Winning the 'War on Bacon'

Longtime readers know that I'm a bacon expert.

It's possible I've eaten more bacon than anyone else in the world.

One summer in high school, I ate a pound of bacon a day... I've never lost the taste for it. Today, I can easily eat bacon by the pound, though not every day.

While I don't recommend eating just bacon (it lacks the nutrients to keep you alive and healthy for long), there's nothing wrong with enjoying my favorite breakfast food in moderation.

Lots of news stories about the dangers of eating bacon might scare you away, but I've said for years that those reports are often misleading.

Today, we're looking at some of the most recent news... A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine took on one of the biggest questions in the "War on Bacon" – what does the evidence really say?

The researchers looked at a group of randomized controlled studies ("RCTs") – these are the gold standard in medical research. The analysis of a dozen RCTs showed no difference between folks who ate a lot of red meat and those who didn't. They looked at premature deaths, cardiovascular disease, and cancer-related deaths (including colorectal cancer) over a 10-year period. The amount of red meat people ate didn't change any of these outcomes.

They also looked at observational studies, which only find associations, not causations. There was some evidence that reducing red meat intake by three servings a week resulted in a small reduction in deaths and diabetes diagnoses.

One important note – many of these studies don't separate out processed and unprocessed meats. I've written for years that processed meats lead to inflammation and contain cancer-causing particles, so eat them in moderation (and that includes bacon). But otherwise, keep enjoying your red meat without fear.

As with all things, make sure to balance it as part of a healthy diet that's full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, fish, and other whole foods.

And feel free to throw in some bacon sometimes.

Q: You wrote "Blackberries are an excellent source of antioxidants." Unfortunately, blackberries are also an excellent source of lots of tiny seeds, not a good thing for those plagued by diverticulitis. Is raw blackberry juice a good source of antioxidants, or is the good stuff in the seeds?

Thanks for what you do! – D.S.

A: Excellent point, D.S.

The powerful antioxidants in blackberries, anthocyanins, are what give blackberries their deep color. But because each blackberry contains dozens of tiny seeds, it's not easy to get rid of them without losing key nutrients. Raw juice is an alternative if you want the health benefits of blackberries without the seeds. If you can make the juice yourself, you can ensure there's nothing going in there except for blackberries (unlike potential added sugars in store-bought versions).

Also, keep in mind that juice is not the same as whole fruits. Juice is high in sugar and lacks the fiber found in whole fruits, so drinking it regularly will overload you with inflammation-causing sweeteners without the benefits of the fiber.

If you're looking for a fruit that's loaded with antioxidants and you're worried about diverticulitis, stick with blueberries.

Q: I love the letters. Keep it up.

What is your opinion of CBD oil? It is sold everywhere and I want to try it for anxiety reduction but finding level headed information is almost impossible. I would love to hear your opinion on the product.

Have a great 2020. – J.P.

A: There aren't a lot of clinical studies yet about CBD and specifically CBD oil. But here's what we've seen so far...

CBD oil lowers anxiety. Researchers hypothesize CBD binds to serotonin receptors, which could explain the mechanism of action. They work similarly to drugs like BuSpar and Abilify, which work to boost the effects of traditional antidepressant drugs.

Similarly, CBD also reduces the number of seizures in children with a complicated epilepsy illness called Dravet syndrome. These are kids who experience many seizures that don't respond to typical epilepsy drugs.

We've also seen some studies on CBD treating pain, high blood pressure, and even Parkinson's disease. Keep in mind, these are all CBD-only products. Marijuana has CBD and THC as components – THC is the one that typically gets you "high." But that's not without some benefit. There's a synthetic THC drug called Marinol. It's legal and approved to treat nausea and appetite loss due to chemotherapy.

Right now, we're cautiously optimistic but not completely convinced. The reason is that we still want to see a lot more long-term and larger randomized trials. What's more, although CBD seems safe and appears in so many products, it also carries with it some side effects like diarrhea, vomiting, and issues with liver function. So, until those are addressed (likely with better formulations and more standardized dosages), we'd urge caution.

Q: What say you regarding turmeric and curcumin? – G.D.

A: Turmeric is a spice derived from a root similar to ginger. It appears in food from many cultures, especially curry. Turmeric gets its healing reputation from one chemical, curcumin. Curcumin has powerful antioxidant and antibacterial properties.

We've seen promising studies on how curcumin preserves memory. Researchers believe this boost comes from the strong inflammation-fighting properties of curcumin. This follows other research looking at how curcumin interacts with the body. It appears to interfere with specific molecules that control the inflammation process.

Curcumin also has some cancer-fighting abilities. For example, pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest cancers, is especially resistant to chemotherapy. But researchers found a specific pathway in some pancreatic cancers that keeps the cells resistant to drugs. It turns out that curcumin directly interferes with that pathway. The chemical effectively shuts off the cancer cells' resistance. Adding curcumin to chemotherapy made the treatments more effective.

If you want to add turmeric to your diet, you don't just have to stick to curry, though. You can use it as a spice on salads, in soups, and on rice.

Please keep sending your questions, comments, and suggestions to us... [email protected].

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
January 31, 2020