Ep. 21 – Controversies in health
Gas stoves are under attack, we still can't decide on the best diet, and fluoride is still in our drinking water. These are just some of the controversies in health Dr. Chet Zelasko will address on this edition of Straight Talk on Health
Welcome to Straight Talk on Health, I’m your host Dr. Chet Zelasko. Together with WGVU in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I guess in the world of health research and news, whether it's research that makes the news another miracle diet, a new food fad, or an exercise trend. I look at the science behind them and let you know whether it's real or not. You can check out other things that I do on my website: drchet.com and please sign up for my free emails.
See if this quote sounds a little familiar; “They will take my gas stove from my cold dead hand.” Now I bet you never thought you'd hear that from people. But somehow a recommendation from an expert panel that talked about emissions from gas stoves somehow got turned into yet another controversy in health. It’s not the first one, and I can guarantee you it's not the last one. So on this show I’m going to pick 2 or 3 of these controversies and give you the background material. [I’m] not trying to change your mind if you've made it up already. But I just want to give you the facts as I was able to find them.
So let's begin with this whole issue about gas stoves. And I will confess that I use one and will continue to use one for the foreseeable future. So how did this whole mess get started? The commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission made a statement in an interview that sort of got this whole mess started. When looking at the issue of safety in home environments, that's what we're talking about, lead paint and other things like that, other things that can give you fumes, he said that everything is on the table. “Even gas stoves?” he was asked. “Everything,” he replied.
Well, began the firestorm. What was not stated is that the agency cannot ban gas stoves. We still have a thing called states rights and what states decide is different but not that federal agency, based on what I could determine. You can only find which you can find, but I can't find anywhere where that's something that they could do. Maybe another department could, the Food and Drug Administration maybe because it's a safety issue? I don’t know. But, that agency doesn't have the authority to do it. But that didn't stop anybody because everybody picked a position including of all people, my wife. She is determined that at some point in time we will get our gas cooktop removed. I know about that.
So here's what set up the issue. In December 2022, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published an article about the attributable fraction of gas stoves that contribute to childhood asthma in the United States. Now, in their research, they concluded that gas stoves contribute about 13% to childhood asthma. Is it simply carbon monoxide emissions? Now, they did not include heating by gas, because here's the thing. Those are vented to the outside, you know, we’re not talking about greenhouse gases or anything like that. All we're talking about is safety inside the home. And trying to create a safe atmosphere. So does it have anything to do that? No, to a degree. It seems that another emission from gas stoves is the culprit. Nitrogen dioxide, which is the chemical symbol of NO2, is emitted from gas stoves. Now, just to get the nitrogen symbols correct, nitric oxide, which chemical symbol is NO, is beneficial for cardiovascular health. Why? It helps dilate blood vessels, which is good for cardiovascular health. Nitrogen oxide, which chemical symbol is N2O is something that you might have experienced at the dentist. That’s laughing gas. So, nitrogen dioxide is the culprit we're talking about.
Here's another point to the all this. On top of that, regulations that control emissions from anything can take forever. Here's something you probably don't know. If you are born before 1975, your IQ is probably 5 points lower than it otherwise should be. The older that you are, the lower your IQ might be. Well why? Leaded gasoline. Even though there was no question that lead is hazardous to brain development and can impact the brain of anybody who is exposed to it, it took decades for leaded gasoline to finally be banned. Did they find something else that would cure the knock-on engines? They certainly did. In that case, the data was absolutely clear, but it still took forever. So I don't think anyone has to grip their stove and wait till anyone tries to remove it from their cold, dead hands any time soon. But nitrogen dioxide is something that can be hazardous to children's health and possibly adult health as well. They didn’t check that. I mean, you have to ask yourself this question. If you could eliminate a hazard that may stunt the development of your child, would you remove it if you could? Of course you would.
So let's move on to another controversy. And this one is close here to Grand Rapids, Michigan. I’m going to quickly cover the fluoride controversy because that's been going on since they first began this in the 1940's. I went through all the evidence that I could find on the benefits of fluoride in drinking water. And you know what? It's probably one of the biggest public health initiatives that has been attributed to being one of the top 10 preventive issues that has ever been done throughout cities in the country. It has reduced the number of dental caries, which is a fancy word for cavities, by an estimated 25% over that time. So what does that mean? It means fewer dollars spent on dental health care. Have there been any diseases or conditions that have been attributed to fluoride in the water here in Grand Rapids or any other city for that matter, that has fluoridated water? The answer is no. But when we talk about conspiracy theories in health, that are so prevalent everywhere on the Internet, it still is a controversial topic.
The one benefit that stems from this conspiracy is that there's no true attributable diseases or conditions to having fluoride in the water. Look, after 70 years with the research institutes that are within 100 miles of Grand Rapids, if something existed, they would have found it. Fluoride is not harmful in the amounts that we get in our water.
Now, let's talk a little bit about cardiovascular disease and diet. And this one has been going on since the 1950's. What's the best diet to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease? Well, it depends on who you ask about it. The controversy started when the scientists from the University of Minnesota named Ansel Keys wrote a paper. You know, this was in conjunction with scientists around the world. He did not do it all by himself, but he was a consummate salesperson. So he put together what he called the 7 countries study. And one of the accusations that started way back then by the carbohydrate haters, let's just put it that way, said that he intentionally left out data that would have shown that it was carbohydrates that contributed to heart disease, not dietary fat.
Now there's a lot of data that's been collected throughout Europe in times when all they had were simple root vegetables after World War 2 and the data was clear as the amounts of fat in the diet increase, so did cardiovascular disease. All right. That was fairly simple. But that doesn't mean that it didn't create a controversy.
So where do we go from there? How did this proceed? Well, he felt that, Ansel Keys, felt that it was the fat intake that was directly related to cardiovascular disease. Other groups thought that it was carbohydrate intake. Where all sort of came together was around 1974. There was a Senate panel commission that said, “let's put together what we think is the best diet.” It turns out that it was 50 to 60% carbohydrates. It was about 10 to 15% protein and the remainder is fat. Well, everybody attributes that as contributing because they wanted to focus on lower fat intake to the foods that we have available today. And so if you really look at what those recommendations were, they were yes, high in carbohydrates, but not in sugar, not in refined carbohydrates. You weren't supposed to have more than 10 to 20% of that as your daily intake depending on your caloric intake. That's not that much.
What you were supposed to have, and what the focus was supposed to be. Eat your fruits, eat your vegetables. Eat your whole grains. One fruit today, one vegetable today and maybe a whole grain every week. That's about where we are with our dietary intake. The problem is not the recommendations. The recommendations were clear. We want to have a relatively balanced diet that allows some sweets that allow some fats. But what it really comes down to is not really adhering to what the original recommendations for way back in the 70's were and going off halfcocked on the diets that we have today, primarily the ketogenic diet, which everyone seems to love. Or the Mediterranean diet, which has the most science behind it and the typical what the typical American diet is supposed to be today, you can find that it myPlate.com. It's still there.
Is there any controversy here? No, we have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and especially obesity for 2 reasons. We just eat too darn much and we eat too much ultra-fine carbohydrate. What we need to do is eat reasonably and that’s what will reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease. And there's no controversy about that. That's all the time after controversies and health today. Until next time, this is Dr. Chet Zelasko saying health is a choice people, choose wisely today and every day.
Narr: Straight Talk on Health with Dr. Chet Zelasko was recorded in the studios of WGVU public radio in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The views and opinions expressed on Straight Talk on Health are not necessarily those of WGVU, its underwriters, or Grand Valley State University.