Letters to the editor, November 2005

This article was originally published in November 2005

Cod liver oil and vitamin A

I read with interest the article, “Cooling Inflammation with Diet” by Elizabeth Walker in your August issue. As a result I purchased several bottles of cod liver oil at PCC and have been taking one tablespoon every day, as Walker recommended.

However, while doing a Web search on cod liver oil today, I found an article from the British Times-on-Line that alarmed me. Here is a quote: “‘People over the age of 65 should avoid taking cod liver oil supplements because of a link with osteoporosis,’ the Food Standards Agency said today.” The agency said cod liver oil contains high quantities of vitamin A, which, if taken over a long period of time, increases the risk of losing bone density in later life …”

And from an article published by UC Berkeley: “Cod liver oil … has special problems … Just one teaspoon has 4,500 IU of A and the standard dose is one to three teaspoons a day … Recent studies have found that as little as 6,000 IU of vitamin A daily can interfere with bone growth and promote fractures.”

I am alarmed that 1) I am taking three times the recommended dosage of this oil as a result of Ms. Walker’s article, and 2) my 85-year old mother also is taking this dosage at my recommendation. Please comment.
— Donna Manion, Sammamish

Elizabeth Walker, M.S.,Ph.D., replies: There is a bit of research saying women with osteoporosis had higher intakes of vitamin A, which led to speculation that too much A could contribute to osteo. Some then projected that cod liver oil, which is high in A, could lead to osteo. A study in June found moderate doses of cod liver oil do not increase fracture risk.

It’s thought that high levels of A may lead to osteo because the A competes with vitamin D and the resulting low level of D keeps us from absorbing and using calcium. But cod liver oil is a very good source of D, so I think it’s unlikely to lead to calcium depletion. Also, the omega-3 in cod liver oil will reduce inflammation and osteoporosis is an inflammation condition. You could take cod liver oil that has reduced levels of A, or you could get fish oil plus vitamin D.

Karen Lamphere, MS, CN (certified nutritionist), adds: I recommend that my clients meet the recommended daily allowance of 2300 IU of vitamin A, but not exceed 5000 IU. Food sources of vitamin A include liver, eggs, milk and fortified foods such as breakfast cereals. Vitamin A levels in cod liver oil range from 1250 to 4500 IU per teaspoon depending on the brand, so it’s important to check labels. Be sure to add any amount in your multivitamin to your daily total.

Crohn’s disease

I just wanted to tell you how impressed I was with your article in the (September) PCC Sound Consumer. You make a most compelling case in favor of yet another microorganism-driven chronic syndrome. I was not familiar with this perspective on the etiology of Crohn’s/IBS.

But what drove me to write to you was the elegance of your presentation. Your article is easy to read, very informative, personal and yet full of objective statements. You provide some history and context and give straightforward information that would allow a reader to follow-up where your article leaves off. The thoroughness of your very straightforward presentation was very refreshing for a general readership newsletter.

It would be very nice to see the Crohn’s research head in some new directions! Thank you!
— Fran Brooks, ND, Vashon Island

Editor: Since our article, we’ve learned that a gastroenterologist in El Paso, Texas, Dr. William Chamberlin, MD, is writing a protocol to study the link between the MAP bacteria and Crohn’s, collecting data from people around the country who are willing to participate. He’s available to talk with local doctors about the assessment and treatment protocol. Email him at William.Chamberlin@ttuhsc.edu

Dedicated farmers

Thanks for printing Jill Irwin’s article about hog farmers. I had no idea that small farmers have been subsidizing their farms by working fulltime jobs on the side. I assume this is true not only of meat farmers but crop farmers of other sorts. It’s remarkable and admirable that they have such a commitment to producing healthy produce that they’re willing to do this, and keep farming under current conditions.

It makes me more committed to supporting local organic farmers of all sorts, i.e., buy more organic produce and stop squawking about the price. So I’m really glad you ran the article, just for that snippet of information.
— Nils Osmar, Seattle

Access to supplements

The September issue of Sound Consumer urged readers to oppose HR 3156, the Dietary Supplement Access and Awareness Act. There was not enough information provided to show why this legislation should be opposed, nor were there any references for the claims made by the National Nutritional Foods Association.

I just read the bill, and although it has the usual surfeit of legalese, it seemed reasonable. Searching online for more information comes up with numerous opposing viewpoints, but all too many are from places like bodybuilding.com, egomagick.com, or people with “ND” after their names — not people I’d trust to make soundly reasoned judgments about anything.

There has been a boom in “herbal” and “natural” remedies over the past decade, and I can well believe that the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994 needs updating. On the other hand, perhaps it is sufficient. Could Sound Consumer present a solid argument why the latter is true, instead of a seemingly knee-jerk “don’t regulate supplements” column?

There are a lot of dubious supplements out there and I’m cautiously in favor of regulating them more. And really, few of us are in danger of getting scurvy or beri beri. — David Syphers

Editor replies: When the National Nutritional Food Association (NNFA) called the action alert, we were past deadline, but it seemed better to provide some mention and a good source for more information (www.saveoursupplements.org) than to ignore the story altogether.

The NNFA is the major trade organization for the natural supplements industry. As a constituent, PCC relies on NNFA attorneys who are paid to analyze the legalese. Meanwhile, HR 3156 is before the Committee on Energy and Commerce. Some experts feel that rather than addressing any need to update DSHEA, it will reduce access to supplements and consolidate profits and control within the pharmaceutical industry.

You’re right that few are in danger of scurvy and beri beri, but an estimated seven out of 10 Americans rely on supplements to maintain health or to help correct temporary imbalances. This is not to say natural supplements are all benign or without side effects, which is why DSHEA gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) broad authority.

The FDA can seize supplements that pose unreasonable or significant risk of injury or illness, stop sale of an entire class of supplements, refer for criminal action any company selling unsanitary or toxic products, or issue an injunction against supplements making false or unsubstantiated claims. Before a product can be sold, the manufacturer must notify FDA of all intended label claims and ensure they can be substantiated.

Before DSHEA was enacted, items for consumption fell into one of three categories: as a food, drug or food additive. A number of items, such as selenium and chromium, were categorized as additives but weren’t really additives. DSHEA defined dietary supplements and created a separate category for them; this has worked well. The proposed regulatory changes are from people who never were in favor of passing DSHEA in the first place. The people with Save Our Supplements are experts on this and I urge you to pursue your questions with them.

Learn more from the Coalition to Preserve DSHEA at www.DSHEA.org, www.supplementinfo.org, and http://capwiz.com/nnfa/mail/oneclick_compose/?alertid=7879031. These sites are recommended by the NNFA.

Bag re-use refunds and donations

A little history: PCC members voted to have the choice of donating their bag refund to the Farmland Fund or getting the refund. That was reduced from 5 cents to 2 cents, I believe. I always brought my own bag and asked for the refund back.

But it’s the idea that the consumer should be rewarded in some way by bringing their own bags that I am trying to keep alive. Other supermarkets around town, such as Thriftway, are still giving 5 cents per bag (and you don’t have to ask for it like at PCC).

European cities, San Francisco, Taiwan and some Indian cities are changing their policies towards and even banning plastic bags. Even if there is not a Seattle citywide policy just yet, isn’t it time PCC became a leader instead of lagging behind in this issue and did something instead of worrying as the PCC director of merchandising does of “offending customers and posing a competitive disadvantage” (in a reply to letter of editor)?

Why should the consumer who brings her own bags be subsidizing the cost of bags for others, since the price of bags are included in all of our grocery costs? People who need bags should pay for them. They aren’t really free.
— Eileen Weintraub, Seattle

Store Systems Specialist Dennis Stoddard replies: PCC policy is to give a 2 cent refund off the total bill for every bag reused, if the shopper requests it. Otherwise, 1 cent goes to the PCC Farmland Trust and the other penny to PCC’s Cash for the Hungry. The bag rebate was 5 cents from January 1999 to October 2000, and before that it was 4 cents.

It was changed to 2 cents in November 2000 when PCC shoppers started using more plastic bags, which cost much less than paper. At that time, a Sound Consumer survey asked members what they wanted us to do with the bag rebate. Overwhelmingly they decided to split it between the Farmland Trust and Cash for the Hungry. We kept the option for the two cents to be returned to customers if they wished.

Director of Merchandising Paul Schmidt: It’s clear that many PCC members favor a mandatory charge for new bags, at least the members who have written in. But we also have non-member shoppers, whose views may be more transitional, and I do believe that charging for bags would be detrimental to sales. As we continue to get letters about this, we’ll continue to consider charging as a possibility. In the meantime, I’m continuing to look for recyclable/compostable options.

Bags are a cost of business, but they’re really no different than the need for plastic gloves or containers in the deli. We credit shoppers who re-use their bags, and what about those who don’t take a bag at all? They don’t get credited, but they’re subsidizing more of the cost than those who re-use.

Hurricane animal help

I have been a member of PCC since 1998. I don’t know if you are familiar with Pasado’s Safe Haven (www.pasadosafehaven.org), but it is a nonprofit animal rescue organization based near Monroe, Wash., and it has sent a huge team down to New Orleans to rescue the thousands of animals that were left behind and are now stranded and dying. If there is anyway you can help, either by sending much needed food and supplies (animal friendly products only please) or a cash donation. I don’t want to sound like I am soliciting, but many times it is the animals that are forgotten about. Thank you for your help.
— Sarah Sharp

Editor: PCC contributed $25,000 to hurricane relief efforts, including $5,000 to Farm Aid, which is working to provide relief to farmers who lost animals as well as crops and buildings.

Also in this issue

Your co-op, November 2005

Board meeting report, Next board meeting, Talk to the Board, and more

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An underactive thyroid gland might be the reason you can't lose weight. Symptoms include fatigue, depression, weight gain, joint pain, and more.