We are currently staying at our condo in Mazatlan, Mexico. Every time we have come here in recent years, I have noticed two glaring ubiquitous elements about their culture in Mazatlan, and likely throughout Mexico. One is the fact that so many people are obese, and the second is the fact that their national pastime seems to be drinking as much Coca Cola as they can swallow. To me, it’s evident that these two elements are intricately connected. Everywhere I go in the city on my daily long walks, I am inundated with Coke delivery trucks, Coke advertisements and people swigging Coke.
Mexicans Simply Love Their Coke
First, let’s start with their love affair with Coke. Wherever you go in Mazatlan, people are swilling Coke. The wealthy, middle class, or beggars on the street—all of them seem to have access to endless supplies of Coke. A little history might be in order. Access to potable water has always been an issue in Mexico. Coca Cola opened its first bottling plant in 1921 and tried to convince the public that Coke was a safe alternative to questionable water supplies. Coke ramped up advertising in the early 1970s when they sponsored the Olympics and later the World Cup. During this time, there was a young Coca Cola delivery truck driver named Vicente Fox. Eventually, he rose through the ranks to become President of Coca Cola in Mexico. In 2000 he decided to fry bigger fish, and he became President of Mexico. Coke strongly supported his campaign, and he continued to strongly support Coke.
There’s a Whole Lot of Trouble on the Horizon
There’s only one problem with this fairy tale—over the past several decades, the rate of type 2 diabetes doubled in Mexico. Over the past several years, obesity has increased at a rate that surpassed the US as the most obese country among the 35 OCED countries, with over a third of those over the age of 15 qualifying as obese. The Mexican government has become very concerned about these trends, so in 2014 they introduced a 10% tax on all sugar-laden beverages, one of the first countries in the world to do so. Initially, consumption dropped around 5%, but since then, it has been slowly creeping up again. There is also concern about the regressive nature of the tax that seems to land mostly on poor people. Where the heck is Michael Bloomberg when we need him? After all, didn’t he try to limit the size of soda sold in New York City? Now that I think about it, his efforts failed miserably. I guess Mike should go back to running for President and stay out of the soda controversies!
Coke is an Equal Opportunity Destroyer of Health
I took the above picture today while on my hour lone walk on the Malecon, the beautiful walkway along the ocean. The gentleman in front of me was checking garbage cans, likely for aluminum cans, which are worth something. You can see he is holding a Coke bottle in his right hand. As I said, everyone in Mazatlan drinks Coke. He still appears thin, so he has yet to develop a typical “Coke belly”, but I’m sure that will arrive at some point if he keeps swilling Coke. We just survived Carnival in Mazatlan, and at every family gathering there where the standard bevy of 1-liter Coke bottles.
I don’t mean to demonize the Mexican people. It appears that they are largely ignorant of the risks of consuming too much soda. Let me outline what we do know. All soda has approximately 50% glucose and 50% fructose. This ratio can vary somewhat, mainly if they use high fructose corn syrup rather than sucrose as a sweetener. We know what the glucose portion of sugar does. Virtually all complex carbohydrates are broken down in our bodies to glucose, which is then used for energy by most of the cells in our bodies. Too much glucose causes your pancreas to secrete more insulin, and over time these high levels of insulin can lead to insulin resistance, the first step towards obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Too Much Fructose Makes Us Fat
Fructose metabolism is a bit more complicated. Most fructose you consume is taken up by the liver to make glycogen or stored glucose, to be used in an emergency when you haven’t eaten for some time. The remainder of the fructose is turned into triglycerides, a type of fat. If you consume more than about 20 grams of fructose from any source (soda, fruits, fruit juice, some vegetables, and processed food with added sugars), the rest is converted to fat. I think you can see where we’re going with this. The average Mexican grocery store now looks similar to one in the US, loaded with processed food. If Mexicans consume some of this processed food and then swill down a few liters of Coke, fat storage is the norm. To learn more about the dangers of sugars I recommend reading “The Sugar Fix” by Richard Johnson, or “Fat Chance” or “The Hacking of the American Mind” by Robert Lustig. “The Paleo Solution” by Robb Wolf will give you a roadmap back to eating a traditional whole foods diet.
In my experience, most Mexicans have a simplified view of the effect of Coke on their bodies and health. They focus mainly on the calories, and some Mexicans have trouble getting enough regular food to give themselves an adequate calorie intake. Coke is cheap and plentiful, so it’s an easy way to stoke the furnace when other fuel isn’t readily available. As I mentioned earlier, most Mexicans have a love affair with Coke, regardless of their financial status.
Another factor is the rule of sameness. If most people around you look obese and drink Coke, your brain will eventually interpret this as the “norm.” Just like Americans, most Mexican’s cannot recall a time when just about everyone was skinny. What we are used to seeing becomes normal, even if that normal eventually leads to disability and death. It’s sometimes hard to connect the dots over the decades.
As I said before, I’m not blaming the Mexican citizens for this disaster. I blame the scientists and government for failing to tell them the truth about the toxic nature of Coke. As is often the case, large amounts of money come into play and, as they say, follow the money.
A Terrible New Disease of the Horizon
There is one more sad component to this tale that is playing out both in the US and Mexico. There is mounting evidence that highly processed food (especially soda) is neurotoxic and awful for your brain function. You not only become obese and diabetic, but the first organ to go into the toilet is your brain. Highly processed food can trigger a form of food-induced brain dysfunction that we now call Carbohydrate Associated Reversible Brain syndrome or CARB syndrome. People with CARB syndrome can develop up to 22 brain dysfunction symptoms that can severely impact your ability to function daily. Initially, the signs are quite subtle, and because they overlap with many traditional brain disorders, this situation has caused a great deal of diagnostic and therapeutic confusion. People with CARB syndrome often end up with multiple diagnoses (depression, bipolar, anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, etc.) and they end up taking hands full of drugs that make them worse rather than better. At the same time, they are dealing with metabolic disorders like obesity, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes—not a pretty picture!
The good news is that CARB syndrome is entirely reversible and treatable if you understand the pathology of the disorders. Unfortunately, most physicians practicing today are ignorant of this new concept. That’s why I recently published the book titled “Brain Drain” to teach people how to make their own diagnosis of CARB syndrome and arrange for their own treatment. A crucial part of treatment is to suppress the intense cravings for sweet and starchy food, the lead symptom of the disorder.
Let’s Start Moving in the Right Direction Together
I hope that Mexicans will eventually kick Coke to the curb when they realize the harm it is doing to themselves and their loved ones. In my experience Mexican people are smart, hardworking, and industrious, so they may even figure this out before we do in the United States!