Discover more from Dignity Integrative Newsletter
The "Missing Americans" | #17
Plus: What is ultra-processed food anyway; Benzodiazepines; and how plastic poisons us
This month, researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health released a huge study on mortality trends in the U.S., going all the way back to the 1930s. They found that, in America, nearly a million “excess” people die each year. On a per capita basis, we lag far behind our peer nations and have since the mid-1980s (prior to that, we did better than our peer nations).
Here is just a stunning chart from the report. It shows excess deaths per 100,000 people in the U.S. compared to other wealthy nations:
As you can see, the discrepancy existed before COVID and has only accelerated since.
This is the price of our policy choices in America: nearly 1 million “Missing Americans” every year die from preventable causes.
This is why it is so important to focus on prevention vs. treatment of disease. We have to reverse this trend, though I’m not optimistic about our ability to do so at scale. If you want to learn more, I wrote a long piece about this two months ago: Why I think the American healthcare system is failing.
Dignity Integrative also added two more comprehensive guides this month:
If you’ve been struggling with either of those topics, I encourage you to take a read.
And now, on to this month’s recommendations:
#1: What exactly does “ultra-processed” food mean anyway?
This is a great article from the Washington Post that well explains the confusing term ‘ultra-processed food’. Currently, close to 60% of food consumed by most Americans can be classified as ultra-processed.
For example, check out this graphic on canned corn vs. a corn-based snack chip:
Via the Washington Post:
Ultra-processing degrades the internal structure or “food matrix,” the complex internal structure that not only holds the corn together, but influences the bio-availability of the nutrients, how our bodies use the food and whether we feel full after eating it.
My simple definition of ‘ultra-processed’ is any natural substance that is mechanically and/or chemically converted into something placed in a bag or a box often with more than 5 ingredients on the label.
My advice is to avoid these ‘food-like substances’ as much as possible to improve health and longevity.
#2: Do you live within a 1/2 mile of a park?
The USAFACTS website is chock full of useful information. I find their statistics helpful in providing context and quantifying many challenging concepts.
One of the things I ALWAYS recommend is walking on a regular basis. While the headline is stated in the negative, according to this dataset up to 39% of all Americans are within ½ mile of a park. That is something to celebrate! It is a lesson I learned for myself during the COVID epidemic. I found a 2-mile hiking trail at a state park exactly 1 mile from my home
#3: Benzodiazepines Linked to Long-Term Neurological Dysfunction
I often caution against the use of benzodiazepines for sleep and other conditions such as anxiety. Benzodiazepines like lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin), valium, and others are some of the most commonly prescribed medications.
This study adds to the body of literature describing the dangers of these medications when taken long term including significant symptoms of attempting to wean off these medications with up to 56% expressing suicidal ideations.
Avoid these medications whenever possible and be aware of the severe difficulty associated with getting off the medication.
#4: How plastics are poisoning us
The New Yorker has an excellent article on the pervasive effects and impacts of plastics in our environment.
From microplastics in human placentas to the great Pacific garbage patch, plastics are everywhere. Their impact on our environment and our bodies is both negative and cumulative over time.
The article closes with this thought:
If much of contemporary life is wrapped up in plastic, and the result of this is that we are poisoning our kids, ourselves, and our ecosystems, then contemporary life may need to be rethought. The question is what matters to us, and whether we’re willing to ask ourselves that question.
Indeed it is one of the many reasons I talk about lowering plastic exposure through eliminating plastic water bottles and plastic storage containers.
#5: Why global sperm counts are falling
People underappreciate the impact of environmental toxins on their health. If we needed another reason to avoid plastics as much as possible, here it is by Dr Shanna Swan: sperm counts have been falling for over 50 years.
Sperm count appeared to have declined 52 percent in 38 years, or over 1 percent a year. One of the reasons is the rise of endocrine disruption chemicals or EDCs. The EDCs linked most directly to reproductive health are phthalates and pesticides, where she and others have found convincing evidence of a causal link between reproductive disorders and the “triazine” category of herbicides.
#6: Post-Retirement Cognitive Decline
It is well known the time immediately after leaving the workforce is particularly concerning for the development of dementia.
In this study of over 2,200 people followed for 10 years, the rates were found the highest for white males. As part of the 4 pillars of health approach, we at Dignity Integrative focus on mental resiliency. One of the components is continuing to develop neuroplasticity or the neuron-to-neuron connections as we age through constant learning. This involves challenging your brain through various activities as well as high-intensity physical activity which has been shown to release a protein called BDNF important for these connections.