Around where I live whenever you go to a non-Asian restaurant you will see people scarfing down massive quantities of a cruciferous vegetable called kale.
Kale is all the rage these days. Apparently, it is a miracle food; it does so many good things that if you eat lots and lots of it you will attain to something like immortality… or at least, superior health.
Kale has become quite the national fad. Todd Oppenheimer reports about it on a website called Craftsmanship. The story was also picked up by Mother Jones… not an organ of the vast right wing conspiracy, incidentally.
Oppenheimer attests to kale’s growing popularity:
In 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, kale was harvested on 954 farms across the country. By 2012, that figure had more than doubled, to roughly 2,500 growers. In the last five years, the number of restaurants serving kale has reportedly risen by some 400 percent. People are juicing it, cooking it, eating kale salads, even making chips and other foodoid products from this hearty plant.
As the saying goes, if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t. Those of us who do not follow food fads can now feel somewhat vindicated for not eating all of those foul-tasting leaves.
It turns out that kale and other cruciferous vegetables might be poisoning you. A physician in northern California, a man whose practice was filled with people who religiously followed every food and exercise fad started suspecting something:
Ernie Hubbard sees a very self-selecting group of patients and clients—“health fanatics,” he calls them—people who eat extremely well by current standards, exercise regularly, generally don’t smoke, do drugs, or drink to excess. In today’s world, however, especially in health-conscious Marin County, California, where Hubbard lives and works, these are the people increasingly showing up in doctors’ offices complaining of persistent but elusive problems: Chronic fatigue. Skin and hair issues. Arrhythmias and other neurological disorders. Foggy thinking. Gluten sensitivity and other digestive troubles. Sometimes even the possibility of Lyme Disease.
Hubbard was puzzled so he started testing his patients. Soon he discovered that they had elevated levels of heavy metals like thallium and cesium in their blood.
He found a laboratory to run tests:
That led him to Doctors Data, a federally licensed laboratory near Chicago that does specialized testing, offering views of how elements function in the body on an intra-cellular level. By September of 2014, Hubbard was getting reports back showing heavy metals in virtually every kale sample he sent in. There were also traces of nickel, lead, cadmium, cesium, aluminum, and arsenic. Some of these metals are famously bad actors, or at least suspicious ones.
Bad actors, to say the least. One heavy metal, thallium, is a notable poison.
It turns out thallium was once a common ingredient in rat poison. It was also Saddam Hussein’s favorite poison to use on his enemies. (The metal works exquisitely for poison because it is tasteless, odorless, and nearly colorless.) While none of Hubbard’s test subjects had been consuming doses even close to poisonous levels, the medical and scientific literature linked low-level doses to many of the complaints brought to his clinic: fatigue, heart arrhythmia, and—in more extreme cases—nausea, neurological problems, and hair loss.
Hubbard’s patients were consuming enough thallium to become sick, but not enough to die.
The lead scientist at Doctors Data, Dr. David Quig explained how heavy metals build up in the body to cause health problems:
“We now know that heavy metals are additive and synergistic,” he said. “If you get a little thallium, and a little lead, and a little cadmium in your system, you’ve got one plus one plus one equals five or six, not just three.” The reason, he said, is that metals and chemicals might each have different effects by themselves, but they “share similar sites of action where they disrupt metabolism.”
Quig suspects plenty of vegetables besides kale are picking up thallium, and other heavy metals. He already knew of one example, where a Seattle woman suffered from eating lettuce that turned out to be laced with thallium. “This happens with all leafy greens,” he said. “If it’s in the soil, the leafy greens are going to take it up.”
Apparently, cruciferous vegetables, the kind that make you think that you are virtuous when you are eating them, are especially adept at absorbing heavy metals from the soil.
Last year, Hubbard made another interesting discovery:
Then, in July of 2014, he stumbled on a 2006 study out of the Czech Republic showing how the “cruciferous” family of vegetables behave as “hyperaccumulators” of thallium. Crucifers include many of our more intense green vegetables such as kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, mustard and collard greens. These are also the vegetables often touted—and consumed—most heavily these days, supposedly for their outsized health benefits.
The moral of the story: go easy on the kale. Back to bacon and eggs.