For years, we have been told to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, but new research suggests that eight servings may be significantly better.  

The diet and lifestyles of more than 300,000 people across eight countries in Europe found that people who ate eight or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day had a 22% lower risk of dying from heart disease than those who ate five servings a day. But, as expected, those who ate 5 servings did significantly better than those who ate less.   

One portion or serving was considered to be 90 grams, equivalent to a medium banana, apple, or carrot.  

The average intake of fruits and vegetables in the various countries came to about 4 servings a day.

Spain, Greece, and Italy were the leaders in fruit and vegetable eating. Italian men enjoyed 7.5 portions a day, and Spanish women 6.7 portions.

Healthy eating tailed off the further north the researchers looked in Europe. UK men managed 3.9 portions a day, and UK women 4.2 portions.

Swedish men and women were the worst, with only 3.5 and 2.9 portions a day.

The researchers said that factors of cost and availability of fruits and vegetables most likely account for the differences in intake.

Stepping up from 5 servings to 8 servings a day might be seem like a lot, but lead researcher Francesca Crowe said, “Even if everyone increased their intake by just one portion a day, the impact on public health would be enormous.”

Unfortunately, the figures for the US are very poor. In 2005, only 30% of Americans consumed 2 or more pieces of fruit a day.  Regarding vegetables, only 32% of American women and 22% of American men ate 3 or more servings of vegetables a day (including both raw vegetable salad and cooked vegetables).

This scale of 2 fruits and 3 vegetables reflects the 5-a-day program. But, imagine if it were bumped up to 8. The percentage of Americans who eat 8 or more fruits and vegetables a day must be well below 10%.  And it’s trending lower because of rising food prices in the bad economy. Produce is expensive, though there is a wide spread. Bananas, for instance, are still quite cheap at fifty cents a pound. But, it wasn’t long ago that they were three pounds for a dollar. So, everything is going up.

But, I hope people will find other ways to economize than to reduce their consumption of fresh produce. It isn’t just about nutrition, as in fuel. It’s about nutritional therapeutics and disease prevention. It’s about avoiding the misery of the “medical phase of life.” It’s about staying alive. You can’t put a price on that. 

I recently read: James Dean: Little Boy Lost, by his close friend, Hollywood columnist Joe Hyams.  My interest in James Dean stemmed not so much from his life, but his afterlife. He really had only one year in the spotlight, the last year of his life, 1955. That was the year he completed his three movies: East of Eden, Rebel Without A Cause, and Giant.  Yet, it has been said that his enduring afterlife has been exceeded by only two other stars: Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. James Dean has become a cult hero: the undying personification of rebellious youth.

James Dean certainly did affect people. When news of his sudden and untimely death reached Elizabeth Taylor, one of his co-stars in Giant, she collapsed and had to be hospitalized for 5 days.  And she barely knew him.

As I have done before in reviewing biographies, I want to focus on the health aspects of his life, since this is a health blog.  But, I want to start by sharing some amazing parallels between his life and that of another Hollywood legend, Clark Gable.  Both were an only child, born on a farm in rural Indiana.  Both had adoring mothers who died when they were young boys.  Both had fathers who gave them up to relatives who became their surrogate parents.  Both remained largely estranged from their fathers for life. Both were mediocre students in school, but both caught the acting bug from participating in school plays.  

However, there was one thing that distinguished James Dean’s early life from that of Clark Gable:  In high school, James Dean was molested by a trusted family friend, the local minister, Reverend James DeWeerd.  It was a sexual relationship that lasted for several years. If James Dean was traumatized by it, he never said so. And sporadically, he had other homosexual affairs after that, including a recurring one with Hollywood producer Rogers Brackett.  However, James Dean was also a ladies man, coveting some of the great beauties of his day, including Natalie Wood, Ursula Andress, and Pier Angeli.  And his romantic, emotional attachments were always with women, not men.  The times that he fell “in love” (and there were many) always involved women.  However, it does seem that bisexuality was deeply rooted in his nature.

After graduating from high school, James Dean moved to Southern California to live with father and step-mother. The plan was that he would study pre-law at Santa Monica City College, but he only did well in his theater classes. He switched to UCLA so as to major in theater, and there he did Shakespeare, taking on the role of Malcolm in Macbeth.  After that, he dropped out, hired an agent, and began his professional acting career.  

At first, he mainly did commercials (starting with a Pepsi commercial) and bit parts on television. He also got bit parts in movies, including a Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis comedy and a John Wayne war movie. However, none of these gigs paid very well, and he struggled to get by.  Then, his friend and fellow-actor James Whitmore urged him to move to New York to study at the Actors Studio, which he did. At first, he continued to be limited to television commercials and bit parts, but eventually, he starred in two Broadway shows: See the Jaguar and The Immortalist. Neither was a tremendous hit, but he, personally, received rave reviews.  

His big break came when Elia Kazan, the head of the Actors Studio, was chosen in 1954 to direct the movie, East of Eden, based on the celebrated novel by John Steinbeck. Kazan knew instantly that James Dean was perfect for the role of Cal Trask, and upon meeting him, John Steinbeck agreed.  Dean was, indeed, brilliant in it. You can’t watch that movie without reacting to the emotions of the troubled relationship between Cal and his father, and eerily, it very much resembled the relationship Dean had with his own father.  After that, Dean was a shoo-in for the role of Jim Stark in Rebel Without A Cause, his signature movie.   I, actually, did not appreciate Rebel very much. I thought his acting was fine, but I found the script and the dialogue to be cheesy and unrealistic, and the story was downright depressing.  Then came Giant, his last movie, which was still filming at the time of his death (although his scenes had been completed).  All of that happened in 1955, ending in a fatal collision on California Highway 466 on September 30.  Although James Dean was famous for his wild, reckless driving and received a speeding ticket earlier in the day, reports that he was speeding  at the time of the accident were later retracted.

But now, let’s take a look at the health aspects of James Dean’s life. First, he had good physical proportions, and he was actually very athletic.  Just think: he made the basketball team at Santa Monica College at a height of less than 5’8”.   In high school, he also played baseball and ran track. However, it was always a struggle for him to maintain his weight.  And the problem only got worse over time.  During the making of East of Eden, they had him drinking heavy cream by the quart in order to bolster his weight.  Why did he stay so thin? There were times, early in his career, that he missed meals  because of a lack of money, but that had little to do with it in the long run. And usually, there were people helping him, fronting him, and from what I can gather, he did most of his eating in restaurants.  And it was typical American food: steaks, burgers, spaghetti, etc.  So, why did his weight keep slipping?

For one, James Dean was a heavy smoker. He smoked unfiltered Chesterfields, which are up there with unfiltered Camels as the strongest American cigarettes.  Elia Kazan said that during the 9 hour flight from New York to Los Angeles in 1954 to begin work on East of Eden, James Dean chain-smoked the entire 9 hours.  Smoking does a number on your digestion.  It chokes off circulation to the digestive tract; it dries up digestive secretions, including saliva; and it indurates the membranes where digestion takes place. I realize there are smokers who are overweight, however, James Dean was the classic “ectomorph,” meaning that he was, by nature, slender, slim-waisted, long-limbed, and generally delicate and fragile.  Ectomorphs have “short guts,” meaning that they have less surface area from which to absorb food.  When ectomorphs smoke, and heavily at that, they are bound to lose weight.

For two, James Dean drank alcohol, which interferes with and retards digestion.  I know that many people believe that drinking wine with a meal aids digestion, but that is a complete myth. It has the opposite effect.  I believe that in today’s medical world, James Dean would have been diagnosed with bipolar depression. He was subject to very erratic behavior and severe mood swings, both before and after he became a star.  He was never treated medically for this condition, but he did treat himself- with alcohol.  He often got drunk. He often drove drunk, and it scared people. And when he was under stress, which was often, he relied even more heavily on alcohol.

Regarding other drugs, there are no reports of his ample usage of anything else. He probably smoked marijuana occasionally and may have done other drugs sporadically at parties, etc. But clearly, tobacco and alcohol were his drugs of choice.  And really, it’s amazing that he never got started on medical drugs because he suffered with severe insomnia.  This was during the same period that Marilyn Monroe was wrestling with her terrible insomnia and taking heavy-duty barbiturates for it.  But when James Dean couldn’t sleep, he just got up.  And I don’t mean to read, or watch TV, or listen to music.  I mean that he got up and got dressed and went speeding off on his motorcycle looking for all-night taverns, diners, and speakeasies.  And that brings us to our first health lesson from his life: Is it better to treat insomnia with drugs or to just live with it? And I think that, clearly, it’s better to just live with it. James Dean did better than Marilyn Monroe in that respect.  And the reason is that as your sleep debt builds, eventually, it pushes through the resistance, and you “crash” and do find sleep.  Of course, it isn’t an ideal way to live. But, I think it’s better to fluctuate between good nights and bad, which is likely to happen, than to condition yourself to taking sleeping pills.  There are a few things you can take to bolster sleep which are safe, such as melatonin, L-Theanine (from green tea) and certain herbs, such as Lemon Balm.  But none of the prescription drugs for sleep, then or now, are any good, in my opinion.  So, don’t go down that road; you are bound to regret it.

Another thing James Dean had in common with Marilyn Monroe was a penchant for Freudian Psychoanalysis.  And it sounds like it did him about as much good as it did her, which is to say, not much. By the way, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe did meet- at the Actors Studio in New York.

And granted, James Dean had plenty to stress about. Until his last year, life was a real, hand-to-mouth struggle for him. And even when he died, his estate was only worth $96,000, which went to his father. However, that included a $100,000 life insurance policy, which meant that he must have had net liabilities of $4000 at the time of his death, not counting the insurance policy, which would have been worthless had he lived. He had many friends and many lovers, but many of his relationships ended badly. His greatest stress may have come from his love affair with actress Pier Angeli, considered to be the love of his life. While he was filming East of Eden, she was working at another set at the Warner Brothers studio, and that is how they met.  It was love at first sight for both of them, but her mother did not approve of James Dean, partly because he was not Catholic, and also because of his reputation.  So, Pier wound up marrying actor/singer Vic Damone, who was Catholic.  James Dean never got over that, and apparently, neither did Pier Angeli.

In closing, I think James Dean was a great actor.  But perhaps because of his bipolar depression, he lived very self-destructively. It’s amazing that Warner Brothers didn’t try harder to protect their valuable asset- from himself.  They did try to limit and control his dangerous driving but not his smoking or drinking.  But then again, it was a time during which almost everybody smoked and drank, and especially Hollywood types.  But, the most amazing thing to me is what all he did accomplish, despite his dysfunctionality and self-abuse. Besides his acting, he found time to seriously delve into art, music, literature, and photography. He learned enough about bull-fighting to get paid to teach it to other actors. And he competed in car races against seasoned professional drivers, finishing as high as 2nd.  It’s simply amazing to me how much abuse the human body can withstand.   

The January issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported a protective effect from higher dietary zinc intake from dying of prostate cancer.

It involved 525 Swedish men, all under the age of 80, who had been already diagnosed with prostate cancer. They were followed for an average of 6.4 years.  Responses to dietary questionnaires administered upon enrollment were analyzed for the intake of calories, and iron and zinc from food sources. The subjects were followed through February 2009, during which time the causes of any deaths were determined.

“Over the 6.4 year average follow-up period there were 475 deaths, of which 218 were attributed to prostate cancer. Men whose intake of zinc was among the highest 25 percent of participants at greater than 15.6 milligrams per day had a 36 percent lower adjusted risk of dying from prostate cancer compared with those whose intake was among the lowest fourth. For those whose tumors were localized, there was a 76 percent lower risk of death among those whose intake was the highest compared to men whose intake was the lowest. Iron intake was not significantly associated with prostate cancer survival, and zinc was not associated with death from other causes."

The authors of the report note that the results of previous research concerning a protective effect for zinc in the prevention of prostate cancer have been inconsistent, and suggest that zinc could play a greater role in determining outcome of the disease rather than in its development. They remark that zinc is involved in a number of cellular functions, including maintenance of the immune system and DNA repair.

"These results suggest that high dietary intake of zinc is associated with lower prostate cancer–specific mortality after diagnosis, particularly in men with localized disease," Mara M. Epstein and her colleagues write. "These findings should encourage future studies of zinc and prostate cancer to include survival endpoints in an attempt to confirm our conclusions."

Being a man and having a prostate gland, I am impressed with these results. It has been suspected for a long time that zinc has a protective effect against prostate cancer, and now it looks like it really does. Zinc is considered a marginal nutrient, especially within plant-based diets, such as I eat and recommend. The fiber, oxalates, and phytates in plants all inhibit zinc availability and absorption. Is it a significant problem? It’s hard to know. I suppose it depends on the exact composition of the diet, and surely, there are individual variables involved, just as there is with iron.

Iron, too, is said to be difficult to absorb from plants. For instance, I have a friend in his 70s who has been a healthseeker for over 50 years, and he has been very serious about it. He not only eats all-organic food, but most of what he eats he raises himself on his organic homestead in Virginia, close to the Chesapeake Bay. He is raising many kinds of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and berries. And in many ways, his health had been extraordinary and exceptional, especially for his age. However, recently, he has come down with iron-deficiency anemia. It’s not severe, and he’s not feeling terrible, but it is unmistakably that. Surely, there is plenty of iron in the food he is eating. So, why isn’t he absorbing it? I really can't say. Any answer I were to give would only be speculation.  I eat similarly to him and my iron level is fine. So obviously, there are individual factors involved.

And it may be similar with zinc. Determining a person’s zinc status isn’t that easy. A serum zinc test is not considered to be reliable, and it fluctuates a lot. There is a taste sensitivity test that some are using as a proxy for zinc status, but I don’t know how valid it is, although it is true that zinc is involved in taste acuity. 

Note that those who eat ultra-low-fat diets, such as the Pritikin diet or the McDougall diet may be sabotaging their zinc status. Dietary fats increase zinc absorption. The USDA did extensive testing showing that the lower the fat content of the diet, the greater the amount of zinc that passed through the body unabsorbed and wound up in the toilet.  At least I know I am not making that mistake. I know that when I eat healthy fats, such as nuts or avocados, I am enhancing my mineral absorption. And remember that the plant food that is highest in zinc is the mighty pecan- and it has healthy, monounsaturated fat and relatively low fiber content to enhance mineral absorption. I eat pecans almost daily.

Nevertheless, I don’t mind a bit that my Extend Core multi from VRP provides 15 mgs of highly absorbable zinc. It’s a very safe dosage, and zinc is too important- to immunity, to sexuality, to cancer prevention, to eye health, to memory- and even to digestive and glandular function- to leave it to chance.     

Jack LaLanne has died of pneumonia at age 96. I was as impressed with him as everyone else was. At age 60, he swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco while handcuffed, with his legs shackled, and towing a 1,000-pound boat. I'm 60 now. Could I do that? Well, I might be able to handle the swim, but that cold 58 degree water? Forget about it. I could not tolerate the cold.

As you know, 96 is a very long life. It's about 20 years beyond the lifespan of the average American man. However, increasingly, we are hearing of people who reach that age- and beyond. Centenarians are becoming ever more common. And when we hear about centenarians, they are often just regular people- not lifelong fitness fanatics and health food nuts, like Jack LaLanne and Yours Truly. So what does it mean? Should we take a cynical attitude? If little old ladies in nursing homes can sometimes reach 103 without doing anything special, should we take any of this health stuff seriously?

I think we should. You can't just look at the raw numbers. You have to look at the quality of the life behind the number. Yes, Jack LaLanne, died at an age that increasingly more people are reaching. However, he reached that age in much better condition- physically and mentally- than most people reach it (if they reach it at all). And that's an important distinction because life is more about quality than quantity, in my opinion.

And we should not overlook the role that luck plays. Jack LaLanne did not die of cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, which are the three biggest killers of people in modern life. He died of complications from pneumonia. However, there was a certain amount of bad luck in his getting pneumonia because it is something that depends, among other things, on exposure. What if he had decided to spend the winter in Bermuda? Maybe he would not have gotten pneumonia. Or maybe he would have gotten it, but a milder case of it, from which he could have, and would have, recovered. And if he had recovered, maybe it would have been smooth sailing for him all the way to 100 and beyond. We hear a lot about centenarians and usually at times that they are doing well, but we don't always hear about the close calls they may have had that could have taken them out years before. They were lucky. I don't care who you are: if you make it to 100, there's got to be some luck involved. Think of all the ways and times you could have been killed in an accident over the course of 100 years.

So, Jack LaLanne has nothing to explain for cashing in his chips at 96. I wish he could have lived longer- for his sake, and for the sake of additional others he would have inspired and helped. However, the superb condition in which he lived the final years of his life was proof-positive that his system works.

The FDA is restricting the amount of acetaminophen in Vicodin, Percocet and other prescription painkillers. It is because acetaminophen has been linked to thousands of cases of liver damage each year. They’re capping it at 325 milligrams per capsule, which is less than half the previous limit. Previously, doses of up to 700 milligrams were allowed by prescription.

Acetaminophen is the very popular pain reliever that most people know as Tylenol.  But, it’s also found in Nyquil, Theraflu, Sudafed, and thousands of other medicines used to treat headaches, fever and more. And, it’s offered by prescription in combination with narcotic drugs like hydrocodone (as in Vicodin) and oxycodone  (as in Percocet).

The concern is that because acetaminophen is so ubiquitous, people may be getting toxic overdoses when they take multiple acetaminophen-containing products. Also, labeling is an issue because some products use abbreviations for acetaminophen, such as “APAP,” which most people don’t recognize.

"One of the real challenges we have is that patients taking these products don't know they're taking acetaminophen at all," said FDA deputy director Dr. Sandra Kweder. "They don't realize that they are overdosing."

The FDA said it is working with pharmacies and other medical groups to develop standard labeling for acetaminophen, but that is still in the offing.

The restrictions announced Thursday will not affect over-the-counter products like Tylenol and Theraflu. The FDA said it is still considering limits on those products, but for now, over-the-counter products will actually be permitted to contain higher doses of acetaminophen — up to 500 milligrams per capsule- than prescription forms.

The FDA said it would add a boxed warning, the strongest type, to all prescription drugs containing acetaminophen.

Amazingly, in 2009, a panel of 37 medical experts urged the FDA to ban Vicodin completely. But, the FDA decided against taking that action simply because Vicodin is so widely prescribed: 200 million times in 2010! The same panel recommended lowering the amount of acetaminophen in over-the-counter products, but the FDA has rejected that advice as well.

Here is the bottom line for healthseekers. First, get the idea out of your head that acetaminophen is a safe painkiller. Unfortunately, there are no safe painkillers. Second, realize that although acetaminophen is well-tolerated in the stomach (which is its major selling point), it is extremely bad for the liver. Acetaminophen is the leading cause of liver failure in the U.S. It sends 56,000 people to the E.R. annually. Several hundred die each year, but a larger number are saved only by getting liver transplants. And, although acetaminophen is not considered to be as bad for the kidneys as NSAIDs such as naproxen and ibuprofen, it is still damaging to the kidneys. The latter drugs have been known to cause acute kidney failure. But on a larger scale, they have been known to cause a more slowly evolving form of kidney damage known as analgesic nephropathy.  Acetaminophen, too, has been linked to analgesic nephropathy. The damage we are discussing is irreversible. If you wait until your kidneys are shot to change course, it will be too late.

As to which of these painkillers is the best choice, I hate to commit myself. Aspirin, at doses sufficient to relieve pain, is quite dangerous. The risk from bleeding alone makes it dangerous. NSAIDs like naproxen and ibuprofen, besides damaging the kidneys, wreck the stomach.

I don’t take painkillers. I haven’t in years. It’s not that I’ve never been in any pain. It’s just that I stubbornly resist taking drugs. However, I do keep some Tylenol around-just in case. But, I also keep some NAC around. NAC stands for N-acetyl cysteine. It is an amino acid, and it is considered an antidote for acetaminophen poisoning. Every E.R. at every hospital in the world keeps NAC around to treat acetaminophen poisoning. NAC halts the rampant free radical reactions in the liver that take place from taking acetaminophen. NAC also restores glutathione, which gets knocked out by acetaminophen. So, I would take 600 mg of NAC twice a day if I were taking acetaminophen.

But again, I avoid painkillers like the Plague. The last batch of Tylenol I bought wound up being thrown out because it expired. And I hope the same thing happens to the batch I have now.

When you are in pain, try to obtain relief through non-drug methods. Heat and massage often work. Cold can also be useful. For instance, if you have a headache, you can place an icepack on your aching head, while soaking your body in a hot tub. That combination often does the trick.

Please: respect and fear painkilling drugs. Use them only as a last resort and for the shortest possible time. And if you take Tylenol, also take NAC.   OH, one last thing that is very important: if you are taking Tylenol, don't drink alcohol. The liver-damaging effects of acetaminophen and alcohol are additive. Tylenol + alcohol = liver failure.