“Physician and author Abraham Verghese argues that the most important innovation to come in medicine in the next 10 years is human touch.”
…and was asked to discuss it. Here’s what I said:
I spent the last five years doing a PhD in nutrition with a goal to understand how diet can prevent disease. One thing I realized during this degree is that the most efficient way to prevent disease is to nourish optimally during the first 1000 days of life—a time when breast milk is the most important source of nutrition. Unfortunately, too many women can’t breastfeed, or choose not to, or have circumstances that prevent it. What I’ve learned is that technological innovation cannot fix this problem. Even if formula companies created a powder that perfectly matched the composition of breast milk, it wouldn’t matter. That’s because the nourishment an infant receives when it breastfeeds is only partially due to the physical constituents of the milk itself. Studies have shown that skin-to-skin contact…the touch between the mother and her child is the key. Touch is what enables the mother to produce the specific antibodies for the germs her baby has been exposed to. Touch is what enables optimal development of the baby’s jaw, teeth and facial structure. And most importantly, touch stimulates greater oxytocin release in the mother which makes her more confident, improves her mood, lessens her stress, strengthens her bond with her child and increases her desire to care for her baby. Therefore, innovation in formula technologies won’t fix the health issues that stem from the earliest days of life. Because the preventative health benefits of breastfeeding are as much due to touch as they are to nutrition.
The more I learn about nutrition, the more and more confused I get when it comes to the recommended daily nutrient intake levels. The fact of the matter is, no one really knows exactly how much calcium, sodium, or iron we actually need on a daily basis. Part of this is due to the fact that we’re all different and the amount of Calcium that I need could be very different from the amount of Calcium that YOU need. Not to mention, the amount of Calcium that I require today may be different from the amount that I will need tomorrow. A large part of this is due to the fact that, beyond obvious factors like age and gender, there are many variables that can influence one’s calcium needs…
Consumption of foods/nutrients that aid Calcium absorption, such as Vitamin D…with that in mind, another factor influencing absorption is…
Exposure to sunlight. As you know, Vitamin D is produced when sunlight is absorbed through your skin, hence if you spend more time in the sun, you’ll probably absorb more Calcium.
Consumption of foods/nutrients that inhibit Calcium absorption. This includes chocolate, sugar, chocolate, alcohol and caffeine, giving you yet another reason to avoid these tempting, yet potentially harmful foods.
Genes! By now, it’s pretty obvious that genes affect everything. We’ve already discussed that Vitamin D aids Calcium absorption. However, even with adequate Vitamin D, your calcium absorption is dependent on which version of the vitamin D receptor gene you’ve inherited.
All things considered, you can imagine how hard it is to set Calcium recommendations for the entire population. In many ways, it’s an impossible task, any recommendation will only be an estimated average that may or may not be ideally suited to you.
For me, the large difference between the WHO’s recommendation (400-500mg) and the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) recommendation (1000mg [for adults]) is reassuring. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of dairy products. Though I don’t necessarily advocate for veganism, I definitely think that there are some serious issues with consuming large amounts of milk (largely due to the hormone content). So if you’re like me, you can now rest assured that according to the WHO, approximately a cup and a half of milk (which contains around 500 mg of Calcium) could be enough to prevent you from developing osteoporosis.
For starters, all cow’s milk naturally contains estrogen (and other hormones), so semantically speaking hormone free milk doesn’t exist. The “hormone free milk” label you commonly see on dairy products is usually referring to rBST a synthetic hormone administered to stimulate milk production. However, the reality is, rBST is banned in Canada, so in actuality all Canadian milk could potentially say “rBST free milk”.
But the story doesn’t end there. Even though the estrogen in milk is naturally occurring, its presence is worrisome because the amount of estrogen in modern milk is much higher than in previous generations. This is because traditional herding societies use tactics to minimize the amount of estrogen in their milk—namely, they refrain from milking cows during the late stages of their pregnancy, when they produce 33 times more estrogen—meanwhile presently in North America, most cows are milked 300 days a year. As a result, they’re being milked throughout the cow’s pregnancy, leading to potentially higher estrogen levels. This is concerning because it may be a factor contributing to the rise of estrogen related cancers, including breast, uterine, endometrial and testicular cancer.