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.   

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 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.     

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.

 

The British Medical Journal has released a scathing attack on Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the British doctor and researcher who since 1998 has championed the link between childhood vaccines and autism.

We have seen this kind of persecution before, for instance, towards Dr. Peter Duesberg, the molecular biologist who was attacked for his controversial views on HIV and AIDS. The truth is that Big Pharma will tolerate no criticism of its massive vaccination program for children. Never before have so many vaccines been given to children so early in life- approximately 35 vaccines before the age of 5. It is a massive chemical bombardment that is being administered indiscriminately and universally and with no serious effort to even look for untoward effects.

But remember, you have to follow the money. The recent article attacking Dr. Wakefield was written by Brian Deer, who is a reporter for the London Times, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul with close ties to Big Pharma.

Wakefield's interest in vaccinations arose from spontaneous reports from parents about illnesses and abnormalities they saw in their children shortly after they were vaccinated. There have been many such cases. but Big Pharma has always refused to look at them. At the beginning, Dr. Wakefield was a practicing gastroenterologist in England, and he was asked to evaluate a child who had severe bowel problems and who had also sunk into autism, and all of it starting immediately after getting the MMR vaccine. Dr. Wakefield, who prior to that had no alternativist bent whatsoever, was intrigued with the case. Then, similar cases started coming in, over 200 in total. When he wrote his famous paper, published in the Lancet in 1998, he never claimed that vaccines cause autism; he only said there was a "possible association" between the two. And for that, they pilloried him and continue to pillory him.

But, I think Dr. Wakefield is much too timid about the link. Among unvaccinated Amish children, autism is virtually non-existent. Dr. Mayer Eisenstein, the head of the HomeFirst Health Services, has tracked 35,000 Amish children in Illinois, and as regards autism, he said, "I don't have a single case." Then there is Dr. Jeff Bradstreet, a Florida pediatrician who is associated with a large group of religious families who are home-schooling their children and refraining to vaccinate them, and he says that in regard to autism in this group, "It's largely non-existent." For many years, I was associated with the American Natural Hygiene Society which consisted of about 10,000 families from all over the country who were trying to live healthfully and who were not vaccinating their children. It was a close-knit group, and I never heard of a single case of autism among any of the children involved, and I do believe I would have heard.  

These are just a few examples, but there are many more. Vaccination is a vast subject, and it is not possible for me to address all aspects of it, and I won't try. And although I am not an immunologist, I am still entitled to my opinion. And like everyone, I am entitled to make decisions about it pertaining to my own life, and I won't be pushed around. I had just one child, a son, and his mother and I refused to permit him to be vaccinated at all. He grew up just fine and suffered no bad consequences whatsoever. He never caught any of the diseases for which others were being vaccinated. Today, he is a healhy 37 year old man. If I had to do it over, I would again refuse to have him vaccinated. I, myself, was vaccinated as a child, but fortunately, there were only a few back then. It wasn't like today. As an adult, I have never been vaccinated for anything, and there are no conditons or circumstances in which I would ever consider being vaccinated again, for anything, period.

Do you think vaccination is scientific? If it were scientific, they would test it. They would do double-blind, placebo-controlled studies of it. They never do. Not for any of them.

Once, l had the privilege of meeting Dr. Robert Mendelsohn, the author of Confessions of a Medical Heretic. And I remember his telling me that of all areas of Medicine,  vaccination was the most flimsy, tenuous, and unfounded.  He said that vaccination was more doctrine and dogma than science, and belief in it is really more of a religion. I probably have about as much technical knowledge of vaccination as most physicians do, which is to say, not much. However, I am not going around injecting children or adults with rank poisons under the delusion that I am protecting them from disease. We'll leave the last words to Dr. Mendelsohn: 

"The greatest threat of childhood diseases lies in the dangerous and ineffective methods used to prevent them through mass innoculations. There is no convincing scientific evidence that mass innoculations can be credited with eliminating any childhood disease."

Once again, they really surprised me on the upside. They announced their list of 10 foods to build muscle, boost immunity, burn fat, and strengthen the heart, and I thought for sure I'd find the likes of salmon, whey, and other animal foods on the list. But no, all 10 were plants! Let's go through them, one by one, but I'll omit numbers because it's not supposed to be a rating scale. They are all equally good.

Cabbage: They emphasize the sulforaphane, which is in all cruciferous vegetables. Actually, headed cabbage is a little like headed lettuce, and just as leaf lettuce is superior because it's greener, the same is true when comparing leafy cabbage (such as collards and kale) to headed cabbage. So, you're better off with the former. But that doesn't mean you can't eat headed cabbage sometimes. For instance, if you're bent on having cole slaw, you wouldn't want to use raw collards or kale because it just wouldn't taste good. So, I am all for making use of cabbage. But personally, I always buy the red headed cabbage rather than the green. I like the way it looks; I like the way it tastes; and I like what it delivers.

Beets: That rich red color is visual proof of the high antioxidant content. And remember that the beet greens are good to eat too, like spinach. My favorite way to eat beets are cooked, skinned, chilled, and diced in a salad. And they keep quite well too- at least for a week. So, you can cook up a bunch and use them up over the course of several days or longer. They definitely add a lot of pizzazz to salads.

Guava: They point out that guava is higher in Vitamin C than oranges and higher in Lycopene than tomatoes or watermelon. I'm all for guava, but it is a bit pricey, and it's not so widely available.

Swiss chard: This leafy green is much more practical and efficient to grow than it's cousin, spinach. It grows bigger and faster, so you get more. It grows more upright, so it doesn't get so soil-ridden. And the flavor of it is milder and goes with everything. And nutritionally, it is just as good as spinach. Hey, I grow swiss chard all winter. I have it growing right now, and I eat it often. When it freezes hard, I throw some hay over it. That's all it takes to keep it alive, even down into the teens.

Cinnamon: They emphasize how it helps to control blood sugar. But, I like cinnamon just for the taste of it, and I use it often. I love it on oatmeal. I even put it on whole grain oat cereal.

Purslane: This is a salad green that I have little experience with. I'm sure I have tried it  at least once years ago. Although it's not widely available, I am going to keep my eyes open for it and buy it. They point out two interesting things: One, purslane is the highest green in alpha-linolenic acid- the plant form of Omega 3. Two, it is the vegetable that is highest in melatonin, the hormone. Is it high enough to put you to sleep? I doubt it, but I'll let you know after I try it.

Pomegranite juice: They emphasize the benefits to blood pressure, blood flow, and heart health. Lately, I have been using a pomegranite juice concentrate. Two tablespoons comprise one serving. Pomegranite is still my favorite "super-fruit" and I plan to make use of it yearround.

Goji berries: This is the only food on the list that I have never eaten. They say that it is the highest in antixoidants of any food. They're supposed to be available both fresh and dried, but I've never seen them in the markets near me. Have you?

Prunes: Prune growers are trying to switch the name of their fruit to "dried plums" because they are tired of being associated with nursing homes and bathroom activities. I have nothing against prunes, but frankly, I don't eat them. The reason is that I use raisins and dried figs regularly in various ways, and that's enough dried fruit for me. I don't want to get carried away with it. But if someone else prefers prunes to the others, that's fine with me.

Pumpkin Seeds: Everyone knows that they're high in zinc, but did you know that they are also loaded with magnesium? Pumpkins seeds are also high in omega 3 fatty acid. However, pumpkin seeds are definitely an acquired taste. And, be careful about freshness. The oil in pumpkin seeds goes rancid very easily. I am not inclined to use them much, despite their rich nutritional bounty. But if you like them, go for it.

Thank you, Men's Health, for highlighting the vast nutrition of plant foods. The truth is that there are any number of other plant foods that would have been just as deserving of praise. However, the important thing is that the magazine is moving in the right direction. Plants rule!

Elvis Presley was called the King of Rock and Roll, but he was, arguably, the biggest, most successful entertainer of the 20th century, and therefore, of all time. Fortunate Son by Charles L. Ponce De Leon is an excellent biography of Elvis. Since this is a health blog, I will focus mainly on the health aspects of Elvis's life. But first, I am going to indulge myself a little and discuss his music.

For many people, including me, Elvis will always be remembered mainly for the pivotal role he played in the emergence of Rock and Roll. It is the Elvis of the 1950s who is immortal to us. His first recording That's All Right was a remake of the Arthur Crudup R&B standard, and that was in 1954. However, the term "Rock and Roll" did not come into common usage until 1956, reportedly started by Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed. So, how was Elvis' music perceived during the first two years of his career? It was considered an amalgam of White Southern Country and Black Rhythm and Blues, with an emphasis on the latter. In Memphis, where he started as a local phenom, Elvis was known as "The Hillbilly Cat." He was considered a white guy singing black music, and that was his whole schtick.

How talented was Elvis? Each person can judge his vocal ability for themselves. Like many, I think he was an excellent singer with an incredibly wide range of musical styles. He could sing anything.  However, he liked to disparage his own guitar playing. For instance, he would often say onstage that he only learned three chords on the guitar, and two of them he forgot. But other musicians, including prominent ones such as the Beatles, would visit him to pay their respects, and they would jam together, and many said that he was, indeed, a very good guitarist and a natural at it.

But, where did his talent come from? He was the only child of young, dirt-poor parents from Tupelo, Mississippi. The house in which Elvis was born in 1935 had no electricity and no indoor plumbing. He had an identical twin brother, Jesse, who was stillborn. His mother, Gladys, was a seamstress, and his father, Vernon, did various odd jobs. It was the Great Depression, and life was difficult. Once, out of desperation, Vernon got involved in some petty larceny which landed him in prison for 9 months. Although life was a struggle, Gladys and Vernon were always able to provide Elvis the essentials: food, clothing, shelter, even a few toys. Elvis never went hungry. And they were very religious- Pentecostals. It was at church that Elvis' passion for music began. Gospel music was his first love, and it stayed with him for life. His family attended those old-time religious revivals under the tents, filled with song, and Elvis really got into it. They also enjoyed going to an amateur broadcast radio show, the Saturday Jamboree, in Tupelo, where Elvis took his turn at the mic.

On his 11th birthday, Elvis received a guitar from his mother, and he started getting informal instruction from relatives. However, through the Saturday Jamboree, he got noticed by a prominent local musician, Mississippi Slim, who peformed hillbilly music. Mississippi Slim started tutoring Elvis in guitar, and he was Elvis' first significant musical mentor.

In 1948, for economic reasons, the family moved to Memphis. During high school, Elvis worked various odd jobs to help support the family, but, his passion for music only deepened. It was in Memphis that his appreciation for black music got started, particularly R&B. Before graduating, Elvis performed at the annual Minstrel Show in Memphis in 1953, and he was a big hit.. After graduating, he took a job at an electrical parts distributor with the intent of becoming an electrician. However, in the summer of 1953, he started hanging around the Memphis Recording Studio of Sam Phillips of Sun Records. Sam let Elvis attempt a few songs, and he was moderately impressed. However, it was nearly a year later, in June 1954, when Elvis performed That's All Right that Sam realized that he had finally found what he was looking for: a white guy who could sing black music. And the rest, as they say, is history.

But now, let's focus on Elvis' health because he died at age 42, and it's important to understand why. As a child, Elvis was, apparently, quite healthy. There were no major health issues that I know of. He always looked slim and well-proportioned in his childhood photos. He was never really a jock, but he stayed active. Diet-wise, he was brought up on a typical Southern diet, which meant lots of fried foods, barbecue, sausages, breaded fried catfish, sweet potato pie, cream sauces, rich gravies, etc. They did eat vegetables, and his mother enjoyed vegetable gardening, both in Tupelo and during the rich years at Graceland. But in Southern cooking, vegetables are usually fried and cooked to death. And fruits are made into pies and cobblers and rarely eaten out of hand. It's often said that, health-wise, Southern cooking is the worst of the regional diets in the US.

So that's how Elvis was brought up, but he stayed thin as a child in spite of it. And that's the first important lesson: Some people can eat that way as children without getting fat, but as adults they can't. It catches up with them. Their immunity to fatness expires, and it expired for Elvis earlier than most people realize: in his mid-20s. He began having weight problems by the early 1960s. Most people were unaware of it because he was mostly involved with making movies then, and what he would do is go on a crash diet before and during production, and then after production he would return to his old ways. So, his weight would yo-yo, which is harmful in itself.

One of his favorite dishes was a peanut butter and banana sandwich, which doesn't sound too terribly bad, except that he had it deep-fried. Elvis liked to eat. He was definitely a foodie. And there are reports of his prodigious caloric consumption.

Regarding physical activity, he became a karate enthusiast, and he and his buddies (known as the Memphis Mafia) played touch football. However, that was sporadic. There were many periods in which he would spend all his free time lying around, watching tv, and binge-eating.

But, Elvis never had much affinity for alcohol. At the start of his career, he didn't drink at all because of his religious upbringing, and he didn't want his companions drinking either. However, when he started spending a lot of time in California making movies, he learned to drink some. But, he was never an alcoholic, and alcohol was never a major factor in his life. The same is true for illegal drugs. He smoked marijuana a few times, but he was no pothead. And if he ever used any other illegal drugs such as cocaine, it must have been extremely rare, and it may have been none at all.

However, it was during his two-year military stint that he started taking amphetamines. Other soldiers introduced him to it. This was during the height of the Cold War, and they were patrolling along the Czech border, and it involved long hours and long marches, and he, like the others, took uppers to keep going. And when you take uppers, it invariably leads to the need for downers, and so he got started taking sleeping pills. And this continued after he returned to the States.

Elvis had a peculiar attitude about drugs. He was against street drugs. He was against the whole drug culture. But, he was cavalier about medical drugs. He viewed them in a totally different light (which is unjustified). In reality, there is a lot of overlap between street drugs and medical drugs. Most street drugs started as medical drugs, including heroin and cocaine. And many medical drugs are sold on the street today, including tranquilizers and painkillers. Elvis did not have to buy drugs on the street. He got doctors to prescribe them. But, he also got pharmacists to provide them, which is not strictly-speaking legal, but it was close enough for Elvis. In his mind, there was no parallel between what he was doing and what common drug addicts do.

Regarding smoking, Elvis was known to occasionally smoke cigars, but if he ever smoked cigarettes, it was extremely rare. He definitely was not addicted to tobacco.

Elvis was very nocturnal. It started with the swinging nightclub scene in Memphis, but it went way beyond that. Once he became famous, being active at night was his ticket to freedom. He could go out and do things under cover of darkness that he could not do during the day without being mobbed. So, he did everything at night. He got store owners to open at night just for him so he could shop. He got amusement places to open for him at night, including movie theaters. And he adjusted his eating schedule accordingly. For instance, he'd have breakfast at 5 pm, consisting of eggs, bacon, sausage, and buttermilk biscuits with jam. Of course, sometimes he had to adjust to daytime schedules, such as when he was making movies, and it was difficult for him. It only increased his reliance on drugs to sleep, wake, and function.

As an aside, I'll point out that anyone living at night is obviously not getting Vitamin D from the sun, and I have never heard anything about Elvis taking vitamin supplements. So, imagine how deficient in Vitamin D Elvis must have been.

Elvis' mother suffered from depression, and she died during his military service when he was only 22. He took it very hard. And he went on to suffer with depression himself, and some have suggested it was genetically based, but that seems doubtful to me. He had a very bizarre, chaotic, and destructive lifestyle, and it was enough to make anyone depressed. And, without question, drug abuse was at the center of his deterioration. He developed severe intestinal problems, and I mean constipation of a magnitude that is almost unimaginable. It was the result of his faulty diet but also the drugs. The downers in use at that time were heavy-duty barbiturates which practically paralyze the intestines. He suffered liver damage from the drugs, and he became chronically bloated. He became almost completely impotent. It's sad that after the birth of his daughter Lisa Marie, he could no longer have sex with his wife, Priscilla. And after they divorced, he did play around with women sexually but without having intercourse with them because he just wasn't "up" for it.

And he suffered at times from paranoia and delusions. He became a gun nut over it.  During his famous visit to the White House in which Nixon made him an honorary marshall in the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, Elvis was high as a kite and half out of his mind. Toward the end, Elvis was taking Dilaidid, which is a form of morphine, Percodan, which has the narcotic painkiller hydrocodone combined with aspirin, and Demerol, a synthetic opiod. Other drugs that he took regularly included Placidyl, Dexedrine, Biphetamine, Tiunal, Desbutal, Escatrol, Amytal, Quaaludes, Carbrital, Seconal, Methadone, and Ritalin.

His first brush with death was in October 1973 when he was rushed to the hospital nearly comatose. After that, his staff tried to control his drug intake, but they just couldn't. His Dr. Nichopoulos even tried sneaking placeboes into the mix, but Elvis figured out which ones to discard. In August 1975, he was hospitalized again for physical and mental problems. Elvis went back on the road in 1976, but by then, he was grossly fat, having gait problems, memory problems, and more. He was a sad spectacle. At the end, he was agonizing over the release of Elvis, What Happened?, a tell-all book by two former confidantes.

Elvis died on August 16, 1977. He collapsed in his bathroom at Graceland. At least 15 drugs were found in his system, some at concentrations considered high enough to kill if taken alone. It took two decades of lawsuits before the truth came out publically about his death. Morphine, Demerol, Chloropheniramine, Placidyl, Valium, Codeine, Ethinamate, Quaaludes, Amytal, Nembutal, Carbrital, Sinutab, Elavil, Avental, and Valmid were found in his system at the time of his death.

The 1950s were the first decade of my life, and despite the Korean War and the Cold War, it was considered a happy and prosperous decade. I, like many, think that Elvis Presley defined the youth culture of the 1950s.  His rise to stardom was unparalleled. But, it's sad to say that his descent into pharmaceutical hell was equally unparalleled.