Redwood: I'm interested in your views on two current controversies relating to heart disease. The first is whether people should drink alcohol on a regular basis to help their hearts, and the second is whether high-fat regimes like the Atkins or Zone diets are beneficial.
McLanahan: The nature of the research on alcohol is that, in a culture that is eating a lot of fat, the alcohol will at least allow people to relax enough to take a deep breath, lean back, and enhance the circulation of their lymph. There are factors in alcohol that help to prevent clotting, but they are also found in red grapes. So people can eat red grapes and other foods that have antioxidant activity and assist in helping prevent excessive coagulation, without the side effects of alcohol. Alcohol is responsible for more hospital admissions in the country than any other single agent. So to recommend that people use alcohol as a way of reducing their risk factor is like saying, "You can continue your risk factor, but take this poison to make up for it." It doesn't make sense to me. I would rather go to the root cause, which involves teaching people how to eat right so they don't need an anticoagulation factor from a poison in order to relax. There's another way to do it, and the evidence from studies on the Seventh Day Adventists is clear: you don't need to drink alcohol to prevent heart disease. They have a very low risk factor for heart disease, and they don't use alcohol.
Then there's the next portion of your question, about the Atkins diet and the Zone diet. You can lose weight by a number of methods. You can lose weight by chemotherapy, but I don't recommend it. And yes, you can lose weight by eating smaller portions, which is what happens in the Atkins and Zone diets. They're eating less calories per day, but the nature of the calories is such that these particular substances, over a long period of time, damage the heart and kidneys. So what you're doing, by following such a diet, is trading your excess weight for increased risk of heart and kidney disease. So it's short term gain and long term risk.
Redwood: Tell us about your newest book, Surgery and Its Alternatives, which you co-authored with your brother David McLanahan, who is a surgeon.
McLanahan: It covers 200 different diseases that might in some cases cause a person to be recommended for surgery. We put the book together because surgery is one of the most promising ways to study alternative medicine. It's a simple, well-circumscribed area in which you can have an outcome that will show whether these interventions can be helpful. We have over a thousand footnotes in the book. We introduce the entire spectrum of alternative medicine to people, explaining what we feel is useful in terms of what's been researched, particularly in the surgical setting.
What we have is a description of each disease, and what we think is the root cause of the disease. In many cases it's diet and a combination of other factors. We look at how diet and disease are related, and then how stress and disease are related. Then we present the alternatives that you can use to help change your diet and stress components, and lifestyle in general. We also include an alternative medicine program for those who end up having to have surgery, with things you can use to help you get through the surgery. There's now quite a bit of evidence for these alternatives and how they do help people. So we include those studies, so that people can look at the research that's been done so far. They can look at the research in the surgical setting and look at what they would like to incorporate into their own recovery program.