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Is Rickets Back In Vogue?

Finn Health
  • Is Rickets Back In Vogue?

Our Government's VAT Proposal Puts Deficiency Disease Back on the Menu

{Disclaimer: The content of these articles are for discussion purposes only, and are designed only to help in the support of good health, not to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.  Recommendations should always be personalised and approved by your GP before proceeding. If suffering from any illness and/or taking medications, please consult your doctor as our rampant scribblings are no replacement for their years of medical experience}

It seems that the authorities are pushing for this one.  Less than a century after really putting major deficiency diseases into the rearview mirror, now pelagra, rickets, scurvy et al are set to make a comeback (actually they are already but we’ll get to that).  With a new tax strategy declared last autumn, our government decided to bring back the diseases of yesteryear. 




With seemingly benevolent but misguided intentions, our fearless leader, Leo Varadkar announced that all our “snake oil” supplements were to be rid of us, but as he didn’t mind those with radical levels of excess wealth foolishly donating it to the coffers of the exchequer; with all the power bestowed unto him, he merely decided to let them throw away an extra 23% of their easy earned income, so that they could go on basking in the bounty of the placebo that all this nutritional nonsense has to offer.


Well.  Leo.  Golly.  I mean, if his stance were at least well researched and stood on some solid foundations we’d have to take a long hard look at ourselves.  As a healthfood store owner and purveyor of the aforementioned snake oils, I have to admit this all smarts a bit.  When I came to this industry, I was pretty damned skeptical of a lot that it offered - homeopathy, herbs...crystals even?? These hairy hippies had been brewing some weird sh*t...much of which I wasn’t enamoured by.  But over the years, I’ve been exposed to more “independent” science - that is to say science that hasn’t been heavily sponsored by drug companies; it’s pretty rare stuff - that has sent my head realing...is water fluoridation really maybe not the best for the health of our thyroid and pineal gland?  Why is homeopathy so powerfully helpful in treating animals who know nothing of the placebo, to the point that many vets use homeopathy out on farms around the country, but still don’t use it on their children??  Why are there so many folk not benefiting from the dispensing of antidepressants to the point where there are some strong links to their potentially causal relationship with (especially teen) suicide…? 




And so, mine eyes have been opened - to the power of plant medicine, to “evidence-based” (as it must now be known to gain credence) nutritional therapy and functional medicine, and to the relative safety and predictably favourable cost/benefit ratio when compared with pharmceutical drugs .  These are the core modalities that are going to be put out of the financial reach of those that need them most with the addition of a 23% hike on their already not cheap price tags.  Actually I should pause there, because I’m always apologising for what I see as the extremely high consumer price of good quality nutritional supplements - but just yesterday a man came to ask for nutritional support for his psoriasis, and when he was about to leave with a bill of over €60 I said “I’m really sorry hopefully you won’t have to stay on all of these for more than a couple of months”.  To which he replied “Well I’ve spent over €1200 on skin specialists over the past 15 months, so this is a drop in the ocean”...I was given cause to reflect.  All he had achieved for this spend was a series of steroid creams of higher and higher doses that hadn’t given any relief...and here was I apologising when he was at the end of his tether with the conventional medicine that hadn’t provided any answers as to the cause, nor managed to assist with the treatment of his symptoms. 




And so back to the “snake oil” comment.  It’s really unfortunate that we can’t have an adult debate with the authorities on this one.  They just won’t engage.  And when they tried to at some level in a recent airing of RTE’s Prime Time, as a member of our industry, Jonathan Griffith (founder of the Natural Medicine Company that import and supply a host of nutritional and herbal supplements) was pitted in a head-to-head scenario against Doctor Ray Walley to discuss the scientific basis, or lack thereof, for the consumption of health supplements.  Jonathan did his best to get into the technicalities of the government’s new stance on whether food supplements qualified as foods or not.  This didn’t make for the best viewing, but he was doing his best to answer the question as posed by the presenter.  


When it got really squirrely, is when they turned to Ray for his insightful, highly prized medical opinion as past president of the Irish Medical Organisation, on whether supplements were really useful/necessary.  All Ray had to offer was the following “members of the public get all they need from eating a balanced diet”....so let’s break this one down a tiny bit.




Members of the public - who does he mean?  Healthy folk? Those who are eating salads cut fresh from their own allotments?  Or those in the waiting line for diabetes medication?  These are vastly different groups, with intrinsically different needs, and widely differing vectors for health outcomes...and the problem is it DOESN’T MATTER WHO HE MEANS.  Why not you ask?  Well the truth is that Ray Walley, Leo Varadkar, Simon Harris et al have NO CLUE how our population is doing in terms of our dietary intake of macro and micro nutrients.  And why is that?  Well because they’ve actually never conducted a National Diet and Nutrition Survey that would give arm them with the information they need to make informed statements about such things as whether our “balanced diet” is being eaten by anyone at all - even what a “balanced diet” is and in this age of our emergent understanding of genetics and how individualised our dietary approach needs to be from one human to the next.




This lack of information is really terribly unfortunate, so in order to plug the gaps the FSAI, the advisory body that guides government policy in relation to most things that we put in our mouths, tends to refer to the UK NDNS (National Diet and Nutrition Survey), where they’re doing some really progressive work to weed out some of the issues when you attempt mass scale survey questionnaire based studies.  These meausures include taking blood samples for assessment of nutritional status (as opposed to the fairly vague method of trusting that any pizza or aubergine or serving of spaghetti contains a consistently predictable level of nutrients), and going even one step further to measuring metabolites of these nutrients in blood and urine samples.  There’s also a really good call for this, as there has been shown to be a regularly occurring VAST difference between intake of nutrients, what quantity they appear in our blood and then how well our body uses them once they get to that point.




The key point here is that in the UK NDNS, it’s been made abundantly clear that their population (which whilst not a proxy in my mind, is not terribly different from ours) is OVERFED….yup too much food.  By a long way.  But also, guess what.  They’re MALNOURISHED.  Yup.  That’s the thing that we associated with underdeveloped countries to which we send food aid and worry about the quality of their sanitation...those guys are in trouble because they’re underfed and malnourished, but even though we feel nice and full, we are no better off.  And I’m not gilding the lily here - check this out: in terms of macronutrients alone it gets scary - on average more than 90% of the population are consuming more than the recommended amount of total free sugar daily, and that same statistic is reversed for fibre intake, where less than 10% are getting the minimum amount recommended per day (15-30g depending on age).  In terms of gut health alone this makes for scary reading.  And in such a population, supplements such as probiotics, digestive bitters and other such remedies to enhance the gut environment could play a really useful part.  But with the extra 23%...?




Okay now getting to the micronutrients, in the most recent survey - over 30% of those studied were below the RNI (adequate level as established by the health authorities, which are not to be confused with optimal nutrient status) for selenium intake, a crucial mineral for supporting immunity and regulating inflammation as we age.  A further 20% were deficient in potassium, 17% in magnesium...etc.  You get the point, but this was even further trumped when they did the blood tests for folate status.  The deficiency levels are SCARY - between 30 and 85% - and folate quite apart from being a crucial part of the process in baby making whereby we aim to reduce the risk of neural tube defects, is a key nutrient in keeping homocysteine scores down - homocysteine has been linked with so many chronic diseases, from heart disease to dimentia, that we won’t list them all.  And this is not just me speaking - the NDNS report highlighted this too.  The UK authorities are worried about it.  But our Irish government in all their shortsightedness would rather charge you 23% for the luxury of avoiding all these potential pitfalls.  I think they should be subsidising it don’t you?


Feel like you’re getting bogged down in a world of rather boring science?  Have we lost you already?  Well I’m afraid we need to go even further down the rabbit hole to show why those nutrients in a “healthy balanced diet” are simply not there in the first place.  They’ve vanished in the wind.  Or in this case, in the rain...




So as with all studies of our diet, what we need to go back to is the food - where it came from, how it was grown - these factors are the architecture upon which Dr Ray Walley’s statements are based.  After all, if we all eat that balanced diet...sure what could possibly go wrong.  Well apparently quite a lot can go wrong.  You might trust that your tomato could bring you all the copper (a nutrient crucial for maintaining blood sugar balance and health red blood cells) that it promised it would back in 1940.  But no no, although the tomato looks and smells tomato-ey as it did way back when, the actual micronutrient status has dropped THROUGH. THE. FLOOR.  Hyperbolic much?  Perhaps but try this - a tomato in 1940 contained 10 times as much copper as it does now...and not to be outdone, consider the humble spud for a second - they’ve lost half their copper, nearly the same amount of iron and 35% of their copper content.  Just one last one to round it off - broccoli, a source of calcium as we regularly quote to customers, has only 25% of the calcium that it did in 1940.




So all this has just been in relation to our healhty population, not the vulnerable proportions - the elderly, pregnant and nursing mothers, those with limiting chronic conditions for whom nutrient absorption is an uphill struggle...for the sake of all of these groups there have been recommendations by high level advocates such as Professor Michael Turner, head of the UCD Centre for Human Reproduction and consultant at the Coombe Maternity Hospital, who stated that the imposition of 23% VAT would serve to isolate and punish the most vulnerable mothers, those of lower socio-economic status, who are already those most in need of the folic acid supplementation to protect their unborn children. The average lifetime cost to the state, he went on to say, of a human born with a neural tube defect is €500,000 - a potential cost which is almost completely negated (between 60 and 70%) by the simple addition of supplemental folic acid...surely this must be in the minds of the bean counters as they attempt to quantify just how much this tax would actual bring in as opposed to how much it most certainly will cost in increased burden on the health service as the population’s nutrient status begins to decline as a whole.


So it is that I sit, totally dumbfounded by this approach.  We’re not trying to scam the state out of money to sell our snake oil to you vulnerable people.  But you already know that.  And it likely won’t be you guys whose kids end up one of the 80% of children with low vitamin D status.  Because as much as the government has decided to re-popularise this deficiency disease of the dark ages, you will probably still pay the extra 23% to supplement and prevent this easy to avoid aberration.  Cases of rickets are already on the rise, and if we let the government apply this tax (which they still will if we don’t change their minds before November), we’re going to send our precious population into a tailspin of nutrient deficiency.  It’s not about just us and our families.  This is for ALL of us.


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