By Dr. Ghayur Ayub
A single incident in 1955 when President Eisenhower suffered a heart attack practically changed the future dietary pattern of the world. The resultant deliberations on the subject of heart diseases and dietary regimens took the academia by storm. Researchers like pathologist Ansel from Minnesota came up with the theory that heart diseases were linked to saturated fat and cholesterol. His work was based on a seemingly biased study wherein he picked up countries that positively reflected his hypothesis and ignored those which did not.
He managed to impose his opinion into the American Heart Association. That was the beginning of a series of new researches by likeminded investigators which changed the disease pattern in coming decades. They came up with a pyramid of diet consisting of a broad based carbohydrates, a narrow peak of fat and a middle section consisting of fruits, vegetables and proteins. The pyramid changed the whole spectrum of diseases in the years that followed. The common illnesses and infectious diseases were taken over by the new emerging chronic diseases related to metabolism.
Most of the infectious diseases were controlled by pharmaceutical industry. The corporations in food industry tried to do the same promoting food that fell within this dietary pyramid. It was a mistake. Drugs attack specific targets in a narrow range. While the effect of diet is pretty wide on different organs that can disturb body metabolism. Secondly, drugs went through stringent procedures before they were registered for human consumption. It was not the case with food where the control was lose in the hands of biased researchers who wanted to make their products saleable. Thirdly, the researchers in food industry ignored the fact that the fueling of cells in different organs of the body was one and the same. It meant, though the human body is combination of various organs of complex cellular systems but each cell in those organs has identical fueling mechanism which relies on high fat and low carbohydrate. Through that mechanism a normal cell needs oxygen through mitochondria and uses it as energy for its function and survival no matter where the cell resides in the body.
Nevertheless, following the footsteps of pharmaceutical industry, the food industry translated professor’s theory into a chart of dietary pyramid of healthy food. In an organized manner, the industry started propagating the pyramidal norms of low fat, low cholesterol and high carb diet initiating potentially a lucrative business. Soon, the unsaturated oil started to sell in the markets like candies from 1960s onwards.
The pharmaceutical industry joined the band wagon and came up with drugs to lower cholesterol irrespective of their efficacy and injurious side effects. As usual, some of the clinicians helped them in their endeavor. The modern trends in food industry affected the pattern in agriculture industry also. The cows were fed on maize rather than grass. It made them fat and before they would die of lopsided nutrition they were slaughtered and the meat was sold in the market. The cycle went on with appalling results on public health. The next four to five decades became rewarding treasures for these industries and made billions in profit.
While this was going on, some serious researchers started doubting the fast track rather biased researches. Their voices were diluted by the greedy corporations through the media which they controlled.
Then, came Professor Timothy Noakes of South Africa and others like him. They challenged the structure of the old dietary pyramid introducing a new one which had; a wide base containing fat and animal food; a narrow peak with carbohydrates; and the middle level containing fruits, vegetables and proteins. This diet had 80 % of fat, 10-15 % of protein and not more than 12 grams of carbohydrates. It was called Ketogenic diet which was something like Atkin’s diet except that Atkin diet emphasized on high protein. They proved that the level of good cholesterol or HDL went up while the bad cholesterol or LDL went down by Ketogenic diet. The reverse was happening with those who were on low fat, low cholesterol and high carb diet. In a way, it turned the old dietary pyramid upside down.
The challenge to the old dietary pyramid was going to be a matter of survival for the food industry. The pharmaceutical industry was equally worried as the change would adversary affect its products too. The primary link factor between the two industries was the obesity caused by the old dietary pyramid. Researchers confirmed that obesity was the main cause of diabetes, heart diseases, strokes, kidney diseases, liver failure, depression and even some cancers.
On cancer, an interesting new theory surfaced by the researchers such as Thomas A Seyfried, Laura M Shelton and others saying that primarily cancer is the disease of energy metabolism and that the cancer cells cannot get energy from oxygen. They ferment sugar and refined carbohydrates to get energy so they need sugar to proliferate. Whereas as mentioned earlier normal cell needs oxygen through mitochondria for its survival. This theory points finger at the food of old dietary pyramid being carcinogenic.
Other researchers such as Haibo Liu, Danshan Huang and David McArthur et al, found that fructose (a type of sugar) is particularly powerful in proliferation of pancreatic cancer cells. Prof Eugene J Fine, a clinical professor at Albert Einstien College of Medicine who is studying the effect of ketogenic diet on cancer cells argues that cancer is a heterogeneous disease meaning by each cancer cell has different mutation pattern. In such a scenario some of the mutating cells can be caught by ketogenic diet while others remain unaffected. It is for this reason, he supports Ketogenic diet as supportive therapy in cancer treatment.
Prof Noakes was taken to the court for unprofessional behavior by Association of Dietistics of South Africa in 2016. The health profession council of South Africa spent three years and hundreds and thousands of dollars on prosecution of the Professor. In the end, they lost the case.
As of today, the old dietary pyramid is still going strong. How long would it take for the new pyramid to replace the old one is a matter of wild guess. Meanwhile we are constantly attacked by the diet which is disturbing our basic metabolism and exposing us to the chronic non infectious diseases.