I know we’ll all be surprised when I say I’ve been in a hospital in Tokyo, Japan. Several times, actually, but that’s another post. 🙂
Dr. Gunshin, the MD I dealt with at University of Tokyo Hospital, is a prize. Now maybe it helped that he did his residency at UC Davis and spoke impeccable English, but this man helped us immensely while we were in Japan during a particularly challenging “vacation” in 2013. However, what I wanted to talk about in this post was the discussion we had concerning the Japanese and their evolving diet.
I was already paleo when I met Dr. Gunshin so I told him about the effect of paleo on RA and what I believed it would do for MS, as well. He was fascinated and actually took notes (or maybe he was writing his grocery list). We discussed the fact that MS is not well-known, but RA does exist in, Japan, his county. He said that they were actually now seeing RA in rising numbers and that MS, also, is seen more frequently. We discussed the possibility that Japan’s increasingly Western diet was causing this increase in auto-immune diseases.
Their diet of primarily vegetables, fish and rice quickly changed to include meat, dairy, and wheat, The Japanese diet was certainly better off before Westernization. The school lunch program introduced dairy and bread for breakfast to generations of young Japanese. This not only changed the palate but was considered easier to manage compared to previous choices (the actual cooking of rice, vegetables, and fish). Convenience over actual food preparation and cooking. Sound familiar?
Obesity and diabetes are easy to blame on a Westernized diet. There are many articles such as this that address that subject. After all, look what’s happening here in the US. If the Japanese are now eating more and more of what US citizens are eating, it is easy to see why they are now seeing a rise in obesity and diabetes. It’s the auto-immune diseases that people do not readily see as related to food. That’s where Cordain’s MS research and Dr. Alessio Fasano’s leaky gut research are invaluable.
A quick look at the literature, reveals studies which tell of a change in the prevalence and presentation of MS coinciding with the time of Westernization of the Japanese diet. Prior to the 1960s, MS in Japan presented primarily as the “opticospinal” type; now it is a “conventional” type that is most often seen in Caucasians. Very interesting, and very scary.
Scientists are clearly seeing the Westernization of the Japanese diet as a possible and probable cause for changes in Japanese health, but what exactly about the Western diet is problematic is another issue. Which foodstuff, typically consumed by us, is causing their MS presentation to change and now appear more like ours (the Caucasian population)?
The recently published book My Sweet Poison in Japan points to aspartame, a sugar substitute, as the culprit. If you google artificial sweetener or aspartame, you’ll be flooded with both sides of the argument. Decide for yourselves if aspartame is the work of the devil, carcinogenic, or a benign sweetener. Do take a quick look at Amy Kubal’s article on Robb Wolfe’s site, The “Additive Effect”: Artificial is NOT Intelligent, which explains why it’s a good idea to avoid sugar AND its substitutes. Period. (Amy goes through the basic chemistry of how your body responds to sugar. Bottom line: no matter how you are provoked to release insulin–whether the sugar be artificial, real, processed, or unfiltered–your pancreas looks at it all the same.)
It’s nice to see that the Japanese seem to be asking the interesting questions–why the increase in MS and why the change in the presentation of MS—and they believe it has something to do with our diet–which we foisted on them , and they embraced. However, whether the real problem will ever be teased out given the huge influx of unhealthy food (dairy, bread, sugar etc.) which occurred in Japan with “modernization” in the 1960s and how difficult nutritional studies are to conduct is unclear. Given the available information and research in the US regarding paleo and leaky gut , and incredibly attentive and aware MDs like Dr. Gunshin, I really want to believe our poor eating habits will NOT continue to bring a higher incidence of auto-immune diseases to Japan.
For extra credit:
TED talk by Dr. Terry Wahls, MD as she describes how she reversed Multiple Sclerosis with paleo: