Saturday, August 21, 2010

White Death

I'm a junkie. An addict. And I have been for a long time. It's a confession that's hard to make, especially here in public, but "white death" has been a part of my life for a long time. Too long. It's a situation that probably wouldn't have changed had I not spread rose hips jam on my scone that fateful day. Never mind the butter. I'll save that for another day.

James Houston Turner

My wife, Wendy, sometimes gets on health kicks. She did it with millet. This time it was sugar. That friendly sweetener in the white porcelain bowl with the cute little spoon. The sweetener that put Hawaii on the map. The sweetener that made rhubarb pie edible. The sweetener that's naturally low in calories. Only 15 of the little buggers in every teaspoon. Which is not a lot. Except when you drink twelve of them in a can of soft drink. Or spread a hundred of them on a scone as I was doing.

And I got caught.

"Do you have any idea what you're doing?" Wendy asked.
"Making this scone taste really good," I replied. "Not that the millet didn't do the trick..."
"How can you say that when Otto Heinrich Warburg won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for proving sugar consumption causes cancer?"
"Otto who what?"
"He says the primary cause of cancer is sugar fermentation in the body. Sugar! White death! The stuff you're slathering on that scone! From now on, sugar is banned."
"You mean like pornography, assault rifles, and microwave popcorn?"
Wendy was in no mood for jokes. Sugar was banned.

My wife can sometimes take a hard line when it comes to health. No nonsense. Cut to the chase. And she can be rather "enthusiastic" with her convictions. This time, as usual, she had reasons that were pretty convincing. The rise in cancer did, in fact, match the rise in sugar consumption. Eating foods or drinking drinks with added sugar spikes insulin, which in turn promotes inflammation and acts as fertilizer for tumors (says neuroscientist, Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, in his excellent book, Anticancer: A New Way of Life, pages 76-82 [Scribe Publications, 2008). He writes: "Those who eat low-sugar Asian diets tend to have five to ten times fewer hormonally-driven cancers [ie, breast and prostate] than those with diets high in sugar and refined foods. All the scientific literature points in the same direction: people who want to protect themselves from cancer should seriously reduce their consumption of sugar [including high-fructose corn syrup]. There is no limit on fruit, so long as it is not sweetened with sugar or syrup. Another option is to use natural sugar substitutes that don't cause a rise in blood glucose or insulin."

And this is where it gets interesting!

I came home one day to see money changing hands in our dining room. A wad of bills was being given to Wendy by a friend in exchange for a "key" (kilo) of white powder. The exchange was not taking place in some dark, seedy alley. It was taking place right there, in our dining room, in front of the gorgeous photos of our grandchildren.

Wendy was trafficking white powder. A mysterious white powder called xylitol.

Originally manufactured from birch bark (although now made from maize/corn husks and cobs), xylitol is a natural sugar substitute that tastes exactly like sugar. But it does not spike insulin levels like sugar and so is advertised as being safe for diabetics. And because of its anti-bacterial/anti-fungal properties, xylitol can be used to treat sore throats and ear infections. It has also been shown to strengthen bones, thus showing promise as a treatment for osteoporosis.

I had heard of xylitol because it helps remineralize teeth. Contrary to sugar, xylitol does not cause tooth decay, but actually helps restore teeth by killing bacteria. It also allows bio-available calcium to penetrate teeth. Having had massive radiation treatment on my face after my cancer operation, I now use a tooth mousse with xylitol that helps prevent gum erosion (a side-effect of radiation treatment). The results for me have been astounding.

So while sugar has indeed been banned in our house -- except small quantities for baking (xylitol's properties kills the yeast in Wendy's perfect bread) -- we now use this fantastic substitute.

But Wendy does not do things half-heartedly. She decided to order it in quantity. A large quantity. Meaning a big carton of the stuff arrived on our doorstep one day. It almost took a forklift to get it into the house. We took to selling it to friends and neighbors to whom she enthusiastically preaches the xylitol message.

So while my sugar addiction's been broken -- and without any night sweats or hard prison time -- I am now a dealer of xylitol for our sweet-toothed friends and neighbors. I don't know what my mom would think of all this: she was pretty old-fashioned about sugar. My dentist, on the other hand, is over the moon.

However, I'm still working pet names to replace the banned names of "sugar" and "sweetie."

A cool-dude writer with no remaining sugar addiction, author James Houston Turner pushes xylitol and writes thrillers from his home in Adelaide, South Australia. You may visit him at