Discussion With Dr. Zobel
Przyroda Polska (P.P.): You left Poland on the second of May, 1986, a few days after the Chernobyl disaster, avoiding possible genetic consequences for your two daughters, who were nine and four years old at the time. In Canada you have been a conjunct associate professor at Trent University and have had a long list of publications and students.
Discussion With Dr. Zobel
(A biochemistry professor in Canada)
I (journal ˇ§Przyroda Polskaˇ¨ editor) talked to biochemistry professor Dr. Alicja Zobel in Canada as follows:
Przyroda Polska (P.P.): You left Poland on the second of May, 1986, a few days after the Chernobyl disaster, avoiding possible genetic consequences for your two daughters, who were nine and four years old at the time. In Canada you have been a conjunct associate professor at Trent University and have had a long list of publications and students. About ten years ago you decided to build a connection between scientists, the public, and even politicians. You wanted to reach people with advice about how to prevent diseases by healthful eating and an active lifestyle. You visit Poland very often because of co-operation with several universities, and during every visit you try to teach our students and public something new and useful. During your visits in September and December, drinking water was a concern of yours. You say that it should be respected, and treated as our greatest treasure.
Alicja Zobel: Yes, water is the most important substance for me, and a subject to worry about, because drinking water is our earthˇ¦s diamond, especially for a healthy life, amounting to about 80% of our bodies. The most important is natural spring water (both from wells and aquafers), which in a pristine, unpolluted environment contains essential minerals (macro-, micro- and trace elements) without pollutants. Pollutants are the problem, because their presence in ground water makes it un-drinkable or even dangerous if any one of them exceeds the level considered toxic, or if they can react synergistically at lower concentrations.
There is a world water crisis, according to several journals including National Geographic and Outside, which both devoted whole volumes to this problem in the fall of 2003. The question is, how much water we have for drinking ˇV is it enough, who owns it, and what should be our daily consumption and that of persons under stressful conditions? It is very fortunate that Poland has water legislation (prawo wodne), allowing only Polish citizens to possess springs. I think this is good, because people tend to care more about their environment and its water when they live nearby and have a personal stake in it. I think we have to be very alert about obeying this law.
Maybe the readers of Przyroda Polska do not realize that in the United States the largest aquafer under Texas has been almost totally depleted of usable water, and a second under Florida is being salinated and polluted. One of the reasons was the use of pumps, which allows water to be removed too fast, resulting in pollution from the surrounding soil. When spring water comes out of the ground under its own pressure, it is called natural spring water by the U.S. National Spring Water Association. Such water can carry a certificate of the NSWA, which is the most prestigious verification of the genuine article. Real spring water should be used only for drinking.
Because Poland has the lowest rainfall in Europe, and the least water flowing in the rivers, we should be especially careful about its usage of underground water.
P.P.: I know that you are collecting labels from bottled water and advise people, including, especially, athletes and children, how to read information on them.
A.Z.: Yes, I do read very carefully what is on these labels. I wish all water for drinking had a certificate of the NSWA or its equivalent, so that weˇ¦d be sure that it has not been pumped out or that it isnˇ¦t distilled or prepared by reverse osmosis ˇV water ˇ§so clean that there is nothing in it.ˇ¨ In such pure water even fish do not survive long because leakage of minerals out of their bodies causes death. Similar leakage could happen in our intestines after drinking distilled water. You can imagine how important is the concentration and proportion of minerals in the water we drink. Some of the spring water, content depending on the rocks it comes from, can be very low in minerals ˇV ˇ§flatˇ¨ water ˇV and Americans have developed a taste for this kind of water. I dislike such water and donˇ¦t drink it, and I have found that most Polish people like mineral and spring water with a higher mineral concen-tration; this is good, because it allows replenishment of elements needed for our bodiesˇ¦ biochemical processes. It reflects the difference in the definition of mineral water between the U.S.A. and Poland. In the U.S.A. 300 mg of minerals per 100 mL of water is called ˇ§mineralˇ¨, while in Poland this is only when it is above 500. Poles like the stronger taste.
P.P.: In your publications you have written that there are about 60 essential elements known in the human body. Where do I get all these elements, and what can be the outcome of their deficiency?
A.Z.: Recently research workers have been elucidating the mechanisms of reactions of elements in biochemical processes within our bodyˇ¦s cells. Animals, including humans, and plants and microbes do not synthesize minerals, which must be absorbed from the soil, the ultimate source of minerals. The best example is bread, which once was produced from flour ground between two millstones, and unavoid-ably some ˇ§dirtˇ¨ was eroded from these stones and introduced some minerals into the flour. ˇ§Dirtˇ¨ can thus be good for animals. When chickens ingest small stones to grind their food in their crops, minerals are leached from some of the fine particles and are of nutritional value. Lack of minerals can lead to chronic diseases. This concern is expressed in Bill 264 of the United States Senate, as follows:
ˇ§It is bad news to learn from our leading authorities that 99% of the American people are deficient in these minerals, and that a marked deficiency in any one of the more important minerals actually results in disease.ˇ¨
P.P.: I could conclude from your statement that doctors should investigate the status of minerals in their patients?
A.Z.: Investigation on mineral physiology in humans, including athletes, should deal with four different analyses: 1) absorption, which be evaluated by concentration in the blood after absorption from the gut, 2) sweating, as the removal of minerals is different by various individuals, 3) excretion in the urine, which involves removal of minerals not needed by the organism and is controlled by our genes, and 4) long-term storage of minerals in hair. Analysis of 3 cm hair lengths includes a six-month history of mineral availability and deposition in the hair, which of course must not have been treated with dye or permanent wave chemicals.
P.P.: I think it is not only lack of minerals in water, but as well the fact that more and more agricultural areas have been depleted of minerals, which can cause diseases such as selenium deficiency.
A.Z.: Yes. As an example, in 1993 a severe flood of the Mississippi River caused removal of huge amounts of soil that could be connected with lowering resistance to diseases in that area.
P.P.: You told me that it took you five years to finally have legislation passed by the Canadian parliament on labelling of trans fatty acids. What are these fats?
A.Z.: I believe, as many members of our parliament fortunately do, that including nutritional information on food labels is very important. Starting in 2005, on January 1, labels on Canadian processed foods will have to state how many grams of trans fats are contained in the product. Recommended amounts are up to two grams, whereas a medium portion fries can contain ten. Trans fats are known carcinogens, and have recently been identified as causative agents in heart and circulatory diseases. The word ˇ§transˇ¨ means that the molecule has the same structure, but a different spatial configuration (twisted in space) by comparison to the alternative ˇ§cisˇ¨ configuration. For example, good, unsaturated fats, which exist naturally in the cis configuration in the plant, are changed into trans (bad form) when exposed to high temperatures, over 130„aC. I emphasize again that they are still unsaturated fats. For instance, beneficial oils such as flax, canola and olive, heated during the frying process, are changed to a large degree from cis, as they exist in the raw material, to trans. Frying of foods in oils is a quite recent event in human history; hence trans fats are not recognized by the bodyˇ¦s enzymes; they are foreign substances that cells have to detoxify. Trans fats taste good, and I do not say you should not eat them at all, but only limit them to two grams daily, or, if you eat more, eat yogurt or whey protein, sources of peptides rich in the cysteine that enables formation of glutathione ˇV a detoxifier.
P.P.: What is glutathione and how does it detoxify?
A.Z.: Glutathione is the tripeptide molecule in every one of our cells devoted to detoxification. It detoxifies oxidized agents and free radicals from our cells, as well as removing pesticides by binding to them to form a complex that is then eliminated from the cells. Most recently the real concern came from acrylamide, long known to be in water in very low concentrations, and more recently found in food in high concentrations. Having high concentrations of glutathione would at least partially protect us from this acrylamide, which is a molecule formed from one molecule of glucose and one of amino acid. Most notorious is arginine, but you realize that these two kinds of molecule ˇV sugar and amino acid ˇV exist in many human foods. The reaction occurs at temperatures over 175„aC, and so wasnˇ¦t a problem until humans started to use these high temperatures in food processing. Now, in a portion of fries the concentration can be 600 to 800 times higher than allowed in drinking water. The foods most prone to acrylamide formation are grains and potatoes. Acrylamide was known as a neurotoxin occasionally found in water when shore or dam repair work was done, so norms in the U.S.A. were set at 0.12 part per million, and in Poland even more strict norms, 0.10 ppm. Swedish scientist found in April, 2002, unexpectedly that the concentration in fries reached 82 ppm, thus exceeding the drinking water by over 600 times. Information can be found on the Internet, and most recently the Canadian health ministry confirmed those results (Journal of Food Science, December, 2003). There is still a state of denial before any serious concern occurs. The cereals given to children can have 30 times the levels allowed in drinking water. We should realize that processed food, especially the crunchy ones, are potentially very dangerous. Iˇ¦d like to emphasize that I donˇ¦t say you must not eat it; I am advising detoxification at the same time by eating of yogourt or whey protein to produce more glutathione.
P.P.: From your words I can conclude that with the right nutrition humans could prevent diseases, improve our health or even prolong life.
A.Z. You are exactly right. Prevention of diseases is the way to go, but this is not yet recognized by many governments. I have talked to athletes and other physically active people, and it appears that not much information is given to the public. If I were not a biochemist or nutritionist Iˇ¦d have no idea what food is beneficial to eat. I am as well a phytochemist, so I know the role of 100 000 different natural products in plants, which can be beneficial or toxic. Plant material in our diet should be taken with caution, and with the proliferation of health stores and their products it is virtually impossible to know what to choose; for example, to know how to choose which of 20 different Echinacea extracts by 20 different firms may contain beneficial ingredients in the best proportions. Thus most recently I have been advocating an independent committee to evaluate benefits of foods, proper labelling of ingredients, and statements of adverse effects of medicinal components. So much to doˇK.
P.P.: So, what is your advice on what to eat?
A.Z.: My advice is to eat a variety and pay attention to locally produced foods that donˇ¦t have to travel far, and which in human evolution are connected with our physiology and culture. I advise more vegetables than fruits because they contain less sugar, but sugar is good for hard-working people and athletes, and those in southern climates who are more active outside and burn more sugar. However, donˇ¦t give up fruits altogether. But our children eating sugar-loaded food and then sitting in front of television or computers put on weight, which can contribute to development of diabetes. More of this in Part 2. From the meals we eat the most important is breakfast. Cook for your kids (and yourself) porridge of one or many grains at 100„aC, the temperature of boiling water, and add seeds such as flax, sesame, sunflower, and poppy, and different nuts if you are not allegic to them. Nuts and seeds contain embryos which contain all the necessary ingredients to start a healthy seedling. For taste and health we can add dried, forzen or, best, fresh fruit. Banana and cranberries together are best for contrasting taste accents when you bite on them. If you eat such a meal in the morning you have everything for the whole day.
P.P. And then?
A.Z.: When a person eats one wholesome meal a day I donˇ¦t care about the other meals, except that they must be of reasonably small size. In North America we have too big portions. The best proportion for us is a variety containing ca. 30% of protein, 30 of fat and 40 carbohydrates, because this is the proportion of the components making up our cells.
I am still fascinated by what a miracle our body is, and that it can choose the ingredients needed to build and restore it from all the garbage with which people stuff themselves, and all the toxins we ingest. Statistics Canada shows numbers that over ten years the concentration of toxins in our environment has doubled. That means that our children have much more toxic material around in their food and in the air that we did. So, the process of self-detoxification by glutathione is very important, because we all have to assume that we detoxify ourselves. This will be my next agenda: trying to have mandatory analysis of the glutathione levels of our blood during annual tests, which would help tell us how healthy we are, glutathione being a detoxifier.
P.P.: Who are your allies in your campaign for healthier humans?
A.Z.: The best are small children who come to their grandmothers and say, ˇ§Grandma, yogourt is good for you, because it detoxifies.ˇ¨ We teach the children about healthful diets at so-called food fairs in different elementary schools around Peterborough, where students from grades 1 to 3, and then groups of 4- to 6-graders are taught by students from grade 11 during such training sessions spon-sored by our county/city health unit, the board of education and myself. The second group of my allies are nurses coming to my free-to-public seminars, who understand how nutrition can enhance treatment of sick persons in the home and hospital. Then the baby boomers, people over 50, who listen to my seminars and phone-in radio program. These are older people who are losing their health and who would like to enjoy it as long as they can. But I care most for the younger generation, because they must be healthy to be able to pay my retirement pension and government debt. Unfortunately our kids had no chance to live in a cleaner environment than I did, and they eat more processed food. For instance, I remember that I had no fries until I first came to London in 1970 and had fish and chips on a Friday. Now scientist know that such a portion can have 20 grams of trans fatty acids, and the recommendation is to eat under two. Now fast, ˇ§junkˇ¨ food is everywhere and Americans became a ˇ§fast food nation.ˇ¨ There is a book on this subject that Iˇ¦d like to talk about next time.
P.P.: Do you find the lifestyle in North America related to chronic diseases?
A.Z.: After I set foot in North America I noticed the difference in clothing size in contrast to the Eurpoean, and began to criticize the fat bodies, the huge portions of restaurant food servings, and the sedentary lifestyle. Only recently have some other critics appeared with connections between obesity, now called an epidemic even in children, and chronic diseases. Replacement of knees and heart bypasses follow. For example, I have been a constant size 12 since my school days, and since I came here I now take an 8, so the sizes are smaller here just to feel good; I guess I havenˇ¦t shrunk that much! What I found in food was also hormones and antibiotics in our meat supplies, given to make animals to grow faster and larger for profit. You can imagine what happens when we eat them. That is another story about the synergistic action of different molecules which are found together in our food. We shall talk next time about toxic substances in our food and drink.
I still hope it is not too late to save clean water and organic food for the next generation.