Is the Impossible Burger improbably healthy?

Is the Impossible Burger improbably healthy?

The other day my wife and I were passing by Burger King and we gave into the temptation of stopping for an Impossible Burger®. You see, we’ve pretty much managed to ween ourselves away from conventional hamburgers, given the fat and high calories. But this no-meat burger sounded, and later tasted, great. The question is, is it healthy? Or more exactly, more healthy than a conventional meat (beef) hamburger?

Well there is of course no simple way to answer that question based on human health or death outcomes at this point. Clearly the Impossible Burger is not overtly toxic, but it is too early to discover if it has long term adverse health effects. Even the most nasty of all commercial products, cigarettes, has a lag time of about 20 years between the time someone starts smoking and when develop clearly discernible health problems. So we have to kind of infer an answer based on indirect evidence.

The first thing to look at is the fat content. As it turns out, conventional hamburgers and the Impossible Burger have about the same fat content, and for that matter similar caloric content (1). And contrary to what you might have heard about butter and bacon being health foods, fat is generally something best to be avoided, at least in excess. Foods high in fat contribute to obesity and the attendant problems such as cardiovascular disease (2).

The other issue, and the one that bothers me most, is the problem of cancer. We know that red meat, which presumably includes the beef in conventional hamburgers, is associate with an increased risk of cancer. It’s not a real strong relationship, as in the case of smoking, but it’s real. Unfortunately the reason, or mechanism as scientist like to all it, for this nasty effect of meat is not well established. But one of the fairly well established possible mechanisms is that cancer in red meat results from the presence of what’s known as heme-iron, a complex of molecules that enhances the production of biologically reactive free radicals in the body (3). Among other toxic consequences, free radicals damage the DNA in cells leading to loss of cell reproductive control, i.e., cancer.

Problem is that, in order to make the Impossible Burger look and taste like meet, the fabricated product actually contains heme-iron as an added ingredient (1). The heme-iron is produced through genetic engineering in plants. Now I don’t have a beef (pun-intended!) with the fact that the heme-iron is genetically engineered, a rose by any other name smells as sweet. I have a health concern about the ingredient itself.

So while the Impossible Burger may taste delicious, avoids the killing of animals, and is environmentally better for the planet than razing meat, from a health perspective, I am – shall we say – a bit skeptical. As the Bible says “Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial” (1 Cor 6:12). So for the time being I’ll stick with chicken and salmon as my “meat substitutes”, neither of which contains heme-iron (or at least not much). Of course, only time will tell. Too bad, that Impossible Burger was so damn tasty too!

(1) What Is the Impossible Burger, and Is It Healthy? Healthline, 2019.

(2) Long-term benefits of a low-fat diet. Science Daily, 2019.

(3) A Central Role for Heme Iron in Colon Carcinogenesis Associated with Red Meat Intake. Cancer Research 2015.

Don’t Just Sit There!

Don’t Just Sit There!

The Health section of Good Morning America last week focused on a recent study which showed, among other things, that people are spending lot of time – prolonged time – just sitting around.  Not that they aren’t doing anything during those times, maybe their working at the jobs, having a discussion with others, or just watching TV.  Problem is they’re just not moving.  I myself can fall into this behavioral trap. Why does it matter?  Because it’s unhealthy!  As the saying goes, “Sitting is the new smoking”.  It seems that the Good Lord built us to move.  Interesting isn’t it… most mechanical devices wear out more quickly when they are used.  We, in essence, “wear out” when we aren’t used.  So how do we fix the situation?  Well, some people use a bouncy ball to sit on and some people have a stand-up desk.  Let’s face it, in today’s technology-driven world, with computers, and cars, and elevators.  There’s really no compelling reason to be physically active. 

The interesting thing though, is that we can largely circumvent the ill effects of prolonged sitting by occasionally walking around.  And the maximum “safe” time for straight sitting seems to be about one hour.  At least that’s the time it takes for our blood vessels to adapt to sitting and go into a kind of dormant state.  And that’s what we want to prevent.  You see it’s all about the blood vessels.  They feed every organ and tissue of the body.  When they’re not working properly, everything else suffers. And preventing that is pretty easy.  A recent study showed that just getting up every hour or so and taking a 5 minute walk (or about 250 steps) does the trick.   That’s like a good walk around the block or two to three times around the floor of a typical building.  This amount seems to reactivate the blood vessels. Personally, I like (maybe I should say, am willing) to take a walk down the hallway of the building where I work, go down two flights of stairs, come back up the other side stairwell in the building and return to my desk.  That also gets in a bit of aerobic activity mixed in.  And a great way to be reminded to get up and going is to use a fitness tracker, one that has a vibrating or audible alarm that goes off if you haven’t accumulated the proscribed amount of steps in any given hour. 

Oh – here’s the other interesting tidbit.  The bad effects of prolonged sitting can’t be undone by a short high-intensity activity.  You’ve got to keep moving throughout the day.  It’s like a garden, you have to tend to it regularly, you can’t just pull up the weeds once they overwhelm the plants. 

The Lord made us in a remarkable way.  Unlike man-made machines, the bodies the Good Lord gave us actually improve with use!  Sorry – got to run – or more precisely walk – my Fitbit just rang!

Avoiding Dr. Alzheimer

Avoiding Dr. Alzheimer

Alzheimer ’s disease – the dreaded AD. A scary thought for those of us getting older – and guess what – that’s all of us! Purported ways to avoid it or ameliorate its effects are plentiful. Just watch the commercials for learning exercises and brain booster nutrients (so called). But, unfortunately, there’s little data to back up any real impact of these well touted interventions. One area that has come to the fore recently is the role of “Lifestyle”. You know the drill: Avoiding excess alcohol and stress, eat nutritious foods, and get regular exercise. You’ve heard it all before no doubt, as general principles of keeping fit.

Well it turns out that the role of lifestyle in AD is real and significant. A recent study showed that people who optimized the four aforementioned lifestyle factors cut their chance of getting the disease by 50%. Let’s consider that number again… the incidence of AD was ½ in people who followed healthy lifestyles compare to people who did not. And mind you, that reduction holds up for people with all kinds of genetic backgrounds.

Just as an aside, the role of genetics in AD is complicated. In the case of early onset AD, which is relatively rare, any one of a handful of genes do render a person at much greater risk than the general population. But for the much more common sporadic version of AD, which effects older adults, genes play a relatively small role in disease onset.

OK, back to our topic.. Now you might wonder why this simple “Lifestyle prescription” might have such a profound impact on brain function. While no one knows, really, the most likely scenario is that a healthy lifestyle supports a healthy blood vessel system. The capillaries that feed the brain are the same ones that feed the heart, the muscles, the liver, the kidney, etcetera. A famous physician, Sir William Osler, said many years ago “Longevity Is vascular question“, and I would say that this includes functional brain longevity. Modern science is backing up his proposition more each day.

We can’t eliminate the possibility of getting this devastating disease, but we can reduce it. So let’s find a quiet place and time to relax at the end of the day, get a good night’s rest, pass up that second (or third) glass of wine, substitute a cup of yogurt for the donut, and let the dog take us for a walk instead of watching yet another TV rerun. Compared to the intricacies of our brain, with over 100 billion nerve cells, even a marvelous structure like the sun is a trivial contrivance. The brain that each of us carries in our head is arguably the crowning achievement in God’s creation. Let’s do what we can to take care of it!

Brain Booster Blues: Prevagin®

Brain Booster Blues: Prevagin®

OK – so let’s say you wanted to test new product that is supposed to improve the chances of having a girl for women who get pregnant. You give the product to 20 couples and find, 5 years later, that the number of boy and girl babies is the same.  Looks like the product didn’t work, right? But then you go back and find there was one family that had 5 babies and all 5 were girls.  You use the results from that couple to market your product as effective.  Is this ligit?   The answer is obviously no.  This data point is a statistical fluke.  You’re bound to find such a result if you look at enough couples, we see it every day among the people we know.   Well, according to a lawsuit filed by the FTC, that’s pretty much what the good people at Quincy found when they ran a study to evaluate the effectiveness of their “brain” product, Prevagin®.   Overall measures of memory improvement showed no significant effect. So they went back and looked at individual tests that composed the overall assessment and managed to find one where there was a significant effect.   Of course when I say significant, I am referring to statistically significant.  I don’t want to get into the details of significance testing, but suffice it to say that, when you do an interventional study and don’t find any effect of the forest, you can’t go picking through the individual trees.  In other words, Quincy was, in my opinion, cheating.  In the world of science we call this “data mining”. 

Unfortunately, when the FTC took Quincy to court to argue that Prevagin® commercials are misleading, the court dismissed the case.  It seems the court was not interested in considering the issue at this level of scientific scrutiny. And that’s ashamed.   There’s an old saying in scientific circles, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof”.  A product that truly improves memory or decreases the loss of memory with age would surely be considered extraordinary.  Clearly Quincy’s results, in my opinion, fall short.

Another way to look at the product is to ask the question, based on what is known about physics and chemistry, is it even feasible that Prevagin® could work.  The so called active ingredient Quincy claims is present in Prevagin® is an “aquaporin”, a substance derived from jelly fish.  As it runs out aquaporins are a class of proteins.  Proteins, like the components of meat, are broken down (digested) in the stomach and intestine. They enter the bloodstream as the building blocks of proteins, amino acids.  Furthermore, proteins in the bloodstream do not have an effect on the brain because the brain is protected by a barrier which prevents them from entering.  

Bottom line, in my opinion, Prevagin® could not and does not work!  And while consumer groups continue to file lawsuits to end the seemingly deceptive practices of Quincy, the company continues to rake in the bucks.  Worse, they continue to influence unsuspecting and desperate people, many who are suffering from memory loss due to Alzheimer’s disease, with a false hope. 

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot that can be done to improve memory and brain power.  Perhaps the best way – although with admittedly only modest impact – is to eat healthy, get adequate rest, and exercise.  People of faith, for some reason, seem to be particularly at risk for advertisements for questionable products like Prevagin®.  Perhaps it’s because of a trusting nature or a belief that everything that’s “natural” is beneficial.  Think about tobacco or strychnine, or arsenic – all natural!  And remember that the Bible tells us to be wise as serpents and to watch for wolves in sheep’s clothing.  It tells us to test everything and hold on to the good.  I hope that Christians, will be wary about the ads for Prevagin® and all such product that claim to offer benefits but, in my opinion,  just don’t pass the basic truth test. 

Note: The text “in my opinion” is intended to make it clear to anyone with a fiduciary interest in the product that the statement represents the authors considered opinion and is not presented as an established fact.

Who I am and what this blog is about

Who I am and what this blog is about

Greetings friends, and welcome to my blog. The goal of this blog is to provide you with evidence-based information on all things health-related, and to do it from a Christian perspective. By that I mean speaking truthfully for the purpose of helping you be a good steward of your body. While I am not a physician, and am in no way providing medical advice (see disclamer), I am a scientist trained at the doctoral level with many years of research and teaching experience in the biomedical sciences (see resume). In addition, I served as a church elder and bible class teacher. So, I’m not just “speaking out of my hat”, as they say. Most importantly, I strive to be a faithful follower of Christ, and I am committed to using my knowledge and experience to serve him through serving others. If you are looking for a place where you can get scientifically accurate information from a Christian perspective, this blog should be of interest to you. God Bless, and may the Lord give you a long and healthy life so you can serve Him through serving others.