So you achieve a plant-based diet... it's not every thing there is to eating, there are a few other steps that you might want to take, like keeping oils low, choosing organic... but just the decision to go on a plant-based diet gets you a really long way."

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MC: "Dr. T. Colin Campbell, in his book, "Whole: Re-thinking the Science of Nutrition", talks about a study on apples and nutrients, where the nutrient that they were measuring in an apple... the body would literally take the apple and multiply that nutrient, and when you measure that nutrient in the body there's a much larger amount than was originally in the body. In your book, you basically come at this the same way, in that the body self-modulates its intake of iron and copper from natural sources, not from meat and dairy."


NB: "Well, the non-heme iron, from plant products, non-heme... if you are low in iron you absorb more of that non-heme iron, if you are high in iron you absorb less. That's the type are bodies have evolved with, and can regulate. The heme iron, which is in meat products, meat products contain a mixture of some heme iron and non-heme iron. But the heme iron that's in meat products, you can't regulate. You can't regulate it. You can get too much."


MC: "That was another revelation for me from reading your book, that we don't tend to think of, say iron, as different in terms of plant-based sources. That's really important, as people think they can just go out an buy supplements. The body deals with them differently."


NB: "Well, the same is true for Vitamin E. In nature, Vitamin E exists in eight different forms. In a pill, depending upon the manufacturer, it's one form or maybe two. And one of those forms will inhibit the absorption of others. You don't want that. You want to get it from food to the extent that you can."

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MC: "Another concept that set my brain reeling. OMG... my cognitive reserves are increasing!"


NB: [laughing] "That's very good!"


MC: "Can you discuss the concept of "cognitive reserves" that you mention in your book?"


NB: ""Cognitive reserve" is a concept that just says that you're making more connections between your neurons."


MC: "...this is part of the brain exercise "step" of the three major steps towards reducing risk of dementia?"


NB: "Yes. This is part of the "intellectual exercise" part of it. The more connections that you have between the brain cells, well if you lose one or two, you've got more reserve, then you're going to do better. Some evidence suggests that's true. And you can do it either by formal education. But to tell you the truth, so of most interesting work on this has been with linguistics. If you look at people with two languages, or three, or four, they tend to do better than people with only one. And that makes sense because their mind gets so much exercise. You've got many many more words for things, many more mental gymnastics you have to do with linguistics..."


MC: " [highway analogy from book]... I last saw my 92 yr. old grandmother several years ago before she died, spending a few weeks with her, and I remember that during the day she had a routine of playing word puzzles and games. And she had this huge stack of the very inexpensive word game magazines, for kids, generally. And she'd go through a couple of these every day! There's no question in my mind that this daily exercise contributed to her slowing down her eventual cognitive decline."


NB: "I think it's a good thing. Now having said that, if a person is eating a really bad diet or hurting themselves physically in some way, you don't want to just rely on intellectual exercise alone and ignore the dietary aspects as it can be sort of a tsunami that destroys the house that you built."

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MC: "I was struck by, in your book, and how clever (maybe devious?) it was in how you introduced your friend, Ben, and his experiences... only to realize later who you were talking about. How did you happen to meet Dr. Benjamin Spock and what happened?"


NB: "Everybody knew Ben Spock, he revolutionized how kids were raised Late in his life he had a lot of health problems and his wife, Mary, basically dragged him to a nutrition coach who said [laughing], "why are you eating all this junk?" And he switched to a macrobiotic plant-based diet . And so I met him at a conference and this was back in around 1991, something like that. I'd just read some research, there was this big study in the New England Journal, about how kids who were diagnosed with Type I Diabetes, child on-set diabetes I think it was 146 kids, every single one of them in blood tests had antibodies to cow's milk proteins. The theory, published in the


New England Journal (1992, http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199207303270502)


was they would make antibodies to the cow's milk proteins and that would destroy the insulin-producing cells. In other words, if a child is breast-fed and doesn't get cow's milk protein exposure ever, that maybe some of these cases would be prevented.


I'm sitting there talking with Ben about this and I was thinking, "Isn't this great? We should do a press conference on this. That's what we need, Dr. Spock doing a press conference saying that kids shouldn't drink milk." Before the end of the lunch, Ben turned to me and said: "Neal, we ought to do a press conference on this." And that's what we did. We did a press conference in 1992 on exactly that topic, and he became a good friend..."


MC: "...I can tell by your smile that it brings back some good memories..."


NB: "Oh, he was one a very few people who I just think the absolute world of."

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MC: "Howard has often spoke about how impressed he's been with PCRM's activities, most notably, how you've been probably the 1st organization of your kind to effectively using the legal system to say, get information out of the Feds and to force them to face issues they've previously ignored. Can you explain more about your methodology and reasoning on this? I mean, what possessed you to, say, sue the government to find out the backgrounds of people on a Dietary Committee?"


NB: "The law is used by many people defensively, you break a law, you have to defend yourself. Somebody comes after you, you have to defend yourself.


We use it as a "palette." Like an artist's palette. Looking for things you can do. We had our view and can be as creative as the law allows you to be. And on e thing that the law allows you to do is, through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), find out who is on an Advisory Committee. Through the Federal Advisory Committee Act, it says that anybody who is on an officially appointed committee that will be influencing government decisions they have to... there are certain requirements for balance and transparency. So we FOIA'd everybody's CVs [curriculum vitae] and found out that out of eleven members of the year 2000 Dietary Guidelines Committee, out of eleven members, six had prominent industry ties (especially dairy, meat, egg).


And so, we sued, in Federal District Court here in the District of Columbia, saying "this is not a properly appointed Advisory Committee." Moreover, when you work like that... what if the Committee is trying to find out what is the best submarine vendor for the military? You've got to know who's working for whom. So the judge looked at our attorney and said, basically, "you're right." We won the case and you know, Federal Dietary Guidelines are not yet perfect, but they are getting a lot better. Each time we get a new set of guidelines, they're better. This time, there are two full pages on a vegetarian/vegan diet. They're not perfect..."


MC: "...well, they are not using your "Power Plate" yet..."


NB: "But what they're using is close to it. "Power Plate" is similar to it. We'll see how it goes. That process is gearing up again. There's a new Dietary Guidelines Committee that's been appointed, and we will be doing everything we can to push it in the right direction."


MC: "Wow... I don't like asking you to keep answers short, as it's like asking Picasso to "please, just make a rough sketch!" You've got so much insight and information to communicate. Here's a government-related dietary quickie: "Let's Move" [Michelle Obama's effort] won't work, why?"

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NB: "...I think that the "Let's Move" campaign, when it debuted, we were all wondering "is this going to be like Ladybird Johnson's efforts to beautify America," which we all knew was a nonsensical campaign to make her just look good in a totally non-controversial way. Was that what is was? Or was it like efforts to promote literacy, just non-controversial things to keep the First Lady occupied, OR, was this going to be serious? Like Hillary Clinton, as the First Lady, taking on Health Care, and being willing to be a lightening rod..."


MC: "...she almost pulled it off..."


NB: "Well, I'm sorry to say that, for whatever reason, that campaign has never had the leadership or the mandate or the resources to do anything worthwhile."


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